Back to the Future: Part III: The Ugly

Several commenters on the “10 Years a Blogger” post wrote that they would be interested in reading posts from my earlier blogs. While the administrative duties of managing more than one blog are more than I want to take on, about midway through answering comments I realized I could still share selected posts from those blogs. So, I’ve decided to start by offering up one of the earliest posts I wrote from I’m Losing It Here, and if readers are interested in knowing more about how our story progressed I’ll continue to share more.

The post below, published on December 31, 2009, is actually the third in an initial series I wrote in December 2009 when I started I’m Losing It Here. I called the series “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” The first two posts were about losing weight (that at least had been going somewhat well), but the main effort behind starting the blog was to document facing and getting rid of the massive amount of debt (over $65K) we had accrued. Part III: The Ugly was the beginning of that story.

BTW, Brett initially did not want me to use his name, so it won’t show up in I’m Losing It Here posts. He’s always “my husband” or “Mr. Losing It” or something along those lines.

Part III: The Ugly

If debt were categorized like weight, my husband I would be considered beyond morbidly obese.  We are drowning in deep, massive debt. While we are still able to pay all our bills on time and put food on the table, we finally had to accept at the end of this year that it had gotten out of hand, and we had to get rid of it or we would sink and drown.

Up to and during 2008, times were good.  My husband got tons of overtime so paychecks were big and fat.  I didn’t have to work, and stayed busy volunteering at my children’s’ schools, or driving them to their activities, or back and forth from school.  We put money away each month and were able to pay cash for our 8-day Disney vacation in early December 2008.  When I went to the grocery store or Costco, I filled my cart with whatever caught my eye or whatever I thought might be tasty.  While we didn’t shower the kids with anything or everything their hearts’ desired at the moment, there still was no problem getting them new clothes and shoes when they needed them, or paying for field trips or school supplies.  I bought myself and my husband new clothes now and then without worry (although I’m actually not a big shopper).  We had a new patio installed and some other landscaping done because the financing was so good and we felt we could afford the payments.  The spike in gasoline prices wasn’t an issue, mainly because one of our cars is a hybrid and also because we are just not that into driving all over the place.  There was no problem paying for the children’s music lessons, braces, etc.  We thankfully have good medical insurance and were healthy all year so we didn’t have any major expenses in that area either.  When we came home from our Disney trip, my husband had received a nice bonus from work which paid for everything for Christmas.   He also received a nice cost-of-living raise on his military retirement.

Things started to change late October 2008 when my husband’s manager announced that effective immediately, there would be no more overtime (note: The amount of work coming in for Brett did not cease nor diminish, however – it just began to back up).  We had forgotten how small his regular paycheck was, but with what we had put away we were able to continue to cover expenses. His employer also announced that there would be no pay increases for anyone in 2009, which caused us to take a small gulp. I decided I needed to find something to bring in a little money, but something that would not interfere with the children’s activities or school schedule, and in February of 2009 I started work as a kitchen assistant in a nearby elementary school. It’s a fun job, but my once-a-month paychecks did not even begin to make up the overtime pay we had lost.  We got a large tax refund in March, which I put away, but by July it was all gone, used again to cover our monthly expenses. We dipped into our overdraft accounts and ran them up to their limits, then broke out the credit cards in August. Even without shopping sprees, or fancy vacations, they were up to their (high) limits by the end of the year after covering emergency medical expenses, car repairs, and some home repairs. I personally began to be afraid that we would run out of food, and looking back I realize I spent an awful lot on food. Our pantry was always filled to overflowing as was a storage shelf out in the garage. But eventually, I had to dig into that as well as I had less and less per week to spend on groceries as we struggled to cover our mounting payments.

In early October we decided to sell one of our cars, the hybrid. It had low mileage, was in great condition and its value was way over what we owed. We had all of two serious lookers, and both of them offered far less than it was worth. We decided to keep it when we saw how much our gasoline bill spiked when we were driving our other car, a VW Passat wagon. With the hybrid, we only needed to fill the tank once a month, with the Passat it was once a week. We didn’t want to get rid of the VW though as it was the only car that could fit all of us (as well as our dogs) if we ever wanted or needed to go somewhere as a family.

In early December, we tried to refinance our house to lower our payment. No cash-out was requested, just a lower payment. After shelling out for the appraisal (based on the bank’s conditional pre-approval), running paperwork back and forth, we were denied final approval because our debt-to-income ratio was too high and because we had no cash to bring to the closing.

Thankfully I had already purchased everything for Christmas, but otherwise, by mid-December, we had hit rock-bottom. It was a come-to-Jesus time for us and our debt.

10 Years a Blogger

I rarely have given a thought to how long I’ve been blogging, but this past weekend it struck me that it was 10 years ago this month that I first started out. Ten years? How did that happen? That’s a lot of writing under the bridge. 

Some readers may remember that my first blog was I’m Losing It Here, all about our family’s efforts to get out of debt along with me (once again) trying to lose weight. I started the blog because I thought that writing about the process would help me stay honest, motivated and on track. More for my own sake than any other reason, I blogged about our ups and downs, what we were learning along the way, and eventually even shared a frugal recipe or two. Writing about that journey truly kept me sane, and I learned much along the way, not only about the process of ridding ourselves of debt, but about myself as well. I can’t begin to tell how surprised I was though to discover one day that others had somehow found I’m Losing It Here and were actually reading what I had to say. And, some were sticking around to read more. And then following me! And commenting too! As a beginning blogger you hope to attract readers, but when you actually do . . . WOW!

Getting ourselves out of debt, according to Dave Ramsey, should have taken 11 months. It actually took over three years because stuff happens, especially when you have three kids at home, but in 2013 Brett was able to retire (something we initially had no idea could happen), and we had segued into getting ready to move to Hawai’i, to the island of Kaua’i. The blog segued as well to Noho’ana Hau’ole: Life Is Good, which chronicled our steps in downsizing, selling our stuff, selling our house, and finally making our big move in June of 2014. Once again, writing kept me focused and on track as we completed our goals and set new ones every month along with everything else that went along with making such a big move. 

Once in Hawai’i, the blog changed again, this time because WordPress initially refused to coordinate with our new IP provider. The View From the Treehouse, named after the views from our first house on Kaua’i, focused on adjusting to life on a small island in the middle of the ocean and about all that beautiful little piece of rock had to offer. Brett came on board as well to add articles about his hikes around the island. The View sadly ended when the hosting company charged me more than double for my second year than what I had paid for the domain when I set it up.

And thus it was back to WordPress, and The Occasional Nomads came to be. I wasn’t ready to stop writing; in fact, at this point, I realized I almost needed to write more than wanted to write, and it was time once again to change my blogging’s focus and direction. While continuing to write about our life on Kaua’i, I also wanted to write about travel. Brett and I have always loved to travel, but at that time we were still in the dreaming stage about trips we might take once all our little birds had left the nest. Little did I guess when I started The Occasional Nomads that he and I would become actual full-time nomads, but as the saying goes, here we are. And what a ride it’s been! I know we’ll eventually slip back into being truly occasional nomads once again, and that I’ll be blogging about it, but we’re not there yet.

Back in the dark ages, in my senior year of high school, my English instructor predicted that I would someday write The Great American Novel. I’ve thought about it over the years, of writing about the daily minutia of life, the dreams, the goals, the small and the great struggles, and the successes and failures that regular people endure or celebrate every day as they create and make a life. But a novel isn’t in me. So instead I’ve documented the life I’ve made, the life I’m still creating, and the dreams we’re fulfilling. As our son once said, I like the sound of my own voice. It’s why I’m going to keep writing.

And to all who have found me and kept reading over the years, thank you. Without your validation, blogging over the years would have been nothing more than shouting into the wind. As most teachers will tell you, we always get back as much if not more from our students than we give out in the classroom, and it’s been the same with blogging – I feel like I’ve received far more over the years from readers than what I’ve produced. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some of you and becoming friends for life. Your kindness, support, and advice (and putting up with numerous typos, misspelled and misplaced words) have meant the world to me. I hope you’ll all stick around to see what happens next.

Sunday Morning 12/8/2019: Week 2 in Portland

There will be room for all of us on the sofa in our living room!

After a stop at Trader Joes, Brett and I moved over to our long-term rental last Sunday morning, and all I can say is this place is fantastic! It looked good in the pictures but it’s even better in reality. The spacious two-bedroom apartment was built into the attic of a 100-year-old Craftsman home, and you can tell the hosts had a lot of fun decorating and equipping the home for guests. I especially love the huge dining table we have this year as well as the big desk for Brett to work at, and all the room we’ll have to spread out when the girls are here. The house has everything we could possibly need as well because the hosts, a retired couple our ages, have really thought of everything. Every time we see them they ask if we need anything more, but so far we haven’t been able to come up with anything (they stopped by Friday evening with additional umbrellas for us). They’ve even offered to wash our towels and other linens for us (which we will do ourselves though). The neighborhood is nice too, quiet with lots of big, old Craftsman homes sitting on big lots, and we’re not too far away from WinCo, Costco, and other stores as well as the airport (but far enough away that we’re not bothered by jet noise).

I love the BIG dining table! Last year we could barely squeeze the five us at the table in the house we rented.
The master bedroom has its own sitting area with a television. The bed is super comfortable.

We enjoyed some pretty nice weather for several days we arrived in Portland, with blue skies on many days which helped my mood considerably. However, rain arrived on Friday and had continued for the past few days so we’re dealing with that once again. We took care of most of our big shopping errands this past week though so as long as the weather remains damp Brett and I will spend time indoors. We will be getting together with friends a couple of times this week though and I’ve got a medical appointment next Thursday evening.

Lots of blue skies over Portland this week.

The doctor I saw last summer wanted me to stop the medication I’d been taking for GERD when my prescription finished (because it negatively affects my bone density) and I took the last pill a week ago. The heartburn came right back, worse than ever, so I’m heading back to see her this coming week to find out what’s going on (and hopefully new medication). I’ll also be getting a DPT booster and a flu shot, and whatever else she recommends.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: The library took The Guns of August back yesterday. My stomach problems made made it difficult to concentrate this past week so I got little reading done. I’m not sure whether I’ll check it out again or hold off for a while. Brett got me a copy of the fifth book in the Inspector Morse series, The Riddle of the Third Mile, at Powell’s yesterday, but the fourth book, Dead of Jericho, is out of stock everywhere, new or used.
  • Listening to: We’re enjoying another wonderfully quiet morning here. Brett is in the kitchen making breakfast for us this morning (avocado toast and coffee). It’s foggy outside so it’s very quiet out there too (although the neighborhood is regularly pretty quiet all on its own).
  • Watching: The viewing highlight of our week was The Irishman. Just WOW. Superb storytelling, and even more superb acting – Joe Pesci deserves an(other) Oscar for his performance. We also watched The Highwaymen on Netflix (the story of how Bonnie and Clyde were caught) and we binge-watched a very creepy British mystery/thriller, Requiem. We also binge-watched the third season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and are going to start watching Late Night tonight, with Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson. The house has a 72-inch television and full cable including Netflix and Amazon Prime, so we’re feeling very spoiled.
  • Cooking: Meals will stay simple for us again this week. We’re having stuffed peppers tonight, and other meals this week will include leftover quiche; broccoli & cheese soup with a sandwich of some kind; and teriyaki chicken over cauliflower rice along with some cucumber. We’ll fill in the other nights with leftovers. I am trying to eat smaller portions, and stay away from acidy foods, but there is currently nothing I can eat right now that doesn’t seem to aggravate the GERD.
  • Happy I accomplished last week: We got our big Costco shop done on Thursday afternoon and stopped at New Seasons Market for a few things yesterday so we’re ready for the girls’ arrival (although they won’t be here until the week after this one). The house is stuffed with food right now. I’ve gotten all the girls’ gifts sorted and wrapped, and ordered gifts to take with us to Japan for the grandkids. We stopped at Target on Wednesday and picked up a new spiralizer (third time’s a charm, fingers crossed, etc.) and a couple of other cooking utensils that we can use now but want to take along to use in Japan.
    We already carry a good vegetable peeler and a corkscrew along with us and have now added a silicone spatula, a pair of tongs, and yet another spiralizer. Please send reminders when it’s time for us to pack again so we don’t leave the spiralizer behind.
  • Looking forward to this week: I am getting my hair cut this afternoon and I’m so looking forward to it! I was surprised to get a Sunday appointment, but that’s one of the days the Deva curl specialist works. We’re having lunch with our friend Joan at her home on Tuesday afternoon, along with the nomad couple we met last summer, Chris and Sarah, who are back again in Portland. On Thursday I’m meeting up with another good friend, Elaine, for coffee at our favorite spot so we can catch up and set the world straight once again. While I can’t exactly say I’m looking forward to seeing the Dr., I do want to find out what’s going on with my stomach and hopefully get some new medication!
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Moving into our current Airbnb home has been a very good thing – Brett and I are still pinching ourselves that we got this place. We had dim sum with our long-time friend Sylvia on Thursday and had a great time catching up (and a good meal too). Sylvia is from Hong Kong and had just returned from a family visit, so we got to hear some about the situation there. Getting together with friends is always the best part of coming back to Portland!
    We always let Sylvia order the dim sum – she started our feast with shrimp har gow, pork shu mai, and beef cheung fun.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We’ve finished almost all of our food shopping (just need to buy more produce after the girls arrive) and we are well under budget – we have been super strict about sticking to our shopping lists. I ordered both our grandchildren’s Christmas gifts and received free shipping for both gifts as well as Cyber Monday discounts of at least 20%.
  • Grateful for: I’m very grateful I could get in so quickly to see the doctor this time – last summer I had to wait nearly two months for an appointment! As always, I’m extremely thankful for our good medical insurance (Medicare and TricareForLife) that covers everything with little to no out-of-pocket cost. 
  • Bonus question: What’s on your Christmas list this year? I remember that when I was young I could always come up with a long list of things I wanted for Christmas and was always puzzled when my mom and grandmother would both always say they didn’t have a list because they didn’t need or want anything. Who couldn’t come up with a list for Christmas? Well, this year I have a very short list with just four things on it, and I had to struggle a bit to come up with these: an Amazon gift card that I can use to purchase books for my Kindle; a J. Jill gift card; a Coldwater Creek gift card, and a pair of silver hoop earrings because I have lost yet another pair. I made a list because the girls insisted and because we do a Secret Santa gift swap each year ($35 or under). Like my mom and grandmother, I really don’t need or want anything else this year other than time with Brett and the girls.

Overall, I’m enjoying the calm of being back in Portland, of being in familiar territory, so to speak. I like knowing my way around and the convenience of having a car again to get to places, although we did fine without one last summer. We’ve already been talking about coming back next year, but with the intent of going through all the stuff we have in storage with the girls and letting them take the things they want, and then downsizing the rest even more. We neither miss nor have deep feelings these days about most of the stuff we kept. We’ll see though – it will depend on whatever we finally come to a decision about the keep traveling/settle down divide we’re currently working our way through. 

That’s a wrap for this week! It was a good one for us, and I hope a good one for everyone else as well. Here’s to another week of good food, good times, good friends, good books, and good health for everyone as the holiday season approaches.

30 Terrific Travel Tips

(picture credit: blog.ted.com)

Often it’s the small things that can turn a good journey into a great one. During the last giveaway, I asked those who entered to post their favorite travel tips and they generously shared ones covering topics from health to packing to souvenirs.

Below are 30 great ways to make your next travel adventure even better. I’ve added a few of my own as well: 

Planning:

  • If you love travel planning, great, but if not, travel with someone who does and then say “thank you.”

Staying Healthy:

  • Stay hydrated on long flights or train journeys by drinking lots of water and/or juice (tomato juice is a refreshing choice) and skipping caffeinated and alcoholic beverages (which can be dehydrating).
  • Swab Vaseline inside of your nose during a flight to avoid catching a cold from others
  • Wipe down everything around your seat you may touch with antibacterial wipes, and carry antibacterial gel for your hands after using the bathroom.
  • Don’t use the airplane-provided blanket or pillow; bring your own shawl for a coverup, and your own neck pillow. The airplane blanket or pillow can be placed in your seat for additional lumbar support.

Packing:

  • Pack as lightly as you can, and travel with as little luggage as possible. Once you’ve put in everything you want to take, try to remove at least a third or more of it because that’s probably what isn’t needed and won’t get used.
  • Choose lightweight clothes that can be layered easily.
  • Choose quick-drying clothes if you won’t be staying where there are a washer and dryer.
  • Only pack a few small-size toiletries. Once at your destination assess what’s on hand and purchase more there if necessary.
  • Pack a clean, damp, inexpensive washcloth in a plastic bag into your purse or personal carry-on item. Upon arrival wash your face, hands, and neck – very soothing after a long flight!
  • The most important clothing item you take along is a comfortable pair of shoes.
  • Sturdy canvas shopping totes make great, lightweight personal carry-on bags. They’re easy to carry, fit under the seat in front during a flight, and can hold lots of items along with a purse. Plus, you have a reusable shopping bag when you arrive.

Souvenirs:

  • Your own photos make the best souvenirs. Take lots of pictures!
  • Purchase interesting postcards at your destination, then back home display in a basket where you can easily pull them out and remember your trip.
  • Purchase small but useful gifts and souvenirs: tea towels, earrings, kitchen utensils, coffee mugs, t-shirts, holiday ornaments, linens, scarves, lipsticks or other small cosmetics are lightweight and pack easily.
  • Small, packaged food items make great souvenirs and help you recreate the tastes of where you’ve been. Avoid larger jars or cans as they have to go inside checked luggage and can boost the weight.
  • Give children a set amount of spending money upfront to buy their own souvenirs or snacks with the understanding that a) they can’t ask you to buy them something, and b) when the money is gone, it’s gone. Children learn very quickly to think carefully about spending when they control their own money.

Eating:

  • Carry along a cooler when you travel in a car or by train (from small to full-size, depending on the space available), or a small one with you on a plane to keep snacks, meals, or drinks cool and fresh.
  • Choose low-cost portable food (i.e. sandwiches or wraps) and add fruit or fresh vegetable for light, healthy meals – the variety is endless.
  • Save your loyalty program points to use at airport food purveyors for free or discounted meals so you don’t have to pay airport prices. 
  • Always try the chocolate wherever you go!

On the Road:

  • Pay careful attention to arrival times and make lodging arrangements accordingly. If your arrival time is early in the morning, you might not be able to check into your hotel until later in the afternoon and have to wander around with your luggage for several hours (not good if you’re exhausted). If you can’t book an afternoon arrival time, you can reserve lodging beginning the night before, and ask that your roomor  be held for you.
  • During your travel day, count your baggage and “toteables” after every stop or activity (i.e. stopping for coffee, using the restroom) to make sure nothing has been left behind.
  • Always bring along something to do in downtime, whether that’s reading, a game, knitting or crocheting. If you have to wait or have a long layover, it will make the time pass more quickly.
  • Have a plan, but be flexible. Stay calm, work with the unexpected if you have to, and accept you can’t control everything.
  • However, always have a Travel Plan B in case of an emergency, and an emergency fund to cover the unexpected.

On the ground:

  • For long-term travel, think about carrying small utensils and other practical items you can’t do without, things like a vegetable peeler or washcloths. A wireless charger is a good addition as well.
  • Don’t schedule every moment – give yourself room to be spontaneous.
  • It’s OK to have a bucket list of things to see and do on your journey but give yourself time to wander down a sidestreet or turn down an alleyway you keep passing or go into a shop that looks interesting. Try that unknown dish or food. Your curiosity will thank you.
  • Travel with a sense of wonder.

Any travel experience will be as good as you make it, and adding a few new tricks along with having a positive attitude can and will improve any journey.

Closing Out the Books for November

Yeah for us!

After two frustrating months of being over budget while we were in the UK, we had a very good month in November and ended up with a daily spending average of $29.93! We had an overall daily spending average for our entire three months in the UK of $38.30, not where we hoped to be but not as bad as it could have been.

The main reason November was a less expensive month was that other than our quick trip to Bath and another over to Stratford-upon-Avon, we really didn’t go anywhere. We didn’t even get out that much in Blockley! While the gloomy weather was frankly depressing and kept us indoors much of the time, it also meant there were fewer chances for spending. Winding down our food shopping at the end of our stay helped to keep costs down as well. Our daily average was low enough that our (expensive) dinner at the village cafe, our travel day spending, and a quick trip to Trader Joe’s after we arrived in Portland didn’t take us over $30.

We’re sticking with our $35/day spending average in December. While food spending is going to be higher than usual this month it’s really our only expense other than gas for the minivan. Being very careful and sticking to our list is going to be key to not going over budget this month (we’ve done a good job of this so far). I’ve made a menu for when the girls are here, but they all still have big appetites and I hope everything I’ve planned will be enough for them without us having to overspend. We hope to be able to go out together once for dim sum, but a trip over to IKEA for some Swedish meatballs may be all we can afford (thankfully the girls love those meatballs).

Sunday Morning 12/1/2019: Back in Portland

Our Thanksgiving travel day turned out to be not so bad, although it was still a very l-o-n-g day and very, very tiring. However, we are back in Portland, rested (somewhat), and ready to turn our efforts toward getting ready for Christmas and the girls’ arrivals.

One last sunrise over the countryside as we left the Cotswolds.

Our travel day did not start well though. When we got on to the platform at Moreton-in-Marsh there was an announcement that our train had been canceled! This was not good, but we got on the next train (which was late) with our heavy bags, crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. We changed at Oxford and got on another train which ended up arriving 10 minutes late into Reading. We had to literally run through the station there to catch the train to Gatwick, climbing on board less than 30 seconds before the doors closed. If we had missed that train our travel day would have turned out very differently than it did.

We arrived at Gatwick with less than two hours to check our bags, go through security and get to the gate, and there was a very, very long line at check-in (there were other flights besides ours going out). While we were waiting though we saw a sign announcing that upgrades for our flight were available. Brett and I made a quick command decision and a few minutes and a few hundred dollars later we had premium seats (Norwegian Air premium class is a sort of a blend between first class and premium economy). The upgrade meant we didn’t have to pay extra for our overweight luggage and also allowed us to go quickly through the premium security check line. We had just enough time to grab some coffee and food at Pret A Manger before heading to our gate. We had been warned we might not get any meals on board because of our last-minute upgrade (and apparently Norwegian won’t bring meals from economy up to premier) so we bought enough at Pret for two meals, just in case. The plane was boarding when we got down to the gate and the next thing we knew we were buckled in our seats and on our way.

Our comfortable seats were in the last row of the premium cabin, which meant we could fully recline without bothering anyone behind us. I used the blanket for additional lumbar support.

Upgrading to Premium was the right decision and worth every penny, especially since if we hadn’t done it we would have most likely missed our flight and spent a LOT more for tickets on another flight. We had bigger seats with footrests, increased recline, and lots of legroom and along with a very smooth flight our 11-hour trip to San Francisco was very comfortable. We both slept for a long stretch in the middle of the flight which made the time onboard speed by, and while we didn’t arrive in San Francisco feeling refreshed and perky, we weren’t dragging either. They did have a meal for us – a turkey dinner for Thanksgiving (!!) – and we ate a couple of our Pret A Manger sandwiches for a later snack. The layover in San Francisco didn’t drag as much as we thought it would (we ate a third Pret sandwich there so didn’t buy anything in SF other than some coffee) and before we knew it we were on our way to Portland. Things got weird again though once we got to the car rental agency because there was no car for us in spite of having a reservation (there were no cars at all)! We were initially offered a pick-up truck instead – NO THANK YOU – but we stood our ground and ended up with a seven-passenger minivan at no extra cost. All’s well that ends well.

It’s December 1 and time to announce the winner of the Afternoon Tea giveaway as promised! Chosen out of 87 entries using a random name selector, the winner is:

HELEN! Come on down!

Congratulations! I will email you in the next day or so to get your mailing address and plan to have your package on its way by the middle of the week. I again want to thank everyone for all the fantastic travel tips you sent – I will be pulling them all together for a post later this month! I was very happy to learn a few new things I can use going forward!

This morning I am:

  • Reading: Because of the packing we had to do, and a general case of pre-travel nerves toward the end of our stay in England, I found I couldn’t concentrate on all the names and places in The Guns of August, so I downloaded Stephen King’s The Shining because I knew it would keep my attention. I finished it last night because once again I was scared enough that I couldn’t put it down (I read it when it first came out and stayed up all night to finish because I was so scared). I’ll get back to The Guns of August later today, after we’re settled in our long-term rental.
  • Listening to: Brett’s getting his breakfast ready in the kitchen, and the heater is blowing overhead but otherwise, it’s very, very quiet here. The heater has been on constantly since we checked in on Thursday night because it is COLD outside, below freezing last night. This rental has been very quiet and comfortable overall as we have worked through the jet lag and a crazy sleeping schedule, but we’re looking forward to getting into our long-term rental later today.
  • Watching: We haven’t been watching anything the past few days because there’s no TV here! I didn’t watch anything on the plane either, a first for me; the flight was smooth enough that I could read instead. We’ll get reacquainted with American television once we get to our new place.
    We did a quick shop at the nearby Trader Joe’s to get us through the first couple of days in Portland. I love their food but so expensive compared to the UK! The chili relleno was good enough that we’re going to get more to have this coming week.
  • Cooking: For now all I’m planning to fix this week is Thai red curry chicken with sweet-sour coleslaw; chili rellenos with avocado; tomato soup and toasted cheese sandwiches; and breakfast for dinner (eggs, bacon, and fruit). We picked up a few things from Trader Joe’s on Friday and are going back again this morning to do a bigger shop before we move over to the rental, but it’s a little hard to know what to get because I don’t know yet what cookware or utensils there will be in the kitchen there (Are there baking pans? Casserole dishes?). Brett and I will be sticking with low/no-carb eating once again during our Portland stay (it’s back to cauliflower rice for me!). Shopping trips to Costco and Winco will be next week to get ready for the girls and their appetites, and then we’ll hit the Asian markets with them when they’re all here.
  • Happy I accomplished: A successful travel day is always an accomplishment, but with trains being canceled or late, making it in time to catch our flight felt like a miracle because of so many things going wrong when we started out.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We came out ahead getting the minivan for our car rental – we now have more than enough room to carry everyone around and Meiling’s boyfriend as well when he’s with us for a couple of days. I can be very assertive when I need to be – Brett says I scared him a bit at the rental agency because I wouldn’t back down LOL.
    We shared two Pret A Manger sandwiches for a snack on the plane – tuna salad with cucumbers and smoked salmon with cream cheese. We ate our other sandwich during our layover in San Francisco (a yummy roast hoisin duck wrap) which saved us from having to buy food there.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We had a fairly low-cost travel day as those things go, spending only $71 for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and coffees (which is pretty low for airport spending, all things considered – everything in an airport is expensive, no matter where you are in the world). We still had two pieces of cake leftover when we arrived in Portland which Brett ate for breakfast on Friday morning before we could get to the store (I ate the free Kind bar we got on the Alaska flight up to Portland). Paying for upgraded seats cost extra but still less than we expected, and the upgrade covered our overweight luggage. We also ended the month under our daily spending average!
  • Grateful for: Brett and I were especially thankful to make our flight because if not we would have had to book with another airline at the last minute which would have been beyond expensive in so many ways. We are grateful we had the funds to cover the upgraded seats, although our travel fund is now practically at zero. All of our upcoming flights are covered until the end of next May though, which gives us a few months to build up the fund again.
  • Bonus shoutout: I want to give Norwegian Air a huge shoutout for their service. First, flying Norwegian almost always costs half or less than half of what legacy airlines charge for the same route. This was the second time we’ve flown with them back from London Gatwick and once again we had a very good travel experience for a very reasonable price. The service is superb and the cabin crew top-notch (they hire from throughout Europe). If you’re taking a long-haul flight to Europe and back I can’t recommend Norwegian enough for both price and service. They are a low-cost carrier (LCC), so have tough weight limits for baggage, but if you’re traveling with only a carry-on the low fare ticket prices are amazingly low (they charge for everything extra though). The Low-Fare Flex option in coach is the way to go if there’s a bag to check, and with this fare, upgrades are sometimes possible for exit row seating (more legroom), and meals are included in the price of the ticket. However, based on last week’s experience, paying a bit more for Premium seats for longer (7+ hour) flights is well worth it. Norwegian Air only operates out of a few airports in the U.S. on a somewhat limited schedule, but most of these flights use the 787 Dreamliner. The 787 is quieter, the air is humidified, the lighting more subtle, there are bigger windows with dimmers instead of a shade, more bathrooms, and more overhead luggage space too, all of which make for a much more comfortable flight.
Some much needed blue skies and sunshine greeted us in Portland!

The past couple of days in Portland have been cold but clear and sunny, a much-needed respite from the gloom we experienced our last three weeks in England. Those weeks were a very hard time for me, and I could feel myself slipping deeper and deeper into seasonal depression, not wanting to get dressed or do much of anything. I actually had a few days in a row where I stayed in my pajamas on the sofa and wasn’t able to muster the enthusiasm to do much of anything, not a good sign. Thank goodness we had the packing and such to do, but I’m not sure how things might have turned out otherwise as much as I loved our little village and being in England. Weather is going to be a key factor whenever and wherever we end up settling down. I can take the gloom for short periods of time, but extended periods of gray skies and incessant rain have a very negative effect on my well-being these days.

It’s a cliche to say so, but I honestly can’t believe 2019 is almost finished. It’s been another great year for us, and we have much to look forward to next year as well. In the meantime, we still have plenty to do before the year ends and our girls will be here before we know it. So, here’s to a great week and a great month coming up!

Happy Thanksgiving!

In a completely unrealistic rendering of the first Thanksgiving, my Pilgrim ancestor, Priscila Mullins, serves a roast turkey to Indian guests while her soon-to-be husband, John Alden, stands ready to serve one of the side dishes.

In just a short while we’ll be heading over to Moreton-in-Marsh station one last time to catch a train to Gatwick Airport. We’ll be up in the air for most of the day, but that doesn’t mean Brett and I won’t be thinking of and thankful for the many blessings in our lives, including family, friends, and those of you who continue to check in with us here at The Occasional Nomads.

Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday. Besides the food and being together with friends and family, it’s a time to reflect and express gratitude for the many positive things that exist in our lives, the great memories we’ve made, and the people who are a part of our lives in ways both big and small.

Wishing you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving Day!

Goodbye to Blockley

When Brett and I leave England tomorrow, a piece of each of our hearts will be left back in the Cotswolds, especially in our home for the past three months, the village of Blockley. 

I don’t think we could have picked a lovelier place to stay. Our cottage, located in the center of the village, has been cozy, quiet, and very comfortable, with a view of the Blockley Church each time we’ve stepped out our door. Although Blockley has been in existence since the 10th century and is currently the exterior location for the Father Brown series, it’s not a “destination spot” and hasn’t been overrun with tourists as other nearby locations have been at times. Set among pastures and farmland and with beautiful views on every side, two major footpaths, The Monarch’s Way and The Heart of England Way, pass through Blockley and gave us opportunities for short walks and longer hikes filled with breathtaking scenery. The local bus service stops a few times every day which has made it easy for us to get to other destinations in the area for shopping and sightseeing, but the village store offered just about everything we could need at reasonable prices when we didn’t feel like leaving town. We’ve been able to enjoy coffee, tea & scones, lunches and even a three-course gourmet dinner at the village cafe, and a couple of great meals at one of the village pubs. Blockley has a rich history and is full of wonderful old homes and buildings yet has never felt “quaint” – it’s a vibrant, living community with old buildings being remodeled and renovated, new construction continuing, and families moving in. Residents have been welcoming and friendly, often stopping for long chats, and several who were born and raised here have helped us understand the village’s past as well as its present. Blockley also has the most amazing selection of dogs we’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting!

The photos below are ones I’ve posted while we’ve been here, but they’re my favorites, and each one is full of memories.

Goodbye Blockley . . . for now. We’ll be back!

Sunday Morning 11/24/2019: Week 12 in the UK

Our two old friends will be going back to work this afternoon when we start packing for our return to the U.S.

It’s our final Sunday in England. At this same time, four days from now, we’ll be on our way back to Portland once again. We’re flying nonstop from London to San Francisco, where we have a five-hour layover before heading on to Portland. The flight from London to San Francisco is 11 hours, and there’s no chance for an upgrade from our seats in regular economy. Our only saving grace is that the section of the plane we’re in appears to still be mostly empty (unless lots of people suddenly get the urge to fly from London to San Francisco on Thanksgiving Day) so we should have room to spread out a bit and get some sleep. Whatever happens, it’s going to be a very long day; we’ll be up for more than 24 hours.

We’re be staying at this inn on our last night because it’s located just a very short walk from the Moreton-in-Marsh train station. The inn began as a 17th-century coaching station and apparently back in the day royalty stopped here.

We’ll be spending Wednesday night at the White Hart Inn in Moreton-in-Marsh. Our train for Gatwick leaves early Thursday morning, long before any bus could get us over there from Blockley, and it’s been impossible finding a taxi to get us over there so early in the morning. This way though we’ll have time to finish our packing on Wednesday morning and clean the cottage, and on Thursday morning we’ll be close enough to walk the short distance to the station. Hopefully, it won’t be below freezing or raining.

You know you’ve been someplace long enough when you can almost immediately see that someone’s got directions or locations for the area wrong! This past week I caught a mistake (or maybe just a bit of a fictional license) in the Inspector Morse book I just finished. In order to interview a witness, Inspector Morse and Sargeant Lewis drive over to the Cotswolds from Oxford through Chipping Norton, which sits on the eastern side of the area, on the A44 road. Dexter wrote they first go to Bourton-on-the-Hil, then up the hill to Moreton-in-Marsh. What??? It’s just the opposite: Moreton-in-Marsh is downhill from Bourton-on-the-Hill on the A44, and you have to go through it first to get to Bourton-on-the-Hill from Chipping Norton! Continuing on, they drive downhill from Moreton-in-Marsh into Broadway on the A34 (which doesn’t exist here). Again, nope! Continuing from Morton-in-Marsh on the A44, you go up and through Bourton-on-the-Hill and then back down the long hill to Broadway, in the opposite direction from Moreton-in-Marsh. I was initially puzzled as I read, thinking I must have it wrong because surely his editor and millions of British readers must know this better than I do, but I pulled up a map to check and make sure I wasn’t going crazy. It was just as I thought though – he had the towns/villages in the wrong order and direction and used a wrong highway number.

The weather remains cold and miserable – the temperature barely went above 40 degrees this week. After getting some blue skies on Monday the rest of the week looked like it was going to snow at any minute, and felt like it too at times although all we got was some rain which began on Friday. It’s even been an effort at times to stay warm inside – we’ve had the fire going, the heat on, and covered up with blankets and still feel cold at times. We’ve had to keep most of the drapes pulled to help block the cold so it’s been fairly dark and dreary inside as well. I’m still on the edge of coming down with a cold and have not been willing to risk going out for anything more than a quick trip to the village market for supplies, and out to dinner on Friday, for fear of getting sick for real before our flight next week. There have thankfully been chores to keep us busy inside (we’ll start packing this afternoon), and both Brett and I are getting a LOT of reading done.

I can attest from experience that the shortbread is melt-in-your-mouth delicious!

Finally, another reminder that the Afternoon Tea Giveaway is still open, and that entries will be accepted until Midnight PST on Friday. You can enter once a day – the travel tips have been fantastic – thank you!

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished the fourth Inspector Morse book, Service for All the Dead, but the fifth, The Dead of Jericho, is neither available from the library or Amazon other than as an audiobook, so I may download it and listen while we’re on the plane or I may wait and see if I can find a copy of the book at Powell’s when we’re in Portland. In the meantime, I’m reading The Guns of August: The Outbreak of World War I, by Barbara Tuchman. One of my reading goals for the next year is to learn more about World War I, both through fiction and non-fiction, and this book is considered one of the greatest war books ever written, covering how the war started and the first disastrous 30 days.
  • Listening to: It’s very quiet this morning, maybe the quietest it’s been since we’ve been here. I woke up too late to hear the church bells ring (had trouble falling asleep last night), and since Brett is reading it’s very still. Outside it’s . . . wait for it . . . gray and gloomy, but at least it’s not raining (for now) and the wind isn’t blowing. It will get noisier in a little while when we go upstairs and get started on the packing but for now, this is pure bliss.
  • Watching: We binge-watched The Crown last Sunday and Monday – it was quite a change from the first two seasons, but still extremely well-acted and a pleasure to watch. Olivia Colman deserves an Emmy, especially for the episode “Aberfan,” and Helena Bonham Carter is wonderful as Princess Margaret (I love too that she’s now played both the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret as well as Bellatrix Lestrade!). We finished the last episode of Endeavour last night – loved how the season wrapped up – and we’ve started a new series, The Brokenwood Mysteries, although we won’t get to finish that. It’s sort of quirky, but pretty good. Since November 1, Christmas ads have been coming fast and furious. Our favorite is the one below from Marks & Spencer – we love to hear the way the actor (Paddy McGuiness) pronounces “panettone.”
  • Cooking: We’ve started the great fridge clean-out for the next three days. It shouldn’t be very hard this time because we only picked up a few supplies from the village market to get us through instead of going to Aldi one last time. We’re having steak and potato pasties one more time for dinner tonight along with some steamed broccoli; bacon and onion quiche tomorrow with more broccoli; and chicken & lentil soup with cheese, crackers, and fruit on Tuesday evening. In between, we’ll finish up all the other odds and ends. We plan to get fish and chips once more for our dinner on Wednesday evening after we get over to Moreton-in-Marsh (it’s just across the street from the hotel) and grab something from the Tesco Express as well for a quick breakfast on the train in the morning.

    In spite of being bundled up, someone was still very cold when we went out for a walk last Monday. It’s definitely time for a beard trim – he’s beginning to look a bit like Santa Claus. Brett’s wool watch cap is almost 50 years old – it was issued to him in boot camp in 1971!
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: This past week has been all about staying warm, which mostly meant sitting in front of the fireplace wrapped up in a blanket! I did get a few things sorted for the upcoming packing and kept up with the cleaning and laundry, but that’s about it. I took the big step of finally dumping Facebook this week, something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. It was a very difficult decision though and took several weeks to get up the nerve to do it. I’ve been on FB for over 10 years and it’s been a great way to stay connected with friends and family, but I could no longer support the platform and some of the recent decisions regarding advertising and such. I am staying with Messenger though as it’s been the best way to communicate directly with family and friends as we travel, and the girls want to continue to use it.
  • Looking forward to next week: Although we are not looking forward to our upcoming travel day, we are ready to get it over with!

    The non-profit Blockley Village Store & Cafe is located just a couple of minutes from our cottage. The coop also operates a post office, a newsagent, and an off-license (betting).

    The village shop has its own bakery which supplies cakes, cookies, and loaves of bread. The date cake is my favorite!
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Our Friday night dinner at the village cafe was absolutely wonderful, a great way to finish our time in Blockley and also have an early Thanksgiving celebration of a sort. The three-course meal included an appetizer, main course, and dessert and we also each had a specialty gin & tonic, our last ones for this visit to the UK. Last Monday we went for a long walk through the village to check out how fall is progressing. In spite of the sunshine, it was very cold, and at one point a big dark cloud came over us but thankfully didn’t drop any rain before moving on. We set out on our walk thinking it would be nothing but a nostalgic look at familiar places but once again we found a couple of new things, like the old British School, established in 1835, which sits at the backside of the old Ebeneezer Baptist Church.

    If you were a Baptist and not Church of England, this is where you sent your children to school.

    The Church of England school was just down the street. The C of E School still operates in the village but has been moved to more modern buildings; the old building now contains residences.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: By booking early for a Portland Airbnb experience in January, a gift for WenYu and YaYu, I saved 20% off the already low price for activity! This coming week is going to be a challenge for our budget because travel days can be costly, but we’ve got a plan and we’re sticking to it! We get a meal and a snack on the plane (the chicken breast we got on the flight we took with the same airline last year was perfectly cooked and delicious – I’m hoping for a repeat), and we’ll bring along our own water and some other snacks. We will have to eat during our layover at the San Francisco airport and are probably going to want coffee as well, but we should be able to keep that affordable. Even with the expense of dining out on Friday, by skipping a last trip to Aldi this past week (where we would have most likely bought too much and would have also had to pay the bus fare) and only buying a few things from the village store instead, we’re under $33/day for the month.
  • Grateful for: Did we get to see and do everything we wanted or planned on this visit? No, but we did visit some pretty wonderful places, experience everyday life in a British village, and take some beautiful country walks. Brett and I are beyond thankful for all the wonderful experiences we have been able to enjoy here in the UK, and for the friendly and helpful people we’ve met along the way. We’ve dedicated ourselves to making a return visit someday to learn and experience more.
  • Bonus question: Are you making goals yet for the new year? I’m getting started on them if nothing else. I have made some reading goals for next year, including finishing at least 52 books once again. I want to read and learn more about WWI, but I also want to finish the Inspector Morse series and re-read all of the Harry Potter books next year. All of that should keep me busy with other books thrown into the mix as well. Another goal, since I’m now off of Facebook, is to get more involved with the blog’s Instagram account (I know Instagram is owned by Facebook but at least I don’t have to deal with ads, politics, etc.). Of course, the BIG goal for Brett and me is to come up with a firm decision about the direction we plan to take next year, whether that’s continuing to travel or settling down somewhere. We’ll have a decision before we leave Japan in April.

I’ll miss the little things here in Blockley.

What a time we’ve had though! I’ve found myself occasionally near tears when I think about leaving or about the things we’ve seen and done since we’ve been here. England, and most especially Blockley, now tops our list of favorite places, and we can’t wait to come back again.

I’m honestly a little sad that we’ll miss Thanksgiving next week because it’s my favorite holiday of the year – no gifts, just family, friends, and good food (and leftovers!). Brett and I have much to be thankful for once again this year, too many things to name, but most especially our and our family’s continuing good health, the opportunities and blessings all of us have been given this year, and for all of you who read this blog every week and comment now and again. I hope those celebrating will have a great Thanksgiving, however and with whomever you spend the day.

See you on the other side (of the pond) next week!

A Reminder

Everything you need for a cozy afternoon tea break.

Just a reminder that you can still enter the Afternoon Tea Giveaway! It will stay open until midnight PST on November 29. You can enter once a day to increase your chances of winning the Oxford heritage mug, handmade Scottish shortbread and PG Tips tea bags. I have been greatly enjoying all the travel tips I’ve received, but if you’ve already shared one you don’t have to leave another to enter again, just drop a comment and say hi.

Please be sure to leave your comment at the original announcement: Afternoon Tea Giveaway

Thanks again for the great travel tips – I’ve learned more than a few new tricks and plan to include them in a post in the future!