Staying Healthy: Food & Exercise

Because staying healthy is our #1 goal this year, rather than just listing our weekly menu and how much we walked in the Sunday post, I want to combine the two along with other healthy things we’re doing into a weekly post. This is not to thrill, amaze, or impress anyone with what we’re eating or how much we’re walking, but to help me keep track of our progress, and better see ways we could be improving. I will still be making a weekly menu plan, and including that in this post, and the Friday recipe post will continue as well (as long as I have recipes to share).

Without further ado, here’s what we ate this past week. My goal when meal planning is to come up with flavorful, healthy meals that use what we have on hand and contain less than 500 calories, including dessert. I apologize for the shadowy photos – the light is not very good when it’s time for us to eat, but I do my best.

Mississippi pot roast dinner . . .
. . . and Baked Alaska birthday cake

Sunday: We celebrated YaYu’s 21st birthday with one of her favorite meals: Mississippi pot roast, mashed potatoes, and sautéed green beans. For her special dessert I made a Baked Alaska (with a brownie base and chocolate peanut butter cup ice cream). It was a bit of a challenge because I did not have any of the traditional pans needed (all were in the lost box) and high humidity made it difficult for the meringue to hold its shape, but it came out okay in the end and was delicious.

One Pot Pasta with ham and broccoli

Monday: I tried a new recipe and it’s a keeper: Chef Tom Collecchio’s One Pot Pasta. So good and so easy! We had leftover Baked Alaska for dessert.

Who needs CookDo?

Tuesday: Japanese-style sweet and sour pork (subuta) over steamed rice; finished up the Baked Alaska.

Costco’s artisan rolls are perfect for French Dip.

Wednesday: French dip sandwiches made with leftover pot roast; roasted zucchini; chocolate cake with coffee buttercream for dessert.

I love these wraps because they’re made with cabbage – no lettuce (which I can’t eat). I counted out nine chips for my serving.

Thursday: I wanted a day off from cooking, so we had Costco Asian chicken wraps; salt & pepper baked potato chips; and chocolate cake again.

Pizza in our home is traditionally served on the blue fish plates for who knows what reason. Mini naan breads make a pretty good crust and help keep the calories down.

Friday: Mini chicken tikka masala pizzas; chocolate cake again

Chicken with rice and five vegetables: carrots, onions, celery, green beans, and zucchini.

Saturday: Chicken, vegetables, and rice soup, and chocolate cake one last time. The cake has been delicious, but has kept me awake into the early hours as there was so much caffeine in it.

I had small portions of everything (all measured and/or weighed). I have no dietary restrictions, but continue try to limit my carbs and eat more vegetables than not, and not exceed 1200 calories per day (usually get a few more though based on how much we walk). 

Here’s the menu plan for this coming week (in no particular order):

  • breakfast for dinner (sausages, eggs, and toast)
  • Guadalajara Swiss chard quesadillas (made with spinach this time)
  • grilled fish tacos with mango peach salsa
  • Chinese 3-color salad
  • ham fried rice
  • Costco Italian sausage and pasta casserole
  • mini pepperoni & vegetable pizzas

Tapioca pudding and gingersnaps will our dessert for the first four days of the week, then we’ll have butter mochi with ice cream next. Not sure what vegetables we’ll be having with some meals either – that will depend on what we find at the farmers’ market. I currently drink 72 ounces of water every day, and will be sticking with that.

Wind and clouds were constant companions as we walked this past week. We feel lucky to have gotten in as many walks as we did because the weather was so crazy.

We walked six and a half hours last week and 89 miles in January (so far). It rained several days during the week, but we were lucky and got in a walk every day even though we got a bit wet a couple of times. We will be continuing with our current walking distance through the end of the month, taking Sundays off going forward as we need and want a day of rest (it’s also the most crowded day up at the park and we like walking when there are fewer people there). Daily strength training has been going well – I have no trouble fitting it into the day, and look forward to it. Week before last the three of us did a six-mile hike on the Stone Dam trail, and were the only people out there that day! Finally, I lost another three pounds this past month, 31 pounds total since June of last year, and two toward my goal of 10 more pounds off this year. Other than a couple of pairs of leggings, none of the pants I arrived here with fit any more – they all fall off me now. My tops are super baggy as well. I am making do though, and with the shorts I purchased toward the end of last year I have plenty to wear, and no intention of buying anything else other than new walking shoes in March.

Brett is set to meet with the endocrinologist in Honolulu on February 1. He was scheduled to have surgery done last December, in Portland, and hopefully he can get it done this year, at Tripler Army Hospital if possible. The issue isn’t a serious one, but it does need correction. We are both eligible for the COVID vaccination but not until the end of March.

What I Did On My Winter Vacation

Travel planning has begun . . .

I had a very good time during my break doing some travel planning . . . for fun. I focused on a return to England, to the Cotswolds again, and sort of put together an itinerary, then looked for lodging, tours, and other things Brett and I would like to include on our next visit. I absolutely love travel planning, so this was a very enjoyable and relaxing way to spend (waste?) my time for several days.

We hope to do another three month stay in 2023, this time from August through October. Our last visit was September through November, and while September was lovely, by November we were pretty much confined to our cottage and unable to get out much for walks and such because of the weather. We think moving things forward by a month we’ll be able to enjoy better weather while still getting to enjoy the best of summer and fall.

YaYu and I spent an enjoyable amount of time last week pouring over the Character Cottages website, looking for an ideal cottage for our stay. Character Cottages is a booking agent for a large group of cottages in the Cotswolds (not property managers though); even if you find a cottage on another site, its rental is often still handled through Character Cottages. They have properties in many villages, and rentals in all sizes and price ranges. The cottages each have at least one of what the firm calls a “character feature,” which could be anything from the architecture to a stone fireplace or inglenook in the living room. 

Choosing a location took some time, but after some discussion Brett and I decided we’d like to return to Blockley or very nearby, for a variety of reasons, most especially location and familiarity. YaYu and I did most of our searching among those properties. Must-haves included two bedrooms (all three of the girls have said if we go back to England they are coming to visit); a full kitchen with a dishwasher; a washer/dryer; and convenient parking as we plan to rent a car on our next visit. I also wanted a gas fireplace (easy to turn on and off, and they do a better job of warming a room). In the end we came up with three potential cottages that had everything we wanted this time, at prices we felt we could afford. I’m not going to order them, because we like all three, but one is our top choice. I would love to know how you would rank these (you can click on the link under the picture for more information)!

 

Primrose Cottage

Brook Cottage

Green Cottage

Although we did used public transportation during our last visit and managed well with that, we decided we’d rather have a car this next time, so I also investigated long-term car rentals. At first we thought we’d get ourselves to Oxford from either Heathrow or Gatwick (preferred) to save some money, but eventually figured out that logistically and cost-wise, it made more sense to pick up a car at either one of those airports and drive the little over two and a half hours to our destination. This is what we did in New Zealand, and it worked out well. We can reserve a rental through Costco at either airport.

Bourton-on-the-Water is one of the stops on the tours. We missed getting to visit here back in 2019.

Finally, Brett and I still want to do a long hike while we are there, and initially thought we would fit in a Cotswold Way walking tour into our stay. One evening when I was canoodling around though, I discovered this Cotswold Cooking & Culinary tour, and after doing a bit more investigation and sharing with Brett, we decided we’d rather do this! So, somewhere in the middle of our stay, we want to hit the trail (footpath) and eat our way through the region for eight days (hopefully walking off the calories).

Since this trip is currently over two and half years away, all I did this time was take notes, and get a general idea of how much we’ll have to save (including airfare) to make this dream a reality. None of it may come to fruition in the end (cottages not available, hosts might not want to do a long-term rental, etc.) But, the planning was a whole lot of fun, I learned a lot, and we more definite than ever about returning to England in 2023!

Sunday Morning 1/24/2021: Feelin’ Good

Sunsets these past two weeks ran the gamut from stunning to meh to non-existent. Many evenings started out promising but then quickly turned to gray, but then there was that one . . . a big surprise, and stunning.

Good morning! Aloha kakahiaka!

I’ve had a very restful and productive time off from blogging, and I thank everyone for indulging me as I really needed some time away to think about a lot of things and what I want to do going forward. When the new. year started I realized pretty quickly that I had overloaded myself with activities and goals. I decided almost immediately that I wanted to continue blogging, and have set aside the book writing idea for the time being because I realized I could either blog or write a book, but not both as they are very different enterprises and require different mindsets. Book writing is a very solitary endeavor, but I prefer the give and take of blogging, receiving comments and interacting with readers. I have gotten to know many of you who comment, even if only in a virtual way, and I don’t want to give that up. Also, I can write as much or as little as I want for the blog, on almost any topic, while book writing is more focused by nature, and I am just not ready to narrow my thoughts at this time. I prefer the more open aspect of blogging. Finally, book writing requires quiet, and I quickly discovered our apartment environment is not quiet! I would have never thought of where we live as noisy, but I found that whenever I tried to sit and gather my thoughts for a book there was always something going on to distract me, simple things like YaYu cooking or Brett coughing or even the wind blowing outside. I’m going to change a few things up a bit for the blog, and will evaluate over the next few months how that goes. All the other activities I’ve set up I’ve been able to easily fit into my day.

We celebrated YaYu’s 21st birthday this past Sunday – all our children are now officially adults! I made one of her favorite meals, Mississippi pot roast, and also a Baked Alaska for her birthday cake. Getting that done was a bit difficult because I didn’t have the right pans and had to improvise, and it was also humid enough that day that the meringue didn’t want to set or hold its peaks for very long. Part of it slid off in the oven when the meringue was browning and I got it out just in time. It was still delicious, and YaYu had a nice day which included l-o-n-g Zoom gatherings with her friends and sisters. She finally has her return date to head back to Pennsylvania – February 9 – so she will depart Kaua’i on the 8th, and head over to Honolulu where she’ll catch a redeye flight to Seattle to meet up with a good friend there, and the two of them will continue on to Philadelphia. She has accumulated enough stuff while she’s been here that she’ll have to mail a package or two back to herself before she leaves. This week we are going to pick up some of her favorite snacks for her to take back, things like macaroni and cheese and cup noodles and hopefully some of those will be able to fit into her carry-on with the rest being mailed.

I wasn’t sure if I when I was going to get to wear these again, but it was cold enough last week!

This past week has been pretty wild weather wise. We woke up Monday to LOUD gale-force winds and cold (for here) temperatures. Sixty-eight degrees might not seem very cold back on the mainland, but it’s break-out-the-parkas weather here and it lasted all day – brrrrrrrr. Since Tuesday there’s been rain off and on (including flash flood warnings most of Tuesday), and lots of wind, although nothing as crazy as Monday. Sometimes though it’s sounded like freight trains have been moving through our yard. Evenings have stayed cool, and we’ve often had to put on sweaters or sweatshirts to stay comfortable, and I had to break out my Italian wool slippers to stay warm a couple of times. I enjoy the cooler temperatures to a degree – they make walking so nice. Rain is predicted again this coming week, but we have no idea how that will play out. It’s sometimes hard to see the seasons change in Hawaii, but we definitely know right now that it’s winter.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished Everything I Never Told You (by Celeste Ng) this past week and was excited to finally be able to focus all my energies on finishing The Woman In White. However, it was not to be because two books came off of hold from the library at the same time this week. My new daytime book is John LeCarré’s The Perfect Spy, and my nighttime book is A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee. I’m going to try to read all of LeCarré’s Smiley novels this year. Also, The Woman In White was probably not the best book to have picked to start off the year as it’s taking much longer than I imagined to get through (all this time and I’m only at 60%!). I will pick it up again though when I finish at least one of the library books – I am determined to finish. 
  • Listening to: It’s not as quiet as it usually is here in the the morning: the wind is still blowing strongly through the yard, although thankfully not as loudly has it has been. Some chickens are having a session nearby as well, and a couple are screaming over something. Inside, Brett is reading, and YaYu is still under her blankets and listening to a podcast so it’s pretty quiet. The sky is sort of gray and cloudy though – I’m glad we have today off from walking and won’t have to worry about the weather (rain is forecast for most of the day).
  • Watching: Brett and I are still watching Dark, although we’re almost done. It’s mostly Brett watching now because the show has gotten a little too science-fiction/dystopian for me. We also watched the latest season of Last Dance in Halifax this past week, a show we love but thought had ended. We’re currently watching Ratched, a “prequel” to the character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – and we give it two thumbs up. It’s very strange, but compelling as well. I especially love the styling and the strong way color is used throughout the show. YaYu watched a show called Alice in Borderland on Netflix this past week and I sort of watched it out of the corner of my eye with her. It’s set in Tokyo, and while I didn’t really follow the story I did like listening to see what I could understand (not much), and also enjoyed the Tokyo scenes (even though they were rather dystopian). There’s an amazing scene where three characters walk out of Shibuya station, one of the most crowded places in the world, and it’s deserted. How they got permission and emptied that area for those scenes is nothing short of amazing. YaYu and I also finished watching Top Chef: Kentucky, and our favorite chef won!
  • Cooking/baking: I’m going to make this section its own post every week, called Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise – the first post up will be tomorrow. It will cover not only what’s we’ve been cooking and eating and some thoughts about that, but also how we’re meeting our exercise goals. Brett turns 71 this year and I turn 69, and I want to focus on how we’re staying healthy without denying ourselves so we can do and enjoy all the things we’re only able to dream about now.
  • Happy we accomplished these past two weeks: We got lots done these past two weeks including getting to the beach for the first time in a while. We were surprised when we arrived because there was almost no beach that wasn’t being overrun with waves – we had to search to find a bit of sand to park our chairs in, and even that part was nearly under siege a couple times from big waves rolling in. It was very windy as well, but the sun was out and we ended up staying for a few hours. We also picked up a full bag of driftwood for our backyard fire pit whenever the weather decided to cooperate. Brett got his passport renewed for another 10 years (mine goes in next month). I got flights arranged for both Brett and YaYu – Brett is going to Honolulu for a day to see a medical specialist – he’ll leave early in the morning and return in the early evening – and YaYu will be returning to college on February 8. Walking achievements/accomplishments will be covered under Staying Healthy going forward.
    We picked up a bag of driftwood at the beach for our fire pit, but the weather still refuses to cooperate
  • Looking forward to next week: We don’t really have anything on our calendar next week other than a quick runs to Costco and the farmers’ market, and a haircut for Brett down in Hanapepe, so I’m looking forward to a relaxing week. Hopefully we’ll be able to get our walks in, but rain/showers are predicted for the entire week so that’s sort of up in the air.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Everything that happened these last two weeks was a good thing! I feel relaxed, happy, and ready to blog again. My mood these days matches this song, one of my all-time favorites. John Legend more than did it justice at the inauguration!

  • Thinking of frugal things we did: 1) I used the credit I got for YaYu’s unused Hawaiian flight back in November to get her over to Honolulu for her flight back to the mainland. 2) We put $7.33 into the change/$1 bill jar these past two weeks. 3) Not very frugal, but we tried: although we stuck to our list, our food shopping this past week was $80 over budget – we had run out of so many things all at the same time – razor blades, laundry detergent, vanilla extract, toothpaste, and so many, many other things – and replacing/stocking up was not inexpensive although we are now well set for the next 6 – 12 months. Our food spending has been high overall while YaYu has been with us, but will drop again after she leaves next month. 4) Another case of toilet paper from Amazon arrived last week. It approximately $7 more than it did the last time we bought a case, but the price per roll was still under 60¢ which is way better than we can do anywhere on the island, including Costco. 5) There were lots of leftovers this week but they were all eaten and we didn’t throw away any food. 6) We had two no-drive days over the past two weeks, and 11 no-spend days. 7) I earned 1,541 Swagbucks this past week, 1,523 the week before. Earning SB has been very difficult this month, and frustrating, and instead of pushing myself to earn 275 every day I’ve decided to instead focus on making my daily goal, and the second one if possible, and otherwise not stressing over how much I earn each day. I really don’t want to spend a lot of time on SB, or have it taking over my day as there are other more fulfilling and rewarding things I’d rather be doing. I still think I can earn two $500 gift cards this year though, or at least get very, very close, and that’s okay.
  • Grateful for: During our walks this past week I’ve thought a lot about the on-call surgeon who repaired my knee back in 1999 and how grateful I am for what he accomplished. WenYu had just joined our family just a couple of months earlier, and one morning in May my toe caught on the top of the baby gate at the bottom of our stairs, and I went down and shattered my left kneecap into five pieces. Before the surgery the doctor talked with me and Brett and told me there was a good chance he could not repair it, and what that meant for my future. But, he did repair it, beautifully. Post-surgery warnings from him were that I could/would develop arthritis in that knee and/or I would eventually need a knee replacement. In the past 22 years neither of those has happened, and thanks to the skill of Dr. T I am able to comfortably walk long distances without any side effects, and no knee replacement has ever been needed.
  • Bonus question: Is there a band/singer you love that had a big hit with a song you didn’t like? A fun question, but at first it stumped me. After some thought I remembered that while I love Elton John, I’ve never liked the song Daniel, and I disliked Crocodile Rock even more – ugh. Both of those songs were big hits though. Angie by The Rolling Stones is another song I absolutely cannot stand (Brett neither), although I like everything else by the Stones. Finally, the Beach Boys’ hit Kokomo drives me crazy every time I hear it, but I otherwise like The Beach Boys. I was working at the Casa Marina resort in Key West when that song was a hit, and the hotel got the brainy idea to change the name of their outdoor bar to Kokomo. Thankfully that didn’t last long. I could not come up with one Beatles song I dislike (OK, I am not a huge fan of Octopus’s Garden but I don’t hate it), and same for every other band or group I could think of.

I was so happy that President Biden’s inauguration went well. I was actually up when he and VP Harris were sworn in, and watched it live on Twitter; I actually choked up watching Kamala Harris as I honestly did not think I’d ever see a woman reach that far in my lifetime. As one of his first acts, the President froze federal student loans until the end of September, and took the interest rate to 0%, which was very good news. My student loans, however, were once again not covered by the freeze. Although my loans are federally guaranteed, they (and those of around 8-12 million others) are owned by a private company and those companies do not have to honor the current freeze. The owner of my loan, Navient, has been collecting payments and interest all during this last freeze (and interest continues to accrue – after 20 years nearly half of my payment still goes to interest) and unless FFLE loans are ever specifically included in any DOE directive, Navient will continue to do to extract payment and interest. It’s maddening because all loans back when I got mine were owned by banks and private companies – the US government only guaranteed them. I refinanced mine in 2005 for a lower interest rate, but the refinancing program no longer exists either; all federal loans since 2010 are now direct loans from the government and those are the ones benefiting from the freeze. I am very happy that so many will receive relief now, and remain hopeful that there will be some relief for borrowers like me. Legislation has been proposed that these loans, as they are federally guaranteed, should also be included in the freeze, so we shall see. 

Things have been growing and blooming in the yard in spite of the weather. We can’t get over how big our avocado tree is.

And . . . that’s a wrap for these past two weeks! Thank you again for letting me have some time off. It was needed, and was well used. Here’s looking forward to the week coming up, and that it’s filled with good food, many accomplishments, and good things happening for all of us.

Sunday Morning 1/10/2021: What a Week

Sunsets this week were pretty, but brief and sort of low energy.

Good morning! Aloha kakahiaka!

What a week this was, from the election results in Georgia to the insurrection at the Capitol, and the continuing aftermath of that. What happened at the Capitol, and why, was frightening, horrifying, and absolutely infuriating, and should never have gotten as far as it did. The more I learn about what happened (and what didn’t and should have), the more grateful I am that far worse didn’t occur. This wasn’t just people inside the Capitol taking selfies in front of statues, or with their feet up on Nancy Pelosi’s desk. This was beyond a violent attempt to overthrow the past election – it was an attempt to overthrow the U.S. Government, and there were people in that group who planned to do great harm (i.e. zip ties, guns, bombs, flash bangs were among the things found afterwards; a scaffold was built and a noose hung; people were shouting “death to Pence;” and on and on). People died, both rioters and a Capitol Police officer who was at his job defending the Capitol, and we can sadly no longer say that one of the hallmarks of American democracy is the peaceful transfer of power following an election. That distinction is gone forever. What happened in Washington D.C. this week deeply wounded our country, but in my opinion that was the intention all along. In spite of feeling that things will improve in 2021, I am still preparing myself for more of what happened this past week as I sadly believe things may only be getting started. One sign of the times popping up since last Wednesday: ads for camouflage combat wear/gear have been appearing on sites I visit.

Out on the Awa’awapuhi Trail

Back on Kaua’i we’ve had a great week for walking – the weather has been wonderful and just cool enough to making walking easy (I still work up a sweat though). Brett and I walked for over an hour on six days this past week, at 4.6 to 4.7 mph, so we’ve been getting a great workout. It was a breakthrough for me as the final lap we walk has always been a chore, but I had no reservations about adding it this past week. We’re going to keep this route for the rest of the month, and then will start adding another lap in February, one extra per week until we establish a longer route we can do every day. On Thursday, Brett and YaYu headed to Kokee State Park to do a 6.2 mile hike on the Awa’awapuhi Trail; I stayed home for some rest and for some sorely needed quiet time. The weather was again beautiful, the hike went well, but after hearing about it I am glad I didn’t go – apparently there was over a mile of continuous uphill walking on the way back, and both said that it was quite difficult and tiring. I know I’m not in any sort of shape yet to have handled that.

18 months old . . .

Meiling turns 25 today – 25!! We fell in love with her the moment we got our referral and her picture, and today is the 24th anniversary of the day I got “the call,” something we had begun to think wasn’t going to happen. I can still clearly remember meeting a scared little one-year-old baby girl in the hallway of the hotel we were staying at in China, dressed in several layers of clothing so that she looked like the Michelin Man, and carrying a bag of (Chinese) Cheetos. It wasn’t long before Brett and I discovered she was in fact a genuine spitfire, something that hasn’t changed one bit. She was the girl who watched us carefully as we opened the safety latches on the kitchen cupboards for a couple of days and figured out how to open them on her own (nothing was ever truly safe from her – we had to know where she was and what she was doing at all times). She was the girl who could eat onions like an apple and would eat anything we put in front of her. She was (and is) the girl who could draw amazing, detailed pictures at an early age. She could and can figure out almost anything if she sets her mind to it. She’s always been math, mechanical, technology, and art oriented – she wanted a vacuum cleaner from Goodwill instead of an American Girl doll for a gift when she was nine because, as she explained, she could take a vacuum cleaner apart, study it, and put it back together and that was way more practical than a doll – and it’s gratifying to see her doing so well in her post-college tech career. She’s always been a loving, generous daughter and sister, and we can’t wait to see her again.

. . . and now, a NYC career woman (this was taken pre-COVID).

This morning I am:

  • Reading: The Woman in White is still by my bedside and gets read almost every night. It is an effort, but thankfully remains a good story. It has made me very glad that trends in novel writing has moved to being less wordy. My goodness, it seems to take Wilkie Collins 100 words to say the same thing as current writers say in 10. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line was a great but very sad and sobering read; there was no happy ending. I finished it yesterday, and as of today my new “day book” will be Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng – I’m starting it this afternoon.
  • Listening to: I was expecting to wake up to clouds and rain this morning, but instead of rain I’m Iistening to a lovely, cool breeze blow through the trees, and the sky is a beautiful blue! Yeah! It’s quiet inside – Brett is reading, and YaYu just woke up. My kind of morning!
  • Watching: Brett and I are still watching Dark, and then the three of us have been getting together afterwards to watch a couple of episodes of Cobra Kai. It’s better than we expected and we are all enjoying it. YaYu and I also usually got in an episode of Top Chef: Louisville most days last week but have several more episodes to go before the final. Yesterday evening we watched the movie Prom on Netflix, starring Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, and James Corden -we loved it!
    The girl can cook! One of YaYu’s creations (for herself): super spicy mabo tofu and homemade pulled noodles.
     
  • Cooking/baking: Last week seemed to involve an awful lot of time in the kitchen for me (and lots of dishes for Brett), so I want to take a bit easier this week and let YaYu do more of the cooking. She’ll be making Chinese stir-fried tomatoes and eggs for our dinner tonight. Other meals will be Instant Pot pork chops and sauerkraut with apples and bacon; ham fried rice; mabo tofu; InstantPot chicken risotto; and chicken tikka masala pizzas. I baked an olive oil orange cake yesterday, and we’ll be having a small piece of that topped with a spoonful of Monkeypod orange-chocolate sauce for the next few days – so yummy! Later this week I’m planning to make a dark chocolate cake frosted with a coffee buttercream.

I’m proud of what I am able to read and write these days in Japanese, and the grammar I know. Now I have to somehow maintain it all!

  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Besides getting lots of walking done, I was able to take care of almost everything on my activity card this week, although it’s going to take me a few weeks to find a rhythm to fitting everything in. I am using this video for a 10-minute strength training session every day (in a couple of months I hope to knock it up to two sessions a day). I finished Level 6 of Japanese on Memrise (yeah me!) and will begin using Japanese for Busy People and an online kanji course this week, still just for 20 minutes/day. I also decided to use the Memrise French program again for now (the MIT program required three expensive textbooks which I didn’t want to purchase). 
  • Looking forward to next week: Fingers are crossed for continued good weather as we hope to head up to Kilauea and hike the Stone Dam trail again this week. We really would like to get to the beach as well, but it’s been just a bit too cool for us.
    All that was missing was a sprinkle of chocolate powder on top, but otherwise our first homemade cappuccinos were perfect.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Brett’s and YaYu’s hike was a very enjoyable experience for both of them, and I needed a quiet day off more than I realized. We finally got around to using the new milk heater/frother that Meiling gave me for Christmas, and Brett made some very tasty cappuccinos this past week. The frother was so quiet though I had no idea it was even being used! YaYu was able to get together with one of her good friends yesterday and was happy about that. Her friend has been working, and had to return back to school yesterday (on Oahu), but they managed to find some time to get together and catch up.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We put $2 into the change/$1 bill jar, leftover from the farmers’ market. I bundled $25 of $1 bills to go to the bank this next week. Last week was a no-spend week other than the farmers’ market. We ate all of our leftovers and there was no food waste. I earned 2,265 Swagbucks, which includes 587 bonus SB for making my goal every day in December. Earning SB was difficult several days this past week, but I’m staying patient and focusing on making my daily goal for now. Hopefully things pick up next week.
  • Grateful for: My very occasional expressions of politics on my blog sometimes upsets some people for some reason, but I’m grateful this week for three things: the election results in Georgia; the certification of Joe Biden’s and Kamala Harris’s Electoral College win; and that the insurrectionists/rioters were removed from the Capitol and that there are already charges for some and more are coming. In spite of all that happened, democracy won the week, but my beloved country will have to remain extremely vigilant going forward in order to keep it.
  • Bonus question: What food do you think about most from your travels? Pizza! While we expected to find pizza in Italy, we discovered tarte flambé in Strasbourg and fell in love with that and I dream of eating it again in our favorite city. Those pizzas remain one of the top three meals I enjoyed during our travels. We also had an unusual but delicious Moroccan pizza when we were in Rotorua, New Zealand, topped with dried apricots and cream cheese. We were a little wary when we saw it on the menu and read the ingredients but decided to give it a try and were very pleasantly surprised – the pizza was flavorful and the apricots and cheese fit right in. The apex of pizza for me though was learning to make Napoli pizza from a master during our time in Florence. I created a simple pizza with buffalo mozzarella, tomato sauce, basil, and truffles, and every bite was a revelation (especially the crust!). The pizza-making experience was everything I hoped for and more as well. We ate other pizzas while we were in Florence, but the one I made in our pizza class was the best, from start to finish. The pizza we had in Rome was very different, but I loved the experience of going into a shop and having a slice of the variety I wanted cut from a huge rectangular sheet pan and then weighed to determine the cost. The crust was entirely different than what we’d had before, more like focaccia, but still very good. We also ate pizza in Normandy, Switzerland, Australia, Japan, and England, and we could have had it in Hong Kong if we desired. The only places I don’t remember seeing pizza were Uruguay, Paris, Lisbon, and India, but I’m pretty sure it exists in all three places. Other than pizza, I still dream about the dinner our Strasbourg host prepared for us in her home: duck confit, potatoes, a Mirabelle plum tarte, and an assortment of wines and cheeses. It was pure food heaven along with some very good company.

I am once again going to take some time off from writing beginning this week, for two weeks this time. I have been having difficulty finding time and inspiration to write these past few weeks, and have realized it’s time to rest and recharge and think about how I want the blog to be going forward. I have also come to realize I can either blog or start writing a book but not both, so I want to think about that as well. These first few days of the year have been busier than I imagined, with more daily activities to complete, longer walks, etc., and finding time to write for the blog has frankly been difficult (although never a chore). I’m not giving up, but want some time to reflect and think about a direction that will work for me going forward, things I’d like to write about, and so forth. For those that just subscribed I hope you’ll stick around . . . I will be back on January 24.

That’s a wrap for now! Here’s hoping for a calmer week going forward, with good things happening and time for all to breathe. Wishing two good weeks for all ahead, and I’ll see you in 14 days!

Home Cooking: Paella with Tomatoes

This is my all-time favorite recipe from Mark Bittman, who used to write about food and recipes as The Minimalist for the New York Times. His cookbook, How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Good Food, is still my go-to for classic, basic, easy recipes for everything from appetizers to desserts. This paella recipe was one he posted in The Times though, and works as either a main dish or a side. I often serve it with a salad and some bread, but it’s also great with sausages or anything from the grill.

Until I made this I always thought of paella as a complicated dish filled with a variety of seafoods and/or meats, but as Bittman points out, paella can be as simple as rice and vegetables. This recipe is incredibly easy, incredibly frugal, and mouthwateringly delicious, especially if you love the taste of ripe tomatoes. Although any short grain rice can be used (rice from Spain is recommended though), Bittman rightly says that there can be no compromise with the tomatoes: They must be ripe, fresh-from-the-garden ripe. This is hard to do on Kaua’i as tomatoes are one vegetable that doesn’t grow well here in my opinion. Thankfully we can buy decent vine-ripened tomatoes at Costco, but they still don’t have the flavor of good, late-summer, garden-picked tomatoes.

Besides flavorful tomatoes, two other ingredients are key: Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton) – I cannot imagine this dish without that wonderful, smoky flavor (although the recipe says you can use other paprika if you choose) – and saffron. I’ve made it without saffron, but it’s better with it, in my opinion. Saffron is a taste that some don’t care for though, so that’s why it’s listed as optional, and it’s also expensive, but a little goes a long way, and a small jar lasts a long time.

Finally, I have had trouble at times with the rice not cooking fully, and there is nothing more awful than taking a bite and finding crunchy rice. The solution that works for me is to not put the paella into the oven right away. I don’t start the oven preheating until after I’ve added the broth to the rice, which give the rice some additional soaking time, about 10-15 minutes. Also, make sure the pan used is large enough – I make this in a 3-quart sauté pan and it is full!

PAELLA WITH TOMATOES

  • 3 cups stock or water (I usually use chicken stock)
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into thick wedges
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 1 TBSP minced garlic
  • 1 TBSP tomato paste
  • Large pinch saffron threads (optional)
  • 2 tsp Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton), or other paprika
  • 2 cups Spanish or other short-grain rice (I use arborio)
  • Minced parsley for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 450°. Warm the stock or water in a saucepan over low heat. Put the tomato wedges in a bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss gently with 1 TBSP of olive oil.

Put the remaining oil in a 10- or 12-inch ovenproof skillet or saute pan. Over medium-high heat, add the onion and garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook until they are soft, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, saffron if you’re using it, and paprika and cook for one more minute. Add the rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice is shiny, about another minute or so. (Be careful; it is easy at this point to burn the rice and seasonings). Add the warm stock or water and stir until just combined.

Arrange tomato wedges on top of the rice and drizzle with the juices that accumulated in the bottom of the bowl. Put the pan in the oven and roast, undisturbed, for 15 minutes, then check to see that the rice is dry and fully cooked. If not, cook for an additional 5 minutes. When the rice is ready, turn off the oven and let the pan sit for 5 to 15 minutes (all the extra liquid will be absorbed at this point).

Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle with parsley. If you like, you can put the pan over high heat for a few minutes to develop a bit of a crust on the bottom before serving.

How (and why) I Earn Swagbucks

I first learned about and began using Swagbucks back in 2010, when we were in the throes of getting rid of our debt. Back then I focused on earning Amazon credit, which helped us cover the cost of lots of small, necessary but sometimes expensive items, things like vacuum cleaner bags and such. The Amazon credits I earned through Swagbucks over the years funded Christmas and birthday gifts, numerous household items, and Southwest Airlines gift cards to help defray travel costs. I earned enough to get myself a Cuisinart food processor and slow cooker, and even earned enough to purchase a much-desired KitchenAid stand mixer for only $4.95 out of pocket.

I’ve done Swagbucks off and on over the past decade, but I am back at it again as I want to earn Delta Airlines gift cards to help cover our travel expenses in the future. Swagbucks now offers $500 Delta cards for 50,000 Swagbucks each, which is a LOT, but doable. I have a goal this year of earning two of those Delta cards, so that means earning 100,000 SB. I divided 100,000 by 365, and come up with a baseline amount I need to earn each day: 275 Swagbucks. Somedays that amount is easily and quickly earned, but other days it’s a slog and I honestly wonder if it’s worth the time. I keep plugging along though.

Swagbucks is a completely legitimate rewards program that lets people earn gift cards by doing the things they are already doing online, things like searching, using coupons, shopping, playing games, etc. Every activity you do using Swagbucks has the potential to pay out in points, called Swagbucks (SB), which can then be redeemed for awards.

I have what I consider a BIG advantage when it comes to earning Swagbucks these days: I live in Hawaii. A new Swagbucks day begins at midnight PST, meaning a new day starts for me at 10:00 p.m. HST, or even better, 9:00 p.m. during daylight savings (because Hawaii does not observe daylight savings). This means I can get a head start on earning for each day, and can sometimes meet my daily goal before I go to sleep (easier when a new day starts at 9:00 p.m.). It also helps that I’m retired and my time is pretty much my own to organize each day. Earning Swagbucks is easily accomplished while I’m watching TV, but I also check it out throughout the day when I have a little extra time.

Although I earn a good amount of Swagbucks every day, I am in no way a fanatic. There are many ways to earn on Swagbucks, but I only do a few things. For example, I never take advantage of any of their “special offers,” nor buy things advertised on the site. I don’t enter contests, download or use coupons, nor do I watch videos. All of those things will earn Swagbucks, sometimes lots of them, and if they work for someone else I say “great.” 

Here’s the five ways I earn:

  1. I pay attention to and earn my daily goal every day. This is an easy way to earn extra Swagbucks every month. By making or exceeding the first goal every day of a month (the goal is listed in a bar at the top of the Swagbucks page), I earn an additional 300 Swagbucks. Added to that are the extra SB I earn each day by making the goal (there are two goal levels; I only aim for the first and lower one, but I do earn the upper goal and extra Swagbucks a few days each month). By making sure I reach the goal every day, I typically make an additional 500-600 SB each month – that’s 6000 -7200 Swagbucks a year! You can win smaller amounts by making your goal every day for 7, 14, or 21 days in a row, but the whole month is the big enchilada.
  2. I take a few surveys every day. This is the quickest and easiest way to earn the most Swagbucks. Being able to handle rejection is a necessary skill to earn Swagbucks this way because I get kicked out of way more surveys than I am chosen for, but I usually manage to do at least three or four every day. Sometimes I get lucky and get one survey that covers my daily goal, but that doesn’t happen very often. There is usually a long list of available surveys under the Answer button (I do Gold surveys only, and avoid Peanut Lab surveys unless I am desperate). I go for surveys that pay out the most for the least amount of time, usually less than 20 minutes. If I don’t get a hit from any of those, then I’ll move to the 20-30 minute range, but I almost never will take on a survey that requires any more time than that. Surveys often have glitches and sometimes I don’t get paid, or they quit mid-way, or something else goes wrong – it can be very maddening and frustrating at times. I have learned though to take a screen shot of the closing page so that I can file an official help request if I don’t get paid for some reason. The Swagbucks Help Center is usually (but not always) quite good about making sure I get the SB I’ve earned.
  3. I use the Search function. I do this twice a day, and earn anywhere from 10 to 50 Swagbucks. I have a list of search terms I work through every day, with a couple of stops along the way to check out the sites I’ve searched for, but I just click through most of the list until I get the reward. It takes me less than 15 minutes total. In the past I used to run everything through Swagbucks search, but their search engine is not the best, and the way I do it now is faster and easier.
  4. I play games once a day. I earn 10 Swagbucks a day for playing two of their free games, Pyramid Solitaire and Mahjongg Dimensions (there’s one more free game but I don’t enjoy it). Pyramid Solitaire is quick so I earn six SB through that, but while Mahjongg Dimensions slower it’s more fun and I earn another four SB playing that (2 Swagbucks for two rounds with both games). It may seem foolish playing games, but that 10 bucks has sometimes meant the difference between winning a 7 SB bonus or a 21 SB bonus. Other games cost to play so I avoid them.
  5. I shop through Swagbucks if I am ordering something online. This doesn’t happen often, but sometimes I earn extra SB if I run the order through their site. Swagbucks has a long list of online companies that team with them, and you can earn anywhere from 1% of your purchase in SB and on up if your order qualifies.

That’s all I do these days to earn. For me, it’s easy, uncomplicated, and doesn’t take up too much of my time, although there are days when I seems like it does. I do a lot of my surveys, searching, etc. in the evening when I’m watching TV, and have made it a habit to check Swagbucks first whenever I pick up my computer to see if there might be a survey I qualify for. There are lots of good tips out there about how to maximize your Swagbucks earnings; they are worth searching for. 

For the record, it’s been difficult to earn these first few days of the new year (holidays can be tough), but I’ve managed to meet my goal each day, and things are beginning to pick up again. I just ordered the $500 Delta card that I earned last year, and I’m determined to earn another two of them this year – $1500 will go along way toward covering the cost of our flights in 2022!

Sunday Morning 1/3/2021: A New Year Begins (finally)!

There really weren’t any pretty sunsets most of this past week. It was either too cloudy or there were no clouds at all. The sky was still interesting at times though.
This was to the east last night though – it glowed. The sky to the west (the view from our porch) was empty.

Good morning on the first Sunday of the new year! Aloha kakahiaka! Hau’oli makahiki hou! And, in Japanese, 新年)あけましておめでとうございます(akemashite omedetou gozaimasu – “happiness to you at the dawn of the new year”).

January is always an expensive month for us, with two of the girls’ birthdays happening just a week apart in January (and not long after Christmas), and the third birthday falling in early February. We’ve ordered Meiling’s gift and it’s on it’s way to her – we almost can’t believe she turns 25 this year – but YaYu will be celebrating her 21st birthday here with us, and we’re already making plans to create a special day for her. WenYu has the February birthday, and her presents have been ordered and are on their way. They will be coming here and then we’ll mail them off to her toward the end of this month. We used to make a big hoopla over each of their birthdays, with parties, balloons, and fancy bakery cakes, but toned that all way down when we got serious about paying down our debt. After the last birthday is done in February though we’re pretty much done with gifts until Christmas. We send money to our grandchildren for their birthdays, but Brett and I don’t exchange gifts for our birthdays, Father’s or Mother’s Day, or for our anniversary. We might go out to eat for our anniversary this year (at the end of March), but we’ll decide about that later when we can assess whether or not that will be feasible.

Along with taking care of birthday gifts we’ve also been making sure we are well stocked with supplies for the year, things that can often be expensive and hard to find here. We have a Subscribe ‘n’ Save order with Amazon for toilet paper, but have purchased bulk orders of liquid hand soap and dish soap refills, razor blades, shaving cream (Brett), hair creme (me), and other things that will get us through the year, and beyond in some cases. All of this is a big expense now, but will help us save throughout the year.

We bought a few more jars of goodies from Monkeypod. They are going to be missed – their products were all so good. I’m glad we have enough to enjoy for a while.

We also purchased some more Monkeypod jam, sauces, and sauerkraut this past Monday – nice for us, but very sad overall. The store closed down for good on Tuesday, and Monday they sold off their remaining stock of jams, sauces, and pickled goods as well as store fixtures and other items. I chose two more jars of lilikoi curd, one orange-chocolate sauce, one cranberry-orange sauce, and a jar of sauerkraut made with locally grown cabbage. I also bought a glass pie plate (mine were in the lost moving box), two bamboo sushi rollers, and a sturdy cotton chef’s apron (another lost box item) out of their rummage items for just $4. Savings for us, but the experience was one we wished did not have to happen, not just for the loss of a great product, but because the owner had been such an integral part of the community. She won many awards, including several “best of,” and awards from several national organizations as well. With the economic downturn on the island though she just couldn’t keep the business going.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I am still reading The Woman in White, but have not made a lot of progress this week, and will go back this coming week (I will just check it out again though). I had difficulty finding time to read – there was so much going on around here, and finding a slice of quiet time for myself was nearly impossible. At night I was exhausted and fell right asleep. Hopefully I can better organize my time this week and make reading more of a priority, especially since Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line just came off of hold and I’ve got it started. It will be my “day book” and I will continue with The Woman in White at night.
  • Listening to: A fairly strong breeze is blowing again this morning, and making lots of noise as it moves through the trees, but nothing like the winds we’ve had the past few days. Birds are signing and there’s a rooster out there making his presence known. It’s not as cool/cold as it’s been either, and the sky is blue so it should be a lovely day, and great for walking later in the afternoon. In other words, another perfect morning! Everyone is up here at Chez Aloha – Brett is puttering in the kitchen, putting away last night’s dishes and making coffee, and YaYu has headed out to the deck out back.
    We saw scenes like these going on in Bath when we were there. (photo credit: Somerset Live)
  • Watching: Brett and I finished with Bridgerton (on Netflix) on New Year’s Eve – it was wonderful! Some of it was filmed in Bath when we visited in 2019 – we saw streets that were covered with dirt to look like they did in the Regency Era and a couple of other location setups around the town, but had no idea at the time what was being filmed because the name of the show was kept a secret. YaYu took one look at the show opening the other day and said, “Oh, a period piece” and left the room! Her loss, we tell her because we think she would have loved the story. We’ve started watching a creepy German show called Dark, and also Cobra Kai. I loved the original Karate Kid movies, so this one is fun – love all the links and nods to the original movies. We also watched the new Pixar movie, Soul, this past week and enjoyed that as well. The effects were amazing and it was a wonderful story as well. YaYu and I finished Britain’s Best Home Cooks and our favorite won, so that was satisfying. She and I are now watching Top Chef Louisville – she loves the cooking shows!
  • Cooking: We are starting off this year with almost a week where rice will be included in the meal in some way. Tonight we’re having tomato paella along with grilled Italian sausages. Other dishes this week will be katsudon (a first-time attempt for me to make my favorite Japanese dish); dirty rice; carnitas & rice burritos; carnitas bowls; and California roll salad (if I can find good avocados at the farmers’ market; otherwise we’ll have mabo dofu). There will be only one evening without rice when we have pepperoni mini pizzas. I’m doing carnitas in the InstantPot this week because oranges, a key ingredient, are ripening now on the tree in our yard. We will be enjoying lemon cake with a lemon-coconut buttercream for our daily dessert this week – I finally got around to baking it on Saturday and it is yummy.
    Cards are ready for the next six weeks (I forgot strength training, but it was added at the bottom later). My days are full!
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: This past week seemed busy, busy, busy every day, but we accomplished a lot. We put away all the Christmas stuff so we had a clean house to start the New Year, and got Meiling’s and WenYu’s boxes of Christmas ornaments sent off to them. I also belatedly got the giveaway winner’s prize sent off (sorry, M’Shell!). We took care of lots of recycling, made lists and submitted our final Amazon orders (I will close our Prime account as soon as all our orders arrive). We walked every day except for last Sunday when it unexpectedly rained the entire day and I instead did some Zumba with YaYu (which was completely exhausting – I was grateful to get back to walking). I got started on my strength training – also tiring. We did a Big Shop at Costco and Walmart on Wednesday and are well provisioned for the coming three weeks. And, I made my first set of activity cards for the new year’s – my days are full!
  • Looking forward to next week: A more relaxing week, I hope! I’m getting my hair cut on Tuesday but other than that we have nothing on the calendar to demand our time this coming week. Maybe the weather will be nice enough that we can get to the beach – we had hoped to go on New Years Day, but it was too windy and cold.
    WenYu’s first crochet project!
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We enjoyed much nicer weather, including a few days that were genuinely hot, although most of the week was breezy and cool (but no rain). New Year’s Day was especially windy but made for very nice walking weather. Our daily walks up at the park have been very pleasant – strong breezes makes the walking easier. I finally broke down and ordered a wedge pillow to see if that would help with my ongoing stomach issues; it arrived this past week and made a big difference right away, so that was money well spent. WenYu decided this past week that she wanted to learn how to crochet, and in a few days she figured it out well enough to make this cute sweater and a matching tank top to go under it! Just amazing. My mom was a master crocheter and I’d like to think she is smiling down on WenYu and her efforts. Our son and DIL bought a house! Being that it’s located in Tokyo I don’t even want to think what they paid for it, but they bought an older home and will be doing some remodeling and renovations before they move in later this spring. It’s located near to where they live now so they will still be able to take advantage of the park and all it offers.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: Once again, not a very frugal week because of all the stocking up we did. Our food shopping expenses were higher than usual as well, but we have three weeks to get through (because other than our weekly trip to the farmers’ market, we only shop on our “paydays,” three times a month – we’ve found if we stay out of stores in-between we spend less). Our food expenses are just higher right now as well with YaYu here. We put $11.45 into the change/$ bill jar this past week though. I’m going to track this little bit of savings all year to see how just how much we save. We received our stimulus payment on January 1, and it has been tucked away. I gave myself another slow week with Swagbucks (good thing because it was difficult to earn any this past week) and earned 963 SB, but I earned my bonus for December, and am starting off the year with a 2,000+ SB balance. I’ll crank my efforts back up next week as I have a big goal for the year (100,000 SB). Finally, we did a superb job of using up our Christmas leftovers this past week, with meals of avocado toast with smoked salmon and onions; steak & stuffing hash topped with a poached egg for breakfast; chicken, vegetable & rice soup (which cleaned out our vegetable drawer); “kitchen sink” pancakes that used up the last of some yogurt, the remaining fresh berries, and the POG; and tacos de las sobras, made from leftover steak, leftover sautéed Swiss chard, leftover shredded cheese, tomatoes, and salsa. Nothing was thrown out last week!
  • Grateful for: Brett calculated our walking distance for the year (he tracks it every day) and we walked 1,030.5 miles in 2020! We’re so thankful that we now live where we can not only walk almost every day, but in such a beautiful location as well. Our walking this year has been truly life-changing for both us, for our health and weight, and we’re looking forward to doing more of it, and increasing our time and distance as this year progresses.
  • Bonus question: What is your favorite New Year’s Eve memory? Brett and I are not party people, and tend to stay home and have a quiet evening on New Year’s Eve. We always stay up until midnight though to welcome in the new year, and have rung in the new year together 43 years now (would be 44 except that Brett was gone on January 1, 1991 for Operation Desert Storm). When our children were little we would all stay up and bang on pots and pans at midnight – lots of fun when you’re a kid! The best memories of New Year’s Eve were when we lived in Japan in the early 1980s, in Yokohama – at midnight on January 1 all the ships in the harbor would blow their whistles for an hour, and the sound would float up to where we lived. It was magical. Also, New Years is the biggest holiday in Japan, and the country pretty much shuts down for about five days. We loved being able to drive around with the usually crowded roads nearly empty, or have the few stores that were open (like Tokyo Hands) practically to ourselves. New Year’s Eve in Hawaii is a pretty big occasion, and there were LOTS of fireworks being bought at Costco and Walmart last week. Thursday night was a very noisy here but everything quieted down right after midnight.
Short lines, social distancing, great prices, and no crowds at the farmers’ market these days – I love it.
This GIANT bunch of beautiful Swiss chard was just $2 at our favorite farm stand – we got two meals and leftovers from it!

Although the island economy is suffering, we continue to enjoy the lack of crowds on the island right now, and it seems that most residents we speak with are enjoying it as well. The holiday period, usually a crazy crush of people here, was very subdued and enjoyable this year. We especially like shopping at the farmers’ market these days – no long lines, impatient people, etc. Prices are still good as well, but we’re sure it’s hard on the farmers as they usually sell out before the end of the market (we go early so have no idea if that is still happening with just local shoppers). For now things will stay locked down (10-day quarantine for all residents and visitors) until at least the first of February, if not longer.

These big poinsettia plants run along the entire front of this home’s lot. They’re kind of fading now, but still beautiful.

I forgot to post a picture of these poinsettias during the holiday season, but snapped one the other day as we were driving by. In my opinion, it is/was the best Christmas decoration on the island! 

Here’s to the new year and new beginnings, with lots of good books, good food, good friends, and good things happening for all.

Bad Year/Good Year: Goodbye 2020 (and good riddance)

New year 2021 and old year 2020 written on sandy beach with waves

I am not going to waste a lot of words on all that went wrong in this seemingly never-ending year we’re about to step out of. Our family has been fortunate, more fortunate than many if not most, but it was still a year full of surprises, disappointments, and things happening we didn’t expect. It was an expensive year for us as well – our move back to Kaua’i was not cheap, and we decimated one of our savings accounts to set up housekeeping again. We’re grateful we had the funds, but it was still a blow we were not mentally ready for.

However, in many ways it was a good year as well, and I feel it’s far more productive and satisfying to reflect on all the good things that happened this past year as well as the things that went right for us:

Our family has stayed healthy. I consider this our biggest accomplishment, not just for Brett and I, but for our entire family as well. Meiling has stayed isolated and worked from her apartment in NYC since March, and WenYu and YaYu have stayed safe in Massachusetts and in Pennsylvania. Our son and daughter-in-law worked at home for most of the year in Japan, and the grandkids survived months of remote learning. Brett and I have stayed in our apartment most of the time this year other than weekly trips to Costco or Walmart for food, up to Kukuiolono Park to walk, or over to the nearly always deserted beach at Barking Sands, but with vaccines becoming available this year we’re all hoping we will be able to gather here for a big reunion next year.

Here are the other good things that happened for us this past year:

  • We ended up back on Kaua’i. We were frankly surprised last Christmas when our girls sat us down and said they hoped we would return to Kaua’i whenever we finished traveling. That got us to look at Kaua’i with fresh eyes when we visited last January, and when it was time to return to the U.S. because of the spreading pandemic, we knew just where to come. We couldn’t be happier and we know now for sure that Kaua’i/Hawaii is our permanent home.
  • We found a great place to live this time. After living in an attractive but uncomfortable house and dealing with the Landlord from Hell for nearly three years during our previous time on the island, this time we lucked out and and found a great location and space to live in on the south side with great neighbors as well and a terrific landlord, and all for hundreds of dollars less than we were paying when we lived here before. The microclimate here is nicer as well, and we have everything we need just a short drive away, including great beaches and a wonderful weekly farmers’ market. We started from scratch getting ourself settled, but generous merchants on the island opened their stores for us so we could buy basic furniture, and we were able to get the rest of what we needed from Costco, Walmart, and Amazon over the next few months. The arrival of our storage shipment topped things off and our little apartment is now a comfortable and relaxing home.
  • We saved more than expected in 2020 for future travels. When I set up a new travel savings account I thought we’d be lucky to put $1000 away this year for future travel, but we instead saved nearly $2000 ($1984.19), which includes a $500 Delta Airlines gift card I earned through doing Swagbucks. We put away everything “extra” that came our way all year (change, $1 bills, refunds, rewards, rebates, etc.), and it really added up. We’ve given ourselves a goal of saving $8000 this year – it will be a challenge, but we think we can pull it off.
  • Both Brett and I have lost weight and are in better shape than ever. We completely changed how and what we eat, and I have lost 28 pounds since last June and Brett has lost 10. We both want to lose another 10 pounds this coming year and will be working toward that end. When we started walking up at Kukuiolono Park last May (a venue that has yet to lose our interest), we could barely manage two laps around the Pavilion (slightly over a mile). These days we’re walking nearly an hour each day and putting in almost five miles, and have a goal of doubling that by the end of 2021. We both honestly feel healthier than we have in ages, and we’re both sleeping better as well. 
  • We’re living better than ever with less. We downsized a lot before we left Kaua’i in 2018, and having to start from from scratch again means we began here this time with a greatly reduced amount of stuff. We bought just 12 pieces of furniture and one rug, a few kitchen items (including an InstantPot), and a reduced number of linens and it’s all more than enough. We’re very much enjoying having less to keep track of and clean, and if and when we ever move in the future that will be a whole lot easier as well.
  • Another child graduated from college. Although we missed her celebration, and she missed all the hoopla (literally) and traditions, another highlight of this past year was WenYu’s graduation from Wellesley College, with a degree in Computer Arts & Science. She has been able to earn money from her art since graduation, and has been hired as a graphic design instructor at an area tech school and will begin teaching after the first of the year. YaYu is now our only remaining student, with another year and a half to go, but this past fall we filled out a FAFSA for the last time! Yeah!

Good or bad, I’ll be happy to see 2020 go this week, and although life is most likely going to stay as it is now for the new few months, I’m looking forward to better and brighter things overall in 2021. I’m feeling hopeful that better days are coming – here’s to a wonderful new year!

 

 

Sunday Morning 12/27/2020: Looking Forward

The only sunset we had all week was on Thursday, and it was lovely.

Good morning – it’s the last Sunday in 2020! Aloha kakahiaka!

The annus horribilis that has been 2020 will end this week. I don’t think I’ve ever been through a year that has been as miserable, and taken as long to get through as this one. Although it has contained 366 days like every other leap year, the days have seemingly dragged on, which is saying something as time usually seems to go by too quickly for me. The year has taken us on a wild ride, to say the least, full of ups and downs, twists and turns, but I’m feeling hopeful for better things happening next year, although I think it’s going to take a while for many of those to manifest themselves. Most of all I am hoping for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, or at least getting it under control where “normal” life can resume, and the endless deaths can end. I don’t believe we’re ever going to return to how things were in 2019 – that world is gone – but I’m feeling more positive about a new normal that will hopefully be the result of what we’ve been through.

We had a lovely, quiet Christmas celebration at Chez Aloha. The weather was stormy and cold outside, but we all slept in, enjoyed hot cocoa and coffee when we got up and watched YaYu open her “stocking” – actually a Foodland reusable shopping bag filled with treats from Hawaii that she can both enjoy here or take back to school with her. Then it was time for brunch: smoked salmon, fresh berries, and warm scones that YaYu made for us (half plain, half with chocolate chips) along with some Monkeypod lilikoi curd and orange-chocolate sauce. Brett made each of us a POG mimosa as well. Gift opening came next and was fun because everyone got things from their list this year. Brett got four much-needed t-shirts (he had been down to three), including a gorgeous one that WenYu designed and printed for him. I got items for our 2022 walk (water bottle, trekking poles, and merino wool socks) along with some custom handmade stickers from WenYu celebrating our Big Adventure. I think YaYu was the most surprised though – Meiling gave her a pair of Apple AirPods, her dream gift, something she had put them on her list as a joke. She also got cash and gift cards from the rest of us as she needs new clothes and shoes, but will shop for those when she gets back to school. After the gift opening we had a Zoom gathering of the clan that lasted for a couple of hours. Even though it was virtual, I absolutely loved having all my kids together for a little while.

YaYu learned this past week that Bryn Mawr now won’t be reopening until mid-February, which made me exceedingly glad I hadn’t bought her return ticket yet. No one is sure what that means for how the rest of the year there will go, but the school is determined to keep everyone safe. Brett will be traveling over to Oahu for a medical appointment next month (a day trip), and I’m hoping to be able to use the two flight credits I now have from Hawaiian and Southwest to get him there and back. I’m not sure right now if they have to be used for YaYu or whether I can use them on any ticket – that’s one of next week’s projects. We also have to figure out whether he’ll have to quarantine or not following that trip.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I’m a little over a quarter of the way through The Woman in White. It’s a dense, detailed book, and wading through the mid-19th century language takes a bit more work than usual. Still, the story moves along, and it continues to be interesting, both the story and the way the book is put together.
  • Listening to: We’re enjoying a quiet morning here after two days of rain, wind, cold, etc. – yesterday was pretty wild, in fact. Today there’s thankfully a nice breeze outside blowing through the trees, and I can see big patches of blue sky. Brett is putting away last night’s dishes and fixing coffee in the kitchen, and YaYu is quietly doing something on her phone so it’s quiet inside as well – a very nice morning!
  • Watching: We finished watching Schitt’s Creek last night and are already feeling sad that it’s over. I’m not sure there’s anything that can top it – we’ve loved every episode. Brett and I also finished the very weird and creepy Black Spot last night, and we plan to start watching Bridgerton tonight and probably a second show if we can make up our minds.
  • Cooking/baking: There are currently no beans in the house, so tonight we’re having coconut chicken curry with mango over jasmine rice. We’ll be going food shopping on Thursday, but before that we’ll be cleaning out the freezer and pantry as much as possible and cooking with what we have on hand. Dinners this week will include homemade chicken soup with rice and vegetables; spaghetti carbonara (for New Year’s); farmers’ market pasta (we froze half of what I made earlier this month); hamburgers; Guadalajara quesadillas; mini pizzas; and probably breakfast for dinner one night. We will finish up the Bacardi rum cake on Tuesday (we had mango pie the past three days – it was amazing), and I plan to make a lemon cake next, but I got some Kauai Kookies as a gift (cornflake crunch, my favorite), so I want to purchase some Kozy Shack rice and tapioca puddings this week and have those along with a cookie for our dessert for a couple of days in between cakes. I like Kozy Shack’s products because they use real ingredients and no preservatives.

Our Christmas Eve walk was tiring but beautiful . . .

While Christmas Day and the day after were stormy and miserable.

  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Brett and I managed to walk every day this past week except for yesterday when it was stormy and wet all day. We got rained out on Christmas Day too after just one lap, although after our Christmas Eve walk one lap was almost fine with me. On the 24th, Brett suggested we walk the golf course route backwards, which sounded nice but turned out to be something we should have saved for later this year. The backwards route turned out to be uphill the entire way, and by the time we walked around to the club house, about 2/3 of the way through of our walk, we were both exhausted. It was only a very gradual climb, but after nearly 40 minutes it it was very tiring. To make up for the lack of walking on Christmas Day I did 25 minutes of Zumba dancing with YaYu, and again yesterday. Oh, to be 20 again! Thursday was rough but I got through the whole routine yesterday. At least I now know what I can do on the days we can’t get out and walk.
  • Looking forward to next week: Next Friday we will finally be done with 2020 – YEAH! We’re going to celebrate quietly with a cocktail and a special dinner on New Year’s Eve (YaYu’s yummy spaghetti carbonara) and spend a quiet day on Friday. Brett and I have ambitious goals for the coming year though, and I am looking forward to getting started on them on Friday – I’m making up a new set of activity cards this week with everything I want/need to do each day. 2021 is not going to start of easy by any stretch of the imagination, but I honestly believe we (the U.S.) are finally going to turn a corner this coming year and start healing.
    Finally feel fit enough to wear these leggings.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: 1) Getting to talk with all our children on Christmas Day via Zoom was pretty wonderful for Brett and I, the next best thing to being together. 2) I had pretty much forgotten most of what I put on my Christmas list this year, so every gift was a delightful surprise in some way. 3) I loved seeing Brett’s and YaYu’s reactions as they opened their gifts – it was a lovely, thought-filled morning, and our other children were very happy with their gifts as well. 4) Thanks to the J. Jill gift card I received from Meiling, I ordered a pair of patterned performance leggings to put away for our walking trip in 2021 (they have pockets!). I almost didn’t get them as they were sold out the day after Christmas, but I had put a pair in my shopping cart on Christmas so had a pair reserved for me and they are coming! 5) I have lost enough weight and toned up enough this past year that I finally feel comfortable wearing patterned leggings, a big step for me.
    We had a simple, “rustic,” but very, very nice Christmas this year.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: 1) We did not spend any money on wrapping paper this year, and instead got creative and used what we had on hand which didn’t diminish any of the joy we received from our gifts. 2) We put $3 into the change/$1 bill jar this past week, leftover from our trip to the farmers’ market. 3) Other than picking up a few things at the farmers’ market, it was otherwise a no-spend week for us. We’re going to try this year is to have at least one no-spend week per month (other than the farmers’ market), and we’re also hoping to put more into the change/$1 bill jar this year by spending a little bit less when we go shopping. 4) There were lots of leftovers generated this past week, but we have kept up with them and didn’t have to throw away anything. 5) I cut back my time on Swagbucks this past week, but still managed to make my daily goal and earned 1,201 to start off my earnings for 2021. 6) We cancelled two TV streaming subscriptions (Britbox and Showtime) – a savings of $18/month. It’s not a lot but it all adds up. 
  • Grateful for: As we end 2020 we’re feeling especially thankful for our simple life on Kaua’i. The island has been a safe haven for us this year, and in spite of all the expense of getting settled again, we know the ropes for living frugally here and are looking forward to a good year in 2021.
  • Bonus question: What’s one good thing that happened for you in 2021? Even though 2020 has been horrible in so many ways, the year hasn’t been all bad, and the best thing that happened for us was coming back to Kaua’i and finding our apartment. Our short visit in January before heading over to Japan cemented that we did want to eventually return to the island, but we had no idea at the time that it would happen so soon! Our new location (south side versus east side) has been a major improvement for us, as is having a wonderful landlord and neighbors. If not for our three daughters requesting last year that we eventually return here, and our January visit, we honestly wonder where we might have ended up going last March, and if our life there would have gone as well as it has here or how we would be feeling about being there now.

Brett and I have designated 2021 a Year of Saving. This last year was a crazy one spending-wise as we set up housekeeping again, but we’re settled now and want to focus on putting our extra dollars to work for us for future dreams. We’ve upped the amount going to our travel savings account, and have taken time this past week to look for ways we can cut back and save even more. Food costs will remain high while YaYu is with us, but we should see those go down once she heads back to school (whenever that is). We have given ourselves a goal of saving $8000 for travel this year, and plan to give ourselves every edge we can so we can reach that goal. One of our first steps will be cancelling our Amazon Prime membership once again in January. Our membership more than covered all the shipping fees we would have incurred otherwise in 2020, but our goal now is to order nothing via Amazon this coming year (other than cases of toilet paper) and do without Prime Video. Not sure how that will go, but the few shipping fees we will incur will be far less than what we would pay for Prime each year. We’re still going through everything to determine other ways we can save this year.

One of the blooming ti plants in our yard – we’re looking forward to more flowers, more beauty, and other good things to come in the new year.

It’s finally time to turn and look forward to 2021, and all the potential it may bring. I’m glad to have survived this past year, but it’s sobering when I think how many did not, and how many continue to suffer from the effects of the pandemic and the economic troubles it caused. Here’s to better days for all in the coming year!