The Neighborhood Next to Ours

The neighborhood next to ours in Portland

Back when we lived in Portland, the neighborhood next to ours was filled with street after street of large, beautiful homes, with big, green, well-manicured lawns and exquisite landscaping. The homes run the gamut of styles, from English Tudor to French Provincial, 50s Post Modern to Old Portland Foursquare, Mediterranean to Dutch Colonial. Volvos, BMWs, Mercedes and other high-end or new cars often sat in the driveways, and several of the homes had swimming pools. It seemed at least two, if not more, homes on each block had signs in the yards proclaiming that renovations, remodeling, or landscaping work was currently taking place there. The streets were lined with huge, leafy elms which kept the streets cool and inviting even on the hottest days, which was why I enjoyed walking there in the evenings during the summer.

It used to be my dream to live in this neighborhood. I wanted a beautiful lawn and landscaping, a bigger house for our family, a big elm tree in front. And for a while, Brett and I probably could have bought one of these homes. We instead bought a cheap house with a tiny yard up the hill from this neighborhood, with no trees at all in front. That turned out to be one of the best decisions we ever made considering what happened to Brett’s income a few years later. Because we bought the cheap house we were able to weather his loss of income and then climb out of the debt that we accrued. We’d have gone bankrupt if we’d bought the bigger house, but instead made a profit when we sold our house before moving to Hawaii.

The cheap house turned out to be a great house, perfect for our family in a perfect location.

These days I shudder when I think about the prices of homes for sale here on Kaua’i, or in other places we considered moving, and the annual taxes on those homes. I can only imagine how much the upkeep would be, as well as things like heating them in the winter or cooling in the summer. We had a small patio installed at our cheap house, a real wake-up call to what extensive landscaping and maintenance would cost (a LOT). I don’t even want to think of how much we would have paid to furnish a larger home, even with vintage or used furniture. Actually, a bigger home would probably have ended up mostly unfurnished, but I’m sure we would still have been craving stuff to fill it rather than feel satisfied with what we had. We would have been living in neighborhood full of Joneses, trying to keep up with and most likely failing and feeling miserable about it.

This is our dream apartment for the future. Brett and I can happily imagine living a space this size these days (photo credit: Beazy/Unsplash)

I never saw it coming back then, how minimalism has become more and more attractive to us as we grow older. We don’t want or desire so much space now, so much room to fill and maintain. We’ve learned how to live in small spaces, including how to carve out individual space so we don’t feel crowded, even in a one-room studio. The older we get, the fewer things we want to own. It’s been a surprising journey finding how little we need or want, and what we can easily let go of.

I can no longer imagine myself in one of those big houses back in Portland. These days I admire houses around the island but don’t covet them any more. I’m no longer looking at real estate websites and dreaming about the houses that might work for us somewhere. Our dreams these days are of living in other places around the world, borrowing someone else’s house for a month or so, for as long as we are able, and then finally ending up in a small apartment, with just the right amount of stuff.

Home Cooking: California Roll Salad

This is possibly my favorite main dish salad because it’s so easy to make and contains some of my favorite flavors. The salad can be made in a couple of different ways as well, from composed on a plate to mixed together just before serving, and crisp lettuce can be added as well if desired. The salad is perfect for any time of the year, but on a hot summer’s day it requires no cooking other than making the rice early in the day.

Besides the dressing, there are only four main ingredients: rice, avocado, cucumber, and surumi, or imitation crab, made from pollock. I was first introduced to surumi in 1980, on our first navy tour in Japan. A friend served it in stick form and I was surprised to learn it wasn’t actual crab because it certainly tasted authentic. These days surumi can be found in either stick form or flaked, which is preferred for this salad.

The original dressing recipe calls for two teaspoons of wasabi powder . . . or to taste. I can assure you that two teaspoons of wasabi will painfully clear your sinuses and make you cry for a while! Wasabi powder is easier to mix into the dressing, but its pungency does not last as long in my opinion. I typically use around a half teaspoon of wasabi paste and it provides enough spice without overwhelming the salad. Interestingly, neither the powder nor the paste is made from actual wasabi, but instead contain horseradish and other ingredients (including green food coloring) to mimic the taste and look of grated wasabi root. A true story: the first time I ever ate wasabi I thought it was avocado, and put nearly teaspoonful in my mouth at once. I choked, cried, thought about dying for a moment, and there may have been actual steam coming out of my ears for a while.

The slivers of nori (seaweed) on top of the salad can be made using a package of roasted seaweed snack. In Japan, shredded nori (kizami nori) is easy to find, but here I use a few sheets from the seaweed snack, cut them in half lengthwise, and then snip them into shreds over the salad right before serving. Any remaining nori can go into an airtight container and be kept for future use (or eaten as a snack!).

The rice should be made a few hours before serving so that it can cool to room temperature before making the salad. It’s okay for it to be sticky because the addition of the dressing later will separate the grains.

To put the salad together, first make the dressing. Whisk the wasabi into the mayonnaise first, then incorporate the soy sauce and other ingredients, continuing to use a whisk so that everything is blended smoothly.

Seed and cut the cucumber into small 1-inch pieces.

Peel and cut two ripe avocados (or one large one) into similar sized pieces.

Remove the flaked surumi from the package and break into pieces.

For a composed salad, place anywhere from 1/2 to one cup of rice into the middle of individual plate or salad bowls. Arrange the surumi, avocado, and cucumber around and over the rice. Add two tablespoons of dressing over the salad, then top with some shredded nori. The rice and other ingredients can also be placed on top of shredded lettuce if desired.

The salad can also be served by gently mixing together the rice, surumi, cucumber, and avocado (and chopped lettuce, if desired) in a large bowl, and then adding and mixing in the dressing. The dressing will break apart any lumps of sticky rice. Top the salad with shredded nori and serve immediately.



  • 1/2 tsp wasabi paste (or to taste)
  • 1 TBSP mayonnaise
  • 1 TBSP soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1 TBSP sugar
  • 1 tsp dark sesame oil

2 cups cooked rice, at room temperature

2 ripe avocados, cut into 1″ pieces.

2 cups flaked-style imitation crab meat (surumi), separated into pieces

1 English cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into 1″ pieces

4 pieces of snack-size nori (can use more if desired)

Lettuce (optional)

In a small bowl, whisk the wasabi paste into the mayonnaise, then whisk in the soy sauce and rice vinegar until well blended, then stir in the sugar and sesame oil. Set aside.

Place 1/2 -1 cup of the cooked rice in salad bowls or on individual salad plates, on top of lettuce if using. Arrange cucumber pieces, avocado pieces, and imitation crab meat over the rice. Pour at least 2 tablespoons of the dressing over the top of the salad. Cut 2 sheet of the nori in half lengthwise, put one half on top of the other and then snip into small shreds on top of each salad. Serve immediately.

The salad can be premixed before serving. Place cooked rice into a large bowl, add dressing, then gently mix in the cucumber, avocado, and imitation crab (crisp lettuce can be mixed in as well). Top the salad with nori pieces right before serving.

A Blast From My Past

As I was doing some random searching to earn Swagbucks this past weekend, I came across the listing for our former beach house in San Clemente, California. Apparently the house had been on the market for a while, and the pictures taken then allowed me to get a look at the current interior.

Oh boy, did the memories come flooding back!

My mom’s younger brother, my Uncle William, designed and built the house in 1955. My dad occasionally went on the weekends to help with the construction; I remember going with him once and staying in a little motel with a kitchenette that had a bottle opener attached to the side of one of the cabinets which fascinated me. The house was considered very modern, classic mid-century design at the time. It was well built, and remains stylish to this day. It’s even had a moment of fame, serving as a location in the 1986 Clint Eastwood movie, Heartbreak Ridge, as the house Marsha Mason lived in.

My aunt and uncle started their family (eventually five children) in the house soon after it was finished, but a couple of years later they moved to another location in San Clemente and my grandparents bought the house from them along with the vacant lot next door. The house became a vacation home for extended family, but because we lived nearest to San Clemente our family used the house the most over the years, sometimes moving there for entire summers and hosting neighbors, friends, and relatives from my dad’s side. We grew a large garden in part of the vacant lot for many years, and played croquet on the rest. The beach was a short walk from the house – we’d walk down in the morning, then back up the hill for lunch and a short rest, and repeat for second session in the afternoon. Almost every evening after dinner Mom would drive us back down to beachcomb and see what we could find as we walked from the overpass to the pier and back.

Overpass (or T-Street) Beach and the San Clemente pier.

The house largely looks the same inside and out, with even some of the colors the same, and the current valuation of over a million dollars is unsurprising based on housing prices in southern California. My grandmother sold the house in 1971 for $43,000. President Nixon had purchased his “western White House” in San Clemente in 1969 and sent property values in the area soaring, and Grandma felt it was time to sell. The house has been owned for the past 50 years by the same people who bought it from her.

The new owners carpeted the house, but it used to have soft red linoleum floors throughout, all the better for sweeping up the sand we dragged back from the beach every day. The kitchen has been remodeled, and while the space appears to work better the decor is a poor fit (in my opinion) with the the beautiful mid-century design of the house. However, the wicker stools at the kitchen counter look like the same ones that were there when we used the house! In the real estate photos the interior is filled with furniture and other stuff while it was uncluttered and minimally decorated when we used it.

My grandparents were parsimonious to a fault, and as I was going through the photos I laughed as I remembered all the things in the house that had needed repairs but that my grandparents (especially my grandmother) chose to ignore because they didn’t want to spend any more than absolutely necessary on the house. For example, the front door became difficult to lock at one point, but instead of having it fixed we were instead told to leave it alone and just stop using the door. It was the same with the bathroom in the outside cabana bedroom, the central fireplace, a wonky light fixture on a wall, and closet doors that fell off their railings. We just stopped using them.

The most powerful memory I have of the beach house didn’t come until after I closed the link the other day: my grandfather died in that house. My grandparents had wanted to go look at it one day in the summer of 1959, and brought me along with them – I was seven years old, in between first and second grade. Grandma and I knew the whole way down to San Clemente that something was wrong because Grandpa was driving erratically at times and kept complaining about not feeling well. When we finally got to the house (a miracle, in retrospect), he laid down on a bed and said he was going to take a nap, but at some point he got up and went into the bathroom, collapsed, and died there, apparently from heart failure. My grandmother broke down the door and found him. Her first action was to calmly ask me to sit in the corner of the sofa in the living room and stay there until she came back. I was an obedient child and did as I was told, and had absolutely no idea anything was seriously wrong. She moved my grandfather into the front bedroom, laid him on the bed, and shut the door, then came and asked me to remain on the sofa while she went next door for a few minutes (I’m guessing because I would have heard the phone conversation in the living room). Grandma came back shortly and sat with me until my parents arrived a couple of hours later to take me home. I remember how normal my grandmother was the whole time, never acting in any way that scared or worried me, and telling me that Grandpa was resting. All of her efforts went toward making me feel safe and calm in spite of what she had to do and what she must have been feeling. There was a big car outside when I left with my parents, and later in life I figured out it was the hearse that had arrived to pick up my grandfather’s body. It wasn’t until the next morning that I learned my beloved grandfather had died; my dad told me when I woke up.

We continued to use the house until 1971, and other than my grandfather’s death, the beach house holds only good memories for me: happy summers walking to and from the beach each day and early evening beachcombing walks; fires in the living room fireplace every evening to take away the chill coming off the Pacific; looking out from the kitchen sink to Catalina Island in the distance (that view now blocked by the house that was built on the vacant lot); reading Nancy Drew mysteries and doing big jigsaw puzzles checked out from the San Clemente library; fresh vegetables from our garden; listening to Dodger baseball games in the evening on a little transistor radio (there was no TV there); croquet tournaments and all the other games my siblings and I invented to entertain ourselves.

It was a magical place.

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (4/4 – 4/10)

If you eat a croissant or pastry for breakfast every morning it doesn’t matter how much you walk: you will gain weight.

I read this somewhere before we visited France in September of 2018. It was written with tongue in cheek, but turned out to be more than prescient, and in retrospect the author should have also mentioned that it would apply equally to eating two scoops of yummy gelato every day in Italy, pastel de nata (egg tarts) in Portugal; TimTams of every flavor in Australia and New Zealand, KitKats and other treats in Japan, scones with clotted cream and jam (or ginger nuts and shortbread) in the UK, and so on. Brett and I walked miles every day during our travels but really didn’t give a thought to what we were eating or how much, and we both ended up gaining A LOT of weight. Getting rid of that extra weight has been our main effort this past year and we still have more to go.

Portion control is king here these days. Everything we eat these days gets measured, from rice to pasta to sauces, dressings, pot roast, sausages, or a piece of cake for dessert. The food scale, Weight Watchers ladles, and measuring cups and spoons are used every day. The only things that aren’t measured are vegetables. I’ve been recording and tracking my meals and snacks for nearly a year usingMyFitnessPal, which has the most extensive food lists I can find, and it was initially shocking to see how much I had been overeating before. Brett doesn’t track his food, but has me monitor his portion sizes most of the time. He is also eating far, far less these days.

There is no food off the table for us, but if we want to have something it has to fit into our daily calorie allotment. Although the photos below might make it look like our portions are large, they’ve all been carefully measured and weighed and are probably smaller than imagined. We love having dessert each evening, but these days that means a tiny two-inch square piece of cake versus the bigger pieces we used to serve ourselves, or just 1/2 cup of ice cream instead of a big bowl. For a while we were enjoying a gin & tonic four nights a week until we decided we’d rather apply the calories to something more nutritious, so these days we’re back to drinks on Friday and Saturday evenings only. There are no more assumptions or guessing, and there’s no more mindless eating either – we know each day what we’ll be having on the next so that we’re not tempted to overdo it.

I’ve lost over thirty pounds over the last year and Brett’s lost over eighteen. We were both miserable carrying around the extra pounds, and have accepted that to remain healthy going forward, even as we travel, we need to stay vigilant, not just about what we eat but especially of how much. We don’t want to go back down the path we were on before, so while we’ll continue to allow ourselves to eat everything and anything, moderation will remain our guiding force.

Here’s what we ate for dinner this past week:

Sunday: Turkey club sandwiches with avocado

Monday: Spinach quiche with chèvre and gruyere; roasted zucchini

Tuesday: Guadalajara quesadillas made with spinach

Wednesday: Zaru soba with dipping sauce; hayayako (chilled tofu); cucumber spears

Thursday: Barbecue turkey & bacon mini pizzas

Friday: California roll salad

Saturday: Barbecue pulled pork sandwiches; coleslaw

Desserts this past week were tapioca pudding for three days followed by devil’s food cake with orange buttercream. The cake will be our dessert all next week as well which makes me happy because the combination of chocolate and orange is so good.

Here’s the plan for dinners next week (in no particular order):

  • Chicken and vegetable soup
  • Mississippi pot roast
  • French dip sandwiches
  • Spaghetti with meat sauce
  • Zucchini frittata
  • Mini pizzas
  • Egg roll in a bowl


Perched on top of a hill, Kukuiolono Park provides lots of beautiful views, but this one looking east to Hau’upa and down at Poipu and Koloa is always my favorite.

Somewhat surprisingly, it turned out to be a good week for walking even if the weather has sketchy at times. We both walked last Sunday, and then took Monday off (surgery day). I walked on my own on Tuesday and Wednesday (3.5 miles each day), and Brett felt good enough to walk again beginning Thursday, albeit at a slower pace, so we walked separately that day and on Friday, with him getting in a little over two miles, while I continued to do 3.5 miles. On Saturday we walked together for most of the time, but I ended up doing an extra lap while he rested in the car. We enjoyed absolutely gorgeous weather on Thursday and Friday, with lovely breezes to keep things cool. However, we were able to imagine those days how it’s going to feel again in the coming months when the breezes die down and the heat and humidity crank back up again. We’re already thinking we’ll start later in the afternoon than we are now when that happens, hopefully because temperatures will be coming down as the evening sets in, but also because we can walk out on the golf course more often. The last time to tee off is 4:30 p.m. and by 5:30 most are done or on their last holes, and where we like to walk is near the first four holes.

Brett rested in the park’s Japanese garden while I walked this past week.

We’re coming on a year of walking at Kukuiolono Golf Course and Park. I distinctly remember the first day we went there, and climbing the hill up to the clubhouse as I thought I was going to pass out, but these days I can climb that hill easily and even do it twice in a row without breathing hard. We are still discovering new walking routes there, and love that all it takes is changing up the order of the sections we walk to make our walks fresh again. We have become friends with other walkers there and often stop to chat and catch up with each other. We feel very blessed to have found the park for a walking venue – it has yet to get boring.

Sunday Morning 4/11/2021: Rest & Recovery

There were some nice sunsets this week, but other evenings all the sun provided was a glow over the horizon.

Good morning! Aloha kakahiaka!

Happy Laura getting her second dose of the COVID vaccine. This one was easier than the first.

We had Brett at the hospital at 6:00 a.m. on Monday morning, he was into surgery by 8:00, and ready for pick-up at noon! Everything went according to plan, and his post-op bloodwork showed the results all were hoping for. I left Brett at the hospital before 8:00 a.m. – the anesthesiologist gave Brett something to help “relax” him but it knocked him right out – so it was a good time for me to go. I drove home and took care of things here (sleep was impossible though) until I got the word a little before noon that he was ready to be picked up. On the back way into town I stopped and picked up a prescription for him, and then went to the vaccine clinic to see if they would take me earlier than my appointment for my second dose. The answer was “sure,” and other than a very slightly sore arm for a couple of hours that day I had no side effects from the second dose. Brett has spent the week resting and relaxing – the surgery knocked him for a bigger loop than he imagined it would – but he’s pretty much back to a normal level of activity now. We’re back to our daily walks, but still don’t have any desire to get back out in the thick of things here. Visitor numbers are ticking up every day – we’re sort of dreading the farmers’ market this coming week.

It looks warm and inviting, but it’s actually quite chilly out there.

The week started off cold and very windy and it stayed cool all week. The pattern for the week was rain still dripping off the house when we woke up, but with surprisingly blue skies and sunshine with cool temperatures outside. By late morning clouds would roll in to a point where we started to wonder if we’d be able to walk that day because it could be raining. With fingers crossed we would go up to the park every day to discover that it was mostly sunny and beautiful up there with a cool breeze – perfect walking weather! Yeah! After sunset though the temperature would start dropping again, and by the time we go to bed it was downright chilly and often raining once again. I don’t remember it ever feeling this cold when we were here before, but I think the house we lived in previously was better insulated, and it was also designed in a way that air did not move through the house (no breeze flowing through the house to cool things off). We experience much more wind where we live now (the other house sat on a lot with hills on two sides that blocked any wind), and the windows in our apartment are arranged for maximum airflow. I’m trying to appreciate the cold as much as I can because I know hot and humid weather is coming and I’ll be wishing then for cooler and breezier days.

We’ve missed the old school local vibe of the Tip Top Cafe.

Less than two years from now we will, God willing, be on the road once again. Sometimes it seems like such a long way off, but then I remind myself we’re already into April of this year and how did we get here so quickly? There seems to always be something happening or coming up that moves the calendar along faster than we imagined. Brett celebrates his birthday toward the end of this month, and now that we’re vaccinated we’re planning to celebrate with breakfast at the TipTop Cafe in Lihue. We’ve missed being able to eat there, but it just didn’t feel safe before (and they were closed when when we arrived and for several months afterwards). Anyway, his birthday will be here before we know it, April will finish, and then we’ll be on to the next month. I want to lose an additional six pounds this year, but am beginning to wonder if I can to accomplish that goal – the year seems to be speeding by while the weight loss has slowed to a crawl. While we have much to look forward to in the next two years, I know time is going to go faster than we can imagine now, and before we know it it will be YaYu’s graduation, for our fall trip to Japan, and finally to pack up and move on to our next Big Adventure.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: Just as I finished When Will There Be Good News?, the third book in the Jackson Brodie series by Kate Atkinson, two more books came available from the library at the same time. So, I’m reading two books again, with my daytime book The Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz, and my nighttime reading the fourth Jackson Brodie book, Started Early, Took My Dog (which I think is the last book of the series). Yet another book came off of hold mid-week, but I was able to have it held for another week or so until I can get one of the other books finished.
  • Listening to: For all my ranting above about how cold it’s been this past week, this morning is lovely! The loud winds of this past week are soft breezes, and it’s actually warm enough that instead of wanting a blanket, we’ve opened the French doors. Brett’s knocking around in the kitchen putting last night’s dishes away and making coffee, and our upstairs neighbor just left for the day so the footsteps upstairs have stopped. It’s a quiet, warm morning with lovely weather but I feel like we’ve earned it.
  • Watching: We finished watching Case Histories this past week. We loved all the Edinburgh scenery and sites we recognized as we watched. We began watching Season 7 of Endeavour last night – it’s always well done. The Olympic banquet finale on Great British Menu was great, although lots of things kept going wrong. The chefs were still able to overcome it all and get out their dishes. I feel like the current season has started off sort of meh compared to the two past seasons so hopefully things will pick up as it goes along. In this season the chefs need to create dishes with a comedy or “fun” theme, but it’s just not as interesting for me as the past seasons’ requirements.
  • Happy I accomplished: On the day of Brett’s surgery, it took a wild bit of scheduling to fit everything in, and having to operate on a limited amount of sleep didn’t help, but everything got done and turned out the way it was supposed to. Otherwise we’ve had a very quiet week at home as Brett recovers. I’ve semi-successfully weaned myself off of Twitter (I’m only reading it for a few minutes at night) and am enjoying having more time for other things.
  • Looking forward to next week: I’m looking forward to Brett feeling good enough to walk our regular route with me up the park again – I’ve missed my walking companion. We’ve don’t have anything on the calendar for this coming week, but if we get a nice day we want to go to Barking Sands for a picnic and walk there.
Proof of life
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Besides Brett’s surgery going well, and getting my second dose of the vaccine – both very, very good things – our neighbor brought over a large, beautiful bouquet of flowers from their yard for Brett. She works at the hospital and met us going into the surgery entrance the other morning. Bryn Mawr announced all students and staff will be receiving the vaccine on April 19 and we’re hoping it won’t be too long before WenYu and Meiling will get theirs as well. My new passport arrived in the mail so I’m officially ready to travel the world again for the next 10 years! Both Brett and I are saving our old passports this time for sentimental reasons.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We had some milk going sour so I made a double batch of pancakes to use it up and froze them for later. The weather was sketchy enough on Wednesday afternoon that we decided to skip the farmers’ market and instead picked up a few items at Big Save and spent less than $5.00. Other than that and picking up a prescription for Brett we had a no-spend week. $3.81 went into the change/$1 bill bag, and I earned 2,206 Swagbucks this past week. The leftovers are once again manageable and being eaten quickly, and nothing needed to be thrown away this week.
  • Grateful for: We are very thankful for the good outcome from Brett’s surgery, and that his recovery this past week has gone well. He has felt tired most of the week, which was expected, but he’s almost back to normal and ready to get on with things. Both of us are also grateful for our COVID vaccinations, and to all those who made it possible.
  • Bonus question: Would you rather be busier or have less to do than you do now? This requires a very subjective answer because what many would consider being busy others could see as not having much or enough to do at all. Some might look at my current life and find it boring, or think that I don’t do much of anything, but my days are full for me, with projects always being started, worked on, or completed. After years of having a daily schedule loaded with activities and responsibilities from work and the girls’ schedules, and always having to fit in the things I wanted or needed to do where and when I could, I love being able to fill (or not fill) my days when and as I wish. There are several things I work to accomplish every day and I keep weekly activity cards to make sure those things get done (reading, writing, exercise, and so forth) but I love the ability to do them at my own pace these days rather than trying to arrange them around what everyone else is doing. Anyway, I guess the answer to this is I like being busy but in a relaxed way, and prefer the happy medium of having plenty of things to do on my own schedule.

Although we stayed close to home this week, we did get out in the neighborhood to look at some of the hibiscus flowers that are blooming around us. The yellow ones in the lower right are absolutely huge, each about the size of a large dessert plate! I keep meaning to ask our neighbor if we can come over and take a peek at their yard, where they grow the beautiful flowers that are in Brett’s bouquet. The garden is large enough to be able to provide flowers for hotels in the area, so I can only imagine how glorious it looks (the husband is retired and growing flowers and other tropical plants is his hobby). More and more plants are blooming in our yard as well, the orange tree is still blossoming, and the guava tree is beginning to set fruit – we’re hoping for as good a harvest as we had last year. We can almost no longer see the little house behind us because the trees have grown so much. It turns out they’re durian trees and there are now two giant fruits hanging in among the branches and leaves.

The large brown football-shaped fruit hanging in the tree are durians. I’m happy not to be around whenever one of those is opened!

That’s a wrap to a quiet but successful week where everything happened as it should. Wishing all a good week coming up, filled with good things happening, good food, good books, and enough to keep you all busy without wearing you out.

Imagining the Next Downsize

Only some of these things will be kept the next time around.

The other day I took two houseplants that weren’t doing so well and set them out on our front porch (where they almost instantly revived). With the plants gone, I was able to move a few things around in our living room which somehow managed to give it a fresher, more uncluttered and open look. I was surprised that the removal of only two items and a few other small changes facilitated such a big change in how the otherwise small room feels. Less had created more.

Brett and I are already starting to think about what we’ll ship back to the U.S. when we leave Kaua’i in a couple of years, and what we can let go of this time. Last time we sent back around 1,500 pounds for storage; we hoping for around 500 pounds this time. We already know we’ll be able to let go of more now, a reminder that downsizing and decluttering remain a process, not a one-time-and-you’re-done task. We know that was unbearable to let go of before can become bearable over time, and maybe even desired, and that we have a very different sense these days of what we want to live with than we did when we set off back in 2018.

While I think I already do a good job of not accumulating things, I came across an article the other day for decluttering or downsizing a room that I wish I had thought of or known about earlier, an idea which I plan to use mentally over the next couple of years as the actual process would be impossible given our current space. The exercise requires removing absolutely everything out of a room you want to declutter, from furniture to pictures to tchotchkes. Everything. When the room is completely cleared out, it’s deep cleaned it from top to bottom (and repainted if needed or desired).

The room should then sit empty for at least three days, but longer if possible while careful thought is given to the desired result for the room. After that, items should be slowly brought back into the room, maybe over a period of days, until the imagined result is reached. After that, everything else can go. The happy result should be a decluttered room with less needed than one initially imagined.

While we’re unable to do the empty room thing now, Brett and I will instead imagine a future empty space, and think carefully about how we’d like our room(s) to look. Our days on the road taught us that we prefer small, uncluttered spaces with a few thoughtful touches. What we’ll be asking ourselves going forward what pieces that we have now will be useful? What pieces will bring us joy?

We know that some things aren’t going to make the cut this next time, but it’s going to take time for us to figure it all out. For now we’ll appreciate, enjoy, and use what we have, but always with that empty room in the back of our minds.

Home Cooking: Slow Cooker Chicken Adobo with Bok Choy

This easy chicken recipe has been a long time favorite of our family, discovered years ago in Cooking Light magazine. Many people know of Mexican adobo, a spicy chili base made from either chipotle or ancho chilis, but this recipe is not spicy, and is instead flavored the Filipino way with vinegar, paprika, garlic, bay leaf, and black pepper.

Adobo is a Spanish word meaning marinade, meaning to soak raw foods in a stock made from the aforementioned vinegar, along with oregano, garlic, paprika, and salt. The Spanish gave the name to a style of indigenous Filipino cooking that also included vinegar, although it was developed separately from Spanish cuisine and is still very distinct from Spanish adobo.

While traditional Philippine adobo does not contain bok choy, we like the addition of greens, and they are added at the end of the cooking period which allows them to wilt and soften without being overcooked. I have made this dish in both a slow cooker and the InstantPot, and prefer the slow cooker. When using the InstantPot the bok choy had to be added at the beginning, and the greens ended up limp and flavorless.

This adobo has everything I love in a recipe: it’s inexpensive to put together, tastes fantastic, and because it cooks all day in the slow cooker, it’s really simple! It’s also low fat, keto friendly, and gluten free. The best part of this dish, in my opinion, are the cooked onions. Because they cook on the bottom of the dish they absorb all the flavors – I never skimp on them. The original recipe calls for bone-in chicken thighs, but I’ve always used boneless, skinless thigh filets and they work well.

Place sliced onions in the bottom of the slow cooker. Top with smashed garlic and bay leaf.

Mix together the vinegar, soy sauce, and brown sugar until sugar is dissolved. Pour over the onions, then sprinkle generously with black pepper.

Lay the chicken thighs on top of the onions, and sprinkle with the paprika (in the photo I had forgotten to add the pepper to the onions, so it’s went on top of the chicken this time). Cook on low heat for 7-8 hours.

Ten minutes before serving, chop the bok choy into strips. Turn the slow cooker up to high heat.

Open the slow cooker, separate the chicken thighs and gently push them into the sauce and onions so they’re immersed in the sauce.

Place the bok choy on top, cover, and cook for an additional ten minutes until the bok choy stems are tender.


  • 2 medium onions, cut in half and sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1 TBSP brown sugar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • black pepper
  • 8 skinless bone-in chicken thighs (about 1 3/4 pounds)
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 4 heads Shanghai bok choy (small bok choy)
  • steamed rice
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced

In a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine the onions, garlic, vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, bay leaf and 1/4 tsp pepper. Place the chicken thighs on top and sprinkle with the paprika.

Cook on low heat for 7-8 hours (or on high for 4 to 5 hours).

Ten minutes before serving, if the cooker is on the low setting, turn it up to high. Gently fold in the the bok choy and cook, covered, until tender, about 3 to 5 minutes. If you are using whole lengths of bok choy, lay them on top of the chicken, cover, and let cook for an additional 10 minutes or so, or until the stems are tender. Serve with steamed rice and sprinkle with the sliced green onions.

Saving, Saving, Saving for Travel Once Again

Posted on  by Laura & Brett

For some people, saving is easy. For others it’s a matter of discipline. We fall somewhere in the middle, but tend move closer to the easy side when we’ve got a goal to meet.

We’re saving now for a return to our nomadic life. We’re throwing every spare dime we can into our travel account and making saving a priority because once again we have a big goal that we’re excited about.

Our unexpected and sudden move to Kaua’i last year was expensive. We had to buy a car, rent an apartment, and purchase everything from scratch to set up housekeeping again, from furniture to kitchen goods to linens to small appliances. Because everything was shut down because of the pandemic, there were no yard sales, and thrift stores were also closed so bargains were few and far between. While we got lucky and were able to buy our old car back from friends, everything else had to be purchased new, from Costco, Walmart, Amazon, and two furniture stores on the island that graciously opened for us and allowed us to shop privately (but no delivery – we had to rent a van and pick up and move our purchases ourselves). We paid $$$$ to have our stored items shipped back over to us, but it was good to have our own stuff back with us even if the movers did lose one of our boxes.

To put it mildly, the move decimated our savings. Still, we’ve been able to live well on our income, help with YaYu’s college expenses, and put a small amount away every month into our travel savings. We were able to pay for our recent car repairs. But there hasn’t been much of anything else left over for travel except for that small allotment every months and from saving change and $1 bills.

However, now that we have a travel goal once again, to say we are once again motivated to beef up our travel savings would be an understatement. Wants, other than wanting nice, healthy balances in our travel account, have been set to the side. Brett and I have everything we need, and are now working at finding ways to tuck more into savings any way we can. I will continue earning Swagbucks to earn as many airline gift cards as possible. We’ve decreased our grocery budget a bit and so far are doing fine with a smaller amount. We have found ways to cut back on driving to keep those expenses lower. YaYu’s college costs will finish in January 2022, and after her final payment the amount we now dedicate to her will be directed into travel savings. I’m not sure there’s ever a good time for this, but Brett ages out of his life insurance policy this year, and that long-time monthly payment will go into savings instead. We are already making adjustments to future travel plans in order to save more. For example, while we still plan to go to Tokyo in the fall of 2022, we’ve decided to only visit for a month, and that there will be no fancy walking tour this time. We can do some great day hikes in the Tokyo region and through the city on our own. In other words, every spare dollar or cent that comes our way for the next two years will be saved.

We’ve accomplished big goals before – we paid off nearly $60K of debt in three years, and in the 18 months between when we decided to take our Big Adventure until the time we left, we saved just over $30,000, and with less discretionary income than we have now. We won’t have much to sell this time to add to our savings, but by carefully sticking to our budget, and keeping to needs versus being tempted by wants, we believe we can come close to that amount again in the next couple of years.

We’ve once again moved ourselves over to the easy side of saving, but are bringing our former discipline back again to reach our goal this time. We can do this!

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (3/28 – 4/3)

Much if not most of our eating is centered around leftovers, mainly because I typically cook something different for dinner every evening and we’re eating smaller portions these days. Leftovers provide our lunches and even breakfasts most days. I know the calories and other nutritional information of the dishes I’ve made which makes it easier to track. Finally, managing leftovers is key to keeping our food budget in line, and making sure nothing gets wasted.

Usually we have no problem getting the leftovers eaten in a timely manner, but this last week it became something of a chore for two reasons: We ate no meals (leftovers or otherwise) at home on Monday, and the amount of leftovers we produced was larger than usual. For example, we had several meals worth of tortellini left over from the week before and it took more than a day or two to finish all of that. Same for the egg foo young and egg drop soup leftovers – the recipes I used made a lot of food. The only two days we didn’t produce leftovers were Monday – we ate all of our restaurant and takeout food – and Friday, when we had mini pizzas (they did use up leftovers though!). For several days it seemed that our refrigerator would burst from all the containers filled with leftover food.

Brett is the king of leftovers. He can put an interesting meal together with just about anything, and finds ways to incorporate even the smallest amounts of things. I tend to stick to leftovers that just need to be reheated. My leftover meals this week consisted of a tortellini with red pepper sauce, a grilled Polish sausage in a bun, two days of egg foo young and egg drop soup (one breakfast and one lunch), two days of pad Thai, and leftover chicken adobo with bok choy. Between the two of us the refrigerator is looking less full now – the only leftovers on hand now is a little bit of chicken adobo, some pork & pepper stir fry, and a little rice.

We do our food shopping with leftovers in mind; I guess you could say our leftovers are premeditated (from a delightful blog that I’ve been reading since 2010, by the way). We always ask ourselves when making our list if something we’re thinking of buying will produce leftovers as well as how many ways can we use something so that we finish it completely? Like Alton Brown, who advises not to invest in any single-use kitchen appliance (except for maybe a coffee maker), we try not to buy or make anything that can’t be used in more than one meal, leftovers or otherwise.

Here’s what we had for dinner last week (and pretty much for lunch as well!):

Sunday: Grilled beef Polish sausages in a bun; coleslaw

Monday: Tacos al pastor

Tuesday: Chicken pad thai

Wednesday: Egg foo yung; egg drop soup; rice; cucumber spears

Thursday: Slow cooker chicken adobo with bok choy

Friday: Mini pizzas with roasted peppers and leftover breakfast sausage

Saturday: CookDo pork & pepper stir fry

Here’s what’s on the menu for next week, in no particular order other than softer foods will be eaten earlier in the week just in case Brett is sore from his surgery:

  • Barbecue pulled pork sandwiches
  • Guadalajara quesadillas
  • Spinach quiche with goat cheese and gruyere
  • Zaru soba & hayayako (chilled tofu)
  • Mini pizzas
  • Turkey club sandwiches
  • California roll salad

This has been another off-and-on again week for walking. Sunday was our regular day off, but Monday it rained most of the day. Tuesday we did our food shopping, and I always get in a couple of miles (seriously!) pushing our carts around Costco and Walmart, although it’s not really a good cardio workout. I was grateful for it this past week though because when I was putting things away at home I hurt my back and was unable to stand up. Brett ended up walking without me. On Wednesday my back was in decent shape again, the weather was beautiful, and we got in a long walk up at the park. Thursday was supposed to be nice, but rain arrived in the morning. For awhile it didn’t seem as if it was going to leave, but by late afternoon it had cleared out and we once again had near-perfect weather for walking. Thursday was gloomy all day, but we managed a short 2.5 mile walk before rain arrived with the same on Friday. Saturday was nicer and we got in a nice, long walk again.

We walked a total of 93 miles in March, with an average pace of 4.3 mph – not bad, considering all the rain there was!

I’ve discovered that one downside of losing weight at my age is that my skin no longer shrinks back like it did when I was younger, or at least not as quickly as it used to. While having loose skin on my arms and legs is proof that I have gotten smaller, it’s frankly not all that attractive. I’d rather have the weight gone though so am learning to live with flabby skin in places.

Sunday Morning 4/4/2021: Happy Easter!

Good morning! Aloha kakahiaka!

Wishing all who celebrate a very happy and blessed Easter! I think this is the first year I can remember where I haven’t had a Cadbury Creme Egg (or several of them). They are my favorite chocolate, but are definitely something I can do without these days.

Brett has to be at the hospital tomorrow morning at 6:00 a.m. so we’ll be having a very, very early wake-up, something I’m not looking forward to. I’ll stay with him until he goes to the operating room, and then I will head over to get my second dose of the COVID vaccination before coming home to wait (and maybe sleep). There’s a two-hour break during the surgery while tests are done to make sure that none of the other parathyroid glands need to be removed, and if they don’t he’ll be done, and I will be called then to come back to bring him home. Everything looks good though according to all the pre-op tests and stuff, so fingers are crossed for tomorrow. Full recovery should take about four weeks.

There was a BIG increase in the number of tourists when we went to the farmers’ market this week, and we saw several who were wearing masks but pulled down so it wasn’t covering their noses. Grrrrrrr. Several were also crowding and pushing in lines versus staying socially distanced. Resorts and such are officially reopening state-wide tomorrow, but with new resident cases of the virus in the state averaging over 100/day, the governor has said that if those numbers aren’t brought under control soon he will put the state under a complete lockdown once again. The uptick in cases isn’t just because of tourists returning, but also because locals are no longer being careful or following safe procedures (although locals on Kaua’i continue to be fanatic about mask wearing). Brett and I are glad to be vaccinated, but know we still have to follow protocols for a while longer to stay safe.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished One Good Turn early in the week, my 18th book for the year, and was all ready to download the next in the series, When Will There Be Good News, but One By One, by Ruth Ware, suddenly became available for download. I finished it in three days (another great page turner!) and then I got started on When Will There Be Good News. I am greatly enjoying the Kate Atkinson series – so happy I discovered them!
  • Listening to: Although the sky is blue it is LOUD outside this morning with the wind just whipping through the trees and other plants. It’s too noisy to know if anything else is happening out there. The temperature is thankfully nice and warm though – it should be a good afternoon for walking. If this keeps up though I can see having to shut the door so that I can concentrate.
  • Watching: We finished Wandavision last Wednesday evening, and what seemed very quirky and fun at the beginning ended up being quite melancholy and thought provoking at the finish. One of the greatest lines ever written for a movie or TV show, in my opinion, came in the next to the last episode: What is grief, if not love persevering? There’s no forgetting that. We’re now watching Case Histories, the series made from the Kate Atkinson books. So far it’s good and sticks close enough to the books. Tonight I’ll be watching the main and dessert course finals of the Olympics season of Great British Menu and will find out who is going to the banquet (and will watch the banquet episode tomorrow evening).
  • Happy we accomplished last week: Our food shopping trip last week was a bit of a challenge because we had to shop for a three-week stretch versus the usual two weeks (due to the timing of when my SS income shows up), but we stayed disciplined and along with upcoming farmers’ market trips we will have enough on hand now to get us through until it’s time to shop again (I think the only thing we’ll have to buy from the store in-between is another half-gallon of milk). Brett got his second dose of the vaccine last Wednesday, and also got tested for the virus on Friday (negative, but required before surgery).
  • Looking forward to next week: About the only thing I’m looking forward to besides Brett’s surgery going well is getting my second dose of the vaccine. Otherwise we’ll be having a quiet week at home while Brett recuperates, and I’ll be walking on my own for a few days.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We had a very fun day for our anniversary in spite of the rotten weather. The rest of the week was low-key and enjoyable, we had some great weather on a couple of days, and everything pretty much went the way it should.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We came in under budget with our Day of No Cooking last Monday and gave ourselves not only a new but a more frugal and fun way of celebrating our anniversary. We also managed to somehow stay under budget with our food shopping, a definite challenge this time. We put $8.41 into the change/$1 bill bag this past week, and saved a total of $24.78 in March from change and $1 bills. I earned 2,095 Swagbucks this past week, and a 728 bonus for the month of March, putting me 3,000 SB ahead of where I wanted to be at the end of the month, so it was a good one. Finishing up our leftovers has also been a challenge this past week because eating out all day Monday threw everything off, but we’ve worked hard at getting them finished, finding ways to use them, and nothing has been wasted or thrown out.
  • Grateful for: Once again we’re feeling very grateful for our military health insurance. Between Medicare and Tricare For Life, there will be no out-of-pocket expenses attached to Brett’s surgery.
  • Bonus question: Could you pass the U.S. citizenship test? I sure hope I could, but I don’t know because I’ve never taken the full test. I’ve taken the practice tests and done well, but I’ve taken a lot of American history and government courses over the years, read the news every day, and do other things to understand our government so I hope I would do well. None of the questions on the test are “trick questions,”, but studies have shown that only around 36% of U.S. citizens could pass the test these days, something I find very, very sad and discouraging. I think a couple of my children would fall into the 64% that couldn’t pass the test – U.S. history was not required, or at least not much of it, and they chose to study other things instead. Again, that’s something I find sad as I think American history and civics should be a requirement for high school graduation, with courses also required in elementary and middle school.
The “plant hospital” – all four have revived and are growing again since going outdoors.

I have always had something of a green thumb when it comes to houseplants, but have had nothing but bad luck here, with all of the plants we’ve gotten almost dying indoors. They’re currently on the porch outside the front door – the “plant hospital” – and are reviving and growing again, so I guess that’s where they’ll stay. We’re in a great location for light and such but I think if I were a plant in Hawaii outside is where I’d rather be too. My little jade plant and an orchid we got when we arrived are both doing well inside though, so there’s still a little bit of green going on in here. Our avocado tree continues to increase in size, and now has branches and is developing bark on its trunk.

Our tree may be big enough to be transplanted into the ground by the end of the year.

Can I say how much I still thoroughly HATE the new WP editor? So many tasks that were easy to accomplish before aren’t any more.

Anyway, that’s a wrap for this past week, overall a pretty nice one. Here’s to another good week coming up!