Still Free: Dreaming and Planning

As much as I am enjoying our current life on Kaua’i, I also honestly miss traveling. I miss the rush of being somewhere different, somewhere new, and both exercising the skills we had along with learning new ones as well. While I enjoyed sightseeing, I also loved learning more about the places and locations where we spent time, from shopping at local markets to turning down an alleyway to see where it went to talking to locals whenever possible. Although travels days involved a lot of effort and were always very tiring, it was always exciting to be going someplace different, knowing we were going to spend time in a place we had only dreamed of before.

So, what’s a travelaholic like me supposed to do when going anywhere is out of the question for at least for another 18 or so months?

In my case, it’s time to turn to the research and planning stage of travel which, right up next to actual travel, is one of my most favorite things to do. And, it’s a great time to dream about travel as well.

Brett and I have decided on a destination for our first trip off the island, a visit to Japan to spend a month in Tokyo near our son and family followed by an 11-day, 10-night walking tour of the ancient Nakasendo Way, from Kyoto to Tokyo. Planning and researching the Tokyo part is fairly easy except that this next time we’d like to stay in a different place than we did for our last two visits, and it’s anyone’s guess what airfares to Japan and back will be like at that point as well. We’re also keeping a running list of other dream trips we’d like to do in the future, including touring SE Asia and going back to New Zealand and Australia.

The Nakasendo walking tour has added a whole new level to planning. We already have plenty of travel clothes, but putting together an 11-day walking wardrobe, along with gear and supplies needed, is going to require some advance planning, and Brett and I have already started to work on that. For example, both of us are going to need new trail shoes before we go. I am currently walking in the ones I bought in 2019, when we were in Portland, but they’re going to wear out before we go so I’ve been reading advice about which sort of new ones might be best for long-distance walking and figuring out how much they might cost. Brett’s walking shoes are already on their last leg, so this is something that will be coming up soon for him. Then there are other items we’ll need to get, like clothes for layering, some of which we have, some of which we don’t. We’re going to need rain gear and rain hats, wool socks, comfortable hiking pants, and more. Then there’s the specialized gear we’ll also need, like walking poles, moleskin patches for blisters, water bottles, and so on. Thankfully we already have daypacks.

So, while we can’t go anywhere right now, we’re making up a list of what we already have and we’ll need to acquire before we go and then will move on to figuring out when and where to purchase those items. Several things will make great holiday, birthday, and anniversary gifts between now and when we go, but other things we’ll have to choose on our own (a question now, for me for example, is do I want to wear hiking pants or leggings – both have advantages and disadvantages). This task of figuring out what we’ll need is both fun and motivating, we’re learning a lot, and it gives us yet another goal to work towards. In the meantime, we’re having fun, gathering important information, getting in some good conversations, and working on getting physically ready to go.

Dreaming and planning for travel are free, all the better for spending time instead of money on going somewhere isn’t possible. We’re using this time to focus on our savings, and figure out what and how much we’ll need to take our next journey up a notch, all without spending a fortune and getting only what we need. The planning stage is what makes things come off without a hitch, or at least gives us a better chance of that happening, so we can enjoy our destination more, and without unnecessary worry.

Changed the Location But Not the Goal

The Nakasendo Way in spring (photo credit: Walk Japan)

Just a few short weeks ago (August 3, to be exact) I announced that Brett and I had committed ourselves to walking the entire length of the Cotswold Way in the fall 2022. That goal has been a strong motivator for getting us out every day to walk, and to come up with a plan for gradually increasing our walking endurance to where we could manage the daily distances required of us to finish the walk.

Last week though we came across a company called Walk Japan, which provides “off the beaten track walking tours in Japan.” We began pouring over their website, and this past weekend we decided that while we still intend to do a long-distance walking tour in 2022, we will do it in Japan instead of England. In particular, we want to do Walk Japan’s 10-day Nakasendō Way tour from Kyoto to Tokyo. 

Scenes like this one of persimmons drying will be more common when we walk in the fall.

The history of the Nakasendō (Central Mountain Road) is what drew us to this walking tour. It was one of five main thoroughfares from Kyoto to Tokyo (and back) during the Edo Period of Japan (1603-1868), when the Tokugawa shogun lived and ruled in Tokyo (called Edo then; the Emperor remained in Kyoto and was virtually powerless at this time). In order to maintain the loyalty of those under him, the shogun required the highest lords (daimyos) throughout Japan to travel to and live in Tokyo every other year and their families to remain in Tokyo during their absence, under the “protection” of the shogun. The Nakasendō, along with the Tokaidō, which ran along the coast, was heavily used by the daimyo from the west and their families during these times. The road had 69 post towns along the way where papers and permission to travel were checked, and where travelers stopped to eat, drink, and rest. The road also served as an important route for communication for the shogunate. The Nakasendō was well developed, and was often preferred for travel because no major rivers needed to be forded along the way.

One of the historic post towns along the ancient Nakasendo route connecting Kyoto and Edo (old Tokyo).

Our decision to change the destination for our walk was not a casual one. We spent days carefully weighing and discussing several factors and the pros and cons of using Walk Japan before deciding to change our plans.

These were the two arguments for sticking with the Cotswold Way tour:

  1. The Nakasendō walking tour costs quite a bit more than a Cotswold walking tour. This was probably the biggest factor that we debated. However, the Nakasendo tour comes with a full-time guide, and not only covers each night’s lodging, almost all meals, and all interim transportation necessary to get from Kyoto to the road. We had to think long and hard about whether we were willing to pay more for these amenities but in the end figured out it wouldn’t be that much over what we would have spent going to the Cotswolds again. Walk Japan offers an unguided Nakasendo Way tour which costs less but we both think we’d rather have a guide along because of our ages and because our Japanese is limited.
  2. We would not get to go back to the Cotswolds. This was a major factor for not switching. We loved the Cotswolds and would love to experience more of the area.
The “lobby” of a traditional Japanese inn, complete with irori (sunken hearth).

There were a few more positives however which helped to sway us to a Japan walk:

  1. We would already be in Japan and not have to worry about paying for and taking long flights to England and then back to Tokyo. All we would have to purchase is a one-way ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto on the Shinkansen.
  2. We would get to walk one of the most historic routes in all of Japan along with a knowledgeable guide, learning about the history of the road as well as the villages and old post towns we would pass through along the way. The architecture alone is a huge draw.
  3. We would get to stay every night in traditional Japanese inns and hotels, and enjoy fine Japanese cuisine in those places and along the way.
  4. The tour offers transportation alternatives for the three longest walking days. For example, if we didn’t feel up to walking 15 miles on the longest day, we could walk for around 6-7 miles and then take a train or bus to that evening’s destination.
  5. The Nakasendō walk finishes in Tokyo, where we would only need a couple of days’ rest at our son’s before heading back home to Hawaii. If we went to England we would need at least two to three days’ rest at the end of the walk before flying to Tokyo, and then would have to rest up again in Tokyo from that journey before heading back to Hawaii. It was overwhelming just thinking about the jet lag.

Our task now is to figure out how to save a few thousand more dollars than we had initially planned, but we’re sure it can be done. We remain as motivated than ever to find ways to save as travel always comes out of our discretionary funds, which aren’t much right now with YaYu’s college expenses. Time is on our side though as we have two years to make this goal a reality.

Besides saving enough, we also are more motivated than ever to stay healthy and get ourselves in the best possible physical shape. I will also continue to study Japanese, not because I expect to be able to speak it, but so I can understand more during our stays in Japan and while we travel there. The big unknown at this point though is whether Japan will be reopened for American visitors by Fall 2022, and whether the virus will be under control by then as well. We certainly hope so, and not just because we want to go to Japan.

Game on!

Travel on Our Minds

It’s going to be a while before Brett and I travel again, at least another two years. We love being back on Kaua’i but our time on the road was magical and meaningful, truly a dream come true, and we weren’t ready for it to be over, especially not in such an abrupt way.

We can and will travel again, but we know it will be different in the future. Although we enjoyed being on the road full-time, we have decided that going forward we’d rather have a home base and then focus on making an annual trip to Japan (Tokyo) to spend time with our family there, probably for around a month; taking another longer six-week to two-month journey each year, either overseas or back on the mainland; and making a shorter visit every year to one of the other islands here.

The Covid-19 pandemic and YaYu’s upcoming college expenses are the big factors keeping us from traveling right now. However, rather than sitting around and feeling sorry for ourselves about not being able to go anywhere for a while, we’ve figured out there are lots of things we can do during this “downtime” to keep us focused on the future, motivated, and well-prepared once we’re ready to hit the road again.

Here are the things we’ve either already started or will be incorporating in the future:

  • Save for travel: One of the best things we did before we set off on our Big Adventure in 2018 was to have at least six months’ worth of travel paid for in advance. Things are different now in that we won’t be giving up our home and car in order to travel full time nor will we be selling our stuff, but as we did in the past, all extra income will be dedicated to travel savings so that our travel expenses can be met without racking up debt.
  • Set budgets: We want to take our first major trip in the fall of 2022, around six months after YaYu’s graduation. We want to make our first visit back to Japan in the spring of 2023. About a year out from those dates we will begin setting up the budgets for those trips based on our research of what we expect it will cost.
  • Create itineraries: We have already picked four places we’d like to go to once we can travel again: Ireland, New Zealand (north and south islands this time), Southwestern U.S. national parks, and West Coast national parks. All four would be driving trips. We haven’t prioritized any of them yet, but both Brett and I are currently getting started on what we’d like to see and do in each place, how long we want to stay, and so forth. He is looking into Ireland now; I am focusing on New Zealand, and after a while, we will swap and then combine our information and ideas and go from there. This part is going to take a while but it’s a lot of fun and we’re learning a lot.
  • Setting a foundation: This is the fun part for me, but we’re a ways off from this right now. This is where once an actual itinerary is set, I get to find lodging, compare rental car prices, search for airfares, and so forth so that everything fits within our budget. Airfares are going to be tricky this time around – they’re all over the place right now (if there are even flights available), and there’s no way to estimate where they’ll be when we’re ready to travel again. Frankly, I can’t even imagine getting on an airplane but it’s something we’re going to have to deal with eventually.
  • Edit our travel wardrobes: We are fortunate to have a dedicated and dehumidified closet in our apartment to store our travel clothes (cold-weather items we don’t need here). Both of us felt after getting everything hung up and put away that maybe we have too many things (me in particular), so that will be a task for us in the future, to go through what we have and downsize if necessary.
  • Edit our travel supplies: We took along so many things (for health care and otherwise) on our Big Adventure that we ended up not ever using, and we both said several times, “there has to be a better way to do this” while at the same time feeling afraid to get rid of anything in case we did need it. During the next two years, we’re going to work on making a list of what was important, what wasn’t, what we didn’t have that we could have used, what things we could have picked up along the way if necessary, and then come up with a better system for carrying that stuff along with us.
  • Make reservations: This will happen as we get closer to actually traveling, and will be coordinated with setting the foundation, but making reservations is always something to look forward to – it means we’re really going! Some reservations, like at the New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo, need to be made a year in advance as rooms sell out quickly (we’ve already decided to stay there again versus renting our own apartment).
  • Stay in shape: It’s a constant effort but we’re determined to be in as good a shape in two years as we were when we set out in 2018.

There will be other things we can do along the way, but for now, our goal is to create a path to not only keep future travel on our minds but keep us moving toward them. Two years seems like a long time away but we know from experience it will pass more quickly than we imagine. In the meantime, we want and need to stay motivated so when the time arrives we’ll be truly ready to hit the road again.

The B Word: Boredom

I did not think I would ever get to a place where I felt bored, not after the last few years anyway, and certainly not here on Kaua’i. But I woke up yesterday and realized that I was indeed bored. Very bored, in fact, and feeling a bit depressed as well.

Two months ago Brett and I were walking around and exploring our immediate neighborhood in Tokyo, discovering all sorts of new things right around the corner or just down the road from where we lived. We spent time with our family and felt like we were contributing something important. We were excited about our upcoming visit to Mexico, seeing Meiling in NYC, attending “Hamilton” on Broadway, and then heading on to WenYu’s graduation in Massachusetts. We are blessed and thankful to be healthy now, and safely back home again on Kaua’i, but I’m just beginning to realize what a shock it was to our system to have to have all the plans we had carefully put in place discarded and changed so abruptly.

The moving, shopping, and setting up our house is finished. No more packages are expected except for a spice order from Penzey’s, but I think YaYu is more excited about that than I am. The house is as set up as it can be until our shipment arrives, but there’s still been nothing happening with that. We walk most evenings, and although the view when we arrive at the beach never gets old, the walk itself sort of has. We’re stuck at the apartment almost every day unless we go for a walk or go food shopping but neither of those outings lasts very long. We do have a wonderful deck to relax on, and we thankfully all get along very well, even in our small space, and still seem to have plenty to talk about.

The potential was there though for me to mope, grow bitter, or even more bored, so I spent a good deal of yesterday reflecting on what I could do to change my attitude, as well as how to use my time more effectively to improve the situation. Just telling myself to snap out of it is not an option, and it’s still going to be a while before we can get together with friends or go to the beach. Our budget is going to be tight for the next couple of years as well so I have to deal with that as well.

After deciding on some things I could and wanted to do now, I decided to go back to my old card system, at least for a while, listing and checking off tasks to make sure the things get done every day and so that inertia doesn’t set in. I came up with six items for both mind, body, and the future:

  • Drink eight glasses of water every day
  • Walk 1.5 to 2 miles at least five times a week
  • Read for pleasure 45 minutes every day
  • Study Japanese for 20 minutes every day. YaYu and I signed up for a new online program called FluentU and will be doing it together.
  • Earn at least 50 Swagbucks a day. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, but I figured out that at an average of 50 SB a day for two years I can earn $400 in Southwest Airlines gift cards, which will help keep the cost of YaYu’s travel down as Southwest now flies to Hawaii.
  • Spend 45 minutes a day on future travel planning (because it’s fun).

The card system has worked very well for me in the past because I’m someone that once there’s a list in front of me, I have to check off all the things. The items on these cards are all small activities that won’t overwhelm the day but will keep me productive as well as motivated and moving toward future goals within the current situation we’re in. They’ll also give each day a bit more structure.

One other thing I’ve learned from my card system is that time seems to go a bit more quickly, and before I know it it’s time to fill out a new set. Fingers are crossed that’s the way it goes this time as well, and that in five weeks some changes will have occurred and some new habits set.

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

(This was first posted on January 16, 2018, but it seems timely once again, even in this time of unknowns.)

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 home study, 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 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 also 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 have 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 and 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!

Planning for the Future

Without revealing too much, for now, Brett and I finally have put together a solid, sensible, and workable plan for what we’re doing following our short visit to Portland in June when Brett meets with the surgeon and sets a date for his parathyroid surgery (it’s non-urgent and he’s hoping to get it done in December).

The amount we currently contribute toward YaYu’s college expenses each month has had a deep impact on how much we can put away each month for travel expenses. We’re not able to save as much for our transportation expenses (airfare, train fares, etc.), and our travel savings account is now, for all purposes, close to empty. Thankfully all major transportation has been covered through our trip to New England in June, but we still need to purchase airfare from Boston to Portland in June, and then transportation when we depart Portland. We should be able to fit both of those into our monthly budget between now and June if we’re careful, but it’s no longer as easy to do as it once was.

Also, we want to come to a decision about whether to continue traveling or slowing and settling down. There are strong plusses and minuses to each side, with the biggest and most difficult question until recently being where to settle. We’ve pretty much decided at this point that we want to return to Kaua’i, but we also know we’re not ready to do that yet for a variety of reasons.

The plan we’ve come up with tackles these two big issues: 1) whether we’re ready to settle down or want to keep traveling and 2) continue to help YaYu pay for college while rebuilding our travel account.

We will arrive at our upcoming mystery destination on April 20, and after a couple of weeks of settling in we will start looking for a long-term furnished rental there. We will finish our initial stay in the mystery location toward the end of May and afterward will visit New York, attend WenYu’s graduation, spend some time in Maine, and finally head to Portland in June so Brett can meet with the surgeon. Following that, we will return to the mystery destination for a 12-18 month stay (we will fly back to Portland in December for Brett’s surgery and possibly for our annual holiday reunion with the girls). During our long-term stay, we’ll have the opportunity to further explore a fascinating area that’s new to us as well as get a sense of what settling down long term again feels like without having to make any big or permanent investments. We’ll be able to see whether or not we really are ready to finally stay in one place or whether we’re still too restless. 

Our current idea though is that following at least a year-long stay, we’ll do one more big round of travel and visit a few more places on our list. That, of course, will depend on how much we can save and what our health is like. The idea though is to seriously think about ending our full-time travels after YaYu’s graduation in 2022 and head over to Kaua’i afterward. We still plan to travel, but with a more permanent base underneath us.

Of course, as the saying goes, “Man makes plans and God laughs.” But, we’ve done our research, and the plan is workable, affordable, and a good compromise between continuing or ending our nomadic lifestyle. Unlike other plans we’ve come up with, the entire family is on board with this one, and think it’s a great choice for us going forward.

We’ll reveal more once we arrive at the mystery location. In the meantime, we plan to continue to enjoy our time with family in one of our favorite locations, Tokyo! 

New Year, New Goals

Brett and I had quite the year in 2019. We started out with visits to India, Hong Kong, Australia (including a train ride across the continent), and the North Island of New Zealand. From there we spent three wonderful months in Japan followed by summer in Portland and then fall in the charming Costwolds village of Blockley (with side trips to Edinburgh, London, Oxford, and Bath). We’ve ended the year with another great family Christmas in Portland. It’s going to be a hard year to top.

Toward the end of every year, Brett and I assess where we are and what we’ve done, and then think about and start discussing where we’d like to be at the end of the coming year as well as what we need to do to get there. Once those decisions are made we set goals and the milestones we need to meet. I’m happy to report that we have (finally) come to a firm decision about what we want to do and where we want to go following WenYu’s graduation at the end of May – all will be revealed in the spring after we leave Japan for our mystery destination (the two are linked). Coming to a decision about our future has involved lots of research and discussion (still ongoing), but we’ve reached what we feel is a good compromise on the keep traveling/settle down divide and both of us are looking forward to going forward and making things happen. 

Below are eight goals we want to accomplish in 2020. The first one is my personal reading goal, but the rest of them are for the two of us.

  1. Read at least 52 books again including finishing the Inspector Morse series and rereading all the Harry Potter books. I also have a few unfinished books on my Kindle, including Hamilton by Ron Chernow and It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis, and I also want to finish those in 2020.
  2. Get our two primary health issues – Brett’s surgery and my stomach problems – resolved. Brett wants to have the surgery done in Portland next June following WenYu’s graduation and is working now on setting that up with the surgeons.
  3. Follow through on our big plan for the rest of the year after WenYu’s graduation at the end of May, a short visit to Vermont and Maine, and then (hopefully) Brett’s surgery in June.
  4. Do a better job of sticking to a monthly budget. Although we’ll have somewhat less per month than usual while we’re in Japan, we’ll be able to increase the daily amount again once we reach our mystery destination.
  5. Spend next Christmas once again in Portland and go through our stored items with the girls (and fingers crossed, with our son and daughter-in-law as well) and let them take what they want, then downsize the remaining items.
  6. Meet our annual savings goal for YaYu’s college expenses, with disbursements to her in July and late December.
  7. Restock our travel savings account. We use these savings to cover major transportation costs (i.e. airfare) and other miscellaneous travel expenses. All our transportation has already been paid for through arrival at our mystery destination in April. We will need to save enough to buy tickets to get us from there to New York City in May for a short visit with Meiling (and to see Hamilton!!), then get us over to Massachusetts for WenYu’s graduation. We also need to save enough for a rental car while we’re in New England and for our tickets back to Portland and then on to our next destination.
  8. Do we dare say we’d both like to lose some weight? Starting with our last three weeks in England, we’ve been much too sedentary and the pounds having come creeping (bounding?) back. A big goal in 2020 is more exercise!

As always, the goals above are SMART ones: Specific, Measurable, Achievable (even losing weight!), Realistic and Timely (finish by the end of the year). Welcome 2020 – we’re ready for you! 

Wishing all a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

Budget Adjustments Coming Up

Brett and I had no idea when we started out last year how we would feel about traveling after a year, or whether we’d want to keep going, but it’s turned out that we enjoy our nomadic life and want to keep going. There’s still a lot of this world we want to experience. However, beginning next month there are two upcoming financial matters that are going to cause changes to our monthly budget and that will impact not only how we travel but potentially how much of it we can do for a while.

  • The out-of-pocket costs for all of my dental work this summer (three fillings, a new bridge, a tooth extraction, and teeth whitening) and Brett’s work (deep scalings) came to a whopping $3,590 – OUCH! We had both insurance and the means to pay the balance, but beginning next month we want to start replenishing our savings account by a few $100 per month.
  • The cost of attending Bryn Mawr this year will exceed the financial aid YaYu receives, and next month we will begin helping her meet her out-of-pocket costs for the spring term and on into her senior year (she is in her second year now). YaYu works very hard and is extremely frugal and has so far been able to meet her expenses, but what’s left in her savings after this fall’s payment won’t be enough to cover all of the spring term’s bill, so we will step in and make up the difference. Meiling graduated without debt, and WenYu will next year as well, but they both received much larger scholarships than YaYu and were also attending at the same time with siblings, which increased the amount of aid all three girls received. Beginning in the fall of 2020, YaYu will be our only student, and we expect the amount of aid she receives to drop (it already dropped some because Meiling is no longer attending college). So, we will begin setting aside an additional several hundreds of dollars a month for the next two years for her so that she will also be able to graduate without any debt, or at least with as little as possible. Our other children have let us know that although we didn’t provide them with similar financial support, this is the right thing for us to do now for YaYu.

These two items are going to most directly impact our on-the-road expenses, most especially the amount of money we have available for day-to-day spending. Currently, we budget for an average of $50/day, with funds covering not only food but all our local transportation costs and incidentals such as admission fees or other necessary items. Beginning in September, we will be reducing our daily spending average to $35/day. Our summer in Portland has been good training for this lower amount as we’ve tried to keep our average about there (not all that successfully, but we’re getting there – it’s currently under $25/day for August). Thankfully housing during our stay in England is already paid for as are the overnight stay at Heathrow, our lodgings in Edinburg, our train fare out to the Cotswolds from London, two tours we are taking in London, and lodging for an overnight stay in Oxford during YaYu’s visit in October. We know though we are going to have to be very, very careful with and mindful of every penny we spend in England.

Our belt will also have to be tightened a bit more when we arrive in Japan in January of next year because the cost for our housing there will be more expensive than it was before thanks to the current exchange rate, and we will be paying rent month by month rather than ahead of time. If Brett gets the cultural activities visa I can work part-time which will help our bottom line, but if our stay is only for three months finances will be quite tight. We’re not sure yet what we’ll have available for our daily spending because we don’t know what the exchange rate will be, but we know it will be less than $35. We’ve already decided that we won’t make as many outings as we did during our stay earlier this year, and we’ll focus more on spending time with our son and family and helping care for our grandchildren. Our up-front transportation costs have already been covered, but we still don’t know at this time when we will need to purchase fares to leave Japan or to where. If the lower daily amount is unsustainable we will have to lessen the amounts we’re reimbursing our savings and setting aside for YaYu, but we’re hopeful we’ll be able to manage on less.

So, we’re going to have less room to maneuver, budget-wise, for a while but we are up for the challenge. I think we’ll be fine but we’re going to have to be far more careful and creative, say “no” to ourselves quite a bit more, and most likely change up how and where we travel for the next couple of years.

Summer Goals Progress Report

Mission accomplished: longer (very curly) hair, a few pounds gone, and in good health and good shape.

Shortly after we arrived in May, I posted a list of things I wanted to accomplish during our stay in Portland over the summer. As we’re nearing the end of our stay, it’s time for an update on how I’ve done.

  1. Lose 15 pounds. NOPE. When I got weighed at the end of July I had lost a whole six pounds, not the 10 I was hoping for at that point. The doctor said that I was doing everything right though (daily exercise, low carbs, lots of water) and to just give it time. I will have lost probably around eight to ten pounds by the end of our time here in Portland, but my clothes fit much better so I know I am changing shape.
  2. Get myself in top shape health-wise. DONE. My new bridge is in; I’m having my teeth cleaned today and my upper teeth have been whitened; I’ve gotten three fillings done and my broken tooth removed (along with many dollars removed from our savings) so I am all caught up with dental work. I had a bone scan and some other tests done (cholesterol and mammogram) and had one medication added as I’m still at risk for osteoporosis but otherwise no changes, and I should be off the GERD medication by the end of our time in England. The residual swelling on my leg from my fall in Auckland last February is almost gone but it may be another year before the last of it disappears completely. I can now climb seven flights of stairs without stopping and barely get winded. Things are not perfect, but all in all I’m in good shape!
  3. Read, read, read. DONE! I blew past my original goal of 30 books for the year and am now up to 39, and going for a total of 52 books read this year. I think for Christmas the only thing I will ask for is Amazon credit so I can load up my Kindle before we head to Japan.
  4. Improve my Japanese. DONE (I think)! I have no way to judge how much my Japanese has improved because I’ve had no chance to use it, but I can recognize and read a lot more kanji than I did at the beginning of the summer and I’m happy with that. I’ve been doing a half-hour of language practice every day with Memrise, but dislike that they initially relied mostly on memorizing phrases that had little to no backup or practice with grammar patterns and nothing to do with my life – I no longer want to party all night or get drunk, and will not be looking for love in Japan. And the speed tests! I can either read the Japanese phrase or the four possible choices, but not both in the time they allow.
  5. Shape up my travel wardrobe. DONE! I am super happy with the updates.
  6. Grow out my hair. DONE! I’ve grown my hair all summer and am happy with how the grow-out is going. I can’t get over how curly my hair is these days, but it’s super easy to style now.

    My summer-in-Portland bling
  7. Replace some earrings. DONE! I purchased a simple pair of silver hoops made by a local artisan, and along with what I already have I am now satisfied with my earring selection. I also bought a beautiful silver pewter cuff bracelet, designed by a NW Native American artist, so I’ve got enough shiny things for the time being, although jewelry is turning into my favorite souvenir these days – I wear my travel memories.

So, six out of seven goals were accomplished, and I’m calling that a win!

A Few Goals For the Summer

No more delicious pastries for breakfast – these days it’s a frittata and some melon, or a bowl of plain, nonfat yogurt with loads of fresh berries.

Since we’re going to be in one place over the entire summer, I’ve decided that it’s the perfect time to work on some things that I’ve either let go or have been thinking about during the past several months, as well as get myself in shape for this fall and the following months. Some of the seven goals I’ve set are more serious than others, but all are doable and I want to take advantage of our long stretch in Portland to be in the best shape all around when we leave for England in September.

  1. Lose 15 pounds. I ate w-a-y too much ever since we started traveling last August. I paid no attention to calories, carbs or any other part of how or what I ate, whether it was gelato every day in Florence or noodles, rice, and bakery goods in Japan. While we walked a great deal, I still managed to put on a few extra pounds, to the point that I’m uncomfortable with my size now and some of my clothes are a bit too snug. So, I have dropped all bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, etc. for the summer, am back to only having a glass of wine on Friday and Saturday evenings, and am drinking eight glasses of water a day for the duration of the summer. Brett and I plan to walk/hike at least five days a week which should help as well.
  2. Get myself in tip-top shape health-wise. Besides losing weight, I have the whole summer to get my medications set up for next fall and also get all testing caught-up and done. My general health is excellent, thank goodness, but my right shin is still slightly swollen from the fall I took back in Auckland, and the Dr. recommended compression socks to help with that, so I need to get those ordered. I’m also going to get the permanent crown put on that tooth I broke last December, and get a new bridge made for my lower front teeth (the old one is 30 years old, and crumbling).
  3. Read, read, read. This will the perfect summer for getting lots of reading done and getting ahead on my reading goal. I found it hard to read at times when we were on the road and moving around, so this is my chance to catch up. I have about 10 books on hold with the library right now, but any and all suggestions for good books are welcome!
  4. Improve my Japanese. Our three months in Tokyo really showed me how little Japanese I understand and can use these days, so I will be spending 20 minutes/day studying the language. I was looking forward to a classroom experience this time but the courses offered at the community college are still lower than my current proficiency level, so I will be instead working with Memrise and a text book. Brett will be attending the beginning class though and working on learning the kana for his calligraphy.
  5. Shape up my travel wardrobe. After nine months with same clothes and shoes I have a better sense of what works and what doesn’t when traveling, and what I am comfortable in and what’s not easy to wear or maintain. Plus, I am just plain sick of some of the things I’ve been carrying along and don’t think they flatter me so I’m going to be putting them away (meaning not taking them along again but not getting rid of them). I’m also adding a few new pieces to update my travel wardrobe. This includes replacing shoes, which got worn out – I have already bought new trail shoes, and a pair of red (!) slip-ons, but I also need to replace my navy blue Skechers and then I’m good to go.
  6. Grow out my hair. Short hair worked well for a while, but the problem with short hair is that it requires maintenance which I discovered can be difficult when traveling. I also always felt a bit frumpy with my hair short, especially as it grew out and I ended up with my “old lady pouf.” However, I have been using Aveda’s Be Curly – it helps enhance the curls and makes it easy for me to maintain them without my hair getting frizzy, so my goal is to end the summer with a more stylish (but easy to maintain) chin-length bob for my curly gray hair.
  7. Replace some earrings. I lost several earrings on this trip (grrr) and want to replace them with two or three of pairs so I have a little variety. I only wear silver these days, and my favorite place to buy silver earrings is from Novica – they have many stylish pairs that don’t cost very much.

All of these goals are doable, and will hopefully help keep me out of mischief. And of course, Brett and I will be working on plans for our time in England and getting those pulled together!