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.
Brett and I thought we were done after we brought WenYu home in 1999. But, in 2004, we were eating banana splits with Meiling and WenYu at the Ghirardelli factory in San Francisco (on what was our 25th wedding anniversary!), and began teasing the girls that we were going to adopt again. Brett and I glanced at each other, and knew immediately we weren’t joking – he and I really did want to add one more child to our family.
So, we came home and filled out the application paperwork again, this time asking for an older child. The only request we made was that we would like the child to come from the same province as our other girls (Hunan). Around two weeks later I received a phone call from our agency, asking if we would consider a little four year-old girl who was waiting for a family. She had some burn injuries, but was otherwise in good health. I listened to the information about her, and then asked one question: Where was she from? When the person from the agency said “Hunan” I knew this was a sign this little girl was meant to be ours. I shared everything with Brett that evening, and he agreed. That was in April 2004; in August we were officially matched with YaYu, and we traveled to China in late February 2005, along with Meiling and WenYu, to bring our new daughter/sister home.
Right from the start we knew we had a real pistol on our hands. Before meeting her we couldn’t figure out how she got dressed or fed herself with just two fingers, but she did everything easily (no one is more skilled with chopsticks!), and we learned there was nothing she couldn’t figure out how to do given time and effort. YaYu was initially terrified when placed with us, but with her sisters’ help she began to relax (they could speak to her in Mandarin), and within a few days YaYu told our facilitator that she was ready to go to America with her new family. She started kindergarten in September and the rest, as they say, is history. She is our fierce girl, always moving forward, facing head-on whatever comes her way, always trying harder.
But that’s my story. Below is YaYu’s, the essay she wrote for her college application:
Almost like a warning label was a note my parents received when they adopted me at the age of five: “She can be quite stubborn at times.”
I resented the associations that came with the word stubborn: Obstinate. Headstrong. Pigheaded. I wasn’t any of those things. I was persistent. I was determined. I was creative. I had to be to do what anyone else could.
When I was a toddler I was burned, and left with scars on the left side of my face and only two fingers on each hand. I don’t remember what happened, but doctors believed I had likely pulled a hot pan from a stove. What I do remember is discovering I was different, and that I often had to try harder, or figure out a different way to accomplish what seemed so effortless for others.
Once, in elementary school, a teacher taught our class a neat little technique of using our fingers to make adding and subtracting easier. She started with the equation two plus eight. She held two fingers up and then began to fan her fingers out one by one until magically she was holding up all ten fingers! But when I put my hands up and attempted the trick, the only equation I could do was two plus two.
At first embarrassed, I realized I didn’t have to accept the situation, and tried to think of a different way to do the problem. My eyes settled on the little basket of crayons that sat in front of me. I dumped all of them onto my desk and tried the trick again. My solution proved to be just as effective as everyone else’s fingers!
As I progressed through school I continued to adjust in little ways to fit in, and my life was comfortable. Friends and teachers hardly noticed my hands and scars, if at all, and I believed nothing could hold me back. Then my whole world changed when my family moved to Kaua’i the summer before my first year of high school. More than just a “new kid,” I was again the girl with scars on her face, the girl with missing fingers. Each day at school I faced stares and questions about my abilities.
My greatest challenge came when I joined the school’s swim team. Would I be able to swim quickly enough with only a few fingers to help propel me forward? Competitive swimming was difficult beyond anything I had done before, but I loved to swim and believed I could succeed. One day at practice the coach asked the rest of the team to swim laps with their fists closed, to help them understand what swimming was like for me. Watching the entire team slow down to a crawl was crushing. I felt angry and wanted to quit. This wasn’t fair – I tried so hard! Later though I overheard a teammate tell someone that I inspired her because I worked so hard, and I didn’t give up. Her words were a revelation to me, and pushed me to work even harder to improve my technique and increase my speed. I will never be the team’s fastest swimmer, but I have become a better, more successful racer.
When I was a little girl I used to wish my hands could be restored, and my scars erased. Over time though I’ve come to see that my scars and missing fingers were never limitations, but invitations to challenge myself, to look at things differently, and to persist in order to accomplish my goals. I have applied those lessons to everything I undertake, whether it’s making my own pasta or learning another language or mentoring a young student.
I am not stubborn. I am creative. I am persistent. I am determined, and I am eager to embrace all the challenges that are yet to come.
We are so immensely proud, and humbled as well, by this amazing girl that we have been privileged to parent. What a ride it’s been, but she is ready to fly on her own. Look out world, here she comes!
As mentioned a short while ago, Brett and I have started discussing where (and even if) we want to settle when the Big Adventure ends in May 2019. There’s much to consider, and still lots of unknowns right now, the biggest being where YaYu will attend college. That information alone, once we have it, will have a profound affect on our decision, but in the meantime there are things we can begin to talk about. Brett and I have gone back to our tried and true method of developing lists and spreadsheets, and looking at the pros and cons of different options. Once again, we’re taking our time to come to the best decision for the direction we’ll take once the Big Adventure is over in May 2019.
For the time being we’ve been putting together a list of the things that are important to us, or that we believe will be in the future. We haven’t particularly ranked anything yet, and none of the points listed below is yet a deal-killer. Some of the things we are considering so far are:
Do we want to settle somewhere or keep traveling? Everything will revolve around our answer to this question.
Cost of living: We’re pretty sure we’re going to want to continue traveling in some form, and the lower the cost of living if we decide to settle somewhere, the more we will have for travel.
Taxes: We will want a location with a good tax environment for retirees that doesn’t tax Social Security, has a lower or no tax on military retirement, low sales tax, etc. (We’re allowed to dream, aren’t we?).
Walkability: We do not want to own a car again, if possible. We would prefer to live somewhere where we can walk or use public transportation for the majority of tasks, and use ride or car share for those times when we absolutely have to have a car.
Culture: We’re mainly thinking about having access to classes for enrichment, but would also like a variety of other other cultural offerings nearby if possible, like art museums, theaters, etc.
Health care: The availability of good medical care, specialists, etc. will become even more important as we age.
Travel & transportation: If we settle, the ease of our getting to other places and for our children to come see us will be important.
Weather: While we would prefer sunny, warm weather, we (me especially) also would prefer someplace with less humidity if possible. We’re also not crazy about living somewhere that gets a lot of snow, especially since we’d like to walk a lot for as much of the year as possible.
So far, we have come up with four general location options with pros and cons to each one:
Return to Kaua’i: The thought of leaving here permanently is difficult to think about, but we’re not sure it will make sense to return if all of the girls are attending college, or living, on the mainland. Especially since neither we nor they can afford the cost of them (and eventually their families) traveling here every year, or us to the mainland to see them in all in the various places they live or will live. However, if YaYu ends up attending the University of Hawai’i, it will make sense for us to continue to live here, for a few more years at least. We would move to a smaller, more affordable space on the island, and perhaps even buy a condo here (although local HOA fees have pretty much priced us out of the market).
Settle somewhere on the mainland: If YaYu ends up attending college on the mainland, it will make much more sense for us to resettle back there somewhere, as it will be easier to see the girls and for the girls to come and see us. It’s also easier, believe it or not, for our son and family to travel to the mainland than to come to Kaua’i from Japan. Where that somewhere might be though is the big unknown. Living on the mainland would be more affordable overall, and we would probably buy something small, a true pied à terre so to speak. Brett and I dream of being car free and able to get to places by walking, using public transportation or using a ride-share or car-share service when necessary, and there are locations on the mainland where we could make that dream a reality.
Relocate overseas: The opportunity to live in a different country and experience a different culture still greatly appeals to us. Having lived overseas twice (in Japan) we know many of the ins and outs, pros and cons, and pitfalls of overseas living. It would mean a major, major lifestyle change and affect the whole family so it’s currently not as viable as the two options above. Still, it’s not out of the running. We both agree that if Japan ever offers a visa for retirees (highly unlikely) we would move there in a heartbeat.
Continue traveling: The Senior Nomads, who have been traveling non-stop for the past four years, were the inspiration for our own upcoming Big Adventure, and we are not ready yet to write off the possibility that we will enjoy our experience enough to want to keep going for another year or longer. There are so many places we want to see and that we won’t be visiting on our upcoming Adventure, and we may decide we just want to keep traveling for a while longer.
I am grateful we have so many choices, but there is a great deal to consider before making a decision. Thankfully nothing has to be decided in a hurry. Both Brett and I are physically, mentally and in good (enough) shape financially to take on any of these options, and all of them appeal to us in one way or another. We’re currently leaning toward one of the first two options, but will reevaluate our position as the year progresses and eventually come up with a firm decision about our future direction.
Because we know that not every minute of the Big Adventure will be spent sightseeing or traveling from place to place, Brett and I are taking along three of our favorite diversions, Scrabble, Yahtzee and cards, for when we have some “down time. They’ve all made countless moves with us over the years, and we thought they deserved to be part of this journey as well.
We’ve had our Scrabble set since before we were married, but have ditched the box for this trip. Brett is a skilled player and I rarely can beat him, but am always willing to embarrass myself yet again and try. We’ve had our Yahtzee cup since our son was in elementary school, and repeated coverings of duct tape have kept it functional. Our family came up with our own version of Yahtzee a long time ago, playing across the scorecard versus down each row. The game moves a little faster this way, and requires a bit more strategy, but we can’t imagine playing any other way now.
Our favorite card game is a simple one: eleven card gin. We keep score, and first person to get to 500 loses. We were going to buy a couple of new decks of Bicycle playing cards to take along (versus YaYu’s deck of Studio Ghibli cards pictured above), but after I took the picture she presented us the lovely boxed set from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, something her aunt gave her years ago and that have never been used.
Brett and I also enjoy putting together jigsaw puzzles, the more complicated the better, but for obvious reasons will not be putting one of those into our suitcases. We hope to buy one now and again though when we’re settled in someplace for a while, and will leave it behind for the next guests when we move on.
Gifts play an important role in Japanese culture, so any trip to Japan for us means taking gifts for family and others . . . and in our case this usually means lots of gifts. However, Brett, YaYu and I will only each be taking a carry-on bag, and one additional bag for under-seat stowage (tote bag for me; backpacks for Brett and YaYu), so making sure everything fits and arrives in good condition will be a bit of a challenge.
Besides clothing for eleven days, here’s what we’ve got to fit into our luggage this time:
Gifts for our granddaughter: Two onesies, a Hawaiian-print sundress, some leggings, a stuffed hippo, a feeding set, and some ocean-themed blocks.
For our grandson: Star Wars Lego set (he’s obsessed with both right now), Star Wars Lego t-shirt, six boxes of macaroni & cheese, and two packages of tortillas (for quesadillas). Tortillas and mac & cheese are available in Japan, but are super expensive.
For our daughter-in-law, Kona coffee and Kaua’i made soap.
We’re giving our son some of his U.S. favorites that are unavailable in Japan. He especially loves anything chocolate & mint, and it’s hard if not impossible to find in Japan. We’ll also get him two to three cases of Diet Coke from the mini mart in the hotel while we’re there – you can’t buy it otherwise in Japan, and he loves it.
We’ll probably get together with our daughter-in-law’s parents, so we’re prepared with a small gift of Hawaiian items: Kona coffee, chocolate covered macadamia nuts, and Kaua’i-made cookies.
Because it’s so ridiculously expensive now to mail anything to Japan, we are taking along some of our granddaughter’s first birthday gift: eight board books, a birthday card and gift bag. We’ll buy a couple of other things while we’re there for them to put away until her birthday.
We’re also taking several gift bags, tissue paper and tape, and will assemble and wrap everything once we get to our hotel room. Presentation is important in Japan!
The big question as we start this week is whether we can get all of this to fit into our bags. I think we can – the only “big” items are the box of cereal and the Lego set. Brett is a master packer (and I’m no slouch), and I’m confident will find ways to squeeze everything in. We do have some Space Bags to use if we need them, but I’m hoping they won’t be needed.
In the coming month our family’s emotions will run the gamut from deep loss to profound joy.
My mom is getting ever nearer to the end of her life. It’s been just over a month since I saw her, and there have apparently been profound changes since then. Her pain is increasing, as is her dementia. She still has an appetite, but is losing weight. We were informed last week by hospice that Mom is most likely entering her last few weeks of life, but no one can say for sure how much longer she will be with us. She is still her positive and upbeat self and gets up and dressed every day, but it’s getting harder each time. She frequently talks of her parents now, either that they’re coming soon, or that they’ve been taking care of things for her, bringing her things. This is not uncommon with the dying, to sense the presence of and talk to already dead relatives and friends.
My father’s death was sudden but not unexpected, and even though he and I were not close it was still a shock. My mother’s death is expected, but I already know it will affect me far more profoundly than my father’s did. My mom and I have had our differences, but she has lived a long time, had a good life, and lived it her way. She has been a genuine force of nature, a comet racing across the sky, and the world will be emptier without her in it.
Great joy will also be coming in October though as our new granddaughter is due to arrive this month! My son and daughter-in-law are ready, with the baby crib set up and other baby gear cleaned and ready to be put into use again. Our grandson is also excited and eager to meet “his baby.” Our son will be taking several weeks off from work to take care of things around the house, and get our grandson to school and home while our daughter-in-law recovers and adjusts to life with two children.
This time we don’t know the name they have chosen for the baby, and we’re looking forward to learning what they’ve decided on. We’ve tried to guess but have given up; we can’t figure out a name that works in both Japanese and English. I wish we could meet our granddaughter sooner than next year, but hopefully March will be here before we know it. Brett and I are looking forward to being those grandparents again when we go to Japan, with suitcases bursting full of baby things, and goodies for our grandson as well. We’re so excited about getting to spend loads of time with both our grandchildren.
Both death and great sadness, birth and great joy will enter our lives this month. It’s a bit overwhelming to contemplate at times, but that’s just how life happens sometimes.