Time to Break Out a New Spreadsheet

Before Brett officially retired in 2013, we decided we had a great opportunity to relocate to a warmer, sunnier climate. We wanted to escape the dreary, damp winters and head for someplace with a warmer, sunnier climate. But where should we go?

We started our search by determining the things that would be important to us in a new location and eventually came up with eight criteria we would use to evaluate different places:

  1. Good year-round weather
  2. Cost of living
  3. Schools
  4. Proximity to the ocean and/or mountains
  5. Nearby military facilities
  6. Proximity to Japan,
  7. Tax benefits for retirees
  8. A strong, vibrant Asian community

After determining these criteria, we then came up with places that we thought might include those things or at least some of them. Hawaii was added to our list as a joke because we knew we would never be able to live in Hawaii but it sounded fun. The next step was ranking the criteria, figuring out the things that were most important to us. We came up with the order above. Finally, we began researching different locations, taking notes and checking off which areas met which criteria. Some places were eliminated more quickly than others.

We were very, very surprised to discover that Hawaii met eight of our nine criteria. The only problematic one was the state’s high cost of living, but we eventually decided if everything else fit we could somehow figure out how to live within our means there. We talked about changes we could make (i.e. renting versus buying), ready everything we could find about living on a budget, how to shop, etc. and made it work for us. We’ve never regretted our decision to come here.

However, with the cost of living on Kaua’i rising rapidly these days we are thinking about whether it would make more sense to relocate back to the mainland. The cost of housing on Kaua’i is rising to a level that will make it close to unaffordable for us to stay. Most of our children have ended up settling back east on the mainland. Flights to Japan from Honolulu take as long as they did from Portland, and fares are often higher from here to there. Now is the time to consider whether we should leave or stay.

It’s time for us to come up with a new spreadsheet once again, and evaluate our choices. Brett and I sat down together week before last and came up with a new list of what’s important to us. We haven’t ranked this list yet, but think it’s a good basic one that covers our needs and wants at this stage of our lives. In no particular order, these are the eight things we want/need to consider: 

  • Proximity to family: As we age, and our daughters get closer to having their own families, we would like to live closer to them. Our children would like to have us closer to them as well.
  • Cost of living: Will the cost of food, transportation, and everything else in a new location fit into our budget and leave something left over for other things we want to do (i.e. travel)?
  • Cost of housing: Is there quality housing in the area that fits within our budget?
  • Tax benefits for retirees: Is Social Security taxed? Would Brett’s military retirement be taxed?
  • Weather: Is the area prone to big weather events like hurricanes, flooding? After living in Hawaii can we deal with dreary weather once again, or things like snow and other effect of brutal winter weather? Do we want to?
  • Proximity to the ocean and mountains: Is it possible to find this combination again?
  • Travel & cultural opportunities: Are there things for us to see and explore in the area? Is there a major airport nearby for overseas travel?
  • Healthcare availability: Is there a nearby hospital and otherwise good medical availability in the area?
  • Nearby military facilities: Is there a military base nearby, mainly for things like ID card renewal and possible commissary/exchange shopping?

While we now have a list, we still need to come up with areas that might work with these criteria. We know that no place needs to be a perfect fit, but it should meet at least half of what’s on our list. Before coming up with a list of locations, we still need to rank the criteria, add others to the list, if necessary, and then begin researching and seeing what might be a good fit. 

We already know that Kaua’i is barely going to meet half of these criteria, but it carries something that no place else does: our hearts. No matter how great another location turns out to be, no matter how many criteria it matches, going up against our love for this island will not be an easy task. But, getting started now on a possible move is something that needs to be done, so it’s time once again to create a new spreadsheet so we have time to get it figured out to make the best choice for all the right reasons.

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (2/28 – 3/6)

Pancakes made with a little leftover pumpkin puree I found in the freezer, and topped with the last of the cranberry-orange sauce from Monkeypod Jam

Breakfasts here at Chez Aloha are simple, healthy, and satisfying. Brett and I typically don’t eat breakfast at the same time – he usually wakes up ahead of me and eats about an hour earlier than I do, almost always having a bowl of oatmeal with with a banana, no added sugar and only occasionally some dairy. My go-to breakfast is a cup of fruit, either blueberries or papaya, with a half cup of non-fat vanilla yogurt and topped with two tablespoons of Kaua’i-made Anahola granola. I break things up a couple of times a week, usually with a slice of whole grain toast and a poached egg, Every other week I make pancakes for the two of us. We’ve both talking about waffles lately, but we no longer have a waffle maker and don’t intend to buy one. Instead, I have put a cute little waffle maker on my birthday/Mother’s Day wish list this year. I’d love to make a big batch of mini waffles and freeze them so we can pop one in the toaster whenever the desire hits.

The Dash mini waffle maker is only $10.

We had some great dinners this past week, with leftovers consumed for lunch throughout the week. We had gingerbread with lemon curd for our dessert every day, but later this week I’ll be making a Bacardi rum cake again:

We picked up this stir-fry kit (vegetables, sauce, and coconut chips – we added our own chicken) at Costco and will happily buy it again!

Sunday: Thai coconut curry vegetable and chicken stir fry; steamed rice.

The pasta and sauce were a complete meal for us.

Monday: Spaghetti with meat sauce

I add sliced Chinese snow peas and mung bean noodles to kick things up a bit.

Tuesday: Egg Roll In a Bowl

I’m not sure where or when we learned about adding coleslaw to a pulled pork sandwich, but we love it this way.

Wednesday: Barbecue pulled pork sandwiches with coleslaw; cucumber spears

Bacon was a great addition to this recipe.

Thursday: Tom Colleccio’s one-pot pasta with bacon

These pizzas would have been even better with a little bit of fresh cilantro, but sadly we didn’t have any on hand this week.

Friday: Leftover barbecue pulled pork mini pizzas

Lessons learned: start with good, vine-ripened tomatoes (which are very had to come by here), and check the broiler frequently. These tomatoes ended up being just OK. The frittata was delicious though.

Saturday: Zucchini frittata; Ruth’s Chris broiled tomatoes

And here’s the menu plan for this week:

  • Beef tacos
  • Polish sausages in a bun
  • Pork chops with sauerkraut & apples
  • Breakfast for dinner (omelets, bacon, and fruit)
  • Mabo dofu with steamed rice
  • Roasted kabocha squash risotto
  • Mini pizzas with roasted squash, onion, and pesto

My new walking shoes will get their first tryout today. I am very ready for something new and more comfortable on my feet, but as Marie Kondo advises I will say a deep thank you to my old shoes before I toss them, for taking me through so many wonderful miles and getting me this far along my path to wellness and good health. I will keeping them around for a few more days until I’m sure the new shoes are going to be OK.

I took my last walk in my old shoes on Saturday. They were a great purchase but it’s time for something new. The whole inside back of the shoe is worn through.

We had two no-walk days last week, one our regular day off and another cancelled because of the weather. We were also rained out of another walk on Thursday. And, when I say rained out I mean soaked to the skin. There was a dark cloud we had been watching but thought it was moving in a different direction. Instead, the heavens opened, we were stuck out in the open, and ended up having get back to the car and going home. And the wind! A nice breeze makes walking a pleasure; strong winds can make it a challenge and some days were a challenge. Still, we persevered and got in good walks on most days. We have given ourselves a goal of getting our distance at the park up to six miles a day at least a few days a week by the end of the month – this next week we will be adding the longer distance on one day, then two the following week, and so on.

After reading an article about the importance taking regular breaks when doing strength training I have cut back to doing my sessions to a recommended three days a week. The daily sessions were honestly not getting any easier, and now I know they may have been doing more damage than good because my muscles weren’t getting enough rest in between.

Sunday Morning 2/28/2021: Blowin’ In the Wind

The sky tried to have a sunset last Thursday, but the big gray clouds on top put an end to that.

.Good morning! Aloha kakahiaka!

What a week! Brett had scheduled an appointment on Tuesday to have a new battery installed in our car – we’d been having trouble getting the car started at times and knew the battery was starting to fail. When he went out to start the car Tuesday morning though the battery was DEAD. And, there was no one around in the neighborhood to help jump the car (which as it turned out would have been futile) and he ended up having to arrange for a tow to the garage. Ouch. The battery installation was easy but then it was discovered that some belt (I don’t know what it’s called) in the car was almost worn through and about to snap. The belt drives the air conditioner condenser, the steering pump, and a few other things so it was important. The new belt and other parts were not cheap and neither was the labor to get it installed – $$$. But, our little nine-year-old Honda is running great once again and starting right up. The car has over 100K miles on it now, but we want to squeeze a couple more years out of it so know keeping it maintained is importance and that maintenance issues will be probably be happening more frequently as it ages. There is no place at our apartment for Brett to work on the car or even change the oil which would save us a bunch, but we like our mechanic and his prices are fair (for the island) – he’s been our guy since 2014 and has a good reputation. This was not a fun way to start off our big save-a-thon but it needed doing. Sigh.

We’re in Phase 1C . . . and waiting. Teachers are getting vaccinated ahead of us, a good thing.

We also learned this past week that the timeline for our tier receiving the vaccine has been delayed from March until April. Apparently storms and bad weather back on the mainland delayed shipments of the vaccine to Hawaii, and now the state is behind on the second shots and needs to catch up with those before they move to our tier. They’ve also had difficulty getting the vaccine to some who live in very isolated areas. It’s very frustrating as we’d like to get this done and finished, but on the other hand we live in a safe area where people here practice social distancing, mask wearing, etc. (sadly, the same can’t be said of some visitors) and we don’t have any plans to change our behaviors for the time being. Brett may end up getting the vaccine before I do – our tier is supposed to cover age 65 and above, but we heard they may start with age 70 a couple of weeks ahead of the rest of the tier. We’ll continue to wait and stay patient.

The wind this past week has been something else, very loud and persistant, and bringing with it lots of clouds and heavy rain. It’s been difficult to read at times, or watch TV, because of the noise created by the wind blowing through the trees. Last Thursday night it was so loud it was difficult to sleep – I was up well into the middle of the night even though I wear earplugs. Temperatures have been cool as well, although not as low as earlier in the month. We are longing for some consistently sunnier weather, but have no idea when that will show up. Ever since we arrived, Hawaii’s weather has been a revelation, constantly changing and showing us things we didn’t think occurred here. I can’t believe how often I give thanks that I didn’t just spend a whole lot to come over for a short vacation. Speaking of which, visitors are starting to come back in in bigger and bigger numbers. The farmers’ market was somewhat crowded this past week, and we’ve seen an uptick in the amount of traffic even in our area.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: This past week not one, not two, but three books came off of hold at the library within a space of two days. Yikes! Two days before I got the notice I had checked where I was in line for some of the books, and while I was getting close for two books, I was still #150 on the wait list for the new Tana French book, The Searcher. Yet somehow two days later there was the notice that it was available for me to download. My guess is that lots of people probably did what I used to do: got tired of waiting and bought the book instead. Anyway, I finished Still Life and The Thursday Murder Club (both were great) and am now reading The Searcher and Robert Barnard’s Death of a Chaste Apprentice. The latter should be a quick read and then I’ll get started on the Shirley Jackson classic, The Haunting of Hill House. The Woman In White is just going to have to wait a little longer. Robert Barnard was a favorite British mystery writer in the past; I love his sly sense of humor. I’ve read all of his books and thought I’d see if I still liked them as much as I did in the past (plus I don’t remember anything about them). I am ending February with eight books finished and am already into my books for March, so in a good place for now to read 52 books this year
  • Listening to: The wind is absolutely howling outside and even with the doors and windows closed it’s very loud, like a freight train running through the yard. There are patches of blue sky out there, but they’re not predicted to last although these days it’s been hard to know how the day will turn out. Every day has been a surprise.
  • Watching: We started Crime Scene: The Cecil Hotel last Monday and watched that for four days. It was quite creepy and but eventually the mystery was (sadly) resolved. I thought the Cecil Hotel looked and sounded familiar and it turned out to be the inspiration for the fifth season of American Horror Story: Hotel. Brett and I are now watching The Sinner. Wandavision will be up next. I’m also still watching the Great British Menu and loving it. This is only the first season available so I have a while to get through it which makes me very happy.

This past week’s Big Shop

  • Happy I accomplished this past week: This was a good week for getting lots of things done. I applied for a new passport as my old one expires at the end of March (Brett renewed his earlier this month). It’s strange to think that the next time I apply I will be almost 79 years old and may have to think about whether it’s worth it to renew or not. I hope so as both Brett and I would still like to be traveling then (my mom still traveled internationally in her 80s). We did a Big Shop as we have a three-week stretch to get through until our next round of income arrives. We tried a new market (Times Market) that’s nearer to Costco and liked it and its prices much better than Safeway so will be shopping there going forward. Last month our current physician departed the island to care for her mother back on the mainland. After lots of discussion, Brett and I decided we wanted to return to our former physician even though his office is up on the north side of the island, and a good 45 minute drive away. We both liked seeing him before though, and decided that when we have to go up there for an appointment we will make a day of it and take advantage of the opportunity to do things on the north shore. Anyway, we got the process started this week to get reinstated in his practice.
  • Looking forward to next week: I have an appointment for a hair cut on Tuesday, and boy do I need it. Brett and I are looking forward to taking a long walk on the eastside beach path after my appointment, equipped with plenty of snacks and water this time.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Meiling made it up to Massachusetts early this past week and has been staying with WenYu. She has rented a studio apartment in Boston in a nice area and will move in this week. My new walking shoes have arrived! I will pick them up from the post office tomorrow and try them out for the first time tomorrow afternoon, weather permitting. A fellow walker we hadn’t seen for a while told us this week that she had been beginning to worry because it had been so long since we’d seen each other (we had been going earlier in the day), and another walker, an older woman, told us she liked the way we walked: “so energetic!”
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: Although we had those expensive car repairs at the beginning of the week, and the price of gasoline rose by over 75¢ a gallon (!), overall it was a good week for being frugal. We put $10.53 into the change/$1 bill jar, leftover from the farmers’ market and our food shopping, and from recycling some cans. Our February change/$1 bills total is $36.52. Even though I took 12 things (!) off our shopping list this week we still spent a little more than we wanted to on groceries, but got everything we needed to get us through the next three weeks. The most expensive item was a package of three pot roasts from Costco, but at $10 each and us getting more than two meals from each roast they were a good buy. I will deduct this trip’s overage from our next shopping trip. I earned 2,069 Swagbucks this past week, and am currently over 1,000 SB ahead of where I need/want to be to make my goal of two $500 Delta gift cards this year. Leftovers were all eaten, no food was thrown away, and we had five no-spend days and two no-drive days.
    Green onions, green beans, 2 limes, a head of cabbage, apple bananas, and a kabocha squash, just $13 and all fresh picked the day we bought them.
  • Grateful for: I continue to be thankful for our weekly farmers’ market, and for all the local farmers who bring such a variety of wonderful things and sell them for such reasonable prices. Every week we not only find what we need, but also something new to mix things up a bit.
  • Bonus question: Do you enjoy going out to eat? Yes and no. I do enjoy eating dishes and foods that I wouldn’t normally fix at home, or ethnic foods that I don’t know how to make. I like that I don’t have to spend time in the kitchen, or wash dishes afterwards. I overall like the social experience (or at least I used to before COVID) and like that I am supporting the restaurant industry in our area. At the same time I greatly dislike what it costs to eat out these days. It’s gotten very expensive, no matter where you go or what you order. Even fast food is expensive or stopping for a cup of coffee somewhere. Every time we eat out I think of how much food we could have bought with that amount and how much we could have saved by preparing our meals at home. There are a few exceptions (can’t wait to have breakfast again at the TipTop Cafe, or saimin at Hamura’s here, for example), and we try to treat ourselves now and again, but it’s no longer as enjoyable an experience for me as it used to be.

That’s a wrap for this week and for February! It’s almost hard to believe now that there were three of us here when the month started, but the year is already bringing changes, and Brett and I have settled back into being just a couple again. I think we’ve put together a good plan for the year, we’re motivated, and we’re looking forward to what each month brings, especially since we’ve heard from both friends and family this past week that they may be visiting the island later in the year. March also is anniversary month for us – we’ve talked a little about what we might want to do to celebrate this year, but haven’t settled on anything yet. 

Anyway, it was a good week, in spite of some unexpected spending and the wacky weather. Here’s wishing everyone a great week coming up, filled with good food, good books, and lots of good things happening for all.

Home Cooking: Gingerbread Snacking Cake

Gingerbread and lemon curd, a delicious combination.

I started craving gingerbread about a month ago. I don’t know why, but suddenly I really, really, really wanted some gingerbread.

I don’t think gingerbread is a thing here in Hawaii. I’ve never seen gingerbread mix here like I used to back on the mainland. As I began researching recipes to make some from scratch, I realized we had everything on hand except for molasses and a recipe, so I picked up a jar of molasses a couple of weeks ago and started looking for a new recipe. An ice cream sale at Safeway plus some British ginger nut biscuits delayed things for a few days but once Brett and I had finished those things it was finally time for me to bake some gingerbread.

The gingerbread recipe I had used and loved in the past had unfortunately been in the box that the movers lost, and there were almost too many other gingerbread recipes out there to choose from, or so it seemed. Most recipes appeared to be fairly similar, but I wanted one with a little something extra, and I eventually found what I wanted on the Smitten Kitchen blog. Her gingerbread recipe (via Martha Stewart) contained an additional ingredient that we also happened to have on hand: freshly grated ginger root. That, I knew, would add a lovely little kick to the recipe.

I was a bit worried when I first read through the instructions though, thinking it sounded overly complicated, but it came together very easily and quickly. The finished cake is perfectly delicious, very moist and flavorful, but the best part of making this recipe was that I was able to do the entire batter in a four-quart saucepan. A saucepan might seem like a strange piece of kitchen gear to mix up a cake, but the recipe starts with boiling water, and being able to do everything in one pan meant that cleanup was easier than it might have been otherwise.

Smitten Kitchen suggests dusting the finished gingerbread with powdered sugar or adding a dollop of whipped cream, but I absolutely love gingerbread with lemon sauce. We had a jar of Monkeypod Jam Meyer lemon curd just waiting for something special, and a spoonful of that has been perfect with our gingerbread cake. Yum, yum, yum!


  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) of unsalted butter, cut into chunks]
  • I cup water
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2/3 cup packed dark-brown sugar (I only had light brown; it worked fine)
  • 1 cup unsulphured molasses
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger (optional but it really makes the flavor of the cake zing)
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground or freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • powdered sugar (optional)
  • whipped cream (optional)
  • lemon curd or lemon sauce (optional)
Butter cut into chunks, brown sugar, freshly grated ginger, baking soda, molasses, and eggs. Our kitchen is very small, so I’ve learned to always get my ingredients organized, measured, and ready to go before I start.
Flour, salt, baking powder, and spices, ready for sifting
The molasses mixture is done and ready to rest and cool for a few minutes
Whisking the the sifted flour mixture into the molasses mixture.
The finished gingerbread right out of the oven. The sides of the cake rose up first during the baking, but as the cake cooled they settled down for an even top.

Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare a 9 x 13 baking pan by either buttering and flouring, or coating well with cooking spray (I chose chooking spray as it’s a very moist cake and I didn’t want it to stick).

In a large saucepan, boil the water, and add the baking soda (it will foam up a bit). Let stand for 5 minutes, then add the butter and stir until the butter is melted. Stir in the brown sugar, molasses, and freshly grated ginger. The mixture should be barely warm by now but in case it’s still hot let it sit an additional 10 minutes. Whisk in the two eggs.

Sift together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, salt and baking powder over the molasses mixture in the saucepan and whisk to combine. If your saucepan isn’t big enough, transfer the molasses mixture to a large mixing bowl first, whisk in the eggs, and then sift the dry ingredients over it and then whisk to combine.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. If you’re not going to store the cake in the baking pan, turn out the hot cake to a wire cooling rack and let cool completely. Otherwise cool completely in the pan. Before serving, dust the gingerbread with powdered sugar if desired and/or serve with whipped cream, lemon curd, or lemon sauce.

Saving On Our Minds

How can we maximize savings when living in an expensive area? How can we cut back when there’s nothing much to cut? How do we allocate what goes into two important savings accounts and continue to put away money each month for our child’s college education? These are some of the questions Brett and I have been pondering these past couple of weeks as we think about increasing the amount we save each month.

What was somewhat easier for us to do in the past is not so easy these days as we have nothing to sell, nothing much to cut back on, and completely different commitments. Our streaming services are all free or in the case of Amazon Prime, one we’re not willing to cut because we (maybe unfortunately) need Amazon here. Our insurance, phone, and Internet services are already as low as we can get them, and all utilities are included in our rent. We don’t have cable. We drive an older car with great mileage, so our gasoline expenses are already low, less than $50/month, even with the higher prices here. Maintenance expenditures loom though. We have nothing to sell – we did that before we left in 2018 and everything we have accumulated since we returned needed and used – there’s nothing “extra.” During more normal times I suppose we could find jobs, but there are currently none of those on Kaua’i, and if there were others that have been out of work for months on end need them more than we do.

While we continue to save for YaYu’s college expenses we also want to save for a future downpayment and for future travel, which remains very important to us (especially as we have family living overseas). This past week Brett and I combed over our budget and figured out the maximum we can put away each month from each of our income streams. The money we put away for YaYu is already set, but we found some other $$$ to put into other accounts although how much goes into each one may shift as we figure out the best ways to allot that amount.

However, besides paying our savings accounts, what else can we do to save? How can we increase the amount we put away when we’re already living very, very small.

With some thought, there are a few things we can do, as it turns out:

  • Continue making a budget each month and sticking to it. Put the money into savings first, then spend. And, always, always try to spend less than what’s budgeted.
  • Food: We already have a fairly tight food budget, but I believe we can cut it back a little bit more. One way is to follow Coco Chanel’s maxim for accessories: Before you go out, look in the mirror and take off one thing. We can do the same with our grocery list – before we shop, go through the list and remove at least one thing (if not more). Also, we need to be even more mindful of needs versus wants. We have lowered our farmers’ market budget from $20/week to $15, and still are able to get a lot of good produce with that and I’m sure we can do the same with our regular grocery lists. Also, we need to be sure there is no impulse shopping or stopping at the store for one or two things “we forgot.” We need to get what we need for the coming week(s) when we do our regular shopping. There will always be exceptions to this (like finding ground pork at Costco), but we can keep this to a minimum.
  • Change/$1 bills: Continue to challenge ourselves to always have something left over any time we shop and put that change aside each time. It really does add up.
  • Cut back on driving: We take one day off a week from walking, so that gives us one no-drive day a week. Brett has figured out though that six loops of our dead-end street equals three miles, so we can do a couple of days a week here and keep the car at home. Less driving means less gas and more saving. We can also strive to be more mindful of combining errands and keeping our gasoline purchases at two a month.
  • Use what we have on hand: I need to be better about always, always, always checking the pantry, fridge, and freezer before making a menu or putting something on our shopping list. Same for buying toiletries and other household items. I haven’t been as good about this lately as I have been in the past, but it makes a big difference in our spending. This is not just for food though – both of us have plenty of clothing, and other than a new pair of walking shoes, have everything else we need. Necessary items like new shoes can be added to the budget ahead of time.
  • No more purchasing books. I bought several books last year, especially when it was a book that had a long waiting list at the library, or something we both wanted to read. This year we’ll wait for the book to become available, however long that takes, and Brett has already started going through my Kindle library and reading things we already own.

These are a few of the small changes we can make, but generally, by being more mindful and careful about these sorts of thing we know we can make a real difference in the amount we are able to save.

Brett has also signed up and is earning Swagbucks again in order to pad our Christmas budget this year. He’s not as gung-ho as I am about it, but what he earns will make a difference and allow us to keep more in our savings accounts.

The blue one was the first temari I ever made, the purple the second. My style is monochromatic and subdued while Japanese temari style tends to be multi-colored and bright.

Finally, I’ve also decided I want to begin making kimekomi temari again to sell on Etsy, and possibly at some local shops. I checked some kimekome sites on Etsy and they do well, but my temari have a very different (i.e. more Western) aesthetic and have sold well in the past. I have supplies on hand now to make only two of them, but have found online sources for more supplies, including the ball cores and new fabrics. However, package service between Japan and the U.S. is still restricted, expensive, and takes a l-o-n-g time (the package our son sent took over four months to get here), so I am going to wait to order until those restrictions are lifted. If this endeavor goes well, I can also purchase more supplies next time we’re in Japan.

This is our last year of helping with YaYu’s education costs, so that will help next year, and I’m sure other things will come up along the way that allow us to save even more. We can do this!

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (2/14 – 2/20)

Mega Omega trail mix, our new afternoon snack

Besides eating more mindfully, Brett and I are making an effort to snack more mindfully as well. So, when we shopped at Costco this past week one of our goals was to find some new and better snacks than what we had been having. Costco has an amazing array of organic/natural and affordable snacks, but we had gotten hung up on their salted peanuts and had been having some of those almost every day for the past several months. The trouble with salted peanuts though is that a small amount is never enough and both of us found ourselves eating more and more of them as time went on. Lately I had to admit that I was walking not just to get more fit but in order to earn enough calories to eat more peanuts! The salt was getting to be a bit much as well. Anyway, after checking prices, calories, and so forth we chose the Mega Omega trail mix, which contains walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, and dried mango. It’s a keeper – only 140 calories for 1/4 cup, and much more satisfying than peanuts and without all that salt. We also chose a bag of organic baked apple chips – wow! Much better than salty potato chips, and I say that as someone who loves potato chips. We’ve found with the new snacks that less is more – we’re getting everything we want from a snack, but in a smaller amount. The apple chips have been a great accompaniment to our sandwiches this week, and much healthier than potato chips. We’ll be stocking up on more when we shop this week!

Here’s what we had for dinners this past week”

These Valentine’s pancakes were more difficult to make than I imagined – the batter did not want to stay in a heart shape when it hit the pan! That’s lilikoi curd on the pancake in stead of butter.

Sunday: Heart-shaped pancakes; breakfast sausage; fresh papaya; ice cream & gingersnaps

Perfect risotto is so quick and easy with an InstantPot.

Monday: Chicken-rosemary risotto; cucumber; ice cream & gingersnaps

They didn’t have quiche at Costco this time so we picked up these wraps instead. They’re great because they contain cabbage instead of lettuce. 

Tuesday: Costco’s Asian chicken wraps; baked apple chips; ice cream & gingersnaps

Brett and I finally got our turkey dinner (YaYu doesn’t like turkey). The plate looks overflowing, but that’s just three ounces of turkey, a half cup of stuffing, three TBSP of gravy, one TBSP of cranberry relish, and a whole lot of green beans.

Wednesday: Roast turkey; stuffing; turkey gravy; Monkeypod Jam cranberry relish; sautéed green beans; ice cream & gingersnaps

Yes, I did have a couple of bites before I remembered to take a photo!

Thursday: Turkey club sandwiches; baked apple chips; ice cream & gingersnaps

I was going to make something fancy with pesto, but decided to go with a classic instead.

Friday: Pepperoni mini pizzas; cucumber; ice cream & gingersnaps one last time

My favorite way to eat leftover turkey.

Saturday: Hot turkey sandwiches; roasted zucchini & tomatoes; gingerbread with lemon curd

Next week’s menu, in no particular order:

  • Spaghetti with meat sauce
  • Egg roll in a bowl
  • Barbecued pulled pork sandwiches
  • Thai curry vegetable & chicken stir fry
  • Tom Colleccio’s one-pot pasta with bacon
  • Zucchini frittata; broiled tomatoes
  • Mini pizzas (not sure what kind)

I did not lose any weight this past month, but that’s okay. I’ve been steadily losing since last June, and I’m guessing I’ve hit a plateau. I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing and assume that things will pick up again in a while. 

I decided to go ahead and order my new walking shoes this past weekend versus waiting until next month. My old shoes have had it, and my feet are miserable right now. The amount of walking we’re doing has been very hard on my feet and nails, and the shoes in their current condition are not helping. I ordered my new shoes from Zappos – they have good prices, good availability, fast shipping, and their customer service is superb. The ones I originally wanted were not available in my size, so I’m trying out a different style. Zappos has a great return policy though if they’re not a good fit or I have other issues with them. I’m greatly looking forward to having a spring in my step once again! 

The rain stopped a couple of minutes after we arrived at the park on Saturday, and the sky started to clear so we were able to get in a good walk (4.2 miles). However, it poured the whole way home afterwards, and there was more rain off and on after we got home.

The weather hasn’t been all that great for walking this past week, but other than taking a day off on Monday and staying home on Friday because of a storm Brett and I walked every day. We actually walked in the rain (light mist) on Thursday and arrived just as the rain was stopping on Saturday. We’ve had to avoid the trails through the woods though because of issues with mud. We’re going to try walking in our own neighborhood now and again – three laps of the street and cul de sac at the end gives us a mile and a half. Usually though the weather up at the park is better than it is in our neighborhood, but with all the road construction going on it can be a pain to get out and up to park so we’re glad to have another option.

Sunday Morning 2/21/2021: A Tumultuous Week

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. We got quite a show on Friday evening as an all-day storm finished up and blew away.

Good morning! Aloha kakahiaka!

It’s been a somewhat tumultuous week. Last Sunday evening Meiling called us in tears to say she and her boyfriend had broken up. We talked with her for a long time, until we were sure she would be OK and that she would be able to move ahead. She is going to, as she says for now, spend time nurturing her relationship with herself. We are of course sad because we all thought her boyfriend was “the one.” They had been together for several years, but being cooped up together for the past year in a small apartment brought out things in both of them that they might have not discovered until much later, when things would have been far more complicated to get out of or fix. She went up to Massachusetts this weekend and is now staying with WenYu and her partner but is making appointments to view apartments in Boston next week and will relocate there as soon as it’s possible. We were very relieved to hear that she will be continuing with her current employer and working remotely. She loves her job, they love her, and she makes a very good income and has great benefits. She amassed an impressive amount in her savings account over the past year, so has a good cushion for her move and settling in. 

Many, many thanks to so many for the support and many suggestions I received following this past week’s Facing Reality post. It was very helpful to read others’ experiences and ideas, and gave us a lot more to think about, something we are thankful to have time to do. We are not leaving Hawaii any time soon, or at all if we can work things out here – we love our life here and it’s a good fit in so many ways for us. Plus, the thought of organizing another big move is overwhelming, and we’ve barely gotten ourselves settled again. It was an expensive operation too and we’d like to enjoy it for a while. However, the desire to be nearer to our children is a strong pull, and the housing situation here is discouraging, so for now we will keep investigating and saving and see where we end up. Our kids want us to stay here for now as it gives them all a reason to travel to Hawaii! Early 2023 is our target for making a firm decision on whether to stay or relocate, so we’re going to take our time and get it right.

From the No Good Deed Goes Unpunished files, Hawaii is still moving slowly with getting its population vaccinated, with only essential workers and those over 75 still eligible to get the shots, and new shipments of the vaccine going for second doses to those populations. When the vaccine first came out, Hawaii’s allotment was slashed nearly in half because of its successful efforts in keeping COVID levels down (“you don’t need so much”), with vaccines instead going to states who were experiencing excessive outbreaks (because of poor management decisions). Our tier (65 and above) is up next though and we’re hopefully things will start moving in the next couple of weeks. Brett and I are beyond ready to receive our jabs!

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished Searching for Sylvie Lee and The Ice Beneath Her this past week and was looking forward to only having one book to read but no . . . another book came off of hold at the library! So now The Thursday Murder Club is my evening book, and I’m reading Still Life by Louise Penney during the day. I’m hoping for a break after these two so I can finish The Woman in White before I forget everything I’ve already read.
  • Listening to: There’s a brisk wind blowing outside but we’ve got the windows and French doors closed for a change so it’s nice and quiet (and warm) except for the sound of the trees. Gray clouds are still hanging around but I can see a bit of blue as well so hopefully we’ll be able to get out for our walk today. Later on I’ll have the washing machine and dryer going but otherwise I think it’s going to be a very quiet day. Our upstairs neighbor came back last night after a week away – we hadn’t really noticed he was gone until we heard footsteps upstairs last night. He’s a pretty quiet guy so we hadn’t noticed he was gone. Quite a change from the previous tenant and his stomping!
  • Watching: We finished watching The Umbrella Academy and I immediately started watching The Great British Menu (via Amazon Prime), a cooking show where top British chefs compete to prepare a four-course banquet. It’s like a combination of The Great British Bake-Off and Top Chef, and I love it. Brett is not as enamored as I am with cooking shows, but he has other things to keep him busy while I watch. I’m thrilled there are several seasons to binge on as well. We’ve got Crime Scene: The Vanishing At the Cecil Hotel on tap for when we’re done with Call My Agent (final episode is tonight). A line in the preview caught our attention and made us want to check out the show: “Is there a room in this hotel where someone hasn’t died?” We’re also hearing good things about WandaVision so it’s been put on the list as well.
    Shopping list is done for this week. I have a new rule though: at least one thing has to come off the list before we shop. Not sure what that is yet though.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Not a big week for big accomplishments, although I did get everything filled in on my activity card which always makes me happy. I also prepared a big pot of meat sauce for pasta, and put seven servings for Brett and I into the freezer and one into the refrigerator for this week. I prepared our shopping list – fingers crossed we can find everything and fit it into our budget because we have a nearly three-week stretch coming up until we shop again. Brett got his scans done for the surgeon on Thursday – took the better part of a day – so now he’s waiting to hear when the surgery will be scheduled.
  • Looking forward to next week: Better weather? We’ve had everything from the sublime to the ridiculous this week. We’d love to get a beach-worthy day.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We took a wonderful hike last Sunday down on the Barking Sands base, on the Waiokapua Trail and are looking forward to doing that again in the future. Our son and DIL closed on their house, and are now in the process of getting their remodeling projects going (new floors, kitchen remodel, and some other projects). Although the new house has fewer bedrooms than their current one (three versus five), it’s basically the same size overall so they have a lot of space. The living room looks positively massive, there’s a separate dining room, and the kitchen is big enough to have an island, very unusual for Japan. We’re excited to see it after everything gets done.
    Our four-year-old granddaughter took this commemorative photo of our son and DIL getting ready to enter their new home for the first time as owners.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We put $7.44 into the change/$1 bill jar, leftover from our grocery shopping and farmers’ market trips. We stuck to our shopping list, but Costco unexpectedly had six-pound packages of fresh ground pork available (they rarely put it out – it usually all goes to restaurants), so we bought one of those as we use ground pork in recipes fairly frequently and the price was much lower compared to what we pay out in town. I earned 1,830 Swagbucks, we ate all the leftovers, I made and froze 7 packages of meat sauce for pasta, and we didn’t throw away any food. In other words, a pretty normal week for frugality.
  • Grateful for: This was a week that could have gone off the rails very quickly for Meiling, but we’re grateful that 1) WenYu lives close by and has the space to for Meiling; 2) Meiling has a great employer that can work remotely and keep all her benefits; and 3) her foresight in building such a solid savings account this past year. While it remains an emotionally difficult time for her, we’re all thankful she has a solid foundation and plan, and we believe she’s going to land on her feet and start moving forward quickly. Something like this in the past would have completely devastated her but her maturity and ability to move herself through a big change like this now makes us proud (and yes, relieved).
    The girl Brett saw from the window.
  • Bonus question: How did you meet your spouse/partner? I met Brett on May 25, 1977, in Millington, Tennessee – he was one of my instructors for a two-week lab course on transistor theory. I can still close my eyes and distinctly remember what he looked like the first time I saw him. We talked with each other during the course – ethically he could not ask me out, but we had our first date (to a movie) right after I finished the course and moved on to the next one. It was pretty much love at first sight for both of us, and we knew in a couple of months that we were going to get married, although that took a bit longer to accomplish because I was sent to Pensacola for my first duty station and we did not want a long-distance marriage. I learned later that before I walked into Brett’s classroom that first day he had seen me out the window while I was taking a break from my previous class, and he told his friend and fellow teacher that I was the girl he was going to marry! He wasn’t sure how we would meet, but then I walked into his classroom and the rest, as they say, is history.

Not the weather we had hoped for this week.

When we see what the weather has been doing in other parts of the country we know we honestly have nothing to complain about, but the weather here has been nuts this past week, from the sublime (last Sunday) to the ridiculous (Friday) and everything in between. Spring has always had the potential to get pretty wild on the island (like the rain and flooding back in April of 2018), but we know things will eventually settle down and sunny, warm days will be back. I’ve been nursing a sinus headache most of this past week thanks to the weather, and am looking forward to that getting resolved. Brett’s sister and BIL live in Dallas, and had no power for a week but we just heard from them and they’re OK, thank goodness. There are just no words for what’s been happening in the Midwest and Texas, and suffering that’s occurred and the reasons for that.

Anyway, here’s looking forward to a better week coming up for all, no matter where you live or what’s been going on!

Home Cooking: My Favorite Meat Sauce for Pasta

The finished sauce, cooling and getting ready to be bagged for the freezer.

I made a big pot of this healthy and delicious sauce this past week, and froze individual servings for Brett and I enjoy for the the next few months. Spaghetti with meat sauce is one of our favorite meals year-round, and while I love a good marinara sauce (especially Rao’s), our family’s favorite recipe for meat sauce is the one below, sent in to Cooking Light magazine several years ago by a reader, Erika Boyer, and then passed on to me by my sister. 

I love this recipe for a variety of reasons:

  • It makes enough for at least two regular size meals for a family, or for a crowd if you’re having a party. Freezing half for another meal saves on cooking time later. For just the two of us, I put 1 1/2 cups of the sauce in ziplock bags for the freezer, and got seven bags from the recipe (plus a container for the refrigerator to enjoy next week).
  • It has lots of vegetables in it! Back when we had a garden and it was bursting with peppers, tomatoes and zucchini, I made up extra batches of this sauce for the freezer, but these days all the ingredients can be affordably purchased locally. The sauce can easily become vegetarian/vegan with a ground beef substitute (I did this a few times and no one noticed). And, one-half cup grated carrot can be substituted for the sugar if you want to add even more vegetables.
  • It’s very low fat. Using ultra-lean ground beef, there are only 4.6 grams of fat per serving. Ground turkey or a meat substitute can also be used instead of beef to lower the fat content even more. My favorite is a 50-50 mix of lean ground beef and ground pork.
  • It tastes really, really good! I know it’s not authentically Italian, but it’s thick, filling, and great over spaghetti, and equally good served with polenta or gnocchi. Our girls loved this sauce (still do), and so did their friends who supposedly hated vegetables.
The various forms of canned tomatoes and jarred roasted red peppers needed. (I forgot to set out the additional 14-oz can of diced tomatoes.)
Diced and grated vegetables for the sauce. I didn’t have a red pepper this time, but all green is fine too.
In a large stockpot, brown the ground meat first, then set aside and wipe out the pot.
Next, saute the vegetables until the onion is translucent and carrots, peppers, and zucchini are soft. The vegetables will give off a lot of moisture, but it will be incorporated into the sauce. I also add 4-5 cloves of minced garlic at this point (we like garlic).
Drain the roasted peppers over the pan then chop the peppers into small pieces before adding to the sauce (a pair of kitchen shears works great for this task).
Finally, add back in the meat, add seasonings and wine, then simmer on low for at least an hour. The sauce will thicken and reduce a bit.
My pot of sauce made enough for eight meals: 7 bags for the freezer, and a container to put in the refrigerator!


  • 1 pound ground beef or other lean ground meat
  • cooking spray
  • 1 1/2 cups diced onion
  • 1 1/2 cups diced green bell pepper
  • 1 cup diced red pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini (about 2 large)
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (optional)
  • 1/4 cup sugar (can substitute 1/2 cup grated carrot)
  • 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with garlic and basil
  • 1 12-oz can tomato paste
  • 1 7-oz bottle of roasted red bell peppers, undrained
  • 1/2 cup good red wine
  • salt & pepper to taste

In a large Dutch oven or pot, cook the meat over med-high heat until browned and crumbled. Drain meat well and set aside. Wipe out pan and coat with cooking spray. Heat pan and add onions, diced peppers, and garlic, sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add zucchini and sauté an additional 5 minutes. Drain the vegetables and return to pot along with the meat; add oregano and crushed red pepper, if using. Cook the vegetable-meat mixture over med-high heat for another 5 minutes, then add crushed and diced tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar and the water from bottle of roasted pepper. Chop the roasted peppers and add to the pan, along with wine. Add salt & pepper to taste. Bring sauce to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for at least an hour, or until the sauce is thick.

Facing Reality

At the beginning of the year, Brett and I started looking into home-buying options on Kaua’i. We had no plans to buy right away, but wanted to be better educated about what’s available and be ready to buy if something suitable came along. We had already decided that a condo would be our best option as houses here are unaffordable: the current median home price on Kaua’i is $985K 😱! We also aren’t interested in all the maintenance, yard work, etc. that comes with owning a home here. A couple of weeks ago there were only four single family-homes on the island in our price range but two were already contingent, all were very small, one needed a lot of work, and three were in a location that doesn’t work for us. There were also issues here with the few available condos in our price range as well (fee simple versus leasehold, for example). We’re definitely not keen on living in a building with tourists coming and going most of the time, but purely residential condos are few and far between and expensive. A condo we considered purchasing five years ago now costs $100K+ more than it did then. The massive elephant in the room with any condo purchase here is always the HOA fee. While there are some that are less, the usual HOA fee on Kaua’i is over $800/month and climbs rapidly from there, and can often double any mortgage payment.

While our current income is more than adequate to allow us to do many things, live comfortably, and save, if Brett dies before me I will lose close to 2/3 of that amount – his military retirement will go away (although I will retain health insurance and all other benefits) as will my Social Security (I would receive his higher amount instead). Unless there’s a miracle, my student loans will continue and I will be paying those until I am 83 years old. A big factor for us in any home purchase therefore is keeping our mortgage payment (including any HOA fees) at an affordable level so I will be OK financially if something should happen to Brett. 

Both Brett and I are veterans and qualify for a VA loan, with no money required for a downpayment, and no mortgage insurance required. However, we can see that our best bet going forward will be to start with as large a down payment as possible to reduce the monthly payment. So, after much thought and number crunching we gave ourselves a deadline of early 2023 and decided that between now and then we would save, save, save as much as possible toward a down payment. We would continue to save for travel, but adjust those plans to fit a smaller amount of savings and tighter budget.

We also know that housing prices on Kaua’i are going to continue to rise – it’s frightening how much they’ve gone up since we left two years ago – and HOA fees are only going to go up as well. What if even with a downpayment we can’t meet our price goal? Can we accept having to rent versus owning with those costs going up as well? We love living here for many reasons, but should we honestly reconsider moving back to the mainland? And if so, where would that be? 

The discussions over this are ongoing. For the past few weeks the pros and cons of staying in Hawaii or possibly moving back to the mainland have dominated our conversations, and there has been no good answers. Our three daughters all live back east now and will be staying there. Meiling is currently in NYC, but wants to eventually move to Boston, to be closer to WenYu who lives in the area. YaYu currently attends college in eastern Pennsylvania, and has said she is planning to stay back east as well if possible (it will depend on where she goes to grad school). When we spoke with Meiling and WenYu last week they both said they would be thrilled if we lived closer to them. They know we are are happy here and love living on Kaua’i, but at the same time now admit that they wish we were closer to them, especially as we age and as they move closer to raising their own families. We miss them terribly – celebrating Christmas from a distance really drove that home – and wish we could get together with our girls more often. We recently looked at pictures of houses back east though, most currently covered with snow, and Brett and I both said, “I don’t think we can do this . . . ” (or want to).

What we know now is only that we will have to make a decision one way or the other one of these days. In the meantime we are going to stick with our deadline of early 2023, and continue to save as much as possible and then see where that takes us in the real world. 

Staying Healthy: Food & Exercise (2/7 – 2/13)

A new habit I’ve acquired over the past year is measuring/weighing everything I eat. It’s been shocking to discover how much I was eating before, and it’s no wonder I struggled with my weight for so long! For example, rather than spoon a heap of rice on my plate or in my bowl, I measure out 1/4 cup – it’s more than enough. A serving of stir fry, like the pork and peppers below, is 1/2 cup . . . and that’s more than enough too. I have a great digital kitchen scale, purchased years ago from Weight Watchers, and it gets pulled out several times a week these days because two to three ounces of meat is more than enough now. My set of Weight Watchers stainless steel measuring ladles (1/4 cup, 1/2 cup, and 1 cup) also get used frequently – those have turned out to be one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. Measuring my servings is a habit I don’t think is going to go away any time soon either – it doesn’t take long, and it makes a BIG difference.

We went Hawaiian for YaYu’s last meal at home – delicious!

Sunday: Loco moco; cucumber; German chocolate cake for dessert

Warm colors on a cold evening.

Monday: Roasted red pepper and tomato soup; toasted cheese sandwich; fresh pineapple; German chocolate cake

This salad has everything: protein, minimal carbs, and lots of fresh vegetables.

Tuesday: Panzanella with beans; German chocolate cake

Cuban bowls with yellow rice, roasted sweet potato, spicy chicken, Cuban black beans, sautéed banana, and salsa.

Wednesday: Cuban bowls; German chocolate cake

A full plate with three ounces of steak, half-cup of stuffing, and green beans.

Thursday: Grilled flank steak; sourdough stuffing; sautéed green beans; German chocolate cake

I typically make this stir fry with red, yellow, and green peppers, but only had green on hand this time.

Friday: Pork & pepper stir fry; steamed rice; peach ice cream & gingersnaps

We had cucumbers instead of coleslaw because I discovered we had more than I thought and they needed be eaten!

Saturday: Leftover steak sandwiches with sautéed onions and cheese; cucumber spears; peach ice cream & gingersnaps

The menu plan for next week, in no particular order:

  • Roast turkey w/cranberry relish; stuffing; vegetable
  • Turkey club sandwiches
  • Hot turkey sandwiches
  • Breakfast for dinner
  • Pepperoni mini pizzas
  • Chicken risotto
  • Broccoli quiche

The views along the beach never disappoint.

While last week’s weather started out chillier than usual, it made for some nice walking, even if I did have to do some of it on my own. By the end of the week temperatures were thankfully back up with lots of sunshine, but the humidity remained low. Last Sunday afternoon YaYu and I took a three-mile walk up on the eastside beach path. We had planned to walk longer but some very big storm clouds began rolling in from the west and we eventually made the call to head back to the car. Still, the temperature and breeze were perfect for walking, the views were gorgeous, and it was the perfect place to walk together one last time. I took Monday off because it rained most of the day, but I was back at the park for 3.5 miles walks on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Brett was out of quarantine on Friday, and we were back to 4.6 mile walks then and Saturday, and yesterday we hiked four miles on the Waiokapua Bay trail for Valentine’s Day. The trail is located on the Barking Sands base, and the loop goes from Major’s Bay beach to base housing and back (we did two loops). It was quite hot out on the trail, but we still got a breeze most of the way, and the views along the way were lovely. It’s beginning to look like Monday is going to be our day off going forward.

After nearly two years and many, many miles my trail shoes need to be replaced, but I am trying to hold out until next month. My first choice for a new shoe is the Hoka One-One walking shoe to see how they work out, and if goes well with them I will get the GoreTex version for our walking tour in Japan in 2022.

These are my first choice for new walking shoes