Sunday Morning 8/7/2022: A Quick Update

Sunset and blue hour on the way to Boston

We are on our way to Nashville today! We were up early this morning, enjoyed a wonderful free breakfast at the hotel (sausage gravy and biscuits for me!), have loaded up the van once again and will hit the road in a few minutes. Our drive today should only take around three hours (versus the eight hours we’ve driven the past two days).

Our first stop once we arrive in Nashville will be at the car dealer to pick up our new car! Once that piece of business is taken care of we’ll head to our hotel for the night and get checked in, unload the van once more, then head over to see our son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter. I’m so excited about that I can barely stand it!

We had a long day last Tuesday getting out of San Miguel de Allende and up to Boston, but our flights were comfortable and we actually arrived on time with WenYu and Meiling waiting for us. After we got home to WenYu’s we spent a couple of hours catching up with the girls, and then Brett and I fell into a deep sleep. I honestly did not sleep well the entire time we were in Mexico and it was wonderful to sleep so deeply again without waking up several times during the night or super early in the morning (like between 4:00 and 6:00 a.m.). I couldn’t get over the difference in how good I felt the next morning.

Good times in Massachusetts

Our two days in Massachusetts went by too quickly. On Wednesday, WenYu and I went to Trader Joe’s to pick up a few things for Brett and I to carry along on our journey. Afterwards she took us on a walk around their property (the house sits on 10 wooded acres) – such a lovely place to live! Meiling had found a box of oil paints in a free box on her street, and brought them along with her along with a couple of canvasses, so we had fun watching the girls both try oil painting for the first time. In the evening we had dinner over at WenYu’s partner’s parent’s home. We enjoyed our time with them immensely and it was obvious they adore WenYu and look out for her. Early Thursday afternoon WenYu took us over to pick up our rental van, which turned out to be not only brand new but much, much bigger than we expected. Brett loaded it with all our stuff when we got back to the house, then he and I went with the girls to a concert being held at WenYu’s workplace. The band was great, and we had a very good time at the event (WenYu had recently worked with the band to design their logo). WenYu picked up sushi for everyone on the way home for a late dinner.

If there was a downside to our stay it was that WenYu’s partner wasn’t feeling well most of the time. He has long Covid (although currently disease free) and has no energy most of the time. It’s made it very difficult for him to work or do other things. He did show us around his work spaces (some in his home, some in his parents’ home), and provided us with gifts (a t-shirt for Brett and some of his product adorned with Meiling’s and WenYu’s artwork for me, to which I will add necessary accoutrement for a Christmas gift for our grandson). We left with a much better understanding of his product and the process that goes into designing, fabrication, and then getting it to customers.

We set off early Friday morning, and made our way through five states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, stopping in Chambersburg for the night). We were up early again yesterday morning, enjoyed a delicious free breakfast at the hotel, reloaded the van, and traveled through another five states – Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, a long drive through Virginia, and finally Tennessee – stopping for the night in Knoxville. We have spent over $100 less than expected on gas, and less than $10 for food and drink while we’ve been on the road (WenYu gave us sandwiches to bring along). Breakfasts have been free at both hotels, and the hotel in Knoxville (Drury Inn) provided a free dinner as well.

There was lots of road work in MA, CT, and NY that added about an hour to our drive on Friday, but we also endured an awful rain storm in Pennsylvania for nearly an hour – we could barely see the road in front of us! Thankfully almost all the other cars and trucks put on their emergency flashers so we could see them. The roads were better yesterday but we had to drive through not one but two even worse storms, one in Virginia and one as we approached Knoxville. Both of these storms were frightening, with even heavier rain than Friday and loads of thunder and lightening, but very few put on their flashers and some didn’t even turn on their lights. Thankfully Brett is a good driver who remained calm and just kept going although we had a near miss during the final storm when a car pulling a trailer without any lights on stopped for some reason in the middle of the Interstate versus pulling over and we almost ran right into him. Thankfully Brett was able to swerve around him at the last second.

Anyway, it’s been quite the journey so far but we are ready to finally be in Nashville and start unpacking and settling in. We will meet with the property manager tomorrow morning to get the keys to our place, then will unload the van for the last time and head to Costco to purchase a mattress and TV. The van will be returned on Tuesday, and after that’s taken care of we’ll go food shopping. Our furniture will arrive on Thursday and we should be nearly settled by next weekend!

Sunday Morning 7/31/2022: Hasta Luego, Mexico!

Tomorrow will be our last full day in San Miguel de Allende. We’ll finish up packing later today and tomorrow, and enjoy a farewell seafood dinner at Mario’s Mariscos this evening. We cleaned out the refrigerator and pantry this past week and will take the pantry leftovers to our neighbor Jenny tomorrow. We leave for the airport at 8:00 am Tuesday morning, and depart later in the morning for Dallas where we’ll have a several-hour layover (and a trip through U.S. immigration and customs) before heading up to Boston. We’re flying first class on both legs of the trip, made possible by the refund we received from British Air and surprising low prices from the airline. We plan to wear our masks the whole way, and hopefully won’t have to worry too much about others either next to or around us. We’ll be fed on both legs of the trip too so maybe we can skip having to buy anything other than a cup of coffee at the Dallas airport. WenYu and her partner will meet us in Boston, no matter what time we get in, and bring us back up to their place.

We will mostly be spending our time in Massachusetts getting ourselves ready for the drive to Nashville. We’ve rented a cargo van and will be loading that up with all the things we sent from Hawaii as well as the items we ordered from Amazon. Meiling will be joining us while we’re at WenYu’s, and we’re planning to go out to dinner one evening with WenYu’s partner’s parents, and will also visit WenYu’s workplace as well as her partner’s business. He is the owner of a multi-million dollar niche firm he started when he was nine years old!

Can’t wait to see these two next week as well as our DIL! Our son and K took our grandson, C, to a two-week outdoor camp in Wyoming and then visited Grand Teton NP while they were there (C will finish camp and be back in Tennessee for a few days a week after we arrive). K discovered air dryers on their trip (they shut them down in Japan when the pandemic started), and apparently they’re now her favorite thing about the U.S.

This time next week though we’ll be in Tennessee! We’ll be having Sunday morning breakfast in Knoxville and then dinner with our son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter in Franklin that evening (our grandson will still be at camp in Wyoming). After getting the keys to our apartment on Monday morning and unloading all our stuff from the van we’ll head over and pick up our new car then go to Costco to purchase a mattress and a TV. On Tuesday we’ll visit Aldi, Trader Joe’s, and Costco for groceries. Otherwise the rest of the week we’ll be unpacking, getting some furniture delivered, and spending time with the family.

This morning I am thinking about:

  • A troubling/weird thing that happened: Last Wednesday evening I realized Brett had given me the wrong street number for our address in Tennessee when I placed our delivery orders with IKEA, so I went into my account to see if I could correct the mistake. We had placed two separate orders for our furniture, but the site informed me that in order to make any changes to the address I would have to cancel and reorder everything. This was problematic because a few items were no longer available for delivery to our address. However, when I was looking at one of the orders I noticed the delivery address had been changed from Nashville to one near Baltimore! What??? I went back and checked the the other order again, and the delivery address was changed to the Maryland address while I was on that page! YIKES! I cancelled both orders immediately, and changed my IKEA password. I have no idea if the switch was done by a hacker outside of IKEA who got into my account or by someone working for IKEA who was arranging to get a whole houseful of furniture for themselves but I am so thankful I caught it and was able to stop it. I contacted IKEA and let them know what had happened but they didn’t seem too concerned which was very disappointing. IKEA refunded us immediately, but that left us with no furniture and a decision about what we were going to do. We’ve been monitoring our credit card a couple of times a day ever since to be sure it wasn’t hacked as well but so far all seems to be OK there.
It didn’t take long to get packed, and we got everything to fit!
  • What we accomplished this past week: 1) Things this past week went in a couple of directions: getting ready to pack and starting to pack as well as using up as much of the food we purchased as possible. We’ve done a good job with both and will be ready to go on Tuesday morning. We have just a couple more things left to pack. 2) Brett got our utility accounts in Tennessee set up. The only one left to take care of is the Internet, but that’s done through the apartment complex when we get our keys. 3) We found a nice furniture store near our apartment, and after our money was returned from IKEA we bought a sleeper sofa, loveseat, and dining table and chairs from them. Everything will be delivered two days after we move in, so along with a mattress we’ll be OK to start out. We also found a cabinet we liked for our TV and ordered it as well; it will be delivered right after we move in. We still need a coffee table, possibly an end table, a bed frame, dresser, and nightstands, but they can wait until we get into the apartment and take some measurements.
This is the sofa we ordered (along with a matching love seat) – it’s a light teal. When we saw it we realized how ready we were for some color after years of beige, tan, and gray. I just hope it doesn’t clash too much with the apartment’s carpet and wall color (which are tan and beige, of course).
I found this cabinet for the TV in an online shop and chose metal legs so our puppy can’t chew them (not sure how we’ll protect the wooden sofa legs though). I thought I’d be having fun looking at and buying furniture but my stomach is in knots about it, especially after the IKEA situation. We’ll have less furniture than originally planned, but the quality will be far, far better.
  • What we’re looking forward to this coming week: 1) We’re very excited about seeing Meiling and YaYu and getting to spend a couple of days with them. 2) We leave for Nashville early Friday morning; it will take us two and a half days of driving to get there but we know there’ll be some interesting things to see along the way. 3) We’re planning to have dinner with an old friend from our navy days during our time in Knoxville.
  • What we saved: 1) All we’ll be giving to our neighbor is a can of vegetable oil spray, some vegetable oil and olive oil, two bottles of vinegar, a can of tuna, and half a package of pasta. Otherwise we used up everything. 2) We stayed away from City Market this week except to pick up a bottle of Tums and several bags of the absolutely delicious dark roast cinnamon coffee we discovered there and want to take back with us to the U.S. We usually don’t care for flavored coffee but this stuff is very good and will save us from having to buy coffee right away when we arrive in TN. 3) One reason we chose the TV cabinet above is because the company offered free shipping. However, they also surprised us with a $90 discount (!) because it was our first order from them. So far we have stayed under budget with the furniture we’ve bought, and think once we’re done we’ll be right at our limit or maybe only very slightly over.

It wasn’t all leftovers and odds and ends this past week. The restaurants (and their low prices) have been our favorite thing about SMA.

  • Good things that happened: We returned to some of our favorite eateries for our last week here. For our Wednesday lunch date we went back to Turk for Mediterranean food (a beef & lamb burger for Brett, a mezze platter for me); had tasty beefsteak tacos at Tacos Mario again on Thursday; and went to Rustica one last time for our last Friday brunch (frittata for Brett, chilaquiles for me). Both of us are looking forward to having seafood for dinner tonight at Mario’s Mariscos.
Panio Bakery has provided some delicious desserts for us on many evenings during our stay in SMA.

The big unknown for me leaving SMA is not did I gain weight? but how much? We have not walked/hiked as much as we did back on Kaua’i (we both agree that walking here has been a real pain, sometimes literally) nor have we been as careful about our eating. We definitely fell under the spell of the local bakeries too. My clothes haven’t gotten tight though, and Brett says I look the same, but overall I definitely feel heavier than I did when we arrived. Oh well, we’ll be back on the wagon once we arrive in Tennessee (and are looking forward to it). One of our first tasks will be to locate the gym at the apartment complex – we’ll use their treadmills on hot or rainy days – and we also want to find other nearby walking venues and get back to regular exercise.

I won’t be posting this coming week, nor next Sunday but will be back as soon as we get moved in and connected to the Internet in our apartment. I’ve also got a giveaway planned once I get organized. Thank you to all for staying with me while we make this transition from Mexico to Tennessee – I’ll be back in a little while.

Thoughts on San Miguel de Allende

More than anything, I have loved the colors and flowers of San Miguel de Allende. It’s a feast for the eyes and senses every time we go out.

San Miguel de Allende was a shock to our systems after Hawaii. The heat, the altitude, and the dryness initially knocked the winds out of our sails and it took a few weeks to start feeling like ourselves and appreciating where we were. There have been plusses and minuses throughout our stay, but overall it’s been a positive one. Below are some of my thoughts on our time here:

  • Our apartment has been a nice place to stay, with our friendly neighbors an added bonus, but we eventually realized this was not how or where we would want to live if we were to move here. The hill we have to walk up to get to our apartment is a killer. Having a car here would expand the areas in the city we could live and we also figured out we’d prefer a house to an apartment, and we could afford that here.

Two big entrees and two drinks for $20 has been the norm here, sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less. The quality of the food has always been outstanding.

  • The restaurant scene in San Miguel de Allende has been the highlight of our stay, and being able to eat out twice a week without breaking our budget has been a lot of fun and a big positive. There’s an amazing variety of restaurants in the city, all of them extremely affordable for what you get, and we have yet to not enjoy a delicious meal and great service at any one of them.
  • The number of expats we’ve encountered in the city has taken some getting used to. We’ve gone to restaurants where the entire clientele is expat, or walked down streets in Centro and seen and heard nothing but English. We pretty much hear nothing but English in the condo complex where we’re staying as well. After living and traveling overseas, the number of non-locals in the area has frankly been a bit hard to take at times and disconcerting as well, but full-time expats have offered lots of good advice and information, so there has been that side of it as well.
This is the road down from our apartment complex down to the main road. Walking on these has been such a discouraging way to begin any outing, or end one as well.
  • The cobblestones have driven me nuts and have kept both of us from walking as much as we had hoped. The stone roads can be beautiful and charming to look at, but an absolute terror to walk on or across and very uncomfortable. The cobblestones are in many places just rounded stones set into the roadbed with space between them – often it’s like walking on small rocks to cross a river bed. Some streets are worse than others but all have been difficult for me as I’m constantly afraid the next step I take is the one that’s going to send me tumbling. Thankfully there are sidewalks to use much of the time, but there’s no escaping the stones.
  • The cost of living has been the biggest draw for us and what would bring us back to live here. We knew things would cost less, but after living with Hawaii’s high prices for a few years the prices in San Miguel de Allende (one of the more expensive places in Mexico!) have been nothing less than a dream. The availability of goods, both food and otherwise, has also been a wonderful surprise. Anything we need or want can be found here and at low prices. Shops filled with affordable handmade Mexican goods have also been a delight and it’s been hard not to buy everything.
  • We never really gave SMA’s cultural offerings or expat activities a chance. We knew there were many things we could have attended or gotten involved with, but we just were not motivated to mingle with other expats, at least not on this visit.

All in all, we’ve enjoyed our time in San Miguel de Allende, and are glad we came. We were able to save quite a bit of money during our stay which will make a difference going forward and we’ve enjoyed the apartment we rented except for its lack of water pressure – taking a shower or washing dishes has been difficult and time consuming at times. The Mexican people we have interacted with have all been friendly, helpful, and kind, and I’m thankful for their efforts to understand my horrible Spanish and correct me when necessary. Our takeaway is that while we haven’t fallen in love with San Miguel de Allende we have fallen in love with Mexico and could see ourselves potentially living somewhere else here. Life in Mexico might require a bit more effort, whether that’s walking over cobblestones or up hills, remembering to wash and disinfect fruits and vegetables before eating, making sure there’s bottled water available for drinking and teeth brushing, etc. but overall the quality of life is very good. I’m pretty sure we’ll be back, even if just to visit again.

San Miguel de Allende: City of Fountains (Part 2)

Here are five more fountains that were discovered on our walks (one in the process of being cleaned and maintained). Although most were surprise discoveries, I had fun looking for them throughout the city whenever we went out, and leave knowing there are far more to still be discovered.

I’m particularly fond of the one in this batch with the water pouring from the jug into the waiting hand.

Sticker Shock?

This past week we ran into one of our SMA neighbors at City Market, and shared a taxi with her to come home. She had just gotten back from a trip to Texas and told us to be prepared for some real sticker shock when we returned to the U.S. A Clif Bar, she said, was $3.00!

I guess in comparison to what things cost here in Mexico prices in Texas probably did seem quite high to our neighbor. However, after our years in Hawaii we’ve been suffering from reverse sticker shock as prices here have seemed almost artificially low. We have no idea what things are going to cost in Nashville in comparison but we feel confident they’ll still be less than they were on Kaua’i.

We’ve been working on our monthly budget for Tennessee, but currently there are still too many unknowns to nail things down. For example, we know how much rent we’ll be paying, but have no idea what utilities will cost, and we haven’t paid a utility bill for nearly four years (and Kaua’i utility costs were high). We don’t know how much Internet service will be but we’re guessing it will be close to what it was on Kaua’i, maybe a little less if we’re lucky. We were paying over $5 per gallon for gas when we left Kaua’i in May, but prices in the area we’ll be living in Tennessee are currently under $4 per gallon so I think we may initially feel some slight reverse sticker shock there. Car insurance for our new car will most likely be more than what we were paying for our older Honda Civic.

We’ll have an abundance of food shopping options near to us in Tennessee including Trader Joe’s, Costco, Aldi, and many other stores, and I know we’re going to find prices to be lower than what we were paying on Kaua’i along with an increased selection of things available. However, at the same time those prices will most likely seem high after Mexico, so I’m guessing we’ll fall somewhere into the neutral zone with sticker shock, but we’ll again be bringing all our frugal shopping skills to bear to get the most for our money. We’ve determined an initial budget amount for food each month, but as always the goal will be to spend less, if possible, and put the difference into savings. Dining out will once again become the rare exception it was in the past rather than the norm it’s become here in San Miguel de Allende.

It’s been a few years since I purchased a Clif Bar, but I wanted to tell our neighbor that $3 would have seemed like bargain after Kaua’i, where it would have probably cost somewhere between $4-$5. We’ve prepared ourselves for higher prices than we’ve been paying in Mexico, but hopefully we’ll get to enjoy some of the benefits of reverse sticker shock as we compare Tennessee prices to those we were paying in Hawaii. We’ll just have to see how it goes.

Sunday Morning 7/24/2022: Final Week In Mexico

Every time we turn down a new street in San Miguel de Allende there’s always something interesting to discover.

This coming week will be our last full one in San Miguel de Allende – a week from Tuesday we’ll be on our way to Boston. The past couple of weeks have mostly been quiet ones and we’ve spent a good deal of our time relaxing in the apartment rather than going out (except to eat and food shop). We’re ready to move on, but that being said we’ll genuinely miss being in Mexico. We’ve felt especially lucky this past week that we came here instead of Strasbourg as originally planned, and didn’t have to deal with the broiling heat there while paying twice as much as we have here for the experience. We will always love Strasbourg but this was not the summer to be there (nor maybe any summer in the future), or to be heading to Oxford in the UK.

The shelf of souvenirs

The suitcases will be coming out again and the packing will commence toward the end of the week. Because we didn’t bring any of our winter things with us both of our bags had room to spare when we arrived. We’ve bought quite a bit while we’ve here though, mainly gifts for everyone else, so our bags will be leaving San Miguel de Allende stuffed to the max once again. I’ll be carrying the most fragile items onto the plane with me but I think in the end we’ll be able to get everything to fit. Several things will be unloaded when we’re in Massachusetts but the rest will head to Tennessee (with YaYu’s gifts being mailed to Pennsylvania once we get settled). We’re happy with what we’ve bought here and really spent very little for all we got. We’ve decided to leave the bean pot behind; it’s too big to pack or carry and its cost ($5) isn’t worth the hassle of bringing it back. We sure had a good time looking for it though.

On their way to the U.S. last Wednesday! Our son was surprised by how few people wear masks in the U.S.

Our son and family are all in Tennessee! They arrived last Thursday, and our daughter-in-law moved into her apartment yesterday. She’s bought a car which will arrive next week, and they’re picking up some furniture locally and ordered other pieces for delivery. They’re doing a big sweep (or two) through Target this weekend for necessities (cookware, dishes, etc.) to get her settled as well. We’re so excited about seeing them – just a couple of weeks to go!

This morning I am thinking about:

  • What we accomplished this past week: 1) We got brave this past Wednesday afternoon and stopped at a hair salon down the road from our apartment for haircuts. Brett’s hair was getting shaggy, and my curls were absolutely driving me nuts and taking too much effort each day to maintain. The salon was recommended by our neighbor, and both Brett and I came out with great haircuts. 2) I put ten books on hold at the library so I am set for the rest of the summer and fall. Two other books came off hold this week so I’ve got plenty of reading to do! 3) We did our last food shopping at City Market – I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at U.S. supermarkets in the same way again.
This view from our front door has been one of the best things about our stay in San Miguel de Allende.
  • What we’re looking forward to next week: We’re planning a relaxing week overall, even with getting started on the packing. We’ll mostly stay in the apartment to read, relax, and enjoy the view out the front door for a last few days but will also be going out to eat at a few of our favorite nearby restaurants.
Two happy customers!
  • How we saved: 1) The total price for our two haircuts was $15.72 USD (including the tip). It’s hard to determine how much we saved by getting our hair cut here versus waiting until we got back to the U.S. but it was A LOT. 2) We ate what we had on hand and didn’t buy any groceries until yesterday; nothing was thrown out. We have enough now to get us through until the end of our stay.

Lunch and brunch were at Raices and El Pegaso this past week. We have never had a meal in San Miguel de Allende that wasn’t completely delicious.

Good things that happened: 1) We had two terrific thunderstorms roll through last Sunday and Monday afternoons – both lasted for for a couple of hours and dumped a LOT of rain. I love a good thunderstorm, and the thunder and lightening from these were quite the experience. It also rained again Tuesday night, Wednesday afternoon, and Saturday afternoon (we walked to City Market with umbrellas). The storms cooled things off, cleaned out the air, and settled the dust. 2) We took neighbor Jenny to lunch at our favorite restaurant in SMA, Raices, on Wednesday. She had a horrible cold for two weeks (not Covid) and we wanted to get her out of her apartment for a little bit. The three of us ate for less than $25, including the tip, and the food was as amazing as always (cheese enchiladas for Brett, enchiladas stuffed with roast suckling pig in chipotle sauce for me (enchipotladas), and a mole taco for Jenny). 3) We finally stopped at the taco stand down the street on Thursday to try some tacos. Two plates with two beefsteak tacos, a Fanta orange soda to share, and a generous tip came to just $4.54. We’re mad at ourselves that we didn’t go sooner! 4) We had brunch again at El Pegaso in Centro on Friday. Both of us enjoyed chilis en nogada, the dish the restaurant is famous for. It was our most expensive brunch since we’ve been here: $34 USD including the tip, but very worth it.

We plan to get tacos at Mario’s again this week, maybe more than once! Both of those salsas were very spicy (but good), the green more so than the red!

I’m thankful for the creative and thought-provoking responses I received to Friday’s post about ideas for our post-Nashville life. They have given us quite a bit to think about! Brett and I really need about to two years to pull a big change/plan together, so we hope to decide on something not long after we get settled in Nashville and then get working to make it happen. It’s funny: A week or so ago I would have said relocating to Mexico was at the top of the list, but now we’re equally excited about potentially traveling with an RV or locating to Ventura County in California, or maybe even “base-hopping” around the U.S., none of which were on our radars before.

I hope everyone enjoyed a great week in spite of the heat the enveloped most of the U.S. and that you’re looking forward to the week coming up. Can’t believe it’s our last week here, but we’re going to make the most of it, whether that’s relaxing in the apartment, getting our suitcases loaded, or enjoying a meal out in town.

Three Choices (for now)

A couple of months ago Brett and I had convinced ourselves that following our time in Nashville we could move up to Maine, buy a house, and settle down. Or, we could ditch our car, store our furniture and travel the world with our dog. We had it all figured out.

But deep down a move to Maine never quite felt right to either of us. Neither did flying around the world with a dog. It turned out we were both caught up in the idea of living in Maine or traveling the world with our dog versus the reality of either of those options. Deep down we were uncomfortable with the idea of purchasing a house again and all the work and maintenance that would entail, especially in Maine. We also honestly didn’t want to keep track of all the paperwork necessary to take our little dog into different countries. We were more uncomfortable than either of us wanted to initially admit with facing winter in Maine at our ages (72 and 74 when we would arrive), and what that might cost us (either buying loads of equipment or paying someone to dig us out). As much as we loved the idea of living in Maine, we knew it would in reality be a lot more work that we wanted to take on. Same for traveling with a dog.

So, we scratched everything and went back to the drawing board. We made a list of the things that make us happy and that would be important this next time around. We came up with seven items that are important to us at this stage in our lives – proximity to family, cost of living, taxes, good weather, financial security, quality healthcare, and travel – and using those came up with a list of three possible options for a post-Nashville life. We listed the positives and negatives for each, but didn’t rank anything for now.

Below are the three options we’ve come up with so far:

1) Honolulu Condo

POSITIVES:

  • Life in Hawaii fits us like a glove. Granted, busy Honolulu would be very different than slow-tempo Kaua’i, but the underlying basics that we love about Hawaii would still be there.
  • Owning a condo appeals more to us than owning a single family home: it has all the benefits of apartment living but we can alter the interior if and as we please. There’s no yard work, external maintenance, and insurance costs are less. Many HOA fees in Honolulu are lower than they are on Kaua’i, with greater benefits.
  • Honolulu has all the amenities we would need as we age: good healthcare services (including Trippler Army Hospital), good public transit, military services (commissary and exchange), walkability, and an increased availability of goods and other options compared to other locations in Hawaii. Plus, there’s still that great Hawaii weather that we love.

NEGATIVES:

  • The cost of living in Honolulu would still be very high. We know how to deal with Hawaii’s high cost of living, but we’re not sure how much we want to continue to have to do that as we age.
  • It would be very difficult for me to afford to continue living in Hawaii if Brett predeceases me.
  • We’re still not convinced we want to or even if it’s a good idea to purchase a home (condo or otherwise) at this stage in our lives.
  • It would be expensive for our children to visit us, and for us to visit our children, meaning we wouldn’t see each other as often as we like even though travel to Honolulu versus Kaua’i would be easier and less costly.
  • The move back to Hawaii would be something of a hassle and expensive.

2) Road Trip: Canada, Western National Parks, and Baja California

POSITIVES:

  • We really do enjoy being nomads, we’d have a car, and our little dog along for company too, with lots to see and do along the way. Our schedule would be of our own making.
  • There would be no expenses associated with settling down, i.e. buying furniture, setting up utilities, and so forth.
  • Driving through the west and visiting all the national parks has always been a dream of ours. Plus, we could pick where we want to be when – maybe Canada during the summer, Baja in the winter, and the west coast in between, for example.

NEGATIVES:

  • A road trip at this time of our lives would be doable but tiring, more than we’re maybe able to admit to ourselves right now.
  • We’d put lots of wear and tear on our car and who knows what the cost of gasoline will be, or lodging. Both are difficult to predict right now, and would tie up much if not most of our monthly income.
  • It would difficult to form friendships while we’re on the road, and we would still have to eventually find some place to settle.

3) Mexico:

POSITIVES:

  • Even if the cost of living in Mexico increases in the next two years, we could still live a very comfortable life with many amenities, including beautiful, furnished housing and almost everything we use regularly (foods and other items and products we like). We would have enough disposable income to continue to travel throughout the year (to escape the weather we don’t like).
  • Everything we would need as we age is available here, from healthcare to home care. And, it’s affordable.
  • The visa would be easy to obtain, and the move down fairly easy as well.
  • We could afford and enjoy dining out regularly.
  • We could have a car if we wanted, but could also manage without one if we choose.
  • We could fly for a reasonable cost to the U.S. and then on up to see the girls in the northeast, over to Japan to see our son and family, or on to other international destinations. Likewise, it wouldn’t be difficult or prohibitive for our family to visit us here occasionally. The cost of living in Mexico would allow us to travel fairly frequently.
  • We could afford to live near the ocean again. There are many wonderful locations to consider in Mexico.
  • I could continue to enjoy a comfortable life in Mexico on a reduced income if Brett predeceases me.
  • There would be loads of opportunities to connect and form friendships within the expat and local community if we choose, no matter where, as well as get involved (if we want) in activities that interest us. We could have as much or as little of a social life as we desire.
  • Learning Spanish neither scares us nor seems as impossible as other languages have.

NEGATIVES:

  • The dry and at times hot weather in places, or the hot and humid weather in other areas could be miserable.
  • A big unknown is how a potential expat community and their influence in any location might affect us. We like having other expats around in some ways, in others, not so much.
  • Although we’re not afraid of learning Spanish, it’s still something we would need to commit to and then work at, both before arrival and while we live here.
  • There are places in Mexico where it’s neither safe to live or travel.

Two of the above choices, the condo in Honolulu and the road trip, are more emotional choices, with Mexico on the sensible side. I would have thought recognizing that might help make a decision easier, but it really doesn’t. In the past Brett and I have always let our hearts rule us – which has thankfully always worked out – but we’ve previously had time to fix errors or make changes, something we don’t feel we have as much of any more if at all.

So, after more discussion and research than you can possibly imagine, and a LOT of back and forth, we still don’t have any idea what we want to do or where we want to go! Mexico looks like the obvious winner but it’s just not that easy. Trying to come up with a decision is sort of making us crazy as well and we think we may need to give ourselves at least another year to weigh our options, talk with our family, and maybe come up with some other ideas. There’s a good chance we’ll stick with one of the three options above, or maybe we’ll come up with something else. No place is going to be perfect and have everything we want, but we know we need to get it as right as possible this time.

So, as I like to say, stay tuned! We plan to enjoy our time in Nashville while we’re there but we’ll be working on making a final, firm decision and getting ourselves ready to make a move in 2024. Where that will be will continue to remain an unknown for the time being.

Retirement Done Differently

Or, How We Got To Where We Are Now.

I never had any sort of idea for the longest time what retirement should or would be like, and certainly never thought ours would turn out the way it has. Brett’s and my path to retirement never followed any sort of regular route, but sort of got made up along the way. Brett retired from the navy following 22 years of service, when he was 42, and continued working after that for another 21 years. I finished my degree (after having to borrow a ton of money) in my 40s, and then also went to work as an ESL instructor. Just to keep things interesting though, during our mid- to late-40s we adopted three beautiful daughters, and I left regular employment in 2006 to stay home and care for them (for months afterwards I never could figure out where I had found the time for my job). Retirement seemed to always be the last thing on our minds, pushed to a back burner and mostly forgotten, and by the time we were in our 60s, and following a major economic setback, we gave up thinking we would ever be able to fully retire. Brett was convinced he would continue to work into his 80s.

Brett and I have never followed what many would call a “normal” pathway through life anyway, and our journey to where we are now was certainly no different. We had one child in our twenties and then adopted three more when our peers were thinking more about their IRAs and an empty nest. We spent the first 15 years of our marriage with Brett in the navy and all that entailed, including moving every two and a half years. The cost for many of those moves came out of our own pockets making saving for the future difficult. Military salaries were low, and it seemed we were always paying off the cost of the last move and trying to save for the next one. Brett’s service was done one enlistment at a time until we finally decided at around the 15-year mark that maybe we should stay to collect the retirement (the best financial decision we ever made). Owning a home was a pipe dream back then, an impossibility, not just because of the frequent moves but because of the extremely high interest rates in the 1980s. A house was just flat-out unaffordable for us, especially when it would have to be sold in a couple of years. Brett retired from the navy during the recession of the early 90s but went back to school, earned a degree, found work, and in 1995 we purchased our first home. With the addition of the girls to our family our focus (and our budgets) turned to raising them. Retirement was still out there but not something we gave a whole lot of thought as there always seemed to be more pressing and immediate concerns.

I’ve often called us “accidental retirees.” While Brett receives a monthly retirement check (and good healthcare benefits) from his military service, the amount has never been enough to live on, especially not with a family. Brett was hired by a company in 1997 that offered a defined pension and he became vested. Sadly, that plan was closed soon after and before he had time to accrue much into the account, but it provides us a small amount of income every month (“milk money”). We also knew that our Social Security benefits would provide another source of income, but even with all three streams it would not be enough that we could ever quit working entirely, especially not with three children at home. The accidental part of our retirement came when the SSA informed us that because the girls would be minor dependents (under 18), in addition to his regular Social Security payments Brett would qualify to receive additional family benefits. This was a huge surprise to us, but we we added up the numbers and along with eliminating our debt figured that Brett could afford to retire in 2013, at age 63. We decided that I would “officially” retire when I reached 64 and start drawing my Social Security once our youngest had aged out of the family benefit.

I’ve often said that many if not most would be surprised at the amount of our retirement income, that even with three streams it’s less than most might imagine. However, Brett and I have always had the ability to make things happen with a smaller income. Have we made mistakes and done stupid things along the way? OMG, yes!!! But we learned from those mistakes: to take our time, save what we can whenever we can, plan and set goals, focus on what’s truly important (needs vs. wants), and leverage debt when necessary. We’ve never been afraid of change or a challenge, of doing things differently, or waiting rather than having to have or do something right away. We’ve learned to be creative savers even when it seemed like there was nothing to save, and practiced frugality before we even knew what that meant. We’ve carried debt over the years but much prefer not having any, and we refuse to judge those who do have it, even in retirement.

Looking back, it sometimes amazes me to think of all we’ve accomplished over the years and that we arrived at where we are now. With the girls grown and on their own, we’re enjoying a comfortable retirement, one we never could have imagined a decade ago. My mother used to tell me “you have to have money to dream.” I disagreed with her: dreams are free, but you often need money to make them come true. However, once you commit to a dream and make a plan, you can and usually will figure out the money part.

The road to retirement is different for everyone, and how we got to where we are now is certainly not any sort of blueprint for others to follow. Our story is ours alone. I offer no advice about how to have a great retirement except to pass along what I’ve learned: 1) Know what you need and what you want and then set your priorities and go for it. 2) Do what works for you and do it in a way that makes sense to you; forget about what others think or what they have. 3) Don’t expect perfection or a straight line. 4) Sometimes what seems like a not so great choice or decision at the time can affect your future in surprisingly positive ways. 5) There’s a big difference between fantasies and dreams. 6) Adjust your dreams as necessary, but never stop having them. 7) It’s your story to write.

Sunday Morning 7/17/2022: Back At It

Thank you for indulging me with a couple of weeks off from writing. I’ve enjoyed the break, used my time wisely, and am looking forward to picking things up again. Going forward I’ll be moving the blog in a slightly different direction, with travel still playing a role but with more about retirement and figuring out the future, all along with the ups and downs of settling into a new location and what that entails.

Out and about in Centro last Friday

We only have two weeks left in San Miguel de Allende! Our attitudes about the city have been changing and we’re feeling somewhat sad about leaving while at the same time eager to see our family and get on with our lives. The hot, hot weather and altitude adjustment when we arrived as well as our apartment’s location had a strong influence on our feelings about this place, but we finally figured out we didn’t have to let those get in in the way, and are very happy we came to San Miguel de Allende.

Hyndai Tucson SEL FWD

We bought a car! The timing around our move is such that we need to pick up a car as soon as we arrive in Nashville, but we were having an absolutely awful time trying to find an available type of car we wanted (compact SUV). Dealers throughout Tennessee (and surrounding states) had few, if any, of what we wanted in stock, and what they did have were models we weren’t interested in, or ones that were out of our price range. Everything we wanted seemed to be “in transit,” with no one having any idea when new stock would arrive. Used car prices were nearly equal to those of new cars and those options were severely limited as well. The Hyundai Tucson has been one of our top choices, and week before last I checked with a dealer located near to where we’ll be living it and they were receiving a delivery of new cars this coming week! We were able to reserve the model and color we wanted, at the price we wanted as well and, unlike many of the other dealers we’d corresponded or talked with, the whole process with the Hyundai dealership was superb from start to finish. All Hyundai cars come with three years of free mechanical service (oil changes, tire rotations, etc.) and a lifetime warranty, and the Tucson is currently rated in the top in its class for compact SUVs so we’re feeling very good about this purchase.

We also got all of our furniture ordered from IKEA and it will all be delivered the two days after we take possession of our apartment. We were going to have to travel to Memphis to pick up the sofa and dining table we wanted because they were not available for delivery, but we changed those to items that could be delivered. The trip to Memphis would have been a three-hour drive each way from Nashville, a long day for us, but the cost for delivery was less than the two extra days of van rental we would have had to pay for as well as the cost of gas to get back and forth from Memphis. The delivery people will also carry everything up to our apartment, another savings in a way as IKEA packs can be very heavy and Brett was dreading having only me to help. There are still things we need to get (like a rug for the living room and lamps) but those will have to wait until the rest of our move shakes out and we see what our budget can handle and when.

This morning I am thinking about:

  • The things we accomplished: Besides the car and furniture purchases 1) I also placed a BIG order with Amazon and everything arrived at WenYu’s place in less than a week – so quick compared to how it was getting things delivered in Hawaii! The order had things like a shower curtain, cookware, a coffee maker, etc. that will help us settle in more quickly. We also bought a small soft-side cooler to bring with us on our drive down to Tennessee from Massachusetts as we plan to carry sandwiches every day for both lunch and dinner in order to save. The cooler will also be useful when we start exploring the area with our daughter-in-law and granddaughter. 3) I booked our van transportation over to the airport in Queretaro for our departure on August 2. I felt a bit sad as I made the reservation which surprised me, but it was another realization that we’ve grown somewhat fond of SMA.
  • What we’re looking forward to: 1) We don’t have a lot on our calendar these next two weeks. We’ll be going out to lunch on Wednesday, brunch on Friday, and food shopping at City Market, all things we look forward to but otherwise our days are ours to fill. 2) We’re determined to stop for tacos one day this week at the stand down the road from us. There’s almost always a crowd there so we’re thinking they’ll be pretty good.
We bought four of these glasses at less than half of what they would have cost back in the U.S.

The ways we saved: 1) Our weekly spending for food still has not topped $75 USD, and even going out to eat twice a week or picking up goodies at the bakery hasn’t broken our monthly food budget. We’ll be slowing down food purchases this next couple of weeks though to focus on using up what we have. Left over cooking oil, vinegar, and other staples will be donated to our neighbors. 2) We bought four blue-rimmed handblown glasses for 280 pesos ($13.63); the same glasses from World Market are $28. 3) We received a $500 rebate on our car purchase because of Brett’s military service. 4) By changing the sofa and dining table in our IKEA order we saved $400, and by having those items delivered we potentially saved at least another $250 (van rental extra days and gas to and from Memphis). 5) I decided not to buy the pair of silver earrings in the window of the silversmith’s down the street – I don’t need them and it’s money saved for the future. Same for another Mexican blouse I’d had my eye on.

Brunch at Cafe de la Parroquilla in Centro on 7/8 . . .

Good things that happened: 1) For our Wednesday lunch date week before last we went back to Luna de Queso (I wanted the Reuben sandwich again!), and for Friday brunch that week we visited Cafe de la Parroquilla, located in Centro. It was a great find and the food, service, and setting wonderful. This past week we tried a nearby Japanese-style restaurant, Mikka, for our Wednesday lunch date. The food was more Japanese-Mexican fusion rather than authentic Japanese but it was still very, very good. For Friday brunch we tried another new-to-us place in Centro, the Bagel Cafe. I had steak fajitas and Brett had huevos rancheros and while the food was simply prepared it was delicious and filling. We were also the only non-Mexicans in the cafe, a nice change from several of the other restaurants we’ve visited recently. 2) The weather has been much nicer these past two weeks, cool in the mornings (sometimes outright cold) but warm or even hot in the afternoon although usually never broiling like it was during our first month here (last Monday afternoon though it was back up to near 90 degrees). Thunder arrives almost every afternoon these days but not much rain accompanies it. Every little bit that falls though is welcome!

. . . and 7/15 at the Bagel Cafe (they had bagels for sale but we were too full to buy any)

I have been up and down the past couple of weeks with both good and bad days, thankfully more good than bad. This past Friday, for example, Brett and I walked all over Centro and I felt great, but the day before I could barely get myself off the sofa, let alone get dressed, with no energy and vertigo coming and going all day. I have no idea why other than I slept very poorly on Wednesday night. Thursday night though I slept soundly again (even after taking an hour-long nap in the evening) and woke up feeling like a million bucks. I can’t begin to express how much I am looking forward to sleeping on a really good mattress again once we get to Tennessee (the one here is only so-so) in an air-conditioned environment.

That’s a wrap for these past two weeks! They provided a good but productive rest, we got a lot accomplished, and we’re now very ready for our move to Nashville in just a couple more weeks (our daughter-in-law arrives this week). I hope everyone enjoyed a great couple of weeks as well and that you’re looking forward to the week coming up. Here’s to good things happening for all!

Until One Is Committed

“UNTIL ONE IS COMMITTED, THERE IS HESITANCY, THE CHANCE TO DRAW BACK, ALWAYS INEFFECTIVENESS. CONCERNING ALL ACTS OF INITIATIVE (AND CREATION), THERE IS ONE ELEMENTARY TRUTH, THE IGNORANCE OF WHICH KILLS COUNTLESS IDEAS AND SPLENDID PLANS: THAT THE MOMENT ONE DEFINITELY COMMITS ONESELF, THEN PROVIDENCE MOVES TOO. ALL SORTS OF THINGS OCCUR TO HELP ONE THAT WOULD NEVER OTHERWISE HAVE OCCURRED. A WHOLE STREAM OF EVENTS ISSUES FROM THE DECISION, RAISING IN ONE’S FAVOUR ALL MANNER OF UNFORESEEN INCIDENTS AND MEETINGS AND MATERIAL ASSISTANCE, WHICH NO MAN COULD HAVE DREAMT WOULD HAVE COME HIS WAY. I HAVE LEARNED A DEEP RESPECT FOR ONE OF GOETHE’S COUPLETS:
WHATEVER YOU CAN DO, OR DREAM YOU CAN, BEGIN IT.
BOLDNESS HAS GENIUS, POWER, AND MAGIC IN IT!”

William Hutchinson Murray

(This is a repeat of a previously published post)

The best description I ever heard of the China adoption process was that putting the dossier together was like doing your taxes over and over and over and over and over and over . . . again and again and again and again . . . . At the beginning of each adoption journey, a slew of documents needed to be assembled upfront: a home study, birth certificates, marriage certificate, medical reports, police reports, financial statement, adoption statements, immigration forms, etc. – there were nearly 20 documents required in all. Each one of those documents had to be notarized in the state where they originated, then each notarized document went to the Secretary of State of that state for the notary to be certified. After that, the entire stack, by now a couple of inches high, was sent by courier to the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. for each document to be certified again, and finally the whole thing was again sent by courier to the Chinese Embassy for each document’s final certification and approval. Four copies had to be made of every page and certification for the entire dossier and only then could it finally be sent to China and put in line for us to be matched with a child.

The process took several months to complete, and along the way, there was always the possibility for China to tweak or change their requirements. For example, we were almost done with the dossier for Meiling’s adoption when China suddenly announced that physicals could no longer be more than six months old, and ours were seven months old at that point. Panic! But, our doctor squeezed us in, and every other part of the certification process worked flawlessly (for a change) and in just a few short weeks our dossier was finally complete and off to China in late May of 1996. Matches and referrals were taking only three or so months then, so our hopes were high that by the time we returned home in August from taking our son to college we would have news of a daughter.

However, when we returned home and called our agency the news was not good; in fact, it was very bad. China had shut down adoptions for families that already had children, which of course included us. Our agency was moving families into other adoption programs, but China had been the only program that would accept us because of our ages (we were each over 40 years old). What had happened, we later learned, was a power struggle over the international adoption program had broken out between two different political bureaus in China, and adoptions had ground to a halt while they fought it out and reorganized. (We also learned our agency was convinced at the time that the entire program was going to collapse.)

All of our hopes and love, and quite a bit of money, had gone into the adoption process for more than a year, including all of the work of assembling our dossier. I was in graduate school at the time, and my work began to suffer because I could barely concentrate. Brett unhappily slogged off to work each day as well. Our son was at college in another state, so it was just the two of us at home each evening, and we were glum, depressed, and unsure of what to do or how to proceed.

On one particularly bad day, one of my professors emailed me the quote above, and told me to “hang in there.” I shared it with Brett that evening, and we talked about how deeply committed we still were to adopting from China and had been from the start. All sorts of unexpected and serendipitous events had happened and helped us along the way to make our adoption dream come together so far, and we decided that rather than pull out we would stay with it to the end and see what happened, no matter the outcome. We both felt in our hearts that our daughter was waiting for us there.

The William Murray quote was a turning point for us. And, it has proven prescient ever since. When we have committed to something, whether it was adding an additional child to our family again through adoption, getting ourselves out of debt, moving to Hawai’i, or planning a trip – when we have committed ourselves, as the quote says, Providence has always moved too. Things we couldn’t have imagined have happened to help make our plans a reality, and we were given the drive, vision, and persistence to see our dreams come true and our goals reached.

Commitment has been the step where we’ve gone from “do you think?” or “should we?” to “let’s do this” and then started figuring out how to accomplish it. The path to success has not always been straight or smooth or easy, but time and experience have shown that the unexpected does and will occur along the way to help, especially when we need it most. As each journey continues we begin to see things in different ways and act on them accordingly, with our commitment to finishing growing stronger the further along we get.

As the new year began in 1997 we were still waiting, but Brett and I had reached the depths of despair. There had been no positive word from our agency for weeks, and we felt like we were hanging on to hope by our fingernails. We had enjoyed having our son home for Christmas, but he returned to school on January 9. So, when the phone rang on the morning of January 10 I assumed it was him asking about something he had forgotten and wanted us to send. I had been lying on our sofa, crying and asking God for some kind of a sign, that if there was to be no adoption to let us know somehow and we would let it go, but if there was hope then we would continue to hang on. When I answered the phone that morning it was not our son but our social worker: “Laura, there’s a baby girl waiting for you in China,” and on March 12, 1997, in the hallway of a hotel in China, we met our little Meiling for the first time and she was ours.

This was the only picture we received of Meiling before we met her.

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!