I am not going to waste a lot of words on all that went wrong in this seemingly never-ending year we’re about to step out of. Our family has been fortunate, more fortunate than many if not most, but it was still a year full of surprises, disappointments, and things happening we didn’t expect. It was an expensive year for us as well – our move back to Kaua’i was not cheap, and we decimated one of our savings accounts to set up housekeeping again. We’re grateful we had the funds, but it was still a blow we were not mentally ready for.
However, in many ways it was a good year as well, and I feel it’s far more productive and satisfying to reflect on all the good things that happened this past year as well as the things that went right for us:
Our family has stayed healthy. I consider this our biggest accomplishment, not just for Brett and I, but for our entire family as well. Meiling has stayed isolated and worked from her apartment in NYC since March, and WenYu and YaYu have stayed safe in Massachusetts and in Pennsylvania. Our son and daughter-in-law worked at home for most of the year in Japan, and the grandkids survived months of remote learning. Brett and I have stayed in our apartment most of the time this year other than weekly trips to Costco or Walmart for food, up to Kukuiolono Park to walk, or over to the nearly always deserted beach at Barking Sands, but with vaccines becoming available this year we’re all hoping we will be able to gather here for a big reunion next year.
Here are the other good things that happened for us this past year:
We ended up back on Kaua’i. We were frankly surprised last Christmas when our girls sat us down and said they hoped we would return to Kaua’i whenever we finished traveling. That got us to look at Kaua’i with fresh eyes when we visited last January, and when it was time to return to the U.S. because of the spreading pandemic, we knew just where to come. We couldn’t be happier and we know now for sure that Kaua’i/Hawaii is our permanent home.
We found a great place to live this time. After living in an attractive but uncomfortable house and dealing with the Landlord from Hell for nearly three years during our previous time on the island, this time we lucked out and and found a great location and space to live in on the south side with great neighbors as well and a terrific landlord, and all for hundreds of dollars less than we were paying when we lived here before. The microclimate here is nicer as well, and we have everything we need just a short drive away, including great beaches and a wonderful weekly farmers’ market. We started from scratch getting ourself settled, but generous merchants on the island opened their stores for us so we could buy basic furniture, and we were able to get the rest of what we needed from Costco, Walmart, and Amazon over the next few months. The arrival of our storage shipment topped things off and our little apartment is now a comfortable and relaxing home.
We saved more than expected in 2020 for future travels. When I set up a new travel savings account I thought we’d be lucky to put $1000 away this year for future travel, but we instead saved nearly $2000 ($1984.19), which includes a $500 Delta Airlines gift card I earned through doing Swagbucks. We put away everything “extra” that came our way all year (change, $1 bills, refunds, rewards, rebates, etc.), and it really added up. We’ve given ourselves a goal of saving $8000 this year – it will be a challenge, but we think we can pull it off.
Both Brett and I have lost weight and are in better shape than ever. We completely changed how and what we eat, and I have lost 28 pounds since last June and Brett has lost 10. We both want to lose another 10 pounds this coming year and will be working toward that end. When we started walking up at Kukuiolono Park last May (a venue that has yet to lose our interest), we could barely manage two laps around the Pavilion (slightly over a mile). These days we’re walking nearly an hour each day and putting in almost five miles, and have a goal of doubling that by the end of 2021. We both honestly feel healthier than we have in ages, and we’re both sleeping better as well.
We’re living better than ever with less. We downsized a lot before we left Kaua’i in 2018, and having to start from from scratch again means we began here this time with a greatly reduced amount of stuff. We bought just 12 pieces of furniture and one rug, a few kitchen items (including an InstantPot), and a reduced number of linens and it’s all more than enough. We’re very much enjoying having less to keep track of and clean, and if and when we ever move in the future that will be a whole lot easier as well.
Another child graduated from college. Although we missed her celebration, and she missed all the hoopla (literally) and traditions, another highlight of this past year was WenYu’s graduation from Wellesley College, with a degree in Computer Arts & Science. She has been able to earn money from her art since graduation, and has been hired as a graphic design instructor at an area tech school and will begin teaching after the first of the year. YaYu is now our only remaining student, with another year and a half to go, but this past fall we filled out a FAFSA for the last time! Yeah!
Good or bad, I’ll be happy to see 2020 go this week, and although life is most likely going to stay as it is now for the new few months, I’m looking forward to better and brighter things overall in 2021. I’m feeling hopeful that better days are coming – here’s to a wonderful new year!
Just in time for the holidays – a little surprise!
Kaua’i produces some fantastic locally-produced products, from jams and sauces to coffee and baked goods among others. I’ve been wanting to do a holiday giveaway, and when Brett and I stopped by the Kauai Coffee store this past week for a tasting, I thought a sample of some of their coffee along with some locally produced cookies would be just the ticket!
Located on the south shore of Kaua’i, the 3,100-acre Kauai Coffee estate is not only the largest coffee producer in Hawaii, but in the United States. Taking advantage of the rich volcanic soil, the cooling tradewinds, and Kauai’s abundant mountain water, the Kauai Coffee Company uses sustainable, environmentally-sound practices to not only grow five different varieties of coffee beans, but to roast and package it as well. They offer over 20 coffee types and blends, including flavored coffees and special holiday blends.
Kauai Kookies have been produced on the island since 1965. Although their classic cookies are their most well-known product they also produce other cookie varieties as well as sauces and dressings using local ingredients.
This giveaway includes one Kauai Coffee Estate Reserve coffee sampler and two boxes of Kauai Kookies. To enter, please comment on this post only, with one entry per day per person allowed. Leave at least one comment telling me about your favorite local food find (can be from anywhere). Another one-time extra entry can be earned if you’re already a follower of The Occasional Nomads, or if you become a follower of the blog – leave a comment and let me know. One more one-time entry can be earned if you mention the giveaway in your own blog; again, let me know in a comment.
The giveaway will be open through midnight HST Friday, December 18, with the winner chosen by a random name selector and announced on Sunday, December 20. I will contact the winner to get your address and mail your package out a couple of days later – you should get it in time for Christmas. I can only accept entries from the U.S. as postage from here is prohibitive!
It’s truly been a life-long journey, but when it comes to money, frugality, simple living, and self image here are a few of the things I’ve discovered about myself over the years:
I like saving money more than spending money. I had a reputation in my family of being something of a shopaholic, but I’ve actually always been a person who shops with a purpose. However, I’ve found that I enjoy saving money more. I like setting goals, and setting aside money for emergencies, for future needs and for travel. I’ve discovered I pretty much don’t care much for shopping these days other than for groceries and something that’s necessary. These days I don’t “go shopping,” and I don’t buy anything without knowing the price I am willing to pay.
I don’t need to know where every cent of our money is going or has gone. Yes, we keep track of our money, keep our checking account balanced, keep up with our savings, but I just cannot get too into the detail of it all because it will drive me crazy. All those tasks are Brett’s now and he enjoys doing it because he has the time for it now. I generally keep track of what money is where, what is owed, and so forth and am usually always within a few cents of how I think things are and I can live with that. I greatly admire people who are much more organized than I am when it comes to their finances, but I just can’t do it.
I have fun figuring out how to do more with what we have versus owning more. “Do we really need this?” is my background melody these days. Less really has become more for me.
I will always choose simple, and good quality. Simple doesn’t always mean cheap, but I know that in the long run good quality is usually the most frugal choice, even if it costs more upfront.
I am not a fan of personal finance, self-help, or simple or frugal living books. I’ve tried to read these kinds of books, but with a couple of exceptions they put me to sleep. I’m sure there’s lots of good advice in them, but they’re just not a good fit with my learning style. I learn better from reading about the everyday experiences of others on their blogs, by exercising common sense, and by taking the time to stop and reflect on what I want to accomplish and how I can get there.
I like modern things. Back when we got serious about paying off our debt and I started reading other frugal or simple living blogs, I felt like I had been doing things wrong because I just wasn’t into vintage and wasn’t and hadn’t been scoring all sorts of good deals at thrift stores and yard sales. But, with the exception of Japanese and Chinese antiques, I’m just not crazy about old stuff. What I love are modern houses and the look of clean, uncluttered modern rooms and furnishings even if I don’t quite achieve that in our small space. I have no problem with vintage items or antiques in other people’s houses and like the look of them there, but it just doesn’t work for me.
I am a forward looking person. I have had some great (and some not-so-great) experiences in my life, but there are no “good old days” for me. I don’t wish for things to be like they were in the past. I look forward to what’s to come, even though I know there could be sadness, struggle and hardship because every experience is a means of growing and learning.
Maintaining a healthy weight is always going to be an effort for me. I am always going to have to be aware of what and how much I eat. There is no autopilot switch on this for me. Thankfully I enjoy walking because it’s something I need to do every day for as long as I am able.
I like who I am and I love my life. This was a long time coming, but I have arrived and it’s every bit as wonderful as I imagined it would be.
Just a reminder that you can still enter the Afternoon Tea Giveaway! It will stay open until midnight PST on November 29. You can enter once a day to increase your chances of winning the Oxford heritage mug, handmade Scottish shortbread and PG Tips tea bags. I have been greatly enjoying all the travel tips I’ve received, but if you’ve already shared one you don’t have to leave another to enter again, just drop a comment and say hi.
Our stays back in the U.S. are always a chance for Brett and me to take care of business and reassess what we have and what we need going forward, and our coming six weeks’ stay in Portland will be no different.
The #1 item on our list this visit is to have a wonderful reunion and Christmas holiday with our daughters. They will begin arriving in Portland on the 18th of next month, and WenYu and YaYu will be staying with us until we depart in January. Meiling has to go back to work, so she will leave before the new year arrives. Her boyfriend, K, will also be spending a couple of days with us before they go back. The girls are already requesting food they want me to prepare while we’re together, but it’s going to be a bit of a challenge with one now a vegetarian and two lactose-intolerant. Meiling has set up our annual Christmas ‘Secret Santa’ exchange and everyone is getting their wishlists posted. However, my favorite thing already about this year was Meiling saying, “It’s not about the presents anymore, Mom, it’s just about us all being together again for a while.”
We’ll also be getting together with friends and are looking forward to that!
We’re currently caught up with all lodging reservations and flights, at least through our time at our mystery destination. We still have to find transportation from there back to the U.S. but there’s no hurry – it’s something that can be done next year when we’re in Japan. I’m also checking on flights from Boston to Tokyo in March – WenYu plans to come and stay with us for a week, and as we did with her sister we’ll be helping her out with the cost of her flight.
Other things to be taken care of when we’re in Portland are:
Medical and dental appointments. Brett’s doctor will be checking to see if the condition that was discovered this past summer has progressed or whether it’s holding steady. If things have changed Brett may have to have (outpatient) surgery while we’re there. His dental work is just to finish up work that was started last summer, but nothing major (or expensive, thank goodness). I don’t need any further dental work, but I am due a refund of a couple of hundred dollars!
Restocking our medications. Most of our prescription medication refills are automatic, and are mailed to Brett’s sister and will be forwarded, but we will also need to request an “emergency supply” for a couple of prescriptions, an extra 90 day supply to get us through the time we’re out of the U.S.
Getting our hair cut. Both Brett and I need hair cuts, and Brett needs a beard trim as well, although we have decided to purchase a beard trimmer for him going forward. My hair is a big curly mess these days and pain to fix, but it’s finally long enough that I feel safe getting it shaped up. I found a salon in Portland that has a curl specialist (she does nothing but cut curly hair) and will be making an appointment with her. It’s not going to be cheap but if she lives up to her reviews it will be worth it. I also plan to get a manicure and pedicure just before we get ready to leave for Hawaii.
Getting caught up with our mail. Brett’s sister will be sending us a big envelope with the mail she’s collected for the past three months. Going through it doesn’t take long as we don’t get much mail these days, but it’s still a chore and seems to always set up one or two other tasks that need to be taken care of. If we decide to continue traveling we are thinking of changing to a mail service, although that will depend on the cost.
Assessing and re-provisioning travel supplies as necessary. This isn’t going to be as big of a task as it was last year because when we leave Portland we will be first going to Kaua’i, and then on to Japan, where we can get U.S. products like cold medication, shampoo, lotion, etc. at stores there or the exchange and commissary in Japan. There are some things however we can’t get, like curl cream for my hair (it’s available on Kaua’i but costs more), and those things we’ll have to resupply in Portland as we won’t be back in the U.S. for nearly six months.
Reassessing our clothing. We always do this when we’re back in the U.S. although this task should be quite easy this year as both of us have been wearing and enjoying everything we’ve brought along this time, unlike our first year when lots of things went unworn or were found to be impractical. We also will be adding our warm weather clothing back into the mix (it’s currently in storage). Although I would like to get a winter hat, neither of us has any intention of buying anything new unless we get gift cards for Christmas.
Reestablishing good eating habits. I’m frankly a bit shocked that my clothes still fit. Between the hot chocolate with marshmallows, afternoon biscuits, toffee puddings, Cadbury chocolate, and all those tasty scones with clotted cream and jam I definitely haven’t been as careful about what I’ve been eating as I was last summer and I feel like I’ve grown larger once again. Brett’s also put on a bit of a belly. The only thing that’s saved us from blowing up like balloons is the amount of walking we’ve done here, but that’s been curtailed this past month by the weather. Anyway, it’s back to low carb/keto eating again when we get to Portland – we’re actually looking forward to it.
Setting up a budget for Japan. Because of the cost of our housing in Japan (which is still an amazing bargain for the space we’re getting and the location), our daily spending average, while we’re in Japan, is going to drop even more, and we need to assess before we go what we’ll have available each month to cover food, transportation, and other expenditures and then work out a budget and figure out when we’ll exchange dollars for yen and for how much. I’m grateful now that I picked up the book Secret Tokyo when we were in Bath with so many free things for us to check out and do when we’re there this time.
Buy Christmas gifts for the grandchildren. This is a big deal as it’s the only time we personally give them gifts (we usually send a check and our son or DIL purchase gifts for them there) and we want to make them memorable. We have a budget, and know what we want to get our grandson, but haven’t figured out something yet for our granddaughter. We plan to visit Finnegan’s toy store when we’re in Portland to get some ideas.
We’ve rented a car for our entire time in Portland so that we’re able to easily pick up the girls and return them to the airport along with ferrying them around while they’re with us. Having a car will also allow us to easily take care of errands, food shopping, etc. All of the above is going to keep us busy but not overwhelmed, and I sort of expect our time in Portland to fly by, especially the time we’re together with the girls.
This Afternoon Tea giveaway includes a lovely blue and white porcelain heritage mug from Oxford and some Scottish shortbread from Edinburgh as well as a box of PG Tips tea bags. The mug is decorated with images of some of the famous buildings at Oxford University and is rimmed with gold; the shortbread is handmade from a traditional melt-in-your-mouth butter recipe.
To enter, please comment on this post only, with one entry per day permitted. Leave at least one comment telling me about one of your favorite travel tips. Another one-time extra entry can be earned if you’re already a follower of The Occasional Nomads, or if you become a follower of the blog – leave a comment and let me know. One more one-time entry can be earned if you mention the giveaway in your own blog; again, let me know in a comment.
The giveaway will be open through midnight PST Friday, November 29 (the day after Thanksgiving), with the winner chosen by a random name selector and announced on Sunday, December 1. I will contact the winner to get your address and mail your package out a couple of days later. I can only accept entries from the U.S. and Canada as overseas postage is prohibitive.
When we went downtown last week we made an effort to stop by both the Ira Keller fountain and Mill End Park, the smallest park in the world (it’s in the record books). The Keller Fountain was one of my favorite Portland places to visit when I attended Lewis & Clark College in the early 70s, right after the fountain had opened. I appreciate it more now because it’s something that could never be built today (too many potential lawsuits), and the cost of operating a fountain of this type is prohibitive. The fountain was almost empty when we stopped by because the weather was cool, but on hot days it can be filled with people and kids. It was a short walk from there over to Mill End Park, which sits in the middle of the Naito Parkway next to the Tom McCall Waterfront Park which runs along the west side of the Willamette River. There used to be a little fir tree in Mill End Park, but currently there is some other sad-looking little plant.
Speaking of Waterfront Park, on Saturday the right-wing group Proud Boys are going to be holding a “demonstration” there to protest “domestic terrorism.” For some reason, Portland has become a magnet for this group and many are bused in from all over the northwest. And, when they show up so do members of Antifa and the public to counter demonstrate. Although the Proud Boys have a permit to gather, the city has made it known they are not welcome because when they show up things have a tendency to get violent. Initial calls from the group told members to bring weapons and get “ready to rumble,” but apparently they have toned down the rhetoric a bit depending on who you’re listening to. Residents have been warned to stay away from the area and downtown because of the violence that typically erupts when this group shows up and spreads up into the city. The owner of the shoe repair store we stopped at last week says he won’t even bother to open his store – he stays far away. Hopefully, things won’t get out of hand this time but I’m thankful Brett doesn’t have a calligraphy class this week and doesn’t have to go through downtown. Portland is, for the most part, a very peaceful, mellow place and this stuff really rubs most people the wrong way.
We’ve had two different daily walking routes while we’ve been here: the forest trail and what we call “the hospital route,” which takes us up and down the seven flights of stairs across the street to the balcony at the Kohler Pavilion for a view out over the city (and then back). We switched up the hospital route a couple of weeks ago and now walk back up a hill through the campus and beyond and then around back down to our apartment. I personally like climbing back up all those stairs for the workout it provides but Brett doesn’t and is happier with the new route (although he says it’s already becoming boring). I’m always finding something new to look at though, and happily noticed a few new architectural details on some of the OHSU buildings that we hadn’t been able to see on our original route. We also tried out a “new” forest route the other day but once of that was enough – it was a somewhat steep uphill climb almost the entire way, and more exhausting and less fun than we imagined.
The new hospital walking route also takes us past our neighborhood cannabis shop, Exhale, one of the many shops that are all over Portland now (it’s legal in Oregon). These shops are everywhere and some of them have come up with some very clever names, sort of like hair salons do. We haven’t stopped in at our neighborhood shop although the prices posted outside seem reasonable and we’ve thought about it. We’ve heard we’d be entitled to a senior discount, but Brett and I feel mellow enough these days (and I definitely don’t need a case of the munchies).
There were 62 qualifying entries for the kitchen set from Japan, and after inputting all the names the random name picker chose:
Laurel: I will be contacting you by email to get your mailing information, and will send off your package at the beginning of next week.
Thank you to all again for entering the giveaways and for all your lovely comments – I enjoyed reading all of them. I honestly wish I had a prize for everyone who entered, but I am planning to do another one or two in December, when we’re back from England!
We might not have had iPhones for taking pictures, or Instagram and Facebook back in the day, but we did have a photo-sharing device: our wallets. Besides carrying money, a wallet usually came with several plastic pages in the middle (mine had 16) where one could save and share photos, as well as keep tickets, receipts and other memorabilia.
Neither of us is still sure how or why, but Meiling somehow ended up with possession of my high school wallet (I didn’t even know it still existed) and handed it over to me when we were in Eugene. What a fun bit of time travel I had going through it all! I still almost can’t believe how many photos I had stuffed in there, actually layers of photos under other photos. The wallet also contained my old library card, a school ID, receipts, and several raffle-type tickets for who knows what that were apparently important enough at the time that I thought they should be saved.
Here are a few of the things I found:
Finally, I really was a mere slip of a girl back then – what the hell happened?