Sunday Afternoon 10/8/2017

“The Destroyer” helped mommy organize her purse

Someone had their first birthday this past week! For such a little thing she sure is a pistol (my son calls her “The Destroyer”). According to the photos and videos we received, the board books we left for her present were a big hit – yeah!

Happy birthday!

I did not make it to my dermatology appointment last Wednesday, but not because we didn’t try. Brett and I set out with what we thought was plenty of time, but there was traffic and construction almost the whole way. Plus, when we got to where the office was located, we couldn’t find it – there were no numbers on the buildings and it was very poorly marked, so we spent an additional five minutes driving around the parking lot trying to find the office. I was nearly in tears by the time I finally found the place, but since I was over 10 minutes late at that point my appointment had gone to someone else (the Dr. is the only dermatologist on the island, so he is booked solid). Traffic on the east side of Kaua’i has grown progressively worse since we’ve been here. What used to be an easy 20 – 30 minute trip from Kapaa down to Lihue now typically takes 45 minutes or longer, even using the bypass. Anyway, I got a new appointment for next month, and even if I end up reading a book in the waiting room we’ll give ourselves an hour to get there.

We’ve had lots of rain this past week, and for the most part it’s been delightful, with cooler temperatures and less humidity (sometimes – at other times it’s been like living in a wet blanket).  More please!

This afternoon I am:

  • Reading: Why do all the books have to come off hold at the same time? I finished It on Friday (and wasn’t all the crazy about the ending), but the day before both The Child Finder, by Rene Denfeld, and A Legacy of Spies, by John Le Carré, came off of hold. I finished The Child Finder in a day in a half – I couldn’t put it down – and just started the Le Carré. I’ve enjoyed all of his books, and am looking forward to this one.
  • Listening to: Lots of weed trimmers are going outside. The laundry is all sorted and that will be starting up soon. YaYu is away volunteering again this morning, and Brett’s fixing himself something in the kitchen.
  • Watching: I thought I was going to watch Vietnam again, and tried, but it’s just too sad and difficult. So, maybe later. Brett and I watched the second season of Top of the Lake, starring Elizabeth Moss (Nicole Kidman is also in the cast). It was just as compelling as the first season. We finished all of it though in a couple of days, and now are re-watching Ken Burn’s The Civil War (our third time). It was very sobering (and disturbing) to listen to the state of things in the U.S. before the start of the war, and see the headlines in the papers, and realize we are hearing many of the same themes now.
  • Cooking/baking: No baking today – I made white chocolate chip-macadamia nut cookie dough the other day and froze it in portions so Brett or YaYu can pull some out and make cookies whenever they feel like it, or Brett can bake some in the morning for YaYu’s lunch. Dinner tonight will be egg foo yung, and YaYu is going to make egg drop soup. Yum!
  • Happy we accomplished last week: It was a very quiet week, other than the attempt to make my dermatology appointment on Wednesday there was nothing much going on. I think I need to finally accept that because we’re retired now that not a whole lot is going to be happening every week. I drank at least 64 ounces of water every day, did my language study every day, and rode my exercise bike at least once every day, but on a couple of days got in two rides, and on one day I was able to ride three times!
  • Looking forward to next week: It’s Fall Break week, so no one has to get up early except for YaYu on Wednesday for a cross country practice. Brett and I are going to begin walking together in the afternoons this week. We’re going to start small, with short, flat walks on the beach path, and will work ourselves up to longer walks to be ready for all the walking we’ll be doing on our Big Adventure.

    The laundry basket derby! (The video of this was hilarious!).

  • Thinking of good things that happened: Our daughter-in-law and son sent so many photos and videos this week, with lots of our granddaughter celebrating her first birthday. It was wonderful to see so much of her and our grandson (and our son). Because it was cooler all week I was able to ride my bike more than once on some days, a very good thing!
  • Grateful for: After the hot, sticky summer, I have been exceedingly thankful for the rain and cooler temperatures we’ve enjoyed this past week. The heat and humidity will be back, but this past week was just the break I needed.
  • Bonus question: What’s the best treat you ever gave yourself? During our first tour in Japan (1980-1983), for the last year and a half I splurged and hired a housekeeper to come once a week to clean the house and do the ironing. The cost for this luxury was just $14 per week, the going rate at the time. Tomoko, who was in her 60s, less than five feet tall and weighed less than 100 pounds, came every Thursday and cleaned in the morning and ironed in the afternoon. I would pick her up at the station at 9:00 a.m., take her to our house, and then our son and I would disappear for the day, arriving home in time to take her back to the station at 3:00 p.m. It was an unbelievable luxury, and a once-in-a-lifetime treat. Although $14 seems like a pittance now, for us the nearly $60 a month was a lot – Brett’s take-home pay then was less than $700 a month. I paid Tomoko out of what I earned teaching English (which was about half of what I earned) and provided her lunch on the day she came – her favorite meal was tuna casserole! When we returned to the house in the afternoon it was spotless, and it glowed. Tomoko was a wonder, and we all adored her. One day our son, instead of taking his nap, drew all over his bedroom wall with a tiny piece of red crayon he had discovered. I worked for two days trying to get it off, but the crayon wouldn’t budge. Tomoko got it all off in less than a day and still did everything else, and I still have no idea what she used or how she did it. Anyway, it’s the only time I’ve had someone clean my house, and it was a luxurious treat at the time.

That’s our week here at Casa Aloha – how was your week? What good things happened for you? What did you accomplish? What are you reading?

P.S. I’m not sure how or why or when this post got published. I was working on it late last night (like almost midnight), it disappeared and then I wake up this morning, ready to do write it all again and discover it was published! Something weird is going on with my WordPress account.

 

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Five Frugal Things 10/6/2017

  1. I received a bonus of 999 Swagbucks in September!
  2. I redeemed some of my Swagbucks stash for a $100 Zappos gift card for Brett to use for new running shoes. I also bought an additional $25 Amazon gift card for 2200 Swagbucks – they’re usually 2500, so I save 300 SB to put toward my next goal. You’re allowed to buy one on sale each month.
  3. We had a no-drive day on Sunday, saving gasoline and wear and tear on the car. And, other than our trip to the farmers’ market on Wednesday, and to Home Depot to refill the gas tank for our barbecue, we had another no-spend week.
  4. We also did all the small things that keep things frugal around here: drank filtered tap water and homemade sun tea; cooked all our meals at home; ate leftovers for our lunches; had no food waste; hung our laundry in the sun to dry; borrowed books from the library; and so forth.
  5. We put $12.31 into our change/$1 bill jar: $5.81 left from paying the water bill, and $6.50 from the farmers’ market.

What frugal wins did you have this week?

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Farmers’ Market Finds

Even though we always go to the Kapaa farmers’ market every week with a list, we can’t or won’t always find what we’re looking for or need. For example, the farmer that always has zucchini has not been at the market the past two weeks, and no one else sells zucchini. Yesterday we wanted to buy mung bean sprouts but the “sprout lady” wasn’t there.

Our weekly budget for the market is $20. We used to budget and spend more, but finally figured out we didn’t need so much, and that if we did buy a lot things would often spoil before we could use them. So, we started only bringing $20 with us each week, which has been more than enough. Whatever is leftover each week from the $20 goes into our change/$1 bill jar.

Last week we were able to find everything we wanted, but yesterday we had to get a bit more creative as many farmers were no-shows for some reason. Still, we made some great finds and got some great deals.

Here’s what we bought the past two weeks:

Week 1:

  • 2 bundles bok choy: $4.00
  • 1 bundle Japanese eggplants: $2.00
  • 1 dragonfruit: $2.00
  • 1 papaya: $1.50
  • 2 cucumbers: $2.00
  • 1 bag of small tomatoes: $3.00
  • 1 bundle winged beans: Free, a gift from the farmer
  • 1 bunch carrots: $2.00

Total: $16.50

This is a pretty typical shop for us. We bought most of it from one farmer, who gave us the winged beans as a thank you. The dragonfruit and papaya were purchased from other farmers – we always check around to find the best price when we buy fruit because it’s pretty much all the same.

Week 2:

  • Giant bunch of fresh edamame: $5.00
  • 1 small kabocha pumpkin: $4.00
  • 1 papaya: $1.00
  • 2 bunches apple bananas (9 total):$3.50

Total: $13.50

The old woman at the stand where we bought the pumpkin tried to charge $5 for it, but her son walked over and told us it was just $4.00 (like it said on the sign). The fresh edamame was a surprise – very few farmers grow it here. The farmer yesterday told us her friend had given her some seeds a few years ago and now the edamame was growing like crazy! Five dollars for as much as we got was a steal. We’ll have some along with the grilled teriyaki chicken and simmered pumpkin this week, and the rest will be for snacks. We were disappointed that the “sprout lady” wasn’t there because we need mung beans for Sunday’s dinner, but we will stop by Big Save on Saturday and pick some up there. They’re the same price, but we like buying directly from the farmer.

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This Week’s Menu: Pasta Overload

Kabocha no nimono (Japanese simmered pumpkin)

We’ve got a LOT of leftover cooked pasta to use up this week. YaYu and a teammate made w-a-y too much last Friday evening for the number of people who came to the XC team dinner here at our house, which left us with all the leftovers to use up. YaYu will be taking pasta for her lunch a couple of days this week (there was also lots of leftover marinara sauce), and it will be used in a couple of dinners as well. I’m going to make chicken soup in the slow cooker next Monday, but instead of adding noodles or rice I’ll slip in some pasta at the end for Brett and YaYu. Brett has been doing his part as well, and has already had a couple of pasta lunches.

I’m very excited about buying a kabocha pumpkin this week at the farmers’ market. I’ve seen them for sale the past couple of weeks, and have been dying to make kabocha no nimono, or Japanese-style simmered pumpkin. Our daughter-in-law has fixed this for us in the past and we loved it, so this will be my chance to try it on my own. A great thing about kabocha is that you don’t have to peel it – as it simmers the peel softens and can be easily chewed.

Lots of Asian-y dishes are on the menu this week, so YaYu is thrilled. She’ll be making the egg drop soup next Sunday, one of her favorite things to make and eat, but the rest will be up to me.

  • Tuesday (this evening): Mabo nasu; steamed rice; cucumber salad (I’m skipping the rice)
  • Wednesday: Grilled Italian sausages; sauteed peppers and onions; pasta (just sausage and peppers for me)
  • Thursday: Lumpia; steamed rice; Asian-y coleslaw (no rice for me)
  • Friday: Leftovers (spaghetti dinner for YaYu)
  • Saturday: Grilled teriyaki chicken; Japanese simmered pumpkin (kabocha); zaru soba (I’m going to have zoodles instead of soba for dipping(
  • Sunday: Egg foo yung (with chicken instead of shrimp); egg drop soup; steamed rice; cucumbers (no rice for me)
  • Monday: Slow cooker chicken-vegetable soup with pasta (I’ll serve mine before the pasta is added)

Besides the kabocha, we’ll also be picking up some more cucumbers, zucchini, bananas, papaya, and mung bean sprouts. Everything else we need for the week we already have on hand.

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You Don’t Have To Be Rich To Travel


One of the biggest myths out there, in my opinion, is that travel is always expensive, and unless you have a huge income or trust fund there’s no way you can go anywhere exciting or interesting, or have a good time. Magazine and newspaper articles, cruise brochures, or blogs with gorgeous photos that show expensive hotels and destinations have led many to believe that unless they’re spending a ton of money, it’s just not worth going. The message seems to be: money = fun.

Traveling is not free (nothing is), but it’s just not true that you can’t go where you want, have the experience of a lifetime and a good time too even if you’re not loaded. Wonderful, inspiring and fun-filled journeys can be taken for a lot less than you might imagine. Even if your income is minimal, if you want to travel you can make it happen.

The great thing is that today there are loads of websites, blogs, apps and so forth devoted to travel bargains that can help make your travel dreams come true even if you have a minimum wage job and/or kids. There are so many ways out there to not only save for travel, but also ways to save while you travel.

Here are a few ideas for how you can travel even if your income is limited:

  • Make saving for travel a priority. Even if your income is small, you can save if traveling is your goal. It might take you longer than others to gather enough funds to take your trip, but it can be done. These are my favorite ways to save, but there are loads of other ways to add to a travel account. The one exception to this is if you are carrying debt, get rid of it first! It’s so much better to be able to cover all your travel costs and expenses before you go, and not have to come home to even more debt.
  • Search out information on how to travel on a budget. One of my favorite travel websites is Nomadic Matt, a blog dedicated to traveling more for less. Matt has pages of tips for taking great trips and making great memories for less. He encourages travelers to think differently, and look for the travel deals that exist out there. The Thrifty Nomads is another great site for learning how to travel for less. There are lots of other sites as well for things like house-sitting or swapping, earning miles or other travel points, etc. – just do a search for budget travel bloggers, check out some sites and see where they lead you.
  • Change your mindset. This is perhaps the biggest step someone can take if they think they can’t afford to travel. One of the biggest obstacles to traveling for less begins with the thought, “I’m too poor to travel” or something along those lines. Start by getting rid of the idea that everyone who is traveling has money or income or time that you don’t – that simply isn’t true. Instead, tell yourself that you can travel, and then start looking for ways to make it happen. Start small, but open yourself to finding extra income, to looking for travel alternatives like using sharing services, or to earning bonus miles with your credit card or other opportunities to make your travel dreams a reality. If you don’t believe you can afford to travel, you never will.

If there are places in the world or just in your own state that you want to see, I firmly believe that almost anyone can make it happen even if they’re not rich or well-off. It takes determination, savings, knowledge and a maybe a change of thinking to make it happen, and it may take a while to achieve a your goal, but it can be done. Travel dreams can come true!

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Sunday Afternoon 10/1/2017

The rainbow shower tree is as close as we get to “fall color” in Hawai’i (and those aren’t leaves – they’re flowers).

And it’s October! This year feels like it’s flying past. Big things coming up for us this month include fall break for YaYu (and a chance for her to catch her breath) and signing a new lease for the house. It feels like “fall” is finally arriving here, although it’s still summertime hot and humid during the afternoons, and Wednesdays have stayed the worst day of the week. After a very dry summer it’s been raining a bit more, and mornings and nights have been cooler and more comfortable. Yesterday we had a long, cool, soaking rain which we have really needed – it was wonderful.

We had a wonderful and much-needed soaking rain yesterday.

YaYu sent off her Questbridge application on Tuesday evening although it went down to the wire (like only 5 1/2 hours remaining) because of the counselor’s recommendation and other forms she had to submit. The counselor told YaYu she would have it done on Monday, but when YaYu passed her in the hall that day she threw up her hands and told YaYa, “Don’t even ask!” At noon on Tuesday, when YaYu still had heard nothing from her, I emailed the principal and told him the situation and that it was unacceptable, that the counselor had known about this recommendation for several weeks, and we did not want to see YaYu’s chances harmed by the counselor’s inaction. The principal got right back to us, contacted the vice-principals and the counselor and by 2:00 everything had been uploaded and the application was ready to go. In Hawaii there’s a cultural ideal of “go along to get along” and not complaining, which is generally a good thing, but sometimes you need to step in and call someone out when something is just not right. Anyway, YaYu submitted a strong application (although we have no way of knowing how good the counselor’s recommendation was) and she’ll know on the 19th of this month if she’s in the finalist round. I’m already nervous!

This afternoon I am:

  • Reading: I finished Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper, and especially loved reading about the author’s experiences and the food in Hunan province, which is where all three of our girls are from. It’s no wonder YaYu loves spicy food! I’m still reading Stephen King’s It (and yes, it is getting scary), and also just downloaded The Child Finder, by Rene Denfeld, so will start reading that during the day and sticking with It for my nighttime reading.
  • Listening to: We started the laundry early today, so the sound of that is overpowering everything else. But, it will all be finished and put away earlier rather than later today, which is a good thing. YaYu is also catching up on one of her favorite TV shows. LOTS of roosters are making LOTS of noise outside – they are so tiresome. Yesterday’s rain will bring out the bugs, so I’m pretty sure we’ll be seeing/hearing plenty of poultry around the yard in the next few of days.
  • Watching: I don’t know what we’re going to watch tonight, although there’s a movie on Netflix called The Hippopotamus that we think might be interesting. Vietnam was an intensely powerful documentary, and I’m grateful our local PBS station is going to show it again beginning on Tuesday. I’m going to re-watch it all because I felt somewhat overwhelmed the first time with it all and know I missed a lot.
  • Cooking/baking: I baked a pan of brownies (with pecans) this morning, so that will take care of baking for the week. We’re having breakfast for dinner again this evening: omelets (cheese for Brett and me, barbecued pork for YaYu), roasted tomatoes, toast for Brett and YaYu, and cut up watermelon for “dessert.”
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: I got started on my Christmas shopping, and found everything I wanted for Meiling and YaYu, but WenYu is going to be the difficult one to shop for this year. I know what I want to get Brett, but will get it next month or early December. I drank my daily water allotment and studied my language every day, and rode my exercise bike six out of seven days (and twice yesterday because of the rain). I made at least the lower goal on Swagbucks every day, so I should get a nice bonus next week.
  • Looking forward to next week: I’m not sure if I’m looking forward to it or not, but I see the island’s one dermatologist this week for my annual skin check – with Medicare and our military insurance there should be no out-of-pocket expenses. I’m hoping for a clean bill – I’m very careful here about sun exposure, but did a lot of stupid things when I was young, and it catches up to you.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: YaYu getting her Questbridge application off before the deadline was the #1 good thing – we honestly thought she was going to have to submit it incomplete. Next thing to go off is her partner college rankings – she picks the top 12 that she’d like to be matched with. We hosted some of YaYu’s cross-country team on Friday evening for the weekly pre-meet “carb fest” (also known as a spaghetti dinner). It was a very nice group of kids, but we ended up with a ton of leftover pasta. I was happy to learn my cataracts are not progressing, and that other than my vision slightly worsening my eyes are in good shape.
  • Grateful for: I was impressed by and very thankful for YaYu’s principal’s swift response to my email last Tuesday. He was off campus, in meetings all day, and yet he took care of the problem immediately as well as got back with me to let me know what he was doing. We have always liked him, but feel more thankful now for his caring and leadership.

    A Pizzacato pie

  • Bonus question: What’s your favorite kind of pizza? I love pizza – it’s always been my #1 favorite food, and although I cannot eat it now it’s been on my mind. My all-time favorite pizza is a simple margherita, with just tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella cheese (no sauce). I also love a good, classic pepperoni slice. When we lived in Portland there was a wonderful local pizza chain called Pizzacato that made the best pizzas with the best crust. Besides their margherita I loved their Thai chicken pizza, and one called the Squisita, made with roasted peppers, lamb sausage and feta cheese. Both were amazing.  Before we left Portland we ate at Apizza Scholls, in the Hawthorne neighbornood – I thought I had died and gone to pizza heaven. I will eat almost anything on a pizza, but am not a fan of pineapple and ham. Brett makes a very good pizza – he worked in a pizza shop when he was young and can still toss his dough like a pro! OK, good job, Laura – now I’m really hungry for pizza!!

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

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Five Frugal Things 9/29/2017

  1. YaYu participated in a car wash fundraiser last weekend and brought home a huge bag of empty water bottles for us to recycle.
  2. Other than our trip to the farmers’ market, we had a no-spend week.
  3. While I had my eye appointment yesterday, Brett headed over to nearby Costco and made an appointment for a free hearing exam. They will also help him figure out what cost savings he can receive as a veteran.
  4. It turns out I also need new glasses. I found some frames I liked at the eye doctor’s office, but came home and found them online for $30 less, including free shipping. I’ll order them in November, and have the glasses made at Costco.
  5. We put $18.20 in the change/$1 bill jar this week: $3.86 from recycling, $8.84 change from the gas bill, and $5.50 left from the farmers’ market.

What frugal wins did you have this week?

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#Kauai: The Powerline Trail

In my previous post, I touched on the state of the Powerline Trail without revealing all that makes it worthwhile. That is, while it may not be possible to hike through, what you can see is breathtaking. Powerline Trail has all the elements of a worthy hike: hills, vistas, minor obstacles, flora & fauna, and even a waterfall (nearby but not directly accessible from the trail). Additionally, some volunteers have established and continue to maintain BMX/Mountain Bike trails parallel to the main route at the north end of the route.

Of course there is the actual powerline to consider—without which there would be no trail.

Every trail has hills, some knee-crawling, and although the straight and level is rare on this trail its hills gently rise and fall. In the first two miles the most significant grade is a 19-minute incline that weaves back and forth slightly, just a wiggly course around the side of a mountain rather than switchbacks. Most run up a little, then down a little through cuts,, while most of the level ground is atop fills.

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, much of this hike is through cuts, so the sights to see come up suddenly and change throughout the day. Pictured below, clockwise from upper left: Hanalei Valley; Kekōiki 2,814 feet (858 meters); Wai‘ale‘al 5,148 feet (1,569 meters); and Kawakini, highest point on Kauai at 5,243 feet (1,598 meters).

All of the obstacles on the northern end are water hazards; that is, there is no overgrown brush, no fallen boulders or trees, and no thickets of interlacing hau trees.

Although I did see one Bufo toad (Bufo marinis), and a half-dozen or so birds moving too swiftly to be digitized, the surprise here was tree frogs—two species, hopping about near the waterholes and like the birds, mimicking Monte Python’s “How Not to Be Seen.”

By contrast, flowers and forest were most cooperative as well as lovely to see. These flowers are common to most trails on Kauai, although this is the first time I’ve seen Foxglove outside of someone’s garden. Clockwise, from upper left: Philippine Ground Orchid (Spathoglottis plicata), Shampoo Ginger (Zingiber zerumbe), White Ginger (Hedychium coronarium), and Foxglove (Digitalis grandiflora)—absolutely, positively introduced here.

Similarly, the trees are all varieties one might encounter anywhere on the island. Nevertheless, they are welcome for their beauty and shade. Clockwise, from upper left: Ohia, Guava, someone’s notion of a Christmas tree, assorted jungle, Hala (Pandanus tectorius), and a variety of plants—mosses, ferns, and a young Casuarina—nursing on a Eucalyptus bough.

Many of the same sights glimpsed along the main trail are enhanced, and new perspectives emerge from the cycling trails. These trails are meticulously well maintained on either side of the main trail although they do not extend continuously due to challenging terrain. That is, the cycling trails run along both sides in some places, on one side or the other at times, and simply share the main trail in between the rough spots. One word of caution, keep your ears open and your head on a swivel because cyclists appear quite suddenly in both directions.

As soon as my shins heal, I hope to attempt an assault on this northern end to see how far I can go and what wonders lay ahead.

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This Week’s Menu: Cooking For a Fussy Eater

Slow cooker barbecue pulled pork sandwiches – both Brett and YaYu add coleslaw to their sandwich.

There is no way to get around it: YaYu is a fussy eater. She’s a good eater, but she has become very outspoken in her preferences lately and it’s frankly beginning to drive me a little nuts. It seems that unless I am fixing spicy Asian food, there’s always something wrong with whatever I fix.

YaYu is lactose intolerant, and I work hard to make sure there’s no dairy in any of the food she is served. We also know that because she didn’t join our family until age five, her taste preferences were already set, unlike the other girls, including her love of very spicy food. She has also chosen food preferences as a means of expressing her Asian identity, which both Brett and I support. Still, this is something new for me because both Meiling and WenYu have always eaten anything you put in front of them, as does Brett. Our son was a somewhat picky eater when he was young, but not to this extent.

I’ve told her that I will try to accommodate some of her food preferences, but that there are other times I am going to cook things her dad and I like, like the slow cooker chicken adobo that’s coming up later this week. I know I’ll also catch some grief over the turkey Waldorf salad and the grilled chicken skewers . I’ve told her I’m not a short-order cook and will not be preparing anything special or different for her – if she doesn’t like what’s for dinner, she is welcome to not have any. So far she hasn’t taken advantage of that offer.

This is a whole new thing for me though, dealing with a fussy, critical eater. It may be just a teenage thing, and will pass once she heads off to college. I’d love any suggestions you have for how to deal with this!

Here’s what for dinner this week:

  • Tuesday (this evening): Stir-fried broccoli and tofu in spicy peanut sauce; steamed rice (skipping the rice)
  • Wednesday: Turkey Waldorf salad; country bread (no bread for me)
  • Thursday: Grilled chicken and vegetable skewers; pilaf (no pilaf for me)
  • Friday: Leftovers for Brett and me (spaghetti dinner for YaYu)
  • Saturday: Slow cooker barbecued pulled pork sandwiches; cole slow (just pork for me, no bread)
  • Sunday: Omelets; bacon; blueberry muffins; fruit (no muffin for me)
  • Monday: Slow cooker chicken adobo with bok choy; steamed rice (skipping the rice)

We didn’t go to the farmers’ market last week, but this week we’ll be getting bok choy, zucchini, cucumbers, carrots, a papaya and anything else that looks good and fits into the budget.

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Conveniently Eating In Japan

A fun, but often overlooked place to find tasty and affordable meals in Japan is at neighborhood convenience stores (7-Eleven, Lawsons and FamilyMart are the top three). Called konbini in Japan, these small markets are seemingly located just about everywhere and are easy to find. Besides the typical convenience store offerings of drinks, snacks, medicines and other items, convenience stores also have a large selection of freshly prepared foods at very reasonable prices. If you’re traveling in Japan on a budget, a meal from a convenience store can be had for $10 or less.

The biggest difference between the  foods found in Japanese convenience stores and those found in the U.S. is the quality and the variety. In Japan, prepared foods are for the most part stocked fresh every day because they have to be – go into a convenience store in the late afternoon or evening and your selection will be very limited as most everything in the that section will have already been purchased. The quality of the food is also much higher than what you’ll find in a U.S. convenience store.

Here are some of the best and tastiest items or meals (IMO) you can find at Japanese convenience stores:

Oden is a hearty and filling stew filled with various items such as potatoes, boiled eggs, fishcakes, and other items that are served in light dashi broth. It’s usually only available in cold weather. You’ll be charged by the number of items you select.

Karaage is fried chicken Japanese-style, with bite-sized pieces of tender thigh meat twice fried in a lightly-seasoned batter. You can buy it on its own or as part of a bento. Karaage and potato salad is my all-time favorite convenience store meal.

Potato salad all on its own can be a pretty tasty meal as well. Potato salad in Japan traditionally includes very thinly-sliced cucumber and carrot, and the potatoes are nearly fully mashed. It’s amazingly delicious.

Nikuman are Chinese-style steamed buns filled with savory pork and vegetables. They’re big enough on their own for a meal. Pizza- or curry-flavored buns are also popular. Nikuman are kept warm in a steamy case located next to the cash register.

Maybe the most popular food item in any store, onigiri are triangular Japanese rice balls wrapped with seaweed, but inside are different fillings, such as pickled plums, salmon, tuna salad, etc. They’re very popular and very convenient, and more filling than you might think. The plastic wrapper folds back to use as a holder.

Sandwiches range from ones Westerners can easily recognize to some many would find quite weird (like a hot dog roll filled with yakisoba noodles). Dessert sandwiches are now a thing, and are made with whipped cream and fresh fruit. YaYu had one on our last trip and proclaimed it extremely delicious.

Korokke (croquettes) are tasty and satisfying fried mashed potato cakes with other ingredients added which can include cheese, vegetables, seafood and so forth.

Gyoza are Chinese potstickers, typically sold in groups of five. They’re wildly popular in Japan, are found in any market, and can be eaten hot or cold (hot is better).

Convenience markets carry a huge array of bentos, too many to name here. They usually run around $7 or $8 dollars, but can cost more or less depending on the size of the bento and what’s included. Most come with rice, but some have noodles for the starch.

There are lots of higher end places to eat sushi in Japan, but the packages found in convenience stores are perfectly good if you are wanting it.

Yakisoba is fried noodles which are tossed with a Worchester-like sauce. They are usually fried with cabbage and onion, and sometimes have a small amount of protein like shrimp or chicken, but the noodles also available plain, like in the above photo. They’re always served with slivers of red pickled ginger called beni shoga. A small serving of yakisoba noodles is also sometimes included as a side dish in a bento.And of course, convenience stores are where you can pick up all sorts of snack items, Japanese candy (including KitKats!), and all sorts of amazing cold and hot drinks!

Convenience stores also always carry a big selection of ice cream treats, and what’s available will vary from store to store. They are affordable and always worth checking out!

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