Five Frugal Things

Raspberry-white chocolate glaze over a $1 chocolate cake tastes might fine (and it looked better after I cleaned up the glaze)

Leftover raspberry-white chocolate glaze over a $1 chocolate cake tasted mighty fine (it looked better after I cleaned up the runny glaze)

As our big goal this coming year is to save as much as possible, I am going to shamelessly steal this idea from The Non-Consumer Advocate and post five frugal things we’ve done each week, if nothing else to keep me motivated.

Here’s five frugal wins we had this past week:

  1. We put the $85.18 that would have gone to the electric company this month into our savings account.
  2. YaYu and a friend baked lemon cookies with raspberry-white chocolate filling for the swim team’s annual holiday cookie contest a week ago (they won second place). There was filling left over, so I baked a chocolate cake ($1 cake mix bought on sale at Big Save), and put the filling between layers and on the top of the cake for a fabulous Christmas dessert.
  3. We used brown paper bags, leftover tissue paper and ribbon, and Japanese furoshiki to wrap our Christmas gifts. Everything will be reused or got recycled, and we spent nothing on wrapping materials. Everything still looked lovely under the tree.
  4. I almost bought a book for my Kindle from Amazon, but remembered to check the library first and it was currently available to download – for free. Amount saved: $10.99.
  5. I made Meiling two ham sandwiches, and also packed some cookies for her to take along on her flight back to the mainland so she didn’t have to spend on food. She used the Starbucks card she got for Christmas to purchase drinks in the airport.

What frugal wins did you have this week?

May You Live In Interesting Times

may-you-live-in-interesting-times1May you live in interesting times – traditional Chinese curse

The operative word below the picture is curse. Big changes are coming next year, whether we like them or not. There will be many unknowns for everyone, and “interesting” times will most likely be arriving sooner rather than later, maybe sooner than we’d like or are prepared for.

Because we don’t know if any of the changes to Social Security, Medicare, health care, etc. that have been threatened by the incoming Congress will actually occur, and if they do, when and how they will affect us, we have decided that instead of traveling as much as we had planned in 2017 we will instead stick close to home for most of the year and fatten up our savings account. We can afford the trips we had planned, and think we’re going to be OK, but we’d rather err on the “safer” side. Brett, YaYu and I are still going to Japan in March, but I’ve decided to hold off on the second trip in June with WenYu, Meiling and friends, and we will also put off a planned fall Mystery Vacation™. Money that would have gone towards these two trips will instead go into our savings account.

Once we get a better feel for how things are going to shake out, we can decide what we want to and will be able to do in 2018, although we’ve already started planning something. If nothing else, we’ll be taking YaYu to college somewhere that year, and will also be getting all three girls to school and home for the holidays and other breaks.

We’re not giving up on travel completely though. There are terrific and affordable staycations to be taken on Kaua’i, and we may be able to swing a short trip over to one of the other islands. We’ll see. But other than Japan, we’ve put plans for any other “big” travel in 2017 on hold. That doesn’t mean though that I still won’t be thinking about it all the time!

May you live in interesting times.

This Week’s Menu: Spending Less On Food

Caprese Skillet Eggs

Caprese Skillet Eggs

One of our goals for 2017 is to reduce our monthly food spending so that we can add more to our savings account. We’ve been able to chop several hundred dollars off the $1000/month we budgeted for food when we first arrived on Kaua’i, but we’d like to take it down even more if we can. We’ll still be doing our once-a-month shop at Costco, and filling in with items from Big Save and the farmers’ market, but I’m going to be much more conscientious when I make up both our weekly menu and our monthly shopping lists.

One thing that we haven’t bought in a while that will be reappearing each month will be a Costco roast chicken. They are still just $4.99, and I can get at least three or four meals from one. We’re going shopping on Thursday this week, and will be having chicken for dinner that evening; leftovers will appear in a couple of other meals. We’ve also decided to have an egg meal one evening a week, on Sunday. Eggs are an affordable protein, and there are plenty of exciting and tasty meals we can plan around them.

Meiling leaves on Wednesday, so the amount of food I’ve been preparing will decrease some, but leftovers probably still won’t appear again on the menu until after WenYu goes back to school toward the end of the month.

Here’s what’s we’re having this week:

  • Tuesday (this evening): Farfalle with spinach, peppers, and ham; garlic bread
  • Wednesday: Grilled ham and cheese sandwiches; waffle fries; coleslaw
  • Thursday: Roast chicken; couscous; steamed green beans
  • Friday: Pepperoni pizza
  • Saturday: King Ranch casserole; salad
  • Sunday (New Year’s Day): Caprese Skillet Eggs with garlic toast; salad
  • Monday: Butternut squash ravioli with alfredo sauce; garlic bread; grilled zucchini

We’ll need to get zucchini, basil, cucumbers, green onions, and lettuce from the farmer’s market this week, so it will be a quick trip. Many of the things needed for this week’s meals we already have on hand, and the rest will get picked up at Costco and Big Save.

Monday Afternoon 12/26/2016

Empty stockings and gift boxes, ready to be put away for next year. I found these little boxes years ago at WinCo market, for just $1 each. We put a little money in them each year for the girls.

Empty stockings and gift boxes, ready to be put away for next year. I found these little sequined Christmas boxes years ago at WinCo market, for just $1 each, and they’ve become very precious to us. Brett and I put a little money in them each year for the girls.

We had a wonderful Christmas Day, even if I did mess up my back again from trying to do too much.

Brett and the girls woke up early, but let me sleep in a bit, so we didn’t get to breakfast and presents until almost 10:00, which is quite late for us. Everyone was very, very happy with their gifts, and I got two thumbs up from all three girls. I received a sushi ornament for the Christmas tree, a solar charger for my phone, a small Neko Atsume figure, a Secret Tokyo coloring book and a lovely set of colored pencils from the girls – I’m thrilled with everything. Brett and his sister also made sure I got plenty of all my favorite snacks, including matcha (green tea) Pocky, asparagus biscuits, and peanut M&Ms. Brett got a Baltimore Oriole’s ball cap, a bottle of port, a much-needed memory card for his camera, a year’s subscription to Wired magazine, and a New Yorker calendar from the girls. The stocking stuffers from his sister were loads of fun for everyone, too.

My favorite flavor of Pocky (pronounced poke-ee)!

Meiling returns to the mainland this week, and WenYu will hopefully start picking up some hours at her old job. YaYu has swim practice all week – the team hosts a meet right after school starts up again so they have to practice during the break. In other words, things are going to start getting busy around here fairly quickly.

This afternoon I am:

  • Reading: I had two book downloads come off of hold from the library at the same time, with just three weeks to read them both, so I’ve set Strawberry Days aside for now and have started For the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki.
  • Listening to: The drip, drip, drip of rain off the roof. It was pouring when I got up this morning. It’s still quite overcast so it looks like another indoor day. The neighborhood chickens are making some noise, but otherwise it’s fairly quiet around here.

    Christmas afternoon at the beach.

    Christmas afternoon at the beach. Brett and the girls hiked to the Pineapple Dump in the afternoon and got soaked! (photo by Meiling)

  • Watching: Last week WenYu and I watched both Love, Actually and White Christmas, our two Christmas movie traditions. We also watched the first episode of Season 5 of American Horror Story. Let’s just say they’ve kicked things up a few notches with that series. We binge watched the previous seasons, but this time all we can handle is one episode at a time.
  • Cooking/baking: YaYu and WenYu made fresh pasta this morning, and then used it to make pasta carbonara! We have lots of ham and macaroni and cheese left over from our Christmas dinner, so will be having more of that tonight. I baked a chocolate cake the other day and there’s still enough left of that for dessert.
  • Happy I accomplished last week: The girls were all thrilled with their presents, and surprised too – yeah! We also took care of both Meiling’s and WenYu’s birthday gifts (they both have birthdays in early January) and stayed under budget for both. I got in all my daily bike rides (45+ miles, 1700+ calories burned), drank eight glasses of water every day, and didn’t miss a day of Japanese and Portuguese language study. Not my accomplishment, but Brett put in lots of driving time with Meiling. With a little more practice back in Oregon, she’ll be ready to get her license.
  • Looking forward to next week: Well, I am not looking forward to Meiling leaving us on Wednesday, but she wants to spend some time with her best friend in Portland before both head their separate ways back to their respective schools, and to spend New Year’s Eve with her boyfriend. YaYu will have swim practice all next week, so I hope to get in a couple of short walks with Brett on the Coastal Path while she’s doing that. Believe it or not, I am also looking forward to putting the Christmas tree and other decorations away – that’s planned for Friday. We like to have the house clean and organized to welcome the New Year.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Besides just having an all-around good time with the girls, we got our electric service deposit credited back to us this month, so we didn’t have any electric bill this month, and still have enough credit left over to cover next month and maybe even some of February’s bill. We took the girls out for breakfast at the Tip Top Cafe in Lihue last Friday morning – they loved it. The Tip Top is very “local,” and offers several Asian-type foods on their menu, which made the girls happy (Brett and I had their pancakes, which were amazing). We had no food waste, and put a whopping 92¢ in the change/$1 bill jar.
  • Grateful for: Both Brett and I so enjoy having all three of our girls here. I feel very blessed that we get along well with our daughters, and that they get along so well with each other. They enjoy each other’s company, and look out for each other and don’t compete. They of course have disagreements, but are quick to work things out and get their relationship with the other(s) back on an even keel.
  • Bonus question: If you could spend Christmas anywhere else but at home, where would you like to go? We spent Christmas twice at Disney World when the girls were little, and both of those trips were fun and memorable – the girls still talk about those trips. One of the best parts of the vacations for me was getting a break from putting up and taking down all the decorations. We spent several Christmases in Japan when we were stationed there, and for a couple of years we couldn’t figure out why things felt sort of “off.” It turned out we weren’t used to all the noise going on outside – Christmas is not a holiday in Japan, just a regular, busy day compared to how very quiet it is here in the U.S. Our son and I spent Christmas Day in Hong Kong the year Brett was deployed for Desert Storm, and it was both quiet and bustle. Lots of shopping, but we couldn’t exchange money because the banks were closed! If I could choose any other place to spend Christmas now, I think I’d like to be in England or Scotland. They have similar traditions to ours, but it would be just different enough to add a bit more excitement to the holiday.

I hope all of you had a wonderful Christmas yesterday, or are continuing to enjoy your Hanukkah festivities! Thank you to all for your good wishes, and your continuing to read my thoughts. You’re more appreciated than I can say.

Christmas At Casa Aloha

img_4410

We bought this Native American-made angel at the Grand Canyon earlier this year.

All the girls are home, the tree is decorated, the presents have been bought and wrapped (or sent), the pantry and refrigerator stocked – we are ready for Christmas Day!

Here’s what’s happening at Casa Aloha for Christmas:

First, I’ve changed our Christmas Eve menu: Instead of Pono Market chicken, etc. I’m going to prepare a Chinese feast of mabo dofu, stir-fried pork with peppers, chili shrimp, and rice. I planned to make these dishes for Meiling while she’s home as they’re some of her favorites, and realized I am running out of time because she heads back to the mainland the morning of the 28th.

Christmas morning will start with coffee for Brett and I, and hot cocoa with marshmallows for the girls while they open their stockings. Then we’ll have our traditional breakfast of toasted bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon, some fruit, and orange juice. I wanted to make something different for breakfast this year, like a breakfast casserole, but was unanimously told no. Tradition rules!

We’ll open our presents while we eat breakfast – only one person opens a gift at a time so we can all admire each gift. Tradition also dictates we open from oldest to youngest, so Brett always leads off. He and I don’t exchange gifts, but we’ve been told there will be gifts from the girls.

Here’s what we’re giving the girls this year:

  • Meiling has always been the most difficult of all our children to shop for, but we’ve gotten smart in our old age and these days ask for suggestions. She’ll be getting a pair of Birkenstock sandals and a Forever 21 gift card.
  • We bought WenYu a cozy, fleece-lined bathrobe and this pair of slippers to wear in her dorm room – she likes to stay warm.
  • YaYu will get an Atlas pasta machine along with a pasta drying rack and pasta cookbook. One of the highlights of her culinary class this past term was learning to make fresh pasta, and she’s been dreaming about having her own pasta machine ever since.
  • We sent a check to Japan for our grandchildren. Our son and daughter-in-law purchased a much-desired Lego Star Wars set for our grandson, and our granddaughter will get a jacket and some baby toys.
  • The girls will each get two Toblerone bars, some assorted Lindor truffles and Ghiradelli chocolate squares in their stockings along with a Mālie Organics travel set, a $10 Starbucks gift card, and a crisp $20 bill.

Our budget this year was $600, and with an assist from some Amazon credit we earned via Swagbucks and our kamaaina discounts, the total spent on Christmas gifts this year was $604.71, less than $5 over our budget (and if I had waited a couple of weeks to buy the pasta machine I could have saved an additional $12, but who knew Amazon would drop the price). The girls saved for and bought their own gifts for everyone but I have no idea how much they spent or what they bought for anyone.

Brett’s sister sent the girls a big box with fun stocking stuffer-type gifts, and she also sent Brett and I a generous check to cover things like meals out and such while they are all are here.

Christmas afternoon, weather permitting, we plan to walk together out to the Pineapple Dump and do some whale watching.

It’s going to be a wonderful Christmas!

This Week’s Menu: Christmas!

Christmas ham

Christmas ham

I know it sounds like a cliché, but I’m honestly having a hard time grasping that Christmas will actually be here in less than a week. I’ve mostly been focusing on WenYu’s homecoming, and thinking about what it’s going to be like cooking for five again.

For one thing, leftovers are no longer an issue. We don’t have any! With Meiling at home these past 10 days, we’ve been lucky to save something for YaYu to take for her lunch, and Brett and I (and Meiling) have had to scramble here at home to come up with our own lunches.

We’ll be having two big meals this coming week, a turkey dinner tomorrow evening to celebrate WenYu’s homecoming, and then ham on Christmas Day. Both meals will thankfully provide plenty of leftovers to be used going forward. And, in the past, we’ve always had an assortment of hors d’oeuvre for our Christmas Eve celebration, but this year we’ve decided to pick up some tasty items from Pono Market in Kapaa. I’ll still be fixing part of the meal, but my evening should be a bit more relaxed than it’s been in the past.

Here’s what we’re having this week:

  • Tuesday (this evening): Stuffed peppers; garlic bread
  • Wednesday: Roast turkey; mashed potatoes; gravy; stuffing; roasted asparagus; biscuits; cranberry sauce
  • Thursday: Hot turkey sandwiches; cucumber-dill salad
  • Friday: Turkey divan casserole
  • Saturday (Christmas Eve): Pono Market lomi lomi salmon; PM fried chicken; mashed potatoes; gravy; coleslaw
  • Sunday (Christmas): Honey roasted ham; baked macaroni & cheese; roasted asparagus; dinner rolls
  • Monday: Farfalle with spinach, peppers, and ham

We won’t be needing much from the farmers’ market this week other than some cucumbers and bananas, and maybe some broccoli if we can find it (I have frozen to use for the turkey casserole if I can’t find fresh).

Happy holidays to everyone!

Conde Nast Traveler: Travel News, Tips, Hints and Fun

As I’ve said, I love reading about travel. Along with books about travel, and travel-related blogs, some of my favorite Facebook posts these days come from Condé Nast Traveler. Usually I see several short posts or photo essays in my timeline each day, ranging from photo essays to articles on packing tips to the best airport restaurants to things not to miss when visiting a particular city. If nothing else, the photos are always magnificent and worth checking out. It’s easy to skip over any article that doesn’t interest me, but if I want to go back and look something up or reread an article I can go to the Condé Nast Traveler website and find the article there, or search for it with Google.

Here are a few recent examples from their Facebook feed:

Rick & Andy Steves

Rick & Andy Steves

How Andy Steves Is Redefining His Dad’s Travel Guides For a New Generation

I’ve been a Rick Steves fan for years, and now his son has published his own guidebook and tour company, directed toward students who want to travel through Europe.

Venice

Venice

15 Places Telling Tourists To Stay Home

Some famous locations have decided that the harm to the environment, and the disruption to locals’ lives, is not worth the economic benefit that tourists brings, and have proposed or established measures limiting the amount of annual tourists.

Lake McDonald, Montana

Lake McDonald, Montana

The 15 Most Beautiful Lakes in the U.S.

Breathtaking photos of some of the most beautiful natural sites in the United States.

lilou-therapy-pig-sfo-15252747_1394171073935738_8305746718364963836_o

LiLou

SFO Airport Introduces LiLou, a Therapy Pig for Stressed Fliers

Travel can be stressful at times. LiLou is “the first pig to be certified in the Animal Assisted Therapy Program of the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the first non-canine addition to the Wag Brigade, a group of 22 trained therapy dogs that roam SFO’s terminals with “Pet Me!” vests.”

The Condé Nast Traveler feed also included information about great travel deal, updates on and changes to airline rules (e.g. United plans to charge for overhead bin space in basic economy!), packing tips, travel gadgets and so forth. Lots of holiday- and winter-themed articles have been showing up these days, as well as photo essays about tropical getaways.

Travel & Leisure also offers articles on your Facebook, but I have preferred the ones from Condé Nast.

Anyway, even if you can’t afford a trip right now, Condé Nast Traveler is a fun and interesting travel escape, full of gorgeous photos, tips and even some fun every day, for free. Check it out!

(all photos are from the Condé Nast Traveler Facebook page)

 

Sunday Afternoon 12/19/2016

Mom in Uruguay in 2009 - still traveling at 85!

Mom in Uruguay in 2009 – still traveling at 85!

Thank you so much for all your kind thoughts this past week; they were all appreciated so much. Mom passed away peacefully last Monday evening, so it’s been a somewhat subdued and sad week here. It’s been especially difficult for the girls – Mom was the only grandparent they knew and her loss is felt deeply.

Meiling meets Island Taco

Meiling meets Island Taco

Meiling arrived home safely last Sunday evening, albeit by the skin of her teeth. Her flight from San Francisco to Honolulu was delayed over an hour because of weather delays back east, so it was very touch and go as to whether she would be able to make her connecting Hawaiian Airlines flight over to Kaua’i once she arrived in Honolulu. Her flight to Lihue was the last one of the day, so if she had missed it she would have had to spend the night at the Honolulu airport AND purchase a new ticket (and Hawaiian is currently charging bit more than usual for a one-way flight – we had used miles to purchase her ticket). But, a very kind shuttle driver at the Honolulu airport got her and two other passengers over to the Hawaiian terminal in time, a real feat because their United arrival gate and their Hawaiian departure gates were at complete opposite ends of the airport. Since she’s been here she and Brett have been taking care of all sorts of “business” issues, and she’s been practicing driving – she finally wants to get her driver’s license.

WenYu arrives home this Wednesday, so all of our fingers are crossed that everything goes smoothly with her flights.

This afternoon I am:

  • Reading: I started Strawberry Days: How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community, by David A. Neiwert, this past week, about the evacuation of Japanese from the Seattle area into internment camps during WWII, one of the most shameful episodes in our nation’s history. The book is a combination of historical facts mixed with human stories about the effects of the evacuation both immediate and over time. I still haven’t been able to go back to It Can’t Happen Here.
  • Listening to: It’s quite breezy again this morning, but the birds are singing and the chickens are a bit quieter than usual. Brett had the laundry started early this morning, so right now we’re listening to the sound of our beach towels tumbling in the dryer (YaYu uses them throughout the week after swim practice). 
  • Watching: Brett and I watched the series Hinterland for most of this past week, a crime procedural series set in Wales. We enjoyed it, but Wales sure seemed to be a very bleak place. We watched Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? again last Thursday evening, and started the second season of The Man In the High Castle on Friday evening and are working our way through that.
  • Cooking/baking: Because Meiling asked for it, we’re having kalua pork, macaroni salad, rice and a cucumber salad for dinner tonight. Brett got the pork going in the slow cooker early this morning and it smells wonderful. No baking today.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: It’s kind of amazing how much adding just one person to the household changes things, so it’s been a bit more of an effort keeping up with things. I still was able to get all my water drinking (56 glasses!), bike riding (45+ miles with 1680+ calories burned) and Japanese language study done every day. Brett and I finished the last of our Christmas shopping (gift cards) on Friday so we are officially ready!
  • Looking forward to next week: WenYu’s homecoming! Can’t wait to see that girl again, and have all three of our girls at home (YaYu’s winter break begins on Thursday). They are all so excited about being together again and have a slew of activities planned for the week that WenYu’s and Meiling’s stays overlap. We’re also all looking forward to our Christmas Eve dinner from Pono Market!img_4407
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We had a wonderful lunch and get-together with friends Alan and Cheryl, who will be moving permanently to Kaua’i in 2017. We ate at Street Burger, one of our favorite Kaua’i restaurants. The burgers are amazing, and many of the ingredients are locally grown or produced. Brett’s sister sent the girls a big package to open on Christmas, and sent Brett and I a generous check to spend on them while they’re here. I discovered that Big Save market carries one of my all-time favorite snacks from Japan, Ginbis Asparagus Biscuits. The deliciously crispy, lightly sweet cookies are NOT asparagus flavored, but are named for their asparagus shape. We had no food waste this past week – Meiling being home insures there are no leftovers – and we put $6.12 in the change/$1 bill jar.
  • Grateful for: I’ve been exceeding thankful this week that Meiling has been home, and for the support and love from Brett and all my children and grandchildren.
  • Bonus question: Has 2016 been a bad year, or good year for you? I know many have spoken of 2016 being one of the worst years they can remember, for a variety of reasons, but it’s honestly been a bit of both for me. On the bad side, there’s been the election results, the death of my mom, and a lot of little things not happening the way we liked, but on the up side there were WenYu’s scholarship wins and her admission to Wellesley, and we added an adorable granddaughter to the family. We had a fabulous trip to the Grand Canyon and Sedona last March, and a great getaway to Honolulu in June. Our children are all healthy and doing well. So, overall I’d say it’s been a good year for us, with a couple of negatives (although they were big ones).

Thank you all again for your thoughts and wishes this past week. I hope it’s been a good week for you, and that good things happened in your lives.