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 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