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.

The Million Dollar Question

At every stop since we began traveling we have been asked: Where are you going to settle when you finish? The answer is always the same: We still don’t know.

I almost can’t believe we haven’t decided where we want to end up when the Big Adventure is over. I made a list this past fall of possible locations and ideas, but after some more travel we’ve decided against some of those. We had thought Seattle might be a great place to land, but after a month in Portland in December we were reminded of why we left the Pacific Northwest, so that idea fell off the list. After just a 10-day road trip around New Zealand, and never being able to unpack our suitcases, our idea of a long-term driving trip around the U.S. felt a whole lot less interesting as well. We thought for a while that Tucson, Arizona might be a great place to end up – it ticked off a lot of boxes, and we could afford a house with a pool there! – but then we stepped off the train in the middle of the Australian desert and realized we did not want to deal with the climate, pool or no pool. Just as we would be stuck indoors during the winters in Seattle, we would be stuck inside during the summer, or trying to escape.

So, since time is becoming more and more of the essence, we’re still talking about what is important to us, and getting those things on a list. In no particular order, they are:

  • We are happiest when we’re near the water, especially the ocean, but lake or rivers make us happy as well.
  • Abundant sunshine is a must, although we don’t like dealing with extreme temperatures or humidity. We don’t mind cold weather, or snow once in a while.
  • We enjoy city life, but don’t miss it or need it as much as we once thought we did, especially big cities. We’re OK living near a city, but not necessarily in one.
  • We would prefer not to own a car, but can see now that we will probably need to have one no matter where we live, with a couple of exceptions. This will be specially true if we don’t live in a city.
  • We like locations where we can walk, even if we own a car and it’s just for walking’s sake.
  • We need to live where it’s easy and somewhat affordable for our children and their (eventual for some) families to come visit, or for us to visit them. This is the primary reason we decided not to return to Kaua’i, as much as we miss it and would love to go back.

There’s a few more things, but we are clearer now about what we’re looking for in a location, and have narrowed it down to three options. We are still doing our due diligence on #3, so I’ve left off the name of the place for now:

  • Strasbourg, France. We’re still in love with this city and it still has a lot going for it. Pros: The size is manageable and there’s lots to see and do; there is great public transportation (no car necessary); it’s flat and very walkable and also a great place for bike riding; it’s quite affordable; the food is wonderful; it’s in a great location for travel to other places we want to see; and, as for water a river runs through the middle of town. Also, our family have all said they would come visit us there as we’d only be 1.5 hours from Paris. Cons: The visa process (mostly time consuming), and the big one: we don’t speak French! We would have to spend a lot of time and money on French lessons before we go and after we arrived.
  • San Clemente, California. This charming beach town was my home away from home growing up, and is located about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego in Orange County. Even though I know it’s not the same now, it still holds a special place in my heart (along with Laguna Beach and Dana Point). Pros: The weather and the beach are the primary ones, and it’s a walkable town if you’re located on the west side of US 101 (El Camino Real). We also know people who live in the area, a big plus for us. Cons: Housing costs are very high (think Hawaii high), and there is not a lot available in our price range. We would have to have a car again, and Southern California traffic can be hellish at times. Also, California is not a great place for retirees when it comes to taxes, although we’ve crunched the numbers and our tax burden wouldn’t be much. Living in San Clemente would be all about location, location, location, and because we no longer have children living at home it’s something we can afford to do. It also costs a LOT less to get to and from here than it does from Kaua’i.
  • Mystery Location, USA: We’re still doing research, but this small town is fairly near a couple of bigger cities with a university and medical facilities but without being too close (i.e. not a suburb). We’d have to drive to those cities though for many things though, including some of our groceries and such, so we’d definitely need to own a car if we settle here. The area gets plenty of sunshine overall but without high temperatures in the summer, and humidity is low year-round (it does get some snow in the winter though). The area is affordable, and it’s an OK location tax-wise for retirees, and is located near some beautiful natural areas that we love to visit, so some more positives. There are a few small lakes in the area, but not really a lot of water around which is a bit of a negative for us.

We have no need to buy a home, at least not initially. We enjoyed not owning a home when we lived in Hawaii (in spite of our awful landlord), and we’ve gone over the numbers and with new tax laws in place having a mortgage no longer makes much sense for us other than we wouldn’t have to worry about rent increases. We recognize that we are still “restless people” at heart and would prefer not to be tied down with all the many things that home ownership entails.

We’ve committed ourselves to a firm decision by the time we leave Japan in mid May so that we can start working toward that move. In the meantime we will continue to research our options, consult with our son (who is no longer quite so opposed to us living in France), and think about what will be best for us and our family in the long term.

Our Airbnb Homes: Part 1

Our first Airbnb was this sweet cottage in Portland. It was very hot in August, but this home was air-conditioned. It’s also in a great eastside Portland location.

Brett and I have enjoyed looking back at all the Airbnb homes we stayed in on the first part of the Big Adventure, and I thought I’d share the actual listings.

I was put in charge of choosing the rentals for each of our destinations before we set off on our adventure. I weighed price, amenities, location and read review after review to get a feel for different rentals and which would be a good fit for us. Some of the places we rented we liked more than others, but all were clean, had a comfortable bed, plenty of hot water and everything we needed to fix our own meals. Every single one of our hosts had at least bottled water stocked in the refrigerator when we arrived, but many had wine and snacks waiting for us, always appreciated after a long travel day.

This studio in the Recoleta neighborhood was our home for ten days in Buenos Aires. There was a jetted tub in the bathroom, wonderful for a relaxing soak after long days of walking. This apartment made our top three (#3).
The living room of our apartment in Montevideo. The apartment was very cute and clean, and in a great location to visit the old city and get down to La Rambla, but we were warned against going out at night in the neighborhood.

I tried to keep our lodging costs under $70 per night. Some places we ended up reserving were over that, but others were (way) under, and it all balanced out. I knew that some places (like Paris or Florence, for example) were going cost more than others, so we saved in other locations in order to balance out those higher costs. However, although the cost per night posted for some listings is much higher than our budget limit, we generally paid less, and we were able to stay within our budget or close to it because staying a week or longer prompted a generous discount. All of our Airbnb rentals were paid for ahead of time from our travel savings.

The kitchen of our apartment in Montmartre, Paris, was small, but the best equipped of any place we stayed. Plus, there was a wonderful view from the kitchen window. The location of this apartment was superb – right in the heart of Montmartre, and at an affordable price.
Our apartment in Balleroy, Normandy was very cozy, and in a great location for driving around the area to visit the Normandy beaches and other sites. The hosts had a bottle of their homemade cider waiting for us in the fridge along with juice and water.

As far as amenities, WiFi, a fully-equipped kitchen, private bath with a shower, and a washing machine were necessities. We also wanted a sofa so we had a place to relax at the end of the day. Many of the places we rented came with a dishwasher, which was nice but not a deal killer. Also, some buildings had elevators, but in several places we had to climb several flights of stairs – it was good exercise! The one place we worried about more than any of the others before arriving was the apartment in Strasbourg. I have no idea why I chose it other than the location in town was great, but it was tiny, had a sofa bed and didn’t have a washing machine  . . . and we were booked for three weeks! It turned out to be one of our favorite places with one of the most comfortable beds of all. We adjusted easily to the small space, and a laundromat was just a couple of blocks away, so taking care of our laundry was never a problem. Best of all, we had a wonderful host and had the great privilege of dining with her family toward the end of our stay.

Our studio in Strasbourg was less than 300 square feet, but was still very comfortable and in a great location for exploring the city. This place also made our top three (#2).
Our bed & breakfast stay in this nearly 300-year old Swiss farmhouse in Sempach Station, outside of Lucerne, was our favorite Airbnb experience. The hosts’ hospitality was warm and generous, and we loved spending time with their family and in the area.

Our favorite stay though was not in our own apartment, but as guests in a Swiss farmhouse B&B outside of Lucerne. Our room was big and clean and we had a large, private bathroom, but it was the family that made our stay so memorable. They spoiled us rotten, taking us and picking us up each day at the train station, showing us around the area, and included us one evening in their family dinner, serving a traditional Swiss raclette. Our farm breakfasts each morning were nothing short of magnificent. The entire three-night stay in the farmhouse from start to finish was remarkable.

This large apartment in Bordeaux featured open beams and stone walls, and included a special refrigerator for wine! After our small apartment in Strasbourg we felt like we were swimming in space, but it was a great place to come home to at the end of the day.

I’ve written that our least favorite stays were in Montevideo and Rome. With Montevideo it was the location – during the day it was fine, but we were warned about going out at night so were always stuck in the apartment. In Rome, the apartment turned out to be much larger than we imagined, and while all the marble looked pretty in the pictures, it actually felt cold and unwelcoming, to us anyway.

Our Florence apartment, located in the Oltrarno neighborhood was our favorite apartment. It had been remodeled to show off many of the original architectural features of the space, and had every convenience along with a drop-dead view from the kitchen window.

All the places we stayed received a five-star review and rating from us. The check-in and check-out at every place was easy, all the hosts were very helpful, and the locations were great for getting out to see the area. There was also always a grocery store nearby, important for us since we cooked most of our meals “at home.”

Our apartment in Rome was very large, and the amount of marble left us cold (the actual living room is also a bit more cluttered than it appears in this photo). Still, the apartment’s location and conveniences made it a good choice overall.

We won’t be staying in an Airbnb again until we arrive in Perth, Western Australia, toward the end of January – we’ll be using hotels in both India and Hong Kong. After our train journey across Australia we’ll stay in another Airbnb rental in Sydney. Both the Perth and Sydney rentals are private residences, but when we move on to New Zealand we’re booked into five different private rooms because our stays are so short in each town. Some will include breakfast, some won’t. In Japan we will be renting an apartment directly from the owner, and then will be back in an Airbnb rental for our summer stay in Portland, this time on the west side of town, a new experience for us as we always lived and stayed on the east side of the city. In the fall of next year we’ll do our last Airbnb rental of the Big Adventure during our three-month stay in the Cotswolds District in England.

Our apartment in Lisbon was small but had every convenience. It was quiet, in a great location, and was very, very comfortable – we wished we could have stayed longer.

If you have ever thought about using Airbnb but haven’t, I highly recommend giving it a try. We have had nothing but great experiences. We learned a lot about how to go about having the best experience possible from the Senior Nomads’ wonderful book, Your Keys, Our Home, starting with how to go about selecting an Airbnb rental that will be the perfect fit for you and your budget. It’s full of good information about how to make the most of any Airbnb stay from start to finish.

Our current home in Portland has two bedrooms and enough beds and space for us and our girls to enjoy a comfortable stay. The kitchen is big, and the location has been great for all we’ve been up to since we arrived..

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!

Wanna See the Sights?

This is just a jumble of images from our life on Kauai, a glimpse or two of random beauty.

Waterfalls are among our favorite sites to see, and this little gem meets the sea just north of Donkey Beach at ’Āhihi Point. It’s only an intermittent trickle (tickle in Newfoundland), which sometimes runs dry in summer, but the sight and sound is especially soothing on warmer days.

Waterfall, Kauai
Little waterfall

Looking west across Kuhio Highway (56) from the top of the tree-tunnel pathway down to Donkey Beach provides a spectacular view of Kauai’s major water supply: cloud-capped mountains. Wai’ale’ale Ridge, in the background, features the two tallest peaks on Kauai: Kawaikini at 5,243 feet (1,598m); Wai’ale’ale at 5,148 feet (1,569m). Makaleha Ridge, in the foreground, is surrounded by peaks  averaging half that elevation and the highest point visible in this photo is Pōhaku Pili at only 2,477 feet (755m).

Kawaikini, Wai’ale’ale, Makaleha
Cloud-capped mountains

Closer to home, the skies offer spectacular shows like banshees, and dragons, and zephyrs, oh my! Some of the most unbelievable sights really can be found right in your backyard.

Returning to earth we find various expressions of what we are made of—calciferous rock, sand & ash, and Kauai’s infamous red dirt. (See also, Arizona to Georgia)

Striated Cut Bank
Eastside geology

Driftwood abounds at inlets, sometimes appearing as fanciful creatures, at other times simply a cache of “drift kindling.”

After living here for nearly four years, I finally pulled off Kuamo‘o Road to visit the Royal Birthstone, Pōhaku Ho‘ohanau, where all of Kauai’s Ali‘i (Chiefs) were once born. Then again, I had always wondered where those stairs at the back went, and presumed that they led to a viewing platform.

But oh no, they lead to a Japanese cemetery, which is visited often by descendants and loved ones. That is, there were fresh flower arrangements, toys, and food for hungry ghosts throughout.

On Monday, during my morning hike, I took a picture of a treacherous point along the old right-of-way that may be added to the Eastside Trail for completion to Anahola. Suffice it to say “road narrows”, and it’s been doing so quickly the past couple of years. A stream passes through a narrow culvert under what’s left of the fill and empties into Kuna Bay.

Speaking of the Eastside Trail, Ke Ala Hele Makalae (The Path that Goes by the Coast), future development to the south may transit this 165-foot (50m) bridge of the former Ahukini Terminal & Railway Company along the way to Ninini Point and Nawiliwili Bay.

Viaduct Spanning Hanamaulu Steam
Viaduct spanning Hanamā‘ulu Stream

Naturally, the coast speaks up in winter by way of weather advisories and warnings. It’s violence is fascinating when viewed from shore; not so much viewed from a small boat.

Stormy Surf
Storm surge

Thus ends another week in paradise.

A Fall Morning At Casa Aloha

The autumn view from our bedroom window

We’ve been enjoying some wonderful fall weather here at Casa Aloha lately, much appreciated after our hot, humid Kaua’i summer. We’ve had a few good soaking rains in the past few weeks which have washed the dust away, and our yard is thriving again. Rather than changing color to red or orange or yellow, the leaves on the plants have been changing back to their normal deeper shades of green, and the grass is thickening up. There are still a few bits of fall color to be found though . . . if you look for them.

The lanai is cool and inviting, the perfect place for a morning cup of coffee.

After a hot, dry summer the asparagus fern hanging on the lanai has perked up again, and is sporting a few (somewhat hidden) red berries for fall.

The side yard and hillside are cool and shady in the morning, and filled with lots of green. We thought we were going to lose the wedelia on the hillside from heat and thirst this past summer, but after the rains it’s come back richer and greener than ever, and it’s blooming like crazy.

The aloe vera that Brett planted right after we moved in was a washed-out yellowish-green for most of the summer but are now sporting their true green color again. One plant has even produced a lovely fall-colored blossom, which has been attracting little birds (Japanese White Eye) from time to time.

No changing leaves here, but the avocado and guava trees on the back hillside are completely leafed out, and have grown quite a bit. We did get to harvest some lemons from our tree.

This little fellow, looking ready for fall with his orange feet and tail, was waiting for us by the front door.The ti plants across from the lanai seemed listless by the end of the summer, like they’d had enough of the heat and humidity as well, but these days they’re standing tall again.

The change of seasons is hardly noticeable here in Hawai’i; they all seem about the same and one segues right into the next. But, after three years here now we can notice and sense the subtle changes when they arrive, and appreciate more what each season has to offer.

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Three Years: The Bad, The Good & The Sublime

It doesn’t get any better than palm trees and rainbows.

This month marks the beginning of our fourth year on Kaua’i. It’s almost a cliché to say it, but it both seems like it was only yesterday that we were scrambling back in Portland to sell our house and make our move, while at the same time feeling like we’ve been here for far longer than three years.

Has it been perfect? No, because nothing ever is. Still the good and the sublime far outweigh the bad we’ve experienced since our move.

Beautiful but annoying

Here’s how things look after three years on Kauai:

The Bad:

  • Humidity: As I wrote just a short time ago, I’m not sure I will ever adjust. When it’s bad, I’m miserable.
  • Bugs: Hawai’i is Bug Central. We do pretty well inside our house keeping the critters out, but they are still always with us: mosquitos, centipedes, giant cockroaches, ants, spiders and other small flying things.
  • Dust: Keeping up with the dust here is a daily struggle.
  • Chickens/roosters: They’ve grown on me in some ways (some of the roosters are positively gorgeous) and they eat lots of bugs, but they have torn up everything we’ve planted in the yard, and can be incredibly loud and annoying at times. I guess I just wish there were fewer of them.
  • Frogs: There are poisonous toads (bufo) here and they give me the willies. Thankfully they only come out at night when I’m safely inside, and they too eat bugs. Still, they’re a giant ick factor for me.
  • It’s expensive: We prepared ourselves for the higher cost of living here, and are managing fine, but food, housing, airline flights, etc. are still more here than elsewhere – prices can still be a shock at times.

    One of our favorite farmers at the Kapaa market – we stop by her stand every week

The Good:

  • Farmers’ markets: The abundance of fresh, locally grown, affordable produce has meant we are eating more fruits and vegetables than in the past, and paying less for them.
  • Hawaiian-style: We absolutely love the Hawaiian spin on things, especially the way food is prepared using or substituting local ingredients.
  • It’s casual: Every day is casual Friday here. Really, no one cares what you wear, or what your nails look like, or what kind of purse you’re carrying. No one cares about your car either.
  • Our girls’ experiences: None of our girls wanted to move here, and although Meiling returned back to the mainland shortly after we arrived, WenYu now says moving here was the best thing to happen for her, and YaYu concurs. They have thrived here on the island. All three consider Kaua’i home now.
  • No snakes: It took me almost a year to accept that there are no snakes, poisonous or otherwise, on this tropical island; in the whole state actually. Yeah for no snakes!
  • The expense: While this is one of the not-so-good things about living here, it’s also helped us hone our frugal skills much more than we might have otherwise.
  • Manageability: Although there aren’t loads of stores or shopping opportunities like in other places, and we’ll never get a Trader Joe’s, we have everything we need here, and it’s easy to get to them. The island is just the right size (for us).

    My all-time favorite island view

The Sublime:

  • The slow pace: The slower way of life here suits us perfectly. Everything gets done, but there’s little to no sense of underlying urgency. Feeling stressed is a rare thing these days.
  • The green: There’s a reason Kaua’i is called ‘The Garden Island’ – it’s beautiful, lush and green all year round.
  • The weather: This was the main reason for our move here, and we have not been disappointed. Yes, it rains and can get very humid, but most of the time it is warm, sunny and the trade winds keep it comfortable.
  • The ocean: I love that I can see the ocean every day, and experience its wonders, from crashing waves to spectacular vistas with colors transitioning from clear turquoise to deep, dark blue. And, there are seals, dolphins, big turtles and leaping whales to observe. There is nothing more invigorating than an hour or so under the umbrella at the beach, even if I don’t make it into the water.
  • The moon and the stars: There aren’t words to describe how beautiful the night sky is here. Because there’s no ambient light to dull the view, stars literally blanket the sky. The full moon here shines like a spotlight.
  • Sunrise, sunset: One word: breathtaking. Almost every day.
  • Diversity: Hawai’i is well-known for its population diversity – it’s a daily fact of life here – but we also experience other types of diversity as well. Even a small island like Kaua’i has multiple micro-climates, so a trip to the north shore or the west side of the island means different foliage and temperatures than we have here on the east side. The local culture is also different depending on which part of the island you’re on.
  • The aloha spirit: There is a genuine friendliness here that I’ve never experienced elsewhere in the U.S. Aloha means sharing, living in the present, caring for others and the land, and enjoying life and feeling joy, and we experience these things every day in our interactions with others (even though most locals still think we’re tourists).

Here’s to three wonderful years – lucky we live Hawai’i!

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#Kauai – Things I See on My Walks

Daily walks are a fact of life following our recent trip to Japan—I never want to be so out  of shape in another country again. To keep it fairly mudless, I decided to walk sections of Ke Ala Hele Makalae (The Path that Goes by the Coast) from Kapa‘a to Kealia to Paliku Beach, also known as Donkeys Beach. The one-way distance from Kapa‘a Community Center to the north end of the path is about 3.4 miles, and Kealia Beach is a nice midway turnaround.

Sunrise, April 17, 2017, Kapaa
Sunrise at Kapa’a Community Center

So, over the past month I’ve walked at least one hour each day at 3–3.5 mph (5–5.5 kmh) while observing tide changes as well as familiar and unfamiliar scenery along the way. When conditions are just perfect following a good rain one can see Wai‘ale‘ale and Makaleha Falls from the north end of town; on days like this, you just know that they’re out there.

Manicured Hedge & Makaleha Mountains
Manicured hedge & Makaleha mountains from Kapa’a

Just over that hedge is the north end of the Kauai Products Fair, a kitschy little tourist trap. The path overlays the roadbed of the former Ahukini Terminal & Railway company right of way, and thus features many of the elements one might expect to see on a train ride. Below is a shot taken within the cut at the summit between Kapa’a town and Kealia. I took this shot not only to reveal the striations in the soil but the various wildflowers growing along the top and left face of the cut. The fence in the foreground is to catch falling rocks—a recurrent hazard along the path.

Creeping Vegetation and Slide Fence
Creeping Vegetation and Slide Fence

Just beyond the crest, the landscape and flora change rapidly. Here, overlooking the mouth of Kapa‘a Stream are plants that look like they were plucked from the Sonoran Desert. They are growing out of inhospitable rocks, but as the soil improves downslope, they give way to the usual and customary specimens.

South Kealia Beach
Looking down to Kealia Beach from the Little Cut

One morning I was fortunate enough to glimpse Makaleha Falls, looking west at the intersection of Mailihuna Rd and Kuhio Highway (56) near the mouth of Kapa‘a Stream. That photo bomber at left center was a Nene, the indigenous goose, I believe.

Makaleha from Kealia
Makaleha Falls from Kealia

Typically, at low tide the scene from the north end of the bridge, looking south, resembles the one at left. For the first time since we moved here I caught the windless shot at right. The old railroad cut is evident in the background and clearly illustrates the effect of the prevailing wind on plants along the coast.

I often park at Kealia Beach because it expands my options for going north or south, or a little of both if it suits me, and that variety helps keep the walks interesting. Other days, I walk up from the house, and down Mailihuna Rd and cross Kuhio Highway at the north end of Kealia Beach, then head back to town, and home via Kawaihau Rd. Below, the Kealia Lifeguard Station, as seen through the windshield from the parking lot.

Lifeguard Station
Lifeguard station at Kealia Beach

Proceeding north out of Kealia, both wind and ocean, deafening at times, are constant companions.This shot was taken about halfway between Kealia and the Pineapple Dump.

Pathway north of Kealia Beach
Beyond the 2.0 mile mark, north of Kealia Beach

Next stop: the Pineapple Dump. Once upon a time, the sugar trains were idled only on Sundays, and an engine and side dump cars were made available to the cannery at Kapa‘a. Pineapple tops were hauled out onto the little pier, tipped and emptied into the ocean to be carried far away. Sometimes the tides and wind were not so favorable and the tailings were slammed back into town along the beach, and the smell was… awful, so I’m told.

Pineapple Dump at the Horizon
Pineapple Dump at the horizon

Looking back on the Pineapple Dump, and on the way to Donkeys Beach. Again, the direction of the prevailing winds is easily distinguished by the habit of the trees and shrubs hugging the coast.

Pineapple Dump from the North
Farewell to the Pineapple Dump: going north

Stopping to study another planet, or so it seems from the random distribution of stones on all but lifeless red dirt.

Red Scabland - Like Craters of Mars
Red scabland – like craters on Mars

Further along, I encountered what looks like a nursery for table rocks. Yes, if you have a state or national park and are seeking table rocks for your collection, this may be where they’re born and raised.

Tropic Table Rocks
Tropic table rocks

“Reindeer Slug,” the first thing that came to mind when I looked up and saw this old snag lying on the ground. We do have some pretty big slugs and snails here.

Whitenend Fallen Tree by the sea
Reindeer Slug

Even weeds are special here. I cannot identify them all, but enjoy them nonetheless. Three or four varieties of morning glories thrive on and off the path, some low ground cover that looks rather more glacial than tropical, and here and there so hardy bright yellow flowers.

There you have it then, 3.4 miles in what, 20 minutes? You’re fast! There are many more plants, people, and other animals to see along the path, but my objective was to cover a considerable distance as quickly as possible, exercise that is, so whether you live here, or you’re just visiting, take a hike; have a look.

Happy To Be Home Again

The sunset out over Hawai'i from the plane window
Heading to the  sunset out over Hawai’i. The clouds in the distance are from two hurricanes approaching the islands.

I arrived home after a very, very long and tiring travel day yesterday and am so happy to be back. My suitcase has been unpacked, the washing machine is doing its thing, and Brett and I will be heading off to the farmer’s market in a short while (we’ll do our big Costco shop tomorrow). It’s hot and humid here, but after all the dry air I encountered while I was gone, it feels wonderful.

The entire trip was a total success, but it was totally exhausting as well. I suffered from jet lag the entire time I was gone – I could never quiet adjust to where I was. Four of the eight days of the trip were spent flying to one destination or another or waiting in airports. The shortest flight of the trip was the two and a half hours spent flying from Denver to Seattle. One flight was over four hours (Boston to Denver), and the rest were all over five hours long.

I woke up at 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday back in Colorado (2:30 a.m. HST) prepared for a slow drive down to the Denver airport because of traffic, and also to give myself time to gas up the rental car, get some coffee, and turn in the car at the rental agency before heading to the airport. Although I had been warned about the possibility of heavy traffic heading down to Denver, there wasn’t any to speak of that morning and I flew down the highway at 80 mph, with other cars passing me the whole way! None of the tasks took any time at all, and I was pre-checked through TSA so I ended up at my gate at 7:30 (If I had had to go through the regular screening it would have taken a very long time because the lines were so long). My flight didn’t leave until 10:30, so I spent my time walking through the airport and reading.

Fish & chips, and clam chowder, from Anthony's Fish Bar in Sea-Tac airport
Fish & chips, and clam chowder, from Anthony’s Fish Bar in SeaTac airport

Our plane arrived in Seattle on time, which meant I had an exhausting five-hour wait until my flight to Kaua’i. The first thing I did was to head to Anthony’s Fish Bar for some fish & chips and clam chowder, which had been recommended. That was a good move – I was very hungry, and the food was reasonably priced, hot and delicious. After I finished I again walked through the airport a few times and did some more reading, and then finally boarded on time for the 5+ hour trip home.

First Class dinner menu - it was very, very good (I had the pork but only ate the potatoes and bok choy).
First Class dinner menu – it was very, very good (I had the pork but only ate the potatoes and bok choy).

One of the smartest things I did though was treat myself to an upgrade to First Class for the last leg of my trip. For $150 I had a big, comfortable seat for my weary body, free entertainment, and good food and other treats to enjoy on the way home. The upgrade cost less than half of the extra I would have paid for First Class if I had booked the ticket upfront. I’ve already informed Brett that from now on we are including enough in our travel budget to allow for last-minute upgrades if possible on the way home.

A selfie with Mom. She was fascinated by it, and also by my Kindle.
Two old ladies: A selfie I took with Mom. She was fascinated by the selfie process. She also was fascinated with my Kindle, and wanted to know how the whole thing worked.

I had a very good visit with my Mom in Colorado. She knew who I was the minute she saw me, but I doubt today she remembers I was there – her short-term memory is very weak. We spent our time sharing memories from the past, and photos on my computer of Brett, the girls and Hawai’i (she knows that’s where I live). On the second day there she asked to go to Trader Joe’s with me, and she enjoyed walking through the store with me and looking at everything while I bought some things to bring home. I got her some figs, peaches and avocados, because she had said she missed them. All things considered, her condition was better than I imagined, and it appears her cancer is progressing slowly, at least for now. It was sad for both of us to say good-bye to each other though.

The house seems empty without WenYu, but the room she shared with YaYu is now clean and organized, so I guess that’s a plus. I know it will take some time to adjust to her being gone when evenings arrive, but she is doing well back at Wellesley and settling in. I caught a glimpse of her in a photo taken at the annual convocation held today, which did my heart some good.

We won’t be doing any more traveling again until next March, when we are scheduled to go to Japan. In the meantime we’ll be beefing up our savings, and enjoying our retirement and more time with YaYu.

It’s good to be home!

Finding Our Place In the Sun

FullSizeRenderWay back in 2011, Brett and I both independently came to a realization that we didn’t want to stay in Portland after he retired. We had lived in Portland for nearly 20 years at that point, and while we had put down deep roots and there was much we loved about the city and the Pacific Northwest, he and I had both grown very tired of the dreary winters and wanted to live someplace where we could enjoy the sun a bit more consistently. While we loved all the green that came with Portland, we were both weary of hibernating all winter, of having to go to work and school in the rain, and of everything else that came along with all the cold and damp.

So, we decided to create a list of priorities to help us choose where we might relocate, and came up with the following:

  • Weather (lots of sunshine)
  • Cost of living
  • Schools (because two out of three girls would still be in high school)
  • Ocean nearby
  • Mountains close by (less than a day’s drive)
  • Western U.S. (proximity to Japan)
  • Sizable Asian population (our girls are ethnically Chinese)
  • Military facilities nearby

We initially didn’t weight any of these as more important than the others, except for the weather, and other than the weather we didn’t consider any one item to be a deal killer on its own.  I’m an ocean person but Brett loves the mountains and wanted opportunities for hiking. Although we really hadn’t had anything to do with the military since Brett’s retirement from the navy in 1992 other than renewing our ID cards, receiving retirement pay, and using the health insurance, we figured having military facilities nearby was something we might need or want to use as we grew older. Good schools and a sizable Asian population were important for the girls.

After that we came up with a list of sunny places that we would consider:

  • Several cities in Southern California
  • The Southwestern United States (Arizona & New Mexico)
  • Florida
  • Hawai’i

Hawai’i was on the list as a joke, because we knew there was NO WAY we could afford to move there. We also considered a couple of overseas locations, but the language and/or visa requirements were more than we wanted to take on. Texas, the Gulf Coast, and the South did not make the list. Finally, we created a spreadsheet to match the different places we had chosen with our “want list.”

Florida was the first to be removed from our list. We had lived in Florida while Brett was in the navy (Key West), and although it’s plenty sunny we had absolutely no desire to ever spend another summer there. Alligators and snakes were also a black mark. While there are some good schools in Florida, they are mainly in expensive neighborhoods that were out of our price range. Florida’s Asian population is negligible (1.7% of the entire state), and there were other things about Florida we just didn’t care for. Plus, it was a l-o-n-g way away from Japan.

The Southwest was eliminated next. It had many things going for it, except for the ocean thing, and the Asian thing again (3.4% of the population in AZ, 1.7% in NM). Plus, it’s very dry there, too dry for me actually, and it’s HOT. The Southwest wasn’t as far from Japan as Florida, but still not very close.

So that left southern California and Hawai’i on our list.

Can you tell what very important item was left off of that list of priorities? If you guessed taxes, you’ve guessed right! I grew up in southern California and there are many places there I could have happily retired to except . . . our retired income would have been eaten alive by state taxes. California already had a high cost of living strike against it, but the taxes, both income and sales, made it unaffordable.

And that left Hawai’i, our “joke” location.

But guess what? Hawai’i had beautiful weather, an ocean view every day and loads of beaches, mountains for hiking, easy access to Japan, a large Asian population, and close proximity to military facilities. It was also very tax friendly for retirees, especially those receiving government, state or non-contributory pensions (which would be us). Seven out of nine items on our list of priorities gave it a very high score. Hawai’i! Who could have guessed?

Cost of living and schools remained BIG issues though, as did the state’s isolated location, but we figured if Hawai’i had everything else we wanted, then we could figure out how to work around those issues. We began researching the state, decided which island we wanted to live on, and eventually which school we wanted our daughters to attend (we actually wanted them to attend a private school, but after a tour they nixed that in favor of the public school, which turned out to be the right decision). We asked lots of questions, read forums, and tried to learn as much as we could from long-time residents and successful transplants about dealing with cost-of-living and other issues unique to living in Hawai’i, and made sure to add travel expenses as part of our budget.

After a nearly three-week vacation/research trip in 2012, Hawai’i was no longer a joke. We committed ourselves, and less than two years later, after much downsizing and planning, we made our move. We came to Kaua’i with no expectations other than we’d enjoy beautiful weather and see the ocean every day. Everything else we decided to let unfold in its own time to let us know if we’d made the right decision (or not) for our family.

Did we? I’d say yes, over and over and over. Kaua’i has provided everything we hoped it would, and more. Our oldest daughter returned to Oregon after six months on Kaua’i, and that has been the right move for her – she manages living on her own and going to school very well. But, WenYu and YaYu have thrived here, and are now very happy we came; they love our little island and the friends they’ve made here. We’ve pretty much figured out the whole cost-of-living thing, and our simple life these days actually lets us live on much less than we did back in Portland. Kaua’i is very lush and green, with flowers blooming and farmers’ markets open year round which make me very, very happy. I’ve been to Japan twice since we’ve been here, we’re going again next year, and our son and family have come to visit us here. We’ve all made trips back to the mainland, but discovered that there’s nothing as wonderful as coming home to Kaua’i.