Close to Perfect

While none of the Airbnb homes we’ve stayed in has been perfect, in hindsight they’ve all come pretty close. Finding a place for us to stay was one of my responsibilities, although Brett always got a final say in whether it was a yes or no. Although I never had any sort of secret formula for choosing a place, in looking back I can see there were certain things I looked for when choosing a potential home to stay in, and a certain process I followed, and so far it’s worked well for us.

Our studio apartment in Strasbourg was less than 300 square feet, but was very comfortable and in a great location for exploring the city. The sofa hid the most comfortable mattress we slept on during our travels.

After setting our price perimeters (using Airbnb’s handy slider), I started by looking at places with five-star ratings (usually more than 50, if possible), and then crawled over the reviews looking for things that stand out. What did former guests say about the cleanliness of the place? What about the kitchen? The bed? The location? The host? Are they a Superhost? Reviews are subjective, but I found that I could get a pretty good idea of what we were going to find after reading around 20 of them. The more stays and good reviews the better, too. Patterns would develop about what was great about a place and what might or could be an issue.

  • The number one thing I focused on in the reviews was cleanliness, and the more reviews that mentioned the home’s cleanliness the better. On this point we batted 1.000 – every apartment and home we stayed in was spotlessly clean. The second most important thing I focused on was how well the Wi-Fi worked; again, it was great in every place we stayed.
  • We soon discovered during our stays that having a comfortable bed was another important factor in how we judged a house, and in this regard we lucked out with almost every place we stayed. We knew not getting a good night’s sleep on an uncomfortable bed could and would ruin the next day or even several days for us. We learned though that just because reviewers said a bed was comfortable didn’t mean it would be comfortable for us. Brett and I prefer a firm mattress, but for others a softer mattress is the apex of comfort so we were never completely sure going in what we were going to get. Believe it or not, the best mattress we slept on was the one in the sleeper sofa in our Strasbourg apartment – it was just about perfect, surprising when you consider that many sleeper mattresses are pure torture. The second best bed we enjoyed was the 14″ memory foam in Buenos Aires. There was no worst.
  • The location of an apartment was also a very important factor for us. Reading through reviews we could usually tell if a rental was near to public transportation so that it was easy to get around and get back home, or like in Florence, in a good location for walking to the places we want to visit. Another important factor for whether the location of a rental was good for us or not was its proximity to grocery stores and other shops for necessities. Our apartment in Sangenjaya, Tokyo, got our top mark for location – we were about three or four minutes away from the subway station, and just two stops away from Shibuya, one of Tokyo’s major transportation hubs. There were also two large grocery stores nearby as well as many other shopping and dining options (like coffee shops and a Muji store!). Our Perth location was also fantastic – located in a quiet, residential neighborhood yet walking distance in one direction to stores and restaurants, and in the other to the train station making easy to get into the city and also for getting our suitcases over to catch the Indian-Pacific. Except for our Montevideo apartment, none of our homes was in a truly bad location. During the day in Montevideo our location was fine but we were warned not to go out after dark.
  • When looking for a place to stay I always, always looked for what reviewers said about the host and their communication with them, and I was definitely swayed by reviews that mentioned the ease of communication and the hosts’ responsiveness to questions or problems. Some of our hosts interacted with us more than others, but we still managed to establish a good rapport with all of them, and even if we didn’t actually meet them almost all had wine, snacks and/or other refreshments waiting for us when we checked in, which were always appreciated. The most amazing host experience we had was our short stay in the farmhouse outside of Lucerne, Switzerland. Even though our hosts did not speak English we were welcomed into the family, fed like royalty and chauffeured to and from the train station every day – they went above and beyond anything we expected and we will never forget their hospitality and the memories we made there. We aways wrote a review within a couple of days following any stay, and thankfully have never had to write anything negative about a host – all of our reviews have been five-star. We have also always received positives reviews in return from our hosts as well except for two places (Rome and the Portland house we stayed in last December) but they apparently don’t leave reviews for any of their guests. We still stay in touch with some of our hosts!
The view from our kitchen in Paris . . .
  • A clean and well-equipped kitchen was always a delight, and for the most part all of our kitchens provided everything we needed to prepare most of our own meals. There were of course exceptions now and again and going forward we will take along our own vegetable peeler, corkscrew, and paring knives, just in case. We were pleasantly surprised by how many of the places we stayed in had dishwashers as it was one of the things I never really paid attention to in the listings or reviews – every place we stayed in Europe had one (although we never could figure out the one in Normandy – everything on it was in French that we couldn’t understand). The most wonderful kitchens we encountered were in Paris and Florence – they had everything, from an amazing array of cookware and bakeware to a wide assortment of utensils (sharp knives!), dishes and linens, and storage containers for leftovers, something we came to regard as a sign of a well-equipped kitchen. These two places also had wonderful views from their windows.
. . . and later in Florence.
  • As I wrote above, every place we stayed was spotlessly clean, so the bathrooms were all very nice. Most of them only had a shower, but the bathroom in the home we stayed at in Wellington, New Zealand, was pure luxury with its huge shower, bathtub, and the toiletries available for our use. Our homes in Buenos Aires and Napier had jetted tubs. While our apartment in Florence had a remarkable kitchen, the bathroom was tiny (although clean, stylish and efficient), and we still laugh about how difficult it was to turn around in that shower.
  • Except for our apartment in Tokyo, all the places we stayed in were nicely furnished (our Tokyo place was just OK). Some places were furnished better than others, but having a gorgeously decorated space wasn’t a big consideration on our list of expectations, although I was always more impressed by pictures of clean, uncluttered spaces. The exception to that was our Paris apartment, which was actually quite cluttered but it still very charming and comfortable (and clean).

It’s not any sort of a record, and I don’t consider myself an Airbnb expert of any sort, but we’ve stayed in 19 different Airbnbs so far (21 for me – I stayed in two in Japan in 2015 trip). A couple of times the frying pan or saucepans in the kitchens were too small, or the coffee maker didn’t work. Once there were squirrels in the ceiling. A couple of times the bed was a little too soft to our liking. Sometimes we had to climb several flights of stairs at the end of a long day to get to our place and sometimes the shower was too small and lacked someplace to place a bar of soap. But there was never anything we couldn’t live with in any of our Airbnb rentals, that we couldn’t find a way around or adapt to. And thank goodness nothing or no one ever scared us or made us want to leave or question our decision to rent the place. There isn’t a place we’ve ever stayed that was perfect, but all were better than good and some were great. Perfect has never been the goal but we’ve gotten very close, and the experiences we had were better than any hotel we’ve ever stayed at.

Reminder: Supermarket Favorites from Japan Giveaway

The winner will receive three CookDo sauces, Asparagus Biscuits, soy peanut crackers, a bag of dark chocolate KitKats, and a container of Kewpie mayonnaise.

There are still seven days remaining in Giveaway #2 for the chance to win some of our favorite supermarket items from Japan. One entry is allowed each day although there are a couple of ways to earn an extra entry if you’re just getting started.

The giveaway will end at midnight PST on Wednesday, June 19 with the winner announced on Friday, June 21.

I’m enjoying all the entries so far – I love reading about your favorite Japanese foods and flavors!

A Visit to Portland’s Chinese Garden

The entrance to the Lan Su Chinese Garden in NW Portland. The garden is like an oasis in the middle of several large office buildings and busy streets, but views of the buildings were considered and incorporated into garden views.

It was a walk down memory lane for Brett and I when we entered Portland’s Lan Su Chinese Garden this past Thursday. We made frequent trips to the garden when we lived here, both to visit and attend special events with the girls, to the point we purchased annual memberships for a couple of years. The classical Suzhou-style walled garden, which takes up a full city block, was designed by Kuang Zeng and constructed by 65 artisans from China, with completion and the garden opening in the fall of 2000. Over 500 tons of rock were brought over from China, including large scholar stones from Lake Tai, where the acid water of the lake carves stones into fantastical shapes. Located in NW Portland near the former Old Town Portland’s Chinatown, the Lan Su Chinese garden blends in among the modern buildings in the neighborhood. Suzhou is a sister city of Portland, and the name Lan Su means “Portland-Suzhou” as well as “Garden of the Awakening Orchids.”

A scholar stone from Lake Tai in China sit at the entrance to the garden.

Paths and courtyards through the garden are paved in designs created by Chinese pebbles inlaid on their sides.

The garden was carefully designed to express the elements and harmony of yin and yang, and can be enjoyed in any season or any weather. Spade-shaped drip tiles were installed so the sound of dripping water could be enjoyed while viewing the garden in the rain. The pointed tiles seen throughout the garden are decorated with five bats representing the “five blessings:” long life, good fortune, good health, a love of virtue and a painless death.

The spade-shaped tiles on the roof are drip tiles decorated with a design of five bats. The water running off them when it rains creates a pleasant sound.

Openings in the garden walls served as frames for the setting behind the wall, like viewing a painting. This view highlights a stone from Lake Tai, set in the back.

Lan Su Garden is made up of twelve vistas, each one expressing a separate element, with views designed to reflect nature’s harmony. Some of the views are from rooms that look out into the garden, such as the Reflections in Clear Ripples, the Scholar’s Study, or Hall of Brocade Clouds. Both interior and exterior doorways and windows throughout the garden frame views so that they appear like paintings that one can stop to admire and contemplate.

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Although it was rather chilly, and rain was imminent, we took our time walking through the garden. Besides the garden experience, Chinese-themed art works and prints were being sold (some from China), and there were also several other activities and displays throughout the garden, including a family altar with ancestor photos in one room and a chance to learn your fortune, Chinese style, in another. Although we didn’t go in, the two-story Tower of Cosmic Reflection contains a traditional Chinese tearoom, where one can sit and linger, enjoying views of the garden while sipping tea and nibbling on dumplings or other treats.

The Lan Su Chinese Garden is the largest Suzhou-style garden in the United States, and contains over 100 different types of plants, with 90% of them indigenous to China (the actual plants didn’t come from China but were found in nurseries and gardens in Oregon, both public and private). Some of the plants in the garden are over 100 years old. The garden experience is truly one for all the senses.

Many of the old restaurant signs remain in the Old Town neighborhood although the restaurants are now all gone, either closed or moved to SE Portland.

Located at NW 4th Avenue and Burnside Street is the Old Town Chinatown Gateway, dedicated in 1986.

After we left the garden, Brett and I walked around Old Town Chinatown, coming upon many of the restaurants where we had dined that are now shuttered and closed, with only their signs remaining. We could remember eating at almost everyone of them, whether it was for dinner out, dim sum on the weekend, a banquet benefiting the Immersion program or some other occasion. Some of the restaurants moved to SE Portland, but most are now only a memory. Although the neighborhood has improved somewhat and new businesses have moved in, we could tell Old Town has we retained its run down feel, but we never felt unsafe and were glad for the chance to visit again.

Sunday Morning 6/9/2019: Week 4 in Portland

The rain thankfully held off until after we left the Chinese Garden on Thursday afternoon.

My time in the dentist’s chair went well this past Monday; in fact, it went much better than expected! I was numbed up to the max, the filling went quickly with no problems (there had been the possibility of a root canal) and the extraction was over before I knew it. There were few to no post-extraction problems either – we rode home on the tram and bus without my having to keep a wad of gauze in my mouth. Pain was also minimal to non-existent. I will go back mid-month to have my crown prep done, and then at the end of the month I will get my new (gold) crown and the second filling. The prep for the new bridge will begin mid-July and I will be finished with everything at the end of July! Well, everything except the bill.

The last of some new wardrobe items I had ordered arrived this past week, so that summer-in-Portland task is done. I had started thinking back when we were in Japan about what I didn’t want to continue to pack going forward, and what I might want to add to freshen things up. Along with finding some great sales in the past few weeks I now have have a wardrobe that’s a little more stylish, one where everything will get worn, and one that will also give me some variety. More on this coming up!

I bought a “new” summer dress this past week at the downtown Goodwill boutique store!

The end of last week was cool to cold here, with temperatures dropping into the low 60s (Friday’s high was 59º). We wore sweaters and sweatshirts, put an extra blanket on the bed, kept a comfy throw over us while we watched TV, and we still felt chilled. However, yesterday it started warming up and the sun came out, and this coming week temperatures are supposed to climb into the 90s (today will be in the 80s)! On the plus side there will be very low to no humidity, so hopefully it should be bearable, especially up here in the hills, and the forest should be cool(ish) enough for hiking. YaYu is already complaining about the humidity in Japan, and I sadly had to remind her it’s just getting started there for the summer. The humidity is the one part of living in Hawai’i I don’t miss in the least.

Finally, don’t forget you can enter Giveaway #2 once a day through June 19 for the chance to win some supermarket favorites of ours from Japan, including three different CookDo sauces and some Kewpie mayonnaise.

This morning I am:

Besides picking up a book I had on hold at the Central Library, I also found another book on the Lucky Day shelf, which along with three eBooks gives me four books to finish in three weeks.

  • Reading: I had three books come off of hold this week, and I picked up a book at the library when I was there so I am currently reading two books at a time, one during the day and one at night. During the day I’m reading Small Fry, by Lisa Brennan-Jobs, Steve Jobs daughter. She is a wonderful writer, but it is one of the most bittersweet books I have read in a long time. Her relationship with her father was not an easy one, but she writes about him with love. My current book at night is Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan. It’s about a political sex scandal that takes place in England, and I’m just getting started (had to finish An American Marriage first), but so far so good. I read a short but funny book while I was waiting for Brett at the library: Why Don’t You Write My Eulogy Now So I Can Correct It? by Patricia Marx (and wonderfully illustrated by Roz Chast). I recognized more than a few of her mother’s aphorisms – my mom and/or grandmother said many of the same things (but less humorously)! Books waiting on deck now are Distant Echo by Val McDermid, and The Unquiet Dead – A Novel by Ausma Zehanat Khan, and I’ve moved to the top of the waitlist for yet another book I have on hold.
  • Listening to: It’s another delightfully quiet morning here. Brett is eating breakfast and reading, and I’ve been enjoying my morning coffee, reading blogs and Twitter, and have my breakfast ready to go. It’s nice and cool this morning, but the sun is out – it’s going to be a beautiful day.
  • Watching: We watched the third season of True Detective this past week which was excellent, and in honor of the 75th anniversary of D-Day we are rewatching Band of Brothers. It’s my fifth viewing of the series and it’s just as compelling as it was the first time – I’m still discovering things I didn’t catch before. We plan to watch the partner series, The Pacific, after we’re done. Band of Brothers is especially meaningful for me this time because of our visit to Normandy last fall. Tonight we’re also going to start watching the new season of Big Little Lies on HBO.

    Greek yogurt and loads of berries for breakfast – yum!
  • Cooking/baking: I’m eating fat-free Greek yogurt with a ton of berries on top for breakfast this morning, and dinner tonight will be chili-pork sauce over cauliflower rice topped with some grated cheese. Leftover sauce will be served over eggs for breakfasts this week. Also on this week’s menu will be slow-cooker turkey pepper pot, zucchini frittata, CookDo pork & pepper stir fry, and our Friday night pizza (we’re thinking topped with sausage and peppers this week).

    The Lan Su garden was all dolled up with red lanterns for an event taking place there that evening.

    There were lots of memories as we walked around old Chinatown after visiting the garden. I think we ate at every restaurant there at one time or another, but they’re all closed and gone now, or moved over to SE Portland.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Besides getting that dental experience behind me, Brett and I also made two trips downtown. One was to pick up a book from the Central Library about slow traveling in the Cotswolds, and the other trip was to visit the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Northwest Portland. I filled in everything on this week’s goals card and walked every day except for Wednesday when my back was acting up again (Brett took a four-hour hike through the forest that day though), and Friday, when it rained. We missed going to the OHSU farmers’ market on Tuesday because I got the day and time wrong, but we found out exactly where it was held and the correct time so we’re definitely going this week.

    When we were downtown we stopped at Pioneer Square to check out a flower festival currently going on, and spotted this familiar guy, Umbrella Man (actual name is Allow Me).
  • Looking forward to next week: Other than Brett’s calligraphy class on Saturday and the class’s summer barbecue potluck afterwards, we have no appointments or errands this week. Our time is our own, which is always lovely (I am looking forward to the barbecue though – we’re going to take a prepared noodle salad from New Season’s market). We’ll see how it goes here in the heat, but we’re thinking about maybe visiting the Oregon Zoo later in the week, with a side visit down the hill to the Japanese Garden and the International Test Rose Garden (the zoo train makes a stop where we can get to them). We also need to make a trip over to Trader Joe’s in NW. I’m hoping to get a LOT of reading done so all the books I have checked out can be returned on time.

    Looking good in his new-to-him sports coat. We almost missed it as it had been pushed behind other jackets. WenYu says he looks like a “wise cat” in this picture – LOL!
  • Thinking of good things that happened: At the Chinese Garden I ran into a former colleague of mine from my teaching days and we had a lovely, long chat to catch up. Then, yesterday morning there was a knock on the door and it was another good friend who had come to visit – we ended up chatting and catching up for nearly four hours! We heard from all the girls this week – Meiling is getting ready to graduate (next week!), WenYu is still waiting to hear one way or another about an internship but is also applying for other work, and YaYu is settling into life in Japan and had gone out into the neighborhood on her own for the first time this past week. She went with our son and family out to the Atsugi base yesterday so they could get some American stuff at the commissary and she thankfully had no issues sponsoring him onto the base. Brett and I stopped in at the downtown Goodwill store across from the Central Library last Tuesday – Brett’s been wanting to add a sports coat to his wardrobe, and we found a Burberry(!) one that fit like it was tailored just for him (I also found the summer dress there). The downtown Goodwill is one of their “boutique” stores, and carries designer and other higher-end items (but of course has higher prices than a regular Goodwill store).
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We had a fairly low spend week, and we’re once again below our $50/day average for the month. At the Chinese garden we got both a senior discount and a military discount on our admission which saved us $4. Brett’s sports coat and my “new” summer dress were both things we were looking for this summer, so we’re very happy that we found such nice ones at Goodwill for such low prices. We continue to do a good job of using up leftovers and things we have in the fridge so there’s no food waste. We put $10.28 into the change/$1 bill bag this past week.

    Another jar of mugi-cha begins its steep on the counter.
  • Grateful for: I am so thankful these days for the giant package of mugi-cha (roasted barley) tea bags I found at Costco in Japan. It is my favorite summer drink and the package contains enough to get me through the summer. I make it every other day in a half-gallon jar – all I have to do is put two teabags into cold water, wait three hours and it’s ready! I find it more refreshing than iced tea, but it has no caffeine so I can drink it at any time during the day (a good thing because I finally have settled into some normal sleeping hours).
  • Bonus question: What is your favorite type of book? I love, love, love reading mysteries and police procedurals, including ones written about true crimes. I especially like fictional ones that are set in Great Britain or Ireland, or outside the U.S. However, I also enjoy novels about the human condition (like An American Marriage or Anatomy of a Scandal) and also books about social history and historical events both famous and not, especially those centered on World War II, and books about healthy eating and nutrition. The types of books I don’t like include romance novels, science fiction, and self help, but I’ll generally read just about anything if it’s well written.

When I wrote the title for this post I had to stop and think, have we really already been here for four weeks? It seems like we just arrived the other day. We’re still enjoying living up in the hills – I’ve already told Brett that if we ever came back to Portland, this is where I’d want to be versus over the east side. The Marquam Nature Park and its forest trails are pretty much my idea of heaven.

Once again, I hope all of you had a great week, got lots done and also had lots of good things happen for you. Here’s to next week being a wonderful one!

We Have a Winner!: Giveaway #1

I used a random name generator, and out of 44 entries the winner is:



Pat: I will be contacting you by email, and once I have your address I’ll mail the obi to you. I’d love to hear or see how you use it!

Thanks so much to all who entered – I loved all your comments about how you would use the obi and what you would like to see in Japan. For those who didn’t win this time, I hope you’ll enter the current giveaway, Supermarket Favorites from Japan!

Giveaway #2: Supermarket Favorites from Japan

For the second giveaway, I’ve put together a few of our favorite food items from Japan:

  • 3 packages of CookDo Chinese sauces: Sweet & Sour Pork (or Chicken), Chili Shrimp & Stir-fry Pork or Beef w/ Peppers. Each package makes 3-4 servings (more like 2-3 American size servings). The three dishes could be served together for a complete Chinese meal, or each made individually, and they are meant to be served with steamed rice. Although there are picture directions on the back, I will include instructions in English.
  • 1 package soy peanut crackers (our favorite snack in Japan).
  • 1 package Asparagus Biscuits. These are lightly sweet cookies shaped to resemble asparagus spears (there is no asparagus in the cookies). They are the perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee or tea.
  • 1 package dark chocolate KitKat bars.
  • 1 200-gram bottle of Kewpie mayonnaise. Kewpie has a cult following among chefs and others in the U.S. – its creaminess and rich flavor are because Kewpie is made with just the egg yolk instead of the whole egg like most mayonnaise.

Here are the giveaway rules:

  • You may enter the giveaway once a day.
  • Leave a comment on this post with at least one about your favorite Japanese food, or whatever – each comment you leave equals one entry.
  • For a one-time additional entry, send a separate comment and let me know if you already follow The Occasional Nomads or if you become a follower.
  • Share about the giveaway on your own blog and let me know in a separate comment for one more additional entry.
  • The giveaway will end on midnight on June 19; one entry will be chosen at random and the winner announced on Friday, June 21. I will contact the winner by email to get shipping information. The giveaway is open only to readers in the U.S. and Canada (I’m sorry – I can’t afford the postage otherwise).

Thanks for entering – I look forward to hearing from you!


On the Road: Patterns

Mosaic floor, Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral

Going through my photos the other day I was quite surprised by the pictures I had taken of the many beautiful and intriguing patterns we came across during our travels, both natural and manmade. Each picture brought on a rush of memories and I could clearly remember the place, the time and the day each picture was taken. I do have a favorite: the huge bowl of rose petals that were sitting across from the elevators on our floor at our New Delhi hotel. Besides the feeling of excitement that I was finally in India, the photo also evoked the wonderful aroma of the petals as we waited to go down to the lobby to meet our guide and start our tour.

Stairway, Lemarck-Caulaincourt Station, Paris

Tree bark, L’Orangerie Park, Strasbourg

Cobblestones, Petit France, Strasbourg

Interior columns, the Duomo, Siena

Inlaid marble floor, the Duomo, Siena

Roman mosaic floor, Vatican Museum

Ceiling, The Pantheon, Rome

Tiled building, Lisbon

Sidewalk, Lisbon

Rose petals, Taj Palace Hotel, New Delhi

Antique Kashmir silk rug, New Delhi

Marble inlay, The Taj Mahal

Man Mo Temple, Hong Kong

Manhole cover, Napier, New Zealand

Roof tiles, Imperial Palace grounds, Tokyo

Cup noodle sale, Sangenjaya, Tokyo

Sunday Morning 6/2/2019: Week 3 in Portland

When a tree falls in the forest . . . . In Portland, it is quickly covered with moss! The English ivy looks beautiful, but it’s an invasive species here and has taken over much of the forests in the city.

It’s now just the two of us again. YaYu departed for her summer adventure in Japan this past Thursday morning, and it’s taken us these past couple of days to get used to her absence. We know she’s going to have a wonderful time there this summer (and would have been completely bored here with us). I had a long conversation with her yesterday – she was getting ready to learn how to pick up C from school. She’ll be doing it for the first time on her own tomorrow and is nervous.

This is apparently going to be My Summer of Dental Work. After having lots of x-rays taken and an exam done by my dentist last week, beginning tomorrow I will be having (in order of the work being done): a major filling, an extraction, another filling, a crown, bridge prep and new front lower bridge, cleaning and whitening. The extraction will be in my lower front in preparation for the new bridge, so for the next six weeks I am going to have a gap there while it heals – lovely. However, my old bridge is 30 years old and old technology, and it’s frankly a miracle it’s held on this long. In the time between tomorrow’s filling and extraction and getting the bridge installed, the crown and the other filling will be done. Other than the cavities – my first ones in nearly 50 years – I knew all of this was coming and it’s finally time to deal with it. We are expecting the bill, even after insurance, to be quite high – we’ll receive an estimate tomorrow. I will be glad however to have my teeth in the best shape possible when we head overseas again.

English ivy doesn’t just stay on the ground either – it overtakes the trees as well.

Brett and I were going to go see the Starlight Parade last night, the opening event in Portland’s annual Rose Festival. The parade is a celebration of all that is weird and wacky in Portland and a lot of fun. Unfortunately, my back had other ideas so we ended up staying home – there was no way I could have stood for that long. In the 20+ years we lived in Portland we never made it to the Starlight Parade, so we were very much looking forward to going, but in the long run I’d rather my back feeling better than worse.

The Clown Prince of Portland float in the Starlight Parade. (photo credit: Pamplin Media Group)

Finally, there are four more days left for the obi giveaway, so four more chances to win (please enter on the original giveaway post). Giveaway #2 will be announced on Thursday, and the winner for Giveaway #1 on Friday.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished reading All You Can Ever Know, by Nicole Chung. She was adopted as an infant, and writes about her experiences and feelings growing up in a loving white family (she is ethnically Korean), and in a community where she was “different,” then searching for her birth family (her adoption was domestic, so not the same hurdles as it would have been if the adoption had been international). Her reactions and feelings about her adoption and meeting her birth family are compelling and emotional. Today I’m starting An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, and after that I have another Val McDermid mystery to read.
  • Listening to: It’s quiet now, but earlier it sounded like one of the families that live in our condo buildings was getting ready to go on vacation of something. We could hear what sounded like the dad and the kids getting the car packed to go somewhere out on the street side of our building (the courtyard side is quiet though). The kids were very excited which made me wonder where they were going! Inside though it’s quiet – Brett is reading while eating a bowl of oatmeal and I’m up on the sofa, writing.
  • Watching: We finished up all the available episodes of Fleabag and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel before YaYu left – we all loved them both and are looking forward to upcoming seasons. Brett and I have been watching Chernobyl the last few days, which we found extremely sobering – I knew the accident was bad, but I had no idea how bad until now. The final episode will be tomorrow evening. Last night I watched all three episodes of The ABC Murders (starring John Malkovich) on Amazon – it was very well done.

    Even though I’m avoiding starches, Friday night is pizza night. We made a bacon blue cheese burger pizza this week, which was fairly low carb – 32 gm per slice. And for dessert . . .
  • Cooking/baking: We are going to have zoodles with meat sauce tonight – our new spiralizer has arrived (we left our old one back on Kaua’i by accident). On the menu this week will be pork chops, fried cauliflower rice, teriyaki chicken, and pizza on Friday evening. I’m not sure what we’ll be having the other two evenings although I’m dreaming of another Cobb salad.

    . . . I had a mixed berry parfait (whipped cream and fresh berries) – extremely low carb and DELICIOUS!
  • Happy I accomplished this week: We helped YaYu pack and got her safely off at the airport – she had an easy if long flight and arrived in Japan on time and is settling in. I filled in all of this week’s goals card – having to check things off motivates me to get things done, and I’m also someone who hates to see things go unfinished! I hurt my back earlier in the week and didn’t think I would get much walking done, but somehow, except for Monday, when my back was at its worse, by the end of each day I had walked at least a mile and a half! I’m taking it slow though so that I don’t re-injure my back again.

    My goals card was all filled in (except for Monday’s walk when my back pain was at its worse).
  • Looking forward to next week: The OHSU farmer’s market opens on Wednesday afternoon and we’re planning to go and see what’s there. We may also go to the main Portland farmer’s market on Saturday, down in the Park Blocks by Portland State University. Brett and I want to visit NW Portland’s Lan Su Chinese Garden this week, and later today we’re going to ride the aerial tram down and back up as well as walk around the neighborhood at the bottom of the hill. We’re planning to take at least two more hikes through the forest this week (but hopefully more) – it is so wonderful to be in there. Of course, everything is dependent on the weather. If it rains we’re pretty much stuck inside but so far it looks like a good week ahead.

    My favorite flowers: peonies!
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We spent a wonderful morning on Friday catching up with our friend Joan – we thought we’d visit a couple of hours and instead spent nearly five hours chatting away (which included a short walk in the forest). I picked up a small bunch of peonies, my favorite flower, at Trader Joe’s this past week. They’re slowly blooming, which is fine with me because the longer they last the better. Brett started his calligraphy class here yesterday and had a very good first session! Although we spent a lot of money last week we are now well stocked for the summer and shouldn’t have to go back to Costco, Winco or Target at all – our shopping will now be limited to small trips to Trader Joe’s and the farmer’s market, or we might have food delivered from New Seasons. I ordered a pair of leggings from J. Jill (on sale) and they turned out to be too big, something I never thought would happen to me these days so I am returning them for a smaller size. I found a pair of lovely, affordable sterling silver hoop earrings made by a local artisan at an airport shop after we said goodbye to YaYu, so that’s another summer goal that’s been accomplished.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: This was not a frugal week – we spent A LOT of money on food, wine, and supplies to get us through the summer. We at least ate all our leftovers and did not waste any food, and we put $15.49 into our change/$1 bill bag.
  • Grateful for: There are so many transportation options in Portland, and we’re finding it very easy to get around town without having a car. We can also get free delivery from our favorite grocery store (New Seasons), and we’ve signed up for a car-share service. We’re feeling very thankful to have so many ways to get around this summer without having had to rent a car.
  • Bonus question? What’s on your nightstand? Well, what’s not on my bedside table at this house is a lamp, which I wish was there. Otherwise, there’s a small dish that holds my ear plugs, some lip balm and cuticle cream from Lush, my Kindle because I always read in bed at night, a coaster because I always have a glass of water by the bed at night, my little inu hariko figure, and an inu hariko ema I bought at a temple we visited in Japan. This table has a drawer, and inside I keep my sleep mask and a bag of odds and ends I carry with me (emery boards, tape measure, extra ear plugs, sewing kit, etc.).

I am dreading my time in the dentist’s chair tomorrow, but I know it’s all going to make me better in the end. I will survive. And, the ride over there and back on the bus and tram turned out not to be as bad as I thought it would be, thank goodness. I am really warming to this whole not having a car thing more and more. Our Zipcar pass arrived yesterday and we are logged in, so will have use of a car if absolutely necessary, but otherwise we’re sticking to public transportation and walking.

I’m looking forward to the coming week and hope you are too! I’m also hoping that you had lots of good things happen for you this past week, that you’ve got a good book to read and good food to eat, and that everything else is going well.

Closing Out the Books For May

Two dozen bagels to get Brett through the summer are now in the freezer.

I don’t even want to think about what we spent in May.

We left Japan with a daily spending average of $51.03, but we are ending the month in Oregon with a daily spending average of $74.46 – YIKES! I knew it was going to be bad, but not this bad.

What did we spend all that money on? Food! Lots and lots and lots of food. We had to feed YaYu while she was here and got a few things for her that she’ll need in Japan and, because we won’t have a car this summer, we did a couple of big shops at Costco when we did have a car – one when we first arrived, and another this past week. We also stocked up at Trader Joe’s and Winco, and we bought a few things at Target. Our cupboards, fridge and freezer are stuffed full, and we now have enough laundry supplies, toilet paper and paper towels to get us through the summer (the house came with supplies to get us started thankfully). Our Oregon spending also includes a Brita pitcher and filters which we will store when we leave, our TriMet passes, and the car rental to take YaYu to the airport.

All of this hopefully means that our monthly averages for the rest of the summer will be well below average. We will be paying admission for a few activities, making a couple of trips to Trader Joe’s, and visiting the OHSU farmer’s market every week for fresh produce, but between the two of us this summer I think we will be able to keep our spending to minimum (clothing and other travel supplies come out of a different fund). Fingers crossed!