Should We Do That?

Although we’ve recently been focusing on the idea of a big road trip, Brett and I talk almost daily about what we want to do and where we want to go when our time in Nashville is over. Mazatlan? Big road trip? New England? Settle down somewhere else in the U.S.? Something else? All of these appeal to us in one way or another, but they all come with pros and cons, and we’re grateful we have the time and opportunity now to examine all of them more deeply. It’s fun to have possibilities or to sketch out rough plans, and it gives us plenty to talk and think about together, but we’re not getting any closer to making a decision, let alone the right one. All we know for certain now is what we don’t want.

We decided this past weekend that it was time we set up a spread sheet. We need to define what we want and will need going forward, and then evaluate the different ideas and places we’ve come up with using those criteria. We’ve made a list of nine items once again, but unlike the past when many of our criteria were in support of our daughters and how a relocation would affect them, the focus this time was solely on our needs as aging retirees. We need to have a logical system for evaluating choices versus getting wrapped up in ideas that have us potentially changing our mind every couple of months or even weeks. Spontaneity, creativity, adventure, and trying something new have always played a strong role in our decision making, but this time is different.

Below is our list of nine criteria to evaluate the potential of particular locations or travel ideas. None of these have been ranked (yet) as being any more important than any other except for cost of living/affordability and healthcare. We discovered when we did this the last time that as we went through the process of evaluation our wants and needs mostly sorted themselves out and ranked themselves without our intervention. Back in 2014, much to our surprise, Kaua’i met eight of our nine criteria, but I don’t think that lightening is going to strike again. Our nine criteria this time are:

  • Cost of living/affordability
  • Healthcare/dental care
  • Housing
  • Proximity to family
  • Adventure/activities
  • Climate
  • Transportation
  • Taxes
  • Senior services

We have less than two years until it will be time to move on, and we’d like to know sooner rather than later where we’re going and what we need to be doing to get there in the most cost effective and efficient way. We’re fortunate to have a variety of choices and time on our side for now, but we know we have to get it right. There will be no more do-overs for us this next time.

Sunday Morning 10/23/2022: BRRRRR!

The sky was blue and the sun was shining, but boy was it COLD!

Cold weather officially arrived this past week in middle Tennessee, with overnight temperatures dipping below freezing on three nights and temperatures in the low- to mid-50s during the day. Thing have warmed up a bit since (temperatures are back into the 70s), but it’s still cooler overall than it was the week before. It was definitely the week though to break out the warm socks, sweaters, and fleece, Kai included! The complex had notices posted mid-week about keeping the heat on and letting faucets drip at night so pipes didn’t freeze, but except for one morning our living room has pretty much stayed right around 70 degrees without turning on the heat – so far so good. Our bedroom temperature is cooler, but perfect for sleeping.

Little dog in a big, warm sweater!

At eight months old, Kaipo has suddenly ramped up his chewing and boy have we had to watch him carefully this past week. One day he snuck into a corner out of sight and chewed through his harness! He also chewed two small holes in his new sweater, and sometimes even wanted to chew (not bite) our hands. He has lots of chew toys and “bones” (no rawhide) and uses them every day but this past week he’s become a lot more interested in things like shoes, laundry, etc. He is a fun, affectionate puppy but it’s truly like having a rambunctious toddler in the house right now.

A rare moment when he wasn’t chewing on something. Thankfully so far he’s left the furniture alone.

There will be no Sunday post next weekend because we are heading out of town on Friday with M & K to visit western North Carolina over the weekend. We’ll be staying two nights in Boone, leaving Friday afternoon to drive over, then visiting the surrounding area and driving some of the Blue Ridge Parkway on Saturday. On Sunday we’ll visit the Biltmore House and Gardens in Asheville before heading home. I’m going to try to write a post for Monday instead, but give no guarantees.

We excited to see the Biltmore Estate wrapped in fall colors.

This morning I am thinking about:

  • What we accomplished last week: 1) We wanted a quiet week last this past week, we created one, and it was lovely. Other than picking up K after school every day (and taking her with us to shop at Trader Joe’s one afternoon) and Brett taking her to the school’s annual Family Fun Night on Friday (because M had a late meeting that evening), we stayed home and read, relaxed, and walked almost every day. 2) I finished two more books in my current library-imposed reading marathon, but still have three more downloaded books to go. 3) I had to organize the pantry again – it is so small and after a few weeks everything seems to end up a jumbled mess. I always assume it’s going to be a quick, easy chore but it never is because we have a lot of food in there (mea culpa).
K and her grandpa had a very good time at her school’s annual Family Fun event!
  • What we’re looking forward to next week: 1) We’re hoping for another quiet, uneventful week topped off with good weather and a wonderful visit to North Carolina. 2) Once again there’s nothing on our calendar we have to do so we plan to continue reading, relaxing, and walking although we will shop next week at Costco, Aldi, and Target.

I miss Kauai’s views, but am loving all the fall colors in Tennessee.

  • Healthy eating and exercise: 1) We took only four two mile walks – we took last Sunday off, and then Thursday and Friday we didn’t walk because early I developed a chest cold (not Covid) that made breathing in the cold uncomfortable plus I just felt miserable. I have been missing the beautiful ocean views we had while we walked in Hawaii, but there are still beautiful things to see here and it’s a good workout for us without having to get in the car and go somewhere. 2) Healthy meals this past week were a medley of samosas from Trader Joe’s along with naan bread (I think TJ’s samosas are almost spicier than the ones we ate in India!); chicken pot pie; fried rice with shrimp & vegetables; chicken in Thai red curry sauce with steamed rice and a wedge salad; pumpkin ravioli with cacio e pepe sauce and roasted zucchini; roasted red pepper & tomato soup; and wonton soup with spinach. Lunches were either apples and cheese(s), or leftovers.
  • How we saved: 1) We got through almost the whole week without turning on the heat (we turned it on for two hours on Thursday morning), and did just three loads of clothes (washed in cold water), so a good low energy use week. 2) We went to Trader Joe’s on Wednesday, and Aldi on Thursday, and still have $120 of our monthly food allowance left over for savings as well as plenty of food. 3) We put $3.71 into the change/$1 bill jar. 4) I had to throw away two ears of corn that had gotten pushed to the back of the refrigerator and forgotten, but everything else and all leftovers were eaten. 5) Last Sunday was a no-drive day. We try for one day each week that the car stays parked, so that at the end of the year we have at least 52 days (over seven weeks) of not burning gas or putting wear and tear on our car. So far this year, with our time in Mexico removed, we’ve had 11 days in Tennessee where our car (and the two of us) have stayed home, and 41 overall for the year.
The change/$1 bill jar is an actual jar again versus a plastic bag. We’ve saved nearly $70 in it since we left Massachusetts back in August.
  • Good things that happened: 1) I started a new medication for my stomach this past week, and oh, what a difference! The proof was being able to enjoy a big cup of tomato soup on Friday and not suffering mightily for it. I think I might be able to give up the baking soda in my coffee as well. 2) Otherwise, there were no big standouts this past week – everything was good (except for my cold, but it’s getting better)!

I noticed at Trader Joe’s the other day that the pumpkin items are on their way out – there are still a few available but stock is diminishing and some are gone completely – and they have already started stocking some Thanksgiving-related items, things like stuffing mixes, turkey stock, cranberry sauce, and gravy. Christmas items were already being put out at Target week before last and Costco has been fully stocked for Christmas for at least a month. We’re ready for the holidays as far as our gift shopping, but my goodness (old lady raises her fists and yells) could we hold off with the gift wrap, decor, candy, etc. until we at least get through Halloween? Can we have a moment to breathe between the holidays?

Time marches on though and another week has come to an end – it was a good one and I hope it was a good one as well for everyone reading. We’ve got another great week coming up with delicious and healthy food to eat, walks to take, good books to read, more fall color and an exciting getaway planned that we’re looking forward to. Bring it on!

Could We Do That?

Back in 2016, Could we do that? was the spark that began The Occasional Nomads’ Big Adventure. We were trying to pick a first location to visit after YaYu left for college from a list we’d put together when Brett said outlaid that he wished we could see them all. We looked at each other and both said, Could we do that? Everything that followed stemmed from that one question.

This past week we once again found ourselves asking each other, Could we do that?

Although we’ve been planning to relocate to Mexico when we leave Tennessee in 2024 we’re still feeling itchy to do a bit of travel first. This past week Brett and I were talking about possibilities for that and road trips came up. We’ve long dreamed of a road trip to visit all the western U.S. national parks, and it wasn’t long before we were asking each other, Could we do that?

We have a car again, and Brett loves to drive. I don’t enjoy driving as much as he does, but can do it and am otherwise a good passenger; long days in the car don’t faze me. Other than my remaining student loan balance we have no debt. Once it’s time to move on from Nashville we will have no obligations, nowhere we have to be at a certain time. It would be an ideal time to head out west and fulfill another dream and it would honestly be our last opportunity to undertake such a journey.

Could we do that?

Someone came up with an ultimate national park road trip map, but we’re only interested in doing the western portion.

We’ve been crunching numbers for the past few days, looking at maps, and gaming out what a big road trip like this might look like and involve. For a couple of days we got excited about camping along the way, and even looked at lightweight campers we could tow, but eventually realized that option didn’t really interest us – for a few days maybe, but not months of it. After figuring out possible expenses (primarily gas, lodging, and meals, storing our furniture) we figured out that by staying in pet-friendly budget motels/hotels and Airbnbs along the way, and sticking to a set daily food budget it would be affordable. We have a lifetime pass to national parks and monuments. We’re still trying to figure out what could be a workable route based on when we could leave but have also realized we need to research more about which parks are open when, which accept dogs and which don’t, and so forth. There’s lots to learn.

While we’re having a good time with this right now we’re still not quite ready to commit to something this big. There are too many unknowns for us right now, things like future gas prices or whether we will even feel up to taking on such a big project in another two years. Is this really even a good idea, we wonder? In spite of the unknowns, the idea is out there now and the big question has been asked.

Could we do that?

We’re beginning to think we just could.

Menu Planning In Retirement

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In the past, everything in our freezer, fridge, and pantry would have had a specific purpose. These days it will all get used, but there’s no rigid plan for much of the food we buy.

I have been a menu planner for a long, long time. I was never a natural at menu planning and it was was a task I got better at over a long period of time. Menu planning has saved us a lot of money over the years, but my way of doing it has changed and adapted to my/our needs through the years.

Prior to joining the navy and meeting Brett, I worked as a waitress (food and then cocktail). I made good money for the times, and my menu planning during those days consisted of deciding what I wanted to eat that day and then stopping by the store to pick it up using some of my tips from the day. If I felt like having a steak, I bought steak. If I felt like having a sandwich, I bought a sandwich or all the fixings, and so forth. I was young and had few financial responsibilities, and the idea of planning a daily menu and stocking a pantry never crossed my mind.

When Brett and I got together, we were both in the navy and had very little money left over for food once our monthly obligations were met (military pay was pitifully low then). Our dates consisted of long walks, occasionally stopping at the bowling alley on base to share a 90-cent grilled cheese sandwich and seeing a movie once a month at the base theater for $1 each. We otherwise dined together at the chow hall for free. After I left the navy and our son was born, we had $36 every two weeks in our budget for food, and I menu planned using the pantry method out of necessity. After buying formula, the rest of our groceries routinely consisted of a big box of Bisquik, a couple of smoked ham hocks, a package of chicken breasts, dried beans, pasta, a few produce items, a quart of milk, a dozen eggs, a pound of cheese, flour, and yeast. I baked bread, made soups and quiches and everything else from scratch, and we ate a lot of pancakes. Menu planning consisted of rotating through the meals we could make with what we had on hand.

As our income eased up over the years I segued into planning a more structured and varied menu. We still shopped every two weeks (based on military paydays), but I learned to go with a shopping list based on two weeks of planned (affordable) meals that offered variety. I enjoyed creating a meal plan and fitting in new recipes as well as fixing favorite dishes. I used this style of planning for the next 40 years, whether we had one child or three at home. Menus were made for two week periods, although for a while I tried making a monthly plan and shopping just once a month. I thought I would spend less that way, but eventually realized that instead of saving I was actually spending more, and stopping at the store more frequently for odds and ends I had forgotten. The two-week planning worked best for us.

Before we began traveling I told Brett I was tired of and done with planning and cooking, and I wanted to use more prepared foods, and eat more soup and sandwiches and Brett said it was fine with him. This turned out to be a great solution for life on the road because there were so many new and interesting foods to try in the countries we visited, and many prepared foods were in a different league all together than what’s available in the U.S. and were more affordable too. We often never knew what we’d find when we walked into a supermarket, and were grateful we could add items that looked delicious and were affordable. We kept to a budget, but we shopped with a very short list and chose items more randomly. The smaller refrigerators in Europe proved to be a bit of a challenge at times, but we somehow made it work.

The new normal in menu planning these days somewhat combines our initial “pantry planning” method with the more structured “menu planning” method. I create our meals these days out of what we have on hand along with adding in more prepared foods we know we will enjoy, but it’s far more random than before. I continue to do the shopping, but Brett and I work together ahead of time to make sure I purchase things he needs or would like to have or try. This new way still keeps our budget in line, but we’re buying and eating less meat than we thought we would and our meals are frankly more interesting and fun. Best of all, I’m no longer worn out, frustrated, or bored when it comes to meal planning and preparation. I have an idea at the beginning of each week of what I can and would like to fix for us based on what we have on hand, and then decide each day what that will be depending on how I feel.

Our current retirement menu planning would never have worked for us back in the day when we were raising our kids, but it’s a great fit for our lifestyle now. However, old skills are being put back into use again as I start to think about meals for when the whole family will be here for the holidays. Three are lactose intolerant, one is glucose intolerant, and one is vegan, so meals will have to be planned around those needs but not break the bank as well. It’s definitely a challenge but sort of fun too. However, I remain thankful this will only be a temporary assignment and afterwards Brett and I can return to our new normal.

Sunday Morning 10/16/2022: All Fall Down

There’s a reason it’s called Fall.

We thought we were going to have a somewhat relaxing week, at least up until our two full days with K, but we ended up busy every day and were very grateful for the arrival of this weekend. For a couple of days last week it seemed as if we could barely catch our breath! On the upside, the days went by quickly and lots was accomplished. We kept things very low key yesterday and the same today as well. I had another two books come off hold last week (seven in the last two weeks!) so I spent most of yesterday reading and will do the same today.

We got our first severe storm warnings on Wednesday! Boy, was it a surprise when those sirens went off – there’s no way anyone could ignore that sound. Brett and I had gotten home from a walk a couple minutes before they started, and we had noticed the sky darkening as well as the wind getting stronger as we walked, but had no idea big thunderstorms were on their way nor the potential for a tornado! Shortly after the storm arrived over us a lightning strike hit very close to our apartment – we about jumped out of our skins from the explosion! We’re very grateful though for the warning systems in place these days. A tornado passed very close to us in Memphis when our son was a few months old – there were no warnings back then. I happened to be in class on base (in the tornado shelter building!) but Brett had to shelter with our son in a closet under the stairs and listen to the wind sounding like a freight train and the windows buckling back and forth while the tornado passed by – very frightening.

On a different topic, I have been sort of stumped about what to continue to write about these days. We’re not traveling other than locally, and I write about that when it happens, but otherwise not much is going on. I’m not sure I have any great insights on retirement either other than the frugal choices we’ve made and about making the most of what you have. I have absolutely no interest in writing about politics, the economy, etc. I have a couple of posts coming up but overall I think I will be posting less frequently, maybe just once midweek with the Sunday Morning post to catch up on our week. There could be more if something exciting is going on though. Brett and I are still on track to head to Mexico following our time here in Tennessee, but a couple of other ideas have popped up in the meantime (don’t they always?) so they may show up here eventually if we decide they’re a better choice for us. If there’s anything you’d like to hear about, or hear more about, let me know.

Anyway, this morning I am thinking about:

  • What we accomplished this past week: 1) Kai finally got his haircut on Monday. We had a bit of a drive each way but the groomer was definitely worth it and she lived up to her reviews. Kai’s scheduled to go back for his next grooming at the beginning of Thanksgiving week, a six week schedule versus once a month. 2) We did our food shopping on Tuesday and have plenty to see us through until the end of the month, although we may have to pick up some more produce before then. 3) I saw the gastroenterologist on Wednesday and got scheduled for a colonoscopy in two weeks. However, it turns out my last one was less than ten years ago and Medicare will not pay for it (and I am not high risk) so I’m going to call tomorrow and cancel: I’ll reschedule next year. 4) We had two fun days with K on Thursday and Friday. K decorated her Halloween House, we watched some TV and read together, we walked (or rode a scooter), and she and I baked two dozen muffins (pumpkin raisin and chocolate chip). For Fabulous Friday we went to Sonic for milkshakes – yum! 5) I was selected to participate in the Beta testing of the student loan forgiveness application, so that has been completed (super easy) and will be in the first group processed.

A busy but fun couple of days with K

  • What we’re looking forward to this week: Hopefully this coming week will stay calmer than this past one. We have nothing on our calendar other than picking K up every day after school.
Love my new walking shoes!
  • Healthy eating & exercise: 1) We walked six days this past week, two miles each time. My new walking shoes are very comfortable and have made a big difference in my pace and how I feel at the end of walk. 2) Healthy meals this week included a couple of nights of leftovers (chicken noodle soup and falafel); cacio e pepe and sautéed string beans; pepperoni pizza; fish sandwiches, coleslaw, tater tots and onion rings; meatloaf, roasted potatoes, and broccoli; and chili shrimp with rice and cucumber.
  • How we saved: 1) We stayed well under budget with our grocery shopping. 2) We put $5.69 into the change/$1 bill jar. 3) The groomer’s fee was $25 less than we expected, a lovely surprise. 4) All of our leftovers were eaten and no food was thrown out – we focused on cleaning out the odds and ends from the freezer this past week (which is the reason we had tater tots and onion rings on the same night – each bag held enough for one person so I prepared both and we mixed them up).

Before and after

  • Good things that happened: 1) Kai went from scruffy to handsome with his haircut. We can’t get over how cute he looks, and can really see how he takes after his poodle dad in his build. 2) Kai also tried out his “bucking bronco” Halloween costume (a gift from Meiling) and it’s a hit! We have to hide the costume though if he’s not wearing it – he growls at the cowboy and tries to attack it. 3) My new HOKA walking shoes are wonderful. 4) The weather is getting cooler, in a good way (other than the thunderstorms). 5) We are very happy about the cost of living increases coming next year to our Social Security benefits as well as Brett’s military retirement. And, that Medicare payment will be decreasing as well. Hopefully the combination of a COLA increase and decrease in Medicare payments will give more seniors some breathing room next year and relieve some of the stress of this past year.
Autumn decor from nature

One of the things we’ve been enjoying on our walks is collecting items that we can temporarily incorporate into our apartment decor or for other purposes. Last week’s storm blew down a considerable number or Osage oranges/hedge apples and we picked up a few to display on our coffee table for a short while. There are also pinecones galore throughout the property and we’ve gathered some of those to use at Christmas, as well as some gnarly twigs I have plans to incorporate into a holiday decoration as well. K collects acorns when we’re out, and we’ve picked up leaves, seeds, and other natural items for Brett to sketch (he does beautifully detailed pencil drawings, almost like photographs).

That’s a wrap on a very busy but productive week! I hope it was a great week for everyone and that all are looking forward to the week coming up. It seems as if time is flying by here, but we’re having a good time, accomplishing our goals, and saving for the future. Here’s to another great week (although hopefully a less busy one for us)!

Big Shopping in Tennessee

Brett and I did part of our monthly food shopping yesterday, or I should say he took me to do the shopping. I go into the store while Brett stays outside with Kai and walks him around. We’ve tried leaving him at home a couple of times but there have been less than ideal results, even when he’s left in his crate (he tears his beds to shreds). Anyway, yesterday we did our monthly stop at Costco and a bi-monthly one at Trader Joe’s.

Food shopping is once again a pleasure compared to the struggle it became in Hawaii to not go over our budget. Our current monthly food allotment is $500, $100 less per month than we budgeted in Hawaii, although so far we have been spending less. We do one Big Shop in the middle of the month, and another at the end.

I was a bit concerned about the Costco trip yesterday because we were out of several things that I knew would drive the total up, including two cans of coffee (regular and decaf), a case of oat milk, and three bottles of wine. We were also out of a couple of snack items we keep on hand: peanut butter filled pretzels that Brett enjoys, and fig bars that we all like (K loves them). I also wanted to buy a Halloween House kit for K to decorate when she’s with us today or Friday.

Our Costco swag, and . . .
. . . a case of lemon green tea. We each have one a day (and recycle the bottles).

I found four items not on my list: Pacific Foods organic roasted red pepper and tomato soup (our favorite), two bags Cretor’s Chicago mix popcorn (which I adore), almond thins with papaya and passionfruit, and box of beer batter cod for fish & chips. This is the absolute maximum of bulk shopping we can do now because we don’t have room to store any more.

The total for everything at Costco was $206.51, including tax. The same items would have cost us somewhere closer to $300 at the Kaua’i Costco, maybe more. I didn’t buy meat (we buy that at Trader Joe’s or ALDI now), bread items, desserts, pre-made casseroles, nor any giant bags of produce, all things we pretty much had to purchase at Costco on Kaua’i. The only produce we buy at Costco now are organic apples and bananas, and an occasional bag of frozen blueberries. It’s very nice to have other options these days.

Everything from Trader Joe’s.

After Costco it was on to Trader Joe’s. I accidentally left my list at home so I knew I had to be on my best behavior there. I picked up the apple cider doughnuts and pumpkin ravioli Brett had asked for, and a couple more boxes of the pumpkin pancake mix to get us through the winter. Otherwise I couldn’t remember much of anything else on the list and did my best to not go crazy. TJ’s has so many pumpkin items out right now, but I was able to pass most of them except for one box of the pumpkin sticky toffee cakes – Meiling told us they were very good. The only splurge item was a chicken pot pie. I didn’t buy much produce because we still have plenty on hand.

Total spent at Trader Joe’s was $75.89, There’s no way to compare that with costs in Hawaii because there are no Trader Joe’s there! I know though we would have paid a whole lot more for the same or similar items versus what we pay here.

Total spent for this October Big Shop trip was $282.40, which means we have $217.60 left to spend at the end of the month. I plan to go to ALDI and may visit TJ’s again, but if all goes well we’ll probably end up with somewhere around $100 left over we can put into savings. For now though our cupboards are full.

Sunday Morning 10/9/2022: More Autumn Goodness

There’s more fall color every day!

This past week was a quiet one. We walked a lot, we read a lot, and we ran a few errands – but that’s pretty much it. We celebrated K’s actual birthday this week with a surprise box of Crumbl cookies for her treat as well as a bouquet of birthday balloons. She got a much-desired scooter from her mom, so we’ve been including that on our afterschool walks .

In another world we would be traveling up to Edinburgh today after finishing a two month stay in Oxford. I never felt sad about cancelling our time in England for some reason, but it took me a while longer to get over feeling sad about not going to Edinburgh. We had a quick trip there in 2019, and we were greatly looking forward to exploring more of the city than we were able to do earlier, as well as taking side trips to Glasgow, up into the highlands, and over to Isle of Skye. I firmly believe we are doing what we are meant to be doing, and we are surprisingly happy here in Nashville, living in suburbia. I will be forever grateful for the time we get to spend with our daughter-in-law and granddaughter as well as the opportunity to save a little more than we expected. Travel has only been postponed.

Otsukimi (お月見), meaning, “moon-viewing”, is a Japanese festival honoring the autumn moon. The time for the viewing normally fall in September and October. Tsukimi traditions include displaying decorations made from susuki grass and eating rice dumplings to celebrate the beauty of the Moon.

This evening Brett’s taking K to a Japanese moon viewing (otsukimi) celebration put on by the Japanese consulate while I stay home with the puppy. Our daughter-in-law will be working at the event, serving sake and Wagyu beef appetizers created by the Consulate’s personal chef at a special tasting booth with admission by ticket only. The event (and tickets) apparently sold out very quickly, in less than two days. By the way, in America we see a man in the moon but in Japan they see a rabbit pounding mochi!

This morning I am thinking about:

  • What we accomplished last week: 1) Family members worked together this past week to set a date for next year’s Big Event, which looks like it’s now going to happen in early 2024 versus December 2023 because it’s easier for our son and DIL to take time off then. We also strategized together ways for everyone to afford the Event and came up with some ideas and plans. 2) I finally got around to ordering some good walking shoes, another pair of HOKAs. Skechers are comfortable for casual walking but are not cutting it on the longer walks we’re taking.
  • What we’re looking forward to next week: 1) We’re very excited about Kai getting his first haircut tomorrow because he is such a mess right now. It’s been seven to eight weeks since his last cut which is far too long, so we have a pretty good idea now of how frequently he’s going to need to be groomed (around once a month, five weeks at the most). 2) Cold weather pajama week has arrived! It’s not cold enough for fleece and socks yet, but I need to wear something warmer than my summer PJs. Mornings have been quite cool recently. 3) We’ll go food shopping again at the end of the week, always fun these days. 3) I am meeting with the gastroenterologist mid-week to discuss my ongoing stomach issues (which I currently seem to have somewhat under control) and to possibly schedule a colonoscopy although I’m hoping to put that off until next year.

Some upper loop apartments have beautiful views of the hills. The trees are more mature, and larger and fuller on that side; there are more garages; and more apartments have fireplaces – on our side only the top floor has them. If we were going to stay I’d request a move to the other loop!

  • Healthy exercise and eating: 1) We got in five, good walks this week. Last Tuesday I told Brett I was just going to walk around the apartment complex a few times, thinking I’d do two to three loops, but instead I headed up to the upper level of apartments. By the time I walked one loop through our section and around the upper area and back to our apartment I had spent 40 minutes and covered over two miles! The route has some gentle hills as well so it’s a good workout. We enjoy walking through the upper level because it’s gorgeous, with lots of big trees and some beautiful views. For now Brett and I are going to walk the two-mile loop each day, and do a shorter walk with K some afternoons, but we’re planning to double up next month for four miles/day. Kai seems to be enjoying the longer walks as well. 2) We enjoyed some delicious and healthy meals this past week: leftover shrimp and smoked salmon from K’s birthday party; feta & spinach chicken sausages topped with tzatziki in a roll along with roasted butternut squash; bacon-cheeseburger pizza; pork & pepper stir-fry with steamed rice; chicken noodle soup & cornbread; and falafel in pita sandwiches with tzatziki, lettuce, and chopped tomatoes. M took us out to dinner to celebrate K’s birthday at a nearby restaurant serving Southern cooking. Brett had a bacon and avocado sandwich but I had smothered fried chicken, green beans, and collards. The food was delicious but neither of us could finish our meals and the leftovers provided lunch the next day.
Smothered fried chicken, green beans, and collards: maybe not the healthiest meal, but it was delicious!
  • How we saved: 1) Brett washed and vacuumed our car for free at the apartment complex’s car wash station. 2) Yesterday M & I went on a “treasure hunt” at two local Goodwill stores, and treasures were found. See below for details! 3) I resisted purchasing an armchair for the living room. The price was right, the style was what we’ve been looking for, the color was perfect, and I came this close to ordering it. But, I finally convinced myself to wait 24 hours and see if I was still as excited about it the next day, and in that time realized the chair could wait and that I’d rather save than spend right now. 4) We put $3.15 into the change/$1 bill jar. 5) We didn’t throw away any food and all our leftovers were eaten.
Watching TV at Grandma & Grandpa’s with her birthday balloons.

Good things that happened: 1) We had a good time at K’s birthday party last Sunday. There was a unicorn piñata that Brett ended up nearly beating to death with the stick because no one could get it open – too funny! M eventually had to rip it apart with her hands to pass out the prizes. 2) My insomnia is fading, helped in part by this past week’s increase in walking distance. I am tired at night and have been falling asleep earlier than before, sleeping soundly, and waking up earlier as well. I’m still not totally back to my normal routine, but I’m getting there. The allergies seem to be tapering off as well – I only needed to take a Zyrtec tablet twice this past week in spite of being outside for longer periods of time.

Goodwill scores from yesterday!

Yesterday I invited M to go thrifting with me. I have a somewhat limited fall/winter wardrobe and thought maybe I’d be able to find a couple of sweaters at Goodwill. Thrift stores are a recent addition to the shopping mix in Tokyo; Japanese traditionally prefer new items, so this was a new experience for M. The first Goodwill we visited had a limited clothing selection but a fabulous household goods section, and M found a few things (vase, serving platter, Day of the Dead glass for K, and more) and a new, still-in-the-package toy and a book for K. I discovered a cute Christmas platter, a Crockpot mini-dipper to use when everyone is here in December, and two red mugs for a Christmas project I’m putting together. I also found a red cotton turtleneck and red fleece pullover for sleepwear this winter. My best discovery though was a black wool & cashmere blend peacoat, for the astonishing price of $7.99. The second store we visited was the reverse of the first, with lots of great clothing but a very limited household good selection. M found a lovely glass bowl in the shape of a Christmas tree, but I scored a wool marine blue turtleneck sweater, a gray wool & cashmere sweater, a deep pink-red corduroy shirt, and, as I was walking to the register, a L.L. Bean striped shirt in gray with white stripes that I have desired for years! So, a very successful day for me with only $58 spent on everything, tax included. I did leave behind a complete set of Fiestaware (dinner plates, salad plates, bowls, and cups & saucers) at the first store. That took some willpower.

We have a busy week coming up because K is on fall break all week. M has tomorrow through Wednesday off from work, but we have several errands and then will have K with us all day Thursday and Friday. The week sort of caught us by surprise (we knew it was coming but hadn’t paid attention to the dates), but we’ve got some ideas to stay busy the two days K’s with us. There are always hikes to take, her new scooter to ride, books to read, movies to watch, and pictures to color or paint for starters. She and I are also wanting to bake muffins (chocolate chip and pumpkin-raisin), and she wants to help Brett make pancakes for lunch one day. Hopefully with all this going on she’ll have a good time with her old grandparents.

It’s been another great week full of fun, good things, bargains, and surprises, and we have much to look forward to this coming week as well. I hope it’s been equally good for everyone as well, and that you’re looking forward as much as we are to the week coming up!

Yes, Airfares Are Expensive but Bargains Still Exist

Japan opened back to foreign visitors in September, so out of curiosity I decided to see what it would cost for us to visit Japan. Back in the day, combining careful timing and a little bit of luck, we could usually find nonstop, round-trip flights in extra comfort seating for around $750 – $850. These days Brett and I wonder if we’ll ever be able to afford a visit to Japan again, and what that could cost us because the best price right now for a premium economy seat is $2,391. Ouch. A seat in economy is $1,319, still horribly expensive.

It doesn’t matter these days where anyone is going, but airfares are higher across the board, currently at their highest point in five years. Between March and April of this year, ticket costs increased 16.8% in one month! Prices are predicted to increase even more as the holiday season approaches.

The airline industry was one of the hardest hit during the Covid-19 pandemic and travel, when both domestic and international travel slowed to a near halt. That period and the slow climb back has obviously affected today’s prices, but there are other things going on as well:

  • Supply and demand is the biggest force affecting ticket prices today. There are fewer flights and more demand for seats than prior to the pandemic. Anyone who has flown this year has most likely suffered through cancellations, schedule changes, and so forth. Airlines are trying to do better by restricting the number of tickets sold in order to reduce the number of delays that plagued travelers earlier in the year. Fewer tickets mean higher prices.
  • Staff shortages caused by the pandemic contributed to delays and cancellations. Many airlines are still understaffed, which mean fewer flights, more delays, and higher prices.
  • Rising fuel costs have also meant an increase in the price of tickets. Airlines typically purchase fuel months to years in advance, and if they’ve had to buy fuel recently, ticket prices have to go up to cover those costs. An airline that bought fuel when prices were low can continue to offer lower prices. Southwest is an airline that consistently does very well buying large amounts of fuel at low prices, which is a big reason they’re able to keep ticket prices low.
  • Lack of competition has meant that many major airlines no longer have to compete with low cost airlines. Prior to the pandemic, airlines like Wow, Norwegian Air, and others offered bare-bones services at prices that major airlines were forced to compete with, creating lower fares overall. Many discount carriers went out of business during the pandemic, or had to cut itineraries way back. For example, we used Norwegian Air twice to return to the U.S. from Europe because their fares and itineraries could not be beat. Norwegian Air no longer flies to any U.S. airports, and operates only regionally within Europe, offering no price competition to U.S. carriers for cross-Atlantic flights.
  • Because of current situations occurring in the world, air routes have had to change. Route changes hike costs for airlines. Current changes don’t affect domestic flights within the U.S., but they can affect the cost of international journeys.

The news isn’t all bad, and there are still ways to save if you want or need to fly somewhere.

  • Think domestic travel versus international. It’s always going to be cheaper to go someplace in your own country.
  • Fly economy. Yes, the seats are narrower and closer together, but the price for that seat is going to be considerably less than first class or premium economy. Our rule of thumb is five hours: anything over that and we will pay the extra for more comfortable seating. Below that, we are fine with economy.
  • Choose a flight with stopovers versus nonstop. The more stops along the way, the lower the price (usually). Travelers can also sometimes work layovers to their advantage. At some airports it’s possible to leave and tour the city you’re in, or go for a meal outside the airport. We sometimes opt for flights that have a long overnight layover, and book a hotel room and get some sleep before the next leg of our journey. The cost of the room has always been less than the increased price for a nonstop flight.
  • Look for an alternative airport that’s nearby. Costs can sometimes be significantly lowered by flying out of a regional airport or one in a nearby city versus using only bigger airports in major cities. For example, we’ve saved by flying into and out of Love Field in Dallas versus choosing a flight that arrives at Dallas-Fort Worth International.
  • Consider budget airlines. These airlines usually have a low ticket price but charge for things like seat choice, luggage (even a carryon), food . . . just about everything. But, add up the cost of what add ons are really necessary and the price can still be much lower than a full-service airline. Almost all major airlines now offer “basic economy” seats these days, with no frills or seat choice, but with a lower cost than regular economy. Southwest Airlines has found its niche somewhere in the middle between a true budget airline and a major one and offer good value. Currently, a RT, non-stop ticket to Japan on a budget airline is only $689 (before any extras are added).
  • Find a ticket first, then the destination. Search for ticket prices that fit your budget and then choose a destination that fits that price. There are some amazingly low-priced tickets out there to wonderful places.
  • Use search tools to find the best prices. Skyscanner; Scott’s Cheap Air, Google Flights, and similar sites can help find the lowest prices around for tickets.
  • Use credit cards strategically. Travel credit cards can be used to earn points toward free tickets or upgrades. Opening a card usually brings a huge bonus along with it when a set amount is spent within a specific time period, and using the card for other purchases, like groceries, gas, or dining out, can offer double or triple points to quickly increase the point balance. **Only use a travel card if you can afford to pay it off every month.**

Airline fares are expected to remain high for the time being, but there are ways to work around those high prices. It requires some genuine effort these days to find the good deals, or a workable itinerary at an affordable price, but it can be done. Traveling is different these days, and higher airfares are just one part that will probably be around for a while.

Local Tourism: A Battlefield and A Waterfall

Only one cannon still stands at the Spring Hill battle site, at the top of the hill

I wish I could explain (even to myself) where my interest in the Civil War comes from, and why it’s enough to make me want to visit every battlefield and historical monument I come across. All I know is that if I find a place related to the Civil War, I want to see it and understand what happened there.

This past Saturday, when our visit to Shiloh had to be cancelled once again, Brett and I decided we still wanted to get out and see something because the weather was so nice, so we headed south to the Stillhouse Hollow State Natural Area to check out the waterfall there and enjoy a hike.

The battlefield as seen from the parking lot. The trail through the battlefield is a cut in the grass up the hill, but then goes off to the right and around and down to a creek where the Union forces gathered for their retreat to Franklin.
At Spring Hill I was doubly rewarded with both a site to explore AND a historical marker!

On the way I spotted a sign along the highway for the Spring Hill Battlefield site and off we went. It took us a few minutes to locate the site as the parking area was so small, and the site looked like nothing more than a large field on the side of the road – we actually drove past it before we figured out where it was. We noticed when we arrived that besides a historical marker there was a trail cut up the hill, and a couple of signs so we decided to get out and see what it was all about.

The Spring Hill attacks took place on November 29, 1864, and lasted only a few hours. The most notable person involved at Spring Hill was Confederate cavalry general Nathan Bedford Forrest. He began the attacks but backed off when the Union forces initially gave back more than expected. Other generals continued the fight and the Confederates eventually defeated the Union forces that day. However, it might be said the fight actually ended as a draw: Union losses were less than those of the Confederates, and they were allowed to fully retreat during the night. The Union troops set up in Franklin, and the following day handed a heavy loss to the Confederate soldiers when they arrived from Spring Hill.

At the top of the hill – to the left is the trail to the creek. This part of the walk reminded us of our fall hikes in England. Everything was still mostly green with just a hint of leaves starting to turn.

Saturday’s weather was perfect for walking, and our hike through the battlefield was lovely, about a mile to and from the car, with five boards erected along the way containing maps and other information. We left with a good understanding of what had happened there in 1864, and were glad we had decided to stop.

It took another 25 or so minutes to drive a bit further south to the Stillhouse Hollow State Natural Area. The parking lot there was larger than at the battlefield and was nearly full (cars were parked down on the highway), but we managed to find one open spot. The trailhead to the falls was well marked and we set off.

The trail started off fairly level but soon changed into a somewhat steep descent down to the streambed.

The trail started off fairly level, but it quickly turned steep and somewhat treacherous as we headed down to the stream – it appeared there had been several recent washouts with large rocks and plenty of tangled roots left uncovered. Because of my knee injury, downhill hiking can be difficult and painful, and in no time on this trail my knee was throbbing. But, we were determined to see the falls and kept going. In a couple of places bridges had been erected over the stream as well as a plank walkway where the trail had washed out beside the stream. The walk through the woods was lovely, cool, and we were accompanied by the sound of the stream flowing nearby the entire way.

We arrived at a point where the trail diverged – one way led to an overlook of the falls, the other led down to the bottom of the falls. We happened to meet another couple of hikers at that point and they said that while they were glad they went to the bottom it had been quite a strenuous hike. My knee was practically screaming at me at that point so we decided to stick to the overlook instead knowing that I would probably pay a heavy price for any further downward hiking. Several other hikers had made the same choice we did and were at the overlook when we arrived, but we could also see many people at the bottom.

Our decision turned out to be the correct one because the climb back up to the car from the overlook was just as difficult as the one coming down and just as steep, only in the other direction. Thankfully uphill climbs don’t bother my knee but I was gasping for breath by the time we got to the car. We still agreed that we want to try the hike again, when there was more water and we are in better shape (and I remember to wear a knee brace of some sort)! Kaipo turned out to be a great little hiker on this trip, and got along well with the many other dogs we met along the trail.

The Stillhouse Hollow Falls and splash pool at the bottom. The stream, an unnamed tributary of the nearby Duck River, falls 75 feet to the splash pool. The trees were unfortunately too thick for us to enjoy this view from the overlook (photo courtesy of Tn.gov).

It was a great day to get out and be a local tourist. The weather was perfect, the drive easy, we saw nature at its best, and we learned something new. It doesn’t get better than that.

Sunday Morning 10/2/2022: Cooling Down

A bridge on the Stillhouse Hollow trail.

It’s October! Fall is really here and I couldn’t be happier. The weather is noticeably cooler but still sunny and bright, the light is different, and the trees are changing – every day the hills around us pop with a little more color. When I was young, the sound of leaves rustling in the streets and gutters were the sign that fall had finally arrived in Southern California (usually happened just before Halloween), and I still love that sound when dry leaves get blown around our patio, which I now have to sweep almost daily. The stores are flooded with Halloween and fall items for sale, from costumes to candy to clothes to everything pumpkin. Halloween and fall were so not a big deal on Kaua’i (for some obvious reasons), but I had no idea until seeing all the fall hoopla around us here how little attention fall got there, including Halloween. I’m not sure what the treat-or-treat protocol is or will be at our apartment complex, or whether K might instead go with some of her friends from school who live in a nearby neighborhood.

K’s birthday confetti pink princess cake is coming from Nothing Bundt Cakes. Their cakes are to die for.

K’s sixth birthday is this week and we’re very excited about celebrating with her. We’ve been in Japan plenty of times for our grandson’s birthday, but never in the fall for K’s special day. Later this afternoon we’re going over to our DIL’s place to attend a small birthday party for K, and we’re planning to make her actual birthday this week’s special day instead of on Friday as usual. We’re so thankful for all this time we get to spend with K, and being able to make memories with her.

The view of the Spring Hill Battlefield from the parking lot, with the walking trail cut into the side of the hill. The trail continued along the top to the right and around the hill. There were five maps/markers in total along the trail that explained the battle’s progress. The walk from the car and back was a little over a mile.
The view of Stillhouse Hollow falls from the overlook was somewhat blocked by the many nearby trees. An unnamed tributary of the Duck River falls 75 feet into the rock hollow below before going on its way.

We had planned to go to the Shiloh National Military Battlefield yesterday, but K woke up with a cough and slight fever, and we agreed with M that it was best for her to stay home and stay well so she could enjoy her party today. Brett, Kai, and I instead set out to visit the Stillhouse Hollow Falls, located about an hours drive south of Nashville. On the way we stopped at the Spring Hills battlefield historical site, and walked the battlefield to learn what happened there. Markers and maps were set up along the way that helped us understand what happened that day (the Battle of Spring Hill was the setup for the Battle of Franklin the next day). After we finished we headed to Stillhouse Hollow, a Tennessee State Natural Area, about a 25 minute drive away. We were mildly surprised to find the parking lot full, but yesterday’s weather was perfect for hiking, and we passed several other hikers along our way. We thought we would hike down to the bottom of the hollow for the view, but my bum knee did not like the downward slope of the somewhat rough trail, so we stopped at the falls overlook instead. By the time we arrived I knew if I hiked to the bottom I would be in big trouble. We were sad to miss the views, but the parts of the trail we did hike were filled with beautiful scenery. Kai was a fantastic companion, at both the battlefield and on the trail, and got along with all the other dogs he met along the way.

This morning I am thinking about:

  • What we accomplished: 1) One of the few reading genres I dislike is dystopian fiction, so finishing The School for Good Mothers (by Jessamine Chan) this past week felt like a genuine accomplishment. I had no idea it was going to be such a dark story when I checked it out. The book was well written but difficult for me to read at times and I for several days I couldn’t pick it up or decide whether I even wanted to finish it which is unusual for me. Thankfully I did and the ending was somewhat satisfying. Five books came off of my library wait list last week, a new record, so I’m pretty much going to have my nose buried in a book for the next couple of weeks to finish them all. 2) Brett and I watched the sobering Ken Burns documentary about the Holocaust and the U.S. Some things that are going on in the U.S. now are a little to close for comfort to things that were happening back then. 3) I got all our food shopping done for the next few weeks at Trader Joe’s, ALDI, and Costco. I enjoy food shopping here (unlike in Hawaii, where it turned into a chore), although our local Costco is always a madhouse. I managed to get out of there this past week with less than 10 items in my cart which is something of a miracle.
  • What we’re looking forward to next week: 1) We’re excited about celebrating K’s actual birthday with her later in the week. We’re giving her a small box of cookies from Crumbl for her treat after school that day because she talks about them all the time, and we will also be making her a balloon “bouquet” of six balloons (we have a small present to take to her party today). 2) Otherwise. we have nothing on the calendar for next week and are hoping for a relaxing week (with lots of time for reading).
  • Exercise and eating last week: 1) Besides walking nearly three miles yesterday, we took four brisk 1 1/2-mile hikes in our neighborhood this past week, including a visit to the historical marker near us (about the Carothers Family) last Sunday afternoon. Nearby we found the old Carothers Family cemetery, with graves dating from the 18th century. Most of the stones were so old the engraving had disappeared, and there were so many small, tiny stones that we guessed were for children that died. The cemetery is preserved on the current grounds of a large conference center, so we walked around that and discovered several cherry trees at the edge of their parking lot which will be lovely next spring. The parking lot connected to a paved trail back to the apartments. We were grateful to find it because we are staying out of the woods behind us now. Poison ivy and oak have exploded and are everywhere – Brett has been dealing with an outbreak on his legs for the past two weeks. 2) We ate healthy and well last week. Our dinners this past week were inari sushi, chicken & vegetable spring rolls, and vegetable potstickers; a “leftovers pizza” that used up odds and ends from the refrigerator; Mandarin orange chicken, steamed rice, and cucumber; smoked pork in barbecue sauce over a baked sweet potato and corn on the cob; shrimp burgers with sweet potato fries; breakfast for dinner (pancakes, bacon, scrambled eggs, and strawberries); and California roll sushi, a surprise from M.
Leftovers Pizza ready for the oven: the bottom half used up pizza sauce, pepperoni, and mozzarella and the upper half finished up some pesto, a small bag of sausage I found in the freezer, chopped red onion, and tomato-basil goat cheese crumbles. The crust is a flatbread pizza crust from Trader Joe’s that had been hanging out in the freezer.
  • How we saved: 1) After two weeks, five calls, and speaking with 10 different people, Brett managed to get an erroneous charge of $109.75 taken off of our Xfinity bill this week. 2) We put $10.93 into the change/$1 bill jar. 3) It took some effort and putting a couple of things back, but we stayed just under our grocery budget amount. 4) We didn’t throw away any food.
Eager to try his first Puppachino . . .

Good things that happened: 1) We took K to Starbucks for her Fabulous Friday treat this past week. She chose chocolate milk and a unicorn cake pop, Brett had a cinnamon latte, I tried a nonfat pumpkin spice latte – nope, still don’t like them – and Kai loved his first Puppachino (whipped cream in a small cup). 2) There were no other real standouts this week; everything that happened was a good thing in one way or another.

. . . and very excited about her unicorn cake pop!

My insomnia has come back with a vengeance. I have cut my coffee way back, try not to drink any other caffeine during the day, and yet there I’ve been at 3:00 a.m. every night with my eyes wide open and my brain racing. It’s frustrating because I do eventually fall asleep but never know what time I’ll wake up. Some days it’s 9:00 a.m., but other mornings I sleep soundly until noon! I know the insomnia will eventually pass – it always does – but getting through it is a challenge. And, although I’m thrilled with the cooler fall weather, allergies have come back – I’ve had a runny nose and itchy eyes the past few days, and vertigo has returned as well. Hopefully this is just my body adjusting to a new location, climate, and flora, but I sure hope an adjustment happens sooner rather than later!

That closes another great week, one that went by surprisingly quickly. A quiet yet exciting week is coming up that will be filled with celebration, lots of reading, good food, and family. Change is in the air and I am here for it! I hope last week was a good one for everyone, and that you’re looking forward to the one coming up.