Full-Time Saving

(photo credit: Mathieu Turle/Unsplash)

Yes, yet another savings post, but this is where we’re at right now.

Although travel remains out of picture for the rest of this year, Brett and I have big plans for the future, and our Number One priority now is to save, save, save. We want to sock away as much as possible to not only cover setting off on our next big adventure but to have enough to get ourselves to YaYu’s graduation in the spring of next year and to Japan in the fall.

Back in 2017 and last year I posted the list below of ways to save for travel. Since Brett and I are once again back into savings mode big time we are following our own saving advice and it’s making a big difference. Besides getting YaYu through school, future travel is our priority now, and in spite of rising inflation we’ve made a game of seeing how much we can put away each month.

Here’s how things we’re doing currently are going (using our own savings tips). Even on a fixed income there are still ways to save if travel or something else is a priority:

  1. Set up a dedicated travel savings account, and start a monthly allotment to that account. We have gone over our budget with a fine-toothed comb and found ways we could cut back so we’ve been able to increase the amount that goes into this account. The current amount will increase again once we get YaYu’s final bill paid in December – just a few more months to go!
  2. Save on regular budget categories, and then put the difference into travel savings. We do this every month, although it’s not easy lately with prices creeping up everywhere. One way we’re saving this way is rather than filling the tank when he goes for gasoline, Brett stops at a present amount about $7 under what a full tank would cost. The amount nearly fills the tank and seems to be enough for now to cover our driving. The extra $7 goes into our savings.
  3. Do a “no-spend” week, or month, and deposit all usual discretionary spending amounts into your savings. We have a full-time needs over wants mindset and do very little spending outside of fulfilling our needs. We have almost no discretionary spending, and what we do have is planned. Every week is pretty much a no-spend week, and almost all spending we do is planned in advance.
  4. Save change and $1 bills. Saving $1 bills and change is a habit for us now, but we are not shopping much these days and are putting away less than we used to. Only one store, Safeway, now lets us round up to the nearest $5, and we rarely shop there. The goal these days is to put away at least $300 per year. It’s not much, but like everything else, it helps. We have compared this to using a cash back credit card, and this method provides more savings.
  5. Recognize needs versus wants. We’ve got this down.
  6. Dedicate all refunds, rebates and gifts to travel savings. We don’t get many rebates/refunds now, but they still all go into the travel savings account when they do show up, like our Costco rebate last February. Once a year two of our three daughters refund us the cost of keeping them on our phone plan; next year all three will be sending us an annual payment.
  7. Get a travel rewards credit card. We use our rewards card to buy groceries and then pay the card balance immediately. It’s not a lot, but again, it adds up.
  8. Sell unused or unnecessary things. We have started going through our apartment and are already selling items we don’t use and know we will not be keeping. This includes items we have been storing for the girls and they have said they no longer want. I created my Etsy shop to sell our Japanese things, including my hashioki collection. We are putting nothing into storage when we leave this time, another big savings. We also try to sell one item a month through our local Buy & Sell group.
  9. Get a part-time job. We still have absolutely no interest in taking on jobs, even part-time, but I am now earning a small income from the blog, my Etsy shop is bringing in some income, we sell something on Buy & Sell, and we get a monthly payment from our neighbor for sharing our Internet. None of it is going to make us rich, but it does add up to a few hundred dollars a month.
  10. Be creative. I have earned three $500 Delta Airlines gift cards through Swagbucks for future travel and want to earn two more before we leave Hawaii. Swagbucks can drive me mad at times, but those gift cards will make a real difference. We still pick up change when we find it, and recycle bottles and cans as well. There are loads of other ways to earn extra money as well; these are the ones that work for us.

These ways to save got us over to Hawai’i in 2014, and helped us set out on our Big Adventure in 2018, and we’re confident will get us on the road again in style in 2023! Game on!

Home Cooking: Cheesy White Bean-Tomato Bake

Did you know that recipes are not copyrighted? Recipes, even ones published in books, fall under what’s called the “idea-expression dichotomy,” which separates ideas, which can’t be copyrighted from expression of ideas, which are covered under copyright law. So, recipes can be freely shared while any photos or drawings which accompany a recipe can’t without violating copyright.

For a variety of reasons, I refuse to subscribe to the New York Times, which is really neither here nor there other than I cannot access many of their fabulous recipes (thankfully some are made available for free). I am often sent links to recipes on Facebook or other social media, but when I click I’m told I’ll have to subscribe in order to see it. That can be frustrating, to say the least, but so far I have not succumbed to their enticements and have instead found an easy work-around: searching the name of the recipe will almost always give me a link to someone who does have a subscription to the Times, and has published the recipe in their blog.

So, after receiving several links to this delicious recipe from the Times, and after having tried their spicy, cheesy black bean bake and loving it, I searched the name for this recipe and voilà! There it was on a blog called Hip Foodie Mom. Mission accomplished.

According to Hip Foodie Mom, this is a side dish or appetizer, but we enjoyed it a few weeks ago as a main dish. The flavors are softer than the black bean bake even with the little bit of heat from the crushed red pepper, and there is a very Tuscan feel to it. We felt the recipe could be improved with the addition of some sprigs of rosemary while it cooked, but otherwise this made an easy-to-put-together and very satisfying meatless meal, and provided leftovers as well for the next couple of days.

CHEESY WHITE BEAN TOMATO BAKE

  • 2 15-oz cans cannelli beans, rinsed well and drained
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (I used half of this amount)
  • 3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced or minced
  • 4-5 large peeled canned tomatoes (I used San Marzanos)
  • 2 large handfuls of fresh spinach leaves
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 3-inch sprigs of rosemary (optional)
  • Salt & pepper
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella or Italian blend cheese
  • Toasted baguette or other toasted sliced bread

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.

In a large ovenproof skillet, heat the olive oil. Saute the garlic until light gold, and then carefully add the tomatoes to avoid splattering. Gently press on the tomatoes with a potato masher or the back of a spoon to crush the tomatoes into the pan; cook for about 1 minute or so, being careful the garlic doesn’t burn.

Add the beans, water, spinach, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, rosemary sprigs (if using), and salt and pepper to taste, and stir to combine with the tomatoes. Cook until the spinach is wilted. Make sure the tomatoes and spinach are well distributed throughout the beans, then cover everything with the shredded cheese.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the cheese is melted and browned in spots. If desired, the pan can be run under the broiler for a couple of minutes for additional browning.

Serve immediately on top of baguette slices or other toasted bread.

Travel Will Be Different

(Photo credit: Ross Parmly/Unsplash)

Other than people’s love of traveling, the pandemic changed everything when it comes to heading out on the road. At least it seems that way at times. Not only did COVID stop travel altogether last year, but from what I’m learning it appears to caused some deep, and in my opinion, much needed changes, not just about where people will travel going forward but in how they will travel.

We’re already seeing close-to-home escapism becoming more popular, with road trips and RVing at the top of the list for many who are eager to hit the road again. People in the U.S. are already visiting state and natural parks in huge numbers, and taking more wilderness trips as well. Travel to Hawaii and Alaska are booming as many overseas destinations still remain closed to visitors, or require long periods of quarantine (like Japan or Singapore).

One of the biggest changes that seems to be coming to the travel industry can be summed up in one word: sustainability. According to experts, big resort vacations at exotic locations or trips visiting multiple locations in a short period of time are going to be less popular than longer stays in one location, where the focus will be more on “human tourism” and the people and culture of a place versus a short vacation or trip trying to fit in as many destinations as possible. The trend in future travel will be tailored, conscious, and more discerning, with health and safety not just of travelers but of those at the destination of primary importance. In a race between quality versus quantity of travel, quality is expected to win. According to travel experts, future travel will be defined more by purpose versus checking off boxes on a list. I certainly hope this is true, and that places like Venice or Santorini that were being “over visited” are able to return to a more natural and relaxed pace of life that can support, sustain, and give back to the local population.

Tourists in Venice, pre-COVID (photo credit: Globaltrend)

The actual travel experience is going to feel very different as well in the future. Face masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes are going to be with us for a long time. Quarantines will be too, depending on where you plan to visit. Going through immigration in another country may mean longer waits in line, proof of a negative COVID test and/or proof of vaccine (and only certain vaccines may be accepted). Travel seasons may change as well, and may be switched off and on depending on outbreaks of the virus or the rise of variants. And, although airline change and cancellation fees seem to be gone for good, travel insurance will be a must have as trips could potentially have to be cancelled or rearranged depending on what’s happening at a destination. For this reason, booking directly with airlines, hotels, and car rentals versus using an online agency like Expedia, Travelocity, and such can help make sure getting flights and other reservations changed or refunded if necessary.

The cruise industry has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, and will probably face major changes in the future. Restrictions like health screenings, proof of vaccination, and other terms will most likely be put in place for the indefinite future, and things like self-serve buffets and other group offerings will go the way of the dinosaurs. Many countries will not allow ships other than from the country of origin to dock. For example, Taiwain is currently offering short cruises, but only to citizens of Taiwan, and stops are only in Taiwanese ports. It may be a great while before long cruises reappear – current trends point to short cruises of less than a week, many on smaller ships, and only to destinations close to the home port.

Big cruise ships may be shunned for smaller ones and smaller cruises. (Photo credit: Brandon Nelson/Unsplash)

Overall, hygiene and sanitation no matter where you go is going to be the top priority. Air quality, cleaning standards, and personal sanitation are all going to be featured by airlines, hotels, and other travel vendors. Some airlines already plan to keep the middle row of seats empty going forward, especially on longer flight. Smaller group numbers for tours and other activities will be highlighted and other safety precautions put in place. Train and bus travel versus flying is already being encouraged, not only for sanitary reasons but because it’s more environmentally friendly overall.

All of the above points to a very different travel experience going forward. Planning will still be fun, but it’s going to require more thought and a greater degree of flexibility. Change is to be expected. Still, there’s no reason not to start thinking about future travel. We’re still ready to go – it may not be exactly what we hoped for, but it will still be wonderful.

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (7/4 – 7/10)

Can I just say how happy I am with the way we’re eating now? Both Brett and I feel great, and some (but not all) gastric issues I experienced before have all but disappeared. I am enjoying cooking again, trying new things, and I’m having fun finding new recipes and creating new favorites. We’re getting more for our money when we food shop too and have fun hunting for new vegetarian or vegan things to try. We still have a few more weeks to go to use up the meat, but I think I can safely say now that it will not be missed. We’ve completely stopped eating eggs and all dairy except for cheese in limited amounts. However, cheese will not be disappearing – neither of us can imagine a life without cheese.

When our daughters come for the holidays I will be cooking meat again for them. I’m already starting to think about dishes that Brett and I can enjoy without meat while the girls enjoy meat with/in theirs, but I know on some occasions we will just eat meat along with them although in very limited quantities. Meiling’s all-time favorite meal is vegan though, and WenYu eats nearly vegan these days because of her boyfriend’s allergies, so think we’ll be fine presenting a few vegetarian meals while they’re here.

Below is what we enjoyed for dinner this past week:

Sunday: Hamburgers; 3-bean salad; watermelon

Monday: Zaru soba; chilled tofu (hiyayakko); Japanese pickled cucumber salad (namasu)

Tuesday: Barbecue chicken & coleslaw pita sandwiches; 3-bean salad

Wednesday: Pasta with creamy red pepper Alfredo sauce; roasted zucchini

Thursday: Mini pizzas with roasted vegetables

Friday: Cheese board

Saturday: Curried lentils; brown rice; sliced cucumber; Hami melon

Dessert this week was a pumpkin spice baked oatmeal – delicious! I’m trying a recipe today for peanut butter-banana baked oatmeal to see how we like those flavors. I’m also planning to make arroz con leche toward the end of the week: simple and yummy.

Below is what’s on the menu for dinner next week:

  • Orange ‘chick’n’ with fried rice
  • Falafel sandwiches
  • Basil beef stir fry
  • Mabo tofu
  • Cheese board
  • Mini pizzas
  • Sweet potato enchiladas

I’m trying two new recipes this week: basil beef stir fry, which will use up some more of the ground beef we have on hand, and sweet potato burritos. We picked up the orange chick’n at Costco last time we were there and are eager to give it a try, and I bought falafel mix last month and am finally getting around to making those, so a good week of new things overall, I think.

We had an absolutely awesome week of walking last week, with six days in a row of walking the golf course perimeter. We almost got rained out on Monday and Tuesday, and barely made it back to the car before it started pouring, but the next three days were sunny and breezy – perfect walking weather. Saturday threatened rain again, but we made it the whole way before the drops started falling. Most days we walked counter-clockwise around the course, but on a couple of days there were no golfers out on the course and we were able to walk clockwise for a change of pace. Clockwise is slightly uphill the entire way, so a slightly better workout, although going counter-clockwise means we have to climb the big hill to get out on the course, so I guess it evens out. We found an amazing 19 lost golf balls last week, seven of them Wednesday, five on Friday, and the others spread out on the other days.

This week we have our fingers crossed that we will be able to walk the Maha’ulepu Trail, another part of the Koloa Heritage Trail system. The trail is 3.7 miles out and back, the same distance when we walk the perimeter. We’ll have to do this hike the morning because afternoon it’s in direct sunlight. The trail is quite rocky so I will be walking with poles to hopefully keep my bursitis from flaring up.

Sunday Morning 7/11/2021: Midsummer Calm

We enjoyed lots of pretty evening skies this past week.

Good Morning! Aloha kakahiaka!

We’ve had a pretty nice week overall, with good weather and lots accomplished. Brett and I have settled into a new normal and a sort of schedule, and we move slowly through each day making sure things get done and we keep moving forward. It’s both relaxing and boring, truth be told, and I have feelings of both love and hate with it all. Eyes on the prize, I keep telling myself though, eyes on the prize. One of these days things will start moving very quickly and know I’ll look back fondly on these quiet, slow moving day with fondness and nostalgia.

I have decided to grow out my hair again, and cancelled my hair appointment for the week after next. Although this is not an earth-shattering decision by any means, it was a difficult one because of the weather and humidity, and knowing frizzy puffball or old lady poof are going to be my looks for the duration of our time here. However, longer hair is easier for me to care for when we travel, there’s less worrying about whether I can get it cut properly when we’re on the road, and it’s way more economical overall. I am dreading the grow-out experience, but by starting now I should have a nice set of curls by the time we attend YaYu’s graduation next spring, and be ready for a DevaCurl cut by the time we set out on our travels in 2023. My screams and tears from frustration in the interim will be probably be heard all the way back on the mainland.

The last sets of hashioki waiting to be photographed and listed. A total of 92 sets were listed – it was a LOT of work!

I had another nice week with Etsy. First, I finally got all the hashioki photographed and listed. I can’t begin to say how happy this makes me because it had gotten to be very tiring and I had to push myself to get it done. I have a few more other things to list, but I am looking forward to taking a break from listing for a few days. I had four sales this past week, all good things, but one item that sold was wooden box that had been covered with washi paper. The box was very light, but by the time I got it packaged and weighed for shipment it turned out that my “profit” on the item was only going to be $2.50 due to postage costs! That was a big reality check on the cost of shipping some of the bigger items back to the mainland, so I am going to have to be more careful going forward with pricing things as I include free shipping with my orders. Despite the small profit, I am glad I didn’t lose money (which looked possible for a while) and that another item has left the house. I also heard from my first buyer mid-week that her order had not arrived even though according to the USPS tracking it had been delivered to her mailbox on June 28. I had a horrible feeling that the buyer might have been a victim of package theft, but she messaged the next day that it had been found! Her mother had picked it up when she was out of town and forgotten to tell her. So, much relief for both of us and a happy ending.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I’m once again reading two books at the same time: Shadowland and Transient Desires, by Donna Leon, which came off of hold from the library on Monday. It’s the 30th book in her Commissario Brunetti series, all of which are set in Venice which is as much of a character in the book as it is a setting. When I finish these two books I will have less than 10 to go to meet my reading goal for the year . . . and it’s only July!
We enjoyed “liquid sunshine” a few mornings this week, but by afternoon the sun was out and all was well.
  • Listening to: We having sort of a gloomy morning – lots of clouds and overcast, a good breeze, and we can see that it rained most of the night. No beach today! Other than the wind through the trees and a few birds singing though, it’s quiet both inside and out. Brett is reading and eating his breakfast, and the rest of our day off should be pretty quiet as well. I love it.
  • Watching: We’re now watching the third season of Marcella, but are starting to think about what we’ll watch next. Great British Menu marches on. I can’t believe how much I missed the on the first go around.
The “hashioki corner” behind the sofa, with the organized hashioki and packing materials. I wish I had somewhere to store this more out of the way, but it is what it is.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Etsy business this week has been my biggest accomplishment, and I am ready for a short rest! I have a few more things to list next week, but hopefully things will slow down a bit – I feel like one order a week would be more than enough (although I’m actually very excited by and thankful for every order and have fun putting them together and sending them out). Otherwise there were no big accomplishments this week, just all the regular things that keep our lives moving along.
  • Looking forward to next week: We appear to be in the doldrum season here as once again there is nothing special going on and nothing on our calendars. We’re hoping for more good weather so we can get to the beach at least once next week, and get as much walking in as possible. Our son and family move into their new house this week – we’re so excited for them and looking forward to pictures of the completed space after all the renovations/remodeling they’ve had done.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We had a lovely, simple Fourth of July celebration here and the fireworks weren’t very loud at all. We got a recall notice on our 2012 Civic, but Brett was able to schedule the repairs and that got taken care of a couple of days later, at no cost. We were glad to know we are still in the system for notices. Finally getting all the hashioki listed was a very good thing – I was gritting my teeth at the end every time I had to take photos or write up the listings for them. I honestly had no idea I had so many and what it would take to get them listed. It was a huge chore that’s thankfully completed. Our son and DIL wrote to let us know they have each received the first dose of the vaccine in Japan, and will finish up at the end of the month/beginning of August. Yeah!
Bananas from our neighbor’s tree
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: I had to buy more packaging supplies this past week – Walmart thankfully had everything I needed – but those came out of my Etsy profits. I was able to use a free flat-rate box I had on hand because it fit what I was shipping but I covered it with brown paper because using an Etsy mailing label was $7 and some change less than the post office’s retail fee. The only thing we bought this past week was a piece of ginger (59 cents) from Big Save that was needed for a recipe. Our neighbor behind us gave us a huge bunch of bananas from the tree in their yard. Brett loves bananas and has one every day so we didn’t have to buy any this week. We put $4.41 into the change/$1 bill jar, and I earned 2,000 Swagbucks. I unfortunately had to throw away a piece of cheese this week that went completely moldy, and I also had to toss a head of cabbage that was filled with mildew (a constant problem here). All the leftovers were eaten.
  • Grateful for: I am very thankful for and appreciative of all who sent in suggestions for comfortable shoes, orthotics, etc. I have lots of new information to research and use to find new and better traveling shoes. Thank you!
  • Bonus question: If you could choose any time period to live in, what would you choose? As a forward looking person, I’m not one for wanting to go back in time and have no desire for “the good old days” as those are a myth in my opinion. The past that’s longed for is always highly personal and idiosyncratic, good for the person wishing for it or others like them, but always not so good for others. As much fun, or as interesting, as living another time period might seem to be, there would still be problems, difficulties and issues that I’m glad I and others don’t have to deal with now. Times change, and today is far from perfect, but what can be viewed as “bad” or “troublesome” now will someday be remembered with nostalgia. All that being said, I do think it would be fun to go back in time for a short period to observe, and get a feel for how things were compared to what I’ve read about. But, I wouldn’t want to stay there.
We’ve had this small wool rug for over thirty years and it still looks as good as the day we bought it.

I am still surprised almost daily by how many Japanese things we still have from our two tours there over 30 years ago (1980-1983 and 1989-1992). Every time I walk into a room or open a cabinet it I seem to discover more – I had no idea we kept this much stuff or at least never thought all that much about it. The other day we ate zaru soba on bamboo trays and I realized they can eventually be listed on Etsy as they’re as vintage as everything else. Same for a small porcelain bowl that sits by the bathtub – I must see it every day but only realized the other day, “well, that’s something that can go on Etsy.” However, this past Thursday I walked over a wool rug that sits at the foot of our bed and realized I do not want to let it go – we bought it at the beginning of our second tour and it’s had a place in every home we own and I still want it to be a part of any future home we have (Brett agrees). So, it will be stored with the girls when we take off again. I am so glad we have lots of time to figure all this out so we get it right, or as right as possible.

That’s a wrap for this week! It was a nice one even though nothing special happened, and hope it was a good one for everyone. Here’s to good books, good food, good friends, and good things happening in the week coming up!

Memories of The Cinque Terre

I still go through our travel photos at least once a week, sometimes two or three times. I’ll think of something we saw or did or ate, and I immediately want to go back and look, and think about it some more. I think about the pictures I took and why, and they usually jolt my memory some more. Anyway, I would like to occasionally write about these memories as they arise. It won’t happen weekly, maybe only once a month or so, I don’t want to write a travelogue either, but just general memories of a place we were fortunate to visit, and show that even the shortest bit of travel can be an adventure.

Visiting the Cinque Terre was a dream fulfilled for me.

Cinque Terre National Park in northwest Italy had been on my bucket list of places I wanted to visit for as long as I can remember. One year I even planned for our family to rent a house there for the summer, but the cutback in Brett’s hours that year and our increasing debt put an end to that plan. So, when we scheduled a month’s stay in Florence I knew this was our chance to visit, and we scheduled an overnight getaway. Because of heavy rains in the area we had to postpone our trip by a couple of weeks, but were easily able to change both our train tickets and our hotel reservation.

Everywhere in Monterosso al Mare was deserted as the summer season had officially ended.

We started our visit by taking the train all the way up to the northernmost village, Monterosso al Mare. The ride from Florence took around three hours, and we had beautiful views along the way, including the Carrerra quarries (where Michelangelo got his marble) and Pisa, where we got a clear view of the Leaning Tower from the train. There were few people on the train though, and when we stepped off in Monterosso it was like entering a ghost town. What we didn’t know was that “the season” had ended a week earlier and few visitors were heading to the area. Shops and restaurants around the village were closed, the beach was deserted, and there were really no people around. We wandered around for a few minutes, found one open restaurant and had delicious seafood lunch, but then headed back to the train station and hopped on the next train to the next village, Vernazza.

We did not realize at first that we had boarded an express train, with the next stop Spezia! We forlornly watched the other four Cinque Terre stations speed by our window as the train rushed through each station. At Spezia we licked our wounds, figured out the schedule for the next train that was stopping at Vernazza, and were eventually back on our way.

Late afternoon and sunset in Vernazza

Vernazza in late afternoon was lovely, with people out and about. It was full of colorful buildings and streets, and had a picturesque harbor. Shops and restaurants were open, and we stopped at a gelateria to get our daily fix. Fishing boats were done for the day and had been pulled up out of the water, but we sat on some rocks by the harbor and watched the sun go down over the Mediterranean. Afterwards we climbed back up the hill to the station, and caught the train to Manarola. We had decided to skip the village of Corniglia because of the time, and because it also required a steep climb from the station to reach it, something we definitely didn’t want to do in the dark.

The village of Corniglia, seen from Manarola. The train station is at the bottom right.

The sun was almost completely down when we reached Manarola, so we set our hotel’s location in Google Maps and started out. What we didn’t realize was that Google Maps gave us directions that looked good on paper but that would not actually get us to our hotel! We went around in circles for a while, but eventually stopped back at a restaurant in the main square and the owner sent us off in the right direction (the opposite of where Google Maps had sent us). It was now pitch dark, there were no street lights or street signs, and we wound our way up to the hotel using the flashlights on our phone, still having no idea if we were going the right direction or not. We eventually reached our hotel, with the owner leaning out the window waiting for us, worried that we were never going to show up (we were his only booking that night). He recommended a restaurant down the hill for dinner, but at that point we were so exhausted and grateful to have found our hotel that we instead went straight to bed and were asleep in moments.

The road to our hotel, as seen in the light the next morning. The hotel, at the top of the stairs in the background, was located on the highest row of buildings in the village.

We woke up to an amazing view from our veranda, of the entire coast and villages all the way back to Monterosso, as well as wonderful views of Manarola below us and of the hillsides covered with grapevines. We got dressed, said our goodbyes to the owner, who was heading out to tend his vineyard, and then headed back down the hill to walk out to a northern viewpoint, followed by a trip back to the square for some more coffee. As we were enjoying our drinks, a group of 60+ Chinese tourists suddenly filled the square. Their numbers blocked everything, and they were very noisy, so we finished our coffees quickly and headed for the train station in hopes of getting to the final village in the Cinque Terre National Park, Riomaggiore, before the big tour group did. Our luck had apparently run out though as the entire group boarded the train just after we did, filling our car to bursting.

Manarola in the morning.

At Riomaggiore, as we climbed off the train we were faced with a dilemma: which way to go? Should be go right and up into the hills, or left, through a long tunnel? The big tour group forming up next to us forced us to make a quick decision and we turned to go left. It turned out to be a wise choice as the road took us up and through the village and offered stunning views along the way. However, the tour group had followed us up the hill and we had to walk quickly to stay ahead of them. We eventually landed in the village square, chose a restaurant, and had one of the best meals of our travels: freshly made pesto with potatoes and pasta for me, and a seafood medley pasta for Brett along with a few glasses of delicious wine. We never saw the Chinese group again – it was like they vaporized somewhere.

Riomaggiore

After we left the restaurant we spotted a sign at the bottom of the square pointing to the station. We turned right at the sign and discovered ourselves in the long tunnel that we would have come through if we had chosen to go right from the station! We left Riomaggiore feeling very glad we had turned left and headed up the hill, big tourist group or not.

We were able to see the trail’s condition in several places during our stay. It was no wonder it was blocked – repairs were expected to take two to three years.

Our one regret was that we were not able to hike any of the cliffside trails between villages – they had been washed out in several places because of the recent heavy rains and were blocked off. Otherwise, we enjoyed a perfect Cinque Terre getaway and satisfied a long-time travel desire of mine.

Home Cooking: Ina Garten’s Guacamole Salad

I love, love, love this salad from The Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten! It’s easy to put together, it’s colorful, it’s made from easy-to-find ingredients, and it tastes fantastic. Although not authentically Mexican in any way, it’s a perfect accompaniment to Mexican dishes but also to lots of other dishes, from hamburgers to grilled chicken to . . . chicken-less nuggets, which is what we had this with the other night. It also can work on its own as a main dish.

I’ve made only one change to the original recipe: I had about a quarter cup of roughly chopped cilantro. We love cilantro in our household, and I think it adds that little something special to the salad. However, if you don’t like cilantro, it’s very good without it. I often leave out the jalapeños (because I forget to buy them), but I do like the spice they bring to the salad. The amount of jalapeno added can be adjusted according to preference. The cayenne pepper can also be option, in my opinion.

The salad should be prepared right before dining, and served at room temperature. The dressing can be made ahead though to save time.

GUACAMOLE SALAD

  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 15-ounce can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup small-diced red onion
  • 2 TBSP minced jalapeno peppers (about two peppers)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro (optional)
  • 2 medium, ripe avocados

Dressing:

  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated lime peel
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

Blend the dressing ingredients together and set aside.

In a large salad bowl gently toss together the tomatoes, diced bell pepper, beans, diced onion, and jalapeños (if using). Mix together with the salad dressing and cilantro, if using.

Just before serving, peel and cut the avocados into 1/2″ pieces. Gently toss into the salad and serve immediately.

Urgency, Importance, & Value: Setting Priorities

Prioritizing means making choices that will most effectively get you to your destination with less effort and less stress. (Photo credit: Kristin Snippe/Unsplash)

I used to have no skills whatsoever setting priorities for big tasks. While I had no problems making our daily life flow smoothly, with big undertakings I would get caught up in small things and allow myself to almost completely lose sight of what I was trying to or needed to achieve. I obsessed about everything and was often a complete wreck, asking myself why I ever thought I could accomplish anything.

The adoption process for each of our girls, paying off our debt, moving to Hawaii, and setting up our first big travel adventure were all master classes in how to prioritize when taking on a big task or having a big goal. I got lessons over and over again on the necessity of establishing priorities in order to keep each process moving smoothly and complete everything that needed to be done. I figured out it wasn’t that everything needed to happen in a precise order, but that the most urgent, important, and valuable tasks got taken care of or set up in a logical order while lower priority tasks got taken care of without getting in the way of the bigger stuff.

I have always been goal focused, and the SMART method of goal setting helped me sharpen that process. Having a solid, specific goal is just the start though. It gives a big picture overview but the next step is focusing on what needs to be done in what order to get the job accomplished. At over 18 months out from leaving on our next big travel adventure, I’ve been able to recognize that certain things I would like to be doing are currently not the most important to be looking at or focusing on. For now, our highest priority task is building our travel savings and figuring out different ways to do that. Beginning the process of downsizing is the other top priority now. Deciding on lodging, transportation, and other aspects of our plan will come later as we get closer to our departure date.

I’ve learned along the way there are steps for setting priorities when working on a big task. They can be moved around a bit as needed, but these generally have proven to make the job go more easily:

  • Set a specific goal (using the SMART method). This is the most critical part of setting priorities. Without a specific goal I have no real idea of what I’m working toward and I can’t realistically decide what needs to be taken care of and in what order.
  • Assess urgency, importance, and value of the tasks that need to be done. The first thing I do for any big goal is make a timeline. Sometimes this is easy, but other times it’s not as many aspects remain unknown. However, without a timeline there’s no way of seeing the big picture, what can and needs to be done first, and what can wait. A timeline also helps me evaluate what aspects of planning are more critical or important than others. Finally, a timeline can tell me the value of making one task a priority over another. Taking care of one or some tasks before taking on another can provide the information to help make informed decisions, and make the next task or several other tasks easier. For example, looking at Airbnb listings 18 months ahead of time might seem frivolous since I’m not going to be booking anything, but it gives me an idea of what we can set as an upper limit, and how much we will need to save for those expenses, so there is value to doing that task earlier than might be expected.
  • Do something every day. While the big things are easy to figure out because they’re usually the most urgent or have the biggest impact, even the smallest effort on something on days when nothing seems to be happening will get you closer to achieving your goal.
  • Know what and when to let go. My advisor once said to me when I was struggling to finish my thesis, “Laura, finished is better than perfect.” Struggling to make every detail tied down and perfect can and will drive you crazy. The same applies when prioritizing and working toward a goal. Do your best but don’t expect perfection all the time.
  • Measure progress. Keeping lists, charts, etc. are a great way to reinforce that you’ve got your priorities in the right order, and that you are on track with getting necessary tasks completed. Keeping track of progress is also extremely motivating and can let you know when you might need to make changes, or whether it’s time to start on another task. Setting smaller monthly and weekly goals as you get closer to achieving your goal helps make sure everything gets done.
  • Expect things to change. Change is always going to happen, probably more than expected. Refusing to make or accept changes can and will bog everything down faster than expected as well.

Setting a goal is just the first step in making sure it gets accomplished. Prioritizing what needs to be done is an equally important part of the equation. Learning to set priorities is a learned skill, one that can take time but that will provide value later, and help minimize the work that needs be done. Learning to address and recognize the urgency, importance, and value of necessary tasks has helped make the process of accomplishing our goals easier, has helped make time move along more quickly as well, and greatly reduced anxiety. There is something that can be done each day, even if it doesn’t seem like much, and before you know it, you’re at the finish line.

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (6/27 – 7/3)

We are almost to the end of our meat supply. I inventoried what we had at the end of last week and what’s left to go were two packages of chicken thighs, two pork chops, two packages of roasted chicken breast meat, one pound of ground pork, one package of Italian sausages, four 3/4-pound bags of ground beef, and three quart bags of homemade meat sauce. I’m going to keep the Italians sausages to have when the girls are here, but I’m not sure how we’ll use the ground beef although I used one package for hamburgers yesterday. At two meals with meat per week, we currently still have enough to take us into August. At that point we will become totally meat free except for an occasional seafood meal.

As with many things at this point in my life, I don’t miss having meat very much at all. I’m enjoying searching for plant-based dishes and salads, enjoy having cheese a few times a week, and it was a pleasure not having to buy meat on our last shopping trip, freeing up money for other healthy things we’d otherwise would have had to pass by. Costco has one of my favorite frozen treats in stock again: organic cherries, and a few weeks ago I would not have had room for them in the freezer because of all the meat, but they fit nicely now along with a big bag of blueberries, some plant-based “chicken” patties for sandwiches, and some plant-based Chinese-style orange “chicken.”

Last week’s meal schedule was sort of crazy. I have an idea for the day each meal will be served when I plan meals for the coming week (like the cheese board on Fridays, for example), but last week that all got thrown out the window because of a few days when I didn’t feel like spending time in the kitchen or was too tired to cook. Everything got made though and enjoyed, but it reinforced for me why having a menu plan is so important. The things that needed to be eaten were eaten, and our meals stayed healthy and fit our calorie limits.

Sunday: Chickenless nuggets; guacamole salad

Monday: Mini pizzas with marinated artichoke hearts

Tuesday: Pork chops with sauerkraut & apples; roasted cauliflower

Wednesday: Spaghetti with meat sauce; roasted zucchini; steamed artichoke

Thursday: Cheese board

Friday: Bean & rice burritos; cauliflower & tomato salad; cucumber slices

Saturday: Chinese 3-color salad with surumi, cucumber, and carrots; watermelon

Desserts this week were blueberry baked oatmeal, and olive oil orange cake with coconut cream whipped cream.

Next week’s menu plan includes two meals with meat, one new recipe, one old favorite I haven’t made for a long time, a Japanese vegetarian meal, and our regular pizzas and cheese board:

  • Curried lentils
  • Zaru soba with chilled tofu
  • Grilled lemon chicken
  • Pasta with red pepper alfredo sauce
  • Hamburgers
  • Mini pizzas
  • Cheese board

Our weekly walking plan did not go particularly well this past week. We did a perimeter walk on Monday and found one golf ball. On Tuesday we spent a long afternoon at the beach (we did get a walk in from our car to the beach and back though), and Wednesday was our big shopping day. We end up putting in well over two miles on a shopping day and I finish feeling exhausted, not just from walking the stores while pushing a cart but from carrying all the food upstairs and putting it away once we get home. It rained both Thursday and Friday (and I went to the emergency room on Thursday), and Saturday looked sketchy but we headed up to the park any way and were able to get in another perimeter walk without getting wet. Brett’s eagle eye found us an additional five golf balls, so a good haul for the week, all things considered.

I always plan my daily calorie intake without exercise added in because stuff happens and a daily walk isn’t guaranteed. I sure miss walking though on the days when we don’t get to go. Maybe I’ve become addicted to endorphins that get released when we walk, but I know I always feel so much better after a walk, and sleep better as well. I rarely experience any pain after walking these days, another benefit of our getting out most days.

Sunday Morning 7/4/2021: Happy Fourth of July!

It looked like Monday was going to be our only pretty sunset this week . . .

Good morning! Aloha kakahiaka! And, happy Fourth of July! We have no big plans here for the day other than to grill some burgers this evening and finish with some s’mores. Otherwise it’s going to be a typical relaxed Sunday although it’s currently raining so who knows how the day will turn out. Costco and Walmart were both well-stocked with fireworks this past week, which we were more than able to resist. It’s most likely going to be noisy this evening, but hopefully not as much as it typically is on New Year’s Eve.

Costco’s fireworks selection – I wouldn’t be surprised if they were sold out by yesterday.

I’ve gotten five more orders this week from my Etsy shop! I have been getting lots of views, been favorited by a few people, and have received my first five-star review! Creating listings and getting things packed for shipping have been real work though and kept me far busier than I expected. We have almost reclaimed our living room although instead of hashioki everywhere there are now stacks of shipping materials to deal with. I had to take a couple of days off from creating listings this past week because between taking photographs and writing things up and all the other things going on it was becoming a bit overwhelming. On the plus side I’m so pleased that I’m getting orders – I honestly wasn’t expecting anything to happen at all for a few weeks. I’m still waiting on updated photos of some items to come back from WenYu – she’s had a lot going on recently, but we talked this past week and they’ll be on their way soon. Meiling has also said she’s ready to Photoshop a couple more sets of photos for me as well. I’m guessing that after this initially flurry of orders things are going to calm down for a while, but that’s fine with me. Slow and steady is the way to go.

Another batch of hashioki ready to be photographed and listed.

This past Thursday afternoon while I was writing I had a sudden onset of chest pain. It was quite strong, and felt like a band was being tightened around my chest. I waited to see if it subsided and got up and did a few things hoping it would go away (like make a salad for our dinner), and then finally went in and told Brett I thought maybe I should go to the emergency room. I have a family history of heart disease and know that women’s heart attack symptoms don’t always come across like men’s and can mimic other illnesses. So, about 40 minutes after the onset of pain we arrived at the ER, and they could have not been more lackadaisical about things if they tried. Almost 15 years ago I went to the ER in Portland with chest pains, caused by the statin I was taking as it turned out, but I was immediately whisked into a room and work and tests were started immediately to determine whether or not I was having a heart attack. On Thursday I was directed to sit in the waiting room, and after about five minutes was called into the triage nurse who told me it was “probably just a gastric issue” but she would order an EKG. It was another 15 minutes before that was done and then I was sent back to the waiting room once again. After over two hours of waiting I told Brett we were leaving – the waiting room was not crowded at all, but there a couple of others who had been there longer than we had and they weren’t being seen. My pain was lessening, I was feeling somewhat better, and figured if someone wasn’t going to read my EKG and report to me in less than two hours I probably hadn’t had a heart attack and there was no reason for me to hang around. By the time I went to bed that night the pain had resolved and I’ve felt fine since. It probably was a gastric issue, but it sure felt unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced, so it’s something I’ll discuss the next time I see my doctor. The entire experience was extremely frustrating, especially since we’ve had good experiences with the hospital previously, so I’m not sure what was going on this past week.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finally finished The Spy Who Came In From the Cold this past week, and put the next book in the series on hold at the library. I have started Shadowland, by Peter Straub, in the meantime. I read it when it first came out in 1980,, but it’s a creepy book and I want to see if it’s as thrilling now as it was then. I also put The Magus, by John Fowles, on hold, another book of mystery I read and loved a long time ago.
  • Listening to: It’s kind of noisy around here this morning. Brett’s banging around in the kitchen (making coffee, putting dishes away, etc.) and outside it’s quite wet and blustery with the wind roaring through the trees. It’s also somewhat humid but at least it’s cool and the breeze flowing through the apartment is wonderful. Hopefully this all clears out by this evening so we can barbecue and for everyone else’s fireworks.
  • Watching: Brett and I started a new show this past week: Marcella. So far we like it although we’ve never watched a show that’s gone in so many directions so quickly – it’s been hard to keep up at times. The show has got three seasons for us to get through, which makes us happy. I’ve started watching five episodes of Great British Menu each evening, enough to get me through a round of Swagbucks. The finals episodes are longer though, so two of them are enough at a time. I’m eventually going to have to find something new to watch.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: I am satisfied with all the hashioki I got listed this past week. It was a challenge at times but I’m getting closer to being done and organized, with around 20 more groups to go. I’ve been able to get all the orders sent out the next day in spite of having to scrounge for packing materials at times. Our big food shopping trip was a success this past week, and we did better than we have on previous trips. Otherwise it was just the regular stuff getting done all week.
  • Looking forward to next week: We’ve got nothing on our calendar – every day is our own to plan whatever we feel like doing. Hopefully it will be a bit less chaotic than this past week seemed to be.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: 1) I had five sales this week from my Etsy shop, have been favorited by several people, and received my first five-star review. 2) I did not have a heart attack. 3) We enjoyed a long afternoon at the beach on Tuesday which included another monk seal visit. It’s so exciting to see them as they’re highly endangered. 4) We had an exhausting but successful shopping trip on Wednesday, and 5) we sold another item in less than half an hour on our local Buy & Sell. That’s one more thing out of the house!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: I continue to use the packing materials we had on hand to send out orders, but I did order a few shipping materials from Amazon (bubble wrap, boxes, and foam sheets) that were either unavailable or too expensive here on the island. However, at one location we checked they were stocking shelves and I was able to pick up some small boxes for free that are perfect for mailing hashioki. Every little bit helps! Other than the above Amazon order and our planned food shopping trip we had a no-spend week. We miraculously stayed under budget with our big food shopping expedition, and we put $10.13 into the change/$1 bill bag. I earned 1,861 Swagbucks, and it looks like I will be getting a 600 SB bonus for June’s efforts. All the leftovers were eaten and nothing was thrown away. The most expensive food you buy is the stuff you throw away.
  • Grateful for: I’m very thankful for (and surprised by) all the interest shown in my little Etsy shop, and grateful for the purchases that have been made. I’m also very grateful for and pleased by for the review I’ve received and the personal messages I’ve received from buyers. All of it gives me hope that I’ll be successful in finding new homes for our Japanese things.
The colors of my wardrobe these days.
  • Bonus Question: What colors of clothing do you tend to gravitate towards? I tend to wear mostly various shades of blue these days as well as some black and gray, and I have a few white tops. I have to keep gray away from my face though because of my gray hair, but my glasses are blue so that helps break it up. At my high school girls had to wear either a gray skirt or gray jumper every day, and I still have bad memories and associations from that and greatly dislike wearing gray from the waist down. Gray sweaters or t-shirts are OK though. My favorite color is bright spring green but the only thing I own in that color right now is a lightweight insulated vest that doesn’t get worn in Hawaii but is great for traveling. Indigo blue of any shade is also a favorite and I own lots of pieces for both hot and cold weather in different shades of indigo that I can mix and match, both for here and for traveling. I tried wearing navy blue on our first Big Adventure but didn’t like it at all and the pieces I brought mostly sat in my suitcase the entire time. I really don’t care for pastels of any shade either, and I won’t wear pink any more. I prefer solid colors over prints – I think I’ve only got three or four warm weather tops that are prints these days and I don’t wear them often.

With the launching of the Etsy shop I’ve developed three additional small income streams going into our travel savings account. A few months ago I couldn’t think of how we were ever going to bring in anything extra short of selling all our stuff, but these three streams added a few hundred dollars to our account last month and hopefully that will continue. I’m not expecting them to be consistent from month to month, but along with selling at least one item on our local Buy & Sell each month the money that comes in will help bring us over the finish line for next year’s travels and our next big adventure in 2023. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Happy Fourth of July!
(Photo credit: Nong Vang/Unsplash)

That’s all for this week! I hope you have a glorious Fourth of July celebration today, whether that’s at a picnic with friends or family, a parade, or home in front of the TV or whatever you do. Here’s hoping the holiday will be a great start to a great week ahead!