Lessons Learned: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

We learned all sorts of new things about ourselves during our travels. Unlike shorter trips we’ve taken, our long-term travels challenged us in all sorts of new ways. Some of them were more positive than others, but we’re determined to do this next round better and learn from and change the things we didn’t do so well before. Growing older is only part of it. Here’s what we’ve figured out we either need to change or stick with in the future:

The Good:

The Taj Mahal was even more amazing and beautiful than all the hype it gets.
  • We’re still open to adventure. We continue to enjoy trying new things and new foods, and going places and doing things we haven’t done before.
  • We maintain a sense of wonder. We continue to be amazed, awed, astonished, curious, contemplative, and humble about what we know about the world. We haven’t seen it all, and what we have seen is usually better than we expected.
  • We’re very good at packing just the right amount. We traveled with just the right amount of clothing on our Big Adventure and have just the right amount of luggage to keep track of. We’re going for even simpler this next time though in order to get more out of a little bit less
  • We’re still flexible. During our Big Adventure we found we were able to adjust our plans easily if we had to without throwing everything off, or feeling disappointed or angry. Change doesn’t scare us – it’s an expected part of the nomad experience.
  • We’ve gotten better at managing our travel funds. Lots of things caught our eye during our travels but we were very good at telling ourselves no, that we didn’t need something, and reminding ourselves that we’d much rather use our money for other things, like more comfortable seats when flying or a special meal somewhere. We’re honing our minimalist skills these days and will put them to good use on future travels.

The Bad:

Even a soft walking surface doesn’t help much when your shoes are uncomfortable.
  • We need better-than-good shoes for walking. The shoes both Brett and I took along when we began our Big Adventure turned out not to be so great. My somewhat inexpensive Skechers slip-ons were initially comfortable but they wore out quickly and made my feet miserable. Brett discovered he needs more support around his ankles for long-distance walking. I purchased some great boots and shoes during our summer in Portland, but before we travel again we need to invest in some good-fitting, good quality walking shoes, and already know they will not be cheap. However, as we discovered last time, they are the most important part of our wardrobes.
  • Jet lag affects us more than it did in the past. Along with the difficulty of doing long flights, we noticed it takes us much longer to recover from jet lag than it has in the past. We don’t bounce back as quickly as we did, and didn’t do a very good job of accounting for it. This is something that we’ll want to do a better job of factoring in as we make travel plans.

The Ugly:

This picture horrifies both of us. Who are these people?
  • Both Brett and I gained way, way, way too much weight during our travels, much more than we realized. We were both very overweight when we landed in Hawaii, and in my case carrying around those extra pounds not only caused my bursitis to act up but made me miserable overall. We’ve made a serious effort over the last year to get more exercise and eat less and both of us have lost a quite a bit of our extra weight and we intend to maintain it. We’ve both promised ourselves: never again.
  • Long plane trips affect us more than in the past. Even when we booked more comfortable seats, long plane rides affected us more than they did in the past. There’s no way we can avoid long journeys if we want to travel overseas, but we have decided we can mitigate their effects by breaking up other journeys into shorter sections, sometimes with a period of rest in between.

We won’t be traveling again for the rest of this year, and for nearly half of next year, and although we’re in good shape once again we’re going to take advantage of the time to get ourselves in even better shape. As we get closer to setting off we’ll work at planning a (hopefully affordable) flight schedule that works for us that will most likely include some built-in rest periods. The hunt for good walking shoes has already started, although we’re nowhere near to purchasing anything at this point. For now it’s fun to have all this to think about but we know there will be some serious work to do before we set off again.

Home Cooking: Slow Cooker/InstantPot Pork Chops with Sauerkraut, Bacon, & Apples

Brett and I like sauerkraut, but it was forbidden territory with all four of our children. They would not go near it so it was rarely seen for years.

Charcroute with sausages at the Porcus restaurant in Strasbourg. The restaurant is upstairs; downstair is a full charcuterie with an amazing selection of pork cuts and house-made sausages.

Pork chops with sauerkraut was a dish that always sounded delicious to Brett and me, but something that was never made in our home. During our stay in Strasbourg in 2018, Brett and I made a point of going out for charcroute garnie “dressed sauerkraut,” one of the most classic dishes from the Alsace region of France. While there is no fixed recipe for charcroute, traditionally it’s a big mound of sauerkraut topped with a variety of pork sausages, roasted and salted pork cuts (ham hocks, bacon, salt pork, etc.), and potatoes. We ate our charcroute for lunch, and kept our orders to just a variety of house-made Alsatian sausage; anything more would have been too much. While the sausages we ordered were delicious, the sauerkraut was out of this world, flavorful and crisp without being sour. It was a revelation.

Last fall I bought a jar of sauerkraut from Monkeypod Jam at their going-out-of-business sale, and put it away thinking that Brett and I would enjoy it after YaYu went back to school. However, I found a recipe for slow cooker/InstantPot version of pork chops with sauerkraut with the addition of bacon and apples, and asked YaYu if she would be willing to give it a try. She said that part of being a grown-up eater is that you try everything at least once, and that she was finally ready to try sauerkraut. She ended up having two servings of this recipe because she loved it so much! The sauerkraut was not sour, but mild and flavorful, with boosts of flavor from the smoky bacon, and a bit of sweetness from the carrots and apple. Monkeypod’s sauerkraut also contained caraway seeds, and although the recipe I used doesn’t call for them, they add another great bit of flavor to the dish and are a must-have for us now.

The original recipe also suggests the pork chops and sauerkraut be served with mashed potatoes, which we skipped, but I can imagine that along with a good German sausage or two this could be as close to charcroute garnie as we might get.

Rinsing and draining the sauerkraut is the first step, and the most important. Sauerkraut from a jar versus a can is best in my opinion. Our favorite is Wildbrine Organic – it’s nice and very crisp.

While the sauerkraut is draining, saute the bacon pieces, then add the carrots and onions and continuing cooking until onions are soft. (I was using an InstantPot, and did this part using saute function.)

Cover the sauerkraut mixture with apple slices.

Brown pork chops, and then place on top of the apples (the pork chops can also be browned in the InstantPot).

SLOW COOKER PORK CHOPS WITH SAUERKRAUT, BACON, and APPLES

  • 3-4 boneless pork chops, 3/4″ – 1″ thick
  • 2 TBSP vegetable oil
  • 4 slices bacon, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 3 medium carrots, cut into small pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 32 ounces of fresh sauerkraut, drained and rinsed
  • 1 TBSP caraway seeds (optional)
  • 1 – 1/2 cup chicken broth (if using an InstantPot; use larger amount for a standard, the smaller amount for a Mini)
  • 2 large apples, cored and quartered (can be peeled if desired as the peels will come off during the cooking)
  • Mashed potatoes (optional)

Pour the sauerkraut into a strainer and rinse well with cool water, then let sit to drain for approximately 15 minutes (this step can be omitted if a stronger sauerkraut flavor is preferred). While the sauerkraut is draining, in a large frying pan, saute the bacon until it releases some fat, then add the carrot pieces and diced onion, and saute until the onion is soft. Add the garlic toward the end so that it doesn’t burn.

Place the sauerkraut in the bottom of the slow cooker, then add the bacon and vegetable mixer, and caraway seeds if using, and combine. Place the apple pieces over the top of the sauerkraut mixture.

Add the oil to a large frying pan, and lightly brown the outside of the pork chops. Place the chops on top of the apples. Cover and slow cook for 6-8 hours on low.

Serve with mashed potatoes, if desired.

If using an InstantPot, add the oil to the pot, and using the Saute function, lightly brown the pork chops on each side. Set aside. Continuing with the Saute function, cook the bacon, carrot pieces, onion, and garlic. Turn off Saute, mix in the drained sauerkraut (and caraway seeds, if using), top with apples, and place pork chops on top. Pour the chicken broth over the top.

Lock the lid, close the vent, and pressure cook on High for 15 minutes – anything shorter will make for some tough pork. If fall-apart tender pork is desired, set for 20 minutes. Natural release for 10 minutes, then quick release the remaining steam.

Kaua’i, the Second Time Around

Lucky to live Kaua’i! (all the above photos come from Unsplash/Kauai)

I almost don’t know where to begin with how different living on Kaua’i has been for us this time. We spent our four previous years discovering the island, enjoying the weather, beaches, and the people, and getting two of our three daughters through high school and on to college. We had lots to learn and adapt to, like figuring out how and where to shop for everything and what things cost here (the real cost) but the laid-back and friendly lifestyle fit us well. It wasn’t perfect though: after living in a low-humidity location for nearly 25 years the humidity on Kaua’i about drove me mad. Still, the island grew on us, and when we left on our Big Adventure in 2018 big parts of our hearts were left behind.

At that time, we honestly didn’t think we’d be back for a variety of reasons. We felt somewhat discouraged with our life here when we left, but realize now that was mostly restlessness after 40 years of raising children. Brett and I wanted to do something big and different with our life as empty nesters, and with YaYu heading to college we grabbed our chance. We were honestly (and pleasantly) surprised when our daughters suggested we move back when we finished traveling, and also surprised by how homesick we felt for the island when we visited again in early 2020.

Brett and I love living on Kaua’i again, and are so grateful now that we were encouraged to return. We’ve been safe here from the COVID pandemic, although with the return of tourists and increased inter-island travel the number of cases is rising again, so we’re starting to get a little anxious about how this turns out. However, with the changes we’ve made this time, aspects of island living that were discouraging before are no longer an issue:

The five points listed below were the things that wore us down during our first four years on Kaua’i. For a variety of reasons, all of these have been turned around this time, and we couldn’t be happier and more satisfied with our current life. I’ve highlighted the changes in blue.

  1. Our daughters’ schedules: Brett’s and my lives were completely organized around WenYu’s and YaYu’s schedules before, and all the activities they were involved in from sports to clubs to community service to their social lives. It was extremely difficult for us to put together a quick trip to the beach because of their packed schedules, let alone go shopping or out to have lunch, or even take a walk or enjoy other aspects of island life. We understood the need for their involvement and supported all they did, but we still felt very constrained and very frustrated at times, and it clouded our entire island experience. While we miss our girls, being able to live on our own schedule has made a HUGE difference. The pandemic has kept us close to home for the most part, but it’s wonderful knowing that each day is our own to unfold how ever we like. We feel relaxed these days, and enjoy operating on “island time.”
  2. Traffic: Living on the east side of the island, in Kapaa, meant that we had to deal with standstill traffic every time we went out to shop for food, or go to the dentist or any other appointment south of us. When we arrived on Kaua’i in 2014, it took us approximately 15 minutes to reach Lihue but by the time we left we had to give ourselves a cushion of about 45 minutes. It was miserable. While traffic was not an issue during the pandemic restrictions, it’s returned right along with the visitors. Relocating to the south side of the island versus back to the east side has been one of the best choices we made this time. We live further away from Costco and Lihue, but can get there in less than half the time it took us to drive from Kapaa, even with the return of visitors. We otherwise have everything we need right in our area. We also love being so close to the west side of the island and the Barking Sands base, which use to be nearly a two-hour drive from our home in Kapaa. We always thought of the south side as being sort of dry, and full of tourists, but it’s actually quite lush where we are, and it’s easy to avoid the heavily trafficked tourist areas. With lovely breezes nearly year-round and good airflow through our apartment, humidity has been much less of an issue as well.
  3. Dust: Dusting was already my least favorite chore when we moved here in 2014, and on the east side, every day we dealt with heavy amounts of dust and dirt, from who knows where. We had no idea that such a small island in the middle of the ocean could produce so much dirt! I hated it. I don’t know if it’s because our little apartment now is located at the back of the building away from the street or if it’s something else, but we get very, very little dust back here other than the “regular” stuff.
  4. Noise: We lived in two different neighborhoods during our previous four years (both in Kapaa) and the noise was awful. Dogs barked around the clock, roosters and chickens were a constant presence in our yards and crowed or squawked all day and all night as well. We had noisy neighbors that yelled, drove loud cars, threw noisy parties, or were always running their noisy lawnmowers, leaf blowers, or saws at all hours of the day. We knew about the potential noise issue before we moved over here but even though we are pretty patient people it beat us down over time. Our current location is extremely quiet. Our neighbors are quiet. I think we’ve seen less than five chickens in our yard since we moved here and I can’t think of the last time I heard a dog bark although there are plenty in the neighborhood. I can be up in the middle of the night for a couple of hours and not hear a rooster crowing somewhere which I still find amazing. The quiet has made a huge difference in our sleep and mental well-being.
  5. Crazy landlords: Probably the most discouraging part of our previous stay was our landlords. We discovered we liked renting, but struck out twice in this part of the deal. The first wasn’t as bad as the second, but that’s because I don’t think anyone could have been. The houses we lived in worked for us, although both were very uncomfortable when it turned hot and humid due to design issues and a lack of airflow through the houses. The landlords, especially the second one, made living in each one a nightmare at times, especially when it was time to move out and on. We have a dream landlord this time – we never hear from him or see him unless absolutely necessary, but he makes sure the property is kept up and things work like they’re supposed to. The rent is reasonable, and we don’t feel like we’re being gouged like we did before. J is an all-around nice guy, born and raised on the island, and absolutely night and day different from the landlord from hell we had to deal with last time.
Everything about our little apartment this time is perfect for us: the size, the location, the cost, the neighbors, and the landlord.

No place is truly ever perfect, but Kaua’i seems to be for us this time around. Although we feel very isolated from our family, housing costs are astronomical, and food and gas prices are climbing, Kaua’i is still the right place for us to be now, and we have a hard time imagining living anywhere else (and we’ve tried). The island remains incredibly beautiful, and the locals, weekly farmers’ markets, and (mostly) good weather make life here worthwhile. The humidity still has the potential to drive me crazy, but we now live in a place that gets cooling breezes and that has made a huge difference. Leaving before, even though we felt discouraged and were looking forward to traveling the world, was still difficult, and we already know this time is going to be a whole lot harder.

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (5/2 – 5/8)

This past week here could have been called “Leftover Overload.” Other than the mini pizzas, every dinner I fixed created leftovers, and we ended up with way more than usual. The tikka masala leftovers were frozen, but otherwise it took some creative effort on both Brett’s and my part to make sure everything got finished. An entire Costco bag of avocados ripening at the same time as well (7 of them!) didn’t help either. They usually ripen a day or two apart, but not this time! It would have made sense for us to eat leftovers one evening for our dinner, and we will be doing that in the future if we ever get in this same situation again, but in the end we did get through everything, and by the end of the week things had returned to a normal level, and the refrigerator once again had some wiggle room.

The biggest challenge for me with so many leftovers was making sure I did not go overboard on calories, something that’s easy to do. Portion sizes sometimes had to be cut back to balance everything each day. I’ve been doing a daily calorie intake count for almost a year now, and while some of it is now second nature, it still can be easy to overdo it, even with something as simple as having one extra breakfast sausage or grabbing a few peanuts for a quick snack. After years of experience trying every other diet and food plan, I am a firm believer in the “calories in<energy out” school of weight loss and maintenance, at least for me. Although I don’t restrict any foods, the only way I lose weight and maintain it is to track my calories and get enough exercise. The minute I let up and get lazy, back comes the excess weight. Counting calories is often pain to do, but it’s become a habit now and I intend to stick with it.

The photos of our dinners always look like we’re eating large portions, to me anyway, but they’re really not and all under 400 calories. For example, that’s only a half-cup of tikka masala and a quarter cup of rice. There’s only half of an Italian sausage in the sandwich, a half cup of pasta with a quarter cup of sauce, a cup of fried rice, three-quarters cup risotto, and so forth. Brett’s servings are a little larger, but not much. We’re mostly satisfied with smaller portions these days, and hope getting the set will keep us from gaining once again when we start traveling.

Sunday: Italian sausage sandwiches with sautéed peppers and onions

Monday: Chicken tikka masala; steamed jasmine rice honeydew melon

Tuesday: Pasta with marinara sauce; Italian sausages; roasted zucchini

Wednesday: Ham fried rice

Thursday: Sausage & pepper mini pizza

Friday: Pork chops with sauerkraut, apples, & bacon; green beans

Saturday: Chicken-rosemary risotto; steamed artichoke

Below is what’s on the menu for dinner next week. Brett made the tortellini for my Mother’s Day dinner last night and served it along with our last artichoke.

  • Cheese tortellini with marinara
  • Grilled fish tacos
  • Stuffed peppers
  • Grilled Polish sausages with sauerkraut
  • Mini pizzas
  • Mystery meal (a frozen container of some leftover is sitting in our freezer, and we can’t remember what it is)
  • Slow cooker chicken adobo with bok choy

Our dessert all this week will be lemon cake with lemon buttercream.

We had an okay week for exercise. We took a planned day off on Sunday, and then it rained all day Wednesday to keep us at home. On Thursday we only got in two Pavilion laps (1.6 miles) before the rain came rolling in and sent us home. Otherwise, we walked over four miles each day, and got a turn out on the golf course perimeter on Saturday. Every time we start out to do this, a woman yells at us from the clubhouse, “there are still golfers on the course!” We check the course very carefully as we walk up to the clubhouse because we only walk the perimeter of the course around holes 1-4. On Saturday, the only golfers still playing that afternoon were on holes 7 and above. Plus, even though it was well past the last tee time, we checked with the guy who takes care of the golf carts and asked when the last person had tee’d off (an hour earlier!). He told us to go on. It’s frustrating though to have this woman always trying to stop us, and even more frustrating to then see other walkers strolling across the course with their kids and dogs while we’re so careful to stick to the edge. I told Brett I think she just doesn’t recognize or remember us and thinks each time that we’re tourists, rather than locals who have been walking up at the park for over a year.

However, a couple of unplanned events this week brought about some positive changes. First, I randomly changed the type of OTC pain relief I’ve been taking from ibuprofen to naproxen one day and that brought about a noticeable difference in pain relief. Second, a consistent part of our walks at the park has been climbing the hill up to the clubhouse and then back down to walk the Pavilion loop. The climb up and down is 1.6 miles, as measured by GPS. This past Tuesday, because of the weather, we skipped the hill climb and instead walked four Pavilion loops. The loops are flat, with two loops equaling the hill climb. I had absolutely no hip pain during or after that walk. Hmmm. We tried another couple of days of skipping the hill climb with the same result, so climbing up and down seems to be part of what’s been causing the pain in my hips to flare. Actually, we climbed up the hill on Saturday and that didn’t cause any pain either, so maybe it’s downhill that causes the problem? I don’t want to give up walking the hill completely as it’s a good workout, but we’ve decided not to make it an everyday part of our walks, and do more Pavilion loops and golf course walking for the time being.

Sunday Morning 5/9/2021: Happy Mother’s Day!

There was some big sunset action with lots of color on Wednesday night following a stormy day.

Good morning! Aloha kakahiaka!

( photo credit: Kelsey Curtis/Unsplash)

Hau`oli La Makuahine! Happy Mother’s Day! Brett’s giving me my all-time favorite gift of the year today: the Day of Doing Nothing. He’s taking over all my chores today from bed making to cooking so I can enjoy an entire day of relaxation, but we’re also going out to brunch at the Kalaheo Cafe later this morning (eggs Benedict!). All the kids have checked in from all over, so I’m a happy mom!

I have felt myself starting to burn out with doing Swagbucks, so I’m purposely going slower this month as I still want to reach the goals I set for myself this year (two more $500 Delta gift cards), and I’d rather go slower and earn them than push myself too hard and give up early. This month I’m concentrating on reaching my daily goal and not worrying about earning more or getting to the higher second daily goal (which was getting ridiculously high). So far, so good, and I’m feeling less frustrated when yet another survey rejects me. Whenever I feel discouraged though I stop and imagine myself in Japan or at YaYu’s graduation next year, and that helps me continue. I’d been trying to decide whether to continue with Swagbucks into next year as well, maybe even earning yet another card, but right now quitting at the end of this year seems a better goal.

Will it or won’t it? It will and it did – rain started about five minutes after I took this picture.

I woke up to pouring rain this morning. We are beginning to wonder if the weather here is ever going to calm down this year. It’s been another week of extremes, from beautiful, sunny skies to pouring rain and wind. Brett comes from the “weather report is always right” school of thought, and says things like “there’s only a 10% chance of rain at 4:00 p.m. so we can get out and walk.” I adhere to the “look out the window and see what’s happening” school of weather prediction. We both get it right about 50% of the time. Kaua’i has so many different microclimates operating though, so while it may be miserable at our home it can be sunny and breezy a couple of miles away up at the park or other places, and vice versa, no matter what the weather report says or the sky looks like here. The weather can also change in a very short period of time. I can’t count the times we’ve gone for a walk, skies have been blue with few clouds, and then a big cloud rolls in and rain arrives before we’re done (or the opposite happening). Anyway, I’d love to have some more consistently sunny weather than what we’ve been dealing with this spring. It will be here, but I’m feeling impatient!

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished two books this week: The Guest List: A Novel by Lucy Foley, and The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena. Both were great page turners and fun reads. One of the things I love about the mystery genre is that while they can sometimes be dense and full of detail, backstories, etc. and require a lot of concentration, they can also be full of action and suspense, like the two above, and move along quickly. You can have your choice of a fabulous, several-course gourmet meal when you read a mystery, or dip into an exquisite box of chocolates: quicker but equally as satisfying. I’m currently reading The Bat by Jo Nesbo, a Norwegian mystery writer.
  • Listening to: It was pouring rain when I got up but that’s stopped and I can see blue sky off to the west. Birds are singing again, so there’s hope for a nice day coming up. Otherwise it’s a lovely, quiet morning inside and out!
  • Watching: DCI Bates and Great British Menu continue. We were planning to watch The Woman in the Window on Friday (on Netflix), but discovered it won’t be available until this coming Friday. I’ve read the book and know the story, but am greatly looking forward to seeing the film version and hope it’s as good as the book was.
We somehow managed to finish this big bowl of guacamole last week.
  • Happy we accomplished this past week: Getting through the ton of leftovers we produced this past week was a huge challenge, but we were determined and got creative and there are none left now. Along with the leftovers from our meals we also had an entire bag of avocados ripen at the same time at the beginning of the week, and getting those eaten before they spoiled added to the challenge (there was lots of avocado toast eaten for breakfast). You’d think I would have figured out by now how to cook less or put leftovers on the evening menu, but no. I also finished up another six weeks of activity cards and have another set ready to go. I am always so surprised when I come to the end of a set – can’t believe the time has gone that fast.
  • Looking forward to next week: I’m supposed have a phone consult with a gastroenterologist this week, and am looking forward to maybe getting to the bottom of my stomach issues, or at least getting a better handle on them. My birthday also happens this week and Brett is going to take me out to lunch. Nothing fancy – I’d like to have Puka Dogs again – but it will be a nice change. We’ve also been talking about taking a drive up through Waimea Canyon to Kokee State Park and the overlook, but that will depend on the weather.
We’re well prepared now to get fires started in our fire pit – all we need is some good weather!
  • Thinking of good things that happened: I got good news from the eye doctor on Friday: there has been no change in my cataracts during the last six months and I will not need surgery this year. Yeah! I will return in November for another assessment, but otherwise all is well for now, and a new prescription is not needed either which made me very happy. Our neighbors on the other side of our building are leaving Kaua’i at the end of this month (not really a good thing), but they are slowly divesting themselves of their things and brought over a large box of kindling and a small ax for us to cut more for our fire pit! We had been planning to purchase a small ax this month for just this chore, but we’re now set for the summer. We will miss them – they generously helped us as we moved in last year, and have been good neighbors over the past year.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: Other than a quick trip to the farmstand for produce, we had a no-spend week. We put $2.00 in the change/$1 bill bag, and I earned 1,752 Swagbucks. I have less than 10,000 Swagbucks to go in order to earn another $500 Delta gift card.
  • Grateful for: This past week Brett got the bill for last month’s surgery: over $22,000, which stopped our breathing for a couple of seconds. However, between Medicare and our military insurance we owe nothing out of pocket. Brett’s staying in the navy to retire has turned out to be the best, most frugal investment we’ve made even though getting there was difficult at the time. Any expression of how grateful we are now for that decision would be an understatement.

My birthday gift list

  • Bonus question: What would you like for your birthday this year? I usually don’t ask for or expect anything for my birthday (for the past several years it’s often ended up being an exhausting travel day!), but this year the girls and Brett asked for a list so after some thought I came up with three items: a slate cheeseboard for charcuterie, a Dash mini-waffle maker (practical for us), and a pair of earrings I spotted on Novica. The earrings were sort of an add-on, but I lost several pairs during our travels, and in the past two months I have had more pairs break, and I am down to just two pairs now and would really, really like some more! I’ve already told Brett that I think the only items on my Christmas list this year will be earrings as I enjoy having a variety to wear, but otherwise I’m good with stuff for now. It remains a mystery whether or not I will receive any of the above items, but at least I produced a list to work from.

The amount of visitors arriving on Kaua’i each day has grown to over 1,000. It’s good for the local economy, but I already miss the peace and quiet we enjoyed during the pandemic. The virus has also been making its presence known again on the island as well, with the largest case numbers ever, even more than last year. Most seem to only require home quarantine thankfully, but it’s still worrying. Both Brett and I are grateful to be vaccinated, but we have no plans to change any of our behaviors and plan to continue to limit our outings along with social distancing, hand washing, and mask wearing. We’ve also started talking a little more about our Plan B, as with the rise in cases around the world we are starting to wonder if there will ever really be an end to the pandemic, or how safe it will be to travel in the future. We remain hopeful and optimistic, but there are still so many unknowns right now. Tokyo just set another state of emergency this past week to try and tamp down their increasing numbers and so the Olympics can go on this summer. Although our grandkids will continue to attend their schools, both our son and daughter-in-law are once again working from home, and businesses have had their hours shortened, and other measures have taken to curb the spread of the virus. India and other places in Europe are still struggling as well, and hot spots remain on the mainland.

That’s all for this week! I hope it was a good one for all. We’re looking forward to the week coming up, and for more good things happening, good weather, and all sorts of other good things coming along as well. And to all the moms: enjoy your day today!

The Kids Don’t Want Our Stuff

Many of our treasures came from Japanese flea markets. Our kids could care less. (photo credit: Astrit Malsija/Unsplash)

When we’ve talked with our daughters the past few weeks we’ve mentioned that we’d like them to think about what things of ours they might want, including artwork, antiques, and so forth.

The silence has been deafening.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, Meiling mentioned that while she likes our things and knows some of them are valuable, they just aren’t her style, and she thought her sisters pretty much felt the same. She said we should sell what we don’t want before we go and put the money toward our travels.

I was honestly a bit surprised by her thoughts at first. We think our stuff is unique, beautiful, high quality, and valuable, and we’ve worked hard to curate it over the years. But after some thought I realized I never wanted any of my parent’s stuff either, nice as some of those things were. I wanted to collect to my own taste and decorate my own way as well.

Walking through an estate sale is up near the top of my list of depressing experiences. After doing a couple of those I decided I would do anything in my power not to have my children ever have to go through that. Going through a house filled with old books, linens, dishes, bric-a-brac, clothing, furniture, out-of-date technology, dirty tools, etc. that no one in the family wanted was very sad for me. According to Forbes magazine, most children don’t want their parent’s treasured possessions these days. And, as we have found out, a parent’s interest in collections does not automatically pass on to their children.

We now intend to sell and donate the things we won’t want, need or plan to use in the future. We’re not going to get rid of everything, but will downsize once again from what we currently own. We’ll hold a yard sale before we leave Hawaii, and put other items on our local Facebook Marketplace to reduce the cost of shipping what we do keep back to the mainland once again.

When we downsized for our move to Kaua’i in 2014, Brett and I came to enjoy the process as we went along, and found that going through our things before we let them go could be fun at times. We read and reminisced about all the letters that Brett and I had sent to each other during his time in the navy and then shredded them (because we would have been mortified if our children had seen many of them). We talked about books we had read and enjoyed before we sold or donated them. We sold or passed on things to people who wanted them. Done in a period of over a year, downsizing was a very positive experience for us. We have missed nothing we got rid of then.

The kids don’t want our stuff, but we hope to make further downsizing a positive experience once again. Because we have so many fewer things now than in the past, letting things go will require a bit more thought than it did before, but I’m pretty sure we will once again end up keeping just the right amount, and we’ll be happy and satisfied with the result.

Home Cooking: Perfect Pancakes

In his magnificent cookbook How To Cook Everything, Mark Bittman writes that “Americans must have been sadly alienated from the kitchen for pancake mixes to ever have gained a foothold in the market, for these are ridiculously easy to make.”

Ridiculously easy is an understatement when it comes to making his Basic Pancake recipe because the batter for these pancakes can be ready before the pan gets hot. It takes only a very few minutes to pull the batter together, and the pancakes that result are light and fluffy. Although I think the Tip Top Cafe’s pancakes are the best I’ve ever had, these easy ones are a close second, and I think with a few tweaks I may be able to get even closer.

Blueberry pancakes coming up!

In How To Cook Everything, Bittman gives several ideas for variations: Regular milk can be replaced with buttermilk, or partially with yogurt or sour cream. The pancakes are a great way to use up milk that’s soured or going sour. Fruits such blueberry, banana, or apple pieces can be added to the batter as well. I’ve been known to replace a little of the milk with orange juice and add some grated orange peel, or add pumpkin puree for some of the liquid. Buckwheat flour can be substituted for some of the all-purpose flour, and we’ve also made these using 100% whole wheat pastry flour with great success. Finally, the batter can also be made ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator for several days, until ready to use.

Whether sticking to the recipe or dressing them up a bit, these really are perfect pancakes, and perfectly easy too.

Blueberry pancakes with a little lilikoi curd: perfection!

BASIC PANCAKES

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 TBSP baking powder (I often add 2 TBSP to make very fluffy pancakes)

1/2 tsp salt

1 TBSP sugar

2 eggs (we use 2)

1 1/2  to 2 cups milk

2 TBSP melted and cooled butter (or vegetable oil)

Preheat a griddle or large skillet over medium-low heat while you make the batter. Mix together the dry ingredients. Beat the eggs into the milk, then stir in the melted butter or oil. Whisk this into the dry ingredients, mixing only enough to moisten the flour (don’t worry about a few lumps). If the batter seems too thick, thin with a little milk.

Dry edges and lots of bubbles mean this pancake is ready to flip
The pancakes rise up nice and fluffy after they’re flipped

If your skillet or griddle is non-stick, cook pancakes without any additional oil. Otherwise use a teaspoon or so every time you add batter. Pour the pancake batter onto the hot surface; when the edge of the pancake looks dry and bubbles appear all over the top, turn the pancake. The bottom should cook in 2 -4 minutes, or when lightly browned. Turn and cook until the bottom is browned as well and serve hot. If necessary, the pancakes can be held in a 200° oven for up to 15 minutes.

A Wonderful, Happy Life

When I found the online pictures of our San Clemente beach house a few weeks ago, I sent the link to my brother and sister knowing they would most likely enjoy seeing the house as much as I did. A few days later my sister sent me two photos, including the one above, which was taken at the beach house, in the vacant lot next door. I have no memory of the picture being taken or who took it. I don’t know how old I am in the picture, but I believe the photo was taken by my mom. I think it came from her collection of photos and slides that my brother took with him after Mom died, and transferred to jpgs. He sent some (all?) of the photos to my sister, including apparently some ones of me.

My first reaction when I saw the photo was, “What a sad, serious little girl.” Maybe I didn’t want to look at the camera that day (was the sun’s glare too much?). Was my mom going for an arty sort of photo with me looking pensive or serious? Was I there just to provide a contrast to the giant sunflower? Whatever was going on, the end result was a picture of a not very happy child.

A couple of other things leaped out at me from the photo as well. Growing up I always wore my hair boy-short because it was supposedly “too curly” and Mom complained she couldn’t manage it. What I see in that picture though is lovely thick, possibly wavy hair, and not the unmanageable curls my mom always inferred. Also, I was told that I couldn’t own or wear a skirt because I “didn’t have a waist” and a skirt would slip right off of me (I didn’t own a skirt until I reached high school). And yet, there I am in a pair of shorts with a waistband and they are not falling off or anything close to it. The reasons/excuses I was given as a child for not getting to wear a much-desired skirt or grow out my hair do not match the reality in the photo.

I did not have a miserable childhood by any stretch of the imagination, but I did have an unhappy one, and the photo above triggered deep memories of having to often live with different rules and expectations than were applied to my brothers and sisters. I know now that much of the sadness I felt back then was actually depression, something that did not go away until I reached my mid-20s. It took only a moment for this single photograph to quickly bring up so many of the old feelings, and a few days for those feelings to evaporate. Even decades later the memories have power.

When I look at that picture I wish I could go back and whisper in that little girl’s ear, to let her know even though life will be hard at times:

  • She will have a long and happy marriage, and the best friend ever for a partner.
  • She will raise four smart, successful, caring children, gain the best daughter-in-law, and have two beautiful grandchildren.
  • She will form deep, long-lasting friendships over the years.
  • She will make dreams come true, and learn to trust her own power to make good decisions and follow them through.
  • She will have more determination and strength than she can imagine, and yet remain full of hope and optimism.
  • When she needs it most, there will be people along the way who see her potential, and who will be there to support and encourage her.
  • She will grow up healthy, with strong legs, a strong heart, and a strong mind to keep her active and carry her into old age.
  • She will travel the world, and visit and experience places she can’t even dream of now.
  • She will grow up to enjoy a full, wonderful, happy life, one that she is going to create.

I am thankful that in spite of the unpleasantness of the memories this photo brought back it also led me to reflect on how fortunate I have been with the life I have had, and for all that I have experienced, learned, and been given along the way . . . a blessed life.

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (4/25-5/2)

Brewing mugicha in a half-gallon jar.

The arrival of warmer weather means it’s time again to start brewing mugicha, or roasted barley tea (麦mugi = barley, 茶cha = tea). Last year I ran out of the tea bags we had brought with us from Japan, and when I asked our daughter-in-law if she would send me some more she sent packages enough to keep me in mugicha until we leave in 2023! I brew a half gallon every other day, and have been enjoying two big glassfuls every day.

So refreshing!

I first tasted mugicha when I was 18, and thought it was absolutely awful (I actually gagged). How could anyone drink, let alone enjoy, this bitter beverage? Although it’s definitely an acquired taste for Western palates, over the years I have come to enjoy and appreciate how refreshing mugicha is, and it’s now my favorite hot weather beverage, much more than iced tea which I also love. Besides refreshment, mugicha has many beneficial properties, including being rich in minerals and antioxidants, and it’s a natural source of melatonin, benefitting sleep (it’s also naturally caffeine free). It is also believed to improve blood circulation and help prevent cancer among other healthful properties.

A 22-oz bottle of the most popular commercial mugicha costs around 50 cents in Japan. It’s the one place I don’t mind buying a plastic bottle as I know it will be recycled.

We had some great meals last week, helped by our big shopping trip last week and picking up a couple of things at the farmers market. Artichokes take me to a happy place and they were a good deal at Costco with four giant globe artichokes for only $6.99. They’re each big enough that one is almost too much for both Brett and me to finish. Steamed is my favorite way to enjoy an artichoke along with some sort of dipping sauce, preferably with lemon in it.

Sunday: Grilled ham & cheese sandwiches; roasted red pepper & tomato soup

Monday: Pasta with Thai peanut sauce; spicy coleslaw

Tuesday: Breakfast for dinner (bacon and scrambled eggs with green onions); steamed artichoke

Wednesday: CookDo mabo nasu; steamed rice; cucumber spears

Thursday: Grilled chicken & apple sausages; sautéed green beans; artichoke

Friday: Thai chicken mini pizzas

Saturday: Pork & rice burritos; honeydew melon

We repeated last week’s Thai chicken pizzas as there was spicy peanut sauce to be used up (and they’re delicious!), and the planned chicken tikka masala was bumped to this week after we bought some beautiful eggplant at the farm stand and used it for mabo nasu. Here’s what’s planned for next week’s dinners:

  • Italian sausage sandwiches with peppers and onions
  • Chicken-rosemary risotto
  • Chicken tikka masala (bumped from last week)
  • InstantPot pork chops with sauerkraut and apples
  • Mini pizzas
  • Pasta with marinara and Italian sausages
  • Ham fried rice

Out and about in the park last Thursday. I always get a kick out of seeing what appears to be a schefflera tree growing out of the palm tree.

Walking was somewhat hit or miss this week, because the weather was so unreliable. Last Sunday was beautiful, so we decided to take advantage of it instead of taking a day off like we usually do. Monday we stayed home because of rain, and the only walking we did was the over two miles we accomplished during our trips to Costco and Walmart. Wednesday brought more bad weather, but then Thursday and Friday were gorgeous, with blue skies and cool breezes, and we got in two days of walking over five miles. Saturday we went to the beach for the afternoon instead of walking, and then stayed home on Sunday to get our regular day off and a no-drive day. This coming week doesn’t look much better as far as weather is concerned, but I always make my daily eating plan and calorie allotment based on not getting to walk

My hips have been bothering me lately, more consistently than in the past. There’s nothing excruciatingly painful going on, but I have become aware of a dull ache that’s there more often than it’s not. I don’t think it’s arthritis (I hope it’s not arthritis!) as the ache is more on the outer side of my hips, and believe it’s more related to my bursitis. But who knows? The interesting thing for me is that I usually don’t feel any pain when I’m walking, or at least not until the end of the walk, but more when I’m not walking. For now, over-the-counter pain medication helps, but I guess it’s something I need to ask my doctor about next time I see him. I may also check with our upstairs neighbor, a semi-retired orthopedic surgeon, and see what he has to say. Maybe it’s time to mix things up a bit when it comes to exercise?

Sunday Morning 5/2/2021: May, the Best Month

Tuesday’s sunset was flat-out gorgeous.

Good morning! Aloha kakahiaka!

Is it really May already? The time really is speeding by even though our days seem so slow and relaxed. Besides being outright one of the best months of the year, May is a special month for me, with both Mother’s Day and my birthday happening within a few days of each other. My favorite treat for Mother’s Day has always been A Day of Doing Nothing, where the girls and Brett used to (and now just Brett) take care of all the chores, from bed making to cooking to laundry – whatever I normally do that day. My upcoming 69th birthday is giving me quite the pause for reflection, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how I got where I am today and all that I still have to look forward to. I clearly remember relatives at this age seeming positively ancient, and yet here I am and I still don’t feel old for the most part, both mentally and physically. My body tells me otherwise from time to time though, and it’s honestly become more difficult to keep up with all the technological changes, memes, and other cultural bits that are happening all around. I haven’t given up trying though, and am in a great place overall, looking forward to what’s to come.

We did a massive (for us) food shopping this past week as we had run out of so many things, from pantry staples to bread, protein, and produce. It was exhausting too but we have lots of variety on hand now and will be eating well in the coming month! The pantry, fridge, and freezer are stuffed. Costco had a big selection of lovely produce so we stocked up: loads of peppers, locally grown cucumbers because there haven’t been any at the farm stand lately, big, luscious artichokes (yum!), organic bananas, organic apples, melons, and avocados. Ripe strawberries are a treat here and aren’t in the markets very long, and Costco had organic berries at a very good price (almost better than non-organic) so we enjoyed those for a few days as well. Costco is the best place on the island to buy protein and we stocked up in that area as well because our freezer was near empty. No cleaning supplies or pharmacy items were purchased, nor were prepared or convenience items, and the only three non-consumable items in our carts on Tuesday were sunscreen and a pair of shorts, both on sale/special at Costco and on the list, and a 2-pack of paper towels at Walmart. Otherwise, it was all basic food items, building blocks for future meals. Prices are climbing here like everywhere, but Costco and Walmart continue to keep things affordable so we can stay on or under our budget.

It was overcast at our place when we left to go to the beach, but gorgeous and warm when we got there.

Although the weather at beginning of the week started off kind of sketchy, with a storm on Tuesday and rain all day Wednesday, the rest of the week has been very nice, and we enjoyed a lovely afternoon at the beach yesterday. Our apartment is in a poor location for determining the weather in other parts of the island, so we always set off to the beach, for example, with our fingers crossed. It might look sunny over that direction, but the winds could be howling – we won’t know until we get there. Likewise, it can be overcast and windy here, but beautiful up at the park or at the beaches out west. Kaua’i has many microclimates operating over the island, actually one of the things we love about it here, but you can only guess sometimes about what you’ll find when you head off to another location. I am so happy May has arrived though! I’m hoping it will be full of beautiful Hawaii weather: warm temperatures, sunny skies, and just enough rain to keep things green and blooming.

This morning I am:

Sandra Pankhurst, the trauma cleaner.
  • Reading: I read and finished The Trauma Cleaner in four days, an absolutely wonderful book about a most remarkable woman. The book turned out not to be directly about crime (her service does clean up crime scenes or after deaths and suicides) but more about her life and what she has overcome to be the woman she is today. I enjoyed every minute of reading it. The Trauma Cleaner was also my 26th book of the year, so I’m now at the halfway point of my goal to read 52 books this year. My current book is Last Rituals, a novel of murder and suspense originally published in Iceland. It shouldn’t take long to finish, and hopefully by then something else will have come off hold from the library.
  • Watching: Nightly viewing of an episode of DCI Banks continues, and I’m now into the fourth (available) season of Great British Menu. This year the contest benefits the 70th anniversary of D-Day, and winning chefs will cook for a banquet for veterans of that day (the actual banquet was held on June 6, 2014). It will be interesting as always to see which chefs return this year, and what the new chefs bring to the competition. I’ve also come to enjoy the judges as much as the contestants – it’s always a surprise to see who gets assigned to each area (judges are selected from former banquet finalists).
  • Listening to: Although our upstairs neighbor is sort of thumping around this morning, it’s otherwise pretty quiet so far. It’s overcast outside, and there’s a soft breeze and a few birds singing, but much nicer than last night when the winds were howling through the yard and it was pouring rain. It’s actually warm enough that we’ve got the French door open. Rain is also predicted for much of today, but we’re hoping it will be missing this afternoon so we can get up to the park. We usually don’t go for a walk on Sundays, but if we’ll go today if possible because we missed walking yesterday (a beach visit got in the way). Brett just finished putting away all of last night’s dishes and is settling in with his reading, so it’s quiet once again inside.
The John Alden House in Duxbury, MA, is still maintained by his descendants. It looks a bit more weathered these days though than it does in this old postcard.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Another week with small accomplishments, but I did discover where in the UK two more of my family lines (my father’s paternal line, and my grandmother’s maternal line) came from: Barrow-in-Furness, near the Lake District, and Southampton on the southern coast. Three of my maternal grandmother’s lines came to America on the Mayflower (John Alden and Priscilla Mullins being the most famous), and my father’s paternal line came to South Carolina in 1762. That ancestor was apparently quite athletic, and before he left for the colonies had been captured by pirates off the coast of England, but jumped off the ship one night and successfully swam to shore and escaped (the other young man who jumped with him unfortunately drowned). What I found fascinating from that search was all the names that have been passed down and used again and again through the generations in my father’s family, both for men and women. So many Williams, Roberts, Isaacs, Johns, Esthers, Alvas, Sarahs, etc. over and over. My (maternal) grandmother’s father’s line has proved to be the difficult one, and I could only find information going back a couple of generations from her father but know he has Scots heritage. Other than learning more about my family and where we came from in England, all the other things needing to be done got done during the week.
  • Looking forward to next week: Although I’m not entirely looking forward to it, I have an appointment with the eye doctor this week and will most likely learn whether or not I’m going to need cataract surgery this year. My vision has been getting worse, so something is going on. I’m also hoping for more good weather so we can get to the beach again. Our goal for this year is to get to the beach 26 times, and we have LOT of catching up to do!
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We had a lovely, relaxing afternoon at the beach again yesterday, our fourth beach day this year. There were lots of family groups at the beach park while we were there, and kids swimming – it felt good to see those happening again. On the way back from the beach we stopped in to see if the ReStore in Hanapepe still had some silk plants we had spotted before. They did, and we scored a big leafy palm tree in excellent condition for just $38. When we arrived last year, silk plants this size in the furniture stores were selling for over $500 (some online are going for $800) so we decided it was a worthwhile purchase, and we can sell it when we leave. We love the way it adds to the living room, and best of all, I can’t kill it!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We knew before we set out on our food shopping trip that we would be spending more than usual and budgeted accordingly. Because of what we bought now we’ll need very little in the middle of the month so the monthly food budget should balance out. Because we basically live in the same house, we’re going to share our Internet connection with our upstairs neighbor; he will pay half of the bill each month, and that money will go into our travel savings. We put $2.00 into the change/$1 bill bag this week, and saved a total of $21.18 in April. I earned 2,038 Swagbucks this past week, and 784 bonus Swagbucks for April!
I’m at an age now where balloons may be better than candles (photo credit: Caterina Berger/Unsplash)
  • Grateful for: This month I will celebrate the final year of my 7th decade, and I am very, very thankful to have gotten this far in what I think is very good shape and good health, all things considered, and in pretty good financial shape as well. I’m looking forward to the future and enjoying several more active years and adventures!
  • Bonus question: What is your favorite board game? Scrabble! Brett and I still play with the set that he and I bought when we first started dating, over 44 years ago. He usually wins (better letter draws at the beginning for some reason) but the games are still fun and thought provoking. I don’t know if it counts as an actual board game, but I love to play Yahtzee. Our original red plastic cup from 1980 (which had been fortified several times with duct tape) finally gave up the ghost right before we left Kaua’i in 2018, but we carried along a new cup and scorecards with us. Our family created our own version of the game, playing across the scorecard to fill the squares versus down each row one at a time. Our way goes faster, is more exciting, and involves more strategy as well. I also love playing Cards Against Humanity, and the old Trivial Pursuit (when the questions were harder). Otherwise, I am not a huge fan of board games although some of the ones available these days are amazing. I have a friend in Portland that’s deeply into them and her collection is fascinating as are the game themes. Still not my thing though – I prefer card games because they move faster than a board game.

In case you’ve ever been curious (but probably aren’t), this Sunday post does not actually get written on Sunday morning, or at least much of it doesn’t. I used to write the whole thing on Sunday, but it became such an effort that I decided there had to be a better way. These days I typically put up the template for the post on Tuesday, and as things happen throughout the week (books finished, things accomplished, good things, etc.) I make notes in the template. The actual writing doesn’t usually start until Friday and continues into Saturday, with pictures added on Saturday evening. I worry every week about not having enough pictures, but always seem to find them in the end. The most difficult part of the post is coming up with a bonus question, followed by what I’m grateful for, only because I am grateful for too many things to have to pick just one. On Sunday morning I go through everything one last time, add in what I’m listening to at the moment, and then hit “publish.” Hopefully the truth of how this post gets done has not destroyed anyone’s image of me sitting with my computer and just pulling this thing together effortlessly. I am not and have never been in any way, shape, or form an effortless writer. Writing is real work for me, but I love doing it.

All in all it was another quiet, but great week. Money was well spent, books were finished and started, good things happened, and I have much to be grateful for. I’m looking forward to the week coming up, and hope everyone out there is as well!