Our youngest, YaYu, began college two years ago, but at that point we had no nest. We had sold most of our stuff, our car, and when she took off so did we. The label “empty nesters” didn’t seem to fit.
But, once again we have a nest. We have furniture, appliances, linens, and dishes again. We have a car. We have our clothes hanging in closets instead of folded into a suitcase. We’ve been sleeping our own bed since the first of April. The few things we put into storage are back with us. We are happy to be settled again.
When YaYu headed back to college last week, her absence delivered an unexpected jolt along with a deep feeling of emptiness. She had been with us full time since the end of March, and it took us a few days to realize she wasn’t just hanging out back on the deck, or laying on our bed to read. She wasn’t going to help me fix dinner. She and I weren’t going to study Japanese together. Even though we were ready for her departure, it was quite a shock.
Brett and I were full-time parents for 40 years, with only a short six-month break between taking our son to college and Meiling joining our family. There were always kids around doing kid things, needing kid things, from babies through high school. They kept us constantly busy, made messes, argued with us, studied hard, played hard, ate us out of house and home, made us laugh, made us cry, and a couple of times even scared us to death. They always made us proud though. We loved them unconditionally and always felt loved unconditionally in return. Our goal was always to give all our children roots and wings, and prepare them to fly out of the nest on their own to live as good citizens and good people. We feel like we accomplished that goal.
So now it’s just the two of us. We don’t have a new destination or another adventure to fall back on these days and are instead socially distancing ourselves at home most of the time. Brett and I make our own calendar, arrange our own time, eat what we want, fulfill our own needs. It’s wonderful but it’s also a very different experience for us, almost unreal at times. The lack of children in our home has also been a reminder of our own mortality – we knew how old we would be when YaYu left home, and we’re now past those ages.
We are thoroughly enjoying being a couple again, but we also miss our little birds. Other than YaYu coming back at Thanksgiving, we’re not sure how long it will be until we’re able to see our other children again. We have always gathered for the holidays, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen this year. It’s not just because of the pandemic – they have jobs, and adult lives and responsibilities that don’t allow them to easily get back here these days. Life goes on though, and there is video messaging, Zoom, and other ways to stay close and in touch. But the nest is finally empty, for real this time.
My sister sent me the above photo last week. My brother has been transferring my mom’s photos to digital files and sent this one to my sister for some reason.
A little backstory on the photo: I am 14 and in my first year of high school. I am waiting for a boy named Jim to pick me up for the semi-formal Homecoming Coronation Ball, wearing an older woman’s orange cocktail dress that my mother made me buy because she did not want to pay for a semi-formal dress. I hated the orange dress and didn’t want to go to the dance wearing it. I actually ended up getting my wish because Jim never showed up. It hurt at the time, but looking back it was a blessing in disguise. I would have been miserable, and I didn’t like Jim all that much anyway.
The first thing I noticed about the picture though was how small I was, a mere slip of a girl really. I was almost as tall as I am now, but I was so slim. You couldn’t have convinced me of that back then though because I was already convinced I was fat. I was always on a diet because the message I kept getting over and over at home was that I was overweight. It started when I was in middle school, when my older brother came up with a nickname for me, “Super Oink,” to let me know he thought I looked fat. He eventually shortened it to “Super,” but the name still hurt me deeply. My parents laughed every time I brought it up and thought it was funny and told me to “get over it;” my brother was never asked nor told to let it go (my brother still calls me Super today, like it’s some endearing connection, but I refuse now to use or respond to it). The hurt was so deep at the time that I moved over to my grandmother’s home for a few months, walking to school every day and hitching rides with friends for choir practice and church on Sunday (my grandmother didn’t drive). My father got in on the weight shaming as well from time to time. For example, during the summer after my freshman year I practically starved myself and exercised daily to lose weight because I had been selected for the school’s drill team and thought I should be thinner for that. When I went to tell my parents one morning that I had reached my goal weight, my Dad’s only comment was, “Well, your legs still look heavy,” and there was no comment or rebuttal from my mother. I remember feeling crushed. By my junior year I was attending Weight Watchers meetings even though I had trouble convincing them I needed to lose weight.
When I look at that picture of my 14-year-old self now I feel angry, sad, and disappointed, just like that young girl in the picture felt that evening. I was not overweight, even by a little, but I had already been conditioned to think I was, already seeing the “fat girl” every time I looked at my reflection and constantly comparing myself to other girls I thought were thinner. I know now they weren’t.
Why did I think I was overweight? Why was I made to feel so ashamed of how I looked? That’s what makes me angry now, not just for myself but for so many women. Who did/does that serve? What did it/does it matter? What was/is the point? Back then I was a good student, read constantly, had nice friends, and earned my own money babysitting in the neighborhood. I was healthy and active. No one outside of my family seemed to care what my weight was or how I looked, so why did my family keep it up? Because of their judgements and remarks, and also because super-skinny models like Twiggy came to be seen as desirable and attractive at about the same time, I have spent most of my life obsessing about my weight and food, always asking myself if I “look fat” in something, always thinking things would be better if I was “thin,” and constantly following one diet or another and berating myself when my weight creeped up. For what?
That early conditioning has been more potent and ingrained than I ever imagined, and has stayed with me, impossible to get rid of. It has only been in the last two decades that I began to recognize and remember what had been going on and begin to change my attitude and how I see myself. I worked hard to raise my daughters differently so that they exercise and eat well for no other reason than it is healthy. I’m losing weight now for my health as well, so my joints don’t ache. I am no longer obsessed with food and I refuse to buy a scale. I accept that I will never be model thin, but again, so what? Sadly, I still stop at a mirror whenever I pass one and check to see whether I “look fat,” and I still see a fat girl most of the time, not what Brett, my children, or others see. I’m still healing, but I’m not there yet and sometimes wonder if I will ever get there. The scars of the past are deep.
Like it or not, we are now in a time of unknowns and uncertainty.
As the number of cases of COVID-19 continues to climb in the U.S., earlier this week the CDC put out even more stringent recommendations, especially for those over age 60 and/or those with health issues. Don’t travel. Stock up on food and medicine. Prepare yourself to stay in your home for several weeks. The notice was nothing if not sobering even though Brett and I are healthy and have no underlying health issues that would increase our risk of death if we caught the virus. But we’ve chosen a different lifestyle that doesn’t fit so easily into normal parameters and we have to add that into the mix.
We have to travel next month as our 90-day visa for Japan will expire. We will have two long days of travel when we leave here, including an overnight hotel stay, before we reach our next destination. Although long flights are not recommended, we don’t have a choice in the matter – most flights from Japan are long by definition. However, flying is currently one of the lowest-risk means of travel thanks to the efficient air filters in planes, and as long as high-touch surfaces are wiped down and frequent handwashing or sanitizers are practiced (although we still can’t find any hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes here). We have already heard directly from the airline to reassure us about the steps they are taking to make sure the plane will be as clean as possible, and our risk as low as possible. Actually, the highest risk we face will be in airports, and we’ve been reading about steps to take to make ourselves safer as we transit through them. We are finally in possession of some masks and will use those in airports as we travel, and our son and daughter-in-law are in the hunt for hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes for us. We’re very thankful we have no long layovers this time, and we will probably be dealing with fewer fellow travelers than usual. Does all this mean we’re not worried? No, but we are getting ourselves informed and taking every step we can to stay healthy.
We’re all waiting to hear about what’s happening at WenYu’s and YaYu’s colleges. Both of them are on spring break this week or getting ready for their break next week, and both have already had to cancel and change plans. Neither of them knows yet whether their colleges will close or not. YaYu doesn’t know whether her roommate will be able to come back or not – she flew home to Seattle for the break. WenYu canceled a trip to New York to see Meiling – students have been encouraged to stay on campus during the break – and Wellesley looks to be moving to close the campus and dorms in the next few days (nearby MIT and Harvard have already closed). If their schools do close, WenYu has a place to go in Massachusetts, but if Bryn Mawr closes we will have to get YaYu to family in another state until the end of the term. So far there has been no word about whether this year’s graduation ceremony will be happening at Wellesley, but most likely if the school closes it will be canceled. Meiling and her boyfriend have so far not canceled travel plans (Paris) for later this month, but are watching daily and will make a decision in a few days. Both are currently working remotely from home. It’s looking more and more like we will be canceling our May and June travel, and will probably lose a good piece of money as the airline tickets were purchased outside of the current free cancellation window (in my opinion, those are the tickets that should get free cancellation and refund, not the ones that were purchased when the threat of the virus was more imminent). We are waiting to hear whether NYC theaters will be closing or not, but at this point, Brett and I don’t think it’s going to be such a great idea for us to be in a theater with lots of other people, even if it is to see Hamilton. (Update: We woke up to a message from YaYu that Bryn Mawr had gone to remote classes. She can stay in the dorm for now, but we will get her out and to a family member as soon as possible. No word yet from WenYu.)
We are grateful not to have been affected by the stock market crash, at least so far. The majority of our income comes from Brett’s military retirement and our Social Security benefits, but Brett also receives a pension from his former employer that may eventually be affected – time will tell. It’s only a small portion of our total income, but its loss would be felt.
For the time being, we are fine. We are cautious, paying attention, and learning as much as we can about the things that will affect us going forward. We’re certainly not afraid, or even close to panic, but know that the potential for things to get very bad in the U.S. exists and is growing every day. We also recognize that things could go south in our upcoming destination very quickly as well. Only time will tell. Everything is fine for now and will continue to be . . . until it isn’t anymore.
After a very comfortable night’s sleep at the cabin, we woke up Sunday morning to sunshine and the most amazing view of Mt. Fuji imaginable from our living room window. I almost didn’t want to go anywhere just so I could look at it all day, but we were all ready to go by 9:00.
Our first activity of the day was the Mt.Fuji Panoramic Ropeway, which goes up to the top of Mt. Tenjō, across the valley from Mt. Fuji. It took us a couple of tries to find a parking spot somewhat near to the entrance as things had already begun to get crowded at 9:00 a.m., but we eventually found one not too far away. Even in spite of all the people the line for the ropeway wasn’t too long, and we were on our way up the mountain after only a short wait.
The view from the station at the top was spectacular. Besides the breathtaking view of Mt. Fuji, we could also take in all of the city of Kawaguchiko, Lake Kawaguchi, the Fuji-Q Highlands amusement park, and snow-capped mountains off in the distance. We hiked around the top for a while, took lots of pictures, and thought about hiking up to a torii at the top of the next mountain, but when we saw the sign that the hike would take an additional 40 minutes one way we decided not to go.
When we came back down from the mountain we could not believe the length of the line, almost four times if not longer than it was when we had arrived! Before going to our car we first stopped at the Fujiyama Cookie shop, located at the bottom of the hill, and bought ourselves several flavors of their famous cookies which are shaped like Mt. Fuji (Later in the afternoon when we drove back past the cookie shop, the line was out the door and down the street! We were glad we went early.).
From the ropeway we headed to see two of the Fuji Caves, created when hot air was trapped in lava during the Mt. Fuji eruptions. There are two caves, the Ice Cave and the Wind Cave, but the Ice Cave required a descent of 92 steps and 102 steps on the way up. and there was no way that was going to happen with a toddler and my knees. We instead walked to the Wind Cave which took us through a forest straight out of Harry Potter, with a thick tree canopy and amazing tangle of roots as well as small caves, burrows, and natural tunnels. The cave itself was quite cold and had its own wonderful ice formations along with other features. We had to duck down quite a bit to get to the end of the cave, and saw where the cave had been used in the past as natural refrigerated storage for seeds for reforestation and for silkworm cocoons. By keeping the cocoons in the cold hatching was delayed and allowed farmers and merchants to get two extra cycles for silk making.
Our last stop of the day was Iyashi-no-Sato, also known as “the healing village.” Located near Lake Saiko, the village stands on the site of a former fishing and farming village that was destroyed by a typhoon in 1966. The village now holds 20 reconstructed thatched-roof farmhouses in the kabuto-zukkuri (samurai helmet) style and serves as an open-air museum where visitors can experience traditional Japanese arts and crafts and local food specialities. Several of the houses contain shops and workshops, while others hold museums, restaurants and gift shops. Walking through the village is like being transported back in time to the early 20th century. Just outside the village there were once again farmers selling fruits and vegetables, and we finally bought a bag of apples.
Back at the cabin our DIL prepared a wonderful dinner of yakiniku with pork, beef and sausages, noodles, and a variety of vegetables that we grilled at the table and enjoyed with some rice.
We were up early Monday morning as we had to check out of the cabin by 10:00. Once again the sky had clouded over and obscured Mt. Fuji, making us extra grateful for the beautiful day we had on Sunday. After getting the cabin clean and the car loaded we drove to the Fuji-Q Highland amusement park so our grandson and granddaughter could spend some time at Thomas Land (Thomas the Tank Engine). In spite of the crowds and long lines for rides they had a wonderful time. Brett and I, on the other hand, mostly stood around and tried to stay warm (the temperature dropped to where we thought it might snow) while we gawked at the roller coasters in the main park. There were five of them, two with straight vertical drops, one that shot the cars from a catapult into a giant loop, one that sent riders down a giant couple of waterfalls, and the highest coaster I have ever seen, called Fujiyama, King of the Coasters. I love roller coasters but there was absolutely No. Way. I would have gotten on any one of those.
I will never be able to thank our son and DIL enough for including us in the weekend getaway. They spoiled us the entire time and picked up the tab for all admissions and meals. What a great time we had!
Well, we did not go to Hakone-Izu National Park for our getaway as I thought when I heard “Mt. Fuji” and “ropeway.” That, I was informed, would have been madness because of the expected crowds that would be visiting this week. Instead, we headed for the Mt. Fuji Five Lakes district, just outside of the city of Kawaguchiko. Because of traffic issues that were expected on Golden Week’s opening day, we spent Friday night at our son’s home, and were all up at 3:30 a.m. on Saturday and on the road by 4:30, arriving at our first stop, the Oshino Hakkai Springs, shortly before 9:00 a.m.
The Fuji Five Lakes, which wrap around the northern side of Mt. Fuji, were formed following several eruptions of the volcano as were the Oshino Hakkai Springs, which was originally a sixth lake that dried up. The air at the springs was crisp and quite cool when we arrived, but Mt. Fuji was covered in clouds – if you didn’t know better you’d never have known there was a very big volcano sitting just off to the side.
The eight Oshino Hakkai springs are an asset of the Mt. Fuji World Heritage Site, and are lovely, deep pools of extremely clear, pure water. The water said to be the best in Japan, and is revered by locals for its purity – “water of the gods.” When the snow melts on Mt. Fuji it enters the ground and passes through several layers of lava, which is porous. Apparently it takes nearly 80 years for the water to reach the springs which is why they are so clean and pure. The deepest pool, Wakuike, was over 26 feet deep and coins were visible sitting on the bottom (visitors have been asked not to throw coins though as it degrades the water quality). Koi could be seen swimming in layers throughout the pool, and beautiful green water grasses on the bottom waved back and forth. Next to the pool was small waterfall where cold, refreshing water from the spring was available to drink or bottle (we filled a bottle).
Surrounding the springs are farmhouses and farmland, and we visited several of the local vendors who were set up near the springs selling locally produced or grown items, including sweets, pickles and local crafts. We ate some grilled dango (balls of mochi basted with sweet soy sauce), grilled kusa mochi, made with local mugwort and filled with sweet bean paste (my favorite mochi, although I’d never had it grilled before), and hot chestnuts right from the roaster (Brett’s favorite). Several farmers had huge Fuji apples for sale – the samples we tried were very sweet – but we decided to wait until later to purchase those. The Five Lakes area is also known for growing wasabi, and I purchased two bags of wasabi senbei (crackers), and one of my favorite Japanese snacks.
Included in the village is a small museum, Hannoki Bayashi Shiryokan, which allowed us to walk around two more of the springs as well as visit an old, traditional farmhouse and outbuildings. The former farm owners were apparently silk manufacturers – silkworms were grown in the attic area of the farmhouse, and then woven into fabric with finished products made at the home. We were able to climb through the entire house and see how the rooms were set up and where work was done – it was fascinating.
After leaving the springs we headed over to a nearby small freshwater aquarium. Because of the streams coming off of Mt. Fuji and out of the other surrounding mountains, trout are plentiful in the area as are sturgeon. The kids especially enjoyed spending time here, and we came across several more farmers selling vegetables, apples, and eggs at the side of the parking lot – both my DIL and I were very tempted!
Then it was on to a nearby restaurant for lunch where we enjoyed another area specialty: houtou. These are wide, thick udon noodles served in broth. I ordered noodles with pumpkin, Brett had his with pork, and the lunch sets included pink rice (cooked with red beans), pickles, tofu and some other treats. We left with full, happy stomachs.
Rain was coming down as we left the restaurant and Mt. Fuji was still swathed in heavy clouds, so we decided to split up for a while before going to our cabin. Brett and I wanted to visit the Itchiku Kubota Museum just down the road, and our son, DIL and kids needed to do some grocery shopping. The museum was the most beautiful I have ever visited in my life and worthy of a separate post.
Our cabin for the next two days was wonderful. The house slept 10, and had a great room with a large, extremely well-equipped kitchen; a huge, luxurious soaking bath; a tatami room downstairs for two; and two bedrooms upstairs that slept four each. Both Brett and I said we could have happily lived in that house – it was lovely.
After getting unpacked and the food put away, we all took a short nap and awoke a couple of hours later to the magnificent sight of Mt. Fuji coming out of the clouds as the sun set – a beautiful ending to a terrific day, and a promise of a beautiful day to come.
I haven’t done one of these posts for a long time, but it’s a good fit for now, for catching up and keeping track of what we’re doing and where we’re going.
Brett and I have settled in nicely here and are almost well – our colds are now hanging on to the ledge by their fingernails.. One thing I had forgotten about living in Portland was how often I used to get sinus headaches when we lived here, and have had to deal with them a few times since we arrived – not fun. The air here seems very dry to us too, but we’ve set bowls of water out on the heat registers around the house and that is helping somewhat. We are feeling well enough though to get together with friends again beginning this week – up until now we still just felt too awful to see anyone.
Most of our errands have been taken care of, thank goodness because I am sick to death of spending and shopping! We will be going to Fubonn Asian Supermarket on Tuesday to get YaYu all her noodles, and to Safeway on Wednesday or Thursday for a few odds and ends that can’t be found elsewhere, but otherwise we are pretty much done and ready for our girls. We have everything we need for all meals during the rest of our stay here. No matter where we’ve stayed on our adventure, we’ve shopped for a while but then comes the point where we start working on making sure everything we’ve bought gets eaten or used up before we leave. We’ve done a pretty good job so far during our travels, so hoping it goes as well here. My goal is that we have to go out to eat our last night in Portland because the fridge and cupboards are empty.
Bryn Mawr held their annual winter end-of-term dinner this past week, where they dress up their dining hall like Hogwarts, faculty and students come in costume, and students are assigned to different schools (I think YaYu is a Hufflepuff?). I’m so glad she and WenYu have settled in so well at their colleges, and are having such memorable experiences (and doing well in their courses). Meiling is currently in New York City with her boyfriend. He moved there earlier this year to work for a big tech company, and they seem to be doing a good job of managing their long-distance relationship. We’re going to meet him when he’s in Portland later this month, and he’s also going to come along with Meiling when she visits us in Japan next spring!
Anyway, this morning I am:
Reading: Nothing! Or at least not a book right now. I have had a terrible time trying to read these past few months – nothing seems to hold my interest for very long, and I’ve also had problems staying awake.
Listening to: It’s a typical quiet morning for Brett and I. He’s reading and I’ve been working on this! We’re looking forward though to all the noise and hubbub that will come along with the girls this week.
Watching: Brett and I were all set to watch Season 4 of Better Call Saul, but that turned out to be a one-day binge opportunity so we missed out on it. There are things on Netflix and Amazon Prime (Man in the High Castle) we want to see, but those can wait until Meiling arrives with her stick and tech abilities next week. The other day Brett and I clicked through all the many, many cable channels we have here and could not find even one thing that interested us, a pretty good indication we will not be signing up for cable later.
Cooking/baking: Tonight we’re having leftover tacos, along with some refried beans. We had them night before last but there was lots left over so we’ll finish that off tonight. We picked up a frozen cherry pie this past week and I’m going to bake that later today – I have been craving pie.
Happy I accomplished this past week: I am glad we’ve gotten most of our shopping done, but it turned into a chore. We’re just not very enthusiastic spenders these days. Also, we’re so glad we got hair cuts – that was something that definitely needed doing. I ordered some gifts for our granddaughter from Amazon (after looking all over town and not finding what I wanted) that will tuck nicely into my suitcase, and weigh next to nothing. Not my accomplishment, but Brett took care of our visa applications for both India and Australia and we are set to enter those countries. Finally, I got all the Christmas presents wrapped and ready to put out on Christmas morning!
Looking forward to next week: Well, besides all the girls arriving in Portland and all of us being together again, I am looking forward to us having brunch at a good friend’s home next Sunday morning and I know that it will be delightful. Our sons were friends in high school, and Joan was a big help to us during Meiling’s and WenYu’s adoptions, and I can’t wait for her to see how beautifully the girls have grown up. I’m also looking forward to getting together with another good friend for coffee later this morning at one of our old haunts.
Thinking of good things that happened: Being able to get a temporary crown on my broken tooth, and finding out that I won’t need multiple procedures to fix it was the best news this week.
Thinking of frugal things we did: 1) I got a very good deal on a new phone from T-Mobile. The price was lower than I expected and with the trade-in of my old phone I ended up paying several hundreds of dollars less than I thought I would. 2) Although we’ve done a lot of shopping here in Portland we haven’t gone crazy, which is something I worried about before we arrived. We’ve stuck strictly to necessities for the most part or pre-planned purchases, like my phone. 3) We saw a little live tabletop Christmas tree the other day that smelled wonderful and would have been adorable on the coffee table, but it was $25 so we passed. The cheap ornaments we bought at Target along with a string of lights for around the door cost us just $5, the poinsettia was $6, and our pine swag was $8, so we saved $6 over the tree and the house looks (and smells) ready for Christmas! Meiling is going to take the lights and ornaments with her when we move on. 4) Brett and I have done a good job of eating leftovers so that no food has been wasted. 5) He and I also decided not to give each other any gifts this year because neither of us needs or wants anything right now. Instead, we’ll save our money and do something special and spontaneous together later when we’re back on the road again.
Grateful for: Both Brett and I are exceedingly thankful that our dentist here was able to fit us in so quickly and repair our broken teeth. We are also very, very thankful for our good dental insurance – we will have a co-pay, but most of the cost will be picked up by our insurance. We are also thankful for the great haircuts we got from the stylist recommended by our friend. Finally, we’re feeling very grateful that we were able to find an affordable and nice Airbnb for our month in Portland. So many of the places in town were way, way over what we could afford.
Bonus question: What Christmas traditions are you maintaining this year? On Christmas morning we will enjoy our traditional breakfast of toasted bagels, cream cheese, smoked salmon, fresh fruit (berries?), and orange juice. The girls took their Christmas stockings and little sequined boxes with them to college this year and are bringing them along when they come “home.” They will be able to open the gifts in their stockings before breakfast, and we always tuck a little something into the little boxes (that I found for around $1 each, I think, at WinCo one year). After breakfast we’ll open our presents, one at a time from oldest to youngest. We’ll enjoy a relaxing day together, and I’m preparing a favorite meal of ham, macaroni and cheese, broccoli and cornbread, and we’ll have cheesecake for dessert.
That catches us up here at the Nomad’s Portland home for this week.Although we love the holiday season, I know it’s not always a happy time for everyone, but I hope the days are going well for you nonetheless, and that you’re able to enjoy time with family and friends. Thank you for sticking with us Nomads as we travel around – there’ll be more coming up after the first of next year!
Just two days in the condo and I never want to leave (well, almost).
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 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.
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.
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.
In a recent post on his blog, A Satisfying Retirement, Bob Lowry wrote about his granddaughter comparing growing older to the most exciting part of a roller coaster ride, the ending with its big, exhilarating runs. It’s a great analogy: a roller coaster ride typically begins with a slow climb, and few tame dips and turns. As the ride continues things pick up, and twists and turns, climbs and drops begin coming at a faster pace, but the when and where are a mystery and add to the excitement and increase the thrill level. Finally, the car once more heads for the top to begin its big, exciting finale before finally slowing down and coasting to a stop.
Brett and my start together was like that initial slow climb. He was one of my first instructors in the navy, for a two-week course I was required to take for my rating following boot camp. It was pretty much love at first sight for both of us, and as soon as the two-weeks were over we began dating, and before long we were talking about our life together and how we saw that unfolding. There was never a distinct marriage proposal that either of us can remember, but somewhere along the way we both realized we wanted to spend the rest of our lives with the other. We’ll celebrate 42 years together next year while we’re in Tokyo.
Just like a ride on a roller coaster Brett and I have already passed through two distinct phases in our married life: our beginning years while he served in the navy followed by a second phase in civilian life and raising our daughters. Both time periods were very different from the other, full of twists, turns and surprises (not all of which were pleasant), but we had different goals and expectations during each one, and in hindsight both phases were positive for the most part. We were always looking to the future. The segue from the first into the second phase was fairly bumpy, but we somehow managed to get over and through those bumps and came out stronger than before. Our life choices, especially adopting three additional children in our mid- to late-forties were not the ones that most people would make, and we’ve paid or are still paying for some of the choices we’ve made, but as Brett and I have always said, we can’t imagine now having done things any other way. We chose the right coaster for us.
Brett and I have been raising children for most of our time together. Other than the short time we had before our son was born there was only a six month period with an empty nest after our son headed off to college and before we brought Meiling home. Before I met Brett I had no dreams or desires to have children, let alone four of them. Or, to have them in two separate groups with a nearly twenty-year gap between them. However, that’s how it happened, and of all my life’s accomplishments so far I am most proud of my children, of their efforts and accomplishments and the adults they’ve become. Our goal has always been to give our children roots, but wings as well so that when it’s been time for them to leave the nest they would be able to fly. It’s been exciting and rewarding to watch each of them take off and soar, with their wings spread wide.
We’re segueing now into a third phase, a time when Brett and I will also leave our nest and spread our wings. For the last 40 years our lives have been completely entwined with our children, with our schedules determined by their schedules, our plans and finances controlled by their needs. But, beginning in August it will just be the two of us, and we are ready to fly. I am so excited about being able to explore the world with my best friend, the person that knows me best, but I also realize it’s going to feel “different” for a while. It’s going to take time for me to adjust to not having children to accommodate in one way or another. Thankfully the segue into this third phase has been easier so far than it was between the first and the second because I think we’ve done a better job this time of preparing ourselves for the transition.
A roller coaster ride has been my metaphor for life for a while now. As my mom approached the end of her life a couple of years ago I kept thinking of roller coasters, and what a ride she had, and I’m beginning to see my life in the same way. Are Brett and I making that last big climb to the top? I don’t know right now, but we are preparing for an exciting finale that will hopefully go on for a good long while. Our ride up until now has been full of thrills, chills and surprises but it’s never been dull. And, like Bob’s granddaughter pointed out, I believe the best and most exciting part is yet to come!
My own frugal ways were self-taught. Because of the mixed messages I had received about money growing up, I went through many trials and plenty of errors before I figured out how to manage money, and more importantly, how to budget and live within or under my/our means. Brett’s income while he was in the navy forced me to quickly learn how to live on a (very) small income. When our son was born, after our bills were paid (rent, utilities, a washer & dryer payment, and payment towards the debt Brett’s previous wife had accumulated in his name), we had just $18 a week for groceries, including baby formula and baby food. I’m still not quite sure how we did it, but we never went hungry. I made bread from scratch and we ate lots of beans and pancake suppers, and little to no meat, but our bills were always paid on time. Although it took real effort we were able to get out of debt in less than two years, before heading off to our first tour in Japan.
I don’t know how it is now, but back then the military did not pay for everything when you moved to a new duty station – that turned out to be a myth. Although Brett received a per diem allowance, it was very small and we still always had to come up with a majority of our moving expenses, things like first and last months rent for an apartment while we waited for government housing and all those other hidden costs of moving. Buying a house and settling in anywhere was also out of the question because Brett was transferred to a new duty station (rotating between sea and shore duty) every 2 1/2 to 3 years, and mortgage interest rates were hovering for a while at around 15%-18% back then. Thankfully the navy moved our household goods for us and bought the plane tickets for our flights to Japan and back. Brett always had to take two months advance pay every time we moved to cover all the extra out-of-pocket expenses (almost all of our moves were across country or overseas), causing us to spend the first 24 months at our new duty station paying that back rather than being able to save much of anything for the next move. It was hard to catch up and get ahead but we left the navy with no debt and a good amount of savings. I worked when I could, but with Brett deployed most of the time, we both felt it was more important for me to be home for our son rather than at a full-time job.
During our navy years I learned how to make do with less, how to budget, and the beginnings of how to evaluate the difference between a need and a want. We were always able to pay our bills on time. We ate well, and traveled when we could. However, I still frivolously spent on things – those old feelings that owning the “right” things would make life better continued. We accumulated debt from time to time, and then had to work and scrimp to pay it off, a pattern that continued even after Brett retired to civilian life. When we adopted the girls our financial situation changed dramatically and I finally began to understand some of what it must have been like for my parents. Eight years ago the change in Brett’s employment situation took us to a point where debt threatened to ruin us, and we got serious about paying it off for good and changing how we lived. All those frugal habits I had taught myself and practiced over the years came fully into play, and not only did we pay off our debt, but we were able retire and move to Hawai’i. We happily live a much simpler life now, we’re comfortable and confident about our finances, what we have, and where we’re heading next. The most surprising thing of all has been the realization that some of the frugal choices I make these days mirror some of my parents’ – I apparently did learn a few things from them.
I mentioned in Part I of this post that my family almost always took a vacation every summer. As a teacher, Mom always had the whole summer off from work, and she LOVED to travel so she made it a big part of our lives too. Mom always planned interesting and fun trips for us: one year we went camping up and down the California and Oregon coasts for three weeks, living in a Shasta trailer that my parents rented. Another summer we took a surprise trip by train to the Grand Canyon for a week (still the best vacation ever for me), and one year we did a summer-long driving trip back east to New England and then down the Atlantic coast, visiting cities, historic sites and natural wonders. Twice we moved to our grandparents’ beach house for the summer, where we grew a garden, walked to the beach every day and went beachcombing every evening, checked out books and jigsaw puzzles from the local library. We didn’t have a TV there, just a small transistor radio so Mom could listen to Dodger baseball, and we played lots of croquet on the vacant lot next door which my grandparents also owned. We sometimes took trips over to Tucson, Arizona during the winter so Mom and Dad could visit old friends there and often visited other sites around the state as well. We visited San Francisco, Yosemite and many other southwest national parks. Mom had to take continuing education courses every few years while she was teaching, but she would register for those at out-of-state colleges so she could “get away,” and my siblings and I would stay with friends and family during those weeks. I always chose to stay in Indiana with cousins, and have fond memories of lazy summers filled with all the fresh picked sweet corn and tomatoes I could eat, my grandmother’s yeast biscuits, and my aunts’ delicious fried chicken and gravy (I still dream about that gravy!). On the drive back to California Mom always made sure we did plenty of sightseeing, and we stopped at every historic marker we came across. Our family never traveled overseas or to places like Hawai’i or Alaska though – too expensive – and the only foreign country we ever visited was Canada. I wonder now if those kinds of trips might have been possible if we had lived somewhere other than San Marino.
Traveling was the only time my parents seemed relaxed about money. While we always stayed in cheap motels they made sure there was a pool for us to swim in each evening. There was often nothing but apple juice and pretzels for breakfast (the morning meal was never Mom’s strong suit) and we picnicked on cold cuts, cheese, crackers, and apples for our lunches. However, we stopped every afternoon for pie and coffee (or sundaes for us kids) and we always went to a restaurant for dinner each evening – no fast food. My parents paid for tours and for tickets to visit every historic or important site along the way with no grumbling about the cost. If we were going to go on a long trip, like our summer trip back east, they tried to come up with ways for us to earn a bit extra throughout the year so we had spending money for souvenirs and treats and wouldn’t be bothering them to buy stuff.
Of course, because there was no discussion or conversation about it, I always assumed our vacations and travel was something they just took out their checkbook and paid for. I was an adult before Mom told me that she had always kept a travel savings account and funneled every extra penny into it. She always kept a “penny jar” (sort of like our change/$1 bill jar) on her kitchen window sill and literally saved every penny to put toward those afternoon pie and coffee stops. Although I wasn’t initially aware of it, I was learning valuable lessons about the importance of saving for travel as well as how to travel well on a budget, and ultimately that experiences were more rewarding than things.
It seems to me now that I picked up lots of what I now know about financial matters and money management from the things my parents didn’t do versus what they did. And while it took me a long while to figure things out, the best lesson I learned by omission was that while you don’t have to reveal everything about your personal finances to your children, it’s important to give them an idea of what’s going on, what your priorities are, and why you make the choices you do. Children should be part of the family “team” when it comes to finances, even at a young age. They deserve and can learn from even a simple explanation when you say “no” to one thing but “yes” to another, or why you choose to spend for one thing versus another. Children can also be taught, with encouragement and support, how to save and make frugal choices with their money – it shouldn’t be assumed that frugality is an innate skill or something that can be learned through observation.
In spite of all the mistakes and stumbles Brett and I have made along the way, we’ve always tried to be open with our kids about our finances while still retaining our privacy, and to help guide them when we can. We’ve tried to model generosity too and work to provide some of their wants as well as meet their needs. When we haven’t been able to afford something, we’ve been honest about why and explained that we would try to provide it later. I’m not sure of how well we did, but all four seem to be good money managers, all have a generous spirit, and they all love to travel as much as we do. It’s exciting and rewarding these days to watch them work toward their dreams, budget for the things they want as well as save for their futures.
I haven’t written about the influence Brett’s family had on him when it comes to finances and money. He grew up in circumstances about as different from mine as possible, yet had a happy childhood. His story is his own to tell, but in spite of the differences we’ve made a good team over the years.
Last week in The Frugal Girl, a question was posed: “How did your family of origin affect your financial habits?” As I read through Kristin’s response and the comments from other readers, most said they had been raised in frugal households, and learned their frugal ways there. I was also raised in a frugal home, but didn’t really figure out about living simply and frugally until somewhat later in life. I’ve been thinking about the question the past few days, and it’s brought many memories and deep feelings to the surface. I’ve thought carefully about how things were and how they’ve turned out. This post ended up as something rather long-ish, so I’ve broken it into two pieces – Part II will be up on Thursday.
My parents grew up during the Great Depression, and both came of age and served during WWII. Neither of their families were poor, but they weren’t well-to-do either, and both my mother and father were raised in homes that practiced frugality even before the Depression arrived. My mother’s father owned an independent insurance agency, and my dad’s father managed the Department of Motor Vehicles in Indiana, and both remained employed during the Depression. My mom grew up in an exclusive suburb of Los Angeles, San Marino, and my dad was raised on a farm in Westfield, Indiana, just north of Indianapolis, where they grew crops for sale as well as their own vegetables, and also raised chickens and cows. My parents met at a sorority-fraternity dance at the University of Arizona following World War II, got married a few months later, and eventually ended up back in San Marino where they raised four children. My mom taught biology and math in the San Marino school district, and my dad became the Los Angeles area credit manager for GMAC. Their two incomes put our family in the middle of the middle class.
When I think about the messages and lessons I received about money growing up, the best I can say now is that they were mixed. We always had enough to eat (although always the cheapest of everything – I didn’t know until I was in my teens that there was a cut of beef other than chuck), decent enough clothes to wear, and we took a vacation or traveled almost every summer. We had good health and dental care. We lived close enough to Disneyland that we visited somewhat often (usually depending on who came to visit), and my grandparents owned a beach house in San Clemente that our family used frequently because we were just a little over an hour and a half’s drive away.
However, money or finances was never a topic for conversation at our house unless it was to tell us we couldn’t have or do something. My siblings may have different memories, but I have no recollection of any positive financial discussions on any topic, ever. I’m not sure why that was – either my parents thought it unseemly or that family finances was one of those things children didn’t need to know. They never talked about why they chose to live so frugally or about the lessons they had learned growing up in the Depression (except about the hardships), or what they were saving for or why. Neither my siblings nor I ever received an allowance or any instruction on money management. Although my parents provided for us, we were also expected to figure out how to earn our own money for the things that they considered “extras.” I began babysitting when I was 11 or 12 years old (for 25¢ an hour), and saved my money to buy many of my clothes, or at least the fabric and notions to make them – I bought or made most of my own clothes beginning in middle school and all through high school. Christmas was miserable for me, and I always dreaded going back to school to hear about all the wonderful times my friends had had and the gifts they received, or see the new clothes they were wearing. My mom set up a Christmas Club savings account every year but it always felt like my parents begrudged having to spend anything on Christmas, and the gifts my mom purchased for us were for the most part cheap, often with little to no thought put into them. My dad always gave us a little money before Christmas so we could shop, but it was usually barely enough to buy everyone a bar of soap.
I understand now that besides raising four kids my parents were also saving to be able to put each of us through college (no student loans or grants back then), and have funds for emergencies when they arose (and they did). They did not use credit cards or borrow beyond their mortgage, but that was more something I sensed then rather than heard from them. The result though was that their frugality came across as stingy, cheap, and uncaring – frugality was never a positive. One of my strongest memories of my parents was when I think I was 13 or 14, and they bought our family a color TV. It was meant to be a surprise, and the day it was delivered my sister and I were home from school, but we sent the delivery man away, not because it wasn’t safe to let him in the house but because we knew that even in our wildest imaginations there was no way our parents would ever spend their money on a new, let alone a color, TV and he must have gotten the name mixed up with someone else.
Of all the factors that affected my early views on money, probably the most influential was my parents’ choice to settle in San Marino. To this day I don’t understand why we lived there, and I didn’t understand it at the time either. I know my mom wanted to live in San Marino because her parents** did, because the neighborhoods were close-knit, and because it was a beautiful city with amazing schools, but the cost of living there was well out of my parents’ league in spite of their two incomes (the city was also lily white at the time, and I’m ashamed to admit that aspect must have appealed to my parents as well). San Marino was (and still is) a very expensive place to live and it was often difficult and discouraging for me to live in a place where everyone else seemed to have not just everything but so much of it, and where it felt like money never seemed to be an object except for our family. We certainly weren’t destitute, but I know now we could have lived just as close to our grandparents and had an easier time of things financially if my parents had chosen to live in South Pasadena, San Gabriel, Arcadia, Pasadena or any number of other neighboring cities. We would have gotten a good education too.
In hindsight though, things might not have been as different as I imagine. Later in life, when my mom had a solid amount in savings and a steady income, she was still always moaning about being “broke” and not having enough money, the same complaint I heard all the time growing up. I wonder if us living less expensive location would have or could have changed those perceptions. Both of my parents were good savers but they never seemed to have figured how to invest, or make their money work for them so that they could someday follow their dreams. For years my dad, who had been a navigation officer in the navy and loved being out on the ocean, talked about buying a “tuna boat” and taking us around the world, but he never did anything to make his dream or anything resembling it a reality. He slogged along in a 9-5 environment his whole career, never rising very high up the chain and becoming more bitter and resentful as he went along. His bitterness and failure to go after his dream deeply affected me and my later views about money and dreams.
It also always seemed in our family that boys were more valued than girls when it came to how our family’s money was allocated. The favoritism could be blatantly overt at times too. For example, my parents bought all of my older brother’s clothing from a top men’s shop in Pasadena, and his expensive shoes from a high-end local store. The clothes my parents bought for my sister and me, on the other hand, came from cheap discount stores (and we didn’t get any more clothes than my brother), and I sometimes had to use my babysitting earnings to buy shoes when I got to high school. Both my brothers also played hockey for years, and new skates and other equipment was purchased without complaint or question for them every year, sometimes more than once a year if they grew out of things. My parents also spent time and $$$$ driving them to games and practices around L.A. County or to send them to exclusive hockey camps. I had two years of private clarinet lessons, and got my teeth straightened, but my sister and I were often refused things we asked to do, told they were too expensive or my parents didn’t have the time. I earned a place on the high school’s school drill team in my sophomore year, but instead of receiving congratulations the first thing my dad did was yell at me about having to buy the uniform (which cost the same as a pair of hockey skates).
Anyway, at age 18 I headed off to college not knowing the first thing about money or how to manage it, or if as a female I was even worthy of managing it. I just dreamed of having it. I was not afraid to work, and knew how to save for things I wanted in the short term, but I was pretty much a confirmed spender at that point in my life, always desiring, and buying the things my friends or others had, believing that when I had those things life would be better. I was considered a goofy, immature, frivolous person by my family, and if I’m honest, when it came to my finances back then I lived up to that reputation.
**My grandparents were also solidly middle middle-class, but they were able to buy a beautiful Mediterranean-style house in San Marino in 1925 at a bargain basement price when the builder went broke and couldn’t pay my grandfather his insurance premiums. My grandparents were always very frugal, and they were careful, dedicated savers who invested in property throughout Southern California whenever possible (they even owned an orange grove at one time). They always took good care of their home and possessions. My mom once said her parents were actually quite stingy, but they were always very generous to me and my siblings. I think my grandmother (my grandfather died when I was seven) turned out to be a stronger positive role model, financial and otherwise, than my parents ever were.