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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!!!