Merry Christmas!

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!

Back to the Future: Ghosts of Christmas Past

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!

Happy Thanksgiving!

In a completely unrealistic rendering of the first Thanksgiving, my Pilgrim ancestor, Priscila Mullins, serves a roast turkey to Indian guests while her soon-to-be husband, John Alden, stands ready to serve one of the side dishes.

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!

The Fourth of July

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!

Golden Week

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.

Mt. Fuji looms over Hakone National Park. Lots of geothermal activity occurs within the park as well.

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:

  1. April 29: Showa Day (昭和の日 Shōwa no Hi). Showa is probably better known to most of the world as Emperor Hirohito, with his birthday on the 29th a national holiday, beginning in 1927. Following his death in 1989 the holiday’s name was changed to Greenery Day, a day to think about nature and be grateful for one’s blessings. The day was officially changed to Showa Day in 2007.
  2. May 3: Constitution Memorial Day ((憲法記念日 Kenpō Kinenbi). This holiday celebrates the day the postwar constitution of 1947 took effect, and is a day to remember and reflect on Japan’s history. Public buildings such as the Diet (the national capital) are open to the public and public lectures are given about Japan’s role in World War II.
  3. May 4: Greenery Day (みどりの日 Midori no Hi)Previously the holiday was known as Citizen’s Holiday, but in with the April 29th holiday change to Showa Day, Greenery Day was moved to May 4.

    Koinobori fly over a house near our grandson’s school.
  4. May 5: Children’s Day (子供の日Kodomo no Hi). This is probably the most well-know holiday, and is also known as Boy’s Day (girls are celebrated on March 15 with Hina Matsuri). Large carp banners, koinoburi, are flown at residences where there is a son or in large groupings in other places to celebrate the holiday. If flown at a home there is typically a large black carp at the top to represent the father, then a smaller red carp to represent the mother, and finally smaller blue carp for each of the sons. Decorations inside the home may include a display of a samurai riding a carp and/or a samurai helmet, both which indicate strength and vitality.

    Our grandson’s samurai helmet is displayed for a few weeks before Children’s Day.

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.

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko

Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife, Princess Masako

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.

Wrapping Up Christmas

Presents waiting to be opened!

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.

WenYu’s hand-painted ceramic mug and tile from Portugal. We put felt tabs on the bottom of the tiles so they can function as a trivets.

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.

First round of dim sum: pork belly, chicken & vegetable dumplings, fried shrimp balls on bamboo sticks, and wonton purses. None of this lasted very long and then it was on to Round 2.

Our family’s favorite dim sum is sticky rice steamed in lotus leaves, filled with sausage and ground pork. We each had our own bundle – so good!

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.

Sunday Morning 12/16/2018: Portland Edition

We checked out the wreaths at Trader Joe’s but they were too heavy to hang in the house so we got a fresh pine swag instead.

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.

I love Trader Joe’s, but am staying away now until after Christmas!

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.

The dining hall at Bryn Mawr was transformed into the one at Hogwarts, including the floating candles! Love the candelabras on the tables as well!

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!

Our Bryn Mawr wizard!

Anyway, this morning I am:

  • Reading: Nothing! Or at least not a book right now. I have had a terrible time trying to read these past few months – nothing seems to hold my interest for very long, and I’ve also had problems staying awake.
  • Listening to: It’s a typical quiet morning for Brett and I. He’s reading and I’ve been working on this! We’re looking forward though to all the noise and hubbub that will come along with the girls this week.
  • Watching: Brett and I were all set to watch Season 4 of Better Call Saul, but that turned out to be a one-day binge opportunity so we missed out on it. There are things on Netflix and Amazon Prime (Man in the High Castle) we want to see, but those can wait until Meiling arrives with her stick and tech abilities next week. The other day Brett and I clicked through all the many, many cable channels we have here and could not find even one thing that interested us, a pretty good indication we will not be signing up for cable later.
  • Cooking/baking: Tonight we’re having leftover tacos, along with some refried beans. We had them night before last but there was lots left over so we’ll finish that off tonight. We picked up a frozen cherry pie this past week and I’m going to bake that later today – I have been craving pie.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: I am glad we’ve gotten most of our shopping done, but it turned into a chore. We’re just not very enthusiastic spenders these days. Also, we’re so glad we got hair cuts – that was something that definitely needed doing. I ordered some gifts for our granddaughter from Amazon (after looking all over town and not finding what I wanted) that will tuck nicely into my suitcase, and weigh next to nothing. Not my accomplishment, but Brett took care of our visa applications for both India and Australia and we are set to enter those countries. Finally, I got all the Christmas presents wrapped and ready to put out on Christmas morning!
  • Looking forward to next week: Well, besides all the girls arriving in Portland and all of us being together again, I am looking forward to us having brunch at a good friend’s home next Sunday morning and I know that it will be delightful. Our sons were friends in high school, and Joan was a big help to us during Meiling’s and WenYu’s adoptions, and I can’t wait for her to see how beautifully the girls have grown up. I’m also looking forward to getting together with another good friend for coffee later this morning at one of our old haunts.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Being able to get a temporary crown on my broken tooth, and finding out that I won’t need multiple procedures to fix it was the best news this week.

    The pine swag smells wonderful!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: 1) I got a very good deal on a new phone from T-Mobile. The price was lower than I expected and with the trade-in of my old phone I ended up paying several hundreds of dollars less than I thought I would. 2) Although we’ve done a lot of shopping here in Portland we haven’t gone crazy, which is something I worried about before we arrived. We’ve stuck strictly to necessities for the most part or pre-planned purchases, like my phone. 3) We saw a little live tabletop Christmas tree the other day that smelled wonderful and would have been adorable on the coffee table, but it was $25 so we passed. The cheap ornaments we bought at Target along with a string of lights for around the door cost us just $5, the poinsettia was $6, and our pine swag was $8, so we saved $6 over the tree and the house looks (and smells) ready for Christmas! Meiling is going to take the lights and ornaments with her when we move on. 4) Brett and I have done a good job of eating leftovers so that no food has been wasted. 5) He and I also decided not to give each other any gifts this year because neither of us needs or wants anything right now. Instead, we’ll save our money and do something special and spontaneous together later when we’re back on the road again.
  • Grateful for: Both Brett and I are exceedingly thankful that our dentist here was able to fit us in so quickly and repair our broken teeth. We are also very, very thankful for our good dental insurance – we will have a co-pay, but most of the cost will be picked up by our insurance. We are also thankful for the great haircuts we got from the stylist recommended by our friend. Finally, we’re feeling very grateful that we were able to find an affordable and nice Airbnb for our month in Portland. So many of the places in town were way, way over what we could afford.

    Requests from the girls that will be long gone before Christmas!
  • Bonus question: What Christmas traditions are you maintaining this year? On Christmas morning we will enjoy our traditional breakfast of toasted bagels, cream cheese, smoked salmon, fresh fruit (berries?), and orange juice. The girls took their Christmas stockings and little sequined boxes with them to college this year and are bringing them along when they come “home.” They will be able to open the gifts in their stockings before breakfast, and we always tuck a little something into the little boxes (that I found for around $1 each, I think, at WinCo one year). After breakfast we’ll open our presents, one at a time from oldest to youngest. We’ll enjoy a relaxing day together, and I’m preparing a favorite meal of ham, macaroni and cheese, broccoli and cornbread, and we’ll have cheesecake for dessert.

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!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! I spotted this big guy back on one of the wine estates we visited when we were in Bordeaux. Wonder if he is still strutting his stuff, or if life had other plans for him?

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!