Sunday Morning 11/10/2019: Week 10 in the UK

Trying to stay warm

It is very cold here! Temperatures dipped down to freezing this past week and are expected to stay well below normal until we leave. They’re now in the 40s during the day in our part of the world, and have dipped below freezing at night, but even colder temperatures are scheduled to arrive later this week. It seems Brett’s and my main activity right now is trying to stay warm. The gas fire is on all day, the radiators come on twice a day now, we keep the heavy drapes drawn over the front door and French doors to keep out drafts, and I cover up with a blanket when I’m on the sofa reading or writing. Still, we just feel cold all the time . . . winter really is coming. I am dreading our weekly trip to Aldi tomorrow because of the cold, and have my fingers crossed on both hands that it doesn’t rain.

Even though it was still very cold the day we left Bath, the blue skies were a cheerful break from all the wet and gloom we’ve been experiencing.
Leaves are still changing, but there are also lots of bare branches to be seen these days. Locals say that fall came much later than usual this year.

Overall we had a good trip down to Bath, but now our focus will be on making the most of our last couple of weeks here in England and wrapping up the things we need to do and get here. A visit to Stratford-upon-Avon is number one on our list of things to accomplish with Bourton-on-the-Water not far behind. We’ve got our fingers crossed we get a couple of dry days so that we can get those trips accomplished. No matter how it goes though we are happy and satisfied with all that we have been able to see and do, and we have loved every minute of our time in the UK. Leaving here is going to be a sadder than usual experience for us.

Today is Remembrance Sunday in the UK. Held on the Sunday closest to November 11, the day commemorates “the contribution of British and Commonwealth military and civilian servicemen and women in the two World Wars and later conflicts,” and is sort of a combination of the U.S. Memorial and Veterans Day holidays. Bells will be rung today at 11 a.m., the time that WWI ended, but will be muffled and somber. The red poppy is the symbol of remembrance (taken from the poem “In Flanders Field”) and people wear poppies beginning around the first of the month to commemorate those who died in service to the UK. Money donated for the poppies assists veterans in need.

The 2019 Remembrance Poppy.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn and now am back to reading Code Girls. I have also been going through the little book I bought in Bath, Secret Tokyo. We’ve only been to three of the places in the book, so there will be plenty for us to explore when we go back to Tokyo next year.
  • Listening to: Brett is rustling around in the kitchen fixing his breakfast, and the church bells just began ringing to call people to the morning service. The peal they’re ringing is especially lovely this morning too, although the bells will be somber later. Patches of blue sky and sunshine are visible outside so it should be a nice albeit very cold day. We may bundle up and go for a walk later if Brett feels up to it (he’s come down with a cold). However, yesterday started out nice and devolved into a wet mess so we have no expectation that things will remain as they are now.
  • Watching: The satellite feed to the TV stopped unexpectedly on Thursday night but Brett successfully got it rebooted on Friday so we could watch the next episode of Endeavour last night. We have been thinking all this time that it’s a new season but learned yesterday it has already been shown in the U.S. – I can watch the episodes online at PBS! While the TV was down we discovered we could still access Netflix, a good thing because the new season of The Crown begins next Sunday and we didn’t want to miss it if we couldn’t get the TV signal back. 
  • Cooking: We came home from Bath to a nearly empty fridge, but stopped by the village shop and picked up a few provisions to get us through until we can get to Aldi tomorrow (weather permitting). Tonight we’re having breakfast for dinner: eggs, sausages, sauteed apples, and scones. Also on the menu this week will be tacos; meatballs in marinara along with roasted Mediterranean vegetables; sweet & sour chicken and vegetable stir fry; breaded cod filets (we love these!) and roasted root vegetables; steak & potato pasties; flatbread pizza; and quiche Lorraine with vegetables of some sort. We discovered a fish and chip stand in Moreton-in-Marsh that gets high ratings, so we’re going to go there for lunch tomorrow before we head to Aldi. We can’t leave England without having fresh fish & chips!
  • Happy I accomplished last week: Getting to and from Bath, and having a great time there, was our big accomplishment, especially with the last-minute changes to our train reservations. We also finished up the last bit of the Christmas shopping we wanted to do while we’re here – we’re going to pack all of that up and ship it back to the U.S. this week versus adding too much extra weight to our suitcases. I purchased our tickets to get us out to Gatwick on the 28th, but we still have to arrange for a taxi to get us over to the station that morning because the train departs before the first bus of the day leaves Blockley.
  • Looking forward to next week: We haven’t planned anything for this week, and will just take it as it comes. If the weather looks decent one day (i.e. no rain) and we feel OK we’ll head over to Stratford.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: The best of all was the meet-up with Chris and Jane while we are in Bath. I’m always wary and a little scared of first-time meetings, but they were a lovely couple and we never ran out of things to talk about. They also showed us a few things in Bath we wouldn’t have known of otherwise and I hope we’re able to get together again someday. After two nights in an uncomfortable bed while we were in Bath, coming back to the supremely comfortable bed in our cottage and getting a good night’s sleep was pure heaven. It’s true what they say: “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” Meiling messaged us to say she had a great first week at her new job, is very happy there and the company environment appears to be a very good fit for her. She even has a window in her office with a gorgeous view of Manhattan. We’re so proud of that girl!
    This little guidebook will help us save when we’re in Tokyo next year as every place mentioned in it is free to visit. There are also editions for London and Rome as well.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We pretty much stayed on budget while we were in Bath, with the only unplanned purchase the Tokyo guidebook I found in the bookstore. One of the items we had planned to purchase we ended up getting for free, and we were able to find better-than-expected prices for the Christmas items we bought (and that’s all I can say about that!). For now, we’re only very slightly above our Daily Spending Average but have no more big purchases left for the rest of the month so that will be coming down and we’ll hopefully end the month with our spending below average.
  • Grateful for: About 18 months ago, our Japan Airbnb host, Yasuko, decided not to go ahead with licensing her rentals for Airbnb. Because of that decision, our Airbnb reservation was canceled and we received a large gift certificate from Airbnb to make up for the inconvenience. That certificate made this visit to the UK possible, something we couldn’t have afforded otherwise. We will be forever grateful for how it’s all turned out and for the experiences we’ve been able to have here because of that decision.
    Gingerbread and chocolate? We weren’t too sure if we’d like this combination or not, but it was quite good with lots of crunchy bits of ginger cookies inside. One was enough though.
  • Bonus question: What have been your favorite sweet treats in Britain? We definitely haven’t stuck to a carb-free diet here, but have still tried not to go overboard with the sweets. I don’t think Cadbury makes anything that isn’t delicious, and besides enjoying their drinking chocolate we’ve also tried a few of their new and unusual (to us, anyway) chocolate bars now and again. Cadbury holds a contest every year where customers submit new flavors with the top three being marketed and the winner chosen by the public. We’ve gotten to try two of the three final entries for this year, but the grand prize-winning flavor, Choca-latte, has been impossible to find because it’s been so popular (its creator was just 18 years old!). I do love a Mars bar now and again but also loved the walnut whip I tried from Marks & Spencer. Both Brett and my favorite cake here is coffee and walnut, with lemon drizzle close behind (and I still want to try a slice of a traditional Victoria sponge before we go). As for biscuits (cookies), I have yet to meet a ginger nut or shortbread I didn’t love.

The big effort going forward for both Brett and me will be trying to stay and/or get well. With all the cold weather and damp, I’ve been teetering on the edge of a cold but so far it hasn’t developed into anything serious. Brett hasn’t been so lucky and acquired a sore throat and cough which has now settled into his chest. It seems that we spend an awful lot of our time resting and not doing much these days, but we know in this weather pushing ourselves or getting too wet and cold would probably lead to one or both of us coming down with something miserable – that’s what happened last year and we don’t want a repeat. 

We’ve got just 18 more days left in the UK, and we’re focusing now on what we need to do to finish up here and get ready to go back to the U.S. As I mentioned above, we’ll be sending a package back to the U.S. this coming week with things we purchased here for Christmas. It will be expensive, but less than we would pay for overweight luggage. 

I hope everyone is staying warm wherever you are, and that you all had a wonderful week full of good things, good food, good books, and good friends, and that you’re looking forward to the week coming up!

Sunday Morning 11/3/2019: Week 9 in the UK

Halloween night in the Blockley churchyard looked straight out of Disney. I never thought I could or would walk through a graveyard at night, but we do it all the time here.

The vicarage had a pumpkin set out to welcome trick or treaters.

We’ve had another very low key week, and spent most of our time in the cottage trying to stay warm. The weather wasn’t too bad at the beginning of the week, but temperatures dropped into and stayed in the 40s and there was quite a bit of wind as well. We had to break out our winter coats and gloves when we went to do our food shopping last Monday, and even with the fireplace going inside we still spent a good deal of time wrapped in warm blankets, and drank coffee, tea, and cocoa trying to stay warm. My knees are already aching near constantly, a hint of what’s to come in Japan next year, especially when I have to climb up and down multiple flights of steps going into and out of the stations.

We’ll be heading out of town once more on Tuesday morning, this time to visit Bath for two days. Our Airbnb there is right in the center of town, just a few minutes walk from the Royal Crescent and other sights, and a few minutes more away from the Roman Baths. We plan to take a free walking tour and we will meet with one of Brett’s former high school classmates for tea. He has lived in the area for years and teaches at a local university, and Brett has been looking forward to getting together with him ever since we planned to come to England. We will stick with our usual meal plan while we’re there – breakfast and evening snacks at our rental and one (big) meal out each day.

This past week I went to empty my spam folder on the blog (I take care of this every other month as I thankfully don’t get a lot of spam) and discovered a few comments from readers that had gone directly there. Grrrrrr. If you have sent a comment and don’t see it appear this is most likely what happened and I apologize. Also, there still appears to be something weird going on between WordPress and Blogger as I’ve had absolutely no success in commenting on any Blogger platform either from my laptop or phone. WordPress can just be weird though – I have a couple of commenters who have been commenting on my blogs for years and I still have to approve them every single time!

Anyway, this morning I am:

  • Reading: It took a few days for the third book in the Morse series, The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn, to become available for download from the library so I started Code Girls: The Untold Story of American Women Code Breakers of WWII, about the women who worked in cryptology during WWII (it was mostly women who did this work). But, the Morse book became available on Friday so I’ve set aside Code Girls until I get it finished.
  • Listening to: So far it’s been a very quiet morning. It’s thankfully not raining (for now), there’s no one out on the streets, and Brett is reading. I slept in a bit this morning and missed all the church bells but all this quiet is very nice.
  • Watching: We watched the final of The Great British Baking Show this week and decided we just didn’t really care much for this season. No quirky/interesting bakers to root for as in the past – the bakers this year were mostly in their 20s and overly focused – and the bakes themselves were weird at times. We’re still watching and enjoying Doc Martin and The Accident, and caught the opener of Endeavour – it’s going to be a great season.
  • Cooking: We’re having sausage rolls and miniature pork pies for dinner tonight along with homemade applesauce, with any leftovers for breakfast on Tuesday morning before we catch the train. Tomorrow we’ll most likely be having meatloaf sandwiches. We’re not going to Aldi again until the 11th and will instead pick up a few things from the village store after we return to get us through until then.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: The only thing I accomplished this past week was finding and booking some flights. It took a while, but I finally found a decent fare for YaYu’s trip from Philadelphia at Christmas on a schedule that worked for her but it took some effort (I have yet to ever find a real bargain on any flight between Philly and Portland, especially for the holidays). On the other hand I happened to find a very, very good price for Delta’s Premium Select seats on a flight from Tokyo to our mystery destination next April and snapped those up. We vowed after our extremely uncomfortable flight back to the U.S. earlier this year that we would not sit in economy seats again (other than on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner) for any flight longer than five hours, and we increased the amount in our travel budget to cover the cost of upgraded seats. Premium Select seats are wider, have a leg and foot rest, and recline more fully, and they also come with some first-class amenities, like dining on real dishes with real cutlery and drinking from real glassware and cups, all without a first-class price.
  • Looking forward to next week: Bath has been a dream destination for me for ages and had been our initial choice for where to stay during our visit to England, although we are now very happy we ended up in Blockley. So, we’re looking forward to our upcoming getaway, and fingers crossed, hoping the current weather prediction holds (cold but not raining) while we’re there. I’m also looking forward to having an authentic Sally Lunn bun in Bath – other than tea with Brett’s classmate and a stop at Sainsbury’s for a few things for the cottage I’m hoping that will be our only expense!

    The way the “stage” had been set up in the community hall for “Cranford” was very clever – it took up most of the floor and attendees sat up on risers around the sides.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: The “BAD Company’s” (Blockley Amateur Drama Company) production of Cranford was wonderful, funny and well done and we’re so glad we went. I’m not sure if another happening around here this past week was a good thing or not, but if nothing else it was “interesting:” We spotted a small weasel-like animal running around on our patio one morning! It was most likely a ferret (at least we hope that’s what it was), but if we hadn’t figured out by now that we were living in the countryside, that would have done the trick.

    One of our favorite frugal but indulgent ways to warm up these days: Hot Cadbury drinking chocolate with (cheap, but pretty) marshmallows from Aldi.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: A small thing: we passed on buying a tin of Cadbury drinking chocolate at the village store (@£2.29) last Sunday afternoon because we felt we could get it cheaper when we went to Moreton-in-Marsh on Monday. Yup – the same tin was just £1.35 at Tesco Express. We stuck to our list at Aldi and came in under budget (spent £43.50; our weekly budget amount is £50), even after buying some gift items to take back to the U.S. with us. We had five no-spend days last week, ate all the leftovers, and didn’t throw away any food.

    I hope my laptop battery hangs in there until we get back to Portland (above is this blog post in progress, by the way)
  • Grateful for: While she was here YaYu checked out my laptop and let me know that the battery in my nearly four-year-old MacBook Air was living on borrowed time. It’s gone way, way over it’s predicted lifespan, so although it drains fairly quickly these days (usually in around three or four hours of use), I’m extremely grateful it’s hung on for so long and has that it’s been such a dependable workhorse. Currently, Apple is offering generous trade-in allowances, something else to be grateful for at this time, so I’m going to look into turning it in when we get back to Portland for a new (and lighter) model. However, I might just replace the battery if the total cost of going new is too much and stick with my old friend. We’ll see.
  • Bonus question: Can you choose a favorite “English experience” yet? At the top of my list would be walking through the English countryside (as long as there’s no mud). I have never lived or really spent time in the country so this was a new experience for me and have I loved it more than I thought I would. The landscapes and views have been magnificent every time and never fail to take my breath away. I’ve also found myself having more energy than I knew whenever we’ve gone out, and every walk we’ve done has gone straight into my heart. I’ve also enjoyed our visits to tea shops for tea and scones with clotted cream and jam. It’s been an effort not to do this every time we go somewhere, but again it’s been a uniquely British experience I will never forget.

I don’t want to believe November has arrived – our final month in England. We are growing a bit restless at this point though, but still have things on our list to see and do here, and hope the weather will cooperate at least a few days this month. For example, I don’t want to be this close and never get over to visit Stratford-upon-Avon.

Oh, look – another gloomy picture taken through the French doors! The weather these days is much like the Portland weather that eventually drove us to Hawai’i. I used to love it, but not so much anymore.

However, when there’s a break in the weather, we hustle and get out for a walk through the village. (The rain was back as bad as ever about a half-hour after I took this picture).

As has been true with some other places we’ve visited, as much as we love and have loved being here in England, and love village life, we’ve come to see we could never live here long-term because of the weather. Fall and winter would be just too cold and gloomy for us. Somewhere along the way, we’ve turned into warm-weather people (although not hot and/or humid weather people) which we realize is going to narrow the number of choices we’ll have for where we eventually settle if and when we ever get around to doing that.

October 31, 2019: Sir Elton John and Mickey Mouse made a special joint appearance in Tokyo!

That’s all for this week – hopefully I’ll have some more interesting and uplifting news to write about next Sunday (no guarantees though). I hope everyone had a great week, full of good things, good food, good books, and good company, and are looking forward to the one that’s coming up!

Sunday Morning 10/27/2019: Week 8 in the UK

We had a couple of nicer days this past week, and took walks through the village . . .

We have just a little over a month left to go in England.

Thirty-three days from now we will take the train to Gatwick Airport, board a plane, and head back to the U.S., to Portland again. We have seen and done almost everything here that we set out to see and do, with a short visit to Bath coming up in about 10 days (we decided against the driving tour to Cornwall). We still want to visit Stratford-upon-Avon and Bourton-on-the-Water, but otherwise, we are content to stay cozy in our little cottage when the weather is less than ideal (which is happening more frequently these days). The first feelings of restlessness have begun to appear now and again as well, letting us know the time is getting near for us to move on. Truth be told though we will be very, very sad to leave the UK – we’ve been having a wonderful time here.

. . . but some days were just too dreary to go outside . . .

. . . and kept turning even more dreary . . .

. . . so we stayed indoors and warmed ourselves by the fire instead.

This past week was a very relaxing one, although some of the relaxing was “mandatory” – other than our weekly shopping trip over to Moreton-in-Marsh on Monday (in the rain) we just didn’t feel like going anywhere or doing anything special. The weather was nice for a couple of days and we went for walks, but we spent most of our time relaxing and reading at home in front of the fire because other days were downright dreary (Friday and Saturday especially). We spent our time during our walks trying to figure out what some of the old shops might have been (we found the old wool shop, maybe where you bought yarn for knitting sweaters? And, we think we discovered a location where a pub had been in the past). Brett and I also tightened up our Christmas shopping list and as always, talked some more about future plans and how we see those possibly unfolding.

Also, there will be a small giveaway coming up in November! I plan to post about it around the middle of next month and then announce the winner soon after we get back to Portland so I can get it mailed off in early December – it would make a nice Christmas gift if someone wanted to use it for that. Stay tuned!

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished The Salt Path in two days – I couldn’t put it down – and then I finished the first and second books in Colin Dexter’s 13-book Inspector Morse series, Last Bus to Woodstock and Last Seen Wearing (just finished it last night). While I read those books I could picture how amazingly well John Thaw brought Dexter’s literary character to life in the TV series. Now I have to decide whether to just go through all of the Morse books together (they’re all available from the library and are fairly quick reads) or break them up with other books in between. I only have three more books to go to finish my goal of reading 52 books this year.
  • Listening to: The church bells are ringing! Brett is puttering around in the kitchen (putting away the dishes, fixing his breakfast) and making a bit of noise in there. I don’t know if it’s because the sun is out but the bells sound especially joyous this morning.
  • Watching: This week will be the final of The Great British Baking Show, but I’m not crazy about any of the three finalists so don’t really care who wins. My two favorite bakers were eliminated during the past two weeks. We started a new show this past Thursday, The Accident, which stars Sarah Lancashire, from Happy Valley and Last Dance in Halifax. We also watched Part I of a special about Prince Charles and his work in the Duchy of Cornwall and enjoyed that as well. Coming up on Saturday evening is the new season of Endeavour!

    My favorite evening snack these days is a cup of hot Cadbury’s drinking chocolate topped with pretty pink and white marshmallows (from Aldi). It warms me from the inside out and satisfies my sweet tooth at the same time.
  • Cooking: We picked up some more Cornish pasties from the neighborhood shop to have this evening. The first ones we tried were amazing, so we wanted some more and this time we’re having chicken, bacon and potato ones. We’ll also be having applesauce – I’m making it today from British Cox apples that we picked up at Aldi this past week. Other items appearing on our dinner table this week will be breaded cod filets with roast vegetables; chicken masala along with vegetable samosas and onion bhajis; meatloaf with roasted root vegetables; and chicken en croute (ready to bake at Aldi and very affordable). Lamb seems to sadly be gone from Aldi these days.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: I don’t think either Brett or I accomplished anything special other than keeping ourselves warm and dry (after getting drenched on Monday’s trip for groceries) and getting ourselves rested and rejuvenated after a very busy time with YaYu. I did purchase our train tickets to Bath so that trip is ready to go.

    We’re hoping to get out this week to search for more fall foliage, if any is left after this past week’s storms and wind.
  • Looking forward to next week: We don’t have anything planned for this coming week, although the weather is supposed to be nice(r), especially toward the end of the week. If so, we’ll probably go over to Stratford-up-Avon on either Thursday or Friday. We’re also going to attend a local production of “Cranford” at the village hall on Thursday evening, put on by Blockley’s amateur drama group.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Although most of the week was a rainy, windy mess, we did get some sunshine on a couple of days and got out for some walks. We enjoyed sleeping in every morning and being on our own schedule each day. British daylight savings began today so we’ll have longer days and more light.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: Other than food shopping and buying tickets to see “Cranford,” we had a no-spend week. We have been able to stay under $300/month when it comes to our eat-at-home food expenses here, even with things like laundry detergent and paper products and such included, a good thing because this has otherwise been an expensive month. We ate all of our leftovers and didn’t throw away any food.
  • Grateful for: Both Brett and I are feeling quite thankful these days for having a lot of time to think and talk about our plans for next year. We have destinations scheduled through early June of next year (finishing with a visit to Maine following WenYu’s graduation), but I have to admit that after that we don’t have a firm idea at all of what we want to do or where we want to go. Should we continue traveling? Settle down? If so, where? We go back and forth and can’t seem to reach a decision about anything. Since we don’t really have to decide anything now we’re going to keep any ideas or plans to ourselves as we come up with something because it seems as soon as we think we’ve reached a decision and announce it, even to our family, a short time later something comes up and we change our minds again. Like our mystery destination following our stay in Japan next year, we’ll announce our plans when we get there as that seems to be the safest path for us to follow these days.

    We have lots of options, but can’t seem to settle on anything.
  • Bonus question: Overall, what’s the best purchase you’ve made this year? Hands down I have to say the best thing I bought this year was the pair of trail shoes I purchased in Portland at the beginning of last summer. They have been worth every penny, and I’m exceedingly glad I spent a little extra for the pair with thicker, more cushioned soles and a wide footbed. Those two things have made a huge difference in how long and how far I can walk, especially on pavement. The shoes made it possible for me to enjoy our time in Edinburgh, London, and Oxford, and the distances we walked there without collapsing in pain at the end of each day, or not wanting to go out again. And of course, they’ve been wonderful for countryside walks here in Blockley and the surrounding area. They are holding up very well too, and still look close to new.

    My oh-so-comfortable trail shoes were a great purchase this last year.

All in all, this was not the most exciting of weeks, but that’s OK and one of the reasons we’re enjoying our longer stay here in Blockley. We don’t have to be out exploring or sightseeing all the time and don’t need to feel guilty about staying in and reading when the weather is nasty outside. We’ve used our time off this week to think and talk about lots of things, including our upcoming return to Portland and reunion with the girls, and what we’re going to do (and eat) when we’re all together. I’m also teetering on the edge of a cold, so staying indoors and out of the cold and wet, and getting lots of rest, has been a good thing for me to do this week.

That’s all from the Occasional Nomads for this week. I hope everyone had some glorious fall weather (at least better than what we’ve had) and is looking forward to Halloween and trick-or-treaters this week. We’ll be attending “Cranford” that evening so won’t get to experience what goes on here, although there have been lots of ads for the holiday on TV, and lots of trick-or-treat candy available at Aldi and other stores.

Finally, what are you all reading these days? I’d love suggestions and ideas for new books to add to my Kindle even if I do read all the Morse books together!

Sunday Morning 10/20/2019

YaYu said she needed this picture to prove she had been in England.

We have had quite a time since I last wrote a Sunday post! Our visit with YaYu was great but went far too quickly. London was a (wet) whirlwind followed a relaxing couple of days back in Blockley, and then we ended her visit with a terrific day and a half in Oxford. Poor YaYu though – she not only suffered from jet lag most of the time she was here but caught the worst of English weather as well. She said she had a good time though and especially enjoyed her visit because she got to “feel like a kid again,” meaning Mom and Dad took care of everything and she got all of our attention. We really felt the generational difference between us when following our tour of Notting Hill she let us know she knew none of the celebrities our guide had mentioned on the tour (Julia Roberts, Jimi Hendrix, Peter Sellers, and Daniel Craig to name a few) other than George Orwell, and even more shocking, after we stopped at a hidden recording studio where the Beatles and other artists had recorded in the past (and artists like Beyoncé still do today) she said, “The Beatles were British?” Yikes! Anyway, we’ll be seeing her again soon as she’ll be back in Portland in just another couple of months when we all get together for Christmas.

Enjoying a walk through the countryside in the Cotswolds with her mom and dad

I know what I’m ordering next time we stop at our village cafe – this was YaYu’s hot chocolate!

YaYu’s only souvenir was a small pillow decorated with an English hare that we got her for her dorm room (she collects rabbits).

Speaking of getting together in December, I got a real scare on our last night in London when right before I went to bed I happened to check on where we’d be staying in Portland and discovered the host had been canceling reservations right and left for the past three months! I sent her a message and she wrote back that she was going to cancel our reservation too . . . on November 1! However, since I had contacted her she would go ahead and cancel it now. Thank you very much! Finding a new, affordable place to stay for the five of us with only a month left would have been difficult if not impossible (unless we were willing to spend thousands of extra dollars), but even with a six-week window, I knew choices were going to be very, very limited. I was up well into the night going through Airbnb, VRBO, and other hosting sites and eventually found a place that would work for us at a somewhat affordable price. I wrote the host of the new place and she quickly answered and accepted our reservation. On the plus side, it’s a much nicer place in a better location, with more space for us as well but we are paying more and I could have really done without the headache of having to find a new rental at nearly the last minute. I learned a valuable lesson though – NEVER, EVER book an Airbnb rental with anyone other than a Superhost!

The living room of where we’ll be staying in December and early January. I think it will fit the five of us quite nicely (I’ve already called the chaise over on the right side of the sofa as “Mom’s spot”).

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I had very little time to open a book during the past week, so I’m still reading Resurrection Men, but have a reader-recommended book, The Salt Path, ready for when I finish. When we were in Oxford, I met a woman who leads Inspector Morse tours, and she recommended I read through the entire Colin Dexter series, so think I’ll start that after I finish The Salt Path.
  • Listening to: It’s a lovely, quiet Sunday morning, and not even the wind is blowing outside (for a change). The sky is overcast, but rain is not predicted today so we may get out of a walk later. It is cold though – we’ve got the fireplace going this morning. The church bells ran a few minutes ago, but otherwise, there hasn’t been a sound as we’re both reading and working on our computers. It’s perfect.
  • Watching: We’re still watching the Great British Baking Show (this coming week is the semi-finals), and a few other mysteries although nothing has really caught our attention. I watched an episode of Endeavour last night and recognized a couple of places that we’d just visited in Oxford! YaYu figured out how to access Netflix on the TV in the cottage, so we’ll be ready for the new season of The Crown when that arrives next month.
  • Cooking: We’ll be going over to Moreton tomorrow to do our weekly food shopping, which I don’t think is going to be very big because we still have things on hand from before YaYu arrived. Tonight we’re having Cornish pasties – we found them in the marked-down section at the village store and tucked them into the freezer for after YaYu departed. Other dinners this week will be chicken and vegetable soup; barbecued pork sandwiches with coleslaw; a cheese and pâté platter; roast chicken with roasted vegetables; and quiche lorraine with some sort of salad or vegetables. Aldi didn’t have the lamb burgers the last time we visited, so if those are back in stock we’ll pick up those as well.

    Cold temperatures, rain and wind were our near-constant companions during YaYu’s visit.
  • Happy I accomplished last week: Besides getting through a busy and somewhat tiring travel week with YaYu, my big accomplishment was finding a new place in Portland and getting it booked. I was quite worried I wouldn’t be able to find something appropriate that would fit all of us but I’m happy with the new place although not happy about having to pay more. Meiling and Brett and I had already purchased our airline tickets so we couldn’t look for someplace other than Portland. WenYu gave me her vacation dates and I found a good flight for her to and from Boston so that’s reserved. Now I just have to get YaYu’s flight booked and our holiday reunion will be set! I also found and reserved an Airbnb in Bath for two nights next month so that trip is set other than purchasing our train tickets. I’m especially proud of Brett, YaYu and me for getting through this past week in spite of some particularly lousy weather and a crazy schedule and having a good time in spite of it all.
  • Looking forward to next week: For the most part both we’re looking forward to not having to go anywhere or do anything this coming week other than a food shopping trip tomorrow. We want to rest and catch up on our reading and take walks around the village, weather permitting.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Besides having a great time with YaYu, the other really great thing that happened was Meiling was hired for her dream job! She won’t start until the first week of November but she will be doing work she loves (technical writing) while earning a very good salary, and she will also receive a nice signing bonus as well. The job comes with great benefits too: health, vision, and dental insurance, education reimbursement, transportation costs, and so forth. We are all thrilled for her, and so proud of her too! In other Good Thing news, I was able to get my favorite cereal (muesli) at Marks & Spencer and also discovered the most delicious black pepper cashews there – perfect with a gin & tonic – so I’m a happy girl. We had great weather on our one full day in Blockley and went out with YaYu for a long walk (3.2 miles) around the entire village and out into the countryside. The paths were a bit muddy but the views were gorgeous and YaYu was happy to get a “real” look at the English countryside.

    We had beautiful weather on our one day in Blockley – perfect for walking.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: This past week didn’t feel particularly frugal, although we did only eat one meal out each day in London and Oxford, combining lunch and dinner (our London Airbnb came stocked with breakfast things). We bought Oyster cards in London to get around on public transportation, including the boat ride on the Thames, and left with only a little over 1£ remaining on our cards. Outside of our one meal per day, the Oyster cards, some cereal and a few snacks from Marks & Spencer, and indulging in some decadent doughnuts one evening we did not spend any money in London. We bought souvenirs in Oxford though – Brett got a Cheshire Cat coffee mug that says “We’re all mad here!” on the back, and I got a lovely mug from the pottery shop we visited instead of the £100 bowl I really wanted. Our village store has a markdown shelf and this past week I found packages of Swedish meatballs for 50p (we bought two) and Scotch eggs, also at 50p each (we had those for breakfast this morning – yummy!).

    Meiling and K
  • Grateful for: Both Brett and I are extremely grateful to Meiling’s boyfriend, K, who has supported her for the past four months in New York City while she looked for work. He’s kept her fed and sheltered and she wouldn’t have made it without him.
  • Bonus question: What was your and Brett’s first travel experience together? When I finished my Memphis “A” School in September 1977, Brett took a week’s leave (vacation) and we drove together to my new duty station in Pensacola, Florida, camping along the way in my car. We first drove to Maryland to meet his mother, who considered me a “gold digger” out to take all his money. She softened a bit after that trip but we never really warmed to each other. Our first night after Maryland we camped in Virginia, where I was nearly bitten to death by mosquitos – they were so bad that they bit the soles of my feet and in between my toes through my socks! It was agony. From there we went to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, and visited Nags Head and Kitty Hawk, then drove over to a state park in Alabama, arriving at dusk. What I remember about that stop was that on our initial walk over to the bathrooms we saw a sign warning of alligators so we did not get out of our car again until daylight the next day and then hit the road for Pensacola. Brett stayed there with me for two days while I got checked in and moved into my barracks, then he drove back up to Memphis with my car so that he could drive back down each weekend (six hours each way). What I remember most about that first trip was how much we enjoyed each other’s company and what a good time we had, mosquito bites excluded.

    Forty-two years later we’re still enjoying each other’s company and traveling together.

In spite of my current desire to do nothing and go nowhere for a week, I have my doubts that we’ll be able to stay put in the village for that long without getting restless. I imagine that if the weather is as nice as predicted for the coming week that we’ll probably be off to visit another location in the area. There are two we still very much want to see: Bourton-on-the-Water and Stratford-upon-Avon, and both are only a short bus ride away. We’d also like to visit the nearby Batsford Arboretum and Falconry Center. We’ll just have to see what happens, but for now, all I feel like doing is resting. Both our trips to Edinburgh and London/Oxford were too hurried and not the way we prefer to travel. London is at the top of our list for a revisit, but we said next time we’d pick a location closer to the center of the city and stay for a minimum of three weeks versus three days. We’d love to do a longer stay in Oxford as well. (P.S. I’m thankful we were not in London this weekend – we wouldn’t have seen anything as the whole city appears to have been shut down by massive demonstrations).

That’s it for now – I hope everyone had a great couple of weeks with lots of good things happening for you, and that you’re looking forward to another great week ahead!

Sunday Morning 10/6/2019: Week 5 in the UK

Looking out over the Old Town to Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags (in Holyrood Park) from Edinburgh Castle.

While we had a great time in Edinburgh this past week, we are also glad to be home again in our little village and in our cozy cottage. We stayed busy the entire time we were away, but the rides up and back, while beautiful, were long and tiring. The trip up to Scotland went according to schedule, but although we left Edinburgh on time Friday morning and arrived at our first stop in London on time, after that things fell apart. It turned out our ride from Gatwick out to Moreton was scheduled for 20 minutes before our train even left St. Pancras for Gatwick Station (I blame myself for not checking the timing better)! Then, to add to the turmoil, trains from St. Pancras station to Gatwick were not running on schedule anyway, with five trains already canceled. We were able to get on a train at 3:05 with hopes of getting to Gatwick in time to catch a 4:00 train to Reading (where we transferred to get to Moreton) but the train from St. Pancras quite literally poked along and we got into Gatwick at 4:25. We finally caught the 5:00 which got us into Moreton at 8:00 p.m., where a lovely young couple at the Moreton station offered to share their cab with us as Blockley was on their way. We were back in the cottage by 8:30 although feeling completely wiped out at that point. We spent yesterday doing laundry, reading, and resting and will continue the reading and resting today as we’re both still feeling a little tired.

This was the view from behind our apartment building – Edinburgh Castle was only a 10-minute walk away. All those clouds were almost blown away by the wind by the time we got up to the castle entrance. We were fascinated by all the chimneys everywhere – apparently back in the day every apartment (tenement) had its own fireplace (or two).

We enjoyed absolutely beautiful weather for our first two days in Edinburgh but woke up to a steep drop in the temperature, strong winds and cloudy skies on our third day (but thankfully no rain). Rain arrived on Friday morning but for some reason let up just when it was time for us to walk over to the station to catch our train, thank goodness. It’s colder here in Blockley now as well – we’ve got the heat on and the gas fireplace going in the cottage to keep us warm. Fall has definitely arrived.

We’ll be heading back up to London (Heathrow) on Friday afternoon – we’re spending the night there so we can meet YaYu’s plane early Saturday morning (before 7:00 a.m.). We plan to drop off our bags at our Airbnb in the morning and then head into the city for the day, or at least for as long as YaYu can handle being up. We’re doing a walking tour of Notting Hill early Saturday afternoon and a morning tour at Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard on Monday, but otherwise our time will be our own to fill and we’ll go along with what YaYu wants to see and do. On Tuesday we’ll come back to Blockley for a couple of days, and then go back to Oxford on Friday and spend the night there, putting YaYu on the bus to Heathrow for her flight back to the U.S. late Saturday morning. We’re thinking of going down to Bourton-on-the-Water for the day when we’re back here in the Cotswolds, but will have to see how we feel – we may just want to rest again and only do some walks around Blockley. Whatever happens, it’s going to be another busy week.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finally finished Middle England, but after we got back because I was too exhausted to read while we were away. I’ve just started Resurrection Men because I wanted to read something about Edinburgh and nobody does it better than Ian Rankin. He makes the city as much of a character as any of the people in his books.
  • Listening to: It is peacefully quiet here this morning both inside and out. Yesterday morning the church bells rang for over three hours! It was fun listening knowing how it was done and who was doing the ringing. It also rained quite a bit and the washer and dryer ran all day.
  • Watching: We didn’t watch any TV while we were in Edinburgh, but we did watch The Descendents on our last night there (the DVD was available in the apartment). We traditionally watch it on Thanksgiving, but missed it last year and will again this year, so we thought we should catch it while we could. It sure made us homesick for Kaua’i – can’t wait to be there again in January. I watched an episode of Endeavour on TV here last night but that’s it.
  • Cooking: We’ll be having leftover meatloaf tonight along with vegetable soup made from several odds and odds of vegetables that I want to use up before we go shopping tomorrow. This week we’ll be having chicken and vegetable stir-fry; chicken vegetable soup; meatballs with marinara; lamb burgers with roasted vegetables; tuna melts; and breakfast for dinner with eggs, sausages, and sauteed apples. YaYu doesn’t eat meat anymore so we’re also going to look for some vegetarian things to have on hand when she’s here at the cottage.

    After three busy days in Edinburgh, we were already tired when we started the long journey back to Blockley. But we were happy – we’d had a great visit!

    The scenery along the way going and coming back was beautiful, but it was especially thrilling to pass along the North Sea as we got close to Edinburgh.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: The train journey to and from Edinburgh was an effort and an accomplishment as each way involved four different train changes and getting through three rather large stations (including crossing the street to get from St. Pancras to King’s Cross). We also got stuck in rush hour traffic in London on our way back on Friday which kept things a bit more challenging. We made it to each of our four Edinburgh tours on time, a feat considering we had to figure out how to maneuver through a city we didn’t know very well at the time. We walked a minimum of three miles each day, and one day walked over six miles. Last Sunday evening, before we left I booked an Airbnb in Massachusetts for our stay for YaYu’s graduation, and another in Maine for a visit there afterward. We’re going to spend one night in Vermont or New Hampshire in between but haven’t chosen where yet. Laundry day yesterday was an accomplishment – it took over 10 hours to get everything done and put away (because the washer is very small and it takes nearly two hours for one load to run).
  • Looking forward to next week: We’re very excited about YaYu’s arrival next weekend and getting to visit London and Oxford with her, as well as showing her around our village. It was exciting seeing things like the Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the London Eye as our trains passed through London, knowing we’d be there soon. If it doesn’t rain this week we’re hoping to ride the bus over to the village of Broad Campden and then walk back to Blockley (around three miles).
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Everything went better than expected on our getaway. We had absolutely gorgeous weather for the first two days we were there as well, and the rain held off our entire visit and our walk over to the train station on Friday morning when we left (it was raining when we arrived on Monday, but we took a cab to our Airbnb). Even though we missed our original train home to Moreton, we were able to use our tickets for a later train at no extra cost.

    Chicken and mushroom pie for lunch at the Mitre pub on Edinburgh’s High Street. It came with vegetables, mashed potatoes, and gravy and kept me full the rest of the day . . . all for $14.75.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We took a bag of food up with us up to Edinburgh, and the apartment was stocked with yogurt (for me) and oatmeal (for Brett) which helped us keep our food costs down. We went out to dinner the night we arrived (which provided leftovers for the next day), and then had lunch out each day at a pub, where the meals were large and reasonably priced, and then ate leftovers or the things we brought at night. Other than taking the taxi from the train station when we arrived, we walked everywhere while we were in Edinburgh. We did buy some souvenirs but discussed those ahead of time so we weren’t tempted to make impulse purchases.

    Brett and I got ourselves a cashmere scarf, and we also bought a bottle of Edinburgh gin – we got a discount on it at their shop because we took a tour of the distillery (and because it’s delicious), and got a discount on the scarves because we bought two.
  • Grateful for: Once again, some very kind strangers stepped up to help us get back to Blockley when we were otherwise stranded. We were thinking we were going to have to walk into Moreton from the station when we arrived (in the cold and dark) and go to a hotel to call a taxi, but a young couple from London who arrived at the same time offered to share their ride with us as Blockley was on the way to their destination. We were extremely tired at that point and their kindness made a huge difference after a long day.
  • Bonus question: Did you eat haggis in Scotland? NO! I had absolutely no desire to give it a try before we went or while we were there and that still holds. We did get to sample a “wee dram” of whiskey on one of our tours and I was reminded once again of why I don’t drink whiskey and prefer gin instead. We did have some lovely pub meals, including incredible meat pies in one place. I’ve never had such a wonderful, flaky crust in my life and the filling (chicken and mushroom) was divine. We tried a can of IrnBru (Scotland’s soft drink) while we were there – it was tasty – and ate some authentic Scottish shortbread. I thought Walkers shortbread was pretty good until we visited a shop and tasted some that just melted in our mouths and were less sweet too – so delicious! I’ve been spoiled for life.

One thing Brett and I both realized on this trip is that although we are healthy, and in pretty good shape, we do tire more easily these days and couldn’t have sustained the pace we kept for much longer than the three days we were there. Our visit reinforced why we enjoy being able to stay in one place for a while and keep a less hectic schedule. Our time with YaYu will most likely be just as busy, but after that we know we can slow down again and not have to work so hard. We’re wondering now if we really want to do a full week’s driving tour down to Cornwall, and think maybe we might go down by train for a couple of nights instead.

I won’t be posting next Sunday as we’ll be out and about in London, and will probably not post during the week either. I do have a couple of posts planned for this week though but not sure what days those will go up.

That’s a wrap for this week! I hope everyone had a lovely week, with lots of good food, good books, good friends and good things happening for them, and is looking forward to the week coming up.

Sunday Morning 9/29/2019: Week 4 in the UK

Edinburgh Castle (Photo credit: http://thechaoticscot.com)

We are off to Edinburgh tomorrow! We’ll be traveling to Gatwick Station in the morning and then changing there for the train to London, departing for Edinburgh from King’s Cross Station in the early afternoon. Back when we were riding the train across Australia, we were told by several of our fellow travelers that the ride from Kings Cross to Edinburgh was one of the most beautiful in England and filled with gorgeous scenery almost the whole way so we’re almost as excited about this part of our getaway as the destination. Our Airbnb in Edinburgh sits just a couple of minutes below the castle and is also close to the meeting points for the three walking tours we’ve signed up for: a historical tour of Old Town, a mysterious medical tour (Edinburgh has a deep and sometimes creepy history with medicine in the UK), and a spooky evening historical tour. Hopefully, they won’t overlap, at least not too much. Outside of the walking tours, we’re going to visit the castle and a few other places, have a drink in the New Caledonia Hotel bar and tour the Edinburgh gin distillery (a whiskey sampling might be more expected, but neither of us particularly cares for whiskey). We’ll return on Friday following the same route we will take going up.

The Queen’s Head pub in Stow-in-the-Wold (I’m assuming that’s Queen Mary on the sign).

A side entrance to St. Edmunds church

We stopped in here while we were in Broadway . . .

. . . did a couple of tastings, and left with these (the nice shopping bag was complimentary).

This week’s been a very full and fun one in spite of some miserable weather. On Monday we took the bus over to Stow-on-the-Wold to see if we could find the elusive paper coffee filters at the Tesco superstore . . . and we did! We had nearly two hours there before the bus to Moreton-in-Marsh arrived, so we did some exploration around the center of town and also stopped for tea and scones (well, we actually had coffee with our scones). Afterwards, we headed over on the bus to M-i-M to do our weekly grocery shop at Aldi. We made it home from that errand just in time to miss getting soaked, and the rain made Tuesday a stay-at-home day. On Wednesday morning we met Laura and had a wonderful visit with her, including coffee at the village cafe and lunch at The Great Western Arms. It was like getting together and catching up with an old friend you haven’t seen in a while and I was so happy we were able to make this happen. Friday was another miserable, soggy mess and we stayed home, but we finally got over to Broadway yesterday afternoon where we toured the high street and visited the Cotswold’s Gin flagship store as well as enjoyed tea and scones (again), arriving home just in time to miss more rain.

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The bell-ringing experience on Thursday evening was fantastic! Before the group got their practice started I was showed how to ring one of the bells and learned very quickly that traditional English bell-ringing requires a great deal of skill. It was definitely not as easy to do as I imagined with a whole lot more to it than just pulling on a rope. We stayed for the whole practice and had a good time chatting with different members of the group who came over and sat with us during the practice as they rotated through their turns. One of the group, an 87-year-old man(!), has rung the bells in over 2,200 churches throughout the UK and Ireland! He was fascinating to talk with and I learned quite a bit from him about what was going on, about the bells, and so forth. At the end of the practice, Brett and I were invited to climb further up in the tower to see the actual bells (Blockley Church has 10 bells and is the envy of quite a few churches in the area). A few of their bells date from the 17th century, a couple from the 19th century, and two new bells were added during this decade. All of them were HUGE. Anyway, it was a great experience and I was invited to come back after we get back from Edinburgh and sit in on a few more practices during our time here. I know I would definitely learn to be a bell ringer if we lived here.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I took a sort of detour this week with my reading. I was reading Middle England one day and a couple of characters were talking about the Mike Oldfield song Tubular Bells. This got me thinking about the movie The Exorcist, which then got me thinking about the book. I read it when it first came out (1971) – I started it at around 9:00 one evening and ended up staying up all night to finish it because I was too frightened to put it down! Anyway, I ended up downloading the book again and re-read it in a couple of days because it was just as frightening and chilling as it was the first time I read it. I now want to see the movie again as well, although I’ve never found it anywhere near as scary as the book. Anyway, I’m back to reading Middle England again and am almost done. Then it’s on to The Pioneers.

    A spider web on our patio wall glistened with raindrops early Wednesday evening . . . and then a rainstorm blew it away that evening!
  • Listening to: I fell asleep last night to the sound of rain and wind, but woke up to just the wind howling outside this morning (and the church bells ringing). It’s definitely another good day to stay indoors. It’s quiet inside – Brett is reading now but in a little while we’ll get started on our laundry and finish up getting things ready for us to go tomorrow.
  • Watching: Besides continuing with The Great British Baking Show, we also started the new season of Doc Martin this past Wednesday. We’ve also watched a couple of episodes of Poirot and Miss Marple earlier in the week.
  • Cooking: Tonight we’re finishing up odds and ends in the fridge – I’m going to have some last bits of cheese along with fruit, and Brett will be having a leftover lamb kebab with some leftover vegetables. I going to make the meatloaf when we get back, and we also have a bacon and cheddar quiche and roast chicken to get us through the weekend after our return.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: I can’t tell you how happy we were to find those coffee filters – who would have thought they would be that difficult to locate, especially since ground coffee is available all over the place? We had two great outings to two nearby villages as well, got our grocery shopping done, are packed and are ready to go to Edinburgh, and with a little help we finally figured out how to use the gas stove in the living room (important as it’s starting to get chilly at times).
  • Looking forward to next week: Visiting Edinburgh has been on my bucket list for ages, so I’m currently beyond the looking-forward-to-it stage for this getaway! We’re excited about our train trip up and back as well and the walking tours we’ve booked.

    Loved, loved, loved getting to finally meet “the other Laura.” Our meetup was the best thing that happened this week.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Everything that happened this week was good, even the rain.

    A fresh-baked plain scone with clotted cream and preserves and a cappuchino at Huffkin’s Tea Room in Stow-in-the-Wold . . .

    . . . and a fruit scone at Tisanes Tea Room in Broadway. Pure heaven.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We had three no-spend days this week and our daily average for the month would have been below $35 except we bought those two bottles of specialty Cotswold gin in Broadway yesterday which bumped us up to a little over $36/day, which we can live with. We spent just £44.46 ($54.92) for our weekly groceries this past week but and otherwise it’s been the usual: no wasted food, all leftovers eaten, and using what we have on hand.
  • Grateful for: The House of Representatives finally exercising its constitutional authority.
  • Bonus question: If you decide to keep traveling, what countries would be at the top of the list? We still talk about doing a long-term driving tour around the U.S. and Canada, but otherwise our most desired new destinations are Scandanavia; Germany and Austria; Greece, southern Italy and Croatia; Ireland; and Mexico. We’d love to go back to Argentina and see more there and spend more time in France and Portugal as well. For now, we’re booked through mid-June of next year but after that have no idea what or where we’re going to go, or whether we’ll continue traveling or settle down. We greatly enjoy our nomadic lifestyle and it fits our budget and temperaments well, so we’ll see how we feel about things in a few more months.

Getting her hair done . . .

We got a lot of fun photos from our daughter-in-law this past week because it was our granddaughter’s three-year-old Shichi-Go-San (7-5-3). Girls celebrate when they are three and seven, and boys when they are five, with a visit to a local temple in formal wear a rite of passage for Japanese children. For three-year-old girls, it’s the first time they wear a kimono, but it’s without an obi; that’s worn for the first time at age seven. I especially love how our granddaughter’s hair was styled for the occasion with pretty kanzashi pinned in and spilling down. There will be more formal photos coming, but we loved getting to see these ones our DIL took on K’s special day.

. . . and then formal portraits were taken . . .

. . . followed by a visit to a shrine. A big day for our little girl!

Finally, I won’t be blogging this next week because of our getaway, but the past couple of weeks I’ve also been thinking about changing up when and how much I post. I’m not going to stop writing, but I do want to give up pushing myself to adhere to a schedule like I have been, and I’ve decided that going forward I will post when I have something to say and on Sundays (because I enjoy doing these posts). So there may be one post up a week, or two or even three, or there might not be any at all. We’ll see how it goes.

In the meantime, I hope everyone had a great week, had lots of good things happen for them and is looking forward to what’s coming up next week!

Sunday Morning 9/22/2019: Week 3 in the UK

Across from our cottage are what were formerly shops in Blockley village square – they’re now vacation cottages but have been “converted” back at times when Father Brown is filming.

This past week has been yet another one for the books, complete with lovely weather, two great hikes, another wonderful pub meal (over at Bourton-on-the-Hill), and ending with a fun evening at the movies in the village hall. Last night we enjoyed wine and snacks, and watched the movie Fisherman’s Friends (a feel-good film about a band from Port Isaac, where Doc Martin is filmed), with about 40+ people from the village and had a great time. We met a few residents this past week who were born and raised here and learned quite a bit about the village’s history. Our little cottage was formerly one of two doctors’ surgeries, and there were other businesses located in the little square where we are: a paper shop was directly across from us, and there was also a pharmacy, a bank, a hairdresser, and a butcher. Back down the high street a bit we discovered where the old bakery was located – it’s also been converted into a residence. We took a long hike on Thursday through the countryside, paid a visit to a gorgeous local garden, got to see a famous manor house, and were treated to an unexpected kindness by a local resident.

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Last week’s maddening situation with IcelandAir turned out to have a silver lining. They refunded 50% of what we paid for the round-trip flight (which included what we’d pair for our seat upgrades) and I was able to book a nonstop flight back to San Francisco from Gatwick and from there a flight up to Portland for $182 less than our refund! The new flight schedule also allowed us to cancel a hotel reservation at Gatwick for the night before our departure, an additional $115 refund (the new flight doesn’t leave until the early evening, giving us plenty of time to get from Moreton-in-Marsh to Gatwick by train). We will be leaving England three days earlier than planned though and will have another l-o-n-g travel day going back, but I have a feeling that once again we will be feeling restless and ready to move on at that point. All that’s left for us to do now is find an affordable Airbnb or hotel stay until we can move into our rental in Portland.

Our son (on the right) with last week’s big win, on the day before his birthday!

This past week we offered WenYu the same graduation gift we gave Meiling last year, a week with us in Japan, and she jumped on it – yay! We will pay for half of her airfare over to Japan, and then all food, transportation, admissions, etc. while she’s with us. We had been stumped about what to give her, especially because she has said over and over that she doesn’t need anything, but she is thrilled (and so are we) about the opportunity to be in Japan again. Anyway, the hunt is now on for an affordable air ticket from Boston over to Japan and I am up for the challenge. Our son won two round-trip tickets at a gala he attended this past week: round-trip tickets to anywhere in Canada from Tokyo on Air Canada! He’s always been lucky, but this may be his biggest win so far. Meiling had a successful second interview this week and has been moved on to the next round. She has been frustrated so far in finding a job but is hanging in there. Her boyfriend continues to be supportive and is taking care of her expenses, but she’s very eager to get to work. YaYu has settled into college life but is excited about her upcoming trip over here – less than a month to go!

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I’m reading Middle England now and enjoying it, especially learning about how happenings here mirror in some ways what’s going on in the U.S. and do middle class attitudes (generally speaking). Granted, this book only skims the surface, but it’s interesting nonetheless (and a good read too). I just put The Salt Path by Raynor Winn on hold at the library; hopefully, I won’t have to wait too long for it to become available. It’s the true story of an older couple who walked the 600+ mile path along the southwest English coastline. The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West by David McCullough just came off of hold as well and I plan to start on that this evening.
  • Listening to: I woke up to the sound of the church bells pealing away – there was a lot more ringing this week than last for some reason. It’s quiet now though, and the only sound is birds singing outside. We had a terrific rainstorm come through last night – it woke both of us up because it was coming down so hard. We’ve had absolutely beautiful weather this past week, but that’s coming to an end with more rain expected most of this week.
  • Watching: I’m keeping up with The Great British Baking Show, and tonight we’ll watch the third episode of Joanna Lumley’s (of Absolutely Fabulous fame) visit to Japan. We caught the second episode last week, and I watched the first one online.
    We enjoyed a Caprese salad with our eggplant parmesan last week. Aldi has beautiful little basil plants for sale as well as fresh mozzarella.
  • Cooking: I fixed everything on last week’s menu, although we upgraded our cheese plate and had pâté instead of sausages. Tonight for dinner we’re having quiche Lorraine and broccoli. Other meals this week will be open-faced barbecued pork sandwiches and coleslaw, lamb kebabs with roasted Mediterranean vegetables, meatloaf, a Margherita pizza, and roast chicken.
    Sometimes the path we walked on Thursday could be hard to find and follow – if not for a few recent footprints or vehicle treads we’d have no idea where to walk.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Brett and I took advantage of the week’s good weather and did another couple of long walks, a two-mile walk in a different direction through the village, and a four-mile walk around the next village over, Bourton-on-the-Hill, and from there over to Longborough on the Heart of England Way. We also visited the village cemetery, which was very interesting – graves dated from the 19th century until this decade, and there was a large section where Polish refugees were buried – they came during WWII to a resettlement camp here which wasn’t closed until the 1960s. I so happy to have gotten our tickets back to the U.S. booked, and I also rebooked our rental car for our earlier arrival and I was able to reserve a larger car for the same price!
  • Looking forward to next week: I have two big things coming up this week that I’m very excited about! First, I will be meeting someone I have admired and followed for a long time, actually from the time I started blogging nearly 10 years ago. One of the very first frugal lifestyle blogs I discovered and was inspired by was Move to Portugal, and I’ve been a fan of Laura and her minimalist lifestyle ever since. She’ll be coming to Blockley on Wednesday and we’re going to have lunch at The Great Western Arms and catch up on everything. Second, I was invited to attend the bell-ringing class at the church on Thursday evening! I just hope I don’t do anything stupid but I think it will be fun. Brett and I may be going to Stow-on-the-Wold on Tuesday not only to check out the town a bit but more importantly to visit the Tesco superstore because we have just about run out of coffee filters and it may be our last chance in finding them. None of the other stores we’ve visited, including Aldi, carry filters but we were told the hardware store in Moreton-in-Marsh may have them, so we’re going to check there first before we go to Aldi. Fingers are crossed! If we get a day of good weather next week we’re want to walk over to Broad Campden, a lovely village filled with traditional thatched cottages, but our backup plan is to take the bus to the town of Broadway. Rain is expected for most of the week but you never know.
    Some of the pretty pheasant feathers we picked up along the way. It’s very sad to think so many of these beautiful birds will be slaughtered beginning next month purely for sport. Most of the kills will end up in a ditch to be turned into fertilizer.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Our walks this week were just about near perfect, and we met some lovely people, saw lots of beautiful things, and picked up some pretty pheasant feathers along the way too (and learned the shooting won’t start until next month – yay, I guess). It was exciting to learn about our cottage’s former role in the village. We found lilikoi (passionfruit) curd at the cheese shop in Moreton-in-Marsh, and it’s as good or better than what we used to get on Kaua’i, and much less expensive too. We’ve seen passionfruit growing around in places so this was an exciting find. We also discovered gingernut cookies at Aldi, and just 25p per package – delicious! I fell in love with a beautiful vase in the window of an antique shop when we were in Moreton-in-Marsh on Monday but I was sure it was very expensive so we kept going. Brett liked it too though and encouraged me to go in and at least ask about it. The price was a very surprising £15 ($18.70) . . . so I bought it! It’s a wonderful piece of sturdy English pottery, but with a Japanese feel to it.
    I am so pleased to have gotten this beautiful old pottery vase. Now I just have to figure out how to carry it back to the U.S.
  • Thinking of frugal things that happened: All of my dental billing has come through and after all the insurance payments were made it turns out we will be getting a refund of $200+. We once again purchased round-trip bus fares at every chance, but on Thursday the fare machine was broken so the driver let us ride for free. We stuck to our shopping list at Aldi but still put about six things back, and spent just £45.10 ($56.20) this past week. It was a bit more than last week because we bought a big bag of name-brand dishwasher detergent pods to get us through our stay. We had four no-spend days this week and are on just under our daily spending average. We of course ate all the leftovers and didn’t throw away any food.
  • Grateful for: Both Brett and I are feeling very thankful these days to have that big Aldi store nearby. The prices are amazing, we’re eating well, and shopping there is helping us to stay within our daily spending limit, freeing up funds for other outings and treats. We were told that just a few years ago middle-class shoppers here wouldn’t let their cars be seen in the Aldi parking lot, but these days they can’t get enough of the store!
    Although there are still lots of bright flowers around . . .
    . . . fall is starting to make an appearance.
  • Bonus question: Are you ready for fall? I think I am. Although I’ve enjoyed all the sunshine and warm temperatures I am looking forward to cooler weather and the chance to pull out some of my sweaters. I’m also looking forward to seeing the leaves change color. I’m not especially looking forward to the coming rain though as we love to walk (and have to walk to get to the bus stop, get our groceries, etc.) and wet weather will definitely hamper our ability to get out and see things and experience the area as much as we have been able to this month.

Finally, we received some help this week, one of those occurrences that restores your faith in humanity and reminds you that at heart people are basically good and kind. At the end of our walk to Longborough on Thursday, Brett and discovered we were stranded – there were no buses nor time to walk to the next village to catch one, and taxis were all booked for the next couple of hours. The retired man tending the Longborough village shop told us he was just finishing his shift and would drive us to Moreton-in-Marsh, three miles away, so we could catch the bus in time from there! We offered to pay him but he wouldn’t accept anything from us except a cold drink from the cooler. Thanks to his kindness we made it home, and we are thinking of how we can pay Andrew’s kindness forward.

Andrew is retired and has lived in Longborough his entire life. He did not want to see us stranded in Longborough and kindly drove us over to the bus stop in Moreton-in-Marsh! It was our good fortune to meet him, and not just for the ride.

That’s it for this week! I hope all of you had a lovely week too, that you have good books to read, had lots of good things happen for you, and that you’ve been able to complete your gratitude scavenger hunt every day.

Sunday Morning 9/15/2019: Week 2 in the UK

Row houses in Chipping Campden

This past week was a lovely one, filled with walks, hikes, and other outings as well as a couple of days of rest. The weather was mostly warm and sunny, but there was one day of rain and another quite windy one, both a foretaste of what is most likely coming as the fall progresses. We visited the old Blockley mills, the market town of Chipping Campden, and accomplished our first weekly shopping over in Moreton-in-Marsh. We now have a better idea of when and how to get that task done as well as manage our time there better.

The old Blockley silk mills are now apartments. Blockley Brook powered the mills and runs under the lower building in the middle.

The beautiful iron spiral fire escapes are original to the old mills.

We had our first major travel mess occur this past week, an extremely maddening and frustrating turn of events because it’s not due to anything we did but because of a “modification” made by Icelandair. We were scheduled to fly from Reykjavik directly to Portland, arriving in the early evening but Icelandair sent us a message this past week that they had canceled the flight to Portland and instead switched us to a flight to Seattle . . . with no connecting flight to Portland! I called the booking agent (Expedia) to ask how we were supposed to get to Portland since that is our destination and were told that all Icelandair was offering was either gas for our car to drive to Portland (we don’t have a car!) or “public transportation,” whatever that means. Brett and I looked at getting a flight from Seattle to Portland, but the affordable ones were either too early or much later in the evening so we would have had another long wait in the airport, and possibly gotten into Portland too late to pick up a rental car. We talked about renting a car in Seattle and driving down to Portland, but 1) we knew we would be extremely exhausted at the end of our travel day and not up for the 3+ hour drive down to Portland (especially through Seattle traffic); 2) a one-way car rental from Seattle to Portland is not cheap ($200+); and 3) If Icelandair could not arrange a connecting flight to our booked destination we did not feel our chances were good of actually getting any sort of reimbursement from them, even just for the gas. Every option was going to cost us in some way so we ended up canceling the return portion of our ticket for a refund from Expedia for that portion of our ticket (because Icelandair changed our flight route we were eligible for a refund even though our ticket was non-refundable). We have found another affordable alternative route home but we’re still going to end up paying more than we did for the original tickets, even with the refund applied. We had also paid Icelandair for upgraded seats on the flight to Portland, and the Expedia agent claimed they would refund that to us as well but I’ll believe it when I see it as I’ve read horror stories about Icelandair and refunds. Needless to say, we won’t be using that airline again.

We’ve also decided that Brett won’t apply for a one-year visa in Japan, at least not now. This was an extremely difficult decision for us as the chance to live there has been a long-held dream. However, we took a very, very thorough look at our costs of living there (rent, class fees, food, transportation . . . everything) and decided we did not want to live so close to the bone for a year. I could go back to work to make it more affordable, but that’s something I really don’t want to do because it would interfere with being able to help with our grandchildren. We think that until we get YaYu through school we’d do better to make two 90-day trips to Japan each year and then reassess after that. So, following our visit to Kaua’i we’ll be in Tokyo for just 90 days again and then will head to our mystery destination. Following that, we’ll go to Massachusetts for WenYu’s graduation followed by a visit to Maine in June. After that . . . well, we’re still talking about it although Northern California is still our #1 choice.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I’m still reading Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford. The characters are all somewhat eccentric members of the British aristocracy in what is maybe the late 1920s to early 1930s (people still dressed for dinner, had house parties in their stately homes, etc.) and there’s lots of snappy dialogue – what’s not to love? Up next I have Middle England by Jonathan Coe, a novel set in more recent times and covering all that’s been going on here in England the past few years, including Brexit.
  • Listening to: It’s been another quiet, peaceful Sunday morning here but the church bells just started ringing to call the faithful to morning services. The bellringers were quite busy yesterday – there was a funeral in the morning and the bells were rung for that (a bit too joyously it seemed to us) and then yesterday evening was bell-ringing practice so we got quite the concert for a while.
  • Watching: Brett has discovered British racing, and he tunes into that now and again, but all I’ve been watching is the Great British Baking Show. We still watch the BBC news and have seen some teasers for shows that look interesting but we always seem to be busy with something else so the TV doesn’t get turned on much.
  • Cooking: Tonight we’re having the bacon quiche we picked up at Aldi along with some coleslaw. Our meals this past week included breakfast for dinner with scrambled eggs, sausages, and sauteed apples; a sweet & sour Asian stir-fry with chicken, and lamb burgers with roasted Mediterranean vegetables. The tentative menu for this week, which will somewhat depend on what we can find at Aldi, includes chicken tikka masala; sausages, cheese and apples; eggplant parmesan; and chicken vegetable soup.
  • Happy I accomplished last week: I got started on planning a trip to Bath, Devon, and Cornwall in early November. It was a bit difficult because there is so much we want to see, but we finally nailed down an itinerary we’re both happy with. I’ll book our rental car and hotel stays sometime next week (after I get over the shock of purchasing new airline tickets back to the U.S.).

    All the paths converge in Chipping Campden!
  • Looking forward to next week: Other than our trip over to M-in-M tomorrow for groceries, we’re planning to visit Bourton-on-the-Hill at the end of the week. It’s the next village over from us, and there are several lovely buildings and gardens to check out and we want to have lunch at the local pub which was recommended by our host. If we get nice weather and cooler temperatures one day next week we may also walk the Heart of England path over to Moreton-in-Marsh and then take the bus back to Blockley.

    The Blockley cafe makes some pretty wonderful cappuccinos, which we enjoyed while sitting in the sun yesterday.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We had beautiful weather most of the week and enjoyed some rambles around the village and out into the countryside. We also had a nice visit to Chipping Camden on Friday and had afternoon tea there. I found a pretty (and affordable) artisan-made necklace at the Barn Court Museum in Chipping Campden, and also got a jar of the delicious carrot chutney I enjoyed with my afternoon tea sandwich. We finally met our lovely host on Wednesday, and Brett and I had a “coffee date” yesterday at the Blockley Cafe.

    Souvenirs from Chipping Campden. The carrot chutney has a spicy, smoky flavor – I was so happy the tea room had it for sale! The “magpie” necklace coordinates perfectly with all my indigo stuff.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We saved £3 ($3.70) on each of our two bus trips (to Moreton-in-Marsh and to Chipping Campden) by purchasing round-trip fares versus one-way. We shopped with a list at Aldi and the only thing we bought that was not on our list was some sticky toffee pudding (because we want to try it). We had four no-spend days, ate all of our leftovers, and didn’t throw away any food.
  • Grateful for: The other day a friend posted the above daily “Gratitude Scavenger Hunt” on Facebook – I’ve been going through it each day and it’s been an easy, helpful way to think of all the good things I experience each day.
  • Bonus questions: What’s been your favorite thing in England so far? Well, number one is definitely getting to see all the wonderful old buildings in such a beautiful setting, but we have also been finding all sorts of interesting and/or different trees and plants around the village. Every time we go out it seems like we come across something unexpected – it’s been like a treasure hunt. There are hazelnut trees all over, and plenty of giant, old elms, chestnut, hickory, beech, and oaks, but the other day I spotted a plum tree loaded with fruit coming up through the brush and a large fig tree in front of a shop – those two surprised me. This past week we also spotted a monkey puzzle tree in someone’s yard and two massive sequoias along the road we were walking on, and another huge one in the Blockley churchyard. Apparently, sequoias were imported to England during the Victorian era as a novelty for gardens, and these ones held on and kept growing (although they’re nothing as big as the ones in California). I have read about monkey puzzle trees for years but had never actually seen one; however, the minute I saw it I knew exactly what it was. There are lots of very big trees around here with masses of branches and whenever I see them I wish I could find out how old they are.

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After a couple of weeks here we’re starting to settle into a routine: food shopping and a trip to the ATM on Monday, visits to other places in the area on Thursday or Friday, depending on the weather, and otherwise we’ll continue to walk around and explore Blockley and the neighboring countryside, or just relax at home, depending on the weather. We’re finally sleeping through the night and not having to take naps, we get up when we feel like it and leisurely enjoy our coffee or tea and breakfast before getting ready for the day. It’s a nice life in a wonderful location – I could get very used to this!

I have added fresh raisin scones, clotted cream and fresh strawberry preserves, sticky toffee pudding, lemon drizzle cake, and hot peach and chili chutney to the list of foods I adore.

That’s a wrap for week two – it was a good one. We’re looking forward to what’s coming up next week and hope you are too!

Sunday Morning 9/8/2019: Week 1 in the UK

Blockley sits down in a small valley and provides views of the countryside in every direction.

It was just slightly over a year ago when Brett and I arrived in Buenos Aires, the first stop on our around-the-world Big Adventure. At the time we had an itinerary that would get us through the middle of May of this year, summer in Portland, and a visit to England in the fall of this year. We didn’t know when we set out how we’d feel about traveling when we got to this point, but we’ve been having a wonderful time, learned some tricks along the way and have decided we are going to keep going for a while longer. We have a visit to Kaua’i planned for next January, followed by another three months’ stay in Japan, and have made an Airbnb reservation for after Japan, but where that is will remain a mystery for now (hint: It’s not California. We still plan on going there, but are will be taking a detour first).

Currenty though we are pinching ourselves that we are finally in England. Our reservation for our cottage in Blockley were made over a year ago, when we were still living on Kaua’i. We’re settling into our little cottage, learning how to operate most of the appliances in the house (we are still having trouble getting the gas stove in the living room to work), and are getting to know the little village of Blockley. This coming week we will be heading over to the nearby towns of Moreton-in-Marsh on Tuesday to check out their big market day and do some grocery shopping, and then will visit nearby Chipping Campden on Friday.

The living room sofa cushions are covered in sturdy British tweed! The cushions are down-filled though, which has taken some getting used to.

Original oil paintings in the cottage add to its charm.

Glebe Cottage is just about perfect for us. Glebe means “a piece of land serving as part of a clergyman’s benefice and providing income,” and the cottage is in a building that was at one time part of the old vicarage attached to the village church. The space has been remodeled enough that it’s impossible to tell now what original function it served in the past. Back on Kaua’i, YaYu had asked if she could find us a place to stay in England and after giving her our parameters she came up with a few choices, with Glebe Cottage at the top of the list. We can’t wait for her to see it when she comes to visit in October! If we have to complain about anything it’s that there is very little storage space in the house, especially for clothes, but we figured out a system that works for us and got everything put away. We have beautiful views of rolling hills and pastures from the cottage patio and upstairs, and the view from our front door of the high street and the Blockley church is one I know we’ll never grow tired of. The little house has every convenience, the kitchen is very well equipped, and the whole place is very cozy and comfortable overall, just the right size for the two of us.

We are almost over our jet lag but not quite. I’m still waking up at 4:30 or so in the morning, and then struggling to get through the day without falling asleep so that I can go to bed at a somewhat decent hour. Brett is doing better although he has had a couple of days where he’s taken some very l-o-n-g naps which have made it difficult for him to fall asleep later. It will all get sorted out but we wish it would hurry up and happen sooner rather than later.

The vines covering the side of Glebe Cottage will eventually turn bright orange as fall progresses but are already starting to change color.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: It was difficult for me to get any reading done while we were traveling, but I finally finished Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine (I loved this book!) this past week. I was ready to start Blade of the Samurai by Susan Spann (her mysteries are set in old Japan), but reader Sheila recommended Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford, whose family is connected to Chipping Campden, so I downloaded that from the library and am reading it first.
  • Listening to: It’s soooooooo quiet here, not a sound to be heard from outside except for a few songbirds doing their thing. Brett is reading so it’s quiet inside as well. I absolutely love it! It’s a beautiful day as well so we’re planning to go out for a walk in a while. We’ve walked through the town a few times but want today want to follow one of the paths out of town and into the hills for a change.
  • Watching: We have cable TV here in the cottage but haven’t found anything yet that’s caught our attention other than the current season of the Great British Baking Show (I think there may be more American shows available than British). We watched a lot of BBC news this past week because of the Brexit vote, etc. They did a fairly good job of explaining what’s been going on although I still have very little understanding of British politics.
  • Cooking: We’re going to have some of the leftover sausage quiche I made yesterday along with roasted cabbage for dinner tonight. We’re looking forward to going to Moreton-in-Marsh next week and seeing what the Aldi there has and what prices are like as well as shopping at the weekly market – there are said to be over 200 stalls! Aldi is the closest and largest major grocery store to us, although the small store here in Blockley is very nice with affordable prices. This past week all we felt up to were easy convenience meals, but I’m ready to start cooking again and will come up with a menu once I get some stuff at Aldi and the market. We forgot and left our spiralizer behind in Portland (the second time we’ve done this – we left our first one at the condo before we left Kaua’i), so zoodles are not going to be a thing here unless we can find another inexpensive one somewhere.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: I feel like our journey from Portland to Blockley was accomplishment enough, but so was getting unpacked and fitting everything into the cottage with its limited storage space. I also researched and booked our round-trip transportation up to Edinburgh at the end of the month. My goodness, that was a chore – there is no easy or inexpensive way to get up there from here whether by train or plane, but I finally ended up getting us booked all the way through by train (a nearly nine-hour journey) at a price we can live with. Air tickets would have been a bit less but we would still have had the train journey over to Gatwick along with spending a few hours sitting around in airports again. No thank you – we’d rather enjoy some beautiful scenery out the train window. Finally, I am trying to cut back to one cup of coffee a day and I did OK this past week, but I sure missed my second cup. I tried drinking a cup of tea instead but still craved the coffee. If I can get used to one cup per day though I will be very happy.
  • Looking forward to next week: Besides the trip to Moreton-in-Marsh, we’re greatly looking forward to having afternoon tea when we’re in Chipping Campden next week, and plan to splurge on an “afternoon tea tower” with sandwiches, scones, and cakes, hopefully at the Badger Inn. We’ll be figuring out how to use the local bus system that will take us there and to Moreton-in-Marsh (and eventually up to Stratford-on-Avon and over to Stow-in-the-Wold). Getting to places will be the easy part but getting back to Blockley may be more of a challenge as the buses are somewhat spread out.

    The Great Western Arms pub, one of two in Blockley – it’s very cozy inside and the food is affordable and delicious.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We’ve enjoyed some lovely exploratory walks through the village this past week, people have been very friendly and welcoming, and we had a wonderful, reasonably-priced lunch last Wednesday at one of two pubs in town, the Great Western Arms, and look forward to going back again soon. I had a bowl of amazingly delicious tomato and roasted pepper soup with some fresh whole-grain bread, the best tomato soup I’ve ever had, and Brett had a roast pork with applesauce sandwich along with coleslaw and a salad, and a pint of ale. All the food was housemade from local products. We were advised that the other pub in town, The Crown, isn’t nearly as good or as nice and it would be OK for us to skip it while we’re here, and branch out instead to others in nearby villages.

    Included in the treats left for us by our host were two bottles of wine – we’ve enjoyed drinking it while sitting out on the patio in the afternoons.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We’ve been watching our spending closely since we arrived, and have been heartened by the seemingly affordable prices for food (better than they were in Portland, anyway). I canceled our reservation at a B&B near Heathrow for the night before YaYu arrives and booked a hotel nearer the airport for less than half the price with breakfast included. We need to be there the night before as YaYu’s flight arrives quite early in the morning. The savings will cover our transportation costs from here to Heathrow, and our fares out to our London Airbnb after YaYu arrives. We’ve been enjoying all the treats our host provided for us, and we’ve had three no-spend days this past week. We’ve eaten all our leftovers and haven’t thrown away any food.
  • Grateful for: Both Brett and I are currently feeling especially thankful for the generous Airbnb gift certificate which made our visit to the UK possible.

    Our kitchen is very well-equipped but some of the appliances are small and have taken some getting used to.
  • Bonus question: Has anything in England been a surprise yet? So far no, although the appliances have taken some getting used to. The oven temperatures are of course in centigrade so I have to do conversions to get things right. The washing machine is very small and seems to run for ages, and I’m still working on getting the dryer figured out. The refrigerator is an under-the-counter model and quite small, but it will be good training for not buying so much when we go food shopping. The small dishwasher is easy to use though, thank goodness. The weather has been slightly warmer than we expected, although by late afternoon temperatures seem to cool down to let us know autumn is coming – yesterday morning the heat was even on for a bit.

Three things we’ve discovered here have already sent me to the moon with happiness: chutneys, gin, and local whole-grain bread. I LOVE chutney (although Brett doesn’t) and I’ve already had the pleasure of trying three different and very yummy types, and can’t wait to try more (there’s a chili peach one at the village store that’s up next). The market also carries a nice selection of gins, and we picked up a bottle of the local Cotswold variety yesterday along with some tonic and limes for G&Ts. More yum! We’re looking forward to trying some local pink and sloe gins as well, along with a tonic flavored with strawberries and roses. And, the locally baked whole-grain bread – oh my! I could eat nothing else and be satisfied (but it’s especially wonderful toasted and topped with some chutney and with a G&T on the side, or with a slice of some local cheddar). I’m still watching my carbs and am trying to be a good girl, but it’s going to be difficult. Don’t even get me started on the yummy chocolates here as well – my willpower is being put to the test.

That’s all for this week – I hope this past week was filled with lots of good things happening for you. Here’s to a great week coming up for all of us!

Sunday Afternoon 8/25/2019: Last Week in Portland

Portland produces some beautiful sunsets – Brett took this picture on his way home from his last night of Japanese class.

What a lovely, lazy, relaxing week this past one was! We had a busy Friday afternoon, but otherwise we didn’t do much of anything but read and rest. Yesterday and Wednesday we didn’t even leave the apartment, not even to walk (it rained on Wednesday, so going for a walk wasn’t going to happen anyway). We will have more than plenty to do this coming week, and I know we’re going to appreciate the calm of this past week.

YaYu arrives back from Japan on Tuesday afternoon. We will meet her at the airport, have dinner with her there and hand over the suitcase we’ve been storing for her here this summer, and then get her checked in for her flight back to Pennsylvania. We spoke with her this past week and she is very ready to come back to the U.S. She was paid well by her brother for her work (and she did a lot of work for them), had a good time overall but now knows that being a nanny is not her thing. Anyway, we’re looking forward to our time with her and wish we had more.

Back out of hiding . . .

Along with taking care of a bunch of final errands, Brett and I will be packing all week, and on Thursday we’ll pick up a rental car so that we can get our big suitcases out of the apartment Friday morning and over to a hotel near the airport for the night (we couldn’t reserve the apartment through Saturday as it was already reserved beginning Friday). We’ll turn the car in on Saturday and then spend a few hours at the airport – our flight doesn’t leave until after 7:00 in the evening, although we’ll check our bags in as soon as we can. We’re quite good at long airport stays now, and have things to read and do while we wait.

But . . . this time next week we will be in England! We’ve had a wonderful summer in Portland, but we’re excited to be moving on to our next destination. Visiting Great Britain has been a long-held dream for me (my ancestors on both sides come from England and Scotland) and I’m looking forward to being there for a while. We’ll be there for whatever unfolds with Brexit (deadline on October 31) and have no idea how that’s going to go or how it might affect our experience.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I stayed up late last Wednesday evening and finished Truman. It was one of the best books I’ve read, and I learned much I didn’t know before. Harry Truman was a complicated man, but the right person to be president for the time, someone who truly grew into the office, and a great American overall. I’m now reading two completely different books, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman, and Blade of the Samurai, another mystery by Susan Spann set in old Japan.
  • Listening to: It’s thankfully a quiet morning both inside and outside. I didn’t sleep well last night – I woke up around 3:00 a.m. with a knot in my stomach (nerves) over the upcoming travel, and it took me a while to fall back to sleep. I’m feeling very tired this morning and I appreciate the quiet.
  • Watching: Last week Brett and I discovered Mindhunter on Netflix and binge-watched two seasons of that (it’s about the beginnings of the Behavioral Sciences division of the FBI and understanding how serial killers develop). We are looking forward to Season 3! We finished up all the available episodes of Derry Girls and The Good Place, but the latter has new episodes available this coming week so we’re planning to watch those and hopefully will get to see them all before we check out. And then . . . we’re done with TV watching for a long while (unless we discover some great British show while we’re there).
  • Cooking: We finished almost all of the food in the house last week, but have enough for three last meals here at the apartment. Tonight we’re (finally) having teriyaki chicken, tomorrow we’re having stuffed peppers, and on Thursday we’ll have omelets with the last of any leftovers. We’re eating out on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, and also on Friday – we’re thinking of maybe going over to IKEA for some inexpensive Swedish meatballs because it’s near to our hotel. On Saturday morning we’ll have breakfast at the hotel, and then we’ll eat again at the airport before boarding our flight as there is no food served on board (fingers are crossed that we’ll be able to get something to eat at the Reykjavik airport during our layover there).
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Other than finishing Truman, sticking to low-carb eating, and drinking lots of water I didn’t accomplish anything this past week.
  • Looking forward to next week: I’m looking forward to spending a few hours with YaYu, although we know she will be tired and in a mood (she dislikes air travel). We’re also having dinner with our friend Joan on Wednesday evening at Higgins restaurant. We always love getting together with Joan, and Higgins was on my bucket list before we left Portland in 2014 but we didn’t make it then. I can’t say I’m looking forward to packing, but we are excited about hitting the road once again.

    Discovering that my pants were starting to disintegrate was quite a surprise but I ordered a new pair and am ready to go!
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Brett got the results back from his last round of medical testing and everything looks good. The doctor had seen something in his initial blood work that could have been an indicator for some not-so-good things, so she requested more testing, but none of the subsequent tests have shown any issues that would indicate problems – everything has been within the normal range. He has an appointment with the doctor tomorrow morning and hopefully he’ll get the official thumbs up from her, although we know the issue is something that’s going to have to be watched going forward. One initially not good thing was that I discovered one morning that a pair of my black Perfect Fit pants were beginning to disintegrate! I realized though they were over eight years old and had gotten a LOT of wear over the years so I guess it was time. I ordered a new pair from LL Bean and they arrived in two days so I am ready to go.

    Our last box from the farmers’ market, this time with apricots and plums! How lucky we were to enjoy so much sweet and tasty local fruit this summer.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: Brett went over to the farmers’ market on Tuesday and bought fruit and cherry tomatoes, we rented a Zipcar for our visit to Pittock Mansion and to drop off our recycling on Friday, bought two hand-thrown pottery souvenir coffee mugs at Pittock Mansion, and picked up a very few things at the grocery store on Friday to get us through our last days here, but otherwise we had five no-spend days this past week and our daily average for the month is just over $26. We have pretty much finished up all our food, and will only be leaving behind a little bit of vegetable oil, sesame oil, soy sauce, and some ketchup and mustard. (Having to buy new pants was not particularly frugal, but they were necessary and paid out of our clothing fund. I’m hoping they will last at least eight years too!)

    I will definitely be buying more big bags of mugi cha when we’re in Japan next year.
  • Grateful for: It’s often the big things we think of when we think of gratitude, but this week for me it’s one of the little things that has helped make my summer more pleasant. I’m so thankful I found that big package of mugi cha (roasted barley tea) at Costco in Japan because I’ve been able to enjoy it every day all summer long. I still can’t get over how much I detested mugi cha the first time I tasted it (I gagged) because it’s now one of my favorite things to drink and very refreshing. Finding that big package in Japan made it a very affordable treat this summer.
  • Bonus question: What is the most useless thing you ever learned how to do? I have to go back to the navy again for this one, but in my “A” school I learned how to test and replace vacuum tubes. This was in 1977, and the navy was not even using vacuum tubes by then but we still had to do the section as it hadn’t been removed from the curriculum. That was a week of my life I’ve never gotten back. Thankfully my job after finishing “A” school was fairly interesting although the skills I used have turned out to be pretty useless as well. I operated a flight simulator that trained naval flight officers, doing air traffic control for their “takeoffs” and making sure they took off correctly and knew what to say when and how to talk with air traffic control during their “flight.” Also high on my list of useless things was learning to do various math problems longhand back in the day like finding the square root of a number, calculating the slope of a line, etc. – yeah for calculators these days! I still do long division in my head sometimes though as well as some other simple algebraic formulas so those didn’t turn out to be as useless as I thought they were at the time.

    We used a machine like this to test vacuum tubes. I might as well be trying to read Greek these days.

There won’t be a Sunday post next week because we will still be flying for most of day (our flight leaves Portland on Saturday evening) or settling in at our hotel near Heathrow for some much-needed sleep after we arrive in England. I’ve been in touch with our host and we’re set to check in once we arrive in Blockley on Monday. I’ll post again once I feel settled.

Finally, this past week I got a Facebook message from someone in Hawai’i I initially didn’t recognize. It turned out to be from the people who had rented the house we lived in after us. They too have been having loads of trouble getting their deposit back from the landlord after moving out at the end of July and are also having to deal with his lies about all the “damage” they supposedly did to the place. They asked about our experience with him and wanted to know if we had any suggestions. I said they should take him to court – their deposit was even larger than ours – and it turned out they already had the paperwork almost done and were getting ready to file. Yeah! The one thing that awful man doesn’t want to do is go to court, and we told them if they needed any help to let us know. They are a young couple from the island with LOTS of family there which may be what finally nails this greedy, immoral guy – you don’t mess with locals (and apparently at one point he had been badmouthing the couple to their family members without knowing it) – no, no, NO!

Hoping everyone has a great week!