What I Did On My Vacation

Taking a few weeks away from blogging was a good thing for me to do, and gave me time to think about how I want to do things going forward to avoid burnout, and make sure writing stays a pleasurable activity for both me and my readers.

I managed to keep busy with a few things during my time off:

  • Our daughter-in-law called me the Sunday before Thanksgiving and asked if I’d like to go along with her and K to World Market. A sensible Laura would have said no because I don’t know of a store that has more temptations to spend on than that one does (it’s the most dangerous store ever for me), and I always buy more than I intend when I walk in. However, Brett said I should go so I promised I would be careful, or as careful as possible. I somehow got out of there with just four bags of stuff, including a throw pillow and warm thrown for the sofa, but I also came home with a chair – never saw that coming. I kept walking back to look at it, loved the armless style and fabric pattern, and thought it would look good with our sofas. I finally looked at the tag and discovered it was on clearance for 50% off so . . . I sent Brett a picture and asked what he thought and he said get it! We now have a super comfortable, sturdy, and stylish chair that provided some much needed additional seating at Christmas. And with the addition of our new print, our home feels “complete.” (Our DIL liked it so much she almost got one too!)
  • I got my hair cut. I loved my curls, but they are not simple or inexpensive to maintain so I went to a barbershop and got my hair cut short-short again. I got a great cut (barbershops are all about grooming versus just style) for less than half of what I would have paid at a salon.
  • I attended a Nashville Symphony Orchestra “Home Alone” concert with M and K (K’s new “favorite movie ever”). We watched the movie on a big screen in the auditorium while the orchestra played the soundtrack below – it was fantastic! Since one of us still has to stay home with Kaipo, Brett stayed with him that day, but I watched him when Brett went with them another weekend to see the ice exhibit and all the Christmas decorations at the Opryland hotel.
  • Our very good friend Denise came through Tennessee on her extended road trip and we had a grand time catching up before it was time for her to be on her way again. We had dinner at our place and the next day Denice and I explored historic downtown Franklin. Both of us were grateful to have our dogs along (she has two!) as they limited us to window shopping only. We were able to snag an outdoor table at the Irish pub across the street from the historic Franklin theater and enjoy a delicious lunch there.
  • I tried three new recipes in November and December: pumpkin lasagna, easy dulce de leche, and an amazing apple pie that we had at both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Recipes will be coming up in the next few weeks!
  • Brett and I hiked at the nearby Marcella Vivrette Smith Park – there are four well-marked trails through the woods and fields – and we walked around historic the Ravenswood Mansion which is located there as well. The mansion, built in 1825 for the Wilson family, is currently used an an event site (weddings, etc.) so no tours were available of the interior, but the home and several exterior buildings have been well preserved. As I’ve said before, I’m not much interested in plantation homes unless slavery is discussed right up front, and the write-up of Ravenswood does not shy away from it.
  • I read several books, and brought my total books read for the year to 58! I ended the year with several new books on hold at the library, so those will be interspersed while I reread other books throughout the year.
  • We did a big stock-up on toiletries for 2023 throughout December, buying (hopefully enough) shampoo, shave cream, shower gel, moisturizer with SPF 55, body cream, razor and blades, toothpaste, deodorant, mouthwash, and dental floss to get us through the year. We also wanted to buy vitamins but they go on sale this month at Costco so we we’ll pick those up this month. The bath bombs are for when K spends the night with us. I got a big Target gift card for Christmas and as we honestly don’t need another thing for the apartment I’m going to use some of it to stock up on tissues and toilet paper.
  • I applied for a job at our nearby Trader Joe’s. I am having some second thoughts about it, especially with our grandson staying in Tennessee and having to fit in his new school schedule with K’s, but I haven’t heard anything from TJ’s either, so will just wait and see what happens.
  • I had fun making a special Christmas “Cocoa Bar” for our son and family that I took over to them a few days before Christmas. I found two big red mugs at Goodwill last fall for the grandkids, and along with a container of Cadbury drinking chocolate added miniature peppermint marshmallows, double chocolate marshmallow spoons, and vegan cocoa sticks from Trader Joes, a box of big peppermint (stir) sticks and snowflake marshmallow toppers from World Market. I was planning to arrange everything in a basket but found the cute wooden “Cocoa Bar” box at Target’s dollar market at the front of the store for less than a basket would have cost.
  • We signed up for a new travel card and earned enough miles for a free trip to Mexico (in 2024). YaYu wants to see San Miguel de Allende and asked us to go along with her and now we can . . . for free!
  • Preparations for our big family gathering kept both Brett and I busy throughout much of December, and the actual time everyone was here was crazy but wonderful, especially after Southwest cancelled the girls’ and KN’s flights home. We still had an absolutely perfect family gathering for Christmas and we all said we’d like to do it again next year – WenYu has suggested maybe at her home in Massachusetts!

Thank you again for the time away from the blog – it was necessary but I feel ready to get back to it again.


Happy Thanksgiving!

(photo credit: Priscilla du Preez/unsplash)

We’re feeling very grateful and blessed this Thanksgiving – in spite of a load of change, Brett and I have had a very good year, with more to be thankful for than we can count.

Wishing all a very happy Thanksgiving, and may the blessings of the season fill your hearts with love, joy, and gratitude.

My Secret Vice

I don’t smoke. I have a small glass of wine twice a week and a gin & tonic on Friday evenings, but otherwise don’t drink alcohol. I’m not a shopaholic, and I don’t gamble (too scared of losing money). I monitor my calories every day and eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. I drink a couple of cups of coffee every day but otherwise stick to water.

However, I do have one secret vice. It’s seasonal, and appears around this time every year.

That little vice? Cadbury Creme Eggs.

The minute they show up on the shelves I am unable to resist temptation. I like chocolate but can avoid eating it the rest of the year if I have to. However, can’t stay away from these creamy chocolate eggs that appear every year for the Easter holiday.

They’re so sweet they can make my teeth hurt, but I don’t care. I adore the combination of smooth but milk chocolate and the sweet white creme filling with its spot of orange for the yolk. One year Cadbury offered them with an orange creme filling and I thought I had died and gone to heaven – orange & chocolate is my favorite combination. Sadly, those never appeared again. I don’t care for the caramel filling at all, but the newer chocolate creme filling is quite good. Apparently Cadbury offers a white chocolate cream egg and an Oreo cookie creme egg in the UK. I’d be willing give them a try although neither excite me as I’m not a fan of white chocolate nor Oreos. However, I can imagine a Cadbury egg with mocha filling might be close to nirvana.

I’ve been having one of these scrumptious eggs a day, occasionally two, since their appearance this year, adjusting everything else I eat to fit their calories into my daily eating plan. I know they’re not healthy but in my book they’re more than worth it.

Easter is this coming Sunday, and after that the eggs will disappear for another year. I’ve had my fill this year and am ready to say goodbye.

I know they’ll be back.

Have Yourself a Simple Little Christmas

(Updated from an earlier post)

I didn’t always enjoy Christmas as much as I do now. In the past I felt compelled to create a perfect holiday experience for everyone. Every year we put up and decorated a big fresh-cut tree, and I festooned the house inside and out, hosted a big Christmas Eve open house, and bought lots and lots and lots of presents. I baked hundreds of cookies, cooked special meals and ate too much. I overdid it all, and we always spent way too much.

From our son's first Christmas in 1978
A stuffed gingerbread man, made for our son’s first Christmas in 1978

It was exhausting, and I came to dread the arrival of the holiday season each year.

I let my own past get in the way of being sensible when it came to the holiday. Christmas was one of those things growing up that I always wished was a big deal but never was at our house. Raised during the Great Depression, neither of my parents had celebrated Christmas in a big way and saw no reason to change. Christmas always seemed to be pure drudgery for them, not only for the presents that had to be bought (and the money spent), but for the decorations and other holiday cheer that had to be endured. Still, my siblings and I eagerly awaited Christmas morning each year although the few gifts we received were typically uninspired. It was difficult to visit my friends’ beautifully decorated homes, or go back to school after the holidays and see and hear about all the wonderful, thoughtful gifts they had received.

I made a vow that when I grew up and had my own family, Christmas would be fabulous. It took me many years before I figured out I was using my own childhood disappointments as a reason to overspend and overdo Christmas, that I was trying to create the perfect Christmas that I had longed for and never experienced. However, for everything I did to make Christmas bigger and better, it still never seemed to be enough.

I don’t remember exactly when the switch flipped, but for the past few years Christmas has been a much, much simpler event at our home than it was in the past. I finally had enough of all the hoopla, or noticed, bit by bit, that it really didn’t matter to everyone else if the entire Santa collection got put out or not, or if there was garland down the staircase or around the door, or if there were lights around the house. It wasn’t the end of the world if I didn’t bake ten different types of cookies or didn’t put out the Santa cookie jar. It didn’t matter how many presents were under the tree. What I realized was it was more important that we were together, and the gifts given and received were thoughtful and something the receiver truly wanted.

One of WenYu's many rabbit ornaments (she was born in a rabbit year)
One of YaYu’s rabbit ornaments (she was born in a rabbit year)

Christmas is a very simple affair around our home these days. Everyone pitches in some way so that no one (especially me) feels overloaded. We maintain a few simple traditions that are meaningful to us. Until recently we still decorated a big tree with ornaments that had been collected for over 40 years. The ornaments marked places we were stationed in the navy, our son’s early life, the girls’ Chinese heritage, our travels, and other milestones and occasions. These days a little twig tree holds just eight ornaments: one representing the Chinese zodiac animal of each family member (Brett and WenYu share the tiger); a sumo wrestler representing Japan; a felt chicken for Kaua’i, and a blown glass ball in colors of the ocean to mark our island life and travels across the seas. The rest of the ornaments have been divided between the children to be used on their own Christmas trees.

WenYu is our tiger girl
WenYu is our tiger girl

On Christmas morning, when the kids were small, stockings were opened early, long before Brett and I got up but these days we either don’t do stockings or everyone gets someone else’s to fill. When we’re all awake and up, Brett still serves coffee or hot chocolate with marshmallows in the Christmas mugs we’ve had for over 30 years, followed by bagels with cream cheese (or scones), smoked salmon, and fresh fruit, the Christmas breakfast our son asked for when he was seven years old, and that we’ve served ever since. As we eat presents are opened. One of the children serves as the “elf,” and chooses the gift each person will open for their turn, always in order beginning with the oldest person present to youngest. Gifts are opened one at a time, so that we can all admire each one. We still do a family Secret Santa exchange, and no present can cost more than $35. Not as many presents are under the tree these days as there were in the past, but each one is selected with care and love.

A horse our neighbor made for our son from old shoji paper - he was born in a horse year.
A horse made from shoji paper by our Japanese neighbor for our son, born in a horse year.

Although our Christmas celebration these days is not the grand affair of years past, it’s immensely more enjoyable, especially for me. The season no longer wears me out, but the magic and meaning of the holiday remains. We save every month throughout the year to cover our Christmas expenses and purchase gifts, and we no longer go into debt. We are able to give more to others outside our family as well, both in time and money. It’s been the best gift for all of us.

Meiling was born in the Year of the Pig
One of Meiling’s many pig ornaments. Yes, she was born in the Year of the Pig.

Happy Thanksgiving!

(Photo credit: Unsplash/Thanksgiving)

The gift of wonderful readers is one of the nicest blessings of all, and I am giving thanks for all who stop by The Occasional Nomads every day. Wishing everyone good health, good times, whatever is beautiful and meaningful, and whatever brings happiness this holiday season and throughout the coming year to you and yours.