Sunday, July 17, 2016

June/July Garden Updates

We started planting our garden in April and after 2 months of hard work, we were excited to harvest our first crops in June! It's been 1.5 months since our first harvest and to be honest, the excitement has died down and we've been overwhelmed with all the work to pick, clean, and store all these veggies! Planting was just the easy part, harvesting is where the 'real' work starts. We both have to admit that we are a lil' overambitious this year planting so much. Plus, we both have full-time jobs and I've lost count of how many evenings and late nights we spent pickling/spiralizing/canning to preserve all these veggies. I started bringing some veggies to work for the clients and now I'm known as the 'farmer'!!

June 17 (Fri): As you can see, everything we planted grew well and this was how our garden looked when we still had energy to clean out the weeds (it looks like a jungle now...haha!). Can't remember if I mentioned before but we used google sheet to keep a count of all our plants and crops. And this is what I meant by overambitious:
50 broccoli plants
44 tomato plants
15 zucchinis mounds
9 watermelon mounds
8 cucumber mounds
100+ corns

June 17: Came back from our vacation to these...*faint*

Had to discard some of our tomatoes due to blossom-end rot but we managed to add calcium and revived the rest. And that's our giant zucchini. :P

June 26 (Tues): First batch of pickling. Can't remember how many more batches we did subsequently but we probably have enough dill pickles to last us for 2 years. =.=

I was very hardworking in arranging everything nicely for photos previously but I can't afford to be OCD anymore coz it takes time and I've still got preservation work to do after tired. P.S. Our freezer is completely full with zucchini noodles.

July 8 (Fri): This was how we spent our Friday evenings...first batch of tomatoes canning and more cucumbers pickling. I've done 4 more batches of tomatoes subsequent to this and there's still more to do... =.=

July 27 (Wed): After-work work...canninig more tomatoes!!

July 29 (Fri): These pretty much summarizes our 2016 summer. 57 quarts of tomatoes and about 50 jars (various size) of dill pickles and bread & butter pickles!! 2 whole months of hard work storing and canning all our harvests. Will probably take a break from gardening next!!

Tried making pickled green chilies (jalapeno), the ones we eat with Char Hor Fun and Char Bee Hoon. Turned out pretty good!

On top of a full time job as an auditor, part-time job as gardener/pickler/canner/spiralizer, I'm also a chef. I like exploring random recipes so don't judge my food...haha!

Food prep for the week. P.S I'm a good!!

Taco spice chicken, stir-fry broccoli (from the garden), new recipe...zucchini Frittata, and Tom Yum tomato soup!

June 27 (Mon): Traveled down to Birmingham for team meeting and breakout game. P.S. My partner took that photo of me while I was super focused trying to solve the last code...haha!

July 4th Weekend

Thought I would have more free time after finishing my exams but apparently not. All my free time was spent on my no-salary 2nd job as a gardener/zoodler/canner. Seriously, wth did we get ourselves into?? I could have been chilling at home after work editing my 3-years worth of GoPro videos backlog! Anyway, that explains why I'm still trying to catch-up on my blog updates, so I'll keep this short. Just a quick photo update on our July 4th weekend.  

July 2 (Sat): Day Out at Lake Guntersville

Visited Maureen's family campground and went out on the parent's boat. 

Upped my ‪jumpshot‬ difficulty with one from a floating tube...haha!!

And to keep it are the behind the scenes of some failed!! 

The guys tubing.

Obviously hubby had a good time :P

Central America Summer Getaway - Trip Report

Our recent trip to Cancun and Guatemala was our first time using points and miles to 'pay' for all our flights and hotels. The monetary value of this trip would have cost approximately $4,000 but instead we spent only $600 for this week-long trip. We could have probably done it even cheaper but all-in-all, I think we did pretty good job making the best of out of our week-long trip. Here's a link for our trip itinerary, and more photos in the links below:

Hyatt Ziva Cancun - All Inclusive Resort

And here's a breakdown of all our expenses for this trip. The highest expenses turned out to be airport taxes, followed by transportation costs.

  • Nashville - Cancun (free stopover) - Guatemala (destination) - Nashville
  • 35,000 Krisflyer miles + $113 taxes per person
  • Total 70,000 points transferred from Citi ThankYou Rewards
Breakdown of the airport taxes of $113/pax. The Mexico tourism tax (UK), departure tax for Mexico (XD) and Guatemala (XC) are pretty expensive!

According to Google flight, this is how much our flights would have cost per person.

  • June 10-12 (2 weekend nights): Aloft Cancun (3,000 SPG points/night)
  • June 12-14 (2 nights): Hyatt Ziva Cancun (Hyatt Visa sign-up bonus)
  • June 14-15 (1 weekday night): Aloft Cancun (4,000 SPG points/night)
  • June 15-16 (1 night): Hilton Garden Inn Guatemala City (10,000 HHonors points/night)

Value of our 6 nights accommodation was approximately $2,000.

Car Rental (Mexico)
  • 1-day rental (incl. mandatory Mexican liability insurance) = $47 
  • Gas = $30
  • Toll = $20
  • Parking = $6

Our 1-day sightseeing driving route around the Yucatan region.

Total expenses for our 7D6N trip. =)

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Hyatt Ziva Cancun - All Inclusive Awesomeness

The highlight of our recent trip to Cancun and Guatemala was definitely our 3D2N stay at the Hyatt Ziva Cancun. I'll let the photos depict how AWESOME our stay at this resort was but ranking #4 out of all hotels in Cancun on TripAdvisor already says something about this place.

If you know me well, I prefer traveling on a budget and I'm constantly on the go whenever I travel, so staying in an all-inclusive resort (doing nothing) is not quite my style. Even though the main purpose of this trip was to rest, relax, and rejuvenate after 5 months of hectic work and study, it's still hard to imagine myself splurging on an expensive hotel. I'm the type of traveler who's absolutely fine with staying in hostels or Airbnb coz I really just need a decent place to sleep. So what brought us here? 

Answer: The 2 free nights sign-up bonus for the Hyatt Visa credit card! =) Of course, I did my fair share of homework on the best use of these free nights, and I was excited when I found out that Hyatt has several all inclusive properties in Mexico and the Caribbean. Personally, I think the best value I would get from these free nights is to redeem it for a hotel that can be a 'destination', not just a place to sleep. And that was exactly what we did! What's better than staying in a nice beachfront resort with free food, free drinks, and activities to keep you occupied...all for FREEEE!! Well of course, we tipped the staffs for their great service. :P

OK enough of words, time for photos. This was my first time staying in an all-inclusive resort so please bear with my over-excitement. Warning: This post will make you feel blue. :P

As mentioned in my previous post, we stayed at Aloft Cancun for our first 2 nights in Cancun, which was only 5 minutes walk from Hyatt Ziva Cancun. We could even see it from our room in Aloft. After checking out from Aloft, we walked over to Hyatt Ziva and was able to check-in early at 8am. =) 

As a Hyatt Diamond member (thanks to the status match I got at the end of last year), I was expecting to get a private check-in at the club lounge but I guess it was still early and the staff checking us in seemed new, I didn't bother asking too much. But I did ask the very important question of whether it was possible for us to get a free upgrade to the best room available (one of the Diamond benefits), and I also specifically requested for the adults-only tower. =P The staff checked with his manager and managed to get us an Ocean Front Master King Room on the 5th floor in the adults-only tower...woohoo!!!!

Room with AMAZING view of the Caribbean Sea!!

This hotel had just opened earlier this year so everything was brand spanking new! Our room was spacious and had a hot tub on the balcony. 

Btw, this room was priced at $726/night during our stay...WOW!!

Some of the room amenities and the complimentary mini bar stocked with beers and liquors.

I really liked the balcony with glass railing, gave us an awesome view of the Caribbean sea in and outside of the room!! This is one of the reasons why I wanted the adults-only tower instead of the club tower coz I didn't like the wall railings at the club tower.

Pool and ocean view from our the blues!!

Beautiful White Sand Beaches and Blue Waters!!

The photogenic pier and models lighthouse on the beach.

Took this panorama at the perfect timing when an eagle flew by...not bad huh!!

Even though the beach wasn't very big, there were plenty of beach chairs and we didn't feel crowded at all. One thing hubby enjoyed most was the drinks...mojito!! 

One good thing about small beach, we were very close to the waters so we could quickly run back and forth between lounging and dipping in the sea. :P 

When I read that the resort had free kayaks and paddleboards for rent, I knew I had to try paddleboarding. Fell a couple of times but not bad for my first attempt. :P

Posing Yoga on the beach. :P

Infinity Pools Overlooking the Caribbean Sea

There are 3 infinity pools around the resort. This is the main pool by the beach, but we didn't use this pool at all.

This is the pool in front of the club tower and adults-only tower, which is the pool we see from our room.

I preferred this pool over the main one coz I felt it was less crowded and not as noisy. Oh btw, the wifi was good all around the resort (including the beach and poolside). We were able to stream shows while lounging by the pools and beach. =) Top right: Club Tower; Bottom right: Adult-Only Tower

My favorite pool was the rooftop infinity pool that was only for guests staying in the adults-only tower. This was another reason why I specifically requested for the upgrade to the adults-only tower. Told ya I did my 'homework'. =P

It was so 'exclusive' we basically had the entire pool to ourselves...hahaha!!

AMAZING view from this pool!!!!

Can't resist taking more photos with such nice background.

More drinks!!! Finally found a cocktail that I like...called Blue Sky... mix of Vodka, lemonade and Curacao. =)

Dining Done Right...9 Meals, 9 Restaurants

Day 1 breakfast at Tradewinds with ocean view and sea breeze. The Eggs Benedict was good!

Day 1 Mexican lunch by the beach at Habaneros. We ordered tacos, ceviches, and campechanas. I liked my octopus and shrimps! :)

Day 1 dinner at Moongate. We chose hibachi instead of ala carte, but was a lil' disappointed by the hibachi show. Well I guess it was because we went earlier at 5pm and they let the new chef do the show when there was less crowd. Poor guy...he had his supervisor beside watching him...I would have been so!

We were served beef soup, spring rolls, dim sum, fried rice, shrimp/chicken teppanyaki. The food was decent but hibachi is more for the show not so much about the food anyway.

Day 2 breakfast was room service. Yummy breakfast on the balcony with a great view...just for!! We moved the table back and ate in the room after that...hahaha!! 

Day 2 lunch at Tradewinds. This was the only restaurant that we visited twice during our stay. Hubby ordered steak while I had shrimp skewers. We shared the grilled argentine sausage appetizer and the macaron dessert. Everything was so good! I'll say this was one of the best meals we had at the resort.

Day 2 French dinner at La Bastille. This restaurant is adults-only and had a more romantic ambiance.

As we started eating, I realized a funny scene. Picture this...we were in Mexico, most hotel guests were ang mohs...we were in this fancy French restaurant...and out of 9 people eating around us, hubby was the only Caucasian, the other 8 were Asians...hahaha!!! 

Hubby's food on the left, mine on the right.
Entrée: Beef Steak tartare with truffle aroma and Melba toasts ; Fresh oysters on the half Shell

Main courses: Mustarded pork chop with rustic mashed potato ; Salmon and lobster au gratin with Pernod mousseline
Desserts: Vanilla crème brûlée ; Chocolate soufflé with Grand Marnier Savarin
P.S. We rarely eat out unless we're traveling, so this fine dining was definitely a nice fancy treat for us (even better when it's free). :P

Day 3 international buffet breakfast at El Mercado. They served a huge variety of international dishes. We opted to sit outside to enjoy the sea breeze. 

Day 3 lunch at Chevy's. Classic American diner with burgers, hot dogs and milk shakes! Hubby enjoyed his burger, me not so much. :P

Last but not least, the 2 shops that we stopped by at least once every day was Pasteles (dessert shop) and Casa Cafe (coffee shop). Hubby gets his milkshake while I get my Frappé. =)

Great Views from Every Corner

The resort is surrounded by ocean on 3 sides...that means ocean view from every corner! We could feel the sea breeze as we walk through the open-air corridors.

No beach on this side of the resort, just rocks but you can hear the waves crashing on the rocks. There's also a beautiful gazebo for weddings (and yoga lessons). =P

Firepit with a view...anybody wants S'mores?

View from the rooftop pool

Activities to Stop You from Eating and Drinking Too!

When I first read that they have dolphins in the resort, my first reaction was WOW...that's awesome!! A lot of people had negative comments about this but c'mon we live in a world of demand and supply. A lot of people are willing to pay to 'Swim with the Dolphins', and thanks to these people, I had the chance to see the cute dolphins up close, without getting in the water. 

Outdoor amphitheater for free performances every evening.

After all the eating and drinking, we felt an urgent need to make use of the fitness center... work on our beach bod...hahahaha!! (*slap*)

A pleasant welcome surprise courtesy of the hotel. I did inform them before the trip that we were going there to celebrate our anniversary. =)

Managed to get a late check-out at 4pm on the last day. It was hard to leave after 3 days of paradise. Thanks Hyatt Ziva Cancun for the being so AMAZING!! For those who are interested, here's a full fact sheet of everything that the resort offers.

I think we did a pretty good job making the best out of our short 3D2N stay at the resort. We got a nice room with nice view, ate at almost every restaurant, tried out paddle boarding, and most importantly gave ourselves a lot of time to rest and relax (while getting tanned). We've definitely enjoyed our all-inclusive resort experience...even more so when we spent only $40 (tipping) for all these AWESOMENESS!!!!! =)