OK, That Was Fast

for-rentAfter putting up a post on Thursday morning about the difficulties we expected to encounter in finding a new rental here on the island, things took a dramatic turnaround on Friday.

Late Thursday morning an ad appeared on Craigslist for a new 2-bedroom, 2-bath house over near the high school. There must have been something in it that caught my attention because even though there were no pictures I replied to the ad and also called the number. My call was returned in less than 30 minutes and I chatted with a very nice man for a few minutes about the place. Would we like to come and see it on Friday morning? Sure, I though, why not?

The house was small (only around 900 square feet, but had two bedrooms and two bathrooms). We Googled the address, but all that Google Maps showed was a construction site. OK, the house was not just “new” to Craigslist, it was actually NEW. The location looked very nice though, with the address located in a very lovely residential neighborhood that was only a few minutes drive from the girls’ high school.

We met the owner in front of the house a little after 10:00 a.m yesterday morning. He and Brett hit it right off as it turned out he was a retired Marine! They were swapping service stories in no time at all, and then it also turned out he was born and raised just a short distance away from where I was in Southern California! We were soon swapping stories as well about places in the area we both knew. Brett and I were starting to get a good feeling about things.

We fell in love with the place the second we stepped through the front gate. The front yard is enclosed and private, and there is a broad, covered lanai/porch leading up to the front door. We loved the color the house had been painted. And then we stepped inside . . .

I think both Brett and must have walked around with our mouths hanging open. The inside was GORGEOUS! The house is small, but everything in the house was done to perfection. Every feature was absolutely top quality, from the finishes to the fixtures to the window coverings to the appliances. And it really was NEW. For a small house, the floor plan was well laid out, there was ample storage, and we could see where all our things would easily fit. The house has an attached 2-car garage, the laundry is located inside the house, and there is a large, private yard. The rent includes weekly yard service, and there are avocado, guava and lemon trees on the property. The owner apologized for the amount of rent he was asking (less than we’re paying here, but tenant is responsible for their own utilities), but said the new property taxes that were levied last year caused him to ask as much as he did. We felt that for the location and the condition of the house that the monthly rent was more than reasonable.

We put down a deposit on the spot, and as of tomorrow we officially have a new rental! We had just paid for November in our current location, so will use this next month to gradually get our stuff moved out and over to our new place. Brett called and left our landlord a message yesterday evening that we were giving our notice. Technically we are breaking the lease and could be stuck owing the remaining six months’ rent. However, in Hawai’i a landlord is required to actively seek a new tenant if a current tenant under lease moves out. They can’t just sit around and then take you to court for missed rent; they are required to place ads, interview potential renters, etc. We have no doubts about him being able to rent this place quickly, even if it is being sold, and have offered to show the house to prospective renters.

Just to make the day more interesting though, after we got home and Brett had headed out to set up the utilities in our name, I received a call from the real estate agent that we had signed with to help us find a home. It turns out that the owners of the condo we had planned to buy wanted to know if we would be interested in a long-term lease on the condo with an option to buy in the future! Unbelievable! I told the agent that if they had called a day earlier we might have had a deal, but that we had just signed the lease for a new rental and were very happy with it.

This turned out to be w-a-y easier, and happened much faster than we ever expected, but we couldn’t be more thrilled. We will finally have a home all to ourselves – no more sharing anything, no more loud neighbors downstairs. There will be no more climbing up and down the stairs to do the laundry or to bring groceries into the house. The girls will be closer to their school, and we will be closer to town. We still won’t have a dishwasher, and we’ll miss the beautiful mountain views we have now, but for what we’re getting we can live without them.

But, now comes the real work, the getting us out of this house and settled into our new one. We should have everything in place before Meiling comes home, and before our son and family arrive in December, and are looking forward to celebrating Christmas in our new house!


Feel Good Friday

Guess what our grandson is getting from Grandma and Grandpa?

It’s been another good, busy week here at Casa Aloha, with several things happening to feel good about this Friday:

  • We got the freezer emptied out and defrosted before our big shopping trip to Costco.
  • We came in $40 under budget after our monthly Costco and Safeway shop-a-thons, a miracle because we had run out of so much this month, and our shopping list was longer than ever. The extra will cover milk and eggs when we need them later in the month.
  • We saved $30 by skipping the farmers’ market this week – we still have plenty of produce on hand.
  • My grandson sent me a letter complete with some drawings and his signature!
  • Brett found a button on the ground at the recycling center that was a perfect replacement for the one he lost off one of his favorite pairs of shorts a while ago. And, he sewed it on himself (he learned to do mending when he was in the navy).
  • I had a great conversation with my mom this week. She was so thrilled to hear that WenYu was named a scholarship finalist.
  • Temperatures have been cooler all week, especially in the evenings. Not cool enough for a sweater (thank goodness) but we haven’t needed the fans at night.
  • We put $19.53 in the change/$1 bill jar during the last two weeks. It doesn’t seem like much, but we have almost saved $1000 this year this way. That’s some nice traveling money!

How was your week? What good things happened for you?

Edging Back Into the Kaua’i Rental Market

for-rentRight now Brett and I are really only semi-seriously looking for a new place to rent, but I have been looking at Craigslist every day now to get an idea of what’s available in the current rental market and what prices are like (everyone here, including all property management companies, advertise on Craigslist). With our son and family visiting for Christmas, and Meiling also home for the holidays, we’d like to stay where we are though until after the first of the year.

However, the week before last a house showed up on Craigslist that we thought might be a good fit for us. It was a little bigger than the house we’re in now, in a great location, and the rent was a little less than we pay here. It had open beam ceilings in the living room, and a stunning ocean view from the back lanai. There were things we didn’t like about the house though: it had wall-to-wall carpeting; it was another upstairs unit with an apartment on the ground level; the laundry facilities were downstairs in the garage and shared with the other tenant; and again there was no dishwasher.

Still, we thought it was worth a try and we responded to the ad. We were actually the first people to call and request an application, but it took the owner a few days and a reminder to send one to us. We filled the application out and sent it right back, but after three days of hearing nothing I finally emailed her day before yesterday and asked her to let us know what was happening. I got an email back yesterday morning informing me that she had had 26 applicants (!) for the house, and had chosen someone else.

Her response was a sharp reminder of what we are going to be up against in our search for a new rental, that we’ll most likely be competing with a potential 20+ other applicants each time we find something that might work for us. The rental market is very tight on the island, especially for families, and nice, affordable rentals are snapped up quickly (in fact, if a rental lingers on Craigslist it typically means there is something seriously wrong with either the property or the owner). We have sufficient income, excellent credit scores, good references, and everything else that’s needed, but each time we apply we’ll be compared with who knows how many others with equal or maybe better qualifications. It’s going to be crazy.

We were very lucky to get the house we live in now and we know it. It’s been a great place to start off our life on Kaua’i. Our landlord’s real estate agent asked us again yesterday if we would consider staying here in this house after it’s sold – we’re an asset as we’re solid renters and do a good job of maintaining the property. But, both Brett and I would like to move on and try a different area on the island for a while if we can find a good place.

We’ll start seriously looking after the first of the year, but are prepared to jump before that if something suitable pops up. We see now though that we are really going to have to up our game if we want to come out on top in the rental market here.

An Old Song, A New Translation

A direct translation from one language to another isn’t necessarily the best translation. The words may make sense in the new language, but really only touch the surface of what’s being said, missing a deeper meaning embedded in the original.

Back in 1963, a Japanese song, “Sukiyaki,” became #1 in the United States, the only Japanese song to ever break into the Billboard 100, let alone make it to #1. The song’s real name is Ue o muite arukou (“I look up when I walk”); it was given the name ‘sukiyaki’ because it was a Japanese word foreigners could easily pronounce. Sukiyaki/Ue o muite arukou remains one of the best-selling singles of all time, with over 13 million copies sold world-wide. The radio couldn’t play it enough back then to satisfy me, and it remains one of my all-time favorite songs. Although I didn’t understand a word of it in 1963, today it’s the only Japanese song I can sing along with and actually understand.

Here’s the original 1963 version by Kyu Sakamoto, with the lyrics translated into English:

I didn’t think there was any way Ue o muite arukou could be improved upon, and was sure I fully understood its meaning and message. However, yesterday an old friend from Japan sent me a new version of the beloved song. Last year Yoko Ono rewrote the lyrics into English and the new song, “Look At the Sky,” was recorded by Olly Murs. Instead of relying on a direct translation, Ono’s new words instead evoke a “truer” version of the Japanese in translation. The video is beautifully done as well. It’s very Japanese, and yet fits perfectly with the new English lyrics. (Apologies for any ads that might show up in the beginning.)

Sometimes when a classic undergoes a re-make or a makeover the newer version can end up something of a disappointment, and something less than the original. But, “Look At the Sky” is anything but a disappointment, and if anything is just as good the original, maybe better. I will always love the Ue o muite arukou I first heard in 1963, but “Look At the Sky” will have a place right next to it. Although it seems a such sad song, hearing “Sukiyaki” has always made me feel happy for some reason. “Look At the Sky” brings tears to my eyes each time I hear it, but in a very happy way.

Tuesday Miscellany

Am I the only person in the world that doesn't like pumpkin spice lattes?
Am I the only person in the world that doesn’t like pumpkin spice lattes?

Just little bits of stuff too small for their own post:

  • I am feeling very whiny right now about this whole house showing business. We had a showing Sunday morning at 11:00 a.m., another one yesterday morning at 10:30 and will be having another tomorrow morning at 9:45 a.m. This time the agent wants us to be out of the house for over an hour so once again we have to figure out somewhere to go and something to do (this time it’s some sort of realtor open house). It was bad enough doing it for our own home, but for someone else’s home I’m finding it to be downright annoying. If I were a landlord I would be apologizing profusely and taking $100 off the rent for the trouble to my tenants, but that’s just me. Brett said he is going to tell the landlord though that since we are jumping through all these hoops to sell his house (i.e. keeping the house in pristine condition and having to accommodate showings), that we expect that our deposit will be returned to us quickly and without question when we move on. Of course, after this burst of interest maybe the house will go another month with no one wanting to see it and we can relax again.
  • We are already looking for a new place to live and I discovered the condo we had planned to buy has been listed on Craigslist as a rental! But, in the small print it says that it’s for sale and tenants will have to agree to showings. Please see the above paragraph for why we won’t be calling.
  • Today Brett and I stopped in Starbucks for a drink while we had to be out of the house, and I felt a pang of nostalgia when I saw the sign for pumpkin spice lattes. Not because I like them (I don’t), but because, I realized, I missed fall just a bit. There are subtle seasonal changes here: the days are cooler and there’s less humidity, but I always did love seeing the leaves change, wearing a sweater for the first time after summer, and putting soups and stews back on the menu. Then I remembered the cold and the rain that came along with fall, and that fall segued into winter . . . and the moment passed. Lucky we live Hawaii!
  • We’re feeling very grateful right now that we don’t have those college application fees to submit. After sending off WenYu’s test scores, financial aid paperwork via priority mail (it needs to be at each school by November 1), and the College Scholarship Service Profile (CSSFinancialAid Profile) to each of her seven ranked schools, another $250 went out of our pockets and over to the post office, the College Board (the people who run the SAT) and the ACT testing service. It almost feels like you need financial aid these days just to apply to go to college!
  • I am burned out with Swagbucks and plan to throttle back at the end of the month. I have earned more than enough this year to give us a very merry Christmas, but I need a break for now. I’ll pick it back up again in January to start saving for next year. Using Swagbucks means the money we would normally put away for Christmas can be used for travel, groceries (thru Amazon) and other fun things.


Sunday Morning 10/25/2015

Murder Capital of the Western World
Murder Capital of the Western World

I’m posting this a little earlier than usual today as we have to be out of the house in just a little while and probably won’t be back until early afternoon (HST). Last weekend’s showing was rescheduled to this morning, and then there’s another one scheduled for tomorrow morning. The girls will be in school tomorrow though, and Brett and I have errands to run. Today’s showing is a disruption – we all have plenty to do around here today and having to be out of the house doesn’t help. The only upside is that the house is cleaned and ready to go for the week. These are the first showings since the house went on the market 40 days ago and I’m already tired of them!

After a day or so of celebration for WenYu, she is right back to the grind. Besides her usual full schedule of school and sports, yesterday she and YaYu were up early to participate in a Key Club service project down at one of the beach parks (they cleaned the weeds out of a sacred heiau and got yelled at by someone who didn’t know what they were doing 😦 ) and then they went to work for three hours at their homecoming football game. After they got home WenYu cleaned her room, which looked like a tornado had struck, and then she spent most of the evening studying for a math exam. I wish I had just half of her energy! The stats for this year’s Questbridge finalists were published on Friday: 13,265 applied; 4,895 were chosen as finalists, and only 1% of those finalists came from Alaska and Hawaii! If their percentages from previous years hold, out of all finalists only around 585 will be selected for a match scholarship.

I am having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that next Saturday it will be Halloween, and on Sunday it will be November. This month has just flown by!

This afternoon I am:

  • Reading: A Pleasure and a Calling is turning out to be a very fun read. I’ve still been too tired most nights though to read. My head hits the pillow and I’m out (which is a good thing, I guess)!
  • Listening to: Good heavens but the chickens and roosters are noisy this morning! Screeching is too nice a word for the sound they’re making. I have no idea what has them so stirred up but they need to cut. it. out.
  • Watching: Brett and I are about five episodes into Band of Brothers. It’s just as good as it was the first time around for me, although I have a lot of trouble watching the actual fighting scenes and often have to get up and leave the room. We’ll watch another episode tonight, probably followed by yet another episode of the never-ending Midsomer Murders. We’re currently watching Season 11, and there are at least six seasons more to go!
  • Cooking/baking: Our food supply is getting low for the month, so I’m having to get creative with what we have on hand. I’ve got a package of chicken thighs I want to use tonight, so I think we will grill those and serve with zaru soba (chilled soba noodle with dipping sauce) and a cucumber salad.
  • Happy I accomplished last week: We got all of the necessary paperwork done to be sent off to all the colleges WenYu ranked for the scholarship. Test scores and transcripts have been ordered, and all financial paperwork (which was a lot) has been downloaded, gathered, filled out, copied, etc. and will be sent off via Priority Mail tomorrow. We made a spreadsheet so we could keep track of everything, and marked it off as it got done. Almost everything has an X through it!
  • Looking forward to next week: We are due for our big monthly Costco shopping, but I think we’ll just get a few things this time – the freezer needs defrosting and I don’t want to fill it up again. I’m looking forward though to not having to do the shopping on my own this month! I am also hoping that Brett and I can get another puzzle started this week.
  • Grateful for: We’re feeling very grateful this week for the Questbridge program and the service they provide! It’s an amazing opportunity.
  • Bonus Question: Is there anything in your life you would do differently if you had the chance to do it over? Basically no, because I feeling like I’ve learned something valuable from every experience, both good and bad. I like who I am today, and where I am, and those things have been shaped by every experience and relationship, whether positive or negative. I do sometimes think though that if I were going to spend so much money again on a graduate degree that I would get it in history or literature versus linguistics. Linguistics is interesting to me, and I enjoyed teaching ESL, but as the years have passed I wish I had taken the chance and studied a subject I’m more passionate about rather than what I thought would make me more employable.

I hope you are all enjoying a wonderful Sunday afternoon and that you had a great week and are looking forward to the coming one!

Feel Good Friday


All of us here at Casa Aloha are feeling very good this Friday: WenYu was selected as a national Questbridge Scholarship Finalist! We were feeling very anxious about the results, and by Wednesday morning I had convinced myself that she was not going to be selected. When I opened her text at noon and saw the good news I burst into tears!

Questbridge connects high-achieving, low-income students with top colleges and universities all over the country, including all the Ivies and schools such as Stanford, University of Chicago, MIT, Vanderbilt University, Vassar and others. Thirty-six colleges in all partner with Questbridge.

The scholarship program has two parts, beginning with the finalist round. Students complete a rigorous application, write two essays, and submit transcripts, test scores and parent financial information to Questbridge. Students can also choose to “rank” up to 12 partner colleges that they would like to attend (WenYu ranked seven: Scripps, Wellesley, Oberlin, Davidson, Colorado College, Pomona, and Vanderbilt). Questbridge reviews all the applications, and finalists are selected. Finalists’ applications are then sent to all their ranked colleges where they will be reviewed for a possible match scholarship awarded by the college (Questbridge itself does not actually award any scholarships; they provide a matching service that identifies qualified low-income students and connects them with participating schools). A Questbridge match scholarship from one of the partner schools covers all tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, and travel expenses for four years, with no student loans and no parental contributions. Some universities award as many as 40 Questbridge scholarships each year; smaller colleges award around 10 or less.

Although not the golden ticket itself, being selected as a finalist is still a major honor, and provides a huge boost for admission to one of the partner colleges even if the student is not matched with any of their ranked schools. Last year (2014) 11,654 students applied to Questbridge, with 4,180 chosen as finalists (36%). From those, 501 match scholarships were awarded by partner colleges, and an additional 1,499 finalists were accepted by partner schools through regular admission, many with a full need-based scholarship.

Questbridge finalists do not have to pay application fees to partner colleges (which is saving us nearly $420!). Only one of WenYu’s college choices requires a further writing submission, but official transcripts, tax returns and test scores have to be sent to each college by November 1. Match scholarship winners for all schools will be announced on December 1. If WenYu doesn’t receive a match, her application will be automatically moved over to the regular decision round at each of her ranked schools, and she can apply to other colleges as well.

We bought mint chocolate chip ice cream, hot fudge sauce and whipped cream on Tuesday, and were prepared to either celebrate WenYu’s success or drown our sorrows in ice cream depending on Wednesday’s results. So, so thrilled though that we got to celebrate! We are still doing the happy dance here at Casa Aloha and are extremely proud of our girl and all her hard work.

We are all definitely feeling good this Friday! I hope everyone else had a very good week too!

Biting Off More Than One Can Chew

Sometimes the eyes deceive, as when one sees food and believes they could eat it, all of it. So too, when one sees a task and believes they can do it, with the simplest hand tools, in a day, by themselves. Such was the case when I volunteered to mow along a disused and neglected portion of one the my favorite trails, Kuilau Trail from Keahua Arboretum to the bridge where it joins Moalepe Trail.

Rather than use a gas-powered weed eater offered by the Division of Forestry and Wildlife (I cannot be the only person who detests that noise), I opted for a scythe, only to discover that no one seems to know what a scythe is anymore. What I ended up with was a nifty pruning hook and a grass hook.

Pruning Hook

The pruning hook only has a two-foot handle, but that is at least better than squatting  down with a sickle. Although the grass hook has a three-foot handle, it dulls quickly and easily, and is difficult to sharpen by hand.

grass hook
Grass Hook

Nevertheless, I set out to try them on the Sleeping Giant (Kuamo’o Trail). While the pruning hook performed well when removing overhanging branches and low-lying brush and pithy weeds, the grass hook was cumbersome and dulled quickly—especially when striking upturned rocks and snagging in the ubiquitous Albizia roots that are the foundation of the pathway. Consequently, I finished mowing the last few yards of that 200-yard stretch using only the pruning hook.

My next challenge would be mowing the last three fourths of a mile on the Kuilau Trail, so after returning home, I sharpened my tools as well as possible with a 2-1/2 inch whetstone, and put them away.

Over one month later, I packed a lunch, an extra liter of water, my tools, mosquito repellent, and finally got around to the task that I initially volunteered to do. Hiking in the first mile and a quarter there were no surprises such as fallen trees or landslides, and just beyond the picnic shelter area, I started capturing the “BEFORE” shots of places to be mowed. Arriving at trail’s end, I recorded a short video of the Little Falls before beginning to mow my way back to the trailhead.

Starting from the bridge, I cleaned up the first 100 yards and used up all of the ‘sharp’ that that grass hook had. In the process I also disturbed a big Black Witch Moth that fluttered around wildly, then returned to hide and slumber, upside down, in the upper thicket alongside an Albizia tree.

Black Witch Moth 'hiding' alongside an Albizia tree.
Black Witch Moth
Last quarter mile from trail's end - AFTER mowing










Feeling as though I’d accomplished something, I set out to clean up the 50-yard stretch back to the 1.75 Mile marker. Below is an older photo of the view toward trail’s end from the marker, followed by the “BEFORE” and “AFTER” shots, looking back from trail’s end to the marker.

From 1.75 Mile Marker, about a month ago...
From 1.75 Mile Marker, about a month ago…
...and a week ago, BEFORE mowing.
…and a week ago, BEFORE mowing.
AFTER mowing
AFTER mowing










Although it looks quite a mess afterward, the first rainfall should clean it up quite nicely and leave the thatch to hold the thicket at bay for a while. At this point, I’d been mowing for nearly five hours, which made it obvious that I would not finish mowing my way back to the trailhead that day.

Here are two more BEFORE shots, and much work lies between them and the 1.75 Mile marker.

Labor of Love #1
Lucky to live Hawaii #1
Labor of Love #2
Lucky to Live Hawaii #2










With just over one half mile to go, I’ll need a few more weeks to chew the remainder of this bite.

Navy Life/Navy Wife

Brett's last reinlistment, at the Southernmost Point in Key West, FL. Shortly after this we headed back to Japan for a second tour.
Brett’s last re-enlistment, at the Southernmost Point in Key West, FL. Shortly after this we headed back to Japan for the second time, and our final tour in the navy.

One of the best retirement decisions Brett and I ever made, although we didn’t know it at the time, was for him to stay in the navy long enough to collect retirement benefits. It was not an easy decision by any means, and we got through our navy years enlistment by enlistment (Brett retired as an E-8, a Senior Chief Petty Officer). It wasn’t until the last two that we decided to stay for the full twenty, and Brett actually retired with 22 years of service.

I am somewhat awed these days by how different and nicer things are for those currently serving and their families. The housing is much nicer, the benefits nicer, and the pay is definitely better these days. And to that I say . . . it’s about time! All those nice things available now? Service members and their families deserve them and they earn them. There’s a reason not everyone joins the military or stays in for longer than one or two enlistments or tours: It’s challenging, stressful and sometimes dangerous work for the service member, and it’s a challenging, stressful and often difficult life for families.

Brett up on deck, returning home after being deployed for six months in support of Operation Desert Storm in 1991 (the other sailors are in work uniforms; they will be staying aboard ship).
Brett up on the flight deck of the USS Midway, returning home after being deployed for six months in support of Operation Desert Storm in 1991 (the other sailors are in work uniforms; they will be staying aboard ship).

I’ve mentioned before the saying “the toughest job in the navy is Navy Spouse.” There’s a one-word answer for why it’s the toughest job: deployment. When your spouse is in the navy, it’s a given that they are going to go away, usually on a ship, and usually for a long time. During our first tour in Japan, Brett was away 30 out of the 35 months we lived there. Thankfully we never had a tour as difficult as that again, although some were close. I used to joke that whenever Brett checked in to a new duty station, whether sea or shore duty, the first thing he was required to turn over was a list of all family birthdays and anniversaries so the command could make sure he was away on those days. During the 15 years we spent together on active duty he was home for all of two of our wedding anniversaries. Our son and I rarely saw him for Thanksgiving, and I’m hard-pressed to remember when he was home for a birthday although I’m sure he made a few. Amazingly, he only missed one Christmas at home. When Brett deployed I, like every other navy spouse, took over responsibility for everything, from the budget to car repairs to child-rearing so that he could do his job without worrying about what was going on back home. Did I mention too that there were no phones on ships like today, no email, no Skype, no texting and so forth back then? All we had was snail mail, and you could go weeks without hearing from your spouse, whether you were the one at home or the one at sea. Two letters written one day after the other could show up two weeks apart, while two letters written two weeks apart might show up in your mailbox on the same day. If a problem or crisis arose back at home, I had to deal with it on my own; there were no opportunities or means to communicate with Brett to figure out what to do or how to handle it.

Navy life meant we moved, on average, every two and a half years. The longest we were ever in one place were our two tours in Japan, where we were required to commit to a minimum three-year stay, but for a couple of tours we were in place less than 18 months. Although the navy claimed to cover the cost of the moves, it was never enough and we usually had to take out a month or two of advance pay to cover the difference, and then spend our first year at the new duty station paying it back. Moving always meant saying farewell to all that had become familiar. For all of us it was saying good-bye to friends and starting over. For our son it meant changing schools and having to make new friends and finding his place, over and over (he started the ninth grade in his ninth school). For me it usually meant quitting a job and looking for a new one after we arrived and settled in. For Brett, every move meant fitting in and figuring out a new work environment with new coworkers and a new boss. A PCS (Permanent Change of Station) move was the equivalent of having your household goods survive a small fire – something (and usually more than one thing) was always broken or torn or lost. We did six PCS moves during our time together in the navy.

We always chose government housing if it was available. We liked the camaraderie of being with other navy families, and it cost less than living out in town. Sometimes housing was available right away, but other times we had to wait several months before a unit became available, and had to rent out in town. During our second tour in Japan we lived “out on the economy” for the first 20 months of our tour. Although it wasn’t easy, it was still the experience of a lifetime and I’m grateful we got the opportunity. Whenever we moved out of base housing, we personally had to stand and pass a cleaning inspection; there were no contractors that came in and did it for us. That “white glove” was not a myth either. We once failed a cleaning inspection for a spot of old wax on the floor that was as small as a dime! Out of the five navy houses we lived in over 15 years, only one had a dishwasher, only one had air-conditioning, and only one had a carport (we never had a garage). Every single one of the houses we lived in was remodeled or upgraded after we moved out . . . and we still had to clean it to perfection. The curtains that fit in one house never fit in the next or any of the others – we had to purchase new window coverings for every place we lived. Only one of the five houses is still being used – the rest aged out and have been torn down. They were already older than dirt though when we lived in them.

But, you know what? I would do it again in a heartbeat. I loved being a navy wife. I am so proud of Brett – he served his country with honor and distinction. He had a job he loved (aviation maintenance/avionics) and excelled at it. Although our life with the navy wasn’t always easy, it was still a good life. No one joins the service to get rich, but we never had to worry about Brett being laid off, or not being paid. I never, ever got used to Brett’s being gone though – every deployment, whether it was for one week or six months was hard, and it never got easier. I remember saying good-bye to him, memorizing every feature of his face, wondering if I would see him again – Brett worked in one of the most dangerous environments in the world, an aircraft carrier flight deck. I had to frequently reassure our son that his dad didn’t leave again because of something he did, and that daddy was just doing his job and would be coming home soon, even if ‘soon’ was four months in the future. We made lifetime friends during our time in the navy, and we still share a special bond with those friends. Our family got to visit cities and sites all over the United States as we moved around, and different places in Asia as well. Our son grew up and used the skills he learned from making all those moves – he can confidently walk into any room or situation now and make conversation and quickly fit himself in. The navy took care of us, and was there for us if we needed anything. The best part of all though was that my time as a navy wife taught me that I was a strong, competent person who could handle just about anything on my own.

Brett's final rank was E-8, Senior Chief Petty Officer.
Brett’s final rank was E-8, Senior Chief Petty Officer.

And those benefits Brett earned? Since 1992 we have received a monthly payment based on Brett’s rank and the number of years he served (someone retiring today however with the same rank and time would start off receiving 25% more than Brett does – there is no parity for those who served earlier at lower pay). That payment has always been enough to take care of our housing expenses. Although Brett was promised free family healthcare for life for serving 20 years, we knew long ago that was unsustainable. Instead, we have extremely affordable lifetime healthcare insurance through Tricare, with no monthly premiums, and which includes a prescription drug plan and provides free Medicare supplemental insurance. Out-of-pocket health expenses are capped at a very low level, and we are covered anywhere we travel in the world. We are also eligible for excellent, low-cost family dental insurance, and can shop in any exchange or PX around the world, or any commissary, and use all military recreation facilities world-wide.

Navy life/navy wife – it was all worth it, every moment, toughest job or not.



Living the Good Life


In last week’s comments to my post about college vs retirement, one commenter couldn’t seem to decide whether we were rich, hiding our wealth in retirement funds so we would appear “poor” in order to qualify for federal financial aid for our daughters, or whether we were actually poor, living “on the dole” and struggling through each month, doomed to a life of poverty.

We definitely are not wealthy, and there is no fortune hidden away or waiting in the wings. We don’t own property. We’ve never received an inheritance other than the few thousand dollars I received over 20 years ago from my dad’s life insurance policy, which we used to pay the closing costs on our first home. The small amount of money that’s sitting in our IRAs now is only there because both Brett and I had small 401(k)s that we rolled over when we retired. And, when I say small I mean small. We spent our earlier savings bringing our girls home, and never earned enough after we adopted them, even when we were both working, to put much of anything aside but the minimum.

So, maybe we are poor.

I sure don’t feel poor though. We have a more-than-sufficient monthly income from Brett’s military retirement, Social Security, and the pensions we each receive. Put together, and with no FICA or other employment taxes coming out; no health insurance premiums thanks to Tricare eligibility; and no Hawai’i state tax liability, our monthly income is enough that we have a nice amount every month for groceries, and we can easily cover our rent, as well as gasoline, cable, phones, insurance, and other monthly expenses including my never-ending student loan payment, our only debt. We are able to put a little aside every month for travel and to pay for the seemingly non-stop expenses of two girls in high school (I just finished ordering graduation robes and regalia, and coming right behind is the cross country banquet for two, two new custom swimsuits and swim caps for the swim team, and grad night fees). We will be able to pay the fees for WenYu’s college applications (at $60 each). We bought plane tickets for Meiling to come home at Christmas, and Brett’s ticket to the mainland on our credit card for the cash back rewards, and then paid it off immediately. I can occasionally splurge on things like a spa day with a friend, and we go out to eat now and again. We maintain an emergency fund. There’s money in the checking account at the end of each month.

Even though it’s more than adequate for our needs these days, our adjusted gross income is still low enough that our family qualifies for federal financial aid including Pell Grants, work study and subsidized Stafford loans, the kind of aid that’s there to help poor or low-income families afford a college education. We’ve perennially been that family earning just enough to disqualify us from assistance for something, but not enough to afford it otherwise, but when it comes to financial aid we qualify and gladly accept it. Like millions of other lower-income families, we need financial aid to send our daughters to college; there is no way we can afford what a college education costs these days without help. Giving up a few things out of our monthly budget, or stripping our retirement accounts, wouldn’t change anything.

Although we may be considered low income on paper, I still feel very rich. Brett and I have a long, loving and happy marriage; we have three wonderful daughters, a successful, generous son and beautiful daughter-in-law, and an adorable grandson. We’re all in excellent health. Our income and benefits are lifetime, and are solid. Other than my student loan, we have no debt. We are able to live in an incredibly beautiful place, and can afford to rent a nice house and pay our bills without a struggle. With planning and careful saving we can occasionally travel. None of us feels like we need more or that we don’t have enough or that we’re missing out on anything. We eat well, and get to do what we enjoy. We are careful and thrifty with our money and know how to get the most out of it.

Poor? Rich? Those are labels. All I know is that we are living a very good life . . . on not very much.