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September 29, 07
September 28, 07
September 27, 07
A Tasty Compliment
Eric - my finicky-taste-budded 9-year old - told me last night that he thinks i make the best dinners ever! That garnered a hearty hug from me and a huffy pout from my mother-in-law! Wish i could take all
the culinary credit, but this is really another feather in the cap for MealtimeMakeover.com
, the weekly dinner and grocery planning service that's been a lot of fun for my whole family. The only complaint i have is that portions tend to be a lot bigger than my family of 6 is accustomed to eating. Even with leftovers for lunch, i'm finding that i have to throw away older dishes that don't get consumed fast enough. That quibble aside, it's been nothing short of a culinary adventure for everyone with easy-to-find ingredients and super-simple cooking instructions! Who knew cooking could be this much fun?
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September 25, 07
September 24, 07
Too much of any good thing...
i can honestly say that after spending 10 hours playing 2 Mozart Violin concertos over and over and over and over (No. 4 in D major, K. 218 and No. 5 in A major, K. 219) for the huge mass of Philadelphia Orchestra section Violin semi-final auditionees, i am officially sick of both concertos. Mozart-boy-wonder-genius notwithstanding, this is proof that too much of a good thing - even masterpiece-level good - can still eventually spoil even gems of the classical music literature as these.
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September 20, 07
Life by One Thousand Cuts
i thought this title was a clever take on how effective little adjustments in my monthly budget have been to bringing fiscal sanity to the Sung household (but i hope it's not too grisly a reminder of that old Chinese form of torture/execution, "Death by One Thousand Cuts"...) While there were some large "windfalls" that helped to take a huge chunk out of our debt snowball since May, the most significant points of progress has been in little things like packing lunches for myself and the kids, controlling grocery costs thanks to plans like the ones offered by MealTimeMakeover.com
, and plugging up little dollar leaks in previously "insignificant" areas like kids' haircuts, eating out, even Starbucks and snack money. As mentioned previously, lots of monthly savings are forthcoming with the switch in car and life insurance policies, and that makes it all look like we'll be attacking the last of our four big debts within the next month or so! If we manage to keep up this pace, it's very possible that by this time next year we'll be able to post a video of the Sung family screaming "WE'RE DEBT FREEEEEEE!!"
Wouldn't it be nice for once to start living in a way that breaks free of the old "starving artist" adage? i'm slowly learning what it means to curb my appetite for expensive toys and impulse items (no "Halo 3 XBox 360 for me, thank you very much...), and concurrently finding creative ways to be content with whatever's on hand (my 3 year old Samsung i730 Pocket PC phone still works just fine as an iPhone "don't-need-it-now" device! Oh, and the joys of discovering my local library
Yep...that crazy man on the radio
is making me do strange things...and the scary thing is that it all seems to be working so far!
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September 19, 07
How Lovely Shines the Morning Star
For many years i've worked on setting psalms and hymn texts to new musical settings for congregational worship. All my arrangements have always been completely copyright-free with no recompense required whatsoever - these have been written with the simple hope that Churches today can find musical material that puts its primary emphasis on the richness of Biblical text and great doctrine in a way that everyday folk can approach. I'm not a composer, so i'm highly self-conscious about making any pretenses in trying to be one given my immense respect for those who have dedicated their artistic lives to honing that craft. Nevertheless, it's a thrill to share this rendition of one of my hymn settings by The Kings Chamber Orchestra
, directed by cellist extraordinaire Gerard Le Feuvre
! This track will be part of a new album by the orchestra to be released in about 2 months' time. For this recording and similar, seek out the Kings Chamber Orchestra at www.kingschamberorchestra.co.uk
The almost-17th century text by Philipp Nicolai is as follows:
How Lovely Shines the Morning Star
Text by Philipp Nicolai, 1599
Music by Hugh Sung
1. How love-ly shines the Morn-ing Star!
The na-tions see and hail a-far
The light in Ju-dah shi-ning
Thou, Da-vid's Son of Ja-cob's race,
My Bride-groom and my King of Grace,
For Thee my heart is pin-ing.
Great and glo-rious, Thou vic-tor-ious
Prince of grac-es,
Fill-ing all the heav'n-ly plac-es.
2. Now rich-ly to my wait-ing heart,
O Thou, my God, deign to im-part
The grace of love un-dy-ing.
In Thy blest bod-y let me be,
E'en as the branch is in the tree,
Thy life my life sup-ply-ing.
For the sav-or Of Thy fav-or;
Till I rest in Thee for-ev-er.
3. Thou, might-y Fa-ther, in Thy Son
Didst love me ere Thou hadst be-gun
This an-cient world's foun-da-tion.
Thy Son hath made a friend of me,
And when in spi-rit Him I see,
I joy in tri-bu-la-tion.
What bliss is this!
He that liv-eth To me giv-eth
Noth-ing me from Him can sev-er.
If you'd like to have a free copy of the PDF with the piano score and lead sheet, please visit http://ccpc-pca.com/303500.php
for a list of all my worship song arrangements. You can also download it directly from this link.
For a list of my psalm arrangements, please visit http://ccpc-pca.com/303100.php
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September 13, 07
September 11, 07
September 09, 07
The Power of the "OFF" Button
i mentioned previously the painful amputation of the unlimited data plan for my Samsung i730 PDA Phone, as well as the new household rule of turning off stuff (mainly my computers) when they're not in use. The sudden lack of instant internet access anywhere, anytime has resulted in some strange side effects - most notably, peace of mind and a better focus during work.
David Allen in his "Getting Things Done" principles talks about how emptying the mind - mental "RAM", if you will - results in significantly less stress and better productivity. i never noticed how non-stop my mental engine had been running until i started setting up the new "off button" boundaries. Having computers on 24/7 keeps you constantly connected, constantly wondering about that next email, never able to completely "shut off" thoughts about work, communication, to-do's, projects, the list goes on and on. i never realized how glazed my focus had always been when my kids clamored for attention or my mother-in-law called me repeatedly to come down for dinner or my wife was mentioning things that happened to her at work. Instant, ubiquitous access to information in many ways made me a slave to the almighty connection; a data-addict if you will, never more than a few seconds away from checking emails or browsing my RSS feeds.
With the introduction of the "off" button has come the inclusion of a strange new word into my vocabulary: "NO."
"NO, i don't need to check for that next email."
"NO, all that paperwork can wait until later."
"NO, i don't need to waste three hours browsing and surfing - it's more fun playing 'Clue' with the kids."
I'm beginning to like this new life of computers that are "off" - and, boy, i never realized how loud the CPU fan gets at night!
As technology improves medical technologies
move along with it, helping to make things like childbirth
safer than ever. With medical
changing all the time as impressive new medical technology
comes into play, procedures like surgery and child birth
will change through the years.
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September 08, 07
The Money Food Fight
Since May, we've knocked off over $7,000 from our debt snowball - feels pretty good to be on a roll! Still a long way to go until we can scream "we're debt free!!!", but it's amazing how one starts to find extra ways to save money once the determination set in. It really does feel like we've been giving ourselves "bonuses", as several folks have commented regarding the home budgeting process.
As i review each month's budget, i've been banging my head trying to find new ways to save little pockets of money here and there - as i mentioned in my "Dandelion Wine" article, i've gone as far as changing/downgrading car insurance, starting the process of switching away from whole life to term life insurance, and even learning how to cut my kids' hair! One area i hadn't actually considered was the grocery budget. We're not extravagant eaters, and we stopped buying junk food for the most part, but i couldn't help wondering if there was any way to trim a $250/week expense for food shopping.
i happened across an advertisement on the Dave Ramsey Show for MealtimeMakeover.com, an online grocery and dinner planning service from www.e-mealz.com. For about $5 per month, you receive weekly shopping lists that can either be tailored to Wal-Mart, Kroger, or "Anyplace" supermarkets (the latter being my option) to take advantage of both seasonal and sale items. Typical dinner plans feed 4-6 people, and the meals can be customized to an extent to accommodate low-fat, low-carb, or other options. They claim that by following this shopping and cooking plan, you can keep your weekly shopping bill to about $75.
Well, i'm putting the plan for a test spin and will report back the results in about a week or so. One thing to keep in mind is that the plan only covers dinner meals (i emailed the webmistress about considering lunch plans for families with kids - she told me that it's in the works, so be sure to keep an eye out for that), so you'll still have to contend with lunch and breakfast budgets if you plan to cook all those meals as well.
Another complication is ethnic cooking. Shopping at the Korean grocery store can be quite expensive, but necessary in my family's case. i'll have to figure out the best balance between the meals we replace on the online plan and our regular Korean diet, but my wife was able to pare down some of the Korean shopping already this morning (only about $30, as opposed to the normal $100+ for an HMart run...) My bill at the local supermarket came to about $120 - like i said, extra padding needs to be considered when including breakfasts and lunches in your shopping, but this is still a huge improvement over picking up groceries willy-nilly...
Of course, no online plan will work if the meals taste lousy...wish us luck, i'm trying the Chicken Mushroom over Linguine recipe tonight...
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September 03, 07
Dandelion Wine - the Last Drops of Summer
As the final hours of Labor Day draw to a close, i'm borrowing a title from an old Ray Bradbury book celebrating the memories of childhood summers to reflect on all the various ways we tried to mitigate that perennial summertime lamentation, "I'm boooored...what can we do today?"
Here is our top ten list in hindsight of great activities to placate summertime doldrums:
10. Save Money
Well, that was the intent
- to be honest, our summertime budget was blown way out of the water due to having lots of cousins visiting for extended periods of time, but we came up with some pretty creative ways to pare down our monthly expenses, such as:
9. Drink Wine
learning to cut hair - i invested a month's worth of haircuts in a nice clipper and scissors set. Good thing my boys are so good-natured to put up with some of my frankenstein cuts (bald spots, anyone?) Ah well, there isn't a bad enough haircut that 2 weeks of growth can't cover up...
changing life insurance policies - this is a tip from Dave Ramsey: opting out of our whole life plan and moving to 20 year term insurance is setting us up to save about $100 per month, in addition to getting a $7,000 kickback from our accrued life insurance "savings" to help pay down our debt snowball. The folks at Zander insurance have been very helpful so far, so you might want to check them out .
changing car insurance - at the risk of sounding like a TV commercial, we saved hundreds by switching to GEICO...and personally, i think a poor starving pianist would make for a much funnier commercial than a silly caveman in therapy...
trimming digital fat - this one is really painful: i just canceled the unlimited data plan from Verizon for my Samsung i730 Pocket PC phone. That means no more web browsing at the supermarket checkout line, but i am saving $40 per month...
turning off stuff - our electric bill last month was terrifying, thanks in part to having an extra family's kids holed up in the basement playing DVD's and video games constantly. Having all my computers and amplifiers left on 24/7 certainly doesn't help with containing power costs, so the new rule for me is turning off all computers, electronics, and lights that are not in use. Besides, having the hassle of waiting for bootups keeps me from wasting too much time in Facebook...
Kyungmi and i had a wonderful time in the New York Finger Lakes region
, staying at The Fox and The Grapes Bed and Breakfast
and visiting wineries along the eastern shores of Seneca Lake.
The white wines are really outstanding, particularly the Rieslings, but we managed to find some terrific reds as well. Hands down the best reds we found were at Damiani Wine Cellars
- their various Cabs and Meritage were some of the finest we've ever tasted!
We also enjoyed some yummy reds at Chateau LaFayette Reneau
, and were particularly impressed with the Chardonnays and Rieslings at the elegant Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars
8. Read Great Books
Who would've guessed that standing in line for 3 hours in the middle of the night for a book would be so much fun? Yes, i was part of the Harry Potter mayhem (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)
), dragging along Paul and his cousin Ho-Won:
A wonderful lady at Borders bookstore has been incredibly helpful at pointing Paul and me to some other great young adult reads, such as:
The Maximum Ride trilogy by James Patterson, starting with The Angel Experiment (Maximum Ride the Angel Experiment
). Think teenage X-men with super short attention spans (each chapter is no more than 3 or 4 pages long - makes for quick reading and fast-paced action)
The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1)
by Rick Riordan, first of the "Percy Jackson & The Olympians" triology - great for kids who want to see Greek mythology hipped up in modern settings with a wacky sense of humor:
A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeleine L'Engle, that fantasy/sci-fi classic from my own middle school years:
The above books had my teenage son falling back in love with reading and both of us scouring the Borders racks for more.
On my own end, i was completely swept away with that international best-seller, The Kite Runner
by Khaled Hosseini -
i was actually in tears as i listened to the audiobook ending driving through the Finger Lakes region.
The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials, Book 1)
by Philip Pullman gets high marks for exquisite craftsmanship, but failing ones for abysmal theology. I started reading this to see if my kids would enjoy this, but found that i have to steer them away for the time being. Even though the protagonists are children, the themes are quite dark and graphic - better suited for mature audiences in my opinion. First in a trilogy.
7. Make Yummy Stuff
I used to bake bread from scratch by hand every week. Unfortunately, my current schedule has pretty much ruled that out, given that the whole process requires at least 3-4 hours to accommodate all the yeast risings and final baking time. i suppose it was a very good summer indeed given the fact that i was able to get back to making a loaf of sandwich white after so many years' hiatus!
Getting the kids involved with cooking projects is always lots of fun. Paul had a hand in cooking steaks for dinner one evening, using my oyster sauce marinade:
Score both sides of steak with sharp knife
Combine enough oyster sauce and minced/crushed garlic with a bit of water to make a marinade that can be brushed onto both sides of steaks
Pan sear in hot oil to desired doneness
Eric and Timmy loved making lemon/lime-ades with my old glass hand juicer:
Squeeze juice from 4 lemons and 2 limes (or just 6 lemons for plain lemonade)
Fill remainder of pitcher with cold water
Add sugar to taste (we use about 1.5 cups of sugar)
Other cool summertime treats included making homemade orange ice cream
and replacing store-bought popsicles with Snowcones made with my old Rival ice shaver and a variety of flavored syrups (another money saving idea, by the way)
6. Play Games
Believe it or not, kids can actually get sick and tired of video games. Yes, really! A few remedies were found in some old-fashioned board games - i never really played many of them as a kid, so the novelty was just as new for me as it was for my boys. What a great way to spend time bonding together! We particularly enjoyed Risk
and have just started getting into Clue
. We plan to get started with Pictionary - 20th Anniversary Edition
soon as part of our "new" family activities night.
One day, Paul discovered my old role playing books and was reading through the rules for Tunnels and Trolls
. My personal game of choice as a teenager was The Fantasy Trip
by Steve Jackson Games
(TFT has been out of print for years and years, 'replaced' by the GURPS
game system). I tried running through the basic rules for TFT with Paul, but he never really warmed to the system. Instead, he caught on with a fascinating fantasy card battle game called Magic: The Gathering
i never realized how complex, rich, and incredibly strategic these card games could be! Relatively easy to learn with a few basic rules, yet amazingly varied in action - lots and lots of fun getting into this granddaddy of collectible card combat systems!
Eric did some snooping of his own into my teenage library of old strategic board/book games and dug up Starfire! by an old company called Task Force Games:
He's been poring incessantly over the rules and descriptions of modular weapons systems, bombarding me with questions about Shearing Planes, Overload Dampeners, Multiplex Missile systems and the like...i was afraid the actual gameplay would be over his head, but once we got started it was actually a breeze and a lot more fun than any of us anticipated! Ahhh, the good old days of pre-silicon gaming when the powers of a pencil and a pair of 6-sided dice ruled the universe!
5. Ride Bikes
Here's a great site for biking trails in New Jersey:
You can either have trail maps sent to you by snailmail or downloaded as PDF's. We visited the trail in the Pine Barrens around the Batsto Historical Village. Nice smooth roads that stretch on for miles, and some great woodland hiking for those who aren't so cycle-inclined.
For some reason i couldn't find my old rear-window hanging bike rack, so i had to get a hitch installed to my minivan for a new carrier:
Pricey, yes - i can feel Dave Ramsey wagging his finger at me - but well worth the investment in family fun!
4. Get Pets
Paul initially wanted a snake - Kyungmi adamantly put her foot down in opposition. We settled for a Great Horned Mountain Lizard instead, but the poor thing died after only about 3 weeks or so, due to ingesting a piece of bark bedding ("impaction" i believe was the term). The second Horned Mountain Lizard didn't fare much better and had a nasty attitude to boot - we returned that in time for a store credit and replaced it with a much more docile Chinese Water Lizard. Looks just like the gecko in the Geico commercials. I'll try to post some pictures of "Liz" as soon as i can. We replaced the bedding with moss to prevent any more impaction possibilities. i never realized watching lizards gulp down crickets in the morning could be so entertaining!
In familial fairness, i let Eric and Timmy pick up a pair of dwarf hamsters. Cute little buggers!
One of the hamsters is quite the speed monkey, running around at full tilt and climbing the walls and ceilings like a primate. A few days after buying them, she somehow squeezed through the wire walls and escaped in the basement. She kept darting out from under the piles of junk in my office, only to scurry away each time we tried to catch her. The solution was to get one of those mouse traps from Home Depot, the kind that features a one-way door into an empty plastic box. Sure enough, within 10 minutes of setting that trap, i heard her munching away happily on the apple and peanut butter bait within. She hasn't tried to escape since.
3. Learn to Program
The folks at MIT have put together an amazing open source program for kids called Scratch
that teaches the basics of programming within a graphic environment akin to playing with Legos:
The interface is well designed for kids - Paul and Eric were programming their first games within minutes. Even Timmy joined in the action and designed a "Spider-man" game with the built-in drawing tools. In addition to the excellent program, there is a seamless interface with the Scratch community, where participants are encouraged to both share and download projects from other users, making for one of the best interactive learning environments i've ever come across.
Here's an image link to Paul's "Bleach Battle" game - the speed of this thing is quite impressive!
Eric's and Timmy's games to be posted up as soon as they finish refining them!
2. Play with Glass
After enjoying the Finger Lakes region, we enjoyed some family time at the Corning Museum of Glass.
The artwork was stunning and the live glasswork demonstrations were very impressive. The big hit of the museum for my family was the hands on studio crafts:
Keep in mind that glass needs about 8 hours to cool safely - fortunately, the museum offers a shipping option for completed projects. Great fun!
1. Visit Family
This was voted #1 by all the boys - what better way to spend the summer than by being with cousins and visiting Grandma and Grandpa at the farm?
Wonderful memories, great souvenirs, and even some new skills and activities to boot - definitely a summer to remember!
www.hughsung.com/blog Hugh Sung http://hughsung.com http://hughsung.com/blog
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