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Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas Paintings 2017

One of the most challenging parts of this trip was getting all our presents to Texas safely.  I had split them with my husband as he was coming a week later.  One of those was a painting that was half finished that I'd planned to give to my in-laws.  This item didn't make it so 3 days before Christmas I asked Mema to take us to Michaels to get some art supplies and then proceeded to paint with the kids in the garage all the way up until Christmas eve!  It happens in spurts, one hour to do the background, let that dry, then 30 minutes to do the final shadow details, but two paintings in 3 days, that was a first for me!

My in-laws go to Montana every year, it's where my father-in-law grew up so I decided to make the first painting based on a photo they sent me this past summer.

The following is a painting of Texas for their Montana home.  I couldn't find reference of the local West Texas yucca in paintings so I made my own.  The blends were tricky around the blue/yellow/orange transition but I'm happy with the yucca.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Something to be thankful for

On Sunday, the kids and I with their grandparents stopped at a ranch that was having a Christmas event.  The kids got to hear a story, see Santa and reindeer.  It was a really nice day in the 60's so we were enjoying the weather.  The kids were clamoring for face paint and as I doled out money to each child I heard their grandfather say, "where's Evie?".

It's so disorienting to lose a child when you are all standing in a small group and apart from us is basically a giant gravel field leading to the next events.  Grandfather went one direction and I headed to the entrance to let the police know and the word was immediately spread over the walkie talkies.  I asked if they'd seen her wander out the entrance which was really only about 5 feet from where we had been standing but the main guy assured me there was no way she could have walked out without him seeing her.  It seemed the only logical solution to be because I couldn't imagine her running over the open gravel field but I turned and went back into the event space.  Within 5 minutes I heard her screaming her head off as a lady hung onto her failing body for dear life.  I ran over and got her from the lady.  Apparently she had walked out with a big group while we were standing at the face painter station so that's why the main guy hadn't seen her.  She got disconnected from the group in the parking lot and one of the workers started following her to see which way she'd go and when she saw the lady following her she took off running then melted down when she got picked up.

I've heard of little kids doing this at amusement parks and all but it's the first time it's ever happened to us.  I'm glad to know I've got a little fighter but I don't think I could take that happening ever again! 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Solo Parent Flight to Texas with 4 Kids = 1 terrified parent

Kids ages:
C - 9
S - 7
V - 5
E - 2 (just 2 weeks shy of 3)

The trip was originally planned for the entire family to travel together.  I based it off school dates from 2016 before I was made aware that the 2017/18 school schedule was one week less over Christmas due to Maryland governors plan to move the start date of school until after Labor Day.  Then my husband started a new job, although that could have been worked around, then he was asked to support several programs in church and finally it seemed the only solution was to move his flight to a week later.  

A trip from Maryland to Texas is about 7 hours total in flight time, counting separate flights and layover time, not counting 1.5 hour travel time to the airport and pre-flight time of about 1.5 - 2 hours so all together it's more like a 10 hour day until we land and reach family who can help with the little darlings.

I planned as thoroughly as possible with meals packed, iPod per child with 2 back up batteries each and new content.

We had everyone sleep in comfortable day clothes so they wouldn't have to change in the morning.

The flight was at 7:50 so we had to leave the house at 5am and drive 1.5 hours to Baltimore.  Our luggage check in was easy, we had brought an empty duffel for winter coats.  Security was easy due to my TSA-pre status (will work with all kids until the oldest turns 12).  Finding our gate was easy, boarding was well executed and done during the family boarding on Southwest after the A group is boarded.  The first flight went exceptionally well, kids watched their movies, I could have pulled out my laptop and worked if I'd wanted to!  

We landed in Detroit, MI.  Yes, we had to go UP before we could go DOWN.  I've heard that for our destination it's either there or Tennessee but I'd rather the latter, sometimes there's no other option when ordering 6 months in advance.  We sat for only 30 minutes while picking up new passengers.  I changed the little one's diaper, went to the bathroom and then committed my first serious error of the day.  I asked the kids if they needed to use the bathroom, they all said no, and I didn't make them go.  Cue horror music.

Just as the plane started to move my 3rd announces the need to use the bathroom.  I told her she had to wait until we were in the clouds.  We then had to stop for 15 minutes to de-ice the plane.  Teeth gritted, I watch them spray down the plane in green stuff.  We finally take off and due to weather turbulence they don't let us up for almost 30 minutes, so she held it for 45 minutes!  During that time oldest wanted to go.  Then I made my 2nd major error of the day.  I passed out food before they went to the bathroom and then had to move it all for them to get out and back in!  What's wrong with me?  I only fly like 6-8 times a year for business!  Egads.  I thought maybe the oldest would be adept enough to move her drink but she came back and promptly lifted the tray table with a full drink on it, knocking it to the floor while I'm practically shouting "grab your drink" as I see it all happen in slow motion and try to grab it as the lunchable on my lap hits the ground, crackers everywhere.  

As a personal reminder, zip lock bags are a great way to consolidate trash which seems to build up in large quantities with four kids.  They each need their own because they were handing me stuff left and right.  

About half way through the 2nd flight, youngest is in urgent need of a nap and gets really mad that she's stuck in her seat with more turbulence and thus in her seat belt.  I misunderstand the pilot and think he's landing in 15 minutes but he said we were getting in 15 minutes early and then suddenly tiny tot falls asleep with massive turbulence so I spend the remainder of the hour flight holding her head so she's not whipping back and forth on the chair.  Fortunately the others settled down and tiny tot remained asleep until we land upon which she's angry at being stuck in a small place.  I look at my boarding pass and note we have 35 minutes before our next flight and my anxiety goes into overdrive.  Maybe the pilot had earlier said 15 minutes later?  

I had already pre-packed my side before the nap so I hoped the 2 sitting across from me were capable of finding all their stuff.  People were between us as passengers tend to fill the aisle, no way to double check their side.  When space opened up I sent them out in a line while grabbing our over head trolley and followed, piled down with bags.  The flight attendants were awesome, they held all kids at the front until I stumbled out.

We went in immediate search for a flight tracker sign, the airport was jam packed with people, fortunately my crew stayed close.  The first sign confusingly did not show our flight.  I took this news surprisingly well considering earlier anxieties and started looking for the Southwest customer service.  We then came across another sign that showed our flight and it was across the hall from where we had come in AND it was scheduled to leave an hour later.  Great!  So we had time for bathroom breaks, reorganize bags, Starbucks, and 15 minutes play time before boarding the next flight.

Here is where I made my 3rd major error of the day.  Our tickets had boarding in the A group, so I thought that might be easier then waiting for family boarding.  I was wrong.  After giving our tickets to the ticket guy and following the kids down the jet bridge my bags started to fall apart.  The girl behind me simply walked past as I frantically grabbed at bags, then the next guy sauntered by, then the next.  I was separated from my kids by at least 3 people.  As I boarded the plane the flight attendant looked worried as she'd just seen 4 kids board without an adult, the lady behind them had not laid claim so they were confused.  I said yes they're mine, explained the bags and she then called over the loud speaker to explain there were 4 unattended kids with parent coming.  This completely unnerved me.  In hindsight it doesn't sound as bad as it felt at the time, I guess all prior stress had added up.  Next time, I'll just wait for family boarding because I'm pretty sure other families would not charge past me.  Fortunately this flight was uneventful and only 45 minutes long.  

In hindsight, we over packed which led to me being bogged down with bags at different points.  Each kid had a backpack, they had crammed some bulky toys in at the last minute that I wish I'd put into checked luggage because they got heavy and kids didn't want to hold them when we got to Dallas.  I had a food bag, computer bag, diaper bag and trolley which was annoying at keeping all bags intact and they kept swinging around and throwing us off-balance.  Need to work on that set up and on the return plan to not have diaper bag, I think we can live with 3 diapers, wipes and changing mat stuffed into my computer bag.  Oh, we also had two neck pillows that ended up on the floor and everywhere.  Those are going into checked luggage for the return.  

Overall, it really wasn't too bad.  I can't anticipate every potential issue and the kids did their best.  I'm just really glad it's all over.  We want to travel to Texas every other Christmas so the next will be 2019 and youngest will be 4 about to turn 5 so it will be a completely different situation then.  

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Homeless in Hagerstown

It's Saturday, and the 5th week since I first met Lisa.  One week until my solo parent trip to Texas so husband gives me the day to get everything done that is urgent.  My list for the day is long but I decide to check on Lisa first so I can let her know I'll be gone for a few weeks.  She's at her now usual spot, under the bridge near Roy Rodgers but she's talking to another person in a vehicle.  That's odd, maybe it's just someone trying to give her food so I wait and after several minutes decide to walk up and see if everything is okay.  Turns out this lady wanted to pay for Lisa to have a hotel for 2 nights.  The weather was getting worse so it was a very generous thing to do.  I offered to help Lisa get to the Dagmar Hotel which was only a half mile away. 

Lisa was overwhelmed and very nervous.  She knew the lady who was trying to help her about as well as she knew me.  She was worried she wouldn't be able to take her cart inside, worried about steps, etc but we convinced her to try.

I helped her carry her stuff and she pushed that massive cart that seemed bigger and heavier over every street crack.  There were times when we had to stop and evaluate the terrain and cross a street if the sidewalk was too messed up.  It took almost 35 minutes to walk what might have taken 15 minutes without all this baggage.  Our mutual friend was waiting, and there was a ramp!  The hotel had a massive elevator and no one said anything about her bringing in a giant cart.  We got her loaded up into the elevator and said goodbye. 

I'm glad she was able to get some help and meeting another women who had been trying to help was wonderful.  We exchanged emails and phone numbers and have been in contact.

Lisa stayed in the hotel for four nights and I called her twice to see how she was doing.  She got some laundry done and tried to downsize her stuff as much as possible.  I again offered our shed hoping that she knew me better and might trust my offer but by the time she checked out, she was still to afraid to trust her stuff to be anywhere but where she could reach it.  She said she'd been burned too many times. 

I called Reach to ask why she'd been banned.  They told me that they offer appointments on Thursday's to find out what action steps one can take to get off the banned list.  Lisa said she'd already done that, didn't seem open to doing it again.

I feel like we're running out of options. 

One of Lisa's biggest concerns is getting arrested and then all her stuff will be thrown into a dumpster.  She says a member of Hagerstown City Council saw her under the bridge and complained to the police so she was threatened with arrest if she didn't find somewhere else to be.

In my call with Reach, they said one of the problems with homeless is how much stuff they accumulate.  They can't allow them into the facility with a shopping cart.  She said people keep giving them stuff.  I haven't tried to add anything to her bulk, only food and small hygiene items. 

I've tried to convince her to downsize, or use my shed for the bulk of her items, if she could get down to a backpack she could spend the day at the library for example but she doesn't want to be separated from everything she has left. 

I know we're going in circles and I probably haven't been much help so I've resolved that I can at best be a friend and offer support.  She may not take my advice today, or any time soon but maybe one day a door will open and I can help her through it. 

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Homeless in Hagerstown

Saturday again, time to visit the City Park and check on Lisa, only she wasn't there and it was a warmish day and very crowded, maybe she decided to avoid the crowds?

The next day husband happened to drive through town on our way home from church, I asked him to swing by the bridge where I'd seen her before and there she was.  I was able to get out and talk to her for a few minutes, she'd been avoiding the park because of the tree lighting which was actually Friday, but when you're homeless time/days are a blur.  This week I had another package prepared of a few hygiene items and some food.  Her situation hadn't changed and I still hadn't found any other options so we said goodbye and I said I would keep her in my prayers. 

To be honest, I'm feeling pretty helpless by this point.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Trip to Florida

I managed to squeeze in one more work trip, right after Thanksgiving and two weeks before my solo parent trip to Texas with four kids.  It was nice to get a break from the cold although Florida felt too warm for me as I'd already acclimated to 40's.  I didn't take many photos while there, didn't go to the beach at all but I did manage to catch a Pokemon that can't be found in Maryland while on a coffee break so that was cool.

My hotel was very cute, it felt like an apartment building because it had a kitchenette and faced a lake that I kept thinking I'd walk around but never did.  I guess it was a busy work week but I did manage to squeeze in dinner with a friend and breakfast with another friend. 

Even if I don't get to the beach, it's still nice having Florida as a work base for a few visits per year.  Maybe I'll get to the beach on the next visit.  Having shorter day time hours definitely affects my ability to visit the beach.  I don't want to go at night by myself and it's dark when I get off work so I have to really motivate myself to get up at 6am and head there for an hour before heading back to work and it can take 30-45 minutes to get there and back in the morning.  I've noticed that when I visit in the summer or fall, I usually go to the beach at least 2-3 times in the evenings.  Light has everything to do with it.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Homeless in Hagerstown

The art class is over for this season, but we are in the habit of going to the City Park every Saturday so I got the kids ready and went at the same time.  I looked for Lisa but did not find her in the usual spot.  I had a bag of food ready to give her and decided to keep it in the car just in case I found her later.

We left the park around 11 and I drove through town, the kids played Pokemon Go while I kept an eye out for Lisa.  I finally found her under a bridge near Roy Rodgers, oddly enough right next to the police station.  I gave her a bag of food and we reviewed her options again, they were still the same. 

At one point, I offered her the use of our shed in town to put her stuff but she thought it might be too far to walk. 

"Dolphins In Love", by Charlotte

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving 2017

We have so much to be thankful for, but the top of the list is my immediate family.  We were all together this year, save my dad who passed away in 2004.  Mom came over, John and wife came from Pittsburgh, Vernon's local so of course he was here.  Not alot of people, just 6 adults and our 4 rowdy kids.  We played games after the meal, Parcheesi with mom, followed by a walk on the C&O Canal, then more games after it got dark outside.

My mom loves to tell the story of how she used to play Parcheesi with her family growing up.  She said her dad would play and he loved sending his kids home, he didn't care if he won, he just enjoyed the game.  She loves to tell this story, so we thought it fitting to play the game with her.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

2017 Fixer Upper House Update

At the end of 2016, our contractor finished demolition on the inside of the house, removing plaster walls, back porch and part of the back wall to survey water damage.  At this point, they realized that a structural engineer was needed to draw up the plans to get a permit for rebuild of back wall due to a large beam that was no longer used in construction.  They didn't have one on staff and made some recommendations.  Basically, they refused to move forward with us and that was a bitter disappointment.  I won't call them out by name becuase I don't believe in bad mouthing a company unless they have really done us wrong and this is more a situation that I guess neither they nor us could foresee until the house was stripped.  Regardless, we were unable to get anyone to freelance and do the work.

In 2017 my husband spent the year doing the measurements and drawings himself along with maintaining the property.  By the time we were ready to submit the drawings to the city for permit, we realized we either had to do it as self-contract work, or through a contracter.  We tried calling back the prior constractor but he refused unless the drawings were done by a structural engineer.  We tried another contractor but he quoted something crazy like 40K to finish the roof and rebuild the back wall.  We would still have to dry wall the entire house, refloor, build out the kitchen, laundry room and bathrooms and we'd already spent 60K; we reached a point where I was unsure we'd be able to recoup the costs with the price of houses in the area going for 120K. 

I had really hoped to not take on another mortgage but it seems like the world is not set up very well for this type of remodeling.  If we had started out by getting a Rehab mortgage maybe things might have worked out a little bit different, but I think we would have still been shocked and overwelmed by the numbers from contractors and lack of responsiveness. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017


I walked into the Washington County Art Museum, dropped my umbrella into the holder by the front door, then headed straight to the coat closet to hang my coat.  The guard at the front desk smiled at me.  He knows me from our weekly visits to the kids art class.  I then went to the bathroom and finally to the kids art exhibit.

A homeless person would not do these things, especially one with a giant cart. 

I woke up that morning to the freezing cold rain with one thought - how was Lisa going to get through the day?  As I pulled my kids together for art class, I hoped to maybe get her a tarp or something.  The morning flew by and my husband suddenly decided to come with us.  Together we got the kids to class and he waited with the youngest set while I walked down to the pavilion where I had seen her the week before.  She was there and I asked her if I could get her anything.  She said she had some plastic bags to cover her stuff with.  I told her I'd go get her a tarp.

My husband needed to get some measurements from our house in town, so I dropped him off, then rushed over to Home Depot to get the tarp and some zip ties, I then rushed back to pick him up and back to the park where I had just enough time to drop them off to her and then back to the museum for the kids class ceremony. 

She was very grateful.  I asked if she'd had any further luck with getting a room at Reach.  A police officer got her in for one night but that was it.  I told her I'd keep looking into things for her. 

Fall Art Class 2017

We've put Charlotte into art classes at the Washington County Art Museum since moving back to Hagerstown, MD 4 years ago but last year she started feeling shy and not wanting to go.  Our son is not as inclined to do art but I thought it might be helpful for Charlotte to have someone with her so I signed them both up for the fall classes.  The teacher is very unconventional and the art is usually mixed media.  I like the variety and creativity she brings and it helps the students who may not feel as comfortable with drawing.  Here are Sam and Charlotte's finished pieces from this class:

Friday, November 17, 2017

C&O Canal - November

Every November, the earth tilt is just right to get a sunset and mirror image of the C&O Canal.  

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Homeless in Hagerstown

More than one person in my home church has asked me about how they can help the homeless of Hagerstown.  I suggested to one mom to make zip lock bags filled with snacks and useful items that can be given out instead of money but after a few months they wanted to take it to the next level.  I'm not really sure how I became the nominated person for this pursuit.  Maybe it's this story I've told a few times, this is really where I began to see homeless people differently.  When you put a name to a face and learn someone's story, it's not easy to look away.

It was suggested that we could serve at a soup kitchen or support a local shelter but I wanted to know more from a homeless person directly as to what needs they wanted fulfilled.  Literally one week later I came across a homeless women in the City Park.  She caught my attention because it was a cold day and not one where you'd usually find people in the park.  I happened to be there because my two oldest were taking an art class and the younger set convinced me to let them play for a bit. 

Lisa, I'll withhold her last name for privacy, has been homeless for two years.  She says someone from her prior work told lies to her boss and got her fired.  She lost her apartment, car, and cats.  She said this person has friends in the Hagerstown police department and she thinks they have gone to the Reach center in town to spread more lies about her so she can no longer get a room there.  She said the Salvation Army has also banned her so she's sleeping on the street at night unless other police officers, not associated with her tormentor, can help convince Reach to give her a bed for the night.  All she wants is to get a job, an apartment, and hopefully another cat. 

The biggest problem for Lisa is finding a safe place for her stuff.  She has an overflowing shopping cart that contains all her worldly belongings.  She's terrified of losing the items in this cart because she has no way to replace anything with no income. 

Lisa has no disabilities, no children, no drugs or drinking issues, no history of sexual abuse, and she believes she has no mental disabilities so this pretty much rules out all the options that are available to homeless or people of need in Hagerstown. 

Her story begs many questions but until I could find her again, I decided to research resources in Hagerstown, maybe there was something she missed. 

I visited my favorite local charity, the Hope Center to find out what they provide but it turns out they only offer rooms for men and two meals a day to anyone who needs it.  I asked if they might know why Reach would bar someone from their facility and the lady said she didn't know.  I went to the Reach website and they have strict rules due to drugs and alcohol abuse, I assume they need to look out for the safety of their volunteers. 

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Jury Duty - Part 2

After my last post, there were only three more required days.  I was honestly surprised that I was only asked to go in 6 times, of which 2 days were canceled the night before.  My entire life, I've heard people moan and groan when they get assigned to jury duty so in my mind it became a HUGE commitment.  Turns out it was only a very minor inconvenience to my regular work schedule, a few late nights and everything was back to normal.

Day 4 - actual trial!  The judge went through a long list of reasons to call people up to the front, it took an hour.  Once they narrowed down the list of jury members who might be suitable for this trial they begin calling us up in groups of 6 or 7, can't remember the exact number.  We stood in a line and one by one they called us to stand forward one step.  They look at their paperwork, they look back at us and then say "Juror selected" or "Pass".  I was not selected.  This particular case was 1st degree assault and battery.  I was very severe that day, dressed in all black with my hair in a tight bun so I can understand why I might have not been selected.  I got to leave by 11am.

Day 5 - actual trial!  This time I was determined to look softer and approachable so I wore browns with my hair down.  I was selected!  It was a DUI case and I was thrilled to sit on the Jury panel and witness how the system works.  During the lunch break, which was 1.5 hours long, I got to walk around downtown and have coffee at The Plum restaurant, which I've always wanted to check out but it's only open during business hours and when am I ever downtown during business hours?  Only on jury duty I guess!

Day 6 - I requested off due to a dentist appointment.

Day 7 - was canceled! 

And that sums up my entire 5 weeks of jury duty.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Remember Remember the 5th of November

November is my favorite month, so anything that falls in November is a fav.  This movie, with all it's V words reminding me of our Violette, is becoming a classic.  The fight for justice by a vigilante is invigorating to say the least.  I hope our V girl enjoys this movie some day.  Nathalie Portman is outstanding to watch.  May we never lose our freedoms the way this movie has shown. 

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.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Purple Sweet Potato Bread

I've tried this twice and failed.  Failed to get a good purple color like my awesome muffins and scones.  Something must be happening to the mix during the baking process because it starts out like this:

Then after baking it looks like this:

Kinda green in the middle, slightly purple on top.  I won't share the recipe, it wasn't outstanding.  Next year I'll try again as I've nearly run out of Purple sweet potatoes and the kids won't stop asking for more purple scones.

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
Calories - 179 per scone, makes 18

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 with a few adjustments to the spices.  I've settled on Apple Pie Spice mix as the background spice.  I feel like it brings out the flavors really well.

The first step is bake the potatoes and then puree the baked potato.  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 1.5 hours at 350.  They do take longer than regular sweet potatoes.  Once baking is finished and they have cooled, remove peels and puree in a food processor. 

Purple Sweet Potato Muffins
  • 7 oz Purple Sweet Potato puree (if you do not have a scale 1 cup will work), if you don't have time to puree in a food processer then smash with a fork
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon apple pie spice (see below)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup oil (if you do not want to add oil then double the milk, I've done it both ways and it works out fine)
Apple Pie Spice - this is more than what this recipe will need, save for later, this is a good blend of spices that works with multiple recipes.  
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoon Cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon Allspice
Place all dry ingredients in large mixer along with the purple sweet potato and mix for 1-2 minutes until well blended.  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, or 9-10 regular 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 puree (if not pureed then it will have small chunks)
  • 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.

updated 10/21/20

Jury Duty - Part 1

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!!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Just Sam

** Post Dated **


My oldest had her front teeth completely in before her front baby teeth came out so we never got the two front teeth gap photos.  Sam has achieved the front row gap milestone!  Now we can sing "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth" for two months!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Christmas Card 2017

We're a little early on this but it's because my awesome Mother in Law had us do a photo shoot in Texas this summer, so when I got the free Christmas card offer from Shutterfly, I was ready!  Normally I'd choose a more cheerful photo, but this one is so cute with Evie's poofy lips, I couldn't resist.  The day was 110 degrees, at 7pm! 

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.

Frugal Living - May Edition 2017

Update on our Frugal Living Journey!  

Managing Debt:
A few months ago I wrote about opening a 14 month interest free credit card for the sole purpose of transferring an annoying debt.  I did it again!  This time I transferred $10,500 onto a new Discover card.  The debt was an unsecured personal loan for our fixer upper house which was charging 7.74%. The interest was approximately $160 per month which would have gone down as we paid down the loan so it's hard for me to estimate exactly how much savings was had but frankly I don't care, just knowing it's interest free for the rest of the year is good enough for me!   I plan to have this paid off in one year.

Our debt fluctuates depending on life needs, for example, our vehicles are both over 100K miles and our primary will need to be replaced in the next few years.  That will likely incur a small debt because most of our savings goes into the house, but we are careful to only buy used so it would probably be less than 10K.

We may need to take out another loan to finish our house, it depends on how much my husband can do himself or how urgently we may need to finish it and hire help to do so.

I consider the above to be manageable debt and my goal is to manage it in the cheapest way possible.

I've always found investments to be confusing.  Outside of putting 6% of our monthly income into IRA's I haven't given it much thought.  But after reading two excellent blogs about finances, I'm convinced to figure it out.  The two blogs are:

After reading both for a month I decided to try out two things:
  1. Acorn App - this app goes into your bank account and rounds up to the nearest dollar and puts the rounded up amount into the investment app.  We pay for the majority of our bills through credit cards to gain the rewards so I'm not too worried about this app taking out a big chunk of change.   In the first month, it only moved $21.  The app tells me that if I invest $20 per month from now until retirement, I can earn $$$.  So far it's an easy little app to use but doesn't provide too much information on how it's investing your money.  I found Stash to be more informative as it lets you select things you care about to invest in.  I might try that out in the future.
  2. Vanguard - goal is to save $1,000 this year and invest it.  This will come from any money earned on consignments, ebay sales, etc.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

What do a pregnant teenager and Jen Hatmaker have in common?

Both have offended Christians and been judged in a very public way.  Sides have been drawn.  Many articles have been written in anger, defense and moral outrage.  In the background, both ladies have been persecuted in a very personal way.

The only question I have not seen asked is this:  Why are Christians so angry, mean, and judgmental in these two cases?

Back story on Jen Hatmaker:
Jen is a writer of many popular Christian books that encourage people to dig deep into their faith and help others.  She's adopted two children in addition to having several of her own.  She's been a popular in-demand speaker for Christian events.  She's had a TV show and maintain's a popular blog.  She was, in my estimation, one of the top 10 women Christian speakers in our country until she wrote a Facebook post earlier this year coming out in support of gay marriage.  Her husband, a pastor, backed her up with a longer post about how they had arrived at this conclusion.  Jen's books were immediately banned from LifeWay Christian Stores.

I thought the story was over.  I thought, another famous person has picked another side in a Christian world that has many, many, many viewpoints.  One only has to look at the number of churches in any town to realize that there are literally hundreds of views out there.  I just thought, oh, she's pick a path, not a popular one, but a path.  I was never a follower of Jen's writing so I just assumed she'd found her new community and settled in.  Around Easter this year, I came across another post of hers that talked about the abuse she'd been dealt.  Some of the details in this post are down right evil, regardless of where you stand on gay marriage, this sort of behavior towards another person is just wrong.

It IS possible to disagree on theology and still treat another person with dignity and respect.  It is NOT a Christian attitude to degrade, debase, and embarrass another human being.

I've experienced church division first hand.  I've seen people leave the church I currently attend and pick a different path.  Every time I see these people I give them a hug.  They deserve love and friendship.  I may not agree with their new found theology, that does not remove them from my friend list and love.

Back story on pregnant teenager:
This is a local story.  A school in my hometown, Heritage Academy, has made the decision to not allow a pregnant teenager to walk her graduation.  The outrage has been intense.  It started with an article written in the New York times and then picked up locally - all are basically saying the school has not shown a loving approach to this teen.  The Washington Post has covered the reaction the family has received personally. These parts got my attention and made me cringe:
"The backlash has been severe, especially on social media, where she says strangers, acquaintances and parents of other students have attacked her.
“It has really gotten out of control,” Runkles said. “Moms of students have tagged me and said nasty things about me. I’ve had students start group messages to start nasty rumors. People saying I’m just attention-seeking and spoiled.” 
This is horrible behavior by professing Christians.  It is possible to disagree with the school's decision and still react in love.  It is possible to disagree with the student's behavior and approach the situation with love and kindness. There is no Biblical foundation for treating this girl with anger.

Jesus did not call people nasty names, he did not gossip about them to the disciples, he treated people with kindness and love.

There is only one point in the Bible where Jesus gets angry and it's with business being done in the temple.

I have to say "Christian Anger" is causing major damage to the Christian reputation and I don't like it one bit.  We are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Not lash out in anger when people do things we believe to be wrong.  Who in their right mind would ever want to join a church that is so angry? 


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!