Saving for Travel: It’s Not Just About the Money

(The following post was originally published on October 31, 2016.)

I only wish Brett and I had the kind of income where we could whip out our checkbook or charge card whenever we wanted to take a trip and pay for it all, just like that. For us though, travel takes planning, time, and saving, saving, saving. All of our journeys are fully funded before we leave home.

Saving money though is only the start. Along with putting away money we talk about: Where do we want to go and how much is it going to cost? Do we need to save $500? $1000? $5000? More? Is it doable? Realistic? Can we do it for less? When’s the best time to go? Where would we stay? How long can we afford to go away? What do we want to see or do when we’re there? And so forth . . .

That’s the thing about travel: Each trip is different and requires different things and costs a different amount. There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to traveling – we bring our own desires and expectations when we hit the road, even within the family, and the total cost of any trip is affected by those desires and expectations. Because we don’t have that bottomless checking account, Brett and I not only put money aside but take some extra steps in order to make the most of what we have and where we’re going.

Here are some ways we successfully save for our travels and make sure we get to go where we want, have the best time possible, and don’t bust our budget:

  • Our travel plans always start with us talking about places we’d like to visit and then making a mental list of places we’d like to go, whether we’ve been there before or they’ve been on our “someday” list. We’re not the most spontaneous people when it comes to travel, so we prioritize our list by starting with places and people we’d regret never getting to see down to locations we’ve always been curious about or that make sense to visit since we’ll already be in the area. We allow our list to change whenever new information comes up so that some places we wanted to visit two years ago don’t seem so important anymore, and other places have become more interesting. Some of our destinations, like Japan, are determined by family circumstances and always go to the top of the list. I love this part of travel planning though – dreams are always free!
  • I thoroughly research what it would cost to travel to places. Brett usually leaves this step to me. It takes a while, but I find doing research for travel a LOT of fun, and I always learn lots of new information and pick up tips, even if we don’t end up going to someplace I’ve looked into. I try to figure out how much transportation would cost us, as well as lodging, dining, and other expenses. Would it make more sense for us to stay in a hotel or use Airbnb if we go somewhere? Is there a peak season (and how can we avoid it if possible)? I love reading articles and stories about how to dine on a budget at our destination, or about a place where we may need to increase our budget because the food and experience are not to be missed. I love learning about all sorts of interesting places we might want to visit, from must-sees to maybes. I know that there are many people way more spontaneous than we are, and when they see a cheap airfare to somewhere they snap it up and go, or think nothing of hopping in their car and taking off. I’m enough of a nerd though that I’d rather do the research about spending our money on a trip, and figure out how to get the most bang for our bucks. Our income and budget sort of demand it as well.
  • After the research is done, we decide if we can actually save enough to afford the trip. We make the final decision to go somewhere only if we can afford it. We’re not willing to break the bank and go into debt just to fulfill some fantasy or check off something on a bucket list. I would greatly love to take an extended trip through India, and Brett and I would like to visit one of the national parks in Botswana, but know now that both are way out of our price range (Botswana is way, way, way out) unless we saved for years and did nothing else. We focus on what’s realistic and doable. Update: We did make it to India, but only by choosing to do a week’s tour versus extended travel, and saving like mad for it.
  • We set a goal for saving. We like to use the SMART criteria whenever we make a goal, financial or otherwise: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Rather than saying “Let’s save so we can go to Japan,” we tell ourselves that we need to save enough before [proposed travel date] to cover airfare and lodging for three of us as well as have enough for meals and other expenses. Can we have approximately half of that amount saved by [a certain date] to cover airfare if a good deal shows up? This is how we can place what we need and when in relation to other upcoming expenses, such as the girls’ college expenses, Christmas, etc. Once everything gets mapped out, and we decide it’s achievable, we go forward. If it’s not, we either adjust our goal or drop it. We typically set our goals and start planning more than a year in advance of any major travel though, giving ourselves plenty of time to tweak things as we go along.
  • We have a dedicated savings account for travel, whether we’re actively planning any travel or not. I believe it’s important to make dedicated travel savings a priority rather than a ‘leftover’ when it comes to budgeting. We “pay ourselves” first and put away a predesignated amount each month for travel. We add to our savings in other ways like adding what we save in our change/$1 bills jar (which adds around $800 per year to the account). If we can spend under our budget in any other area, like groceries or gasoline, for example, the difference goes into our travel savings – it’s an incentive to look for the best deals and be more conscious about saving. Rebates, refunds, rewards, and gifts also go into travel savings. It adds up more quickly than you might think, and I never feel guilty or worried when we take any money out to cover travel expenses because that’s what it’s for. One more thing: with a dedicated travel savings fund we’re already miles ahead whenever we start thinking about going somewhere.
  • We stay motivated to save by giving ourselves reminders of our destination. Once we know when and where we’re going, we post pictures on the fridge, share books or articles about where we’re going, start Pinterest boards, and so forth. These ‘motivators’ can help keep our savings goals on track. They often help us decide between doing or buying something now versus putting away more for travel later. Even when our trip to the Grand Canyon earlier this year was a mystery to everyone else, I still put up reminders about our trip in places that I saw frequently but that were hidden from Brett and the girls in order to stay motivated.

For us, successfully saving for travel involves more than just setting money aside. The extra steps we take help us not only be realistic about what we can afford but help keep us motivated to reach our goals and fulfill our travel dreams. Through a combination of planning and saving, we give ourselves a solid foundation to do and see what we want, as well as an ability to dream about future journeys.

Sunday Morning 05/31/2020: Things Are Happening!

It was a good week for sunsets.

It’s the last day of May! We went back to the beach for the first time last Sunday afternoon and it was every bit as wonderful as we hoped it would be. We went a second time on Tuesday and again, it was perfect. We went to Brenneke, a small beach just east of the Poipu Beach Park, and only about a 10-minute drive from our apartment. Brenneke is known for its great body surfing and boogie boarding sets, and we had a good time watching both kids and adults out in the water. And, as an extra bonus, there were turtles! On both days we were there several large (huge, really) sea turtles swam in the waves near the shore and put on a show for us. The beach was practically empty and there was plenty of parking, an additional treat. As long as visitors aren’t coming to the island Brenneke will stay our beach, but once tourists return we’ll have to find somewhere else as everything in Poipu gets very crowded, very quickly.

Brenneke Beach

We FINALLY heard from the moving company this past week! Our boxes will be picked up this coming week and will be delivered here four to six weeks later. The cost however was quite a shock – the estimate was nearly half again what it cost to move our things over to Portland two years ago. Ouch! However, that estimate is based on a weight we know is too high (we know the weight of what we shipped back to Portland, haven’t added anything, and the estimate is over that). The higher cost overall is due to increases levied by the steamship lines – those costs go up every year (which we knew from shipping before) and I’m sure the current pandemic hasn’t helped any. Anyway, here’s hoping it won’t be too much longer and we’ll soon have our stuff with us again!

On the downside, I got some sobering news from my eye doctor this past week: when this last prescription is no longer strong enough, it will be time to have cataract surgery – they have grown over the past three years to nearly the point for removal. That was a genuine surprise – I knew my vision had gotten worse, but had no idea it was because cataracts had started growing again. This will also be the last pair of progressive lenses he will prescribe – after the surgery (in a couple of years) he wants me to instead have one pair of glasses for daily wear, a second pair for reading and computer work, and a pair of prescription sunglasses instead of the Transitions lenses I wear now. I’m feeling even more grateful than before though that we were able to add vision insurance to our plan a couple of years ago. It covered enough this past week that I paid nothing out of pocket for my exam, and my new glasses, with designer frames and every other add-on, were less than half of what I paid for my current pair at Costco two years ago.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I’m still reading two books, and will most likely continue through June. My daytime/ beach read is American Dirt – I’m moving through it fairly quickly. My only impression so far is that I’m sort of glad we didn’t go to Mexico, although I know that’s too broad of a generalization. My evening book is the third in the Harry Potter series, The Prisoner of Azkaban
  • Listening to: It’s a quiet morning here: Brett is reading and YaYu is still sleeping. It’s quite breezy outside although the sky is blue with a few clouds. We’re thinking of heading down to Barking Sands this afternoon for some sunbathing and a long walk on the beach.
  • Watching: YaYu and I finished the Best British Home Cook – it was an easy-to-watch, enjoyable show, but still sort of meh in my opinion. There was none of the tension and excitement of The Great British Bake-Off, and not much of a chance to really get to know the contestants. She and I haven’t decided on something new to watch, but are leaning toward one of the true-crime series on BritBox. Brett and I started watching the British series Line of Duty this past week and it’s very good.
    Breakfast of champions: a banana, mango, papaya, and kale smoothie.
  • Cooking: The past week we worked hard at getting rid of odds and ends in our fridge and freezer so we could do our shopping at Walmart, Costco, and Safeway yesterday and have room to put everything away. For example, I had smoothies for breakfast a few days last week to use up fruit and some kale we had on hand. YaYu will be making spaghetti carbonara for dinner tonight to use up a few more things. Other meals this week will be grilled fish tacos with fresh mango salsa; pork & pepper stir fry; three-color Chinese salad; California roll salad; grilled Italian sausages with sauteed peppers and onions; and the chicken and rice casserole that didn’t get made this past week. No baking though – we bought a watermelon at Costco and until we finish that there’s no room for anything else. Also, the new rice cooker arrived and I am happy to have one again. I did figure out how to make good Japanese rice in the Instant Pot (thank you, Sheila!), and while the time was shorter overall it required several steps as well as watching the time for each carefully, difficult as I was getting other things ready at the same time. Also, we often prepare items in the Instant Pot that go along with rice and both can’t happen at the same time with one pot. Although it takes longer, I honestly prefer the fix-it-and-forget-it ease of the rice cooker.

Some things I saw on our walks.

  • Happy I accomplished this past week: This past week started out as a terrible one for walking because of the weather – lots of rain – but we got in some good walks at the end of the week, including one on the beach path in Kapaa. We’ve increased the distance we walk as well. I got a doctor’s appointment set up for the week after next with a nearby physician and a hair appointment for the week after that! I’ve been able to check off almost everything on my card every day and earned 425 Swagbucks last week.
  • Looking forward to next week: We loved being back at the beach and are looking forward to going as many days as possible this summer. We’re also looking forward to getting in a couple of walks on the eastside beach path each week. Although I don’t look forward to the drive over to Kapaa, walking on the pathway makes it worthwhile. Finally, I can’t wait to hear that our storage items have been picked up and are on their way!
    The scones YaYu made were as light as the ones we had in England and just as delicious.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: YaYu surprised us yesterday while Brett and I were out doing the food shopping, and baked a batch of scones with two flavors: fresh mango and chocolate chip. They were still warm when we got home so we each had one – delicious! Getting back to the beach twice last week and walking again on the beach path in Kapaa were also very good things as was a visit and catch-up with friends Alan and Cheryl while we were in Kapaa. And, we found a lovely shaded path in Kalaheo for walking and figured out another new walking route over in Kukui’ula as well. 
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: There was nothing special we did this past week, just the usual stuff like eating all our leftovers and having as many no-spend days as possible (we ended up with four). We put $14.06 into the change/$1 bill jar this past week, and as of the end of this month, we have accumulated $404 in our travel savings account.
  • Grateful for: I am so thankful that in just a few more weeks we should have our stored items back with us. We’ve managed without them for this long, but at the same time, there have been items we have missed greatly and others that will make our lives easier. I have especially missed our art, as well as the Japanese items we kept, and I am looking forward to having those in our home again. Most of all though both Brett and I are beyond grateful for our friend Joan’s willingness to store those items for us while we traveled!
  • Bonus question: Is Hawaii open now? For local residents, things are moving along slowly but surely, but for visitors, no. The governor just extended the visitor quarantine past June 30 after new cases of the virus re-emerged this past week on the Big Island and Oahu. Most likely all those cases came along with visitors to the islands since the quarantine, some of who ignored it and went out and even bragged on social media about doing so. More shops have reopened on Kaua’i (incuding hair salons!) so things are slowly returning to normal, but social distancing, mask-wearing, and other precautions are still strictly followed by all here. For example, for both my doctor and hair appointments next month, I have to call when I arrive and then wait outside in my car until they call and let me know they are ready for me as only a limited amount of people are allowed inside at a time. The only time we’ve seen someone without a mask and the only time we go without a mask is when we’re out walking or at the beach, but since nothing is crowded,  everyone keeps at least six if not 10 feet away from everyone else. Unemployment will run out for most people in the state at the end of July, and things are going to start getting very tough after that, but letting the virus get a hold here would be even worse for everyone.
We have a blue and gray theme going in the living room and think this rug will blend the two together very well.

I purchased two final items for the house this past week – a rug for the living room and a set of chair pads for our dining chairs. We have a rug in storage that unfortunately won’t work (it will probably go in the bedroom instead) and we’ve tried to rationalize going without a floor covering since we moved in, but have had to admit the room needs something on the floor. The rug we chose is nothing fancy or expensive, but it will work nicely with our stuff. The dining chairs have always been a bit too low and hard so pads were needed. As there’s nothing available on the island, I ordered them from an Etsy. The fabric is a blue Japanese-style design, and they will be custom made to fit our chairs. I am very glad to be finished with re-acquiring things though – we have enough now, especially so when our stored items get here.

As it’s the end of May, I’ve been reflecting more on what we would have been doing now, back in the Before Time. We’d be done with our five weeks in San Miguel de Allende, but have prepped ourselves for returning for a longer stay. We would have finished our five-day visit to New York City to spend time with Meiling and see Hamilton on Broadway, the experience of a lifetime. Today we’d be in Massachusetts, celebrating WenYu’s graduation from Wellesley, and tomorrow we’d be on our way for a six-day stay getaway with her in Vermont and Maine. Even in mid-March being back on Kaua’i had never even crossed our minds, and yet here we are, and glad of it. What a crazy and yet sobering time this has been.

Here are a few more hibiscus from around Kukui’ula. I’m going to have to broaden my sphere because I think I’ve now photographed all the ones there and in the nearby area.

That’s all for this week – I hope it’s been a good one for everyone out there. Wishing everyone a great week coming up, with lots of good things happening, good books to read, good food to eat and lots of things accomplished! 

Out of Shape, Into Shape

Two years ago we were in GREAT shape! (Buenos Aires, Argentina; August 2018)

A BIG goal for Brett and me during the next two years is to get us back to as close to the great condition we were in when we set out on our Big Adventure in 2018. Besides being a bit older and developing a few more aches and pains lately, we have not been as diligent about staying in shape.

The views from the beach path made it easy to walk.

For nearly a year and a half before we left, we walked at least two miles (almost) daily out on Kauai’s eastside beach path. We were careful about what we ate and avoided carbohydrates as much as possible. We kept up with medical and dental visits, and our medications.

During our travels, we walked a lot, usually three to four miles a day. We continued to watch what we ate, although we did add carbohydrates back in reasonable amounts (what’s the point of visiting France if you can’t enjoy a fresh, warm baguette or a pastry now and then? Or fresh pasta or gelato in Italy?). However, we overate during our time in Japan in 2019, with frequent visits to our neighborhood bakery. In spite of all the walking we did there, we gained weight. We could still fit into our clothes, but they were definitely on the tight side for both of us.

I spent last summer in Portland avoiding almost all carbohydrates except for fresh fruit, a weekly slice of pizza, and a glass of wine on Friday and Saturday evenings. We walked every day, pushing ourselves to get to 10,000 steps. By the end of the summer, we were both back in great shape again, although I’d only lost six pounds for all my efforts, and Brett had injured his ankle on a long hike. We continued to walk, watch what we ate, and stay in shape while we were in England until we got to November when days of rain kept us trapped inside and we comforted ourselves with w-a-y too many scones, shortbread biscuits, ginger nuts, and cups of Cadbury hot chocolate. We were back on the path to where we needed to be during our stay in Japan at the beginning of this year, but the stay-at-home order and some depression brought all of that to a halt.

Leaving England, we were in a different shape from when we started our travels. (Bath, UK; November 2019)

We’re back to the tight clothes stage again, but have two years to whip ourselves back into traveling shape, mainly because we don’t want to purchase new traveling clothes again! The pair of pants I’m wearing in the picture below is going be my guide for knowing when I’ve arrived. I can still get into them, but they are currently very tight – I want them to fit again like they did when we were in Australia.

My goal is to have these pants fit like this again (Sydney, Australia; January 2019).

Once again, we’re:

  • Walking at least five days a week, at least two miles, with a goal of getting to daily walks of longer distances (weather permitting). Boy, do we miss having that beach path nearby though – the views never got old and it made walking so easy! We’ve found a good route to walk nearby for now, but it’s eventually going to get boring so we are going to need to find some different venues to mix things up a bit. We’re also trying to make sure we don’t sink into a sedentary lifestyle around the house.
    Our current walking path is lovely but we miss the ocean views.
  • Being careful about what we eat. While I am not going low carb or Keto, at least not yet, I am limiting my daily carb intake. I’m never going back to cauliflower rice, but these days I measure and limit the amount of rice I take if I have it, or I just go without. We are keeping all chips, cookies, crackers, and store-bought bakery goods (except for bread) out of the house – snacks these days are nuts, fruit, and vegetables. We continue to take daily vitamins, and I’ve added a prebiotic + probiotic to help with my stomach issues.
  • Taking care of our health. We are still looking for a new dentist here, one closer to where we live now, but I already have an eye appointment for this week with our former ophthalmologist. We did take care of health check-ups last summer but haven’t done anything since. My stomach issues have not completely abated, so I want to get that fully checked out first when I find a new doctor, and Brett still needs the surgery that he had originally scheduled in Portland this summer – he’s already found an endocrinologist here and is working toward that. We are blessed to have great insurance, including vision and dental, so we have no reason not to keep up with all of this.

There really is no excuse not to get back in shape now that we’re back in Hawaii. The weather and opportunities to get outside as well as the abundance of fresh produce (and the expense of buying and eating a lot of meat and processed foods) make it easy to create a healthier lifestyle here and stick with it. We’re back on the path!

Sunday Morning 5/24/2020:

We got three beautiful sunsets before bad weather rolled in. 

The beaches may have opened last week but the weather conspired in every way possible to make getting there nearly impossible – we had high winds, cool temperatures, and rain, rain, and more rain down on our part of the island. On Thursday the wind was so strong it blew the rain sideways all day. We’re planning to go today but this past week was sadly a bust.

Some stores have opened back up, albeit with shorter hours. I think about half are opened in the Kukui’ula Marketplace now, outside of restaurants, although more of those are offering takeout. We went up to Kapaa yesterday to pick up a couple of things we needed and saw that more stores were open up there as well. There are still no tourists though so there was no traffic – that still feels a bit odd, although it was nice zipping through town for a change. Kapaa was also much warmer than it is where we are now and there was less of a breeze. Word is that hair salons are supposed to be opening soon – I sure hope so because my hair is driving me a little more crazy every day!

It’s been another frustrating week though as far as our Aeromexico refund and getting our storage items here. It’s been three weeks since I last spoke with the moving company in San Diego who was going to “get right on it” and neither I nor Joan have heard anything from anyone since. So, I will go back on the phone this week, although I’m not quite sure who to call this time – should I start with Royal Hawaiian here again, since the move is being done under their auspices, or should I call the company back on the mainland who is supposed to coordinate getting our stuff there? I have no idea anymore. Aeromexico continues to dig in their heels as well when it comes to our refund. This past week I received an email from them in response to the DOT telling them I was owed a refund. Aeromexico claims that because I also filed a dispute with our credit card they do not have to follow DOT’s ruling; the issue is now strictly between me and my bank (although of course, a dispute means the bank has to deal with them and I’m pretty sure Aeromexico is making that as difficult as possible). I spoke with the bank and they are “working on it,” but they did ask for more documentation which I happily provided. DOT also (supposedly) got a copy of the same email I was sent and I have a feeling they’re not going to be happy about it, but what do I know at this point? We are owed less than $500 but I have read complaints this past week where Aeromexico customers are out thousands and have been refused refunds for their canceled flights.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished The Yellow House, and started American Dirt, by Jeanine Cummins. I’ve had in on my Kindle for a while but had lots of other books came in from the library so it sort of got set aside. But, I’m ready now. I’m also still reading The Dutch House and should finish it this week.
  • Listening to: After all the howling wind we listened to these past few days, this morning is a blissful change. There’s a breeze, but it’s barely rustling the trees – I can actually hear birds singing. YaYu is still sleeping, and Brett is reading so it’s very, very quiet inside as well – my kind of morning!
  • Watching: YaYu and I started watching Tiger King this past week. O.M.G. Neither of us is ready to say whether we like the show or not, but it’s compelling, just like a train wreck is compelling, and we have had some interesting discussions. We also started watching Best British Home Cook on Hulu, which is OK. It’s definitely no Great British Baking Show, although Mary Berry is one of the judges. A new British crime series has arrived on BritBox (with four seasons!), so Brett and I are going to give that a try when YaYu and I finish Tiger King.
  • Cooking: I did a little bit of baking this past week: banana bread with chocolate chips (YaYu’s request). My loaf pan in storage so I instead, necessity is the mother of invention and all that, baked it in a 9″ square pan which worked pretty well. I broke down and ordered a new rice cooker because making rice in the Instant Pot has not gone as well as I had hoped. The results from the beginning have been very inconsistent, and we usually end up with mushy, overly sticky rice and lots of it stuck to the bottom of the cooking insert. It may work better with less sticky rice, but we prefer Japanese-style rice, and we eat it frequently enough not to want to deal with the mess anymore. Anyway, tonight we’re going to have spicy steak pizzaiola with grilled flank steak with some vegetable and garlic bread. Also on the dinner menu this week will be bacon-blue cheeseburgers; breakfast for dinner (eggs benedict); tuna melts; chili shrimp and fried rice; and a chicken, rice, and broccoli casserole.
    We have only seen the nene flying overhead on our walks – they are noisy! A mom and her babies though are best avoided – get too near and mom will take. you. out.
  • Happy we accomplished this past week: Next Sunday would have been WenYu’s graduation from Wellesley, but since that’s not happening Brett and I put together a box of WenYu’s favorite Hawaiian goodies (butter mochi mix, Kaua’i Kookies, macadamia nuts, mango jam, Maui beef jerky, and a few other things she loves from here) – it will be on its way tomorrow morning. My daily checklists have kept me busy all week – I got everything filled in, walked four days out of the last seven (thanks to the weather), and earned 479 Swagbucks (my goal each week is 350).
  • Looking forward to next week: Hopefully, the weather stays nice so we can get to the beach! We are heading up to Kapaa tomorrow afternoon to go the newly reopened farmer’s market and see our favorite farmers again, and get together with friends Alan and Cheryl for a little while.
    The craft gins we enjoyed in the UK spoiled us. We have a cocktail just three evenings a week, so our supply should be good for a long while now.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Brett and I discovered a few bottles of a limited edition Tanqueray gin, Rangpur, at our local Big Save, flavored with dark rangpur limes. Since G&Ts are one of our favorite things, we bought ourselves a bottle, and it is delicious! We’re good to go with gin now for the next few months. We stopped at Wailua Shave Ice when we were up in Kapaa to get a couple of things for WenYu’s graduation box and enjoyed our favorite flavors – tables were all spread apart so we could take off our masks and not worry about being to close to anyone else. In an effort to use up leftovers in the kitchen one evening last week, we created a “quesadilla bar” and each created our own masterpiece. The results were amazing and we now want to make it a regular thing – it’s a great way to use up leftovers. The back yard got “manicured” again this past week (they worked in the rain) and looks wonderful.
    There is nothing more refreshing than icy shave ice on a hot day!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: This was not a particularly frugal week because we went food shopping and bought the rice cooker (and also the specialty gin, although it was marked down and we were given an additional discount on it for some reason). We still seem to be in pantry item acquisition mode, and having to buy those things (vinegar, sugar, oats, etc.) always seems to add a little extra to our bill, but we know once they’re purchased they will last for a while and will only be needed occasionally, and not always at the same time. With our small refrigerator and freezer, and without our storage containers for things like sugar, flour, etc. we currently have to buy smaller items versus larger sizes which is more expensive because we have no way to store bigger items. It will all sort itself out . . . eventually. On the plus side we ate all our leftovers this past week, didn’t throw away any food, and put $7 away into the change/$1 bill jar. Meiling also paid us for her annual phone service and that went right into our travel account.
  • Grateful for: Both Brett and I are feeling very thankful for our new mattress, a memory-foam hybrid. We are sleeping so well these days, and waking up feeling more rested than we have for a long time. We slept on comfortable mattresses in most of the Airbnbs we stayed at, but the mattress we had during our last Japan stay ((extremely hard) followed by the one in the north shore condo here on Kaua’i (extremely soft) about did us in – they were the worst we experienced, and my back hurt every day we slept on those, so we are grateful for and appreciative of the comfortable sleep we are getting now.
    Pizza is my favorite food, and these Alsation-style pizzas, tarte flambée, knocked it out of the park for me. I had a three-cheese version with roquefort and brie, and Brett’s had tomato and herbs – both were amazing. Yes, we each ate the whole thing (with a knife and fork, as you do).
  • Bonus question: What were your favorite foods/dishes you enjoyed when you traveled? We did not eat out very often while we traveled – most of our meals were very simple and eaten in “at home” in order to keep our spending in check. Our favorite meals, especially in France and Italy, were simple cheese, pâté or salami, and fruit platters along with a glass of wine (mirabelle plums are at the top of our list for fruit). Still, we did go out now and again to experience and enjoy the local cuisine. Although we ate a LOT of good food in a lot of different places, I think both Brett and I would agree that the traditional Alsatian meals we enjoyed in Strasbourg were our favorites. I absolutely loved tarte flambée (flammekueche), and we both loved our meal of charcroute garnie (pork and sausages with sauerkraut). The baba au rhum I finally got to enjoy in Bordeaux was pretty amazing too, and we enjoyed stopping at the local boulangerie almost every day for a baguette while we were in France. The cacio e pepe along with fried artichokes I ate in Rome are also at the top of my list, as are the pizza and daily gelato we ate in Florence. And don’t get me started on Japanese food – it’s still my favorite cuisine of all. I would also love to sit and enjoy tea and fresh-baked scones served with clotted cream and jam again, or with a slice of coffee-walnut cake. Brett said I can’t forget Cornish pasties either – they were amazing, especially eaten freshly made from a shop. Oh, the memories!

Brett and I seem to have settled into our new Hawaii lifestyle. Unlike when we lived here before, there is no running around every day or adjusting our day or desires to fit the girls’ lives and schedules, and we get up, eat, and go whenever we’re ready. Along with not having visitors crowding the island, it’s really lovely. I know we’ll be out more as things open up, but for now this lifestyle is exactly what I imagined retirement to be. YaYu seems to be managing okay as well – there have been no complaints other than she misses college and her friends there, but she stays busy communicating with said friends, watching shows in Mandarin to keep her skills up, reading, and exercising. Besides watching TV together every evening, she and I continue to study Japanese together, and we each bring our own strengths to the process. We gave up on FluentU, and are back to using Memrise. It’s not perfect, but we feel what we are learning is more useful.

As promised, here are a few more of the gorgeous hibiscus we discovered over at Kukui’ula the other day. Finding new varieties has become sort of a treasure hunt for me these days.

That’s it for this week. Here’s hoping you all had a good week as well (and better weather), had lots of good things happen, and are looking forward to the week coming up!

Back to the Future: Half-Way There

As I was looking thought posts I had written in May of 2011, I almost skipped over this one post on May 10, but the first paragraph grabbed me and shook me up a bit, especially the fact that we still had over $33,000 worth of consumer debt at that point (outside of my student loan). In almost a year and a half we had paid off an equal amount of debt but we still had such a long, long way to go. In other words, we had reached a point of celebration, but one strongly tempered by the reality of what still needed to be accomplished. I knew what lay ahead and was dreading it.

All the feelings I carried back then came rushing back as I read – especially the sense of anxiety that always seemed to hover over me. I remembered feeling proud of all we had accomplished at that point as well as feeling very motivated to continue, but also feeling tired and overwhelmed by what we still had to do to get to the end. Of course, I know now that we did finish, and accomplish our goal of moving to Hawaii, but at the time I honestly felt anything but accomplished.

Fast forward to the future though, and I remembered that we saved a little less than $30,000 in the same amount of time for our Big Adventure, but only by selling most of our stuff and our car, so I am amazed by how well we did in our first 18 months of debt repayment. The amount we paid off from January 2010 to May of 2011 was something to be celebrated, especially after all that had been thrown at us in 2010. What I know now though was that it never really got any easier, and that slog is the perfect word to describe the journey. And, that we didn’t quit.

I don’t remember searching for employment at this time, but I guess I was. And, Hawaii must have really been coming into focus at this point, although I still don’t think we had made a final decision. What we were focused on at this point on going to Japan to meet our first grandchild!

Half-Way There

As of this week we have paid off more than half of the debt we started with in January 2010. While paying off more than $33,000 worth of debt in less than 18 months is certainly a milestone to be celebrated, it’s also extremely sobering to realize that we still have that much to go to become debt-free.

I told Brett last week that while I want to feel like we’re standing at the top of a mountain with an easy downward walk to the finish, it instead feels like we’re at the bottom of a deep valley looking up at a difficult, vertical climb to our goal. In other words, the “easy” part of the journey is now over, and the real work to the finish begins.

I have created a budget to get us to the end of the year, and with everything we have coming up, the amount we can put toward our debt is going to slow up some. So far I have not found any additional employment, although I’m still keeping my fingers crossed. We no longer have anything as major as a second car to sell, but hopefully, we will be able to find additional items around the house that we can part in the coming year to bring in some extra funds.

In spite of what we still have to accomplish, we remain extremely motivated to be debt-free by the end of 2012, for several reasons. Brett will retire then, we want to take a special family vacation, and we are now focused on relocating (to Hawaii?) in 2014. In the meantime, the slog continues!

Travel on Our Minds

It’s going to be a while before Brett and I travel again, at least another two years. We love being back on Kaua’i but our time on the road was magical and meaningful, truly a dream come true, and we weren’t ready for it to be over, especially not in such an abrupt way.

We can and will travel again, but we know it will be different in the future. Although we enjoyed being on the road full-time, we have decided that going forward we’d rather have a home base and then focus on making an annual trip to Japan (Tokyo) to spend time with our family there, probably for around a month; taking another longer six-week to two-month journey each year, either overseas or back on the mainland; and making a shorter visit every year to one of the other islands here.

The Covid-19 pandemic and YaYu’s upcoming college expenses are the big factors keeping us from traveling right now. However, rather than sitting around and feeling sorry for ourselves about not being able to go anywhere for a while, we’ve figured out there are lots of things we can do during this “downtime” to keep us focused on the future, motivated, and well-prepared once we’re ready to hit the road again.

Here are the things we’ve either already started or will be incorporating in the future:

  • Save for travel: One of the best things we did before we set off on our Big Adventure in 2018 was to have at least six months’ worth of travel paid for in advance. Things are different now in that we won’t be giving up our home and car in order to travel full time nor will we be selling our stuff, but as we did in the past, all extra income will be dedicated to travel savings so that our travel expenses can be met without racking up debt.
  • Set budgets: We want to take our first major trip in the fall of 2022, around six months after YaYu’s graduation. We want to make our first visit back to Japan in the spring of 2023. About a year out from those dates we will begin setting up the budgets for those trips based on our research of what we expect it will cost.
  • Create itineraries: We have already picked four places we’d like to go to once we can travel again: Ireland, New Zealand (north and south islands this time), Southwestern U.S. national parks, and West Coast national parks. All four would be driving trips. We haven’t prioritized any of them yet, but both Brett and I are currently getting started on what we’d like to see and do in each place, how long we want to stay, and so forth. He is looking into Ireland now; I am focusing on New Zealand, and after a while, we will swap and then combine our information and ideas and go from there. This part is going to take a while but it’s a lot of fun and we’re learning a lot.
  • Setting a foundation: This is the fun part for me, but we’re a ways off from this right now. This is where once an actual itinerary is set, I get to find lodging, compare rental car prices, search for airfares, and so forth so that everything fits within our budget. Airfares are going to be tricky this time around – they’re all over the place right now (if there are even flights available), and there’s no way to estimate where they’ll be when we’re ready to travel again. Frankly, I can’t even imagine getting on an airplane but it’s something we’re going to have to deal with eventually.
  • Edit our travel wardrobes: We are fortunate to have a dedicated and dehumidified closet in our apartment to store our travel clothes (cold-weather items we don’t need here). Both of us felt after getting everything hung up and put away that maybe we have too many things (me in particular), so that will be a task for us in the future, to go through what we have and downsize if necessary.
  • Edit our travel supplies: We took along so many things (for health care and otherwise) on our Big Adventure that we ended up not ever using, and we both said several times, “there has to be a better way to do this” while at the same time feeling afraid to get rid of anything in case we did need it. During the next two years, we’re going to work on making a list of what was important, what wasn’t, what we didn’t have that we could have used, what things we could have picked up along the way if necessary, and then come up with a better system for carrying that stuff along with us.
  • Make reservations: This will happen as we get closer to actually traveling, and will be coordinated with setting the foundation, but making reservations is always something to look forward to – it means we’re really going! Some reservations, like at the New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo, need to be made a year in advance as rooms sell out quickly (we’ve already decided to stay there again versus renting our own apartment).
  • Stay in shape: It’s a constant effort but we’re determined to be in as good a shape in two years as we were when we set out in 2018.

There will be other things we can do along the way, but for now, our goal is to create a path to not only keep future travel on our minds but keep us moving toward them. Two years seems like a long time away but we know from experience it will pass more quickly than we imagine. In the meantime, we want and need to stay motivated so when the time arrives we’ll be truly ready to hit the road again.

Sunday Morning 5/17/2020: Opening Up

Sunsets were all over the place this week, from mild to spicy.

Ever since I set up those cards last week I haven’t had a moment to feel bored! So far things are going well and I’m getting everything checked off, but I’m seriously having trouble finding time to do things that aren’t on the cards! YaYu and I have had mixed feelings about the Japanese program but we are going to work with it for a while and see how it goes. Neither of us is exactly a beginner, but we’re not quite at an intermediate level either so we find some of their examples easy and other things very difficult. YaYu is also using the program to review Chinese every day (advanced) so that she stays up to speed for when classes open in the fall, whether that’s on-campus or remotely.

Kaua’i beaches opened up on Friday for island residents! The local government wants to see how it goes for a couple of weeks, so there are rules to be followed, but this coming week we will finally be able to pitch our umbrella and chairs, and sit outside, read, and enjoy the sunshine and views! The visitors’ quarantine is still in full effect (until the end of June. The quarantine is taken seriously here, and because of previous infractions things have really tightened up for visitors: some hotels are not giving visitors keys anymore; they are let into the room and then given the key after their 14 days are up. Visitors are also not allowed to rent cars and have to use Uber or a taxi to get to their lodging. In spite of all these restrictions and monitoring, some visitors are still being cited and fined, and some have even been required to leave the state. Figuring out how to get the tourism industry restarted and back on its feet is going to take a long while after restrictions are lifted, with visitors expected to be only 40% – 50% at what they were before the virus arrived. In spite of the financial hardships the quarantines and shutdowns have caused, it seems that most island residents are still fine with the visitor restrictions, at least for time being – no one want the virus to get a hold here.

We are still in the process of getting things set up and taken care of here. Brett has an appointment to get the car’s biannual inspection done next week, and YaYu and I were finally able to get an appointment with the eye doctor. After two years without an exam, my glasses are not strong enough anymore, and YaYu has just one more set of contacts left and needs a new prescription. Hopefully, the Costco optometry section will be open by then, but if not, I’ll order my glasses online (with help from YaYu). All three of us also still need to find a new physician down on the south side. We loved our former doctor but he’s up on the north shore, over an hour’s drive away (when there’s no traffic) so we think it’s best to find someone located a bit closer now.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished The Last Chinese Chef mid-week but am still reading The Yellow House. The Last Chinese Chef was a fairly quick read with a romantic storyline but contained a lot of fascinating information about Chinese cooking and the philosophy behind it. For example, food in China is all about people eating together, with dishes never plated individually but always served for the group. I have picked up The Dutch House again, starting from the beginning again as I couldn’t remember much of anything of what I’d read earlier.
  • Listening to: The wind is howling again outside. We had some calmer days last week but then yesterday it got crazy again. The temperature and humidity are increasing, although nothing too bad yet, but the continual breeze has kept things nice. Brett and YaYu are rustling around in the kitchen fixing their respective breakfasts, and there is a rooster going crazy off in the distance. 
  • Watching: YaYu and I are almost done with Top Chef Season 14, and are thinking about watching Tiger King next because Meiling and WenYu keep asking us to watch so we can all chat about it. We’ll see. Brett and I are finishing up Season 2 of Trapped – maybe he’ll watch Tiger King next too.
  • Cooking: We’re having grilled Polish sausages, macaroni and cheese, and coleslaw for dinner tonight. I’m hoping to pick up a chuck roast this week to do a Mississippi Pot Roast – we made it when we were in Japan and have been dreaming of having it again and then using the leftovers for French dip sandwiches. Other things I plan to fix this week will be grilled ahi and vegetable kabobs and California BLTs (avocado added) with chips. We’ll figure out the other nights’ dinners later.
  • Happy I accomplished this week: So far I have been able to finish all the tasks on my card every day, so I’m pretty happy with that. Sunday is a notoriously difficult day to earn Swagbucks, so probably won’t make my goal of 50 today, but I have already earned 279 “bucks” this week so I should make my weekly goal of 350 by Wednesday.
    We’re down to the bottom of the bowl. These were all that were left on Thursday evening.
  • Looking forward to next week: Going to the beach! We’re going to get a beach chair and an umbrella at Costco and a couple of straw mats at Walmart this week so we’re ready to hang out and relax. Something we are not looking forward to next week will be the end of all the KitKats we brought back with us from Japan. We’ve had a lot of fun trying all the different flavors, some of which I have to admit were a little strange this time. Rum raisin has been bumped from the top spot on my favorites list though and replaced by yuzu green tea. That flavor was amazing – so delicate.
    My yummy birthday cake – Yayu topped it with a perfect ganache!
  • Thinking of good things that happened: I had an absolutely lovely birthday this year. The last couple of years it has been a travel day so I have been too exhausted, jet-lagged, etc. to enjoy anything about it but this year I got to relax while Brett and YaYu spoiled me a bit. YaYu made me an amazing cake – a Boston Cream poke cake. So good! Our new felt coasters finally arrived this week and I am thrilled. They’re such a simple thing, but cold drinks always sweat here, usually heavily, and these coasters are nearly impervious to water – it neither pools up on the coaster nor soaks all the way through, big issues and problems with previous coasters. They felt ones are pretty too – I chose a set in “ocean colors.” Our Penzey’s spice order arrived as well – their quality is outstanding, and cost much less than we would pay here in any supermarket. Brett and I went to the Kukui’ula farmers’ market this past week and really enjoyed ourselves. There was lots of social distancing going on, and everyone was wearing a mask, but there was also lots of amazing produce available at great prices, and live music too. We only spent $15 but tried to spread that around to different farmers.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: I noticed last week that what we were being charged for the big laundry rack I had ordered seemed much higher than what I initially paid and discovered that Amazon or the vendor had dropped its Prime status and free delivery between when I ordered and when it was being sent and we were being charged (a lot) extra for delivery. I was able to successfully cancel the order and get a refund. We will manage for the time being with the smaller rack we already have. Our only spending this week was a stop for Mother’s Day ice cream last Sunday evening (my scoop was free!), the trip to the farmers’ market on Wednesday, and the Puka Dogs for my birthday dinner, coming to less than $55 total. We finished up all our leftovers, didn’t throw away any food, and put $4 into the change/$1 jar this week.
  • Grateful for: Both Brett and I are so thankful for the Hawaiian spirit of aloha working its magic once again. This past week we went to check out some hibiscus at the luxurious Kukui’ula development (cottages start at $3.5 million!), located near to where we live – a parking lot near the country club had been recommended as a place where I could find some unusual and beautiful varieties. As we were walking back to our car, the security manager arrived to let us know we were in a private area. We explained why we had come and how we heard about it, and ended up having a lovely 20 or so minute chat with her about the area and more (all of us wearing masks). We learned some of the hibiscuses had been used at the big Merrie Monarch hula festival in the past, about her grandfather’s farm stand located just down the road from where we live, and she also recommended several other places in the area we should get to know. It ended up being a purely Hawaiian, purely Kaua’i experience, and we were invited to come back any time. Lucky (and thankful) to live Kaua’i!
  • Bonus question: What are your favorite tropical fruits? Of all the things I missed about Kaua’i after we left, the abundance of fresh, year-round tropical fruit was near the top of my list. I tried so many new and different things here, and while there are definitely some I don’t care for (egg fruit and sapodilla come to mind) the ones I do like make up for those. If I had to name a favorite it would be lilikoi (passionfruit) – it’s both sweet and tart, and while I enjoy lilikoi products, from pie to mustard, I especially love having it fresh, spooned over vanilla ice cream or vanilla yogurt. Right below lilikoi would be papaya, which I didn’t initially like but now love, especially for breakfast or in a smoothie. I have also come to love dragonfruit, breadfruit, litchi, and rambutan and am looking forward to their arrival this year! I will eat mango but am not a huge fan which sort of surprises me as I thought it would be something I love. Bananas are ubiquitous here but the varieties are so tasty that I can no longer eat “store-bought” bananas anymore. I miss peaches, plums, berries, and melons (we can get them at Costco but they’re expensive) but the tropical fruits we can get here are a wonderful substitute.

I am wearing my hair in a ponytail these days . . . yikes! I had forgotten how fast my hair grows here. I don’t think the ponytail is a good look for me, but I am very tired of my hair exploding into a giant puffball whenever we go out and then whipping around my face or getting in my eyes (and by the end of the evening, ponytail or not, it’s still a puffball). Hopefully, it won’t be too long before hair salons are able to open again and I can get rid of this mess.

Above are a few more new hibiscus I found this week. We discovered a lot of very beautiful ones at Kukui’ula – I’ll post more next week.

That’s it for now! I hope this past week was a good one for you too, that lots of good things happened and that you’re looking forward to the week coming up!

OK, maybe this is the reason why there seems to be a whole lot fewer chickens than there were before.

The B Word: Boredom

I did not think I would ever get to a place where I felt bored, not after the last few years anyway, and certainly not here on Kaua’i. But I woke up yesterday and realized that I was indeed bored. Very bored, in fact, and feeling a bit depressed as well.

Two months ago Brett and I were walking around and exploring our immediate neighborhood in Tokyo, discovering all sorts of new things right around the corner or just down the road from where we lived. We spent time with our family and felt like we were contributing something important. We were excited about our upcoming visit to Mexico, seeing Meiling in NYC, attending “Hamilton” on Broadway, and then heading on to WenYu’s graduation in Massachusetts. We are blessed and thankful to be healthy now, and safely back home again on Kaua’i, but I’m just beginning to realize what a shock it was to our system to have to have all the plans we had carefully put in place discarded and changed so abruptly.

The moving, shopping, and setting up our house is finished. No more packages are expected except for a spice order from Penzey’s, but I think YaYu is more excited about that than I am. The house is as set up as it can be until our shipment arrives, but there’s still been nothing happening with that. We walk most evenings, and although the view when we arrive at the beach never gets old, the walk itself sort of has. We’re stuck at the apartment almost every day unless we go for a walk or go food shopping but neither of those outings lasts very long. We do have a wonderful deck to relax on, and we thankfully all get along very well, even in our small space, and still seem to have plenty to talk about.

The potential was there though for me to mope, grow bitter, or even more bored, so I spent a good deal of yesterday reflecting on what I could do to change my attitude, as well as how to use my time more effectively to improve the situation. Just telling myself to snap out of it is not an option, and it’s still going to be a while before we can get together with friends or go to the beach. Our budget is going to be tight for the next couple of years as well so I have to deal with that as well.

After deciding on some things I could and wanted to do now, I decided to go back to my old card system, at least for a while, listing and checking off tasks to make sure the things get done every day and so that inertia doesn’t set in. I came up with six items for both mind, body, and the future:

  • Drink eight glasses of water every day
  • Walk 1.5 to 2 miles at least five times a week
  • Read for pleasure 45 minutes every day
  • Study Japanese for 20 minutes every day. YaYu and I signed up for a new online program called FluentU and will be doing it together.
  • Earn at least 50 Swagbucks a day. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, but I figured out that at an average of 50 SB a day for two years I can earn $400 in Southwest Airlines gift cards, which will help keep the cost of YaYu’s travel down as Southwest now flies to Hawaii.
  • Spend 45 minutes a day on future travel planning (because it’s fun).

The card system has worked very well for me in the past because I’m someone that once there’s a list in front of me, I have to check off all the things. The items on these cards are all small activities that won’t overwhelm the day but will keep me productive as well as motivated and moving toward future goals within the current situation we’re in. They’ll also give each day a bit more structure.

One other thing I’ve learned from my card system is that time seems to go a bit more quickly, and before I know it it’s time to fill out a new set. Fingers are crossed that’s the way it goes this time as well, and that in five weeks some changes will have occurred and some new habits set.

Sunday Morning 5/10/2020: Happy Mother’s Day!

Sunsets were subdued this week when compared to previous weeks.

Happy Mother’s Day! Today is my traditional Day of Doing Nothing, where Brett and YaYu will take care of everything, from cooking to cleaning to laundry and so on. The family has done this for the past several years, and I prefer having nothing at all on my plate for a day and not feeling guilty about it more than any thing they could give me. Right now I’m sipping a cup of fresh-brewed coffee (TheRoyale™!) and noshing on a toasted onion bagel slathered with chive cream cheese. In a short while, YaYu will make me a banana & tropical fruit smoothie. I’ve had messages from all the kids (calls will come later) so my day is starting off nicely.

This past week felt sort of meh, but overall it wasn’t a bad one. We got together with our neighbors one evening, walked almost every day, including walks on the beach, but there were no drop-dead, gorgeous sunsets because there were usually few to no clouds in the evening – basically, on most days the sun just sort of disappeared and then it got dark. The strong winds continued as for most of the week as well which helped to keep things cool but at the same time kept things sort of noisy. In other words, the new normal continued.

I contacted the moving company again early last week about our shipment, and this time got a name and direct line for contact, but as before, after I got done speaking with the agent and getting assurances they were going to work on it . . . nothing. I think the problem may be with the moving company in Portland (the office that coordinates the mainland side of things is in San Diego). Either the Portland office is closed under the current stay-at-home orders, or working with a very small staff and our small shipment is not a priority. On the plus side, I heard from the US Department of Transportation that my complaint against Aeromexico has merit and they are pursuing it, and also from our bank that the disputed charge for the tickets is still ongoing as well. Hopefully, that refund will be resolved in the next few weeks.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I continue to have two books going, but once I get myself caught up where I’m on track to accomplish my goal of 52 books this year, I will cut back to one. My two current books are The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom (daytime) and The Last Chinese Chef (evening/night), by Nicole Mones, a novel about “friendship, love, and cuisine.” The Yellow House is an award-winning memoir about a large family and their home in New Orleans, before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina. I finished Death Is Now My Neighbor mid-week, and have just one more of Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse books to finish. I know he dies in the last book, and I’m already feeling sad about that so I’m going to have to steel myself to read it. I am so glad the woman I met in the Oxford Information Office recommended that I go back and read all the Morse books. I’ve not only been able to place myself in different locations and settings and follow Morse and Lewis through the city, but have a deeper understanding of the university culture too.
  • Listening to: There’s a nice, gentle breeze outside this morning instead of the howling winds we’ve had for over a week so it’s nice and quiet. Brett and YaYu are rustling around doing something, but otherwise it’s a lovely, quiet morning.
  • Watching: We finished all the available episodes of Shetland, and YaYu and I are now watching Season 14 of Top Chef. After we finish an episode of Top Chef, Brett and I then watch an episode of Trapped, a detective series from Iceland. I’ve seen the Top Chef season before, but I don’t remember who won.
  • Cooking: I’m not sure what YaYu is planning for this evening, but afterward we’re going to the Kukui’ula Marketplace to celebrate with some Lappert’s ice cream. Other things planned for dinner this week are omelets; mabo nasu (if we can get eggplant); fried rice; and Thai chicken pizza. We’re going to get take-out on Thursday but where it comes from will be a surprise. We never got the Instant Pot cheesecake made this week, so we will try again this week, and I’m going to have another go at making focaccia.
  • Happy we accomplished this past week: 1) YaYu finished her second year of college – all classes over, all tests taken, all papers submitted. WenYu also finished her classes at Wellesley this past week and is now officially a graduate! 2) Using yeast and flour gifted us by our neighbors, YaYu and I attempted rosemary-garlic focaccia bread this past week as it was a dough we could tackle without our big mixer and we also have a big supply of fresh rosemary in the back yard. It was the first time we’d ever tried making it, and the result tasted good and was the right consistency, but it didn’t brown enough (possibly the temperature is off in the oven). 3) I successfully pressure cooked a slow cooker recipe in the Instant Pot – I was nervous about doing this but it turned out great and I will probably never slow cook it again. 4) We walked five out of seven days this past week.
  • Looking forward to next week: We have nothing special on the calendar, but my 68th birthday is on Thursday – I’ve asked for take-out for dinner and another “day off” that day, the perfect gift because I don’t want or need anything else!
    The new sofa table – we’re really pleased with it!
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We had a long, lovely video chat with our son and family on Wednesday. K is speaking so much English now! All of them are well and managing the Tokyo lockdown. Our sofa table arrived last Wednesday and we love it! I had found four different ones on Amazon that would have worked, but selected this one for its simple, organic appearance and attractive price. Last Sunday evening we were invited to our downstairs neighbor’s apartment for a wine tasting. Our neighbor is a chef at the Grand Hyatt, and his wife is also a chef, so there were some tasty nibbles as well as good wine. We had thought the upstairs neighbor was the restaurant manager but it turned out he is the resort’s sommelier! He provided a lovely selection of wines for tasting, and we had a fun time getting to know our neighbors better. The next day, our downstairs neighbor brought up flour and yeast for us so we could bake (we had talked a lot about bread the night before).
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: I had apparently left $100 in a savings account here (I thought I had closed it), so I used that as the base for our local travel savings account. I put in $14 this past week, earned from recycling and saving $1 bills. Our total travel savings is now $164, so we’re off to a good, if simple, start. We ate all our leftovers this past week and didn’t throw anything away, and other than a stop at the farmstand, and a quick trip by Brett to Costco on Friday for toilet paper (that they didn’t have) and Diet Coke, we didn’t spend anything.
    Apple bananas and fresh mangoes from the farmstand
  • Grateful for: We’re feeling thankful that the Kukui’ula Farmer’s market opened up again this week – combined with the farmstand we now have two nearby sources for fresh, affordable, local produce. We’re also thankful that a few nearby restaurants that have been shut down are re-opening for take-out, including two of our favorites: Puka Dog (Hawaiian-style hot dogs) and Da Crack, (Mexican – their burritos are amazing). A couple of shops have also re-opened in the Kukui’ula Marketplace. The reopening will be slow here, but it’s getting started.
  • Bonus question: How do you feel about having to stay home all the time? For me, an introvert, it’s mostly a satisfying situation. I have several projects going on and manage to stay busy every day. In fact, this past week I purchased a small spiral notebook to get started on my travel planning project, and then was not able to find a block of time to get started! That’s one of my goals for this week though. I enjoy getting up when I’m ready and not having to follow any sort of defined schedule throughout the day, but I’m always surprised at the end by how much I’ve gotten done, whether that’s reading, baking, cooking, cleaning, exercise, etc. Anyway, staying at home works for me, at least most of the time. I am looking forward to getting out more though, like down to the beach for more than a walk, getting together with friends, and getting my hair cut, but that’s most likely another month or so off from now.

It feels good to be done acquiring things for this apartment – all we need now is to get our stored stuff over here and we will finally feel settled. We continue to pinch ourselves that we found this place with its beautiful yard, great breezes, nice neighbors, great location, and all for less than we assumed we would be paying. In just a little over a month here, we’ve come to realize how truly miserable our last house here was, on top of the awful landlord. The house had high-end finishes and looked good on the surface, but it was small and a pain to maintain, and there was absolutely no airflow through the house – any air that moved inside was only because of the ceiling fans that operated constantly (the house sat in a small valley, and windows were not placed to facilitate air movement through the house – even if the wind was blowing outside no air came through the windows). I understand now why the humidity seemed so awful and caused me so much such misery – it was miserable! I’m still waiting to see how summer goes here, but I feel like the heat and humidity may be a whole lot easier to manage than they were before. We’ll see though.

I spotted a few new hibiscus varieties this past week while we were out walking, and also discovered Indian ginger, pink Hawaiian ginger, and some miniature anthurium. 

That’s all for this week! Again, a very happy Mother’s Day to all who celebrate. If the day is a challenging one for you though, I hope, as Connie Schultz says, that it lands gently for you. Here’s to good things happening, good books, getting things accomplished, and looking forward to the week that’s coming up!

Back to the Future: A Place in the Sun

Although we were already talking about retirement in early 2011, and of relocating to a warmer climate, it apparently took us until the end of April to sit down together and come up with a list of factors to consider when we talked about where we might want to go. For some reason lost to me now, we initially didn’t rank anything, and outside of “lots of sunshine” none of the items on our list was more important than any other. But, setting a target date for our move was important – we wanted to have a date to aim for.

Hawaii still appeared on our list of potential locations, which surprises me a bit as we started out considering it as something of a joke. But, three months later, there it is, still on the list, and not as much of a joke as it had been. I was also surprised that we had added Florida to the list, but it had some of the things on our list, and we did investigate it as a possible post-Portland home.

At the end of the post, I asked for what else we should be considering, and a few people mentioned taxes, so that became another factor added to our list, and it made a difference in ultimately deciding to move to Hawaii.

In the meantime, we were still furiously paying down our debt as our motivation continued to grow, especially as the amount we owed grew smaller, and as we honed in on a post-retirement location. We knew there were still going to be bumps along the way, but our post-debt future was beginning to take shape.

A Place in the Sun

Brett and I both independently came to the realization this winter that we don’t want to stay in Portland for too long after he retires at the end of next year. We’ve lived here for nearly 20 years, and while there is a great deal that we love about this city, Oregon, and the Pacific Northwest, we are both tired of the dreary winters and want to live someplace where we can enjoy the sun a bit more consistently than we do now. While we both enjoy all the green that comes with Portland, we are both weary of hibernating all winter, of walking dogs in the rain, and of everything else that comes along with all the wet and gloom.

So, we have been working on a list of priorities for where we’d like to eventually settle and have come up with this shortlist:

  • Weather (lots of sunshine)
  • Cost of living
  • Schools (two of the girls will still be in high school)
  • Ocean nearby
  • Mountains close by (less than a day’s drive)
  • Western U.S. (because our son and his family live in Japan)
  • Substantial Asian community (because our girls are ethnically Chinese)
  • Military facilities nearby

We haven’t gotten around to weighting any of these as more important than the others, except for the weather.  Probably the least important (to me, anyway) is having any mountains fairly close by – I’m an ocean person. Having military facilities nearby would be nice because Brett is a retiree, and while we haven’t had anything to do with the military since he retired other than receiving retirement pay every month and using the health insurance, we figure it’s something we might need or want to use (like the commissary) as we grow old(er).

So far the list of possible areas to consider include:

  • Southern California (various locations)
  • The Southwestern United States (Arizona & New Mexico)
  • Hawaii
  • Florida

We also briefly considered living overseas, but the language and/or visa requirements are more than we want to take on at this point.

All of these locations have strikes against them, but we are just getting started on evaluating the plusses and minuses of each and have another year before we have to make a decision and then work toward making it happen. Our target date for moving is Summer 2014: Meiling will have graduated from high school and be heading to college, WenYu will have completed the equivalent of 4 years of high school Chinese and all math requirements, and YaYu will be transitioning between middle and high school.

Our number one goal at this point remains to pay off all our debt! We know a comfortable retirement isn’t going to happen until we accomplish that. Once we make a decision about where to settle we can come up with a further set of realistic goals for relocating.

What are your thoughts? Have we missed anyplace else we ought to consider? Is there something else we should be considering at this point while we look at the big picture?

(This post was first published April 26, 2011.)