Thursday, October 25, 2018

October Update

Hey everyone! While I'm missing the fall colors that are happening back in Ohio, I'm enjoying the purple jacaranda trees here in Pretoria. They are everywhere and the whole city is purple!


The kids are enjoying the nice weather and play outside for hours every day.

The 2Ts love to "help" hang the laundry - especially Little T. We were walking out to the clothes line the other day when she cried "Oh! Beautiful!" Before I could ask what was beautiful, she exclaimed, "Beautiful laundry!" Hopefully she still feels that way about it when she grows up! Ha ha! She is a determined helper and has to turn the basket sideways and crawl inside for each and every last piece of laundry at the bottom...or until I tell her to go play! 

They love "playin' soil" and they REALLY love it when I let them have water to make mud.

They like to "wash" the bikes...with mud...

Petting the neighbor's cat. Big T, always an encourager, told her "I like your tail!"

Everyone swept the patio while I changed out the winter clothes.

Littlebug is kind of obsessed with the guy who helps with the garden.

Practicing balance. I taught them to walk on the low wall (18-24") surrounding the patio and now they want to do it over and over...

This sweet thing turned two in September.

She and I accidentally matched at church the other week.

Big T and Littlebug share a birthday. They turned three and two in October. Little T was very jealous. It probably felt like everyone in the whole world was having a happy birthday except for her!

Puppy hugs!

Big T got a puppy as well.

Enjoying cake

L is growing and exploring. He likes to get himself stuck in the baby walker. He's learning to say more words and to do lots of things, like clean up toys and take off his boots and put them away neatly.

He LOVES to give "hugGIES!" and kisses, especially to his "sister" and roommate, Special K.

Special K got her first teeth!

She is very, very mobile and doesn't stay in the same spot for two seconds at a time! She loves to terrorize the other babies and knock down their bottles. She usually ends up in baby jail (the jumper) when I have to do something like clean or eat.

She is generally happy and smiling! She's a live wire.


I put a blanket down but she won't stay on it!

Chubby Cupcake is growing as well. She likes hugs!

She's not quite as ready to smile as K, but it's in there...

Baby Bear is a happy guy too. 

Someone left the bowl on his tray for a few seconds and he decided to try feeding himself. 

My housemate (and the MBH manager), Britt, moved out in the beginning of October. I miss staying with her but at least I still get to see her regularly! 

The house was soooo empty when she moved and took all her things. I am filling it up very slowly (with lots of thrift store trips)! 

I took EVERYTHING out of the pantry, scrubbed it, and sprayed for the ants that will inevitably come.

I love having a pantry! (And a house!) 

My cozy little room with all its thrift store/handmade decor


Vimbai, my coworker from Zimbabwe, moved in with me. Unfortunately we don't have a housemate picture yet! She shares a room with Luise, our new intern from Germany, who will be living with us for the next ten months. I already don't want her to leave! She is sweet and has a great sense of humor.

Vim and I introduced some color into our empty kitchen. I love it and am on the hunt for even more rainbow things.

Rainbow dishtowel and bowls!

It's getting late here, but I thought I'd leave you with a hug! Love to you all!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

How to Pinch a Rand, or, Everyday Life in South Africa

I thought it might be interesting to have a bit of a change of pace and tell you all a little more about day-to-day life here in South Africa and the creative lengths I (and others) go to in order to save a couple of rand. (The rand is the currency here - one rand is worth about $0.07). Many of you don't know how I cook, where I shop, or much about my everyday life except that I take care of babies! I do take care of babies, and that takes up a large portion of my life (that, and driving people to church events....) but another large chunk of my time is spent doing the same ordinary, everyday things that people in the US do, although in some ways they look a little different.

Hopefully the details don't bore you too much - these are the things that I find interesting, although I'm well aware that not EVERYONE cares as much about saving $0.07 as I do! So please be patient with me, even though there are probably better things to be talking about than money.

I grocery shop every Friday. This isn't always the norm here to grocery shop once a week - many people shop once a month, after payday - it isn't always easy to get transport, only going to the shops once tends to save money (cuts down on impulse purchases, I guess) and it ensures that you will have food for the whole month instead of spending your budgeted grocery money on something else that comes up. Some people shop day to day for various reasons - irregular income, lack of refrigeration, lack of funds period, etc. I was taken shopping weekly as an intern, and it's a habit I've stuck with, as I struggle to plan meals more than a week in advance - I'm always going somewhere or taking food to something - and I like fresh vegetables, fruit, and dairy products. Long life milk - shelf stable milk that comes in a box - is very popular here, but I think the ultra-pasteurization gives it a flavor that's a bit of an acquired taste! Also, shopping weekly allows me to take advantage of the various sales that happen throughout the month.

I can save a lot of money going to various specialty shops for different items that I need. Most things can be purchased at the grocery store, but the cost difference can be dramatically higher! Of course, I have to try to plan my trips so that I'm not running half an hour across town to buy powdered sugar on the day that I need it.

These are some of the stores I visit either regularly or semi-regularly:

Pick 'n' Pay - Basic grocery store. I buy things like bread, pasta, canned items, sale items, etc, here.

Makro - I've never shopped at Sam's Club or Costco but this is what I imagine it would be like, minus the membership fee. It is NOT always cheaper but they have good sales.

Fruit Stop - Cheapest place to buy fruit and vegetables. I also get milk here - I used to buy milk and juice from a tap as it was one of the cheapest options (as long as I brought my own bottles) but then I found that I can save a few cents on milk by buying it in a bag and emptying it into my own bottles at home! I buy some other dairy items here as well.

Shoprite - One of SA's largest grocery chains. I occasionally stop here to see what's on sale. It tends to have a much more South African selection of items and I can't always find everything I need.

Meat World - Hands down, my favorite butcher shop! I try to never (or rarely) buy meat at the grocery store because the butcher shop is so much cheaper! They run great sales on the weekends and I buy meat in bulk and freeze it. Sometimes they have good sales on other things too.

Clicks and Dis-Chem - These are both pharmacies. You may think of pharmacies as being more expensive, but things like shampoo and other personal care items are usually far cheaper here. Clicks is especially nice as they are always having buy-two-get-one-free sales. One thing I didn't think of for a while after I moved here, was that I should buy medicine BEFORE I get sick. I'd end up coming down with a horrible cold or the stomach flu and only be able to make it to the corner time I think I spent $25 on medicine there!

Spar - There are Spars of various sizes - the one on our corner is basically a convenience store and tends to be expensive, although they sometimes have good sales, so I try to only buy those items there. Oddly enough, lightbulbs are half the price they are at other stores, although you have to shake them to make sure they aren't broken - a large number of them are! Different Spars are under different management, and I've found several bigger ones that have great sales specific to their store - one in particular has CRAZY cheap loss leaders! I always check their Facebook page for the weekend specials.

Baker's Bin - I buy some kinds of sugar, spices, and almost all my baking supplies in bulk here. I buy 5kg of margarine at a time and freeze it! It's on the other side of town, so if I'm going here, I usually plan a trip to the thrift store at the same time...because thrift stores are the best, and I can't waste gas/petrol, right? ;)

Boeremark - This is a farmer's market that is only open very EARLY on Saturday mornings. I occasionally plan a trip here to stock up on cheese or ground beef. (I buy huge blocks of cheese and grate and freeze it). They also sell fruit and vegetables as well as lots of craft items. Unfortunately whatever savings come from shopping here are probably compensated for by buying plants/etc., but I just have to consider it entertainment as well...

Ultimate Packaging and Spice - This is basically a catering/janitorial supply store and you can get cleaning supplies, etc, REALLY cheaply here. When I moved into the back house, I bought myself enough cleaning supplies to last probably for a year...or more. The unit price differences between specialty shops and the grocery stores are ridiculous. I pay 2-3 times more for the same thing at the grocery store. Even the generic name brand dish soap that barely makes bubbles costs almost twice as much as the quality stuff from the catering store.


I thought it would also be interesting to see the cost of some things I buy frequently here - I don't do much if any grocery shopping in the States, so I can't do a very good comparison, but it might be of interest to my American readers. Prices reflect the current exchange rate of $1 = R14.12, but since I've been here $1 has been equivalent to anything from R10.50 to R16+, so you never know how much something will cost in USD from day to day! This year it's ranged from R12 to R15+, with R13-14 being the norm. This makes a big difference which is great for me (and almost no one else in South Africa) when it is up and not so great for me when it is down.

My grocery budget is large compared to most of my local friends here but the amounts I spend on things and my "spending limit" for how much is too much to spend on a certain item, may be equally shocking to most Americans. Just keep in mind that if I say something is "too expensive" to buy often it doesn't mean I'm deprived or don't have enough or whatever. Ask any of my African friends...they will testify to the fact that I make PIZZA several times per month! (And I often share it.) It just means that one - I have a grocery budget to stick to and two - in a culture where cheese is considered a luxury, I have to set some limits SOMEWHERE and acclimate at least a little!

Chicken  - You can buy a big bag of five chickens for R30/kg, which is about $0.96/lb. This is generally the cheapest option. Boneless skinless chicken breasts (called "fillets" here and pronounced WITH the T) are almost always more expensive, which is saddening when I see all the "cheap" recipes online using them! If you really watch the specials you can get them for R45/kg ($1.45/lb) but you don't see those sales very often.

Beef - Beef is expensive. Well, that's what everyone says here, and I believe them, because the majority of the meat in my budget (with the exception of bacon and ground beef, both of which are easy to stretch) must be under R50/kg ($1.61/lb).  You can sometimes find beef in bulk for R60/kg ($1.93/lb) - although it might be the kind full of bones and fat, which is popular here, but not to my liking - but more often it's R80/kg ($2.58/lb) and up, with nice cuts being well over R100/kg ($3.22/lb). I try to buy beef only once a month, so it's more of a treat than a meal staple. However, we just recently discovered a new store that runs specials for R50/kg, so it may work its way back into my diet more often! I'd also like to try making my own ground meats as I picked up a meat grinder - minus the handle - at the thrift store. I hope it works - haven't tried it yet.

Pork - Pork runs around R60/kg for basic cuts, but the butcher shop runs great bulk specials on R40/kg ($1.29/lb) for pork chops - nothing fancy or boneless, mind you, but I like them pretty well -  so I can buy a big pack for around $11, separate everything and freeze it and although it's probably not as healthy, it helps me feel less deprived about not having so much beef. Various people around me have caught onto this and started buying pork, although they've admitted they are getting kind of sick of it...ha ha!

Ground beef (called "mince" here - not to be confused with the sweet Thanksgiving pie that includes raisins!) - This is kind of expensive compared to other non-beef meats. It's usually at least R60/kg ($1.93/lb) if you catch a good sale.

Cheese - Cheese is not used much in African cooking. People tend to like it okay, but it would generally take up too large of a chunk of someone's grocery budget at R95/kg ($3.06/lb) at the local grocery store. However, if you shop specials and buy in bulk, you can find basic cheeses such as cheddar for as low as R60/kg ($1.93/lb). I will confess that I do use quite a bit of cheese, but I've come to realize that most American recipes call for ridiculous amounts. That casserole that calls for two cups of grated cheese on top tastes just as good with half that much! There are the quiche I made this week that definitely needed more cheese than what I put on it...

Milk - I buy it for R8.50/liter. That is around $2.29/gallon (at the moment).

Bread - The average price for a loaf of bread is R10-R13 ($0.70-$0.92) per loaf. The store baked bread is cheaper - as low as R5 ($0.35) but it doesn't always slice well enough to go into the toaster. Also, I usually have to stop at a separate store to buy it that cheaply. Theoretically I could freeze it, but that takes up space in my already-groaning freezer.

Eggs - These have gone up drastically in price. A tray of 30 (2 1/2 dozen) costs over R60 ($4.25)  I found a little roadside business where they sell 30 eggs for R41-45 ($2.90-$3.20) so I buy them there, but I have to time my egg needs with my trips through that area.

Fruits and vegetables - Prices for these vary greatly depending on what is in season. There is a very good variety and things are very high quality for low prices (at least at the store where I shop - the local grocery store prices border on the ridiculous sometimes). I prefer shopping for fruits and vegetables here to shopping for them in the US! I can usually get a smallish grocery cart/trolley/buggy full of things for around R250 ($18). You can buy things like pineapples for R7 ($0.50). Berries (and cherries, which I miss) tend to be expensive - except for strawberries, which I found for R5/250g ($0.74/lb) several times recently. In the winter, selection is generally limited to oranges, apples, pears, bananas, pineapples, kiwi (expensive), grapes (expensive) and unripe-looking papayas. Throughout the year we have much nicer papayas, mangoes, cheaper grapes, passionfruit, guavas, litchis, peaches, nectarines, kumquats (very sour), watermelon, honeydew, and cantaloupe, among various other fruits.

Oil - a staple here for cooking. Olive oil and all those other "healthy" oils are great but far, far more expensive than the R30 ($2.12)/2L sunflower oil, so that's generally what makes it into my cart.

Oh, and not a grocery, but gas/petrol is currently around $4.24 per gallon (once you do all the conversions from rand and liters). The price changes once a month and it costs the same everywhere - no driving around to a different station to find a better price. Thankfully when you live in the city, places are close and with my small, manual car I don't spend an exorbitant amount on gas.


I can buy many things here, but another way I save is by making many things from scratch, for various reasons - it's cheaper, I prefer my homemade thing, I can't find it at all, etc. Some of the things I make are:

Salad dressing - you can go all fancy and expensive and use olive oil, balsamic vinegar, etc, but I've found my favorite combination is sunflower oil and plain white vinegar, with some dried herbs like oregano and basil, and a splash of milk. I actually don't like the taste of olive oil for salad dressing! One of our interns taught me how to make it and it's not only frugal, it's delicious and convenient!

Chocolate syrup - you can buy this, but homemade tastes better, is way cheaper, and only takes vanilla, sugar, cocoa, salt, and water.

Croutons - because I always have old bread.

Bread - this only happens occasionally because I am not a superwoman like my mom. I don't think I'd even save any money by the time you factor in the gas needed to bake it, but you can't deny it does taste nice.

Laundry soap - far cheaper to make, but it doesn't seem to work as well in our downstairs washer as it did in the other one, and the electricity costs for running the extra-long load would probably negate any savings. I did find a place to buy it cheaply in bulk, so I'm going to try that.

Spice blends - they actually do sell taco seasoning here now, but it's generally cheaper to make your own spice blends for things like that. I haven't tried my hand at making my own curry powder because I like the ones here so much!

Pierogies - kind of a random food item, for sure, but you can't buy them here. Nice to have in the freezer! I currently have a giant ball of leftover filling, and no pierogies, so I should make some more soon. They are kind of labor intensive, so it doesn't happen very often.

Pizza crusts - I'm not even sure they sell these. Not so bad to make with the dough mixer in the food processor, and you can't beat the price of something that only takes flour, water, yeast, and salt. I used to keep them in the freezer but now I never have space, and they really don't take much time to make if I remember to start the dough to rise several hours before dinner.

Brown sugar - they have something called brown sugar, but it's what we'd call raw sugar in the US. Treacle sugar is like brown sugar with a gazillion times as much molasses. I've found the best way to make this is with castor sugar and molasses, in the food processor, although a fork works fine for small batches.

Most of my snacks - because snacks sure do add up. I suppose the cheaper alternative would be to forego snacks altogether, but I am always getting hungry in between meals! (Popcorn is cheap...and now I want to go make some...) I bake a lot, be it for myself, church, or others. It's much cheaper to make a cake or banana bread or something else from things I have in the house (and bought in bulk) than go out and spend $10 on snacks for small group. I am taking ideas for more cheap savory snacks - we have popcorn a LOT.


Other things I do to pinch pennies (not listed in order of importance):

- Clean out my fridge regularly and use up what's inside.

- Save sour milk to bake with or use in pancakes and waffles.

- Wash plastic bags (with the exception of those that have held meat). As a kid who was sick of drying Baggies, I vowed I would never do it when I grew up. As an adult, I wash even the ones my mom would have thrown away...and bread bags...and anything else that looks like it might have potential for one last use packing meat away in the freezer! In order to not drive my roommate crazy, I hang them outside on the washing line.

- Speaking of the washing line, we air dry EVERYTHING, no matter how bad the weather. Electricity costs are just too high to use a dryer, and although I don't pay utilities, we all do our best to keep them down. A "solar dryer" is very effective and as long as it's not raining, does the job well! In addition to the washing line, we have handy drying racks we can set up under the eaves or in the house when the weather conspires against us. I always say it's good that I always liked hanging the laundry...although I will admit I enjoyed the dryer so much when I was on furlough that I NEVER hung my clothes outside!

- We also switched to all gas for cooking and heating (for the few months in the winter when it gets cold). This is not gas that is piped into our house, but stored in detachable tanks that we have to go fill when they run out. This can be singularly inconvenient if it happens while you are cooking dinner - there is no sort of indicator on the tank to let you know how much gas is left - but at least we have several stoves on property and can help each other out. We finished about 11.5 kg of gas in six weeks - a lot faster than before I moved in...that costs about $16-$17, so not terrible. I'm not sure what the equivalent in electricity would have cost but I think it would have been a lot more. We both work so usually we cook about one meal a day each, plus sometimes baking.

- I mentioned buying in bulk. I do that a lot - when the unit price is less. Often it's not. I check the sales several times a month and stock up on things I know I will use (that won't spoil). My goal is only to EVER buy the majority of things I need when they are close to or at the lowest possible price. This requires a bit of creativity when it comes to storage in a small house, but I have had a fair amount of success.

- Every week, I menu plan (mostly from my stock), check to see if there are new sales flyers online for a number of stores, and make my shopping list. Most of the stores in my area are roughly along the same route, and I don't stop at each one every week as sometimes I don't need to buy anything in a particular shop. This saves on petrol, parking, and time, although it generally does take me several hours to shop. I often shop for others too - we have a group for posting good deals and if someone can't make it to the store or someone else is going, they often pick up things for others. As the one who is closest to most of the shops AND has a car, this is generally me, but I don't mind, and take advantage of the extra cash back and rewards points - every little bit adds up!

- I keep a budget. I'm a little embarrassed to admit I wasn't really keeping one before this year. Budgeting in two different currencies is tricky and even with only one currency takes a lot of self-control and hard work! I would try and fail after just a little while. Setting one up was sooooo overwhelming and I enlisted the help of a good friend who likes doing these kinds of things (the same friend who gets a weird enjoyment out of organizing my cupboards). I'm still not as good as I should be and sometimes I get a couple weeks behind, but overall, it's helping a lot! I was always very FRUGAL (I wash my Baggies!) but not always very good at staying within parameters. (I.e. I'll buy way too many groceries - but they were all on sale!) Or I just didn't plan ahead - pack a lunch before going out, buy snacks for small group the week before instead of at the corner store the day of, save specifically for car repairs, check for sales before shopping, plan a menu, etc.

- Another thing I do is controversial, but it works for me. I pay for almost everything on my credit card - that I pay off in full each month. I do this for several reasons.

One, it gives me a handy record of where everything is going. Cash doesn't do that. Cash is a lot more work and subject to user error. Cash also requires that I remember the exchange rate from when I withdrew it, when I put it into my budget. This is generally not as precise. As a rule, I use cash ONLY when I can't pay for something with my card.

Two, rewards points are basically free money, especially when I do other people's shopping for them, they deposit the money in my South African bank account, and I don't have to pay transfer fees to to have money there for my local bills.

Three, I need to actually HAVE a credit score in case I need it someday. Up until several years ago my credit score was virtually nonexistent. It still isn't considered "excellent" (despite the fact that never have I ever missed a payment) but it's climbing.

Four, and this is especially important to me as I live overseas, credit cards are a lot more secure than cash. If someone takes my purse, I can cancel my credit cards and it'll be a headache, but I can't "cancel" the money that was inside. One time I accidentally left money in my car at a car wash (stupid, I know, and I'll never do it again) and it disappeared. Another time someone got hold of my debit card number and wiped out my savings - thank goodness the bank (it was American) refunded me but it was a hassle and took some time.

The usual argument is that you FEEL cash leaving your hands, and it feels more like you're spending money and it's a wake-up call and you spend less, and when it's gone it's gone. For me, that just isn't a thing. If I'm going to overspend, it's going to happen regardless of the medium of currency I use. It all boils down to self-discipline and choosing not to exceed the budgeted amount in the category - and, let me repeat lest anyone start panicking - PAYING IT OFF IN FULL EACH MONTH.

- I make gifts for as many things as possible. Here at Living Hope, the number of events one needs to buy gifts for is...well, not quite uncountable, but we like baby showers...and wedding showers...and birthday parties...and it all adds up. I haven't been able to make gifts for EVERY occasion but I am trying to do better at planning ahead and using my various crafting skills when possible. I bought a used sewing machine several years ago and it has served me well!

- Speaking of sewing, I mend my clothes whenever I can. This is economical, but I also do it because I hate trying to find something new when I already have something I like. I do try to shop the thrift stores here, but the selection is pretty small. I have done most of my clothes shopping while home in the US.

- If I can build something from free pallet wood, I do. I'm currently sitting at a desk I made, and am in the process of building a bookcase. I've also made shelving, cornices (for curtains), window boxes, and a chicken coop and I plan to make a coffee table, a blanket chest, and possibly a bed, although I'll admit that is a bit daunting. When I first came here, I didn't know how to build things at all, so I just learned as I went along. I also learned how to reupholster small items. This is not ALWAYS cheaper, especially upfront when you need to buy the tools and supplies, but it get cheaper over time as you accumulate those items.

- I use all the rewards cards for all the stores, and a rebate app called SNAPnSAVE. I generally save only a couple rand at a time, but it DOES add up!

- I get my car serviced regularly and fix small- to medium-sized problems before they become huge issues (like the timing belt going out and destroying my engine). Regular maintenance can be expensive but not doing it is worse in the end!

- I learn to say "no" to things I want or put up with things that aren't ideal. This isn't just a money issue, but a contentment issue too. For example, for several years I lived in one bedroom attached to the baby home. It was noisy, and busy, and small, and I had to go outside to go inside to get to the bathroom. It didn't FEEL like an ideal long-term living arrangement and I had days when I wondered if I'd be 50 and still living in that room. But the price was right...and the lessons in contentment and community learned while living in that room, were priceless. I could have said "no, I can't handle this" and gotten a place off property for hundreds of dollars a month - for several years. (Admittedly, I didn't have those hundreds of dollars a month to pay for that, but still.)  Now I was able to move to another building on property - a small two-bedroom house I share with one other person. It's still pretty tiny but it's a pretty amazing upgrade after living out of one only sort-of private room for so long!

I'm sure there are many more thoughts in the recesses of my brain, but that's just a bit of what this part of my life is like here in South Africa! I hope you enjoy knowing more about what it's like.

Thursday, September 13, 2018


So, my last post was all about my time in the US and Malawi, and I thought you all might want an update of my everyday life and of all the babies here in South Africa!

I arrived back in South Africa on July 10th and have settled back into life here. They did a major house swap while I was gone – the baby home and the house parents switched sides of the house, and I moved from my bedroom in the baby home to staying in the back house. It took a while to get everything moved over, but I had a LOT of help! When you have friends who will organize your pantry and rearrange your bedroom for you, you know you have good friends!

Pre-organization. I'm so glad my neat and tidy housemate was traveling while I moved in! Am I a bulk buyer? .....yeah, maybe...;)

Small "helpers" playing the piano in my new room! It's so amazing to live in a house instead of just a room built onto a porch!

L (Littlebug) loves his sticks!



He is ALL boy...complete with dirt!

Looking cool!

Big T, Little T, and Littlebug digging a hole to China

Enjoying the swing

More dirt! I can't keep this kid clean!

T ("Cupcake") and K ("Special K") enjoy being outside too!

Cupcake looks like she's had quite a few cupcakes...haha!

Special K got her first hairdo, and was less than pleased about the process...

B (Babybear) and I at church

Our newest arrival, sweet newborn boy "Squishy"

Bears in Bumbos!

Winter is just about over, and spring is moving in - it's nice to have it a bit warmer! Soon the whole neighborhood will be covered in flowers...the jacarandas will be will get HOT...then it will be time for Thanksgiving and Christmas! I know that sounds funny to my American friends but having a cookout on Christmas really grows on you! Or, you know, crashing multiple cookouts - singleness really has its perks!

As always, please keep our babies and their paperwork in your prayers, as well as the ministry here at Living Hope...and please pray for me, as ministry has many stresses! But, I am grateful to see that even in the hard times, God is working and to learn yet again that I can trust Him. I made it my goal this year to read more Christian books and I have really been encouraged by them! Some of my favorites have been “Trusting God” by Jerry Bridges, “Your Family God’s Way” by Wayne Mack, and “None Like Him” by Jen Wilkins. It's really neat to see how thinking about truth can impact your life! 

I'd better be off now - I need to finish up writing my newsletter, among other things. Hope you all are doing well and as always, I love to hear from you!