May you, your family, and your friends be surrounded by all the things that bring you Christmas cheer, and reminded of all the things that bring you happiness and hope.
Wishing all who celebrate a very merry Christmas!
I didn’t post anything on I’m Losing It Here about Christmas in 2009, and have no memories of what we did or didn’t do that year. Brett and I may not have exchanged gifts, and presents for the girls may have been less than usual but I don’t remember anything other than it was a grim time for us. We probably still put up a big tree at the beginning of the month, but anything else about how we spent Christmas that year is lost in a fog.
However, I clearly remember writing the post below a year later, in early December 2010. I had accumulated a lot of heavy baggage from my childhood about Christmas, and 2010 was the year I was finally able to let all that baggage go and truly enjoy the holiday for the first time. We continue to enjoy simple Christmases these days with gifts kept to a minimum. As our oldest daughter said earlier this year, “Mom, it’s not about the presents anymore. It’s about us being together.” So, although this post jumps a little bit ahead in our get-out-of-debt story, I think it’s worth sharing now.
(I’ve also decided to use Brett’s name instead of other references to him because they were driving me nuts and I can only imagine what it is like for readers.)
This Year’s Christmas Non-Shopping
Christmas was not a happy, festive time at our home when I was growing up, and I don’t have any warm, fuzzy memories about those times. Christmas seemed to be another financial burden as well as a nuisance to be borne by my parents. While my dad didn’t deliberately choose the Charlie Brown Christmas tree, we usually seemed to get the nearest thing to it, with our tree shedding most of its needles before it ever came through the door. Christmas lists were eagerly drawn up by my siblings and myself every year but I don’t remember ever once receiving anything I asked and hoped for. Parsimony ruled the day unless it was for hockey gear for my brothers, then no expense was spared. The worst Christmas gift I can recall receiving (and there are many to choose from) was the November and December volumes from a Time-Life series of books my parents subscribed to and that the whole family shared. My mom wrapped the two books and put them under the tree for my gift that year. I dreaded going back to school after the holidays because I didn’t want to hear about or see all the wonderful and thoughtful gifts my friends and classmates had received.
The gifts we children gave were unimaginative as well, but there wasn’t much you could buy for five other people with a dollar or two (we didn’t get an allowance, so our funds were from pennies we had saved throughout the year). My father eventually would pass out a little money to me and my siblings in early December, but before that happened I remember giving him a bar of Dial soap for several years (and him acting thrilled) or giving my mom a bottle of “Evening In Paris” perfume from the dime store one year. She was not thrilled, but then who could be?
As you can imagine, I collected a whole lot of baggage along the way about Christmas and how it should be celebrated. After Brett and I got married, I was determined that Christmas was going to be the happiest, most exciting time of the year, with a big tree, the house decorated to the nines, lots of baking and parties, and presents, presents, presents! Money was no object, not at Christmas, even if we didn’t have it, and I tried to fulfill every wish on everyone’s list as well as knock their socks off with something totally unexpected and wonderful. As you can probably imagine, we incurred debt every year at Christmas and spent the first few months of the year paying it off.
This year is the first where we’ve had a realistic budget for Christmas, one that we’re adhering to. It’s amazing how freeing it is. There’s been no agonizing over how we’re going to pay for Christmas. We’re spending less than half of what we did in the past, supplemented with Amazon credit from Swagbucks. Each of the girls will receive one “big,” special gift that Brett and I have carefully thought about and can afford, and another smaller gift from us (clothing). There’ll be a few small things in each of their stockings, but that’s all. We cut back the amount to be spent on each “Secret Santa” gift to $25 or less per person (we exchange names within the family, including our son and daughter-in-law), and the girls have had fun thinking of useful or much-desired gifts that fit within the budget. For gifts outside of our immediate family, we are either not giving anything this year, at least not now, or giving homemade treats. We’re also keeping decorations to a minimum, with a small tree on a table this year versus our usual 7-foot noble fir.
You know what the best part is? I’m just as excited about Christmas this year as I’ve ever been. So are the girls and Brett. Being on a budget has not made us feel stifled; in fact, we’ve found we’re having a lot more fun and being more creative and thoughtful about our gift-giving in the process. Who knew?
It appears I’ve finally tossed all that old baggage out for good. Bring on the holidays!
In just a short while we’ll be heading over to Moreton-in-Marsh station one last time to catch a train to Gatwick Airport. We’ll be up in the air for most of the day, but that doesn’t mean Brett and I won’t be thinking of and thankful for the many blessings in our lives, including family, friends, and those of you who continue to check in with us here at The Occasional Nomads.
Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday. Besides the food and being together with friends and family, it’s a time to reflect and express gratitude for the many positive things that exist in our lives, the great memories we’ve made, and the people who are a part of our lives in ways both big and small.
Wishing you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving Day!
Independence Day this year feels a bit different to me. I’m experiencing all sorts of emotions these days whenever I think about my country: sometimes confusion, sometimes frustration or fear or disbelief or anger or discouragement. I know others feel differently, but to me that’s one of the things that makes America what it is, that we can feel these things, express them without fear, and still love our country deeply. Although at times nothing feels normal or right, I believe there still remains in this country at the core a true national spirit of courage, integrity, sacrifice, liberty and independence. Although it seems at time we’ve lost our way, maybe we’re just awakening to or coming to terms with a new way, and change is never easy.
Brett and I will be enjoying some red, white and blue Oregon berry parfaits after dinner, and walking over to the OHSU campus a little later in the evening to see if we can catch some of the fireworks displays happening around the city. It’s actually supposed to be clear enough this year to see them (because typically in Portland the clouds go away right around July 5).
Wishing everyone a very happy 4th of July!
Although next Monday is the official start of Golden Week in Japan, because the first holiday falls on a Monday almost everyone’s time off will begin on Saturday. Every year four national holidays occur in the span of one week, and many if not most companies and schools throughout the country close down for the duration. Golden Week is the longest vacation break for most Japanese workers, and along with New Year’s and the Obon festival in August, it’s one of the top three times for vacationing in Japan, with lots of both local and international travel. The name “Golden Week” came about because so many resorts, hotels, inns and travel agencies earned so much income during the week.
Our son said that this might be a good week for us to visit places in Tokyo as the city sort of empties out, so Brett and I are planning to visit the National Museum in Ueno Park, and the nearby Yanaka neighborhood, which was undamaged during the WWII bombings and provides a look at Tokyo pre-war architecture and neighborhood structure. We are also going for a two-day visit to the Hakone-Izu National Park with our son and family this coming Saturday and Sunday; they rented a cabin for us there and we’ll get to visit various sites in the park as well as get an up-close look at Mt. Fuji (If the weather isn’t too bad – sadly the forecast for Saturday is rain and freezing temperatures). On May 5 we will travel to Saitama Prefecture to have lunch with our daughter-in-law’s parents, a much-anticipated event as her mother is an amazing cook (last time we visited she made homemade udon noodles!).
The four official holidays that fall during the coming week are:
This year during Golden Week a very special event will occur: the current emperor, Akihito, will abdicate the throne on April 30, the first emperor to do so in over 200 years, and his son, Crown Prince Naruhito, will ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne. Emperor Akihito is 85 years old and in frail health, and had come to feel the job was too demanding for him at his advanced age. In Japan, a new era only begins the day after an emperor dies, but in this case the name for the new era, Reiwa (令和時代), was announced early so that calendars, computer software, etc. could be changed in a timely manner. The enthronement, or coronation, of Emperor Naruhito will take place on October 22.
The upcoming change to a new emperor is special for us because we were living in Japan when Emperor Hirohito died, and the Heisei Era (平成時代) began, and now are here again when that era ends and another one begins. Emperor Naruhito will be the 126th emperor of the longest reigning dynasty in the world.
Our family had an absolutely lovely Christmas day. Everyone was feeling better and felt ready to celebrate (I thankfully never got sick). The only thing that could have made it any better was if our son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren could have been here as well, but pictures were sent from Japan and they had quite the celebration there. Plus, we will be seeing them in less than a month and a half and getting to spend three full months living nearby in Japan, and I’m already excited about that.
All of our gifts for the girls were purchased during our travels. Weight was always an issue, but we managed to stuff their stockings with candy from various countries, socks from Switzerland, “purse supplies” (tissue, lip gloss, China balm and hand creme from our favorite store in Europe, Flying Tiger), and also gave them some much-appreciated cash. They each received a wool beret from Paris, and WenYu and YaYu got a scarf/shawl from France as well (Meiling got a shirt as she doesn’t wear scarves). Meiling and WenYu each got cashmere lined leather gloves from Florence and YaYu got a small gold pendant of a plumeria blossom because she doesn’t wear leather. And, we gave each a hand-painted tile and a big ceramic mug from Portugal. Both Brett and I got lovely, useful and lightweight (!) gifts from the girls included some new (and needed) clothing items.
This year no one woke up before 9:30 a.m., and we didn’t get started on our celebration until after 10:00. I don’t think we’ve ever slept in so late, but it made for a long, relaxing Christmas morning and afternoon. We watched Harry Potter films together in the afternoon, relaxed some more and then enjoyed a yummy ham dinner in the evening followed by more Harry Potter movies. Yesterday morning we went out for dim sum before each girl headed out to spend time with friends, and Brett and I stopped at Trader Joe’s to pick up some milk, eggs and bread.
But the holiday is over and it’s time to get ready for the new year. The paper and wrappings have been recycled or thrown away. The poinsettia and pine swag limped through the day but have now been composted.
We had a perfect Christmas though, most of all because we were together. Our current dwelling is small and not very fancy, but with all of us here we’ve made it a home, and were able to maintain many of our family’s Christmas traditions. We couldn’t have asked for more than that.
I haven’t done one of these posts for a long time, but it’s a good fit for now, for catching up and keeping track of what we’re doing and where we’re going.
Brett and I have settled in nicely here and are almost well – our colds are now hanging on to the ledge by their fingernails.. One thing I had forgotten about living in Portland was how often I used to get sinus headaches when we lived here, and have had to deal with them a few times since we arrived – not fun. The air here seems very dry to us too, but we’ve set bowls of water out on the heat registers around the house and that is helping somewhat. We are feeling well enough though to get together with friends again beginning this week – up until now we still just felt too awful to see anyone.
Most of our errands have been taken care of, thank goodness because I am sick to death of spending and shopping! We will be going to Fubonn Asian Supermarket on Tuesday to get YaYu all her noodles, and to Safeway on Wednesday or Thursday for a few odds and ends that can’t be found elsewhere, but otherwise we are pretty much done and ready for our girls. We have everything we need for all meals during the rest of our stay here. No matter where we’ve stayed on our adventure, we’ve shopped for a while but then comes the point where we start working on making sure everything we’ve bought gets eaten or used up before we leave. We’ve done a pretty good job so far during our travels, so hoping it goes as well here. My goal is that we have to go out to eat our last night in Portland because the fridge and cupboards are empty.
Bryn Mawr held their annual winter end-of-term dinner this past week, where they dress up their dining hall like Hogwarts, faculty and students come in costume, and students are assigned to different schools (I think YaYu is a Hufflepuff?). I’m so glad she and WenYu have settled in so well at their colleges, and are having such memorable experiences (and doing well in their courses). Meiling is currently in New York City with her boyfriend. He moved there earlier this year to work for a big tech company, and they seem to be doing a good job of managing their long-distance relationship. We’re going to meet him when he’s in Portland later this month, and he’s also going to come along with Meiling when she visits us in Japan next spring!
Anyway, this morning I am:
That catches us up here at the Nomad’s Portland home for this week.Although we love the holiday season, I know it’s not always a happy time for everyone, but I hope the days are going well for you nonetheless, and that you’re able to enjoy time with family and friends. Thank you for sticking with us Nomads as we travel around – there’ll be more coming up after the first of next year!
Warmest wishes for peace, joy and love to you and yours as you celebrate this Hanukkah season.
Happy Thanksgiving from Rome!
Although today is not a holiday in Italy, we have been blasted with Black Friday ads, from big electric signs in Roma Termini, on the radio in the taxi on our way over to our apartment, and on billboards down the street. Yes, they apparently celebrate Black Friday in Rome, crowds, sales and all. All I can think is we didn’t send our best.
This afternoon, we’re visiting the Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palantine Hill. We signed up to take a small group tour, with no more than 18 people allowed in the group. We had a wonderful welcome yesterday from our host when we arrived at our HUGE apartment (after an easy train journey from Florence and quick taxi ride with a charming driver). We chatted for nearly an hour while he went over a map of Rome with us and suggested places we should visit and what times we should go to miss the lines. We made French toast this morning with panettone for a special breakfast – we used the traditional version of panettone, with dried fruit, but discovered there were over a dozen different varieties to choose from in the market including chocolate chip, chocolate marble, tiramisu and zuppa inglese flavors. Instead of going out to dinner like we thought, I’m going to fix chicken cordon bleu, roasted mixed vegetables, and pasta with olive oil, garlic and cheese for our Thanksgiving dinner, and instead of pie we’ll probably just enjoy another slice of panettone along with coffee for our dessert.
How thankful we are this year! While we are missing our family, we are feeling exceptionally blessed, and are so grateful for the opportunities we’ve been given, for the things we’ve been able to see and do, for our continuing good health, and for our family and friends who have supported us along the way. I’m also grateful for all of my readers, for your sticking with me through it all, and I wish you and yours the happiest of Thanksgivings!