Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Trim The Fat Tuesday: The Faucet Aerator, Part 2

Remember when MassSave gave us a bunch of free stuff, including an aerator for our bathroom faucet? Well, it turns out that you can get even more restrictive faucet aerators to

Reduce water flow in the bathroom sinks to save resources (and cash).

This is an especially good one if you have kids, because they tend to let the water run more than is strictly necessary for cleanliness (at least mine do). A faucet aerator restricts the flow of water out of the faucet, but mixes in air so it doesn't feel like less water on your skin.

MassSave gave us a 1.5 gallon per minute aerator, but I discovered in my research that you can get a 0.5 gpm aerator for under $5 at the Home Depot. We had to wait a bit because it was a special order, but once we got it, it was a fast switcheroo to replace the old ones.

The downstairs bath has a chrome finish, and that was just as easy as unscrewing the old aerator and screwing the new one on, since it's easy to find a matching chrome aerator. The upstairs bathroom is a dark bronze finish, so we got an aerator insert instead. That required unscrewing the old aerator, swapping out the plastic insert, and screwing it back in place. Neither one was hard to do.

Now that these are in place in both bathrooms (you could also do the kitchen, but I decided that it would actually be a huge pain to wait forever to fill all those big pots of water we use in canning season--and the kids don't use that sink much, so we have better control over the potential waste), I went back to a handy online calculator to see how much money this switch is going to save us.

Turns out that moving from 1.5 gpm to just 0.5 gpm in both bathrooms should cut our bills by $130 per year. And, you know, save the earth and stuff.

Savings per month: $11

Total savings for July: $800.50 (this month's savings plus the savings already in place from previous months!)

Total savings in 2014: $3384

Monday, July 28, 2014

Comidas Tradicionales De Costa Rica

This past weekend we spent some time on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, in a small town called Uvita. When we weren't busy ziplining through the jungle or diving into waterfall pools, we enjoyed lots of local dishes in the town's sodas, or diners.   

The most common dish in Costa Rica is the casado, or "marriage." The marriage is of rice and beans, which are always served together. Along with this base comes a piece of meat (or fish on the coast), some fried plantain, a salad, and a picadillo, which is a vegetable side cut into small pieces. It's a full plate of food, and one in which the meat is only a small portion of the well-balanced plate. Kirk's casado in the photo above has, clockwise from the top, sweet fried plantain, fried fish, mixed salad (which is somewhat less common than the typical cabbage slaw), red beans, white rice, and pieces of ayote, a summer squash similar to zucchini. 

Costa Rican cuisine is typically not spicy, although there are plenty of sauces to add to the rice and beans. Hot sauce similar to Tabasco is common, as is a salsa de vegetales. The recipe varies depending on who makes it, but it's usually a thin, green-brown sauce made with Costa Rica's flavor trifecta of celery, garlic, and pepper. There's also some type of curry spices going on in there too--maybe some cumin or turmeric? Plus a little vinegar, and there you go. It's really delicious, and the celery/garlic combination is pretty unique. 

Costa Rican food is not Mexican food, but they do have gallos, which are like tacos. These are served on flour or corn tortillas, but the only filling is shredded meat cooked in a light vegetable sauce. Mine were chicken and served with a salad and a pickled jalapeño, which was not at all spicy. Emboldened, I put a big scoop of salsa on each gallo and took a bite. 

This is where we learn the origin of the saying "Ask questions before your chile is roasted."

So yeah, some Costa Rican food is spicy after all.

Finally, the big hit with the kids were the batidos, or smoothies. On the coast these were called aguas naturales, which you could order made with either milk or water. In the photo Tiegan is having a pineapple with milk. Jonas' favorite is mango (with water or milk, though I think he's decided that he likes the creamy version the best). I had a guanábana with milk, which was delicious. The dictionary translates this fruit as a "soursop," which I'm pretty sure is a fake thing no one has ever heard of. It's a big, tropical fruit that is green and spiny on the outside, with pale flesh seeds in the middle. It's not very sour, although it does have a slight citrusy tang. According to Jeidy, my Spanish teacher, it's one of the first fruits that they feed to babies around here because it is universally adored and very soft and juicy.

We can see why!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Mi Casa Es Su Casa

Even though I'm far away from our Newburyport garden, I do have a several small gardens here at our house in Costa Rica. One garden is inside the house:

This stone wall (which I'm pretty sure is actually cement carved to look like a fieldstone wall) separates the living/dining room from the kitchen in this urban, open-concept house. Leafy and vining tropical plants grow from a trough along the top of the wall and well as in pots along the floor. There is an irrigation pipe that drips water into the trough--this water also runs down the wall into a small, walled pool along the floor, where the potted plants can also catch a drink. There is a corrugated plexiglass skylight above for sunlight, and through which some rain also falls when there are heavy squalls. Here is a view from the kitchen side:

We have also discovered that (at least) two little house geckos live up on that wall. They are small, brown, and way too fast (so far, anyway) for me to catch in a photo. They chirp at night and scamper along the wall. They are considered lucky, probably because they eat insects. 

The kids' bedroom has a window that looks out into a mini-courtyard, which would be an air shaft if this were a taller building. Our house here is only one story, but to stay cool it is important that every room has a window. These are potted plants that get rain and light from the outside in this small area. They must not need much attention, because I think you'd have to remove a window to get out there to deal with them.

Through the back door in the kitchen there is a traditional patio:

Because we are in the city center, this patio is completely tiled, but you can see at the far end that there are more plants along the back wall. Part of the patio is covered so you can sit outside whenever you want, though any line between the indoors and the outdoors is pretty blurry here.

Part of the patio area in uncovered as well:

The outdoor sink could be for laundry, though we have a small washing machine on the patio as well. The outdoor plants need no extra watering, as it rains here at least a little bit every day now that we are heading into the rainy season. 

This last photo shows my bedroom window and small bathroom window, as well as more plants around the walls of the house. A little gueco (our friends the house geckos) must live out here as well, because I saw him running along my window sill yesterday afternoon. There are no screens here, so I suppose he is free to come and go as he pleases, but he chose to leap into the tall plant by my window when I tried to take his picture. 

We also have a pair of Tropical Kingbirds that like the high tree branches just over the back garden wall or over the patio roof. They aren't too loud, though we hear them when the sun comes up. I haven't yet been able to get a picture of them, but will keep trying. 

I'm not sure of the names of any of these plants, but they all seem to be pretty low maintenance. Everyone has them growing in their front porch yards  or back courtyards, and they are also all around town in the parks and open spaces. It is very green and lush here, even in the middle of town, which we like a lot.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Trim The Fat Tuesday: The Insurance Review, Part 2

Here's a sequel that's actually better than the original. I re-opened our insurance policy files, and

Shopped around for the cheapest auto insurance coverage.

Back in February I cut some of our insurance coverage and raised deductibles, which saved us a decent amount of money (especially on the homeowners policy). On my redux, I went online to see what other companies could offer us for pricing.

First stop: mass.gov has a tool that shows what every insurer in the state offers for a premium under several scenarios. In the scenario that was most similar to ours, GEICO charged only half of what most places were.

Say what now?!?

After checking out a few online quotes, I am totally psyched to report that mass.gov has an accurate (if somewhat clunky) tool, and we are now paying less than half of what we were previously for our car insurance.

So we got the exact same coverage (I went line by line with our current policy to be sure), great service so far both online and from the call center, and it's so, so much cheaper. Woohoo!

And now the numbers. Our old insurance policy cost us $112 per month for our two cars. Our new GEICO policy is just $54.50 per month. 

Can I say it again? Less than half as much. 48.5% as much, to be more precise.

Part of that savings comes from me putting the entire year's worth of insurance on our credit card, which is cheaper than being on a payment plan. But since this is so much cheaper, that doesn't hurt much--and it boosts our airline mileage points anyway. Win-win! 

Seriously, it pays to shop around. Big time. And since the internet makes it such a breeze, there's no excuse not to.

Savings per month: $57.50