Simply Having a Wonderful Time

We arrived to some humid, wet, overcast and windy weather when we initially arrived on Kaua’i. The sun eventually appeared for a while but today we’re back to clouds and wind. Still, all is well, and we’ve have been having a simply wonderful, relaxing time on Kaua’i as well as a great time with our friends, Alan and Cheryl. Here’s a little of what we’ve been up to:

  • Eating fresh papaya for breakfast every morning. Eating lots of tropical fruit, actually. I am in heaven.
  • Having Puka dogs with coconut relish and lilikoi mustard along with a cup of their fresh-squeezed lemonade for lunch one day.
  • Enjoying Ice cream at Lappert’s in Poipu. I had Kaua’i pie (Kona coffee ice cream with coconut, macadamia nuts, and fudge) and Brett chose Mauna Kea’s Secret (vanilla ice cream with raspberries and fudge brownies).
  • Eating Lilikoi chiffon pie at Hamura’s. My goodness, that is some really, really good pie.
  • Visiting Wailua Falls and Opaekaa Falls. There’s been lots of rain recently so both falls are running strong.
  • Walking on the beach path. No matter the weather, it’s always beautiful. The surf was very strong and loud the day we were out – we loved it.
  • Going to the Kapaa farmers’ market. Our favorite farmers are still there and they remembered us!
  • Eating shave ice. Wailua Sunrise (orange and pineapple) with haupia foam for me, strawberry coconut with foam for Brett.
  • Finding geckos everywhere!
  • Enjoying the beautiful hibiscus in bloom all over the place
  • Having dinner at Street Burger in Wailua

Tonight we’re heading up to the north shore along with Cheryl and Alan to visit the Kilauea lighthouse and then meet our friend Joy for drinks and pupus (appetizers) at a place in Princeville. Tomorrow morning we’re going down to Lihue to the Tip Top Cafe for breakfast, then over to the Saturday farmers’ market at the nearby community college, and we will hopefully be able to follow that with a walk to the Pineapple Dump. Blue skies returned for a while on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday so we did get to enjoy some sunshine!

There’s a very good chance we’re going to come back to Kaua’i when we’re done traveling. Bad weather, good weather, humidity, or whatever, it’s still felt like we’re back home the whole time, and we still love it here.

Back to the Future: The Older I Get, the Less I Want

These days it takes very little to make Brett and I happy. Experiences, not things, are what bring us joy. We’ve learned over the past 16 or so months as we’ve traveled that we can live very nicely with very little. Our favorite Airbnb is still the small (less than 300 square feet) studio apartment we stayed at when in Strasbourg, where we learned we could live in a very small space as long as we had a comfortable bed and a comfortable sofa (in that apartment they were the same thing!). We’ve found the two of us don’t even need a dining table anymore. We just don’t need much of anything these days.

It wasn’t always that way though. I used to want all the stuff. I wanted to have everything. When Brett retired from the navy in 1992 and we moved back to the U.S. from Japan, our household goods shipment weighed 12,500 pounds! That’s a LOT of stuff, especially for just three people. When we got it all unpacked and put away, our home looked and felt like an overstuffed museum of Japanese antiques and other goods.

Thankfully things changed. When we moved to Hawaii in 2014, we shipped only 4,500 pounds for our then family of five, and the whole time we lived on Kaua’i Brett and I questioned whether we still owned too much stuff. When we left the island four years later we shipped just 1,000 pounds back for storage on the mainland, and this December we expect to get rid of a third to half of that. We now have less than 10 of the items we initially brought back from Japan.

Back in 2010, when we were struggling and loaded with debt, it was helpful for me to remember how I felt back when we almost lost our stuff, that it was all just stuff and I didn’t need to accumulate more to live a happy life. I’m much happier these days with less and knowing that others are taking joy from and using the many things we were willing to let go.

The Older I Get, The Less I Want

When Brett retired from the navy, it was at the end of a three and a half year tour in Japan. He spent most of that tour deployed on an aircraft carrier while I spent most of those years shopping and accumulating stuff. Up until then we had always lived fairly simply and had not acquired much because of the small weight allowance for moving our household goods, but right at the beginning of our Japan tour our household goods allowance was upped by several thousand pounds. In the second year of the tour, Brett received a promotion, and along with a nice pay raise he also received another increase in our household goods allowance.

I, to put it mildly, went nuts. Shopping became my primary form of recreation, a way to keep busy while Brett was gone and our son was busy with school and friends. I was teaching English at the time, making good money, and all I did was buy, buy, buy, especially antiques. We came home with 15 (yes, 15!) antique tansu (Japanese chests) of all types and sizes, loads of antique porcelain and lots of other items I had convinced myself we had to have and couldn’t leave Japan without owning. I told myself all these things were an investment. Looking back, I don’t think there was a day that I wasn’t shopping somewhere for something. It was almost obscene how much I shopped. The only good thing, if I can claim it, was that I paid cash for everything; we had no debt and actually had a decent savings account as well. And, the shopping stopped as soon as we arrived home in the U.S.

Our household goods were scheduled to arrive back in the States about 4-5 weeks after we did. Four weeks arrived though and there was no shipment or any word about it. At five weeks we called to check on things and were informed our shipment could not be located, that it had been lost and they were trying to find it. Initially, all I felt was panic, deep, deep panic that almost everything we owned was gone forever. However, in the next couple of days, something began to change. As I thought about having to start over, I also began to feel liberated, like an incredibly heavy weight had been lifted off my shoulders. As I moved through the near-empty rooms of the apartment we had just rented, I began to question why I had ever wanted all those things we had accumulated. While I felt deep, searing pain when I thought of the photo albums, the few of our son’s things I had kept from when he was a baby, and a few truly irreplaceable items that might be gone forever, for everything else I felt no attachment whatsoever. I wanted our simple life back again.

Our household goods were eventually found, delivered, and were squeezed into our small house, but they never held the same appeal for me they did when I bought them or when we lived in Japan. We’ve spent the years since Brett’s retirement slowly divesting ourselves of much of our Japan stuff. Brett was unemployed for almost three years following his retirement, and the sale of several of those items we had brought back saw us through some hard times, so maybe they were an investment after all. The sale of other items helped us fund our adoptions. But I haven’t missed one of them, and have never regretted that we sold them.

We now have less than half the weight of what we shipped back from Japan, even with the addition of three more children and a bigger house, and I would very much like to get rid of a lot more. I know now I can live, we all could, with much less than we have now and manage quite nicely. I just don’t want things anymore, not unless they’re functional and serve an important purpose in our lives. Shopping holds no thrill for me these days. The girls, of course, love having stuff, but for now, they want more for us to be out of debt than for them to own more. Brett, the King of the Pack Rats, still clings to his stuff, but even he has made immense strides in reducing his hoard. We’re getting there.

Maybe what’s been going on is a function of aging or just heredity. When we were children and used to visit our grandmother, she always let me and my siblings go through her things and choose something to take home because she was “thinning things out.” She said she didn’t need so many things anymore, even though she already lived very simply. As she has aged, my mother has divested herself of most of her possessions and lives in a small, uncluttered apartment. She’d rather travel than maintain or worry about a lot of stuff. Whatever the reason, it seems the older I get, the less I want as well.

The above was originally posted on July 26, 2010. I’m happy to report that Brett has given up his title as King of the Packrats. These days he’s a true minimalist, more so than I am.

Monday Morning 1/13/2020: Back on Kaua’i

We traded clouds and rain in Portland for clouds and rain on Kaua’i. But it’s warm (80 degrees) and we’re happy to be here. This is the view from Alan and Cheryl’s lanai, looking out over farm and ranch land to the Anahola mountains. On a clear day, we’d be able to see the ocean.

I don’t think there are words to express how happy Brett and I feel to be back on Kaua’i. We’re treasuring our time with Alan and Cheryl, and it feels like we’re home again. Even though the weather has been windy, rainy and/or overcast since we arrived (and will continue to be the rest of the week), it hasn’t bothered us in the least since we know how to have a good time here in spite of bad weather. Yes, it’s still humid but less unpleasant than I remember (although when I woke up yesterday morning my hair had exploded from the humidity and looked like a giant dandelion puff). Something new has arisen though – I appear to be suffering from some sort of allergy this time and have been dealing with watery, itchy eyes and a runny nose ever since we arrived. I have no idea what’s causing it because when we lived here I never had any problems while Brett was the one who dealt with allergies.

You know you’re really back in Hawaii when you’re tossed a container of POG on your inter-island flight.

So far we have scheduled nothing for our time here – we’re all mostly having fun catching up and chatting with Alan and Cheryl, and just relaxing. We went to Costco yesterday to pick up a few things to use/eat while we’re here, and also some things to take along to Japan, like a couple of bags of the world’s BEST granola. Later today Brett and I are heading down to Lihue to do some banking (we still have an account here on the island) and may stop at Walmart to pick up some shampoo to take to Japan. Alan and Cheryl bought our car when we left in 2018, but are loaning it back to us to use while we’re here – talk about deja vu! Other plans for the week are to get together with our friend Joy up in Princeville and get down to Poipu for a Puka Dog and some Lappert’s ice cream. I don’t think the weather is going to improve enough for us to get to the beach until next weekend, but we’re OK with that.

It was sad to say goodbye to WenYu and YaYu on Friday, and we were grateful to have lots to do for our own departure on Saturday. We will be seeing the girls again in May at WenYu’s graduation, and when we’re in NYC, and I know that time will arrive sooner than we imagine. We had a really great time together this year, and we’re all planning to be back in Portland one more time next December, and will go through our remaining things with them. We plan to rent the same Airbnb as we stayed in this last time because it was just about perfect for us.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I’m slowly making progress through Killing Commandatore, but haven’t had a lot of time for reading the past few days.
  • Listening to: Roosters! Although we’ve seen them around we haven’t really heard them (maybe because of the rain?), but this morning they have been out in force even though it’s still damp and overcast. Who knows? They really are the background sound of Kaua’i.
  • Watching: I watched the Downton Abbey movie on the plane before I fell asleep, and really, really enjoyed it (and laughed out loud a couple of times – Maggie Smith as the Dowager is a treasure).
  • Cooking: I’m not cooking much of anything this week. We bought a few easy things to fix at Costco (lumpia and Polish sausages; Alan and Cheryl bought a giant pizza and Costco’s stuffed peppers), and we also plan to eat out a couple of times. We made a supreme effort before we left Portland and finished just about everything we had bought – all that was left in the refrigerator when we left was a tiny bit of whipped cream and a little bit of jam.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Packing to leave Portland was a bit of a challenge because the grandkids’ Christmas presents are taking up a lot of room in our suitcases. We finally gave up and decided to check Brett’s new bag (no extra cost) and carry-on the giant Erector set we got for our grandson instead when we couldn’t make everything fit otherwise, and that did the trick. 
  • Looking forward to next week: In spite of the weather Brett and I are planning to take at least a couple of walks on the beach path, and we’re looking forward to eating at a few of our favorite places: lilikoi chiffon pie at Hamura’s, pancakes at the Tip Top Cafe, Puka Dogs, and lau lau from Pono Market. I’m especially looking forward to seeing my friend Joy later this week.
    Getting to know the bunnies at the Hoppy Hour experience.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: WenYu and YaYu had a wonderful time at the bunny petting experience I had booked for them in Portland, and both were happy they got to go (they love rabbits). I had a great visit with a friend last Wednesday and then went for a much-needed manicure and pedicure which was very relaxing. While we were glad to be in first class on our flight over to Hawai’i, it was an older plane and sort of “old-style.” While we were served breakfast on china with real cutlery and a linen tablecloth on our tray table, and we had more legroom, the section still felt cramped, and the seats didn’t really recline all that much and there were no foot or leg rests. The seats were more like economy plus, but were still a good deal for what we paid for them and much nicer than what we would have endured in the main cabin. Kai Kahele, the Hawaiian state senator that’s running for Congress, was on our flight over to Kaua’i from Honolulu and it was exciting to meet and chat with him. We’ve been followers of his since he announced he was running last year.
    Breakfast on the plane was a tasty chorizo and cheese omelet accompanied by a chicken sausage, potato wedges, a bagel, and fresh fruit.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: I received close to a $300 refund from the dentist; we will use that as part of the $400 cash we’ve budgeted for commissary shopping when we’re in Japan. We were expecting to have to pay nearly $150 to get our luggage over to Kaua’i on Hawaiian (no free checked luggage) but we only paid $70 for four bags. We think it may have been our Hawaiian driver’s licenses that did the trick and got us a kamaaina discount. We spent less than $150 at Costco, which I think is a record.
  • Grateful for: Both of us are very thankful for this opportunity to be back on Kaua’i, especially since our daughters just surprised us with their thoughts about us coming back to live here. It really does feel wonderful to be here again – we’ve missed it more than we realized. We’re glad we’re experiencing some of the things we didn’t care for before (humidity and traffic, for example) to see how we feel about those now. Overall, we love the feeling of familiarity with the island – this was a happy place for us.
  • Bonus question: Do you think you could actually move back to Kaua’i? Off the top of my head, yes. For a variety of reasons, this would be a great place for us to settle down, especially since it would just be Brett and me, and we would not be beholden to the girls’ schedules and needs. They all said they would love to have a strong reason to return as well. If we return, we would not need as much furniture or as many things as we did before, and very little to ship over. We are also more aware of the things ahead of time that became problematic for us before, like the humidity, and hopefully, we can better deal with those things on a second time around. There are still negatives about living here though, like Hawaii’s isolation, which would make it expensive and difficult for future travel if we wanted to continue doing that and also for the family to come and visit us. It’s also still an expensive place to live (although we felt Portland was almost more expensive now), and we’d of course have to have a car here. But overall, the positives outweigh the negatives and we are giving the idea of returning real consideration.

I’m not sure how much I’ll get posted this week but I will try my best. We’re looking forward to relaxing as much as possible while we’re here and not overdoing things, so we’ll see if I can squeeze in any writing. In the meantime, I hope everyone had a good week, and that your new year is off to a good start!

The Argument for Continuing to Travel

Brett and I are still feeling restless, and not ready in many ways to again take on the responsibilities that come along with settling down in one place. The biggest argument against us stopping our travels is still that there are too many places in the world we want to see and experience!

Below are some of the places we’ve talked about wanting to visit in just the last three weeks:

  • Botswana photo safari (it’s too expensive really, but we still love talking about it).
  • Capetown, South Africa
  • Morocco
  • Kenya (Brett has visited before but would like to go again – me too!)
  • Scandinavia: Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland (we’d also like to see Iceland, but it’s not as high on our list)
  • The Benelux Countries (Belgium, Netherlands, & Luxemburg)
  • Germany
  • Austria
  • Czech Republic
  • The south of France
  • Spain
  • Northern Portugal
  • Naples and Sicily – Brett has been to both, courtesy of the navy, and would love to return
  • Greece (yet another place Brett has been before and we both want to visit)
  • Ireland
  • SE Asia: Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Singapore
  • Australia (to ride The Ghan from Adelaide up to Darwin)
  • The South Island of New Zealand
  • Mexico
  • Costa Rica and Panama
  • Argentina (including Mendoza, Patagonia, and the Iguazu Falls this time)
  • And, just because, a trans-Atlantic cruise on the QE2

Of course, we also want to continue to spend time in Japan with family, and we’d also like to visit some parts of China we haven’t seen yet.

This continues to be an ideal time in our lives to travel, and even with helping out YaYu for the next couple of years, if we’re careful it’s doable. And, we ask ourselves, with a wish list of destinations this long how can we possibly think we’d be happy settling down?

And yet . . . from the We Did Not See This One Coming files, our daughters let us know the other day that they would like it very much if we settled back on Kaua’i again. That was a surprise! While Southern California is still high on our list, we’d love to live in Hawai’i again but up to now hadn’t considered just the two of us going back. They’ve given us lots to think about there.

So, everything is still on the table, with good arguments on both sides. For now though, we feel our plans for after June will be a good compromise between the two . . . stay tuned!

Back to the Future: Broke

Rereading this post from January 2010 was a bit of a surprise because I had forgotten that things were so bad that even a promotion and a pay raise could temporarily cause problems. I can’t even begin to imagine where we would have been back then if Brett had lost his job versus just losing a portion of his income (although a nearly 40% loss of income is a pretty strong blow).

I can see now how fortunate we were that we didn’t have to worry about losing our home. Brett’s military retirement income covered our mortgage, insurance, and taxes – all were paid by automatic deduction every month. But of course, that left everything else we had to cover: food, utilities, car payments, credit cards, the girls’ braces, and more out of our diminished income. Those were the things that were overwhelming us, even with income still coming in and an upcoming increase in Brett’s pay.

BROKE

Brett is out right now selling used books and a few DVDs we found so that we have a few dollars (hopefully) to get us through the next couple of weeks. We have two necessary doctor visits which will require co-pays, a prescription for one child that must be filled, and there will hopefully be enough left over to buy milk the week after next. Otherwise, we have no cash flow for the next two weeks, nothing in reserve, nada. We are broke and are now getting a taste of what millions of families have been going through during the recession with their jobs lost and/or their incomes reduced, or what low-income families go through all the time. As my husband and I are both employed and have good benefits, we have no excuse for our current financial state except for getting ourselves heavily into debt.

Thankfully it’s just going to be a small taste of going without income. We did get a nice surprise at the end of the year – Brett received a promotion (!) and somewhat decent pay raise (!!) week before last and is transitioning from weekly to bi-weekly pay. It will not solve our problems but it is going to make things a bit easier going forward. However, next week is the first week he skips getting paid. I only am paid once a month, on the last day of the month, and that will arrive the same day as his new pay and we will catch up then and be back on track. But even knowing this week was coming and preparing as best as we could, arriving here has been a real eye-opener and frankly, frightening. It is the first time in my life that I won’t be making (a few) payments on time. I made sure that every automatic payment in our account will be covered, but that took every dime of what we had on hand. The non-automatic payments will just have to wait until the end of the month even though their due dates start next week. I have made sure that there is enough food on hand for the next two weeks. Meals will be simple for sure, but at least we have enough food (other than milk; I don’t have room to store more than a week’s worth of milk) to get us through. The children thankfully have enough in their school lunch accounts to cover them for the next two weeks. Faced with a situation like this in the past, I would have broken out the credit cards, but not this time. They are what got us to this place, and not the way out anymore.

What weighs constantly on my mind is the question, “What if Brett had lost his job instead of receiving a promotion?” We are selling books and DVDs now; what else would we have to sell to survive? How would we feed our family? Would we eventually lose our home? Would we survive?

This is where our debt has brought us and it’s not pretty. This is definitely not how I want to spend the rest of my life, looking over my shoulder, or checking out the window to see if the wolf is still hovering at the door.

In retrospect, Brett’s “promotion” turned out to be a way for his company to get more work out of him once again to take care of the backlog of work that had piled up once the overtime was cut off. The new position was salaried versus hourly but came with the same long hours as before for the same work. The pay increase, although appreciated, ended up being nowhere near what he had been making previously so once overtime was approved again, he left the salaried position and went back to hourly pay until he retired.

Sunday Morning 1/5/2020: Week 6 in Portland

We are ready to be done with cold, clouds, and rain and trade it . . .

Happy New Year! It’s the first Sunday Morning of 2020! And, it’s also the beginning of a very busy week in Portland, our last before departing for Kaua’i early next Saturday morning. We all have lots to do this week to get ready to go including several errands, packing, cleaning, and everything else that goes along with changing locations once again.

. . . for this.

WenYu and YaYu will depart on Friday afternoon, within a couple of hours of each other, and then Brett and I will come back to the apartment to finish cleaning and getting ready to move over to a hotel for the night. After our wild experience getting to the airport in England, and our troubles with the car rental agency here, we were both feeling more than a bit anxious about how things might go with our early departure on Saturday morning (just after 5:00 a.m.). The car rental agency doesn’t open until 4:00 a.m. and we were feeling somewhat afraid that if there were any problems whatsoever things could easily start spiraling out of control again in terms of us getting checked in and through security on time, so we decided to turn in the car on Friday evening instead and spend the night in a hotel near the airport. The hotel is just two minutes away from the terminal and has a 24-hour on-demand shuttle service, so we’re both feeling a bit less nervous now about being where we need to be on time.

Brett and I are also growing excited about our upcoming visit to Kaua’i, and are looking forward to spending time with friends and enjoying the weather and scenery there as well as getting out for walks, etc. Portland has mostly been its usual gloomy self for the past week and once again I can feel myself start heading into seasonal depression. When the sun shines I feel great, but otherwise, all I want to do is plant myself on the sofa and stay there all day. Those feelings have been combined the past week or so with one of my annual bouts of insomnia – ugh. Japan will be cold (colder, actually) when we get there and somewhat gloomy as well so Kaua’i will provide a much-needed winter respite.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished the Dead of Jericho on New Year’s Eve, and ended the year with a total of 58 books read. I decided to take a short break from Inspector Morse and am now reading Haruki Murakami’s Killing Commendatore. I especially enjoy it when Murakami describes different neighborhoods in Tokyo or other places nearby because I know where and what he’s writing about – I can picture them in my mind.
  • Listening to: The girls were up very late last night so they’re still asleep. Brett is rustling around the kitchen, making coffee and getting ready to make bacon for our breakfast this morning. The neighborhood is quiet as always.
  • Watching: I don’t think we watched any TV at all this past week except for the live version of Disney’s Aladdin on Friday (and I can’t get “Never Had a Friend Like Me” out of my head).
  • Cooking: We’ve been doing a very good job of getting things used up, and as of today, there isn’t a whole lot left so we should be able to finish up everything except for a few pantry items. Dinner tonight will once again be leftovers, then tomorrow I’m making pasta with pesto along with Italian sausages (which didn’t get fixed this past week). On Tuesday we’re having meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy and steamed broccoli. We’ll eat that for a couple of days, and on Thursday we’ll eat whatever is left and call it good. Brett and I plan to have Swedish meatballs for dinner on Friday night at IKEA, which is located close to the airport and our hotel. WenYu’s friend is going to come over on Friday morning to take the odds and ends of the pantry supplies (soy sauce, vegetable oil, etc.).
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: I don’t think I accomplished a whole lot this past week other than staying up until midnight on New Year’s Eve. Brett was able to get an appointment in June to meet with the surgeon, but at this point, we have no idea how long it will take to actually schedule the surgery, whether it will be in the same month or later in the year. We’re going to schedule a week to 10 days in Portland then, and will add on days if necessary.
  • Looking forward to next week: We’ll be getting together with our friend Joan on Tuesday, always something we look forward to. I’m also meeting another friend for coffee this afternoon, and another friend on Wednesday afternoon. After she and I are done I’m going to get a manicure and pedicure so I’m presentable when we’re in Hawaii. Brett and I are actually looking forward to the long flight over to Hawaii because we’re flying first class which should make it a more enjoyable experience – I’m so happy to have found those low fares! Our Honolulu to Kaua’i flight will be in economy seating, but I got those tickets for free using miles, so no complaints (and the flight only takes 30 minutes).
  • Thinking of good things that happened: My laptop was ready for pick-up on Friday and I am so glad to have it back! I am enjoying once again having a battery that charges quickly and lasts almost the whole day versus having to get up to charge it every three hours or so. My stomach issues have been under control for the entire week – not one bad day or episode!
    WenYu and A have been best friends since they were five years old. They both come from the same part of China and were adopted through the same agency at the same time, although they didn’t connect until they were in kindergarten. They had planned to go out to a club for New Year’s Eve, but cover charges and admission turned out to be more than they wanted to pay so they stayed home and celebrated with us.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: 1) When WenYu and her friend decided at the last minute that they would not be going out for New Year’s Eve, I rustled up some tasty hors d’oeuvres using leftovers and things we had on hand, including celery stuffed with spicy Thai peanut spread (everyone’s favorite), crackers topped with whipped cream cheese I mixed with some leftover crispy fried onions, chopped green onions, and sriracha; and pesto pizza bites, and there were no leftovers. Our hosts had brought us a bottle of good wine earlier in the day so we ended up having a very nice evening that cost us nothing. 2) We arranged to have our son convert yen for us for our rent payments while we’re in Japan which will save us around $180/month ($540 total) in PayPal conversion fees. 3) The Expedia credit in my account covered most of the taxes on Friday night’s hotel room. 4) My computer repair was only $129, $21 less than I expected. 5) Finally, I bought the Costco store brand of acid reducer for my stomach – 250 tables for just $10.99 versus 25 name-brand tablets for $12 at Winco or 90 tablets for $7 by prescription. Between the Kirkland medication and one order of my prescription, I am set for a full year.
    Something I’ve noticed more of this time in Portland is lots and lots of new, big apartment buildings squeezed in all over the place. At one point the other day it felt like we were driving through downtown Tokyo! Rent in these places is not cheap either. For example, studios in this building start at $1300+ and a 2-bedroom, 2-bath apartment goes for $2800, more expensive than Kaua’i.
  • Grateful for: I’m thankful for all the good years we spent in Portland; it was a beautiful, affordable city to land in following Brett’s retirement from the navy and a great place to work and raise our children. But I’m also grateful we were able to move on when we did; it was time for us to go. Portland is changing, as it should, and we will always love this city, but it isn’t the right place for us anymore.
  • Bonus question: What is your least favorite chore when your family gets together? The girls are very good at helping out with cleaning, cooking, and doing dishes, but the one thing they won’t do? Laundry! I get that they want a break from having to do it on their own (who wouldn’t?), but on the other hand, two to three young women can produce a LOT of laundry, and it’s an effort to sort it, wash it, dry it, fold it, and then get them to pick it up and put it away (and I don’t easily recognize anymore which piece of clothing belongs to which girl). Doing their laundry is a small price to pay for the pleasure of our daughters’ company once or twice a year, but that doesn’t make me dislike the chore any less.

There won’t be a post next Sunday as we’ll be on the move all day Saturday (and tired from having to get up so early), but I will try and instead do a brief Monday Morning post after we arrive on Kaua’i and get settled. We’ll see how it goes – all I may feel like doing once we’re there is sitting out on our friends’ lanai and sipping mai tais! Life has been something of a three-ring circus since the girls arrived, and we are enjoying every moment with them, but we’re also starting to look ahead to our quieter, “regular life” again with just the two of us.

Once again, a very happy new year to all, with added wishes for good health and prosperity. I think this coming year is going to be a bit of a wild ride for a variety of reasons, so hope everyone is hanging on tight!

Closing Out the Books for December and the Year

We knew there was no way we were going to be able to stay on or under budget during December and in that respect, we were correct. We ended the month with a daily spending average of $47.34, back near our $50/day limit versus staying close to the current $35/day limit. Most of what was spent this past month was for food, lots and lots of food. We’ve eaten well but not extravagantly, and I’m not sure where we could have cut back – there’s been no waste, and we bought little to no junk food or sweets either. Other than a very few items, like Brett’s beard trimmer, his new carry-on bag, and a couple of books for me, there’s been no buying things other than travel supplies and provisions. Our daily spending average is what it is – it just costs more to feed a family.

I also went back through all our spending in 2019 to see how we did over the span of 12 months. There were several months of under average spending (more than I thought), but of course there were several months where we ended up over our daily average. I added up how we did each month, whether we were over or under budget, and came up with a total of $848.96 over budget for the entire year. Divided by 12, that’s $70.75/month over what we had planned to spend.

I have mixed feelings about that number. I’m of course disappointed, but it’s also not as bad as both Brett and I imagined it might be. Our worst overspending occurred when we were in the U.S. because we tended to do “big shops” at places like Costco, and also spent extra on re-provisioning our travel supplies. Side trips, like the ones we took while we were in England or out to the Oregon coast this past summer, also drove our spending up as well. We bought and spent more than planned in India, but otherwise did not go crazy buying things or going out to eat frequently during the year, although they happened from time to time. We have no regrets about those experiences however. Some places we visited during the year turned out to be more expensive than we had estimated (Hong Kong, for example) but other places were as expected or even a bit less. In Japan and England, our two long stays, we started off spending over our monthly averages but over time we learned and adjusted, and by our final months in each place we had it down to below average.

Overall it was just an OK year, spending wise, not a great one or even a good one. We were able to cover the amounts we were over each month, and we don’t feel as if we wasted money on anything or any experience. The cost-of-living increases in our income this year will cover the extra per month if we repeat 2019’s spending patterns, but we know we can do better. Our goal for 2020 is to come in under average every month.

New Year, New Goals

Brett and I had quite the year in 2019. We started out with visits to India, Hong Kong, Australia (including a train ride across the continent), and the North Island of New Zealand. From there we spent three wonderful months in Japan followed by summer in Portland and then fall in the charming Costwolds village of Blockley (with side trips to Edinburgh, London, Oxford, and Bath). We’ve ended the year with another great family Christmas in Portland. It’s going to be a hard year to top.

Toward the end of every year, Brett and I assess where we are and what we’ve done, and then think about and start discussing where we’d like to be at the end of the coming year as well as what we need to do to get there. Once those decisions are made we set goals and the milestones we need to meet. I’m happy to report that we have (finally) come to a firm decision about what we want to do and where we want to go following WenYu’s graduation at the end of May – all will be revealed in the spring after we leave Japan for our mystery destination (the two are linked). Coming to a decision about our future has involved lots of research and discussion (still ongoing), but we’ve reached what we feel is a good compromise on the keep traveling/settle down divide and both of us are looking forward to going forward and making things happen. 

Below are eight goals we want to accomplish in 2020. The first one is my personal reading goal, but the rest of them are for the two of us.

  1. Read at least 52 books again including finishing the Inspector Morse series and rereading all the Harry Potter books. I also have a few unfinished books on my Kindle, including Hamilton by Ron Chernow and It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis, and I also want to finish those in 2020.
  2. Get our two primary health issues – Brett’s surgery and my stomach problems – resolved. Brett wants to have the surgery done in Portland next June following WenYu’s graduation and is working now on setting that up with the surgeons.
  3. Follow through on our big plan for the rest of the year after WenYu’s graduation at the end of May, a short visit to Vermont and Maine, and then (hopefully) Brett’s surgery in June.
  4. Do a better job of sticking to a monthly budget. Although we’ll have somewhat less per month than usual while we’re in Japan, we’ll be able to increase the daily amount again once we reach our mystery destination.
  5. Spend next Christmas once again in Portland and go through our stored items with the girls (and fingers crossed, with our son and daughter-in-law as well) and let them take what they want, then downsize the remaining items.
  6. Meet our annual savings goal for YaYu’s college expenses, with disbursements to her in July and late December.
  7. Restock our travel savings account. We use these savings to cover major transportation costs (i.e. airfare) and other miscellaneous travel expenses. All our transportation has already been paid for through arrival at our mystery destination in April. We will need to save enough to buy tickets to get us from there to New York City in May for a short visit with Meiling (and to see Hamilton!!), then get us over to Massachusetts for WenYu’s graduation. We also need to save enough for a rental car while we’re in New England and for our tickets back to Portland and then on to our next destination.
  8. Do we dare say we’d both like to lose some weight? Starting with our last three weeks in England, we’ve been much too sedentary and the pounds having come creeping (bounding?) back. A big goal in 2020 is more exercise!

As always, the goals above are SMART ones: Specific, Measurable, Achievable (even losing weight!), Realistic and Timely (finish by the end of the year). Welcome 2020 – we’re ready for you! 

Wishing all a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

Sunday Morning 12/29/2019: Week 5 in Portland

The whole gang – we have loved being together with them again.

Changes will begin this evening as Meiling and K return to New York – both have to be at work tomorrow (so all our fingers are crossed there are no problems with their flight arriving on time). We are going to miss Meiling so much (K too) – she’s been a delight to have here. WenYu and YaYu will be with us through the 10th of January, the day before we leave for Hawai’i. WenYu will head back then to Massachusetts to attend an alumni gathering that helps match seniors with employment opportunities following graduation and will begin her last term at Wellesley afterward. YaYu will go up to Seattle to spend a week with one of her roommates, and then they’ll fly back to Philadelphia together for the start of their spring term.

Here’s the main reason our suitcases were so heavy leaving England – the above is what each of the girls received in her “Brit Box” on Christmas morning (and we also brought back several additional jars of jams, curds, and chutneys for ourselves and for friends).

We had a wonderful Christmas Day. We all slept in, and then the girls started off the morning opening the “Brit Boxes” we put together for them in lieu of stockings this year, filled with all sorts of goodies we picked up while we were in England. As we ate our breakfast of bagels and berries, Meiling served as our elf and passed out gifts. The biggest surprise and highlight of the morning for Brett and me was receiving tickets from Meiling to see Hamilton on Broadway when we’re in New York City next May. I’m frankly still in a bit of shock, but also absolutely thrilled – I have been a Hamilton fan from the beginning but never thought I’d be seeing it any time soon! We brought cashmere scarves back from Edinburgh for each of the girls, and are so thankful they were happy with our choices – we had had a very difficult time picking colors and plaids out of the thousands of options available there. We also gave Meiling and WenYu gift cards and contributed to the cost of a much-needed new winter coat for YaYu instead of a gift card. Later in the morning, we all got a nice surprise when our Airbnb hosts appeared at our door with homemade cinnamon rolls, Christmas cookies, and coffee beans that they had roasted for us. The rest of the day was quiet and relaxed: we ate leftover pizza for lunch, watched a couple of Christmas movies, and enjoyed a delicious ham dinner in the evening. We all agreed it was one of the best Christmases we’ve celebrated together.

We were right back to “normal” (or whatever that is) on Thursday with dentist appointments and other errands, including picking up K – he’s spent the past three days with us. Less than two weeks to go and we’ll be back on Kaua’i with friends, and in three weeks we’ll be together with our son, DIL, and grandkids in Japan. They’re currently on a family vacation in Singapore – I can’t wait to hear all about that as it’s on our bucket list.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished The Way Through the Woods on Christmas, and am now reading The Dead of Jericho (book #5 in the Morse series). I found the last two books I can’t get online at Powell’s (used copies) and will pick those up this afternoon at a nearby Powell’s store. I’m almost ashamed to admit that occasionally when I’m reading an actual book these days I sometimes can’t figure out for a few moments why the pages of the book don’t light up at night or find myself tapping the bottom of the page to go to the next (#addictedtomyKindle).
  • Listening to: The girls are still asleep and Brett is rustling around in the kitchen, but otherwise, all is still and quiet, just the way I like it in the morning. 
  • Watching: The girls have the televisions monopolized most of the time, but Brett and I were able to squeeze in a viewing of Dolomite Is My Name, starring Eddie Murphy. It was raunchy and fun from start to finish – we loved it! We also watched The Two Popes, starring Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, a completely different but also very good film (although probably not entirely historically accurate). Both films are available on Netflix. We’ve binge-watched all the series we wanted to see so we’re now feeling sort of lost as to what to watch next. Any suggestions?
  • Cooking: We will have two fewer (big) eaters going forward from today, but YaYu has decided to eat meat once again beginning January 1 so that will make menu planning a bit easier. Last night we finished off almost all of the leftovers, which were a) very good, and b) cleared up a lot of room in the refrigerator. Tonight we’re having pad thai, and tomorrow I’m fixing the ham and pasta dish that didn’t get made earlier as planned (YaYu will have hers without ham). We’ll finish off two jars of marinated artichoke hearts along with that. On New Year’s Day, I’m going to make one of YaYu’s favorite recipes, noodles with pork sauce, and other meals planned for this week are turkey rice soup; pasta with pesto and Italian sausages; and fried rice with ham. We will be beginning efforts this week to make sure all the food we bought gets finished before we depart on January 11. 
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Getting all the cooking done and meals on the table has been something of an effort, mainly because I’m out of practice preparing big meals for so many. Keeping the small kitchen clean as I went along was a chore as well, but everything got done and all the food was eaten and enjoyed. Both Brett and I got vacation supplies of our prescriptions ordered so we’ll be covered until we get back to the U.S. in May, and we ordered some other provisions we’ll need.
  • Looking forward to next week: I’m really not looking forward to much more than another quiet, relaxing week with Brett, WenYu, and YaYu. Brett and I are going to the Apple Store later this afternoon to finally get a new battery installed in my laptop and get it all spiffed up as well. It’s in very good shape other than needing the battery – the Apple tech was surprised the original one was still operating considering how long I’ve had it (although it only holds a charge for around three hours now).
    Brett joined the Rolling Carry-On Club this past week.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Besides having a really great Christmas Day with the girls, I don’t think anything can top the thrill of receiving those tickets to “Hamilton.” What an amazing surprise! The treats our hosts brought us were another sweet surprise as well – they truly are the most delightful Airbnb hosts we have stayed with yet. Brett had decided to switch over from a backpack to a rolling carry-on and we found a very nice one (Samsonite) on sale yesterday. It will give us more room and be easier to maneuver than his bulging backpack. I will be responsible for the carry-ons while Brett will continue to wrangle the big bags. He’ll continue to use the backpack though as his personal carry-on item and to carry my laptop, etc. My stomach issues continue to slowly improve and I had a few days this past week with no problems whatsoever and slept well on those nights as well. I’m still figuring things out but those days give me hope that I can eventually get through this. Finally, I was having a good hair day yesterday so WenYu decided to give me a makeover last night and do my makeup. I enjoyed the experience but couldn’t see the results until I put on my glasses, which of course then covered it all up! So, the girls took pictures of me without my glasses so I could see how things turned out. I haven’t worn makeup for years, and have no plans to start using it again but last night’s session was fun. I especially enjoyed having eyebrows again (mine are naturally invisible).
    My glamour shot. Makeup sure hides a lot of flaws (so do glasses).
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We stayed out of stores this past week so other than my ordering the two books from Powell’s, getting Brett a new rolling carry-on bag (60% off), and making one stop for milk, cheese, produce, a bottle of wine, and toilet paper (and nothing more!) we had a zero-spend week! I chose in-store pick-up for the books from Powell’s and saved $3.99 in shipping fees instead of having them mailed to me. I combined gift card the girls gave me with an online sale at J. Jill and got a new top for nothing out of pocket (the order left 6¢ on the gift card). We were shocked to discover that Costco now charges nearly $50+ for a 10-pack of Oral-B replacement brushes but we found a 12-pack of generic brushes (with equally high reviews) on Amazon for just $8.99. I did some research and found another highly rated brand of curl cream – two containers cost $20 less than what I would have paid for two tubes of my current brand. We went downtown to the Apple Store yesterday to see if it was worth trading in my current laptop for a new one, but when it came down to $850 with trade-in for a new laptop versus having the battery replaced in my current one for less than $150 it was a no brainer. I have an appointment at the Genius Bar this afternoon to get that done.
    A gift certificate from the girls and a 40% off sale price made it possible for me to get this pretty velour tunic.
  • Grateful for: Both Brett and I continue to be thankful that our daughters get along so well with each other. They support each other, offer advice, tips, etc. and a shoulder to cry on if necessary. They’re very different from each other in their interests, styles, and personalities but they work well together and enjoy each other’s company.  
  • Bonus question: How do you plan to celebrate New Year’s Eve? Our celebrations are always quite boring, to be honest. We don’t like parties or crowds, but Brett and I always stay up with whoever is at home to welcome in the New Year, and sometimes we’ll have some sparkling wine to help the celebration (but not always). When the kids were little we would wake them if they had fallen asleep and take them outside to bang on pots and pans to make noise for a few minutes, and when we were in Hawaii we would all stay up for the fireworks (New Year’s is a BIG holiday there). As I said, our celebrations are very simple and unexciting, but Brett and I have been awake at midnight on January 1 every year for 43 years (we missed being together just once, in 1992, when he was deployed for Operation Desert Storm). So, in 2020 we’ll stay up and welcome in the new year, our 44th New Year’s Eve together.

This past week we’ve been thinking about words to guide us in the coming year and have come up with four:

  1. Experience. No matter where we are or what we do, appreciate the experiences for what they are, both good and bad. Stay adventurous!
  2. Learn. Keep an open mind and heart, accept what the world and others can teach us, and adapt as necessary.
  3. Wonder. Maintain a sense of wonder and amazement at what the world has to offer, even in the smallest things. Stay humble.
  4. Save. Become better stewards of our income in order to live our best lives and maintain choices going forward.

2019 has been a great year for us, and we’re looking forward to what the future holds!

That’s a wrap for Sunday Morning in 2019! I hope everyone had a great week, had a wish or two come true, and are looking forward to the possibilities of 2020. 

Note: My computer might still be in the shop this weekend so if there’s no Sunday post next weekend, that’s the reason why. Thanks for understanding.

Merry Christmas!

May you, your family, and your friends be surrounded by all the things that bring you Christmas cheer, and reminded of all the things that bring you happiness and hope. 

Wishing all who celebrate a very merry Christmas!