May you, your family, and your friends be surrounded by all the things that bring you Christmas cheer, and reminded of all the things that bring you happiness and hope.
Wishing all who celebrate a very merry Christmas!
Hanukkah sameach! Wishing all who celebrate a happy and peaceful Hanukkah along with best wishes for the coming year.
In spite of breakdowns, storms, squalls, delayed flights with late departures, and middle-of-the-night arrivals, the girls (and one boyfriend) all eventually made it to Portland this past week. Meiling left yesterday morning for a couple of days down in Eugene with K and his family, but she’ll be back tomorrow. Currently, the girls are awaiting a few more of their packages to arrive, but otherwise, we all are ready for Wednesday’s festivities. And my goodness, these girls still eat a LOT! I’m frankly shocked by how much they can still put away. Meiling received some big news the day after she arrived: although she has been at her job less than two months, apparently she has made a very good impression because this past Thursday she learned her manager would be leaving the company to take a position elsewhere . . . and she was asked to take over the manager’s position! She was initially very stressed by the offer, torn between wanting the increase in salary/benefits versus the added stress she’d be taking on, at least for the first few months. However, with encouragement from her manager and several others in the company, and from her boyfriend and Brett and me, she has decided to accept the position and is getting prepped. Her manager, who Meiling adores, is already helping her with the transition and will continue to serve as her mentor even after she leaves. To say Brett and I are impressed and proud of this girl would be an understatement.
Brett had a follow-up appointment this past week with the doctor regarding the endocrinology issue that was discovered this past summer. The doctor wants him to have surgery to remove a misfiring parathyroid gland in the coming year, but how and when he will get this done is going to be a challenge as we will be out of the U.S. for the first half of the year, and not be back in Portland for at least a year. Thankfully the issue is not as troublesome as it was last summer, nor is the surgery urgent. We’ve already checked on whether this was something he could have done in Japan while we’re there, at the naval hospital, but we found out that endocrinology is not handled there; patients requiring the same surgery as Brett would either be sent back to the U.S. or out to a Japanese hospital. Anyway, fitting this in is going to affect future plans one way or another as it’s a very delicate procedure and the doctor did not recommend getting it done just anywhere.
I will be taking the next week off from the blog but will be back next Sunday. I am so ready for the big day on Wednesday – the girls are here, almost all the gifts have arrived and have been wrapped, and all the food has been bought and is ready to prepare. Beyond the holiday hoopla, I’m planning to bask in the simple joy of our family being together. I know our time together will fly by, but I’m going to enjoy every moment we get.
This morning I am:
No matter what you celebrate this coming week, or with whom, or whether you celebrate at all, I hope everyone has the holiday they hope for and makes wonderful memories in some way. I know it can be a difficult time for some (it was for me for many years), so take care of yourself and your heart, and ask for help if you need it. For all, I wish a time of comfort, peace, calm, and love.
Happy holidays to all!
I didn’t post anything on I’m Losing It Here about Christmas in 2009, and have no memories of what we did or didn’t do that year. Brett and I may not have exchanged gifts, and presents for the girls may have been less than usual but I don’t remember anything other than it was a grim time for us. We probably still put up a big tree at the beginning of the month, but anything else about how we spent Christmas that year is lost in a fog.
However, I clearly remember writing the post below a year later, in early December 2010. I had accumulated a lot of heavy baggage from my childhood about Christmas, and 2010 was the year I was finally able to let all that baggage go and truly enjoy the holiday for the first time. We continue to enjoy simple Christmases these days with gifts kept to a minimum. As our oldest daughter said earlier this year, “Mom, it’s not about the presents anymore. It’s about us being together.” So, although this post jumps a little bit ahead in our get-out-of-debt story, I think it’s worth sharing now.
(I’ve also decided to use Brett’s name instead of other references to him because they were driving me nuts and I can only imagine what it is like for readers.)
This Year’s Christmas Non-Shopping
Christmas was not a happy, festive time at our home when I was growing up, and I don’t have any warm, fuzzy memories about those times. Christmas seemed to be another financial burden as well as a nuisance to be borne by my parents. While my dad didn’t deliberately choose the Charlie Brown Christmas tree, we usually seemed to get the nearest thing to it, with our tree shedding most of its needles before it ever came through the door. Christmas lists were eagerly drawn up by my siblings and myself every year but I don’t remember ever once receiving anything I asked and hoped for. Parsimony ruled the day unless it was for hockey gear for my brothers, then no expense was spared. The worst Christmas gift I can recall receiving (and there are many to choose from) was the November and December volumes from a Time-Life series of books my parents subscribed to and that the whole family shared. My mom wrapped the two books and put them under the tree for my gift that year. I dreaded going back to school after the holidays because I didn’t want to hear about or see all the wonderful and thoughtful gifts my friends and classmates had received.
The gifts we children gave were unimaginative as well, but there wasn’t much you could buy for five other people with a dollar or two (we didn’t get an allowance, so our funds were from pennies we had saved throughout the year). My father eventually would pass out a little money to me and my siblings in early December, but before that happened I remember giving him a bar of Dial soap for several years (and him acting thrilled) or giving my mom a bottle of “Evening In Paris” perfume from the dime store one year. She was not thrilled, but then who could be?
As you can imagine, I collected a whole lot of baggage along the way about Christmas and how it should be celebrated. After Brett and I got married, I was determined that Christmas was going to be the happiest, most exciting time of the year, with a big tree, the house decorated to the nines, lots of baking and parties, and presents, presents, presents! Money was no object, not at Christmas, even if we didn’t have it, and I tried to fulfill every wish on everyone’s list as well as knock their socks off with something totally unexpected and wonderful. As you can probably imagine, we incurred debt every year at Christmas and spent the first few months of the year paying it off.
This year is the first where we’ve had a realistic budget for Christmas, one that we’re adhering to. It’s amazing how freeing it is. There’s been no agonizing over how we’re going to pay for Christmas. We’re spending less than half of what we did in the past, supplemented with Amazon credit from Swagbucks. Each of the girls will receive one “big,” special gift that Brett and I have carefully thought about and can afford, and another smaller gift from us (clothing). There’ll be a few small things in each of their stockings, but that’s all. We cut back the amount to be spent on each “Secret Santa” gift to $25 or less per person (we exchange names within the family, including our son and daughter-in-law), and the girls have had fun thinking of useful or much-desired gifts that fit within the budget. For gifts outside of our immediate family, we are either not giving anything this year, at least not now, or giving homemade treats. We’re also keeping decorations to a minimum, with a small tree on a table this year versus our usual 7-foot noble fir.
You know what the best part is? I’m just as excited about Christmas this year as I’ve ever been. So are the girls and Brett. Being on a budget has not made us feel stifled; in fact, we’ve found we’re having a lot more fun and being more creative and thoughtful about our gift-giving in the process. Who knew?
It appears I’ve finally tossed all that old baggage out for good. Bring on the holidays!
Tokyo is not an inexpensive city to visit or reside in but over the years we’ve discovered that there are ways to keep costs down. Brett and I are going to be on a very tight budget during our three-month visit early next year because of the cost of our lodging, and also because of what we’re putting away each month for YaYu’s college expenses and the small amount that’s going into savings each month. By the time those three things are accounted for out of our net income, we will only have around $800/month left to cover our daily living expenses. We’ll be bringing all our frugal skills to bear in order to not overspend during the time we’re there, and I have to admit upfront it’s going to be a challenge.
Currently, there is a good exchange rate between the dollar and yen, and if it holds we should be OK. If the dollar starts dropping though we may run into trouble, or have to reduce expenses and what we put away into savings and for YaYu in order for us to make it in Japan.
Our housing costs in Japan are nearly a third again more per month than what we typically pay for lodging, but much, much less than what we’d pay through Airbnb in Tokyo. It’s shocking to see what teeny, tiny studios in the city are going for on Airbnb these days, so we feel very fortunate to be able to rent again from last year’s host. The monthly amount isn’t cheap but it covers not only rent but all utilities as well, and gives us the luxury of a nicely furnished one-bedroom apartment with a well-equipped kitchen, a nice bathroom, and a washing machine. The apartment’s location is fantastic too – it’s in a great neighborhood just one subway stop from our son’s place and three stops away from Shibuya, a major Tokyo transportation and shopping hub.
Here’s the spending plan we’ve come up with for each month in order to stay within our $800/month budget:
Sadly, for now, Brett has decided to forego calligraphy lessons during this stay. The tuition for weekly lessons plus the transportation costs for getting there and back (around ¥10,000 per month) are a luxury he feels we cannot afford this time. However, yen that is remaining at the end of the month will be rolled over until the next, which will mean a lower amount we have to convert for that month. If there’s enough left over out of our $800/budget I think the extra should go toward these lessons. We’ll see.
Our time Japan next year will be all about living a good, but frugal, life in an expensive place. Our goal is to find a path for getting more for less and discovering ideas and solutions that can be applied when visiting other expensive locations.
Brett and I enjoyed a lovely, laid-back week – lots of sleeping in, lazy days, wonderful get-togethers with friends, good food, but things are going to change this week because beginning on Wednesday . . . the girls start to arrive! Meiling arrives after 10:00 Wednesday night, WenYu arrives at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, and YaYu comes in after 10:00 p.m. on Friday. We are more than ready for their arrivals, and so excited we can hardly stand it! We did get to spend time with Meiling this past June for her graduation, and YaYu was in and out of Portland on either side of her time in Japan for the summer, but we haven’t see WenYu for almost a year so are greatly looking forward to being together with her again. As far as how we’ll be spending our time, we’ll pretty much go along with whatever the girls want to do.
I had another rough week as far as my stomach troubles go, but I saw the doctor on Thursday evening and I’m trying some new stuff and hoping to get things turned around. The doctor’s main concern is that what I’ve experienced since I stopped taking the PPI on December 2 is not normal. An E-consult was set with a gastroenterologist – he has already reviewed bloodwork (which was normal), symptoms, reading my chart, etc. and will eventually make a recommendation, and in much less than time than I would have spent waiting for a regular appointment. So far all that I know is that several things that could be causing the issue have been ruled out (bleeding ulcer, Hep C, bacterial infection). My doctor feels the gastroenterologist will be ordering an endoscopy before we leave Portland to see if he can find out what’s going on. In the interim, she prescribed Pepcid to help with the symptoms. Brett and I stopped at Winco on the way home from the doctor’s and picked up a package to carry me over until my prescription arrives, and I felt almost immediate relief when I took the first one but unfortunately, it only lasted a few hours before the pain was back with a vengeance. It’s helping more each day though, and I can take it indefinitely as it does not cause the problems the other medication does. I am not used to being or feeling unwell so hopefully what’s going on can be diagnosed and a solution found soon. On the plus side, I found out that for all the scones, clotted cream, and jam I ate over in England (as well as the shortbread, etc.) I had only gained six pounds from what I weighed this past summer. I’m taking that as a win.
This morning I am:
I was very happy and surprised by the reaction I got to this past week’s post from my old blog, I’m Losing It Here. It’s been interesting to go through the old posts and see what I was writing back then (I’m shocked though by how bad the photos were. They were beyond abysmal. All hail the iPhone!). What stands out is how much we learned going through the experience of ridding ourselves of so much debt – it truly changed us forever. I’m planning to share around one re-post a week to share our story and how we got where we are today.
We have an exciting, busy week coming up but I have a couple of posts ready to go, including another “Back to the Future” installment. I also plan to post next Sunday but after that will be taking the week after off for the holiday. In the meantime, here’s hoping that your week included lots of good food, good friends, good books, and all sorts of good things happening for you! And here’s to a great week coming up!
Several commenters on the “10 Years a Blogger” post wrote that they would be interested in reading posts from my earlier blogs. While the administrative duties of managing more than one blog are more than I want to take on, about midway through answering comments I realized I could still share selected posts from those blogs. So, I’ve decided to start by offering up one of the earliest posts I wrote from I’m Losing It Here, and if readers are interested in knowing more about how our story progressed I’ll continue to share more.
The post below, published on December 31, 2009, is actually the third in an initial series I wrote in December 2009 when I started I’m Losing It Here. I called the series “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” The first two posts were about losing weight (that at least had been going somewhat well), but the main effort behind starting the blog was to document facing and getting rid of the massive amount of debt (over $65K) we had accrued. Part III: The Ugly was the beginning of that story.
BTW, Brett initially did not want me to use his name, so it won’t show up in I’m Losing It Here posts. He’s always “my husband” or “Mr. Losing It” or something along those lines.
Part III: The Ugly
If debt were categorized like weight, my husband I would be considered beyond morbidly obese. We are drowning in deep, massive debt. While we are still able to pay all our bills on time and put food on the table, we finally had to accept at the end of this year that it had gotten out of hand, and we had to get rid of it or we would sink and drown.
Up to and during 2008, times were good. My husband got tons of overtime so paychecks were big and fat. I didn’t have to work, and stayed busy volunteering at my children’s’ schools, or driving them to their activities, or back and forth from school. We put money away each month and were able to pay cash for our 8-day Disney vacation in early December 2008. When I went to the grocery store or Costco, I filled my cart with whatever caught my eye or whatever I thought might be tasty. While we didn’t shower the kids with anything or everything their hearts’ desired at the moment, there still was no problem getting them new clothes and shoes when they needed them, or paying for field trips or school supplies. I bought myself and my husband new clothes now and then without worry (although I’m actually not a big shopper). We had a new patio installed and some other landscaping done because the financing was so good and we felt we could afford the payments. The spike in gasoline prices wasn’t an issue, mainly because one of our cars is a hybrid and also because we are just not that into driving all over the place. There was no problem paying for the children’s music lessons, braces, etc. We thankfully have good medical insurance and were healthy all year so we didn’t have any major expenses in that area either. When we came home from our Disney trip, my husband had received a nice bonus from work which paid for everything for Christmas. He also received a nice cost-of-living raise on his military retirement.
Things started to change late October 2008 when my husband’s manager announced that effective immediately, there would be no more overtime (note: The amount of work coming in for Brett did not cease nor diminish, however – it just began to back up). We had forgotten how small his regular paycheck was, but with what we had put away we were able to continue to cover expenses. His employer also announced that there would be no pay increases for anyone in 2009, which caused us to take a small gulp. I decided I needed to find something to bring in a little money, but something that would not interfere with the children’s activities or school schedule, and in February of 2009 I started work as a kitchen assistant in a nearby elementary school. It’s a fun job, but my once-a-month paychecks did not even begin to make up the overtime pay we had lost. We got a large tax refund in March, which I put away, but by July it was all gone, used again to cover our monthly expenses. We dipped into our overdraft accounts and ran them up to their limits, then broke out the credit cards in August. Even without shopping sprees, or fancy vacations, they were up to their (high) limits by the end of the year after covering emergency medical expenses, car repairs, and some home repairs. I personally began to be afraid that we would run out of food, and looking back I realize I spent an awful lot on food. Our pantry was always filled to overflowing as was a storage shelf out in the garage. But eventually, I had to dig into that as well as I had less and less per week to spend on groceries as we struggled to cover our mounting payments.
In early October we decided to sell one of our cars, the hybrid. It had low mileage, was in great condition and its value was way over what we owed. We had all of two serious lookers, and both of them offered far less than it was worth. We decided to keep it when we saw how much our gasoline bill spiked when we were driving our other car, a VW Passat wagon. With the hybrid, we only needed to fill the tank once a month, with the Passat it was once a week. We didn’t want to get rid of the VW though as it was the only car that could fit all of us (as well as our dogs) if we ever wanted or needed to go somewhere as a family.
In early December, we tried to refinance our house to lower our payment. No cash-out was requested, just a lower payment. After shelling out for the appraisal (based on the bank’s conditional pre-approval), running paperwork back and forth, we were denied final approval because our debt-to-income ratio was too high and because we had no cash to bring to the closing.
Thankfully I had already purchased everything for Christmas, but otherwise, by mid-December, we had hit rock-bottom. It was a come-to-Jesus time for us and our debt.
I rarely have given a thought to how long I’ve been blogging, but this past weekend it struck me that it was 10 years ago this month that I first started out. Ten years? How did that happen? That’s a lot of writing under the bridge.
Some readers may remember that my first blog was I’m Losing It Here, all about our family’s efforts to get out of debt along with me (once again) trying to lose weight. I started the blog because I thought that writing about the process would help me stay honest, motivated and on track. More for my own sake than any other reason, I blogged about our ups and downs, what we were learning along the way, and eventually even shared a frugal recipe or two. Writing about that journey truly kept me sane, and I learned much along the way, not only about the process of ridding ourselves of debt, but about myself as well. I can’t begin to tell how surprised I was though to discover one day that others had somehow found I’m Losing It Here and were actually reading what I had to say. And, some were sticking around to read more. And then following me! And commenting too! As a beginning blogger you hope to attract readers, but when you actually do . . . WOW!
Getting ourselves out of debt, according to Dave Ramsey, should have taken 11 months. It actually took over three years because stuff happens, especially when you have three kids at home, but in 2013 Brett was able to retire (something we initially had no idea could happen), and we had segued into getting ready to move to Hawai’i, to the island of Kaua’i. The blog segued as well to Noho’ana Hau’ole: Life Is Good, which chronicled our steps in downsizing, selling our stuff, selling our house, and finally making our big move in June of 2014. Once again, writing kept me focused and on track as we completed our goals and set new ones every month along with everything else that went along with making such a big move.
Once in Hawai’i, the blog changed again, this time because WordPress initially refused to coordinate with our new IP provider. The View From the Treehouse, named after the views from our first house on Kaua’i, focused on adjusting to life on a small island in the middle of the ocean and about all that beautiful little piece of rock had to offer. Brett came on board as well to add articles about his hikes around the island. The View sadly ended when the hosting company charged me more than double for my second year than what I had paid for the domain when I set it up.
And thus it was back to WordPress, and The Occasional Nomads came to be. I wasn’t ready to stop writing; in fact, at this point, I realized I almost needed to write more than wanted to write, and it was time once again to change my blogging’s focus and direction. While continuing to write about our life on Kaua’i, I also wanted to write about travel. Brett and I have always loved to travel, but at that time we were still in the dreaming stage about trips we might take once all our little birds had left the nest. Little did I guess when I started The Occasional Nomads that he and I would become actual full-time nomads, but as the saying goes, here we are. And what a ride it’s been! I know we’ll eventually slip back into being truly occasional nomads once again, and that I’ll be blogging about it, but we’re not there yet.
Back in the dark ages, in my senior year of high school, my English instructor predicted that I would someday write The Great American Novel. I’ve thought about it over the years, of writing about the daily minutia of life, the dreams, the goals, the small and the great struggles, and the successes and failures that regular people endure or celebrate every day as they create and make a life. But a novel isn’t in me. So instead I’ve documented the life I’ve made, the life I’m still creating, and the dreams we’re fulfilling. As our son once said, I like the sound of my own voice. It’s why I’m going to keep writing.
And to all who have found me and kept reading over the years, thank you. Without your validation, blogging over the years would have been nothing more than shouting into the wind. As most teachers will tell you, we always get back as much if not more from our students than we give out in the classroom, and it’s been the same with blogging – I feel like I’ve received far more over the years from readers than what I’ve produced. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some of you and becoming friends for life. Your kindness, support, and advice (and putting up with numerous typos, misspelled and misplaced words) have meant the world to me. I hope you’ll all stick around to see what happens next.
After a stop at Trader Joes, Brett and I moved over to our long-term rental last Sunday morning, and all I can say is this place is fantastic! It looked good in the pictures but it’s even better in reality. The spacious two-bedroom apartment was built into the attic of a 100-year-old Craftsman home, and you can tell the hosts had a lot of fun decorating and equipping the home for guests. I especially love the huge dining table we have this year as well as the big desk for Brett to work at, and all the room we’ll have to spread out when the girls are here. The house has everything we could possibly need as well because the hosts, a retired couple our ages, have really thought of everything. Every time we see them they ask if we need anything more, but so far we haven’t been able to come up with anything (they stopped by Friday evening with additional umbrellas for us). They’ve even offered to wash our towels and other linens for us (which we will do ourselves though). The neighborhood is nice too, quiet with lots of big, old Craftsman homes sitting on big lots, and we’re not too far away from WinCo, Costco, and other stores as well as the airport (but far enough away that we’re not bothered by jet noise).
We enjoyed some pretty nice weather for several days we arrived in Portland, with blue skies on many days which helped my mood considerably. However, rain arrived on Friday and had continued for the past few days so we’re dealing with that once again. We took care of most of our big shopping errands this past week though so as long as the weather remains damp Brett and I will spend time indoors. We will be getting together with friends a couple of times this week though and I’ve got a medical appointment next Thursday evening.
The doctor I saw last summer wanted me to stop the medication I’d been taking for GERD when my prescription finished (because it negatively affects my bone density) and I took the last pill a week ago. The heartburn came right back, worse than ever, so I’m heading back to see her this coming week to find out what’s going on (and hopefully new medication). I’ll also be getting a DPT booster and a flu shot, and whatever else she recommends.
This morning I am:
Overall, I’m enjoying the calm of being back in Portland, of being in familiar territory, so to speak. I like knowing my way around and the convenience of having a car again to get to places, although we did fine without one last summer. We’ve already been talking about coming back next year, but with the intent of going through all the stuff we have in storage with the girls and letting them take the things they want, and then downsizing the rest even more. We neither miss nor have deep feelings these days about most of the stuff we kept. We’ll see though – it will depend on whatever we finally come to a decision about the keep traveling/settle down divide we’re currently working our way through.
That’s a wrap for this week! It was a good one for us, and I hope a good one for everyone else as well. Here’s to another week of good food, good times, good friends, good books, and good health for everyone as the holiday season approaches.
Often it’s the small things that can turn a good journey into a great one. During the last giveaway, I asked those who entered to post their favorite travel tips and they generously shared ones covering topics from health to packing to souvenirs.
Below are 30 great ways to make your next travel adventure even better. I’ve added a few of my own as well:
On the Road:
On the ground:
Any travel experience will be as good as you make it, and adding a few new tricks along with having a positive attitude can and will improve any journey.
After two frustrating months of being over budget while we were in the UK, we had a very good month in November and ended up with a daily spending average of $29.93! We had an overall daily spending average for our entire three months in the UK of $38.30, not where we hoped to be but not as bad as it could have been.
The main reason November was a less expensive month was that other than our quick trip to Bath and another over to Stratford-upon-Avon, we really didn’t go anywhere. We didn’t even get out that much in Blockley! While the gloomy weather was frankly depressing and kept us indoors much of the time, it also meant there were fewer chances for spending. Winding down our food shopping at the end of our stay helped to keep costs down as well. Our daily average was low enough that our (expensive) dinner at the village cafe, our travel day spending, and a quick trip to Trader Joe’s after we arrived in Portland didn’t take us over $30.
We’re sticking with our $35/day spending average in December. While food spending is going to be higher than usual this month it’s really our only expense other than gas for the minivan. Being very careful and sticking to our list is going to be key to not going over budget this month (we’ve done a good job of this so far). I’ve made a menu for when the girls are here, but they all still have big appetites and I hope everything I’ve planned will be enough for them without us having to overspend. We hope to be able to go out together once for dim sum, but a trip over to IKEA for some Swedish meatballs may be all we can afford (thankfully the girls love those meatballs).