Here & There: A Story

On our return trip to Florence from the Cinque Terre, an incident occurred on the train that shook Brett and I to our core, and still haunts us to this day.

We were assigned seats at the back of a car on the train. There was another couple sitting up toward the front, but otherwise the car was empty. Right before departure two young men entered the car. They spoke to each other briefly, in a language other than Italian, and one sat at the window in the row directly in front of us; the other chose a seat across the aisle and one row forward and they ceased communication. Both had small bags with them, and after sitting down produced laptops and stayed busy with them.

After a short distance, the conductor entered the car from the rear, to check on tickets. We showed him ours, then he asked the young man in front of us who showed his ticket. Then he approached the second young man across the aisle. He did not have a ticket.

The young man started out playing dumb, like he didn’t know what the conductor wanted and couldn’t understand what he was saying. The conductor was persistent, in both Italian and English, and offered to sell him a ticket if he didn’t have one. The young man continued to shrug his shoulders, try to look helpless, and so forth. The man in front of us watched carefully, but made no move to help his friend.

The standoff escalated, and eventually both the young man across the aisle and the conductor were shouting at each other. The tension grew thick enough you could have cut it with a knife. Brett and I sat in our seats, feeling more and more terrified as we began to feel there was a good chance of a gun being produced, with the conductor being shot. We calculated where we were sitting, and that we would be in the line of fire with no place for us to go or hide if shots were fired. We were too afraid to speak to each other, but held each others’ hand tightly and hoped things did not get any worse than they already were.

And then we remembered we were in Italy. The conductor was not armed, and although he got in the young man’s face he did not physically touch him or threaten him in any way. The chance of a gun being produced was not impossible, but about as close to zero as it could get. This was not America, where the young man could easily have been carrying a gun in his bag and less hesitancy to use it. Our joint relief at this realization was almost palpable and our grip on each others’ hand eased.

At the next stop the conductor escorted the young man out of the car; police were waiting on platform. The young man in front of us left as well, staying a short distance behind the conductor and his friend. We wondered if he had been the “handler” for the other.

Men, women, and children have been shot in U.S. while shopping at the supermarket or at the mall, while watching a movie in a theater, or attending a ball game, sitting in their classroom, or while in church. There is no place anyone is truly safe from being shot in our country any more, and I think we all carry that fear inside of us, whether we’re willing to acknowledge it or not. We know a shooting can happen anywhere, at any occasion, and affect anyone. The small incident we encountered on a train in Italy brought that fear home for us, and we remember and feel it again every time we read about another shooting in our country.

I have no problems with gun ownership whatsoever, but there is something much deeper going on in our country than any arguments over “freedom” or the ownership of guns, and a sickness that has taken hold. And we seem to have made a choice to live with that sickness day in and day out.

Learning Another Language As an Adult

(photo credit: Leonardo Toshiro Okubo/Unsplash)

(This is an updated version of a post I wrote in May of 2018)

Brett and I have once again been thinking a lot about taking up another foreign language in preparation for our future travels. It makes sense for us to have some basics in another language if we’re going to travel and stay in another country for long period of time. I know enough Japanese to not get lost, buy things, and so forth, and found the basic French I learned last time helped us to get around in that country as well if for nothing more than reading signs and simple directions. Current plans are that Brett will go with Greek as he studied it for a while back in his navy days, but I’m torn between German and Italian, both of which I’ve studied before. I have spent a considerable amount of time (like years) trying to learn Japanese, only to still find myself with an ability less than a two year-old. Because my professional  background is in adult language learning and acquisition you would think I’d have this all figured out by now and would know all sorts of tricks to make learning faster and easier, but sadly, no. That’s not how language learning works.

Children pick up new languages very easily, at least the spoken part, typically because they are usually far more immersed in a new language than most adults (i.e. in school all day with other native speakers). If children learn a second language before the age of twelve they usually become fluent speakers with no accent. Although adults learn a language in the same steps as children, how adults process what they are learning is different based on cognitive differences and other previous learning experiences, and the reality is it takes adults longer to acquire a second language. The good news is it’s not impossible.

When adults are learning a second or foreign language, there are three main aspects that come into play: 1) motivation, or the reasons for learning another language; 2) how an adult views themself as a learner; and 3) who an adult sees themselves to be when they speak another language. All three of these are important, but any one of them on their own can have a profound effect on the learning experience. Being aware of these forces and the roles they play can help adults through the process.

Motivation falls into two classes, intrinsic or extrinsic. That is, motivation to learn another language either comes from within or from without. Are you learning a new language because you want to or because you have to or need to? How strong is the desire or need? A combination of both intrinsic and extrinsic reasons for learning is best, and together can provide powerful motivation to push through difficult stretches and improve.

Language learning has often proven to be a sticky problem for adults who have always seen themselves as successful learners or talented in other respects. Recognizing that language learning calls on a whole different set of skills than learning math or history, or participating in a sport or hobby, and that it might not be as easy for you as you thought (or as fun) is an important step in staying motivated and continuing to learn.

One’s self-image when learning a new language can sometimes take some serious blows. As a native speaker of English, I view myself as a confident, skilled adult when I speak, read, write or listen to English, able to know what to say in almost any situation or figure out what someone else is saying or inferring. With a new language I often find myself with less ability than a small child, making lots of (sometimes embarrassing) mistakes, sometimes unable to order in a restaurant or ask directions, let alone manage any other social or professional situations. It’s very humbling, and can also be humiliating at times. Also, there’s the aspect to self of fitting in socially and culturally where the new language is spoken. Knowing that these feelings are perfectly normal can help you stick with language learning.

Based on my many years of teaching English to adults learners, here are some tips for making language learning more productive and less painful:

  • Communication should be the goal. Not fluency, not perfection, although you can strive for those. Can another person understand what you’re trying to say or write and communicate back to you? That’s what really matters.
  • Know how difficult a language is to learn. Russian or Chinese or Finnish are going to be w-a-y more difficult for an English speaker to learn than Spanish or French. All language learning takes time and effort, but if you want to learn one of the more difficult languages, give yourself even more time. Although the goal may be much less than professional proficiency, here is the Foreign Language Institute difficulty ranking for English speakers, and how many hours of study it takes to reach General Professional Proficiency in Speaking (Level S3) and Reading (Level R3) in different languages. Notice that for a Class 1 language it takes less than six months to reach this level; to reach the same level with a Class 5 languages it takes closer to two years! This is honestly not meant to be discouraging, but provide a realistic look at what you’re taking on.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Seriously, mistakes are how we learn, especially in language learning! Think of all the mistakes children make when they’re learning to speak. Adults go through the same steps, and mistakes will happen. The important thing is to keep trying to produce the language in some form rather than shut down. An ideal instructor (or online program) will always model the language correctly for you when you make a mistake and give chances to try again. It’s also important to find a classroom and instructor where you feel safe to make mistakes. My Japanese instructors in college didn’t go for safety and it was an incredibly stressful and miserable experience. I remember nothing from those classes other than wanting them to end (although I did get my thesis topic out of the experience!).
  • Be prepared to memorize. Memory is a very big part of language learning. We memorize constantly when we learn our own language (as an example, I took weekly spelling tests from first through the eighth grade because much of English spelling and pronunciation is based on memorization, even for native speakers), and the same will be true for any other language. It’s more difficult to remember things when we’re older because we’re carrying around and having to deal with so much more information in our brains than we did when we were younger. The best way to remember what you’re learning is to practice every day.
  • Don’t sweat pronunciation. The ability to speak another language without an accent ends at about age 12. That’s when our mouths and oral muscles “solidify” around our native language. Not worrying about pronunciation doesn’t mean not trying to pronunciate a new language correctly in order to be understood, but sounding like a native speaker doesn’t need to be the goal.
  • Find ways to expose yourself to the language. Learning French in France is going to be a whole lot easier than trying to learn it in the U.S. Why? Because learners are immersed in the language there – it can’t be escaped and has to be dealt with. In your own country, once you’re out of the classroom it’s difficult to find opportunities to practice and use the language you’re learning. Immersion experiences do exist though. Shop in international markets and read the labels or ask questions in the language you’re learning. Pick up a newspaper or magazine in the new language, go through it and see what can be figured out. Watch foreign films or TV shows in the new language without subtitles. For example, when our girls were learning Chinese, they found that all their favorite Disney Channel shows could be watched online in Mandarin, so they got lots of extra listening comprehension practice from those. Go to a church service where the language you’re learning is spoken (they exist). See if you can set up conversation experiences through local colleges, or hire a tutor and have them provide a weekly immersion session. I was sometimes able to match up my students, if they had time, with an English speaker who was trying to learn their language. They’d spend one hour together in one language, the second hour in the other language.

Knowing another language opens doors for understanding a new and/or different culture, but language learning is a process that takes time, in some cases LOTS of time. It’s important to remind yourself, especially if you’re struggling or on the fence about sticking with it, that you didn’t learn English (or any other native language) quickly as a child either. Unless necessary for professional reasons, fluency doesn’t need to be the goal of language learning; rather, you should strive to learn enough of a new language to communicate effectively, and as a means to better understand and enhance experiences in a different culture.

Finally, If you’re a native speaker of English, one other interesting side effect of learning another language is that you will probably learn more about English as well, and what a crazy, difficult, and sometimes impossible language it is. I thank my stars every day that English is my native language, and that I didn’t have to learn it as a second or foreign language. My years of teaching gave me an immense amount of respect for anyone trying to learn English, a daunting task if there ever was one.

A Wonderful, Happy Life

When I found the online pictures of our San Clemente beach house a few weeks ago, I sent the link to my brother and sister knowing they would most likely enjoy seeing the house as much as I did. A few days later my sister sent me two photos, including the one above, which was taken at the beach house, in the vacant lot next door. I have no memory of the picture being taken or who took it. I don’t know how old I am in the picture, but I believe the photo was taken by my mom. I think it came from her collection of photos and slides that my brother took with him after Mom died, and transferred to jpgs. He sent some (all?) of the photos to my sister, including apparently some ones of me.

My first reaction when I saw the photo was, “What a sad, serious little girl.” Maybe I didn’t want to look at the camera that day (was the sun’s glare too much?). Was my mom going for an arty sort of photo with me looking pensive or serious? Was I there just to provide a contrast to the giant sunflower? Whatever was going on, the end result was a picture of a not very happy child.

A couple of other things leaped out at me from the photo as well. Growing up I always wore my hair boy-short because it was supposedly “too curly” and Mom complained she couldn’t manage it. What I see in that picture though is lovely thick, possibly wavy hair, and not the unmanageable curls my mom always inferred. Also, I was told that I couldn’t own or wear a skirt because I “didn’t have a waist” and a skirt would slip right off of me (I didn’t own a skirt until I reached high school). And yet, there I am in a pair of shorts with a waistband and they are not falling off or anything close to it. The reasons/excuses I was given as a child for not getting to wear a much-desired skirt or grow out my hair do not match the reality in the photo.

I did not have a miserable childhood by any stretch of the imagination, but I did have an unhappy one, and the photo above triggered deep memories of having to often live with different rules and expectations than were applied to my brothers and sisters. I know now that much of the sadness I felt back then was actually depression, something that did not go away until I reached my mid-20s. It took only a moment for this single photograph to quickly bring up so many of the old feelings, and a few days for those feelings to evaporate. Even decades later the memories have power.

When I look at that picture I wish I could go back and whisper in that little girl’s ear, to let her know even though life will be hard at times:

  • She will have a long and happy marriage, and the best friend ever for a partner.
  • She will raise four smart, successful, caring children, gain the best daughter-in-law, and have two beautiful grandchildren.
  • She will form deep, long-lasting friendships over the years.
  • She will make dreams come true, and learn to trust her own power to make good decisions and follow them through.
  • She will have more determination and strength than she can imagine, and yet remain full of hope and optimism.
  • When she needs it most, there will be people along the way who see her potential, and who will be there to support and encourage her.
  • She will grow up healthy, with strong legs, a strong heart, and a strong mind to keep her active and carry her into old age.
  • She will travel the world, and visit and experience places she can’t even dream of now.
  • She will grow up to enjoy a full, wonderful, happy life, one that she is going to create.

I am thankful that in spite of the unpleasantness of the memories this photo brought back it also led me to reflect on how fortunate I have been with the life I have had, and for all that I have experienced, learned, and been given along the way . . . a blessed life.

Bad Year/Good Year: Goodbye 2020 (and good riddance)

New year 2021 and old year 2020 written on sandy beach with waves

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!

 

 

Holiday Giveaway: A Kaua’i Coffee Break

Kauai Coffee and Kauai Kookies – the perfect coffee break!

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!

The Estate Reserve coffee sampler contains two dark roast blends (Koloa Estate and Mundo Novo) and three medium roast blends (Peaberry, Typica, and Yellow Catuai). Each bag contains 2 ounces of ground coffee.

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.

The winner will receive two varieties of cookies: Macadamia Shortbread and Chocolate Chip. Macadamia. Each box contains 15 cookies

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!

I Gotta Be Me

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:

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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. 
  6. 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. 
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

A Reminder

Everything you need for a cozy afternoon tea break.

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.

Please be sure to leave your comment at the original announcement: Afternoon Tea Giveaway

Thanks again for the great travel tips – I’ve learned more than a few new tricks and plan to include them in a post in the future!

TCB in Portland

They’re all grown up now, but we still can’t wait to be together with these three again for the holidays. (This picture was taken in Guangzhou, less than a week after YaYu joined our family. WenYu was in the first grade, Meiling in the third. YaYu wanted things her sisters had, so we had to get her a puffy vest too while we were there – she chose a shimmery one!)

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.
    I’m looking forward to getting these curls shaped up!
  • 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.
    We occasionally have treated ourselves to slices of cake (Victoria sponge and coffee & walnut) after long walks but such things will stop after we gat back to the U.S.
  • 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.

Afternoon Tea Giveaway

There to seem to be more than a few blog giveaways going on right now (Don’t Read This; It’s Boring and One Hundred Dollars a Month just announced giveaways this week, for example) so here’s one more you can enter!

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.

Thanks for entering!

Some Portland Miscellany

Keeping Portland weird, here is the world’s smallest park: Mill End Park, built and maintained by Portland Parks & Recreation. Not sure what kind of tree that is, but I think a small fir would look better.

Four things not big enough for their own posts:

  1. 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.

    I learned that a recurring problem with the Keller fountain (besides the operating costs) is that occasionally over the years pranksters have added dish soap to the cascading water, creating a mess of bubbles. This causes the entire fountain to have to be shut down for cleaning (which is quite expensive).

    There were only (messy) Canada geese gathering in Waterfront Park when we visited, but this is where the Proud Boys will gather.
  2. 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.

    I love the art deco detail we discovered on the top of the Mark O. Hatfield Research Center building (dedicated in 1998).
  3. 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.

    My favorite architectural “find” on the OHSU route are these art deco-inspired covers for rainwater drainage troughs.
  4. 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).

    Our neighborhood cannabis shop. These places are all over Portland now, with some offering discounts and delivery service. The price for three blunts at this shop is $10, less than a bottle of wine.