Goodbye February, Hello March

It’s a new month, and time to post the goals we want to accomplish this month. But first, here’s how we did with February’s goals:

  1. Put at least $900 into our travel savings account. We put $1261.11 into our account in February.
  2. Combine all pantry items into one closet. Here’s how our two closets looked before . . . and here’s how they look now!
  3. Make reservations for an overnight stay on the Big Island, and a two-night stay at one of the PMRF cottages during spring break. We have reservations now for the Big Island in late June, and will be staying overnight in a cottage at Camp Kilauea (with a fireplace and jetted tub!) inside the national park. My HawaiianMiles will cover our flights over to the Big Island and back (Kona), and we have free entrance to the park, so besides.lodging our only other expenses will be a car rental and dining (we plan to have dinner at Volcano House, but otherwise will bring our own food along). Brett also got us booked for two nights in early June at one of the beachfront cottages at Barking Sands on the west side of Kaua’i. They’re fully furnished, so we’ll take along our own food, and have dinner one night at the restaurant on base (Shenanigans), which is supposed to be very good. Brett and YaYu are going to spend one day while we’re there hiking in Waimea Canyon; I will hold down the fort and relax (i.e. sit out on the beach and read).
  4. Decide on bed pillows and cases to take along on the Big Adventure.We checked out several pillows this month at Costco. Some were too heavy (I’m looking at you, Tempurpedic memory foam), and others were lightweight and cheap, and we didn’t think they’d hold up well, especially after getting stuffed into our suitcases over and over. We have settled on these pillows through Amazon. They’re expensive, but very lightweight (around one pound each) and durable. There’s no hurry to order them right now though.
  5. Take at least one bag of stuff to the thrift store. We took four bags to the thrift store in February.

Here are our goals for March:

  1. Put at least $900 into our travel savings account.

    The baking cabinet is on my list of clean-outs.

  2. Clean out at least three cabinets in the kitchen.
  3. Clean out and organize my nightstand.
  4. Clean out the two tansu in the living room (they’ve both been sold).
  5. Narrow our list of suitable Airbnb rentals for the first half of our trip.
  6. Set up an additional area in the garage for moving sale items.
  7. Take at least one bag of stuff to the thrift store.

Let’s see how we do!

Goodbye January, Hello February

Here’s how we did with our goals this past month, and our goals for February.

Our January goals:

  1. Put at least $900 into our travel savings. We put $6067.96 into our travel account, which included $5000 from my inheritance.
  2. Clean off one set of shelves in the garage. Done!

    The shelves before . . .

    . . . and after. Everything on the shelf now is something that we’re going to sell (well, except for the Diet Coke – that is all mine!).

  3. Get my hair cut. Can you see how happy I am to have gotten rid of that big frizzy mess that was on my head? I tried a new salon this time and had a much better experience for the same amount as I was paying before at a different salon.

    New glasses, new haircut

  4. Get Brett’s hearing aids. They were fitted a little over two weeks ago – yeah! He saved a bundle by choosing the Kirkland brand of appliances at Costco.
  5. Have new glasses made with my updated prescription. I love having red glasses again. I also saved a bundle by ordering the frames online, and having the glasses made at Costco.
  6. Update our wills. Done! Besides creating our wills, the software we used also allowed us to prepare advance health directives and a durable power of attorney to handle our finances if we become incapacitated. And, we got the software for free!
  7. Take at least one bag of items to the thrift store. We took in three bags and one large box of stuff that WenYu cleaned out of her closet.

    Three bags of stuff ready for the thrift store.

Here are February’s goals:

  1. Put at least $900 into our travel savings account.
  2. Combine all pantry items into one closet. We currently use two small hallway closets for our pantry, but will downsize and condense into one.

    We want to clean out and organize this closet . . .

    . . . so all of this will fit in there as well.

  3. Make reservations for an overnight stay on the Big Island, and a two-night stay at one of the PMRF cottages during spring break. Camp Kilauea on the Big Island is inside Volcanoes NP, and very affordable. The cottages at PMRF out in Waimea are one of the best places on the island to see the sun set, and a good base for Brett to do some Waimea Canyon hiking.
  4. Decide on bed pillows and cases to take along on the Big Adventure. We’ve got a few options in mind, but need to make a decision. We’ll wait to buy in March though.
  5. Take at least one bag of stuff to the thrift store.

Let the downsizing continue!


Until One Is Committed

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

William Hutchinson Murray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lists, Lists and More Lists

2018, at least until August, will be known around here as Our Year of Lists. At least that’s what it feels like now. We are in the throes of list-making in order to make sure that when we take off on the Big Adventure everything, or at least as much as possible, has been taken care.

List making can be fun (especially for someone like me who loves organization), but as we’ve learned about lists from past experience, when one thing gets done or is taken care of, two or more things seem to pop up and go back on the list

Here are nine lists we are currently juggling:

  1. Reservations/tickets: This list is pretty straight forward, and includes all travel-related reservations (lodging and transportation) we need to take care of, but will also include reservations for things like museums in Florence, for example. There will also be some fill-ins as we get closer to departing, like an overnight stays here or there between plane connections. We’ve already been able to get some reservations made (India, Australian train journey, Kaua’i rental), but it’s still too early for much else of it. The 2018 part of our journey can’t get started until we know when and where YaYu will be going to college, and that won’t be known until around the end of March. Brett and I work together on this list – I’m the researcher, but he keeps the spreadsheets and marks things off as they get done (and tracks the money).
  2. Paperwork: This list has two parts: 1) Official things like visas and 2) personal paperwork, and what we need to keep and where it will get stored while we travel. We are currently working on winnowing down our personal paperwork, and Brett is keeping a spreadsheet of where and when we need to worry about visas and other documents.
  3. Clothing/shoes: While this list has been fun to think about and compile, it has not been as easy as we thought. We will literally be living out of our suitcases for a year, and need to have both cold and hot weather clothing, as well as be prepared for everything in-between. We’re both almost done with acquiring what we need, and then will do a practice pack and weigh and see where we stand and what we (may) need to take out. I have searched for lists of what to pack for a year, but everything I’ve found is for travelers who intend to live out of a backpack for the year, and we’re not those people. We’re trying to keep things to a minimum, but want to have some variety for the year.
  4. Toiletries/medications; This is another seemingly easy list that’s turning out to be not as easy as initially thought. We’ll need to make sure we’re taking enough medication (both prescription and over-the-counter) to carry us through until we’re back on the mainland over Christmas, but we’ve decided that we can pick up most toiletries as we travel so we want to keep this as minimal as we can, and take just enough to get us started. Excusez-moi, où est la crème à raser? But what should those items be?
  5. Electronics: Both Brett and I are sure we have all the electronics we will need and want as we travel (laptop, iPad, iPhones, iPod, Kindles), but also want to make sure we take along all the accoutrement as well, things like chargers, cords, adapters, ear buds, etc. as well as back-ups.
  6. Miscellaneous: This list is really just the odds and ends of stuff that doesn’t seem to fit anywhere else, like books we want to load on our Kindles before we set off, or small financial matters (local and otherwise) that we don’t want to forget to take care of. Following the Senior Nomads example, we want to carry along our own pillows, so they’re on this list so we don’t forget them. Also included on this list are games we want to take along to play during down times.
  7. Downsizing/storage: We have divided our household items, including our car, into three areas: Sell, donate (or throw away), and store. We’ve already sold some things, and will be working for the next several months on the donate/throw away aspect. We have a pretty solid idea now of what we’re going to put into storage, but we go back and forth on some items (with Brett usually insisting we let it go).
  8. Kaua’i bucket list: This (bittersweet) list was posted last week.
  9. YaYu’s college stuff: All the admission paperwork has been submitted (or almost all), but once we know where she will be going we will continuing the list of what she will need in the way of clothing and dorm essentials, most of which will be purchased at her college location.

I’m sure there is probably one or two other areas I’ve forgotten about, but when I remember, they’ll get lists as well. We’ll be able to finish checking off some of these lists sooner than others, but most we’ll be working on right up until we go. The key is going to be staying focused, and relying on the lists to make sure it all gets done and that hopefully nothing gets forgotten.

#Kauai: The Bucket List

Kipu Kai Ranch view – part of the ATV tour.

You’d think that after almost four years here on this small island we would have seen and done it all, but with less than eight months remaining before we take off on the Big Adventure, we’re realizing there are several things we still haven’t experienced and would like to do before we go.

Neither Brett nor I are those people that feel compelled to do everything when we visit or live somewhere. We like to do enough to gain a better and/or deeper understanding of a place, but also are OK with leaving some things undone, to give ourselves a reason to want to return (or at least rationalize a reason to return).

Here is a list we’ve come up with (for now) of some missing Kaua’i/Hawai’i experiences we’d like to have before we leave:


Sunset view from the PMRF beach cottages

  • Rent a beach cottage for a couple of nights at the Pacific Missile Range Facility, to enjoy the beach and experience the gorgeous sunsets. This is one of our military benefits, and we’d be remiss not to use it before we go.
  • Hike Waimea Canyon. This is high on Brett’s list. By the way, the reason I don’t hike with him is that while my knee (that I broke over 18 years ago) is OK going uphill, going back down doesn’t go so well – same for stairs.
  • Hike the Stone Dam trail. Brett’s done this a couple of times, but it’s a hike I can do too because it’s flat!

    We plan on getting VERY dirty on the ATV tour!

  • Take an ATV tour out to Kipu Kai Ranch This is the only “touristy” activity we really want to try.
  • Get up early and hike out to watch the sunrise from the Pineapple Dump.
  • Take the tubing adventure tour with our grandson if our son and family visit next summer, through the historic irrigation system of the old Lihue Plantation. Apparently it’s quite the thrill ride!

    The Kaua’i Museum

  • Visit the Kaua’i Museum in Lihue. The reason we haven’t gone before now is that even kamaaina have to pay to visit, but we feel it’s something we should see.
  • Tour the Limahuli Gardens & Preserve. The garden, located on the north shore, contains a wide variety of native and Polynesian-introduced plants, including a 100+ year-old taro garden and terrace system that dates back to the earliest Hawaiians.

    The Limahuli Gardens taro garden and terraces


  • Celebrate our anniversary this year at Duke’s Kaua’i, down at Nawiliwili in Lihue. We’ve heard nothing but good things about the food and ambience there.

    The view from Brenneke’s Beach Broiler

  • Have a lunch date at Brenneke’s Beach Broiler in Poipu.
  • Have dinner at The Eating House 1849, in Poipu (Roy Yamaguchi is an award-winning chef from Hawai’i), and at Bar Acuda in Hanalei.

    Breadfruit is a protein and nutrient-rich staple in Hawaii and other islands in the Pacific Ocean.

  • Try breadfruit. I can’t believe we haven’t done this yet. WenYu bought a breadfruit at the farmers’ market yesterday (after I had written this post) and cooked it in the microwave. It was delicious! We will be buying it again. WenYu’s friend also bought an egg fruit which we had never had before – it was also tasty!

    Egg fruit – the inside is soft and sort of dry, and mildly sweet


  • Make an overnight visit to the Big Island to visit Volcanoes National Park (Haleakalā National Park on Maui is just going to have to wait until we can get back though).

    Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

This was a hard list to come up with for the reason that the thought of leaving the island, even for a little while, is almost more than I can bear. I will revisit the list in three to four months and check our progress.



January Goals

My crazy hair has got to go! We’re undecided about whether Brett should keep his hair long or not.

With all that’s coming up this year, trying to make a list of the many things we want and need to accomplish before we set off on the Big Adventure would be overwhelming, as well as a post too long to organize. So, I’ve instead decided this year to break down our goals month by month to make sure we can get them done. Initially the tasks shouldn’t be too overwhelming, but building on what we get done each month’s should help us avoid a deluge of last-minute craziness when it’s time to go next summer!

Here are our January goals:

  1. Put at least $900 into our travel savings.
  2. Clean off one set of shelves in the garage. Only things that will be sold at our moving sale next summer will remain or be placed on the shelves (the shelves have actually already been sold though!).
  3. Get my hair cut. I grew out my very curly (and frizzy) hair last year, mostly out of curiosity, but it’s driving me crazy now so it’s time to go back to short hair again. Brett may get his hair cut as well.
  4. Get Brett’s hearing aids. He’s already had his hearing tests done, and now just needs to be fitted for the actual appliances (will get this done at Costco).
  5. Have new glasses made with my updated prescription. I have the frames ordered (from RayBan); when they arrive I’ll get the glasses made at Costco. The prescription didn’t change too much so I will be able to carry my current glasses along as a back-up pair when we travel.
  6. Update our wills. YaYu turns 18 this month, so we no longer need to have a designated guardian for her, among other updates.

Besides prepping for the Big Adventure, the big theme here at Casa Aloha this year will be downsizing. One thing that will be happening every month is at least one bag of stuff will go to a local thrift store. We’d rather get as much as possible of this done up front so we’re not left with tons of stuff to get rid of right before we go.

I’ll post at the end of the month with how we did!

Creating SMART Travel Goals

Both Brett and I have always been big fans of setting goals and then working to achieve them, whether that’s downsizing or moving to Hawai’i or saving for travel.

We create our goals using the SMART criteria, and it’s worked especially well for travel planning. The SMART acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. Long before we ever travel, Brett and I sit down, talk about what we want to do, what we can afford, and then make our travel goal the SMART way. We’ve been using this method for many years, and it’s led us to success over and over again, no matter what we want to achieve.

Here’s how we use the SMART criteria when creating a travel goal:

  • Specific: Being specific means knowing exactly what we want to do. Instead of saying We want to travel or We’d like to visit xxx, both of which are vague, we spell out exactly where we want to go, when we want to go, and who will be going. We want to visit Japan with our daughter for a week in March during her spring break is very specific while We’d like to go to Japan is not. The first example has a where, when and who will be traveling, while the second example is just an idea.
  • Measurable: This means creating a precise way to quantify our goal. A travel goal contains both time- and money-related aspects, and both require some research. Instead of We want to stay 10 days and spend less than $10,000, a measurable goal is We want to spend 10 days and nine nights. We want to pay less than $700 each for airline tickets, no more than $xxx for lodging and our total budget can be no more than $8,000 (or whatever we decide our top limit is). The top limit of our budget is the number we will be working toward, and the time aspect is making sure we can take vacation at that time or that there’s nothing else that might make it difficult to travel.
  • Achievable: The travel goal needs to be what we know we can attain and complete in a specific amount of time. Giving ourselves a goal of saving $8,000 in a year for our trip is not achievable if we know that will be impossible, or that we’ll need to raid our savings or use credit cards or borrow money (and we don’t want to do those things). A specific SMART goal would be: We need to save $8,000 in the next 12 months (~$670/month) in order to make this trip during spring break. We’ll set up a monthly savings allotment, save all our refunds and gifts, save all change and $1 bills, and find other ways to save as much as possible. If we are sure we can achieve our goal, then we go for it; otherwise, we start over or reset our parameters with what we know we can achieve.
  • Realistic: This part of the goal is tied very closely to achievable, and allows us to visualize the results of our efforts. Besides just getting to our destination and knowing where we’ll stay, we also need to think about what we can afford or will have time to do when we’re at our destination. Realistic means that while we may dream of flying first class or staying at the Four Seasons, there’s no point in doing so if it will consume all or most of our budget, and not allow us to do anything else at our destination. However, if flying first class and staying at the Four Seasons is our dream, then we’ll have to reset our original time parameters or figure out a way  to earn or save more within our original time constraints.
  • Time-bound: We make sure we have a timeline for achievement. Setting a SMART goal for travel not only requires that we set the actual date for travel that we work toward, but that we also research and set specific time-goals along the way. So, while we’ve figured out that we can save $8000 in a year to cover all our expenses, we also need to know time-sensitive issues that will arise while we’re saving. For example, We will need to have $2500 of our $8000 by such-and-such date to purchase airfare and reserve our lodging (because we don’t want to leave these until the last minute). Besides air fare and lodging, our trip may also involve several other time-related issues that arise before actually traveling, things like booking tours, or getting restaurant reservations, so those may need specific time deadlines as well. Once again, research is our friend.

Because Brett and I can’t just whip our checkbook and cover any trip whenever we feel like it, using the SMART criteria has meant we’ve been able to make most of our travel dreams a reality without using credit cards or dipping into our regular savings, or putting ourselves into debt. Setting up a SMART goal can take a little more time, but almost always ups the chances for success.





Laura & Brett’s Big Adventure

mystery-signBrett and I are planning something BIG for 2018, but that’s really all the detail I can give right now. We are currently in the research and saving stage, and have set some goals to achieve by the end of the year:

  • Save at least $7000 this year for our adventure next year. If it were just the two of us, this would be easy; in fact, we could probably save a whole lot more. But, we still have three children we’re responsible for, two of whom need plane tickets to and from the mainland a couple of times each year ($$$$), and one still at home that has numerous expenses related to high school and college admission and who still needs to be fed and clothed ($$$$). This is going to be a difficult goal for us to reach, but we’re going to give it our best shot. I will try to update our saving goal each quarter.
  • Research, research, research. You know this is fun for me, and I’m going to get to do a whole year and more of it! The first thing will be to find and reserve lodging, but there are other smaller tasks that I’ll be doing as well along the way.

I’m sorry this is all I can reveal at this time, but I just wanted to let you know that something is on the horizon. Something BIG!

Maybe I should call it Laura & Brett’s Big Mystery Adventure™?

A New Year’s Worth of Goals

I don’t remember when, but someone once advised making goals versus resolutions when approaching the new year. Goals are something you work toward; resolutions are something you have to keep (and are therefore easily broken).


Lovely, isn’t it?

In that spirit, here are my/our goals for the coming year:

  • Refinish our dining room table top. At our first house here on Kaua’i, the dining room sat on the west side of the house, and the afternoon sun beating through the window literally melted the finish on the table in places. The table top is solid cherry butcher block and right now it looks awful. So, Brett and I are going to strip off the old finish, clean and lightly sand, and then refinish with mineral oil.
  • Stick with exercise. I’m increasing my time on the recumbent bicycle this month from two 10-minute sessions to two 15-minute sessions. It’s not a lot, but I think if slowly increase the time and tension, at the beginning of each month, and don’t overdo it, I’ll be more successful in sticking with it. I’ve already got two fans in position to keep me cool. I’m cleared to walk again, so am going to try to get out on the Coastal Path with Brett a couple of times a week as well. I have to be very careful though not to aggravate the bursitis in my right hip, or I could easily find myself with back problems again.

    Proud to say that I can already read all but xx of these kanji!

    Proud to say that I can already read all but five of these kanji!

  • Continue to work on learning Japanese and Portuguese. Both are impossible languages, for me anyway (all those diacritic marks in Portuguese!), and very, very different from each other, but so far I’m still enjoying the process, so want to see how far I can get by the end of next year. I’ve found that having to check off my study time each day is already a big step toward staying motivated.
  • Save, save, save. We plan to put away as much as we possibly each month and see where we end up by the end of the year, but we have big expenses for YaYu in the spring (AP and SAT tests and Key Club convention on Oahu), and may have to help with WenYu’s college expenses next fall, although she plans to cover those herself as much as possible. Besides taking YaYu to whichever college she will be attending, a BIG trip for 2018 is already in the planning stages – I’ll reveal all later. I’ve gotten our 2017 Christmas savings account started, with a goal of $720 by next December, ($60/month), and I’m back to earning Swagbucks to add to that amount.

    I could easily stay here for a night - the St. Regis in Princeville.

    I could easily stay here for a night – the St. Regis in Princeville.

  • Take a Kaua’i staycation. When YaYu is at her Key Club convention in May, Brett and I want to splurge and spend a night at one of the resorts on the island. There are several wonderful ones to choose from, and some offer kamaaina discounts.
  • Cut back on news and social media. I w-a-y overindulged in both this past year. I like to know what’s going on, but have decided I am only going to read one newspaper and one blog going forward, check Facebook and Instagram twice a day, and everything else can go away. It’s going to be very important to stay informed, but I need to be more discriminating about it. I unfriended a few toxic people on Facebook recently, as well as “friends” I haven’t heard from in well over a year or two, if ever.
  • Read 52 books. I’m going to set up a separate page here on the blog and track them. My overindulgence of news last year kept me from reading as much as I should have.

And that’s it! I think these are pretty doable, and I’ll try to update you here on our progress as we go through the year.

First Trip to India

Photo: Wolf Price

Photo: Wolf Price

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I never felt so alive in my life.

My son pushed me to go.

I just wanted to read a book that day.

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

Photo: Bartnikowski, Dalai_Lama in India

Photo: Bartnikowski, Dalai Lama in India

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

There is nothing India doesn’t have but order.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What made me buck up and get strong?

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

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

I tried to learn Hindi and the Nepali language.

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

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

Being solo is misunderstood in India.

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

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

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

It works.

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

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

Rishikesh, India, Ganges River_Photo: Bartnikowski

Rishikesh, India, Ganges River_Photo: Bartnikowski

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

The nightly puja was happening.

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

My body commanded me to capture it.

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

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

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

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

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

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



I was in heaven.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wolf, my son, and me.

Wolf, my son, and me.

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

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

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