Saturday, April 1st, 2017

Learning Piano Online For Free!

by Kristen Suzanne in family, homeschool, kamea

Practicing proper piano posture.

 

I grew up playing the piano, clarinet, and even the drums. Piano and clarinet were better instruments for me than the drums, and my family probably agrees. My mom played the piano and sang, my brother, a genius with music played piano, saxophones, trumpet, guitar, and anything he wanted really. Music was just always in our family. 

While I didn’t always love practicing music, I’m glad I have the skills for music now. It was probably really good for my brain, too, because that’s what research is showing. Thanks, mom for pushing me to play music! I think my big brother served as inspiration, too. If he was doing it, it was probably cool.

Naturally, I wanted Kamea to take music lessons.

We started her with some basic music lessons when she was three. They went well enough, but life got in the way and we put them on hold. She was really young, too, and as we were proponents back then of unschooling, I wasn’t keen on “making her practice something” for fear it’d kill the joy.

After a couple of years, we decided to buy this awesome keyboard. We hoped that simply having it around, with both parents playing on it, we’d inspire Kamea to play. Or maybe she’d learn through osmosis. Hey, it was worth a shot.

In truth, she did take to playing a bit here and there, but she wasn’t really interested in learning how to play.

Fair enough. We’ll wait a bit longer.

A year later, before her brain matured too much, I started her back in music lessons. I figured we’d hire a teacher to come to our house who could play with her and get her excited about music lessons, without requiring much on her part. Long story short, they didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, for a variety of reasons. Poor fit with music teacher, lack of enthusiasm on Kamea’s part, and not concentrating on just one instrument.

I continued to be against forcing Kamea to practice for a set time every day if she didn’t want to. I wanted her to enjoy what she was doing, but I also wanted her to learn some music. I also felt that she’d be glad she did it later in life, even if she didn’t love it now. At this rate though, she wasn’t learning any music. I wasn’t sure how to proceed.

So. We took another break before spending more money on something that wasn’t working for us.

I decided that maybe I could just teach her, but decided to wait before pursuing it.

Then, something happened.

During this time off, Kamea took some homeschooling classes online through Outschool.com. 

I realized that I could basically search for anything online and find a class for it. So, I wondered, hey, are there online piano classes? And, if so, they’re probably less expensive than a person coming to our house. 

Google: online piano lessons.

Jackpot! Of course there were lessons, lol duh, because you can pretty much find anything online.

I found a couple of options, and I decided to try Hoffman Academy which was FREE.

Yeah. Free.

What did we have to lose? Um. Nothing.

First online piano lesson.

We jumped in and started them over a week ago, and so far, they’re solid gold. Brilliant little lessons long enough to teach something and short enough to keep the student interested. Kamea played a song after her first lesson! That didn’t happen with in-house private lessons for weeks when we had a teacher coming here.

We put her iPad on the keyboard. Watched the lesson, pausing when required, practiced, and LEARNED PIANO! Mr. Hoffman rocks.

The next day, Kamea woke up and asked to take another lesson. YAY! (And, did I mention they’re free?)

It’s working! Online piano lessons are fun.

So far we’re doing their basic free program which is great. I suspect at some time I might sign up for the premium option, which is still awesomely cheap at about $15 a month. Or maybe we’ll just stick with the free ones. 

I’m still smiling at the fact that my kid is taking piano lessons online.

Ukulele here we come next! (After all, I figure she’ll need an instrument we can take abroad when we move.) 

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Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

More Things To Do Before Traveling Abroad (Digital Nomad, Expat)

by Kristen Suzanne in Digital Nomad, Expat, family, travel
 
A few things I’m organizing before we move abroad that are still on my “to-do” list.
 
Build housesitting profiles
I never knew housesitting was such a “thing” but it’s a growing “thing” it turns out. There are websites that match house-sitters with houses in need of sitting. All over the world.
 
I’m intrigued by this idea, because it usually means a house in a neighborhood so you get a more authentic immersion, plus animals to care for (Kamea will love that), and it’s generally free because you’re trading your services of watching the house for free rent. 
 
We plan to try some housesitting locally to get a few gigs under our belts which will boost our housesitting profile. And, Kamea is starting an animal-sitting service, locally, to show she’s a responsible animal sitter. I think most people who need house-sitters are looking for a single person or married couple without kids, but when they see our kiddo is mature and responsible, it’ll help our profile.
 
Travel Insurance:
We will definitely get travel insurance while we are abroad and I need to research the following companies. The first one, World Nomads, is very popular. Reading other digital nomads and expats I see that many get travel insurance but rarely use it as many places around the world have such inexpensive (and excellent) health care that they just pay for it out of pocket. 
Credit Cards
It’s smart to have a proper credit card for traveling outside of the US. I’ll be looking for one that has no international fees on purchases for starters. Also, though, if we find ourselves traveling to more places in a more frequent fashion (not our original plan because we envision Slow Travel), it could mean more air travel so a card that has nice travel benefits will be a good fit. I hear a lot about the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card for racking up miles and such. I think they also offer free Global Entry credit. 
 
Organize flight options
After deciding where to land first… is it Playa or Tulum in Mexico? Or maybe central Mexico in the mountains? Guanajuato perhaps? I will look at flights and keep my eye on them to find the best prices. 
 
There’s a lot written on ways to smartly buy airplane tickets that can save a lot of money. I have a whole research file on just that. 
 
Furniture and Donations
Sell and donate remaining furniture over the next 14 months. Once our lease ends, store anything else at our moms’ houses.
Sell Mercedes now. Sell Prius May 2018.
 
Cell Phones and Technology
We need to figure out the best cell plan for the area. As of right now, we left expensive AT&T for Ting which has been awesome so far. Now that I pay for only what I use, I’m waaaaaaaaay more mindful of my cell phone use when not on wifi. It’s a benefit for many reasons: less screen time, safer driving, and more mindfulness overall. Once we move, I’m not sure if Ting will be the plan as I hear a lot about T-Mobile being a good choice (Ting might even use T-mobile towers?). We’ll see because anything can happen over the next year.
 
Passports / Visas / Global Entry
  1. Get Global Entry? I hear this can be useful. I need more research on it.
  2. Update Kamea’s passport later this year.
  3. Renew my passport? Greg’s? 
  4. Make “Copies” and have “Originals” of marriage certificate, passports, air tickets, insurance, list of emergency contacts, driver’s licenses, bank cards and credit cards.
  5. Research visa options for where we want to go to plan how long we can stay. Mexico allows six months at a time. 
 
Health
  1. Take a self-defense class, for peace of mind I suppose. Just seems like a smart thing to do. 
  2. Learn advanced first aid. 
  3. Check in with our naturopath before we leave to discuss our travel and get any possible medications or advice. 
  4. Research area of travel for preventative health. For example, avoiding areas with tropical diseases or other potential issues as of now. 
 
Language
Start learning some basic words in the language of our future destination. For us, that’s Spanish because we’re thinking Mexico is our first stop. I’m using Duolingo on my iPhone for now and I like it a lot. 
 
Once we land there we will hire a tutor and go to a Spanish immersion school, but it’ll be helpful to know a few things before going.
 
Packing
I have an enormous list for packing which includes things for various destinations. I will whittle it down once I know for sure where we’re going. But for now, every time I think of something I just add it to my list. 
 
My goal is to continue Minimalism as a guiding principle, but dammit I want to bring my Instant Pot. And chef’s knife (and sharpener and hone). And vitamins. And technology. And And And.
 

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Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

Minimalism + Craigslist: Feeling Good AND Making Money!

by Kristen Suzanne in family, Minimalism

Making money via Craig’s List.

I’m on a mission.  
 
I’m on a mission to become financially independent as quickly as I can. Some call it early retirement, but I prefer simply Financially Independent. 
 
Why Financially Independent?
  • We like to be our own bosses. For everything. (I’m suddenly recalling that scene in Pretty Woman when Julia Roberts says, “I say who! I say when! I say who!”)
  • I value TIME with my family, by myself, and with friends.
  • When we can get to the mountain top of financial independence, we play by our rules. And that(!) is freedom at its finest. 
So, I’m on a mission: Financial Independence. 

First though, I had to make some changes. Some big changes and some small changes. 

Back story: I was turned on to this plan of “early retirement” via Mr. Money Mustache’s blog which details how he and his wife retired at an incredibly young age, by cutting expenses and being smart with saving their money. When a family is financially independent they can work, but they don’t have to. They can choose what they do with their time. Funny thing is although they’re  “retired” they’re staying busy and making money on their own terms

I highly recommend his blog. I read my way through the whole thing in a week

When I read about their experience, I was hooked.

I immediately started making a plan for how we could do the same thing. 

Shit. I was wasting a lot of money though. 

I might as well have been throwing money out the window. Spending money on stupid things (hindsight and all). I’ll never live down the “kefir experiment” with my husband -> that time I kept our home to a chilly temperature, in summertime, in Arizona, just to properly culture kefir even though it yielded a $500+ per month electric bill. 

The good thing is that I’m making changes NOW, and it’s better late than never. And I gotta tell ya… I’m addicted to this pursuit. Turns out my passion for minimalism is helping my efforts, too. I stopped buying things that didn’t bring value. I raised my standards for what I allowed into my life (including people). I stopped wasting time dealing with so much “stuff” and opened up more space in not only my home, but my heart and mind.  

We downsized our mini-van to a Prius

We hypermile

Moved our cell phone carrier from AT&T to Ting.

I started donating and selling things. Big time.

One thing that helped me see how infrequently things were being used in my home was moving. We moved last year and it was an easy way for me to have a specific point of reference for the last time I used something. I looked at some things and thought, “I haven’t used this since way before we even moved!”  

For awhile I was donating everything. That was easy. I was so eager to be rid of the reminders of my pre-minimalist life. Fascinating that every time I took a car load of stuff, thinking I had purged myself of all I had to purge, I’d come home and a week later find another car-full of stuff to donate.

When I realized I was ready to free myself of more expensive things like Le Creuset pots (I really don’t need seven of them), my food processor which rarely gets used, my “extra” blender, my extensive knife collection (I really only use three of them regularly), just-in-case clothes/shoes/accessories I don’t wear, like ever, etc.

It turns out that I love having just the things I love. I don’t want or need things that I don’t love. What’s the point? 

I didn’t see it that way before though. I mean who does? If we all did we wouldn’t buy so much shit. 

It’s like that idea of “if I carry a bigger purse, I’ll carry more stuff, cuz, well, I can.” 

Admittedly, in the past when we sold stuff on Craig’s List, it was a “Greg” job. But, now, with so many things to sell (and mostly mine), it would be better if I did it. Shit. 

He promised that it’d be easy and very helpful if I took on the job.

Ok. I pulled on my big-girl-who-wants-to-be-financially-independent pants and dove into the land of Craig’s List. 

Yes. It was a bit of work, but once I got started it was a breeze. Inspiring and fun. 

I used a big dining room table for all of the things I was selling, which quickly overflowed because once I started, I didn’t want to stop. Fuck I had so much shit.
 

Just a few things I started gathering at first.

 
My steps for selling on Craig’s List:

1. Put everything in one room.

2. Take pictures of everything in nice lighting.

3. Get a cup of coffee because the real work is about to start.

4. Research, usually via Amazon.com, for details to use in ads. 

5. List everything on Craig’s list, one by one. 

6. Wait for the bites of interest.

The bites started right away. The fun began. People wanted to buy my shit things. Yeehaw!

I started meeting people to sell my stuff, collecting cash, and running straight to the ATM every time. 

Inch by inch of more space. Dollar by dollar into my bank account. Closer to financial independence. 

A cool thing happened through the process of selling on Craig’s List. I love seeing my things get new life with other people. Warms my heart. There were things that I was hesitant with which to part because of ego. I pushed forward though and sold, sold, sold, because I wanted the money, because I knew I wouldn’t buy those things if given the chance again today, and because I wasn’t even using them anyway! 

We’re headed toward financial independence. We have a plan. Empowering, feels good, feels safe, feels secure. In fact, it’s a relief. I feel lighter and happier than ever. It’s more happiness than any shopping would ever do, which isn’t happiness for me anymore. I value freedom. I ask myself… does EVERYTHING I HAVE serve a purpose that makes sense for my life today? 

Although sometimes it seems hard to let certain things go… once they’re gone I recalibrate and I’ve not missed one thing that I’ve let go whether through selling on Craig’s List or via donation. The freedom feels too damn great. 

The more something costs the more impact the following can hold true (here’s a popular passage from the book, Early Retirement Extreme, which I heard about on the MMM blog):

When you identify with an object, you’re defined by the object, then controlled by it, and ultimately owned by it. If you relate to your possessions, you’re owned by your stuff, and it will make many of your decisions for you. This trap is not only mental, but also physical.

I look forward to writing more posts about the things I’m doing to become financially independent. It’s one of the best adventures I’ve started. 

Early retirement, here we come.

And, yes, I talked Greg into selling the Mercedes sooner than later. :)

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Thursday, March 16th, 2017

Getting My Daughter On Board with Minimalism via a Donation Box

 

Donation Box worked like a charm.

 
When I started my amazing journey into minimalism, my daughter didn’t quite buy into it. 
 
She didn’t know why I would get rid of so many pretty things. So much stuff that we might want back someday. 
 
It’s been a couple of years now that I’ve been donating things, but I became really serious about it recently. Though she’s been watching, it wasn’t sinking in totally. Yet. 
 
But she does see me happier. She loves that. 
 
You see, I love my life with fewer things. It frees up my mind, spirit, and body to enjoy what’s really important. When I have less to distract me, I can spend more attention on better things. 
 
Quality over quantity. 
 
To be clear… it’s not a life with nothing in it. It’s a life with only the things that I use. Things I love and use. Things I love and use and I would buy again today. Things that “spark joy” and I love and I use and I would buy again today. 
 
Funny but most things do NOT fall into this category.
 
Anyway, enough about me. This post is about my daughter and how SHE got on board with minimalism.
 
It all came down to a “donation box” (or basket or container).
 
I came across the tip while listening to The Minimalists’ podcast. They suggested simply putting out a box with a sign on it for donations. From there, when other family members see fit, they can add to the box when they’re ready. No more trying to talk my daughter into donating things that I knew she really wasn’t using. 
 
Here’s the best part:
 
The container wasn’t out even five minutes before she started filling it up.
 
Yay(!), and then there was a time later that night that she couldn’t be disturbed because she was going through her stuff and telling me what “didn’t spark joy” and what “didn’t have value” for her.  
 
She understands it better now, and she’ll appreciate it even more over time. We’re giving these things that no longer are of use to us and helping them find another family who could use them. Making more space in her room and closet. Making time for the things that matter more than “things” – like us playing outside together or reading together or snuggling. 
 

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Monday, March 13th, 2017

My Research Protocol For Moving Abroad

by Kristen Suzanne in Expat, family, travel

I want to travel the world. Worldschool.


The Process
A short while back I wrote that the light bulb went on for me, with respect to having the freedom to up and move abroad, after reading the book, Global Student. Suddenly, it started coming together as a reality. We could really do this. We can move abroad and travel the world. For as long as we want.
 
That reality, back then, meant that our time was T-18 months before moving. (It’s now about 15 months.)
 
Having 18 months to plan this adventure of digital nomadism and expat life is proving to be extremely helpful. We have tons of time to:
  • Research possible locations.
  • Get passports, banking, and things of the like taken care of.
  • Take in every present moment right where we are, Carefree (AZ) which we love.
Once the idea hit us about moving and we had a target date of June 2018, I started with Pinterest.
 
Pinterest!
From Pinterest I found hundreds of articles for different destinations that I could later dive into for research. I spent a few nights… Pin Pin Pin Pin. I created boards for Europe, Mexico, Costa Rica, Thailand… of which later I created more specific boards: Mallorca, Tulum, Italy, France, Portugal, etc.
 
It was super fun. Here’s one of my favorite pictures I found on Pinterest. (source: Annelibush.com)

That sums it up for me. I’m going there.

 
Once I had my Pinterest boards figured out, each with plenty of Pins, I checked the various articles linked from them. That started a deeper dive.
 
Evernote!
It wasn’t long before it started to become overwhelming and I wanted a better way to organize it. Therefore, I chose to create notes in Evernote to keep it clean and handy. At first I had a Master list of regions with corresponding links to research later. It was one whole list of possible destinations with whatever links I thought might be interesting for each place. I set it all up to research at a later date (which I’ve since done) – deleting and adding destinations as I learned more.
 
From there, I added lists with links for things like:
  • packing lists
  • airfare sites and tips
  • expat experts
  • travel visa info
  • digital nomadism
  • technology for travel 
  • travel with kids
  • housesitting
  • rewards credit cards
  • travel insurance
 
Books!
Through my internet research, I learned of some great travel books and read a few with respect to saving money, traveling with kids, and housesitting. I even bought a book (couldn’t find it at the library!), The Art of Risk, which I’m hoping encourages me to push beyond my comfort zone. That will be helpful living abroad.
 

She’s a great travel writer and blogger.

 
Google Alerts!
I also set up google alerts of different towns/regions so I can get more familiar with them, including any potential safety issues. For example, we had Playa on our list for Mexico, but late last year there was some violence that caused me to keep an eye on the area over the next 15 months. I also learned about a supposedly amazing place for pizza in Oaxaca using Google Alerts, so there ya go.
 
Podcasts!
Both Greg and I are listening to podcasts of expats and digital nomads. It’s nice hearing the real life stories of people doing exactly what we plan to do.
 
For the first couple months I spent all of my spare time doing this research. After narrowing down our immediate destinations (looks like Mexico first and then Portugal or Italy), I’m able to look deeper in those areas and hold off on the other places. Side note: crazy awesome story is it looks like I’m eligible for Italian citizenship which would be game-changing for us.
 

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Friday, March 10th, 2017

Minimalism Time: Minivan to Prius Downsizing

by Kristen Suzanne in Expat, family, Minimalism, Motherhood, travel

Big-ass minivan

 
Living a life with a minimalist emphasis is a work in progress, naturally.
 
Even though I’ve sold and donated many things and happily reduced my overall consumerism footprint, I’m continuously finding new things to let go.
 
For the next step in our minimalism adventure, I wanted to look at our two cars. We have an old Mercedes (sedan) and a pretty-new Toyota sienna minivan. Greg drives the Mercedes, primarily. I drive the Toyota minivan.
 
I told Greg that I thought we could survive with one car, because we’re both home a lot. He works from home and I’m retired (I homeschool our daughter and play domestic goddess, but I don’t report to anyone –> retired).
 
I figured there might be a bit of sacrifice with a one-car plan, but nothing that we couldn’t handle. I loved the idea of getting a bit of cash for the Mercedes, too.
 
He was reluctant though.
 
Since the Mercedes is paid for (though it frequently hates us and has issues), he thinks we should keep it around. Just in case. 
 
Then, he dared to suggest something. Since we’re interested in saving money, and going minimalist, I should pursue the idea of reducing the impact our awesome, gorgeous, fun, big minivan has… by going for something smaller. He offered trading in the minivan for a used car that is smaller and less expensive. 
 
Oh shit. I didn’t expect that.
 
Ummmm…. I. Love. Our. Minivan.
 
I squirmed and got a bit uncomfortable, berating myself for opening this shit-can of worms.
 
Whoops.
 
Fast forward only a day or two later and that damn planted seed was taking root in my soul. 
 
Why do I even have a minivan? Well, I know why I bought it originally. I didn’t care about gas prices. We like road trips. It’s new and has a nice warranty. It can handle a lot of groceries. I can move a table in it. And… for everything else… just. in. case.
 
Hhhhmmmmmm….. well. Let me be honest with myself.
 
I rarely move tables. I don’t buy that many groceries. I DO (now) care about gas prices and the impact a larger vehicle has on our earth. And, although we like road trips, we’re planning to move abroad in a little over a year so we will be selling (both) cars by then anyway.
 
Fast forward another day and I’m driving our BIG minivan with Kamea in the back to run some (local) errands. Wow. There’s a lot of space in this vehicle for ONLY TWO PEOPLE. Kamea and I are the primary users of this BIG minivan and it has a LOT of room in it for only us. Even with Greg, it’s still overkill for three people, especially given our future abroad.
 
Well, whaddya know? I’m starting to dislike my minivan. I’m starting to feel wasteful driving it. I’m starting to give it the stink-eye.
 
WTF? Less than a week ago I was loving it, and now I can’t wait to downsize. 
 
Off to the Internets I went to car shop. 
 
Long story short, I fell in love with Prius cars because they’re hybrid, smaller, made by Toyota, and fucking cute as hell. 

Let’s Dance.

 
Done. Minivan traded in. Used Prius bought. 
 
I’m crazy happy with our choice and wish I’d done it sooner. 
 

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Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

The Book, The New Global Student, Lit A Fire Under My Ass

by Kristen Suzanne in Expat, family, kamea, kids, Kristen Suzanne, travel

This book inspired me to move abroad… sooner than later.

Image credit

I bought the book, The New Global Student, to inspire my family’s future travels around the world. I don’t recall how I came to know of the book, but when I read the description, I knew it was destined to be in my library.

From Amazon.com 

In 2005, Maya Frost and her husband sold everything and left their suburban American lifestyle behind in order to have an adventure abroad. The tricky part: they had to shepherd their four teenage daughters through high school and into college. This hilarious and conspiratorial how-to handbook describes the affordable, accessible, and stunningly advantageous options they stumbled upon that any American student can leverage to get an outrageously relevant global education. 

Sounds good, eh? 

It is, though I didn’t devour the book in one sitting. Actually, I started and stopped the book a few times over the past year (or two?).

I guess I didn’t feel a need to rush through it, seeing as my daughter was only five years old at the time. I figured I had a while before I would take action on anything I was reading. Not only that, I didn’t see the reality that we’d be moving abroad any time soon, because, like, THAT seemed a daunting idea… so why rush reading through the book? I could take my time.

As I was reading it one day, however, I wanted to share some of it with my husband, Greg. So I did that. We were driving to my mom’s which was about 45 minutes from our home and I started reading some of the really cool things I’d highlighted. As expected, he loved what I was reading to him, and his excitement served to inspire my continuing the book. 

Over the following weeks, I read the book at a faster clip. It became more and more exciting, as I imagined the life we could give Kamea… helping her become  The New Global Student. Wow, the advantages were numerous and awesome. 

So. Yesterday, I wrote that we’d always known we would travel the world. Honestly, though, I never knew when that would be. I really didn’t know how to make it happen. It seemed like a dream. It was a dream I felt would come true, but I didn’t know when “someday” would be. 

I mean… how does one just up and travel the world or move to another country?

The New Global Student was enticing me with fun stories of families traveling all over the world (many of whom didn’t even homeschool, by the way). Still… while I was reading it, I didn’t really make a connection of how I could relate to the stories I was reading. For example, I read about families selling their houses, cars, and/or businesses. They sold belongings, got rid of tons of stuff, and then had money to move somewhere else in the world. One family even bought a sail boat and took to the oceans for their epic adventure (turns out that’s a thing). 

Well, I didn’t have a business to sell. I didn’t have a house to sell either. I didn’t want to buy a boat (Greg gets seasick.) 

Hmmm… I just kept reading the book, figuring that someday we’d figure it out.

At the end of the book the lightbulb came on for me. At this point, the author’s husband chimed in and itemized the savings and expenses the family incurred while living in Mexico. I was blown away by the savings and cost of living that was possible. The book also illuminated the notion that any age is a good age to start (with respect to kids), emphasizing that younger is good and totally doable!

I salivated at how much money we could save living in Mexico (or other parts of the world). Savings plus the obvious awesomeness of immersing ourselves in other cultures, learning languages, and helping Kamea be a Global Student was just too good of an opportunity for which to wait. 

Turns out I wouldn’t have to… I realized that since we rent our condo, there would come a time when the lease ends and we won’t be obligated to pay that rent anymore. (Um, duh, Kristen. Why hadn’t I thought of this before now??) At that point, we could sell belongings (not a whole lot since I embrace minimalism these days), including cars. We could donate stuff. We could put anything leftover into storage (um, hello mom!).

Bam. We could take this dream of living abroad and make it happen when our lease is up. 

I know this sounds silly, but it just never dawned on me that we could simply not renew the lease. The veil had been lifted. The light was turned on. I could see our worldschooling path before my eyes.

At this point, I closed the book, having finished it, and called Greg into the bedroom.

The topic of living abroad was not new to us, as I’d just been reading him The New Global Student a few weeks prior. But, when I told him that we could actually do it when our condo’s lease ended, I think I took him by surprise. I filled him in on the details, and told him about some areas in Mexico where we could begin our adventure… and the wheels began turning in his head.

Now, mind you, he wasn’t jumping up and down with excitement (yet) like I was; but, truthfully, I’d had a whole hour to chew on it before I told him. :)

He raised a few questions about whether he could transfer his work successfully to a laptop only. He already works from home, and I told him we absolutely could (exciting details on that for another blog post). However, to make it easier on him, the lease wasn’t going to end for a good long while. We had time to figure it out and make it work.

The fire was lit under my ass… my deep dive into living abroad research began. Expat life is within reach.

It’s been about three months since that conversation in our bedroom, after I finished reading The New Global Student. I’ve gone from knowing nothing (other than it was possible somehow to do this because clearly other people are doing it) to knowing quite a bit about the how, when, where, and why for our adventure. 

I’ll share in the next post what I’m learning with my deep dive of research.

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Thursday, April 28th, 2016

A Choice to Eat Home Cooked Meals. I Love Scratch Cooking.

by Kristen Suzanne in family, Kristen Suzanne

 

Fresh salad with homemade dressing.

A simple and fresh salad with homemade dressing. #scratchcook

I’m watching Cooked, the documentary series on Netflix featuring Michael Pollan, and I was inspired to share my life with respect to some of the ideas presented in the show.

Namely, home cooked meals.

My family eats most of our meals at home, and almost all of them are made from scratch.

Scratch cooking means the meals are made from fresh ingredients. Therefore, we don’t eat a lot of meals made from ingredients that are pre-cooked or processed, except a few (canned sardines/tuna, organic salsa, BBQ sauce, etc).

Sadly, it’s not what’s going on in most American homes anymore. Michael Pollan points out in Cooked that as the amount of time cooking went down, obesity went up. I’m not surprised.

Maybe I’m a bit strange, but I get such a rush from cooking this way. I think making meals from scratch is beautiful, especially when I’m connected to my food by knowing my farmer, fisherman, and rancher. When I cut into an orange that was grown in my mom’s yard, and the light hits it just right so I see the misty spray coming from the peel, and I smell the intense aroma… I get chills from the thrill.

In fact, my Amazon wish list is filled with pots, quality utensils, and other kitchen gadgets I want in my collection. When a birthday or holiday comes around, I ask for these things. Do I ask for clothes, purses, or shoes? No. I ask for a Le Creuset pot or a fancy ice cream machine or a beautiful salt collection.

I’ll admit not every meal I make is a success, in spite of the time I put into it. I also recognize that making all of these meals isn’t always easy. I experience a large part of my life in the kitchen preparing food, shopping for food, cleaning up after cooking (there are so many dishes to wash!). But… At least I know what’s in my food. I approve of the ingredients. I don’t have to wonder.

Scratch cooking, for me, was a process that occurred over the years as I learned more and became more confident in the kitchen. I took classes, I asked mom and dad questions, I read cookbooks, and I practiced. I didn’t read just any books on food though, I read books about how to shop for produce, what spices go well together, and the science behind cooking.

A few books in my collection.

A few books in my collection.

As a result, my comfort level in the kitchen has grown tremendously. For the most part, I can fix my messes, and if I can’t, I still know the meal was made with wholesome organic ingredients, which compensates for any culinary mishaps, at least in my opinion.

My meals are pure, organic, and prepared just the way I want. And, aside from the obvious nutrition reasons, it comes back to Chop Wood Carry Water for me. I enjoy the process. The kitchen draws me in… if I’m not making something I’ll find something to make.

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Saturday, April 2nd, 2016

Sourdough Bread – I Didn’t Expect to Be Making It. Here’s Why and How.

by Kristen Suzanne in family, fermented, Kristen Suzanne, sourdough
Authentic sourdough bread. The good stuff. From Noble Bakery.

Authentic sourdough bread. The good stuff. From Noble Bakery.

 

My life has sourdough bread in it. 

For the past year I’ve experimented with adding traditional sourdough bread to my family’s diet. (Gasp.) Gluten? Seriously?

Yeah, I started eating sourdough for a few reasons and here they are…

1) Ummm… It’s delicious, but could it also be nutritious?!

One of my favorite foods for the past 20 years has always been toast; however, when we stopped eating a vegan diet because it was destroying our health, I embraced a paleo-type diet and eschewed grains.

That served us well for a time, because as we slowly started adding things like quality grass-fed dairy and white rice, we were able to track how we reacted to them. It was kind of like going on a diet to find allergies where you eliminate a bunch of stuff and slowly add it back in to see how you react. Only, that wasn’t my plan. It just happened naturally as I learned more from people like Chris Kresser, Dave Asprey, and the Weston A Price foundation.

After some time, I decided it might be nice to have authentic sourdough bread, but my requirements for that sourdough were strict. The sourdough bread had to be organic and it had to be true sourdough… No added yeast. Long-fermented pure levain dough… fermented the old-fashioned way: with a starter.

I wanted my sourdough to be this way because that kind of sourdough can actually be healthy for many people. It’s less allergenic, easier to digest, and has some nutrition.

 

I never thought of bread as healthy, but I do now.

I never thought of bread as healthy, but I do now.

 

I remember Chef Pascal, from France, telling us in cooking school that he believed it wasn’t the gluten bothering most people, it’s all of the additives and crap in processed foods with flour. That statement opened my mind a bit.

And, as Michael Pollan said about sourdough bread in his docuseries, Cooked

“If I gave you a bag of flour and water, and you had nothing else to live on, you could live on that for awhile, but eventually you would die. But, if you take that same bag of flour and water and bake it into bread, you could live indefinitely. … The technique, the technology of baking bread represented this revolutionary advance for our species.” 

Huh.

2) I was moved by Weston A Price’s research of healthy people who had sourdough bread as a staple in their lives.

From the WAPF website…

According to recent news articles, celiac disease–the inability to digest certain proteins in gluten-containing grains such as wheat, rye, barley and oats–afflicts at least one in 30 people. So common and so debilitating is this malady that many popular nutrition doctors and nutrition writers forbid the consumption of grains as a matter of course. In The Paleo Diet, for example, author Loren Cordain blames the consumption of grains for our modern deficiency diseases, and the narrowing of the jaw so prevalent in modern humans. According to Barry Sears, PhD, author of The Zone Diet, the switch to a grain-based diet in Egypt was a chief factor in the emergence of the diseases of modern civilization. Dr. Joe Mercola tells his patients to avoid grain, period.

Yet Weston Price studied several societies that enjoyed remarkable good health even though they consumed grains as a principle foodstuff. The primitive Swiss of the Loetschental Valley baked a sourdough bread in communal ovens, made of locally grown rye ground fresh in a stone mill. Rye bread plus rich dairy products–milk, butter and cheese–were the chief articles of the diet. Likewise, the primitive Gaelic peoples subsisted on seafood and oats. Both these groups exhibited beautiful facial structure and were free of deficiency diseases.

Price also found healthy groups in Africa and South America that consumed large quantities of grain, usually as a sour fermented porridge or beverage.

Again, huh…  that’s the sound of my mind opening just a bit more. Clearly, bread is not destroying everybody.

3) Sourdough bread is an excellent carrier for grass-fed butter.

More and more people are appreciating the health benefits of grass-fed butter. I’m one of them. So, it’s only natural that I find more ways to get more butter into my diet.

Sourdough bread fits the bill. And, lucky me… my farmer’s market had a baker who made sourdough bread the right way. He uses an old starter that he’s had pretty much forever (generations maybe). It’s long-fermented, pure levain dough. He uses all organic ingredients. It’s super fresh and doesn’t last if you don’t eat it within the few days after buying it, because his sourdough doesn’t have any preservatives. It’s perfect. And it’s perfectly delicious.

It’s just the kind of sourdough bread I’d make myself, if I were making my own sourdough bread, which I never ever in a million years thought I’d do. But, here again, I find myself drawn to making it. Chop Wood. Carry Water. I love cooking and I love the process from beginning to end. The kitchen beckons me. If I’m not in the kitchen creating something, I’ll find something to make.

I started buying this wonderful bread for my family, and, of course, we all loved it. We were ga-ga over having such delicious bread (and toast!).

When I eat it, I don’t even want people talking to me. I have to close my eyes, tasting it fully. I can’t help myself. It’s pure bliss. It tastes so right. It feels so right.

We did this for many months, having sourdough maybe once a week. Sometimes less, sometimes more. Every time we ate the sourdough bread we felt great. There was no bloating. There was nothing but satisfaction.

I think a trick to having sourdough bread in my life is that I don’t get carried away. I don’t eat it at every meal and I make sure that it doesn’t start taking the place of our veggies.

So, after finding myself making my own kefir, yogurt, butter, and cultured veggies, I entertained the idea of making my own sourdough bread.

It seemed so friggin’ daunting though. People say it’s easy but I couldn’t get comfortable with it. Therefore, I dove into researching it with the gusto that I research everything else.

In the end, I came out with a plan which used different tips from various sources.

The things I read in learning about sourdough bread:

I read a lot of books, articles, and websites about making sourdough. I spoke with my friend in Austria who convinced me to create my own starter instead of buying one, and she shared the details about how sourdough has been a healthy staple in her family’s life for generations.

The one common thread throughout my sourdough bread research was that it could, and should, be very easy to make.

Still… I couldn’t bring myself to take action.

I kept reading and re-reading and re-reading articles and books. I was trying to absorb as much as possible so that it would become second nature by the time I started.

However, I think the trouble I had with my sourdough bread research was that, in spite of some common directions from various sources, there were also some distinct differences.

For example, there were some people with specifics (like water temperature and using a scale) and other recipes where they didn’t weigh ingredients or mention anything about temperature for making sourdough bread.

I read that not every one kneads sourdough bread! That was interesting – like, really? Then, “folding” is enough? How? Why?

I also learned that some people vigorously stir the starter when you feed it and others just mix until combined.

I read a book where the chef uses oil on his hands instead of flour when working with the dough. I never saw that anywhere else.

Then, there’s proofing baskets and whether to use those. And, what do you bake it in? A Dutch oven is popular, but it should be the right size for the perfect loaf. Of course, there’s a regular bread pan but those don’t have lids like a Dutch oven does which apparently is important for getting a nice exterior.

There’s something called a “hydration ratio.” Yikes.

And don’t even get me started on trying to make tweaks to the recipes so that you get a good “crumb” – I mean, what the heck does that mean? Can there actually be a “bad crumb” with sourdough bread?

Another wrinkle is determining which flour(s) to use. There is an ancient wheat called einkorn which is probably the best wheat to consume (once made into sourdough bread). Its origins date back to 7600 BCE and is referred to as “original wheat.” It’s not hybridized, has more nutrients, and is more gentle on the body than contemporary wheat.

I was intrigued to use einkorn, for sure, but I learned that it doesn’t behave exactly like other wheat. Another example is rye… it’s a flour that can be easier to digest but also behaves differently, i.e., harder to work with.

But, wait, there’s more. We have sprouted flours as options which also can behave differently.

Lastly, there’s the issue of whether I should use freshly ground flour, as I have a stone grinder. However, it seems it’s wasted if using it on making (or feeding) the sourdough starter, but that using it with which to bake the sourdough bread could be amazing.

What should I do???!!! The decisions!!!

I found that all a bit confusing.

Yet, I guess all of these variances should prove that sourdough bread is forgiving and doesn’t require so much precision.

In the end, I realized that making sourdough bread is more tacit knowledge than anything else probably, though I felt better at having studied it so much.

So, for my entry into the sourdough baking world I decided to be as precise as possible. I chose to make my own starter following Ken Folkish’s book, Four Water Salt Yeast because he details so much, including times to do things, weights, and temperature. He’s Portland’s rock star legendary baker… so I chose his directions for my starter. To be clear, not all of the recipes in his book are basic sourdough without added yeast (as you can glean from the title), but he does have a couple long-fermented pure levain bread recipes, and I plan to try his first.

I will forgo the einkorn wheat until I’m comfortable making a basic whole wheat / white wheat combo sourdough bread, without the added distraction of sticky einkorn dough. From there, I can compare the way einkorn works and tastes. I’d ultimately like to have a sourdough bread that uses mostly einkorn for nutritional reasons.

 

Mmmm. Where's my toaster and butter?

Mmmm. Where’s my toaster and butter?

So, here are links to sources I used in my research:

  • Cultures for Health – This company sells sourdough bread starters and has many recipes for using their starter. They have amazing online customer service. I have bought their yogurt starter (awesome) and milk kefir grains (haven’t tried yet).
  • Ken Folkish’s Artisan bread site with videos and book (plus various other bread making books, but I like Ken’s best)
  • Jovial for einkorn flour
  • Various internet articles like this one from Holistic Squid
  • Cooked docuseries by Michael Pollan

Here we are today… I started my sourdough starter.

And… It worked!!! It’s alive.

As I said, I followed a recipe where I weighed everything, used an instant-read thermometer to ensure water temp, I used spring water (I like Castle Rock), and I used a thermometer next to my starter so I knew the temp and could ensure I had that area of my house between 75 to 90 degrees F.

I bought a special, and I mean special, dutch oven. She’s the right size, 4.5-quarts, but, more importantly, she’s pink: Le Creuset Dutch oven. It’s going to be dedicated to making my bread so I wanted something, well, special. And, oh my dear, I love it. The minute I pulled it from the delivery box, my heart danced and smiled.

I even slept with it the first night. #DeadSerious

My le creuset is going to sleep with us tonight.

My le creuset… sleeping with us.

I named her Blossom (short for cherry blossom because those are my favorite flowers).

Baking sourdough bread tools.

Baking sourdough bread tools.

I opted to get the right bannetons for proofing (two of them since many recipes call for making two loaves of sourdough bread – I have no idea why – and I’m not comfortable halving the recipes yet), but I can cook them successively in my one Dutch oven, Blossom. I do have a larger Dutch oven I plan to try so I can compare the resulting shape of the sourdough loaves.

I bought the right oven mitts for handling the Dutch oven as it comes out of the 500 degree oven.

I went the extra mile and bought all of this stuff because, well, it’s a long story but I’ll try to make it short and perhaps elaborate on another post, but basically…

I’m making some life changes.

I find that being so strict with things in my life, such as food, is not serving me. And, in many ways, I’m becoming more relaxed and go-with-the-flow. Taoism is at the heart of it… accepting that the universe has a certain way to it, and you can either fight it or flow with it. I’ve decided to do the latter. So, making bread is an example of the life change I’m making cuz it’s fucking bread. It’s a big thing and having that beautiful pink Dutch oven is a symbol of that for me. I’m in a new chapter of my life and embracing sourdough bread is a big part of that. I’m chilling out more, enjoying the things that bring me pleasure.

I know gluten, bread, grains… they’re all controversial as to whether they’re healthy and if people should eat them. But, everyone is different. If there’s one thing to notice over the past few years of health news is how much genes play a role in people’s health and that includes our individualized responses to dietary variables.

For me, I think of how we evolved, how foods are prepared, what I’m drawn to, and what feels good with respect to my food choices. Then, my family experiments. If something doesn’t work, we stop doing it. If something does work, we keep doing it. I would encourage everyone to do the same. Think of what you’re drawn to, try it, and see what happens.

And besides… health is so much more than food. My health stems from multiple things including tons of walking and movement (we don’t even have a couch anymore), meditation, family, and community, too. It’s not all food.

Back to making my first ever sourdough starter:

After following the instructions for making a sourdough starter by Ken Forkish, after the first day I had success! Like, wow.

I couldn’t help but name my starter, Bertha. After she started to grow, she became Big Bertha. I imagine her helping me bake big beautiful loaves of sourdough bread.

Here she is, right after mixing the first time. It was simply organic whole wheat flour and 90 degree F spring water mixed together by hand until incorporated. I left it as is for two hours before covering it and placing it in a warm spot of 75 to 90 degrees F which meant my oven. Parts of the day I had the light in the oven on and parts of the day it was off. Parts of the day I cracked the door open and parts of the day it was shut. All the while keeping track of the temperature around the starter.

My first sourdough starter in the making. #notglutenfree

My first sourdough starter in the making. #notglutenfree

 

Here’s after day 1. I woke up to see that my sourdough starter is alive and well. She had some bubbles of activity and smelled nicely.

Per the instructions, I removed about 3/4 of the starter which was thrown away. “Spent fuel” as Ken Forkish calls it. Then, I added more organic whole wheat flour and 90 degrees F spring water. Mixed it by hand, until incorporated, and did the same thing as day one with respect to leaving it uncovered for two hours, followed by covering it and placing it in the oven where the temperature seems best.

1 day after sourdough starter was made.

1 day after sourdough starter was made, the beginning of day 2.

 

Halfway through day 2, Bertha is a strong girl.

Halfway through day 2, Bertha is a strong girl.

I’m excited. I can’t wait to bake my first loaf of sourdough bread in a few more days. I’ll keep you posted. Read about the following days here.

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Monday, February 22nd, 2016

Recipe: A Real-Food Nutritious Breakfast in Our Home: Cabbage n Eggs

Cabbage n Eggs n Black Coffee. Mmm mmm mmm.

Cabbage n Eggs n Black Coffee. Mmm mmm mmm.

I find there are days where it seems the only veggies getting served are at dinner.

That’s not cool.

In my attempt to get more veggies in our bellies, I have started adding them more often in breakfast meals. Today, I hit it out of the park with an easy, nutritious, one-skillet breakfast. My whole family was thrilled. I was thrilled. Everything in the world was good.

And… I decided that it’d make a super easy dinner the next time I need a nutritious meal on the table in under 15 minutes.

You know you want some. Trust me, it's easy n delish.

You know you want some. Trust me, it’s easy n delish.

 

Recipe: Cabbage n Eggs

Yield 2 good-sized servings

  • grass-fed ghee or grass-fed butter
  • less than 1/4 head of green cabbage, thinly sliced and chopped
  • sea salt
  • 4 organic, pasture-RAISED eggs
  • Optional toppings: fresh herbs, grass-fed full-fat yogurt, organic salsa
  1. Heat some ghee or butter in a skillet. Add the green cabbage, and season with salt. Stir it a bit while it cooks.
  2. Once the cabbage is cooked to your liking, crack in the eggs.
  3. Stir the mixture to “scramble” the eggs and let it cook until it reaches your desired doneness.
  4. Portion into bowls. Top with fresh herbs, yogurt, and salsa, if desired.
Kamea likes yogurt. :)

Kamea likes yogurt. :)

You could swap out the cabbage with onions, kale, shredded carrots, or Brussels sprouts. Just use whatever you have on hand.

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