Arrivederci, Florence

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We’ll miss Florence’s sense of humor, and searching for these creative No Entry signs all over town. There are more than 40 different creative designs, and this past weekend we discovered a shop where you can buy them as stickers!

Our suitcases are packed, we’ve finished up all the food in the refrigerator, and tomorrow morning we will turn over the keys to our wonderful apartment and walk over to the train station to depart for Rome. When we arrived in Florence a month ago it was fall, with the leaves just beginning to turn, and we barely needed a sweater, but the weather now is cold, the leaves are gone, and we bundle up every time we leave the house.

Il Campo, Sienna

We loved exploring the street of Siena. Florence is an old city, but it’s a baby compared to Siena.

Our month here has proved to be everything we hoped for and more. We’ve seen and done almost everything on our list, made some discoveries, and we ended our stay on a high note, with a wonderful day trip out to Siena last week, and a fun, informative and absolutely delicious pizza class on Sunday evening. Best of all, in spite of all the things we’ve seen, done and eaten we’ve stayed under-budget for our time here, with a daily average of $46.85.

Brett and I are ready to enjoy a slice of the maestro’s Napoli-style pizza before making our own custom pies.

Here are some of the things we’ve seen and done in Florence this past month:

  • Walked all over the city, and through its enchanting streets and alleyways. We loved hearing the various church bells ring every day.
  • Visited the Uffizi, Accademia, Palazzo Pitti, and Bargello museums and viewed an amazing amount of beautiful art.
  • Viewed the Brancacci Chapel frescoes.
  • Visited Santa Croce, Spirito Santo and the Florence Duomo. Brett climbed to the top of the Brunelleschi dome at the Duomo while I toured the Interior.
  • Walked through the Mercado Centrale and enjoyed a roast beef sandwich at da Nerbone.
  • Enjoyed gelato in a variety of flavors every day (I think we might have missed one day).
  • Drank some great Tuscan wines (both red and white) as well as some tasty limoncello.
  • Took a day trip to Siena where we walked through the city, toured the Siena Duomo, and enjoyed a wonderful four-course traditional Tuscan meal.
  • Took an overnight trip to the Cinque Terre and ate delicious Ligurian cuisine in Riomaggiore.
  • Learned to make authentic Napoli-style pizza and ate a couple of good pizzas out in town as well.
  • Bought beautiful leather gloves at Madova, a stovetop espresso maker in my favorite color, and a marbled paper phone case.
  • And, we’re finishing our stay tonight with bistecca fiorentina at Trattoria I’raddy, located just around the corner and recommended by our host.

Bistecca Fiorentina

We’ve also been able to rest and relax as needed, and bought ourselves some souvenirs. We’ve never felt like our time here was speeding by, nor that it was dragging either – the pace has been perfect. The only thing we especially wanted to do that didn’t happen was a visit to the Piazzale Michelangelo. We had wanted to do it this past week, but time and weather have not cooperated.

However, all good things must come to an end, and it’s time for the Occasional Nomads to move on to our next destination: the Eternal City of Rome. Our stay there will be short compared to our time here, just seven nights, and I think we’re going to probably feel a bit rushed after the luxury of time we’ve enjoyed in Florence. We’ve already booked a small-group tour through the Colosseum, the Forum and Palantine Hill, but other than enjoying a special dinner out for Thanksgiving the only “must do’s” are walks through a couple of neighborhoods (i.e. Trastavere) and a visit to the Vatican and its museums and cathedral.

Grazie mille, Flrenze, for a fabulous time and more memories than we can count.

The Big Adventure Has Officially Been Extended

The Occasional Nomads are going to England!

A month or so before we left Hawai’i, Airbnb sent us a coupon after we cancelled our Tokyo stay at their suggestion because of changes in Japanese home-sharing rules. The value of the coupon was worth the full price for our entire stay in Tokyo even though at the time we had only paid one third of the amount as a deposit. In other words, we were given an Airbnb coupon worth over $7100 – yes, that’s how much it costs to live in Tokyo for three months in a small apartment near our son’s place – to make up for the inconvenience of having to arrange another rental situation (we will actually be staying in the same apartment, but renting directly from the owner who has been checked out by our son and daughter-in-law).

How to best use that coupon became a hot topic of discussion for Brett and me. There were several rules attached to its use, most importantly that it could only be used for one Airbnb stay versus being broken up and used for several different bookings. It had an expiration date. Also, any amount that was not used could not be redeemed later – any balance remaining after applying the coupon would disappear. In order to use it to maximum effect we were basically going to have to stay for a short time in the most luxurious place ever (so not our style) or do an extended stay somewhere.

Brett and I talked about all the places we wanted to see and weren’t visiting on the Big Adventure, and where we would most like to spend an extended period of time. In the end we decided we wanted to visit England. That decision was the easy part but where to spend a long period of time in England was a bit more difficult as there’s lots we’d like to see in different parts of the country. We drew up a list of different areas, ranked them, and in the end decided on the Cotswolds District in the west. We could do walks and hikes there, the area is close to Oxford and Bath and not that far from Cornwall, and it’s close enough that we could get over to London for a few days, and to Wales as well.

YaYu stepped in at that point and asked if we would let her find the perfect Airbnb for our stay. We gave her some parameters beyond the price and dates we were interested in: the house had to have a washing machine (and hopefully a dryer) and WiFi, and we would also like to have a dishwasher and a fireplace if possible. In a short while she had compiled a list of six lovely homes that fit all our criteria. One of those went immediately to the top of the list, a converted part of an old vicarage in a small village outside Moreton-in-Marsh, in the upper part of the Cotswolds. The house had everything we wanted and then some, the location was great, the house was loaded with character, and the owner and home got great reviews.We knew last summer it was too early to even inquire about a reservation, but this past weekend I contacted the owner and was able to book the house for a three-month stay beginning in September of 2019, following our summer stay in Portland. The full price was covered by our coupon, with only a small amount left over (and lost). All we will have to do is buy our plane tickets – thank you Airbnb!

One funny thing though that I have to add: In the interim I had found another lovely house in the area and it looked like our coupon would cover three months there. However, when I plugged in our dates, the monthly price first appeared at over $66,000 dollars, and when I checked again the next day a month’s stay had climbed to $189,000!!! Not sure what was going on with that, but we certainly were not interested in buying the house, lovely as it was.

I Could Get Used To This

Coffee on the lanai every morning . . .

Just two days in the condo and I never want to leave (well, almost).

. . . along with beautiful sunrises.

Whether w’re watching the sun rise and enjoying our morning coffee out on our lanai or sitting under an umbrella by the pool or just relaxing in our cool apartment, we feel like we’ve won the lottery. We enjoyed “living local” for the past four years, but I’ll be the first to admit that having air-conditioning is beyond fabulous. I had forgotten what it’s like to walk across a room or step out of the shower and not immediately break into a heavy sweat. Humidity has not been my friend here on Kaua’i so this is truly a special treat for me. I keep reminding myself though that going without A/C for the past four years is one of the reasons Brett and I were able to afford to stay here now and set off on our adventure next month.

The only time in my life I’m going to have a Sub-Zero fridge and Wolf range and oven. The dishwasher is so quiet we have to check to make sure it’s running!

The living room is very comfortable and inviting. All of the original art work in the house was painted by the condo’s owner.

The entire apartment is pure luxury and very comfortable, especially so in our case because of the last three miserable weeks we spent working on the house. The kitchen is equipped with very quiet appliances, and has more than adequate dishes, glassware, cookware and utensils. We have a full-size washer and dryer. All the rest of the fittings and furnishings are comfortable and top-of-the-line as well. It’s taken me a couple of nights to adjust to a different mattress, but the king-size bed is very comfortable now. I’m still marveling at how quiet everything is is overall – the apartment has been sound proofed so we don’t hear any noisy neighbors, roosters, traffic, pool noise, etc.

There’s a soaking tub for two in the bathroom and a separate shower in its own room around the corner to the right.

The view from our lanai includes a partial ocean view (we see more of the ocean from the living room). The building we look over is an air-conditioned fitness center.

After our last few weeks in our house and the disappointing end to that experience, I’m more grateful than ever that we chose to stay here for our last days on the island, and beyond thankful for the small inheritance from my mom that helped make it possible.

And of course there is the pool – even on an overcast day it’s fabulous.

I really could get used to all this. However, we have only three more weeks to enjoy it and I intend to make the most of it.

Forever Nomads (Well, Occasionally)

Illustration by Davide Bonazzi

The other day our son commented that while he thought we were crazy to come here four years ago he was happy things had turned out so well, especially for his sisters. He went on to let us know where he thought we should consider living once the Big Adventure ends, and why.

His comments and suggestions got us thinking about moving once again to a place we’ve never lived before and starting over. Brett and I have been asking ourselves for a while if we’re really willing to do that again, or would it just be safer/easier to come back to Kaua’i at the end of the Big Adventure. It’s been the hot topic of conversation between the two of us for several days now, and a more difficult question to answer than we imagined. But, we know our son has a unique perspective – he’s known us longer than anyone – and is watching us grow older in a different way than his sisters are, mainly because he’s older and at a different place in life than they are. We have been listening carefully to what he has to say this time and what he suggests and why.

Our experience on Kaua’i has been overwhelmingly positive, especially for our children. Both WenYu and YaYu blossomed here, and had many more opportunities to shine than they would have in their school back on the mainland. Their life back on the mainland would have also been far more competitive and materialistic than it’s been here, and life on Kaua’i has given each of them the opportunity to experience and absorb the concepts and ethics of aloha and ohana, which will stay with them always. Moving with the girls has made our experience here a better one for us.

Going forward though it’s pretty much just going to be Brett and me. Like everywhere else, Kaua’i is growing more expensive with the cost of living here climbing higher and higher. In the four years we’ve been here the changes are noticeable, and unfortunately more negative than not. We know the girls would visit us here over the holidays no matter what, but we realize those visits are going to be happening with less frequency as they each segue from college to working, marriage and perhaps children. Our son and family would also still visit, but those trips will be harder to make as their children grow older. We know that it will be easier for us to see the girls if we settle on the mainland, and it will be just as easy, and more likely, for our son and family to fly to the mainland as well.

After thinking about and discussing the points our son has made, and talking with each other about what we want going forward, Brett and I have decided we are willing to move somewhere new once again. We did it over and over when Brett was in the navy, we successfully made the move over here, and we feel we can do it once again. We’re still vagabonds at heart, and will forever be nomads of some sort, even if that’s only occasionally.

This past March I wrote about the things we would be looking for if we choose to settle in a new location including cost of living, taxes, walkability, culture, health care, travel & transportation, and weather. We’ve been looking at that list again this past week and have found that our priorities have changed a bit from when we first made the list. For example, walkability has moved up to the top of the list. We very much don’t want to own a car again if at all possible. In the four years we’ve lived here we’ve had to get in our car to go or do anything, and it’s gotten old. Although we love the slower lifestyle here on the island, we also frankly miss urban living. We ‘d like to be able to walk to buy groceries, visit parks, coffee shops or restaurants, and have access to more cultural events. Staying as mobile and active as possible is very important to both of us as we age further.

We have absolutely no regrets about coming to Kaua’i, and the past four years have been more wonderful than we dreamed. But, as much as we love our life here we realize it’s time again to try something different. We’ve sort of decided where we’ll go, and are at the beginning of planning for that. Travel will definitely remain part of the picture. Nothing is far enough along right now to announce anything, but you’ll all be some of the first to know when the time is right!

Until One Is Committed

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!”

William Hutchinson Murray

The best description I ever heard of the China adoption process was that putting the dossier together was like doing your taxes over and over and over and over and over and over . . . again and again and again and again. A slew of documents needed to be assembled upfront: a homestudy, birth certificates, marriage certificate, medical reports, police reports, financial statement, adoption statements, immigration forms, etc. – there were nearly 20 documents required in all. Each one of them had to be notarized in the state where they originated, then each notarized document went to the Secretary of State of that state for the notary to be certified. After that, the entire stack, by now nearly three inches high, was sent by courier to the U.S. State Department for certification, and then to the Chinese Embassy for each document’s final certification and approval. Four copies then had to be made of every page of the entire dossier and only then could it finally be sent to China and put in line for us to be matched with a child.

The process took several months to complete, and along the way there was always the possibility for China to tweak or change their requirements. For example, we were almost done with the dossier for Meiling’s adoption when China suddenly announced that physicals could no longer be more than six months old, and ours were seven months old at that point. Panic! But, our doctor squeezed us in, and every other part of the certification process worked flawlessly (for a change) and in just a few short weeks the dossier was finally complete and off to China in late May of 1996. Matches and referrals were taking only three or so months back then, so our hopes were high that by the time we returned home in August from taking our son to college we would have news of a new daughter.

However, when we returned home and called our agency the news was not good; in fact, it was very bad. China had shut down adoptions for families that already had children, which of course included us. Our agency was moving families into other adoption programs, but China had been the only program that worked for us because of our ages (we were each over 40 years old). What had happened, we later learned, was a power struggle over the international adoption program had broken out between two different political bureaus in China, and adoptions had ground to a halt while they fought it out and reorganized. (We later learned our agency was convinced at the time that the entire program was going to collapse.)

All of our hopes and love, and quite a bit of money, had gone into the adoption process for more than a year, including all of Brett’s and my work assembling our dossier. I was in graduate school at the time, and my work began to suffer because I could barely concentrate. Brett unhappily slogged off to work each day as well. Our son was at college in another state, so it was just the two of us at home each evening, and we were glum, depressed and unsure of what to do or how to proceed.

On one particularly bad day one of my professors emailed me the quote above, and told me to “hang in there.” I shared it with Brett that evening, and we talked about how deeply committed we still were to adopting from China, and had been from the start. All sorts of unexpected and serendipitous events had happened and helped us along the way to make our adoption dream so far a reality, and we decided that rather than pull out we would stay with it to the end and see what happened, no matter the outcome. We both felt in our hearts that our daughter was waiting for us there.

The William Murray quote was a turning point for us. And, it has proven prescient ever since. When we have committed to something, whether it was adding an additional child to our family again through adoption, or getting ourselves out of debt, or moving to Hawai’i, or planning a trip – when we have committed ourselves, as the quote says, Providence has always moved too. Things we couldn’t have imagined happened to help make our plans a reality, and we were given the drive, vision and persistence to see our dreams come true and our goals reached.

Commitment has been the step where we’ve gone from “do you think?” or “should we?” to “let’s do this” and then started figuring out how to accomplish it. The path to success has not always been straight or smooth or easy, but time and experience has shown that the unexpected does and will occur along the way to help, especially when we need it most. As each journey continues we begin to see things in different ways and act on them accordingly, with our commitment to finishing growing stronger the further along we get.

As the new year began in 1997 we were still waiting, but Brett and I had reached the depths of despair. There had been no positive word from our agency for weeks, and we felt like we were hanging on to hope by our fingernails. We had enjoyed having our son home for Christmas, but he returned to school on January 9. So, when the phone rang on the morning of January 10 I assumed it was him asking about something he had forgotten or wanted us to send. I had been lying on our sofa, crying and asking God for some kind of a sign, that if there was to be no adoption to let us know somehow and we would let it go, but if we were to continue to hope then we would continue to hang on. When I answered the phone though it was not our son but our social worker: “Laura, there’s a baby girl waiting for you in China.” On March 12, 1997, in the hallway of a hotel in China, we met our little Meiling for the first time and she was ours.

This was the only picture we received of Meiling before we met her.

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!

Mystery Revealed: Laura & Brett’s Big Adventure!

Surprise! Bet you weren’t expecting this!

Nighttime Tokyo

The Occasional Nomads are preparing to become permanent nomads for a while! When YaYu leaves Kaua’i for college next August, we’ll be leaving Kaua’i as well.

Brett and I have been talking about traveling on our own once the girls were all off to college for as long as I can remember. We’ve been keeping a (growing/changing) list of places we want to see for a long while now, but a few months ago, as we were trying to prioritize those places, Brett said, “Why can’t we just go and see them all?” We began to wonder, “could we do that?” So, we started to investigate if it might actually be possible, and after some serious number crunching, lots of discussion, and a wrenching decision to leave Kaua’i for a while, the Big Adventure was born.

Brett and I are going to slow travel around the world for around a year, although not in a particularly straight line. At the end of next summer It will just be us and our suitcases and backpacks, right after we get YaYu settled at college.

Here’s the itinerary we finally settled on:

Recoleta, Buenos Aires

  1. Buenos Aires, Argentina. We’ll start our journey by spending 10 days here, staying in an Airbnb rental in the Recoleta neighborhood. When our time in BA is over, we’ll take the ferry across the Rio de la Plata to . . .
  2. Montevideo, Uruguay. We’ll spend another 10 days here, again staying in an Airbnb rental. At the end of our time we’ll take the ferry back to Buenos Aires and fly to . . .
  3. Paris, France. We’ll visit Paris for just four days, renting a room in someone’s home through Airbnb versus renting an entire apartment. From Paris we’ll take the train to . . .

    Omaha Beach, Normandy, France

  4. Normandy, France. After picking up a rental car in Caen, we’ll drive out to visit the Normandy battlefields and beaches, Bayeaux, and Mont St. Michelle. We’re going to stay at a B&B (in a small château) in the area, and will be in Normandy for three full days. After that, it’s back to Caen to return the car and catch the train for . .
  5. Bordeaux, France. We’ll spend a week here, exploring the city and surrounding area, eating and of course drinking the wine. Lodging will be an apartment rented through Airbnb. When our week is up we’ll take a plane to . . .

    Strasbourg

  6. Strasbourg, France. We’ll be in this charming city for four weeks! We picked Strasbourg as our location to “settle” somewhere in France for a while, one of our trip goals. We’ll again stay in an Airbnb rental. At the end of our month we’ll catch another plane and fly to . . .

    Florence

  7. Florence, Italy. We’ll be staying four weeks here as well (in an Airbnb rental, of course), which will give us time to explore the city and other places in Tuscany. We’re planning to get a permit and make a two-day side trip to the Cinque Terre (long on my bucket list) while we’re here. When our month is up, we’ll head to . . .
  8. Rome, Italy. One week of exploring and eating in Rome will be enough on this trip. We’ll be staying with Airbnb again. then it’s arrivederci and off we go to . . .

    Lisbon

  9. Lisbon, Portugal. Lisbon has been high on our list of places to see for a while, so we’ll be spending 10 days here (once again with Airbnb), as well as visiting some of the area around the city. Then, from Lisbon we’ll fly back to . . .
  10. Portland, Oregon. We’re planning to spend around a month here, with the girls joining us on their winter breaks from school. We’re looking forward to getting together again with old friends, and we’ll have our Christmas celebration here. Brett and I will also re-provision ourselves as necessary. Sometime in January 2019, when all the girls head back to their respective schools, Brett and I will depart for . . .

    Hong Kong

  11. Hong Kong: This is a purely nostalgic visit for us. We’re interested in seeing the changes to the city, but also what’s stayed the same. Unlike previous visits when we mostly shopped, shopped, and then shopped some more, this time our focus will be the food! We’re hoping to stay at the The Salisbury YMCA Hotel, located right next door to the famous Peninsula Hotel on the Kowloon side. We’ll stay in Hong Kong for just five days, and then it’s on to . . .

    The Taj Mahal

  12. New Delhi, India. We’re going to India!!! This is the only organized tour we will take as neither of us feels ready to explore India on our own. Besides seeing Delhi, the eight-day tour will also visit Agra (the Taj Mahal!) and Jaipur. We’ll finish up back in Delhi, and then fly to . . .

    Dining car on the Indian-Pacific

  13. Australia: We’re going to enter Australia in Perth, on the west coast, and will board the Indian-Pacific train there for a four-day, three-night journey (in a private berth) over to Sydney, where we plan to stay for around six days. The train journey has been a dream of Brett’s for a long, long time, and it makes stops in a couple of places along the way where we can get out and explore a bit. We’ll once again be staying in an Airbnb apartment while we’re in Sydney. Then we’ll leave Australia and fly to:

    Rotorua, New Zealand

  14. New Zealand: We’ll pick up a rental car at the Auckland airport, and then will spend around 10 days exploring the North Island, starting with three days in Rotorua, then a stop in Napier, down to Wellington for a couple of days, back up to New Plymouth for a night, and finishing with a couple of days in Auckland before turning in the car and departing for . . .
  15. Tokyo, Japan. Our longest stay, we’re going to rent an Airbnb apartment here for nearly three months, and already have our fingers crossed that we’ll be able to find an affordable place fairly close to our son’s condo. We’re very excited about having an extended amount of time near our son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren (our grandson is already talking about sleepovers at Grandma and Grandpa’s house!). WenYu and Meiling will be joining us during their spring breaks which happily coincide in 2019, and are already saving for their trip (YaYu will join them if her spring break matches theirs). Sometime in mid- to late-May, we will return to . . .

    Portland

  16. Portland, Oregon. Meiling will be graduating from college in mid-June so we need to be back in Oregon, but we’d like to spend the summer here, and give the girls a place to come “home” and work, spend time with their friends, etc. And after that . . .

Who knows? Somewhere along the way we’ll decide what we want to do the following year, whether that’s continuing as nomads (which seems a very possible outcome right now, as there are many, many other places we want to see), or settling back either here on Kaua’i or maybe even someplace else. We’re going to store some of our stuff here on the island, but most of our things will be sold before we go.

We don’t have any exact dates for our travels as of yet because for the first part of our journey we need to know when and where YaYu will start school, and for the second half everything will revolve around the India tour date, and those dates won’t be available until late this year or early 2018 . So, things are still pretty fluid right now as far as scheduling, etc.

I will have a post up next Monday about all the financial aspects.

This trip is a dream come true for both of us, and you know I have been and still am in travel planning heaven. We have much to do to get ready for our Big Adventure, lots more saving to do, but things are moving along nicely. I hope you’ll follow along as we get ready to go around the world!

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Women’s Work

political-cartoon-entitled-the-sky-is-everettMy daughters almost didn’t believe me a few years ago when I told them that at their age practically the only respectable professions open to me were secretary, teacher, nurse or possibly social worker. My family thought that even though a Bachelor’s degree was necessary, I should become a nurse because it was a good career for a woman. My brothers were encouraged to be scientists and athletes.

My daughters were astonished to hear that women’s jobs use to have their own section in the newspaper, filled mainly with openings for nurses, secretaries and teachers as well as jobs for child care providers and housekeepers. There were no fire fighters, only firemen. No mail carriers, only mailmen. Lawyers, doctors, pilots, engineers, scientists and the military were always assumed to be men’s professions. Jobs were always manned (versus staffed), and all sorts of employment terminology was otherwise gendered to exclude women. Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who graduated third in her class at the Stanford Law School in 1952, was refused even an interview with at least 40 law firms because she was a woman.

There was no Title IX until 1972. The only interscholastic sport girls participated in at my high school was tennis. I was an excellent swimmer, but there was no swim team; I was a good archer as well but was told archery was a “boy’s sport.” Instead of playing sports, girls tried out for cheerleader, song girl, flag girl, majorette or the drill team.

Misogyny, both from within my family and from the outside community, was a constant companion growing up. I was forever being told that I couldn’t do things, or go places my brother could because I was a girl, although I could easy beat up my brother until high school – I was strong! Girls were not allowed to wear pants or jeans at my public high school; we had to wear a ‘uniform’ of a gray or black skirt to cut back on ‘competition.’ There was no uniform for boys though. I remember being called in and ordered to kneel once in front of a ‘jury of my peers’ because someone reported that my skirt was too short (it wasn’t), a humiliating experience. My sister and I were expected at a young age to make our beds every morning and pick up after ourselves because that’s what girls did, while my mother made my brothers’ beds every day and cleaned their room. I was told I needed to learn how to cook and sew and clean in order to “catch a husband,” and women in the community often winked and asked if I was going to college to earn my “M.R.S. degree.”

While I was in college, I worked in a nursing home as an aide, where men were paid more for doing the same work as the female aides; I was threatened with termination when I brought it up to management. Women did end up getting a raise, although we were still paid less than the men and still did the same work. I’ve had friends though who had to sue to receive the same pay men were getting for the same work, or because they were denied a promotion because they were female. At one job I applied for the first question the manager asked another employee when she took back my application was whether or not I was ‘good looking.’ Wearing pants to work? Not allowed until I was in my 30s. I’ve been touched inappropriately at work, called ‘honey’ and ‘babe’ by male co-workers, and informed I didn’t dress ‘sexy enough.’ An instructor told me I could get a better grade if I went out with him; I was reprimanded when I reported the harassment to his (male) superior. The only job I was ever let go from, at age 23, was because I wouldn’t play along with another male employee higher up in the chain.

Brett and I have raised our daughters to believe that they can do anything they set their minds to, that no goal is out of their reach, and no career or path is closed to them. We have never expected them to feel tied to any role, or bound by anyone else’s outdated or misogynistic requirements. I think we’ve done a good job, and I feel sorry for anyone who tries to tell them what to do, how to dress, or heaven forbid, touches them inappropriately because they are women.

Our young daughters are feeling crushed and confused now, and frightened as well about the future. They heard how our President-elect talked about women during the election, from grabbing their private parts to calling his opponent ‘nasty’ to saying he could do what he wanted to women because he was famous. They saw the ugly words on the t-shirts many of his supporters wore, the signs they carried, and heard the slurs that were used to describe women. They watched as the press allowed this behavior to become normalized during the election, how people who shouldn’t have looked the other way did exactly that.

Women have been knocked down, abused, ignored and not taken seriously for far too long, even by other women. We continue on nevertheless because that’s what women do.  We’ve always been strong, competent, experienced and fierce even though those qualities haven’t been and still aren’t always appreciated. We are not equal no matter what we do though; misogyny still runs deep through our society and colors our lives and our worlds. If you don’t believe misogyny played a large part in Tuesday’s election results, start by imagining a woman, from either party, running for president with five children from three (still living) husbands, and think about how far she would get with that as part of her background.

I no longer believe a woman will reach the top of the ladder during my life time. I have to continue to hope it will happen in my daughters’.

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

travel-is-the-only-thing-you-buy-which-makes-you-richerI 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 in 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 any more, and other places have become more interesting. Some of our destinations, like Japan, are determined by family circumstance 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 is 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 realistically 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.
  • 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 [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.

My Second Choice

My first day in Japan, my host family put me on the train (the orange one, the Chuo Line) and sent me into Tokyo on my own for orientation and first day of class. It was quite the experience, but I didn't get lost and made it home at the end of the day!

One of my favorite images of Tokyo – Ochanomizu Station.

Looking back, sometimes in our lives there’s that one choice we make that seemingly changes everything, and affects everything that comes after it. We may or may not recognize its importance at the time. Call it fate or whatever, what appears to be an insignificant choice at the time can end up having a profound influence on almost everything that happens after, in both small and large ways.

I graduated from high school in 1970. I had applied to several colleges, but Lewis & Clark College in Portland was at the top of my list, and I was accepted in early spring. Lewis & Clark is known for their overseas study programs, and after my acceptance I was sent an application for the upcoming overseas programs that were being offered during my freshman year. The only one I was even remotely interested in was England. On the application we were asked to choose a back-up program just in case we weren’t selected for our first choice, so I marked Japan, the only other program where language proficiency wasn’t a requirement. I didn’t know the first thing about Japan, and didn’t give it another thought – I was going to England.

On graduation day in June I received a letter from Lewis & Clark informing me that I had been selected for the 1971 Overseas Study trip to Japan, and in early January 1971 I and 18 fellow Lewis & Clark students boarded the S.S. President Cleveland in San Francisco, and sailed off to the east. Two weeks later we disembarked in Yokohama. Right behind me in the immigration line were John Lennon and Yoko Ono, who had been on the same cruise as our little group*. At one point, John leaned over and asked me if I had had a nice trip. “Yes, I did. How about you?” I have no idea what he answered because I think at that point I had melted into a puddle on the floor.

Our group spent five months in Japan, doing homestays in Tokyo and Hiroshima, and living in a hotel in Takarazuka (located in the middle of Kyoto, Kobe and Osaka, and famous for the all-female Takarazuka Review). The final two weeks of our trip we traveled by train along the western coast up to the north, staying in youth hostels each night, all the way up to Sapporo for another short homestay. During our time in Japan we took language and culture classes, visited famous and interesting locations, learned to eat (and love) sushi, wasabi and other Japanese food, did research for a major paper, and improved our Japanese.

I didn’t see it coming, but in those five months I fell totally and completely head-over-heels in love with Japan.

Looking back, that one trip, taken when I was just 18, has played a highly influential role in my life ever since. It’s influence has stretched far beyond a young college student’s visit to a foreign country (which of course is one of the reasons Lewis & Clark holds overseas study trips every year).

Here’s some of what’s resulted because instead of going to England, I instead went to my second choice country:

  • Because of my desire to go back, Brett did two tours with the navy in Japan, when our son was young. Our first tour was for three-years (1980-1983), the second for three and a half (1989-1992). The second tour included nearly two years of living out in town like a local. That was hard at the time, but I now feel so thankful for the experience. We traveled all over Japan both times we lived there, made wonderful friends, and brought home some beautiful treasures.
  • I taught English conversation during our tours in Japan, which inspired me to get my Master’s degree in TESOL when we returned to the U.S. I had a wonderful career teaching English to amazing and inspiring students from all over the world, and am so much richer for it, as well as getting a pretty nice retirement package.
  • When we returned to the U.S. after our second tour, our son decided to teach himself Japanese because he wanted to read the manga (Japanese comics) he had brought back from Japan. He ended up more proficient than the Japanese teacher at his high school, and went on to major in Japanese Studies in college. He did his junior year abroad in Japan, and met a Waseda University student at a party; she would eventually become his wife. Following his graduation from college, he went to Japan and taught English for a couple of years, then worked at the U.S. Embassy for several years before returning to the States to attend law school. He has been working as an attorney in Japan since graduation.
  • When I went back to college, I took an anthropology class on East Asia to learn more about Japanese culture. My professor had just adopted a little girl from China and told me about the process. Two years later Brett and I travelled to China to adopt Meiling, and we went back twice more to adopt WenYu and YaYu.
  • Because our son and his family live in Japan, one of the things we were looking for in a retirement location, besides good weather, was proximity to Japan. It’s one of the reasons we ended up in Hawai’i, where there are plenty of direct flights to Tokyo, and a prominent Japanese influence in the local culture. I’ve been to Japan twice since we moved, and we’ll be going again next year to meet our new granddaughter. Brett and I are looking forward to spending several months in Japan each year once YaYu has headed off to college.

Of course, all these things might still have occurred if I had gone to England in 1971; there’s no way to know. However, I know for sure these things did happen because I went on that first trip to Japan.

I’ve always seen my life as a sort of giant flow chart. Each choice I make along the way, big or small, determines both future choices and the continuing direction of not only my own life but my family’s as well. These days I think carefully about how a choice or decision I’m making will determine or influence what happens in the future. But at eighteen I didn’t consider the future so closely, if at all, and couldn’t imagine that a casual selection of Japan as an alternative for overseas study would end up having such a profound influence on the path my and my family’s lives have taken, and for so long.

*I cannot find it, darn it, but somewhere I have the most wonderful photo, taken by the ship’s photographer, of John and Yoko stretched out on deck chairs, bundled up against the cold and wearing their puffy life jackets during the weekly drill.

First Trip to India

Photo: Wolf Price

Photo: Wolf Price

I had no desire to visit India until my son asked me to go.

He was living in Nepal and ready for a fresh adventure after volunteering in Kathmandu.

I had missed out on Morocco when he asked me to go with him and a friend when we met in Spain (I had to go to Italy for the first time) so no way was I going to say no to India and a chance to let my son lead me to a brand new country.

So I jumped in with no prior knowledge of India except for seeing the movie Gandhi.

That first trip to India and Nepal changed my life, turned me upside down, and electrified my bone marrow. I was never the same again.

The photo of me above was shot right after rafting down the Ganges River in the winter; drenched with icy waves over our heads as we paddled to stay afloat.

Of course we had to volunteer for the front paddling positions in the boat which means you get the worst of the waves over your head and the rest of the passengers just get sprayed.

But I never felt so alive in my life.

My son pushed me to go.

I just wanted to read a book that day.

India blasted open my spirit, forcing me to leap way out of my comfort zone.

Photo: Bartnikowski, Dalai_Lama in India

Photo: Bartnikowski, Dalai Lama in India

I was cold in the Himalayas, I got deathly sick, but I also ate tasty delectable food, was immersed in a multitude of religions, saw the Dalai Lama teach at his home in Dharamsala, had my eye balls seared with women’s colorful clothing, met gurus, saints, and friendly elephants!

There is nothing India doesn’t have but order.

Amritsar, photo student from Miri Piri Academy, during the class I was teaching

Amritsar, India photo credit: student from Miri Piri Academy, during the class I was teaching

There aren’t any rules in India: you can have bonfires in the street with cows who want to get warm in the high ethers of the Himalayas.

People drive recklessly. Watch out crossing the street. You don’t want to get mowed down by a motorbike or attacked by a monkey.

Some monkeys are mean in India, one stole my new dress off the clothes line and I didn’t find it until 2 hours later in the dark with my flashlight.

I’ve since been to India 4 times solo. And as soon as I left that first time, I wanted to go back. I found myself in Bali which seemed awfully tame compared to jolt your eyes open India.

What made me buck up and get strong?

The fact that yes I’m deliciously free and can make all my own decisions.

This is a huge opportunity for possible risk but it was also a leap into the unknown, an adventure beckoning, a bewildering array of options, food I couldn’t identify and stumbling happily through a language I didn’t understand.

I tried to learn Hindi and the Nepali language.

“Sundar” means pretty in Nepal. And meeto-cha means this food is yummy. That’s all I learned and actually I didn’t need to know anymore on that first trip.

After traveling with my son for a month, we went solo on our own paths. And boy did my India adventure change.

Being solo is misunderstood in India.

Local people from India wonder why you’re not traveling with your in-laws, 7 children and two sets of grandparents. Really.

Many people want to help you in India, some are scammers, and some are saints. Both will approach you especially when you are solo.

Here is what I do now. I surround myself with a shield of white light and send out the message with my mind, you will not approach me unless I invite you.

It works.

Do you remember the Beatles White Album? Much of it was written in Rishikesh, where I shot the photo below.

The Beatles stayed at a now defunct ashram with Maharishi on the Ganges River while they learned meditation and wrote songs.

Rishikesh, India, Ganges River_Photo: Bartnikowski

Rishikesh, India, Ganges River_Photo: Bartnikowski

What I did was I was lay on the marble floor of this gorgeous “ghat.” (a river side temple, dock, or bathing spot)

The nightly puja was happening.

My tripod was only 6 inches high, one of those tiny jobs that don’t extend, but even though a policeman’s foot was inches from my head, I got this shot from a unique angle.

My body commanded me to capture it.

That’s the real secret of how I get the money shots. My body tells me to shoot and I listen.

So this was our happy hour of prayers, offerings, songs, and chanting.

Puja persuaded me to stop drinking wine when I hadn’t decided to give it up.

But Rishikesh is a holy town in the foothills of the Himalayas; you can’t get booze there.

I was not going to get on the boat, cross the Ganges, and go into town to purchase low grade wine or spirits.

I had spirits at the puja so instead of a cocktail I joined the young Hindu priests, the head swami, and countless tourists from India and worldwide.

Rishikesh_India_Ganges_River_Bartnikowski

Rishikesh_India_Ganges_River_Bartnikowski

I was in heaven.

Afterwards we would meet with Swami for a blessing (darshan) then I’d walk back to my room at the ashram, or go hook up with Skype, being careful not to step in the cow flops along the path.

Yes India has the internet. And this was in 2006.

But India is the mothership. All roads lead to her.

You don’t have to go to the Himalayas to turn your world upside down pineapple cake but it was just what I needed after living in Palo Alto, California, the epicenter of Silicon Valley for 29 years, not knowing that outside this comfortable bubble of technology, splendor, and genius, there was a world named India that whispered to me, Just Do It.

So I did and I thank my son for inspiring me to do it.

I took 3 months off from life in Palo Alto, turned down work, closed my apartment door, paid the rent which was significant, and set out for India, Nepal, and lastly, Bali.

If you ever hear the call to go to India, do it. Your life will never be the same.

Wolf, my son, and me.

Wolf, my son, and me.

Mary Bartnikowski is an author of 4 books, award-winning photographer in Palo Alto, Hawaii, and worldwide for 29 years.

She has led programs at Apple, Stanford, Intel, and globally.

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