Western Red Cedar's Journal

Where are you and where are you going?
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2Birds1Stone
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Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Post by 2Birds1Stone »

Your corner of the world looks incredible....thank you for sharing with us!

Western Red Cedar
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Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Post by Western Red Cedar »

Travel and Cognitive Dissonance

International travel is a major component to my strategy for transitioning away from a traditional career and lifestyle. I've wrestled with an ethical dilemma around travel and its detrimental impact on the environment for years now. I've never fully come to terms with this, but I've tried to structure my travel in a manner that at least minimizes some of the environmental impacts.

If I choose an international destination, I try to spend at least a month abroad to maximize the value of the trip and limit the number of flights in my lifetime. Once abroad I travel regionally using local public transportation. In the past DW and I have brought our own water filters to limit the amount of plastic waste. We've also started traveling much more regionally in the past decade to fulfill our love of travel in a manner that doesn't require flights.

I realize that limiting international travel is a more environmentally responsible choice, but this is the one area of my life that I've decided to be a bit selfish. I wanted to preface this before diving in to our plans for a sabbatical.


Ideas for our Sabbatical:

I asked DW to start thinking about some locations she would like to travel to if/when we take a year off in the next couple of years. If a potential trip is 18 months away, we need to start planning for vaccinations, travel hacking, and an itinerary that makes sense in terms of weather/season in particular countries.

DW came up with the following list:

Asia: Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong

Europe: Greece, Italy, Turkey, Spain

Middle East/Africa: Israel, Egypt, Morocco

Central/S. America: Mexico, Belize, Colombia

I'm pretty happy with most of these destinations and they reflect a lot of our discussions about potential travel destinations. I'd add the following to her list:

Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Jordan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Canada.

I think I'd like to target 6-10 countries as part of a year-long trip, and spend a couple of months in certain low cost countries such as Mexico, Thailand, and Vietnam. We'll definitely plan on traveling regionally, and will likely focus on Central/S. America and SE Asia. I was looking at some travel blogs for budgets and surprised when I saw recommended budgets of 15-25 thousand per person for a "budget" round the world trip. After doing some more digging and looking at budgets for digital nomads I found budgets that were under a thousand dollars per month, sometimes half of that. Digital nomads tend to travel more slowly and save significant funds by renting accommodation on a monthly basis.

We spent less than a thousand dollars per month on our past trips, but I designed an itinerary around some very cheap travel destinations. I think we could limit expenses if we volunteer or do some WWOOFIng for portions of the trip. Housesitting would also be great, but DW is allergic to pet dander and I think many of these arrangements include pet-sitting.

7Wannabe5
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Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Post by 7Wannabe5 »

Unfortunately, being cognizant of environmental and economic issues can simultaneously make you feel guilty for wanting to travel and anxious to do it before it is too late. I think the Rule of 1Jacob or less spending is the best any of us can do in that regard, and fussing about what portion of that level of spending goes to jet fuel vs red meat vs property taxes is too limiting of freedom. That said, I have already devised a work around for myself and might apply for position as travel nanny sometime after COVID.

2Birds1Stone
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Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Post by 2Birds1Stone »

You just gave me serious wanderlust again.

Looking even at AirBnB's in Southern Spain right now, really nice accommodation can be had for $500-800/month. The discount for stays over over 28 days is fantastic. If you can "hack" your accommodation costs, that will make the whole budget so much easier to keep in check. Travel/health insurance outside of the USA is dirt cheap, food is also extremely affordable when you're preparing your own meals. Between trains, public buses, and private bus service like "Flixbus" getting around is also cheap. We spent a total of $10,400 for 7 months in Portugal/Poland.

Western Red Cedar
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Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Post by Western Red Cedar »

@7W5 - Thanks for commenting. I like the way you framed the issue in terms of spending levels. I hadn't quite thought of it like that. I'm not completely convinced that spending half of one JAFI on jet fuel should be considered the same as spending it on locally produced food or something benign like that, but it's probably much healthier to focus generally on spending levels rather than overanalyzing every life decision.

@2B1S - I'm happy to share the pictures and always enjoy seeing the adventures and scenery in other journals.

I think you have a great opportunity to do some exploring domestically and WFH with your new setup. The US is so distinct regionally, we have a lot of amazing cities, and great outdoor areas. I'd jump at the chance to try some new locations if my wife was able to work remotely.

When we were in Spain and Portugal last year I was checking out monthly rental rates in Malaga, Lagos, Lisbon, and Madrid. I saw some decent monthly rentals for 600-800 per month. I could definitely see myself living in a place like Spain for a while when we hit full FI. Part of me developing the list was a means of dealing with my own wanderlust.

I was joking with DW last night that one of the reasons she enjoys travel so much is that we are constantly eating out. She's a bit of a foodie, but happy to scout out the best cheap eats in a city. This works okay when you're in places like Thailand or Guatemala, where accommodation and restaurants are very cheap, but doesn't work as well for budget traveling in mid-range countries.

I think travel budgets are much like a traditional budget. It comes down to the big three expenses: food, transportation, and housing. Lots of creative ways to limit or adjust those expenses. Slow travel dramatically tends to reduce the latter two.

Western Red Cedar
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Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Post by Western Red Cedar »

Finances:

457 B - 133,143
Roth IRA - 52,516
Savings - 29,844
Pension - 35,785
DW Roth - 44,464
DW Savings - 3,919
Brokerage (shared) - 20,159

NW - 319,830 (Increase of $28,535)

This was our largest NW increase ever. Even considering the drop in investment income over October, it still represents a pretty significant change. The interesting thing is that even though we crossed the halfway mark to our FI goal I didn't really feel any different.

I've neglected tracking expenses for the last few years but figured I would try to tabulate everything over the last six months with the long weekend. I wanted to see how close we were to my $2,000 per month spending estimate. My general strategy is to use discretionary spending based on my values. Here is the breakdown for total household expenses (2 people):

May - $1,841.39
June - $2,376.51
July - $1,916.68
Aug. - $2,970.83
Sept - $2,083.82
Oct. - $1,536.88

I didn't bother to break it down by categories and the process I used wasn't precise on an actual monthly basis. I totaled monthly expenses based on when I payed off my credit cards - so some of the expenses carried over into other months. October looks lower because there was a $300 payment made on Nov. 2nd. The high in August was based on a fairly irregular car expense (the dealership replaced the break pads and some other minor stuff).

Overall, it's refreshing that we weren't too much higher than our estimate (average of $2,120). I was a bit disappointed that it wasn't a bit lower though considering we've been pretty much housebound with the pandemic. Typically we'd have some extra fluff in the budget with restaurants and random outings with friends or family.

Health:

I managed to drop a few pounds over the last month but gained much of it back over the holiday weekend. I'm at the high end of my target weight range but just need to watch my caloric intake and make some extra effort to stay active in the winter months to move the needle in the right direction.

I was pretty happy after doing a bike ride through snow and ice today. Twelve miles on my lunch break. I haven't really ridden in snow much before but it wasn't a big deal (less than 2 inches) and I think I may be able to extend my window for bike rides.

Work:

I looked over my notes on Deep Work and made an extra effort to remove distractions during my workday. I've been really productive over the last few weeks. Part of that was also just being under some personally imposed deadlines which usually incentives me to be highly productive. I find if I make commitments to coworkers I'm better at meeting deadlines b/c I don't want to appear like a flake.

I had developed a habit of listening to one or two podcasts after I started working from home earlier this year. Sometimes it's fine if I'm responding to email, developing presentations, or doing other tasks that don't require a high level of concentration. It's a bit distracting if I really need to focus on technical writing, reading, or analysis.

I realized I had developed a bad habit of vegging out in front of the TV after work since since the weather changed. I'm usually mentally exhausted after 8-10 hours so it's a bit challenging to engage with hobbies. Even something as passive as reading has been a bit of a lift. I realized I had been bouncing from one dopamine hit or stimulant to the next throughout the day - caffeine, podcasts, food, tea, internet articles, Netflix, YouTube. It was a little alarming, but probably the result of dwelling in the fog of work.

Reading:

I checked out a digital copy of The Noma Guide to Fermentation. I've only just started reading it but am pretty excited so far. They have a pretty amazing experimental laboratory that focuses pretty heavily on fermentation. I figure I might as well learn from one of the best chef's in the world.

AxelHeyst
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Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Post by AxelHeyst »

Regarding vegging out and mental exhaustion, I’ve been noodling on the idea that our brains don’t actually need to “veg out” or “relax” after a hard day, but they do need some form of cognitive variety. It’s exhausting to spend 8+ hours doing one style of challenging mental work, and ending your work day and then doing some hobby that isn’t very different will seem like a drag. But if the hobby is challenging but in a very different way than the 8hrs previous, the brain can manage just fine and responds well.

For example I do 3d design work for my job. I also do 3d projects as a hobby. I learned that doing both in one day is no fun, and makes me dislike all of it generally, even though I hustled for years to be able to do this kind of work professionally as my “dream job”. But doing 3d job work, and then spending my evening on a build or a woodworking project, something still cognitively demanding but hands-on and of a different style, is enjoyable. I’m still working on developing my own menu of “high quality leisure activities”.

Based on your brief description of job tasks, it seems like even “fun” reading is perhaps not different enough from what you spend your work day doing to give your brain that cognitive variety. I wonder if any of this resonates? I think that having a cultivated “menu” also really helps with avoiding cotton-candy-for-the-mind activities like TV because instead of just “not watching TV” you are “doing [highly enjoyable leisure activity]” — you get to do fun-and-healthy thing A, instead of using willpower and discipline to avoid fun-but-unhealthy thing B.

eta: this idea of high quality leisure activities is stolen wholesale from Cal Newport, mostly via his podcast but he wrote about it in Digital Minimalism.
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Hristo Botev
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Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Post by Hristo Botev »

To @AH's point, in the evenings I have no problem playing chess with the kiddos, or going for a walk, or playing catch, etc. with the kids, or cooking; but as much as I LOVE reading, and as much as my to-read pile keeps growing, I generally don't have the bandwidth to read much of anything after 8-10 hours doing nothing but reading at my desk during the workday. I think part of it is just realizing that if I want to do some recreational reading in the evenings, I need to not do so much of it (i.e., this forum!) during the workday. Perhaps the solution is something like bookmarking (or whatever the right computer term is) articles, posts, etc. I want to read for later.

7Wannabe5
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Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Post by 7Wannabe5 »

Good observation. I would note that in my experience it also applies to form of social interaction. Classic example would be spending whole day with bossy boss then coming home to bossy spouse. However, could be generalized to include, for instance, self-directed vs. other directed or social vs solo. So, for instance, a tap dancing class after a day spent writing alone in your office, could be particularly invigorating. Another classic, well-known example, would be executive suite functions paired with golf.

classical_Liberal
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Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Post by classical_Liberal »

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jacob
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Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Post by jacob »

Since 2018 I've been trying to finish my interviews with the recommendation that a successful life [with or without a job] needs to hit all the cylinders in some combinations of "fun"/"meaningful" and "practical"/"theoretical". (Being a hardcore introvert, I have the freedom to mostly ignore the human connection needs, but I'm sure that's there too. Possibly also internal/external structure depending on one's N/S tilt. )

Western Red Cedar
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Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Post by Western Red Cedar »

Thank you everyone for the thoughts and suggestions. It's given me something to reflect on over the past few days.
AxelHeyst wrote:
Wed Dec 02, 2020 12:13 pm
Regarding vegging out and mental exhaustion, I’ve been noodling on the idea that our brains don’t actually need to “veg out” or “relax” after a hard day, but they do need some form of cognitive variety. It’s exhausting to spend 8+ hours doing one style of challenging mental work, and ending your work day and then doing some hobby that isn’t very different will seem like a drag. But if the hobby is challenging but in a very different way than the 8hrs previous, the brain can manage just fine and responds well.

Based on your brief description of job tasks, it seems like even “fun” reading is perhaps not different enough from what you spend your work day doing to give your brain that cognitive variety. I wonder if any of this resonates? I
I think there is a lot of merit to this idea. Based on what I've learned about meditation, I think we benefit by giving our brains a time to "rest" but vegging out in front of a television is the equivalent to eating candy to satisfy your appetite.

Last winter I got into one of the best routines in recent memory because I joined a gym and was lifting 6 days a week. Lifting weights was a great option after work because it provided the cognitive variety you describe. It also represented a healthy outlet for stress, added some interesting variety to my typical social circle, and inspired me to learn a lot more about health and nutrition.

While I was at my parent's cabin in October I noticed how nice it was to go split wood or do something physical for 20-30 minutes after reading for a few hours. Cognitive and physical balance is critical, and unfortunately many professions don't naturally offer that.

Winters are a bit hard for me because the cold, dark evenings aren't conducive to time outside. Over the years I've observed a tendency to consume more media in the winters. I've even got to the point where I won't start a new series in the spring or summer because I want to "save" it for later in the year when I know I'll be watching TV. A couple of my regular hobbies that add a bit of cognitive variety are cooking and guitar. I've also been getting into fermentation and pickling, but that doesn't necessarily require a lot of my time.

All of the responses have inspired me to develop a better at-home workout routine and schedule it after my workday. I think that would hit a number of my goals. I tend to respond well to systems and structure, so I just need the self-discipline to set those up.

@7W5 - I think you're on point regarding social interaction. DW is a strong introvert and she recently had to walk away from a job/career that demanded extensive interaction all through the day. She was fried every evening and would usually need to spend most of here weekends at home to recover. Fortunately she's managed to pivot to a position with one-on-one interaction.

@Jacob - I've definitely grokked that message from your writing and others who have reached FI. I'm at the point now where finances are on autopilot and I'm focusing much more on "lifestyle" issues.

@CL - You've previously talked about not having much bandwidth to engage in activities after long shifts. Perhaps this was in the context of full burnout. It resonated strongly with me but Axel Heyst's suggestion also makes sense.

@HB - One thing I've been thinking about more is how having kids naturally causes one to focus less on oneself. I've realized that I probably tend to be too focused on myself - goals, productivity, happiness, professional success, etc. I've been doing some mentoring work with students in my alma mater for the past few years and it feels great to give and focus on others. I'd like to expand on my volunteer efforts in the future and in early retirement. Habitat for Humanity is high on my list to pick up some construction skills and expand my social circle.

Western Red Cedar
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Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Post by Western Red Cedar »

I've been trying to get outside as much as possible while the sun is out. Bike rides on my lunch break are getting pretty frigid with temperatures between 30-35 degrees F. I use an old pair of fingerless rowing gloves so that probably doesn't help. I made it out for a beautiful eight mile hike yesterday and had most of the trails to myself. A light layer of snow covered the area which made it a bit slick in spots but really beautiful. A 2 mile stretch of the trail had a lot of old growth ponderosa pines. I spent some time hanging out there and checking out the trees. It always keeps me grounded when I see trees that are hundreds of years old. Here are a few pictures:

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classical_Liberal
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Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Post by classical_Liberal »

,,,
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ertyu
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Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Post by ertyu »

Beautiful pictures. Thank you for sharing WRC.

Hristo Botev
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Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Post by Hristo Botev »

Western Red Cedar wrote:
Sun Dec 06, 2020 1:11 pm
@HB - One thing I've been thinking about more is how having kids naturally causes one to focus less on oneself. I've realized that I probably tend to be too focused on myself - goals, productivity, happiness, professional success, etc. I've been doing some mentoring work with students in my alma mater for the past few years and it feels great to give and focus on others. I'd like to expand on my volunteer efforts in the future and in early retirement. Habitat for Humanity is high on my list to pick up some construction skills and expand my social circle.
For sure kids are constant reminders that your life isn't about you. That said, it's very easy then to get into a mindset that your life is now entirely about your kids; and that's not quite right either. The folks in my life that seem to get it right (certainly not me), including both folks with and without kids, are the ones that seem to be constantly doing something for others; to the point where it seems like they have just hardwired themselves to not even be able to think about doing anything that would just benefit themselves. Even going on a retreat is done with the mindset that they are doing for others; they know they need the time to recharge their batteries and re-evaluate priorities so that they can better serve others. There's one guy in particular from my Knights of Columbus council--we quite seriously call him St. ___ behind his back--who is not married and doesn't have any kids, and he is CONSTANTLY doing stuff for others; he grows veggies so that he can give them away; he mows the lawns of several elderly parishioners; he shows up at every volunteer event and immediately gets to work (no standing around); he engages everyone he comes across with a smile and a one-on-one conversation where he will ask you 1,000 questions from a place of genuine and heartfelt curiosity and interest. There's certainly a lot of stuff that he does that are more traditional volunteer activities (e.g., Habitat for Humanity), but he doesn't compartmentalize volunteer/charity work from other aspects of his life (work/family/social)--EVERYTHING is an opportunity to show love, to experience the true/good/beautiful and share it with others. Anyway, my point is, he's a fantastic role model for me. And when it comes time to go to confession, and my examination of conscience has come up a little empty such that I can't think of anything to confess; he's the guy I picture in my mind and I can then quite easily come up with a very long list of places where I came up short in willing the good of others.

ETA: Regarding St. ____, I won't say what he does for a living, for fear of doxing or whatever, but needless to say, he's AMAZING at it, and what he produces is beautiful and the work of absolute craftsmanship and skill, and he loves being able to share that beauty with others. It doesn't pay well, but he lives very simply.

Western Red Cedar
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Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Post by Western Red Cedar »

@HB - Thanks for sharing about your friend. I think a deficit in my current FI journey is a lack of service. This is a bit ironic in that service to other is incorporated into my career, but I don't typically work one-on-one with individuals in need. I intended to expand my volunteer work after giving up traditional work, but I think I need to incorporate this into my life in the near future to find some more balance.
classical_Liberal wrote:
Sun Dec 06, 2020 1:51 pm
Once men in the US reach late 30's, most have made the decision on children. Those without kids are a big minority 30-50, and I really think the way we self-actualize is somewhat different than those in who do, or maybe we just whine more? The traditional provider roles really aren't there anymore, and I think that goes double for men without kids as DINK couples are generally doing pretty good. I'm sure women without kids have at least an equally tough time (probably more), trying to figure out a purpose in child rearing ages if they don't have kids. It's definitely something to think about.
DW and I often talk about how we can't imagine balancing career, kids, and other life obligations. But it seems like just about everyone manages somehow. From what I've observed, there is a lot of chaotic inertia, particularly when children are under five. (I had an inside perspective on this working at a child development center for 4 years in college).

I first learned about Maslow's hierarchy of needs at the age of 16. I spent much of my early to mid twenties focusing on self-exploration and self-actualization. Reading your comment made me realize I've shelved the idea of trying to self-actualize for years now. This is particularly crazy considering how a lifestyle crafted from an ERE framework naturally lends itself to self-actualization.

It reminds me of something that MooreTrees mentioned about her lifestyle in her twenties, which was much more flexible, spontaneous, and less concerned about finances. In many ways, I was probably living a more ERE compatible lifestyle in my twenties with a focus on taking jobs that taught me new skills, allowed me to live or travel overseas, and appeared to be leading me up the pyramid. If I had 10K in the bank, I knew that would let me travel the world for a year.

One of the problems with a good-paying job are the mental shackles that accompany it. I'm looking forward to shed the shock collar and exploring beyond the yard again.

classical_Liberal
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Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Post by classical_Liberal »

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Western Red Cedar
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Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Post by Western Red Cedar »

Finances and Relationships

I've mentioned before that in many ways my wife is more compatible with ERE principles. She proved it again last week when she told me she was making 2021 a "no buy" year. She successfully completed one of these a few years ago. She has a couple rules that allow her to replace certain health or beauty products once she is completely out of everything. She tends to spend a lot of time "window shopping" online for various health/beauty/fashion products but is generally pretty deliberate when she chooses to purchase something. She wants to spend her time more productively, working on art projects, sewing, or other things. I can't argue with that logic.

I try to be really conscious about not commenting/nagging about spending or lifestyle choices. I realize I'm implementing some pretty extreme lifestyle choices for myself and don't want to force anything on her. We have a general rule that if we are spending more than $100 on something we check in before making the purchase, but this rarely comes up.

A lot of her clients have been canceling lately so she wasn't working too much over the last month. Our expenses are low so she's still saving money, but I think she wanted to take more control over her finances and she said she wanted to start contributing to her Roth IRA again.

So that was the first ERE victory. Then, a few days ago, she said her work called and asked her if she wanted to take on a new client. I was in a conference call but told her we should talk about it on my lunch break. She really liked her 3/4 time schedule and open mornings for working out, appointments, meditation, and reading. I went to talk to her on my lunch break but found out she already accepted it. After she found out some more information about the client she told HR that she would do it. That bumped her up from 27 hours per week to 35 per week. The next day she told me one of her clients needed more time and an extra day. She decided to cut a 45 minute break in her day down to 15 minutes, added an extra day, and is now scheduled for 40 hours per week.

The funny thing about all of this is that I was more hesitant for her to take on the extra work because she loves her schedule so much. Overall, it makes a lot of sense as she really likes her new job and clients, and has tightened up her schedule. She's had a lot of time off over the last 18 months and enjoys the structure that work provides and making a difference in people's lives. She can always drop a client if it becomes too much.

Even though I don't track our savings rate, it was pretty apparent from tracking our NW that it was better when she was working full time. I tried not to focus on it too much, and the fact that our NW had hit a point where investment income/gains were becoming pretty sizable made me comfortable with our progress. Her extra income will definitely speed things up some more. FI by 40 was always a stretch goal, but it's looking somewhat more feasible with market activity and new income.

Life and Work

I haven't been great about working out after I finish work, but have had success with extending my fasting windows and getting out for walks and bike rides. I've lost a couple pounds since Thanksgiving and I'm in my healthy/target weight range. I've consciously tried to limit my time in front of a television after work based on feedback from this forum. I'll still watch a movie or show, but try to limit it to an hour or two.

I've been focusing on cooking a lot more. It allows me to flex a little creativity and provide something of value for DW after she gets home. Leftovers are always tasty but it's not quite the same as a freshly prepared, surprise dinner.

I picked up ten pounds of organic carrots that were on sale this week - $3 for a five pound bag. Last night I made a delicious carrot and ginger soup topped with coconut milk and fresh basil from our window box. DW really likes soups and tapas, so I also prepared a tapas style meal for her - another soup with leftover turkey and a delicious broth from Thanksgiving, and a cucumber salad topped with fresh parsley from our window box.

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classical_Liberal
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Re: Western Red Cedar's Journal

Post by classical_Liberal »

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