Fuss and Budgets

By Gem

IMG_0132

Enroute is having money worries! Saving for a house has seen us put away a respectable stash, but now we’re soon to leave our jobs, leave the country and start taking some very big chances…… and that means we’re nervously facing the fact that our savings are likely to take a kicking over the rest of 2014. There are tough times ahead, we’re a little anxious, but we know it’s time to make some hard decisions.

So we spent lots of money and bought a camera!

You WHAT?

When we were young, Kin and I both had our own special ways of being terrible with money. In our defence, please note that we’ve always paid our rent and bills and never had our phones cut off. But once these essentials were out of the way, our spending habits were atrocious.

Bad Spending – Gem-Style

My dreadful money method was to meticulously plan where absolutely every dollar should go and to deny myself pretty much anything I wanted, pretty much all of the time. This allowed me to accumulate some savings… which were then decimated at intervals when the rigid discipline became too much and I went temporarily buy-crazy.

Result? Despite the constant threat of nest-egg annihilation, I never seemed to obtain anything I wanted. (Buy-crazy shopping is not well-considered shopping.)

Bad Spending – Kin-Style

Kin, on the other hand, would frantically spend anything he earned or received as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, he never thought very hard about what to spend it on, so his money would just evaporate, leaving him with nothing between pays.

Result?  No savings mean a person has very little money at a time; and that means that Kin never got much that he wanted either! To make things worse, he also ran up some emergency debt (although not very much, thankfully; one of the good things about being in a low income bracket in your twenties is no-one wants to lend you money!)

So. Neither of us had much money (although I had slightly more than Kin) and neither of us were able to have nice things (although Kin had slightly more than me). Day to day, life was okay, but we were both just treading water; neither of us were ever in a position to improve things for ourselves.

Then, one day, we met, we moved in together and we combined our finances. And we combined our opposing ideas on how to manage those finances.  And together, we developed our most important household rule:

Budget Luxuries FIRST

IMG_1514

This isn’t the disaster it sounds like! The key words here are different for each of us, but the rule helps us both.

For me, the keywords are “Luxuries FIRST”. I like a good fait accompli and am happy to simply sit on money I don’t yet have a purpose for, so I will stick to a spending plan, even if it means having to scrape every last coin out of the couch, make scratch meals out of pantry scraps and home-grown vegetables and wash the dishes with soap. Because of that, it’s actually quite easy for me to sacrifice after the fact, especially since I already have my lovely indulgences to make me happy!

For Kin, who could happily get through the lot, the keywords are “Budget FIRST”. This means that before he spends any money in a pay period he has to think about what he actually wants, not just this month, but in the short and long term future. Actually setting aside physical containers to hold money for different purposes can be helpful for this sort of person. For example, you might have one envelope with money for restaurant meals, another with money for a new mattress, and so on. Doing things this way means that there is no large pool of cash for you to draw from to dilute the sacrifice; every time you spend, you will have to decide which area is going to take the hit. Watching your holiday, bicycle or pretty dress dribble away a few dollars at a time is a wonderful way to focus your attention on unnecessary spending.

If you don’t like keeping cash in the house, having separate bank accounts for your different kinds of spending can work (this guy has a lot to say on that topic, if you can avoid the advertising) but you really need to stay on top of fees and taxation.

But please remember: We budget luxuries first out of our household SPENDING money. We do NOT prioritise them over our rent, bills or savings. If you or your partner just flat-out can’t be trusted right now, this would be a terrible idea for you (you need to think about more basic goals, like these or these). There are also a lot of low-cost ways to obtain your pleasures, and I’m looking forward to talking about them later on!

Where do you fit luxury into your life? Where are you prepared to sacrifice and where do you indulge?

Happy (frugal) hedonism!

Gem

XX

Golden Week

By Gem

IMG_8883

It’s Sunday night of a lovely long weekend here in Nagahama, and we’ve been spending it doing things we like best!

Yesterday, we finished everything that needed finishing (housework, shopping and the final co-op missions of Halo 4) and we’re off to have adventures in the south on Monday and Tuesday, so we’ve spent this Sunday having a lovely, gentle time.

A sleep-in for Kin, while I made a morning visit to friends in Kinomoto, then home to a simple lunch, scavenged from the contents of the fridge (I told you it’s good to keep soup and salad dressing in there!)

Kin then headed out to do some pottery in Kurokabe, while I baked bread, puttered around in my pots and studied for an hour or two. When he got home, we enjoyed afternoon tea together; you may notice we’re eating some of the same banana bread at both lunch and afternoon tea. That banana bread is actually a bit of an accident…

IMG_8911

A few weeks ago, my sister inspired me to make a nice, big batch of dulce de leche and, when I noticed our bananas were beginning to look a little sad in their bowl, I thought that I was being provided with a wonderful opportunity to transform my ingredients into a delicious banoffee pie for us to enjoy over the weekend. A little chocolate, a little cream, a drizzle of toffee sauce…. Subarashii!

What actually happened was that I got home on Friday evening, opened the last container of dulce de leche, tasted it to be sure it was still okay and then grew canines, howled at the moon and devoured the lot with a soup spoon.

(I wasn’t really in a fit state to observe myself, you understand, but I’m pretty certain this version of events is pretty close to being true.)

At any rate, I was left with the situation of having a bunch of sick-looking bananas and no caramel, so banana bread was a fairly obvious choice; cold slices for snacks and hot chunks with custard for desserts. Combined with the bread Oinky and I baked, this treat has made our apartment smell absolutely lovely. Outside, the air still carries a fairly heavy chill, but inside, everything is warm and clean and wonderfully fragrant. Life is good.

IMG_8848

The indoor refugees don’t seem to be phased by the cold; they’re so happy to be outdoors, they’re shooting up like rockets. The cold, gusty wind is giving my poor snow peas some trouble though. Every time they try to get a grip on the balcony railing, they’re blown off! After this photo was taken, I tethered them with a bit of hundred yen crochet cotton (Kin says the balcony looks like a spider web now!) and that seems to be helping them hang on a bit better.

IMG_8656

And now, I’m preparing dinner and listening to Kin sigh while he sketches. I’m so proud of him at the moment, I could explode!

Kin has just completed the Betty Edwards drawing program for the second time, and the results have been phenomenal. You can see his previous “Before” and “After” self portraits here (seriously, go look at them, I want you to see how awesome this is).

Now have a look at this:

img351

That was his latest “After” portrait. Isn’t he amazing?

It’s lovely when we can combine peacefulness and productivity this way. We’re looking forward to exciting times over the next few days of Golden Week, but we’re both very glad we had a little stretch to work and recuperate first.

However you’re spending your week, we hope you enjoy it! Don’t forget to take some downtime.

(For a calorie count of my caramel orgy, or a look at more of Kin’s photos, please check out our Facebook page!)

Best wishes,

Gem

XX

April was…

Sweets

April sweets.

Stewart

And an April Fool (we won’t see Shallow again until August).

swallow

Very important preparations being made.

img349

By Kin as well! He’ll be studying again in August and is making sure that he’s ready.

 

Hikiyama matsuri

Onna gata kid

Hikiyama Matsuri (one of Nagahama’s most famous festivals).


gateway view

ducks

Time to resume our Lake Biwa adventures!

 

April was short days, long bike rides and genuine joy at being outdoors. It was time for both of us to shake off our winter blues and get back to work on our drawing, studying and just straight making; food, ceramics and music.

We’re looking forward to a period of rest and focus in May, before we really start to get ready for Australia!

Kin and Gem

XX

 

On the Boil: The Awesomeness of Soup

 

By Gem
IMG_8615

Now Australia is beginning to settle into autumn, and the spring days here in Japan maintain their chill… Now, it is time to sing the song of soup.

O Soup, the nourishing
Soup, the tasty
O, Soup, ye friend of the poor and saviour of the lazy…

… not to mention, Soup, the best way I know of getting rid of whatever’s going leggy in the garden, or leaky in the fridge. Or, Soup, how you can get five serves of vegetables into one meal, let alone one day. Or even Soup, a really good way of impressing lunch guests without really doing anything. 

But none of those really rhyme so well, do they?

Soup and Scheduling

I’ve spoken before about the importance of planning when you’re trying to keep your diet properly balanced. If you’re generally lazy (I am!), busy (I am!), or just someone who can’t always be trusted to make decisions like a grownup (I am!), but you still want to keep everyone properly fed during the week, then you need to organise your kitchen ahead of time.

Soup is central to my day-to-day organisation. If you always keep a jug of soup and a bottle of salad dressing in the fridge, you will always have a lovely, vege-ful meal half organised before you even get home from work.

This is great for those days when you just plain don’t feel like cooking or discover you have unexpected guests on a night you were planning to make scrambled eggs on toast. With about three minutes extra work, your scrambled eggs become an omelette, and you have soup, salad and toast ready to go with it! Salads and soups travel quite happily to work with you and will turn your lunchtime sandwich into a real meal. It also helps you feel better about those days when you haven’t prepared, but you’re already exhausted and just buy a barbequed chicken and some bread rolls on your way home from work. You’re still giving everyone a decent, balanced meal, you’re just not killing yourself to do it at a time when you just don’t have the energy.

Soup is also another arrow in my quiver against the Healthy-Food-Costs-More brigade.

IMG_8438

Getting Organised

Soup and salad dressing are both very simple to make. I shake up my salad dressing in an old squeezy-top mustard bottle that Kin washes out each time we empty it (about every month or so) and store it in the fridge. Just find an old jar, dump in a couple of tablespoons of a nice vinegar (we like a very acidic red wine vinegar), about double that of oil, salt, pepper and any additives that take your fancy (I often add about a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, crushed garlic or some parmesan shavings), shake it up and boom; vinaigrette dressing ready whenever you want it. Just give it another shake when it’s time to squoodge some out.

(Here are some rather more precise recipes if you’re nervous about that sort of thing. Or you can simply buy a nice, low kilojoule salad dressing to keep on hand).

IMG_8385

On the whole, though, it’s even easier to construct a soup than it is to make a salad dressing, and it’s a lot more impressive to visitors.

Basic Soup No 1: Green Velvet

IMG_2939

This soup is Kin’s favourite; it’s also the easiest soup I know! A basic soup like this just needs vegetables and stock. I usually use a liquid chicken stock for my soups, but there are no real rules when it comes to soup. If you are vegetarian, use vegetable stock. If you can’t make liquid stock (I’m not very good at it, either) or afford to buy it, use cubes from the supermarket. Don’t fret too much about getting things right; it’s soup. Soup will forgive you for just about anything.

Ingredients:

1 head of broccoli, divided into small florets, stem chopped
1 bunch of spinach, washed
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
2 largeish potatoes, peeled and chopped into cubes
1.2 litres of stock (or whatever. If you like a thicker soup, use less. If thinner, use more)
Splash of olive oil
Herbs or seasonings (see variation). Today’s herbs for us are oregano, thyme and rosemary.

IMG_8376

Method:

Heat the oil in a saucepan and brown the onion and garlic over a low-medium heat until softened (probably more than five minutes, probably less than ten. Again, it’s soup; don’t worry so much). Add the potato and stir fry for 2-3 minutes (if adding dried herbs, this is a good time. This is also when I add hard herbs like rosemary), then pour in the stock. Bring to the boil, and then simmer for about fifteen minutes, or until the potato is tender. Add the broccoli (and any other fresh herbs), simmer for about four minutes or until broccoli is tender, then add spinach. Stir through and turn off heat.

Liquify soup using a stick blender, food processor, or whatever you have on hand. If you don’t have any of those things, go to an op shop or a pawn shop and buy one. I don’t care how broke you are. Being able to make soup is going to save you more money than a second-hand stick blender could possibly cost you.

Pour soup into bowls and serve, or into containers to store in the fridge. I sometimes pop a swirl of cream in each bowl, but it isn’t necessary. This soup reheats quite happily in the microwave and keeps for over a week in the fridge.

Variation: Leave out the herbs and instead add half a teaspoon of cumin at the end of cooking. Serve each bowl with a blob of natural yoghurtIMG_8409

This soup can also be made with any sort of vegies you have lying around, like carrot, beans, zucchini and any sort of leafy greens. Just simmer hard veg for longer and add leafy veg toward the end of cooking time. If you like a thick soup, add more potato. If you like a thin soup, add more stock. However you make it, it will always be delicious. It will also be cheap and give you a hefty serve of vitamins and fibre with every verdant bowlful.

What other sort of soup recipes would you like to see? Or does anyone have a good recipe of their own? I’ll be back in my garden soon and I’ll be on the lookout for nice ones.

Happy souping!

Gem

XX

March was…

 

IMG_6187

 

Spring! Finally, actual, no-more-wishful-thinking SPRING! 

 

IMG_6222

 

The return of old friends…

 

 

 

IMG_5284

 

Including Shallow!

 

IMG_7617

 

Rediscovering that Tokyo is insane.

 

IMG_7559

 

Parties! Actual outdoor ones, after dark!

 

IMG_7533

 

Hanami (cherry-blossom viewing) in Yoyogi Park. There were so many different parties going on that they all sort of made one BIG party!

 

IMG_8132

 

The Indoor Refugees’ triumphant return to the Great Outdoors.

 

513

Gem’s birthday! These are my presents from Kin, including Kyoto courtyard gardening books and a gorgeous new (second hand) goldy-green kimono! My parents have a finger lime waiting for me back in Oz as well, so I have a pretty good haul this year. Thank you everyone! – Gem

 

March began chilly and still, but soon warmed up to be busy, busy, busy, with trips, events and new discoveries popping up every day!  March was new blooms, night buses and near-nudity! Well….

Okay, no-one’s actually naked, but now that we’ve peeled off the layers of yeti-skins we’ve been wearing all winter and are walking around in actual human clothes, we feel a bit that way. It’s so lovely to be able to wear pretty clothes again and to just step outside whenever you feel like it! The ducks are back, the bats are back, insects are busy everywhere you look and we have survived our LAST EVER Northern Hemisphere winter! In four months, we’ll be back where the weather is sane!

February’s promise has definitely been met; the earth has warmed, nature is hard at work and it’s time for things to happen. And our countdown to Australia gets shorter every day…

It’s go-time!

Kin and Gem

XX