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

travel-is-the-only-thing-you-buy-which-makes-you-richerI 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.

Saving money though is only the start. Along with putting away money 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 some places we wanted to visit two years ago don’t seem so important any more, and other places have 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 would cost us, 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 is 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 an extended trip through India, and Brett and I would like to visit one of the national parks in Botswana, but know now that 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 [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 earlier this year 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.

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. Through a combination of planning and saving we give ourselves a solid foundation to do and see what we want, as well as an ability to dream about future journeys.

Sunday Afternoon 10/30/2016

Happy Halloween!
Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween Eve! We are ready here at Casa Aloha for trick-or-treaters tomorrow evening although we have no idea if we’ll get any or how many if we do. YaYu participated in a walk-athon yesterday morning, and was given a big pumpkin, so we will either carve that later today or just set it out as is tomorrow when we turn on our porch light.

We’ve had a somewhat strange week here weather-wise, one of those where I feel genuinely sorry for people who are here on vacation. It’s been very cool (for here), windy and rainy – definitely not beach weather. While I am always grateful for cooler temperatures, my sinuses have not been enjoying it, and my old knee injury has been letting me know it doesn’t appreciate what’s been going on either. It looks like it may be changing today though – I can see blue skies out the window. One bonus is the ceiling fans are currently not operating though (or needed). I hope it stays nice tomorrow for Halloween!

In the meantime I have grown beyond bored with all the resting and inactivity of the past couple of months. Brett has really stepped up his game in the kitchen, and has been keeping up with everything else while I’ve been turning into a butterball over on the sofa. I know the rest is important and required for healing, but I am so eager to get out and start doing things again. My physical therapist has suggested we look into replacing our current spin-style exercise bike (which makes me bend over) for a recumbent style, so I can exercise without aggravating the bursitis in my hip or my back. Our landlord has said he would buy our current bike from us any time we wanted to sell, so we may start by doing that.

The macaroni and cheese debate has been decided! We fix the Paula Deen recipe this past Thursday, and although it didn’t seem to have quite the cheesy flavor of the NY Times recipe, we still preferred it so earned a spot on our election night viewing menu on November 8.

This afternoon I am:

  • Reading: I finished the Joyce Carol Oates book yesterday and have picked Truevine back up again. Both books make it clear that real life can be far more terrifying and horrible than anything Hollywood might dream up, that monsters are living among us all the time.
  • Listening to: The trees blowing in the wind. It’s blowing hard enough where I can hear the noise from the trees up on the hill across the street. The birds and chickens must be hunkered in as well – there hasn’t been a peep out of them. The neighborhood is eerily quiet as well.
  • Watching: Brett and I are still watching Longmire – we’re now in Season 4. The series wrapped up a storyline at the end of Season 3 that we felt was taking a bit too long to resolve, so we’re looking forward to seeing which direction the new season takes. The star of the show, Robert Taylor, is from Australia, but you’d never know it – he sounds like he walked right out of Wyoming. Update: In honor of Halloween, we’ve decided to watch The Haunting tonight, the 1963 version, which remains as scary as when it was first released.

    Pumpkin bars!
    Pumpkin bars!
  • Cooking/baking: I made pumpkin bars yesterday – they were easy to whip up so I didn’t have to stand too long, although YaYu made the frosting. Brett will be making mabo nasu (nasu means eggplant in Japanese) for our dinner tonight, using crumbled tofu rather than ground pork. Mabo nasu is one of YaYu’s favorite dishes – she will make sure there are no leftovers!

    Freshly painted toenails always make me feel better
    Freshly painted toenails always make me feel better
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: It’s been another week of resting, but I’ve gotten several blog posts written and banked. I sometimes go through periods of writer’s block when it’s difficult to write anything, so it’s always nice when the muse returns and I can metaphorically put things down on paper. I also was finally able to give myself a small pedicure. I was almost ready to ask Brett to do it for me, but then figured out how to do it without having to bend over too much. There’s something about a pedicure that makes me feel much better all over.
  • Looking forward to next week: There’s not a lot happening next week other than more physical therapy and more resting. The therapist has cleared me to go to the beach though, so if the weather improves we might get to do that.

  • Thinking of good things that happened this week: Mt. Wai’ale’ale briefly came out of its cloudy hiding place last week – It always gives me a bit of a thrill to see it. Of course a couple of hours later the clouds rolled in and it rained the rest of the day. After seeing last week’s picture of my mom at her craft fair, my good friend Denise ordered three sets of mom’s kitchen towels! It made my mom very happy (me too!). I am getting very close to having 38,000 followers on Pinterest, something I still don’t entirely understand because I’m on it so little these days. I finished ordering YaYu’s Christmas present, so just have Meiling’s left to purchase. She is a very difficult person to shop for, so I requested a wish list to give me some ideas, and she sent that this week. We had no food waste, and put $4.96  into the change/$1 bill jar.
  • Grateful for: I love being able to communicate with Meiling and YaYu so easily while they’re away, and am so thankful for all the different ways we have these days to stay in touch and keep up with what’s going on with each other. In this past week we’ve texted as well as used Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter to stay in touch with each other. When our son went to college the only ways we had to communicate were email and by phone (landlines), and it cost $$ to call long distance, so we didn’t get to talk very often.

    Cane spider (picture thankfully taken in someone else’s home)
  • Bonus question: Are you afraid of bugs? Lizards? Frogs? Snakes? I am not afraid of bugs in the least, not cockroaches or even most spiders, which makes it easy for me to take care of them when I do see them (not being afraid though is different from not liking – I still don’t like seeing them). Hawai’i is a very buggy place, but we thankfully get fewer bugs at this house than we did at our first place. The one exception to my lack of fear are cane spiders – they are shockingly HUGE, although mostly harmless. They don’t like humans and will almost always do anything to get away from one. Any lizard beyond a gecko is a problem for me, as are all frogs and snakes – those are the animals of nightmare for me. There are no snakes in Hawai’i though which makes that fear a little bit easier to deal with here. I do like the geckos here – they do a good job of taking care of the bugs, and they’re considered good luck. The reason that I will always tolerate the chickens and their noise is because they also do a great job of keeping the bug population at bay, especially centipedes.

Happy Halloween to everyone tomorrow!

#Kaua’i: Duane’s Ono Char-Burger

Lucky day: Only one customer in front of us at the Ono Char!
Lucky day for us: Only one customer in front of us at the Ono Char!

This small hamburger shack, located in Anahola on the eastside of Kaua’i, has been an institution for both locals and tourists alike for more than a quarter of a century. Locals stop by all day to get their fix, and pretty much anyone who visits Kaua’i makes a stop here as well. The ‘Ono Char’ is the first place Meiling has to go whenever she comes home to Kaua’i, and it was our first Kaua’i dining experience on the island on our visit in 2012. Everyone who either lives on Kaua’i or has visited is always more than happy to tell you about their favorite Ono burger or make a recommendation.

The Ono Char menu
The Ono Char menu – my favorite is the teriyaki burger. It’s the most popular item on their menu.
An "Old Fashioned," with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and fresh sprouts. All burgers are served cut in half, with each half individually wrapped
An “Old Fashioned,” with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and fresh sprouts. All burgers are served cut in half, with each half individually wrapped

Duane’s Ono Char-Burger opened in 1975 (Ono means ‘delicious’ in Hawaiian), and has been run by family ever since. They serve fourteen different types of burgers, as well as other items, like sandwiches, fish and chips or chicken strips. Burgers start at $5.15 and go as high as $8.00 for one of ‘Duane’s Specials,’ and bacon can be added to any burger for $1.50. Their milkshakes are delicious (marionberry is reputed to be the best), but I love the ‘Aloha Special,’ a smoothie made with fresh papaya, mango, banana and pineapple juice. I tried the fish and chips (their fries are amazing!) on our last visit and they were very tasty – and hot! Several locals had also recommended I try the teriyaki mayonnaise with my fries – so good!

Fish & chips - very tasty!
Fish & chips – very tasty! The fries at Ono Char are outstanding
An "Aloha Special"
An “Aloha Special”

Making a good burger takes time, and appearances aside the Ono Char is not a fast food joint. Each order is cooked individually, in order. That means that you have to wait for the orders ahead of you to be done before they’ll even start on yours, so be prepared to wait. I’ve heard of people having to wait 30 minutes, but we’ve personally never had to wait that long – 10 minutes is about our average. If you don’t want to wait, or have a large order, you can call ahead and they will have it ready to go for you. The wait is worth it in my opinion though because when you finally get your burgers they are hot, and the lettuce, onions and tomatoes are still fresh and crispy. The beef patties used in the burgers are locally prepared, and seasoned with a special blend of Hawaiian salt made just for Ono Char.

Shaded, outdoor seating
Shaded outdoor seating

All seating is outdoors, in a nice shaded area. Besides other diners you will most likely share the space with a few chickens and roosters who hope you will accidentally drop something for them. Just like the Ono Char, the chickens are a Kaua’i institution and aren’t going anywhere, so we just deal with them.

Duane’s Ono Char-Burger is located in Anahola, right next to the Anahola post office and a small Whaler’s grocery store. Heading north on the Kuhio highway from Kapaa it will be on the right (makai) side of the highway. It’s open from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. daily except for Sunday, when it opens at 11:00.

This Week’s Menu: Macaroni & Cheese, Round 2

Paula Deen's slow cooker macaroni & cheese
Paula Deen’s slow cooker macaroni & cheese

Last week’s macaroni & cheese recipe was outstanding, and all three of us here loved it. It was creamy, intensely cheesy, and insanely easy to prepare. I’m pretty sure I will be making this again when Meiling and WenYu are home at Christmas.

Creamy macaroni & cheese from the New York Times. It was amazing.
Creamy macaroni & cheese from the New York Times. It was amazing!

My children all think Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese is the best, and what I should aim for when I make mac & cheese at home. For them, Stouffer’s has always been a treat, something I picked up when it was on special, but they rave over its creaminess and the sauce. I have no idea why though – I think it’s too ‘soupy’ and I can taste too much flour in the sauce rather than cheese.

The recipe I am trying this week comes from Paula Deen and is prepared in the slow cooker, which automatically gives it points in my book even if I am not a big fan of Deen’s (and never have been). Recipe reviews give it five stars though, and from appearances it seems it’s close or closer to the Stouffer’s recipe. One ingredient I will not be using is the can of cheddar cheese soup. I try to avoid canned soups if possible, so will be making my own bechamel sauce with cheese and adding that instead. It’s a kind of moot point anyway because I don’t think cheddar cheese soup is available in any of our local grocery stores.

Here’s what’s on the menu this week at Casa Aloha:

Last week’s menu came off without a hitch, and I was able to stand long enough to prepare a few of the meals, including the macaroni & cheese. I was going to try another trip to the farmers’ market again this week, but my back is acting up again so Brett will once again be on his own. We need eggplant, cucumbers, carrots and bananas, and he’ll pick up anything else that catches his eye.

Is the Upgrade Worth It?

img_1113-e1441902545316-750x1000There’s almost no way around it these days, but economy or coach seating on most airlines is cramped and uncomfortable. The seats are narrow, with little to no leg room, especially if you are tall. Drinks beyond basics, snacks, and entertainment will also cost you these days, and other than Hawaiian Airlines, no domestic carrier offers free meals in economy any more. First or business classes offer all these amenities, and more, but most can’t afford or don’t want to pay the premium for those seats, which can be anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars more per ticket.

There is another option though. Many, if not most, airlines have added a second or third class of upgraded seats on flights, after first class and/or business class: premium economy. Each airline seems to have their own name for this class of seats, but they are generally a bit wider than regular economy seating, have a few more inches of leg room, and provides several amenities at no cost, things like premium in-flight entertainment; beer, wine and other alcoholic drinks; snacks, and so forth. Also, premium economy offers early boarding, right after first/business class, and because the seats are located nearer to the front of the plane, passengers can disembark and get on their way more quickly at their destination as well.

The price of a premium economy seat typically falls between first/business and regular economy, usually closer to the economy price. But, is the extra cost worth it?

I say that for a long flight, either cross-country or overseas, the answer is an unequivocal yes, especially if you start with a good economy fare. Those few extra inches of legroom and the slightly wider seat makes a real difference in comfort, and the extra amenities add to what otherwise can be a long and (sometimes) dreary experience.

The price for an upgrade to premium economy will depend on which airline you’re flying, and whether you purchase the upgrade at the time of booking or later, often when you check in online or at the airport before boarding. The upgrade price may also depend on the distance of the flight, and whether the flight is domestic or international, or overseas, i.e. to Hawai’i.

The easiest and least expensive way to upgrade is to use the miles you’ve accumulated in an airline’s frequent flyer program. This is airline specific though, and unlike an upgrade to first or business class, a premium economy upgrade is not always available as a mileage reward. However, if you’d rather save your miles for other trips, there are other ways to upgrade and still save:

  • Add an amount into your travel budget upfront to cover any possible upgrades. Depending on our destination, I always add around $150 per person to any trip’s budget to cover upgrades to premium economy, and then search and wait (and hope) for economy fares well below the maximum I’ve allowed for airfare. If you don’t end up upgrading, you’ll have that much extra available on your trip or to put toward future travel.
  • As a rule, don’t purchase upgraded seats when you buy your tickets. Purchase regular economy seats first and do upgrades later. With a couple of exceptions, I have always gotten a better price if I make my upgrade after an initial purchase of regular economy fares (be sure to check the airlines rules though – some airlines don’t allow upgrades from super saver fares or mileage award flights). For example, when I purchased our tickets for next year’s Tokyo trip, the price difference between a round-trip economy seat versus a premium economy seat was $310 per person at the time of purchase. However, after I paid for round-trip economy seats, I went back the next day to the airline’s website and changed our seats to premium economy for just $158 per ticket, a savings of $152 for the upgrade. It’s not possible to upgrade early with all airlines; with some I’ve only been able to do it at check-in (either online or at the airport). One advantage to being able to upgrade earlier rather than later is having a wider choice of seats – when I’ve done upgrades at check-in, seat selection has usually been somewhat limited and scattered, although flight attendants always have made an effort to seat families together.

An upgrade to first or business class will obviously cost more than premium economy, both in miles or money. Still, the cost might be worthwhile, even just for one leg of a trip. If you’re not using frequent flyer miles, waiting to upgrade later rather than at the time of initial ticket purchase will again maybe save you more. The upgrade to first class on the flight I took from Seattle back home to Lihue last August was $150 at check-in (and worth every penny). The cost for that same first class seat purchased upfront would have been several hundreds of dollars more than what I paid for my seat in economy.

Depending on where you’re going and your travel budget, my opinion is: Make the upgrade, especially for a long flight. Consider it money well spent.

Sunday Afternoon 10/23/2016

Waipouli Beach Resort

My good friend Joy, who lives up in Princeville, has arranged another spa day for us next month at the Waipouli Beach Resort in Kapaa. We went last year and had an amazing day, and she was able to sweet talk the spa into once again giving us complimentary full day pool passes so that after our spa treatments (massages and facials this time) we can enjoy the hot tubs (six of them, all with sand bottoms) and fabulous swimming pool as well as lunch at the resort’s restaurant on the beach. Joy and I never run out of things to talk about, and I’m excited about getting together and setting the world straight again. Fingers are crossed for good weather on that day!

I am also feeling super happy about those fares I purchased last weekend for our March trip to Japan. On Monday morning, I went back to check on something and the fares had gone back up to $152 more per person, so apparently I stumbled on to a weekend special of some kind. I was also able to upgrade our seats to premium economy, and will have a post up tomorrow with some thoughts about seat upgrades and ways to potentially save on those. There are some lower fares out there right now for our destination, but there’s a reason for that – some of the trips are 19 to 30+ hours long – no thanks!

Mom staffing the sale table!
Mom staffing the sale table!

My mom is still hanging in there. This past week my sister and niece helped Mom have a craft sale at her residence. Mom had a successful craft business for many years selling crocheted items, so this little sale was a nostalgic one, and she enjoyed making things to sell (and sold quite a bit, too!). We thought she might not live through this month, and yet here she was doing her craft thing once again. Yeah Mom!

This afternoon I am:

  • Reading: I finished The Secret Place with just a few hours to spare on my download, and was going to start Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South, about the abduction of two young Black boys, both albino, to be exhibited as circus ‘freaks,’ and their mother’s years’ long search to find them and bring them home. The Doll Master and Other Tales of Terror, by Joyce Carol Oates, was recommended too so I downloaded and started that book last night. I was expecting some frightening, ‘traditional’ horror stories, but the monsters in these stories are the ones that already live among us. Reality has always been more frightening than fiction.
  • Listening to: It’s cool today; there’s a lovely breeze blowing even though the sky is blue. Lots and lots of birds are singing, and some roosters are making a racket a couple of blocks away, but otherwise the neighborhood is quiet. YaYu had a long, busy day yesterday and is still sleeping in; Brett is reading so all is quiet inside too. My kind of day!
  • Watching: Brett and I have been binge-watching Longmire on Netflix. Such a good series! We just started the second season (out of five) on Friday evening, before I switched over to the Hamilton special on PBS.
  • Cooking/baking: Brett and I bought a giant apple pie at Costco this past week, and because it will take us a while to finish that there’ll be no baking for a while. Dinner tonight is panzanella (Italian bread salad) with garbanzo beans – I’ll be putting that together later this afternoon. The bread cubes are toasting now in the oven.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Brett and I got our monthly Costco shop done last Tuesday, and spent way less than usual even though it felt like we were buying more than usual (i.e. Halloween candy). I have had no problems shopping at Costco since I hurt my back because the carts provide good support, but this last week I left in agony for some reason. I was fine the next day, but did not enjoy myself at all while we were shopping (and sadly the Japanese cakes are not in yet either). The Halloween candy has been divided up among the girls, and packages are ready to go out to Meiling and WenYu tomorrow. We also got a package ready with our granddaughter’s baby gift and that will be sent tomorrow as well. Otherwise I spent most of the week once again resting my back.
  • Looking forward to next week: Other than my two PT appointments we have nothing planned for next week. I’m looking forward to reading, trying out another macaroni and cheese recipe (this past week’s recipe was amazing), and continuing to help my back feel better. Little by little I’m getting back to my normal routine, and picking up some of my chores again.14796238_10153953366798091_22096649_o
  • Thinking of good things that happened: My daughter-in-law sent us lots more pictures (and video) of our new granddaughter and grandson. Our grandson is totally smitten with his new sister; it’s easy to see in the pictures how much he adores her. Meiling and WenYu both called a couple of times last week to chat – they’re both doing well and are happy, and I love hearing about what they’re doing. A good friend from Portland, who I hadn’t spoken with in a while, also called last Thursday and we had a good, long catch-up. And, I ‘won’ the Neko Atsume (Cat Collection) game – I finally got all the mementos! I’m going to continue playing and earning though because I know there will eventually be new cats added and I want to be ready. Once again we had no food waste, and we put $16.39 in the change/$1 bill jar.
  • Grateful for: I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m again feeling very thankful to be able to download books to my Kindle for free from the library. I very rarely buy book from Amazon these days, usually only when the waiting list for a download is weeks or months long. The time limit for download checkout is very motivating as well. The library has so many wonderful services, and this is currently my favorite!
  • Bonus question: What’s your Meyers-Briggs personality type? If you’ve ever taken the Meyers-Briggs Personality Test, you know there are 16 personality types based on three different dichotomies: attitude (introvert or extrovert or I/E); functions (sensing versus intuition, S/N, and thinking versus feeling, T/F); and lifestyle preference (judging versus perception, J/P). I’m a INTJ: Introvert, Intuition, Thinking, Judging. According to 16 Personalities, “people with the INTJ personality type are imaginative yet decisive, ambitious yet private, amazingly curious, but they do not squander their energy.” The INTJ nickname is”The Architect.” It’s the rarest personality type – just 2% of the population are INTJ, and women only .8%) and sometimes difficult for INTJs to find like-minded individuals (Brett is an ENTJ, so we’re close). I’ve taken the test several times and always scored the same, and feel like the INTJ characteristics, both good and bad, describe me quite well. The most surprising discovery was how high I scored as an introvert. I grew up in a family of extroverts, and tried to act like one, but always felt ‘odd.’ It was very freeing to learn I really was an introvert, and that my wanting to be on my own was not some aberration. Anyway, if you haven’t already done so, it’s fun to take the test (free) and see if your score matches with how you see yourself!

That’s a wrap for this Sunday Afternoon! Hope all of you had a great week!

Hiking the Kuilau Trail

Another great eastside Kaua‘i trail is the Kuilau Trail, which starts on the right side of Kuamo‘o Road, about 100 feet (30 meters) before arriving at Kawi Stream.

papyrus (Cyperus papyrus), white ginger (Hedychium coronarium), blue ginger (Dichorisandra thyrsiflora)
Papyrus, White Ginger, Asian Sword Fern, and Blue Ginger, amongst other lush greenery

About seven miles up Kuamo’o Road from the Kuhio Highway, just before crossing Kawi Stream, there’s a small parking lot (currently closed for repair) on the left. Additional parking may be available across the stream, on the right. However, DO NOT CROSS if the stream is running high (knee deep or higher). Limited parking along Kuamo’o Road, headed back down to the east is also in vogue at this time, and there are three reasonably safe spots by the trailhead (two other nearby commonly used spots are not safe because they block the gate that is used by trucks, and earth moving equipment that also use the trail.

Kuilau Trailhead
Kuilau Trailhead

At the beginning of your hike, there’s a large clump of papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) that grows along the side of the road between the stream and the trailhead. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the trails have been wetter than usual this year, which takes a bit of the fun out of hiking, and the Kuilau is no exception. Sometimes the easiest path on the Kuilau Trail is right down the deep impressions made by tractor tires; in other spots, the path between the ruts is less soggy.

muddy ruts
Muddy Ruts

As I gained elevation on my last Kuilau hike, the sun began to dry out the ruts, and some of the smaller creatures began to move across the trail while attempting to remain unseen. Can you spot the tiny gecko in the picture below?

Green Anole
Fellow Hiker (Anolis carolinensis)

There is no potable water available along the trail, but edible fruit is abundant in season. On my first hike, someone told me the vine-y little briar with the white, five-petal blossom was wild raspberry, but on tasting I discovered it was something I had known on the mainland as thimbleberry (Rubus rosaefolius), also known as: West Indian raspberry (ola’a), roseleaf raspberry, or rose-leaf bramble.

Rubus Rosaefolia

Both guava (Psidium guajava), and its invasive cousin strawberry guava (Psidium cattleianum) are also prevalent at lower elevations along the trail, and while the low hanging fruit is almost always picked bare, the fragrance of the remnants is intoxicating.

Farther along, I saw a strange vine with what appeared to be potatoes growing from it. The air potato or bitter yam (Dioscorea bulbifera) is best left alone. For one thing, it’s invasive, but most importantly, while it may be pleasing to the eye in the wild, it is almost certainly poisonous.

invasive; poisonous
Bitter Yam or Air Potato

Other vines, although invasive, are not quite so dangerous. Monstera (Monstera deliciosa) is ubiquitous in Hawaii, and internet search results highlight its delicious aspects.

Monstera, M. deliciosa
Monstera appears on every trail I’ve hiked

These prehistoric giants thrive in heavy shade as well as on bright, open slopes all along the trail. Due to my limited botanical knowledge, I cannot tell whether the fern pictured below is the native Hapu’u Pulu (Cibotium splendens), or the invasive Australian Tree Fern (Cyathea Cooperi), but like a tinkling bell in a light breeze or trickling water, its presence is soothing and cooling.

tree fern
Tree Fern

Easily recognizable, common era ferns along the trail were much easier to identify because of their similarity to those I had known at Hoyt Arboretum in Portland, Oregon. The most common fern along the lower ridge, as well as many other trails, is the Asian Sword Fern (Nephrolepis brownii aka multiflora), often seen among smaller, lacy ferns that I cannot readily identify.

Asian Sword Fern
Asian Sword Fern

Around the half-mile mark the landscape grows more interesting. The shadowy “amphitheater” shown here is an eastern crater below Mt. Wai‘ale‘ale (‘rippling waters’) known as the Blue Hole.

crater to the east of Wai'ale'ale
Blue Hole

A little less than three quarters of a mile along, a break in the trees permits this splendid view across the valleys of the Keāhua (‘the swelling, as a wave’) and Kāwī streams to the saddle between Mt. Wai‘ale‘ale and the Makaleha (‘to look about, as in wonder’) mountains. The peak in the distance is Keana‘awi Ridge.

Saddle between Wai'ale'ale and Makaleha Mountains
Saddle of the Makaleha Mountains

Eucalyptus tree are prevalent at the three-quarter mile point as well. As a matter of fact, there is a tunnel of eucalyptus on the Moalepe Trail, about a quarter mile past the bridge that separates these two trails. When conditions are just right, a little warmer and much drier, the scent of the eucalyptus is almost overpowering. As shown below, the eucalyptus not only provide shade for the understory, but a home for other plants as well.

Eucalyptus at Upper Elevations
Eucalyptus at Upper Elevations

I spotted a lone cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) at one mile. These birds eat bugs and geckos, and can always be found following behind lawn mowers to snatch whatever the mower churns up.

Cattle Egret
Cattle Egret

Below is the breathtaking view of the Makaleha Mountains from the picnic shelter set up at the one mile distance on the trail. Many visitors are unaware that this is not the end of the trail. From the lawn surrounding the picnic shelter, the trail veers off to the right, but is rather inconspicuous when the grass is tall.

Makaleha Mountains
Makaleha Mountains

About a half mile beyond the picnic area is a little waterfall near trail’s end.  This little fall on the upper part of Opaeka‘a Stream (which eventually leads to Opaeka‘a Falls in Wailua) is more often heard than seen. Its splash pool lies about 30 feet below, and because Opaeka‘a Stream is barely a trickle at this point it’s just a pleasing sound, an affirmation that we have had sufficient rain.

little waterfall
Little Waterfall

A bridge joins Kuilau and Moalepe trails if you want to hike further (about 2.75 miles). The signs are somewhat misleading, and if you zoom in you’ll see that someone has scratched through the line “1.25 MILES TO PARKING AREA” because the other side of this sign lists 1.75 miles as the distance to Keahua Arboretum, which is only a quarter mile from the Kuilau trailhead.

End of Kuilau Trail

According to the Division of Land & Natual Resources website, Kuilau Trail is 2.1 miles long. So, allow at least three hours, more if you plan to take photographs and even more if you want to stop for a picnic lunch; pack at least a liter of water, and as always, sunscreen and mosquito repellant.

Finally, here’s a long view from the trail looking down the Opaeka‘a valley to Wailua (‘two waters’) along Kauai’s east side, somewhat obscured by dense clouds earlier in the day.

Wailua Water Gap

This Week’s Menu: Macaroni & Cheese, Please

Creamy macaroni & cheese (photo from the NY Times)
Creamy macaroni & cheese (photo from the NY Times)

Election night has always been a big deal at our house. We settle ourselves around the TV to watch the returns, and serve finger foods to nosh on while we watch the returns come in.

In a change from tradition, YaYu has asked for fried chicken from Pono Market in Kapaa (the best fried chicken ever, according to her) along with macaroni and cheese for our election night meal this year. OK! Because of the time difference, election returns from the east coast will start becoming available here in early afternoon, but since YaYu will again be serving as a poll worker, she wants a more traditional meal when she finishes in the evening.

I have been wanting to try out some new mac & cheese recipes for a while, so this week I’m going to fix a simple recipe from the New York Times for a creamy macaroni & cheese that’s baked in the oven, and next week I’m trying one that’s prepared in the slow cooker. Whichever one ‘wins’ YaYu’s approval will be prepared again on election night.

Of course this means that for the next three weeks macaroni and cheese will be appearing on the menu here at Casa Aloha. I’m not sure I’m ready to indulge in something with that much dairy, but hopefully I can manage a small amount.

YaYu’s cross country season has ended, and since Friday night spaghetti dinners (for the swim team) won’t start again until after the first of the year, I’ll have to put something on the menu again for that night. We’ll stick with having leftovers on Saturday – I like finishing things up and that no one has to cook!

Here’s what’s on the menu this week:

  • Tuesday (this evening): Spaghetti with marinara sauce; grilled Italian sausages (vegan for me);  grilled zucchini; garlic bread
  • Wednesday: Grilled steak; baked potatoes; sautéed Swiss chard (no steak for me)
  • Thursday: Tofu & broccoli in spicy peanut sauce; steamed rice
  • Friday: Creamy macaroni & cheese; salad
  • Saturday: leftovers
  • Sunday: Panzanella with beans
  • Monday: Grilled ahi tuna; couscous; grilled zucchini

We plan to buy a bag of broccoli florets at Costco today, which will last us two to three meals. We’ll get Swiss chard, zucchini (YaYu’s favorite vegetable), cucumbers, a green pepper, and carrots at the farmers’ market this week, as well as more limes and bananas, but otherwise we’ll see what catches our eye and looks good (and is affordable). Brett is still doing the majority of cooking, but I’m pitching in more and more as I feel better.

How Do You Like Your View?

Kaua’i offers basically two choices for ocean views:

Long distance views from up high and/or far away


Shore views, with breaking waves

Both are beautiful and breathtaking.

The office where I’ve been going for physical therapy has a view of the ocean out their big front windows. While the therapist works I watch waves break out on a reef in the distance, and then roll gently into the shore, which is just across the road from the office building. The color of the ocean transitions from deep blue to a lighter sea green and finally to a clear turquoise as the ocean gets near to the shore, where the waves break white.

Watching the waves the other day, I realized that I could never tire of seeing them. I love to watch them come in, whether at the beach, or crashing up against a cliff or onto a rocky shore. I marvel here at how the color changes as the ocean approaches the shore. Most of all though I enjoy the ever-changing movement, the constant reminder of the ocean’s power. The waves seem to be always sending a message: Respect me. It’s a fool who thinks they can do battle with the ocean and win.

The long distant views provide a calmer image, and gazing out at the horizon always makes me think about what lies beyond. My father, who served 24 years in the navy, greatly preferred this view. He didn’t care to see rocks or a beach, just long stretches of calm, blue water out to the horizon. While I agree the distant view is a very soothing one, I know that I would eventually grow bored with it and take the view for granted.

The ocean's different shades of blue
The ocean’s many shades of blue

I have pondered this for several days now, trying to come up with a deeper metaphor for the reason why some prefer watching the waves instead of the long distant view, something about choosing turbulence and change over calm and placid. I finally realized though there really isn’t any great metaphor. We like what we like, and for our own reasons.

The odds of us living in a house here with either a close-up or long-distant view of the ocean are extremely slim to nothing. Ocean views here typically cost a lot of money, especially the ones where you’re close enough to watch the waves. For now, I’ll stick with the gorgeous view we get every time we head down the hill into town: first a distant look out at the ocean, followed by a spectacular view of the waves breaking on the reef and then rolling into shore when we reach the bottom of the hill.

After more than two years on this island, the ocean and the waves still take my breath away every time I see them, and thrill me to the bottom of my soul. I can’t ask for more.

Sunday Afternoon 10/16/2016

Lunch at Duane's Ono Char-Burger!
Lunch at Duane’s Ono Char-Burger!

Do I feel better after some time off? Yes and no – this injury has been the most stubborn thing I can remember dealing with for a long, long time. The physical therapy is making a difference, as is all the rest I’ve been getting, but I still can’t be up and around for too long. Enough whining though. I’m in much, much better condition than I was a few weeks ago and getting better every week.

I guess I’m now ‘officially’ a Kaua’i resident because I got called for jury duty! I got my summons this past week, and will report in early November to the county courthouse in Lihue. I may be one of those rare persons who doesn’t mind jury duty, and besides voting see it as one of the most important functions a citizen of this country can perform. One nice thing about jury duty here is that if you already have travel plans made, you can show your itinerary and be rescheduled. That didn’t happen back in Portland.

The tickets for our March trip to Japan have been purchased! We found a great fare and great schedule out of Honolulu on Delta, and the plane is a 747, which means that it will be a comfortable flight, even in economy. Yeah! We already have our Tokyo hotel reservations, so now all that’s left to do is book our round-trip transportation between Narita airport and Tokyo, an approximately two-hour trip each way by express train. Meiling’s and WenYu’s travel plans for winter break have also been finalized, including their RT flights from Honolulu to Kaua’i. I’m already so excited about them being home, although they’ll only overlap for a week because their respective school schedules are so different. We had planned to “pay” for their flights with the miles we’ve accumulated with Hawaiian Airlines, but for Meiling’s flight from Portland the miles required for a seat in coach were more than would be needed for a first class seat, and there were no award flights available at all for WenYu. We ended up purchasing flights for them in and out of Honolulu, and then used our mileage awards for the Honolulu-Kaua’i portion of the trip. We’ve discovered that this may be the best way to use our miles – to get back and forth between here and Honolulu at no cost. Using Honolulu as the main point arrival/departure opens up a whole lot more affordable flight options than booking a round trip from Lihue.

Othewise, this Sunday afternoon I am:

  • Reading: I confess to getting little to no reading done at all this week. I pick up the Kindle and a few words in and I’m fast asleep. I’ve got another week to go of my download of The Secret Place, so am going to make a real effort this week to get it finished before the library takes it back.
  • Listening to: It’s so quiet – I can hear a few neighbors talking outside and the word ‘Halloween’ floated through the air. Otherwise even the chickens are quiet this morning. It’s cool, so I’m a bit surprised no one is out working in their yard.
  • Watching: We finished all the available episodes of The Mysteries of Laura, but learned the series wasn’t renewed. Several other series we like, like Midsomer Murders, has new episodes available so we’ll catch up on those (although we cannot figure out how there’s anyone still alive in Midsomer County, especially since there are at least two murders per episode). We’re also going to check out Longmire.
  • Cooking/baking: There’s a pork roast in the slow cooker right now, getting itself ready to be turned into barbecued pulled pork for sandwiches tonight. I discovered some vegan barbecued ‘pork’ sandwiches by Gardein at Safeway last month that are actually very tasty, so I’ll be having one of those. I’m making coleslaw to go with our sandwiches. YaYu baked a triple chocolate bundt cake yesterday so we’re good for sweets for a while.

    Triple chocolate bundt cake
    Triple chocolate fudge bundt cake
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: I really don’t feel like I did much of anything at all, so I guess the fact that I rested as much as I did will have to count as my main “accomplishment.” I did a bit more online Christmas shopping and now have WenYu’s gift done and part of YaYu’s (at no cost, thanks to Swagbucks!). Meiling’s present is proving to be a bit trickier to find than I imagined but I’ve got plenty of time yet.
  • Looking forward to next week: I’m getting my hair cut tomorrow – yeah! I can go a few weeks after a cut and everything is fine, and then wake up one morning and think “what the heck happened to my hair?” because overnight it seems to have grown another couple of inches. Brett and I will do about half of our monthly Costco shop on Tuesday, a good thing as we’re running very low on some things, and then do some more next week when a few items go on sale. We’re both hoping the Japanese cakes (imagawayaki and dorayaki) that have been available for Christmas the past two years will have arrived – we love them and are looking forward to stocking up again.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: YaYu cleaned the two large sets of blinds in both her bedroom and ours this past week. They were in need of being cleaned back in August, but I’ve been unable to do it so YaYu finally stepped in. She did a fantastic job, so we took her out for lunch on Friday, and will add some $$ to her bank account as well for her efforts (yes, it was that big of a job). FAFSAs for both of our college girls were officially submitted (finally – it took both of them la while to get things back to Brett), and Brett also finished the CSS form for WenYu’s financial aid. It is such a relief to have all of that done! We had no food waste this last week, and put $8.75 in the change/$1 bill jar.
  • Thankful for: I’m a very fortunate woman. We have enough income that neither Brett nor I have to work, so have the time to let my back heal. We have excellent, and very affordable, health insurance to cover the expenses I’m incurring because of my injury. And, I have a loving husband and child who care for me every day, and have picked up my chores to make sure I get the rest I need so that I can get well.
  • Bonus question: Have you ever served on a jury? I’ve been called for jury duty several times, but was only selected once (so far). I still count serving on that jury as one of the most interesting experiences in my life. The defendant had been arrested for selling drugs, and came to trial with four counts against him; two were for selling within a school boundary zone. After hearing all the evidence, and deliberating for several hours (during which we were given a very nice lunch and snacks), we decided that while the defendant had definitely been selling drugs and was guilty of those two counts, he had been entrapped by the police into selling within the school boundary and we acquitted on both those counts. The police were surprisingly bad witnesses, and their attempts at entrapment fairly transparent. I was also summoned once to potentially serve on a special jury but the trial was cancelled when the defendant pleaded guilty before he came to trial. A co-worker, whose husband was a judge (not for that trial though), told me later that I should consider myself lucky that there was no trial. I knew a bit about the murder as it had been covered in the news, but she said it had been more brutal than most anyone knew and would have been a very difficult trial to sit through.

That’s what’s been going on this week at Casa Aloha. How was your week? What good things happened for you? What did you accomplish? What are you looking forward to?