Archive: Apr 2010

Miguel and me

Eating one of our best meals in Playa Del Carmen thanks to Miguel!

Miguel moved to Playa Del Carmen about 20 years ago. He lives in a blue house with his wife and 10 month old. For three days, he attempted to teach me Mayan as I sat in the front passenger seat of his cab while he drove us around the outskirts of Cancun.

When I travel, I take the when in Rome approach, tasting every local food and drink I cross and making conversation with everyone. I asked Miguel to take us to places he liked, and he seemed to enjoy showing Mexico as he lives it – cheap and delicious. Over many hours, we shared food, photos such as his baby laughing on his cell phone, and stories about our lives.

When my husband couldn’t find me while I was haggling, Miguel helped him look for me. For as much time as we spent with him, you’d think we had gone there to see him though we were actually there for two dear friends’ destination wedding.

Besides the evenings for the rehearsal dinner and bachelor/bachelorette parties, and reception, our days were free to explore. But after paying for plane tickets, a condo, and unavoidable cab fare, we needed a good time on as few pesos as possible, and that’s where Miguel came in.

We were just lucky he liked us too. I’m not sure we paid over $3 each for a meal with him. Despite being near perhaps one of the touristy places of Mexico, we had great authentic and affordable experiences.


I have Paulette.

I am in love already.

She’s about 10-11 months old.

Already laying of course but hasn’t laid for me yet.

Got her from one of the photogs downstairs at work. They had too many chickens and this one was getting picked on. They took the feathers out of her tail and left a big red spot on her back.

I picked her up about 7:40 this morning. I got up early to get her.

I think I may have gotten a special needs chicken, or perhaps all chickens are special needs.

She’s either really quiet or really loud.

I was shocked when I caught her tonight and put her to bed in her coop.

Photos soon.

A different kind of savings

Originally published at ING Direct

Until summer of 2007, I lived a fairly miserly life, constrained mostly by graduate school finances (or lack thereof). A good life, yes, but one with limited travel and few indulgences.

I got my first full time job in July, but I barely had a minute to spend my new income before a series of events changed me—and how I viewed saving and spending.

A few weeks after I turned 24 and five months before my wedding, my soon to be mother-in-law called to tell us she was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer.
Suddenly, passing our weekends in Starkville wandering around the woods and playing online seemed like such a waste of time. We began going to the Coast often to visit our respective families. For the first time, I could see our parents, who before seemed so permanent and secure, as normal fragile people. I noticed their growing medications on the counter. I became upset when my father picked up smoking again. And even more unnerving, my grandmother and uncle were gravely ill. Suddenly I was more aware of how mortal we all are, myself included.

We put more miles on our cars in the next five months than we had in the previous three years. Hospital visits, funerals, last Thanksgivings, last Christmases, last hugs, promises of future visits when things would be better. I found myself treasuring these visits, more than anything I had ever put in a bank. Trips to the Coast and to North Carolina were like emotional savings deposits for when these people wouldn’t be here.

The wedding came in December, and my mother-in-law was not only able to be there—she was able to dance, despite having recently relearned to walk. She succumbed to the illness on January 31, 2008. We unfortunately did not arrive to the Coast while she was still conscious, and in some ways I feel we didn’t get a chance to say goodbye—but I know we spent those last months traveling so much to do just that.

It’s still hard two years later. You always expect your parents to be there forever. To hold your kids, help you move into your first house, see you at your most successful.

Susan, my second mother, was only 55. In her short life, she had done many things, met many people, saw lots—including a trip to Ireland she loved. I like to think she did not have many regrets. The first year following her death, we returned to the Coast at least monthly, sometimes more, to visit our families.

In retrospect, we realized we hadn’t done many fun things during our first year of marriage or seen our many friends spread across the country. We decided to take them up on offers to visit, and started spending more money on travel than on savings. We kicked off a year with more weekends out of town than in, mostly visiting friends and family across the Southeast. Starkville is a fine small southern college town, but there is a great big world out there and I intend to enjoy its smorgasbord of tastes, sights, and sounds with the people I love while we’re still breathing.

Top 10 Things I Do to Afford Travel:

1. Limit bills. No cable. No Internet on my (free) phone. Older cars have cheaper insurance and tags. Shelter dogs come fixed with shots. We do our own haircuts and styles at home, sleep with the heat on 55, and use the fire place for more than decoration.

2. Plan and cook meals ahead for lunch and dinner for the week. This week I ate homemade tacos of ground turkey, chickpeas (I really really love chickpeas), shredded cabbage, poblano peppers, jalapeno peppers (I froze from my garden last year), tomatoes, and cheese. Each morning I scoop a little into some Tupperware and then I spread it over my tortillas at work and pop them in the microwave. I drink water with my lunch and have a grapefruit for an afternoon snack.

3. Find local free or cheap entertainment: campus events, hiking, biking, and photography at the nearby parks, book club (though my book club told me not to write about them), and gardening heavily (I grew over 30lbs of produce last year and am looking to double or triple it this year).

4. I never go into debt for a purchase. If the money isn’t there, I never buy it. It’s harder to get out of a hole than to never fall in it.

5. On a trip, I hit the grocery store first: loaf of bread, sandwich meat, cheese, a gift for our hostess (beer, flowers, wine), fruits, nuts, etc. We usually allow ourselves to eat one meal out a day. We often cook meals for our host as a thank you for having us.

6. We travel where we have friends and family. This saves us in hotel costs, and we get the inside scoop of where we’re visiting. Places we’ve stayed with friends and family: New Orleans, Memphis, Birmingham, Washington DC, Wilmington NC, Orlando. Upcoming places we plan to visit: Pittsburgh, NYC, and Bloomington, Indiana.

7. Before we travel, we research where we’re going. We look for free and cheap events. DC was great because almost everything has free entry.

8. We travel with our dogs. Mostly because I can’t emotionally bear to board them, but it also saves us boarding fees. If we can’t take them with us, we usually don’t go, though the parents are always happy to keep them if we’re going someplace near them. Then we just drop the dogs off to get fat and spoiled.

9. We walk. Walking is a great way to explore a city. You see things you can’t from a cab or your car. I’ve met some very interesting people walking and found nice stores. At Mardi Gras our host asked if wanted to walk the eight blocks down St. Charles or take a cab. We walked. Met a circle of singing girls who loved my Lady Gaga wig and serenaded me with “Bad Romance”. Got in a little exercise, and enjoyed a beautiful warm day in February.

10. We’re childfree, not childless. I once saw a sign at the Sweet Potato Festival that said, “Children are for people who can’t have dogs.”

I don’t feel guilt for any trip we take because we can afford it through our saving methods, which I’ve ramped up recently for bigger trips. We’re happy to have more balance in our life again, taking trips for fun and reconnecting with family and friends, and still managing to save while we’re at it. FYI, we did stay in town the entire month of March, but a little birdie says we’re going to Mexico for a destination wedding soon, and I’m wrestling with May. Family meet up in ATL, wedding reception in Birmingham, Memphis Zoo trip, and the East Atlanta Beer Fest.


Today has been full of ups and downs of various sorts.

We were to join Sheena and T for a bike ride at 9. Only as we were preparing the bikes to go on the rack, D noticed what appeared to be a piece of wood on his tire. When he removed it, it revealed a large thorn from one of the awful Osage orange trees, and his tire quickly deflated. Since it happened before the bike shop opened, we headed to my least favorite place in town, Walmart, which never has enough lines open, ever. Anyway, we got what we needed, got the tube put in, reassembled the bikes and our part of brunch and eventually got over there more than an hour late. All was well. We biked to the chapel. Had a delightful brunch of fresh strawberries (I bought a flat from the ZTA fundraiser), Greek yogurt with honey, sun chips, and wheat bagel sandwiches. We then took off to south farm to see the animals, but the gravel was very thick and hard to bike in. Sheena and T left to go play basketball, D and I were determining the rest of our route, and then started to depart and stuff fell out of my pocket. I picked it back up and realized I didn’t have my IDs. See they were in my backpack, but I had to get them out to go to walmart, and of course my new never been used debit card was in there just in case I wanted to buy something, and I stuck it in my pocket meaning to move it back to my bag. Ooops. So instead of going on our planned route, we backtracked our way looking for my IDs and debit card which were in a green holder. We road back through the farm, through campus, stopped by the campus police station to see if anyone turned it, back through town, almost back to Sheena’s house, when I was looking in an area we had stopped, and a girl walked toward me and held up my ID. She had just found it a few feet away and saw me looking for something and realized it was me. I thanked her for being a kind person.

So we detoured and rode by DK’s house but he wasn’t home, so we looped back around to Sheena’s, loaded our bikes and headed home to eat a lunch of baked salmon, avocado, and grapefruit. Then we started working in the yard. We had a few main objectives:

1. Finish moving the rotting wood from the wood pile to the woods.
2. Weedwack around the garden beds.
3. Straighten up and move random things from being in the yard.
4. Mow the front and back.
5. Move the new chicken coop to its home.

I was weedwacking and D was working on the woodpile when he said loudly, “That’s a giant snake.” My immediate response was to grab the dogs and put them inside where I grabbed my camera and went back out. At first I didn’t see it, and when I did, I screamed even though I knew it was there. It was clearly venomous. I wouldn’t say giant, but surprisingly large, for a venomous snake in our backyard. I took a few photos and he started trying to get deeper in the wood pile. As D was moving more wood to get to him, he realized there was another venomous snake in the pile. He cleared the wood well enough to get in there with an ax and then chopped their heads off. Had they been nonvenomous, we would have just tossed them over the fence. They were too big to try to move and get bitten by. After that my nerves were shot, and we decide it was time for a frozen treat and to confirm my suspicions that they were copperheads. We looked at photos. Definitely copperheads.

Then we went back outside, finished our treats, and went right back into yardwork. We accomplished everything on our list and then some. The wood that wasn’t rotten I decided to keep for making a border for new bed where the pile of wood had been. I’ve arranged the wood around it. I’ll need to till it up though and get more dirt. I mowed the back, and D’s finishing the front now. I dug up and moved some wood borders to one of my front beds and replaced them with some cement borders one of my coworkers gave me. I also expanded the bed out. I need more dirt for it as well. I’m going to look into how much it will cost to have top soil delivered in a large quantity.

Moving the chicken coop was more troublesome than I expected. It’s heavy, but I’m taking that to mean quality construction. Now time for a shower and to head over to Sheena’s for a bbq. After a shower of course.

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