Sunday Morning 1/5/2020: Week 6 in Portland

We are ready to be done with cold, clouds, and rain and trade it . . .

Happy New Year! It’s the first Sunday Morning of 2020! And, it’s also the beginning of a very busy week in Portland, our last before departing for Kaua’i early next Saturday morning. We all have lots to do this week to get ready to go including several errands, packing, cleaning, and everything else that goes along with changing locations once again.

. . . for this.

WenYu and YaYu will depart on Friday afternoon, within a couple of hours of each other, and then Brett and I will come back to the apartment to finish cleaning and getting ready to move over to a hotel for the night. After our wild experience getting to the airport in England, and our troubles with the car rental agency here, we were both feeling more than a bit anxious about how things might go with our early departure on Saturday morning (just after 5:00 a.m.). The car rental agency doesn’t open until 4:00 a.m. and we were feeling somewhat afraid that if there were any problems whatsoever things could easily start spiraling out of control again in terms of us getting checked in and through security on time, so we decided to turn in the car on Friday evening instead and spend the night in a hotel near the airport. The hotel is just two minutes away from the terminal and has a 24-hour on-demand shuttle service, so we’re both feeling a bit less nervous now about being where we need to be on time.

Brett and I are also growing excited about our upcoming visit to Kaua’i, and are looking forward to spending time with friends and enjoying the weather and scenery there as well as getting out for walks, etc. Portland has mostly been its usual gloomy self for the past week and once again I can feel myself start heading into seasonal depression. When the sun shines I feel great, but otherwise, all I want to do is plant myself on the sofa and stay there all day. Those feelings have been combined the past week or so with one of my annual bouts of insomnia – ugh. Japan will be cold (colder, actually) when we get there and somewhat gloomy as well so Kaua’i will provide a much-needed winter respite.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished the Dead of Jericho on New Year’s Eve, and ended the year with a total of 58 books read. I decided to take a short break from Inspector Morse and am now reading Haruki Murakami’s Killing Commendatore. I especially enjoy it when Murakami describes different neighborhoods in Tokyo or other places nearby because I know where and what he’s writing about – I can picture them in my mind.
  • Listening to: The girls were up very late last night so they’re still asleep. Brett is rustling around the kitchen, making coffee and getting ready to make bacon for our breakfast this morning. The neighborhood is quiet as always.
  • Watching: I don’t think we watched any TV at all this past week except for the live version of Disney’s Aladdin on Friday (and I can’t get “Never Had a Friend Like Me” out of my head).
  • Cooking: We’ve been doing a very good job of getting things used up, and as of today, there isn’t a whole lot left so we should be able to finish up everything except for a few pantry items. Dinner tonight will once again be leftovers, then tomorrow I’m making pasta with pesto along with Italian sausages (which didn’t get fixed this past week). On Tuesday we’re having meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy and steamed broccoli. We’ll eat that for a couple of days, and on Thursday we’ll eat whatever is left and call it good. Brett and I plan to have Swedish meatballs for dinner on Friday night at IKEA, which is located close to the airport and our hotel. WenYu’s friend is going to come over on Friday morning to take the odds and ends of the pantry supplies (soy sauce, vegetable oil, etc.).
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: I don’t think I accomplished a whole lot this past week other than staying up until midnight on New Year’s Eve. Brett was able to get an appointment in June to meet with the surgeon, but at this point, we have no idea how long it will take to actually schedule the surgery, whether it will be in the same month or later in the year. We’re going to schedule a week to 10 days in Portland then, and will add on days if necessary.
  • Looking forward to next week: We’ll be getting together with our friend Joan on Tuesday, always something we look forward to. I’m also meeting another friend for coffee this afternoon, and another friend on Wednesday afternoon. After she and I are done I’m going to get a manicure and pedicure so I’m presentable when we’re in Hawaii. Brett and I are actually looking forward to the long flight over to Hawaii because we’re flying first class which should make it a more enjoyable experience – I’m so happy to have found those low fares! Our Honolulu to Kaua’i flight will be in economy seating, but I got those tickets for free using miles, so no complaints (and the flight only takes 30 minutes).
  • Thinking of good things that happened: My laptop was ready for pick-up on Friday and I am so glad to have it back! I am enjoying once again having a battery that charges quickly and lasts almost the whole day versus having to get up to charge it every three hours or so. My stomach issues have been under control for the entire week – not one bad day or episode!
    WenYu and A have been best friends since they were five years old. They both come from the same part of China and were adopted through the same agency at the same time, although they didn’t connect until they were in kindergarten. They had planned to go out to a club for New Year’s Eve, but cover charges and admission turned out to be more than they wanted to pay so they stayed home and celebrated with us.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: 1) When WenYu and her friend decided at the last minute that they would not be going out for New Year’s Eve, I rustled up some tasty hors d’oeuvres using leftovers and things we had on hand, including celery stuffed with spicy Thai peanut spread (everyone’s favorite), crackers topped with whipped cream cheese I mixed with some leftover crispy fried onions, chopped green onions, and sriracha; and pesto pizza bites, and there were no leftovers. Our hosts had brought us a bottle of good wine earlier in the day so we ended up having a very nice evening that cost us nothing. 2) We arranged to have our son convert yen for us for our rent payments while we’re in Japan which will save us around $180/month ($540 total) in PayPal conversion fees. 3) The Expedia credit in my account covered most of the taxes on Friday night’s hotel room. 4) My computer repair was only $129, $21 less than I expected. 5) Finally, I bought the Costco store brand of acid reducer for my stomach – 250 tables for just $10.99 versus 25 name-brand tablets for $12 at Winco or 90 tablets for $7 by prescription. Between the Kirkland medication and one order of my prescription, I am set for a full year.
    Something I’ve noticed more of this time in Portland is lots and lots of new, big apartment buildings squeezed in all over the place. At one point the other day it felt like we were driving through downtown Tokyo! Rent in these places is not cheap either. For example, studios in this building start at $1300+ and a 2-bedroom, 2-bath apartment goes for $2800, more expensive than Kaua’i.
  • Grateful for: I’m thankful for all the good years we spent in Portland; it was a beautiful, affordable city to land in following Brett’s retirement from the navy and a great place to work and raise our children. But I’m also grateful we were able to move on when we did; it was time for us to go. Portland is changing, as it should, and we will always love this city, but it isn’t the right place for us anymore.
  • Bonus question: What is your least favorite chore when your family gets together? The girls are very good at helping out with cleaning, cooking, and doing dishes, but the one thing they won’t do? Laundry! I get that they want a break from having to do it on their own (who wouldn’t?), but on the other hand, two to three young women can produce a LOT of laundry, and it’s an effort to sort it, wash it, dry it, fold it, and then get them to pick it up and put it away (and I don’t easily recognize anymore which piece of clothing belongs to which girl). Doing their laundry is a small price to pay for the pleasure of our daughters’ company once or twice a year, but that doesn’t make me dislike the chore any less.

There won’t be a post next Sunday as we’ll be on the move all day Saturday (and tired from having to get up so early), but I will try and instead do a brief Monday Morning post after we arrive on Kaua’i and get settled. We’ll see how it goes – all I may feel like doing once we’re there is sitting out on our friends’ lanai and sipping mai tais! Life has been something of a three-ring circus since the girls arrived, and we are enjoying every moment with them, but we’re also starting to look ahead to our quieter, “regular life” again with just the two of us.

Once again, a very happy new year to all, with added wishes for good health and prosperity. I think this coming year is going to be a bit of a wild ride for a variety of reasons, so hope everyone is hanging on tight!

Closing Out the Books for December and the Year

We knew there was no way we were going to be able to stay on or under budget during December and in that respect, we were correct. We ended the month with a daily spending average of $47.34, back near our $50/day limit versus staying close to the current $35/day limit. Most of what was spent this past month was for food, lots and lots of food. We’ve eaten well but not extravagantly, and I’m not sure where we could have cut back – there’s been no waste, and we bought little to no junk food or sweets either. Other than a very few items, like Brett’s beard trimmer, his new carry-on bag, and a couple of books for me, there’s been no buying things other than travel supplies and provisions. Our daily spending average is what it is – it just costs more to feed a family.

I also went back through all our spending in 2019 to see how we did over the span of 12 months. There were several months of under average spending (more than I thought), but of course there were several months where we ended up over our daily average. I added up how we did each month, whether we were over or under budget, and came up with a total of $848.96 over budget for the entire year. Divided by 12, that’s $70.75/month over what we had planned to spend.

I have mixed feelings about that number. I’m of course disappointed, but it’s also not as bad as both Brett and I imagined it might be. Our worst overspending occurred when we were in the U.S. because we tended to do “big shops” at places like Costco, and also spent extra on re-provisioning our travel supplies. Side trips, like the ones we took while we were in England or out to the Oregon coast this past summer, also drove our spending up as well. We bought and spent more than planned in India, but otherwise did not go crazy buying things or going out to eat frequently during the year, although they happened from time to time. We have no regrets about those experiences however. Some places we visited during the year turned out to be more expensive than we had estimated (Hong Kong, for example) but other places were as expected or even a bit less. In Japan and England, our two long stays, we started off spending over our monthly averages but over time we learned and adjusted, and by our final months in each place we had it down to below average.

Overall it was just an OK year, spending wise, not a great one or even a good one. We were able to cover the amounts we were over each month, and we don’t feel as if we wasted money on anything or any experience. The cost-of-living increases in our income this year will cover the extra per month if we repeat 2019’s spending patterns, but we know we can do better. Our goal for 2020 is to come in under average every month.

New Year, New Goals

Brett and I had quite the year in 2019. We started out with visits to India, Hong Kong, Australia (including a train ride across the continent), and the North Island of New Zealand. From there we spent three wonderful months in Japan followed by summer in Portland and then fall in the charming Costwolds village of Blockley (with side trips to Edinburgh, London, Oxford, and Bath). We’ve ended the year with another great family Christmas in Portland. It’s going to be a hard year to top.

Toward the end of every year, Brett and I assess where we are and what we’ve done, and then think about and start discussing where we’d like to be at the end of the coming year as well as what we need to do to get there. Once those decisions are made we set goals and the milestones we need to meet. I’m happy to report that we have (finally) come to a firm decision about what we want to do and where we want to go following WenYu’s graduation at the end of May – all will be revealed in the spring after we leave Japan for our mystery destination (the two are linked). Coming to a decision about our future has involved lots of research and discussion (still ongoing), but we’ve reached what we feel is a good compromise on the keep traveling/settle down divide and both of us are looking forward to going forward and making things happen. 

Below are eight goals we want to accomplish in 2020. The first one is my personal reading goal, but the rest of them are for the two of us.

  1. Read at least 52 books again including finishing the Inspector Morse series and rereading all the Harry Potter books. I also have a few unfinished books on my Kindle, including Hamilton by Ron Chernow and It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis, and I also want to finish those in 2020.
  2. Get our two primary health issues – Brett’s surgery and my stomach problems – resolved. Brett wants to have the surgery done in Portland next June following WenYu’s graduation and is working now on setting that up with the surgeons.
  3. Follow through on our big plan for the rest of the year after WenYu’s graduation at the end of May, a short visit to Vermont and Maine, and then (hopefully) Brett’s surgery in June.
  4. Do a better job of sticking to a monthly budget. Although we’ll have somewhat less per month than usual while we’re in Japan, we’ll be able to increase the daily amount again once we reach our mystery destination.
  5. Spend next Christmas once again in Portland and go through our stored items with the girls (and fingers crossed, with our son and daughter-in-law as well) and let them take what they want, then downsize the remaining items.
  6. Meet our annual savings goal for YaYu’s college expenses, with disbursements to her in July and late December.
  7. Restock our travel savings account. We use these savings to cover major transportation costs (i.e. airfare) and other miscellaneous travel expenses. All our transportation has already been paid for through arrival at our mystery destination in April. We will need to save enough to buy tickets to get us from there to New York City in May for a short visit with Meiling (and to see Hamilton!!), then get us over to Massachusetts for WenYu’s graduation. We also need to save enough for a rental car while we’re in New England and for our tickets back to Portland and then on to our next destination.
  8. Do we dare say we’d both like to lose some weight? Starting with our last three weeks in England, we’ve been much too sedentary and the pounds having come creeping (bounding?) back. A big goal in 2020 is more exercise!

As always, the goals above are SMART ones: Specific, Measurable, Achievable (even losing weight!), Realistic and Timely (finish by the end of the year). Welcome 2020 – we’re ready for you! 

Wishing all a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

Sunday Morning 12/29/2019: Week 5 in Portland

The whole gang – we have loved being together with them again.

Changes will begin this evening as Meiling and K return to New York – both have to be at work tomorrow (so all our fingers are crossed there are no problems with their flight arriving on time). We are going to miss Meiling so much (K too) – she’s been a delight to have here. WenYu and YaYu will be with us through the 10th of January, the day before we leave for Hawai’i. WenYu will head back then to Massachusetts to attend an alumni gathering that helps match seniors with employment opportunities following graduation and will begin her last term at Wellesley afterward. YaYu will go up to Seattle to spend a week with one of her roommates, and then they’ll fly back to Philadelphia together for the start of their spring term.

Here’s the main reason our suitcases were so heavy leaving England – the above is what each of the girls received in her “Brit Box” on Christmas morning (and we also brought back several additional jars of jams, curds, and chutneys for ourselves and for friends).

We had a wonderful Christmas Day. We all slept in, and then the girls started off the morning opening the “Brit Boxes” we put together for them in lieu of stockings this year, filled with all sorts of goodies we picked up while we were in England. As we ate our breakfast of bagels and berries, Meiling served as our elf and passed out gifts. The biggest surprise and highlight of the morning for Brett and me was receiving tickets from Meiling to see Hamilton on Broadway when we’re in New York City next May. I’m frankly still in a bit of shock, but also absolutely thrilled – I have been a Hamilton fan from the beginning but never thought I’d be seeing it any time soon! We brought cashmere scarves back from Edinburgh for each of the girls, and are so thankful they were happy with our choices – we had had a very difficult time picking colors and plaids out of the thousands of options available there. We also gave Meiling and WenYu gift cards and contributed to the cost of a much-needed new winter coat for YaYu instead of a gift card. Later in the morning, we all got a nice surprise when our Airbnb hosts appeared at our door with homemade cinnamon rolls, Christmas cookies, and coffee beans that they had roasted for us. The rest of the day was quiet and relaxed: we ate leftover pizza for lunch, watched a couple of Christmas movies, and enjoyed a delicious ham dinner in the evening. We all agreed it was one of the best Christmases we’ve celebrated together.

We were right back to “normal” (or whatever that is) on Thursday with dentist appointments and other errands, including picking up K – he’s spent the past three days with us. Less than two weeks to go and we’ll be back on Kaua’i with friends, and in three weeks we’ll be together with our son, DIL, and grandkids in Japan. They’re currently on a family vacation in Singapore – I can’t wait to hear all about that as it’s on our bucket list.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished The Way Through the Woods on Christmas, and am now reading The Dead of Jericho (book #5 in the Morse series). I found the last two books I can’t get online at Powell’s (used copies) and will pick those up this afternoon at a nearby Powell’s store. I’m almost ashamed to admit that occasionally when I’m reading an actual book these days I sometimes can’t figure out for a few moments why the pages of the book don’t light up at night or find myself tapping the bottom of the page to go to the next (#addictedtomyKindle).
  • Listening to: The girls are still asleep and Brett is rustling around in the kitchen, but otherwise, all is still and quiet, just the way I like it in the morning. 
  • Watching: The girls have the televisions monopolized most of the time, but Brett and I were able to squeeze in a viewing of Dolomite Is My Name, starring Eddie Murphy. It was raunchy and fun from start to finish – we loved it! We also watched The Two Popes, starring Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, a completely different but also very good film (although probably not entirely historically accurate). Both films are available on Netflix. We’ve binge-watched all the series we wanted to see so we’re now feeling sort of lost as to what to watch next. Any suggestions?
  • Cooking: We will have two fewer (big) eaters going forward from today, but YaYu has decided to eat meat once again beginning January 1 so that will make menu planning a bit easier. Last night we finished off almost all of the leftovers, which were a) very good, and b) cleared up a lot of room in the refrigerator. Tonight we’re having pad thai, and tomorrow I’m fixing the ham and pasta dish that didn’t get made earlier as planned (YaYu will have hers without ham). We’ll finish off two jars of marinated artichoke hearts along with that. On New Year’s Day, I’m going to make one of YaYu’s favorite recipes, noodles with pork sauce, and other meals planned for this week are turkey rice soup; pasta with pesto and Italian sausages; and fried rice with ham. We will be beginning efforts this week to make sure all the food we bought gets finished before we depart on January 11. 
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Getting all the cooking done and meals on the table has been something of an effort, mainly because I’m out of practice preparing big meals for so many. Keeping the small kitchen clean as I went along was a chore as well, but everything got done and all the food was eaten and enjoyed. Both Brett and I got vacation supplies of our prescriptions ordered so we’ll be covered until we get back to the U.S. in May, and we ordered some other provisions we’ll need.
  • Looking forward to next week: I’m really not looking forward to much more than another quiet, relaxing week with Brett, WenYu, and YaYu. Brett and I are going to the Apple Store later this afternoon to finally get a new battery installed in my laptop and get it all spiffed up as well. It’s in very good shape other than needing the battery – the Apple tech was surprised the original one was still operating considering how long I’ve had it (although it only holds a charge for around three hours now).
    Brett joined the Rolling Carry-On Club this past week.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Besides having a really great Christmas Day with the girls, I don’t think anything can top the thrill of receiving those tickets to “Hamilton.” What an amazing surprise! The treats our hosts brought us were another sweet surprise as well – they truly are the most delightful Airbnb hosts we have stayed with yet. Brett had decided to switch over from a backpack to a rolling carry-on and we found a very nice one (Samsonite) on sale yesterday. It will give us more room and be easier to maneuver than his bulging backpack. I will be responsible for the carry-ons while Brett will continue to wrangle the big bags. He’ll continue to use the backpack though as his personal carry-on item and to carry my laptop, etc. My stomach issues continue to slowly improve and I had a few days this past week with no problems whatsoever and slept well on those nights as well. I’m still figuring things out but those days give me hope that I can eventually get through this. Finally, I was having a good hair day yesterday so WenYu decided to give me a makeover last night and do my makeup. I enjoyed the experience but couldn’t see the results until I put on my glasses, which of course then covered it all up! So, the girls took pictures of me without my glasses so I could see how things turned out. I haven’t worn makeup for years, and have no plans to start using it again but last night’s session was fun. I especially enjoyed having eyebrows again (mine are naturally invisible).
    My glamour shot. Makeup sure hides a lot of flaws (so do glasses).
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We stayed out of stores this past week so other than my ordering the two books from Powell’s, getting Brett a new rolling carry-on bag (60% off), and making one stop for milk, cheese, produce, a bottle of wine, and toilet paper (and nothing more!) we had a zero-spend week! I chose in-store pick-up for the books from Powell’s and saved $3.99 in shipping fees instead of having them mailed to me. I combined gift card the girls gave me with an online sale at J. Jill and got a new top for nothing out of pocket (the order left 6¢ on the gift card). We were shocked to discover that Costco now charges nearly $50+ for a 10-pack of Oral-B replacement brushes but we found a 12-pack of generic brushes (with equally high reviews) on Amazon for just $8.99. I did some research and found another highly rated brand of curl cream – two containers cost $20 less than what I would have paid for two tubes of my current brand. We went downtown to the Apple Store yesterday to see if it was worth trading in my current laptop for a new one, but when it came down to $850 with trade-in for a new laptop versus having the battery replaced in my current one for less than $150 it was a no brainer. I have an appointment at the Genius Bar this afternoon to get that done.
    A gift certificate from the girls and a 40% off sale price made it possible for me to get this pretty velour tunic.
  • Grateful for: Both Brett and I continue to be thankful that our daughters get along so well with each other. They support each other, offer advice, tips, etc. and a shoulder to cry on if necessary. They’re very different from each other in their interests, styles, and personalities but they work well together and enjoy each other’s company.  
  • Bonus question: How do you plan to celebrate New Year’s Eve? Our celebrations are always quite boring, to be honest. We don’t like parties or crowds, but Brett and I always stay up with whoever is at home to welcome in the New Year, and sometimes we’ll have some sparkling wine to help the celebration (but not always). When the kids were little we would wake them if they had fallen asleep and take them outside to bang on pots and pans to make noise for a few minutes, and when we were in Hawaii we would all stay up for the fireworks (New Year’s is a BIG holiday there). As I said, our celebrations are very simple and unexciting, but Brett and I have been awake at midnight on January 1 every year for 43 years (we missed being together just once, in 1992, when he was deployed for Operation Desert Storm). So, in 2020 we’ll stay up and welcome in the new year, our 44th New Year’s Eve together.

This past week we’ve been thinking about words to guide us in the coming year and have come up with four:

  1. Experience. No matter where we are or what we do, appreciate the experiences for what they are, both good and bad. Stay adventurous!
  2. Learn. Keep an open mind and heart, accept what the world and others can teach us, and adapt as necessary.
  3. Wonder. Maintain a sense of wonder and amazement at what the world has to offer, even in the smallest things. Stay humble.
  4. Save. Become better stewards of our income in order to live our best lives and maintain choices going forward.

2019 has been a great year for us, and we’re looking forward to what the future holds!

That’s a wrap for Sunday Morning in 2019! I hope everyone had a great week, had a wish or two come true, and are looking forward to the possibilities of 2020. 

Note: My computer might still be in the shop this weekend so if there’s no Sunday post next weekend, that’s the reason why. Thanks for understanding.

Merry Christmas!

May you, your family, and your friends be surrounded by all the things that bring you Christmas cheer, and reminded of all the things that bring you happiness and hope. 

Wishing all who celebrate a very merry Christmas!

Sunday Morning 12/22/2019: Week 4 in Portland

Hanukkah sameach! Wishing all who celebrate a happy and peaceful Hanukkah along with best wishes for the coming year.

In spite of breakdowns, storms, squalls, delayed flights with late departures, and middle-of-the-night arrivals, the girls (and one boyfriend) all eventually made it to Portland this past week. Meiling left yesterday morning for a couple of days down in Eugene with K and his family, but she’ll be back tomorrow. Currently, the girls are awaiting a few more of their packages to arrive, but otherwise, we all are ready for Wednesday’s festivities. And my goodness, these girls still eat a LOT! I’m frankly shocked by how much they can still put away. Meiling received some big news the day after she arrived: although she has been at her job less than two months, apparently she has made a very good impression because this past Thursday she learned her manager would be leaving the company to take a position elsewhere . . . and she was asked to take over the manager’s position! She was initially very stressed by the offer, torn between wanting the increase in salary/benefits versus the added stress she’d be taking on, at least for the first few months. However, with encouragement from her manager and several others in the company, and from her boyfriend and Brett and me, she has decided to accept the position and is getting prepped. Her manager, who Meiling adores, is already helping her with the transition and will continue to serve as her mentor even after she leaves. To say Brett and I are impressed and proud of this girl would be an understatement.

Meiling was actually not unhappy when she arrived early Thursday morning, just very, very tired since her flight on Wednesday had been delayed by several hours and she’d been awake at this point for over 24 hours)
WenYu’s flight on Thursday was also delayed by several hours, but at least it was during the day and she had been able to sleep most of the way so she arrived in a better mood.
YaYu was the last to arrive, on Friday, the only one whose flight arrived when it was supposed to. Her flight from Philly left over an hour late so she was sure she would miss her connecting flight and was surprised to be the only one whose flight got into PDX on time.
K’s flight was also delayed, but he ended up arriving just a few minutes after YaYu so we didn’t have to make two trips to the airport that day.

Brett had a follow-up appointment this past week with the doctor regarding the endocrinology issue that was discovered this past summer. The doctor wants him to have surgery to remove a misfiring parathyroid gland in the coming year, but how and when he will get this done is going to be a challenge as we will be out of the U.S. for the first half of the year, and not be back in Portland for at least a year. Thankfully the issue is not as troublesome as it was last summer, nor is the surgery urgent. We’ve already checked on whether this was something he could have done in Japan while we’re there, at the naval hospital, but we found out that endocrinology is not handled there; patients requiring the same surgery as Brett would either be sent back to the U.S. or out to a Japanese hospital. Anyway, fitting this in is going to affect future plans one way or another as it’s a very delicate procedure and the doctor did not recommend getting it done just anywhere.

I will be taking the next week off from the blog but will be back next Sunday. I am so ready for the big day on Wednesday – the girls are here, almost all the gifts have arrived and have been wrapped, and all the food has been bought and is ready to prepare. Beyond the holiday hoopla, I’m planning to bask in the simple joy of our family being together. I know our time together will fly by, but I’m going to enjoy every moment we get.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished The Jewel That Was Ours, #9 in the Inspector Morse series (which had a different ending from the TV program – I was surprised) and immediately downloaded book #10, The Way Through the Woods, from the library. I won’t get all the Morse books finished by the end of the year, but I’m making good progress.
  • Listening to: The heater is running strong this morning – it’s cold outside! Brett is making coffee and putting away yesterday’s dishes, and WenYu and YaYu are still asleep. In other words, another quiet morning (so far)!
  • Watching: Brett and I binge-watched the British detective series, Broadchurch, at the beginning of the week. We’d seen the series before but found it just as compelling the second time around. David Tennant and Olivia Colman have to be two of the best British actors working these days – both their performances were amazing. Meiling and WenYu went together on a subscription to Disney+ and have set that up here, so the girls have been busy watching stuff on that channel as well as all sorts of videos about their favorite K-Pop group, BTS (they are all slightly obsessed), and YaYu is catching up with everything.
  • Cooking: There will be lots of activity going on in the kitchen this week! We will be having big bowls of vegetarian dumpling soup this evening and tomorrow night, when we’re all back together, I’m putting together a big salad bar for our dinner (along with some sourdough bread). Then, on Christmas Eve, we’re having a pizza night. I going to make four different pizzas: classic pepperoni; roasted vegetable; lamb sausage with feta and artichoke hearts on pesto; and Thai chicken. On Christmas Day we’ll be having ham, macaroni & cheese, roasted Brussels sprouts, green bean casserole, dinner rolls, and apple and cherry pies for dessert. After Christmas, I’ll be making turkey divan casserole; pasta with ham, peppers, and spinach; and super nachos one night to break up the ham and turkey monotony. I actually baked a couple of times this past week – a pan of brownies for the girls and a pumpkin coffee cake.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Our big accomplishment this past week was getting all the girls and one boyfriend picked up at the airport no matter how delayed their flights were or what time in the middle of the night they finally arrived. Keeping them fed has been a bit of an accomplishment as well!
  • Looking forward to next week: Christmas, of course! But most of all just being together with Brett and the girls – the only thing that could make the week better would be having our son and his family here too. We put a different twist on the girls’ Christmas stockings this year and I’m excited to see how they react to that.
    Our tree now has some bling!
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Our hosts brought up some extra Christmas ornaments they had after decorating their tree, and now our little tree is all decked out for the big day! Little by little my stomach issues are getting better. It’s been a learning experience though about what and when to eat and what I need to avoid (for example, chocolate has sadly turned out to be an irritant), and when to take medication, etc. I haven’t figured it all out yet, but I’m getting there. Brett took all the girls and Meiling’s boyfriend out to a doughnut shop just up the street for breakfast yesterday. I haven’t had a doughnut in ages, but the jelly-filled (my favorite) they brought me was very good and much appreciated. 
    Doughnuts!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: Other than one last shop for a few things at Winco on Wednesday, parking fees at the airport ($9 total), and the trip to the doughnut shop yesterday morning we had a no-spend week. There’s also been no effort or worry this week about leftovers getting eaten!
    Grateful to love and be loved by these beautiful girls
  • Grateful for: I’m so thankful that the girls all arrived safely in Portland and that we’re together again. I love hearing their chatter and their laughter.
  • Bonus question: Have you ever regifted or returned something you got for Christmas? Yes, but only a very, very few times. I’ve only made one return that I can remember. For our first Christmas together Brett gave me a sweater. I liked it except for the color (pale tangerine orange and I don’t look good in pastels). I asked him if it was OK if I exchanged it for a different color, and he said OK so we went back to the store. However, none of the other colors were available in my size and I ended up exchanging the sweater for something else. I knew he felt disappointed, especially that he had missed on the color, but I wore the new top I got in exchange a lot so it all worked out. I can only remember regifting a couple of items, a massive three-level cake stand I received from someone one year and a set of cut-glass wine glasses I got from one of my students. Neither was something I liked nor would use and I regifted both to people who were happy to have them. There have probably been a very few other items I’ve passed along but I don’t remember them.

No matter what you celebrate this coming week, or with whom, or whether you celebrate at all, I hope everyone has the holiday they hope for and makes wonderful memories in some way. I know it can be a difficult time for some (it was for me for many years), so take care of yourself and your heart, and ask for help if you need it. For all, I wish a time of comfort, peace, calm, and love.

Happy holidays to all!

Back to the Future: Ghosts of Christmas Past

I didn’t post anything on I’m Losing It Here about Christmas in 2009, and have no memories of what we did or didn’t do that year. Brett and I may not have exchanged gifts, and presents for the girls may have been less than usual but I don’t remember anything other than it was a grim time for us. We probably still put up a big tree at the beginning of the month, but anything else about how we spent Christmas that year is lost in a fog.

However, I clearly remember writing the post below a year later, in early December 2010. I had accumulated a lot of heavy baggage from my childhood about Christmas, and 2010 was the year I was finally able to let all that baggage go and truly enjoy the holiday for the first time. We continue to enjoy simple Christmases these days with gifts kept to a minimum. As our oldest daughter said earlier this year, “Mom, it’s not about the presents anymore. It’s about us being together.” So, although this post jumps a little bit ahead in our get-out-of-debt story, I think it’s worth sharing now.

(I’ve also decided to use Brett’s name instead of other references to him because they were driving me nuts and I can only imagine what it is like for readers.)

This Year’s Christmas Non-Shopping

Christmas was not a happy, festive time at our home when I was growing up, and I don’t have any warm, fuzzy memories about those times. Christmas seemed to be another financial burden as well as a nuisance to be borne by my parents. While my dad didn’t deliberately choose the Charlie Brown Christmas tree, we usually seemed to get the nearest thing to it, with our tree shedding most of its needles before it ever came through the door. Christmas lists were eagerly drawn up by my siblings and myself every year but I don’t remember ever once receiving anything I asked and hoped for. Parsimony ruled the day unless it was for hockey gear for my brothers, then no expense was spared. The worst Christmas gift I can recall receiving (and there are many to choose from) was the November and December volumes from a Time-Life series of books my parents subscribed to and that the whole family shared. My mom wrapped the two books and put them under the tree for my gift that year. I dreaded going back to school after the holidays because I didn’t want to hear about or see all the wonderful and thoughtful gifts my friends and classmates had received.

The gifts we children gave were unimaginative as well, but there wasn’t much you could buy for five other people with a dollar or two (we didn’t get an allowance, so our funds were from pennies we had saved throughout the year). My father eventually would pass out a little money to me and my siblings in early December, but before that happened I remember giving him a bar of Dial soap for several years (and him acting thrilled) or giving my mom a bottle of “Evening In Paris” perfume from the dime store one year. She was not thrilled, but then who could be?

As you can imagine, I collected a whole lot of baggage along the way about Christmas and how it should be celebrated. After Brett and I got married, I was determined that Christmas was going to be the happiest, most exciting time of the year, with a big tree, the house decorated to the nines, lots of baking and parties, and presents, presents, presents! Money was no object, not at Christmas, even if we didn’t have it, and I tried to fulfill every wish on everyone’s list as well as knock their socks off with something totally unexpected and wonderful. As you can probably imagine, we incurred debt every year at Christmas and spent the first few months of the year paying it off.

This year is the first where we’ve had a realistic budget for Christmas, one that we’re adhering to. It’s amazing how freeing it is. There’s been no agonizing over how we’re going to pay for Christmas. We’re spending less than half of what we did in the past, supplemented with Amazon credit from Swagbucks. Each of the girls will receive one “big,” special gift that Brett and I have carefully thought about and can afford, and another smaller gift from us (clothing). There’ll be a few small things in each of their stockings, but that’s all. We cut back the amount to be spent on each “Secret Santa” gift to $25 or less per person (we exchange names within the family, including our son and daughter-in-law), and the girls have had fun thinking of useful or much-desired gifts that fit within the budget.  For gifts outside of our immediate family, we are either not giving anything this year, at least not now, or giving homemade treats. We’re also keeping decorations to a minimum, with a small tree on a table this year versus our usual 7-foot noble fir.

You know what the best part is? I’m just as excited about Christmas this year as I’ve ever been. So are the girls and Brett. Being on a budget has not made us feel stifled; in fact, we’ve found we’re having a lot more fun and being more creative and thoughtful about our gift-giving in the process. Who knew?

It appears I’ve finally tossed all that old baggage out for good. Bring on the holidays!

Looking Ahead: Living On Less in Tokyo

Tokyo is not an inexpensive city to visit or reside in but over the years we’ve discovered that there are ways to keep costs down. Brett and I are going to be on a very tight budget during our three-month visit early next year because of the cost of our lodging, and also because of what we’re putting away each month for YaYu’s college expenses and the small amount that’s going into savings each month. By the time those three things are accounted for out of our net income, we will only have around $800/month left to cover our daily living expenses. We’ll be bringing all our frugal skills to bear in order to not overspend during the time we’re there, and I have to admit upfront it’s going to be a challenge.

Currently, there is a good exchange rate between the dollar and yen, and if it holds we should be OK. If the dollar starts dropping though we may run into trouble, or have to reduce expenses and what we put away into savings and for YaYu in order for us to make it in Japan.

Our housing costs in Japan are nearly a third again more per month than what we typically pay for lodging, but much, much less than what we’d pay through Airbnb in Tokyo. It’s shocking to see what teeny, tiny studios in the city are going for on Airbnb these days, so we feel very fortunate to be able to rent again from last year’s host. The monthly amount isn’t cheap but it covers not only rent but all utilities as well, and gives us the luxury of a nicely furnished one-bedroom apartment with a well-equipped kitchen, a nice bathroom, and a washing machine. The apartment’s location is fantastic too – it’s in a great neighborhood just one subway stop from our son’s place and three stops away from Shibuya, a major Tokyo transportation and shopping hub.

Here’s the spending plan we’ve come up with for each month in order to stay within our $800/month budget:

  • Convert dollars to ¥80,000 each month (at the current rate, that’s less than $800, more around $750, but that could change). This will be divided and placed in envelopes that we’ll draw from as funds are needed.
  • ¥40,000 per month will be set aside for groceries. Besides rent, food will be our biggest expense in Japan. We aim to keep our food expenditures at or under ¥10,000 per week We spent around that much per week on our last visit, but that often included bakery visits and such which we plan to curtail this time. Before we left Japan last year we discovered a second supermarket (Seiyu) located near to us that has the same products but lower prices than the other market we had been using (Tokyu), and we’ve also learned of another discount store in Shibuya (Don Quixote’s) that we’re going to check out. We will be bringing along $400 in cash with us to use for commissary and exchange shopping trips as we’ll most likely do two of these during our three-month stay (our son loves his Diet Coke). We will get things like certain cuts of meat, coffee, dairy products, cereals, and American-style bread, items that are expensive and/or difficult to find in Japanese stores at the commissary. We also plan to buy a slow cooker not long after we arrive to increase our cooking options and will leave it with our DIL when we depart.
  • ¥12,000 per month will go toward transportation costs. We are going to load each of our PASMO cards (which are not only convenient but provide a small discount each time the card is used) with ¥6000 at the beginning of each month and hopefully, that will be enough to get us through 30 days. However, if we learned anything last year it’s that the balance on the card can drop surprisingly quickly so this amount may need to be adjusted. Our son will cover our transportation costs for picking up the grandkids from their schools which will help, and I will be starting out with nearly ¥1000 on my card leftover from earlier this year. 
  • ¥12,000 yen per month will be set aside for dining out every Friday evening. Eating out in Japan is something we have always enjoyed, and there are some things we like to eat that we just can’t make at home (like takoyaki (octopus dumplings), sushi, or handmade udon like we can get at the noodle restaurant down the street), and when our grandson comes for sleepovers we sometimes like to take him out for McDonald’s or KFC. Dining out for the two of us typically won’t be anywhere near ¥3000/meal, but a few places could be so ¥12,000 should be enough to cover these expenses each month. This budget should also work as an incentive to find sources for good food at low prices (and they are abundant in Japan).
  • ¥16000 yen each month will be for all other expenses, including occasional admission fees, occasional snacks, occasional trips to the local laundromat, and for emergency expenses. We plan to use Secret Tokyo extensively because every place listed in it is free, but of course, there will be transportation costs in getting to and from those places. One big expense we’re already planning is a day trip to Kamakura. We will take one of the free private walking tours but will have to pay for our guide’s lunch and our total round-trip transportation will be about ¥2600 – we are going to use the ¥4000 we received from YaYu to help cover these expenses and will set aside some of our extra each month for the rest. We’d also like to take a trip up to Nikko but are not sure if we can fit that into our slim budget.
“Don’t say kekko (fine) until you’ve seen Nikko.” We would love to visit this amazing World Heritage site again if we can afford it.

Sadly, for now, Brett has decided to forego calligraphy lessons during this stay. The tuition for weekly lessons plus the transportation costs for getting there and back (around ¥10,000 per month) are a luxury he feels we cannot afford this time. However, yen that is remaining at the end of the month will be rolled over until the next, which will mean a lower amount we have to convert for that month. If there’s enough left over out of our $800/budget I think the extra should go toward these lessons. We’ll see.

Our time Japan next year will be all about living a good, but frugal, life in an expensive place. Our goal is to find a path for getting more for less and discovering ideas and solutions that can be applied when visiting other expensive locations.

Sunday Morning 12/15/2012: Week 3 in Portland

A wintery day in Portland with some blue skies. I wish it could have lasted but rain and gloom arrived toward the end of the week.

Brett and I enjoyed a lovely, laid-back week – lots of sleeping in, lazy days, wonderful get-togethers with friends, good food, but things are going to change this week because beginning on Wednesday . . . the girls start to arrive! Meiling arrives after 10:00 Wednesday night, WenYu arrives at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, and YaYu comes in after 10:00 p.m. on Friday. We are more than ready for their arrivals, and so excited we can hardly stand it! We did get to spend time with Meiling this past June for her graduation, and YaYu was in and out of Portland on either side of her time in Japan for the summer, but we haven’t see WenYu for almost a year so are greatly looking forward to being together with her again. As far as how we’ll be spending our time, we’ll pretty much go along with whatever the girls want to do.

I had another rough week as far as my stomach troubles go, but I saw the doctor on Thursday evening and I’m trying some new stuff and hoping to get things turned around. The doctor’s main concern is that what I’ve experienced since I stopped taking the PPI on December 2 is not normal. An E-consult was set with a gastroenterologist – he has already reviewed bloodwork (which was normal), symptoms, reading my chart, etc. and will eventually make a recommendation, and in much less than time than I would have spent waiting for a regular appointment. So far all that I know is that several things that could be causing the issue have been ruled out (bleeding ulcer, Hep C, bacterial infection). My doctor feels the gastroenterologist will be ordering an endoscopy before we leave Portland to see if he can find out what’s going on. In the interim, she prescribed Pepcid to help with the symptoms. Brett and I stopped at Winco on the way home from the doctor’s and picked up a package to carry me over until my prescription arrives, and I felt almost immediate relief when I took the first one but unfortunately, it only lasted a few hours before the pain was back with a vengeance. It’s helping more each day though, and I can take it indefinitely as it does not cause the problems the other medication does. I am not used to being or feeling unwell so hopefully what’s going on can be diagnosed and a solution found soon. On the plus side, I found out that for all the scones, clotted cream, and jam I ate over in England (as well as the shortbread, etc.) I had only gained six pounds from what I weighed  this past summer. I’m taking that as a win.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished the sixth in the Inspector Morse series, The Riddle of the Third Mile, and have downloaded the ninth in the series, The Jewel That Was Ours. I realized the books are not written so that they have to be read in order (well, except for the last book in the series), so I went with what the library has. I ordered a used copy of the fifth book, The Dead of Jericho, from Amazon for 99¢ – it should arrive before Christmas. Mysteries, even convoluted ones like the Inspector Morse ones, are about all my brain can handle right now.
    We got our Pittock Mansion mugs out of storage when we were at Joan’s. I love having my morning coffee in these mugs, and we’ve decided to take them along with us to Japan this time.
  • Listening to: Although it’s not raining right now, it is gloomy and damp which is helping to keep everything quiet outside. We both slept in late this morning, but Brett’s rustling around in the kitchen now while he fixes coffee and makes breakfast. The only other noise is the sound of the heater blowing – it’s cold outside. In just a few days the noise level is going to ratchet up a bit as the girls arrive – I can’t wait!
  • Watching: We had another week of binge-watching good shows and movies. We started out with Season 3 of Goliath, starring Billy Bob Thornton, and then watched the movie Marriage Story. That was difficult to watch at times but the acting was absolutely superb. Scarlett Johanssen deserves the Oscar for her performance. Then it was back to comedy with Modern Love, a great series on Amazon. Brett and I watched White Christmas last night, and once WenYu arrives it will be time for our annual viewing of Love, Actually.
  • Cooking: Brett and I will be finishing up odds and ends through Wednesday (soup, sandwiches, etc.) but on Thursday I will be preparing Meiling’s favorite recipe, stir-fried broccoli & tofu with spicy peanut sauce. Friday we’ll have hot turkey sandwiches with stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy; and on Saturday I’m going to make vegetable curry (Japanese style) along with rice. We have lots of things on hand for breakfasts from cinnamon rolls to quiche to breakfast sandwiches and the girls will nibble on leftovers and such for lunch (more like eat us out of house and home), and Brett is planning to take the girls up the road to the fancy doughnut shop one morning.
  • Happy I accomplished last week: Not my accomplishment, but Brett got all of our tax paperwork lined up for YaYu’s financial aid for next year (the FAFSA was done back in October) – now all we have to do is wait until July of next year to hear how much she has to pay now that she’ll be the only one left in college. I got my prescription refills ordered so I will have enough medication to get me through until we’re back in the U.S. in May, and I also got written prescriptions that I can carry along in case I lose my medication or something else occurs where I need refills (U.S. prescriptions cannot be sent overseas through the mail). I got a flu shot as well as one for pneumonia and my DPT booster and still have the sore arms to prove it! I am also due for the shingles vaccine but the clinic was out of it, so I am going to try and get it from the navy when I’m in Japan. We got our summer clothes out of storage when we were at Joan’s (to have for Hawai’i) as well as our Pittock Mansion coffee cups – they were a good purchase and we are enjoying getting to use them!
  • Looking forward to next week: I just can’t wait to be together with the girls again and hear more in detail about what they’re doing, etc. They all make me so happy!
    Joan provided a beautiful spread for our tea last Tuesday.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: I got a great haircut last Sunday – I was very pleased with the experience and the result. We had a delightful lunch/tea at our friend Joan’s house on Tuesday afternoon – she prepared so many good things to eat – and we enjoyed great conversation with the other guests. It would be hard to pick a favorite thing I ate that day, but Joan’s curry tarts with chutney were pretty amazing. The scones and clotted cream she served brought back some good memories as well. On Thursday I had coffee and a pastry with my friend Elaine – she and I met back in 2005 when her daughter and YaYu were in the same Mandarin Immersion kindergarten class and we’ve been setting the world straight ever since. Another friend, Pat, came over to our place on Friday because I was feeling too under the weather to go out, and we had a great catch-up as well. Brett learned how much his military retirement cost-of-living raise will be for next year (not very much), but between that and our Social Security increases we are happy – every little bit helps. We sent YaYu a surprise “Finals Week Care Package” full of all sorts of fun treats to get her through the coming week (lucky WenYu did not have any finals this term!). The packages were a fundraiser for the Bryn Mawr lacrosse team, and YaYu was very surprised and happy with all the goodies she got.
    This is what approximately $36 worth of yen looks like – a nice gift from YaYu!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: The package of 25 Pepcid tablets we bought at Winco cost nearly $12 (ouch), but with the doctor’s prescription and mail delivery from our pharmacy, going forward we will pay around half of that for a 90-day supply – yeah! I paid nothing for the used book I ordered from Amazon because I had exactly enough credit left in my account to cover the entire cost of the book plus shipping fees. We got our annual rebate back from our insurance company – $96.65 this year (even though we don’t own a car, we carry an affordable non-owner policy that covers us whenever we rent a car or use a car-share service (like we did with Zipcar last summer). I had forgotten we put away some yen over at Joan’s that YaYu gave us when she got back from Japan last summer and we were surprised to discover it totaled over ¥4000! It’s mostly coins, but I know we’re going to appreciate having it, especially during the first couple of weeks we’re there. We continue to stick like glue to our shopping lists, eat all our leftovers and not throw away any food.
  • Grateful for: I was deeply touched by the many comments I received on the “10 Years a Blogger” post and cannot say thank you enough for all the continuing support, now and over the past 10 years, that I have received from my readers. You are all simply THE BEST!
    Hanging an ornament on our little wooden advent tree each day in December was a Christmas tradition for us for more than 30 years. We got the tree for our son when he was eight, then the girls took it over, and now our grandchildren are carrying on the tradition.
  • Bonus question: Does your family have any special Christmas traditions? Christmas time used to be a lot more complicated, with decorations and stuff, but we still keep our Christmas morning traditions. Our children have always been allowed to open their stockings before waiting for Brett and I to get up and before we start breakfast (although this year Brett and I have put a fun twist on the Christmas stockings). Brett usually gets up first and makes hot chocolate for the girls, with whipped cream and marshmallows, and coffee for the two of us. Before opening presents, we have always have our traditional breakfast first: toasted bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon, fresh fruit (often berries), and orange juice. Our son decided on bagels when he was eight years old, and that’s what we’ve had ever since. I asked a few years ago if I could fix something else for breakfast and was about strung up, so bagels, cream cheese, and salmon it still is. After we’re done, we open our presents. Meiling serves as our “elf” these days and chooses a gift for each person to open (our son did this before passing the duty on to Meiling), and we open presents in order from oldest to youngest, one at a time so everyone can admire each others’ gifts (if the grandkids are with us they start first though). When we’re done we all pitch in to pick up wrapping paper, etc. and then relax until it’s time to eat. Over the years we’ve attempted to add other traditions but after over 40 years these are the ones that have remained consistent, no matter where we are.

I was very happy and surprised by the reaction I got to this past week’s post from my old blog, I’m Losing It Here. It’s been interesting to go through the old posts and see what I was writing back then (I’m shocked though by how bad the photos were. They were beyond abysmal. All hail the iPhone!). What stands out is how much we learned going through the experience of ridding ourselves of so much debt – it truly changed us forever. I’m planning to share around one re-post a week to share our story and how we got where we are today.

We have an exciting, busy week coming up but I have a couple of posts ready to go, including another “Back to the Future” installment. I also plan to post next Sunday but after that will be taking the week after off for the holiday. In the meantime, here’s hoping that your week included lots of good food, good friends, good books, and all sorts of good things happening for you! And here’s to a great week coming up!

Back to the Future: Part III: The Ugly

Several commenters on the “10 Years a Blogger” post wrote that they would be interested in reading posts from my earlier blogs. While the administrative duties of managing more than one blog are more than I want to take on, about midway through answering comments I realized I could still share selected posts from those blogs. So, I’ve decided to start by offering up one of the earliest posts I wrote from I’m Losing It Here, and if readers are interested in knowing more about how our story progressed I’ll continue to share more.

The post below, published on December 31, 2009, is actually the third in an initial series I wrote in December 2009 when I started I’m Losing It Here. I called the series “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” The first two posts were about losing weight (that at least had been going somewhat well), but the main effort behind starting the blog was to document facing and getting rid of the massive amount of debt (over $65K) we had accrued. Part III: The Ugly was the beginning of that story.

BTW, Brett initially did not want me to use his name, so it won’t show up in I’m Losing It Here posts. He’s always “my husband” or “Mr. Losing It” or something along those lines.

Part III: The Ugly

If debt were categorized like weight, my husband I would be considered beyond morbidly obese.  We are drowning in deep, massive debt. While we are still able to pay all our bills on time and put food on the table, we finally had to accept at the end of this year that it had gotten out of hand, and we had to get rid of it or we would sink and drown.

Up to and during 2008, times were good.  My husband got tons of overtime so paychecks were big and fat.  I didn’t have to work, and stayed busy volunteering at my children’s’ schools, or driving them to their activities, or back and forth from school.  We put money away each month and were able to pay cash for our 8-day Disney vacation in early December 2008.  When I went to the grocery store or Costco, I filled my cart with whatever caught my eye or whatever I thought might be tasty.  While we didn’t shower the kids with anything or everything their hearts’ desired at the moment, there still was no problem getting them new clothes and shoes when they needed them, or paying for field trips or school supplies.  I bought myself and my husband new clothes now and then without worry (although I’m actually not a big shopper).  We had a new patio installed and some other landscaping done because the financing was so good and we felt we could afford the payments.  The spike in gasoline prices wasn’t an issue, mainly because one of our cars is a hybrid and also because we are just not that into driving all over the place.  There was no problem paying for the children’s music lessons, braces, etc.  We thankfully have good medical insurance and were healthy all year so we didn’t have any major expenses in that area either.  When we came home from our Disney trip, my husband had received a nice bonus from work which paid for everything for Christmas.   He also received a nice cost-of-living raise on his military retirement.

Things started to change late October 2008 when my husband’s manager announced that effective immediately, there would be no more overtime (note: The amount of work coming in for Brett did not cease nor diminish, however – it just began to back up).  We had forgotten how small his regular paycheck was, but with what we had put away we were able to continue to cover expenses. His employer also announced that there would be no pay increases for anyone in 2009, which caused us to take a small gulp. I decided I needed to find something to bring in a little money, but something that would not interfere with the children’s activities or school schedule, and in February of 2009 I started work as a kitchen assistant in a nearby elementary school. It’s a fun job, but my once-a-month paychecks did not even begin to make up the overtime pay we had lost.  We got a large tax refund in March, which I put away, but by July it was all gone, used again to cover our monthly expenses. We dipped into our overdraft accounts and ran them up to their limits, then broke out the credit cards in August. Even without shopping sprees, or fancy vacations, they were up to their (high) limits by the end of the year after covering emergency medical expenses, car repairs, and some home repairs. I personally began to be afraid that we would run out of food, and looking back I realize I spent an awful lot on food. Our pantry was always filled to overflowing as was a storage shelf out in the garage. But eventually, I had to dig into that as well as I had less and less per week to spend on groceries as we struggled to cover our mounting payments.

In early October we decided to sell one of our cars, the hybrid. It had low mileage, was in great condition and its value was way over what we owed. We had all of two serious lookers, and both of them offered far less than it was worth. We decided to keep it when we saw how much our gasoline bill spiked when we were driving our other car, a VW Passat wagon. With the hybrid, we only needed to fill the tank once a month, with the Passat it was once a week. We didn’t want to get rid of the VW though as it was the only car that could fit all of us (as well as our dogs) if we ever wanted or needed to go somewhere as a family.

In early December, we tried to refinance our house to lower our payment. No cash-out was requested, just a lower payment. After shelling out for the appraisal (based on the bank’s conditional pre-approval), running paperwork back and forth, we were denied final approval because our debt-to-income ratio was too high and because we had no cash to bring to the closing.

Thankfully I had already purchased everything for Christmas, but otherwise, by mid-December, we had hit rock-bottom. It was a come-to-Jesus time for us and our debt.