Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A must-read

Not too long ago, I posted about making the most of my mornings by joining a challenge over at Money Saving Mom. And now, she's about to release a new ebook, entitled 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life.

I'll note that I've been a follower of Money Saving Mom for a long time. And one thing that is for sure, this is a woman who knows about discipline! This book is sure to be a winner! I haven't even read it yet and I am already recommending it - I'm that sure that it's going to be great! I just bought it, and my 21 days will start this week - look for an update on how it's going in about 3 weeks!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Calgon, take me away!

After a really tough week, it was nice this morning to get an email from the current renter in the Treehouse asking about the possibility of staying longer. It provided me with a needed reminder that this life as we know it will not always be our life. And after this week, boy did I need that reminder!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A friend of mine recently posted on an online forum:
Much as the ethic of more, bigger, faster dominates the workplace, so it has come to define the way we eat – with similar costs to our productivity and sustainability
This really made me stop and realize that this is so much a part of why I love living internationally. The excess here in the US in almost all things, when so many people can barely feed themselves and their family. The never-ending selection of useless items in the stores. The need to not just keep up with the Jones, but to be more successful than they are. It's just not who I want to be, and more importantly, it's not who I want Pooh to be either.

We have so many details to work out regarding moving, and I know it's not an immediate plan (well, unless we suddenly got handed the perfect opportunity), but such a large part of me knows that this is going to be a great move for us, even if we only go for short stints at a time. And, I have to be honest, I'm so looking forward to ordering meals with reasonable portion sizes and shopping from locals in places like this:

Monday, October 1, 2012

Have we done it?

Have we? Have we actually purchased a treehouse in Guatemala? Nope, not yet, but negotiations are underway, and a verbal agreement has been reached! It's not quite ours yet, but we are in the process of becoming the owners of this great little home in Panahachel, Guatemala:

And when we eventually get there, we can wake up every morning to this:

That might just make the next few years worth all the hard work...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Happy Independence Day, Guatemala!

After a tough week, Guatemala deserves a wonderful weekend to celebrate independence!

Fuego, a volcano about 50 kilometers outside of Guatemala City, has erupted this week more strongly than any other time in the past 30 years. According to the Prensa Libre, over 5000 people were evacuated (though Fox News says 10,000+). Most have already been able to return home.

Nevertheless, the Prensa notes that independence celebrations continue.

Happy Independence Day, mi querida Guatemala!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Still Making the Most of my Mornings

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was trying to make my mornings work better by joining a challenge at Money Saving Mom. This challenge was just what I needed to start the school year off right!

I'll admit that I did not follow all the suggestions of the challenge. I did not commit to working out each morning, and my typical breakfast is still a large cup of coffee. But through this challenge, I developed a night-time routine that prepares me better for the next day and getting out of the house, and I set a specific get-out-of-bed time at 6am, which allows me to have at least a few minutes to myself before everyone else is out of bed. These two things alone have made a world of difference, for a few specific reasons.

First, as I've mentioned multiple times (here and here and here and here and here), Pooh started Pre-K this year, beginning a whole new era in our family life. This meant that we now had a specific time we needed to get out of the house, since he has to be at school at 8:05. Plus, he then goes until 11:05, with no snack most days, so his getting a good breakfast in his tummy was also crucial. That sort of makes it sound like we didn't feed him breakfast before, doesn't it? But that's not the case. It's just that before, once he got to daycare, he generally got second breakfast, so if he didn't eat much at home we were not too worried. Now, if he doesn't eat his breakfast at home, he's gonna be pretty cranky by the time 11:05 rolls around! By prepping the night before, I'm ready to focus on him in the morning, rather than running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to throw things together for the day.

Second, because Pooh has to be at school at 8:05 and his school is right around the corner from where I work, I head directly to work from dropping him off. This puts me at work no later than 8:30 each morning, allowing me to be more productive in my own job. Hopefully, this will mean more positive results at work and a stronger feeling of well-being all around.

Third, because I head directly to work, getting up at a particular time in the morning allows me to check my personal email, read the blogs I follow, and comment on message boards where I am active, without it affecting my work time. In addition, my favorite part of the morning has become my snuggle time with Pooh. He generally wanders out of his bedroom, all sleepy-eyed and barely awake, comes and crawls into my lap, and snuggles up for a few minutes with me. Because I'm up and have had a few minutes to myself, and I'm ready for the day and getting out of the door, we can enjoy a few minutes of mommy~kiddo time without feeling stressed about how the day will go. And that, my friends, that is what's important!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Pooh is FOUR!

Today Pooh turned 4 years old. He insists that he is a big boy, who will grow big and strong. This weekend we had a birthday party with the family, with a basic Angry Birds theme. We made some masks:

We had a cake, Angry Birds style:

And since we had lots of people, we added some cupcakes:

To continue along with the Angry Birds theme, we added some slingshots to the kiddie pool fun:

And I must say, fun was had by all, especially one particular then-3-but-now-4 little boy!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Pre-K happiness

Two days in, and Pooh is loving Pre-K. Here he is leaving the house the first day.

And here he is at the school, as we are walking him to his room.

Afterward, we had a celebratory lunch, at the place of his choice. His choice? not unexpectedly, "Happy Meal".

Monday, August 27, 2012

The big day is here!

No, not moving day! It's the first day of pre-school for Pooh! He's so excited and ready to go, though currently, he and his trains are enjoying a nice big breakfast in hopes that he'll make it until 11am without a snack. Last week we got to go meet his teacher and see his classroom - he was enthralled, and did not want to leave. But that just means he'll be happy to see the place again this morning. Hopefully, he'll stay without problem and help other kids have a great morning too!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Today I go to school, Mom?

The Kiddo is so excited about going to school! Yesterday, he sang me a new lullaby, and when asked where he learned it, he responded, "At school." No matter how many different ways and times I asked, he was insistent that he learned it at school. Since we have yet to set foot into his classroom, I know this is not the case (great deductive reasoning on my part, right?!).

I love the fact that he's excited about school, but I admit to being nervous about how he'll feel about school once he is there. I just hope and pray that he loves his teacher...and his classmates...and that they love him too! Cause he's a pretty special kid with lots to offer! Here's a little reminder for me (and for him) of some summer fun.

Monday, August 20, 2012


One week from today, Pooh begins pre-school. That afternoon, my first phd student defends her dissertation. I'm feeling like the juxtaposition of work and motherhood is somehow converging this week. In the midst of it all, we will hopefully get a response to our offer. It may be the beginning of a new phase. Or, possibly, it could mean the adjustment of a dream to a different locale.

Whatever happens, we'll make it all for the better!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

International Education

I've been thinking a lot about education this week. Pooh starts PreK this coming week, and my own classes start on Thursday. As we think about making a run for the border one day, what we'll do about school is an important factor.

In Pana, there are, from what I can tell, two international schools, the Life School, which is Pre-K to 9, and PCI (Panajachel Colegio Internacional), for grades 7-12.

There are also a ton of "private" local schools, but we want to make sure that Pooh is able to return to the US for college, or in case we were to return for unforeseen reasons before then. So education in English is going to be important. If he goes to a local school, we'll probably also need to homeschool him at night to keep up with what would be expected in US curriculum. While that would be possible (actually homeschool overall would be a decent option), Pooh is a very social being and really needs regular interaction with other kids his age. So we've been looking at the two international schools.

Besides, with my experience and education, either one of these *might* be a good choice for me to work, so I'm keeping my eye on my own options as well!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Sunset at The Sunset

I'm participating in Spanish Friday today, so this post is in Spanish, with English translation following. For more Spanish, head on over to over at Latinaish and join in the fun!

Alla en Panajachel, al final de la calle Santander, es un cafe bien popular con los gringos. Por el dia, no es muy obvio por que es tan popular. La comida no es muy buena. Los meseros no son muy atentos. A veces la cerveza no esta bien fria. Pero pocos minutos antes del atardecer, ese lugar se llena rapidamente, y los que lleguen tarde no encuentren ni un lugar para sentarse. Por que? Por eso:

Este cafe se queda en un lugar enfrente de la playa, sin otros edificios que bloquean la vista. Y la vista del atardecer por el lago es increible. Por eso tiene el nombre "Sunset Cafe". Es hermoso, es vivo, y es el lugar perfecto para conocer 'expats' y turistas si quieren. Espero verles alla un dia cuando visiten a Pana!

Down at the end of Santander in Pana is one of the most popular gringo bars in town. At first glance, it might not be obvious why. The food's not great. The wait staff is not attentive. Sometimes the beer is not even cold. But as afternoon moves into evening, the place fills up rapidly, and late arrivals may find that it's standing room only. What's the attraction, you say? It's this:

See, the Sunset Cafe sits right on the beach, and has a great view of sunset (hence the name Sunset Cafe) on the lake. It's gorgeous, it's happening, and (if that's what you are looking for) it's a great place to meet tourists and expats. I hope to see you there one day when you make it to Pana!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

An Offer...

Yesterday, after much thought and wiggling of numbers, P-Daddy and I sent off an offer on The Property! We idealized it, based on what would work best for us, and we realize we'll have to do some negotiating, but the offer is in. To celebrate, here's a picture of the main house (the property itself extends quite a bit behind and to the side):

The current renters of the house call it The Treehouse - a name that you can see is quite fitting and which I'll likely be adopting!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Making my mornings work better

On our vacation in Guatemala, it was easy to get up early, especially at our lovely hotel in Panajachel.

Awakening to the sound of birds chirping and a view like that, what's not to love about mornings. Of course, it didn't hurt that we were an hour earlier than our home time zone either. Still, we were regularly waking up before 6am, feeling rested and relaxed and ready to start the day.

Now that we are home, mornings are much much harder! I'm not ready for the school year to begin, and I really just want to burrow down into my blankets and sleep a few more hours. Lucky for me, Crystal over at Money Saving Mom is starting a new challenge this week that fits my current situation to a T. It's called Make the Most of your Mornings: a 3-Week Challenge from MoneySavingMom.com.

It promises to be a great challenge, and I'm determined to successfully complete it and end up with a more effective morning routine. Today's challenge is to determine a realistic bedtime, which then allows for a non-exhausted morning. I've decided that mine will be 10pm. This realistically allows me to get up between 5 and 6 am, and still get 7-8 hours of sleep a night.

Our second task for the day is to determine 5 tasks that we need to complete the night before in order to relieve some of the morning stress. Here are mine:
1) Prepare clothes for the next day
2) Make the next day’s to-do list
3) Prep the next day’s lunch
4) Ready my school bag
5) Leave my computer and phone charging
We'll see how it goes, but for now, I've at least got a good start on this first real day of the challenge!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Reducing our waste

Last Saturday P-Daddy got up early to take out the trash and made the comment that we've only been sending out trash once a week lately. The trash runs twice, but for the last couple months, we rarely have a full bag by the second pick-up. Being the skeptic that I am, I wondered if it was just that he was not emptying all the trash cans. But no, all are in good shape. Huh. We have apparently been slowly working our way further into a lifestyle of reduce~reuse~recycle, and we finally have some evidence of it!

Since I view such a step as crucial to making an international move, especially to a developing country, I've been thinking about this a lot. While I may amend my reasoning in the future, I currently think there are 5 things we are doing that are helping us along this path.
1) First, we try not to waste food. P-Daddy is especially diligent in this area, much more so than I am. He is adamant about ensuring that leftovers get eaten rather than getting tossed. No worries, this doesn't mean that we are eating things slightly on the edge of questionability - we just are making great efforts to consume what we have before we buy or prepare more. Eating down the pantry in July really helped with this.

2) We compost when we can. I keep a bag in the freezer for vegetables pieces that can be used for veggie stock, but the rest goes into our compost bin rather than into our trash can. At some point in the future I will make my own composter, but for now, we have one that we bought from Woot, and we really like it. See that mutant spider-looking thing behind the incredibly cute kid? That's our composter (and our kiddo). I love that it's round and we can easily mix up the contents when we need to.

3) We strive for natural foods over processed ones. Not only does this reduce waste, it also reduces cost. We can buy many of our staples from the bulk bins, and fruits and veggies, especially the ones we get in our veggie co-op, have very little packaging. Because we seldom buy individually packaged processed treats, that type of waste is not a big contributor to our waste bin.

4) We rarely use disposables like foil and sandwich bags. Instead, we tend to pack into reusable plastic containers that we can bring home and wash. This does mean that we do more dishes - any suggestions on reducing waste while also reducing water usage would be greatly appreciated ;-)

5) We reuse and recycle whenever we can. Our trash can rarely has anything plastic, cardboard, or glass in it. When we get rid of those things, they go directly into our recycling bin. However, we are trying more and more to reuse those items when possible. Lately, I've been on a hunt for craft projects for Pooh or the house that reuse common household items. Hopefully I'll have some later posts about some of those, but for now, I'm collecting ideas on pinterest.

As we plan more and more for our move, not only do we want to be good stewards of the earth, but we want to reduce our costs, and we want to have a sustainable lifestyle. By learning now to reduce~reuse~recycle, we are well on our way to all of those things!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Organization Shmorganization

I admit it, I'm an organization junkie. I love baskets and bins and shelves and all kinds of things that provide a specific place to put certain things. The problem is that I don't always have time to get to the original organization, so things pile up and pile up and the bins, baskets, and shelves are more of a problem than a help. That's what has been happening with my linen closet.

Before I go further, I'll note that we have linens in many places around the house, but mostly that's because I couldn't find room in the already overflowing - and pretty small - linen closet. Recently, I found a great deal on a bathroom shelf, and that allowed me to move many of our towels out of the hall linen closet and into the bathroom itself.

Notice that that shelf goes over the toilet tank, and uses virtually no floor space. P-Daddy and I both love building UP and filling wall space rather than trying to find available floor space when there's really none to be found. So this shelf was a great find, an excellent price (Ross, $15), and was super easy to assemble. It's not hugely sturdy, but unless our three-year-old decides to try out his monkey climbing skills, I think it will hold up just fine. It's really only there to hold towels and washcloths, clearing out a good part of my overflowing linen closet.

Having moved the towels, I had a big empty shelf in the linen closet and several totally crowded and disorganized shelves. I emptied everything out and refilled the cabinet methodically. It feels so good to know what's actually in there! Cleaning rags, curtains, and wipes are all on the top shelf, with tablecloths just below them.

When I got to the sheets, I made some tough decisions. First, I decided that only one extra set of sheets per bed was going back in the cabinet. One set for our bed, one for the twin bed, and one for the toddler bed (Pooh alternates between the last 2). Second, I decided to try the pillowcase method. Typically when I change the sheets, I waste a lot of time sorting through and finding matching pieces. In order to make that easier, I folded each set, and then put the set into one of the matching pillowcases. Beautiful! And no more digging through the whole pile for matching pieces. We still have a few extra pillowcases that have no sheets, but all of us love extra pillows, so we need those anyway. They fit nicely, along with an extra mattress pad, right alongside the sheets.

After doing all that, I was feeling like Super Organized Mom, so I continued on to the kitchen and another set of shelves that were getting out of hand. After removal, cleaning, and re-organization, we are left with this:

Both of the bottom two shelves have been conveniently divided into two separate shelves through the use of breakfast trays. The bottom one holds a smorgasbord of teas, with a variety of tea and coffee cups underneath. You may have noticed the fire extinguisher and first aid kit as well - helpful in every kitchen, but an absolute requirement for foster parents, so there they stay. The tray on the second shelf up holds baking supplies, with water bottles to the side and plastic and glass containers underneath. It's not perfect, but it's so much better than what it looked like before!

Friday, August 10, 2012

How we saved money in Guatemala

Going on vacation is typically a pricy endeavor! Our recent trip to Guatemala was no exception, but we worked hard to keep our expenses down. Here are five ways that we saved money without compromising the quality of our vacation.
1) We combined business and pleasure. While we really needed a vacation and wanted to go to Guatemala to check out The Property, we specifically scheduled our trip at a time when a conference was happening that I wanted to attend anyway. By doing that, part of our expenses, including my plane ticket and part of my transportation expenses within the country, were covered by my research funds at work. Clearly, nothing was covered for P-Daddy or for the days that were vacation days before the conference began, but during the conference, all my expenses were covered, including my shuttles and airfare. I could have opted to make two separate trips, but that would have meant a lot more time and money. By combining business and pleasure, I saved a little of both.

2) We stayed in mid-range hotels. Guatemala has lots of cheap hotels, including many for as little as $10 a night. We could have stayed in those places and saved even more, but that would have somewhat compromised quality, since we would have been worried about comfort, cleanliness, and security. Not to mention bedbugs. So instead of going backpacker cheap, we stayed in nice mid-range hotels that were about $40 a night. And for that, we got a view like this, with a quiet garden and a lovely room.

3) We ate local. Especially in Pana, where we spent most of our vacation days, there are a ton of restaurants that cater to tourists, at tourist prices. These include Italian restaurants, fondue restaurants, steak restaurants, and even a Mayan~Vietnamese fusion place. But we can get most of that food anywhere, so we instead spent much of our time at local comedores (okay, we did make sure we tried the fusion place!). One day, we had this fantastic local dish known as chicken pepian. With rice, tortillas, and a wonderful strawberry banana refresco, it was an excellent meal at a price that even a cheapskate like me can love!

4) We walked instead of rode. The easiest way to get around Pana is in a tuk-tuk. For Q5 (about 80 cents US), you can go pretty much anywhere in town that you might want to go. But walking from one end of town to the other only takes about 15-20 minutes, so we avoided the tuk-tuks and instead got a little exercise. That was better for our health as well as our wallets.

5) We used a Schwab debit card. Guatemala is not a good place to travel with travelers checks. In order to cash them, one must go to the bank, wait in numerous lines, and waste several hours of time just to get a little cash. But it's also not a good place to carry a lot of cash, so this process has to be done multiple times. Wasting that much time is just not for me - using an ATM machine is much quicker and easier. In the past, I've just used my Wells Fargo bank ATM card, but they don't refund the fees that the local bank charges, plus they charge me $5 every time I use a non-Wells Fargo ATM machine (and there are none in Guatemala, so I get charged for every withdrawal. But earlier this summer, I read this awesome post about the best travel checkcard ever. P-Daddy used to work for Schwab, so he already had an account, and I insisted suggested that getting an ATM card would be a great idea for this trip. We used it for all our withdrawals, with no trouble at all, no extra fees charged, and all our ATM fees reimbursed. Thanks Rich at UnwireMe.com for a great travel tip!
I'm linking up to Frugal Friday at Life as Mom for this post - head on over there to see even more ways to save money, whether you are headed for an expat life or not!

Thursday, August 9, 2012


Well, we are home, and with mixed feelings about that. P-Daddy and I both had a great time in Guatemala! We had a couple days of hanging out with old friends.

And then a few days of just relaxing on our own. Our hotel had great gardens and waking up to birds chirping and a gorgeous view made this part of our trip really great!

We also got to check out The Property. You'll hear lots more on that later!

All that was followed by several days at a Mayan language conference, which was both informative and interesting. This took place in Patzun, which is a small Mayan town totally off the beaten path. Market day was very cool there!

We ended the trip with a few hours wandering around Antigua, enjoying some good food and excellent company.

Despite a great trip, the reunion between Pooh and P-Daddy was a sight to behold. It was so great to see our little Sweet-Pea again - we both really missed him!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

24 hours!

That's right - in 24 hours we'll be landing in Guatemala City!

Free Stock Images - Flght 5
© Photographer Antonio Harrison | Agency: Dreamstime.com

I have no idea what our internet situation will be like, so posting may be sporadic or even non-existent. But I'll take lots of pics and share it all once we are home :-)

Meanwhile, I've got a ton to do, so I'm off to...
- spend time with Pooh
- get cash for the trip
- try out the new ATM card
- mail some letters
- mail a few other things
- buy a few travel snacks
- find a few other items we need
- relax!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Necessities for travel

P-Daddy and I have been packing and planning all week - just 2 more days til we leave!! My process is generally to open my suitcase in a corner and toss stuff in it that should go. Then I sit down and actually pack (and sometimes re-pack) once I have a good collection going. I did the original packing this past weekend. Now the rest of the gifts have arrived, plus I've got a new collection of things to go sitting on top of my suitcase, so it's about time for a re-pack.

I've got the clothing, toiletries, and things we all think about and that I've always taken on trips. But there's one major difference in my packing list from what it was 10 years ago. Back then, for a 10-day trip, I took 4-5 books with me, discarding them along the way (and sometimes picking up more). I'd also take a puzzle book or two, a cd player, cd's, and a camera. Nowadays, all those things are compiled into a single tiny device.

Yep, even though I don't plan to use my iPhone as a phone (I don't use it as a phone in the US either), it's at the top of my necessities list for a variety of reasons. First, it has tons of books of all kinds on it, from cheesy romance to self-help, and from bestsellers to classics. I could read for months and still not go through all the books on there.

Second, it's got my music. We'll be on a plane or bus, or in an airport or bus terminal, for well over 12 hours on Friday. Sometimes, I need to just block out all the noise and relax with some comforting strains. Or, I might want to get up and dance. Whichever it is, my iPhone makes that possible.

Third, it's got other entertainment. I've got lots of apps to play if I'm sitting around with nothing else to do. Some are even games P-Daddy and I can play together. Plus it's got pictures of my kiddo for me to look at :-)

Fourth, speaking of Pooh, my iPhone also keeps me in touch with him. I can connect anywhere there's a wifi signal, text his caregivers to see how he's doing, and even call him on google or skype. We'll use my laptop for video chatting, but for a quick check-in while we stroll down the streets of Pana, the iPhone is perfect!

I don't consider myself to be very tech-y, but for me, my iPhone is my greatest travel necessity.

Note: Apple didn't ask me to write this, I just love my iPhone. But that's my Amazon Associate link up there, and I might get a kick-back if you were to click through and purchase.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

I'm (almost) packed!

I know, I know, it's a whole week before we hop on a plane and head to Guatemala but I know this next week is going to be crazy, so I wanted to get a head start on it. So far, I've packed most of my bag (minus the last few gifts that have not arrived in the mail yet, plus my last couple clothing items that are currently in the washing machine), and I've packed Pooh's bags for daycare and for my sister. And I made daily love you's for Pooh.

The love you's are just envelopes with notes on the front, and little treats inside. The treats include a family picture, a new hot wheels car, a new card game, fruit snacks, cheese crackers, and a few other small things. Each morning Pooh gets to have someone read him the note and then open the envelope. It's just a little way for us to say "I love you" even though we are not right by his side. We'll be talking by Skype or Google chat while we are gone too, but there's not a limit to how often we tell him we love him, is there?!

Friday, July 20, 2012

En una semana...

I'm participating in Spanish Friday over at Latinaish today. English translation is at the bottom.

Ya voy en avion! En solo una semana, el P-Daddy y yo llegaremos en la Ciudad de Guatemala! En la ciudad, encontramos us bus de primera clase (no voy a poner el P-Daddy en un chicken bus el primer dia!) o un shuttle para llegar a Xela. Nos quedamos con amigos en Xela el viernes y sabado, y el domingo agarremos otro shuttle para Panajachel. En Pana, relajamos, exploramos, y vemos el terreno. Guau! Queremos ir ya!!

I'm leavin' on a jet plane! In just a week, P-Daddy and I will arrive in Guatemala City. From there, we'll grab a first-class bus or a shuttle to Xela (no chicken buses for P-Daddy on his first day in the country!). We'll stay with friends in Xela for a couple days, and then head to Pana, where we'll relax, explore, and see The Property. Wow. Let's go already!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Veggie co-op cost analysis

I've been a member of a local veggie co-op for several years now. This week, here's what I got in my 1/2 share:

The veggies heavily outweighed the fruit this week. Here's just the fruit.

And here's the overall list:
1 bag of loose spinach
1 head of green leaf lettuce
2 red bell peppers
2 green bell peppers
6 roma tomatoes
1 broccoli crown
2 jalapeños
3 small sweet potatoes (a little over a pound)
3 yellow onions (almost 2 pounds)
3 white onions (a little over 2 pounds)
14 red potatoes (about 3 pounds)
1 red cabbage
1 head of cauliflower
1 zucchini
3 carrots (about a pound)
2 cucumbers
a small bunch of grapes (about 3/4 of a pound)
4 peaches
2 nectarines
2 oranges
1 lb of blueberries
1 quart of strawberries

I've been assuming that we are saving money by participating, but I've never actually sat down and taken a good look at the difference in cost. This week, I decided to analyze the difference in cost between what I get from the co-op and what I'd pay at Aldi, the most economical place around here to get fresh produce. So Sunday morning when I stopped to pick up milk and watermelon, I took the time to write down all the prices for comparable items.

I'll note that Aldi did not have either green leaf lettuce or fresh spinach. I estimated .99 for each of those if I could have gotten it there (both would be more than that elsewhere, but I'm estimating low). And there was no red cabbage, so I just used the price of green instead. Here's what I found:

My co-op share is $15, and a comparable shop at Aldi would cost around $26. If I were to buy the same at Kroger or Tom Thumb, it would be even more of a difference, since Aldi's prices tend to be much lower than theirs (I'm so glad that an Aldi opened less than a mile from my house!).

Just in terms of the price difference, this looks like a pretty good deal - I'm glad I figured it out, because it convinces me that participating in this co-op really is a good deal. Plus, participating in the co-op means that we always have a variety of fresh fruit and veggies in the house, so I have confidence that I'm feeding my family well.

That doesn't mean that there aren't negatives. For me, that includes a long drive across town for pick-up, but I get to see my sister(s) at the same time, so I consider it a trip I'd make anyway. And you don't get to pick and choose your items, so sometimes you get stuff that's a little past its prime, like this nectarine and cucumber from yesterday's share:

But even if I were to remove the price of those 2 items from my Aldi list, I'm still saving over $10 on fresh produce. For me, that's worth it. Plus, I still use those items! I cut the mushy end off the cucumber, peeled and sliced it, and sprinkled it with salt and freshly ground pepper.

It was a wonderfully refreshing snack in the midst of prepping the produce for the rest of the week!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

P-Daddy's Potato Pie

I mentioned in my pantry update that P-Daddy made a wonderful frittata this weekend for us to have for easy lunches this week. We make a lot of these egg based casserole dishes. They are a great way to use up almost any kind of veggie that's sitting around and needs a dish to go into, plus, they re-heat easily, but are delicious cold, so they are a great choice for quick and easy lunches on the go.

The thing I love the most about making frittata is how easy and forgiving the dish is. Generally, I use chopped up veggies, eggs, and maybe (if I remember) a little milk. No crust to worry about, and ratios can be adjusted to your own taste. Here's the one that P-Daddy made this weekend.

And here's how he did it. Note that I'm estimating ingredients, since no measurements of anything were actually taken. And we'd usually start on the stovetop in an oven-safe skillet and then slide it into the oven, but we had too much this time to fit in the cast iron skillet, so we just used a casserole dish.

5 large potatoes, boiled (we used a mix of red and baker)
1 dozen eggs
1-2 bunches fresh spinach, roughly chopped
salt, pepper, and garlic powder

First, lightly grease a large casserole dish. Beat 2 of the eggs together, season with salt and pepper, and pour into the bottom of the dish. Spread the spinach on top of the eggs. Slice the potatoes into chunks, and spread them on top of the spinach. Beat the rest of the eggs together, season with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and pour over everything. Don't worry that the potatoes are not completely covered. Bake 35-40 minutes at 350. Consider broiling for the last couple minutes to brown the potatoes. Serve hot or cold.

If you wanted to, you could add milk and/or cheese to the egg mixture before you pour it over. Sometime we add these, sometimes we don't, and it turns out great both ways.

I was especially impressed with this dish because I love tortilla española and this dish reminded me of it. For tortilla española the potatoes are typically fried in olive oil, but boiling them worked well, and I bet roasting them would as well. Since we always have an abundance of potatoes from our produce co-op, we'll probably be making this dish more, since it's a delicious and easy way to use up potatoes.

Monday, July 16, 2012

My addiction

I love finding a good deal. I freely admit that I'm addicted to these orange stickers at Kroger (people who know me will tell you that I'm addicted to anything orange in general):

I'm especially addicted to them when they are attached to really good 88% cacao dark chocolate like this:

P-Daddy went to the store for bleach and came home with that stack of chocolate bars in the midst of our pantry challenge. But not a word of complaint from me on this! I can see that he's learning to check the special wall at our local Kroger, and that he knows to stock up on a deal when the price is right. Plus, he was clearly thinking of me when he bought these ;-)

I have to admit that I'm a little worried about getting a good chocolate fix while I'm in Guatemala! For this trip, I'll be dropping a couple of these into my bag, and taking a look around to see where I can find the good stuff.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

An update on eating down the pantry

I've already mentioned that one of my goals for the month of July is to eat from the pantry. This will help us save money, rotate the contents of our stockpile, and not have food sitting around going bad while we take a quick trip to Guatemala.

So far, this is going pretty well! We stopped at the store for essentials like milk, picked up a couple watermelons because the whole family loves them, and I grabbed a few packs of jalapeño cheese wedges - normally I wouldn't stock up on these in the middle of a pantry challenge, but they are on a special buy at Aldi right now, and they may be gone by the end of July. And P-Daddy stocked up when he saw good chocolate on sale. But overall, our purchases have been minimal, and we've been making progress on eating from the pantry.

One thing we have to make sure we keep on top of is eating fruit and veggies in a timely manner. With a new co-op delivery every two weeks, we have plenty on hand, and we have to consciously plan how to use them. What has really been helping me with is that I try to spend time on the weekend prepping for the week. This helps me use up things I have on hand, and it keeps me sane - and healthy - even when things get crazy around here.

When the fruit and veggies are just hanging out in the crisper drawers and I have to peel, chop, cook, etc. right when I need them, I'm unlikely to want to go through all of that for a snack or for a quick dinner after a long day at work. So I've been doing as much of the prep work as possible on the weekend to make my life easier - and my meals healthier - during the week. This has been especially helpful for my lunches. Because I portioned different things into individual serving size containers that can be grabbed and tossed into a lunch bag easily, getting my lunch together for work was a breeze. I had pork roast for a couple of entrees, and ate them with carrot sticks, pepper strips, watermelon chunks, and strawberries.

I also had more of all of those things, plus cucumber sticks, that I put into larger containers to keep in the fridge for quick grab snacks or to add to evening meals as needed. We've been really working on Pooh's swimming the last couple of weeks, so we've gone to the pool every night. We don't want a heavy dinner before we go, so we've been putting together simple meals with some kind of protein, plus fruit and veggies. We've really enjoyed having these ready to go, and it's made life a lot easier this week!

This coming week will look much the same. I've got broccoli, carrots, peppers, cucumbers, blueberries, and watermelon ready to go, and I've got bananas, kiwis, oranges, and apples yet to prep. For entrees, P-Daddy made this gorgeous frittata that we'll be working on.

Yum! I'm ready for another good week! And yay, we used up some potatoes! Still have more to go, but it's a start!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

First Spanish Meet-Up Today!

I'm so excited about the plans I have for Pooh and I this afternoon! There's a Spanish language MeetUp group that I've been a member of for a while but have never been able to join for their events. When I first joined, they met on the might that I teach, and then with everything going on with my dad, things were too crazy this past semester to even consider it. But tomorrow, I'm finally going to go! I've already emailed the organizer, who said it's kid-friendly, so Pooh and I will make the trek over there tomorrow afternoon to join them for an afternoon of fun in Spanish.

Unfortunately, P-Daddy already committed to helping my sister and her husband with their house remodeling this weekend, but I guess this way I can see what the group is like and whether it's a good choice for beginners. P-Daddy's not sure he's ready for Spanish conversation, but if there are a few other beginners, I think he'd be fine with going.

Just in case you have no idea what I mean when I say MeetUp, I strongly encourage you to check it out! It's a great place to find events and people in your local community that fit your interests. (No, they didn't ask me to advertise, I just love the concept!)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Haciendo Tortillas

I'm participating in Spanish Friday over at Latinaish today. English translation is at the bottom.

El sabado pasado hice tortillas por primera vez en años. Aprendí cuando vivía en Guatemala con una familia indigena. Fuimos al molino para traer la masa, y de una vez en casa, comenzamos. En Guatemala las tortillas son pequenos y gruesos, y normalmente no lo hacen con un tortilla press. Aprendi, pero no era difícil ver cuales hice yo y cuales hizo mi mamá. Nunca pude hacerlas redondas y perfectas como las de ella (todavía no lo puedo!).

Aquí comemos muchas tortillas, pero normalmente las compramos. Mis favoritas son las de maíz hecho en el supermercado Fiesta. Es un supermercado donde venden todo tipo de productos Mexicanos, y también tienen productos centroamericanos. Las tortillas son baratas y deliciosas, y hechas en casa. pues, en mercado. Pero no tan baratas ni divertidas como hacerlas en casa. Por eso decidí comprar masa harina y hacerlas por mi misma.

Preparé la masa, hice las tortillas, las puse en el comál (bueno, el griddle, pero no recuerdo la palabra en espańol), y envolvía en una toalla después. Salieron deliciosas! Pero más tarde, no eran tan deliciosas. No eran suaves. Una amiga me dijo que hay que envolverlas en toalla húmeda y calentarlas en la micro. Las hice así, pero todavia salieron duras.

El problema es, no tengo la energía ni el tiempo para hacer tortillas frescas cada día. Prefiero hacerlas cada 3 o 4 días, y calentarlas cuando comemos, pero no quiero que sean duros y sin sabor. Alguíen tiene unas sugerencias?

Last weekend I made tortillas for the first time in years. I learned when I lived in Guatemala with an indigenous family. We went to the mill to pick up the dough, and once at home, we got to work. En Guatemala the tortillas are small and thick, and they're not made with a tortilla press. So I learned, but it was never difficult to tell which ones I'd made and which ones my mamá did. I could never make them round and perfect like here. (I still can't).

Here we eat lots of tortillas, but usually we just buy them. My favorites are the corn tortillas from Fiesta. Fiesta is a huge supermarket that caters to the Mexican (and Latinamerican in general) population here. Their tortillas are cheap and delicious, and made in the store. But they are not as cheap or as fun as making them at home would be. So I decided to buy maseca and make them myself.

I got the dough ready, made the tortillas, put them on the griddle, and wrapped them in a towel as they came off. They turned out great! But later, they weren't so good. They weren't very soft. A friend of mine recommended that I wrap them in a damp towel and heat them in the microwave. That was better, but they were still a little hard.

Here's my dilemma: I don't have the time or the energy to make tortillas on a daily basis. I'd like to make them every few days and just reheat as needed, but I don't want them to be hard and tasteless. Anybody have any suggestions?