Wednesday, October 31, 2012

99 Life Hacks to Make Life Easier (guest post)

This is a post share that someone sent me (thanks, Tim!) from tumblr. Kudos to the person who put this list together!  There are so many great ideas on here...and many of them I had never thought of. Worth your time to scroll through the list:

Here's a few pics to whet your appetite:

Homemade Mayonnaise, Take One

This was going to be one of those really inspiring posts about how easy it is to make something from scratch, and you would all thank me for it, marvel at my awesome little-suzy-homemaker skills, and wonder why you haven't been doing this all along!

It was going to be titled "Homemade Mayo in 15 minutes. Delish!"

Seriously. I had the title all picked out.

Mirielle Guliano (French Women Don't Get Fat) says that once you try mayo from scratch you will never go back.

That didn't inspire me.

What DID inspire me was spending HK $42 (US $6) for a LITTLE jar of Hellmans. Good Grief.

So, I googled a recipe and it assured me that this was all you needed:

I followed the directions:

Seemed kinda "liquidy." I thought it might gel up overnight.

It didn't--instead it separated and kinda curdled:

Major Fail. I am NOT little miss suzy homemaker.

But I will not be denied! Take two coming soon.

Any recipes/tips you care to share?

(And don't even tell me that you just got two big jars of Hellmans at a BOGO free sale with double coupons on both jars for a grand total of 99 cents. Too painful. Just too painful.)

Monday, October 29, 2012

20 Outfits, 20 Bucks: My Fabulous, Frugal, Fall Festival Fashion

Two Saturday's ago was a required school day here at ICS, but not in the traditional sense. It was a fundraiser day: half walk-a-thon and half fall festival. We truly had a great fall day! Here is look from the balcony of the school (yes, I stole your picture, Kathi):

And here's a video of our ICS seniors showing off their own gangdam style:

I was enjoying my day, eating junk food and watching all the action when I came upon an amazing sight: a "white elephant" sale, as they call them here. Several tables stacked with clothes. I was not only very surprised but also one happy camper! A local lady told me that buying used clothes here is a considered very gauche. She was surprised when I told her this is common practice in America and that even our movie stars are getting into "vintage," (a nicer name for used).  I asked her what people did with their used clothing and she told me they just throw it out. "Very wasteful," she said, "but this is the Hong Kong way." I'm thankful that at least a few folks didn't think so! I bought 10 new pieces,  modeled here, many of which are very mix & match, for a total of HK $150 (US $20). I estimate that by combining the different pieces in multiple ways, I have at least 20 "new" outfits. 20 outfits -- 20 bucks. Can't beat that deal!! Enjoy my new fall wardrobe fashion show, self-timer style:




Saturday, October 27, 2012

50 Reasons NOT to be a Good Cook

1. Your family will eat good, gourmet, fussy “foodie” food.

2. All of it.

3. Quickly, without even tasting it.

4. Yes, they will. And they probably won’t even say thank you.

5. Even though you just spent your pay check and 8 hours of your time making it.

6. You read it on Pinterest; the picture made you think of Venice:

7. That 28 step recipe for gourmet Fusilli Bucati with dry-roasted, organic Serrano peppers marinated in extra-virgin olive oil.

8. And all your girlfriends are making recipes they found on Pinterest.

9. And you really do want to want to cook.

10. So you went to 8 different shops to get the exact ingredients.

11. And you had to change clothes and dress to the nines before you left.

12. Because you wouldn’t be caught dead in THOSE shops wearing jeans and a sweatshirt.

13. And you came home and you followed the recipe exactly.

14. Except for the part about how long to cook the pasta, because you were on Pinterest again.

15. And the pasta turned to mush.

16. So you had to go back to that cute little specialty shop and buy more Fusilli Bucati.

17. And start over.

18. But you did it.

19. You made it again and it looked just like the picture!

20. And it tasted AMAZING.

21. So you found your linen table cloth and silver candlesticks.

22. You set the table with your best China and even cleaned the magazines off the buffet table.

23. You changed your clothes (again) because you smelled like garlic.

24. And you waited.

25. And your husband and kids came home.

26. They walked in and looked around for the candid camera guy.

27. And you came around the corner with your “What? I told you I knew how to cook a great meal” look on your face and asked them to wash up and take a seat.

28. They complied, with feigned whisperings.

29. And that’s when IT happened.

30. They sat down, those teen age boys and that husband of yours, and they started eating.

31. They didn’t stop; they barely breathed.

32. They practically licked the serving bowl.

33. They ate ALL the Fusilli Bucati AND the $20-loaf-of-bread AND the baby green (with homemade vinaigrette dressing) salad.

34. And you watched helplessly, passing the requested items.

35. And when they finished, with wadded linen napkins all in a jumble, they said,

36. “What’s for dessert?”

37. So, you got up quietly, folding your napkin beside your plate.

38. You walked to the kitchen and opened the cupboard.

39. A half-eaten bag of Oreos was staring you in the face.

40. You grabbed the Oreos and tossed them on the table.

41. Your kids didn’t even blink.

42. They opened the bag and devoured them all.

43. Then they took their dirty dishes to the dishwasher.

44. And you spent an hour cleaning up the dining room and kitchen.

45. The next day, you read magazines--all day.

46. And ten minutes before dinner, you threw generic pasta in the pot and opened a jar of Ragu.

47. And a bag-o-salad.

48. And the kids and the husband came home and ate from paper plates.

49. You served fresh Oreos.

50. And you quit pinning recipes on your Pinterest board.

Friday, October 26, 2012

3 Reasons Why You Should Never Start a Blog

There is one common reason that everyone starts a blog: an audience. Argue with that if you must, but you would be flat out wrong. Even if it's only an audience of two family members, or, my personal favorite "for myself"--as some bloggers humbly claim--it's still an audience. With that in mind, before you put too much effort into a blogging endeavor, consider the following:

1. Blogging must be done consistently in order to gain an audience, but blogging consistently is much more difficult than you would think. Before you put energy and effort into creating a blog, take a good, hard look at your time constraints and ask yourself honestly if you can commit. If you can't write on a regular basis, don't bother to start. You'll save yourself a great deal of frustration.

2. Readers will say the strangest (sometimes hurtful) things. You want to have interaction with your audience, and you dream of basking in the limelight of hundreds of adoring readers. Know this: you're not going to be everyone's cup of tea. If you have a hard time accepting criticism, if it makes you angry or if it causes you to collapse like a small, weeping child, blogging may not be your best choice.

3. Name a subject, any subject you can think of--from Chanterelle mushrooms to K-pop haters. Now Google that subject with "blog" in the search. There's a very high probability that there is at least one blog totally committed to your dream subject. Before you begin, know what's out there. Hit every search engine you can think of and then some. See what has been written on the subject and think about whether of not you have a fresh angle.

Depressed yet?  Don't be. If you can read that short list and still believe you have something valid to say, then by all means, go for it! This isn't meant to be a downer, just a quick reality check.

There are literally millions of blogs floating around in the blogosphere--hundreds for every conceivable subject. And every day, thousands more begin. There are as many reasons for beginning a blog as there are people who start them: to keep personal journals, to update loved ones, to "get noticed" as a writer, to make money, to share knowledge...and there's nothing wrong with any of those reasons.

On a personal note, I know my own blog is a combination of all of the above. I began blogging in late 2009, almost three years ago. At times, I have enjoyed it immensely and at other times I have been so frustrated that I've come close to deleting it completely. For nearly a year, I posted almost daily; but here it is October of 2012 and I've had only 12 posts since January.

When we were planning to move to Hong Kong earlier this year, many family and friends told me that I needed to "keep blogging" after I settled in. I made promises. After all, I was practically giddy with excitement and didn't think it would be hard to write with so many new experiences coming at me on a daily basis. But I was mistaken. It has been very difficult; here's why:

I have always written about my frugal life, in fact, that's my pen name on the blog. Of course, my perspective has always been that of an American, and my musings appealed to an American audience. Now I am here, a whole world away, and while I don't want to lose my old readers, I do want to appeal to new ones. I have been vascillating between starting a whole new blog (and losing ALL my subscribers), or revamping this one.  I have chosen the latter and have lost some subscribers and gained a few new ones, which can be expected. So I just wanted to tell all my faithful readers that this blog will continue to be what it always was, a combination of good deals, family adventures, thrifty tips and musings on gratitude. I will do my best to write to both my new HK followers and my loyal readers world wide. I will focus on what I know best: living a thankful and thrifty life! Happy reading!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Go to Tai Long Wan!! (HK's Best Beach)

About a month ago, our family hiked to Tai Long Wan Beach, arguably the most beautiful beach in Hong Kong located in the Sai Kung area:

We went with several other friends and it was an extraordinary day. The sky was even bluer than it is usually, which made for some pretty pictures on the way:

Getting to the beach can be a little tricky. First we took the MTR to Ma On Shan and grabbed a taxi to Sai Wan, where we started on the hiking trail. You can also take several buses if you don't want to pay the taxi fare. (or get off at the Wu Kai Sha MTR station and take a bus to the roundabout near Sai Kung, then another bus to Sai Wan.) It's about a two hour hike in from Sai Wan. On the way, about an hour in, we stopped at a waterfall where we had fun Cliff jumping (pun intended-watch this 15 second video):

We made it to the beach and had lunch at one of two local restarants (see them in the background, gotta love the bridges!):

All the dishes are local fare and will run you about HK $40-$100 (US $6-$12) each. After filling up, we spent the next few hours playing in the ocean and hiking on the rocks. It was picture perfect; I felt like I was in a movie scene from Bali. The water is the warmest I have ever been in. So exotic. The nicest thing is that the natives apparently don't get into the whole hiking/beach thing very much, so this huge, sand beach was pretty empty:

Rather than walk back, we hired a power boat (ask the restaurant owners to call for you):

Though a bit costly--HK $110 (US $15) per person, the ride was pehaps the best part of the adventure!  With a 20hp motor, this baby flew, eliciting lots of screams from the 20 or so people on board every time we hit a big wave, nearly setting us airborn. The driver was having a grand time. Fewer regulations here: no life jackets to be seen and when we landed in Sai Kung 30 minutes later, the driver just held the boat nose against a set of cement steps and waited rather impatiently while we tottered over the nose and onto shore. This was by far my best day here!

To find other hiking/beach adventures, be sure to check in at this site:

If you are even thinking that living overseas might be a possibility for you...just do it and don't look back....

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Lantau Island, Cable Cars and Big Buddha

We were blessed with another long holiday weekend, so Mike and I sent the boys to Ocean Park (think water/amusement park- small scale) and decided to go to Lantau Island. Lantau is one of Hong Kong's bigger outlying islands, home to both HK Disneyland and the airport. But the thing we've been wanting to see is the very kitschy "Big Buddha" statue, built specifically for tourists. They even added a 5.7 kilometre cable car ride to take you there in style. We were looking forward to it!
It's easy to get in a "I'm a tourist and I don't have to be careful with money" mindset when you first move overseas, at least it has been for me. I have to guard against this mentality...and I'm a bonafied tighwad!  Consequently, I have been trying to be more diligent when it comes to days off. On the one hand, I want to "live fully where I am," but I want to do that in a way that doesn't break the bank. Here's some ways we spent, yet saved:
First we detoured and went to Kowloon Park (a 10 minute walk from the Austin MTR station). If you want to spend an afternoon relaxing, this is a great place. There is a water garden, a sculpture garden, a huge pool, a museum, a playground and an aviary, just to name a few of the attractions. It has a very NYC Central Park feel to it with big buildings all around; we had a lovely time just relaxing:

After spending some time here, we took the MTR to Tung Chung station. Of course, we found an obligatory mall there, but this one does boast over 60 outlet stores. I was not tempted! We looked around a bit for some type of inexpensive eats, and decided to grab a turkey club sandwich at Taste, a grocery store. We added a big bag of chips and got some free glasses of water. Total: HK $71 (US $10) for both of us. Not the cheapest, but not bad either. The sandwich was quite large! Then we headed out to the cable cars. You can have a car to yourself for a price; you can also get a "crystal cabin," which has a glass bottom. I don't think it's worth the extra fee. Our view was spectacular without the glass. We opted for roundtrip tickets for two and didn't pay extra for "attractions." Total for both of us: HK $250 (US $33). I was pleasantly surprised as I had assumed it would be more for a 3.5 mile trip. It was so worth the money:
Notice the foot path in the first picture, it runs the entire way there. I cannot imagine walking over all those mountains! The second photo was when we were directly over the ocean. See the boat on the right?
You arrive in about 15 minutes at Ngong Ping Village, where the Buddha dominates the landscape. We're not just talking a Big Buddha, this statue is the world's largest Buddha, it is made of bronze and is 112 feet (34 meters) tall and weighs 250 tons:
We also went to the Po Ling Monastery, right near the statue; it is beautiful. Check out this 20 second video; you can hear the monks chanting:
There was a mini-festival going on and we saw these colorful dancers:
And then this was the view coming back into the harbor:

Here I am wearing my HK $68 (US $9) souvenir. I personally think that's it's better to buy things that I will actually use, rather than a trinket to catch dust:

You might think I'm contemplating Buddha; actually, I was just tired.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Dry Goods Review and Cheap Nail Polish

This summer, in process of moving from North Carolina to Maine and then to Hong Kong, I agreed to try some products from a company called efoods in exchange for a blog post giving my honest opinion. Needless to say, things got a bit hectic, but as promised, I am making good on my commitment, albiet a few months late. Efoods is a dry goods company that mainly sells in bulk to families or companies that like to have food on hand in case of emergencies such as power outages, job loss or some type of financial collapse or world  meltdown where those with a stockpile will be better off than those without. Whatever your beliefs, I personally think having enough food on hand to last your family for at least a month is a good idea. Efoods sells everything from a one week supply of food for one person to a year long supply for a family of four. They also have emergency gear like water filters and a selection of camping equipment.

Efoods sent me two family size pouches each of Creamy Potato Soup, Tortilla Soup and Cheesy Chicken Rice Casserole. Each pouch is made to serve 4 people and has a shelf life of 25 years. I must say that I was very impressed both with the generous portion sizes and the quality of the food. I have tried similar products from other companies and efoods has them beat, hands down. My kids really liked the Creamy Chicken Rice Casserole, which I served with a side of veggies. While good by itself, in the future, I would most likely add some chopped up chicken or serve it as a side. Our favorite was the Creamy Potato Soup:

I was very surprised by the delicious flavor of this soup mix; I did not expect something coming from a pouch to taste this good. Served with bread, it made for a very satisfying dinner--even my teens all liked it. I'm going to have to tell you about the Tortilla Soup at a later date--we ran out of time before our move to Hong Kong. I figure if it's good for 25 years, one year shouldn't be an problem at all.  So there's my honest opinion and here's a link to the company website:

Another program I recently tried is through Julep sells a wonderful, toxin free, creamy nail polish in all sorts of fashionable colors and other beauty products. If you sign up to be a Julep Maven, you will get a monthly box mailed to your door that contains at least $39.99 worth of product for $19.99 shipped. I admit that this isn't the best bargain around, but here is where the good deal comes in: Right now, go to this site: After taking a "style" quiz, you will be directed be get your first Maven box for $19.99...BUT...if you use code COLOR2012 at check out, your price will drop to one cent! WOW! You will have to agree to monthly shipments, but you can skip months or cancel entirely during a 3-4 day window right before shipment each month. You will get an email from them during this time. What a nice little treat for one penny. I don't know how long this code will last, so if you want to try this program, do it now!!  For my HK readers, why not send this as a gift to a friend in the states?

(This post contains one affiliate link. Please click on the disclaimer button for more information. Photos are from the efoods and Julep websites, respectively.)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My cheap, DIY Hong Kong date night!

A few weeks ago, I won a pair of tickets to the Joy of Music Festival here on Hong Kong Island:

Worth HK $200 (US $26) each, I was a thrilled.  I won these through the website, a site I found since arriving that has links to wonderful deals, events and contests. I wanted to look nice for the event without breaking the bank, and while perusing the Salvation Army in Kowloon Tong one afternoon, I came up with a brilliant solution. I had read about a wrap skirt on a site written by Geneva Vanderzeil, also a fellow western Hong Konger and DIY fashionista. You can read her detailed description of how to make the skirt here: Needless to say, if I made mine by hand in about a hour, with only the fabric and needle and thread, I'm sure you will be able to make one quite easily.

At Sal Val, I found this dress for HK $50 (US $7); I liked the fabric, but not the design:

So, I cut off the skirt, ironed the material flat,  and hemmed up the rough edges. Since the dress already had a black satin lining, I left it in place:
Geneva held her skirt together with handy little snaps; since I did not have these here in HK, I used two strategically place safety pins and a gold belt (Sal Val HK $10, US $1.33) for effect. I added a black tank (free from a friend), a pair of wedges purchased for US $7 at Mardens in Maine this summer and a costume necklace from a mall store here for HK $25 (US $3.30). Here's the finished product:
We had a lovely evening in the city...proof that culture doesn't always have to be costly. And if Geneva wore her handsewn skirt to a fashion show in NYC, I figured I was safe in HK.