Monday, October 17, 2011

Rain, Rain, Go away...

Not here in Texas. Here, we'd still be happy to have more rain. But in El Salvador, and throughout much of Central America, heavy rains right now are causing flooding and landslides all over. Of course, these bring with them an ever-increasing body count. Right now (well, as of yesterday), The Huffington Post indicates that the total number of Central American deaths is at 66, with 24 of these in El Salvador and another 28 in Guatemala. These two countries, with the bulk of the deaths, seem to bearing the brunt of the storms. Evacuations are in progress, and donations are needed for the many whose homes have been destroyed. Rubi over at Life in the Armpit points out a suggested organization for donations:
Voices on the Border

I remember the flooding and storms while in Guatemala, and I have many friends who have been affected by this over the years and who have had to rebuild from damages. My heart breaks for those who have lost part or all of their possessions and families. And I wonder, if it were me, would I pack it up and move back to the US? Would I be strong enough to re-build? Would I want to? Would I recover? I don't even want to consider the what-if-it-were-my-child question. Just one more thing to think about as we plan to head out: what's our back-up plan if disaster strikes?

To all in El Salvador and Guatemala now, prayers and wishes for health and safety for you and yours!

Monday, October 3, 2011

My new favorite pick-me-up

It's probably been clear from my lack of posts lately that things here have been BUSY! And when things get hectic, I tend to shove everything down on my priority list that's not an absolute must-do. I'm working on making blogging more consistent, really I am!

Anyway, one thing that tends to happen when I get stressed is that many of my good eating habits go out the window. I neglect to prepare lunches for the week, and then don't have anything quick to grab as I head out the door, so I go eat at fast-food central at the university. Not only is this bad for my overall health, it's also not great for my wallet (or our saving-for-el-salvador fund!). So I've really been trying to make sure that I have food ready to go. Since I try to head to the gym in the mornings, in addition to lunch, I need a quick protein pick-me-up for after my workout. I've played around with a few different things, like boiled eggs and string cheese, but I've found that I really need something that I can eat/drink while I walk back across campus to my office, and peeling an egg just doesn't work while I walk. Apples work great, but don't have as much protein as I'd like. So what's a girl to do?

Eat like a man. And by that, I mean take advantage of all the different protein powders and drinks that are out there. I resisted this at first, but recently I've stumbled upon a formula that is tasty, quick, full of protein, and convenient. I take a 32 oz container and fill it with ice, then add one scoop of vanilla protein powder. I then fill the container half full with coffee, and fill it the rest of the way with fat-free milk. Yum! The ice blends the powder well into the rest of the drink, and there's no need to add additional sugar or splenda since the protein powder is pretty sweet already. I stick the whole container into my gym bag (yep, make sure the lid fits well and is leak-proof!), and the ice keeps it cool the whole time I'm working out. Since the coffee and milk are full-strength to start with, the melting ice doesn't water it down too much, and I have a delicious frappe kind of thing to drink as I walk across campus. The best part? This drink holds me easily until lunch and beyond.

I know that there's a better choice than protein powder out there for this, but I feel like it's the protein that is really helping with keeping me satisfied for the rest of the morning, and I just don't think that coffee and milk alone would do that for me. But are there alternatives to expensive protein solutions? I'm on the lookout, and I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Textbroker Update

So last week I decided to check out the freelance possibilities on Textbroker. I talked here about what I knew and what I didn't, and then I tried it out. So I've learned a few things and thought I'd share some observations.

The Pros:
- It all adds up for extra income
I've written 5 articles, for a grand total of about $35.

- The hourly rate is decent to start
I estimate 4 hours for the 5 articles I've written so far. That gives me an hourly rate of between $8 and $9, which isn't great, but it's at least minimum wage.

- It's not too difficult
I spend a LOT of time on the internet, and I'm a great researcher in general. Finding the relevant info to include in my articles has not been problematic. For people who are unfamiliar with internet research or research in general, this may be problematic, but for me, it's a great fit for a skill set that I already possess.

- It can be interesting
I've written on a variety of topics already, from heat pumps to rice cookers to cotton candy machines. Since I get to choose the articles I want to write, I can choose the ones that most interest me.

- There's a lot to choose from
I'm a Level 4 writer (from 1-5, where 1's are not allowed to write for Textbroker and 5's are the elite), and on the days when I've checked, there have been many possible articles to write.

- The time and place is flexible
This is, for me, the most important positive point about Textbroker. I wrote my articles whenever and wherever I wanted. Some I wrote at 2am in my jammies, and others I wrote on my lunchbreak at work. I love the flexibility, and as I consider increasing streams of income as we consider becoming expats, flexibility in when and where I work is crucial.

While I'm feeling pretty positive about Textbroker in general, there are some definite disadvantages as well.

- I'm currently locked out
Textbroker's policy is that they lock your account after the first 5 articles, so that they can check your work. I finished my last article on Wednesday of last week, and have been locked out since then. It's unclear how long this lockout will last. Textbroker says that new writer ratings go to the top of the heap, but the long lockout period is frustrating. I believe this only ever happens once, but it's difficult to get momentum going and want to continue writing, but be unable to due to the lockout.

- Article length can be difficult
The clients provide you with a topic, a word range, and any additional instructions. Sometimes, it's difficult to write their minimum word count, especially if you are a concise writer. I can be quite verbose at times, but come on, how much is there to say about tip and roll bleachers? I had to really dig and get creative to write enough for that one.

- Article search isn't super user-friendly
Articles are divided by category, but they don't always readily fit in that (or any) of the general categories given. So even if you are only interested in writing home and family articles, there may be good choices in other categories.

Overall, I'm looking forward to doing some more writing for Textbroker and seeing what it's like beyond the first 5 articles, and especially investigating how realistic it will be to consider this a potential stream of steady income once we leave the country!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Later than midnight arrival in San Salvador?

So I've been just checking to see what the best prices to El Salvador from DFW look like in general, and not just on the dates we think we want to travel. The best deal out there appears to be on Spirit, where round-trip tickets can be had for $384. I've flown Spirit to Guatemala before, with no trouble, other than the necessity to fly through Fort Lauderdale. The trouble I have with this flight is that apparently Spirit flies into El Salvador only for midnight arrivals. That means arriving at a strange airport, going through Customs, and then walking out to attempt to find transportation to some hotel in a city we don't know well, in the wee hours of the morning, and possibly with a 3-year-old. Safe? What do you think? I'm not convinced that this is the best option, but it's one I'm willing to consider!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Making extra money

As I've previously mentioned here, P-daddy and I have been exploring income options. One purpose is to make some extra money now, so that we have plenty in savings before we move. One way to do that would be to get part-time jobs here and just bank everything we make, but we are not really convinced that we want to go that route, for several reasons. First, we both have full-time jobs, plus we want to spend quality time with Pooh and with each other. Second, the pay for part-time jobs that would severely restrict our schedules is probably not enough to make it worthwhile. Finally, taking just any part-time job would somewhat defeat our greater purpose: attempting now to find ways to support ourselves once we are in another country. If we get part-time jobs here, we want them to be jumpstarters for things we can continue later.

An option we've been seriously considering is online work. We've looked at several possibilities, but for now, the one I've decided to consider is freelance writing. But I'm a beginner at this! I've been writing all my life, was an English major in college, and have successfully written all kinds of things from lesson plans to how-to guides to a dissertation, but I've never defined myself as a writer. So, I'm starting small. I applied yesterday to write for Textbroker, and this morning received an email saying I'd been accepted as a Level 4 writer. I figure I'll start with a few articles and see how it goes, and if I enjoy it, I might have found a way to potentially earn American dollars overseas.

I am still learning all the ins and outs of Textbroker, but here's what I know, in a nutshell:
- Writers select the projects they want to work on
- Writers can only select projects one at a time; you select another only after submission of the current project
- Writers may be asked for revision, and have 24 hours to comply
- Writers can build up clients who request them, and can make additional money for these direct orders
- Level 4 writers get paid 1.4 cents per word for articles designated level 4. Choosing articles designated level 2 or 3 is less pay per word (but I'm not sure of the exact amount)
- Level 4 writers may eventually be eligible to upgrade to Level 5 status, but this seems to take 1) articles consistently rated 4, and 2) a proofreading test that is apparently pretty hairy
- It's probably worth it for a writer to do all s/he can to get to Level 5, because Level 5 writers make FIVE cents per word - that's quite a jump from the 1.4 cents of Level 4.

Here's what I don't know:
- How consistently there are interesting articles to write
- How much research the articles will take
- How long it will take for me (a semi-perfectionist) to complete an article
- How difficult it will be to make it to Level 5
- Whether it's something I'd want to stick with long-term
- How payment compares to other freelance writing jobs

The way I look at it, each article of 350-400 words is $5. I know that I can write that much pretty quickly, but whether or not I can find particular articles that I can write that quickly is another question. If I can, and if I can produce 2 of those articles in an hour, that's $10 an hour. That's probably more than a lot of part-time jobs pay. If I can write them faster, even better. If I can't, and I can only produce one an hour, well, that's less than minimum wage, and probably not something I want to do. Either way, I'd rather figure it out now than when we are in a position where we really need the money!

So, I'm trying it, and I'll keep you posted on how it goes! I think I'll go write my first article right now!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

My first specialty cake!

This month, Pooh turned 3, and we decided to celebrate his birthday with the family when we went to my parents' house for the holiday weekend. I thought about buying a cake, but I've recently been inspired to try some cake baking of my own, so I googled around and found a couple cakes that I thought Pooh would like. Ultimately, I went with a train theme, complete with a little Thomas on top.

This being my first cake, I didn't want to be overly ambitious in my baking, so I went with boxed cake mix and canned frosting. Here are my expenses:
2 Aldi cake mixes: $0.99 each
1 Aldi cream cheese frosting: $1.29
6 eggs: a free gift from my mom's chickens
oil, food coloring, etc: shamelessly stolen from my mom's cabinet
various and sundry small snack items: gathered from my kitchen
Total cost, not including labor: $3.27

I'll let you decide how much my labor is worth!

First, I baked all the cake. One white cake mix made 2 round cakes, one 8" and one 9". One chocolate cake mix made 2 small (6X9, maybe?) oblong cakes. Once they were all baked and cooled, I gave the round ones a crumb coat and stuck them in the fridge overnight.

One oblong one I cut into 12 smaller rectangles, and gave each of those a crumb coat too. This was much more difficult since they'd been cut! It would have been much smarter to bake them all separately, or use a heavier cake mix, or even let them sit out and dry for a while before attempting any icing, even a light coat. I'll know better next time.

The second oblong cake was extra. Since we were also celebrating my dad's birthday, and he loves German chocolate cake, I just iced it with coconut pecan icing, which was as close as I could get (okay, as close as I could find at Walmart) to German chocolate.

The next morning, I gathered bowls, the food coloring, and my "freight", and got to work. My sister and her daughter had arrived by then, and they helped. Here's my niece, ready to get to work - isn't she a cutie?!

First we iced the round cakes in white, and placed them, touching, on a cake board (we used a piece of wood covered with cake paper). My sis (who has made lots of great cakes) suggested we cut out a small portion of one cake so that the two would fit together better = great idea! Then I took a toothpick and drew two half-circles on each cake, about 1.5 inches apart, to create a giant 3, then I traced the 3 with icing. I could have just started with the icing, but I'm not that brave. With the 3 made, I used pretzels to create railroad ties on it.

We decided the juncture of the 3 needed a stop sign, and luckily we had a red Jolly Rancher handy.
That was the easy part! Next came the freight cars...

Each of the small rectangular cake pieces we iced in a different color, adding 3 cheerios along the bottom of each side to form wheels. On the top, we used pretzels to create a box, and then filled the box with some kind of freight.

Ultimately, our freight included fruit snacks, smarties, a swiss cake roll, mini chocolate rice cakes, cheeries, chocolate waves, sand (crushed up cookies), and a mixture of them. The freight cars were placed around the larger cake, with pretzels connected each one to the next.

It was impossible to hide the cake from Pooh when it was done, and once he saw it, he kept climbing up on the kitchen stools asking for some. When I told him we could not have cake until after we sang happy birthday, he happily sang the entire song for me.

I'm pretty sure this cake was a huge hit - at least Pooh seemed to love it!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Howdy, Pardner!


What's On My Mind today? Vacation! It's 3 weeks into the new school year and all I want to do is immerse myself in the details of planning our next vacation!

In my defense, we have not taken a real vacation for almost 2 years (Christmas 2009). Our adoption was not legal until this past May, and for the year before that, with Pooh as a foster child, travel outside the state was impossible, and even travel within the state was difficult. This summer, we simply decided that plane travel with a 2-year-old was not on our agenda, and extensive travel in the car with a potty-training-in-progress 2-year-old was an even worse idea. While we could have left Pooh with family, we just didn't want to - we wanted to enjoy our summer as a family! So, we stayed pretty close to home, with occasional weekends away, but nothing I can really define as a vacation. Even the picture above, which appears to be a vacation, was taken when I traveled to Albuquerque for a conference, without the family. um, and oh yes, it was taken summer 2010, not 2011!

Now that school is in full swing, it's really hit me that we've been vacation-less for so long! So yep, that's what's on my mind these days! If you want to see what's on lots of other people's minds, join Rhonda over at Down To Earth!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tickets to El Salvador - OUCH!

I love traveling! The discovery of new places, the chances to meet new people, the opportunities to learn about a different culture - I love it! I'm not really the "stay with the gringos" kind of person. When I lived and worked in Guatemala, I disliked going out with my colleagues, not because I didn't enjoy them, but because they traveled in packs. And that gringo bar that you think is so great? Try the little local hole in the wall - way more colorful!

Anyway, P-daddy and I have never traveled together outside of the US, but I'm pretty sure that he'll also be wanting to try the local joints rather than hunting for the gringo hangouts, once we actually make it out of the country together. And that's what I want to talk about! We discussed the possibilities, and with my work schedule, we think we are going to spend a few weeks in El Salvador in May. That may seem a long time away, but with my job, I really needed the hope of a great vacation when the year is done! So I was just checking out flights to El Salvador in May, and they are all between $650 and $700. For the two of us, that's almost $1500, plus what we'll need for spending while there. ouch. ouch. ouch. definitely keeping my eye out for good deals!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

English Schools in El Salvador?

It's been a rough 10 days! Pooh's 3rd birthday was last Sunday (Sept 4), and we were at my parents' house for the holiday weekend. Then I came back to work on Tuesday, worked 15 hours that day, 12 hours on Wednesday, shorter days on Thursday and Friday, and then attended a local (well, one hour drive from home/work) conference for 9 hours (so an 11-hour day with the drive). I'm still trying to catch up from last week, and this week is piling up. Times like this definitely make me want to live the expat life, rather than the rat race!

I wrote here about things we need to do in order to prepare to move internationally, and we've been thinking and discussing several of those issues. Two that have been on our minds are inter-connected to some degree: where to live and where Pooh will go to school. Both P-daddy and I feel strongly that it's important for Pooh to have some schooling in English, so we've been looking for international schools in El Salvador. We are only finding info about the ones in San Salvador - there are three of them, and I'll be talking about each of them in more detail as I find time to research them more. I can't help wondering, though, if the lack of online presence is a true reflection of what exists in ES. Perhaps there are others, but they simply don't have an online presence that reflects that. As I noted here, the degree to which ES is cyber-savvy is simply not the same as here in the US. Hmmm...perhaps I've just created a job for myself...

Anyway, my question is, are there English schools elsewhere in the country? If so, where? what are they like? How can I find info about them? Even a trip to ES would not necessarily give me this info, so if you have any ideas, I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A great post you should read!

Today over at Money Saving Mom, Lisa from PanaMom shares some tips on how to eat well on less when you don't have access to the deals and coupons that American grocery stores offer. I wasn't familiar with PanaMom before, but I think I'm going to have to take closer look!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Mijo

This is a Spanish Friday about what's On My Mind. Scroll to the bottom for the English translation.

El domingo, mi hijo (aqui se llamamos Pooh) cumplirá 3 años. Guau! Nos conocimos hace 2 años casi exactamente. Era (fue? nunca recuerdo) el fin de semana de Labor Day del año 2009. Yo acabo de cumplir mis estudios y mudarme a Texas para comenzar un trabajo nuevo. Fui a la casa de mis papas para la celebración, y vino tambien mi sobrina con su familia, incluyendo su "foster child" nuevo. Él era un gordito precioso!


Fue amor de primera vista!

Pooh vivía en la casa de mi sobrina por 9 meses, mientras mi esposo y yo cumpliamos todos los requisitos para ser "foster parents". Nos visitaba varias veces, y nos conocimos bien durante este epoca. Después de la navidad, mi sobrina y su esposo fueron a India, y Pooh se quedó con nosotros por una semana en total. Que alegre poder cuidar a ese niño precioso! El dia que recibimos nuestra licensia, Pooh se mudó a nuestra casa. Fue el 28 de junio de 2010. Después de casi un año, el 13 de mayo de 2011, finalizamos el proceso de adopción, y ahora el niño es hijo mio por siempre. Es increíble que nuestras vidas han sido tan bendecidas por ese hijo!

Y mira, como ha crecido y cambiado en 2 años:

Estoy participando en los viernes de español con Latinaish - ven a ver todo!

English translation:
Sunday, my son (who we call Pooh on here), will be 3 years old. Wow! We met almost exactly two years ago. It was Labor Day weekend of 2009. I had just finished school and moved to Texas for my new job. I went to my parents' house for the holiday, and so did my niece and her family, including her new foster child. He was a precious little doughball! [see first pic]

It was love at first sight!

Pooh lived with my niece's family for about 9 months, while P-daddy and I finished all the requirements to become foster parents. He visited us several times, and we all got to know each other during that time. After Christmas, my niece and her husband went to India, and Pooh came to stay with us for an entire week. What fun to take care of such a precious little boy! The day that we received our foster parenting license, Pooh moved to our house. It was June 28, 2010. Almost a year later, on May 13, 2011, we finalized the adoption process, and Pooh became ours forever. It's incredible how blessed our lives are with this little boy in them!

And check out how he's changed and grown in 2 years! [see second pic].

With the 3rd birthday coming up, Pooh is definitely on my mind! To see what's on everybody else's mind, join Rhonda over at Down to Earth!

My To-DIY list

I love making things for myself rather than having to rely on lots of commercial products. When Pooh was in diapers, we made our own cloth wipes, I make my own laundry detergent and dishwasher soap, and (when it's not 100+ degrees outside), we bake our own bread. Sometimes we get silly with it:


This morning, P-daddy brought home some delicious multigrain raisin buns (nope, not homemade, though you can bet they are now on his bread-baking list!). He piled his with mozzarella, tomato, and basil, but I opted for a sweet treat of Laughing Cow cheese with homemade blackberry jam:


I realized as I ate it that in all my 40+ years, I've never made homemade jam or jelly! My mom does, and lovingly provides it for us, and I actually helped pick the blackberries that went into that jam, but making jam/jelly is one thing that I need to put on my To-DIY list. uh-oh. I don't really have a To-DIY list! Well, at least I didn't before this post. Because I realized that just having a nebulous idea in my mind isn't enough! Crystal over at Money Saving Mom keeps a running list of new DIY projects, with one assigned per month. I didn't want to be that specific, but I did want to have a real actual list. So here it is, my ongoing To-DIY list:
1) Vanilla
2) Jam/jelly
3) Liquid hand/body soap
4) Busy bags for kids
5) Wool nighttime soaker
6) Bar soap
7) Household cleaners
8) Insect repellents (for humans)
9) Natural insecticides (for the garden)
10) Granola/snack bars
I'm sure the list will grow as I continue to think, but just getting those down into one spot helps me think about them more concretely. What about you? What are you To-DIY musts?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Calgon, take me away!

It's been one of those weeks! First day of classes, getting used to the new schedule, major deadlines coming up next week, and really, just too much to do in too little time. I'm feeling the stress. Even worse, I've been feeling the stress for a long time now.

A very wise friend once told me, in relation to changing jobs and moving on to something different, that you need to get out before you have to. I'm feeling in that position right now, sadly. There are so many aspects of my job that I love, but more and more I realize that it's not what I want to do forever. Not only do I not want to be part of the rat race stress, but I want to be able to enjoy my family while I can. This is a large part of what has brought P-daddy and I to the decision that a move out of the country would be a good choice for us. Not only would it be less expensive in terms of retirement, etc, but the pace of life would allow for more enjoyment now, when we really want to enjoy Pooh's childhood.

This doesn't mean we are packing up and moving today, as there are still tons of things to do before them. Here are just a few:
- Find a way to make money to live on
- Find a way to make money to save
- Decide where to live
- Decide where to send Pooh to school
- Decide what to do about our home here
- Pack up/sell/donate things we don't want to take with us
- Figure out how to take our household items with us
- Adopt Piglet (as of yet unknown to us, but we'd like a second child)

The list could go on and on and on. Each of those things I'll likely be talking about in a lot more detail as time goes on. I figure, the more research I do now, the sooner we can make the move!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Nature's Bounty

Yesterday I mentioned talked about our produce co-op and showed what we got in it this week. What I didn't mention is the fact that we are overflowing in veggies right now! We hosted a potluck on friday night, and part of our contribution was veggie strips. Of course when I purchased them, I bought way more than we needed. Plus, rather than taking their contributions home with them, lots of people left them for the rest of the party-goers to enjoy. This meant that at the end of the night, we were left with a ton of food! That's both good and bad. Luckily, I was able to pawn off share the desserts with my sisters and their families, leaving us with just a few cookies and brownies that we promptly froze (except for this really incredible cinnamon coffee cake that I forced myself to finish).

One thing that was left was a gorgeous (and huge) veggie tray, with zucchini, yellow squash, cucumber, carrots, snow peas, broccoli, cauliflower, yellow pepper, and I think there's more that I cannot remember. That, plus the extra carrots and peppers that we already had, plus our co-op shop, means that we are swimming in veggies! This is only a small portion of what we've got:


While this many veggies sometimes means that some goes to waste, we are really trying right now to use our resources well and not waste food. Plus, it's the beginning of the school year, which is the most stressful time for me. So, I decided to take advantage of all the veggies and prepare lunches for this week. Here's how it went:

First, I chopped up onions, peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, and tomatoes to make a chunky veggie sauce for noodles. I got the sauce going on the stove and the water boiling for noodles, and then started on the rest.


Second, I washed and chopped up cabbage and peppers, and portioned them and some carrots out into 5 individual servings. When the noodles and veggie sauce were done, I made 5 individual servings of them as well.


When I stored those in the fridge, I grouped them by day, so that I can just grab a stack and toss them into my lunchbag:


With that, I can add an apple or tangerine (no prepping needed), and I have a super-healthy lunch and snacks for each day of the coming week, that includes my 5+ servings of fruits and veggies.

Third, I washed and chopped the rest of the carrots, celery, cucumber, and cabbage, and packaged them so that they are ready to eat (or cook) whenever we want them. I washed the green and black grapes, removed them from the stems, and packaged them, so that they are easy to grab for a snack for Pooh. I also washed and chopped mango and nectarines so they are easy to add to smoothies or yogurt. P-daddy and I have been talking about pickling lately, so I decided to cut some carrots into matchsticks and pickle them as well. Then I prepped homemade french fries for the freezer and diced red and yellow peppers to freeze for later. Once I added the rest of the noodles in veggie sauce, we had quite an array:


Now my fridge is full, I'm ready for the week, and I feel a great sense of accomplishment! And Pooh is asking for grapes so I must run - luckily I've got a few all ready for him!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Our Veggie Co-op

I have this distinct memory of grocery shopping with my sister shortly after returning from Guatemala. We walked through the produce department, where tomatoes were $0.99 a pound. My sister thought that was a good price, and suggested we buy them. "What?! 99 cents a pound?! Are you crazy? That's almost 10Q a pound, and I can get them from the woman at the corner stall for 2Q." [Note: Q = Quetzal, the currency in Guatemala, at that time roughly 8Q = $1]. I didn't buy the tomatoes. We moved on. Onions were too expensive, because I could get them 2 pounds for 1Q at my favorite vendor. Carrots, apples, and pretty much everything I wanted to buy was the same; outrageous "gringo" prices. um, yeah, gringo prices, since gringos would pay a lot more in the markets in Guatemala since the expensive prices were still less than what they would pay at home!

Adjusting to what I considered to be the outrageous prices on produce in the US, in comparison with the incredible prices I had seen all over Central America was really difficult for me. And yes, I look forward to seeing great prices again when we move. But for now, I'm in the US, and I am simply never going to find tomatoes for 20 cents a pound!

While we've started growing a few (very few!) of our own veggies, we don't produce nearly enough for our needs, so I'm constantly looking for fresh veggies at good prices. When I lived in California, I was part of a CSA, but where we are in Texas, we have not been able to find a CSA in our area with pick-up days/times that work for us. Instead, we've found a veggie co-op that buys in bulk from the local farmers market every two weeks.

This co-op is run by a woman in my sisters' homeschool group, and most of the members are also members of that group. In an effort to save on cost, everybody contributes $30 every 2 weeks, and one or two people in the group do the shopping every time, then come back to the organizer's house and split the goods:


At 8 am (yes, that means that the veggie buyers have to hit the market before the crack of dawn!), the rest of the members of the co-op arrive, pack their veggies into their boxes, pay for their portion coming in 2 weeks, and head home to enjoy the bounty.

When we first started this, we shared a portion with my sister, but we found that it was more veggies than we would sometimes eat before they were going bad, and we hated for them to go to waste. Now we share our half with another sister, and we end up having to buy a little more, but we prefer that over wasting food.

This week, this is what our quarter portion looked like:


Once it was all laid out and grouped together, it looked like this:


We got:
- 1 head of leafy green lettuce
- I head of broccoli
- 1 head of red cabbage
- 1 large baker potato
- 3 red bell peppers
- 2 yellow onions
- 4 tomatoes
- 1 huge nectarine
- 3 apples (one is not in the pic since Pooh already ate it)
- 2 oranges
- 5 tangerines
- black grapes (maybe 1/2 pound?)
- 1/2 bag of baby carrots (also not pictured)

For $7.50, I think that's a pretty good deal! I'm trying not to imagine how much better it would be in El Salvador! I admit, though, that I'm intensely curious as to how much this would cost me at the local grocery store - I think I may have to do a little cost comparison later today!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Generations

Lately, what's on my mind a lot is Pooh. On September 4, he'll be 3 years old. Though we've only had him for not quite 15 months, that is longer than he's lived with anyone else, and it's pretty clear that P-daddy and I are, in his mind, his true parents. While the idea of adoption never phased us, we were not really sure how the rest of our families would react. But everyone has opened their arms and hearts to him, and he has found a true home and family, not just with us, but with all the rest of our clan as well. Pooh and his Papaw have been forming a special bond (I think it was the tractor that started this, but that's another story).


This pic just makes my heart go warm and fuzzy. Pooh is a great mimic, and I love that he is, in essence, following in my dad's footsteps. Since my dad is one of my most favorite men on the planet, and I think he's incredible, I think it's the perfect place for Pooh to be.

This pic was taken not too long ago, when we headed out for a weekend at my parents' place. Dad walks the perimeter of his property every morning, and since there are snakes and spiders and other wild things, he takes a walking stick, and often wears boots. Pooh, not to be outdone, has to do exactly the same (we took his Elmo boots with us just for this purpose). We try to get out to visit as much as possible now, since when we leave the country, visits will not be nearly as frequent. But we know that the memories of times like these will be cherished by all of us, no matter where in the world we are.

For more pics and heartfelt thoughts, head on over to Down to Earth and check things out over there!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Earthquakes?!

So there was an earthquake (5.9) on the East Coast yesterday, and according to this article, Californians are being pretty insufferable about it. Having recently moved from California, I've experienced firsthand their insufferability, so that did make me laugh. But it also made me think about the fact that earthquakes and tremors are common in many parts of the world, and El Salvador is likely to be one of them.

Living in Guatemala, we got used to daily small tremors that would shake the lights hanging from the ceilings while everyone continued about their work as normal. At the school that I worked at, the director, new to the area and fearful of natural disasters, attempted to create better emergency procedures, in which students crawled under their desks at the first sign of shaking. Yes, we need to keep the children safe, but after a week in which at least one class was interrupted every day, he realized that perhaps his emergency preparedness was a little too prepared.

That's not to say that there weren't quakes that caused massive amounts of damage. I rented space from a family, and my bedroom was the maid's quarters (no, I was not the maid, I just lived in the space that most homes had been built with), which opened onto the central patio. This family had a dog who would often sleep out on the patio or wander out as needed. Often, he'd end up sleeping, or at least sniffing, at my door. The door to my room was metal, and set into a metal frame, so when he would settle himself against it, it would bang and wake me up. One night, I was awoken by the door hitting the frame continuously. "That ^&*$ dog!" I thought, and got up to yell at him. I opened the door, and no dog, but then I became aware that something had happened. Despite the fact that it was about 2am, I could hear people talking, yelling, and crying in the streets, and about that time, my host mom came out to check on me. We later found out that damages were immense, with many people losing their homes, or parts of their homes.

From what I've been reading, El Salvador also commonly experiences minor tremors as well as the occasional true earthquake. It's just one more thing we'll have to get used to, and prepare for.

Monday, August 22, 2011

De-cluttering, and not by choice

I've talked before about our fostering puppies, and for the most part, we really enjoy it! Today, though, we realized a new advantage (to P-Daddy), and disadvantage (to me).

Today was the first real day back at school, as we had new student orientation. I'm not a dressy dresser, preferring comfort over high fashion, but I did pull out something other than my Crocs or Tevas to wear this morning. After a long day at school, I came home and relaxed by checking email and doing various things on the computer. Then P-Daddy brought me this:


One fewer pair of shoes, thanks to the contribution of foster puppy Elvis.

I love shoes. In my mind, I don't have a lot of them, probably 30-40 pairs. P-Daddy, for some reason, thinks this is a lot. His 5 pairs are plenty, he says. I may disagree on the number, but I realize when I look at my shoe closet (yes, I did say shoe CLOSET) that I'm definitely going to have to get rid of quite a few pairs of my beloved footwear before we can consider packing up and making a run for the border. And it's not just shoes. I have a LOT of STUFF. And I need to sort, donate, recycle, and repurpose things rather than just storing them indefinitely. Whittling down our possessions will make P-Daddy (and me too, I admit) very very happy. Today, I suppose, was the start, like it or not.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Bulk Cooking

Next week, classes begin and we all have to hit the ground running for a new semester. For me, in times of stress, my good eating habits can often fly out the window in favor of convenience. I really don't want that to happen, for several reasons:

1) My health - While I may love Taco Bell and french fries, they are not the healthiest choices. My normal diet consists mostly of lean meats, whole natural foods like beans and grains, and lots of fruits and veggies. I think this contributes significantly to my overall good health.
2) My weight - I've been a Weight Watcher for a while now. I hit my goal weight about 6 months after goal, and maintained my weight for several years, though I did gain a bit while marathon training. When I moved to Texas 2 years ago, to start a new job, I gained again, and have just finally gotten back on track and am down to about 5 pounds above my goal weight. I refuse to let stress de-rail me this time!
3) My budget - Convenience food is expensive! While a $2 meal at Taco Bell may sound cheap, I can actually prepare a nice home-cooked meal for less than that per person!

So this evening, once Pooh and P-Daddy hit the sack, I'm going to work on some food prep. I'm setting a goal for one hour, and I'm going to try to do the following:
1) cut and boil potatoes for french fries
2) cook a couple cups of brown rice
3) cook a pound of angel hair pasta
4) chop and cook peppers and onions
5) clean out the fridge

Hopefully, this will put me in a good spot in terms of getting the week going with nutritious home-cooked foods that are easy to grab and go!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Los viernes de español

Otro blog que me gusta leer es Latinaish, que se trata de una mujer estado-unidense, casada con un Salvadoreño. Los viernes, ella siempre escribe sus posts en español - Que buen idea! Comenzamos...

Mi esposo y yo, con nuestro hijo de 2 años, planeamos mudarnos a El Salvador en algunos años. Estamos ahora preparandonos. Aprendimos nuevas recetas para preparar comidas simples, tratamos de sembrar frutas y verduras, investigamos modos de ganar dinero aqui y alla, y claro, practicamos el español. Esta mañana, Pooh (mi hijo), pidió ver "Diego" por la tele. Fue bien chulo escucharle repetir las palabras en español! Estoy segura que Pooh puede aprender el español sin problema si enfoquarnos en proveer oportunidades para que él se pueda escuchar el idioma. El problema mas grande es encontrar un modo de ayudar a P-Daddy también!

English Translation:
Another blog that I like is Latinaish, written by a woman from the US whose husband is from El Salvador. On Fridays, she always writes her posts in Spanish, which I think is a great idea! Let's begin...

My husband and I, along with our 2-year-old, plan to move to El Salvador in a few years. Right now we are preparing ourselves in various ways. We are learning new recipes for simple foods, we are trying to grow some fruits and veggies, we are looking into different ways to make money, and of course, we are practicing Spanish. This morning, Pooh (my son) asked to watch Diego on TV. It was so cute listening to him repeat the Spanish words! I have full confidence that he'll pick up Spanish with few problems if we really focus on providing him with Spanish input. Now if only we could find a way to help P-Daddy along as well!

A Fleeting Moment

Rhonda over at Down to Earth hosts a Friday feature she calls "On my mind". I love the idea, so I'll probably be linking up there a lot on Fridays.

Today, my boys are on my mind:


P-Daddy is a wonderful father, and Pooh just adores him. I love to see them together, and this moment in the hammock was fleeting. Because the next day, the squirrels had chewed through the rope, making the hammock impossible to hang. I may fix it one day, but for now, I'll bask in the joy of motherhood, wifehood, and just being part of a family that I adore.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sweet Potato Pancakes


I mentioned in an earlier post that P-Daddy and I have been experimenting with making healthy alternatives to typical convenience foods. We try to use up the foods we have, and often have to come up with creative ways to use up fresh produce. This is especially true with potatoes. I'm a carboholic, as is Pooh, but P-Daddy really doesn't eat a lot of potatoes. Since we get at least one kind, and sometimes several kinds, in our produce co-op every 2 weeks, we virtually never run out of them. These homemade french fries are just one way we've found to make them last, and to use them when it's most convenient for us. Today, we'll talk about another way: Sweet Potato Pancakes!

We've been making pancakes in bulk and freezing them for a while now. Here's our basic recipe, but any that you typically use will work (we've even used boxed mixes with good results):

Basic Pancakes:
2 cups flour (we often do 1/2 whole wheat and 1/2 white)
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 TBSP sugar
2 cups milk (or water)
2 eggs
2 TBSP butter/oil

Mix wet ingredients first, then add dry. Pour by 1/8 cup measure onto a hot griddle, turning when bubbly.

Last time we made pancakes, though, we decided to use up some of the potatoes we had. We started by slicing up several sweet potatoes and putting them on to boil:


Once they were soft, P-Daddy used an immersion blender to mush them up a bit, then assembled the ingredients for basic pancakes.


He just added the mashed up sweet potatoes to the wet ingredients and made pancakes as normal. Typically, as the pancakes come off the griddle, we layer them on a cookie sheet, as you can see in the pic at the top of this post. Then we freeze them for a couple hours, remove, and stack the pancakes into a bread bag. That way, we have frozen pancakes ready to grab from the freezer and pop into the toaster on rushed (or lazy!) mornings:


This works really well for us, because Pooh's favorite breakfast is "pancake faces" - basically, it's toasted pancakes, spread with peanut butter and a tiny bit of honey, with cut up fruit strategically arranged into a face. He'll often eat all the fruit first and ask for another face before he eats the pancake, and we tend to oblige, since we love that he loves fruit so much!

And a final note: Life as Mom hosts the Ultimate Recipe Swap on Thursdays, and there are tons of recipes over there for using up fresh produce - it's gonna take me a really long time to try them all out! But rest assured, when I do, you'll hear about it right here!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Life on the water


That was part of dinner for P-Daddy and me recently when we headed out for sushi. We both love sushi, but it's not the norm for us anymore. When we were in San Diego, we ate it a LOT, probably way more than we should've. Actually, we ate seafood a lot in general. There's something about living so close to a huge body of water that makes me feel like seafood will be good to eat. Fresh. Tasty. Not having sat in someone's freezer for months. I am fully aware that there are such things as planes, and they fly fast, and that the fish that we can get at some places here in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex is as fresh as what we got in San Diego, but I have a mental block about it. Here in Dallas, I'd have to drive a heck of a long way to see a coastline. The thought of my "fresh" fish traveling that far just isn't too appealing.

Growing up here in DFW, we didn't eat a whole lot of fish, and I first learned to love it when I lived in Guatemala. We'd head to the beach regularly, all year round. Our favorite place was about 4 hours from where I lived, so we'd go early and spend the day lazing in the sand, people-watching, strolling on the beach, maybe swimming, and plying ourselves with cold beer (Gallo, how I miss you!) and fresh seafood. And when I say fresh, I do mean fresh - as in, caught fresh that morning by the comedor owner's husband or one of his friends. It was incredibly good!

Living in San Diego fed my seafood addiction further, especially with the addition of sushi to my list of well-loved foods. But we've now been back in DFW for about 2 years, and I miss having a steady diet of fresh seafood. I know it's possible, it's just my own personal opinion that things that live in the ocean taste better when you are close to an ocean.

Yesterday I was lazily looking through my pics when I happened to see this one of our go-to map:

Now, take a look again - do you see that coastline? I cannot wait to explore its entire length, and when I do, I'll make sure to let you know the best possible places to get fresh fish. And cold beer. Yum!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

a little about us

So, while I've been blogging here for a few weeks, I realized that I haven't really taken the time to talk about who we are. So I thought I'd tell you today a little about us. I'm Cindy and my husband is Patrick, though I generally refer to him as P-Daddy.

When we met, P-Daddy and I were both living in San Diego, CA. I was finishing my grad work, P-daddy had moved from New York to escape the rat race, and we lived just a few blocks from one another. Despite our physical proximity, we met in cyberspace. And not long thereafter, at Starbucks.

This is us, a month or so after we met:

We moved to Texas for my job within a year, and shortly thereafter, began training to become licensed foster parents. That was due to meeting and falling in love with this little guy:

The day we got our foster license in the mail, Alex came to live with us, and May 13, 2011, was our official Adoption Day. This is that day, a few hours after all the paperwork was signed:

So there you have it, if nothing else, at least some faces to put with our names.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Workin' on Workin' Out

This morning a question hit me as I wiped the dripping sweat from my eyes as I tackled the elliptical...okay, I admit it, it was tears since I had almost finished reading The Help and brought it to the gym with me to finish while I worked out - what a great book! Regardless of the state of my workout, I questioned what the state of gyms in El Salvador is like. In Guatemala, I found this tiny place called El Shaddai that was around the corner from my house - lots of muscly sweaty men lifting weights (when they weren't ogling the gringas), with not a single cardio machine, and an aerobics instructor who wore Jane Fonda-esque leotards and led us in lots of jumping and bouncing routines despite the fact that exercise science had already progressed well beyond attributing significant benefit to those particular moves. I loved it! And I recommended it to others at the school that I taught at, and soon there was a significant contingent of Americans descending on the gym several afternoons a week. These days, the gym monopoly for Americans there in town appears to be held by a gentleman who has multiple business interests who really likes dealing with Americans. Plus he installed cardio machines. And there was convenient parking. And the aerobics instructor is better (though every machine and weight stack in the place face the aerobics floor, so that the class feels a little like a floor show). 24-Hour Fitness it is not, but definitely a step up from what we were used to!

A quick google search nets only a few results for gyms in El Salvador (notably this one, which has prices well beyond what we pay for our completely equipped and open 24 hour gyms here at home, and a World Gym, which lists an address but gives no further details of what's available. There also appear to be several Curves locations, but that will do P-Daddy no good at all! And there's a dog gym, but again, that's limiting the usefulness of the gym to less than our entire household. Of course the big hotels all list gyms as amenities, but it seems unlikely they'd let me work out there if I'm not a guest.

However, I am not deterred, since it's becoming clear that businesses in El Salvador are not as cyber-savvy as those in the US. There must be more! It's going at the top of my list of things to look for when we visit next: where are the gyms, what do they offer, and how much do they cost? If you have any of these answers, feel free to comment. If not, I'll report back once I know!

Or maybe we'll just open our own...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

conversion!

I mentioned in my last post that I want to find a user-friendly weather map of El Salvador, so that I can ensure that I do not roast my retirement away at 100+ degrees in the shade. I'm not having a whole lot of luck with that, so I finally just opted for a check of what Lonely Planet has to say about the weather in ES. I'll note here that while I've used Lonely Planet guides pretty extensively in my travels, I find their guide to El Salvador to be far from comprehensive, and I'd love any suggestions for different travel books! Anyway, according to this not-the-best-lonely-plant-guide, weather in El Salvador is as follows:
coastal areas = 22-32 all year
central areas = 19-38
mountainous areas = 12-23

Using this handy-dandy temp converter I found, I am now able to adequately translate that:
coastal areas = 71-90 all year
central areas = 66-100
mountainous areas = 53-73

That's really not so bad! It looks like I have an option of always hot, but not unbearably so in the coastal areas, chilly at times, hot at others in the central areas, and chilly year-round in the mountainous areas. Those mountainous areas sound so great right now! Even after a not-too-terribly-hot day here, the thought of being in or around the 60's all year is quite enticing!

I'm pretty sure that P-daddy and I are not going to agree on which of these is the most attractive. But let's be honest, he's going to be so disgusted at my needing an online tool for temperature conversions that he may never even get to these last paragraphs!

Whether weather matters...

Here in Dallas, we are finally experiencing a welcome break from record-setting temps (40 consecutive days over 100 degrees!) with a welcome rain and a "break" with a high today expected to only be 99. All this hot hot weather got me to wondering:

What can we expect weather-wise in El Salvador?

My go-to site for weather here (Weather.com) tells me it's between 75 and 85 in San Salvador, between about 75 and 90 in San Miguel, and between 75 and 93 in la Union, but their travel maps don't even have El Salvador as an option. In searching for a more user-friendly weather guide to El Salvador, I came upon Weather Underground, which I immediately preferred, since it shows me the weather for 6 different parts of ES all at once. But what about the rest? Since weather will play into our decision as to where to eventually settle, this may be something I need to look into now! Anyone have suggestions for the best real-time weather conditions across the country?

Oh, and yeah, please note that my search is complicated by the Estado Unidense in me, who is really only familiar with temps in Fahrenheit. Perhaps what I need is an app for quick conversion...

Friday, August 12, 2011

My new favorite convenience food

P-daddy and I are pretty healthy eaters most of the time. We of course occasionally grab fast food and have unhealthy snacks, but for the most part, we prepare healthy, simple, nutritious food at home. We even sometimes attempt to find ways to make our unhealthy choices a little better for us. Lately, I tried this with my #1 vice: french fries!

Now, I grew up with my daddy making french fries for us in a Fry-Daddy, so that they were completely saturated and deep-fried. I also LOVE McDonalds' french fries, and could eat them every day if my heart and waist could handle it! Unfortunately, I seem to have passed my love of french fries on to Pooh, who makes a meal of them every chance he gets.

Recently, I embarked on a quest to healthify some french fries. I started with a couple pounds of red potatoes that we'd gotten in our produce co-op but hadn't used. First, I cut them all into french fry slices.

As you can see in the picture above, I left the peels on - it's a personal preference, and appeals to my lazy side. Anyway, next I covered them with water in a large pot and brought them to a boil.

After a couple minutes of boiling, when the potatoes just started to soften, I drained them and left them to cool. Then I placed them on a single layer on a flexible cutting board lightly sprayed with oil, and I stuck the whole thing in the freezer for a couple hours, until the pieces are frozen.

For me, the flexible cutting board was essential. If you use a stiff cutting board or a cookie sheet, the frozen potatoes can be difficult to remove. But with the flexible sheet, I just gently rolled the edges in, and the frozen pieces unstuck themselves. I'll note that if the potatoes are touching each other, they stick to each other as well (ask me how I know!). When I removed the frozen fries, I transferred them from to quart-size ziploc bags and popped them back into the freezer.

Then, when I want french fries, I just grab a bag and shake some of the fries onto a lightly sprayed baking sheet.

I then take a small bowl and pour a couple teaspoons of olive oil in it, then use a pastry brush to lightly spread the oil over the potatoes. After baking until the potatoes are soft and the bottoms are browning, (I go by look and texture, not by time, especially since I've been using a toaster oven for these), I flip to broil for a few minutes to get the tops browned. After all that, here's what I get:

Perfectly cooked and delicious oven-baked "fries"! Sprinkle with a little salt, and I don't even need catsup!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Jackfruit?

One thing that P-daddy and I really enjoy, and which we are looking forward to having more of, is a variety of fresh fruit and veggies, particularly tropical ones. P-daddy lived in Vietnam for a while, where he developed a love of several types of fruit that many Americans have never even heard of. One of these is Jackfruit. O.M.G. I was introduced to this fruit shortly after P-daddy and I met, when he showed up at my door one day with this HUGE spiny fruit (he actually brought a second even spinier fruit called a durian, but that's a story for another day!). His wooing of me with exotic fruit apparently worked!

If you've never seen a jackfruit, here's a list of great pics, or here's our pic of just the rinds after we've cut the thing up - I was too excited about eating fresh jackfruit to remember to take a pic before we started.


As you can see, the rind is green and spiny, but it hides delicious delights inside!

P-daddy and I met in San Diego, where jackfruit was available for a fairly long season at the big Asian markets. When we moved to Texas several years ago, we quickly realized that the jackfruit season is pretty short, so we grab them whenever we can. This past week, we went and picked a nice one - this is hard to do, and we've picked too ripe and not ripe enough in the past. It's an expensive mistake, since even though the price per pound is low ($0.79 when we got our last one, but more typically $0.99 up to $1.29), a "small" jackfruit still weighs about 20 pounds. Imagine a "big" jackfruit! Apparently they can grow as big as a man's torso - we saw one yesterday that was probably 3 feet long.

This time, we got lucky, and we picked a really good jackfruit. It'd be nice if it were edible with the ease of watermelon, just slice and go with it. But no, it takes a LOT more work. The fruit pods, which are about the size of a kiwi, have to be separated from the tough fibrous material that surrounds them. This would be a lot easier to do if the fibers didn't have this really sticky white sap flowing from them. Here's what the fibers look like after the fruit has been removed:


The first time we cut a jackfruit together, it took us forever to clean up, because the sap is pretty impossible to get off of your hands, knife, table, floor and clothing. We've since learned that the best way to go about it is to coat your utensils and hands with olive or vegetable oil before starting. Cut the jackfruit into large pieces, and then pick out the fruit pods. It takes a while, but it's so worth it! When you are done you are left with perfectly gorgeous orange fruit pods, like this:


Now here's the thing. Jackfruit is common in Southern and Southeast Asia, and the jackfruit we purchase now in Texas and previously in California is imported from Mexico. Brazil also apparently is a large producer of jackfruit, where it's called jaca. We are incredibly curious as to whether or not jackfruit is grown in El Salvador. I don't remember seeing it in Guatemala, but I lived in the highlands, and it would have been more likely to grow on the coast. It may have been grown there, as I remember seeing many fruits that I was unfamiliar with at roadside stands, but I just can't remember. So, anyone know? Will we be able to get our jackfruit fix in El Salvador? (no worries if not, P-daddy is already experimenting with growing a tree!) And, while I know the English and the Portuguese, I have no idea what jackfruit is called in Spanish, so if you've got some ideas, please comment!

Monday, August 8, 2011

My men's best friend


I mentioned the other day that we are currently fostering puppies. When P-daddy saw that I blogged about this, he asked "how does that have anything to do with expatriation preparation?!" So I had to explain that it *is* related since pet transportation and things like that are issues that we will have to consider. Plus, well, I can make almost anything relate to my future plans in one way or another!

But really, back to the animal question. The pet situation, and the dog situation in particular, is pretty different in Central America than it is in the US. I can't speak for El Salvador, but when I lived in Central America previously, we used to laugh about the "ugly dogs of Guatemala" who ran the streets all the time. Dogs kept as pets seemed to only rarely be mutts (perhaps a purebred status thing going on?), while the dogs running the streets - and they were *everywhere* - were the mongrels. That I know of, there were no pounds or rescue organizations, so street dogs that didn't get fixed simply continued to breed (and yes, it was obvious that many of the females had already had way too many litters!). I remember when my roommate and I got a puppy and took it for a walk down the street - everyone looked at us strange, because NO ONE walks their dogs there!

For us, we plan to have dogs for several purposes. One is just for companionship and fun. The bigger reason, though, is for security. If we have our way, we'll have a bit of land rather than just a small apartment, and having large dogs will provide a measure of protection/security that we might not have otherwise. Plus, there may even be a chance at some extra income if we don't have our dogs fixed, but we are not really counting on that at this point. Pooh is already becoming more accustomed to the dogs and is learning to tell them "down" and "sit". He loves playing outside and running with them and when we were between puppies, he would ask where Midnight was. It's very sweet, and I can already see that he is rapidly learning that a dog may be his best friend!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Media Fasting

I've been a big fan of Money Saving Mom for a while now. She's got lots of great ideas, offers great giveaways, posts awesome deals, and has an inspiring attitude about saving! I read her blog daily, and have gotten tons of free samples from links she's posted. In addition, I've downloaded tons of free stuff, and someday I'm sure to win one of her giveaways too, if I just keep entering them!

One thing that I respect completely about Money Saving Mom is her commitment to God and family. She doesn't pepper her blog with lots of religious chatter, but it's clear that she's a Christian and takes that seriously. She's also clearly committed to her husband and kids and views being a wife and mother as her more-than-fulltime job. She's so serious about these things, as a matter of fact, that she takes a media fast one day a week, and for her, it's on Sunday.

Regardless of your beliefs and thoughts on God and religion, the idea of media fasting is quite thought-provoking. Both P-daddy and I spend a LOT of time online, and Pooh is clearly growing up as a digital native. There are lots of days when we all sit in the room together, each focused on their own connection: Pooh watches WonderPets or Dinosaur Train on streaming Netflix (oh my goodness, can we get streaming Netflix in El Salvador??!!), P-daddy watches the ups and downs of the market, and I work on papers/research, blog, or do any number of other things. And dare I admit to the number of computers we have in this house? [Hint: you'd need more than one hand to count them all and there are only 3 people in this house, one of which is only TWO!] We are quite media-driven, and media-focused on an ongoing basis.

While our media focus for work and pleasure is unlikely to change anytime soon, we definitely see that we need to take the time to focus on each other more, rather than always on our computer screens. We've tried scheduling some chunks of media-free time, and when we both focus on that, it works well, even though it's not a full day. However, I really want to make efforts to focus on other things at least one day a week rather than spending the day in front of the computer - it might not always be the same day, but we as a family agree that we need to get out and experience life and events around us. Once we move, this will be even more important, as we really want to live life as part of a community, and not just an online one!

Why am I saying all this, you ask? Well, while I want to make sure to post on this blog regularly, I also realize that I need to make sure that our family time doesn't suffer, and that our excitement over planning for a move in the future doesn't take our focus off of enjoying where we are and what we are doing now. So there may be days (probably once a week, and likely on the weekend), when I simply remind myself that media fasting helps provide me with a measure of enjoyment that even blogging can't come close to reaching!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Saving as Earning

I've slowly been making my way through a seemingly endless list of travel and expat blogs, just to see what is out there. Some I know I'm not likely to ever visit again, others I find interesting and could spend hours just reading through the posts, and others inspire me in a variety of ways. Friday evening, P-daddy and Pooh went to bed early and I had the living area all to myself (with the exception of our sweet puppy Elvis, who was curled up next to me), and I decided to check out some blogs. In the midst of it, I came upon a blog that I'm sure to refer to numerous times: Down to Earth appears to be a wealth of posts on simple homemade goods written by a woman in Australia. While the wealth of topics she covers is enough to make the blog great, this line caught my eye and completely convinced me that her blog *must* go on my forever list:

A saved dollar is 100 cents; an earned dollar will have about 30% tax removed, so it really is only 70 cents. I prefer now to spend time doing things that will save us money instead of working to earn it. Cooking from scratch, shopping wisely for groceries, growing food, making our soap and laundry liquid, using green cleaners - all these take more time to do but they save so much money and give much better quality, it's worth the effort.

This attitude is one that we are fully in support of. Learning to make the most of what we have, and do better with what we have, and produce simple alternatives to many consumer goods is part of our goal as we prepare to move away from the US. While yes, part of our reasoning is the lack of availability and expense of imported items in El Salvador, the pure pleasure we get from doing it ourselves is enough to make us want to continue!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Pets and Preparation

P-daddy and I are animal lovers. While I've always been more of a cat person, he is a true dog lover. And they love him too. We've talked about getting a dog, but we have concerns about shedding, about how the dog and Pooh will get along, and about the possible size of a pet in our fairly small house. As we consider moving internationally, pets raise other issues - if we don't take them, will we be able to find a good home for them here? If we do take them, how will they adjust to the move, not just the travel and possible time in quarantine, but also just to the difference in life in general? Despite having traveled extensively, neither of us has dealt with carrying animals across country, and certainly not across international borders. We'd love to hear about this from anyone with experience!

But, we want Pooh to grow up loving dogs and being comfortable with them, so we want to start getting him used to them now while he's still young. His daycare provider has a large older dog, who is very calm, lovingly referred to by Pooh as "Casey Dog". They get along great, with no problems. We'd love big dogs around, but Pooh is currently only about 30 pounds, and while he's pretty sturdy for a little guy, he's no match for a 70-pound furball! We are not convinced that all dogs will be as calm as Pooh's beloved Casey Dog.

Our current solution: fostering puppies for a local animal rescue group. Our city animal shelter euthanizes dogs and cats when they've been there over 30 days, or whenever the shelter is full. So they have EU lists going several times a week. We figure that by fostering puppies, Pooh will learn how to handle dogs and be comfortable with them, especially if they grow with him. This is Midnight, the first dog we fostered:


He's a mix of Lab and German Shepherd, and is super-smart with a great personality. We hoped to keep him for a while, but he was snatched up at the very first adoption event we took him to, about 10 days after we got him. P-daddy was quite sad and upset, since he'd been hinting (without my realizing it) that we should just adopt him ourselves. But too late, he's moved on (to a great home with a big yard and 2 boys ages 4 and 6 to play with).

This week we got our second pup, christened Elvis by a shelter volunteer. Can you tell why:


He's a Lab mix too (are you sensing the beginning of a pattern?) and is pretty sweet as well! He'll be even better once he's potty-trained...

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Homemade Yogurt, anyone?

One thing I noticed last time I traveled in Central America was the lack of availability of some things that I eat regularly. One general category of lacking items was fat-free dairy. Especially fat-free yogurt, which I eat regularly. It might be available, but in the huge Paiz/Walmart I was in, I was pretty shocked that there was none. Nothing. Nada. I opted for some low-fat variety, but it was disappointing.

Hmmm...I don't really want to switch to eating full-fat or even low-fat yogurt, so lucky for my fat-free dairy habit, yogurt is super-easy to make! I've done it already on a couple of occasions, and our entire household is convinced that the homemade stuff is better than the store-bought. Look at this yumminess:


Here's what you need:
1/2 gallon of milk (I'm using fat-free, but use whatever you want)
1/2 cup yogurt w/ active cultures (this is your starter, can be homemade or store-bought)
cooking thermometer (might be optional)

Here's the super-easy (but not quick) process:
Heat the milk to 180 degrees (almost boiling), then let it cool to 115. Add in the starter, wrap in a towel, and set in a warm spot (in the oven with the light on, or on the counter if it's a pleasantly warm day and you don't have AC) for about 8 hours. Unwrap, and YUM! Serve alone, with fruit, or in anything you choose. We like to make a fruit/yogurt/granola parfait, kind of like this.


Some additional notes: For me, the thermometer is the easiest way to go. I want the milk to get hot enough to kill anything I don't want living in there (that's the 180 part), but I don't want it to be too hot to kill my starter (that's the cooling to 115 part). Some people can do this without the thermometer, but every time I've tried I haven't made any yogurt. But if you have a crockpot, and a house that's not too cold, I understand that you can heat the milk in the crockpot on low for about 2.5 hours, turn the crock off, and let it sit for about 3 hours. Then you can just wrap the crock and you are ready for incubation. If you try it without a thermometer and it works, lemme know! We used the crockpot, but also the thermometer.


A final note that a dear friend of mine in Guatemala used to just make hers by testing the temp on her arm like you do a baby bottle. I'm just not that confident. But perhaps the lesson to be learned from that is that yogurt-making is *not* an exact science! If the milk reaches close to boiling, it's probably good, and the range at which the culture will grow is not tiny (I've read 105-120, but have not experimented with that).