Learning Another Language As an Adult

(photo credit: Leonardo Toshiro Okubo/Unsplash)

(This is an updated version of a post I wrote in May of 2018)

Brett and I have once again been thinking a lot about taking up another foreign language in preparation for our future travels. It makes sense for us to have some basics in another language if we’re going to travel and stay in another country for long period of time. I know enough Japanese to not get lost, buy things, and so forth, and found the basic French I learned last time helped us to get around in that country as well if for nothing more than reading signs and simple directions. Current plans are that Brett will go with Greek as he studied it for a while back in his navy days, but I’m torn between German and Italian, both of which I’ve studied before. I have spent a considerable amount of time (like years) trying to learn Japanese, only to still find myself with an ability less than a two year-old. Because my professional  background is in adult language learning and acquisition you would think I’d have this all figured out by now and would know all sorts of tricks to make learning faster and easier, but sadly, no. That’s not how language learning works.

Children pick up new languages very easily, at least the spoken part, typically because they are usually far more immersed in a new language than most adults (i.e. in school all day with other native speakers). If children learn a second language before the age of twelve they usually become fluent speakers with no accent. Although adults learn a language in the same steps as children, how adults process what they are learning is different based on cognitive differences and other previous learning experiences, and the reality is it takes adults longer to acquire a second language. The good news is it’s not impossible.

When adults are learning a second or foreign language, there are three main aspects that come into play: 1) motivation, or the reasons for learning another language; 2) how an adult views themself as a learner; and 3) who an adult sees themselves to be when they speak another language. All three of these are important, but any one of them on their own can have a profound effect on the learning experience. Being aware of these forces and the roles they play can help adults through the process.

Motivation falls into two classes, intrinsic or extrinsic. That is, motivation to learn another language either comes from within or from without. Are you learning a new language because you want to or because you have to or need to? How strong is the desire or need? A combination of both intrinsic and extrinsic reasons for learning is best, and together can provide powerful motivation to push through difficult stretches and improve.

Language learning has often proven to be a sticky problem for adults who have always seen themselves as successful learners or talented in other respects. Recognizing that language learning calls on a whole different set of skills than learning math or history, or participating in a sport or hobby, and that it might not be as easy for you as you thought (or as fun) is an important step in staying motivated and continuing to learn.

One’s self-image when learning a new language can sometimes take some serious blows. As a native speaker of English, I view myself as a confident, skilled adult when I speak, read, write or listen to English, able to know what to say in almost any situation or figure out what someone else is saying or inferring. With a new language I often find myself with less ability than a small child, making lots of (sometimes embarrassing) mistakes, sometimes unable to order in a restaurant or ask directions, let alone manage any other social or professional situations. It’s very humbling, and can also be humiliating at times. Also, there’s the aspect to self of fitting in socially and culturally where the new language is spoken. Knowing that these feelings are perfectly normal can help you stick with language learning.

Based on my many years of teaching English to adults learners, here are some tips for making language learning more productive and less painful:

  • Communication should be the goal. Not fluency, not perfection, although you can strive for those. Can another person understand what you’re trying to say or write and communicate back to you? That’s what really matters.
  • Know how difficult a language is to learn. Russian or Chinese or Finnish are going to be w-a-y more difficult for an English speaker to learn than Spanish or French. All language learning takes time and effort, but if you want to learn one of the more difficult languages, give yourself even more time. Although the goal may be much less than professional proficiency, here is the Foreign Language Institute difficulty ranking for English speakers, and how many hours of study it takes to reach General Professional Proficiency in Speaking (Level S3) and Reading (Level R3) in different languages. Notice that for a Class 1 language it takes less than six months to reach this level; to reach the same level with a Class 5 languages it takes closer to two years! This is honestly not meant to be discouraging, but provide a realistic look at what you’re taking on.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Seriously, mistakes are how we learn, especially in language learning! Think of all the mistakes children make when they’re learning to speak. Adults go through the same steps, and mistakes will happen. The important thing is to keep trying to produce the language in some form rather than shut down. An ideal instructor (or online program) will always model the language correctly for you when you make a mistake and give chances to try again. It’s also important to find a classroom and instructor where you feel safe to make mistakes. My Japanese instructors in college didn’t go for safety and it was an incredibly stressful and miserable experience. I remember nothing from those classes other than wanting them to end (although I did get my thesis topic out of the experience!).
  • Be prepared to memorize. Memory is a very big part of language learning. We memorize constantly when we learn our own language (as an example, I took weekly spelling tests from first through the eighth grade because much of English spelling and pronunciation is based on memorization, even for native speakers), and the same will be true for any other language. It’s more difficult to remember things when we’re older because we’re carrying around and having to deal with so much more information in our brains than we did when we were younger. The best way to remember what you’re learning is to practice every day.
  • Don’t sweat pronunciation. The ability to speak another language without an accent ends at about age 12. That’s when our mouths and oral muscles “solidify” around our native language. Not worrying about pronunciation doesn’t mean not trying to pronunciate a new language correctly in order to be understood, but sounding like a native speaker doesn’t need to be the goal.
  • Find ways to expose yourself to the language. Learning French in France is going to be a whole lot easier than trying to learn it in the U.S. Why? Because learners are immersed in the language there – it can’t be escaped and has to be dealt with. In your own country, once you’re out of the classroom it’s difficult to find opportunities to practice and use the language you’re learning. Immersion experiences do exist though. Shop in international markets and read the labels or ask questions in the language you’re learning. Pick up a newspaper or magazine in the new language, go through it and see what can be figured out. Watch foreign films or TV shows in the new language without subtitles. For example, when our girls were learning Chinese, they found that all their favorite Disney Channel shows could be watched online in Mandarin, so they got lots of extra listening comprehension practice from those. Go to a church service where the language you’re learning is spoken (they exist). See if you can set up conversation experiences through local colleges, or hire a tutor and have them provide a weekly immersion session. I was sometimes able to match up my students, if they had time, with an English speaker who was trying to learn their language. They’d spend one hour together in one language, the second hour in the other language.

Knowing another language opens doors for understanding a new and/or different culture, but language learning is a process that takes time, in some cases LOTS of time. It’s important to remind yourself, especially if you’re struggling or on the fence about sticking with it, that you didn’t learn English (or any other native language) quickly as a child either. Unless necessary for professional reasons, fluency doesn’t need to be the goal of language learning; rather, you should strive to learn enough of a new language to communicate effectively, and as a means to better understand and enhance experiences in a different culture.

Finally, If you’re a native speaker of English, one other interesting side effect of learning another language is that you will probably learn more about English as well, and what a crazy, difficult, and sometimes impossible language it is. I thank my stars every day that English is my native language, and that I didn’t have to learn it as a second or foreign language. My years of teaching gave me an immense amount of respect for anyone trying to learn English, a daunting task if there ever was one.

A Fun Distraction

Road trip! (photo credit: Katie Moum/Unsplash)

A couple of weeks ago, with all the bad news about the COVID pandemic around the world, Brett and I took a deeper look at our Plan B, an extended road trip around the continental U.S. We wanted to see if it was indeed possible and what it might cost compared to our original Big Adventure II plan.

The Ultimate National Park road trip

The exercise really got going when I came across a map for the Ultimate National Park Road Trip. Brett and I have often dreamed of doing a western National Park loop trip, but here was one that stopped at all the parks in the U.S.! For a few days he and I poured over the map trying to decide which direction we’d go and where we’d stay. I investigated Airbnb rentals in the areas we chose, we figured out the best state to set up residency before we set off (Washington), and we evaluated whether to buy an RV or a car (new or used), and with a car should it be hybrid or not, sedan or SUV, and so forth.

For several days we were caught up in the excitement of trip planning, imaging a nomadic life on the road for a few years before settling down. We even figured out how we could still fit in an annual trip to Japan and started heading down the road of convincing ourselves that maybe this was the better way to do the second round of the Big Adventure.

And then we crunched the numbers. Comparing those to our original plans we discovered there was no contest: overseas travel was the easy winner. A road trip would cost us a whole lot more.

The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid was the best choice for size, comfort, MPG, and cost. We were quite surprised to find that buying used made only a slight difference in the price.

The reason? Purchasing and operating a car put a huge dent in the budget. Even with a substantial down payment, even with choosing a economical car (our ultimate choice was the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid), the cost of owning and operating any car would take a big chunk out of our monthly budget. It didn’t matter whether we bought new or used, the total cost each month would be a lot (not just the monthly payment but also the gasoline, insurance, and other operating costs). We told ourselves that at the end of our journey we would at least own a car, but then remembered our ultimate goal is to not own a car. An RV purchase was even more out of the question, but we also found Airbnb rental prices to be higher in the U.S. than many places overseas. It would be something of a struggle to stay within or under our monthly budget for lodging for almost any place in the U.S., even staying in one location for a month.

We also realized we are not crazy about being in the U.S. during another election year.

It was a fun diversion to think about doing a big road trip versus traveling overseas again, but in the end our original plan proved to be the more frugal and exciting choice for us. Our goals for the future are solid and we want to stick to them. We know we can do a road trip if things comes to that, but for now it will continue to retain its Plan B status.

Simple Living or Frugal Living?

(photo credit: Annie Spratt/Unsplash)

A couple of days ago I was remembering an old friend in Portland, someone I considered to be quite frugal. One of her many skills was finding and buying bulk food deals for her family (four children) and I recalled her telling someone that she kept three freezers full of all her frugal finds.

Three freezers? I remember thinking at the time that there was no way I would want to manage or keep track of three freezers full of food, which was w-a-y more complication than I needed or wanted to take on in our similarly-sized family’s quest to live more frugally.

That got me thinking again about frugal living versus simple living. What am I trying to accomplish now? Which is more important to me these days?

Although frugality and simplicity make a good match, living frugally does not always equal living simply. For example, even if I only shopped at Goodwill, other thrift stores, or yard sales, if I bought a lot of stuff and brought it home, that wouldn’t be living simply although it saved me some money over buying new. I’d still end up with more stuff that I have to track and maintain. If I drove all over town to get the best deal with coupons, that would use both time and gasoline in the pursuit of saving a few dollars. In my life, maintaining a closet full of clothes, keeping track of a lot of food, or taking the time to drive all over town are complicated undertakings, and there are plenty of other things I’d rather be doing.

My definition of simple living is doing more with less. This does not mean not looking for the best prices, having reserves or buying extra when something is on sale, or enjoying the hunt at a thrift store or yard sale. It means setting limits that work for us. Being frugal for frugality’s sake isn’t an end in itself. Frugality means that Brett and I continue to learn how to do things better with less.

We remain a work in progress. One freezer full of food along with a well-stocked pantry would be more than enough for us, too much actually, these days. I like knowing what we have without having to resort to spreadsheets or calendars in order to use what’s on hand in a timely manner. We have enough clothes. We have much less furniture than we did three years ago, and it’s more than plenty for the two of us. Less means it’s simpler these day to keep our house clean, open, and light.

More than anything else we’ve done, being able to cut back on not just possessions but on the time we spend acquiring possessions (including food) has allowed us to focus more on saving and as well as doing a better job of saving. It’s frankly been liberating, and helped both Brett and I get to the core of what we need to feel secure, content and even happy.

Just becoming more frugal wasn’t the answer for us because frugal living didn’t necessarily equal simple living, and that has turned out to be our ultimate goal: A simple life.

What simple living means to me or our family might either be too complicated or too bare-bones for someone else. Everyone has their own “sweet spot.” For my friend, that meant having three freezers full of food. For me, it has meant not only spending within our means, but having more time to do the things we enjoy, and not feel burdened by the need to always be in search of the best deal or “have it all.”

First Draft: An Itinerary For the Next Big Adventure

It’s taken a few weeks, but we’ve put together what we think is a good plan for two years of travel! We started off thinking we would figure out a year’s worth but somehow we just got going and couldn’t stop at a year.

I’m sort of happy we did this because it gives me lots of think about when it comes to planning and how much we should save in advance. There’s a big splurge in the second year which will require extra advance saving, but now that we know we’re better prepared to work on a monthly budget for that.

Before we started putting together an itinerary, we set three simple ground rules:

  • A minimum of 30 days in each location
  • Include at least one “long weekend” or getaway to a nearby location (around four or five days)
  • Ninety days in Japan each year
  • Special attention given to the weather and time of year; i.e., other than going to New England in December to spend Christmas with our daughters, no northern visits in the winter, no southern visits in the summer, and so forth.

Locations we have not visited yet were the priority, but there are some return visits. We also wanted the order we traveled to make some kind of geographical sense with not too many long flights in between.

After much deliberation and back and forth, here’s the first draft of an itinerary for the next Big Adventure. We’re pretty sure some things will change as we move closer to 2023, both because of costs and because lots can happen during two years that we have no way of knowing now.

photo credit: Danae Dal Bianco/Unsplash

We’ll start with an month-long stay on the island of Crete in Greece, with a long weekend in Athens and possibly a trip to Santorini.

photo credit: Fatih Yurur/Unsplash

From Greece we’ll head to Istanbul, a place both of us have longed to visit.

photo credit: Julia Solonina/Unsplash

Instead of returning to Rome, we’ve decided we would rather go north and spend a month in Verona, with easy access to Venice, Vincenza, Padua, and Milan.

photo credit: ERROR 420/Unsplash

Next is Western Germany. We wanted to stay in Amsterdam for a month, but lodging is very expensive there so instead we’ll make Amsterdam a long weekend visit. We’re thinking of staying in either Cologne or the area around Frankfurt so we can also go back to Strasbourg for a few days.

photo credit: Candy Good/Unsplash

We’re heading back to the UK after Germany, for just 30 days this time. We can’t decide whether to return to the Cotswolds or instead stay in Derbyshire, but it’s looking like the Cotswolds may be too expensive for a month’s stay (last time Airbnb covered the cost). We plan to rent a car this time, so a trip back to Blockley for a long weekend would be doable from Derbyshire and probably more affordable. We also want to add on a week in London at the end of our stay to see the things we missed before. After nearly missing our flight out of London in 2019, we want to make sure as well this next time we’re already in London before our flight!

England will be followed by a 90-day stay in Tokyo. We hope to find lodging this time nearer to our son’s new home but there currently don’t appear to be any affordable rentals in the area. Sangenjaya, the neighborhood where we stayed before and love, would not be as convenient as before but still doable. There are nonstop flights from London to Tokyo, and this will be where our air miles will come in handy, to upgrade to comfortable seats for the long flight(s).

photo credit: Clifford/Unsplash

If all goes as plans we will leave Japan in mid-December, and head back to New England for a month to spend the Christmas and the New Year’s holiday with our daughters, and re-provision before setting out again. Japan to the east coast of the U.S. will be another long journey, but we are already thinking that unless we find a fantastic fare to Boston we will break up the trip with a short stay in Portland so we can get together again with friends.

At the beginning of 2024 we want to return to Buenos Aires, not only because of a strong desire to experience more of the city, but because it will be summer there! We would like to visit Iguazu Falls this time, if possible, so that’s one idea for a long weekend getaway. We missed seeing Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay on our last visit, another great getaway (it’s just across the river, and a World Heritage site), or maybe spending a few days in Tigre, a natural area on the northside of Buenos Aires. Tierra del Fuego would make a wonderful long weekend visit as well.

photo credit: Miranda Garside/Unsplash

Following Argentine our destination will be Mexico for 60 days, spending the first month exploring Mexico City, and the second in San Miguel de Allende, which would have been our destination following Japan in 2020.

photo credit: Scott Walsh/Unsplash

Leaving Mexico, we will head north again, this time to Canada! Our idea is to spend 30 days somewhere in the Maritimes, 30 days in Montreal, and finish with 30 days in Vancouver. We would rent a car during our stay in the Maritimes but otherwise rely on public transportation in the other two cities.

photo credit: Ondrej Machart/Unsplash

Another l-o-n-g journey awaits us when we leave Canada because we want to head back to Australia for 60 days! We will break our 30-day rule here as there’s several things we’d like to do, and this is probably the last time we’ll go to Australia. We’ll start with a week in Sydney, then travel to Adelaide in South Australia for a 30 day stay. The train made a stop in Adelaide on the way to Sydney during our last visit and we were enchanted by what we saw. At the end of our stay we’ll board The Ghan for hopefully 10 days of travel through the center of the country, with stops in Alice Springs and overnight visits to Uluru and other sites in the outback, and finishing the journey with a short stay in Darwin. Afterwards we’d like to visit my brother and other family in Queensland. A train journey tour package would be our only big “splurge” this time around.

Then it’s back to Tokyo for another 90 day fall stay. While we love seeing the cherry blossoms, the changing leaves, autumn foods, and the chance to celebrate our son’s and granddaughter’s birthday make the fall a great time for us to be there.

We’ll end 2024 with another stay in New England for the holidays.

After coming up with that itinerary, we decided it was time to stop although we have some ideas of where to go after that. There are so many places we want to visit but those can wait until later!

Let the Adventure Begin . . . Again

. . . again.

For the past few weeks, as Brett and I have researched and discussed options for our future, a few things became clear:

  • We do not want to own a house again. We came to realize what we liked was the idea of owning a house, but actually have no enthusiasm or real desire for taking on the reality of home ownership again.
  • We are also unenthusiastic about car ownership. Again, we like the idea of buying a new car but are less than excited by the reality of car ownership.
  • We do not want to accumulate a bunch of stuff again, which is exactly what we could see happening if we bought a house.
  • We could easily imagine ourselves feeling restless, unhappy and possibly even miserable if we permanently located in one place.

Over the past few weeks we researched living in New England, and other places on the east coast, to be nearer our daughters. We then went across the U.S., state by state, and asked ourselves if any place there appealed to us. Although some areas ticked off many of the criteria on the list we had made, no place sparked any joy whatsoever. We examined and evaluated all of our options and outcomes for staying on Kaua’i, from best- to worst-case scenarios and got nowhere with that. For a few days we got excited about possibly relocating overseas. We looked into moving to Strasbourg or Bordeaux in France, or to Florence in Italy, but after an initial burst of enthusiasm and looking at the realities of having to obtain visas, learn a new language, set up housekeeping in a foreign location and all that goes along with that, it became a non-starter as well.

Feeling very discouraged at one point last week, I sighed and said, “I miss our nomadic life. Maybe we could just go back to that.”

And that was the spark for both of us.

Although travel days were hard, during the time we were traveling full time we were involved in new places, learning new things, meeting new people, and seeing and experiencing locations we had only dreamed about before. We were happy, never bored, we lived the way we wanted, and we were still able to see and connect with family, much more in actuality than we can now on Kaua’i. Brett and I enjoyed each other’s company to the fullest and we enjoyed working as a team.

We know we have a few more good years in us. We continue to be in good health and good physical shape, and agree we want to use this time to our advantage. Settling down is something that can wait for a few more years.

We have decided to once again become full-time nomads beginning in the spring of 2023. We don’t feel that international travel is a good idea for the rest of this year, vaccines or no, and we already have commitments for 2022, and would also like to see how things shake out COVID-wise in that year, to decide if traveling will be safe or whether it makes more sense move to some kind of Plan B. We need time to rebuild our savings, and much planning needs to take place before we could travel full-time again. We learned a great deal during our previous time as nomads, but would like to do an even better job of it the next time around. There are logistics to be figured out, an itinerary to plan, a budget to be set up, and decisions to be made about our remaining stuff, and lots more on top of that. One more seeming small but important part of waiting until 2023 is that both of our driver’s licenses expire in early 2023, and we want and need to renew them so that we can continue to rent cars overseas as necessary or desired.

We have already made a few decisions that will drive our planning going forward. We want to do at least one long stay (90 days) in Japan every year, and otherwise spend at least 30 days in a location as we do not want to move around as frequently as we did before. We both want to travel once again with just one checked suitcase each along with our rolling carry-ons. While we have a few ideas of places we’d like to go this time, an itinerary is still very nebulous and won’t be firmed up until later. There are places we want to revisit, but loads of places we didn’t get to last time and we want to balance those two things.

We’ve presented our decision to our kids and every one of them was and is excited for us. There will be much to do before we leave, but based on past experience we know the time will pass somewhat quickly. In the meantime, we will enjoy our time on Kaua’i to the fullest and continue to work at staying healthy and getting ourselves in even better shape than we are now.

I hope you’ll stay along for the ride as we plan and get ready for our Big Adventure, Part Deux!

Does It Spark Joy?

Before I began going through my cold weather travel clothes week before last, I told myself to go with Marie Kondo’s advice and ask myself with each piece of clothing or pair of shoes I tried on whether it sparked joy; that it, did it make me feel good and/or happy when I looked at it and thought of wearing it again. I admit to being surprised by a few items that I thought I liked but when I held and looked at them did not bring forth happy feelings or any desire to wear them again. I was equally surprised by a few items I thought would go into the discard pile that I actually loved because they now fit and look better in comparison to how they did in the past. The end result is a wardrobe that I can imagine wearing and enjoying in the future, and with enough variety that I can’t imagine needing more.

This whole “spark joy” exercise got me thinking that maybe Brett and I should apply the same tactic when we evaluate future plans and possible locations. While it’s easy to create list of things we would like to have in a possible location, if there is no feeling of joy or excitement when we think about living there, even a little, what’s the point? There’d be more than a good chance we would end up feeling miserable after not too long a time and wanting to move again. 

Hawaii, although it initially felt like an impossible dream, was a location that sparked joy in both of us back when we were discussing and evaluating retirement locations, as did locations along the Southern California coast that ultimately did not work out. The idea of doing a big travel adventure immediately brought joy to both of us, and when when we were drawing up the itinerary for our Big Adventure we dismissed locations that did not have some sort of an emotional element of excitement and wonder. We decided we weren’t interested in visiting places just to say we’d been there; we wanted to go places that spoke to our hearts and souls in some way. Japan has always been a location that brings us deep joy when visiting, a feeling that has only increased over the years. While we enjoyed every place we visited during our travels, there were definitely locations that brought more joy than others, some of them quite surprising in retrospect. There were others that didn’t as much as we had imagined they would.

So, we have added does it spark joy? to our list of criteria, and it may just be the most important of all. Kaua’i is definitely at the top of that list but unfortunately doesn’t meet many other of our criteria these days. We also noticed that a couple of other places we’d started to evaluate definitely didn’t spark any sort of joy and actually made us feel sort of miserable when we thought about living there. We just couldn’t imagine ourselves living those places or being happy there no matter the low cost of living or whatever other benefits they might provide.

I’m glad we have time to figure this all out, and to make the best decision for our future, one that will not only give us a location that meets most of our needs and wants, but bring us happiness and joy as well.

On the Same Page

When Brett and I talk about things like travel plans or our finances, we approach the task from very different places. Brett has a very right-brain, visual way of seeing things. That is, he learns, understands and/or retains thing when he can see them, and does even better when they’re not just words or numbers on a page but arranged in a meaningful and engaging way. He’s also a vertical thinker, and deals best with one task at a time. These traits were a good match for his professional duties of writer and illustrator, but not so good when we need to talk about financial stuff or we’re planning something.

On the other hand, I am a very left-brain, analytical thinker and do best when I hear things laid out or see items written succinctly on a page. I am also a horizontal thinker, meaning I can be working on and/or juggling many duties at the same time and keep everything up in the air, which is the reason I take care of tasks like budgeting, travel planning, shopping lists and menu planning. Brett says that whenever I try to talk about these things with him I am “talking in spreadsheets,” and that he quickly loses where I’m at or what I’m talking about because he’s not able to visualize it.

One year, when the amount of a bonus he would receive was revealed, and after I realized there would be enough for both Christmas presents, debt repayment, and savings, I sat down and went over our current financial plan and thought about whether there was a better or faster way we could pay down our debt and save for a future vacation. After crunching the numbers for a couple of days I came up with what I thought might be the best way to accomplish both goals. I tried to talk about my idea with Brett but all I got back was “you’re talking in spreadsheets again.”

So, I made a coffee date and put together a sheet for him outlining the debt repayment path we were currently on along with a second way I thought might work better and help us accomplish our financial goals more quickly. I used colors, an interesting font, and different sizes of print to hopefully make the information more interesting for him to look at and easier to remember. I purposely didn’t mention that I was doing this until we were at the coffee shop and had time to sit together and go over everything.

It’s always been a boost for both of us to find out we’re on the same page, whether that’s our finances, our dreams, or things we need to accomplish, even if we do approach those things differently. As we went over the information I had put together on that sheet in more detail Brett took notes and offered ideas or asked for more explanation. As usual, we eventually came together on what we wanted to accomplish even if we approached the process for getting there in different ways.

Creating a visually appealing and easy-to-follow outline still helps me explain my thinking more clearly to Brett, as well as keeps us on the same page with our finances and goals and how we plan to get there. I still tend toward “talking in spreadsheets” when I get excited about an idea, but am better these days about getting things written down for Brett to let him know what I’m thinking about, and to get feedback and input from him.

Once a plan gets put into action though, it’s passed over to Brett. He’s our logistical wizard. He loves keeping daily figures and tracking how we’re doing, something that’s can be excruciatingly boring for me, and he makes sure we meet our deadlines. We make a good team, and we’re glad to have figured out a great way to stay on the same page to reach our goals.

Time to Break Out a New Spreadsheet

Before Brett officially retired in 2013, we decided we had a great opportunity to relocate to a warmer, sunnier climate. We wanted to escape the dreary, damp winters and head for someplace with a warmer, sunnier climate. But where should we go?

We started our search by determining the things that would be important to us in a new location and eventually came up with eight criteria we would use to evaluate different places:

  1. Good year-round weather
  2. Cost of living
  3. Schools
  4. Proximity to the ocean and/or mountains
  5. Nearby military facilities
  6. Proximity to Japan,
  7. Tax benefits for retirees
  8. A strong, vibrant Asian community

After determining these criteria, we then came up with places that we thought might include those things or at least some of them. Hawaii was added to our list as a joke because we knew we would never be able to live in Hawaii but it sounded fun. The next step was ranking the criteria, figuring out the things that were most important to us. We came up with the order above. Finally, we began researching different locations, taking notes and checking off which areas met which criteria. Some places were eliminated more quickly than others.

We were very, very surprised to discover that Hawaii met eight of our nine criteria. The only problematic one was the state’s high cost of living, but we eventually decided if everything else fit we could somehow figure out how to live within our means there. We talked about changes we could make (i.e. renting versus buying), ready everything we could find about living on a budget, how to shop, etc. and made it work for us. We’ve never regretted our decision to come here.

However, with the cost of living on Kaua’i rising rapidly these days we are thinking about whether it would make more sense to relocate back to the mainland. The cost of housing on Kaua’i is rising to a level that will make it close to unaffordable for us to stay. Most of our children have ended up settling back east on the mainland. Flights to Japan from Honolulu take as long as they did from Portland, and fares are often higher from here to there. Now is the time to consider whether we should leave or stay.

It’s time for us to come up with a new spreadsheet once again, and evaluate our choices. Brett and I sat down together week before last and came up with a new list of what’s important to us. We haven’t ranked this list yet, but think it’s a good basic one that covers our needs and wants at this stage of our lives. In no particular order, these are the eight things we want/need to consider: 

  • Proximity to family: As we age, and our daughters get closer to having their own families, we would like to live closer to them. Our children would like to have us closer to them as well.
  • Cost of living: Will the cost of food, transportation, and everything else in a new location fit into our budget and leave something left over for other things we want to do (i.e. travel)?
  • Cost of housing: Is there quality housing in the area that fits within our budget?
  • Tax benefits for retirees: Is Social Security taxed? Would Brett’s military retirement be taxed?
  • Weather: Is the area prone to big weather events like hurricanes, flooding? After living in Hawaii can we deal with dreary weather once again, or things like snow and other effect of brutal winter weather? Do we want to?
  • Proximity to the ocean and mountains: Is it possible to find this combination again?
  • Travel & cultural opportunities: Are there things for us to see and explore in the area? Is there a major airport nearby for overseas travel?
  • Healthcare availability: Is there a nearby hospital and otherwise good medical availability in the area?
  • Nearby military facilities: Is there a military base nearby, mainly for things like ID card renewal and possible commissary/exchange shopping?

While we now have a list, we still need to come up with areas that might work with these criteria. We know that no place needs to be a perfect fit, but it should meet at least half of what’s on our list. Before coming up with a list of locations, we still need to rank the criteria, add others to the list, if necessary, and then begin researching and seeing what might be a good fit. 

We already know that Kaua’i is barely going to meet half of these criteria, but it carries something that no place else does: our hearts. No matter how great another location turns out to be, no matter how many criteria it matches, going up against our love for this island will not be an easy task. But, getting started now on a possible move is something that needs to be done, so it’s time once again to create a new spreadsheet so we have time to get it figured out to make the best choice for all the right reasons.

What I Did On My Winter Vacation

Travel planning has begun . . .

I had a very good time during my break doing some travel planning . . . for fun. I focused on a return to England, to the Cotswolds again, and sort of put together an itinerary, then looked for lodging, tours, and other things Brett and I would like to include on our next visit. I absolutely love travel planning, so this was a very enjoyable and relaxing way to spend (waste?) my time for several days.

We hope to do another three month stay in 2023, this time from August through October. Our last visit was September through November, and while September was lovely, by November we were pretty much confined to our cottage and unable to get out much for walks and such because of the weather. We think moving things forward by a month we’ll be able to enjoy better weather while still getting to enjoy the best of summer and fall.

YaYu and I spent an enjoyable amount of time last week pouring over the Character Cottages website, looking for an ideal cottage for our stay. Character Cottages is a booking agent for a large group of cottages in the Cotswolds (not property managers though); even if you find a cottage on another site, its rental is often still handled through Character Cottages. They have properties in many villages, and rentals in all sizes and price ranges. The cottages each have at least one of what the firm calls a “character feature,” which could be anything from the architecture to a stone fireplace or inglenook in the living room. 

Choosing a location took some time, but after some discussion Brett and I decided we’d like to return to Blockley or very nearby, for a variety of reasons, most especially location and familiarity. YaYu and I did most of our searching among those properties. Must-haves included two bedrooms (all three of the girls have said if we go back to England they are coming to visit); a full kitchen with a dishwasher; a washer/dryer; and convenient parking as we plan to rent a car on our next visit. I also wanted a gas fireplace (easy to turn on and off, and they do a better job of warming a room). In the end we came up with three potential cottages that had everything we wanted this time, at prices we felt we could afford. I’m not going to order them, because we like all three, but one is our top choice. I would love to know how you would rank these (you can click on the link under the picture for more information)!

 

Primrose Cottage

Brook Cottage

Green Cottage

Although we did used public transportation during our last visit and managed well with that, we decided we’d rather have a car this next time, so I also investigated long-term car rentals. At first we thought we’d get ourselves to Oxford from either Heathrow or Gatwick (preferred) to save some money, but eventually figured out that logistically and cost-wise, it made more sense to pick up a car at either one of those airports and drive the little over two and a half hours to our destination. This is what we did in New Zealand, and it worked out well. We can reserve a rental through Costco at either airport.

Bourton-on-the-Water is one of the stops on the tours. We missed getting to visit here back in 2019.

Finally, Brett and I still want to do a long hike while we are there, and initially thought we would fit in a Cotswold Way walking tour into our stay. One evening when I was canoodling around though, I discovered this Cotswold Cooking & Culinary tour, and after doing a bit more investigation and sharing with Brett, we decided we’d rather do this! So, somewhere in the middle of our stay, we want to hit the trail (footpath) and eat our way through the region for eight days (hopefully walking off the calories).

Since this trip is currently over two and half years away, all I did this time was take notes, and get a general idea of how much we’ll have to save (including airfare) to make this dream a reality. None of it may come to fruition in the end (cottages not available, hosts might not want to do a long-term rental, etc.) But, the planning was a whole lot of fun, I learned a lot, and we more definite than ever about returning to England in 2023!

Ten Goals for 2021

I am so ready for 2020 to be over and done with! It’s been a crazy, unpredictable, frustrating, and somewhat ridiculous ride at times, and I am looking forward to starting over in 2021.

Over the past month, Brett and I have been talking over our combined goals for the new year, and I’ve also been thinking of a few personal ones I’d like to accomplish, and we’ve come up with the ten goals listed below:

Joint goals for Brett and Me:

  1. Continue to stay healthy! Besides avoiding COVID-19, Brett and I both want to lose an additional 10 pounds. We will continue with our current eating plan and exercise for the year and see where that takes us. We plan to segue to cross-training before the middle of the year, and will be purchasing a recumbent exercise bicycle to add to our walking. Our end-of-the-year goal is to be able to walk two to four hours at a time at least four days per week.
  2. Save enough to cover YaYu’s 2021-2022 college expenses. Thankfully we have 12 months to accomplish this, but her final year has the potential to be an expensive surprise, even with financial aid, as the college knows they have a “captive audience” and may lower previous levels of aid (this happened to us with our son).
  3. Save $8000 for future travels, including an additional $1000 in Delta gift cards from Swagbucks. This is a big goal, but we think it’s one we can accomplish. Savings throughout the year will come from the $1 bill/change jar; WenYu’s and Meiling’s reimbursements for their phone plan; a monthly saving allotment (which has been increased for 2021); all refunds, reimbursements, and rewards; and every other bit of odds and ends we can throw into the account.
  4. Save $600 for Christmas 2021. We plan to keep it simple again next year, even if we’re all together again. Brett and I have already decided that any gifts we give each other will be to support our 2022 walking tour in Japan.
  5. Send at least one stored item to each of the girls. We plan to send WenYu a lamp we’ve been storing for her, and also her light box (for drawing), but have no idea yet what to send to Meiling (she wants my KitchenAid mixer, but for what it would cost to send from her we could buy her a new one). Postage is going to be expensive no matter what we choose to send, but we are determined to start whittling down the stuff we are keeping for them. YaYu’s things will stay here for the time being, until she finishes school.
  6. Go to the beach at least 26 times. That’s an average of every other week but we think it’s a goal we can accomplish. 

My Personal Goals:

  1. Read 52 books. This past year was a bust as I didn’t read for nearly three months after we came back to Kaua’i – my mind just couldn’t focus. I have decided that 2021 will be a “year of mystery” with my reading focusing on mysteries, thrillers (which will include the John LeCarré books – will get as many read/reread as possible), and police procedurals from around the world. I already have over ten books on hold at the library!
  2. Add 20 minutes of upper body strength training with weights to my daily exercise. I need to improve my upper body strength for our 2022 tour. YaYu has agreed to help me find a program I can follow online.
  3. Continue to study Japanese, and add French as well. I’m going to finish up the Memrise Japanese offerings at the beginning of the year, then plan to move on to working with the Japanese for Busy People text to get a firmer grip on the grammar. I’m not sure how much I can improve, but the point for me now is to keep going with it. I found a free beginning online French course offered through MIT, and want to start that. It will be challenging, especially since I will have to submit lessons and will actually be awarded a grade for the course once I sign up, so once I start I will be committed. I thoroughly enjoyed learning French before we left on our Big Adventure and have been wanting to learn more.
  4. Start writing a book. I have an idea of where I want to go with this, so will begin next month with an outline, and also start researching publishers. I plan to set aside an one hour each day for book writing. 

We have one other surprise goal, but have no idea right now whether that will turn out to be more of a fantasy or something we can get done. We’ll know more as the year goes along, but for now will keep it under wraps.

When I look over my personal goals it’s clear that I’m going to have to organize my time better next year in order to get to all these things I want to do. I’m ending this year with a sort of fuzzy schedule for the things I’m doing now, and will work with that and add things and find times that work best for me so I don’t feel overly pressured. From the looks of things though my day will be quite full, and I’ll need to motivate myself to keep moving. My daily activity cards will help me stay motivated and on task, but I know it’s going to take a little time to settle in and find my groove.

2021: We’re ready! Bring it on!