Sunday Afternoon 7/23/2017

Dragonfruit season is back!

It’s been another lazy, summer week here at Casa Aloha. I am beginning to feel a bit like my entire existence these days consists of trying to stay cool and somewhat comfortable. Brett and I did our Costco Big Shop on Friday, and it about did me in. The weather that day couldn’t have been more hot and humid, and because we bought more than usual it required extra effort to get everything loaded into the car, then out of the car when we got home, photographed and put away. Just as soon as we got that done it was time to head out again to the farmers’ market, but thankfully that errand didn’t take too long. By the time we got done though both Brett and I were ready to melt into puddles. The rest of the week wasn’t as bad, and mornings and late evenings have been very pleasant and breezy, and we also didn’t have as much to do on those days.

I feel like all I do lately is complain about the heat, but then I remember the summer we arrived, and what we are going through this summer is nothing as bad as it was that year, when the trade winds died and there was absolutely no breeze for several months. Plus, we lived upstairs where it was naturally hotter, and we had no place to escape the heat outside other than getting in our car and driving somewhere else. Now we have a nice shady lanai, we’re on the ground floor, and the trade winds blow every day. I try to remind myself as much as possible that things could be worse.

Our oven quit on us this week – it seems the igniter failed. The stovetop works as does the broiler, but the other day the oven just wouldn’t light even though the gas feed was OK. We called the landlord and he immediately arranged for the repair which will be happening on Wednesday. I’m frankly thankful right now that we can’t use the oven – one less way to heat up the kitchen!

This week I am:

  • Reading: I’m still reading Evicted, but the latest Kevin Kwan book, Rich People Problems just came off of hold so I’ve got that to look forward to later this week. His two previous books, Crazy Rich Asians, and China Rich Girlfriend, were fun to read so I’m looking forward to this book as well.
  • Listening to: It’s been a quiet morning for the most part. I can hear the sound of weed trimmers and saws in the distance, but everything’s quiet in our neighborhood. We haven’t had any chickens around us for a while – not sure why – but I sure don’t miss their noise. Brett is reading, WenYu is eating her breakfast, and YaYu is still sleeping so it’s quiet inside the house as well.
  • Watching: Two of our PBS shows, My Mother and Other Strangers (cannot wait for the next season!) and The Story of China, finished this last week, but we’ve still got episodes of the Great British Baking Show and Granchester to watch, and we started a new and very creepy three-part series on PBS, Remember Me, starring Michael Palin. We found ourselves yelling “Get out of the house!” at the TV last week as we watched – it was that scary! Brett and I started another new mystery series (on Hulu) this week, The Top of the Lake, set in New Zealand, and starring Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men, The Handmaid’s Tale). You would think from listening to her that she’s from New Zealand, her accent is that good. Not sure though what we’re going to watch next week though. I’m a little over half-way through Top Chef Masters – wish there were more seasons.
  • Cooking/baking: I’ve got my eggs boiled and cooling already for deviled eggs this evening. We’re also going to cook up the rest of some bacon to go with those, and will also have some fresh vegetables (cucumbers, carrots, daikon radish), pickled beets, and cut up watermelon – a nice, cool dinner. Baking is out of course for the time being, not that I feel like baking anything in this heat.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Getting Wednesday’s shop at Costco done felt like a major accomplishment, much more than usual. We went a little over budget (barely) on our monthly shop, and will have to go back to Costco mid-month for some fruit, probably peaches and maybe another watermelon. I am quite proud of myself for getting almost all of my bike rides done in spite of the heat/humidity, as well as drinking my water rations (and then some) every day and doing my language study. I finally moved up to the next level!
  • Looking forward to next week: There’s nothing special coming up, so I’m looking forward to sleeping in every morning, a hot cup of coffee or two in the morning, a good book, two exercise sessions a day, and otherwise relaxing and staying cool.

    New suitcases mean travel!

  • Thinking of good things that happened: Our new big suitcases arrived! They are just what we hoped for, so Brett and I are very happy (and thrilled that we got them for such a good price). Dragonfruit is back at the market – it has become one of my favorite summer fruits and I’ve been looking forward to it. And, our daughter-in-law sent LOTS of photos and videos this week, always a good and happy thing. One of the pictures was of our grandson immediately after he lost his first tooth, and it really felt like we got to share that experience. Our son and family are all heading to Seattle in a couple of weeks to visit friends, get out of the Tokyo heat, and let our grandson attend a couple of summer camps so he can keep up his English skills. Our granddaughter is standing now, and growing leaps and bounds!
  • Grateful for: I’m so thankful that in spite of all the heat and humidity, the mornings and evenings have stayed cool and breezy, and that sleeping is comfortable at night.

    A mojito is very refreshing on a hot day

  • Bonus question: What are your favorite beverages? I have probably answered this before, but hands down, coffee wins the favorite beverage contest every time. I ♥♥♥♥♥ coffee, and it is through sheer effort of will that I don’t drink more than I do. I begin drinking coffee when I was five – my grandmother had a little coffee pot and coffee cup for me, and I would drink with her in the afternoon when she had her afternoon coffee (mine was more cream and sugar than coffee though). By the time I was in high school I was drinking my coffee black, which is how I still prefer it.  I usually have two cups in the morning, one in the afternoon, and another after dinner. Both Brett and I drink our coffee half-caff: we buy both dark roast regular beans and decaffeinated beans (which, believe it or not, are nearly impossible to find on this island) and Brett blends them, and grinds our coffee fresh for brewing every morning. After coffee I would rank water, then iced tea and Diet Coke – I have just one every day – as my next three favorites. I don’t like other sodas except for root beer and ginger ale occasionally, and although I’ll drink hot tea it’s not a favorite. I really don’t care for juices either, although I do like lemonade now and then. Brett and I drink alcohol just twice a week, mainly because we’re watching our calories and carbohydrates. We each have either a glass of wine (red for Brett, white for me) or a cocktail (mojitos or gin and tonics) on Friday and Saturday evenings. It’s enough.

That’s it for this week at Casa Aloha. How is your weekend going? What good things happened for you this week? I hope you are all staying cool!

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Five Frugal Things 7/21/2017

His & her Kindles!

  1. We had plans to buy Brett a Kindle before we go on our Big Mystery Adventure™ next year, but this past week YaYu offered him the one we bought for her in 2012. She doesn’t use it any more (she bought herself a Kindle Fire last year), and it still works great.
  2. I had a pair of Birkenstocks and another nice pair of flip-flops that I rarely wore any more, and was thinking of taking them to the thrift store. I asked WenYu though if she wanted them, and she snapped them up. She’s been wanting some Birkenstocks, so saved some $$, and the sandals fit her well and look great.
  3. On the positive, frugal side of things, we kept to our shopping list when we did our big shop at Costco, and didn’t buy anything not on the list. On the not-so-positive side, we were left with only $61.54 to finish our shopping today, and buy more fruit later this month. We will finish up our monthly shopping later today, and fingers are crossed that it’s less than $61.54!
  4. It’s been hot and humid here this past week (quelle surprise!), and a couple of times I’ve almost talked myself into us buying an air conditioner for the house (I tolerate this weather less well than anyone else). But, I’ve instead imagined myself on our trip next year, and decided I’d rather put up with a little discomfort now and save our money for later – it will be worth it!
  5. We put only $3.03 in the change/$1 bill jar this week: $2.00 in change Brett got back from YaYu, $1.00 left over from the farmers’ market, and 3¢ Brett found on the ground. Every little bit adds up!

What frugal wins did you have this week?

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Our Monthly Big Shop, Part 1 (Costco)

I took pictures yesterday of what we bought at Costco – I thought you might find it interesting to see what a monthly Big Shop looks like, and what we’re paying for food, toiletries and some other items here.

We bought a little bit more than usual this month because a) WenYu will be at home for another month; and b) YaYu goes back to school in less than three weeks and we had to buy things for that change in our meal planning. We also seemed to have run out of more than a few things during the last month, and while they upped our bill this month we won’t have to buy them again for several months or even a year.

Our monthly food budget is typically $500, but with WenYu home we’ve upped that to $600. We stuck to our list yesterday, and spent $538.46, which leaves us only $61.54 for Round 2 on Friday, when I’ll finish up at Walmart, Big Save, and Cost U Less. It will be a challenge, but I’ll stick to our list like glue and hope for the best.

Here goes:

Frozen:

  • 3 bags of frozen organic dark sweet cherries (4 lbs each): $32.07 (probably more than we need for the month, but I don’t want to run out)
  • 1 bag frozen organic blueberries (3 lbs): $11.39
  • 1 bag LingLing frozen potstickers: $10.49 (breakfast for YaYu; the girls also like them in their ramen bowls)
  • 1 box grass-fed beef patties: $15.89 (I cannot make these myself for less)
  • 1 gallon vanilla ice cream: $7.59

Refrigerated/deli:

  • 50-oz organic fresh sauerkraut: $8.49 (to go with the Polish sausages)
  • 3-lbs Fage Greek yogurt: $6.89
  • 8 Manapua: $12.49 (Chinese steamed barbecue pork buns – one of WenYu’s favorite things to have for breakfast)
  • Organic chicken flautas 2-pack: $12.49 (for YaYu’s lunches and sometimes breakfast)
  • 13.4-oz brie cheese: $4.99
  • Aidell’s teriyaki chicken meatballs with pineapple 2-pack: $13.69
  • 8 nitrite-free beef Polish sausages: $9.89 (two meals for us)
  • Uncured (nitrite-free) smoked ham twin-pack (4 lbs): $11.99
  • Not shown: 2 dozen organic eggs: $6.99 (they went right into the refrigerator)

Bakery:

  • 2 loaves country French bread: $5.99
  • 1 package (10) torta rolls: $6.99
  • 8 danish pastries (4 cherry, 4 cream cheese): $7.99 (I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the danish at Costco, but they are HUGE, and a bargain at $1 each)Meat/fish:
  • 1 big roast chicken: $4.99 (enough chicken for at least four meals)
  • 7-lbs ground pork: $17.53 (I was so excited to see this yesterday – first time ever at Costco! This much will last us three or four months)
  • 6-lbs pork loin chops: $17.34 (I broke this down into four packages, and the chops are huge)
  • 1.5-lbs of wild-caught Hawaiian mongchong: $16.67 (fish is our big splurge here, but this will be enough for three meals for us)

Grocery (Part 1):

  • Organic spaghetti 8-pack: $9.99
  • Organic chicken stock 6-pack: $11.99
  • 2 Melon Mix mixed nuts: $27.38 ( my snack every day – I have 1/4 cup)
  • Case of Sapporo Ichiban Japanese-style ramen (24 packages): $12.99 (the girls’ favorite brand)
  • Graham crackers (4-box pack): $7.99 (Brett’s favorite snack)
  • 3-lbs pistachios: $15.79 (more nuts for snacks)

Grocery (Part 2):

  • 12-pack organic macaroni & cheese: $12.59 (half for YaYu’s lunches, and half will go back to college with WenYu)
  • 12-pack organic vanilla soy milk (this will last us close to four months)
  • Not shown: 4-pack of Choco Pie (48 total): $8.99 (favorite lunchtime snack, and WenYu will take one of the four boxes of 12 back to college with her)

Produce:

  • Bag of 6 mixed peppers (2 each red, orange & yellow): $7.79
  • 2 organic cabbage: $3.99 (Hawaii grown)
  • 4-pack of local (!) zucchini: $7.99 (better price than the farmers’ market, and they are huge and straight, perfect for making zoodles!)
  • 2.5-lbs celery sticks: $4.99
  • 14-pack organic Gala apples: $11.49
  • 11-pack nectarines: $12.99
  • 1 watermelon: $9.99 (it’s in the upper right corner, and it’s HUGE!)

Non-food:

  • Costco bar soap (15 bars): $10.49
  • 6-pack dental floss: $12.99
  • Chewable vitamins: $9.49 (the girls have these every day)
  • Maxi pads (90-count): $11.49
  • 72 AA-batteries: $19.99
  • Not shown: 1.75 liter bottle of Bacardi light rum: $18.99 (Wait- mojitos aren’t food? Still, this bottle will last us for nearly a year)
  • Not shown: case of Diet Coke (24 cans): $9.49 + $1.44 deposit (my vice – I have one a day)

The only thing Costco did not have that was on our list was organic peanut butter, but I will get two jars of something at Big Save or Cost U Less on Friday. Costco pretty much beats everyone else in town’s prices for the items we bought, but they don’t carry everything which is why we will go to the three other stores. We will not have to go back to Costco for a month now except (hopefully) once for some more fruit, which sadly will most likely take us over our monthly budget. As you might notice, many of the items are organic, or nitrate-free, or locally grown – they cost more, but it’s what and how we like to eat. All the plastic packaging from Costco can and will be recycled.

I’ll post Part 2 next Thursday!

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This Week’s Menu: Summer Fruit

One of the joys of summer is the abundance of fresh fruit options that are both available and (more) affordable. Melons, peaches, nectarines, apricots, berries and cherries show up at Costco, and even though we have to pay more for them, way more actually, than we ever did back on the mainland, the occasional indulgence is worth it for the sweet taste of summer.

We also buy quite a bit of frozen fruit at Costco – I am currently addicted to organic frozen dark sweet cherries and have a cup every evening. We also keep bags of organic blueberries, strawberries, and mango chunks in the freezer for having with cereal or yogurt, and replenish as needed. And then there are all the local fruits we can find at the farmers’ market: bananas, mangoes, papaya, dragon fruit, lychees, pineapples and other tropical fruits too numerous to list. It really is paradise here when it comes to fresh fruit.

So, can you guess what we’re eating a lot of these days for dessert and snacks?

Here’s what’s on the menu this week (with fruit every evening for dessert):

  • Tuesday (this evening): Spaghetti with meatballs; steamed artichokes; garlic bread (zoodles for me)
  • Wednesday: Grilled teriyaki chicken meatball, pineapple & green pepper skewers; rice pilaf (no rice for me)
  • Thursday: Slow cooker chicken adobo with bok choy; steamed rice (no rice for me) – this got bumped from last week
  • Friday: Grilled beef Polish sausages; fresh sauerkraut; corn on the cob
  • Saturday: Leftovers
  • Sunday: Deviled eggs; pickled beets; fresh vegetable platter; bread
  • Monday: Chili pork burritos; yellow rice; grilled zucchini (I’ll be having beans with chili pork sauce, and skipping the rice)

We’ll need to get zucchini, cucumbers,and  tomatoes at the farmers’ market as well as ginger, green onions, a papaya, and bananas. Fingers are crossed that there’ll be dragonfruit!

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Staying Connected At Home and On the Road

A longtime reader asked a couple of weeks ago about how our family communicates across the miles, with our son and family in Japan, and two of our three girls in different time zones on the mainland.

I hadn’t really thought about it much because other than remembering how many hours difference there are when you want to talk with someone, communication these days seems so effortless. We use a variety of ways to keep in touch, and they almost never involve phone calls. The best part though is that the ways we communicate with each other while we’re at home work just as well when we travel, even overseas. Gone are the days of prohibitive long distance fees while out of the country or even calling across the United States.

First, I have to give a big shout-out to our phone service provider, T-Mobile, and the very affordable phone plan we have with them. Everyone in the family has WiFi enabled phones with unlimited calls and texting (I have unlimited data – it came with the plan – and everyone else has 2 or 3 GB, which works for them), and it’s incredibly easy to stay in touch wherever we are in the U.S. – all we have to do is connect and we’re good to go. Plus, our plan provides free data and texting all over the world with no roaming charges, with just a few exceptions. Phone calls overseas run about 20c per minute, but since we rarely use the phone feature these days it’s an expense we can almost always avoid.

Our favorite platform for staying in touch at home and abroad is Facebook Messenger. We like it because besides messaging we can also do video and group video chats. I chat with Meiling three to four times a week, with WenYu and our son a little less frequently, and our daughter-in-law uses Messenger to send photos, videos, and other grandchildren updates. It’s also proven to be a good way to stay in touch and share information with friends (who are on Facebook). As long as we’re someplace we can connect to WiFi, Messenger is free and convenient. For safety reasons we always keep the location and notification features turned off, whenever we use our phone and for all platforms.

No matter what your favorite way is to communicate while you’re at home, here are some tips from Consumer Reports on how save with your smartphone when traveling abroad:

  • Check out your carrier’s world plans: Sprint, like T-Mobile, also grants its users free data and texting in most locations overseas. Data speeds are typically only 2G, so if you want faster service you’ll need to pay for it. AT&T and Verizon have similar plans.
  • Get a local SIM card when you arrive: You’ll have to let people know you have a different phone number while you’re in country, but having a local number will mean big savings if and when you need to make local reservations or travel plans. Be sure before you do this though that your phone will work with overseas networks. International SIM cards are available in both Europe and Asia, but cost more than a card that is country specific. Also, be sure your phone is unlocked by your carrier before you go – don’t wait until the last minute to do this either.
  • Buy a budget smartphone: You can do this when you arrive at your destination, or from Amazon before you go – they have a good selection of low-cost Android phones.
  • Turn off data and go WiFi only: This is what we did on our last visit to Japan – we linked up to the WiFi in our hotel room or at our son’s condo when we needed to be online, but we could have gone online as well for free at Starbucks and other locations around town. Many Airbnb rentals and hotels also offer pocket WiFi, either for free or a small charge. WiFi availability is something you should absolutely check up on before you go though – don’t wait until you’re at your destination only to find it doesn’t exist, or you can’t connect.

One final tip for communicating whenever and wherever you travel: be sure to back up your data before you go to either an external drive or cloud-based service. And, don’t forget your power adapters and charger!

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Sunday Afternoon 7/16/2017

Oxtail soup and rice is the girls’ favorite breakfast at the Tip Top Cafe – so Hawaiian!

It’s been a busy, but quiet week here at Casa Aloha, if that makes sense. The girls’ schedules have kept us hopping, and as well we had to fit in our celebratory breakfast at the Tip Top, get to the farmers’ market, take care of dental appointments and all sorts of other little things. But, nothing was too crazy, we made it to the beach, everything got accomplished, so overall it was a good week and passed quickly.

YaYu has started on her first big college-related application: the Questbridge Scholarship. WenYu was a finalist two years ago, and it opened lots of doors for her, so we’re hoping lightening will strike twice with YaYu. The Questbridge app is fairly intense, so YaYu wanted to get as early a start as possible so that she makes sure everything gets done and gets done well. Applications are due September 27, college rankings are due on October 12, finalists are notified on October 19, extra documents for ranked colleges are due November 1, and match scholarships are awarded December 1. Earning a match scholarship guarantees four fully-funded years at one of the Questbridge partner colleges on your match list, but finalists also have the potential to receive very, very good financial aid packages at Questbridge partner schools if they are accepted at one of them. YaYu will also be applying at a few colleges that are not Questbridge partners, so she has to develop a second essay for the Common Application as well for Questbridge. Once again, both Brett and I will be so glad when this is all over – this whole college application process is very intense!

I did some more in-depth research for next year’s Big Mystery Adventure™ this past week, and discovered that pulling off what we had last settled on would actually cost quite a bit more than we thought – yikes! So Brett and I put our heads together and started tweaking, adjusting, or outright deleting some things and got ourselves back to where we need to be budget-wise. Thankfully we have time to do this. We agreed that we still need to work more on finding ways to cut costs, look for the best prices we can find, and step up our savings game in the meantime.

This afternoon I am:

  • Reading: I started a new book this week, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond. It’s a sociological study of the economic exploitation of low-income and poor families in the United States over housing. The author also provides new ideas for solving a crisis that has become a devastating national problem (it’s a big problem right here on Kaua’i). The book won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction, as well as many other awards.
  • Listening to: It’s been a lovely, breezy morning here – I hope it lasts! The winds through the trees sound lovely, and are keeping things cool (and the humidity level is lower than it has been for a while). The girls are chattering away and getting ready to head up to Hanalei on the north side for one of YaYu’s volunteer activities, and some time at the beach there. Brett and I will be stuck here doing the laundry 😦 – the washing machine is already going.
  • Watching: Brett and I finished Bordertown this past week, and started watching 11.22.63 (on Hulu), based on the book by Stephen King. We both think it’s great. We still have plenty to watch on PBS (Great British Baking Show, The Story of China, My Mother and Other Strangers, and Granchester), but some of those sadly end this week. I gave up on Top Chef – too much drama but love cooking shows so started watching Top Chef Masters, where already established chefs compete, and am enjoying it a bit more.
  • Cooking/baking: We’re having one of our favorite egg dishes tonight: Chinese stir-fried tomatoes with scrambled eggs. It’s a very simple dish, but sooooo tasty. It’s of course hot today, so the girls will be doing the actually cooking after I do the prep. We’ll have rice and cucumbers with the eggs, and fruit (peaches or melon) for dessert. I baked a chocolate cake last week, and there’s some left, so no baking today.
  • Happy I accomplished last week: The weather this week on our side of the island was once again particularly hot and humid on a few days, so I feel very good that I got in my bike rides every day. Sometimes I wore a chilled, wet tenugui around my neck (like Japanese cooks or laborers sometimes do) in order to stay somewhat more comfortable and get my miles in. I did my language study every day, drank gallons of water every day, and made my Swagbucks first goal every day. The second goal they’ve given me so far this month has been ridiculously high – I don’t even try to make it.
  • Looking forward to this coming week: Brett and I will be doing our monthly Big Shop on Wednesday. We seem to be in a good spot right now as far as supplies on hand, and won’t need to buy as much as usual (famous last words). Other than making it to the beach once or twice, there’s really nothing else on the horizon this week. WenYu will start work tomorrow as a fill-in hostess at the restaurant, but most of the time she’ll still be the busser.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We were thrilled with the terrific discount on the suitcases we want for our travels next year – we saved over $162. Otherwise it’s been a very quiet, good, but busy week with everything happening as it should – nothing really stands out.
  • Grateful for: I’ve written this before, but again I’m feeling so thankful our girls get along so well. I love watching and listening to them spend time together, laugh together, and support each other, even if it’s just over the phone. Growing up, I had quite a competitive relationship with my sister (not of my choosing), so it’s a joy and a blessing to me that our girls’ have developed such close and supportive relationships.
  • Bonus question: What movies have made you cry? I can only think of two right now: Charlotte’s Web, which I watched with our son when he was seven or eight years old had us both sobbing at the end; and Terms of Endearment (with Shirley McClain, Jack Nicholson and Debra Winger). Two scenes bring on tears every time I watch: when a dying Debra Winger says good-bye to her oldest son saying, “well that went well, don’t you think?” and the scene when Shirley McClain realizes that her daughter has died while they were looking at each other – both of those bring on tears. I’m sure I’ve cried during other films, or at least choked up, but I don’t remember them as well as the two above. I don’t cry easily or get emotional, although there are a couple of exceptions: weddings – I always cry – and soldiers’ and sailors’ homecomings after a long deployment. I experienced the latter many times while Brett was in the navy, and it’s an intensely emotional event, so when I see military families reunited all those memories come flooding back, as well as the tears.

And that’s a wrap for this week at Casa Aloha! How was your week? What good things happened for you?

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Five Frugal Things 7/14/2017

Winged beans

  1. The suitcases we had decided on for the Big Mystery Adventure™, Eagle Creek’s Gear Warrior 32″ rolling duffels, were 30% off on Amazon Prime Day so Brett and I each bought one. The bags were regularly $289 and $279 each before tax, but we purchased both for just $416, tax included. Shipping is free of course. I’m getting a blue duffel with orange trim, and Brett’s is black with bright blue trim.
  2. WenYu paid the bill for her fall term this week. She declined the federal student loan that was included in her financial aid package because she’s saved enough and doesn’t need it, and wants to graduate from college with no debt. She has enough saved as well to cover the spring term bill when it comes due in January, and is now saving to pay her expenses for the following year.
  3. Our favorite farmers at the market, Dang’s Fresh Farm, sold us three big bundles of bok choy for $5 versus the regular price of $6, took 50¢ off the price of the cucumber we needed, and gave us a bag of winged beans for free! We shop their stall every week because they always have beautiful produce, so this was a special treat for us. We’d never tried winged beans before, but they are delicious, and can be eaten either hot or cold.
  4. We cooked all meals at home (except for breakfast at the Tip Top Cafe to celebrate YaYu’s testing success), ate all the leftovers, drank filtered tap water and sun tea, were careful about turning off fans and lights when we weren’t using a room, watched our water usage, did all our laundry on one day and dried half of it in the sun, combined trips whenever possible when we had to go into town, took advantage of free entertainment (i.e. the beach) and did all those other small things that don’t seem like much but really do increase our savings.
  5. We put $14.29 into the change/$1 bill jar: $9.76 left over from the cable bill, $1.50 change from the farmers’ market, and $3.03 from recycling.

What frugal wins did you have this week?

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#Kauai: Moalepe Trail (Part 2)

This post covers the hike from Mile 1.0 (approximately where the trail label is pointing on the map) to Mile 2.5 and about 100 steps beyond to “Ende Moalepe Trail.”

Not to scale, regardless of appearance

Beyond the first mile, the trail ascends from pasture through a tunnel of old eucalyptus and albizia trees and into forest. In the pictures below, the view at left is on the portion of the trail that overlays old Kalama Road, which terminates at its intercept with the old Moalepe Road through the first eucalyptus tree tunnel in the photo on the right.

Old Moalepe Road is a meandering assortment of ruts, wider in some places than others, but obviously a roadbed that’s fallen on hard times. Beyond the first summit the eucalyptus gives way to ohia trees, and a different variety of wildflowers from those encountered in the first mile.

In spite of the fact that it hadn’t rained at home for several days, many segments of the trail within the forest reserve were considerably wetter than expected. Nevertheless, these obstacles were easily leaped over, and skirted or filled in with fallen branches close at hand.

Speaking of obstacles, bear in mind that this trail is shared with horseback riders (and their horses). Although I’ve never encountered horses on this trail, it’s evident that they have been here so one must step carefully.

Beyond the muck the trail remains fairly dry and an easy hike. The highest point along the trail is a little over halfway between the 1.0 Mile marker and the footbridge at the end of the trail. Just beyond the 1.75 Mile marker I captured a nice shot of Kamali‘i Ridge and its most significant peak, Kamāhuna, to the right (north) of the trail.

Many plants found upland, in the interior, vary greatly from their lowland neighbors. Such is the case with the little ginger plants beside the trail in moderately wet places. An additional bonus when hiking anywhere on the island is finding the odd lilikoi (passion fruit) because they pop up so unexpectedly.

Past the summit, eucalyptus tree tunnel number two shades half of the remaining hike. On warm days in early Spring, when the bark is popping and curling, the aroma is so soothing and cooling for the better part of a quarter-mile along the old roadbed. On the day I was hiking, the trail was simply calm with scattered direct and indirect light—the cathedral effect.

Moss covered stumps, “moss men,” seemingly keep watch over the east end of the tree tunnel. The steep descent from the far end of this tree tunnel was increasingly mud-slicked, ending in a hog wallow at the bottom, by the 2.5 Mile marker.

Even the bridge across the headwaters of Opaeka’a Stream was covered in a heavy layer of mud. In spite of this, it wasn’t really slick and the bridge still felt strong under foot. Although the signpost indicates that it’s 2.75 miles back to the trailhead at Olohena Road, the actual distance back to the 2.5 mile marker is no more than 250 feet (quite a bit shy of a quarter-mile).

Remarkably, the forests have grown so much in the past three years that it’s difficult to see the ocean from the trail. Near the trail summit (approximately 1,000 feet above sea level), I captured one good shot looking southeast to Wailua Water Gap. Nounou, better known as Sleeping Giant, is on the left, extending north from the confluence of Opaeka’a Stream and Wailua River, and Kalepa Ridge is to the right, extending south to Lihue.

Wailua Water Gap

At a break in the trees near the 1.0 mile marker, I caught a glimpse of blue ocean further east at Kapa’a.

Kapa’a and the Pacific Ocean

Almost home, I stopped to photograph this hala tree, also known as screwpine, at about one quarter-mile from the trailhead. This was a ‘canoe plant’, among the first brought from Polynesia, and the leaves originally woven into mats and used for thatching roofs because it kept out the rain longer than palm leaves.

Hala Tree (Pandanus Tectoris)

Depending upon where you look, the total length of this trail is variously reported between 2.15 miles and 2.75 miles, but based on the trail markings it’s fair to call it about 2.6 one way, and depending on how often one stops to enjoy the scenery, allow 2-3 hours for the entire hike.

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This Week’s Menu: If You Can’t Stand the Heat . . .

Chicken soft tacos: seasoned chicken, crisp lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, avocado and salsa on a warm tortilla – YUM!

After I wrote out this week’s menu plan, I noticed that most of the meals would require me to be in the kitchen, standing at the stove, but this is not where I aim to be in the summer. Our kitchen sits on the west side of the house, and with the sun bearing down in late afternoon, it’s more than a bit warm in there when it’s time to fix dinner. There is a ceiling fan, but that has to be turned off when the stove is in use as it blows the flame.

My solution? Get the girls into the kitchen. They tolerate the heat far better than I do, and they enjoy cooking, so it’s win-win for all of us. I typically do all the prep for them before they start, so all they have to do is stand at the stove and assemble and cook the ingredients.

The beet salad we’re having on Wednesday evening is something new. Beets are starting to show up again at the farmers’ market, we all like them, and I said this year I was going to figure out ways for us to enjoy them more often. The salad will have roasted beets along with toasted walnuts and goat cheese, and topped with a balsamic vinaigrette. We’ll see how we like it! If you have a favorite way to prepare and serve beets, I’d love to hear from you!

Here’s what we’re having this week:

  • Tuesday (this evening): Lumpia; steamed rice; sweet & sour coleslaw (no rice for me)
  • Wednesday: Grilled chicken thighs; roasted beet salad; corn on the cob
  • Thursday: Noodles with pork sauce (Snake Alley noodles without the shrimp); cucumber salad (I will be having my pork sauce over zoodles)
  • Friday: Chicken soft tacos; yellow rice (just taco fixings for me – no tortillas or rice)
  • Saturday: Leftovers
  • Sunday: Chinese stir-fried tomatoes and eggs; steamed rice; cucumbers (no rice, but otherwise I’m good with everything)
  • Monday: Slow cooker chicken adobo with bok choy; steamed rice (no rice for me)

We’ll need to get tomatoes, cucumbers, (more) beets, (more) bok choy, zucchini and corn from the market, as well as papayas and mangoes. I’d love to get more lychees and a pineapple, but the lychee season was way too short this year, and the pineapples are too expensive. I have seen the odd dragonfruit appearing, so those will be in abundance soon (and are more affordable).

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Postcard From: The Fukurou-no-Sato Owl Cafe

If you had told me that one day I would hold an owl on my arm, and pet and ruffle its neck feathers, I would have secretly thought you were perhaps in need of some therapy. And yet, there I was earlier this year, holding a variety of owls on my arm, petting their heads, ruffling the feathers on their necks, and absolutely loving every minute of the experience.

The owls’ faces were very expressive, and they enjoyed being stroked and petted.

Animal cafes are BIG in Japan. Whether you want to interact with cats, dogs, rabbits, birds, goats, or heaven forbid, snakes, there’s a cafe where you can do that. Some are better than others – much better – where the animals are well-cared for versus just a commodity.

The cafe we visited only allows in a few people at a time, and reservations are required. On the day of our visit to the Fukurō-no-Sato (‘owl village’) Cafe we stopped by a little before noon, but the first available opening wasn’t until 4:00 p.m. that afternoon. At some of the more popular cat cafes there can be up to a two-day wait for an opening.

We were served green tea in these cute owl cups while we learned about the owls, and got ready to enter the owl room.

The Fukurō-no-Sato Owl Cafe in Harajuku is located on the fourth floor in a building just to the side of Takeshita-dori in Harajuku, and across from Harajuku station. We paid a fee (1500¥ per person, a little less than $45 for the three of us) when we made our reservation, and then reappeared at our appointed time and were served a cup of green tea in a charming owl cup along with some crackers (other beverages and snacks were available, but cost more). While we sipped and munched an employee came and spoke to us about the owls, the different types and their temperaments, how to handle them, which ones not to touch, and especially emphasized the importance of keeping the big owls away from the smallest ones because they could be seen as prey. We had been concerned about the overall treatment of the owls before we arrived, but it became apparent as we listened that the staff loved the birds and they were very well-cared for. Interaction with humans was as limited as possible, and the owls got ‘down time.’ The cafe is located very close to the Meiji-Jingu shrine, and apparently the owls are taken out several times a week to fly and hunt inside the grounds. We have learned since that other cafes do not treat their owls as well.

This owl looked like he was daring anyone to mess with his girl YaYu .

Brett gets to know a barn owl. He initially just wanted to watch the owls, but eventually decided to hold them and enjoyed the experience.

After the presentation, we sanitized our hands and were taken into the owl room where we spent around a half hour with the birds. It was honestly pretty darn thrilling! The owls ranged in size from over two feet tall (great horned owl) to tiny ones that were only around six inches tall (the little owls were not handled). What was very surprising was how light they all were, especially the big owls, but then again they would have to be light in order to fly.

We loved the expressions on the owls’ faces!

Was it worth the expense? In my opinion, yes – it was an experience unlike any I’d ever had before and am unlikely to have again, and I learned quite a bit. Although I believe that the best place for owls is in the wild, I felt the owls were respected and well cared for.

Animal cafes have opened recently in the United States, but for the most part they remain a quintessential Japanese experience, and can be a fun and interesting addition to a Japan visit (although you will never find me in a snake cafe!). I do recommend though that research should be done before choosing a cafe, as they are not all equal.

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