A State of Inertia

Hot chocolate packages sit out on the counter so we remember to use them.

Inertia (n.): a tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged.

It feels a little right now like we are holding a place in slow-moving line. It feels like nothing is happening, or at least the things that are happening are small and mundane, and aren’t moving things along much, if at all.

I’ve been taking down pictures and filling holes (and I defy our landlord to find them!), cleaning out the pantry, continuing to go through and sort things to go the thrift store or trash. Brett has cleaned out our papers and has shredded the items we’re not keeping. We’re working through what’s left in the pantry, using things up or at least trying to figure out how to use them up. No matter what we do though, for now it doesn’t seem as if we’re accomplishing much of anything.

I don’t remember feeling like this back in Portland, before we moved over here. There seemed to always be something to do, something big and important that made a noticeable difference. Maybe there wasn’t though – maybe there actually were long stretches of nothing like we’re experiencing now and I’ve forgotten it all.

I keep reminding myself that all the little stuff adds up, and I will be glad in a few weeks that I have been taking care of all these small things now. The movers are scheduled to pack us out on June 29, our friends arrive on the island on July 1 and will be taking most of our furniture, and we’ll hold a garage sale on July 6-8. After that it will pretty much be just us and our clothes, one bed and an inflatable mattress, our computers and Kindles, the vacuum cleaner, and maybe the slow cooker if it doesn’t get sold at the garage sale. The car will be listed for sale toward the end of July. We’ll step up our deep cleaning around here so we’re ready to do the walk-through and hand over the keys to the landlord on the afternoon of 28th of July so we can head over to the condo to begin our last three weeks on the island.

There are still a few reservations to be made for our trip before we leave Kaua’i, but in the meantime we’ll keep plugging along with the small stuff, and I’ll keep reminding myself that we’re just at a slow spot in the river right now, and that things will soon pick up and begin moving swiftly again. I know when it’s time to depart we’ll wonder how the time passed so quickly.

Using It Up

Liquor and chocolate . . . but not at the same time.

We’ve got less than two months left to go in our house, and less than three on the island, so one of our major goals now, besides downsizing our possessions, is using up the food we have on hand, especially things in the pantry like sugar, flour, cereals, spices and such.

Back when the navy was moving us around, pantry items made the move with us as long as they were in Tupperware containers. I had an immense collection of those as I probably attended at least one Tupperware party a month (one month I went to five!) and was always adding to my storage collection. Those containers segued to European glass  jars once we settled in Portland, most of which I picked up at yard sales and thrift stores. We moved the glass jars over with us, many of them filled with pantry items, but almost all them have been emptied now and were all sold last week. The jars were a lifesaver here, keeping things dry and fresh in spite of the humidity.

The (expensive) bag of Valhrona dark cocoa power in the picture above is a good example though of some of what we’re up against now. I bought the chocolate around a year ago, and am now trying to use it up by putting a chocolate glaze on just about everything I bake. Brett has been enjoying it in his coffee now and again, but it’s not disappearing as quickly as we hoped. I’m determined though and plan to have it all gone by the time we move out of the house – it was too expensive a purchase to throw any of it away. Same for my matcha powder.

We are also a bit dismayed by the amount of alcohol we still have to use up before we go. Brett and I only drink on Friday and Saturday evenings, one drink each (either wine or a cocktail), so when we buy those big bottles from Costco they last for a long while. The bottles of gin and rum in the picture were purchased well over a year ago and were stored in the freezer. However, I think it was easier to get rid of the freezer than it will be the alcohol. We’ll be enjoying gin & tonics, mai tais, mojitos, and Cuba Libres every weekend from now until we leave – thank goodness limes are cheap and plentiful here on Kaua’i!

As things we’ve bought get used up we are not replacing them, especially not with the big packages from Costco, and are learning to go without some things. I’m downsizing the items we keep in the freezer, and using more prepared foods, things like pizzas and such from Costco, versus keeping the freezer full of meat and other ingredients. It’s not as frugal as preparing meals from scratch in the long run, but for now we are buying less and therefore spending less. With just the three of us a Costco prepared dish provides a meal and a couple days of leftovers, and keeps us from spending on restaurant meals. The farmers’ market will continue to provide us with our weekly allotment of fresh fruits and vegetables right up until we go.

Brett and I are determined to throw as little as possible away when we leave, and get the most out of what we have left. It’s going to be quite the challenge though, but through creativity and persistance, I think we’ll be successful in having very little food waste and be able to use almost everything.

Goodbye March, Hello April

Although some good things happened for us last month, I think we were all glad to see the end of March come around. Mainly because we’ve all been pining for blue skies and warmer temperatures, but also because we are eager to keep moving forward toward the fall and the big changes that will be coming around for all of us. We’re making progress, but it still feels like there is so very, very much to get done, and not enough time to do it all. Things are still moving though, albeit slowly for now, but will pick up speed the closer we get to our move out date.

Anyway, here’s how we did with March’s goals:

  1. Put at least $900 into our travel savings account. We put $1067.50 in to our account. Lots of it came right back out to pay for all the reservations we made at the end of the month.
  2. Clean out at least three cabinets in the kitchen. Done! I organized two cabinets and one now holds the dishes we’re storing, and the other holds the ones we’re letting go. I also cleaned out the baking cabinet; most of what’s in there now are items we’re using now but selling later.

    Although we’re still using them for now, these dishes are all being sold.

  3. Clean out and organize my nightstand. Done! There was an awful lot of junk in there.
  4. Clean out the two tansu in the living room (they’ve both been sold). Done! Most of the stuff that’s left are things we’ll continue to use until the buyers come to claim the chests.
  5. Narrow our list of suitable Airbnb rentals for the first half of our trip. Done! We’ve reserved all our homes for the first half of the trip, with the total less than $30 over our budget.
  6. Set up an additional area in the garage for moving sale items. Done! And it’s filling up fast.
  7. Take at least one bag of stuff to the thrift store. We filled one bag last month.

Here are our goals for April:

  1. Put at least $900 into our travel savings account.
  2. Continue to look for and possibly book air travel down to Buenos Aires.
  3. Clean out and shut down the garage freezer.
  4. Use up as many condiments as possible in the refrigerator.

    So many (hot) sauces, so little time

  5. Move my IRA from the local bank to our primary bank; help YaYu open an account at our primary bank.
  6. Order lei and a haku for YaYu’s graduation.
  7. Take at least one bag of stuff to the thrift store.

Once again, we’ll see how we do!

 

Thinking Ahead

As mentioned a short while ago, Brett and I have started discussing where (and even if) we want to settle when the Big Adventure ends in May 2019. There’s much to consider, and still lots of unknowns right now, the biggest being where YaYu will attend college. That information alone, once we have it, will have a profound affect on our decision, but in the meantime there are things we can begin to talk about. Brett and I have gone back to our tried and true method of developing lists and spreadsheets, and looking at the pros and cons of different options. Once again, we’re taking our time to come to the best decision for the direction we’ll take once the Big Adventure is over in May 2019.

For the time being we’ve been putting together a list of the things that are important to us, or that we believe will be in the future. We haven’t particularly ranked anything yet, and none of the points listed below is yet a deal-killer. Some of the things we are considering so far are:

  • Do we want to settle somewhere or keep traveling? Everything will revolve around our answer to this question.
  • Cost of living: We’re pretty sure we’re going to want to continue traveling in some form, and the lower the cost of living if we decide to settle somewhere, the more we will have for travel.
  • Taxes: We will want a location with a good tax environment for retirees that doesn’t tax Social Security, has a lower or no tax on military retirement, low sales tax, etc. (We’re allowed to dream, aren’t we?).
  • Walkability: We do not want to own a car again, if possible. We would prefer to live somewhere where we can walk or use public transportation for the majority of tasks, and use ride or car share for those times when we absolutely have to have a car.
  • Culture: We’re mainly thinking about having access to classes for enrichment, but would also like a variety of other other cultural offerings nearby if possible, like art museums, theaters, etc.
  • Health care: The availability of good medical care, specialists, etc. will become even more important as we age.
  • Travel & transportation: If we settle, the ease of our getting to other places and for our children to come see us will be important.
  • Weather: While we would prefer sunny, warm weather, we (me especially) also would prefer someplace with less humidity if possible. We’re also not crazy about living somewhere that gets a lot of snow, especially since we’d like to walk a lot for as much of the year as possible.

So far, we have come up with four general location options with pros and cons to each one:

  • Return to Kaua’i: The thought of leaving here permanently is difficult to think about, but we’re not sure it will make sense to return if all of the girls are attending college, or living, on the mainland. Especially since neither we nor they can afford the cost of them (and eventually their families) traveling here every year, or us to the mainland to see them in all in the various places they live or will live. However, if YaYu ends up attending the University of Hawai’i, it will make sense for us to continue to live here, for a few more years at least. We would move to a smaller, more affordable space on the island, and perhaps even buy a condo here (although local HOA fees have pretty much priced us out of the market).
  • Settle somewhere on the mainland: If YaYu ends up attending college on the mainland, it will make much more sense for us to resettle back there somewhere, as it will be easier to see the girls and for the girls to come and see us. It’s also easier, believe it or not, for our son and family to travel to the mainland than to come to Kaua’i from Japan. Where that somewhere might be though is the big unknown. Living on the mainland would be more affordable overall, and we would probably buy something small, a true pied à terre so to speak. Brett and I dream of being car free and able to get to places by walking, using public transportation or using a ride-share or car-share service when necessary, and there are locations on the mainland where we could make that dream a reality.
  • Relocate overseas: The opportunity to live in a different country and experience a different culture still greatly appeals to us. Having lived overseas twice (in Japan) we know many of the ins and outs, pros and cons, and pitfalls of overseas living. It would mean a major, major lifestyle change and affect the whole family so it’s currently not as viable as the two options above. Still, it’s not out of the running. We both agree that if Japan ever offers a visa for retirees (highly unlikely) we would move there in a heartbeat.
  • Continue traveling: The Senior Nomads, who have been traveling non-stop for the past four years, were the inspiration for our own upcoming Big Adventure, and we are not ready yet to write off the possibility that we will enjoy our experience enough to want to keep going for another year or longer. There are so many places we want to see and that we won’t be visiting on our upcoming Adventure, and we may decide we just want to keep traveling for a while longer.

I am grateful we have so many choices, but there is a great deal to consider before making a decision. Thankfully nothing has to be decided in a hurry. Both Brett and I are physically, mentally and in good (enough) shape financially to take on any of these options, and all of them appeal to us in one way or another. We’re currently leaning toward one of the first two options, but will reevaluate our position as the year progresses and eventually come up with a firm decision about our future direction.

In a Downsizing State of Mind

Downsizing has already provided some surprises, like six travel-size containers of hand & body lotion from previous travels (I found one more after I took the picture).

We didn’t bring much with us when we moved to Kaua’i in 2014. Our things barely filled half of a 20-foot shipping container, and that’s with everything wrapped and packed within an inch of its life. In the almost four years we’ve been here we’ve only bought the following items: a washer and dryer, a microwave oven, a small two-shelf bookcase, a nightstand for the girls’ room, a chair for the living room, and a stainless steel worktable for the kitchen. Other than new clothes and replacement electronics, that’s it.

But there is still So. Much. Stuff. Or at least it seems that way.

We’ve got around six months to get rid of all of but a very few things, which will be going into storage in July. We plan to hold a moving sale in early July to get rid of as much of what remains as possible. We started our downsizing last month by cleaning off one set of stainless shelves in the garage and getting them ready to hold items that will be sold at the moving sale. This month I’m cleaning out the hallway closets (which we use for pantry storage), and next month I want to declutter the tansu in the living room, clean out my bedside table, and get started in the kitchen.

Friends Cheryl and Alan bought several pieces of furniture from us when they visited last December. They will be moving here in early summer and our things will get them started on furnishing their Kaua’i home. Our landlord also wants to help up sell some things, and he has loads of contacts around the island. Combined with a big moving sale in early July, we’ve got our fingers crossed that almost all items will be taken care of and gone, and our travel savings total a little larger.

However, before July arrives, there’s an awful lot of stuff around here that we don’t intend to sell but that’s still usable and needs to go. We’ve given ourselves a goal of taking at least one bag to a local thrift store every month. So far we’re on target this month to take at least four bags. The other day I went through and cleaned out the girls’ closet, a veritable gold mine of junk, and filled three of those bags with clothing that’s no longer worn, purses, tote bags, etc. Every day though I try to put at least one thing into the thrift store bags. We’re using up odds and ends of travel-size items we’ve accumulated over the past four years. It took us over two years to downsize for the move over here, but that provided an invaluable experience and a solid roadmap for getting it done now. The most important lesson we learned was we had to work at it every day, even if it was only one thing that got tossed or put on the “for sale” pile.

We’re also trying to downsize food supplies as we go. Although buying in bulk is the way to save here, we’re trying not to buy as much at Costco as we have been in the past. We’re trying to use up supplies on hand, and buy more items individually as they’re needed. We don’t know yet how much it will affect the budget or even if it will.

Both Brett and I are in a downsizing state of mind, and determined not to be stuck with an overwhelming amount of stuff, and lots left to do, when the end of June arrives. For now we’re keeping at it day by day, item by item. Brett is the more ruthless of the two of us, which is a bit surprising because he held the title King of the Packrats for more years than I can remember. I’ll remark that maybe we should keep something and he’ll reply, “let it go.”

And so it goes, or hopefully at least most of it.

 

Will It Stay or Will It Go?

The jubako will be stored; the chest they sit on will be sold

A big topic of current conversation between Brett and I these days is over which of our things we are going to store while we travel next year, and which ones we will sell or otherwise get rid of. We mostly agree, but there are few items we’re still haggling over (with Brett usually saying “let it go”). We plan to start the downsizing process fairly soon after Christmas, with our tree the first thing we’ll put up for sale. We’ll start gradually, but end with a big moving sale right before we leave.

Will it go? is the easy part because the answer is: almost everything. We have to no plans to store any furniture other than our big hibachi table, so our dining table and chairs, all bedroom furniture, our remaining antique Japanese tansu, living room furniture, etc. will all go up for sale. Everything except the tansu is replaceable, but after some discussion we decided to let them go as well – they will fetch a good price, and our goal is to eventually live even more streamlined than we do now.

We’ll be storing the KitchenAid mixer, the slow cooker, our set of All-Clad pots and pans, most of the pottery collection, one cake stand (a gift from the girls), less than five Japanese cooking utensils, and a few of our coffee cups; otherwise, everything in the kitchen will be sold as well. We’re going to let Meiling go through the things we’re not keeping (i.e. bakeware) while she’s home and will send what she wants back with her.

We’re keeping all or most of our blue and white Japanese porcelain although there are a couple of pieces I don’t have any strong feelings about and can let go. All of our artwork will be stored as well. Our collection was curated before we moved over here and we don’t want to part with the pieces we kept. A couple of the pictures will go back with the girls this year, but that’s all. We’re keeping both of our wool rugs.

Things like our collection of Christmas ornaments, lovingly collected over the past 40 years, and the few other sentimental items we brought with us will also go into storage. We debated dividing up the Christmas ornaments among the kids this year, but then realized the girls don’t want to have to worry about storing Christmas ornaments while they’re in school, and the cost of shipping our son’s bunch over to Japan would be prohibitive. We still plan to get together for Christmas every year no matter where we are, so Brett and I will remain the ornament keepers for the time being.

We’ll also store our new TV, mainly because it will be less than a year old, and we see no sense in replacing it so soon. However, our washer and dryer set and our freezer will be sold.

The car will be sold too, hopefully around a month before we depart on our Big Adventure. I’m amazed at what people get for used cars here on the island, even ones with high mileage, so we’re hoping our little Honda Civic will bring a decent price with its fairly low mileage. It’s a terrific island car, in pretty good shape, and gets good mileage (34-36 MPG) so we’ve got our fingers crossed that it sells quickly. Both Brett and I are looking forward to not owning a car for a while.

The items we are keeping will be stored here on the island – whether we’ll do that independently or work with a local moving company is something we’re still investigating. Doing it independently will most likely cost less, but the moving company would offer packaging and protection for the items being stored (especially the art work).

Can I admit to being a little bit excited again about downsizing even more? Brett and I grow less and less  sentimental over our things as more time goes on, and feel like we have a lot of stuff we just don’t need anymore, especially because of our upcoming travels and because we won’t have any children living with us full time. But, we also recognize we’re not ready to part with everything just yet. I’ll think we’ll be keeping enough to make wherever we eventually settle, whether that’s back here on Kaua’i or somewhere else, feel familiar and like home, but not enough to tie us down. That’s just where we want to end up.

 

The Older I Get, The Less I Want

Just a very few of the things we brought back from Japan

Just a very few of the things we brought back from Japan. Our home looked like a museum of Japanese antiques.

When Brett retired from the navy in 1992, it was at the end of a three and a half year tour in Japan. He spent most of that tour deployed on an aircraft carrier; I spent most of those years shopping and accumulating stuff.

We had always lived fairly simply and had not acquired much because of the small weight allowance for moving our household goods, but at the beginning of our Japan tour our household goods allowance was upped by several thousand pounds. In the second year of our tour Brett received a promotion, and along with a nice pay raise he also received another increase in our household goods weight allowance. I, to put it mildly, went nuts.

Shopping became my primary form of recreation, a way to keep busy while Brett was gone and our son was busy with school and friends. I was teaching English conversation, making good money, and all I did was buy, buy, buy, especially antiques. We came home with 15 (yes, 15!) antique tansu (Japanese chests) of all types and sizes, loads of antique porcelain and other items that I convinced myself we had to have and couldn’t leave Japan without owning. I told myself these things were an investment. I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a day that I wasn’t shopping somewhere for something. Looking back, it was obscene how much I shopped. The only good thing, if I can claim it, was that I paid cash for everything. We had no debt and actually had a decent savings account as well. And the shopping stopped when we arrived home in the U.S.

Our household goods were supposed to arrive back in the States about 4-5 weeks after we did in 1992. Four weeks arrived and no shipment. At five weeks we called to check on the status of our shipment and were told it could not be located, that it had been lost. Initially all I felt was panic, deep, deep panic that almost everything we owned was gone forever. But then something changed. As I began to think about having to start over, I also began to feel liberated, like an incredibly heavy weight had been lifted off my shoulders. As I moved through the near-empty rooms of the house we’d rented, I began to question why I had ever wanted all of those things. I felt deep, searing pain when I thought of the photo albums, the few items of our son’s I had kept from when he was a baby, the truly irreplaceable items that might be gone forever. But for everything else, I felt no attachment whatsoever.

I wanted our simple life back again.

Our household goods were eventually found, delivered, and squeezed into our small house, but they never held the same appeal for me they did when I bought them or when we lived in Japan. We spent the years after Brett’s retirement slowly divesting ourselves of most of our Japan things. Brett was unemployed for almost three years following his retirement, and the sale of several of those items saw us through some hard times, so maybe they were an investment after all. The sale of other items helped fund our adoptions, pay down our debt, and get us moved to Hawai’i. I haven’t missed even one of the things we sold, and never regretted that we let them go.

When we left Japan, our household goods weighed 12,500 pounds and filled five huge crates. Our shipment of goods to Kaua’i two years ago weighed just 4500 pounds, and barely filled half of a 20-foot shipping container. We live with much, much less now and manage quite nicely. The things we kept are functional, or like my bells or jubako, carry special memories that we’re still not ready to part with.

Shopping holds no thrill for me these days. The girls, of course, love shopping and love stuff, but even they have downsized. Brett, the former King of the Pack Rats, got bit by the downsizing bug, and made immense strides in reducing his hoard. He’s no longer in thrall to having or holding on to stuff.

Maybe it’s a function of aging, or just heredity. When I was young and stayed with my grandmother, she always let me go through her things and choose something to take home because she was “thinning things out.” She said she didn’t need so many things any more, even though she already lived very simply. My mother also divested herself of most of her possessions and downsized when she got older. She would rather have traveled than maintained or worried about a lot of stuff, which is where I’m at now as well.

Whatever the reason, it seems the older I get, the less I want as well.

Two Years

IMG_2228Two years ago yesterday Brett, our three daughters and I arrived on Kaua’i to start a new chapter in our lives.

Two years ago our daughters did hold back and let us know again and again how angry and miserable they felt about our move. They left behind everything they knew, including life-long friends, boyfriends – everything – to come live on an isolated little island out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. They were profoundly unhappy with us, but Brett and I did our best to reassure them. “Give it time,” we said, “and then see how you feel.” We explained over and over that it had been time for us to make our move.

Last week, at dinner, as we were talking about some topic I don’t remember now, WenYu said, “I hope some day I can raise my children in a place like Kaua’i.” She went on to say how much she has grown to love our little island, its calmness, beauty, and friendly people. She said that moving here had been the best thing that happened to her. She still greatly missed her Portland friends, but coming here pushed her out of her shell and challenged her to take chances both academically and socially that she would not have taken back in Portland. She said she didn’t think she would be going to Wellesley College if we had stayed in Portland.

YaYu has blossomed here as well. She has made many friends, is doing very well academically, and is also taking chances that she doubts she would have taken back in Portland. Brett and I believe the move was harder in many ways for her than for her sisters, but YaYu now says she too is thankful for the calm and beauty of Kaua’i, and is glad we moved here. She has relied heavily on WenYu these past two years for company and support, but says she is ready to step out from her sister’s shadow and spread her own wings.

Meiling has built a solid independent life for herself back in Oregon, and is doing better than either Brett or I ever expected or hoped for. She did not want to stay on Kaua’i, and it was with great sadness and misgiving that we let her return to the mainland. She has told us though that she doubts she would have become as strong and independent if we were still in Portland, where she could have (and would have) called us to “come fix it” if things were not going well. We talk and text with her frequently every week, and offer advice when it’s asked for, but are so very proud of our daughter these days and the independent path she has chosen.

It has been a good move for all of us. Brett and I are more relaxed and far less stressed than we were back on the mainland. We worry less, hustle less, and let things happen as they will. We’ve made friends here, and are recognized more frequently as kamaaina, residents versus tourists. I absolutely love being called “Auntie.” With a couple of exceptions, we moved just the right amount of stuff along with us, and every day we appreciate our simple life more and more. We’ve figured out where and how to shop here, to find the best bargains, and we focus more on need versus want. We still get to travel. To know that the girls are now happy too about our move to Kaua’i is just the icing on the cake for us. While there is still lots for us to learn about our new home, we have a wonderful life here, and we are content. Our son has sometimes hinted that he wished we had moved to Oahu because of the medical facilities there, but both Brett and I are so glad we decided to settle on peaceful and less congested Kaua’i. It’s a great fit for us.

I’ve read that two years in Hawai’i marks a turning point (believe it or not, most new residents don’t last a year). If you can make it here for that long, then it’s said you’ve truly adjusted to the island way of life and will most likely stay forever, or at least for a very long time.

I know we’ve crossed that threshold. Kaua’i is home, and I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

First Trip to India

Photo: Wolf Price

Photo: Wolf Price

I had no desire to visit India until my son asked me to go.

He was living in Nepal and ready for a fresh adventure after volunteering in Kathmandu.

I had missed out on Morocco when he asked me to go with him and a friend when we met in Spain (I had to go to Italy for the first time) so no way was I going to say no to India and a chance to let my son lead me to a brand new country.

So I jumped in with no prior knowledge of India except for seeing the movie Gandhi.

That first trip to India and Nepal changed my life, turned me upside down, and electrified my bone marrow. I was never the same again.

The photo of me above was shot right after rafting down the Ganges River in the winter; drenched with icy waves over our heads as we paddled to stay afloat.

Of course we had to volunteer for the front paddling positions in the boat which means you get the worst of the waves over your head and the rest of the passengers just get sprayed.

But I never felt so alive in my life.

My son pushed me to go.

I just wanted to read a book that day.

India blasted open my spirit, forcing me to leap way out of my comfort zone.

Photo: Bartnikowski, Dalai_Lama in India

Photo: Bartnikowski, Dalai Lama in India

I was cold in the Himalayas, I got deathly sick, but I also ate tasty delectable food, was immersed in a multitude of religions, saw the Dalai Lama teach at his home in Dharamsala, had my eye balls seared with women’s colorful clothing, met gurus, saints, and friendly elephants!

There is nothing India doesn’t have but order.

Amritsar, photo student from Miri Piri Academy, during the class I was teaching

Amritsar, India photo credit: student from Miri Piri Academy, during the class I was teaching

There aren’t any rules in India: you can have bonfires in the street with cows who want to get warm in the high ethers of the Himalayas.

People drive recklessly. Watch out crossing the street. You don’t want to get mowed down by a motorbike or attacked by a monkey.

Some monkeys are mean in India, one stole my new dress off the clothes line and I didn’t find it until 2 hours later in the dark with my flashlight.

I’ve since been to India 4 times solo. And as soon as I left that first time, I wanted to go back. I found myself in Bali which seemed awfully tame compared to jolt your eyes open India.

What made me buck up and get strong?

The fact that yes I’m deliciously free and can make all my own decisions.

This is a huge opportunity for possible risk but it was also a leap into the unknown, an adventure beckoning, a bewildering array of options, food I couldn’t identify and stumbling happily through a language I didn’t understand.

I tried to learn Hindi and the Nepali language.

“Sundar” means pretty in Nepal. And meeto-cha means this food is yummy. That’s all I learned and actually I didn’t need to know anymore on that first trip.

After traveling with my son for a month, we went solo on our own paths. And boy did my India adventure change.

Being solo is misunderstood in India.

Local people from India wonder why you’re not traveling with your in-laws, 7 children and two sets of grandparents. Really.

Many people want to help you in India, some are scammers, and some are saints. Both will approach you especially when you are solo.

Here is what I do now. I surround myself with a shield of white light and send out the message with my mind, you will not approach me unless I invite you.

It works.

Do you remember the Beatles White Album? Much of it was written in Rishikesh, where I shot the photo below.

The Beatles stayed at a now defunct ashram with Maharishi on the Ganges River while they learned meditation and wrote songs.

Rishikesh, India, Ganges River_Photo: Bartnikowski

Rishikesh, India, Ganges River_Photo: Bartnikowski

What I did was I was lay on the marble floor of this gorgeous “ghat.” (a river side temple, dock, or bathing spot)

The nightly puja was happening.

My tripod was only 6 inches high, one of those tiny jobs that don’t extend, but even though a policeman’s foot was inches from my head, I got this shot from a unique angle.

My body commanded me to capture it.

That’s the real secret of how I get the money shots. My body tells me to shoot and I listen.

So this was our happy hour of prayers, offerings, songs, and chanting.

Puja persuaded me to stop drinking wine when I hadn’t decided to give it up.

But Rishikesh is a holy town in the foothills of the Himalayas; you can’t get booze there.

I was not going to get on the boat, cross the Ganges, and go into town to purchase low grade wine or spirits.

I had spirits at the puja so instead of a cocktail I joined the young Hindu priests, the head swami, and countless tourists from India and worldwide.

Rishikesh_India_Ganges_River_Bartnikowski

Rishikesh_India_Ganges_River_Bartnikowski

I was in heaven.

Afterwards we would meet with Swami for a blessing (darshan) then I’d walk back to my room at the ashram, or go hook up with Skype, being careful not to step in the cow flops along the path.

Yes India has the internet. And this was in 2006.

But India is the mothership. All roads lead to her.

You don’t have to go to the Himalayas to turn your world upside down pineapple cake but it was just what I needed after living in Palo Alto, California, the epicenter of Silicon Valley for 29 years, not knowing that outside this comfortable bubble of technology, splendor, and genius, there was a world named India that whispered to me, Just Do It.

So I did and I thank my son for inspiring me to do it.

I took 3 months off from life in Palo Alto, turned down work, closed my apartment door, paid the rent which was significant, and set out for India, Nepal, and lastly, Bali.

If you ever hear the call to go to India, do it. Your life will never be the same.

Wolf, my son, and me.

Wolf, my son, and me.

Mary Bartnikowski is an author of 4 books, award-winning photographer in Palo Alto, Hawaii, and worldwide for 29 years.

She has led programs at Apple, Stanford, Intel, and globally.

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Change Your Life

Suddenly your gut says one thing and your mind says another.

What to do?

Looking back over the last 10 years of world travel I see that when I trusted my gut and didn’t over analyze a decision the path opened up before me and sometimes it was even lit with sunshine.

Thinking didn’t get me to the source of my own wisdom. It appeared as a tiny nudge in my gut, or a soft whisper in my heart.

One time a voice woke me up and told me Go Home! I was living in San Francisco, 35 years ago, and was wondering if I should go back to New York where I was born.

Clearly I got my answer and was startled by the dramatic way it came to me.

So I bought a one-way ticket and crossed the entire country by train, California to New York. It took 4 days but I knew it was the right thing.

I had connected to my own divine guidance.

You can’t look in a Lonely Planet guide book for it. You can’t ask someone else what to do.

No it wasn’t comfortable and it wasn’t easy but leaping out of your comfort zone isn’t pleasant. It can be messy going into the unknown.

But every time I’ve done it, my life opened up in a way I never would have predicted.

I used to try and meet up with my son Wolf, who has traveled in 50 countries, I’ve only been to 32, and it was difficult to pin him down to one country.

Then when I went on my first round the world no-itinerary global adventure, I couldn’t be pinned down either.

Learning how to let go of planning made me wake up.

And thats how I got to Hawaii. By trusting my gut, what I call waiting for my instructions from Grand Central God.

But you can call it anything you want.

You can test it out by asking your gut little things through out your day. Which way to drive to work, who do I need to get in touch with right now?

I love how when I trust it, I get to a place that I would not have envisioned being in.

The other part of it is to stay positive and focus on a remarkable result but without being attached to the outcome.

I’m still practicing that one.

But every day brings new opportunities to let go and see what your divine guidance says to do.

The more you listen to the layer of truth under your reasoning mind the sharper it gets.

Sooner or later you won’t be able to ignore it.

Recently I found a little cottage to rent here on Kauai and everything checked out but there was just one thing. My gut said no. I wanted my gut to say yes.

I have a strategy for hearing my guidance. When I go to bed, I present the issue or question and I know as soon as I open my eyes in the morning the answer will be there, shining on the inside of my eyelids, in my heart waiting to tell me.

The answer was no. And I immediately felt relieved.

This is all the evidence we need to trust our guts.

Trusting your gut changes your life.

Was there a time in your life when you didn’t listen to your thinking mind and went ahead and acted on your own inner guidance?

Do you want peace of mind, a room of one’s own, and a battery re-boot?

Learn Yoga and Photography on Kauai with me in a 3-Day Private Luxury Retreat. Relax and Recharge. Have the best rest of your life being lulled to sleep by ocean waves all night long. Learn More Here.