Sunday Morning 9/15/2019: Week 2 in the UK

Row houses in Chipping Campden

This past week was a lovely one, filled with walks, hikes, and other outings as well as a couple of days of rest. The weather was mostly warm and sunny, but there was one day of rain and another quite windy one, both a foretaste of what is most likely coming as the fall progresses. We visited the old Blockley mills, the market town of Chipping Campden, and accomplished our first weekly shopping over in Moreton-in-Marsh. We now have a better idea of when and how to get that task done as well as manage our time there better.

The old Blockley silk mills are now apartments. Blockley Brook powered the mills and runs under the lower building in the middle.
The beautiful iron spiral fire escapes are original to the old mills.

We had our first major travel mess occur this past week, an extremely maddening and frustrating turn of events because it’s not due to anything we did but because of a “modification” made by Icelandair. We were scheduled to fly from Reykjavik directly to Portland, arriving in the early evening but Icelandair sent us a message this past week that they had canceled the flight to Portland and instead switched us to a flight to Seattle . . . with no connecting flight to Portland! I called the booking agent (Expedia) to ask how we were supposed to get to Portland since that is our destination and were told that all Icelandair was offering was either gas for our car to drive to Portland (we don’t have a car!) or “public transportation,” whatever that means. Brett and I looked at getting a flight from Seattle to Portland, but the affordable ones were either too early or much later in the evening so we would have had another long wait in the airport, and possibly gotten into Portland too late to pick up a rental car. We talked about renting a car in Seattle and driving down to Portland, but 1) we knew we would be extremely exhausted at the end of our travel day and not up for the 3+ hour drive down to Portland (especially through Seattle traffic); 2) a one-way car rental from Seattle to Portland is not cheap ($200+); and 3) If Icelandair could not arrange a connecting flight to our booked destination we did not feel our chances were good of actually getting any sort of reimbursement from them, even just for the gas. Every option was going to cost us in some way so we ended up canceling the return portion of our ticket for a refund from Expedia for that portion of our ticket (because Icelandair changed our flight route we were eligible for a refund even though our ticket was non-refundable). We have found another affordable alternative route home but we’re still going to end up paying more than we did for the original tickets, even with the refund applied. We had also paid Icelandair for upgraded seats on the flight to Portland, and the Expedia agent claimed they would refund that to us as well but I’ll believe it when I see it as I’ve read horror stories about Icelandair and refunds. Needless to say, we won’t be using that airline again.

We’ve also decided that Brett won’t apply for a one-year visa in Japan, at least not now. This was an extremely difficult decision for us as the chance to live there has been a long-held dream. However, we took a very, very thorough look at our costs of living there (rent, class fees, food, transportation . . . everything) and decided we did not want to live so close to the bone for a year. I could go back to work to make it more affordable, but that’s something I really don’t want to do because it would interfere with being able to help with our grandchildren. We think that until we get YaYu through school we’d do better to make two 90-day trips to Japan each year and then reassess after that. So, following our visit to Kaua’i we’ll be in Tokyo for just 90 days again and then will head to our mystery destination. Following that, we’ll go to Massachusetts for WenYu’s graduation followed by a visit to Maine in June. After that . . . well, we’re still talking about it although Northern California is still our #1 choice.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I’m still reading Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford. The characters are all somewhat eccentric members of the British aristocracy in what is maybe the late 1920s to early 1930s (people still dressed for dinner, had house parties in their stately homes, etc.) and there’s lots of snappy dialogue – what’s not to love? Up next I have Middle England by Jonathan Coe, a novel set in more recent times and covering all that’s been going on here in England the past few years, including Brexit.
  • Listening to: It’s been another quiet, peaceful Sunday morning here but the church bells just started ringing to call the faithful to morning services. The bellringers were quite busy yesterday – there was a funeral in the morning and the bells were rung for that (a bit too joyously it seemed to us) and then yesterday evening was bell-ringing practice so we got quite the concert for a while.
  • Watching: Brett has discovered British racing, and he tunes into that now and again, but all I’ve been watching is the Great British Baking Show. We still watch the BBC news and have seen some teasers for shows that look interesting but we always seem to be busy with something else so the TV doesn’t get turned on much.
  • Cooking: Tonight we’re having the bacon quiche we picked up at Aldi along with some coleslaw. Our meals this past week included breakfast for dinner with scrambled eggs, sausages, and sauteed apples; a sweet & sour Asian stir-fry with chicken, and lamb burgers with roasted Mediterranean vegetables. The tentative menu for this week, which will somewhat depend on what we can find at Aldi, includes chicken tikka masala; sausages, cheese and apples; eggplant parmesan; and chicken vegetable soup.
  • Happy I accomplished last week: I got started on planning a trip to Bath, Devon, and Cornwall in early November. It was a bit difficult because there is so much we want to see, but we finally nailed down an itinerary we’re both happy with. I’ll book our rental car and hotel stays sometime next week (after I get over the shock of purchasing new airline tickets back to the U.S.).

    All the paths converge in Chipping Campden!
  • Looking forward to next week: Other than our trip over to M-in-M tomorrow for groceries, we’re planning to visit Bourton-on-the-Hill at the end of the week. It’s the next village over from us, and there are several lovely buildings and gardens to check out and we want to have lunch at the local pub which was recommended by our host. If we get nice weather and cooler temperatures one day next week we may also walk the Heart of England path over to Moreton-in-Marsh and then take the bus back to Blockley.

    The Blockley cafe makes some pretty wonderful cappuccinos, which we enjoyed while sitting in the sun yesterday.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We had beautiful weather most of the week and enjoyed some rambles around the village and out into the countryside. We also had a nice visit to Chipping Camden on Friday and had afternoon tea there. I found a pretty (and affordable) artisan-made necklace at the Barn Court Museum in Chipping Campden, and also got a jar of the delicious carrot chutney I enjoyed with my afternoon tea sandwich. We finally met our lovely host on Wednesday, and Brett and I had a “coffee date” yesterday at the Blockley Cafe.

    Souvenirs from Chipping Campden. The carrot chutney has a spicy, smoky flavor – I was so happy the tea room had it for sale! The “magpie” necklace coordinates perfectly with all my indigo stuff.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We saved £3 ($3.70) on each of our two bus trips (to Moreton-in-Marsh and to Chipping Campden) by purchasing round-trip fares versus one-way. We shopped with a list at Aldi and the only thing we bought that was not on our list was some sticky toffee pudding (because we want to try it). We had four no-spend days, ate all of our leftovers, and didn’t throw away any food.
  • Grateful for: The other day a friend posted the above daily “Gratitude Scavenger Hunt” on Facebook – I’ve been going through it each day and it’s been an easy, helpful way to think of all the good things I experience each day.
  • Bonus questions: What’s been your favorite thing in England so far? Well, number one is definitely getting to see all the wonderful old buildings in such a beautiful setting, but we have also been finding all sorts of interesting and/or different trees and plants around the village. Every time we go out it seems like we come across something unexpected – it’s been like a treasure hunt. There are hazelnut trees all over, and plenty of giant, old elms, chestnut, hickory, beech, and oaks, but the other day I spotted a plum tree loaded with fruit coming up through the brush and a large fig tree in front of a shop – those two surprised me. This past week we also spotted a monkey puzzle tree in someone’s yard and two massive sequoias along the road we were walking on, and another huge one in the Blockley churchyard. Apparently, sequoias were imported to England during the Victorian era as a novelty for gardens, and these ones held on and kept growing (although they’re nothing as big as the ones in California). I have read about monkey puzzle trees for years but had never actually seen one; however, the minute I saw it I knew exactly what it was. There are lots of very big trees around here with masses of branches and whenever I see them I wish I could find out how old they are.

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After a couple of weeks here we’re starting to settle into a routine: food shopping and a trip to the ATM on Monday, visits to other places in the area on Thursday or Friday, depending on the weather, and otherwise we’ll continue to walk around and explore Blockley and the neighboring countryside, or just relax at home, depending on the weather. We’re finally sleeping through the night and not having to take naps, we get up when we feel like it and leisurely enjoy our coffee or tea and breakfast before getting ready for the day. It’s a nice life in a wonderful location – I could get very used to this!

I have added fresh raisin scones, clotted cream and fresh strawberry preserves, sticky toffee pudding, lemon drizzle cake, and hot peach and chili chutney to the list of foods I adore.

That’s a wrap for week two – it was a good one. We’re looking forward to what’s coming up next week and hope you are too!

Market Day

Stalls selling just about everything you can think of line the high street on Market Day in Moreton-in-Marsh – it reminded us of a giant flea market.

Every Tuesday is Market Day in Moreton-in-Marsh. Over 200 vendors set up stalls up and down the high street, and shoppers can find everything from vegetables to cheese to bedroom slippers to cookware to linens and beyond.

We did our marketing at Aldi.
Heading away from the open market in the direction of Aldi, the high street was practically deserted.

Although we were curious about the market, Brett and I had a different reason for visiting Moreton-in-Marsh this past Tuesday: we were running out of food and wanted to restock our fridge and pantry for the week at the Aldi store there. I also wanted to visit the Cotswold Cheese Company and get a small piece or two of some British cheese(s). So, we caught the local bus in Blockey over to Moreton-in-Marsh with plans to walk to Aldi which is less than 10 minutes away from the bus stop on foot.

The first thing we noticed when we arrived was that the town was filled with lots and lots and lots of

(Yes, there are even signs in town warning you to watch out for us)

Apparently, charter buses come from all over the countryside carrying retirees who want to shop at the Moreton-in-Marsh market, which is basically a giant flea market. We took one look at the market as we stepped off our bus, said “nope,” and turned the other direction and headed to Aldi.

Aldi shopping is still very new to us but it didn’t disappoint. We had felt just so-so about Aldi following our visit to the store in Strasbourg, but here I could have easily filled our trolley (cart) to the top with what we found. However, we restrained ourselves as we had brought only three shopping bags with us so that we didn’t overshop and get too much to fit into our tiny fridge. We shopped with a list but had loads of fun looking at everything else. The produce section was positively immense, and there was a huge selection of meats and other proteins as well as everything else you could think of (the store itself was massive). Our total spend came to £41.54, or $51.36, and if we can do that well every week with our food shopping we shouldn’t have any problem keeping our spending average at or below $35/day.

We got a LOT of food too for that $51 – those of you who are able to shop at Aldi are very, very fortunate. Below are all the items we purchased (minus a giant roll of paper towels):

Proteins: grated mozzarella, crustless quiche, chicken breast mini fillets, minted lamb burgers, half dozen eggs, and brie and manchego cheeses.
Vegetables: scallions, celery, a bag of organic carrots, two eggplants, tender stem broccoli, a cucumber, a package of Mediterranean vegetables for roasting, Asian stir-fry vegetables, and three onions.
Fruit: bananas, peaches, apples, figs, a package of raspberries, kiwi fruit, an avocado, and limes.
Miscellaneous: salted peanuts, 2 cans of whipped cream, porridge oats, tuna, green tea w/lemon, sweet & sour stir-fry sauce, butter, chocolate digestive biscuits, sticky toffee pudding (we had to), 2 jars of natural peanut butter, malt vinegar, pasta sauce, ground cinnamon, and curry powder

On the way back to the bus stop we stopped at the Cheese Company where sampled some cheeses and bought a small wedge of local Double Barrel Poacher cheese (very tasty!), and two small fruit cakes. We ended up waiting about 35 minutes for our bus back to Blockley, surrounded the whole time by crowds of retirees waiting for their giant charter buses to pick them up and whisk them out of town. A woman did come up to me to tell me she loved my accent!

I had always despised fruit cake, but I’ve sort of fallen in love with the ones here in England.

There is lots to see in Moreton-in-Marsh, and we are looking forward to returning for some more exploration, but we’ll skip Market Day next time.

There are lots of interesting things to see in Moreton-in-Marsh, but we’ll go back when the town isn’t crowded with market shoppers and giant buses.

First Walks Through Blockley

In the book I read this past summer about the Cotswolds (Slow Cotswolds: Including Bath, Stratford-on-Avon & Oxford by Caroline Mills), the author described Blockley as one of the best examples of a Cotswold village, from its variety of buildings to its church to the landscapes surrounding the village. Brett and I took two walks through the village (about two miles each) in two different directions last week to begin to get to know our home base for the next three months.

Looking out over Churchill Close, the town green, to hills and pastures for both cows and sheep. The dry-stone wall topped with stones set on their sides surrounds the common.
The cars on the street contrast with the massive size of this old elm tree in Churchill Close.
The Northwick Bowling Club sits in the center of Churchill Close, in the center of the village.
Many of the graves in the Blockley Church cemetery are hundreds of years old, and the stone worn to where nothing can be read. It’s not a museum though – newer, more recent graves exist as well.
The original church is Norman, built in 1180, and the bell tower at St. Peter and St. Paul Church was added in 1725. The bells are rung throughout the day, and on Thursday evening we had a nearly hour-long concert.
Blockley Church is open to the public and was far less austere inside than we imagined, with beautiful stained glass windows, statuary, and memorials to past residents of the area. The blue hymnals were a Christmas gift to the church in 2009. The light from the big windows (14th century) on the south side of the church light up the church nave during the day.
Down a winding lane off of the high street is the old mill, now converted into a private residence. The home includes quite a bit of protected land around it.
The Old Mill is adorned with several types of roses, and the scent was intoxicating as we walked by.
Slabbed wood on the gable of the Old Mill’s woodshed.
Blackberry vines along the roads were loaded with fruit, although the ripe berries we tried weren’t especially sweet. We’d love to go back and pick but are not sure whether the vines are on private property or not.
Brockley Brook runs through the town, although in some places it’s been covered over by roads.
Lower Terrace is a series of old connected apartment buildings built in 1851. They have been renovated and all look to be in use. I’m curious about what the low buildings between the larger apartment buildings were used for.
This house sported a (very accurate) sundial on the front of the house over the door.
What was formerly two attached homes has been converted into one large modern house. Yellow Cotswold stone (limestone) is a signature feature in the area as are stone or slate roofs.
Renovation of old buildings can be seen throughout the village. In some cases, an old house is torn down and the stone re-used to build a new house, but the yellow limestone is also still being quarried.
Another view of the hills from the Blockley Churchyard. From here it’s just a short distance to our cottage.

We have already fallen in love with our little village, with its “peaceful nature and beautiful buildings.” I know there are many other charming places in the Cotswolds, but I can’t think of a place I’d rather call home for the next few months.

Sunday Morning 9/8/2019: Week 1 in the UK

Blockley sits down in a small valley and provides views of the countryside in every direction.

It was just slightly over a year ago when Brett and I arrived in Buenos Aires, the first stop on our around-the-world Big Adventure. At the time we had an itinerary that would get us through the middle of May of this year, summer in Portland, and a visit to England in the fall of this year. We didn’t know when we set out how we’d feel about traveling when we got to this point, but we’ve been having a wonderful time, learned some tricks along the way and have decided we are going to keep going for a while longer. We have a visit to Kaua’i planned for next January, followed by another three months’ stay in Japan, and have made an Airbnb reservation for after Japan, but where that is will remain a mystery for now (hint: It’s not California. We still plan on going there, but are will be taking a detour first).

Currenty though we are pinching ourselves that we are finally in England. Our reservation for our cottage in Blockley were made over a year ago, when we were still living on Kaua’i. We’re settling into our little cottage, learning how to operate most of the appliances in the house (we are still having trouble getting the gas stove in the living room to work), and are getting to know the little village of Blockley. This coming week we will be heading over to the nearby towns of Moreton-in-Marsh on Tuesday to check out their big market day and do some grocery shopping, and then will visit nearby Chipping Campden on Friday.

The living room sofa cushions are covered in sturdy British tweed! The cushions are down-filled though, which has taken some getting used to.
Original oil paintings in the cottage add to its charm.

Glebe Cottage is just about perfect for us. Glebe means “a piece of land serving as part of a clergyman’s benefice and providing income,” and the cottage is in a building that was at one time part of the old vicarage attached to the village church. The space has been remodeled enough that it’s impossible to tell now what original function it served in the past. Back on Kaua’i, YaYu had asked if she could find us a place to stay in England and after giving her our parameters she came up with a few choices, with Glebe Cottage at the top of the list. We can’t wait for her to see it when she comes to visit in October! If we have to complain about anything it’s that there is very little storage space in the house, especially for clothes, but we figured out a system that works for us and got everything put away. We have beautiful views of rolling hills and pastures from the cottage patio and upstairs, and the view from our front door of the high street and the Blockley church is one I know we’ll never grow tired of. The little house has every convenience, the kitchen is very well equipped, and the whole place is very cozy and comfortable overall, just the right size for the two of us.

We are almost over our jet lag but not quite. I’m still waking up at 4:30 or so in the morning, and then struggling to get through the day without falling asleep so that I can go to bed at a somewhat decent hour. Brett is doing better although he has had a couple of days where he’s taken some very l-o-n-g naps which have made it difficult for him to fall asleep later. It will all get sorted out but we wish it would hurry up and happen sooner rather than later.

The vines covering the side of Glebe Cottage will eventually turn bright orange as fall progresses but are already starting to change color.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: It was difficult for me to get any reading done while we were traveling, but I finally finished Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine (I loved this book!) this past week. I was ready to start Blade of the Samurai by Susan Spann (her mysteries are set in old Japan), but reader Sheila recommended Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford, whose family is connected to Chipping Campden, so I downloaded that from the library and am reading it first.
  • Listening to: It’s soooooooo quiet here, not a sound to be heard from outside except for a few songbirds doing their thing. Brett is reading so it’s quiet inside as well. I absolutely love it! It’s a beautiful day as well so we’re planning to go out for a walk in a while. We’ve walked through the town a few times but want today want to follow one of the paths out of town and into the hills for a change.
  • Watching: We have cable TV here in the cottage but haven’t found anything yet that’s caught our attention other than the current season of the Great British Baking Show (I think there may be more American shows available than British). We watched a lot of BBC news this past week because of the Brexit vote, etc. They did a fairly good job of explaining what’s been going on although I still have very little understanding of British politics.
  • Cooking: We’re going to have some of the leftover sausage quiche I made yesterday along with roasted cabbage for dinner tonight. We’re looking forward to going to Moreton-in-Marsh next week and seeing what the Aldi there has and what prices are like as well as shopping at the weekly market – there are said to be over 200 stalls! Aldi is the closest and largest major grocery store to us, although the small store here in Blockley is very nice with affordable prices. This past week all we felt up to were easy convenience meals, but I’m ready to start cooking again and will come up with a menu once I get some stuff at Aldi and the market. We forgot and left our spiralizer behind in Portland (the second time we’ve done this – we left our first one at the condo before we left Kaua’i), so zoodles are not going to be a thing here unless we can find another inexpensive one somewhere.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: I feel like our journey from Portland to Blockley was accomplishment enough, but so was getting unpacked and fitting everything into the cottage with its limited storage space. I also researched and booked our round-trip transportation up to Edinburgh at the end of the month. My goodness, that was a chore – there is no easy or inexpensive way to get up there from here whether by train or plane, but I finally ended up getting us booked all the way through by train (a nearly nine-hour journey) at a price we can live with. Air tickets would have been a bit less but we would still have had the train journey over to Gatwick along with spending a few hours sitting around in airports again. No thank you – we’d rather enjoy some beautiful scenery out the train window. Finally, I am trying to cut back to one cup of coffee a day and I did OK this past week, but I sure missed my second cup. I tried drinking a cup of tea instead but still craved the coffee. If I can get used to one cup per day though I will be very happy.
  • Looking forward to next week: Besides the trip to Moreton-in-Marsh, we’re greatly looking forward to having afternoon tea when we’re in Chipping Campden next week, and plan to splurge on an “afternoon tea tower” with sandwiches, scones, and cakes, hopefully at the Badger Inn. We’ll be figuring out how to use the local bus system that will take us there and to Moreton-in-Marsh (and eventually up to Stratford-on-Avon and over to Stow-in-the-Wold). Getting to places will be the easy part but getting back to Blockley may be more of a challenge as the buses are somewhat spread out.

    The Great Western Arms pub, one of two in Blockley – it’s very cozy inside and the food is affordable and delicious.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We’ve enjoyed some lovely exploratory walks through the village this past week, people have been very friendly and welcoming, and we had a wonderful, reasonably-priced lunch last Wednesday at one of two pubs in town, the Great Western Arms, and look forward to going back again soon. I had a bowl of amazingly delicious tomato and roasted pepper soup with some fresh whole-grain bread, the best tomato soup I’ve ever had, and Brett had a roast pork with applesauce sandwich along with coleslaw and a salad, and a pint of ale. All the food was housemade from local products. We were advised that the other pub in town, The Crown, isn’t nearly as good or as nice and it would be OK for us to skip it while we’re here, and branch out instead to others in nearby villages.

    Included in the treats left for us by our host were two bottles of wine – we’ve enjoyed drinking it while sitting out on the patio in the afternoons.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We’ve been watching our spending closely since we arrived, and have been heartened by the seemingly affordable prices for food (better than they were in Portland, anyway). I canceled our reservation at a B&B near Heathrow for the night before YaYu arrives and booked a hotel nearer the airport for less than half the price with breakfast included. We need to be there the night before as YaYu’s flight arrives quite early in the morning. The savings will cover our transportation costs from here to Heathrow, and our fares out to our London Airbnb after YaYu arrives. We’ve been enjoying all the treats our host provided for us, and we’ve had three no-spend days this past week. We’ve eaten all our leftovers and haven’t thrown away any food.
  • Grateful for: Both Brett and I are currently feeling especially thankful for the generous Airbnb gift certificate which made our visit to the UK possible.

    Our kitchen is very well-equipped but some of the appliances are small and have taken some getting used to.
  • Bonus question: Has anything in England been a surprise yet? So far no, although the appliances have taken some getting used to. The oven temperatures are of course in centigrade so I have to do conversions to get things right. The washing machine is very small and seems to run for ages, and I’m still working on getting the dryer figured out. The refrigerator is an under-the-counter model and quite small, but it will be good training for not buying so much when we go food shopping. The small dishwasher is easy to use though, thank goodness. The weather has been slightly warmer than we expected, although by late afternoon temperatures seem to cool down to let us know autumn is coming – yesterday morning the heat was even on for a bit.

Three things we’ve discovered here have already sent me to the moon with happiness: chutneys, gin, and local whole-grain bread. I LOVE chutney (although Brett doesn’t) and I’ve already had the pleasure of trying three different and very yummy types, and can’t wait to try more (there’s a chili peach one at the village store that’s up next). The market also carries a nice selection of gins, and we picked up a bottle of the local Cotswold variety yesterday along with some tonic and limes for G&Ts. More yum! We’re looking forward to trying some local pink and sloe gins as well, along with a tonic flavored with strawberries and roses. And, the locally baked whole-grain bread – oh my! I could eat nothing else and be satisfied (but it’s especially wonderful toasted and topped with some chutney and with a G&T on the side, or with a slice of some local cheddar). I’m still watching my carbs and am trying to be a good girl, but it’s going to be difficult. Don’t even get me started on the yummy chocolates here as well – my willpower is being put to the test.

That’s all for this week – I hope this past week was filled with lots of good things happening for you. Here’s to a great week coming up for all of us!

Closing Out the Books for August

What’s left of my allotment of British pounds to get us through until the middle of the month (Brett has a bit more).

August was a very good month, spending-wise, and we ended with a daily spending average (DSA) of $31.52, $18.48 below our budget of $50/day. At one point our DSA was down to around $25, but a wonderful dinner at Higgins restaurant with our friend Joan just before we departed and expensive airport meals in Portland and Rekjavik brought the average back up a bit.

The biggest factor affecting our lower spending amount in August was that we stopped doing Big Shops. We made trips to Costco in May and late June/early July, and by the time we got to August we still had plenty of food on hand, and only needed to stop for a few grocery items now and again. Brett would like us to stop doing Big Shops all together now that it’s just the two of us, so we’ll be practicing smaller grocery runs while we’re here in England, not just to avoid spending so much but because we have very little storage space for food in the cottage. It’s not that we’ll never go to Costco in the future, but that we won’t buy as if we’re feeding a family of five anymore. There are an Aldi and Tesco in Moreton-in-Marsh, and our village’s small shop has a nice selection of items at very reasonable prices so we have a nice selection of places to buy affordable food while we’re here.

Locally raised and produced sausages and eggs from the Blockley market. The sausages were just £2.50 (~$3), and the half-dozen large, free-range organic eggs the same. A similar package of sausages would have cost anywhere from $6-$8 in Portland, if not more.

Beginning this month our DSA will be just $35/day. As of today, September 5, our DSA for September is $50.50, which includes our breakfast at the airport hotel, bus transportation to and from the airport to the hotel, two bottles of water on the train out to the Cotswolds (we were desperately parched), a small shopping trip to the village store to pick up a few things to get us started, and lunch yesterday at one of our village pubs. We might have spent more except our host left us a huge selection of goodies including cakes, bread, rolls, cookies (biscuits!), butter, milk, juice, coffee, wine, honey, chutney, fruit, chips, and chocolate bars. However, we don’t need to spend anything again until next week, when we’ll head over to Moreton-in-Marsh to get a few more things at Aldi and from the local cheesemonger’s which should take care of our food needs through next week or even the one after. We also plan to go to Chipping Camden at the end of next week and have afternoon tea after poking around a bit, and we want to stop in again at the pub as well. In other words, money will be spent but with a goal of staying within our limits overall.

Just a few of the things our gracious host left for us to get us started. There are too many carbs here for me, but Brett is happy.

Destination: Blockley, United Kingdom

We had a several-hours long wait at the Portland airport between turning in our rental car and our flight taking off. We read, played games, took walks (at separate times), ate lunch and dinner, and the time eventually passed and we were one our way!

Each travel day is unique. Some are easy while others turn out to be a challenge, and some are longer than others depending on where we’re traveling to.

Our journey over to the United Kingdom wasn’t a difficult one, nor was it unpleasant. What it was though was l-o-n-g, and ended up being sort of expensive. It felt at times like our big savings on airline tickets were almost eaten up as we paid for airport meals and local transportation after we arrived.

Although our flight didn’t take off until nearly 8:00 pm., it was still light out and we got a good look at Mt. Rainier as we passed by on our way up to the north. Our exit row seats had tons of legroom and were very comfortable, well worth the extra we paid for them.
The sun was coming up as we began to cross over Greenland. We didn’t see much snow or ice down there.
In spite of departing a bit late from Portland, we arrived at the Reykjavik airport on time on Sunday morning. After locating our departure gate we enjoyed a light breakfast of chia bowls and coffee.
Somehow Brett and I ended up across the aisle from each other on our flight to London. We were pretty well exhausted at this point though and both of us slept through most of the flight.
It’s always a relief when our bags come off the carousel, and they showed up fairly quickly at Heathrow. We got some cash from an ATM, and then had to figure out on our own how to get to our hotel as they had accidentally sent us instructions for their Gatwick location versus Heathrow.
Big planes passed by constantly right across the road from our hotel room, but it the soundproofing was incredible and we never heard a thing. Booking that room for the night turned out to be a very good decision as we were extremely tired by the time we got to London, and were thankful to get a good night’s sleep before starting off for the Cotswolds.
Brett opted for a full English breakfast at the hotel before we left. I stuck with fresh fruit and sausages.
We had three train connections to make to get out to the Cotswolds, with not much time between them. After being spoiled by stations in Japan we found the signage and instructions here to be lacking, and it was difficult getting our big staircases up and down the flights of stairs inside one of the stations in order to make it to our train on time (the others thankfully had elevators). We figured it all out though and made it out to Moreton-in-Marsh on time, where we caught a taxi over to Blockley. Our train stopped in Oxford on the way – I was surprised by how close it is to where we’re staying.
This is the view from our front door for the next three months, with Blockley church (Sts. Peter and Paul) just a few yards away. Our cottage was originally part of the large vicarage. This view alone makes the whole trip over here worth it.
We walked over to the village market for a few things after we arrived – it’s just around the corner from our cottage. We were expecting to pay convenience store prices but found things to be very reasonable. We walked through the churchyard and cemetery on our way back to our cottage. It’s extremely lovely here – I could pinch myself! We’re looking forward to exploring Blockley for the next few days as we recover from jet lag and the rigors of travel as well as getting ourselves unpacked and settled into our home for the next three months.

Nearly 40 hours passed between when we got to Portland airport on Saturday morning until our arrival in Blockley on Monday afternoon, and although it was a tiring journey it’s all water under the bridge now. We are finally in the UK, and ready to begin our next travel adventure. The first step will be to conquer the jet lag that came along with us, but otherwise we are thrilled to be here.

Farewell to Portland (for now)

We love Portland – always have, always will!

We have had an absolutely wonderful summer in Portland. We rested and relaxed, got our health and dental care taken care of, met most of our summer goals, and ate lots of locally-grown fruit and vegetables. But now it’s time to move on and continue our travels. We are ready to go.

We’ve almost finished our packing, the apartment is almost cleaned, and we have just a couple of things left to take care of in town before we board our flight on Saturday evening. We will fly directly to Reykjavik, Iceland and transfer there to a flight to London Heathrow.

How lucky we have been to be able to hike through the forest park near our apartment.

Other than a very few hot days, the weather in Portland this summer has been absolutely ideal. Days have mostly been sunny and temperate, the night temperatures perfect for sleeping.

We started off our stay here a bit in the hole after a couple of big shopping trips to Costco, Trader Joes, and Winco but we’ve managed our spending since then and will be leaving town well under budget, ready to face a new, lowered daily spending amount. Other than visiting the art museum and the zoo, we saw and did everything we wanted to while we were here. We will miss our westside apartment up on the hill, along with its proximity to OHSU and the nearby forest park and hiking trails. We’ve loved being able to easily get around town for the most part without a car.

Best of all, we’ve loved catching up with our friends here, always the best part of coming back to Portland.

But, here we go again! We’ll check into our hotel out by the airport tomorrow afternoon after stopping off to put a few more things into storage (our summer clothes, for example – we won’t need them in England). On Saturday at noon we’ll return our rental car and head over to the airport, where we’ll have a bit of a long wait. We’ll eventually get our bags checked in, head to our gate, and will Portland a little after 7:00 p.m.

What a great summer we’ve had – thank you Portland!

#Portland: Pittock Mansion

The front of Pittock Mansion still looks out over the city. The main entrance, with its arched doorway, is located to the right of the center room on the ground floor.

Located high in the northwest hills above the city, Pittock Mansion is one of Portland’s brightest jewels, and one of our favorite Portland places to visit. Built in 1914 by Henry Pittock and his wife, Georgiana, the mansion not only boasted sweeping views of the city but incorporated the latest technology of the time, including a housewide intercom system, a walk-in refrigerator, an elevator, and indirect electric lighting.

Visitors today approach the mansion from the back and enter the house from the porte-cochere. The mansion has four floors including the basement and attic.

Both Henry and Georgiana separately came to Portland by way of the Oregon Trail in the 19th century, and Henry built his fortune as the owner and publisher of the Oregonian newspaper. Together, the Pittocks were instrumental in transforming Portland from a small logging town into a modern city, and they were active in raising funds for several local charities.

While the entire home is beautiful, my favorite room is Georgiana’s sewing room, part of the master bedroom suite on the second floor. Georgiana often entertained her friends here.
The period sewing table.

Georgiana died in 1918, and Henry in 1919. Family members continued to live in the mansion until 1958 when the last one moved out (he had actually been born in the house – the Pittock household consisted of nine extended family members when Henry and Georgiana lived there). The house suffered considerable damage over the years, especially during the Columbus Day Storm in 1962, but the city rallied to save and restore the mansion and it opened to the public in 1965. It is currently operated by Portland Parks and Recreation and staffed by volunteers. The home and the estate manager’s home were added to the National Historic Register in 1974.

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Some of the Lewis & Clark Exhibition memorabilia located in the basement Social Room. These particular items were located in one of the small circular “card nooks” which sit on the sides of the large, oval main room (which was used for billiards).

We also viewed a special exhibition about Portland’s 1905 Lewis & Clark Exhibition, which attracted participants from all over the world and rivaled any other world’s fair to date. Pittock had been instrumental in bringing the fair to the city.

You can never have too many coffee mugs!

Brett and I were inspired by our visit to Pittock Mansion to make a rare souvenir purchase: two big, sturdy hand-thrown pottery coffee mugs with an image of the mansion on the front. They will get lots of use!

Sunday Afternoon 8/25/2019: Last Week in Portland

Portland produces some beautiful sunsets – Brett took this picture on his way home from his last night of Japanese class.

What a lovely, lazy, relaxing week this past one was! We had a busy Friday afternoon, but otherwise we didn’t do much of anything but read and rest. Yesterday and Wednesday we didn’t even leave the apartment, not even to walk (it rained on Wednesday, so going for a walk wasn’t going to happen anyway). We will have more than plenty to do this coming week, and I know we’re going to appreciate the calm of this past week.

YaYu arrives back from Japan on Tuesday afternoon. We will meet her at the airport, have dinner with her there and hand over the suitcase we’ve been storing for her here this summer, and then get her checked in for her flight back to Pennsylvania. We spoke with her this past week and she is very ready to come back to the U.S. She was paid well by her brother for her work (and she did a lot of work for them), had a good time overall but now knows that being a nanny is not her thing. Anyway, we’re looking forward to our time with her and wish we had more.

Back out of hiding . . .

Along with taking care of a bunch of final errands, Brett and I will be packing all week, and on Thursday we’ll pick up a rental car so that we can get our big suitcases out of the apartment Friday morning and over to a hotel near the airport for the night (we couldn’t reserve the apartment through Saturday as it was already reserved beginning Friday). We’ll turn the car in on Saturday and then spend a few hours at the airport – our flight doesn’t leave until after 7:00 in the evening, although we’ll check our bags in as soon as we can. We’re quite good at long airport stays now, and have things to read and do while we wait.

But . . . this time next week we will be in England! We’ve had a wonderful summer in Portland, but we’re excited to be moving on to our next destination. Visiting Great Britain has been a long-held dream for me (my ancestors on both sides come from England and Scotland) and I’m looking forward to being there for a while. We’ll be there for whatever unfolds with Brexit (deadline on October 31) and have no idea how that’s going to go or how it might affect our experience.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I stayed up late last Wednesday evening and finished Truman. It was one of the best books I’ve read, and I learned much I didn’t know before. Harry Truman was a complicated man, but the right person to be president for the time, someone who truly grew into the office, and a great American overall. I’m now reading two completely different books, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman, and Blade of the Samurai, another mystery by Susan Spann set in old Japan.
  • Listening to: It’s thankfully a quiet morning both inside and outside. I didn’t sleep well last night – I woke up around 3:00 a.m. with a knot in my stomach (nerves) over the upcoming travel, and it took me a while to fall back to sleep. I’m feeling very tired this morning and I appreciate the quiet.
  • Watching: Last week Brett and I discovered Mindhunter on Netflix and binge-watched two seasons of that (it’s about the beginnings of the Behavioral Sciences division of the FBI and understanding how serial killers develop). We are looking forward to Season 3! We finished up all the available episodes of Derry Girls and The Good Place, but the latter has new episodes available this coming week so we’re planning to watch those and hopefully will get to see them all before we check out. And then . . . we’re done with TV watching for a long while (unless we discover some great British show while we’re there).
  • Cooking: We finished almost all of the food in the house last week, but have enough for three last meals here at the apartment. Tonight we’re (finally) having teriyaki chicken, tomorrow we’re having stuffed peppers, and on Thursday we’ll have omelets with the last of any leftovers. We’re eating out on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, and also on Friday – we’re thinking of maybe going over to IKEA for some inexpensive Swedish meatballs because it’s near to our hotel. On Saturday morning we’ll have breakfast at the hotel, and then we’ll eat again at the airport before boarding our flight as there is no food served on board (fingers are crossed that we’ll be able to get something to eat at the Reykjavik airport during our layover there).
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Other than finishing Truman, sticking to low-carb eating, and drinking lots of water I didn’t accomplish anything this past week.
  • Looking forward to next week: I’m looking forward to spending a few hours with YaYu, although we know she will be tired and in a mood (she dislikes air travel). We’re also having dinner with our friend Joan on Wednesday evening at Higgins restaurant. We always love getting together with Joan, and Higgins was on my bucket list before we left Portland in 2014 but we didn’t make it then. I can’t say I’m looking forward to packing, but we are excited about hitting the road once again.

    Discovering that my pants were starting to disintegrate was quite a surprise but I ordered a new pair and am ready to go!
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Brett got the results back from his last round of medical testing and everything looks good. The doctor had seen something in his initial blood work that could have been an indicator for some not-so-good things, so she requested more testing, but none of the subsequent tests have shown any issues that would indicate problems – everything has been within the normal range. He has an appointment with the doctor tomorrow morning and hopefully he’ll get the official thumbs up from her, although we know the issue is something that’s going to have to be watched going forward. One initially not good thing was that I discovered one morning that a pair of my black Perfect Fit pants were beginning to disintegrate! I realized though they were over eight years old and had gotten a LOT of wear over the years so I guess it was time. I ordered a new pair from LL Bean and they arrived in two days so I am ready to go.

    Our last box from the farmers’ market, this time with apricots and plums! How lucky we were to enjoy so much sweet and tasty local fruit this summer.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: Brett went over to the farmers’ market on Tuesday and bought fruit and cherry tomatoes, we rented a Zipcar for our visit to Pittock Mansion and to drop off our recycling on Friday, bought two hand-thrown pottery souvenir coffee mugs at Pittock Mansion, and picked up a very few things at the grocery store on Friday to get us through our last days here, but otherwise we had five no-spend days this past week and our daily average for the month is just over $26. We have pretty much finished up all our food, and will only be leaving behind a little bit of vegetable oil, sesame oil, soy sauce, and some ketchup and mustard. (Having to buy new pants was not particularly frugal, but they were necessary and paid out of our clothing fund. I’m hoping they will last at least eight years too!)

    I will definitely be buying more big bags of mugi cha when we’re in Japan next year.
  • Grateful for: It’s often the big things we think of when we think of gratitude, but this week for me it’s one of the little things that has helped make my summer more pleasant. I’m so thankful I found that big package of mugi cha (roasted barley tea) at Costco in Japan because I’ve been able to enjoy it every day all summer long. I still can’t get over how much I detested mugi cha the first time I tasted it (I gagged) because it’s now one of my favorite things to drink and very refreshing. Finding that big package in Japan made it a very affordable treat this summer.
  • Bonus question: What is the most useless thing you ever learned how to do? I have to go back to the navy again for this one, but in my “A” school I learned how to test and replace vacuum tubes. This was in 1977, and the navy was not even using vacuum tubes by then but we still had to do the section as it hadn’t been removed from the curriculum. That was a week of my life I’ve never gotten back. Thankfully my job after finishing “A” school was fairly interesting although the skills I used have turned out to be pretty useless as well. I operated a flight simulator that trained naval flight officers, doing air traffic control for their “takeoffs” and making sure they took off correctly and knew what to say when and how to talk with air traffic control during their “flight.” Also high on my list of useless things was learning to do various math problems longhand back in the day like finding the square root of a number, calculating the slope of a line, etc. – yeah for calculators these days! I still do long division in my head sometimes though as well as some other simple algebraic formulas so those didn’t turn out to be as useless as I thought they were at the time.

    We used a machine like this to test vacuum tubes. I might as well be trying to read Greek these days.

There won’t be a Sunday post next week because we will still be flying for most of day (our flight leaves Portland on Saturday evening) or settling in at our hotel near Heathrow for some much-needed sleep after we arrive in England. I’ve been in touch with our host and we’re set to check in once we arrive in Blockley on Monday. I’ll post again once I feel settled.

Finally, this past week I got a Facebook message from someone in Hawai’i I initially didn’t recognize. It turned out to be from the people who had rented the house we lived in after us. They too have been having loads of trouble getting their deposit back from the landlord after moving out at the end of July and are also having to deal with his lies about all the “damage” they supposedly did to the place. They asked about our experience with him and wanted to know if we had any suggestions. I said they should take him to court – their deposit was even larger than ours – and it turned out they already had the paperwork almost done and were getting ready to file. Yeah! The one thing that awful man doesn’t want to do is go to court, and we told them if they needed any help to let us know. They are a young couple from the island with LOTS of family there which may be what finally nails this greedy, immoral guy – you don’t mess with locals (and apparently at one point he had been badmouthing the couple to their family members without knowing it) – no, no, NO!

Hoping everyone has a great week!

Saving For Travel: It’s Not Just About the Money

(This article was originally posted on October 31, 2016, but because our recent budget changes I felt it was a good time for a re-post. A few minor updates have been made to the original.)

I only wish Brett and I had the kind of income where we could whip out our checkbook or charge card whenever we wanted to take a trip, and pay for it all, just like that. For us though travel takes planning, time and saving, saving, saving. All of our journeys are fully funded before we leave home.

However, saving money is only the start. Along with putting away funds we talk about: Where do we want to go and how much is it going to cost? Do we need to save $500? $1000? $5000? More? Is it doable? Realistic? Can we do it for less? When’s the best time to go? Where would we stay? How long can we afford to go away? What do we want to see or do when we’re there? And so forth . . .

That’s the thing about travel: Each trip is different and requires different things and costs a different amount. There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to traveling – we bring our own desires and expectations when we hit the road, even within in the family, and the total cost of any trip is affected by those desires and expectations. Because we don’t have that bottomless checking account, Brett and I not only put money aside but take some extra steps in order to make the most of what we have and where we’re going.

Here are some ways we successfully save for our travels and make sure we get to go where we want, have the best time possible, and don’t bust our budget:

  • Our travel plans always start with us talking about places we’d like to visit and then making a mental list of places we’d like to go, whether we’ve been there before or they’ve been on our “someday” list. We’re not the most spontaneous people when it comes to travel, so we prioritize our list by starting with places and people we’d regret never getting to see down to locations we’ve always been curious about or that make sense to visit since we’ll already be in the area. We allow our list to change whenever new information comes up so that sometimes places we wanted to visit in the past can seem less important as time passes, and other places become more interesting. Some of our destinations, like Japan, are determined by family circumstance and always go to the top of the list. I love this part of travel planning though – dreams are always free ;-).
  • I thoroughly research what it would cost to travel to places. Brett usually leaves this step to me. It takes a while, but I find doing research for travel a LOT of fun, and I always learn lots of new information and pick up tips, even if we don’t end up going to someplace I’ve looked into. I try to figure out how much transportation will cost, as well as lodging, dining, and other expenses. Would it make more sense for us to stay in a hotel or use Airbnb if we go somewhere? Is there a peak season (and how can we avoid it if possible)? I love reading articles and stories about how to dine on a budget at our destination, or about a place where we may need to increase our budget because the food and experience are not to be missed. I love learning about all sorts of interesting places we might want to visit, from must-sees to maybes. I know that there are many people way more spontaneous than we are, and when they see a cheap airfare to somewhere they snap it up and go, or think nothing of hopping in their car and taking off. I’m enough of a nerd though that I’d rather do the research about spending our money on a trip, and figure out how to get the most bang for our bucks. Our income and budget sort of demand it as well.
  • After the research is done, we decide if we can realistically save enough to afford the trip. We make the final decision to go somewhere only if we can afford it. We’re not willing to break the bank and go into debt just to fulfill some fantasy or check off something on a bucket list. I would greatly love to take more tours through India, and Brett and I would like to visit one of the national parks in Botswana, but know now that these days both are way out of our price range (Botswana is way, way, way out) unless we saved for years and did nothing else. We focus on what’s realistic and doable.
  • We set a goal for saving. We like to use the SMART criteria whenever we make a goal, financial or otherwise: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Rather than saying “Let’s save so we can go to Japan,” we tell ourselves that we need to save enough before [proposed travel date] to cover airfare and lodging for three of us as well as have enough for meals and other expenses. Can we have approximately half of that amount saved by [a certain date] to cover airfare if a good deal shows up? This is how we can place what we need and when in relation to other upcoming expenses, such as the girls’ college expenses, Christmas, etc. Once everything gets mapped out, and we decide it’s achievable, we go forward. If it’s not, we either adjust our goal or drop it. We typically set our goals and start planning more than a year in advance of any major travel though, giving ourselves plenty of time to tweak things as we go along.
  • We have a dedicated savings account for travel, whether we’re actively planning any travel or not. I believe it’s important to make dedicated travel savings a priority rather than a ‘leftover’ when it comes to budgeting. We “pay ourselves” first and put away a predesignated amount each month for travel. We add to our savings in other ways like adding what we save in our change/$1 bills jar (which adds around $800 per year to the account). If we can spend under our budget in any other area, like groceries or gasoline, for example, the difference goes into our travel savings – it’s an incentive to look for the best deals and be more conscious about saving. Rebates, refunds, rewards and gifts also go into travel savings. It adds up more quickly than you might think, and I never feel guilty or worried when we take any money out to cover travel expenses because that’s what it’s for. One more thing: with a dedicated travel savings fund we’re already miles ahead whenever we start thinking about going somewhere.
  • We stay motivated to save by giving ourselves reminders of our destination. Once we know when and where we’re going, we post pictures on the fridge, share books or articles about where we’re going, start Pinterest boards, and so forth. These ‘motivators’ can help keep our savings goals on track. They often help us decide between doing or buying something now versus putting away more for travel later. Even when our trip to the Grand Canyon was a mystery to everyone else, I still put up reminders about our trip in places that I saw frequently but that were hidden from Brett and the girls in order to stay motivated.
  • While we’re on the road, we track our spending every day. Brett maintains a daily spending log/diary so that we can see if we’re staying within our budget. If we’re over, we have a way to know why that’s happening and we can rein things in, but it also gives us a way to know if we can afford to possibly add something extra to our visit.

For us, successfully saving for travel involves more than just setting money aside. The extra steps we take help us not only be realistic about what we can afford but help keep us motivated to reach our goals and fulfill our travel dreams. Careful planning and saving along with close tracking of our spending provides us with a solid foundation to see and do what we want during our travels as well as the ability to dream about future journeys and make them a reality.