Wishing you and yours a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
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!
The tree is up, the presents have been wrapped, the food purchased, and WenYu arrives home this week – we are ready for Christmas here at Casa Aloha! I love this time of year, and am again looking forward to us all being together for the holiday. Our son and family had thought they might come, but the grandkids are at a stage where jet lag is a difficult, long-lasting issue, so they’ve decided to postpone a visit until next summer.
We set up a Christmas savings account this past year, and between what we put into that each month and some Swagbucks I earned, we ended up with $1200 to use for gifts this year. We sent $100 to Japan for our grandchildren (although our son would prefer we sent nothing) and they will use the money to either do an activity together or get the kids something they want. The rest was divided so that there was $210 per person – $150 for gifts under the tree and $60 for each stocking. Brett and I typically don’t exchange gifts, but we are this year.
I can’t say what I got for Brett for obvious reasons, and I haven’t a clue what I’m getting, but here’s what the girls will be receiving:
Each girl’s stocking will contain a travel set of Mālie bath products (we get a kamaaina discount for these), a set of GoToob silicone travel bottles, a cute phone stand (either a dog or a cat), a bath scrubby, a set of decorated paperclips from Japan, and some candy, which will include Lindor truffles, Dove dark chocolate hearts, and Japanese mochi.
Meiling, who loves to bake, is getting a red KitchenAid hand mixer, a set of cute cat-shaped measuring cups, Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, and a $50 Trader Joe’s gift card. We got WenYu a pair of gold earrings from Bali (via Novica), a professional set of 132 colored pencils, and a $40 gift card to her favorite clothing store. YaYu will be receiving a sports watch with a timer, a FitBit with a set of changeable bands, and a “party box” filled with her favorite Korean spicy noodles. Each girl is also receiving a “food bag,” filled with their favorite treats and things they like to make, or in the case of WenYu, things she can fix in the dorm, like macaroni and cheese. We tucked these items into our regular grocery shopping the past few months, so have no idea of the value of what’s in them, but it’s balanced between each girl.
Meiling also set up a family Secret Santa exchange, where we’re not allowed to know who got what for whom and have a $30 limit for the gift. My recipient will be receiving a Regal Cinemas gift card.
Christmas morning we’ll follow tradition, and early-riser Brett will have coffee and hot chocolate made when the rest of us get up. Everyone gets to unpack their stocking first. Then I’ll serve our traditional Christmas breakfast of bagels, cream cheese and smoked salmon, along with fresh fruit (this year it will be fresh berries), and we’ll eat while we open gifts. For something new this year we’re serving POG mimosas with breakfast (or POG with club soda, for those that don’t drink alcohol). Gifts are opened one at a time so we can admire and appreciate what each person receives, and we will once again go in order from oldest to youngest, with Brett starting things off. Meiling will serve as our “elf” and distribute the gifts.
We’ve traditionally had appetizers for our Christmas Eve dinner, and this year will be no different although we are sticking to an Asian theme and having pad thai, lumpia, potstickers, sushi, and homemade wontons along with rice and a cucumber salad. Dessert will be Japanese cakes and mochi ice cream. For our Christmas dinner we’ll be having ham, macaroni and cheese, roasted brussels sprouts, biscuits, and cream puffs topped with chocolate sauce for dessert. Guess what I’m not having!
If weather permits, we plan to head down to the beach on Christmas Day, but if it’s a less than beach-worthy day we’re going to take a family hike out to the Pineapple Dump. We also plan to watch a movie together, but we’re waiting until WenYu is home to decide what that will be.
This will be our last Christmas in Hawai’i, maybe for a long while (next year we’ll be in Portland), so we’re making this a special one. I almost can’t believe Christmas Day will be here in just a week, but we are ready!
- Our four loving, smart and generous children who get along well with each other, and support and help each other and cheer for each other’s success
- My loving husband and best friend who steps up without complaint when the need arises
- Our family’s continued good health
- Our comfortable home (and no rent increase!)
- Having enough to eat every day, and knowing how to cook
- Clean, fresh water every time we open the tap
- Being able to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world
- Getting to see the ocean every day
- The amazing flora and fauna on our island, all of it a wonder – and no snakes!
- The local farmers who grow and bring their fresh produce to the farmers’ market every week and sell it so affordably
- Having enough in retirement that we don’t need to worry about covering our expenses
- Having enough to be able to save and travel
- Having good, affordable healthcare
- Two beautiful, smart, fun grandchildren and the best daughter-in-law in the world
- The generous financial aid that both Meiling’s and WenYu’s colleges provide them, that will allow both to graduate with no debt
- Fresh, hot coffee waiting for me every morning when I get up
- Living in a country where we are free to criticize our government
- The people who continue to come to the blog every day, and who take the time to comment and support my writing
- The people who touch my life each day in some way, who challenge me and make me think and reflect
Wishing everyone a blessed and bountiful Thanksgiving!
All the girls are home, the tree is decorated, the presents have been bought and wrapped (or sent), the pantry and refrigerator stocked – we are ready for Christmas Day!
Here’s what’s happening at Casa Aloha for Christmas:
First, I’ve changed our Christmas Eve menu: Instead of Pono Market chicken, etc. I’m going to prepare a Chinese feast of mabo dofu, stir-fried pork with peppers, chili shrimp, and rice. I planned to make these dishes for Meiling while she’s home as they’re some of her favorites, and realized I am running out of time because she heads back to the mainland the morning of the 28th.
Christmas morning will start with coffee for Brett and I, and hot cocoa with marshmallows for the girls while they open their stockings. Then we’ll have our traditional breakfast of toasted bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon, some fruit, and orange juice. I wanted to make something different for breakfast this year, like a breakfast casserole, but was unanimously told no. Tradition rules!
We’ll open our presents while we eat breakfast – only one person opens a gift at a time so we can all admire each gift. Tradition also dictates we open from oldest to youngest, so Brett always leads off. He and I don’t exchange gifts, but we’ve been told there will be gifts from the girls.
Here’s what we’re giving the girls this year:
- Meiling has always been the most difficult of all our children to shop for, but we’ve gotten smart in our old age and these days ask for suggestions. She’ll be getting a pair of Birkenstock sandals and a Forever 21 gift card.
- We bought WenYu a cozy, fleece-lined bathrobe and this pair of slippers to wear in her dorm room – she likes to stay warm.
- YaYu will get an Atlas pasta machine along with a pasta drying rack and pasta cookbook. One of the highlights of her culinary class this past term was learning to make fresh pasta, and she’s been dreaming about having her own pasta machine ever since.
- We sent a check to Japan for our grandchildren. Our son and daughter-in-law purchased a much-desired Lego Star Wars set for our grandson, and our granddaughter will get a jacket and some baby toys.
- The girls will each get two Toblerone bars, some assorted Lindor truffles and Ghiradelli chocolate squares in their stockings along with a Mālie Organics travel set, a $10 Starbucks gift card, and a crisp $20 bill.
Our budget this year was $600, and with an assist from some Amazon credit we earned via Swagbucks and our kamaaina discounts, the total spent on Christmas gifts this year was $604.71, less than $5 over our budget (and if I had waited a couple of weeks to buy the pasta machine I could have saved an additional $12, but who knew Amazon would drop the price). The girls saved for and bought their own gifts for everyone but I have no idea how much they spent or what they bought for anyone.
Brett’s sister sent the girls a big box with fun stocking stuffer-type gifts, and she also sent Brett and I a generous check to cover things like meals out and such while they are all are here.
Christmas afternoon, weather permitting, we plan to walk together out to the Pineapple Dump and do some whale watching.
It’s going to be a wonderful Christmas!