Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas in a downturn

This year Christmas is going to be full of family and full of gifts from the family, but not so many from Jeff and I. frankly the kids have too much anyway, and we have been blessed with very generous family. So Jeff and i have gotten the kids a skateboard and "scooter" for D and K respectivly and a set of books to share. Other than some Christmas Stocking fillers and some pre-Christmas clothing to wear on Christmas, I think maybe only some new pyjammas for both and that's it. Jeff is getting one gift from me, one that I think he will really like, and one gift for our anniversary. I don't expect much from him for either holiday either. WHile I have a few dreams, including an antique buffet, this is just not the year for it. We are spending our "Christmas" gift by taking the family away for a vacation to Kota Kinabalu.

The best tradition we started was for the kids to purge toys prior to Christmas. This year we sent 4 boxes of Toys, Old Yarn from a failed business idea, and general accumulation of stuff to Salvation Army. I have another 2 closets of stuff to purge, the last of the baby stuff as this 42 year old is really not likely to have any more kids. It really feels good to know that in this time of personal finance cut backs for our family, we can still donate to Charity. In terms of things we need and or will purchase over the next few months, once the inlaws leave I see our shopping coming to an absolute stop.

As for my stocking up on food, I am purchasing items that are only available this time of year. We just purchased three turkeys and put them in the freezer. We also stocked up on 4 cans of pumpkin so I can make Pumpkin pie at Christmas (and then perhaps later). Bonnie and Jeff are making us a huge batch of Pork Posole, The recipe serves 16, so we should have enough to freeze 4 or 5 more meals (and thanks to J&B for paying for all that pork!)! My goal is to have a "larder" full before Jeff is finished with his job in February, filled with healthy foods we eat in order to reduce our food costs even further. The dining out will also significantly be scaled back as Jeff will be "working" from home, but then he has a few ideas/dreams that may cost us a bit in the food budget.

So, anyway, back to work for another week before our trip to KK, I will post pictures of Kota Kinabalu on my other blog as they happen~

Friday, December 05, 2008

Sad day here at Dairy Farm

it is another sad day with the loss of our old kitty. Sedona started to vomit a bit yesterday and was acting a bit sluggish, but she ate well and was drinking well. She also got in her almost hourly spat with the dog. We thought about taking her to the vet but thought that there would be little the vet could do and if she was still sick we would take her down today. As I went to bed lastnight, I think I knew she was going to pass in the night. I wish I could have kissed her one more time.

Well, I was right, we did have to take her down to say a final goodbye and have her cremated by the vet. Sedona died in the night, we hope in her sleep. If not we believe of probably heart failure. She was 14.5 years old and we had her from mid August of 1994. While this was not as tragic as our loss of Christmas the cat back in October, we still have an empty spot in the house without her.

The hardest part of pet ownership is saying goodbye.

RIP Sedona, I know you are with JD and Christmas that went before you.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The to do list is winning

This next two weeks will be swamped. The inlaws are on the way, work has a couple of burning projects, FFC is cooking hard and fast...busy when I want to be able to relax. Perhaps a few hours of overtime tonight and tomorrow and I can take a breather towards the end of the month...

Life is a balancing act and while for the most part I balance well, I feel the beam is tipping a bit so forgive me if my blog posts are a bit infrequent this week.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Thoughts

For my American family and friends, it is almost Thanksgiving. While you all sit and eat your turkey and mashed potatoes, watch the game or the parade we will be working here in Asia. But, I am actually in Korea for work and will be taking my Thursday off (at least part of the day) to do something different. This is my second trip to Korea and this time I plan to visit the DMZ.

Why you may ask? Well, because it is there, it is iconic, because it is one of the only reminders of the cold war left. It is a country that is still divided by a civil war that has not yet ended after 50 years. While the battles have stopped, there has never been a peace accord. Over 50 years later and the American presence in Korea still exists. A fence and a two mile strip of land divides a land. One part of the country has prospered, become successful and the other has not. On one side of the fence people (most at least) have the ability to feed themselves and their families. The other side the people have faced years of near starvation due to political and economic restrictions and sanctions. One side of the fence has department stores filled with the best branded goods and luxury items money can buy. The other side of the fence the only luxury goods are those owned by the dictator. I want to see this strip of land.

See where, but for the luck of the draw, that my soul could have been born to a family who would love me no less than my own parents do, but one in which my life would have been very different. I would not have had the opportunities I have been given, I would not be sitting here drinking a Starbucks Latte and typing on a blog that is for sure.

So, a thought today, as you sit down getting ready for a feast of food which I can assure you I miss, think about those who are without. Think about those who don't have the luxury of a whole turkey or ham. Think of those for whom a bowl of rice would be a blessing. Think about the fact that perhaps you don't need to serve a 15 pound turkey, a huge bowl of candied yams, a big plate of stuffing, a bowl of mash potatoes and gravy along with deserts, cakes cookies and pies, all for your family of 4. Would it not be better to think about the waste and cook a simple meal or would it not be better to place some food into the hands of people who need it more than you? Would it not be better to celebrate the reasons for Thanksgiving rather than gluttony? I will be.

This year I plan on doing two things different. First, we will be cooking a small turkey for our small family, we will be having our normal dinner with one starch and one veggie and perhaps a small pie for desert. NOT a lavish spread. We will tell the story of the Pilgrims and we will also start a new tradition in our house. Giving Thanks, really giving thanks. I will thank God, I will thank my family, I will thank my husband and my helper. I will thank my children for giving me the best life ever and I will be thankful for all I have.

I also plan on giving away. Thanksgiving is also the time of year that the kids start going through their old toys and giving away those items they no longer play with to those who can use them. I also will be baking a loaf and giving away a loaf and an apron to a family (or two) that may appreciate them or need them.

Giving back, giving thanks. Thanksgiving y'all.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Getting Ready

Coming soon to a family near you... the holidays.. I am thinking of ways to simplify and "green" our Holidays. I would love to hear what you all do!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Compost Soup

Okay, not really... but a great frugal way to use those veggie scraps (and you can use meat in this too)!

When we lived back in Oregon we had a huge tree, a big expanse of grass and two constant large size compost. In Singapore I have yet to come up with a way to compost that will fit in our small space and not add to the already large fauna that visit our apartment. So, we thought about the fact that we make homemade soup stock on a weekly basis. Often we would take a whole chicken, or whole veggies and cook them down until they were pretty much mush, throw away the scrap veggies pull off the meat for use in soups and we were happy.

But then we started to think about all those carrot tops, broccoli stems, tomatoes that had gotten a bit to ripe that we just tossed. Weren't these the same vegetables we used in our stock? We often buy whole chickens, and in Singapore they are whole. We trim the necks, the other bits and throw those all away. This is all still good meat, but too difficult to try to eat. What about those bones that come from the steak we ate? Lots of good meat, and until recently no Dog to share it with. Again, off to the trash?

Not anymore. Around 2 years ago we thought we were wasting a lot of otherwise good food. We hate canned stocks *filled with chemicals I can't read let alone pronounce* and love to have stock in the freezer ready for cooking. So this is what we came up with. A large ziplock back and a crock pot. Yup, that's it. The answer to the problem...

Veggie scraps and meat (notice the onion and tomato?)

Big Ziplock bag, into freezer until full.

Pop into crockpot and cook on low all day, add additional spices and veggies or meat as you see fit. Toss veggies into compost (if you cook only veggies) otherwise use veggies and meat scraps as pet treats (what we do) or accept there are only so many ways to save money and toss them!

Results in around a liter or so of homemade fresh tasty soup stock for use in recipes or soup.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Stocking Up- 52 week shopping list

Originally uploaded by maureen_sill

One of the things I tried to do a few years ago was to create a true pantry of food. Have a few months "extra" in storage ready and edible in the event of a some type of shortage, be it financial or other. I tried, and i followed the weekly shopping list that can be found running around the internets, but I failed. We did eat most of the food, but I still fell into the trap of buying food I won't eat and not stockpiling water.

I still think overall it is a good idea. We know we have a three month reprieve before Jeff stops working, we can stock up on many of our daily items, including dry and canned goods now, so when he is not working we can be more frugal. Also, planning in advance allows us (and you) to buy when things are on sale. I remember in the states my Mom would do this, every year (or was it six months?) the local thriftway would have a canned goods sale. we could go in and buy cases of canned fruit, tuna, veggies and the like and eat off the stock pile for months.

The LDS church does a good job of promoting self-sufficiency and each family is encouraged to have at least 3 months of food in the pantry. The church has great resources for those who are members, but if you are not many of these women have started blogs that talk about how and when to stock up. You can also find lists (like the below) from around the Internet (but I think they all started with the Mormon Church). I however found the list a bit daunting. A bit too much, a bit too extreme, but a good idea on when to find food.

Yesterday I just found a blog/website by two young women and they have started to store up their own 3 month supply. On the site is a free down loadable spreadsheet that you plan your meals for the next month (OK, this does take some work) and input the raw ingredients and the spreadsheet calculates how much you need to buy to get a three month supply. I started playing with it and it is pretty cool. Most importantly because it is about BUYING WHAT YOU EAT and EATING WHAT YOU BUY. Stock piling food that you don't eat isn't very frugal nor does it make sense. You might survive but your going to hate every minute of it.

So here is the website Food Storage Made Easy. And you can find the downloadable Spreadsheet here.

And here is the very long list intended to start January 1. I may actually try to follow the shopping list a bit when I stocking up and will let you know how it goes.


Week 1: NUTS Drug stores have Christmas sales. 2 lbs per person. Dry roasted ones store the best. Freeze bagged ones.
Week 2: CLEANING SUPPLIES Detergent 156 loads per person, Bleach 1 gal per person, Cleanser.
Week 3: MEDICINE CHEST Feminine Products, Pepto Bismal, Vicks, Cough Drops, Cough Syrup, Tylenol, Calamine Lotion, Kaopectate, Ipecac, Sunscreen Dispose of all outdated medications.
Week 4: FIRST AID SUPPLIES Band-Aids, Antibiotic Ointment, Ace Bandages, Steri-strips, etc.
Week 5: PERSONAL PRODUCTS Soap, Deodorant, toilet paper at least one roll per week. Shampoo, lotion, hand soap, 15 per person etc.
Week 6: PEANUT BUTTER 10 lbs per person (stores for a year or more)
Week 7: SOLID SHORTENING less expensive than oil. 12 lbs per person. Be sure and rotate. Will last several years.
Week 8: JUICES Avoid watered products. Get 100% juice. (lemon, orange, pineapple etc.)
Week 9: PERSONAL GROOMING Toothpaste, floss (important) razors, shaving cream. Consider your family needs. (you can always brush with baking soda)
Week 10: MIXES Cakes, pancakes, muffins, Bisquick etc. Bisquick stores best in the freezer or it gets bugs. You need an annual total of 300 lbs of grain products per person.
Week 11: SPICES AND HERBS Think of what you use most often. Salt (NOT Plain you need the iodized kind) pepper, cinnamon, bay leaves. Look for bargains .
Week 12: RICE Secure 10, 15, 20 lbs. White stores best but is not as nutritious. I find brown gets bugs. Counts towards grain total.
Week 13: FIRST AID Gauze patches, swabs, cotton balls, first aid tape etc. Old fashioned Kotex is good for wounds. Sanitary napkins with adhesive do not store well.
Week 14: PASTA 5 lbs. Get other kinds besides spaghetti. I have found that spaghetti does not store well. Counts towards grain total.
Week 15: DRY MILK 40 oz. will make 5 gallons . Get what you family needs. 100 lbs per person per year. Stores well.
Week 16: SEWING KIT Thread, pins, needles, buttons (cut off of old clothes) snaps, zippers, tape measure, scissors. Consider your family's needs.
Week 17: READY DINNERS Ravioli, Pasta, Oriental, Boxed, Canned, Frozen. Buy what your family will eat.
Week 18: FLOUR 50 lbs per person (put in freezer or it will get bugs) Be sure and rotate. Counts towards grain requirement.
Week 19: SOUP Dry or canned soup, don't forget crackers.
Week 20: JELLO Jello gelatin and Pudding Mixes
Week 21: GARDEN SEEDS Radishes are great in an emergency. They grow fast, full of vitamins and minerals, and full of water. Buy locally if you haven't ordered yet. Here is an address of seed company that will send you there catalog free if you send a self addressed envelope with a couple of stamps. Territorial Seeds P.O. Box 157 Cottage Grove Ore. 97424 They have the kind of seed you can store. or
Week 22: SAFETY WEEK A length of cord or twine. Light rope. Flashlight and batteries, (dated)
Week 23: CHEESE Whole 5 lbs, or grate and freeze for casseroles or soup.
Week 24: PAPER PRODUCTS Paper towels, Aluminum foil, garbage bags, freezer bags, etc.
Week 25: CONDIMENTS Mustard, catsup, mayo, relish, Worcestershire.
Week 26: BEDDING Watch for White Sales. Buy a new thermo blanket.
Week 27: JAMS AND JELLIES Sure-Jell, Certo, Parafin, etc. Or buy the jams and jellies. Be sure you have supply of canning jars. Not large mouth, and lids and seals.
Week 28: WATER Fill those water jugs. Use plain Clorox not fresh scent.
Week 29: CANNED MILK Look in Dec. 1989 Ensign for ideas for use. 100 lbs per person.
Week 30: CANNED GOODS Be sure and rotate. We like sardines (small ones). They are rich in protein and cheap.
Week 31: SCHOOL SUPPLIES Back to School Sales. Paper , pencils, journals, envelopes, postage stamps, etc. (Great Stocking Stuffers)
Week 32: STAPLES Baking powder, soda, corn starch, Baking Soda, 2 lbs per person of each item except soda. Buy 3 lbs per person.
Week 33: TOMATOES Juice, whole, sauce, paste, Salsa. Buy or make it. Counts as part of vegetables.
Week 34: CANNED FRUIT 80 quarts per person. Buy or can it yourself.
Week 35: SUGAR 100 lbs per person. Buy an extra 25 lbs.
Week 36: VEGETABLES 150 lbs per person per year. Can or freeze from garden or purchased fresh, or buy canned.
Week 37: BEANS Dry bean, peas, legumes, 100 lbs per person.
Week 38: SWEETNERS Honey, Karo, Molasses, etc. Counts towards sugars.
Week 39: CANNED MEATS Tuna (be sure and rotate) Spam, dried beef , go for 10 cans.
Week 40: IODIZED SALT 10 or more canisters. It seasons & preserves. In a pinch it can be used as a toothpaste or de-icer. Get canning salt for canning.
Week 41: VINEGAR l (or more) gallons. It is a great cleaner too. For cleaning you need white.
Week 42: CANNED SOUP Buy soup when it is on sale. Soup counts towards vegetables.
Week 43: APPLES Do something with all those apples. Pie, applesauce, juice, canned apples with sugar are good.
Week 44: HARD CANDY On sale after Halloween. Leftovers will make a good addition to your 72 hour emergency kits.
Week 45: VITAMINS 365 vitamins per person. Get extra C and calcium with Vitamin D
Week 46: TREATS FOR BAKING Cocoa, coconut (gets old) nuts ( store in fridge gets rancid) chocolate chips.
Week 47: GRAINS Rolled Oats, Corn Meal (In fridge) Cream of wheat. (Rotate this, does not store.) Counts as grain. There is an oats you can buy at health food store that does store. I think it is scotch oats. Check and see.
Week 48: SUGARS Brown and white, powdered. 100 lbs per person total
Week 49: OILS Vegetable and olive oils. Get a good quality. 12 lbs per person.
Week 50: CANDLES AND MATCHES Put in a sturdy box (preferably fireproof) and in a cool place you can locate in dark.
Week 51: POPCORN Go for big twelve pound bags. Counts toward grains.
Week 52 : Merry Christmas You have given yourself a great gift security.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A week in pictures

Reading to the kids and neighbor. Saturdays at Dairy Farm.

The Obama Cake!

Our Friend Deanna

Pulling out the office chairs to watch a movie on TV.

Harvest of our "tomato crop"

Monday, November 10, 2008

Balancing Act

Posted by Picasa

This is a very interesting time. My goals and dreams of simplicity hit smack in the face with forced frugality. The issue is do I strongly encourage my husband to do something he doesn't want to do in order to get a few thousand dollars or do we tough it out, cut costs even more?

I struggle with this for a couple of reasons. So here is my "unofficial tally chart"

The famous Clash song running through my head now is should I stay or should I go now? interpreted to should he stay or go?


First, I fear the economy will not get better soon. Jobs, particularly ones that he either wants or will be suited for are not going to be "easy" to find. This adds one tally mark into the he should get this cash now while we can column.

I also fear that his not working will cause him to be depressed and putter around the house. I work from home and having the extra person does affect my work, so if I can keep him away from the house for another month or so, again, for my perspective it is a good thing. Tally two in the do it column.

Three, we can extend the time we can live without his working and not having to dig into savings. Eventually, depending on how long it takes for him to find work, and how much we can economize, this is potentially a good thing. So, one more tally mark. That makes three. Two for finance reasons, one for my own "reasons".


Now, in the column of why make him suffer. He is now ready to go. The die has been cast and it is time for him to move on. He has already begun the mental check out process and his work would be simply going through the motions. Tally one in Go Now Column.

He wants to thing about what types of jobs make him happy and I argue that I want to economize and scale back. To live simply. This is a kick start in that direction. Walk the walk baby. Tally two into the go column.

He won't be happy staying for a few more months, but I am really not sure he will be happy at home either. A lot of soul searching needs to take place. I think this is a zero for either column.

He could do more with the kids, volunteer at the school, be an active participant in the daily lives of the children. If he actually does this, it would be more than one tally, but because he is a guy and good intentions are well... you know the saying... but I will give him one tally. So now this is three.

there are the other reasons. If he is at home, he can exercise, cook, read, explore Singapore. He could plan for our future. But, he will also obsess over money, fret, worry, putter and putz around.

There are no real answers here, just what an average family faces when trying to decide what is best for us. I will let you all know what he decides.

Friday, November 07, 2008

officially now a one income family

Yep, not a great day, one we were not surprised about and have been preparing for at least some what. Starting soon we will be a one income household again for a while. As I mentioned yesterday, it is a good time to be scaling back and focusing on the long range plans.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Budgets and Layoffs

Chinese Ledger Scrapbook Paper by Far Flung Craft

Over the last few years my husband and I have worked hard to eliminate all commercial credit. I work from home and have a small home business (micro really) but to date we run the micro business on a cash only basis. This includes a few downturns in our personal economic status and as a result, the business has stayed very small. As the economic crisis is on us, and it is possible that one of us may lose our job over the next few months we have pulled out the 'digital' pencil and started a budget again.

One of my favorite books is Your Money or Your Life. I picked up this book back in 1996 and chewed it up. I still have the old version (it has been updated since its first publication in 1992). The thought of tracking your expenses seemed wild, but we did it. For one period of time we tracked expenses for almost 2 years solid. It gives you a very good idea of where your money goes and how easy a 5 dollars here and 5 dollars there adds up to a whole chunk of change gone and out the window. Tracking in YMOYL means every single receipt, every penny spent is graphed and tracked, not just big ticket items, but every cent.

So, yesterday we (I mean me)sat down with fingers to keyboards and looked at the next 6 months if one of us was to lose our jobs. At my current rate of pay, if Jeff is unemployed we can continue to live without significant cutbacks in our lifestyle and still set aside money for the kids private school next year and take our vacation in December. What it also shows is that if we do cut back, don't take any side trips, cut back on our F&B expenses (B being the larger of the two) we can even set aside some money to invest while the markets are low. Before I read YMOYL I would have dreaded the "budget" thought, sitting down and planning for our expenses, but we know generally what goes where, we have no commercial debt (other than student loans) and we may even find a way to save in the horrible economy. Now, if Jeff is able to keep his job, the challenge will be NOT to spend what we earn, but to set it aside and live more frugally. That is the next challenge.

Now, if I lost my job, more would have to be cut. No travel, I would have to close the business and we would seriously need to assess if we could continue to put the kids in the American school. We could pay with our savings (we have about 4 months of our expenses in liquid cash) but I would rather find a way to economize instead. I think I am about to start tracking expenses every single cent that comes in or goes out of the house during this downturn. It is time to find those "leaks" and plug them. It is time for me to think about ways to stop spending, but still keep living and repledging to the Compact, albeit in a more modified form(i just couldn't do it full fledged). No, I am not worried about losing my job (I am about to re-sign with the company for another year) but the next year is going to be tough for everyone. This is as good of time as any to relook at our spending habits and think about those who have none.

Oh and as a side note... I don't think America is going to become any more socialist under this administration than it already is just time to have those greedy bastards (my own company probably included) pay more on the money they earn. I sorry, but if you earn 14Billion in a three month period of time... you should probably be able to afford a few more dollars in taxes.

On another note, we may have our one and perhaps only tomato "harvest" this weekend from the kids' patio garden. I will show off the pictures when it happens.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


I am showing my political stripes here. But this was a great and historic day.

Here is to new policy, new paths and revitalization of the economy.



Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Simple Breakfasts

Quaker Breakfast Cookies
Photo © Quaker

A couple of years ago we were home to the US for a vacation and my sister told me about these "breakfast cookies" that she bought from Quaker. You know a quick and healthy mostly oatmeal type breakfast her kids could eat on the go.

I thought it was a good idea, but surely I could find some recipe online that was better, healthier, and didn't have any preservatives. I wanted to use more whole grains and organic peanut butter and reduce the overall sugar.

My kids have to get up in the morning at 6:15 to be out the door on the bus at 7. Some mornings breakfast can be a real chore. These cookies are great for Monday morning blues (just say breakfast cookies and the kids are up and out of bed!) The also pack well and make pretty healthy snacks.

My version modified from

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup peanut butter
1 1/3 cups packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/3 cup water
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups quick cooking oats
1/2 cup wheat germ
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup raisins
A couple of chocolate chip cookies for topping.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together butter, peanut butter, brown sugar, and vanilla until creamy. Beat in eggs and water.
Mix together flours, oats, wheat germ, salt, cinnamon, and baking soda. Mix into peanut butter mixture. Stir in raisins. Drop by scoopfuls 2 1/2 inches apart on greased cookie sheets. Flatten slightly. Put a few chocolate chips on top of unbaked cookie and press in.

Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 18 - 20 minutes. Cool on cookie sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to cooling racks. Store in an airtight container.

These cookies taste good, are good for you and the two or three chocolate chips on top give the kids the idea that this is something special and they get "breakfast" cookies.

All Recipes says this makes 12 servings (I find that this makes LOTS of cookies)We often divide the dough into thirds, making one batch of 15 cookies at a time. The rest freezes well and can be whipped out the night before for a quick thaw and bake.

Nutrition info from All Recipes

Calories: 479 per serving (which is about 2-3 cookies)

Total Fat: 21.1g
Cholesterol: 56mg
Sodium: 606mg
Total Carbs: 64.6g
Dietary Fiber: 5.4g
Protein: 12.7g

Sunday, November 02, 2008


Diamond Macro 3
Originally uploaded by stephend9

I was thinking about tokens of affection. The traditional wedding ring and diamond engagement ring. It is an internal battle of mine, because I don't have a diamond, not really anyway. I had a small diamond that was taken from my great uncle's ring that we had set into a custom ring for me when we got married. The problem is two-fold. My fingers have gotten bigger (note I said bigger not fatter) and the ring doesn't fit anymore. Second, the ring causes a rash when I wear it.

So, why do I think I need a big diamond? A ring that is nothing more than a showcase? A Tiffany would be nice, bigger would be better. What is this desire and where does it come from? I seriously love the Tiffany Legacy ring. An Edwardian styled ring with a one caret center diamond would run me 14K. A two caret ring, a mere 37,000 smacks. really 37K. What on earth is this desire and why on earth would I spend (or expect Jeff to spend) this much money on a bauble, a trinket, a token? I love the thought of a ring, a real wedding ring that I could wear. But you know what, I have a lot of things that 14,000 could buy. A car for example. I could pay off my student loans, I could use it to invest in my children's education. I could donate it to charity and feed a number of families in Cambodia for a year.

So, for now, I am content with my $30 silver ring that I wear on my ring finger. It shows my devotion to my husband and reflects my true values. But, as much as I believe in being frugal and appreciating what I have, if I was given a million dollars, that ring would be mine, I am just saying.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

letting go

When I write this blog I often focus on the financial side of my simple journey. What I don't focus on is the soft side, the side of Simplicity that I really probably most need. That is living for the moment, in the moment. Being at peace. rejoicing in the moment, not getting worked up about what will happen, or if it is fair, or who did the lion's share of the work last night and who read the paper. (just keeping it real here). I pray for peace. Peace for myself first for I do believe if I am not at peace then how can I work for peace with others?

Letting go of Christmas (the cat not the holiday) is a good example of this lesson.

Christmas was our stray cat found at our old condo a year after we moved to Singapore. She was a 6 month old kitten, hungry and skinny but approachable and very loving. From the first time we saw her and took food downstairs to her, to the following two days where we watched her (to make sure she didn't belong to someone) she worked her way into our hearts. We brought her home the next day, took her to the vet to have her checked out and cleaned up and let her into our lives. It was fun having a kitten around the house. She caught any stray bug or lizard that worked its way into our house (and at our current Condo on the ground floor that included a bird). She was all cat and all play. Christmas was not the kind of cat that withheld affection. She was all about love all the time. Finding her on Sunday, broken and battered, near death was excruciating. She was silent, until Jeff and I saw her and called her name, at which point she started to cry. It killed me.

Jeff took her to the Vet and they did all they could but the real choice was known when we first saw her, we would have to let her go. The rest of the day was one filled with what happened, did we fail her, did we not hear her get hurt, could we have saved her if we found her earlier? What did we do wrong? These thoughts circled my brain and I know Jeff did the same. The truth is, nothing short of keeping her locked in the house would have protected her. Nothing we could have done would have made a difference. Christmas was an outdoor loving kitty, she loved being able to sit in the grass and watch the world go by. She loved chasing lizards and bugs, she loved just sitting on the edge of the patio and taking charge of her world. This was a horrible tragic accident and it was just that, an accident. There was nothing I could have done.

So, I now struggle with letting go. Not letting go of the great fun memories of my little kitten. Not letting go that Christmas had a better three years of life with us than she would have had as a stray. Not letting go of the fact that she brought love and joy to me and my family. But letting go of the pain. Letting go of the doubts and misgivings we had about our responsibility for her death, letting go of the tears, letting go of the negative thoughts.

Living life fully, for me, means feeling the pain, understanding that it hurts and then letting it go. Living in the moment means knowing that holding onto the pain doesn't make me a martyr, doesn't make me better than you, doesn't make my life richer.

Living fully means rejoicing in her life. remembering the joy. being with her in spirit. memorializing her life. That is about now. that is about love. that is peace.

An Oprah quote for the day

“Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure.”

Sunday, October 26, 2008

RIP Christmas Kitty

we lost our beloved Christmas kitty today. we think she fell off a ledge. She was our malaysian jungle kitty and we miss her so much already.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Global Crisis-my thoughts

I know that a number of people have thought this was coming for a long time. I guess the signs were there, I guess people should have been smarter than to spend way beyond their means. But the banks made it so easy. Credit cards with limits far exceeding income, sub-prime house loans, banks investing in banks that were investing in incomprehensible financing functions. Hey, while I may not be the smartest person around, I guess even I could see trouble brewing.

Until this week Singapore has been fairly well insulated. A few investments were hit, but these were the "ultra risky" investors in Singapore that actually invested in some type of banking shares. By ultra risky I mean it wasn't in your mattress nor was it in your savings account that earns no interest in Singapore. Let's just say that whole life insurance is the biggest investment vehicle in Singapore (and frankly much of Asia). The investment market for the average Singaporean just doesn't exist, they are beyond careful when it comes to investment. But with the market doing what it is doing, I guess I can see why. First, I should clarify, I believe in the stock market, I think it will rebound, I see that Jeff and I will take the opportunity to put money into the market now while prices are low.

But, I think this is a good time to remember why we invest with care, introspection and caution. I often thought that Jeff was a bit too conservative in our investment choices, but overall we have not really lost too much. We have most of our funds in a short term money market and we have a few conservative shares. Overall we have not lost the amounts that others have. And, more importantly, we are still earning and planning for retirement.

I see this as an opportunity, not a bad thing. I see this as a chance for us to further tighten our belt, to continue to save money, to invest with caution and to live within our means. Our current area of spending and concern is over the fate of my little side business for scrapbooking. Which, not atypical for the industry has failed to generate a real positive in the account books. But, perhaps atypical for the market, we have done it all with cash, nothing has been 'borrowed' in order to finance the business. No credit lines were attached and the business, a microbiz really, still has potential. As long as I don't need to go into a loan mode for now and continue to work the business we will continue. I still have lots of ideas and I hope that one of them will turn into a real profit generator for us.

So, tightening our belt, continuing to live on CASH. We have not had a credit card balance that was not paid off every month for over 10 years (excepting a month here or there for example when we moved this year). This has been key for us. We have gone through multiple job layoffs and readjustments, we spend more than the average family on good and quality food and we travel more than the average family. But we have done it all on cash. If we can't afford the trip, we don't go. If we can't afford a car (which we can't) we don't buy one...even if we want it. Our house is filled with largely used or Ikea sourced furniture, the kids still have WAY more toys than they ever play with. We are very happy even as the economy plummets.

So, our long term plans include investing, now if possible (again depending on J's job). I plan on running my business purely on Cash. We reevaluate our spending habits (which I think will be this weekends activity and should be under constant re-evaluation) and we look to the future with guarded optimism.

So, tomorrow I think I will post what we came up with for cost saving ideas based on our "spending habits".

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fighting sickness

Jeff is sick, upstairs neighbors are sick, just want to stay well myself. Started eating more whole foods, lots of great new recipes from the Clean Eating magazine. Tonight's dinner was brown rice and Mango Chicken with asparagus for veg. Yum and healthful.

Spent lots of $ at the store this week, but lots of it went to organic foods and staples, should have stuff stocked up for a while. Looks like Aussie strawberries are coming in (would love to have local, but this is the tropics afterall) so it may be time for another round of Freezer Jam!

Back with pictures of Malacca soon.


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Kinda sums up why I now believe in living within my means

First a great SNL skit... called don't buy stuff you can't afford.

Second... this cover of the Economist sort of says it all....

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Audacity of Hope

I hate to count chickens, I have been too disappointed over the last 8 years in the election results, but I have hope. I have faith that American citizens will understand how very important the balance of government is and how we really do need new ideas in office, not a so-called maverick and his less than meritorious co-candidate.

See here

I have hope

Monday, October 06, 2008

It was too bad really...

We went with high expectations, of course having attended the Portland Brewers fest many times before set us with unrelistic expectations for the inagural Singapore Beer Festival. We went Sunday evening, on a family day, which meant the kids and our helper didn't have to pay the admission fee. But we did and at $40 per adult it was a bit steep. Each bottle of beer/glass of beer was around 10 each as well, sold by ticket sales only. While there were a number of great beers available, the price was just a bit too steep. So Jeff and I purchased 160 dollars worth of tickets (which you also needed for food) and we each only had 4 beers. We were able to have a bottle of Rouge Dead Guy Ale, very yummy btw, and I had a very nice Belgian Brown beer, but the food was way over priced and while they said there would be kids activities there were not. The food options were slim and way overpriced ($20 for a bratwurst?). The highlight of the evening was that one of the distributors let us buy "bottles" of Negra Modelo to bring home with our remaining tickets.

It really was too bad that the festival wasn't that great overall, the bands were great, the beer was good, even the venue was good, it was just the obsene pricing. it would have been better to charge less for the venue and keep the beer at $10 a glass or reduce the cost of the beer per glass. i hope they try again next year as I am an optimist at heart and while I can't drink too much beer anymore, i hope. Get the pricing sorted out and we will be back but a 300 night for dinner and 4 beers just doesn't make it work.

Monday, September 29, 2008


So we thought we might try to get away for a quick weekend. The kids are out of school all next week and Jeff has plenty of leave time, so a weekend away sounded like a good idea. But, a weekend away seems to be one that is going to cost WAY too much money. maybe it is because we are planning it so late, but damn it seems like everything costs a lot these days. I miss being able to take a quick trip off to the coast, spend a weekend for not much more than a tank of gas and 2 nights in a cheapo motel. So, maybe we won't go away. I would rather save up the money for a big trip, but it is too bad really.

Maybe a vacation in Singapore is what we should do, but what and where, that is the question.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Peace in a Japanese Garden

From the Prince's house at the Gold Ecological Park in Taiwan

From Taiwansept-8

From Taiwansept-8

A debate... about purchases

Jeff and I do pretty good at maintaining a balance when it comes to purchasing big ticket items. With the execption of the business (where I have made some major decisions without bringing him in) we find that both of us talk through our purchases befoer we buy them. But even with the business my big upcoming trip to CHA for the Winter Show was still a joint decision.

So, the big thoughts are on a car. Jeff found a 1993 Volvo 940T station wagon on sale for a "low" price of only 17K. Yes, it is ridiculous that a used car still costs 17K (that is Sing dollars btw, so divide by 1.4 to see it in US Dollars). So, while it would be hard to find ANY car for less than that, we started to balance that want vs need impulse.

Why do we want a car? What purposes do we need a car? What things are we willing to forgo for a car? Our family wants to take our big "summer vacation" to Japan this year. Japan would be a great trip, but not cheap, even when doing budget travel. Do we balance 17K and the flexibility of being able to drive places vs. a trip to Japan?

So, where are we. I am primarily against it. I think we can continue to do without a car (and a Turbo Volvo just smells like a money pit to me). I would consider looking at buying a used scooter for getting around this part of town, but even that seems silly when you consider we can call a taxi or ride the mass transit system. I also just can't get behind buying a car for 17K and nowing that in 3 years we would have to renew the COE (Road Use Tax in Singapore) to the tune of another 20K or so. So for now, I think the want of a car has been pushed back (although trips to Malaysia would have been fun) and we go back to thinking about where and when to travel and investing our money in our retirement fund instead.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Why do food and travel magazines always focus on the high end, the luxury? Why not feature simple foods, low cost but quality travel, feature real families, real food, real life?

Not everyone aspires to the new and shinyest item on the shelf...

Taiwan Friends

I was blessed to be able to catch up with a couple of dear friends this trip to Taiwan. The last few times I have been here my schedule has been so tight and the trips so short I have not been able to get any time to myself. This time I was able to catch up with Julie.

Julie is one of my dearest friends in Taiwan, and while our time was short it was easy to reconnect and catch up. It is amazing how good friends are able to do that, pick up where we left off, even if it was over a year since our last face to face meeting.

I was also able to catch up with Michael and his lovely wife Nai-Yu. Micheal is a funny guy who I take great pleasure in ribbing when it comes to politics. We really agree on more than either of us lets on, and it is all in good fun.

what connecting with these two friends made me realize is how lucky I am. How while there have been times in my life where I feel out of touch with my family and friends back in the US, I know that I am one of those people who can say I have friends all over the world. From Taiwan to China, Malaysia to the United States. I am lucky. I am blessed. I plan on getting in touch with more old friends, how about you?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Fighting the urge

It is always a challenge to fight the urge to buy new things. Finding ways to satisfy the need to keep up with the neighbors (not literally, but proverbially). The national hobby in Singapore tends to be shopping and it is tough to not "buy" into that. weekends are often spent running errands which includes shopping. It is a constant struggle not to buy unneeded things.

how do you fight the urge?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

How can you afford your rock and roll lifestyle?

Our single largest line item bill (excluding tuition) on any given year is travel. This does include travel for work, but that is reimbursed. But, we do fully take advantage of the opportunities given to us by living in SE Asia and we travel. We have lived in Taiwan and Singapore and in the 9 years that we have lived in Asia, we have traveled to Singapore, Guam, China, HK, Macau, Japan, Thailand, Bali, Malaysia, the US and Mexico with the kids. Jeff and I have also traveled to a few other places including Cambodia and a few other spot around Taiwan and Malaysia.

This seems like a lot of travel. It is and no it is not cheap. So for someone who claims to be "live simply" how do I afford this rock and roll lifestyle? Well, this is it, we choose to spend our money on the experience of life. We live very frugally during the year, we are very good about at sourcing good deals on the internet (we just booked a trip this December to KKB in Malaysia where we will stay in the Hyatt for a 100 a night). We also don't buy things here in Singapore. For example. We don't own a car. We have one TV in the house, the first new TV that Jeff or I have ever owned. Our furniture was included when we rented our old place in Singapore and the landlord gave it to us when we moved. You would laugh if you saw the condition of the couch under the slip cover! With the exception of the Ikea bookshelves, tables and TV table, everything else was bought second hand.

We don't dine out much, not really anymore. We would love to, but we love to cook and entertain, we have a helper that loves to cook, it is just as easy to cook at home. We shop at NTCU for groceries, at least the bulk of them. Where others will spend hundreds per week on food, we spend 150 at NTCU for most of our food, plus a 2 time a month trip to Tanglin shopping center for wine and meat and those other foods we can't get locally. Those trips run about 250 each time. So, there you have it, our total food budget for the month (excluding dining out for lunch for Jeff) is less than 1200 Singapore dollars a month for a family of 3 adults and 2 kids.

I don't shop for clothes. My total clothing expenditure for the last 3 years has probably been around 1000 US. That includes shoes. This seems like a lot of money to me, but I have gone down around two sizes and I needed new clothes. The clothes that I have now are getting too big, but I will take them to be altered rather than buy new. I don't buy makeup, shoes or designer bags. The last makeup I bought was at Body Shop, a tube of foundation, I think it was 20 bucks. I don't buy perfume. I bought my first bottle of perfume in 10 years about 3 months ago in Duty Free. I don't buy fancy Jewelery. Give me a 20 dollar ring or some 15 dollar funky earrings and I am good to go.

Our kids don't have tons of toys, but frankly they have too many. We need to whittle these down and donate them to Charity. I do shop for books but I try to go to a used bookstore, Salvation Army or the Singapore American School Booksale when possible. My biggest weekness is scrapbook magazines and supplies, but I have a room full of stuff now, more than I could use in a life time, so I am seriously curbing my expenses there.

Our power bill is low, lower than many others because there is really no need to turn on the Air Conditioning most of the time. It is there when we need it, it is on at night, but most days we get by with fans.

We live frugally where we can so we can give our children this huge opportunity of traveling around the world with us. It is an education, a life altering experince and will make them better people. Rock and Roll lifestyle... well if the ripped up couch is indication of that, so be it!

As mentioned before I started a blog about our travels. You can check it out here.

Globetrotting with Kids

Friday, August 29, 2008

Voluntary Simplicity

I have been thinking about voluntary simplicity and what it means for me and our family.

For some, voluntary simplicity means eschewing all of the material trappings of life, getting back to the land and living super frugally. For others, voluntary simplicity means getting closer to the earth, reducing your footprint. For others, it is a practice of spirituality, perhaps Christian perhaps Buddhism. For a different group it means frugal behavior or spartan homes. I guess for everyone who thinks of Voluntary Simplicity as a way of living your life, it is different.

So, what does it mean for us? I am not sure anymore, I used to think it was a way of being more frugal, of using and consuming less. But as our lives have changed, I notice the creep of possessions. We sold it all and moved to Asia with 6 suitcases. We now have a container full of stuff. Does that mean we are no longer interested in simplicity?

It boils down to this, a re-evaluation of things that are important to me. The joy that I have found working from home (although not without complications). Working from has been an unexpected joy. The constant monitoring of what we purchase and why, in fact, it is time for some re-evaluation of my personal shopping habits again. It is looking at the things I do, the places I travel, the path I walk. It is slowing down again to look at what I enjoy- a good book, or movie, good food-well cooked, but not pretentious-, good wine and good company. While I often look at those better dressed, driving a car rather than sitting in a taxi or on the bus, I think again about the costs (and not just that of the money). Do I want to have to keep up, to buy the newest have the newest designer shoes? Does that make me a better person?

Simple living for me is about my choices, they are not right or wrong, they are constantly being re-worked and sometimes thrown away all together. But as I think about it again, I think about why it made sense to study simplicity 12 years ago when I was a new lawyer struggling to find my place in the world. It makes more sense now.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Simple Birthday Parties

Birthday parties are big deals here in Singapore. particularly amoung the expat familys. This is really one of those keeping up with the Jones's type situations where for a starting fee of 500 bucks you can go to this children's gym and they will entertain the kids for 2 hours. Now you need to have a minimum of 25 kids, you get charged per head for each kid over the minimum and you are required to bring your own cake. Honestly, it is not just the money, it is the thought of all of the over consumption that takes place. My son doesn't need 25 presents. In fact, the 4 her got last night (2 from us and one from grandparents W&L and one from Nancy) are more than he needs. We have way too much stuff as it is!

So, I thought long and hard about birthdays. I want to make it meaningful, I want it to be fun and I want it to be manageable, from a cost as well as a consumption perspective. The solution. A home party.

A home party, with a jungle/Indiana Jones theme. I think we will do a scavanger hunt, water balloons game on the grass, snake decorations and a home made cake (A dinosaur), home made punch (with jelly worms) and a total invite list of 6 kids, plus our 2. Pizza will be ordered in (not the most healthful of foods, but hey.... it is a birthday afterall!)

Today I will go and get stuff for the goodie bags, and may try to get some stuff about Singapore's parks and wildlife. Will follow up with pictures!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

7 Years ago

At 6:43 am on this very day, I became a mother. I experienced true love. I knew what it meant to do anything to protect my baby from harm. I also was very very tired.

7 years later my boy has gone from this,

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and grown to this.

with this along the way

Monday, August 25, 2008


Lina Jones "Watkins"

Lina was her Shelter name, and on the way home we heard the theme song to the Indiana Jones movies, Kiera thought Lina's last name should therefore be Jones.

Lina is a local cross, but she we believe has a fair amount of Lab in her. with the exception of potty training in the middle of the night, we are totally in love. Simple Living has just got a lot more complicated for a few months!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Back to normal-but now it is going to be a crazy weekend

Ok, so excuse the rant yesterday. I still love Singapore and love where we live (maybe not the neighbors, but hey it all can't be perfect can it?) this is what is on tap for the weekend. It involves lots of love and not much sleep and adjustments for the whole family.

First a trip to the store to buy... food and supplies for the new addition to our family.

Second, a trip the a special place to see the new member of the family

Third, naming of the new member of the family and bringing it home... is PUPPY TIME.

2.5 years ago we lost the love of my life. She was my heart and soul, she was my everything (well my real babies of course would beg to differ). Just sitting here typing about her now brings tears to my eyes because I still miss her so much. She will never be replaced, but it is time to find a new pup to share our lives with.

Today I will be going to the SPCA to look for dogs and then tomorrow we will be going to an adoption drive on the east coast. I would love a lab cross again if we can find one, but we are just looking for the right dog, one that fills our hearts and brings joy to our lives.

In the meantime, I know that JD is watching over us and has told us it is time to find the kids their special friend, just as she was to me.

I still love you pupperdoo

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Life at Dairy Farm- The Pig Stye Edition

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This just pisses me off. We get to look at this out our Kitchen window.

Rather than be able to see our kids, playing in the woods, some inconsiderate cretin dumps his trash out the window. We have complained and the managment cleaned it off yesterday. This morning there was new crap. What is it about Singapore that makes people think that dumping shit out of windows is acceptable behaviour? I see it is HDBs and I see it in Condos. Now before anyone takes this as a politically incorrect post, please note... we pay thousands a month to live in a nice condo. A condo if we bought that would cost over a million US (no we are not buying because the price is ridiculous), but the point is for that much money you would think people would realize that window ledges are not your FLIPPIN Garbage Can. Seriously, open the Garbage Chute that is located in the same room from which you through your crap (a mere 3 feet from your window) and through it AWAY.

This practice is really linked to the Singapore Kiasu mentality. The Kaisu mentality can be summed up as follows: I am the most important. You are not important. I am racially superior, so I am forced by the father of my country to live with you, even though I hate you and talk about you behind your back. I force my kids to study until 1am and then get them up at 6am so they will test well, but not learn. The goal is only to improve my status. How much will you give me if I have another child, if "no enough" no child. It is all about me being number one and you, well, you are not.

Kiasu behaviour is the worst thing about Singapore, the thing that I am only faced with once and awhile. But when I am faced with it, I long for a rude American, a surly French or a filthy Thai city any day over the one I live in. These cities don't put on airs or pretend to be anything more than what they are. Singapore has to force its people to be nice in order to keep up the image (dare I remind people that we have to have "smile" campaigns in order to teach civility?

Pigs. Just Clean up after yourselves. I don't through crap in your yard. Don't do it in mine.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

New Blog

In order to keep the portions of my life a bit more structured and regulated, I have created a new blog to cover the travel portion of my life and more specifically the travel we do with our kids. There is LOTS to still write about our trip home, but i have started it here. Go check it out and tell all your friends ;-)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

DVD Organization

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While I was home this summer, I saw a little box filled with my Step-mother's DVD collection. I thought to myself...hey that would be a great way of taming the hundreds of DVDs in our colletion.

The first step was to find some boxes... not as easy as it seems. I wanted drawers/boxes that would allow the DVD to hang without the jewel boxes in numbered sleeves, like the box at my Dad's house. I finally found some (at Popular if you are interested) and the next step was to go through all of the DVD's weeding out those we have outgrown, don't work, are of dubious origin or are duplicates. I then organized them into four basic sections: Classics (generally oscar winners from the past (we bought a bunch of these in Costco in tawian at a great price), movies Jeff and I watch, Family (sub divided between cartoon and regular movies) and TV shows.


I then was able to find a great freeware (cause I am all about free) software to organize the DVDs. It is called Movienizer and I really love it. So, I sorted all the DVDs into rough alphabetical order, took them out of the jewel case and dropped them into the box. Nancy and Kiera helped with the cartoons.

At the end of the day, I ended up with two full boxes of DVDs, sorted by my rough categories and in rough alphabetical order. The TV series did not get sorted. I have input all of the classics and Jeff and my movies into our database and now have an alphabetical list of all of the DVDs with box and sleeve number. So... anyone want to guess what the total is (without the kids movies or TV shows??)


Needless to say, I feel good about removing a bunch of clutter, getting one area of my life organized and in shape. Now onto the next project (Scroll down for more)....

and the answer is


. 198 (will give an update after all of the kids shows and TV shows are input)

Friday, August 15, 2008

First Day of School



Wow, I can't believe how quick these kiddos of mine have grown. Look at Kiera, she is all dressed up and ready to go to her first day of school, just a mere 5 years ago she was a bitty baby depending on us for everything. Now, she and her brother are full of opinions, ready to face the world and sure that life is pretty much what it is and that is alright with them.

Gotta love that!
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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A reminder


This is what being in the moment is all about. Kiera on the beach in Seaside Oregon
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Monday, August 11, 2008

Wow what a trip

I have started a new travel blog that I plan to use to update people on our multiple trips around the region (and the world). This last one was a doozy! We spent almost three weeks in the US traveling in Oregon and a brief one day trip to LA. Today, we are recovering from Jet Lag (the kids woke up at 4:20) and I have a stack of work to do.... both TI and FFC stuff, and a training to write today....

It is going to be a long few days, but I have renewed myself, feel ready to tackle the next steps of simplifying my life and living more authentically in my environment. back with pictures soon...


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Testing one two three

I am just testing the ability to schedule posts. If this works I can create more posts and send them out on a regular basis... how cool would that be?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

July 5th

we attended the annual Singapore American Society's Independence Day bash up in Sembewang. while this year it was cooler than past years, I also found the silver to be a bit tarnished and the bloom a bit off the rose. Lines for the rides were too long but the kids were very patient and overall they had a great time.

Here are a few shots of the festivities to remind us all!

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