Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Of all the horrors to bestow on Halloween

My worst fear is being left home with a two year old while taking a work call.  Today it happened, and it lasted for an hour!  There was a work emergency, these things cannot be planned and they cannot be deterred.  So call was had while my rowdy two year made every effort to distract and raise my blood pressure to previously unseen levels.  Here are some of the creative things she found toentertain herself with while I desperately tried to stay on topic:

- watched My Little Pony until we lost Netflix connection
- emptied an entire bin of toys at my feet
- emptied an entire bag of safety pins into my lap
- watched PJ Masks until we lost Netflix connection
- emptied an entire packet of tissues while loudly yelling "ACHU ACHU" through the loud speaker
- demanded candy from my desk, I gave in, it only made her come back for more
- colored on one page of my notebook
- demanded cuddle and then attempted to bang on my computer
- poked at the dog in his cage and made him whine
- demanded more candy
- ran away with candy
- came back and demanded a show, I put PJ Masks on again
- babbled excessively to take part in the meeting

At one point I thought I heard the front door open and frantically texted husband to come get her but he was just leaving the dentist office.  He got home 15 minutes later and immediately came downstairs to claim our youngest.  I was never happier to see him in my life!  After that my brain began to function, then the meeting ended 15 minutes later. 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Purple Sweet Potato Smoothie Recipe

I just love a pretty smoothie!  Until now, the only purple smoothie I've had is Blueberry, but the little bits get stuck in my teeth which can be unsightly when running out the door to a meeting, so, I created this beauty. 

Basically I've simply added Purple Sweet Potato puree to my favorite Vanilla Smoothie recipe, it makes a great base for a variety of featured ingredients. 

Purple Sweet Potato Smoothie Recipe

  • 1 cup 2% milk 
  • 1 tablespoon Vanilla Whey Protein powder
  • 1 tablespoon Nesquik Vanilla powder (you can substitute French Vanilla Creamer)
  • 1/2 frozen banana
  • 4oz purple sweet potato puree, see this link for calories 
  • 6 ice cubes
Blend on high until there are no chunks.  

My thoughts on the vanilla part - I've tried this without the Nesquik Vanilla powder but the taste of vanilla is not as strong and it's too plain.  I've never tried using Vanilla extract as that seems like it would be too strong but I guess that might be an alternative to buying a $7.80 Nesquik powder from Ebay that has more sugar content.  It was $4.00 when I first bought it but for some reason it's doubled in price.  I found a similar vanilla smoothie base at Wegmans but the nearest is in Frederick so I won't be getting that again.  

My thoughts on protein powder - it's high in calories, one scoop is 170 calories and it overpowers the taste of everything.  I use 10 grams, or 1 tablespoon if you don't have a scale.  This is 56.6 calories with about 5 grams of protein.

The milk adds 8 grams of protein and apparently there are 2 grams in 4 oz of purple sweet potato so all together that makes 15.  Some experts say you need at least 30 grams post workout so if it's important to you then just add more protein powder.  

I think overall, smoothies just need a little experimentation to get the taste right for your individual  preference, see this as more of a list of suggested ingredients and feel free to adjust as needed.  

Friday, October 20, 2017

Purple Sweet Potato Scone Recipe

Personally I feel that fall has been hijacked by pumpkin spice everything for too long!  I love pumpkin but I've decided to move it to November.  Apples are our September thing (cider, homemade applesauce, etc) and October is now known for Purple Sweet Potatoes and various squash like Acorn and Butternut.  I like having theme months for foods.

The inspiration for this recipe was simple - I wanted a purple scone!  After making the earlier muffins and realizing how mild the flavor is, I decided to simply add a scoop to my favorite white chocolate scone recipe.

Full disclosure, I got the base recipe from a church function and I have no idea as to the origin.  I've changed the instructions as my understanding of recipe plagiarism is the list of ingredients cannot be copy righted but the instructions combined with how-to photos can be.  Henceforth these instructions are all my get-r-done fast style. 

Purple Sweet Potato Scone Recipe

  • 3 cups self-rising flour
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup non-salted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 6 oz purple sweet potato puree
Use a food processor to chop the white chocolate chips into tiny bits and then pour these into a small bowl.  Next, put one cup of flour into the same food processor with butter and pulse until combined.  I then move the flour/butter mixture into a Kitchen Aid mixer and add remaining dry ingredients.  

Mix egg and buttermilk in a small container and combine with the purple sweet potato.

Add all ingredients together and mix on high until well blended.  It will be very thick, you may need to dig the mixture off the whip and then continue mixing to get everything blended, a little more buttermilk might be needed to get everything combined.  It can't be too wet or it will be too sticky to roll so proceed with caution if you think more buttermilk is needed.

On a floured surface, roll the dough 3/4" - 1" thick.  I use a 2" circle cutter to make my scones, you could also go the traditional triangle route if that is your preference.  I continue rolling until all dough is used up, there is no such thing as wasted dough in this house.  The last scone is usually hand balled and flattened into a scone patty, much like you would make a hamburger.

Place the cut scones onto a cookie sheet and bake for 14 minutes at 325.  

I am not a fussy baker, I like things quick and easy as most of my baking is done while fielding requests from 4 kids!  Scone recipes like to say let the dough rest, turn scones in oven after 7 minutes, etc.  I've tried following these steps but to me the taste is the same as when I follow this quick method so this is my no fuss approach.

These scones were very well received.  The kids scarfed them down in 2 days flat.  I kinda miss them already!  Good thing I've got more purple sweet potatoes to bake!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Purple Sweet Potato Muffin Recipe

I decided to make muffins for my very first Purple Sweet Potato recipe, you'd think maybe someone might have already done this and they have, Pinterest is full of advice and apparently these are popular with Paleo and Vegan diets but I'm not on these diets.  I like putting milk and flour into my muffins so I decided to make my own recipe.  This one is roughly based on a sweet potato muffin recipe that I favor without any added oil or spices so we can really taste the flavor.

The first step is bake the potatoes and then puree the pulp.  I went to this very indepth helpful website for instruction as apparently these are not as simple as regular orange sweet potatoes to bake.   I like how this site offered many details about the nutritional value.  If that is too much information to take in, then simply bake them for 2 hours at 350.  They do take longer than regular sweet potatoes.  Once baking is finished, remove peels and puree.

Purple Sweet Potato Muffins
  • 7 oz Purple Sweet Potato puree
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
Place all dry ingredients in large mixer.  Place wet ingredients in smaller bowl and once combined, add to the dry ingredients.  Mix until completely blended and beautifully purple.

Prepare muffin pans.  I use an ice cream scoop to measure regular muffins and a cookie scoop for mini muffins.  

Bake 20 minutes for regular size and 12-13 minutes for mini size.

This recipe made 4 regular muffins and 20 mini muffins.

The muffin is not sweet, it's spongy and you can taste the mild flavor really well because there are no spices added.  I think it would be a nice addition to dinner since it's not sweet.

These muffins were delicious right out of the oven, we had them plain in the morning and with icing in the afternoon.

Icing Recipe
  • 4 oz cream cheese room temperature
  • 4 oz butter non salted room temperature
  • 4 oz purple sweet potato
  • 8 oz powered sugar

Blend until smooth.

At first you might be thinking, this purple color can't be real, surely they added some food color or increased the photo saturation.  I'm here to say the color is really that intense!

We could not taste the flavor of the purple sweet potato in the icing.  The color is so pretty that I plan to freeze 4oz cubes and use later for parties and special events.

Jury Duty

I've received my very first jury summons, and thankfully it's local.  Quite a few people have told me stories of getting summoned to Baltimore for a grand jury summons and that would be quite an ordeal considering it's 1.5 hours away! 

I'm excited to participate for these reasons:

1.  It's a break from work, which has been taxing for many reasons lately. 
2.  I like seeing and doing new things.
3.  I get to dress up for court!  Working from home tends to take away the pleasure of really getting oneself presentable to the world.  Sure I'll dress nice enough at home, but putting actual thought into a nicely coordinated outfit is fun to do!
4.  I get to go downtown for jury duty, I've always wanted to get to know that area better.
5.  I get to play Pokemon Go on the 3 block walk to the court house.

So far my experience has been this:

Day 1 - orientation from 8:45 - 10:07
Day 2 - canceled the night before
Day 3 - scheduled at 9:15 and the judge let everyone go at 10:10 because the case was settled without need for a jury and there were no more cases that day

So far it hasn't been the huge inconvenience that everyone makes it sound like it will be.  I hope I actually get picked for something!  Until then, I've got Seabiscuit to keep me company.

Note to self, next time you see a chatty woman, sit elsewhere.  She will keep talking and talking and make it very hard to read. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Introducing Bitzer!

We got a new puppy!  He's so little, only 8 weeks old.  The kids are in love.  He's a Jack Russel and we've named him Bitzer. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017


Our oldest, Charlotte, has attended art classes at the Washington County Art Musuem for several years.  Last year she got tired of taking art classes, I think she was feeling shy and wasn't connecting with the other kids.  This year Sam is old enough so I put them in together and they've been having the best time.  Here are their first projects:

Charlotte's Fire Breathing Unicorn Elephant

Sam's Unicorn Spider with a Shell

Friday, October 13, 2017

Homegrown Purple Sweet Potatos

I fell in love with Purple Sweet Potatoes in China.  They are usually included in the vegetable tempera at Japanese restaurants in China and when I came home from my last trip in March, I told my husband that I'd like to try growing these.  We had to wait a few weeks for them to be available, the company we ordered from online won't ship the slips until it's time to plant them because they can die if not planted immediately.  From the research I've done, they really prefer very warm weather, South America type, so we planted them in May.

We dug them up in October, it's been a warm fall and only now are we starting to get 40's at night.  Here are photos of the first ones out of the ground:

The purple goes all the way through!  Even the vines are purple, so it's easy to tell them apart from the orange sweet potatoes.

I'm so happy with these!!  They are impossible to find in Hagerstown, we could probably find them in Frederick or Colombia but it's way more exciting to grow them ourselves.  I literally woke up dreaming of recipes for these darlings the other day.  Can't wait to get started!!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Orange Mushrooms have come early this year!

Our lawn has a patch of orange mushrooms that usually come out for a week in October, it's a nice spooky enhancement to Halloween!  But this year they came up in September!  They are still a favorite fall tradition, I'll take them as a sign that fall is near, even though days have been exceedingly hot in September! 

Friday, August 25, 2017

How I get my kids motivated to learn memory verses and say them in Church

Background, all the other kids in Sunday School come prepared knowing their verses and my lazy lot have been lackadaisical all summer long, acting like once school ended their brains fell out.  Well, I'm not having it anymore.

I threatened to take away their electronics for one week.

Seriously, it's the best plan I've come up with yet.  You should have seen the wild panic and the mad rush to learn these verses.

They were in tears.

Mournful cries of "what if I cry while saying the verse in church".

I was unmoved by their emotional out pour.

On Sunday, they both, 7 and 9 y/o, said it with total confidence.  I knew they could do it if they just practiced every day.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Road Trip 2017

Our family does an annual pilgrimage to West Texas from Maryland once a year to visit husbands family.  This will be our 3rd trip since moving to Maryland, prior to this we used to fly from Florida, but we had less kids back then.  Driving is cheaper then flying for a family of 6.  The only draw back is that it takes 3 days.  We try to break this up with various pit stops for entertainment.  Here is our the first leg of our trip went:

Friday - Sunday we spent time in Ripley, WV visiting friends.

Our kids promptly made themselves right at home by completely unpacking their backpacks and throwing their clothes into the resident girls laundry hamper - logical to them, not to the one responsible for re-packing and extracting our entire family from friends residence.  Our things were spread so far and wide that we left behind our bread box and church shoes!

A little explanation the bread box, it had a loaf of Honey Wheat for sandwiches, Mini Naan, homemade sweet potato bread for breakfast, and tortillas.  I was quite sad at leaving this behind.

Our next stop was Bowling Green, KY, about 5 hours drive from Ripley.  We had planned to see Dino World on Monday but the weather was showing rain for the entire day so sadly we got up and decided to try the one in Texas.  Monday's drive took us to TexArkana where we spent the night.

Tuesday's drive got us to Glen Rose, TX around 1pm, we ate a quick lunch at Sonic and then went to Dino World until it closed at 5pm.  At this point we were about 5 hours from our destination.  After a family meeting, it was determined that we should drive all the way, even if it meant stopping for dinner and getting in around midnight.  I guess everyone was tired of hotels at this point and just wanted to get to Mema and Pepa's house!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

May Update

May was a busy month with one trip to Florida, last day of school, a children's day service at church, and prep for our 3 week road trip.  No wonder I didn't find time for blogging or my favorite series "Frugal Living".  In fact I will have to skip writing a monthly post for Frugal Living because we've hit status quo for the moment.  Instead I'll work on a few travel with family posts, my 2nd favorite topic.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Frugal Living - April 2017

Here is my April edition of money saving tips.  Subject matter - my road to recovery from 10+ years of cell phone contracts!

I've been an AT&T subscriber for more than 10 years.  I can't remember what my bills were in the beginning but I know they got more expensive once my husband and I got hooked on iPhones.  My first iPhone was a 3GS 8gb.  I adored that phone until the space got so small that it couldn't accommodate email, photos, upgrades and everything else I wanted so I upgraded to the iPhone 4 with 16gb and stayed happy with that until 2 years ago when the same problem occurred.

A very helpful man called me over at Target and made a very compelling case on how we should upgrade to the iPhone 5.  I guess he caught me right when my contract was about to end because the bill came out to only slightly more than what I was already paying, approximately $130 per month for two phones.

The new plans 2 years ago were showing that we would have paid considerably more per month on the iPhone 6 so I thought we were getting a great deal on the 5's. I realize now how sadly naive I was.  Here is how it breaks down:

We paid $130 per month for 2gb of data total.  This past month our contract ended on April 17th.  Our bill would have gone down to $84 if we had stayed with AT&T.  Subtract $130 - 84 = 46.  Take 46 x 24 months and the total is $1,104.  We paid $1,104 for two iPhone 5's.  Excuse me while I curl into a ball and cry myself to sleep.  But wait, I don't have time for self-pity, I firmly believe that we must be constantly trying to make ourselves better at everything so I will take this as a wake up lesson that I finally managed to learn!  
Even before I did the math, I was already feeling uncomfortable with 2 year contracts so I started looking into other plans a month ago and promptly ran out of time due to travel and illnesses so I decided to start with Cricket who was offering $70 p/m with 3gb data each for two phones that we brought into the store .  There is no contract so if we find a better deal elsewhere, we can walk away at any time.  I did later find that GoPro is offering $50 for two phones at 2gb each and Freedom Pop has a similar deal so maybe I'll try them later.

I went on eBay a few weeks ago and bought an iPhone 6 with 128gb of space for $255 because I was once again running out of room for email, photos, upgrades, etc.  My husband decided to stick with his iPhone 5 because he was not running out of space.  I can honestly say the difference between 5 and 6 is very little in terms of how fast apps run or operate so for me it was simply a choice of more space that was the critical factor.

Lessons learned:
  • buy phones online after scouting the best deal
  • no more phone contracts - EVER!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Earth Day is Every Day!

I love Earth Day as a reminder to be kind to our planet.  Regardless of where you might stand on global warming, it's still wise to be kind to the space we inhabit, for ourselves and future generations. 

I'm excited to share a few ways that we combine living frugally with being environmentally responsible:

1.  We take our trash to the dump twice a month and pay an annual fee of $166 VS our prior cost of $384 to Apple Valley Waste.
  • We recycle all cardboard, paper products, plastics and glass.
  • We compost all food (except meat) which includes scraps, forgotten leftovers (really trying hard to minimize these) and egg shells.
  • We shred all bank documents along with any paper that is not saturated in color ink and it all goes into the compost bin.
2.  I make a weekly menu which includes home cooked meals for 95% of what we eat.  We save money and reduce packaging.  Examples:
  • Refried Beans - with just 2lbs of dry beans, we make 6lbs of Pinto Beans that are frozen in 1lb containers and thawed for making quick refried beans. 
  • Homemade Yogurt - with 1/2 cup whole milk, I can make 1.5 quarts of yogurt.  It's not as thick as store bought yogurt, but it taste wonderful with homemade smoothies which we make almost every day.
3.  We garden a small 10x10 plot in the summer and can/freeze the following to be used throughout the year:
  • Tomatoes
  • Squash
  • Pinto Beans
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Sweet Red Peppers - we go through these too fast to save
  • Onions
  • Garlic
4.  Mowing with a push mower rather than gas.  We have both, but my husband prefers to use the push mower as much as possible.

My goal for the next year is to eliminate (as much as possible) zip lock bags.  They've been a weakness of mine for years and while I don't think the savings is significant, it's more of a desire to reduce our trash/landfill contribution.  

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


There has been more travel and sickness in this year that I would have initially imagined.  The March Asia trip ended with a few days in California to meet with a client and review all the plush toys we had worked on the prior week in China and ended with me getting the most horrific cold I've ever gotten!  I couldn't even sleep the night before my return flight home, it was that bad!!  I called a doctor from our Telehealth plan and they assured me I'd be fine flying home but to try and get as decongested as possible.  I bought Afrin the next day in the airport and that completely cleared my head.  I will keep this in my "required medicine travel bag" from now on!  I had a netti pot, cough drops and other meds with me but none were effective in loosening the clog.

The jet lag and cold combined made it an almost two week sickness after which I returned to California for another quick two day trip.  Thankfully I have no more travel until the 2nd week of May!

Last week our 5 year old got a stomach bug and now this week the oldest has it!  I can't wait for everyone to be healthy again!

I missed writing about finances last month and I've got a great report to write this month so stay tuned!  This one is about our changes in cell phone coverage and I'm excited to share how we've grown in this area.  I think most financial changes involve a certain amount of will power to change bad habits along with bravery to try new things.  Let's face it, isn't it just easier to live with what we've always done?

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Back in Asia - Trip 2 of 3 for 2017

I was told at the end of 2016 that I was on the budget to travel to Asia three times in 2017.  I don't think I've traveled this extensively since 2006 or '07.  I remember going three times a year 10 years ago.  It was right before I started having babies and the trips back then were three weeks long.  At least they are shorter now.  I'm down to 11 days and that includes travel!  My schedule is as follows:

13th Monday - flight to Newark, then Hong Kong
14th Tuesday - arrive in Hong Kong at 8 or 9pm, spend night near China boarder
15th Wednesday - stop at international grocery store and get breakfast foods for the week, drive into China, 1.5 hours, work in plush toy sample room until 7 or 8pm in evening
16th Thursday - drive to another part of China to visit an IC office, 6 of us stand over an engineer for 4 hours until we get the sound/mouth movement needed.  Poor girl.  I'm sure she was glad when we left.  Return to our sample room and work till 7 or 8pm.
17th Friday - work in sample room
18th Saturday - work in sample room
19th Sunday - work in sample room
20th Monday - work in sample room return to Hong Kong in evening
21st Tuesday - fly to California
22nd Wednesday - meeting with client
23rd Thursday - return to Baltimore (home)

I'm not sure what condition I'll be in when I get home but for now I feel fine.  Strange how the body adapts.  I'm praying for down time after this trip and dreaming of all the fun things April will bring - Easter, Church Revival, a birthday party with friends from Maine, ladies children's day event from church, and time with friends.  See, my 2nd Asia trip was supposed to be in April and I might have missed these things.  It was hard taking this trip with short notice, but it will be better when April is here.

The question I'm asked the most by friends and family in the US is this - what do you do when you are in Asia?  Well, I've accumulated 16 years of Disney plush toy design experience and I direct a team of pattern makers on how to make the plush toys look like the Disney character.  I don't speak Chinese and I don't sew patterns.  I create spec sheets and correction through Photoshop and Illustrator and a translator is needed to communicate with the team.  We go shopping for materials, visit printing factories, embroidery factories, mechanism and IC factories while I'm here.

When I'm in the US, I review plush toys through photos.  Being here in person allows us to get 200% more work done because we can work faster in person.  There are no delays.  So when we get big projects from Disney, I have to come here to work.

My job has given me amazing flexibility to work from home in Maryland so when Asia travel is needed, I do it.  In time, there will be more creative people hired to work here what I'm doing now and this will not be always necessary.  I might even miss it one day.  For now, it's my life and I'm going to make the best of it.

This is the view outside my hotel window at 8:49am:

The bridge has been like this since I was here a year ago.  I'm wondering if it will ever get finished.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

KFC in China

KFC in China is completely different from KFC in the US.  I tell people here and they look at me in surprise. I tell people in the US and they are also surprised.  How can an international chain have a completely different menu?  Well, I guess they are smart enough to appeal to local taste.  Chinese love chicken.  It's more popular here than McDonalds for the price and taste.  When I first started coming to China, 15+ years ago, the menu was very basic.  It was not the fried chicken we associate with KFC but lots of basic wings and ribs.  No giant inflated chicken breasts that we think are normal in the US.  No gorgeous potato wedges.  Just a very basic menu.  I'm pleased to see they've grown in China to include sandwiches!

I ordered the one with an avocado next to it.  It had a yummy spicy sauce in the center and guacamole.  The chicken inside the sandwich was brown meat.  I must confess, I've been so brainwashed into thinking white meat belongs inside a chicken patty that my brain screamed it wouldn't be good even though the taste was just fine.  I had to literally not look at the inside while eating it.

We had regular fries and a Pepsi.  I don't even drink soda in the US but it was somehow very fitting in this location.  Next time I'm trying the green tea ice cream cone!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Frugal Living ~ February 2017

Welcome to my February edition of what works and what doesn't in frugal living!  For me it's a month of no work travel and a very relaxed work schedule because it's Chinese New Year in Asia so work is slow.  I'm spending more time with friends and relaxing rather chasing side-hustles with my free time but there is still room for experimentation so here's a summary of what works and what doesn't work for me.

Apps that don't work for me:
  • Checkout 51 app - I downloaded this app a few weeks ago.  It promises to save money on groceries.  You go through the list of items it's promoting on Wednesday, select the ones you are interested in and then upload your receipt.  The only problem for me is that I don't buy many brand items!  I have the same issue with coupons.  I rarely use them.  I'm sure a very savvy person who loves brand products might enjoy combining coupons with this app.
  • Swagbucks - I know some bloggers who swear by this app/website but I think that big blogs benefit hugely from driving traffic to Swagbucks.  Here are the reasons this app does not work for me:
    • Every time I try to take a survey, the app tells me they've already exceeded the amount of people who can take the survey.  Simple fix guys - update your coding to NOT show the survey once you've had enough take it!  
    • On the website there is an inbox full of suggestions, some of which lead to gambling sites.  That just seems extremely counter intuitive to saving money!  It bothers me.  I don't want to see it.
    • So far, it seems like a tremendous amount of time is needed to click on stuff to earn Swagbucks.  
    • If an app is not productive or interesting in 1-2 months, I move on.  
Easy apps that earn minor spending $$:
  • ONGO surveys app - The first 10 or so survey's gave me $0.10 because I did not qualify and $0.50 for "about me" survey's.  At one point I earned a whopping $2.00 for a phone survey but after 2-3 months I finally got a decent survey.  It was a lifestyle one about entertainment and I guess we have considerable entertainment habits to contribute because this one netted a cool $10.00.  I'm now up to $19.00 for doing very simple and occasional surveys. My only suggestion is to turn off the notifications because it has a very loud "kaching" money sound when a new survey pops up and it always caught me off guard when I was out in public. 
  • Shopkick app - I'm in love with this app.  I use it every time I got to a store which seems to gained enough points to keep my Starbucks card loaded.  I only go to Starbucks once or twice a month and it's nice to have free money for a treat.  
Long Term Strategies:
  • Samaritan Ministries - I've written briefly about our switch from traditional insurance to this Christian health care sharing network.  We're two months in and it's going great!  Here is our strategy:
    • Last year our monthly payment to Evergreen Health Care was $660 per month for two adults.
    • This year to Samaritan Ministries it is $440 for two adults (our kids are still on the Maryland Children's Health program for $66 per month)
    • We are putting the differences into our own healthcare savings plan, $220 per month
    • Samaritan does not cover regular doctor check ups so our savings will go to annual health care checks and prescriptions that are not covered.
    • Samaritan will pay 100% of our medical bills should we have a serious illness or medical situation that requires hospital care and they have enough members that with our low monthly payment of $440 all medical needs submitted do get paid for.  In fact, some months they reduce our bill by 5% if they take in more money then is needed for the month needs.
    • At the end of the year, the money I've saved from putting $220 into health care savings, will go into my long term savings account.  Twelve months of savings is $2,640 of which we will probably use 1/3 for 4 annual doctor check ups.  When we had Evergreen, we were paying our monthly bill of $660 + co-pays with each doctor visit and subsequent bills of a percentage of the office visit that was never covered.  I'd much rather pay out of pocket for preventative health care visits if my monthly bill is lower.  At the end of the year, if we have money left over, this will feel like the greatest deal ever! 
  • Phone Contracts:
    • Next month I plan to tackle our phone bill!  We are planning to go off the grid with contract phone bills, buy cheap phones with no contract and putting our iPods to use with a purchase as you go wifi device like KarmaGo.  I'm still working out all the details!  End of March our contract with AT&T ends and thus ends our days of phone contracts!  I want to get our mobile and wifi costs down to $50 per month.  Currently we are paying $130 for two iPhones.  

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Painting CAN be done with a two year old

I seldom paint with the kids because of the mess and attention everyone needs for paint, water, etc., but looking back at the results makes be realize it's well worth the effort and I should really do it more often.  Painting is more than an art, it's freedom of expression and the more we close ourselves off from art, the harder it is to make art.

Surprisingly, the baby did not end up with paint on her clothing, hair, or face!

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Tiny Snowman

The news keeps talking about huge epic storms sweeping the country but somehow they keep missing our area!  This is our 4th winter in Maryland and all prior have had significant snow.  Somehow this year we've had 2 snows, each about 1 inch!

We've already got spring flowers coming up because it was so warm in January!  I sure hope it doesn't end badly for the local orchards - a late extended cold spell will do that.

Here's our tiny snowman made after we got a 2 hour delay this morning!  He's so small I couldn't get the rocks to stay in for a mouth!!

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

The Trials and Tribulations of Driving in California

Despite flying to CA almost annually for 15 years, and living in LA for two years from 2002 - 2003, I still get lost every single time I visit.  Well, maybe not lost, but I seem to have lots of trouble with the GPS.  Maybe it's because the Los Angeles and surrounding areas is in a constant state of road repair?  This last trip at the end of January found me clinching the wheel as the GPS stated in it's most alarmed voice "driving into oncoming traffic on a one way street".  It was not a one way street, it was re-routed traffic and others were clearly going the same way.  Still, it's un-nerving!

This past trip I decided to rent a truck, because I like driving trucks, but all they had was a F-150.  I had to literally hop to get into the truck!  The guy next to me at the rental place was like, "wow, you look really small in there".  It was a big truck.  I felt like I was driving a battering ram.  The biggest stress factor was that small cars literally disappeared into a blind spot and drove me into wild waves of panic.  On the plus side though, I found more than one car in my rear view mirror having second thoughts about cutting me off as I puttered down an off-ramp hoping I was taking the correct exit.  That was empowering.

California parking spots are very small so parking also very stressful.  Fortunately I was early for my  meeting had had time to circle the block before street parking at my destination and had the great fortune to find a spot that didn't require parallel parking!

My trips to CA are like a Navy Seals mission, I'm in and out in 20 hours.  I get up at 4am to leave for the airport at 4:45.  The airport drive is 1.5 hours.  My flight usually leaves at 7 or 8am.  A flight takes 6-7 hours depending on stops and then time goes backwards 3 hours for PS time zone so I get in around 11 or noon.  Hopefully I've managed to eat somewhere along the way because when I get to Burbank all I want to do is rent a car and get the drive to Pasadena over with!  My meetings are always the same day around 3pm so I have about 3 hours to get myself to Pasadena without dying in a car wreak along the way.  After a 2 hour meeting, I head back to Burbank and drop off the rental same day.  My flight the following day is usually 8am and gets in at 6pm local time.

When dropping off a vehicle at the Burbank airport rental car zone, there is no transport to the Marriott hotel which is located across a very busy 6 lane wide street.  It's very annoying to have to walk across a street with luggage but even stranger to consider asking an Uber or Taxi to pick me up and drive me the quarter mile distance!  It's probably not a big deal in normal circumstances but after being up at 4am and getting to car rental zone at 6pm, which is 9pm EST, my brain is fried!

The best part for me is always the return.  One very long day of travel with nothing to do but READ! On this particular return, my favorite author, Alex Berenson, had just released a new book giving me one glorious day to read with no interruptions!  And by interruptions I mean of the "mommy mommy help me" type.

Here's the link if you want to check it out:  https://www.amazon.com/Prisoner-John-Wells-Novel/dp/0399176152/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1486684814&sr=8-1&keywords=alex+berenson

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Frugal Living - January 2017 - Part 2

Here is my January big money saving idea!

My State Farm agent gave me a book on repaying student loans.  I read the entire book on a trip last year and got one big idea!  Everything else in the book was standard knowledge for me.  But this one big idea is going to save us in interest payments this year!

I have a student loan with a balance of 11K.  I'm so aggravated by this loan because it's just been hanging out on my budget for 16 years!!!  I've had so many other priorities and the payment is rather small so I've left it piddle in the background.  I've talked to professionals who say,
"don't let it bother you, the interest rate is low AND you get to write off the interest on your taxes"
But I want to have all debt paid off by the time we are 50, in 8 years, and I'm tired of paying on this loan.

So here's my big idea!

I'm already paying $100 extra per month on the loan.  What if I took out an interest free credit card for one year, and transferred $2000 of the student loan onto that card?  Then the $2000 for one year is not gaining a single penny of interest!  I'm now paying $166 a month + my student loan payment of $215.  If interest free credit cards are still available next year, I'll do the same thing, and again the year after until this debt is gone!

This happened after years of frustration in seeing my student loan balance barely shift after I paid $100 extra every month.

Full disclosure - I paid a $60 fee to move this balance to the new card but the card paid me back a $100 bonus after I spent $1000 in other expenses.  Total win.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Happy Chinese New Year! Year of the Rooster!!

Today is the first day of Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year in parts of Asia outside of China.  I'm so happy for my co-workers who get to take a few weeks off from work and visit with their families.  It also gives me a big break at work because - NO EMAILS!  Yeah!!  

Since it's on a Saturday, I won't talk about work.  Instead, here are thing things we like to do as a family on this special day.

We only watch animation inspired from Asia, today's list includes:  Big Hero 6, Mulan and Kubo!  Later we will give the kids red envelopes with money and we will get take out from our favorite Chinese restaurant.  We will also celebrate dragons by reading our favorite dragon books and hopefully make it out to the bookstore to get some new ones!  I would like to also do some crafts but husband is working today so I don't want to over promise.  

I was in Hong Kong a few weeks ago and they were in full preparation mode for this holiday.  Here are a few photos of the decorations:

Friday, January 27, 2017

Frugal Living - January 2017 Part 1

I found this tweet recently by one of the leaders of 4 Word Women:
Time is more critical than money. You can make more money. Time's a nonrenewable resource. Once you’ve spent it, it's gone so use it wisely.
This is interesting in the context that as I've been reading Penny Hoarder and Money Saving Mom, there's this creeping desire to want to spend time making more money.  There are so many apps, side hustles, freelance, etc that are highly time consuming and I have to wonder - at what point will we be satisfied?  When we reach our drop dead money point?  This being the point where we have enough to retire and can walk away from full time jobs.  Even then, would it be enough?

The more time I spend in my basement, working at my full time job and then doing any side jobs it's less time to spend with my family.

Recently I went through photos of our 2016 year, getting them organized and uploaded to Shutterfly to make photo books.  There was a free book but I just couldn't seem to find the time to upload enough photos to  make the book.  When my husband called for dinner each night, I went and didn't come back to my computer and missed the free book.  I'm sure there will be more free books this year.

Last year I spent an enormous amount of time preparing for consignment sales and probably earned $2 or 3.00 per hour when I was done.  It's just not worth my time.  I have some items already priced from last year and ready to go so I'll probably take those over when the next sale comes up but I'd rather donate the bulk of my items and write off the value on my taxes.  It's far less time consuming and I still feel like I'm getting something for our stuff.  I can't bring myself to throw things into the landfill that might be helpful to someone.  We are very serious around here about composting, recycling and keeping our landfill footprint as small as possible.

Time is important and we don't know how much of it we have left.  My dad died at 58.  If I died the same year, I'd only have 17 years left.  Both of my grandmothers died at 50, which would give me 7 years remaining.  I want to spend it with my family having great experiences.  There are also a few friends I need to reach out to this year.  I'm looking forward to more time spent away from my computer.

Saturday, January 14, 2017


I got home around 9pm on Thursday.  It's a 25 hour journey from the time I set foot outside my hotel so it feels pretty incredible to be home.

Friday was spent with the kids getting caught up.  They are home from school on Fridays because their private school goes slightly longer Monday - Thursday in order to give older teachers and students a break on Friday.  They usually come home with extra homework but it's nice to have an extra day with the kids.

We spent the morning doing crafts, I found laser cut wooden puzzles of sea creatures at the Design Gallery at the Hong Kong toy fair.  Afterwards everyone was hungry by 11 so we went to Chick Fil A for lunch, our monthly splurge.  Later we watched Kubo which is a fascinating movie.  The parents die so Charlotte's not too happy with the ending but I love how it explains how the Japanese deal with death.  My Violette and Sam love the movie and baby just seems to enjoy most movies.

The day got hard about 3pm when my body started to ache and wish desperately for sleep.  Somehow I managed to stay away until 9pm by doing too much activity and got fitful sleep until 5:30am.  It feels like such a victory to wake to coffee and a quiet house.  The weather looks cold with possible snow today.  We need food but maybe we'll just make due and stay home!

I'm loving the very early hours.  I've already answered work emails, last minute projects that need to wrap up before the team leaves for Chinese New Year and this blog post.  I think I'll go crawl back in bed now and play games on my phone with my coffee.  :)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Last Day in Asia!

My trip has ended 3 days early!  What luck!!  I'm told my work here is done so I can go home early.  So glad it worked out well with the airlines to change my flight to today.  Wish I could have written more while I was here but we did stay very busy.  Looking forward to life back in the states!

Review of London House

London House is a Gordon Ramsey restaurant in Hong Kong.  It's in the building where I work, so for me a very logical conclusion to the day.  So much so that I went three times!  Maybe 4?  Here are my thoughts on their food:

For lunch on my first day of working in Hong Kong I chose the Chicken Tikka Masala with Mango Juice - It was wonderful!  Decent size proportion and I was very happy with the service.  It was a lunch time so more quiet, quick in and out timing.

I went back the same day for dinner with co-workers and had the Shepard's Pie.  I was not very happy with this dish.  I didn't like the recipe and the dish was also very small, in a 5" iron crock, about 1.5" tall, I think.  Very bland.  I found out later the dish was the same size as their side dish Mac and Cheese so I found that to be a bit odd.  My tea was served lukewarm.  It was very crowded, that may have been why.  My advise if if you want to try this dish it must be ordered with a side because it's just way too small for a meal.

However, I would not be deterred!  Confession time - I'm a bit of an Anglophile so having a British pub within walking distance of work means I'm going to come here as often as possible if the food is decent.  

The next day I had the Salmon for lunch.  It was incredible!  I eat Salmon because it's good for me but usually the taste is just boring Salmon.  This was buttery and lemony - it's hard to describe how incredibly good this was.  As I've said before, Hong Kong IS really good at seafood but it was also a very good recipe.  I also had a side of Mac and Cheese with Bacon, it was very creamy and delicious!  The cheese base tasted like it had a bit of fresh cream, it was very rich.

I had dinner in my hotel that night so I took a little break from London House, I was too tired to sit in a restaurant.

My last night in Hong Kong I had the Bangers and Mash and it was a very large dish with three bangers and a giant pile of mashed potatoes with onion gravy.  It was wonderful!

Well this just goes to show that one bad night of service and food does not mean the restaurant is bad.  I'm quite looking forward to my next binge at London House when I return to Hong Kong later this year.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Stroll through Hong Kong's Science District

After one week in China, I was very anxious for a walk and American food!  Here's the thing with China, I'm stuck in a hotel when I'm not working.  I love the freedom I have in Hong Kong to walk and experience the city.  After 16 years of traveling here I've found a level of independence and it's become one of my favorite cities.

This particular Sunday I was dropped at my hotel around 1pm and I immediately went to my favorite "Western" restaurant - Ruth Steak House (American food is called Western in Asia).  I don't order steak because Hong Kong is much better at seafood and this restaurant is particularly good at the King Crab Tuna dish.

After lunch I walked for two miles through the Science district.  I was looking for the Starbucks on Hollywood walk but it was closed due to construction so most of my walk was not very pretty.  I tried to catch local Pokemon but the game didn't work very well for me as I had trouble keeping a Wifi connection.  Regardless, it was still nice to get out and see things.  Here are some of the interesting sculptures I found around the Science center.

Hong Kong loves and cherishes their trees.  I like taking photos of the local trees because they are so carefully cared for and they build these nice boarders around them.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

January Trip to China - Day 3

Yesterday we drove 1.5 hours to visit a factory.  Don’t ask me where we ended up, I have no idea!  At one point I saw a McDonald’s and secretly hoped we’d stop for lunch but they had a restaurant in mind.  It was nice, I got a surf and turf that wasn’t too hard to chew and some mashed potatoes with cheese and bacon.  I even got a latte in a cowboy glass!  I wish I could have taken the glass with me, it was cute.
Our day in the factory was from 2-7pm and while they were kind enough to not smoke in the room, by end of day my eyes were burning from the smoke in the air.  We worked on a feature plush that needed improved eye and dancing movement.  My contribution consisted of reviewing the samples at each stage and confirming it needed to be faster. 
The sample was finished at 7pm and we were finally free to leave for dinner.  Everyone elected to revisit the same restaurant we had for lunch.  I made an unfortunate selection of shrimp that was covered in a crunchy brown substance, coated in an unfamiliar spice and possibly still had the shell on.  I couldn’t eat it.  Even the rice was crunchy.  The restaurant was smoky and I desperately wanted to remove my contacts and go to bed.  We ordered a replacement dish so I didn’t leave hungry. 

After dinner all the guys had a smoke while I played Disney Emoji’s.  

Friday, January 06, 2017

January Trip to China - Day 2

Yesterday was a challenge from the weather.  I didn’t realize the smog would be so bad, the air is thick with smoke when we are outside and it’s making my eyes burn.  I wish I had brought a face mask at minimum. 

I worked in our China sample room and it was a typical day.  I work at a table with several others and during the day they bring me samples to review.  It’s so much easier than reviewing them in photo like I do from the states. 

We had lunch at their favorite local Chinese restaurant where it’s still okay to smoke in the dining area.  I forgot to bring eye drops, it always hurts my eyes.  I ordered what appeared to be Pepper Steak and was pleasantly surprised when it was as it appeared!  Afterwards we went back to the office to finish working.

By 6pm I was very tired, no afternoon coffee had dropped my levels to almost 0% and they decided to drop me off at the hotel and go back to the office to finish working.  I ordered a pizza that I’d had last time and went to my room to read and wait.  It arrived by 7 and afterward exhaustion hit me like a ton of bricks.  I was reading and nodding off while thinking it’s too early to sleep.  I couldn’t fight it.  By 9pm I was in bed and then thankfully I slept until 5am. 

Internet in this hotel has been spotty at best.  Before I go to bed, it turns off so I can’t say goodnight to my husband on WhatsApp.  I hate that.  Then in the morning it comes and goes like a flicker, so I send messages out when I have it and finally give up.  I can’t download my email so I really can’t work until I get into our China sample room.

I can’t access Facebook (I thought I could the last trip), or Pokemon Go, and Tsum Tsum game.  My 3 primary sources of wasting time, I mean entertainment, gone!   Surprisingly Pinterest works here, which I use for private design boards on some of our projects. 

I used to love reading books, but I’ve had to retrain my brain to stop looking for the short term entertainments and sit and read for 2-3 hours.  My ride is not ready until 9:30, so from the moment I wake up, I have 4.5 hours to get ready for work, eat breakfast and read – or write a blog post that I will post when I get back to Hong Kong since I can’t access my blog either because Google is still banned in China and my blog is Google based. 

Please understand, I’m not complaining at all.  I just like to outline my experiences as they happen for my own future reference.  Just think how thankful I’ll be when I’m back in a place where all my apps work and I can independently walk to wherever I want to go!

Thursday, January 05, 2017

January Trip to China - Day 1

I’m back in Asia for the first of three planned trips in 2017.  I had about 2 weeks to prepare for this trip, it was rather unexpected but necessary.  Preparing for an Asia trip over Christmas and New Year’s along with my youngest 2nd birthday was not particularly easy.  I had some last minute panics about putting together a professional wardrobe for 60-70 degree weather, shoes needed bought as my last pair had quite literally cracked in the soles and my 2nd pair still looked good but the padding had worn down inside and became unbearable to wear after a day of walking.  So I went on a desperate quest for shoes the day before my flight and I’m very happy with the slip on shoes that can be worn with or without stockings.

My trip began on a Monday which was a wonderful change from my normal Saturday departure.  It’s nice to only lose one weekend from the middle of the trip.  I arrived on Tuesday night in Hong Kong and spent the night at my favorite hotel in Kowloon.  I was not required to be anywhere the next morning so I took my time getting ready and arrived around 10am. 

During the day we visited my favorite market to pick up food for our trip to China.  I find that if I’m well stocked with breakfast items, I don’t have to stress about what the hotel is offering. 

We left for China on Wednesday evening, arriving at 9pm and I’m not required to meet my co-worker until 9:30.  I slept from 11-6 and am excited to have 3.5 hours to read, write and eat breakfast.  Think of it – no one needs me!  It’s a very small luxury these days of which I’m going to relish.  If you’ll note on my blog, there have been no posts since November.  That’s what happens when work ramps up and I work from home.  Virtually no personal time!  I’m not complaining, I adore my four little darlings but it sure is nice to have some personal quiet time.

Life Size Gingerbread Castle found in China

In the hotel lobby I found this very large life size gingerbread castle!  Upon closer inspection, I believe it was real baked gingerbread!  Imagine the work that went into this!!  Closer photos show shelves inside where someone may have even handed out treats through the window.  I'm so blown away by this!!!