Could We Live Here?

Brett’s and my frame of mind right now.

“Could we live here?” is a game Brett and I have played in every place we’ve visited. Only twice has the answer has been in a heartbeat (most of the UK and Japan), but usually we give a location a lot more thought no matter how much we like it (places like Strasbourg or Bordeaux in France as well as Florence, Lisbon, and Buenos Aires), weighing the obvious negatives along with the positives (the negatives have so far always won). There have also been a few places we’ve known right away that we either couldn’t or didn’t want to live (India, Rome, London, and Sydney, although all were fun to visit).

We’ve been playing the game again during our stay in San Miguel de Allende, and now over halfway through our time here we’ve started debating whether this might be a place we could eventually settle down. The strongest reason for moving here is the low cost of living. We could, as I told Brett the other day, “live in the style we’ve always dreamed of being accustomed to” including having a beautifully furnished home with multiple bedrooms, a gourmet kitchen, a housekeeper (and gardener), and so forth all at a price that would be unaffordable in the U.S. This would also be a place I could continue to live well if Brett predeceases me, and his navy pension disappears.

There are negatives of course: the dry climate and heat, the language, and the distance from our kids being the primary ones. A couple of weeks ago you couldn’t have paid me to move here because of the hot, dry, dusty weather, but my feelings have been changing as things have cooled off. Just after we arrived I would have loved to live in the complex where we are now, but after seeing more of the city this place has moved down the list a bit. We love our apartment and the neighbors but know we could have much more, in a better location.

We could live in a purple house in SMA!

There are loads of positives to living full-time in San Miguel de Allende. Besides the low cost of living, there’s also world class affordable dining as well as good health and dental care. So far there’s nothing we use or want that we can’t find here. There are two international airports each about an hour’s drive away that can get us back to the U.S. and then on to our kids or international destinations. The city is home to a lively expat community and the ability to connect with others who share our interests (to be honest though, the number of expats who descend on the city every winter seems kind of overwhelming). There is art, culture, history, and classes galore from language to cooking.

It sounds like the perfect place for us except we feel absolutely no joy or potential excitement whatsoever about living here full time. None. It’s just not “us” and that’s the sticking point.

Brett and I have been nomads since we met in 1977. During our years when Brett was in the navy we learned how to make any location a home, how to overcome obstacles encountered, and make friends and create a good life. We’re heading to Nashville in just over a month but our time there, as with a military posting, will be temporary, and we’re already beginning to feel some pressure to figure out where we’ll go or what we’ll do after that. Traveling full time is still on the table, but Brett will be in his mid-70s, and I won’t be far behind, and settling down doesn’t sound as bad as it once did. We have much to decide and choices to make, and we want (and need) to get it right . . . stay tuned!

Our Home In San Miguel de Allende

We somehow ended up with another beautiful view out our front door!

We’ve only been in San Miguel de Allende for a couple of days, but we are already in love with our apartment. Located in the Allende neighborhood, the apartment complex is a little slice of paradise tucked away in the city. We’re located just a short walk away from the center of SMA, and the streets that take us there are filled with everything we could possibly need. The only downside, if there is one, is that the complex is located up a hill. That means the walk down is easy, but a bit more difficult on the return, especially when carrying bags full of groceries or such. Our neighbors have already advised that we should walk into town but take a taxi to come back. We haven’t tried that yet, but it’s good advice.

Our apartment is located on the second level of the three-level complex. We have a open-plan living/dining/kitchen, a bedroom with a king-size bed and a big closet, a small bathroom with a shower, and a large hallway with extra storage. Like our living room on Kaua’i, the front door looks out onto nature, to a gorgeous central courtyard, complete with a fountain. It’s all very peaceful, and a wonderful place to relax and come home to.

The fireplace in the living room works, but is not for use by renters. The floors throughout the apartment are tiled – they help keep the place cool.

Another view of the living room from the dining table, looking back to the hallway and bedroom. The very comfortable sofa can be pulled out to make another king-size bed.

The dining area with the kitchen behind. The cabinet is full of cleaning supplies because once-a-week maid service is included in the rental (a surprise to us).

The well-equipped kitchen with the purified water jug front and center. We will probably use a bottle a week, with it delivered to our door when requested. The only downside here is we are still washing dishes by hand.

The hallway to the bedroom with its lovely built-in storage – Brett is keeping his clothes in three of the drawers. Our small bathroom is to the right.

The bedroom with its very comfortable king-size bed, big closet for our clothes and suitcases, and built-in corner desk which Brett immediately commandeered when we arrived.

I love everything about our apartment, but the courtyard may be the best thing about this place. Cool, colorful, peaceful, and filled with plants of all kinds, it’s a joy to have all of this right outside our door and to awaken each morning to birds singing outside. We also have delightful, friendly neighbors!

Home Sweet Homes On the Road

We had some amazing views from our Airbnb homes during our travels.

We love staying in Airbnb rentals. I enjoy looking at different homes, imagining us living there for a while, and seeing if I can find a place that fits our wants, needs, and budget. It can be a challenge, but a fun one. We did very well with our rentals overall during the Big Adventure, and stay in just one place that was a disappointment (in Bath; thankfully it was a very short stay, only two nights).

Finding accommodations when we travel has always been one of my tasks. Brett is usually in on the final decision, but not always. I have a list of requirements, amenities, and always a budget when it comes to finding a place, with some of these things negotiable and others absolute requirements that we won’t budge on.

The first thing I do is go is narrow my search to Superhosts. We had a couple of bad experiences having our reservation abruptly cancelled, but Superhosts can lose their status if they cancel. They are also experienced hosts and go out of the way to make guests feel welcome.

The next step is to go through the pictures. Does the home look like a comfortable place to stay? Is the kitchen nice? Are there lots of pictures of the tchotkes or pictures around the apartment? Why are there so many pictures of the toilet (this seriously happens)? Is the place filled with stuff or is it minimally furnished, or even too minimally furnished? Does it look clean overall? Does it feel like a good fit? I generally can filter out several places on the pictures alone – some places just don’t feel right.

Next I take a closer look at the price. I adjust the search to look for the maximum we are willing to spend per month on lodging. Having an upper limit is critical because Airbnb always tacks on a service fee, and they almost always add a cleaning fee as well which can drive up what looks like an affordable daily amount. We did allow ourselves to stay in a slightly more expensive place as long as that cost was balanced out with other less expensive rentals. We stayed in some “over budget” rentals during the Big Adventure but when combined with some that were well under our budget we ended up going just $38 over what we had planned for lodging costs.

Although a daily price is given for each Airbnb rental, that price can be adjusted according to the time of year or the length of the stay. I’ve looked at places advertised for say, $56/night, but when our dates are entered the price comes out to more than $100/night. Nope! Many rentals will give a discount for a week’s or month’s stay, but I’ve come across others that either don’t or even increase the price for a month’s stay! Sometimes the increases given are ridiculous or outright funny. When I began searching for place to stay in the Cotswolds back in 2017, I found one lovely home that was exactly what we were looking for, at a price within our range. I saved it to a list, and went to look at a few other properties and locations. When I came back to the first property, the cost for one month had jumped to astronomical proportions, something like $16,000. What? I cleared the cookies on my computer and checked again, but the monthly price had climbed even higher. It became a game to see how high the price would go as it continued to climb every time I checked. I stopped when the price for a month’s rental reached over $300,000 – we didn’t want to buy the house for heaven’s sake! Check out the monthly price for the Tokyo apartment below – crazy! I have know why this happens but it does now and again.

We won’t be staying in this Tokyo apartment for a month!

After looking at pictures and prices I typically end up with a list of five or six properties that might work for us, and then dig into the details. Does it have all our must-have amenities? Does the location work for us? And what do the reviews say? Many only say things like “great host” or “great location,” but digging deeper I can usually always find information about the cleanliness, how comfortable the bed is, how nice the kitchen is, and so forth, and one or more locations will eventually rise to the top. If we’re not traveling for a while I save the location to a wish list, but if we’re close enough to book I will go over the top picks (if there’s more than one) with Brett, make a choice, then contact the owner to see if they will accept our booking. We have yet to be turned down for our top pick, but we always make sure we have others that will work as well if that should happen.

Must-haves for us in a rental are WiFi, a table for eating and where Brett can work, a washing machine (and hopefully a dryer, but it’s not absolutely necessary) if we’re staying for a week or more, a separate bedroom with a comfortable bed, a stove with an oven, and good kitchen space with a nice assortment of cooking tools and basic dishes. A nice bathroom with a shower is also a given. The location of the home is a big factor – we want a place where we can walk to various places and/or that’s near a station or other public transportation, and we like to have a grocery store within walking distance.

Do we always get everything we want? No! One of our favorite stays, Strasbourg, had no washing machine in the apartment – we had to take our clothes to a laundromat. There was no table, just a counter with two stools, and no separate bedroom. I didn’t notice until just before our arrival that I had not booked a one-bedroom apartment as thought but a studio with a sofa bed, and we arrived in Strasbourg dreading our three-week stay there. The sofa bed turned out to be the most comfortable bed we slept on during our travels, the counter worked fine for us, the laundromat was only two blocks away and we met and chatted with nice people there, and the apartment’s location was superb for walking throughout the city. The landlord was friendly and generous, and before we left Strasbourg we were invited to her home for dinner with her family. She cooked a beautiful, traditional multi-course French meal for us and stuffed us with treats. We have stayed friends with her and her family, and both of us look forward to meeting up again some day. That apartment also taught Brett and I that we could live comfortably in a very small space and get along just fine.

Almost all of our stays provided everything we wanted and needed and then some. Still, we have assembled a simple set of kitchen tools to carry with us when we next travel (vegetable peeler, paring knives, silicone spatula, simple grater, can opener, and a couple of other pieces) as these are the things we sometimes found lacking in an apartment. For the most part though we adapt easily to what’s available in each home. We always keep our temporary homes clean and fix things if we can but call the owner when we can’t.

The opportunity to “live local” was one of the best things we did during our travels, and we’re looking forward to further Airbnb experiences when we hit the road again.

A Blast From My Past

As I was doing some random searching to earn Swagbucks this past weekend, I came across the listing for our former beach house in San Clemente, California. Apparently the house had been on the market for a while, and the pictures taken then allowed me to get a look at the current interior.

Oh boy, did the memories come flooding back!

My mom’s younger brother, my Uncle William, designed and built the house in 1955. My dad occasionally went on the weekends to help with the construction; I remember going with him once and staying in a little motel with a kitchenette that had a bottle opener attached to the side of one of the cabinets which fascinated me. The house was considered very modern, classic mid-century design at the time. It was well built, and remains stylish to this day. It’s even had a moment of fame, serving as a location in the 1986 Clint Eastwood movie, Heartbreak Ridge, as the house Marsha Mason lived in.

My aunt and uncle started their family (eventually five children) in the house soon after it was finished, but a couple of years later they moved to another location in San Clemente and my grandparents bought the house from them along with the vacant lot next door. The house became a vacation home for extended family, but because we lived nearest to San Clemente our family used the house the most over the years, sometimes moving there for entire summers and hosting neighbors, friends, and relatives from my dad’s side. We grew a large garden in part of the vacant lot for many years, and played croquet on the rest. The beach was a short walk from the house – we’d walk down in the morning, then back up the hill for lunch and a short rest, and repeat for second session in the afternoon. Almost every evening after dinner Mom would drive us back down to beachcomb and see what we could find as we walked from the overpass to the pier and back.

Overpass (or T-Street) Beach and the San Clemente pier.

The house largely looks the same inside and out, with even some of the colors the same, and the current valuation of over a million dollars is unsurprising based on housing prices in southern California. My grandmother sold the house in 1971 for $43,000. President Nixon had purchased his “western White House” in San Clemente in 1969 and sent property values in the area soaring, and Grandma felt it was time to sell. The house has been owned for the past 50 years by the same people who bought it from her.

The new owners carpeted the house, but it used to have soft red linoleum floors throughout, all the better for sweeping up the sand we dragged back from the beach every day. The kitchen has been remodeled, and while the space appears to work better the decor is a poor fit (in my opinion) with the the beautiful mid-century design of the house. However, the wicker stools at the kitchen counter look like the same ones that were there when we used the house! In the real estate photos the interior is filled with furniture and other stuff while it was uncluttered and minimally decorated when we used it.

My grandparents were parsimonious to a fault, and as I was going through the photos I laughed as I remembered all the things in the house that had needed repairs but that my grandparents (especially my grandmother) chose to ignore because they didn’t want to spend any more than absolutely necessary on the house. For example, the front door became difficult to lock at one point, but instead of having it fixed we were instead told to leave it alone and just stop using the door. It was the same with the bathroom in the outside cabana bedroom, the central fireplace, a wonky light fixture on a wall, and closet doors that fell off their railings. We just stopped using them.

The most powerful memory I have of the beach house didn’t come until after I closed the link the other day: my grandfather died in that house. My grandparents had wanted to go look at it one day in the summer of 1959, and brought me along with them – I was seven years old, in between first and second grade. Grandma and I knew the whole way down to San Clemente that something was wrong because Grandpa was driving erratically at times and kept complaining about not feeling well. When we finally got to the house (a miracle, in retrospect), he laid down on a bed and said he was going to take a nap, but at some point he got up and went into the bathroom, collapsed, and died there, apparently from heart failure. My grandmother broke down the door and found him. Her first action was to calmly ask me to sit in the corner of the sofa in the living room and stay there until she came back. I was an obedient child and did as I was told, and had absolutely no idea anything was seriously wrong. She moved my grandfather into the front bedroom, laid him on the bed, and shut the door, then came and asked me to remain on the sofa while she went next door for a few minutes (I’m guessing because I would have heard the phone conversation in the living room). Grandma came back shortly and sat with me until my parents arrived a couple of hours later to take me home. I remember how normal my grandmother was the whole time, never acting in any way that scared or worried me, and telling me that Grandpa was resting. All of her efforts went toward making me feel safe and calm in spite of what she had to do and what she must have been feeling. There was a big car outside when I left with my parents, and later in life I figured out it was the hearse that had arrived to pick up my grandfather’s body. It wasn’t until the next morning that I learned my beloved grandfather had died; my dad told me when I woke up.

We continued to use the house until 1971, and other than my grandfather’s death, the beach house holds only good memories for me: happy summers walking to and from the beach each day and early evening beachcombing walks; fires in the living room fireplace every evening to take away the chill coming off the Pacific; looking out from the kitchen sink to Catalina Island in the distance (that view now blocked by the house that was built on the vacant lot); reading Nancy Drew mysteries and doing big jigsaw puzzles checked out from the San Clemente library; fresh vegetables from our garden; listening to Dodger baseball games in the evening on a little transistor radio (there was no TV there); croquet tournaments and all the other games my siblings and I invented to entertain ourselves.

It was a magical place.

Just the Right Size

My favorite thing in the morning is to sit on the sofa with a cup of coffee and look out the French doors at blue skies and palm trees. The sofa has enough room for everybody – there’s no need for additional seating.

Perhaps the best thing Brett and I learned on our travels was that we could get along in a very small space and with very little. We learned we didn’t need a fancy place either: a comfortable bed, decent kitchen equipment, good WiFi connection, and a location that allowed us to easily get out and around to explore, and we were good to go. 

Before we set off on our travels, during our four years on Kaua’i, we had also discovered we didn’t need as many things as we had once thought we did, and by the time we departed we were more than ready to let most of our possessions pass on to others. Traveling full-time only reinforced the enjoyment of having less, and we embraced a more minimalist lifestyle.

And then along came Covid-19 and the end of our Big Adventure. We returned to Kaua’i, found a place to live, and needed to acquire things once again. It’s not how we expected things to turn out, but in the past few months, we’ve managed to put together a home that will allow us to live simply and comfortably, in a small space that’s just the right size for the two of us.

We have only three pieces of furniture in the bedroom: a comfortable bed and two nightstands. This is the first time in our 41-year marriage that we have had matching nightstands and lamps! The lamps have USB ports – very useful!

The small size of our apartment has guided our purchases this time around. Everything we’ve bought since we arrived back is not only useful and used regularly, but was chosen not to overwhelm the space.

We’re not quite there yet when it comes to having everything we need, but our stored items will fill the remaining gaps once they arrive. I can’t wait to have my cookware, knives, and utensils to work with again, and the dishes we’ve collected in Japan over the years. I can’t wait to have our art hanging on the walls, and my jubako out again, the one collection I held onto.

Our kitchen is small but mighty! There’s room for everything, and the small sink has turned out to be less of a problem than we imagined.

Although we have only around 500 sq. feet of indoor living space these days, we’re not minimalists by any stretch. We’re not feeling the least crowded either. Big mirrors were strategically placed throughout the apartment by the landlord – they give a feeling of spaciousness, as do the French doors at the front of the apartment and big windows throughout. The deck and backyard also make the whole living area seem bigger than it is. There is a surprising amount of closet space and storage area in the apartment as well. The massive bathroom, chandelier and all, has turned out to be an amazing luxury and also makes the apartment feel larger.

It’s all exactly what we hoped for this time around – a small footprint, but just the right size for us.

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.

The World Turned Upside Down

We’re going home.

The U.S. State Department announced today that all overseas travelers should arrange for an immediate return to the United States unless they are prepared for an indefinite stay overseas. Since we cannot extend our visa, we are cutting our stay in Japan short and will return to Hawai’i on Monday. 

We have been scrambling all day to get our flight changed (Delta reps have been amazing), start packing, and put together the things we will be taking over to our son’s. Our rent here was due today, but our landlord appears to be out of town, so we will be exchanging the yen back to dollars; our DIL will work with the landlord if there will be anything still owed.

We are returning to Kaua’i, and after a two-week self-quarantine at a condo we rented through Airbnb we will hopefully be able to begin to look for a place to live and get started on getting ourselves resettled there. YaYu will be staying in her dorm for now, but we are prepared to fly her to Kaua’i immediately if and when the dorms close.

I have been crying ever since we got the news. The grandkids have not been informed yet that we are leaving, but we’re going to take them to a toy store tomorrow and let them both pick out their birthday presents for the year (our grandson’s 9th birthday is a week from tomorrow). We’ll have dinner with them before coming home and continuing to pack, and then spend the day with them again on Sunday. They have promised to come to Hawai’i as soon as international travel is feasible again.

What a crazy time this is. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve made plans and then had to change or cancel them in the last couple of days. Every time we have tried to get out in front of this pandemic, things have changed before we even have time to catch our breath it seems. At least we are well, and our family is well, but we want to do what’s best for everyone else in the U.S. and ultimately for our family. We will be OK. We have enough in savings to get ourselves set up again on Kaua’i, including getting our stuff that’s been in storage shipped back over. There have been 26 reported cases of COVID-19 in Hawaii (two on Kaua’i), and the island is on a partial curfew as I write. They are moving to a full shutdown though, so we want to get in and get settled as soon as possible.

What a time we’ve had though! Our traveling days are not done, but we’re going to take a break, get through this pandemic, get YaYu through college, and then hopefully hit the road again although not full time. Thanks to all of my wonderful readers for sticking with us all these years.

I’ll post again after we get resettled on Kaua’i.

P.S. Our mystery destination was San Miguel de Allende in Mexico.

 

Homes On the Road, Part II

Our Portland Airbnb for the summer is already our favorite!

One of our favorite things about the nomadic lifestyle we’ve been living for the past several months has been the homes we’ve stayed in along the way and their hosts. Thanks to Airbnb we’ve been able to enjoy not only having our own place from time to time, but also the pleasure of staying as guests in others’ homes, the perfect arrangement for shorter stays in places like Lucerne last fall, and during our road trip around New Zealand earlier this year.

The kitchen and living and dining area of our Portland apartment. The mid-century decor is minimal, but very stylish and extremely comfortable.

Our Portland apartment for the summer is currently at the top of our list of favorite Airbnb rentals. The price, the size of the apartment, the minimal but very comfortable mid-century furnishings, the kitchen and location are all just about perfect. Two other notable favorites along the way on Part II were our rooms in Napier and Wellington in New Zealand, although every place we stayed in Australia and New Zealand were very, very nice and helped make our visits there great ones.

The view while we ate breakfast on the terrace at the home we stayed at in Napier.

The stunning view from our room in Napier.

I wish I could link to our place in Japan, except that they are currently not listed with Airbnb. While the location of the apartment building was superb, the price very affordable for Tokyo, and the hosts wonderful to deal with, we did not get the apartment we had requested which made that stay a bit of a disappointment, especially since it was for three months. The kitchen was wonderfully equipped, and the bed was comfortable, but the furniture in the living and dining area was not. There was also no balcony (highly unusual in Japan) so we always had to dry our clothes indoors (we were thankful to have a washing machine though).

Our bright, sunny, and extremely comfortable room in Wellington – I was sick for a day and this was a serene place to rest and recuperate. We also had a huge, deluxe bathroom and breakfast was provided in the morning.

Our apartment in Perth was very comfortable and in a great location – just a 10-minute walk one direction to the station to ride into downtown Perth, or catch the Indian-Pacific for our journey across Australia. Ten minutes in the other direction took us to a grocery store, great shops and restaurants.

The Perth apartment had a fantastic kitchen including a washer AND dryer, much appreciated after our India tour and Hong Kong stay.

Our Sydney apartment in the vibrant Potts Point neighborhood was a short walk to the train station, and a fairly easy walk from the harbor as well. We would stay here again in a heartbeat!

Overall we have had a great experience using Airbnb, saved quite a bit over staying in hotels, and met some truly wonderful people along the way. If you haven’t used them before, I strongly recommend giving Airbnb a try. Michael and Debbie Campbell’s (The Senior Nomads) book, Your Keys, Our Home, is a great overview on how to make the most of an Airbnb experience, from choosing a house or room to interacting with the host to how to be a great guest.

The inviting entry to our Auckland backyard cottage.

I don’t think we were ever so happy to check into an Airbnb as we were when we arrived at the one in Auckland. After an exhausting day of driving we so appreciated this comfortable and peaceful room.

Below are the links to the Airbnb homes and rooms we stayed in on Part II of our Big Adventure:

Australia:

Beside our room and sparkling clean bathroom, our stay in Rotorua also included a large breakfast in the morning, freshly prepared by our hosts.

New Zealand:

We were surrounded by nature at the Mangorei Airbnb. The house had decks on three sides, with gorgeous natural views from each one, including a view of the ocean in the distance. Breakfast was provided, and we greatly enjoyed chatting with the host, George – a very interesting man!

Our three nights in the Sellwood Airbnb studio were the perfect way to decompress after our long journey from Japan.

Portland:

Although we’ve enjoyed some of our Airbnb rentals more than others, we have yet to have a bad experience. We like having our own place with a kitchen, where we save by preparing most of our own meals, and also like getting to know the neighborhoods. We’ve made friends with a few of our hosts as well, another added benefit to traveling with Airbnb. Finally, Airbnb offers $40 off your first booking with them if you spend more than $75 – just go to the site and set up an account and start looking for a place to stay!

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!

The Million Dollar Question: Decisions Have Been Made

They say you can’t go home again, but I’m going anyway.

LOL – I said I wasn’t going to write this week, but guess what I’ve been doing!

For the past several weeks, day after day after day we have talked and talked and talked some more about where or whether to settle, have over and over the pros and cons of each option again and again, have made lists, and have debated whether we wanted to buy a house again or not (we even went so far as to get a pre-approval from our bank to see how much house we could afford) or buy a car.

We changed our minds several times, and went back and forth, with a new option added to our list at one point, not that we needed another one in the mix. But, eventually we were able to come to a decision.

I now believe that our indecision is what brought on or worsened my insomnia – once we made up our minds all of that went away (well, that and a drastic reduction in the amount of caffeine I consume). All I could think about every night was where should we live? What’s the best location for us? It was driving me crazy and keeping me awake.

The order of our final list feels right. Nothing has been chiseled into stone yet, but we can finally start thinking more about and working toward what comes next.

Here is the new list, and how we ordered our choices:

  1. San Clemente, CA. I’m still a California girl at heart. And, I’ve always loved San Clemente and the surrounding area (Dana Point and Laguna Beach) – back when we decided to leave Portland, it was the #2 area on our list after Hawai’i. The opportunity to live there now ticks off a lot of the most important boxes for both of us though: warm, sunny weather, low humidity, being close to the ocean, and friends living nearby to name a few. It’s eas(ier) for family to get there, and a place people love to visit. Our biggest hurdle will be finding an affordable place to live – coastal prices in California can be like Hawaii’s, or higher, but we’re into living small and simply these days so that will help us find something affordable. We’ve definitely decided we don’t want to buy again, and we’ve also pretty much decided that we’re not going to buy a car, and that we’d like to try to get by without one for as long as possible. However, there’s a trolley service in the San Clemente area that can get us around somewhat and otherwise we will use a rideshare service like Uber or Lyft, or we’ll walk. If we want or need to take a longer journey we’ll rent a car. Also, Amtrak connects San Clemente to both Los Angeles and San Diego – San Clemente is located halfway between the two cities.

    The town of Laguna Beach is connected to San Clemente via Dana Point by the trolley service.
  2. Another year of travel. This option sort of popped up unbidden, but once we started talking about it we became interested in the idea, and realized we could continue if we wanted.  There are still many places we want to visit, and we’ve come to see that a longer stay in each place works best for us rather than moving around ever few days or so. However, while the thought of spending time in new places is motivating, it also feels a bit exhausting right now. To be honest, I was more enthusiastic about the idea than Brett – he would rather settle down and then travel once a year or more, staying in a place for a month or so and being Occasional Nomads versus Full Time Nomads.
  3. Northern Arizona. This was our mystery location, another choice that just sort of popped into our consciousness, but once it did it really took hold. We liked the area a lot when we visited in 2017, and there were several locations to consider: Flagstaff, Williams, Prescott, and Sedona. The big drawbacks for us were the extreme dryness and lack of water, and the cold winters, but we otherwise love the natural beauty of the area, and the proximity to the Grand Canyon and other areas in Arizona and the southwest. We’d absolutely need to purchase a car here though, something that eventually made this location less appealing.
  4. Strasbourg, France. This option went to the bottom of the list not because we don’t love, love, love Strasbourg, but because as we talked it over and got into the weeds, we could see how complicated it would be, from the language to applying for a visa to finding housing to the kids visiting and so forth. A move there is really more than we want to take on at this stage of our lives.

One of the biggest factors contributing to the order of our list as well is that beginning in 2021 we will need to contribute somewhat significantly to the cost of YaYu’s education at Bryn Mawr during her last two years there. While all the girls currently receive generous financial aid because of all three being in school at the same time, that number dwindles to two next year because Meiling graduates this June, and beginning in the fall of 2020 it will be just YaYu attending college. She’ll still qualify for aid, but it won’t cover the full cost, and we want to help her through enough that she won’t need to take out student loans, or at the least, borrow very little (both Meiling and WenYu will graduate with no debt). After crunching the numbers, a simple life in Southern California actually puts the least amount of strain on our income, even with the high rents. Although California has high taxes, we’ve done the calculations with our income and ours shouldn’t be much, especially if we don’t own a car.

We also want to set aside money every month to cover the cost of a long-term visit to Japan every 15 months or so (for at least a month) and for other travel as well, and we have to buy some furniture too, so all those are some other financial considerations.

Anyway, a decision has been made and we can now move on to planning what comes next and when. It is a big relief to us to finally have a decision, and we’re feeling very good right now about where things are.