Adventures in Downsizing

How soon is too soon to start when you want to get rid of everything? That’s the question we’re struggling with these days. Is it too early now to start letting things go, or should we wait until next year or even right before we plan to go? Are there things we can live without now versus waiting until next year or right before we leave? Are we ready to embrace real minimalism?

We’ve sold a few things already that have been sitting around unused and taking up space, and that the girls have said they don’t want. A small TV, a lightbox, a lampshade, a Le Creuset baking pan, and my stand mixer have all found new owners. I put our three Japanese hibachis up for sale a couple of weeks ago, more to see if there was any interest, but while I got a lot of views there have were no takers, even after I lowered the price. So, they’re going to be listed at my Etsy shop instead and we’ll see how they do there.

It isn’t easy to figure out what to do with other items we’d like to sell. Would they sell better as an individual item through Buy & Sell, or on Etsy, or at a garage sale? Is the item something I’m willing to ship or would the cost of that outweigh what we can get for the item?

Pricing will the biggest issue we face, especially living in Hawaii. Postage back to the mainland is quite expensive, and could push the price of several items up too high. We have to accept for some items that we will never receive their true value, and will can only hope to get what we paid for them. For example, our beautiful big hibachi table will have to go for thousands less than it’s worth – we’ve seen similar sized hibachis selling online for over $4000, but I know we’ll be very fortunate to get $600 for it here, as well as the custom stand, glass top, and antique plate inside. That’s still more than we paid for everything, but we can’t take it with us and shipping it would be more expensive and more of a pain than would be worthwhile. I will be happy though if someone else is happy about getting it. I can always tell when someone is thrilled to have gotten an item and that makes it easier to let go of.

I’m grateful for the time we have to figure this out. Selling everything is going to be a bigger task than I initially imagined, but if we’re smart, time will be our friend. We were shocked by how much stuff our neighbors still had right before they moved, where they ended up having to hire a truck to haul away what didn’t sell. Our goal is to end up with no more items than will fit into the trunk of our car to go to the resale store when it’s time to go.

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (6/13-6/19)

This is so me.

I will never give up coffee, especially now that it’s been determined that drinking four cups of coffee a day can possibly extend your life. Current meta-studies are showing that drinking coffee, either with caffeine or without, can potentially extend men’s lives by 12% and women’s by 16%. Four cups a day seems to be the ideal, with anything after that providing little to no benefit.

What’s so great about coffee (besides being delicious)? Coffee, it turns out, is loaded with antioxidants. While fruits and vegetables contain more, the amount of coffee consumed by Americans ends up providing the greatest amount of antioxidants each day. Beyond living longer and providing antioxidants, coffee drinking also provides several other potential health benefits:

  • better processing of glucose or sugar
  • decreases the risk of developing heart failure
  • decreases the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease
  • decreases the risk for liver cancer and other liver diseases
  • decreases breakage in DNA strands
  • decreases the odds for colon cancer
  • decreases the risk for Alzheimer’s disease
  • decreases the risk for strokes
  • decreases the risk for Type-2 diabetes

The secret to receiving all these benefits it seems, is drinking the right amount. As with Goldilocks, there can be too little or too much, but the sweet spot seems to be three to five cups a day. I currently drink two cups of half-caff in the morning, one cup of decaffeinated most afternoons, and then share a cup of half-caff with Brett in the evenings. The downsides for coffee for me is that it can irritate my stomach, and also affect my sleep, but my current consumption does not seem to affect either of those, so I am going keep it up! I have tried giving up coffee, or going 100% caffeine free, but both of those have made for a very miserable Laura.

Below is what we ate for dinner this past week. I did not get a picture of our dinner at Japanese Grandma’s Cafe last Sunday, but you can see below that I devoured it all LOL. It was healthy and delicious!

Sunday: Vegetable futamaki (sushi); Cucumber & seaweed sunomono (salad); seared tofu & vegetables; matcha cheesecake (shared with Brett)

Monday: Chicken tikka masala with peas; steamed jasmine rice

Tuesday: Cheese white bean bake; toasted baguette; steamed artichoke

Wednesday: Mezze plate (tabouli salad, baba ganoush, hummus, whole wheat pita)

Thursday: Italian sausage sandwich with sautéed peppers and onions; roasted cauliflower

Friday: Cheese board

Saturday: Mini pizzas w/leftover Italian sausage, sautéed peppers and onion, & roasted cauliflower

Our desserts this past week were apple pie baked oatmeal and vegan arroz con leche (rice pudding).

There are only two, possibly three, meals with meat planned for next week because we’re finding the meatless meals much more enjoyable these days. However, once again all the meatless meals contain cheese. We love cheese but are trying hard not to go overboard.

  • Panzanella with chickpeas and feta
  • Guadalajara quesadillas
  • Egg roll in a bowl
  • Pork & pepper stir fry
  • Mini pizzas
  • Cheese board
  • Avocado pasta salad

We had a week of varied walks: four days of perimeter walks at the park, a day of shopping (which wears us out more than anything), and a hike at Barking Sands. It was hot, hot, hot the day we walked there, with little to no shade, but we slathered ourselves with sunscreen, stayed hydrated, and did OK, although we were more than ready to get under our umbrella on the beach afterwards. Our golf ball hunt yielded 11 this past week! Looking for them has become a game and made the perimeter walk a lot of fun.

The Waiokapua Trail starts out looking green and inviting, but a few hundred feet ahead it dumps you out into the hot sun for the rest of the way. Shady areas are small, and few and far between.

The way our apartments are set up, when our neighbor comes up the stairs to his front door he can look right into our living room. No big deal, but every time I see him (and he sees me) I am sitting on the sofa working on my computer or reading. He must think I never get off the sofa! It has made me think about how sedentary I am outside of our daily walks. I do move around a lot, but also think I sit around too much as well. I work a lot on the blog each day, and now as I set up my shop on Etsy, and those two things take time, but I’m more conscious these days of making sure I get up and move around more frequently versus planting myself on the sofa for the day.

Sunday Morning 6/20/2021: Happy Father’s Day!

Monday evening’s sunset was absolutely amazing. It bathed the whole interior of our apartment in color.

Good morning! Aloha kakahiaka!

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there! Hau’oli la makuakane! I hope all you dads will get a bit spoiled today. Brett and I are heading out in a short while for brunch at the Little Fish Cafe in Poipu. They have a wonderful bagel sandwich menu, and we’re going to choose one to share. I also got him a (very) small gift, and he’ll be off KP duty tonight as well.

What a great week we had! We had a wonderful evening with my good friend’s daughter last Sunday evening, sold something during the week, and even a miracle (for us) occurred! Of all the things that were in the box the movers lost last year, the one thing we could not get over losing was an antique cotton Boy’s Day banner, found in a pile of old textiles during our last tour in Japan. It’s a one-of-a-kind piece, with a warrior tangling with a tiger (symbolizing strength for Boy’s Day), and was created using a wax resist method. I initially used it to cover some holes in the wall of the Japanese house we were renting (long story) but we’ve enjoyed it in every home we’ve lived in since and were miserable about losing it. The banner had been clearly marked on the shipping manifest for the lost box (“1 fabric banner and poles”), so we had accepted it had been lost along with the other things in the box. However, this past week I got out WenYu’s hat lamp to put on Buy & Sell next week – the lamp’s base had been sitting up in the top of our closet, still wrapped in paper, and marked “lamp.” As I removed the paper, a thin bamboo pole caught my eye and lo and behold, there was our Boy’s Day banner, rolled and packed next to the lamp base! Brett hung the banner this past week, and we are so happy to see it in our home again, a favorite piece of art restored to us. It’s one of the few things that will not be sold when we move and will be sent to stay with one of our girls for safekeeping. Anyway, finding that banner counts as a miracle in my book, and made me especially glad that I decided to go ahead and list the hat lamp now rather than waiting until later.

The much loved hat lamp that kept our banner safe – we bought it when WenYu was a baby. It used to have a big bow tied around the hat, but the ribbon didn’t make it through storage. One section of the base was also lost in the move.

The virus has returned to Kaua’i. After a few weeks with no cases on the island, COVID has returned, and there are currently 20 active cases on the island. I’m beginning to think this is going to be the new normal going forward, that vaccinated or not we will need to remain careful for a long time coming. Apparently if we are vaccinated we will be safe from the virus, but can still transmit the new Delta variant because it’s so contagious. I was surprised and disappointed to learn this past week that a woman my high school class has apparently chosen not to get vaccinated and for nothing more than political reasons as far as I can tell. She was very angry that she was required to wear a mask at a hair salon while others who had been vaccinated didn’t have to. I honestly don’t get it, because I’m sure she’s never had a problem with getting vaccinated for school, travel, the flu or other things, but COVID is apparently a bridge too far.

I made my first travel reservations for next year this past week – very exciting! The date for YaYu’s commencement has been set, so I started looking at hotel prices in the area last week and was able to reserve a room in a very nice hotel less than five miles from the BMC campus for more than $400 less than I thought we would be paying! That’s a huge savings. I also reserved a car for our time back there, including a toll pass, for less than $400, another big savings. These were the two reservations I wanted to make early because prices will only be going up during the next year as we get closer to the date, and hotel rooms will become more and more difficult to find. Neither reservation involved a pre-payment, good for us in case things get changed. Our flights back east will come later though – it’s still way too early for those, but we have $1500 in gift cards to put toward that expense. We already plan to do most of our dining at the hotel’s complimentary breakfast or in our room to keep our food costs down. The room comes with a refrigerator, and there is a Trader Joe’s nearby, so we’ll stock up when we arrive.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: It’s been very enjoyable having only one book to read, and I’ve been slowly going through Kate Atkinson’s Blue Sky. There are links back to the earlier Jackson Brodie series and I sometimes have to stop from time to time to think about things and link characters and incidents to what’s going on in the current book. John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came In From the Cold is up next.
  • Listening to: Even though it’s Father’s Day, Brett is making the coffee and putting last night’s dishes away. Our upstairs neighbor is thumping around upstairs a bit, but nothing too loud. There’s also a pretty good breeze blowing outside that’s making some noise, but the sky is blue and it’s delightfully cool so all is well. After our bagels we’re going to head over to Salt Pond for some time on the beach!
  • Watching: We’ve started the third and final season of The Unforgotten, and are contemplating what to watch when it’s over. The second season was incredibly sad and finished unresolved, but the topic was child sexual abuse and that’s something that’s both incredibly sad and really never resolved, so the ending made sense. I finished the final episode of Great British Menu on Friday and have decided to rewatch the series again because I loved it that much, and want to watch some of the chefs cook again. Brett and I tried to watch The Longest Day last Wednesday, but our Internet connection kept skipping (a sometimes frequent occurrence here) which made it impossible to watch on YouTube. We’re currently looking for another way to stream it.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: 1) Our grocery shopping trip was a genuine chore this last time because we visited three stores versus two, and had to take several things off of our list in order to stay as close as possible to our budget (we still went over). It didn’t help that all three stores seemed to be out of things we wanted, but we eventually found what we were looking for or substitutions. 2) I created an Etsy shop to start selling our Japanese items, but it’s a work in progress, and more difficult than I imagined. I try to add a couple of items every day (and get help/critiques from Meiling and WenYu who are helping with photos). Once I get it up to speed I’ll provide a link. 3) I am so happy to have gotten the reservations done for our hotel stay and rental car when we go to Pennsylvania next year, and to be saving so much from what we thought we’d have to pay. 4) We had a wonderful day at the beach last Thursday, along with a hike on the Waiokapua Trail. 5) I got a new set of activity cards made up for the next six weeks. The last six weeks went by very quickly.
My beach boy is very tan these days
  • Looking forward to next week: So far we have nothing on our calendar, so we’re looking forward to maybe a couple of trips to the beach, and some nice walks up at the park in the evening.
So happy to see and spend time with Jess (and eat at Japanese Grandma’s Cafe too!)
  • Thinking of good things that happened: 1) Our Sunday evening with Jess was grand, and we spent nearly three hours eating and talking and catching up. 2) I cried when I saw that banner sitting next to the lamp this past week. Finding it safe and sound was just the best thing. 4) We had a perfect hike and day at the beach on Thursday, and just a lovely week overall. 5) Our landlord gifted us a 1.75 liter bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin as a thank you for being such good tenants!
Gin & tonics coming up!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: 1) Besides the frugal travel deals I found this week, I also sold a Le Creuset baking pan that I hadn’t used in years. I had earned it as an incentive back when I sold cookware, so what I got for it was pure profit. I also sold another lamp that we never use. 2) We went $12 over budget on our grocery shopping, and that’s after removing several things off the list, but I still consider it a win all things considered. Costco prices have remained steady, and Walmarts are always low, but Safeway’s prices were off the chart. Unfortunately, it’s the only store in the area where can find certain things (e.g. cannellini beans). 3) We put $7.69 into the change/$1 bill bag, and I earned 1,930 Swagbucks this past week. I am growing more and more annoyed with Swagbucks each day though, but I am determined to earn at least one more $500 Delta card by the end of the year so I grit my teeth, curse under my breath at times, and continue. 4) All the leftovers were eaten, and nothing was thrown away this past week.
  • Grateful for: We’re feeling grateful for good weather, good friends, a great landlord, and in spite of the rising cost of living our life on Kaua’i. Island life is a good fit for us and we plan to enjoy our time here as much as possible until it’s time to hit the road again.
  • Bonus question: What albums do you count as the most influential in your life? For the past couple of weeks, the albums above have been popping up in my Facebook feed, from when I did an Album Challenge to pick 12 favorite albums that have had an impact on me. I was nominated by our son and had a lot of fun – it was very thought provoking. The above 12 are not ranked in any way, but all are still favorites, and I can still sit and listen through them all with the same joy I felt when I first heard them. There are more, but these are the original dozen. Sadly, they all make my age very clear.

We enjoyed other pretty sunsets this past week beyond Monday’s showstopper. There are so many things we love about our apartment, but the sunset views from our front door are at the top of our list. As the days grow longer we have to wait later and later for them to appear, but the warmer weather seems to produce better sunsets than we get in the the winter, and they last longer as well.

And that closes the book on another very good week here at Casa Aloha! I hope everyone enjoyed a great week as well. Wishing a happy Father’s Day to all the dads reading – I hope you have a wonderful, wonderful day. And, I’m hoping the week coming up is another great one for all!

It’s All Fun and Games Until You Have to Save Some Money

Dreaming about travel, thinking of places you want to travel, making plans, and making the actual trip are fun. But, actually getting someplace takes money, often lots of money. And, because we are not independently wealthy, making our travel dreams come true requires saving. And saving is work. It can fun work for some, but it’s still work, and takes determination and persistence.

We live on an adequate but not-very-big fixed income in one of the most expensive places in the country. We still have one child that we are helping with college expenses. However, we’ve always been able to find (sometimes creative) ways to save for travel without compromising other areas of our lives.

The big secret to our success? We make saving for travel a priority.

Last time we set off on a big adventure we needed to save a lot. Like over $30,000 a lot in order to upfront fund what we hoped would be at least three years of travel. We did it, but had the luxury of a little over two years to put that amount away. It wasn’t easy but we were persistent.

This time around we want to save at least $20,000 to get started on our next Big Adventure. We’ve put ourselves back in persistent mode again. We’re using the same playbook we used before and so far it’s going well. Here’s our game plan for reaching our our goal:

  • Not buying stuff. I can’t began to say how much we save by not spending. We used to be able to talk ourselves into buying just about anything, but these days we’ve become even more skilled at talking ourselves out of buying just about anything. It’s actually fairly easy because we don’t seem to need much these days.
  • Saving our change and $1 bills. We had been saving change and $1 bills for as long as I can remember and it does add up.
  • Saving credit card rewards. We don’t use our credit cards very much, and rewards we earn could be used toward plane ticket purchases, but for now we’re prefer to have what we do earn deposited into our savings account.
  • Earning Swagbucks. Earnings from Swagbucks this year and next will fund at least half of our airfare to Pennsylvania for YaYu’s graduation, and hopefully half of the cost of flying to Japan. That means more money will be staying in our travel account.
  • Gradually increasing our savings. We have a set amount automatically transferred from our income into a special travel account each month, and that amount will increase next year when we no longer have set aside anything to assist YaYu. Any cost of living increases in our social security and military retirement income next year and 2023 will also go into our travel savings as do any and all rebates, rewards, etc.
  • Selling all our stuff again. Before we depart in 2023 we will be doing some extreme downsizing – everything must go this time! While we put around 1,500 pounds into storage last time, this next time we plan to keep very, very little, just what can be mailed in flat-rate boxes to our daughters.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” – William Hutchinson Murray

We have committed ourselves to reaching our goal, and the work has begun. We know we can do this! With dedication and a lot of hard work in the past we’ve paid off our debt, made our dream of retiring and moving to Hawai’i a reality, and saved enough to travel the world full time. We are facing this next saving challenge with the same commitment and determination – we can do this!

Home Cooking: Carrot & Cilantro Salad

A month or so ago I watched Padma Lakshmi prepare this salad on Instagram. My mouth watered as she put the salad together and I knew it was something Brett and I would love. However, it did require a couple of special ingredients I knew would be difficult, if not impossible, to locate on Kaua’i, and a quick check of Amazon’s prices showed they would not be inexpensive. I have a bad memory of giving away or throwing out so many special ingredients and spices that I had ordered or bought when we lived here before but then rarely used, and I really did not want to go down that path again. I knew I could make the salad without the two special ingredients – orange oil and za’atar – but she had stressed in her video that they really made a difference.

Fast forward to my birthday in May, and I received an Amazon gift card from my son. I spent part of it on a new pair of earrings, but had enough left over that I decided this was my chance to purchase the orange oil and za’atar. I searched Amazon again and found two affordable choices, and a few days later they were in my possession!

This is honestly one of the best dishes I have made in a long time. I cut the recipe in half for the two of us, but Brett and I could have finished off the regular recipe on our own in one sitting . . . it was that good. The recipe comes from Padma’s Tangy, Tart, Hot & Sweet cookbook and this salad is all that and more. And the orange oil and za’atar were worth the expense; in fact, I would say the orange oil may be the salad’s key ingredient. We could taste the orange flavor in every bite, even with the tiny bit that’s used and up against all the other flavors. It was the same with the za’atar, and the jalapeño also added a necessary kick without overpowering anything else. The whole salad goes together very quickly too, with the most difficult part of making it the task of grating the carrots. A food processor would have made that task go quickly, but alas, I no longer have a food processor.

The recipe below is for the full, big salad, which makes enough for six generous portions. Cutting it in half made more than enough for the two of us. The salad would makes a wonderful side dish for grilled chicken or fish, but was a great part of a meatless meal for us. We used leftovers on sandwiches a couple of days later and it was still very yummy.

CARROT & CILANTRO SALAD

Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 TBSP balsamic vinegar
  • 2 TBSP lime juice
  • 1/4 tsp food-grade orange oil

Salad:

  • 2 pounds carrots, peeled and grated
  • 2 1/2 cups fresh cilantro leaves (don’t chop)
  • 1/4 cup lightly toasted white sesame seeds
  • 2 jalapeños, seeded and finely diced
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 tsp za’atar
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

In a large salad bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients.

Add the grated carrot, cilantro leaves, toasted sesame seeds, jalapeños, and cranberries and toss together.

Sprinkle the za’atar and salt over the salad just before serving.

Refrigerate the salad if not serving immediately. It’s best served same day but the dressing will start pickling the salad after that, which is fine but the taste will be slightly different.

What Would You Take Along?

A couple of our fellow walkers up at the park moved to Mexico last month. They apparently moved everything they owned down there, including a baby grand piano! From some of what we gathered, the move cost them more than a small fortune but they were unwilling to part with anything.

Listening to their experience got Brett and I thinking about what we would take along if we moved to another country and we’ve talking about it ever since, off and on. After shipping things to and from Hawaii not once but twice, and having a good understanding of the expense of shipping even a small container full of furniture and other things, we quickly decided that if we ever moved to another country we would take nothing other than what could fit into suitcases. The number of suitcases would be limited to how many suitcases we were willing to check, and after some discussion we decided three full-size suitcases each as well as a carry-on bag would be our maximum because that’s all we think we could manage.

What would we take if everything had to fit into six suitcases? Below is the list we came up with:

  • Clothing & shoes: What and how much in this category would be determined by where we were moving. If we were going to Japan, for example, taking clothing for all seasons would be a priority as it’s difficult there to find clothing in our sizes there, and what’s available in military exchanges is limited as well. If we were going somewhere in Europe however, we would most likely be able to find clothing and shoes that fit so less clothing would need to be packed. Basically, the clothes we own currently for both both cold and hot weather would be enough to give us a good start.
  • Keepsakes: I can only think of a very few keepsakes I would want to take along: a few of our Japanese clay bells, one of our porcelain stacking boxes, and our remaining small Chinese teapots. There are six or seven pieces of art we would probably take, all of which would fit into a suitcase. Otherwise, we agree that everything else can pretty much go.
  • Kitchen items: Believe it or not, we would take along some but not all of our everyday dishes (unless we were moving to Japan, where they could easily be replaced), our cutlery, and some basic cooking utensils, including all our OXO tools. At first it was hard to think about living without my wonderful All-Clad cookware, which I’ve owned for nearly 30 years, but I realized I can cook just as well in pretty much anything.
  • Electronics: We would each take a laptop, a new iPhone, our Kindles, and one tablet that both of us can use along with two or three converters, and additional chargers.
  • OTC medications: If we were moving to Japan these are things we could find on any base, and the same for some places in Europe. However, there are locations where this would not be convenient so a good supply of OTC medications to start off with would be a good thing to bring. Painkillers, vitamins, nutritional aids (probiotics/prebiotics), stomach aids, cold medication, laxatives, etc. would go with us. We would carry written prescriptions for other medication so we could get those filled if necessary, although finding a local doctor would be a priority.
  • Tools: Brett has said depending on where we were going he would take along a basic set of quality tools (screwdrivers, wrenches, etc.), especially in metric sizes.

We imagined living full time in every place we visited during our travels and then paid attention to what was available in stores, the prices of things, clothing and shoe sizes, etc. Could we easily buy furniture there? What did it cost? Was used furniture available? Was there an IKEA in the area? Were our shoe sizes available and in stock? It was a helpful exercise, and we learned that what we would actually end up taking along with us on a move to another country could only be decided after an extensive amount of research about what’s available there, and after reading others’ experiences of moving to that country and the advice they offer.

Living in another country was a fun thing to think about when we were traveling and it’s still interesting to think about now. Could we get all of what’s listed above in six suitcases? Who knows? What I do know is that with time we could probably cut back on what’s listed above to where it did fit.

What would you bring along? What would be non-negotiable for you?

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (6/6-6/12)

This is a food shopping week, and the #1 item on our shopping list this time is beans! Brett got a 10% off coupon on any grocery purchase at Safeway when he got his shingles vaccination done last week, so we’re going to stock up there as they have the best selection on the island. Hopefully we will find a good variety at Safeway (I’m looking for cannellini beans in particular) and some organic varieties. I can cook dry beans in our InstantPot, and will start doing that once we get all the meat out of the freezer, but for now canned makes more sense.

Filling out our shopping list these days is a very different experience as our meals become less dependent on meat. Besides beans, produce tops our shopping list, as well as other ingredients to complete meatless meals, things like tofu, grains, or vegetable broth. We no longer buying eggs, but still put cheese on the list, although in more limited quantities than. Coming up with meals to use up our meat supply is no longer as fun as it was for me before, but we still have ground beef, ground pork, pork chops, shredded roast chicken breast, chicken thighs, a package of Italian sausages, and a bag of chicken curry to use up. It’s going to take a few more weeks for us to finish all of it, but I’m finding I want to cook and eat meat less and less as we progress.

We had four meatless meals last week, although three of the four meals contained cheese. We’re hoping we can do better going forward, although all two of three meatless meals next week again contain cheese. We enjoy eating cheese though (it’s always been my favorite section of the store) and we have no intention of removing it completely from our diet. However, I need to find and focus more on dishes that don’t include it.

Below are the dinners we enjoyed last week. Last week was basically a huge effort to use up what’s was on hand so there’s room for what we buy tomorrow. Bulgur Mexicana is a favorite vegetarian dish that we haven’t enjoyed in a long while but that fits our new style of eating well, basically a spicy wheat pilar topped with a variety of vegetables and salsa.

Sunday: Chicken & pasta soup with vegetables

Monday: Mabo tofu; steamed rice; sliced cucumber

Tuesday: Cheese mini pizzas, broiled Parmesan tomatoes; steamed artichoke

Wednesday: Roasted red pepper & tomato soup; toasted cheese sandwiches; coleslaw

Thursday: Chili pork burrito sauce over sweet potato; steamed artichoke

Friday: Cheese board

Saturday: Bulgur Mexicana

Dessert this week has been carrot cake baked oatmeal with s’mores on a couple of nights (we figured out that 10 seconds in the microwave makes the marshmallows melt perfectly for a s’more).

Below is next week’s menu.

  • Japanese food at Japanese Grandma’s Cafe
  • Chicken curry
  • Cheesy white bean tomato bake
  • Mini pizzas
  • Cheese board
  • Italian sausage sandwiches with sautéed peppers and onions
  • Mezze platter (hummus, baba ganoush, tabouli salad)

We discovered this past week that a beach visit and too much sun will kill any desire to walk later in the day. On Friday we were on the beach for a couple of hours, and kept telling ourselves we’d be fine for a walk later up at Kukukiolono. However, when it was time to set out for our walk both of us had to admit we felt absolutely drained and incapable of walking, and ended up staying home. Lesson learned! We otherwise got in five perimeter walks around the golf course this week, a new record for us (and found two golf balls each day for our collection except for Saturday when there were none). The weather has been windy and cool all week, but absolutely perfect for walking. We wish the current weather would last for the rest of the summer, but we know that’s not going to happen. Thankfully much of the perimeter walk is in the shade in the late afternoon.

A beautiful, sunny day at the beach zapped the energy right out of us.

I have always loved walking and am grateful these days for the almost daily opportunities to get outside to exercise. I am not built for running with my short, heavy legs, but walking is low impact, and I am able to walk at a pace that provides real benefits. In my younger days I would be thin as a rail by now from all the walking we do, but these days it remains an effort to further slim down. However, both Brett’s and my BMI is now in the optimal range for our gender and age, so I am trying to be satisfied with my current weight. How much I weigh though is always going to be an issue for me, as I was well-trained throughout my life by family and the media to always, always see the fat girl in the mirror.

Sunday Morning 6/13/2021: Sunsets, Rising Prices, and Reunions

The whole week was a sunset art installation.

Good morning! Aloha kakahiaka!

Every week now we see prices are going up everywhere, and Kaua’i has certainly not been spared. Gasoline is now close to $4/gallon at Costco, the cheapest place on the island; other places on the island it’s over $4. Food costs are climbing, and restaurant prices are getting crazy. I know last year had a profound effect on the economy here, but I was frankly shocked by what was being charged for a simple fish sandwich at the restaurant where we had lunch with our niece on Friday. The restaurant caters to visitors, and we ended up sharing a sandwich instead of ordering individually (we frankly also didn’t need the calories). We usually stick to more “local” places on the island because the prices tend to be lower, but they’re not immune to price hikes either. With housing prices on the island at stratospheric levels and very few affordable rentals available we feel extremely lucky to have found our place when we did and at the price we did – there’s nothing available now that wouldn’t kill our budget or just be downright unaffordable for us. I have no idea how young families can afford to live here, at least without family support and parents working two to three jobs each. We have enough income to cover the price increases (so far), and we love Kaua’i and love living here, but saving for our next Big Adventure is beginning to turn into a challenge, and for the first time I’m feeling a little bit bittersweet that we have plans for the future that will take us off the island.

I put our three Japanese hibachis up on Craigslist and our local Buy & Sell group this past week, mainly to see what sort of interest they generated, if any. The ads have gotten lots of views, but no takers (yet), probably because while the hibachis are pretty, they’re purely decorative, and those sorts of things sell slowly. However, when I talked with Meiling this week, she suggested I create a shop on either Etsy or eBay for all the Japanese items we’ll be selling, and that she and WenYu could help me set one up when they’re here in December, taking the photos, writing copy, etc. In the meantime, I can research and come up with prices for various items as well what shipping costs back to the mainland would be. I’m going to keep the current ads up for another week or so, but her idea is a good one and will give me something to do until they get here – we have a LOT of Japanese things we need to sell.

Brett’s beach chair was emblematic of the windy week we had. If he wasn’t sitting in it, the chair immediately blew over (and it’s not light). Forget putting up an umbrella.

We have been living in the center of a vortex this past week, or at least that’s what it’s felt like – the winds have been blowing loud and hard around our house almost every day. There have thankfully been lots of blue skies, but the clouds don’t hang around and have been racing across the sky like they need to get somewhere in a hurry. Brett has had to clean the koi pond in the yard a couple of times every day (usually he does it once a week or so) because of all the leaves and such that are being knocked down by the wind. The temperature has remained cooler than usual too – by this time in the year we should be starting to complain about the heat and humidity, but not this year. It’s been great for walking though, and I’m going to enjoy it as long as it lasts because I know the heat is coming.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I’ve had two books going again this past week and finished both, A Fatal Grace and A Murder of Quality, by John leCarre, yesterday. Blue Sky, the fifth book in the Jackson Brodie series by Kate Atkinson, has been downloaded and started.
  • Listening to: For the first time in days, the wind this morning is a gentle breeze once again instead of a freight train roaring through the yard and trees. There’s nothing else going on out there either so it’s deliciously quiet except for some birds singing their hearts out. Brett is reading so it’s quiet inside as well, but he’s already set up everything in kitchen for me to make pancakes. Coffee first though.
  • Watching: We started the second season of The Unforgotten this past week. It’s such a good series and so well done (which explains why it was on Masterpiece Theater). I’m finishing up the last available season of Great British Menu – the chefs are cooking for a summer banquet celebrating the 140th anniversary of Wimbledon. This past week I also watched Tora! Tora! Tora!, the 1968 film about the bombing of Pearl Harbor, on YouTube. It’s historically accurate (mostly), and starred many great actors, both American and Japanese. I had a somewhat surreal experience the first time saw this film in 1971: I was the only American in a theater in Hiroshima watching Pearl Harbor being attacked. Anyway, one day this week I’m going to settle in and watch The Longest Day (over three hours long), and the week after I want to watch Midway. Both are also available for free on YouTube. These films let me geek out on history for a while.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: So glad to have that filling replacement over and done with because an afternoon at the dentist is not my idea of a good time! It was actually the least painful procedure I have ever had done, including the shots . . . until the Novocaine wore off, that is. It took two full days for my jaw and gums to return to normal. I also got my annual lab work done this past week and all is well for the next year. Otherwise, we enjoyed a very relaxing week with just the usual things accomplished.
  • Looking forward to next week: Other than a big food shop this Tuesday, we have another week coming up with nothing on the calendar, so we’re again looking forward to a relaxing week, with maybe a trip or two to the beach if the weather allows. The daughter of one of my dearest Portland friends is visiting Kaua’i right now, and we’re getting together for dinner tonight and looking forward to that. Finding a reservation somewhere was a bit of an accomplishment – every restaurant on the island seems to be booked solid for days – but we’re heading down to Hanapepe for an early dinner at Japanese Grandma’s Cafe, where Brett and I had lunch on our anniversary last March.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We had a great reunion with our niece and her family, visiting from Colorado. They were in Maui last week and on Kaua’i this week, and I don’t think I’d be wrong to say Kaua’i has been their favorite of the two. We enjoyed lunch at Brenneke’s Beach Broiler in Poipu and had a good long catch-up – fun! Afterwards they headed across the street to spend the afternoon at Poipu Beach Park, and Brett and I headed home, changed into our swimsuits and went ever to Salt Pond for some beach time. It was an exciting visit for us as there was a BIG monk seal swimming in the pond, and at one point I nearly had a close encounter with it when it passed just three feet in front of me. Eventually it found a safe space to get out, bask in the sun, and sleep.

There was a very big seal out there somewhere!

  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We only had a small amount of spending this past week: bought gas for the car and mailed a package to the mainland (our niece treated us for lunch). We put $1.83 in the change/$1 bill bag, and I earned 1,851 Swagbucks. I am finally on my way to earning a fourth Delta gift card, two weeks ahead of schedule! Lots of leftovers were eaten and enjoyed this past week, and nothing got thrown out.
  • Grateful for: We grow more and more thankful every month that Brett stayed on active duty and retired from the navy, and that we now have a reliable source of income and good benefits that provide a very good quality of life for us in spite of rising costs. We know how fortunate we are for what we have and receive, and we are grateful for it every day.
  • Bonus question: If you could live someplace other than the U.S., where would you choose? Japan remains our top choice, for obvious reasons. It would be difficult place to live for a variety of reasons, primarily because of the language, but it’s also a country and system we understand and can adapt to. Because of the U.S. military bases there it’s also a place we can get medical treatment and use the commissaries and exchanges, both which would make life easier for us. There are several places we know we could live in Europe, but our first choice would be Strasbourg with Lisbon not far behind (even with all the hills and cobblestones, and being sick for almost our entire visit we loved it). We felt both of those cities were ones where we could live comfortably. We could also happy live in England, although the late fall and winter weather could be a bit of a problem for us. It got very gloomy when we were there, but otherwise we enjoyed everything about it other than we would probably have to own a car there as well.

Once again time seems to be both moving quickly and not fast enough. We’re entering the second half of June this week – that sure came up fast – but July and the rest of summer still seems very far away, let along December and the girls’ visit. When I think of getting ready for them though there seems to be very little time to get ready (buying presents, stocking up on food, etc.) while at the same time I know their time here will be over in a blink of the eye or at least seem that way. I’m trying hard to be more mindful and enjoy the present here on Kaua’i because when we leave next time it will be for good. At the same time, I’m ready to start traveling again now so it’s a difficult balance to maintain, and one I think will only get harder going forward.

That’s a wrap for this week! We had a very, very nice week overall, and I hope it was the same for everyone. Here’s to the week coming up – may it be another great one (raising my virtual glass)!

Home Sweet Homes On the Road

We had some amazing views from our Airbnb homes during our travels.

We love staying in Airbnb rentals. I enjoy looking at different homes, imagining us living there for a while, and seeing if I can find a place that fits our wants, needs, and budget. It can be a challenge, but a fun one. We did very well with our rentals overall during the Big Adventure, and stay in just one place that was a disappointment (in Bath; thankfully it was a very short stay, only two nights).

Finding accommodations when we travel has always been one of my tasks. Brett is usually in on the final decision, but not always. I have a list of requirements, amenities, and always a budget when it comes to finding a place, with some of these things negotiable and others absolute requirements that we won’t budge on.

The first thing I do is go is narrow my search to Superhosts. We had a couple of bad experiences having our reservation abruptly cancelled, but Superhosts can lose their status if they cancel. They are also experienced hosts and go out of the way to make guests feel welcome.

The next step is to go through the pictures. Does the home look like a comfortable place to stay? Is the kitchen nice? Are there lots of pictures of the tchotkes or pictures around the apartment? Why are there so many pictures of the toilet (this seriously happens)? Is the place filled with stuff or is it minimally furnished, or even too minimally furnished? Does it look clean overall? Does it feel like a good fit? I generally can filter out several places on the pictures alone – some places just don’t feel right.

Next I take a closer look at the price. I adjust the search to look for the maximum we are willing to spend per month on lodging. Having an upper limit is critical because Airbnb always tacks on a service fee, and they almost always add a cleaning fee as well which can drive up what looks like an affordable daily amount. We did allow ourselves to stay in a slightly more expensive place as long as that cost was balanced out with other less expensive rentals. We stayed in some “over budget” rentals during the Big Adventure but when combined with some that were well under our budget we ended up going just $38 over what we had planned for lodging costs.

Although a daily price is given for each Airbnb rental, that price can be adjusted according to the time of year or the length of the stay. I’ve looked at places advertised for say, $56/night, but when our dates are entered the price comes out to more than $100/night. Nope! Many rentals will give a discount for a week’s or month’s stay, but I’ve come across others that either don’t or even increase the price for a month’s stay! Sometimes the increases given are ridiculous or outright funny. When I began searching for place to stay in the Cotswolds back in 2017, I found one lovely home that was exactly what we were looking for, at a price within our range. I saved it to a list, and went to look at a few other properties and locations. When I came back to the first property, the cost for one month had jumped to astronomical proportions, something like $16,000. What? I cleared the cookies on my computer and checked again, but the monthly price had climbed even higher. It became a game to see how high the price would go as it continued to climb every time I checked. I stopped when the price for a month’s rental reached over $300,000 – we didn’t want to buy the house for heaven’s sake! Check out the monthly price for the Tokyo apartment below – crazy! I have know why this happens but it does now and again.

We won’t be staying in this Tokyo apartment for a month!

After looking at pictures and prices I typically end up with a list of five or six properties that might work for us, and then dig into the details. Does it have all our must-have amenities? Does the location work for us? And what do the reviews say? Many only say things like “great host” or “great location,” but digging deeper I can usually always find information about the cleanliness, how comfortable the bed is, how nice the kitchen is, and so forth, and one or more locations will eventually rise to the top. If we’re not traveling for a while I save the location to a wish list, but if we’re close enough to book I will go over the top picks (if there’s more than one) with Brett, make a choice, then contact the owner to see if they will accept our booking. We have yet to be turned down for our top pick, but we always make sure we have others that will work as well if that should happen.

Must-haves for us in a rental are WiFi, a table for eating and where Brett can work, a washing machine (and hopefully a dryer, but it’s not absolutely necessary) if we’re staying for a week or more, a separate bedroom with a comfortable bed, a stove with an oven, and good kitchen space with a nice assortment of cooking tools and basic dishes. A nice bathroom with a shower is also a given. The location of the home is a big factor – we want a place where we can walk to various places and/or that’s near a station or other public transportation, and we like to have a grocery store within walking distance.

Do we always get everything we want? No! One of our favorite stays, Strasbourg, had no washing machine in the apartment – we had to take our clothes to a laundromat. There was no table, just a counter with two stools, and no separate bedroom. I didn’t notice until just before our arrival that I had not booked a one-bedroom apartment as thought but a studio with a sofa bed, and we arrived in Strasbourg dreading our three-week stay there. The sofa bed turned out to be the most comfortable bed we slept on during our travels, the counter worked fine for us, the laundromat was only two blocks away and we met and chatted with nice people there, and the apartment’s location was superb for walking throughout the city. The landlord was friendly and generous, and before we left Strasbourg we were invited to her home for dinner with her family. She cooked a beautiful, traditional multi-course French meal for us and stuffed us with treats. We have stayed friends with her and her family, and both of us look forward to meeting up again some day. That apartment also taught Brett and I that we could live comfortably in a very small space and get along just fine.

Almost all of our stays provided everything we wanted and needed and then some. Still, we have assembled a simple set of kitchen tools to carry with us when we next travel (vegetable peeler, paring knives, silicone spatula, simple grater, can opener, and a couple of other pieces) as these are the things we sometimes found lacking in an apartment. For the most part though we adapt easily to what’s available in each home. We always keep our temporary homes clean and fix things if we can but call the owner when we can’t.

The opportunity to “live local” was one of the best things we did during our travels, and we’re looking forward to further Airbnb experiences when we hit the road again.

Home Cooking: Spicy Black Bean Bake

This recipe from the New York Times popped up in my Facebook feed a couple of weeks ago. It was 1) easy, 2) meatless, 3) inexpensive, and 4) had flavors I knew Brett and I would like to I had to give it a try!

The bean baked turned out to be just as advertised: easy, meatless, inexpensive, and had flavors Brett and I loved. Served with some Fritos (and corn chips would be fine) and a cool cucumber salad, it made a very tasty meal. The recipe in fact made enough for several meals – we ate it for dinner with chips the first night, and used the leftovers for lunches and in burritos later in the week. These beans would also be great on nachos or tostadas, in tacos or over rice, or just as a side dish.

While I liked the original recipe just fine, next time I plan to adjust the spices in the beans (less red pepper flakes) and instead use grated pepper jack cheese instead of the Mexican blend I used the first time. In my opinion the spicier cheese will improve the flavors overall. Also, the pan doesn’t have to be baked in the oven – the cheese can be melted by covering the pan for a few minutes at the end. The pan then can be run under the broiler for a few minutes to brown the cheese, if desired.

SPICY BLACK BEAN BAKE

  • 3 TBSP olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic minced or thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 14-oz cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups grated cheddar, Mexican blend, or pepper jack cheese

If you plan to bake the beans, heat the oven to 475 degrees. In a 10- or 12-inch ovenproof skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, then lightly fry the garlic until just golden, about one minute. Carefully add the tomato paste, paprika, red-pepper flakes and cumin and continue cooking for another 30 seconds. Lower the heat as needed to prevent the garlic from burning.

Add the drained beans, boiling water, and generous pinches of salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top of the beans and then bake until the cheese is melted, around 5 to 10 minutes. Or, cover the pan with a lid and allow the cheese to melt. If you prefer your cheese browned, put the skillet under the broiler for 1 or 2 minutes. Serve immediately.