Sunday Morning 3/17/2019: Week 4 in Japan

Seen at the Sogo department store: an elegant deep blue silk obi, embroidered with gold and silver threads. If I had had a couple of thousand extra dollars to spare it would have come home with me.

This past week was all about shopping, or at least it seemed that way. We did a big food shop last weekend, went to Kappabashi on Tuesday, to Yokohama on Thursday with our daughter-in-law, and yesterday our son took us to the Camp Zama commissary. We were going to go the bakery on Friday to get some raisin bread, but our grandson called us in the morning and asked us to come over and spend time with him because he was home sick from school, and we obliged. Anyway, it was a fun, busy week, and we are very well stocked now for both Meiling’s upcoming visit and have plenty of after-school snacks for the grands when we start picking them up in April. And, we did not decimate the budget either!

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Tuesday’s visit to Yokohama was very special because our daughter-in-law took us out for a special treat: an eight-course kaiseki lunch. Kaiseki cooking is at the top of Japanese high cuisine, incorporating seasonal foods, and we dined in the Yokohama location of a kaiseki restaurant that has been operating in Kyoto for nearly 300 years. The theme for our meal was “first cherry blossoms,” and every course revolved around a spring theme. We ate in a private dining room, and the entire meal was exquisite from start to finish, with each course both visually beautiful and wonderfully delicious. Although the servings in each course were small, we left feeling very satisfied and full. After our lunch we went to the Sogo department store food hall where we purchased a box of Hato Sabure (bird cookies), and some Japanese green tea “pudding,” thickened with kudzu starch. It was one of my favorite things when we lived here, and I was so happy to find it’s still available. I also bought one sakura mochi (pink mochi with a sweet bean filling, wrapped in a pickled cherry leaf), available only in the spring. The department store was offering a bonus with each purchase that day and we earned three portable drip packets of coffee too.

Several displays in the Sogo food hall celebrated the imminent arrival of the cherry blossoms.

Our trip to the Camp Zama army base and back yesterday was tiring, but we needed to go to get after-school snacks to have on hand for when we start taking care of the grands, and our son wanted to restock his supplies of American junk cereals, Pop Tarts, and Diet Coke (all things he wasn’t allowed to eat growing up LOL). Meiling and her boyfriend will be arriving week after next and we also bought a few extra things to have on hand when she’s here. Camp Zama was yet another place where there had been many changes along with some things that hadn’t changed at all in the past 24 years. M spent some time walking through his old middle school there which he said was mostly the same as it had been. It was sad for me to see that the old base gym had been torn down, the former site of the monthly Zama bazaar. Friends and I went every month and would make a day of it, always eager to see what treasures we would discover at the bazaar with lunch together afterwards – those were always some good times.

I did splurge a little on this pair of tabi socks at Camp Zama for our ramen queen, YaYu.

I gave up all caffeine this week other than one cup of coffee in the morning (I’m not even drinking Diet Coke – sad!), and it seems to have nearly cured my insomnia. I’ve been drinking mugi-cha, roasted barley tea – instead. It’s caffeine free and very refreshing. The first time I had mugi-cha, back in 1971 when I came to Japan as a college student, I gagged when I tasted it. Now it’s one of my favorite beverages, and I’m already plotting how I can take it back with me when we head back to the States (I can apparently find it in bags, like tea, for cold brewing).

We are grieving today for New Zealand, one of the most beautiful countries in the world filled with some of the friendliest people we’ve met during our travels. At times I wonder if the whole world isn’t going to hell in a handbasket these days with all that’s going on (don’t even get me started on the college cheating scandal). I am glad we were raised to do the right thing, the honest thing, and although it doesn’t seem like it at times, that love is far stronger than hate. We pray that we all get through these troubling times.

Finally, for the next two weeks (at least) I will only be posting on Sunday mornings. We are going to be quite busy with family activities, and I also feel like I need a little bit of a break, a “spring vacation” so to speak.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished Less: A Novel this past week and just started A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee a few days ago, the first in a three-book series about a British detective in Kolkata, India, just after the First World War. So far it’s quite good, and just a short bit in and I’m already thinking of when we can visit India again!
  • Listening to: Brett is currently in the kitchen making pancakes this morning! Not only can I hear him bustling around, but it smells good too. Otherwise it’s very quiet – our apartment must be soundproofed or something because we rarely if ever hear any noise from outside.
  • Watching: Thanks to reader Kay’s recommendation, I’ve been watching Secret City on Netfllix. I’m about half-way through the second season, and although I’m not enjoying it as the first, it’s still a very good show. I’m going to check out Rectify next.
  • Cooking/baking: We’re enjoying pancakes and sausages for brunch this morning, and tonight it will be all about the leftovers: I’m making a pan of fried rice to use up our leftover rice and the odds and ends of some vegetables in the fridge. I bought a small package of ham at the market the other day and will add some of that too.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Brett and I put in a long afternoon of childcare for our DIL on Wednesday, who had a doctor’s appointment followed by a school conference to attend that day. I got all my tasks here in the apartment caught up, and am glad we got the trip to Zama taken care of – we are ready for the grandkids! Otherwise, all we’ve done this week is a lot of running around!

    One cherry tree in our neighborhood is getting a head start! It will be lush and full of blossoms by the end of the week.
  • Looking forward to the is week: Cherry blossoms are scheduled to begin blooming this week! According to the forecast (which is a science here), they will begin opening on the 21st, with the peak bloom occurring on March 29. A few trees have already started to bloom – just a taste of the beauty and magnificence that is soon to be upon us. Brett and I are hoping to go with our DIL to the nearby Costco this week, which should be interesting because I am very curious about what people here bulk-buy (and where they store it).
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Our kaiseki experience on Thursday was incredible, something we’ll never forget, and Brett & I are still talking about it, and the tastes we experienced. We discovered that Yokohama is very easy to get to from our station – we thought it was going to be a slog, but we only had to make one train change in Shibuya station. We also had a great time shopping in Kappabashi, another trip that was easier to make than we imagined. We ate dinner over at our son’s three times this past week, so we will not have to go grocery shopping this week other than to pick up some produce and milk as we still have so much on hand. And, we have bird cookies! No stay in Japan for us is complete without them.

    We purchased a box of seven bird cookies in the Sogo food hall along with one piece of sakura mochi and five bags of green tea pudding. We were rewarded with three drip bags of coffee!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We shopped a lot in the past eight days (groceries, Kappabashi, Yokohama, Camp Zama) and yet because we stuck to planned items only, and needs versus wants for the most part, our daily spending average is still under $50/day.
  • Grateful for: This week, we received help twice from Japanese people when we were confused or lost in a couple of train stations. I am so very thankful that someone will always step up to help or assist you here, even if their English is limited. In the past I have had people get on the train with me to make sure I got off at the correct station, or even walk with me to my destination to make sure I didn’t get lost.
  • Japanese word of the week: yappari やっぱり! Yappari is the colloquial word that substitutes for the word yahari やはり, which means ‘I thought so!’ or ‘I knew it!’ I know two other similar words: mochiron, which means ‘of course’ or ‘certainly,’ and naruhodo, which means ‘I get it!’ or ‘Aha!’ but yappari had always escaped me until this past week. Interestingly (well, to me anyway), I also learned that yappari is usually written using hiragana, the syllabary for Japanese words, but there is a kanji form 矢張り. However, the characters together don’t have any meaning, they were only chosen because together they’re read as yappari.
You can get an idea from this photo of how deeply black Japanese funeral wear is. It sucks the soul right out of you.

Finally, I had a very strange, “only in Japan” moment this past week. While we were walking through Sogo, I asked M if we could take a look at the black clothing that women wear for funerals and formal events, like weddings. The dresses and suits are always beautiful, often designer made, but the fabric is always the deepest, darkest, blackest black I have ever seen and I wanted to show Brett. When we came around a corner and saw the formal section ahead of us, my blood actually ran cold and my hair stood on end – seeing all the dresses together actually caused a physical reaction. Brett said it felt for a moment like we were approaching a room full of Dementors! I’ve never seen that shade of black anywhere but in Japan, and it’s frankly creepy.

I hope you all had a great week, and that plenty of good things happened for you. I’ll be back next Sunday!

Sunday Morning 03/10/2019: Week 3 in Japan

Brett had never seen the Hachiko memorial before, and hasn’t seen the movie either, but we’re taking care of that soon.

Our time in Japan so far has been swinging between busy, active days with lots of walking, and days where we stay close to home and do very little. We haven’t been able to find any sort of happy medium yet, but maybe this is the new normal for us. Every trip out of the house, no matter where we go or what we do, is still an adventure, whether we’re heading to Shibuya or over to our son’s house or just walking around the corner to the bakery. My inner travel sense is still vibrating though – I told Brett that even though we’ve been here almost a month and are enjoying ourselves, I still can’t shake the feeling that it’s almost time for us to pack our suitcases once again and move on to the next destination.

No self-respecting Japanese student of any age goes to school without a pencil case. Tokyu Hands had over 100 different varieties to choose from. Above are the soft cases but there’s an equally large display of different hard-sided cases as well.

Our life here will be changing though in a few weeks as we take on a more defined schedule. Our daughter-in-law has been offered a very good position (with the Foreign Ministry!) and we have offered to help by picking up the grands from their respective schools every day until we leave in May. YaYu will come over here and stay with them for the summer and work as their nanny (they will pay her). Our combined help for the next few months will give M & M some time to find a more permanent solution for childcare by next fall, when the kids go back to school. Child care in Japan is most often done by family members, so our DIL is very relieved that we will be able to pick up the kids and watch them until she gets home from work, and that YaYu will take over in the summer versus her having to scramble to find other childcare. Once she heads to work we won’t have as much time as we do now for getting out and about but we are extremely happy we can help, and YaYu won’t have to worry about finding a summer job back in the U.S. (which can be notoriously difficult in Portland – she has been very worried about not earning anything or much of anything this summer).

Finally, my annual round of insomnia has caught up with me here in Japan. For the past several days I have been unable to fall asleep at night, sometimes staying up until 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning even if I have to get back up in a couple of hours. I know it’s a temporary thing, and so far I seem to be managing on little to no sleep, but this is not a good time for this! I’ve made all the usual changes but so far nothing has helped – I just need to push through it and remind myself that it eventually goes away.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished Becoming early in the week and am now reading the Andrew Sean Greer’s Pulitzer Prize winning Less: A Novel. It’s another real page turner and a fun read. I am so far behind on my reading goal though and really need to catch up.
  • Listening to: Brett is cutting up some fruit in the kitchen and making coffee, and our little washing machine is doing its thing. The heater fan is also blowing – it’s still quit cool here, although the past few days have been lovely. Rain is expected again tomorrow though.
  • Watching: I started watching Designated Survivor on Netflix a few nights ago, and so far it’s OK, but I can see it possibly moving into far-fetched territory (which I’m not crazy about). Kiefer Sutherland’s acting can be somewhat intense for me at times but he’s not bugging me . . . yet. The show and his character sort of remind me a bit of his character on 24 (which we eventually gave up watching).
  • Cooking: We’re going to our son’s tonight for dinner so no cooking today for me.

    Gotokuji is near the top of my list for favorite temples to visit, and I want to go back when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.
  • Happy we accomplished last week: Brett and I made it to both Shibuya and to Gotokuji Temple, our destination goals for the week. We also made it to our granddaughter’s and our grandson’s schools on time and without getting lost, even with Google Maps’ best efforts to make neither of those things happen. We got our weekly shopping done and even though we spent a little more than usual, we still stayed within our budget.

    We don’t buy just any curry in Japan; we only buy THE curry!
  • Looking forward to next week: Our plan we have for this week is a visit to Yokohama just to look around, especially in a couple of the big department stores by the station. We used to spend a lot of time in Yokohama during our navy tours, and it’s another place that’s interesting to see what’s changed and what hasn’t. We may also try to get over to Kappabashi, Tokyo’s “kitchen district.” The area is filled with wholesale shops selling restaurant and kitchen equipment, dishes, gadgets and other accoutrement, and it’s where the realistic plastic food for restaurant window displays is sold. As always, we’re also looking forward to plenty of grandma and grandpa time again this week!
    The Alley tea shop isn’t any wider than an actually alley. It’s always busy though, and their tea drinks are delicious. I’m not getting the giant buck logo, but it’s Japan and I know it makes sense to someone here.

    My big cup of Assam milk tea with tapioca bubbles cost around the same as a tall latte from Starbucks.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We had a wonderful time taking on the challenge of getting ourselves to two unknown locations in Tokyo to pick up our grandkids for the first time. Both of them seemed happy to have us show up too – our granddaughter walked the whole distance from her little school back to the train station skipping and singing the whole way. Japan really knows how to make great tea drinks – I discovered a small, busy, tea shop just around the corner from our apartment called The Alley, and enjoyed a wonderful, warm Assam milk tea with tapioca bubbles – so good. I will be treating myself again soon but wish they also offered tea floats (tea floats really need to become a thing in the U.S.). We spoke with all three of our daughters this week – WenYu is currently back in Massachusetts with her boyfriend to help celebrate his birthday. He missed her so much that he bought her round-trip plane ticket from Cyprus so she could be there! YaYu is excited (and a bit anxious) about her upcoming summer in Japan. And, Meiling and boyfriend will be here in a little over two weeks!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: Although it would have been very easy to do so, Brett and I did not go crazy and buy a ton of stuff at Tokyu Hands or Muji, which is what we would have done in the past. Most of that is because we have no space to take a lot of stuff with us when we return to the U.S., but these days we can also look at things we might have bought in the past, admire them and then admit we don’t need them and walk away. It’s a very satisfying feeling. We had four no-spend days this past week and have been able to bring our daily spend average back below $50. Although we had nothing to do with it, because of the current exchange rate, our rent for next month will be $29 less it was this past month!

    The label on this package says “parumezan chiizu” and “nachuraru chiizu 100%,” which means”parmesan cheese” and “100% natural cheese.” I have no idea how the topmost line actually reads, but it means “grated.”
  • Grateful for: I am so thankful I learned to read and pronounce hiragana and katakana, the two syllabary alphabets in Japanese because it allows me to interpret and understand simple words and expressions. Hiragana is the syllabary used for purely Japanese words or suffixes, while katakana is used to express foreign words or expressions. Any word, name or expression in a foreign language can be converted into katakana.

    One of two morijio I spotted in front of a neighborhood ramen restaurant.
  • Japanese word of the week: morijio 盛塩. Morijio is a compound word – mori 盛 means ‘pile’ and 塩 means ‘salt’ (shio) with the whole word taking on a somewhat deeper cultural meaning. I posted the above picture on Instagram on Friday, of a small bowl with a little mound of salt that was sitting in front of a ramen restaurant near our apartment. I had seen a bowl of salt before at a couple of other restaurants, and knew that salt is considering purifying in Japan, but had no idea what it was there for. Sure enough, it signaled purification, but my DIL said it’s often placed outside after the owner has had to deal with a difficult customer, in order to purify and cleanse the space, and erase the bad aura left by the customer. A pair of morijio are also sometimes placed on either side of a house’s front door in order to bring good fortune to the home. *The word for salt (shio) is phonetically changed to jio in morijio for easier pronunciation, something that happens sometimes in Japanese. You can see it happen in the words hiragana and katakana above. The suffixes –gana and –kana are the same word, with the spelling change to facilitate pronunciation.

That’s a wrap for this week! I’ve got my fingers crossed that my insomnia tapers off this week (I actually had a solid night of sleep last night), and we’re hoping the weather doesn’t stay completely lousy all week. How did your week go? What did you accomplish? What good things happened for you?

Sunday Morning 3/3/2019: Japan, Week 2

Airbnb life: These IKEA coffee mugs have been in literally EVERY Airbnb apartment we’ve stayed in.

Brett and I did very little this past week. All of our activities and busy-ness caught up with us and other than going on one big outing in the middle of the week we have mostly stayed home in our apartment and read, cooked, did laundry, and took care of some odds and ends that we’d been ignoring for a while. It rained a couple of days which gave us a good excuse to stay indoors, but otherwise we just didn’t feel much like going out. We did walk over to our local supermarket and pick up some things on Friday afternoon, and we went to our grandson’s basketball game on Thursday evening, watched our granddaughter on Friday morning while our DIL went to a job interview, and we went over to our son’s home and watched the grands on Friday evening so M & M could go to a reunion (and spent the night over there). Otherwise it’s been a very quiet week.

A shopping cart at the supermarket is just a regular basket on a trolley. This is about a week’s worth of food for the two of us, about $70. Clerks ring up your food, but don’t handle cash – that’s done in a machine that we quickly figured out.

Our big outing on Wednesday was a trip down to the Yokosuka navy base to get Brett a new debit card, and to the BIG commissary there to pick up a few things. We had planned to take the train, but our daughter-in-law volunteered to drive, and we had the grandkids along as well that day. The drive took just a little over an hour and was an easy trip. We enjoyed seeing what had changed around the base (mostly the housing) and what was the same. The USS Ronald Reagan was in port getting some work done so we got to see that (although we couldn’t get up close). Brett and I couldn’t get over how BIG the Reagan is compared to the carrier Brett served on (USS Midway) during both of his tours in Japan.

Well, she was thrilled to see him.
You need a regular-size U.S. shopping cart at the commissary – American product sizes and packaging are much larger than Japanese ones (and most other countries, for that matter).

After getting Brett’s debit card (which was made on the spot) we let the kids choose where to have lunch and they picked McDonald’s (ugh). Then it was over to the commissary, these days a massive supermarket like Winco or many big “lifestyle” grocery stores. There wasn’t a Starbucks inside (it was just across the street), but there was a deli, bakery, sushi bar, and several other specialty areas in the store. In the past we had to show our ID at the door to get in a commissary, sort of like Costco, but now it’s presented at checkout so our DIL was able to come in with us, and we scored one of the carts that had a little car in front which kept the grands happily occupied while we shopped. I would have just about died for a commissary even half the size of this one when we were in the navy, but I think M had the best time overall and was sort of amazed by the quantity of products available as well as the prices. Organic products are not always easy to find in Japan, but the Yokosuka commissary had numerous organic items so she was able to find things the kids enjoy and that she can feel good about. The only kerfuffle happened as we left the store – our granddaughter did not want to get out of the little car and pitched a fit! It took a few minutes but she eventually decided she wanted to go home with us rather than stay in the car.

Our low-key week has also allowed my toe to heal up a bit more and it is feeling much better. The swelling remains on my leg, but the bruising has disappeared completely, so I guess that’s progress. I’m beginning to think though that the swollen area might be permanent.

Anyway, this morning I am:

  • Reading: I’m a little over 75% of the way through Becoming, and still enjoying every word.
  • Listening to: The only sound around here this morning is the heater fan blowing! It’s working hard this morning as its raining and cold outside.
  • Watching: I’ve been watching The Big Family Cooking Showdown (another British cooking contest) on Netflix and like it pretty well – tonight I’ll be watching the final. I’m still looking though for a good British mystery/detective procedural though – it feels like we’ve seen them all.
  • Cooking: We are going over to our son’s again tonight but I will be the cook – I’m making chili pork burritos. When I made them during my visit in 2014, I priced out the cost for the burritos: approximately $40 for our dinner! Ridiculous, but that was the price we paid then for “exotic” foreign ingredients in Tokyo. This time I picked up everything I need at the commissary – the cost for the burritos for the six of us should only be around $8.
  • Happy I accomplished:  Getting Brett’s debit card taken care of was the big accomplishment – neither of us liked traveling with just one card and no back-up. Not my accomplishment, but Brett got started on our taxes. We are missing one important document which is on its way, so once that arrives he can finish up and submit them. Fingers are crossed for a refund, even a small one. We also got a few other business odds and ends taken care of that we had been putting off. I don’t think I accomplished much of anything else this past week other than the trips to the base and supermarket and watching the grands.
  • Looking forward to next week: We have nothing on the calendar next week, so Brett and I are going to try to get out to do a couple of outings, weather permitting. There’s an interesting temple near to us we want to visit, and we’d also like to go over to Shibuya and walk around there and see if we can find our way to the Tokyu Hands store. There’s also a Muji store (simple lifestyle) at the station next to Shibuya – I always love to look at their stuff.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We got to spend some wonderful one-on-one time with the grands this week, and our granddaughter was fine with staying with us when her mom headed out, so we have made progress. Brett and I greatly enjoyed the morning she spent at our place – she is such an easy-going little girl and we had a great time playing with her (I just wish I could understand more of what she’s saying). Our grandson is a typical eight year-old whirl of energy, but lots of fun too. We love watching him practice skateboarding –  he is fearless!
    C takes off down the side of the biggest half-pipe in the skate park. He is almost always the youngest skateboarder there, and practices almost every day to get better at what he has already accomplished while challenging himself to do a little more.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We had five no-spend days this past week, which greatly helped our daily spend average at the end of February. Although it was tempting, we did not go crazy at the commissary, and stuck to basic and necessary items only. The prices were low enough though that our final bill was over $100 less than we estimated it would be as we rolled up to checkout!  We were a bit shocked by the cost of our little basket of food at the Japanese supermarket, but it’s more than a week’s worth of food so not as bad as it initially seemed.
    The right side of our kitchen with the microwave oven on top of the fridge and the rice cooker on top of the microwave . . .

    … and the left, with its very nice cooktop. For an apartment the size of ours, this is quite a spacious kitchen.
  • Grateful for: I am so thankful to have a very nice kitchen (daidokoro 台所) in our Tokyo apartment, much larger than I expected. There are lots of dishes, plenty of cutlery, a large assortment of cookware and utensils, and a good amount of cupboard space. It’s very Japanese (no oven) but the cooktop has three burners and a fish broiler, and everything is perfect for cooking and preparing our own meals. We have seen some kitchens in Japan that are positively microscopic, with just a sink, hotplate, and micro-fridge, so we’re very happy with the size of our space.
  • Japanese word of the week: Atatamemasu 暖めます. I have heard this word over and over in convenience stores and finally figured out this week that it means “warm,” as in “Can I warm this for you?” (Kochira de atatamemasu ka?) which is what the store clerk says when anyone buys a bento. Atatameru is the infinitive form (to warm) – the character 暖 means “warm,” and -memasu is the Japanese verb suffix conjugated for the present tense.
These big, colorful flower arrangements from various neighborhood businesses offer congratulations on the opening of a (tiny) new ramen restaurant near our son’s home. The arrangements lined both sides of the sidewalk and went on for quite a while.

One thing I love about being in Japan is that every trip out of our apartment is an adventure, whether it’s going across town or just down the street. There’s always something new to observe or learn about, or something new to try so it’s never boring. I always feel like I’m working on an interesting but very challenging puzzle when I read signs (or try to read them) or listen to an announcement. There are many reasons why we’d love to live here, but this is one of the main ones.

That’s it for our second week in Japan. How was your week? What did you accomplish? What good things happened for you?

Sunday Morning 2/24/2019: Week 1 in Japan

It is still wintery cold outside, but plum blossoms (ume) mean that it won’t be long before spring arrives. The blossoms are a symbol of strength and perseverance because they bloom even in the coldest weather.

It’s Sunday morning in Japan! We just finished up our breakfast not too long ago: some frozen waffles with syrup (C also had a bowl of cereal). I bought the frozen waffles at the commissary last weekend when we were out at the base with our son. We had our grandson to sleep over on Friday night, then watched the grandkids yesterday afternoon for a few hours while our son and DIL went out to dinner, and C came back home with us to spend the night with us again! Both Brett and I had sort of forgotten how exhausting it is to watch young kids, but we’re enjoying our time with them so much.

Our Tokyo apartment – we’re on the second floor, at the back of the building. Our host owns the entire building (nine apartments), and rents some of them full time and keeps the others as Airbnb-type rentals.

We’re mostly settled in now, and have figured most things out around our apartment. We still feel a bit though like we’re it will soon be time to pack up and get on the road again – the fact that we’ll be here for three months hasn’t really taken root with us yet. Our apartment is very comfortable (and warm!), but the chairs are lower than in the U.S. which has taken some getting used to. And, it’s the only apartment building I know of in Japan where the units don’t have a balcony, so we’ve had to dry our clothes indoors. They dry pretty quickly but we sort of dislike having the drying rack set up in the living room. Also, we had a bit of trouble adjusting to the bed at first. It didn’t feel soft, but I was waking up the first few days with a pretty bad back ache. It turned out we were sleeping under the futon that goes on top of the mattress rather than on top of the futon (which we thought was a comforter), and once we got that straightened out, no more backaches!

We’ve spent a great deal of the past two days over at our son’s home, only coming home in the evening. All we’ve done in the neighborhood is shop for necessities. It’s still a bit hard for me to walk for long distances – the toe I broke still hurts more than I’d like at this point, and I’m also trying to get the last bit of swelling to go down on my right leg. It appears I suffered a “bone bruise” on my shin when I fell as we left our Auckland Airbnb, a traumatic injury to a bone just short of a fracture. It’s getting better, and the bruising on my leg is almost gone (at one point it covered the entire area from my ankle up to my knee!), but the leg still needs some rest. I’m guessing it’s going to take around a full eight weeks for it to heal completely.

Finally, instead of my usual bonus question at the end, I’ve decided to add a Japanese word I’ve learned in the past week. This will be a useful or interesting word that I’ve finally figured out, and will hopefully help me remember what I’ve learned.

Today I am:

  • Reading: I started Becoming, by Michelle Obama, this past week and can hardly stand to put it down. It’s wonderful! She’s really a terrific writer and I’m enjoying her story so much. I am also enjoying actually having the time again to read – it was difficult when we were traveling around so much as I usually would open the book and fall right asleep from exhaustion.
  • Listening to: Brett is reading, but C is playing a game on my phone, and he insists on having the sound on. His mom or dad will be picking him up in a few more minutes though – they are going to the zoo today.
  • Watching: Nothing. We can’t understand anything on the TV so we just leave it shut off. I can access our Netflix account here, but haven’t watched anything yet.
  • Cooking: I am making two Chinese dishes tonight using Cook-Do sauce mixes: shrimp in chili sauce, and stir-fried peppers and pork. When I could find Cook-Do back in the U.S. it was very expensive ($4-$6 per package), but here it’s only around $1.50 per package. The sauces make cooking Chinese food so easy! We’ve figured out the rice cooker so we’ll also be having steamed rice along with the two dishes.
    Our son standing by the door to his sixth grade classroom. Most of the school has been rebuilt, but he found this area that remained from when he attended the school.

    Lots of Diet Coke, breakfast cereals, and other goodies for our son! Cereal with milk was his favorite snack when he was young (and the ones he got this time were cereals I would not let him have! Same for the PopTarts and doughnuts he picked out). We will go back again to restock before we leave.
  • Happy I accomplished last week: Our son drove us out to the NAF Atsugi base last Sunday and we got things we needed at both the exchange and the commissary, including LOTS of Diet Coke and breakfast cereals for our son. We lived on the base back from 1989-1992, so it was interesting and nostalgic driving around and seeing what was the same and what had changed (almost, but not quite, everything). Saddest for me was that the house we lived in, my favorite of all our navy houses, had been demolished and a new one put up in its place. Same for the house we lived in off-base. Brett and I also made a trip over to the New Sanno Hotel this past week, where we stayed with YaYu in 2017. We bought some KitKats there, including a new flavor: plum sake.

    Looking out at the Hiroo neighborhood from my favorite bakery. This is the area where we stayed on our last trip to Japan in 2017, and when I came in 2014 – there were so many memories as we walked around.
  • Looking forward to next week: We have no big plans for next week, although Brett may need to go to the base in Yokosuka and get a new debit card so we’ll pick a day for that as it will be an all-day excursion. We’ll check out their exchange and commissary while we’re there. I am planning to stop by the takoyaki (octopus fritters) stand sometime next week and get an order for our dinner, and we’re also planning to visit another nearby shrine this week.

    Our granddaughter loves showing us her hina dolls, an emperor and empress, along with their accoutrement. They’re set up for Girls’ Day (Hina Matsuri) on March 3. Superstition says that if a girl doesn’t display the dolls she will never marry.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We ate dinner at our son’s home on Thursday  and Friday evenings – our DIL in a terrific cook, and we of course loved spending time with the grands. On Friday she ordered out from a nearby sushi restaurant and we had a feast! Our grandson is having a lot of fun sorting out all of his foreign money and putting it away in a notebook for now. And, of course we loved having him over for sleepovers – he is so much fun and very helpful to us. On our trip to the New Sanno we stopped by my favorite bakery and I was able to get two loaves of their sliced raisin bread, which is my favorite bread ever (one was for the freezer). We enjoyed our trip to the very interesting Setagaya Kannon Temple – we’re still talking about it, trying to figure it all out. Neither our son nor daughter-in-law could explain it.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: I’m not sure how frugal we’ve been other than we haven’t gone crazy shopping out in town (although it’s been tempting a few times), and have done a good job eating all of our leftovers. We’re right where we need to be, budget-wise. I’m so happy to be fixing our own meals again (or eating over at our son’s) versus having to eat out all the time like we did for the most part in New Zealand, but we also like to occasionally pick up things from the prepared food section at the supermarket or a bento from one of the minimarts a couple of times a week – they’re affordable, and not too big of a splurge.
  • Grateful for: I may have hurt my leg pretty badly, but I am exceedingly thankful I did not fracture my shin bone! What a mess I would be now if that had happened. It really only looks bad now – it doesn’t hurt otherwise, even when I walk. My toe is another matter though – it’s still painful nearly three weeks after I broke it although some days are worse than others.
  • Japanese word for the week: Mamonaku 間もなく. For several days after we arrived I kept hearing this word in subway stations or while I was riding the train, and decided to look it up. The characters for the word are ma 間(space or interval), mo も(too or also), and naku なく(a suffix forming the negative). So, the direct meaning is “no further space” but a more useful translation is “shortly,” as in “the train will be arriving shortly” (no more space in time). The video above is a recording of announcements you hear in train stations throughout Japan. The language is a very polite form. Can you hear the announcer say mamonaku at the beginning? She is announcing the arrival of trains on certain tracks and where they are going, as well as reminding passengers that it’s dangerous as the trains arrive so please stand behind the yellow line. I can actually understand most of what she’s saying in the video!

Sundays are kind of a crazy day to go out in Japan because everyone is off and doing things, and trains and places tend to be crowded. So, we’re planning to stay in today to take care of some housekeeping and other tasks.

How was your week? What are you doing today? What good books are you reading?

Sunday Morning 1/6/2019 On the Road Again

The suitcases look stuffed, but still weigh less than 44 pounds! No discount flights for a while though so we’re in good shape.

Our suitcases are packed, the house is clean, and in a very short while WenYu, YaYu, Brett and I will be heading out the door of our Portland Airbnb. Meiling returned to Eugene yesterday afternoon, but this morning we’ll take YaYu over to her friend’s house, and then the remaining three of us will head to the airport to drop off the rental car and check in for our flights. WenYu departs about 45 minutes ahead of us, on a non-stop back to Boston. We’re both flying the same airline though, so we’ll be able to hang out with WenYu until she boards.

We have had a wonderful month in Portland even though we arrived with bad colds and dental issues, almost everyone picked up a stomach bug for a while, and the weather was hard to take at times. We enjoyed extended quality time with the girls, had a marvelous Christmas, ate lots of tasty food, and reconnected with friends. Brett and I are already looking forward to being back here during the summer. We’re not sure if anyone will be joining us although WenYu said she will come to Portland if she can’t find work in Boston. YaYu is talking about spending the summer back on Kaua’i as she can make so much more money there. She would stay with a friend, and have to find a job there, so we’ll see if she can get it all worked out.

As always before any travel day, I have butterflies in my stomach from both anticipation and nerves. I’m so excited about visiting India, a long-time dream for me, but also worried again about the very long flight over, jet lag, and all the luggage wrangling (or our luggage getting lost). And, I dread saying goodbye to the YaYu and WenYu.

I wrote some of this yesterday, but this morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished Ian Rankin’s House of Lies on Friday and I’ve picked up Barbara Kingsolver’s Unsheltered again. I started it when we were in Florence, but set it aside when I couldn’t concentrate.
  • Listening to: Everyone is sort of moving around quietly this morning, eating breakfast or tucking last-minute items into their suitcases. There were some very strong winds (sounded like a freight train roaring past at times) and heavy rain last night but it’s very quiet outside this morning (although still gloomy).
  • Watching: I watched several episodes of “Weeds” with YaYu this past week, and also watched most of the episodes from the new Marie Kondo show on Netflix about tidying. Other than being a bit younger than I thought, she is just how I imagined she would be – delightful! I especially love it when she hugs Americans because hugging is definitely something not done in Japan! She throws herself into it though.
  • Cooking/baking: I baked up the last of some frozen almond and chocolate croissants we bought at Trader Joe’s for our breakfast this morning, but obviously no other cooking or baking will be happening today. It will be two weeks before I step into a kitchen again.

    Gifts for our Airbnb hosts – everything is lightweight and easy to pack
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Brett and I went to Made in Oregon at the mall and bought small gifts for our upcoming Airbnb hosts: each will receive a Portland tea towel, small jar of Oregon-made jam, and a small package of roasted hazelnuts. The store also sold small reusable tote bags for less than any paper gift bag we could have found (49¢ each) so that’s what the gifts will go into. Getting packed again was a big accomplishment after a month of pretty much not looking at or thinking about our suitcases. Both Brett and I took some things out of them this past month, but we each got a new piece of clothing for Christmas and I also bought three new (lightweight but warm) tops the other day at J. Jill so had to make room for those. We still have a lot of cold/cool weather still to come in India and when we get to Japan.
  • Looking forward to next week: Being in India! By this time next week, if all goes well, we will have toured Delhi, seen the Taj Mahal at both sunset and sunrise, and will be in Jaipur. I am also very much looking forward to eating Indian food. I am not looking forward to the long flight over to India – we’ll be spending nearly 20 hours in the air (two flights), the longest stretch of flying in the entire adventure.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We had a great birthday celebration with the girls on Friday evening. We went out for pizza then came back to the house for cake and presents – we gave each of the girls some more cash (their favorite present these days). I also had wonderful reunions and catch-ups with three long-time friends this past week – I’m was so happy we were able to get together.

    There is nothing better than getting together with old friends to catch-up! Joan (upper photo) and I have known each other for 25 years; Elaine (lower left) for 14 years: and Sylvia for 16. Sylvia will arrive in Hong Kong the day after we do, and we’ve already planned a meet-up there! I also got together for coffee with friends Judy (16 years) and Pat (18 years) earlier in our stay, but forgot to take photos!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We sent lots of leftover food back to Eugene with Meiling and ate the rest so nothing was thrown away. There was nothing left to eat this morning except for the croissants. I got everyone else’s miles transferred over to my Hawaiian miles account, and now have enough to at least get YaYu over to Kaua’i if she decides that’s what she wants to do this summer. I shopped the sale rack at J. Jill and received an additional 40% off the marked down sale prices on the tops I bought. The price for all three ended up being just slightly over the starting price for one of them (my motto with J. Jill is never, ever pay full price for anything – everything eventually goes on sale).
  • Grateful for: I am so thankful for the time we have had with our daughters this past month. I’ve loved cooking, eating, shopping, and playing games with them, and also seeing them reconnect with their Portland friends. Best of all has been hearing them interact with each other every day – it’s been like listening in on a super fun slumber party. Brett and I have also appreciated their thoughts and input about what and where we should settle after we’ve finished traveling later this year.

    Black cards are fill-in-the-blank, and white cards are answers submitted by players in Cards Against Humanity. The goal is either to either have the sentence make sense or make it as silly as possible. This pair is actually quite tame compared to some of the options!
  • Bonus question: Do you like to play board games? The girls love them but I don’t care for games all that much. Other than Scrabble, Yahtzee, and a couple of others I’m not much of a game player because I can get too competitive. However, Meiling brought her set of Cards Against Humanity (“a party game for horrible people”) from Eugene this past week and we all played on New Year’s Eve. Oh. My. Goodness. It is a very risqué and un-PC game, and nothing I ever thought we could do with our daughters, but we all had so much fun and practically laughed our heads off the entire time (we tended to go with silly answers). In fact, we were having such a good time that we didn’t even notice when midnight rolled around and the new year started! Brett and I plan to buy our own set of cards when we get back to Portland next summer and then figure out who won’t be offended when we ask them to play (which would be pretty much all of our friends).

I hope everyone had a very good start to the new year, and had a good week. I’m not sure when I’ll get a chance to write again – we are arriving in Delhi a day ahead of our tour in hopes of getting a head start on combatting jet lag, and the tour will be keeping us busy every day after that. We are ready though!

Sunday Morning 12/30/2018 Last Sunday in Portland

One of our most important tasks here in Portland was getting the “travel bible” updated, with new or changed reservations printed out and put in order – mission accomplished!

This time next week Brett and I will be getting ready to check out of our Portland Airbnb to begin our journey to India for a seven-day tour of the Golden Triangle (Delhi, Agra and Jaipur). In the late morning we’ll move YaYu over to one of her friend’s home for a week’s stay (followed by a stay with a second friend for a few days before heading back to Pennsylvania), and then WenYu, Brett and I will go to the airport to turn in our car and get ready for our flights out of Portland: to Boston for WenYu, and Vancouver, B.C. for Brett and me. Meiling will head back to Eugene next Saturday, to get ready to start her final term of college on Monday morning.

Brett and I had originally planned to drive up to Vancouver from Portland and be there in time to catch our late-night flight, but ended up deciding to fly because 1) we really didn’t want to drive that distance (5+ hours); 2) we were worried about possible delays at the border when driving (sometimes they happen which could throw off everything); and 3) the paperwork for taking a rental car across the border was more detailed than we imagined – one wrong thing and we wouldn’t cross the border. The flight from Portland will put us in Vancouver a little less than six hours before the flight to Delhi (through Taiwan), but we are pros these days at managing long airport layovers. The layover will give us plenty of time to pick up our bags from the first flight, exit customs in Vancouver and then re-enter the airport to check the bags with the airline that will be carrying us to India. We’ll have dinner in the airport as well during our wait. One good thing this time too is that our suitcases should be a little lighter.

We had a good time meeting Meiling’s boyfriend this past week and give him two thumbs up. We all got together for Chinese food on Thursday evening and let Meiling and K order. Everything they chose was delicious, especially since they had the good sense not to order the duck’s tongue entrée (they are more adventurous eaters than the rest of us). We feel K is a very good fit for her. He currently lives and works in New York City (as a software engineer at a very well-known tech company) so for now they only see each other every couple of months, but she is planning on moving to NYC to work after she graduates next June. They will be spending a week with us in Japan at the end of March.

Our suitcases may be lighter leaving Portland, but I’m not sure that Brett or I are leaving lighter than when we arrived. Unlike other locations during our travels we have had a car here, and combined with the rain and the gloom, and the distances between our Airbnb and places we’ve needed to be, we have made good use of it and done little to no walking. We have been eating more than we usually do because of the family being together and the holiday, and that combined with a lack of exercise has meant we’ve both gained weight, even with Brett being sick for a few days. So, we are looking forward to eating less and doing more walking again in the next several months. I’m more than a little bit worried though that I might be too big for my warm weather clothes that I’ll need in Australia and New Zealand.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I still haven’t been reading anything, or at least not any books. There’s too much activity in the house during the day, and at night I fall asleep quickly. Although I’ve found it hard to read when I’m traveling because my mind is so full of all that I’m seeing and doing, I’m still giving myself a goal to read 30 books next year. First book of the year will be the new Ian Ranking thriller!
  • Listening to: The girls are still asleep and Brett is reading something so it’s very, very quiet here this morning. And I mean quiet. There are no chickens or roosters, no lawn equipment, no birds singing and no dogs barking – all the things we used to live with as constant background noise on Kaua’i, where we lived with the windows open 7/24/365 (I still miss Kaua’i though).
  • Watching: We haven’t been watching a whole lot of TV here, but we watched a wonderful film, Lion, last night. It’s the true story of an Indian boy who became accidentally lost and separated from his family at age five and was eventually adopted by a family in Australia. With the little he remembered he searched for years and eventually found his home village in India and was reunited with his birth mother and sister 25 years later. It was an amazing story and film – I can’t recommend it enough. YaYu also loves to watch cooking shows so I joined her to watch a few of those, but mostly I’ve stayed busy with things around the house and/or running errands.
  • Cooking/baking: We are working diligently now to eat up everything we bought before we depart at the end of the week. Our Christmas ham is almost finished, and tonight we’re finishing up the big chicken pot pie we bought at Costco. I sent some things back to Eugene with Meiling the other day but we’ve still got several things to finish up and then whatever’s left over after that will go to Eugene with her when she goes back on 1/5 (she’s coming back to Portland tomorrow).

    To say I needed a pedicure would have been an understatement – after four months of travel my feet were a mess!
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: We had a lovely Christmas and everything came together perfectly. Brett and I had sort of forgotten how much more work we used to do when the girls were around, but we’ve managed to keep up with all of the cleaning, laundry, cooking, recycling and composting. I got a much-needed pedicure and can once again stand to look at my feet. We have a busy week coming up with lots of small tasks that need to be taken care of, but we’ve made a list of everything so hopefully nothing gets forgotten before we set off again.
  • Looking forward to next week: I am getting together with two more friends for coffee next week and can’t wait to see them and set the world straight again. I’m also excited about the release of the new Ian Rankin book tomorrow and looking forward to diving into it, no matter how tired I am! We are going out for pizza on the 4th to celebrate the girls’ birthdays since we’ll be on the road when those happen, and then will come home to have cake and open presents. I have to admit I am also somewhat looking forward to getting packed up again (well, not the actual packing part) and getting back on the road, although I feel sad when I think about saying goodbye to the girls, especially since it will be a while since we see them all again.

    A friend said it looked like road kill, but we almost had a fight over who got the last spicy, savory PokPok chicken wing – they were that good!
  • Thinking of good things that happened: I somehow never caught the stomach bug that took everyone else down last week (or should I say it never caught me). Usually I am the first to get sick, so I feel very lucky to have been spared this time, and it was a good thing to have one healthy person operating in the house. Everyone is well again though. One of the Portland restaurants on my bucket list before we left in 2014 was Andy Ricker’s PokPok (Thai food), but time got away from us and I never ended up getting to eat there. However, just up the street from our Airbnb here is the PokPok wing shop which sells the most popular item from the PokPok menu, and this past week I got my first taste when WenYu brought home a box. They were hands down the most delicious chicken wings I have ever had – we are going back again before we leave!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We had several no-spend days this past week other than going out to eat, and otherwise spent very little money. Both of our meals out cost less than we budgeted too so we were able to bring our daily spending average down.

    Nothing better on a cold, rainy Portland afternoon but coffee and conversation with a good friend at Papachino’s!
  • Grateful for: YaYu has a long winter break from Bryn Mawr and doesn’t go back for nearly two weeks after we depart, but her two best Portland friends also have long breaks from their schools, and their families stepped up to host her and will get her on the plane back to Philadelphia later in the month. We’re so thankful because we know they will take good care of her, and she and her friends will have a great time catching up and being together. I am also very thankful for the time to get together with friends while we’re here – I have missed them so much! Finally, I have been thinking lately about our four years on Kaua’i, and how lucky we were to live there, and grateful we had that opportunity.
  • Bonus question: Do you have plans for New Year’s Eve? We are probably the dullest couple/family when it comes to New Years, and as always, we don’t have anything special planned for this year. The girls will all be here with us, but I’m still not sure if any of them have plans to get together with friends and do something (probably not as they would have said something by now). So, I have no idea what we’ll do other than we’ll all stay up and welcome in the new year together. Brett and I have never gone out on New Year’s Eve – we’ve always preferred having a quiet celebration at home. Anyway, I’m thinking of cooking a nice dinner, we’ll watch a movie together and play games together, greet the new year and then head for bed. It’s not very exciting, but it works for us!

From the bottom of my heart, a big THANK YOU to all my readers for coming along for the ride in 2018. Wishing all good things for all of you in 2019. I’ll see you next year!

Sunday Morning 12/23/2018 The Band Is Back Together

Settled in to watch “Mulan,” although two out of the three don’t feel very well. “Mulan” was a favorite childhood movie (along with the “High School Musical” series), and they know the words to every song and sing along.

We picked up our last little bird at the airport on Thursday afternoon, so the house is full and we are ready for Christmas! Or at least I hope we will be ready for Christmas – four of the five of us have been struggling with a stomach bug. WenYu suddenly became very sick on Thursday when we were at the airport to pick up Meiling. By Friday night Brett and YaYu had caught it, and Meiling finally succumbed last night. As of this morning I am still OK, WenYu is feeling well and eating again, and Brett and YaYu say they feel better although neither has an appetite. We are all hoping we’ll be OK by Christmas morning.

In spite of all this sickness, Brett and I are loving the sounds of the girls chattering with each other, and enjoying the chances we’ve had to talk with them, sit down to meals together and watch TV together. Mostly though we’re just happy being together again, even if it’s only going to be for a short while. Poor Brett – he had to adjust pretty quickly to being the lone man in a house of women once again (and there’s only one bathroom). Both of us also had to adjust quickly to a lot more dishes and laundry.

Otherwise, all seems to be going well. Our spending had been a little on the high end, but that’s from all the food shopping we did right after we arrived. Our daily average has been dropping every day though now that the shopping is over so hopefully we’ll end the month right where we need to be. I am just hoping now that we’ll be able to eat all of the food we bought before we have to leave!

This morning I am:

  • Reading: Still nothing. However, the new Ian Rankin book, In a House of Lies, arrives on December 31, and I am looking forward to digging into that.
  • Listening to: It’s a very quiet morning here again. WenYu, Brett and I are up, and eating (just crackers for Brett) but Meiling and YaYu are still sleeping. Immense amounts of sleep have been one of the curious side-effects of this bug.
  • Watching: I watched my two must-see Christmas films last week: White Christmas and Love, Actually, which WenYu and I always watch together. It was especially fun this year to see the final scene with Colin Firth in Lisbon – I recognized those hills and steps! I am probably the only person in the U.S. though who has not seen Elf, so I’m trying to see it this year but so far it’s not available on one of our streaming sites. WenYu and I are also binge watching the new Twin Peaks series – it’s very weird, and not as cohesive as the original series.

    Well, at least most of us got to enjoy sitting down together for our turkey dinner (WenYu missed it) on Thursday.
  • Cooking/baking: I’m not doing a whole lot of cooking right now. We were supposed to go to our friend Joan’s house yesterday morning for brunch but with three out of five of us sick that sadly didn’t happen. Tonight I’m going to make a pot of turkey noodle soup to use up the turkey, and will make some biscuits to go with that. We’ll see who makes it to the table.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Brett and I finished all of our travel re-provisioning this past week, and the only thing we have left to get now are some small gifts for the next round of Airbnb hosts. We’ll do that a couple of days before we leave – we’re planning on taking small boxes of smoked salmon and some Portland tea towels as both will be lightweight and easy to pack. I researched airfares and schedules and helped WenYu book her flight to Cyprus in January – she will be doing her spring term at the University of Nicosia, attending film school and studying animation. Brett drove Meiling down to Eugene and back on Saturday to bring her things back up to Portland for Christmas.
  • Looking forward to next week: Hopefully all of us will be feeling better again, and of course we are all looking forward to Christmas! Everyone’s gifts are wrapped and ready, we have everything for our meals on hand, so I am just looking forward to us being together, feeling better, and enjoying the holiday. We are planning to go out for dim sum on Wednesday morning, and then on Thursday we will meet and go out to dinner with Meiling’s boyfriend. She and I are talking about maybe doing a re-design of the blog this week, so we’ll see if that happens. It’s just the sort of thing she loves to do and is very, very good at, but both of us always seem to get wrapped up in other stuff.

    Our granddaughter is getting lots of sparkly fairy princess dress-ups!
  • Thinking of good things that happened: The fact that I am not sick is a very good thing – usually I am the first to come down with something like this and then pass it along to everyone else. It’s also a good thing that whatever this bug is it doesn’t seem to last long. Also, the last pieces of our granddaughter’s gifts arrived this week so that is taken care of. The gift for our grandson also arrived – a custom-made fingerboard (skateboard) – so along with all the different currency we have saved along the way for him we are good to go!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: 1) We stopped spending money on groceries. We have enough now. Anything that’s left over when we move out will go home with Meiling. 2) The grandchildren’s gifts came with free shipping, and there’s no sales tax in Oregon. 4) We got WenYu’s round-trip airfare to Cyprus for less than $750. She is thrilled as she thought she would be paying more than $1200. 5) Sick or not, we have been doing a good job of making sure leftovers get eaten, although at a slower pace than usual. No food has been thrown out.
  • Grateful for: I am so grateful that all the girls arrived safely and we are able to be together for a while. I am always a bundle of nerves when they travel, and have to change flights, etc. but they all managed well. So many of us being sick in this small house has been difficult but everyone is getting better, and I am so glad it did not catch me (knock on wood).
  • Bonus question: Do you prefer receiving or giving gifts? I have always enjoyed giving gifts more than receiving them, even when I was little. I am always thankful for the gifts I receive but I have far more fun thinking about the people I am giving to, and what they would like, appreciate and use. I love hunting for just the right thing. Brett and I had a plan for the girls’ gifts before we begin traveling, and we had a good time not only finding those things but choosing the right ones for each girl’s taste. Everything we’re giving the girls this year, from stocking stuffers to gifts, comes from some place we visited this past fall. We enjoyed choosing gifts for our son and daughter-in-law too and will deliver them when we get to Japan in February.

I’m not sure when I’ll post again this week, but want to wish all who celebrate a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

Sunday Morning 12/16/2018: Portland Edition

We checked out the wreaths at Trader Joe’s but they were too heavy to hang in the house so we got a fresh pine swag instead.

I haven’t done one of these posts for a long time, but it’s a good fit for now, for catching up and keeping track of what we’re doing and where we’re going.

Brett and I have settled in nicely here and are almost well – our colds are now hanging on to the ledge by their fingernails.. One thing I had forgotten about living in Portland was how often I used to get sinus headaches when we lived here, and have had to deal with them a few times since we arrived – not fun. The air here seems very dry to us too, but we’ve set bowls of water out on the heat registers around the house and that is helping somewhat. We are feeling well enough though to get together with friends again beginning this week – up until now we still just felt too awful to see anyone.

I love Trader Joe’s, but am staying away now until after Christmas!

Most of our errands have been taken care of, thank goodness because I am sick to death of spending and shopping! We will be going to Fubonn Asian Supermarket on Tuesday to get YaYu all her noodles, and to Safeway on Wednesday or Thursday for a few odds and ends that can’t be found elsewhere, but otherwise we are pretty much done and ready for our girls. We have everything we need for all meals during the rest of our stay here. No matter where we’ve stayed on our adventure, we’ve shopped for a while but then comes the point where we start working on making sure everything we’ve bought gets eaten or used up before we leave. We’ve done a pretty good job so far during our travels, so hoping it goes as well here. My goal is that we have to go out to eat our last night in Portland because the fridge and cupboards are empty.

The dining hall at Bryn Mawr was transformed into the one at Hogwarts, including the floating candles! Love the candelabras on the tables as well!

Bryn Mawr held their annual winter end-of-term dinner this past week, where they dress up their dining hall like Hogwarts, faculty and students come in costume, and students are assigned to different schools (I think YaYu is a Hufflepuff?). I’m so glad she and WenYu have settled in so well at their colleges, and are having such memorable experiences (and doing well in their courses). Meiling is currently in New York City with her boyfriend. He moved there earlier this year to work for a big tech company, and they seem to be doing a good job of managing their long-distance relationship. We’re going to meet him when he’s in Portland later this month, and he’s also going to come along with Meiling when she visits us in Japan next spring!

Our Bryn Mawr wizard!

Anyway, this morning I am:

  • Reading: Nothing! Or at least not a book right now. I have had a terrible time trying to read these past few months – nothing seems to hold my interest for very long, and I’ve also had problems staying awake.
  • Listening to: It’s a typical quiet morning for Brett and I. He’s reading and I’ve been working on this! We’re looking forward though to all the noise and hubbub that will come along with the girls this week.
  • Watching: Brett and I were all set to watch Season 4 of Better Call Saul, but that turned out to be a one-day binge opportunity so we missed out on it. There are things on Netflix and Amazon Prime (Man in the High Castle) we want to see, but those can wait until Meiling arrives with her stick and tech abilities next week. The other day Brett and I clicked through all the many, many cable channels we have here and could not find even one thing that interested us, a pretty good indication we will not be signing up for cable later.
  • Cooking/baking: Tonight we’re having leftover tacos, along with some refried beans. We had them night before last but there was lots left over so we’ll finish that off tonight. We picked up a frozen cherry pie this past week and I’m going to bake that later today – I have been craving pie.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: I am glad we’ve gotten most of our shopping done, but it turned into a chore. We’re just not very enthusiastic spenders these days. Also, we’re so glad we got hair cuts – that was something that definitely needed doing. I ordered some gifts for our granddaughter from Amazon (after looking all over town and not finding what I wanted) that will tuck nicely into my suitcase, and weigh next to nothing. Not my accomplishment, but Brett took care of our visa applications for both India and Australia and we are set to enter those countries. Finally, I got all the Christmas presents wrapped and ready to put out on Christmas morning!
  • Looking forward to next week: Well, besides all the girls arriving in Portland and all of us being together again, I am looking forward to us having brunch at a good friend’s home next Sunday morning and I know that it will be delightful. Our sons were friends in high school, and Joan was a big help to us during Meiling’s and WenYu’s adoptions, and I can’t wait for her to see how beautifully the girls have grown up. I’m also looking forward to getting together with another good friend for coffee later this morning at one of our old haunts.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Being able to get a temporary crown on my broken tooth, and finding out that I won’t need multiple procedures to fix it was the best news this week.

    The pine swag smells wonderful!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: 1) I got a very good deal on a new phone from T-Mobile. The price was lower than I expected and with the trade-in of my old phone I ended up paying several hundreds of dollars less than I thought I would. 2) Although we’ve done a lot of shopping here in Portland we haven’t gone crazy, which is something I worried about before we arrived. We’ve stuck strictly to necessities for the most part or pre-planned purchases, like my phone. 3) We saw a little live tabletop Christmas tree the other day that smelled wonderful and would have been adorable on the coffee table, but it was $25 so we passed. The cheap ornaments we bought at Target along with a string of lights for around the door cost us just $5, the poinsettia was $6, and our pine swag was $8, so we saved $6 over the tree and the house looks (and smells) ready for Christmas! Meiling is going to take the lights and ornaments with her when we move on. 4) Brett and I have done a good job of eating leftovers so that no food has been wasted. 5) He and I also decided not to give each other any gifts this year because neither of us needs or wants anything right now. Instead, we’ll save our money and do something special and spontaneous together later when we’re back on the road again.
  • Grateful for: Both Brett and I are exceedingly thankful that our dentist here was able to fit us in so quickly and repair our broken teeth. We are also very, very thankful for our good dental insurance – we will have a co-pay, but most of the cost will be picked up by our insurance. We are also thankful for the great haircuts we got from the stylist recommended by our friend. Finally, we’re feeling very grateful that we were able to find an affordable and nice Airbnb for our month in Portland. So many of the places in town were way, way over what we could afford.

    Requests from the girls that will be long gone before Christmas!
  • Bonus question: What Christmas traditions are you maintaining this year? On Christmas morning we will enjoy our traditional breakfast of toasted bagels, cream cheese, smoked salmon, fresh fruit (berries?), and orange juice. The girls took their Christmas stockings and little sequined boxes with them to college this year and are bringing them along when they come “home.” They will be able to open the gifts in their stockings before breakfast, and we always tuck a little something into the little boxes (that I found for around $1 each, I think, at WinCo one year). After breakfast we’ll open our presents, one at a time from oldest to youngest. We’ll enjoy a relaxing day together, and I’m preparing a favorite meal of ham, macaroni and cheese, broccoli and cornbread, and we’ll have cheesecake for dessert.

That catches us up here at the Nomad’s Portland home for this week.Although we love the holiday season,  I know it’s not always a happy time for everyone, but I hope the days are going well for you nonetheless, and that you’re able to enjoy time with family and friends. Thank you for sticking with us Nomads as we travel around – there’ll be more coming up after the first of next year!

Sunday Afternoon 8/12/2017

The calm before the storm yesterday morning. We had a steady stream of voters in all day, and Hawai’i had its highest voter turnout in recent years. The entire state of Hawaii is moving to mail-in ballots in 2020, and scenes like this will be relegated to history.

Brett and I spent a very L-O-N-G day yesterday serving as poll workers for the Hawai’i primary election. It wasn’t exactly a volunteer position – we’ll both get paid a small stipend – but it was exhausting nonetheless because we had to be up so early (at the site at 5:30 a.m. to set up) and couldn’t leave until all the voting was over at 6:00. It was an interesting experience though, and the people we interacted with were very nice. The voters represented a real slice of Kaua’i life and its diversity, all the way from some in bathing suits (it was a gorgeous day) to one guy who looked like as soon as he took care of voting he was taking his yacht out for a cruise! Brett and I have decided we’re going to use our stipends to go out for a fabulous meal on Election Day (November 6) while we’re in Florence.

The sun was just coming up when Brett and I arrived at our polling station. Yesterday’s weather, while we were stuck inside all day, was gorgeous, but it’s been raining off and on today.

All the sitting at middle school cafeteria benches took a big toll on my back though (no support), so I am once again dealing with pain that has got to be gone before we leave next week. I spent some time in the hot tub as soon as we got home last night which helped a lot, and will be there every day this week, and hopefully I can get this taken care of once and for all. Just to keep things even more interesting, YaYu has apparently developed a case of allergic pinkeye. Fingers are crossed we can get her in to see the doctor this week and get that taken care of. Brett is fine and looking out for us all.

Today’s post will be my last Sunday Afternoon post for a while – we’ll be packing all day next Sunday and getting ready to go, and I don’t think I’m going to have a whole lot going on this coming week to write about anyway. After we depart on the 20th I won’t be following a regular posting schedule, at least not for a while, because I don’t know how often I’ll have time to write. I am going to aim for posting once or twice a week while we’re on the road though. I will be pictures up more frequently on the Occasional Nomads Instagram site while we’re traveling, so I hope you’ll follow us or check in from time to time.

This afternoon I am:

  • Reading: I still have two books going: I read Our Towns during the day (but it’s due back at the library tomorrow!), and The Great Influenza by John Berry at night. Sluggy over at Don’t Read This; It’s Boring recommended it, and I thought it sounded like something I’d like to read. My grandmother occasionally talked about the flu epidemic (she was born in 1890, so was 28/29 when it was going on) and how terrifying it was. I’ve also been reading our Buenos Aires travel guide to get ready for the first stop on our adventure.
  • Listening to: Another blissful day of peace and quiet. I’m listening to nothing right now but the sounds of my own thoughts (and they are happy ones for the most part).
  • Watching: I watched last week’s episode of The Great British Baking Show and a repeat episode from Season 4 of Sherlock on PBS, but also started a 10-episode series on Netflix, The Five (which I’m watching on my computer). It’s really good. Commercial/cable TV drives me nuts to the point that I can’t stand watching any of it.

    No cooking required – my favorite breakfast these days is nonfat Greek yogurt with fresh peach and a sprinkle of granola.
  • Cooking/baking: We’re eating lunch out a few time this week (Ono Char-Burger, Hamura’s, Kauai Pho); are going out to breakfast at the Tip Top on Friday morning; and having dinner at the 1849 Eating House next Saturday evening, but otherwise our task here will be to finish up as much as we can of the food we have in the condo, which isn’t a whole lot at this point. I have a two-pound pork tenderloin that I’m going to cut up – we’ll have grilled pork one evening, and use the rest to make pork yakisoba and pork curry on other evenings.
  • Happy we accomplished this past week: We took care of a few more address changes that we had somehow missed, and we also got rid of a few more things that we brought over with us to the condo that we thought we might need but don’t. We also signed up for a free walking tour of Paris through Paris Greeters.
  • Looking forward to this week: Besides getting to eat at some of our favorite places on the island, I am also getting my hair trimmed up on Wednesday (Brett is getting a haircut too), and having a mani-pedi at the resort spa on Saturday morning so I’m ready to go! I’m also looking forward to getting all of our travel things packed, and as much time at the pool as possible. The weather was very gloomy last Thursday and Friday and more rain is predicted this week.

    YaYu’s right cheek was still a bit swollen two days after her wisdom teeth came out but everything else is going well (that’s her beloved kamaboko – Japanese steamed fish cake – that she’s getting ready to break into).
  • Thinking of good things that happened: YaYu’s oral surgery went well and she’s healed quickly, although she was quite swollen for a couple of day. She had her surgery on Monday and was back to eating regular food by Wednesday. Brett stopped at Costco for some fruit last week and discovered key lime pie. We lived in Key West for a while, so know good key lime pie when I taste it and this pie was good! 

    A BIG piece of key lime pie and coffee for dessert out on the lanai
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: The condo provides the nicest 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner, and I stopped by the office the other day to get another tube and they gave me three of them, so I now have everything I need for my carry-on toiletries. We were surprised to get refunds from both our water bill and our gas bill – we had thought we would owe on each of those, but had forgotten about the deposits we put down when we opened the accounts and those covered everything with money left over. The refunds will go into our first month’s travel budget. We have spent very little at the grocery store this week, just picking up things as we need them, like fruit or bread or yogurt. We have no plans to buy anything this week.

    My favorite Kaua’i-made product will forever be Monkeypod Jam’s lilikoi curd. It is a taste of the island right out of the jar.
  • Grateful for: I’m feeling very blessed and thankful for all the wonderful local foods we’ve gotten to eat over the past four years, from restaurant meals to fresh produce from the farmers’ markets to locally produced food products. This little island produces a lot! I am especially going to miss all the tropical fruit and the cucumbers – the ones grown here are the best I’ve ever tasted.

    I have fallen in love with this pool!
  • Bonus question: Which do you prefer, the beach or the pool? When we arrived here four years ago I couldn’t tell you how long it had been since I’d been to the beach, but I quickly fell in love with it all over again, sitting in my beach chair, swimming in the warm water and diving through the waves. If you’d asked me a few weeks ago which I preferred it would have been easy to answer. Going to the beach is the quintessential Kaua’i experience and a great way to spend anywhere from a couple of hours to the whole day.  But I have fallen completely in love with the pool here at the resort and now if asked to choose between heading down to the pool here or going to the beach I would choose the pool. There are plenty of chairs, chaises, and umbrellas to choose from, there’s a variety of things to do from hot tubs to slides to the lazy river, and it’s big enough that it never feels crowded. Towels are provided and the sandy bottom of the hot tubs is pure luxury. As one commenter on Instagram wrote the other day, the beach is for sitting and a pool is for swimming. I agree, but at this pool I can sit and look out at the ocean without having to deal with sand or carrying all our beach accoutrement to and from the car. So, for now I’m feeling somewhat torn – I will forever love the beach, but I’m also enjoying being spoiled rotten by the experience of this pool.

Less than 10 days to go, and just one more week to go from tomorrow until our departure!

I’ve always enjoyed writing the Sunday Afternoon posts these last few years – they’ve been fun to do – and hopefully I will be able to pick them up again in the future. Sunday Afternoons have been a great format for writing about our family and lives, and connecting with so many readers over the past few years. I hope you will continue to check in and comment while we’re traveling, and I promise to keep answering your comments. Thank you for being the best readers a blogger has ever had!

Sunday Afternoon 8/5/2018

Sixty-six years old and this is what my life has come to.

Most of our time these days is like the picture above, but the high drama continued with our former landlord who was in full loon mode on Friday. Brett messaged him on Friday to ask the status of our deposit. The landlord (LL) texted back that we had broken the freezer basket tracks and the freezer was “unusable” until it was fixed, and we would be charged for those repairs. The freezer basket worked fine when we left the house, the same way it worked the entire time we lived in the house – we told him we had a witness to its condition. Suddenly the refrigerator was still  under warranty and there would be no charges for repairs. I had told Brett ahead of this that I was sure LL was going to claim we broke the oven and damaged the floors, and sure enough he did not disappoint. When we mentioned that the oven had been “unusable” for nearly two months before we moved out and he had not seemed in any particular hurry to get that fixed he outright lied and said he had had three “licensed experts” look at the oven door, and they had concluded it was impact damage that we had caused. He could have stopped there, but no, he went on to say they had saved the shattered glass as proof. Uh no – Brett had helped the one repairman who ever showed up throw the piece of broken glass away! So LL backed down to two “experts,” but we said if they had ever come and looked at the glass they did so when we weren’t in the house, which was a major violation of our lease, so the whole oven argument was also quickly dropped. Then he started in on the floors, saying they were a mess and we hadn’t stripped or re-waxed them or gotten rid of the salt damage. We reminded him for about the fourth time that we had it in writing from him not to do the floors before we moved out! It took some back and forth, but he finally backed off that as well. The arguments and accusations went for on for a couple of hours, with almost every text from him containing a new (supposed) violation or some personal wrong we had done to him. He told Brett at one point that he was just a poor, sick old man, an honorable man and a former Marine, and we were disrespecting and dishonoring him (he’s only two years older than Brett, who spent 22 years in the navy versus getting kicked out after a couple of years so you can guess how that went over with us). He said we hadn’t cleaned the house while we lived there according to his directions or methods so therefore the house was not clean! Also, apropos of nothing, he told us he thought we were friends because we had discussed doing a house swap with him between Texas and Hawaii!  WHAT??? Anyway, at the end of all this he said we had been his best tenants ever and he had planned to give us back our whole deposit without even looking at the house (first time we heard this), but we screwed it up because we got angry when he stood us up last Sunday for the walk-through inspection. Everything, absolutely everything, according to him has been all our fault and we turned out to be nothing but a big disappointment. He said he is only going to mail a part of the deposit along with a list of all our transgressions, which we’ll believe if and when we ever see it. I have a strong feeling we’re going to be back on Kaua’i and in small claims court next year. The tax man will be coming for him in the interim though.

The landlord said he is going to have to charge us for the brown spot in the tub, but where is it??? I think he forgot we took LOTS of pictures, and had witnesses with us.

We continue to enjoy all that the resort and our condo have to offer. My favorite daily activity has been to soak in one of the hot tubs every morning for about 20 minutes, and then get some exercise in the pool. The hot tubs have a sandy bottom which feels great on my feet, and the temperature is wonderful – just at the point of being too hot when I get in but that I adjust to quickly. I love that I usually get the opportunity to chat with other visitors while I soak – I’ve met some very nice people this past week. And, I try to go down the pool slides every day. I keep telling myself I’m doing it for my grandson but the truth is I do it for myself because I LOVE pool slides and the ones here are awesome! The lazy river feature provides maybe too good of a workout – it feels like I’m carrying 50-pound weights on each leg as I walk back and forth.

YaYu will have her wisdom teeth removed early tomorrow morning. We know that everyone’s procedure goes differently – I was laid up for a couple of days eating nothing but applesauce, ice cream and mashed potatoes while Brett was eating pork chops for dinner the same evening he had his removed – so we’re just going to play it by ear afterwards. We can easily get over to Safeway for whatever she needs or wants to eat.

This afternoon I am:

  • Reading: I am almost done with The Child Catchers. It’s been very thought-provoking, and at times has challenged some of my own thinking on adoption. I am still working my way through Our Towns. It’s very interesting, and my biggest take-away so far is that many people and places in the U.S. are not doing as badly as what gets reported. It’s reminded me of the old adage that a good story will only be repeated once while a bad one will be shared at least fifteen times.
  • Listening to: Again, I am loving the peace and quiet here.  I honestly had no idea how noisy our former neighborhoods were until we left: the chickens and roosters, loud cars, noisy neighbors, loud music, weed trimmers, saws and lawnmowers, and dogs barking were almost constantly making some kind of noise, even in the middle of the night. Yes, there were times when I could hear the breeze through the trees, and birds singing, and I sort of got used to the noise after a while, but it didn’t take long for me to appreciate how much I enjoy true peace and quiet.
  • Watching: Although we have cable TV here, the only things I’ve been able to bring myself to occasionally watch are the Food Channel or HGTV, and only in very small doses. After only Netflix or Amazon or PBS for the past several years, the commercials drive me nuts now. I did enjoy watching Endeavour and the Great British Baking Show on a regular TV screen this past week versus my computer.
  • Cooking/baking: I baked a cake yesterday! The condo came equipped with a cake pan, mixing bowls, and measuring spoons and cups, so I made a butter cake with a chocolate glaze (which used up the last of our expensive chocolate powder and confectioners sugar). We’re having grilled steak for dinner tonight, and I plan to make chili-pork burritos and Chinese stir-fired tomatoes with eggs some time this week. Otherwise I’m not sure what else we’ll be having.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: We took care of the last bit of banking we had to do here on the island, and will be ready to shut down our local account a few days before we go. We also got our VPN account set up – we needed one here at the condo and will need to have one as while we’re traveling. I otherwise accomplished nothing other than getting myself out to the pool every day because there was nothing else that needed to be accomplished! We officially transferred the Civic over to Alan and Cheryl this week, and are in the process of assembling a few things more to go to the thrift store but that’s the extent of our busy-ness these days.
  • Looking forward to: Brett and I are going to look at our travel calendars, pick dates and start making museum reservations for Paris, Florence and Rome. Otherwise, I’m not looking forward to anything more than spending time by the pool. The weather wasn’t ideal last week (warm, but always a bit overcast) so hopefully we’ll have some more sunny days this week. Hurricane Hector is currently passing by and has brought wind and some rain, off and on, but the past couple of days have been lovely most of the time.

    YaYu’s future dormitory at Bryn Mawr!
  • Thinking of good things that happened: YaYu got her dorm assignment this past week and will be sharing what appears to be a quite small room with a girl from the Los Angeles area. They’re already chatting and getting to know each other, and we’re all anxious to see what the room looks like inside. The dorm itself is in a great location on campus though and reputed to be one of the most desirable. Although dealing with our former landlord this past week was aggravating (which is putting it mildly), we did get all of his lying, bullying, inconsistencies, etc. on the record because his whole tirade was done through texts (Brett has messages from him going back to early May). Brett has taken screen shots of everything and stored them, making it much easier for us if we do have to go to court. Otherwise, just being here at the resort has been a very good thing!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: Other than buying the few things we need from the grocery store we’ve been using up what we brought with us from the house, trying not to waste anything.

    In my happy place
  • Grateful for: I hurt my back the day before we moved out of the house doing who knows what, and am very thankful I can sit on the bench in one of the hot tubs, have the jets massage my back, and voilà! any residual morning pain is gone. I climb out of the hot tub feeling terrific and my back doesn’t bother me the rest of the day!
  • Bonus question: What’s your favorite type of chocolate: dark, milk or white? Although I like dark chocolate (in particular, dark chocolate with orange) and it’s pretty much all I eat now, my favorite type of chocolate will always be milk chocolate. I don’t eat much of any type of chocolate these days, and when I do it’s almost always dark chocolate now, but I still prefer milk chocolate. I’m pretty particular about it too – my favorite milk chocolate comes from See’s Candy, but I also like Lindt and authentic Cadbury chocolate from Great Britain (and I adore Cadbury Creme Eggs). Godiva is only so-so in my opinion. Hershey’s used to make a thick milk chocolate bar with almonds that was fabulous, but they discontinued it several years ago for some reason and I still miss it. I don’t care for white chocolate at all, or even consider it chocolate.

That’s a wrap for this week! How was your week? What did you accomplish? What good things happened for you? And most important, what’s your favorite type of chocolate?