Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Please Don't Buy Pampered Chef At The Craft Fair

     Ok, ok. Before you get angry. I have absolutely nothing against Pampered Chef! In fact, I have a number of Pampered Chef items in my kitchen as we speak. On the whole I like them very much. I also enjoy the Scentsy candle I got for my birthday as a gift, and the couple necklaces I have left from my days as a Lia Sophia representative (yep, I've just about done it all). Heck, I even have a trusty Thirty-One bag (or 3) that I'm not entirely sure I could do without.

     I love going to the little parties at my friend's house or receiving the random useful gift. But that's what those vendors are intended for. The living room, Holiday party, online bazaar, and inevitable FB group are ideal locations to gorge yourself on these items and all the amazing discounts, savings, hostess gifts, and sign on bonuses you can take.

     The local craft fair is not.

     A craft fair is a gathering of artisans. Or, at least, it used to be. It should be. It's a place where an individual can display and maybe even profit from his or her artistic talents. Where one can showcase the results of hours, weeks, or even months of dedicated, hard work. Sure, every real crafter will say, "No biggie, I like doing it. It's easy once you know how." We are lying. It's hard.

     It's hard to carve out time to cut patterns, link beads, carve walking sticks, paint ornaments, build toy boxes or any number of other unbelievably creative things you'll see at a craft fair. The supplies cost money, maybe a lot, considering most crafters and artisans chose to work with high quality supplies and a crafter almost NEVER gets to figure labor into any of his or her costs. That would make the item too costly. Consider that it takes me an average of 100 hours to complete a Queen size quilt.

     Often the crafter is someone who makes the endeavor a second, or part time gig. Maybe they are retired. In any event they make time to bring in a little extra, to support themselves with their hands...locally. When you claim to "buy local" consider the true source not just the venue. At the craft fair when you purchase the small introductory gift from one of those in-home sellers you are negating the work done by the artisan at the booth next to them. If that's the case, why come to the craft fair at all? Enjoy them from the comfort of your own home. Those deals are typically either a monthly sales give-away or an item bought in bulk by the advisor to be able to sell at little to no profit to bring in more sales...I promise, it'll be available the very next day. Just take her card and tell her you'll call her tomorrow if you're really interested. Host a party, that's where the real savings are at!

     I implore you! Go to every craft fair for which you see a sign. Stop by and check out what's being made in your area. Know of one happening? Go, be prepared. Bring cash (though most of use take debit/credit now) and be prepared, nay AIM, to spend more than $10. It's not a flea market. It's a craft fair. They only come around every once in a while, take advantage. The gifts you purchase from local crafters and artisans will be the best and most well received gifts you purchase. Mark my words!

All I ask is that you try to acknowledge the real work and save the in-home sales...in-home. Which reminds me, it's about time for another Thirty-One party.

Simple City Sam
Come see me at the few remaining fairs of my season!

Monday, October 27, 2014

I Am Crushing It!!

     It happened without me even knowing it! I hit 40 sales in my Esty shop. That means I've already reached my goal for the year of making as many sales as I did my first year open. Of course that was only 20 sales but I'm not complaining. I measure my year from February to February, too, so I've still got plenty of time, and a Holiday season, to do some damage!

     I really could not be more pleased. I am so thankful for all the support, it really means the world to me. Just as I may be feeling discouraged I remember to look closely and see that there IS real growth here. Maybe not a crazy boom, but growth. I'll take that! I have to remember that this is still a "side" business for me. Remember that I have a full time job, 2 children under 7 years old that I stay home with, and a myriad of other responsibilities.

     I like setting goals for myself but that doesn't mean that they need to be super lofty or impossible to achieve. I'll start small and come in with a sneak attack, just like always! It's more my style.

     Either way let's celebrate! The very next sale...sale number 41 will receive 2 free eye pillows- 1 lavender and 1 clove (new) in addition to whatever is purchased. This is my small way of saying thank you.

     Also through the rest of the month (October) use COUPON CODE: MORETHAN40 to receive 10% off all order $10 or more. Let's see what we can do in a few short days!

My humblest thanks,

Simple City Sam

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Fairs 2014

     It's that time of the year again! I am all booked up for fairs this year and will be pushing my wares all over southern Maine and New Hampshire. Please come see me! Get a chance to touch and see everything in person...except me of course. You can't touch me. You will definitely see me though, you can't miss the bright pink hair!

     I will again have my hand made neck and back wraps, perfect for hot or cold therapies (microwave or freezer use) and soothing eye pillows. I will have a few small quilts, accent pillows of all sizes, draft stoppers, stadium seat cushions and so much more!

Oct. 25th, Saturday, 9-4, Standish Baptist Church, Standish, ME
Nov. 1st, Saturday, 9-4, Hampstead Mother's Club Fair, Hampstead Middle School, Hampstead, NH
Nov. 15th, Saturday, 10-2, Steep Falls Elementary PTO Holiday Fair, Steep Falls, ME
Nov. 28th, Friday, 9-4 &
         29th, Saturday, 9-3,Christmas in the Country, Bonny Eagle High School, Standish, ME

Dec. 3rd, Wednesday, 4pm-8pm Salt Water Grille Holiday Artisans Show, So Portland, ME
Dec. 6th, Saturday, 9-2, Peaks Island Craft Fair at Inn on Peaks Island, Peaks Island, ME (no link yet, Peaks is easy going come take a winter boat ride and get some nice gifts)

Thanks for all the support everybody!

Simple City Sam

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Two Kids. Two Hungers. One Nuker.

     There's always that day, at least once a week, where I've managed to seemingly starve my children. We've all been there, right? It's super late in the afternoon, like 11:26 a.m., and the kids are either going to pass out (as threatened) from hunger, or annoy you to death asking when lunch is. Reminding them that they ate a "snack" of an entire apple, a cheese stick, and a handful of peanuts less than an hour ago is futile, don't try. Thinking back in wonderment to breakfast, not more than 4 hours ago, when they each devoured 2 eggs, bacon, a piece of toast ("with jelly!") and then split a pear because they were still hungry, will get you nowhere. Having them drink yet another glass of water won't do the trick. No. They need something hot and now!

     These are the days when I reluctantly forgo the oven or stove and plug in the microwave (Nope, ours does not stay on all the time. No need to suck energy for something we rarely use.) and heat up left overs from the night before or maybe soup. Today's installment features the ever popular, though not very nutritional, pizza left overs.

     Now don't forget one of my daughters has a dairy allergy, so their pizzas stay separate. Go ahead...YOU decide which one has to wait while the other gets her piece cooked. Then, TELL her she's the one who has to wait.  Mwahahahaha! Good luck my friend.

     Fear not! I just add a second level. Stick a small coffee mug in the microwave and place the second plate on top of that. Our microwave is so small that the cup has to be placed on the first plate. Either way, now there are two, different, plates in the microwave at the same time. Each kid gets her lunch, at the same time.

     Crisis: averted.


     Of course this never would have been an issue if I'd just feed them!

Simple City Sam

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

We Do The Mash. We Do The Pumpkin Mash.

     We are at it again. You saw that we went apple picking a few weekends ago. Well, I'm certain none of you thought that's all we got! Of course we walked away with quite the pumpkin haul as well. We are a tad pumpkin obsessed around here. Undoubtedly, one of the greatest things in all the world is pumpkin soup. My hubby happens to make one of the absolute best too! Totally planned it that way.
     This year we got the ONE pumpkin that I allow to be sacrificed in the name of Jack-o-laterns and 3 little Jack-be-littles for the girls to color and tattoo. Yep, you saw it here first. We tattoo everything around here and the pumpkins are no different! Temporary tattoos work like a dream on the pumpkins and are far less messy than paint or other craft supplies. The white pumpkin that we "splurged" on this year was especially nice for this technique.

     Now let me just preach for a quick second. Purchasing, even these few, pumpkins that will inevitably be wasted (in terms of food) still makes me nuts. That is why we only do the small ones for painting and one large one for carving. I don't want my kids missing out on what can arguably be a rite of passage, but I also don't want them to become complacent about waste. Adding insult to injury is the fact that they are too young to care about making it look like anything but a scribble or a "design". There is simply no need to spend hundreds of dollars on pumpkins that will just be thrown out a few weeks later after rotting on the front step! Ok, whew, thanks.
     Now don't forget,  even that Jack-o-latern will yield a good amount of seeds. Roasted pumpkins seeds are divine, just a little olive oil and salt. My youngest prefers sweet "pepitas" (so called because that's what they are called at her favorite Mexican restaurant), with brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and paprika, so we always end up making a few batches. They keep for a solid week, especially in air tight containers, and make really excellent snacks.
     Back to the pumpkins...We break down the remaining pumpkins and freeze the "meat". Halve the pumpkin and scrape out the seeds (use them!), I usually use a spoon and elbow grease for this.

     Place the pumpkin halves face down on a parchment covered baking sheet. Placing them face down helps trap the natural moisture in the pumpkins. Roast low, at 275 degF for around 2-2 1/2 hours.

     For best results we've spoken to our local farmers and tested a few theories. We find that the pumpkins that are about the size of a basketball yield the best meat to seeds and skin ratio. They are also more manageable at that size and are never hard to get on a tray or in the oven. In this case bigger isn't necessarily better.
     When we take them out of the oven, we let them cool and then scrape out the meat. We store it in gallon size freezer bags (about 1 whole pumpkin per bag) and stick them in the deep freeze. The mash will be pulled later and made into soups, pies, breads, sauces and whatever else we can fathom. Which is why we didn't season it prior to roasting, we want nothing but pumpkin flavor! One pumpkin, or one bag will yield roughly 4 quarts of creamy pumpkin soup. Don't worry you'll get that recipe later...probably.
I can't wait!
Simple City Sam

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Apple Picking

     This past weekend we got to partake in one of my favorite Fall rituals. We went apple picking and pumpkin picking. It also happened to be the first time the four of us got to spend time together as a family unit in several weeks. It was LONG overdue. 

     How do we let the time escapeus that  easily? How does it get away from us so quickly? 

     Summer is my most favorite time of the year in Maine, yet somehow I end up really not getting to enjoy any of it. I work every "spare" moment I can find. So does my husband. We make the money while we can, seasonal Maine work is very short lived. Nonetheless we miss each other all summer. Constantly we are ships in the night, just missing one another. We give more "see you soon" kisses than I care to admit. 

     Fall marks the return of family dinners, Saturday excursions, and family dynamics at their best. For these reasons I love Fall. For the impending Winter doom, I hate it. 

     But for now I'll just take our annual picking trip as a sign of good things to come. (Extra good this year, our Fall picking day was 80 degrees!)

     Now on to sauces, jellies, pies and crisps. Mmmm. 

Simple City Sam

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Charging Station Change

     By and large we do not have that many electronics...at least that's what I try to tell myself. Nevertheless, within the household we have at least 2 cell phones and a tablet that need to be charged, often. This doesn't even include the various other portable devices we use on an occasional basis. 

     Even the few that we use regularly pose a clutter problem. Each has it's own charger, in addition to the other accessories. Our counter top was constantly cluttered with the chargers and other daily debris. I needed something to keep everything neat and tidy. 

     Hubby mounted a thin piece of scrap wood we had kicking around to the wall above the outlet we typically use to charge. I had extra hooks from the jewelry hanging project, and we screwed those into the piece. Presto Change-o! My counter was clear and the chargers were all neatly hanging where they could be easily found and put away. And, they are out of reach from little hands. Bonus!

     This solution literally cost us nothing because we used all leftover supplies. My favorite kind of of project!

Also good for goggles. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Shopping Hack

     Well I know I haven't been around much. But here we are. Summer has been crazy so I finally am getting a chance to get back into writing. Let's start off slow...a quick little shopping hack. This is one I use every single time I go grocery shopping. I park next to the carriage corral; it's as easy as that. Usually there are a few sprinkled around the parking lot so you have a few options. But either way I try to pick one of the ones further out, it gives me a wee bit of excersise and helps me teach the kids that a little walking is good, keeps us from getting lazy. Look at that, two hacks for the price of one.
     This also makes life infinitely easier when you actually go to unload your groceries. We all know I have a couple of small kids, I'm sure a bunch of you do too. Getting them in and out of the car may as well be exercise in itself. Between the shrieking,and the shouting,and the crying, and the jumping up-and-down, and the one who wants to jump through the back of the vehicle where I'm getting my reusable bags,and the one who wants to unbuckle her self, getting in and out of the car can be a challenge. When you've returned to your vehicle and are laden with bags of food and children, efficiency is key. Quick, strap the kids in their car seats and threaten them quietly so you can get them to sit nicely for a hot second! Unload the groceries into the car. Now is where you become riddled with concern and guilt if you have to return your cart to the corral far away from your strapped and trapped children (or worse leave it in a parking space!). Fear not, you're right next to the corral! Gently lob that sucker in with his friends and call it a day. Hop in the car and silence the uncontrollable toddler song making by popping in the FROZEN soundtrack (if you haven't broken it into pieces yet) , unwrap that York Peppermint Patty descretely (down by your hip),and Let It Go. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Peeps Jousting

      Alright so Easter, Passover and Mother's Day have all come and gone. There are no more, huge, official Holidays that we need to worry about for at least a couple months. Yipee! Go ahead, take 30 seconds to breathe. It's really nice.
     OK, but what to do with all that left over candy and sugar? Most of the hard candies are brought to work, you can always find someone who wants a piece, or a bowl to leave at the reception area. The chocolate never lasts long, so no problem there. Then there are the Peeps. Honestly, I can only stomach about one at a time now (despite my adoration in childhood) so there are always a few extras lying around.
     There's simply nothing else to do with left over Peeps but to make them joust. Yep, Peeps Jousting is now an annual event to which we all look forward.
     Take the left over Peeps, stick a toothpick into the belly of each one. Pair them off, place them on a paper plate, make them face each other, and stick them in the microwave.

     After a few seconds (depending on your microwave this will take anywhere from 15-45 seconds total) the Peeps will begin to swell and one will pop the other, reigning victorious over the other defeated jouster.

     If bold enough, you may consume both the victor and the loser, they won't mind. The kids really love this little game and I must admit so do I. Remember the paper plate though. Believe me, cleaning Peeps up off the microwave plate is NOT fun.
Good luck to all the jousters!
Simple City Sam

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I've Got Tags That Jingle Jangle Jingle

      Quail the dog is growing up quite nicely and just passed her fist birthday. Of course there are foibles here and there. We are feeling particularly lucky that she stayed "runt-like" and is smaller than we thought she'd be, weighing in at a healthy 50 pounds. I'd love it if she'd stop snacking in the cat litter box. See? Nice with foibles.
     One thing she can't control are those damn tags. Good grief, they jingle and jangle and leave a ringing in my ears that seemingly never goes away. I know it seems dramatic, but it's true, and if you have a dog you know I'm right. Yes you can spend money on quiet tags and little tag pouches. You know me, though. I hate spending money. You know what's free? Any one of the million little girl elastics I have. Or the rubber band around your Sunday paper, or even the band around those flowers you'll get for Mother's Day.
     Use it. Wrap all those little jingly suckers together and listen to the sweet, sweet sound of silence. Ah, bliss. Best part? If the dog gets it caught or it breaks, there are plenty more where that one came from!
Thanks Quaily-girl, you're a great model.
Simple City Sam 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Maine Summer Baby Quilt ~ Blueberries For Sal

      Of all the sewing and crafting that I do, quilting is by far my favorite. I love how it all fits together like a jigsaw puzzle. I love that it is a true expression of creativity. I love how you can use all the same fabrics in 10 quilts and have no two look alike.
      You've seen me make them for special occasions like weddings or baby blankets for new nephews. I'm in the process of making a few for my girls. I also really love being able to donate special items to special causes.
     I was fortunate enough to be able to be involved with this year's Center for Grieving Children's annual auction fundraiser. I was able to put together this baby quilt with the theme "Maine Summer Nights" in mind.
     The front is all cotton, the back super soft fleece. The edges are all bound with a light blue satin binding tape. The 3" squares were each individually tied, by hand, in the center. The pattern was simple and happened organically as I had not actually intended to pattern the piece at all. All the fabrics chosen were chosen due to their fulfillment of the theme. Some had Maine spring flowers like the beautiful lilacs, another evoked the feeling of the ocean and waves, while another offered a few spring birds. I wanted to make sure the piece was Maine down to the last detail.
     As it came together though, I kept being reminded of the book I loved from my childhood, "Blueberries for Sal". The soft, yet contrasting tones and that vivid blue brought me back over and over again to the pages of the book. Naturally, that is what I named this piece.
      It ended up being one of my favorite quilts and I was so pleased to be able to offer it up as a donation. As I look at the photos again I am brought back to the images I remember from the pages of the book, and am now anxious for summer.
Here's to hoping it comes soon!
Simple City Sam

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Busy, Busy, Busy

     It's spring time which means that, inexplicably, I am even busier than I was before. The spring craft fair season is in full force and the kids and pets have renewed energy. There are many days where I wonder if I'll make it to the newly furthered sundown. (spoiler alert: I don't always).

     However, if I'm that busy then it must mean that I'm producing something, right? Right. I am. I actually am being relatively productive. I've managed to create a new "therapy wrap" to add to the catalogue of neck wraps and eye pillows.

     The back "wrap" is more traditionally shaped. It is designed to fit across your lower back or straight up and down your spine. I made the hubby test it out and he fell asleep with it, 10 minutes in. I count that as a major endorsement.

     I have also managed to get some new items up on the Etsy site and do a little spring cleaning over there. There is a new shop section dedicated entirely to pillows and some rearranging has been done. Here are a few of my favorite new additions.

     Doesn't this guy remind you of "The Incredible Mr. Limpet"? Man, I love me some Don Knots.

     And, come on, a lion with his tongue sticking out, are you kidding me? Love it.
     Head on over to the Simple City Sam Etsy shop and see all the new stuff. There is more going up every day.
I like spring. I like feeling productive. Now all I need to do is maintain.
Simple City Sam

Thursday, April 3, 2014

My New Business Cards Are Awesome!

      I love my new business cards! I was able to design them myself. I used my own product photos to really make it stand out and relatable to my product. The best part? I went "big" and got the heavy duty, 100% recycled paper and glossy finish...that should be super expensive right? Nope. I got them for roughly 6 cents a piece, including shipping! That's amazing!!!!! I do recommend Vistaprint to anyone.
I really love them.
Simple City Sam

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Spring Fair is a Fair Fair

     The spring is finally here. In Maine the sun is starting to peek out, we are still buried in snow for the most part, but bits of grass and buds are starting to poke their heads out too, ever so slowly. It is glorious. I am over winter.

     For me another sure sign of spring is the return of the craft fair. Ha ha. Yep that's right, fairs are back baby! Truth be told, I enjoy the spring fairs even more than the fall/winter fairs. Sure, the Holiday season fairs can be lucrative but they can also be big duds.

     I keep copious notes in my own "Crafter's Almanac" and refer to it when choosing locations, as well as referring to those who have been there in the past. This way we can maximize our fees and expenses. For me though, it still tends to be people out buying for Christmas or Hanukkah, who are somehow, inexplicably, grumpy. They also tend to be the folks who expect craft fairs to be of like price and function of a flea market. Sorry, they are not the same thing. Lastly, they are almost always run by a church or PTA using it as their big, or only, source of fundraising. Coordinators can be extra tense and gruff through this process as a result. There just isn't a whole lot of fun involved.

     The spring fairs though, oh, the spring fairs. The sun is up on our way to set up the fair- BONUS. We've had all winter, trapped like rats, to do almost nothing but survive and sew, so our surplus is decent. Best of all, the spring fair brings in a new type of patron.

     Many spring fairs are affiliated with a charitable cause or specific fundraiser of some sort. This is great because people really do like supporting each other and helping out their favorite causes. I know I do. Attendance is often matched or higher than winter fairs and everyone seems happy. No one complains and smiles abound. Maybe it's just the sunshine, but I'll take it.

     Many of the customer who may be "on the fence" will purchase the item if they know they are contributing to the cause. I almost always make a donation of some sort, whether to the raffle, or a percentage of sales to the charity, or the like. It is wonderful to be surrounded by a supportive environment and is usually a lot of fun.

     Our first fair this year will be tomorrow, Saturday March 22. (see link below for the Facebook event page) Come down and see us and support "Bonny Eagle Strong", a scholarship fund for a graduating senior who has overcome great tragedy. Unfortunately their pool to choose from is bigger than it should be. This also happens to be my alma mater so let's do this!

     Simple City Sam will be donating 10% of all sales tomorrow so loosen the wallet hinge and come say hi.


See you there.

Simple City Sam

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

HDMI and Our TV

    The HDMI cable has saved our TV viewing experience. It's a bold statement, I know, but it's true.
     You already know we don't watch a lot of TV. In fact we don't have a cable subscription at all. It was one of the very first thing that was cut from our budget, years ago, when I started re-evaluating our spending and living. The girls have gotten used to watching movies or episodes from TV shows that we deem appropriate and have on DVD.
     Don't get me wrong, I love TV. Some of it is so trashy I can't help but watch. It can be a great unwind kind of release at the end of the day- so mindless. Also, for the kids I think having a general knowledge of the culture you are in is important. Whether we like it or not, TV is part of our culture. If the girls hear about a show they want to watch (like from a friend) I will sit and watch the first episode with them to make sure it is age appropriate. From there they are able to watch it online, if available.
     I save a ton of money here because we don't pay for the cable subscriptions which average over $100 a month like most people do. To watch TV shows I pay $7.99 a month to subscribe to Hulu Plus (Hulu is free but doesn't always off the shows I want). A friend of mine pays $8 for the Netflix subscription and we share. Shhh, don't tell. It has been a great solution. It has help limit the amount of "screen time" here in the house and saved some serious bucks. BUT...sometimes we get a little tired of watching TV on the laptop. It's not the biggest screen and we never seem to have a good place to set it up.
     To rectify the situation we found a simple solution and purchased an HDMI cable. Oddly enough, it also cost $8. We are able to hook it up directly from the computer to the back of our TV. Now, as long as our television is an HDMI mode, everything that's on the computer can also be seen on the television. We do have a "newer" style TV that was a house warming gift but it is not a "smart TV" by any means. Most current TVs should have this setting.
     Now we stream Netflix, Hulu Plus, and even Amazon Prime directly to the TV without paying for costly cable/Dish subscriptions or state-of-the-art TVs. It's even allowed me to splurge and purchase whole current seasons of shows my hubby and I really enjoy watching. I don't mind spending $30-ish once in a while on a season we really like and want to own digitally. It's waaaay better than a cable subscription any day.
Happy viewing!
Simple City Sam

Friday, March 7, 2014


     Saimin is one of my all time favorite meals. I was first introduced to it when I visited my brother in Hawaii around a year ago. I've been obsessed ever since. My brother describe it to me the first time as "fancy Ramen". Being that I've lived on a tiny budget before and paid my own way through college I obviously know what "Ramen" is. The idea that there was a fancy version was intriguing.
     When we got to the restaurant the air was full of the aromas of chicken and fish broths. We were given a menu with over 100 Saimin variations and concoctions. There was everything from pork to chicken to tofu and vegetables. You could have it spiced up or not. How about some Spam? It was almost overwhelming.
     When I got back to Maine I made it my mission to figure out how to make this at home. I was not about to lose my new found love. Besides which, I'm savvy. I know Asian dishes tend to be inexpensive to make, so I was excited to give it a go.
     I spent a few hours pouring over recipes I found online. A few were alright, they basically all had the same base. That's good it's easier to work from. I went down to the Asian market and picked up the noodles and other small items I'd need to round out what I already had in the pantry. After about the third attempt we had it perfected. Make no mistake, the first two times were delicious too, but the third time was magic!
    The best part about all of this is that one of my favorite meals has also become what is known as one of the greatest "clean out the refrigerator meals" of all time. Which makes me love it even more. At least once a week now we've taken to making Saimin. I can buy a package of Chinese noodles at the Asian market for around $1.49. The package will yield us three full meals.
      I start by browning some garlic and onion in a little oil. This gets thrown right into my cast iron soup pot. Then I add about 8 cups of vegetable or chicken stock to the pot. You can also use water and chicken bouillon cubes/powder if that's what you've got. To that I add about 2 tablespoons of dashi flakes and about 1/4 cup soy sauce. I almost always add some grated fresh ginger at this point too. Turn it on medium and let it go. Many online recipes will also suggest the use of shrimp stock or a fish stock as well. That's great if shellfish doesn't make you die or have some kind of seriously unpleasant reaction...me not so much. So we skip that part.
     From there you literally can add whatever you want. As I noted before, I love it spicy. So at this point, once the broth is how we want it, I split it into two pots. Into the grown-up's pot I add Chinese five spice and some cracked pepper. The girls' pot stays as is. Then I start to heat up any proteins we may want hot in the soup. The girls love tofu and I limit their intake of it, so this is really the only meal they get to have tofu, and it doesn't happen every time. I fry it up in a pan and get it nice and crispy. It gets added at the very end. For us, I'll use the pan to heat up our chosen proteins too.

     This is where the fridge clean out begins. Whatever vegetable might be kicking around in the refrigerator, or any meat that may be left over from the night before, or cold cuts left from school lunches are especially helpful in this meal. I'll add carrots, snow peas, mushrooms, celery, daikon radish, or cabbage regularly.  I'll also add chunks of ham or spare ribs (also a treat we grab form the Asian market) and the occasional gyoza. What's great is that we get rid of all the random, lonely, left behind produce and we can customize the dishes to each person if we want to. Often I let the girls pick what goes into their pot, and it varies from what goes in the grown-up pot.
     At the end the noodles go in to cook for about 6-7 minutes. If I've got them, I'll top with bean sprouts or something crunchy to give  it just a bit of extra dimension. And that's it. It's a win-win! In all, the meal cost me about $3. I can feed the whole family and I always have leftovers. My oldest loves to take some to school the next day. She gets to pack it in her thermos and pack along chopsticks. She is in heaven.
     It's such an unassuming, yet delicious dish. I think that may be why I like it so much. Either that or because it's Heaven's elixir sent here just for me. I haven't decided yet.
Simple City Sam

Monday, March 3, 2014

Get Those Taxes Done Now

Alright, so now you're ready to file those taxes that you've been preparing for all year. You finally feel like you have everything you need and you are ready to get yourself a return, dang it! There are really only two ways to go about this. You can either do them yourself or you can have someone to do them for you.
     Obviously there are any number of places you can go to have them done for you, like H&R Block,  or a local tax accountant. You know me, though, I like to do it myself and save myself a dime, so I just use TurboTax online. Turbo Tax does offer software for purchase as well, if you prefer not to use the internet.
     Don't freak out! TurboTax is actually much easier to use than you may think. It is it literally a step by step set guide that walks you through every form needed. The only trick you need to know about TurboTax is to take every step. When it asks, "do you want to explore each section?", click YES. Do not skip ahead and do not take the shortcut. That is the only way to make sure you are as thorough and efficient as possible.
     Be it known: It's going to take you a while to get from start to finish. I know that it's going to take me, with all my different forms and situations, roughly 2 1/2  hours to do my taxes completely. I'm already set up in the system from previous year's returns so it's a bit easier for me. The first year you use the product will be the longest time you spend. Every consecutive year will get faster and easier and more information will have been pre-loaded. If you don't have a lot of additional situations, like we do, it will take considerably less time. If all you need to do is fill in W2's and maybe a student loan interest payment, I'd bet you'd be down in under an hour.
      What I recommend is making sure you give yourself enough time to complete this task all at once. You're never going to want to jump back in if you've already started. If you know that you work better in small sections a little at a time, you can always do that too. There is a save and return option throughout.
     My husband knows doing the taxes is my responsibility and I get a weird joy from it so he helps me out too. It's his job to get the kids out of the house and give me a minimum of 3 hours quiet with no distractions. As of late he's even been taking the dog. I pour a glass of wine, turn off all of the noise making devices, sit down with my folder full of documents and push start.
     Read every bit that is printed on the screen. Read, read, read. They can't lie to you, they're under contract, and you're going to give them your money, so take every step and read every direction to make sure you get it done right the first time! Watch the little money counter in the corner grow and grow as you finish each section (that's my favorite part).
      This year TurboTax is cahooting with Amazon. You can take part of your federal refund as an Amazon gift card. Amazon will reward you for doing so with either 5% or 10%  more than the gift card's purchased price. That is huge. If you use the Premier Edition like I do (because I have multiple forms, with my rental and my W 2's and a small business that I run myself) you get 10 percent on top of the Amazon card value. Standard versions are rewarded with an additional 5%.  I opted to take $300 in the form of an Amazon card because I already shop with Amazon for inexpensive home products and gifts. By doing so I got an extra $30, that's right $330 for the actual price of $300. That may not sound like much but it is. That's actually a whole case of toilet paper, 4 months worth of toilet paper for our family. You know how I love the savings and something that practical just doesn't make sense to pass up.
     I recommend taking this offer for anyone who hasn't filed their taxes yet. TurboTax makes it ridiculously easy. They file for you. They also allow you to track your return's acceptance and refund. My state and federal refunds were accepted and deposited electronically into my checking account within 10 days of filing. Sweet, sweet success.
      I'm not saying that everyone's experience will run that smoothly. Certainly mine haven't in the past, but your chances are better than going it unsupervised or forgoing the legality of paying taxes all together. If you sick with TurboTax, you also have the opportunity to sign up for audit protection and review your returns before they're filed. Heck, you could do your return all the way through to the end and decided you didn't like the outcome and opt not to pay for it and walk away. Bring it to your tax guy, see who gets a better return and which is less expensive. Take this exercise and see where you're saving your money if you are skeptical.
     The only other thing to remember is it there's no reason to pay full price for the TurboTax Online. There a lot of programs where you can save on the sticker price. My current banking institution USAA allows members to have a 20% discount for using TurboTax. Just go online and Google TurboTax Online Discount and see what pops up. You'd be surprised. Enter in promotional codes at the end when you check out and you'll save yourself on filing as well.
     By the end of the process I always feel so empowered. If I can finish my taxes I can do anything! Plus, I know I won't even have to really think about them for another whole year. It's a glorious feeling and I know for certain any of you can do it too.
Happy filing!
Simple City Sam

Friday, February 28, 2014

I'm Alive...And I've Been Revived By Taxes!

     Yes, it's true I'm crazy. At this point you all are well aware of that. My undying love for doing my taxes every year is just another shining example of this fact. I do, I love it.

     All year I meticulously save my pertinent documents. You really should be doing this already! If you aren't, look around, there are many sites that can suggest what to save. I have my own list of documents that need to be saved. I have complied this list after having done my own taxes for the last 8 years and helping my mom do mine years prior to that. (See? It runs in the family.) I have a file cabinet dedicated to family records. I keep home insurance documents, current school information, pet licenses and information, and anything else pertaining to the household really...including tax information and previous tax returns. It's not an eyesore because I hide mine. If you're concerned you can always purchase a decorative one, or the file boxes that store nicely under beds. In January I place a new empty file right in the front of the drawer and leave it to collect everything needed throughout the year.

     So, what do I save? Is it overwhelming? Is it time-consuming? Alright, here goes. It is in no way time-consuming! In fact, it is the exact opposite. Come tax time you will be thanking yourself enormously for how much time you will have saved. I also find the organization and lack of build-up to make the whole thing supremely manageable and am never overwhelmed by it. Here's what I save.

     1. Right behind the empty tax folder I also place a new folder for all our earned pay stubs. THIS IS CRUCIAL! If you do nothing else, start doing this! If you earn tipped wages as well (service industry, etc.) I highly recommend saving your time print outs as well as maintaining a weekly tip log. Throw each into the folder, just in case. If you are really determined, wait until the stub, hours and tip log all match up, staple them together and file that way. This is an easy way to double check your employer too. Especially in the service industry, it is too easy for employees to be robbed little by little and never know it. I have had to calculate rough estimates for my own W-2s THREE times in my short tax-paying career. THREE. This may seem high, but think about it. Ever have a job where that W-2 just didn't seem right? Or a job that went belly-up and you never heard from again? Did you file an IRS claim (as legally I have to recommend you look into) and get sucked into an up-to 2 year dance battle? I have. If you have your stubs you have your W-2, never forget that!

     2. Every time I donate anything I get a receipt or write it down. Yes, every time. If clothing or household items are donated to somewhere like, The Salvation Army, ask them to give you a receipt. If you drop it in a drop box, write down the items you are donating (snap a quick pic to go one step further) and throw the list in the tax folder. It's important not to just write the amount. These items are calculated individually (i.e. 3 t-shirts, 1 baby dress, 1 ladies blouse, 1 tv, 3 kids boots) because their write-off value is pre-determined. Memberships to non-profit organizations (like Children's Museums, or auxiliaries), tele-thon donations, charitable auction prizes and many other items (even all those times you "rounded-up" with your Pampered Chef order for charity) are all charitable donations that can be written off. Save the proof.

     3. Receipts of any type of child care go in as well. Most day care facilities supply you with one without having to ask at the end of the year. If not, just ask and they'll have to. Also try to keep track of what you may have paid a babysitter or nanny, if one was needed for you to attend work or school (no, can't deduct the dinner date, sorry).

     4. Also include any receipts for purchases made specifically for work. Are you a teacher who had to buy supplies? Keep the receipts. Are you a bartender who needed to take a specific class required by your new corporate gig? Keep the receipt. Did you have to order new sneakers because you give walking tours? Save the receipt. It's easy. Do it when you purchase the item, make a quick note at the top if the receipt is unspecific as to what the item is, and don't think about it again until the end of the year.

     5. We also rent out a house we own so we need to keep all our business receipts too. Perhaps you run a small business from your home, or get paid for small odd jobs in your neighborhood. Save gas, tolls, expenses incurred because of the business (i.e. to uphold tenant lease contract, I had to repair the water heater). These will all count against any "profits" made in the business...which is good.

     6. At the end of the year all W-2s go directly into the folder, as well as any mortgage/student loan interest payment deductions and investment records like IRAs or 401Ks. These are all documents that typically show up at your door or inbox magically in January anyway. Now you'll know where to put them and know you have everything else you need.

     7. Also collect information like your social security number, home/renters insurance premiums, children's social security numbers and birth dates.

     8. THINK ABOUT IT. If you've done something big this year, save the proof. Have new baby birth certificates made promptly, keep receipts for new "green" updates like geothermal, and don't forget about that new-to-you car you bought, either, registration gets deducted.

     Remember that if you stay committed to doing this "in the moment" it will never become overwhelming. One receipt here and there will get added to the file and it'll never feel like work. By the end of the year you'll know exactly where everything is and you'll be itching for your W2s. No more waiting until April to file extensions for you!

     And if you're thinking to yourself, "I've got a tax person, I'm all set". Think again. He hates you, and your shoe box full of information he doesn't need. She sees hundreds of you a year. Be the one that stands out. Hand the file over the desk and watch them weep with glee...alright maybe a little over the top, but I feel like you know what I'm getting at.

     Hang tight, next post I'll give a quick run down of how I accomplish actually filing. Then comes the best part: spending the return.

"In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes." ~ Benjamin Franklin

Simple City Sam