Sunday Morning 3/29/2020: Quarantine Life

Flooding at the junction of the Kapaa bypass and the Kuhio highway just south of Kapaa yesterday morning; it rained hard again last night too.

What an insane week this has been! It’s hard for me to believe that a week ago this time we were still in Japan, although we were getting ready to leave. Since then we’ve gone through our trip back to Kaua’i, the efforts to get YaYu here, and now we’re starting the process of resettling on the island in the middle of a pandemic and quarantine. It’s been hard to take it all in at times.

Quarantine Life: Where we’re spending most of our time for the next two weeks.

YaYu arrived home on Friday evening, but not without a bit of work. After two cancellations and two schedule changes to her original itinerary, we were nearing our wits’ ends, and when Delta changed her flight once again to Saturday we said enough! I called Delta and in five minutes had her on a new flight that departed early Friday morning. Her boyfriend’s mom and I set up a plan about what to do if she got stuck anywhere, so those bases were covered before she departed, but thankfully each of the three flights involved in her itinerary took off on time and even got her here to Kaua’i a little early. I had a fairly sleepless Thursday night/early Friday morning though as we had asked her to message us each time she arrived at her layovers, and then each time she boarded the next plane – we needed to know she wasn’t getting stuck somewhere. She’s now settling into her quarantine, and Brett and I are feeling a lot more relaxed than we were.

The Wailua Bridge remains closed until the log dam behind it, created by Friday night’s torrential rains, can be removed.

The rain since we arrived has been nearly non-stop and quite heavy at times. Friday night was the worst, with massive amounts of rain falling all night along with a fierce thunderstorm. Lightning was all around and struck the golf course next to us a couple of times which was VERY loud and shook the entire condo. As you can see from the pictures at the top, roads and bridges around the island had to be closed because of flooding. People also had to be evacuated from their homes in the middle of the night, but thankfully no lives were lost nor was anyone hurt.

We got our car the day after we arrived, and on Wednesday found a place to live following YaYu’s quarantine. Brett and I went out that day and looked at two places on the south side (Koloa/Lawai/Kalaheo) that we had spotted on Craigslist. The first place was nice, with two bedrooms and gorgeous views of the countryside, but the trip up to its location and then back down to the highway was quite treacherous, and the rent was also at the top of our budget. In fact, by the time we made it back to the highway (alive) we had decided we didn’t want to live there even if we were accepted (we weren’t). The second place we looked at was a smaller, older apartment. It was a nice size and in a much better location; the rent was much less and included utilities; and, it came with a new refrigerator and a new washer and dryer (we would have had to share the washer and dryer at the other place). There was also a nice yard where Brett could putter around. After checking it out we said we would take it and were accepted on the spot (we still had to pass a credit and criminal check, which we did easily) and we will officially be in possession of the apartment on Tuesday. However, we have to stay at our condo on the north side until April 11 as YaYu is under full quarantine and has to stay inside here, but that will give Brett and I a few days to go down and try to get the place set up as much as possible before our official move-in. I’m not sure how much of that we can accomplish as almost all stores on the island are closed and movement is limited, but at the least, we should be able to get a bed, sofa, and a TV in to get us started, and we can eat Costco casseroles and sandwiches, and use paper plates until our things arrive from the mainland. We have no idea how long that will take though – Amazon shipments are currently taking a month or more at a minimum to get over here so getting our stuff across the ocean may take much longer. In other words, getting re-settled is going to take a good, long while, but we now have the basics in place and are moving forward. It’s been great having our old car back too – it runs great and makes us feel like we never left. All that’s left to do is transfer the title but county offices are currently closed so whenever they reopen we will take care of that piece of business.

Our soon-to-be new home

Although schools in Japan are supposed to be reopening next week, according to our son, Tokyo appears to be moving toward stronger quarantine measures at the same time so whether the kids will go back is still unknown. A resurgence of the virus is expected, and the government is ordering/recommending stricter measures short of a full lockdown in hopes of keeping the virus tamped down. By the way, it snowed in Tokyo yesterday – unreal for this time of year!

Snow day on the balcony.

I have tried not to think about how much money we may have lost over all the changes we had to make to our travel plans in the past couple of weeks. We are outside the no-fee change dates for the flight we booked on Aeromexico to go from Mexico City to New York in May as well as our flight from Boston back to Portland on Alaska in early June. We can pay a cancellation fee with Alaska and at least get back about 68% of what we paid, but the Aeromexico flight is a complete loss. Delta fully refunded our Dallas to Mexico City flight (Delta has been amazing during all of this and we will remember that when it comes to future travel). We also lost the entire amount we paid for our one-night stay in Vermont following WenYu’s graduation as any cancellation included the first night’s stay and we were only there for one night. Our Airbnb host in Mexico has also refused to refund all of what we paid because if she cancels she loses her Superhost status, but she has agreed to return 75% of what we paid and give us the rest in a coupon toward a future stay. She hasn’t been able to accomplish anything from her end though, and we have asked Airbnb repeatedly to look into it, but who knows how long that will take or if it will ever be resolved. If we cancel we will lose everything. I realize these are all first-world problems, and others are hurting far worse than we are, but it’s still extremely frustrating. We are grateful for all the people who did refund our money and I hope we will get some further relief from Airbnb, but I’m not really counting on it at this point.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I’ve given up on reading for the time being as I’ve been unable to sit and focus, even with a good book, for any period of time.
    Blue skies returned for a while on Saturday afternoon, but the rain eventually returned.
  • Listening to: Brett is rustling around in the kitchen making blueberry pancakes this morning. YaYu is up, but she’s as quiet as a mouse (for now). There are blue skies outside again and a gentle breeze blowing, thank goodness – I hope it lasts. The condo complex is very quiet overall, but that’s because there really isn’t anyone here but us and a few other full-time residents.
  • Watching: I watched Knives Out last night on my computer, but otherwise we again didn’t watch anything this past week. We have full cable here, but got out of the habit of watching TV when we were in Japan. I’m sure YaYu will get us involved again fairly soon, although she is pretty busy now with her online classes.
  • Cooking: Brett and I enjoyed a Costco meatloaf and mashed potatoes for most of our meals last week – we had it for dinner on three nights along with some four-bean salad and then used the last of it up in sandwiches on Friday. It was very good and we would buy it again. Things will get eaten more quickly though with YaYu here. This week we’ll be having enchiladas (also from Costco), pork yakisoba, CookDo pork and pepper stir fry, and breakfast for dinner one evening. I will be doing prep in the kitchen, but YaYu will be the chief cook. We couldn’t find any fresh chicken at Costco, and customers were limited to one package there anyway. Shelves in Costco and Big Save market were stripped bare of some items (i.e. especially ramen and rice, and of course toilet paper), but the Princeville Foodland market has had everything we couldn’t find earlier, although at a higher price, and we were able to get toilet paper there. We’re still trying to find out if we can set up a weekly CSA delivery from one of the local farmers – I am craving Kaua’i produce!
  • Happy I accomplished last week: I am sort of amazed by all we accomplished this past week: flights home to Kaua’i; getting food and getting settled into the condo; getting our travel wardrobes washed and put away; finding a place to live; and most of all, getting YaYu home. It was a day later than we initially hoped for and took a bit of work, but she is here now and that’s what counts. And, we seem to have conquered our jet lag in less than a week – a new record! One big (and happy) chore YaYu and I took care of yesterday was sorting out all the KitKats we brought back. We made bags of them that we’ll send to Meiling and her boyfriend, WenYu and her boyfriend, and to YaYu’s boyfriend and his family. The rest went into a big bowl and the three of us will have one every evening after dinner and hopefully can make them last for a while. I had one of the tangerine ones last night and it was delicious!
  • Looking forward to next week: Tomorrow is Brett’s and my 41st anniversary. Our celebration will be very low key: we’re having enchiladas for dinner and ice cream with chocolate sauce and whipped cream for dessert. I’m going to get started ordering some things for the apartment this week as we will have a few items from IKEA (flat packs) included in our shipment that Brett can assemble once they get here. Ordering furniture is always fun (for me, anyway), and that needs to be done before we can set up our shipment.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Arriving back on Kaua’i and finding a place to live so quickly was a very good thing, especially in our preferred location. Having our car back again has been a good thing too. And of course, best of all is having YaYu here with us. The other girls are doing well, although we worry about Meiling and her boyfriend in NYC. They have not gone out of their apartment except for one quick trip to the grocery store. There are apparently no chickens/roosters in or around this condo complex either as we haven’t seen nor heard even one of them. It will probably be the complete opposite though at our new place – we are mentally preparing ourselves.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: Choosing the less expensive rental was the most frugal thing we did this past week, and with utilities being included in the rent our island budget will be in very good shape and help us put more away for YaYu’s college expenses (important since she most likely will not find employment this summer) and also give us more discretionary income. Our grocery expenses upon arrival were quite high as prices for everything but gasoline have gone way up but we have enough food to last the three of us for over two weeks.
  • Grateful for: Brett and I are feeling beyond blessed to have such good friends, and such a wonderful son and daughter-in-law. They have been and were an immense help this past week and offered unwavering support over the past two weeks when we needed it most.
  • Bonus question: Is there anything you regret not getting to do on this last visit to Japan? In spite of all the restrictions that came about (for good reason), the one thing Brett and I most regret is that we weren’t able to visit Kamakura as we had planned. It’s one of the most interesting cities to visit in Japan, and one of our favorites, but it was just too risky at this time especially considering it would have involved over an hour-long train ride each way with transfers in two busy stations (Shibuya and Yokohama). We feel sad that we did not get to go to the brunch at the New Sanno Hotel, especially since this was one of the first things C asked if we could do, and also that we couldn’t be in Japan for his birthday. We had reservations at the New Sanno for Easter brunch, but all brunches at the hotel have been canceled for now. Otherwise, we have no regrets over how things turned out and appreciate the opportunity we were given to spend increased time with our family and explore and discover the area surrounding our apartment in Sangenjaya.
Beautiful packaging . . . for fish!

Finally, the answer to the mystery food I posted a couple of weeks ago: the food shown above are fish cakes! Called kamaboko in Japanese, these mild fish cakes have been eaten in Japan since the 14th century. Made from pureed, deboned whitefish, the fish is formed into loaves on a narrow piece of wood and then steamed until they have the consistency of a firm sausage. Besides the standard loaves shown above, kamaboko is also formed into a variety of different shapes for other purposes, such as for oden, Japan’s most famous winter stew. Kamaboko is eaten and enjoyed in a variety of ways, such as fresh and dipped into a sauce, or sauteed and served warm, or sliced and added on top of a bowl of ramen or other noodles. The pink color and the grilled topping are done purely for aesthetics – the three versions above are otherwise the same. Red kamaboko is also available; it is most often used on holidays or for special celebrations. Kamaboko is popular in Hawaii too – it’s made locally and always served with saimin. It is also sometimes used to make a tasty dip!

Thank you for all your support over the past week or so – it’s been quite a roller-coaster ride! We are missing Japan and our family there so much still, and that’s been hard to deal with along with all the worry over getting YaYu back to us. The next couple of weeks are going to be hard as we get ourselves moved into more permanent housing. But things have and will work themselves out, and all your comments have helped. Here’s wishing you are all well and continue to stay that way, and that in spite of all that is currently swirling around us, that you and yours stay safe and healthy, and good things continue to happen.

Sunday Morning 3/15/2020: Week 7 in Japan

My companion and playmate for the next couple of weeks

It’s Sunday morning in Japan . . . .

At the beginning of this past week we got to change up our daily pattern a bit as K went back to her hoikuen, so there was no need for me to be over at our son’s for a full day. Brett went over in the morning for C’s distance learning, and then I was there by 3:00 in the afternoon, giving me time to take care of things around the apartment in the morning. My back had been giving me some trouble, and it was nice to have the morning somewhat free to get it back into shape before the long walk to our son’s. On Wednesday afternoon though they got a note from the hoikuen asking that if there was someone available to watch the children at home it would be appreciated because of the coronavirus risk, so both Brett and I both headed over Thursday morning, Brett to again help C, and me to watch K. We will be on duty for the next two weeks, but then it will be spring break (our son has vacation that week as well), and schools will reopen nationally the following week, with K beginning preschool. As our son remarked on Thursday as we were getting ready to leave, “It’s not turning out to be the visit you imagined, is it?”

The weather has been warmer this week, except for Tuesday, when it poured all day, and yesterday, when it was cold, rainy – it even snowed! Otherwise, we had some nice walks to and from our son’s place. Brett and I were going to go over to Tokyu yesterday afternoon to do our food shopping, so as not to have a repeat of last week’s situation where I was stuck with a bunch of heavy bags (although there will not be a repeat of last week’s extra five jars of peanut butter!) but seeing snow coming down killed that outing. We may go visit the Maneki Neko temple with our son and family – later today. The sky is blue, but it’s very cold again.

For now, the girls are OK, but changes have been coming fast and furiously. Wellesley announced a hard shutdown of the campus for the remainder of the year; everyone has to be out of the dorms by Tuesday. WenYu plans to move out on Monday and will stay with her boyfriend in Massachusetts while she finishes her courses online. Our hearts just ache for her – she was within less than three months of graduation, and now that is gone, and she will not even be able to go out and find work. She and I shared a few tears as we talked about the changes. The campus and Wellesley community is already reaching out to this class though, and I know they will find ways to still make things special for the young women from the class of 2020. Bryn Mawr is still officially open, although all classes will now be online. Dorms and food service were going to stay open, but YaYu learned on Friday afternoon that all student employment had been canceled, and that evening that she had to be out of the dorm no later than Monday. She was also tearful, and a bit frantic, but we worked out a plan: she will be staying with a friend for a few days that lives nearby, and then moving over to stay with her boyfriend’s family for a few days (he attends Haverford, also lives nearby). The college still hasn’t announced a hard closure, but that is expected by April 3, and if and when that happens, YaYu will most likely go stay with Brett’s sister and BIL, or in Massachusetts with WenYu, and then we will bring her to wherever we are as soon as we possibly can, and she will spend the summer with us. Meiling is now working remotely in NYC and she is well and doing OK. Although the theaters are currently closed, if they reopen in time she and her boyfriend will use our tickets and see Hamilton in May; otherwise, she will get us tickets for a later visit. It is a crazy and upsetting time for the girls – none of them have ever dealt especially well with change, and these quick ones have left them completely upended.

Things are currently in flux with our flight out of Japan and our future plans as well. Although our reservation with Delta appears to still exist with no changes, I noticed this past week that the flight is no longer listed as an option on the airline’s website, and when I’ve searched using the flight number, I saw that it’s still departing but three hours later than what our reservation says. I received a message from them this week asking us not to contact them regarding reservations until 72 hours before the departure date as they are currently overwhelmed with changes and everything else that’s going on. We have another 34 days until we leave Japan, so we will hang tight for now, and if we’ve learned nothing else, it’s to be flexible. We won’t be staying here, but where we go after Japan and how we get there may possibly change. I canceled all of our May and June reservations with Airbnb yesterday afternoon and will contact the airlines as we get closer to those dates to find out about rescheduling so we hopefully don’t have to eat the cost of those flights (about $1000).

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I bought and was getting started a new book this week, The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance during the Blitz, by Erik Larson, as I was beginning to think that my not reading was due to a resistance to returning to American Dirt more than anything else. However, I got a notice Friday evening that two books I had on hold at the library were available, The Dutch House: A Novel, by Anna Patchett, and The Wilder Life, by Wendy McClure, so I’ll be reading those first, and then will get back to the other books (which were purchases).
  • Listening to: Nothing – Brett is reading and there’s not a sound outside. After a crazy week it’s positively blissful. The sky is very blue but I can tell it’s cold because of the condensation on the windows.
  • Watching: No TV watching for Brett and me again this week. It’s not that there’s been nothing to watch; we just haven’t felt like it.
  • Cooking: Tonight I’m making the tofu curry that didn’t get made last week. Also appearing on our dinner menu this week will be chicken and vegetable soup with corn dumplings (using a Jiffy mix I found at Hardy Barracks); CookDo pork and pepper stirfry; tacos; takeout sushi; and macaroni and beef along with steamed broccoli. We haven’t decided where we want to eat out yet.
    Sometimes I am my own worst enemy. But, we have lots of the hard-to-get natural peanut butter to last through the end of our stay.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: My biggest accomplishment for the week was getting those groceries home last Monday. My goodness, that was a chore. It didn’t help that on Wednesday we then carried a case of Diet Coke home from our son’s – he and M went to Hardy Barracks to look for the Diet Coke (we got two more cases). We made it over to our son’s on time (just two mornings for me) this past week, and I got their laundry folded for them every day. I’d like to help in the kitchen but I can’t figure out how anything in there works or where anything goes. We have gotten in a lot of walking this week, at least two miles every day. Just getting through each day with the changes that are occurring for the girls and others in the U.S. has been challenging.
  • Looking forward to next week: We’ll be continuing this past week’s pattern of going over to our son’s every day, so no chances for us to get out until Friday, a national holiday so a day off for our son and family. Brett and I have poured over our maps and found a Shinto shrine complex nearby that, weather permitting, we’ll walk over and visit that day. We also found a nearby river walk that we may try and do if the weather is nice on Saturday.
    I never thought I would be thrilled to have alcohol wipes, but here we are . . . .
     
  • Thinking of good things that happened: One of the benefits of being at our son’s during the day is that he cooks us lunch when we’re there, and he’s a really good cook! He also springs for takeout now and again, which is fun as well. We had both grandkids over for dinner on Friday evening and another great sleepover with our grandson. Our DIL’s mother got the last package of alcohol wipes available in her town and set them to M, who shared them with us. We’re saving ours and the masks they gave us for when we fly next month.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We had a couple of no-spend days again this past week and even with stocking up (the peanut butter and extra Diet Coke) our daily spending average is still below our March target (currently we’re at $21.46/day).
  • Grateful for: Although I am so sad for the WenYu and YaYu, Brett and I are thankful that even though their colleges will close for the rest of the year because of the pandemic (and WenYu will not have a graduation ceremony) that they will be able to finish their coursework for the year using distance learning. A college or university setting up something this major would have been impossible not that long ago.
    I love Cadbury Creme Eggs, but I’m also glad they’re only around a few months every year.
  • Bonus question: Easter candy is out now – do you have a favorite? YES!! I love, love, love Cadbury creme eggs, and always look forward to their short season every year. I like chocolate, but can live without it (I prefer savory foods); however, there is something about the creme eggs I can’t resist. Back in the U.S. I usually bought a couple of four-packs and would make them last, but the other day Brett brought me a big bag full of them and I’ve been enjoying one a day – a real treat (they were on sale at Hardy Barracks). A few years ago I was able to get the ones filled with orange creme and I thought I’d died and gone to heaven as I adore orange chocolate, but I’ve heard you can only get those now in the UK (I don’t care for the caramel-filled ones – I like my caramel nice and chewy). Anyway, other than the creme eggs, I can easily pass on Easter candy. 

Next week is going to be a hard one for both Brett and I. We love being with the grandkids and are glad we can help our son and DIL, but the days are long for us and tiring. Plus, we’re unable to get out and do much of anything else during the week. I’m not sure how much writing I will be able to do, or even if I’ll have any energy to do any, so there may be no posts until next weekend. 

That’s it for this crazy week. Thank you all for hanging in there with us. We are thinking of all of you back in the U.S. and know it’s been an extremely difficult week for all and that things are probably going to get much worse before they get better. I’m still hoping that good things happen for you, both big and small. And, stay healthy! Wash your hands and don’t touch your face – it’s almost impossible, I know. Social isolation is difficult (although a dream come true for us introverts), but I hope you can find ways to still get out and take care of yourself at the same time.

Sunday Morning 3/8/2020: Week 7 in Japan

It’s raining today, but spring is coming!

It’s Sunday morning in the Land of the Rising Sun . . .

Brett declared this past week that unless he and I walk at least a mile each day we will die (hyperbole much, Brett?), so we have been out every day, rain or shine, getting in our mile, but usually doing two or more. This past week our walks have all been very local, but we have discovered some beautiful and interesting places in our neighborhood, some less than 15 minutes from our apartment. To plan our walks, we both bring up Google Maps, and then look around our neighborhood for something that looks interesting such as temples, shrines, or parks, decide together what we’d like to go see, and then map how to get there and back. Brett has a better sense of direction than I do, so he’s usually the leader when we go out, but I put together a walk this past Tuesday that took us to two Buddhist temples and a small neighborhood shrine and actually got us there with only one wrong turn (he got us home though). We get two miles every day we go over to our son’s to help with the grandkids.

We spent all day Wednesday through Friday with the grands and it was frankly exhausting. Brett sat with C and monitored him as he did his distance learning, while I spent time with a rambunctious three-year-old (who was home last week with a cold). K & I had a good time, but because of my old knee injury, I am unable to get down on the floor which limited what she & I could do (i.e. no Duplo or blocks for me). We still had a good time, she was a good helper, and we also worked at getting her to use more English as it is just about ready to come bursting out of her. I can understand most of what she says in Japanese, and she understands my English, so we communicate pretty well (she teaches me Japanese too – this week I learned the Japanese word for hippopotamus is kaba). Anyway, Brett and I left every afternoon feeling quite worn out! We’ve been mentally preparing ourselves for the next couple of weeks as we’ll be there every day again.

She loves to make faces! This time it’s with her Hinamatsuri snack and Minnie headband from Grandma and Grandpa.

Neither Brett nor I is dealing as well with the low furniture here as we have in the past. Everything – sofas, chairs, beds, etc. – is closer to the floor, and getting up and out of things is proving to be harder on our joints than it has been before. The sofa in this apartment is a big improvement from the slippery chairs we lived with last year and is super comfortable to stretch out on, but when it’s time to get up it can be very painful. It’s also hard on my lower back. Brett pretty much sticks to sitting at the dining table because those chairs are a little higher, but they’re still lower than chairs are in the U.S. We know it’s just one of those Japanese things we have to deal with when we’re here, but wish it was less uncomfortable (and painful) at times.

It may be a little hard to see in this photo but the sofa is probably around 4 inches or so lower than a U.S.-made sofa. Getting off this one is hard on my knees.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I’m still falling asleep quickly and not getting much reading done. I’ve had reading slumps like this before but always pull out of them, so know it will pass. I’ve cut way back on my caffeine consumption, so that’s the most likely reason I’ve been falling asleep so quickly. All the walking helps make me sleepy too.
  • Listening to: The rain is dripping away outside this morning, and Brett is puttering away in the kitchen, making coffee. We’ll probably go out later today, but for now it’s nice to be inside!
  • Watching: Brett and I finished up Season 4 of Better Call Saul – now we’ll have to wait another year for the fifth season to arrive on Netflix! We’re going to check out a couple of new Netflix series this evening and see if we like any of them.
  • Cooking: We’re having crab and avocado sandwiches with clam chowder tonight to use up some leftovers ingredients from the California roll salad. I’m going to use the Crockpot a couple of times this week, to make barbecue pulled pork for sandwiches (which we’ll have on two nights, with coleslaw), and to make slow cooker ham and cheese casserole, which we’ll have for dinner instead of breakfast next Saturday. We’ll also be having CookDo mabo dofu, and curry with tofu and vegetables on two other nights. If our grandson sleeps over on Friday we’ll go to Mos Burger and count that as our dining out; otherwise, we’ll go somewhere else – there are so many good and affordable restaurants in the neighborhood. 
  • Happy I accomplished last week: I don’t think we accomplished anything special this week other than getting out every day for a walk, even when it was raining. We also made it over to our son’s on three mornings to help our grandson get signed on and started with his distance learning sessions. Some of the kids in C’s class have little to no parental supervision during the day and Brett says it shows, so I’m glad he’s willing and able to sit with C, answer questions, and keep him on track with his work and assignments.
  • Looking forward to next week: Because we’ll be helping out with the grandkids again all next week, we haven’t made any plans. We’re talking about visiting the Maneki Neko temple on Saturday with our son and family as they think the kids will find it fascinating. We’ll have a Plan B though if that doesn’t happen.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We both started off the week thinking we were coming down with something (colds, not the coronavirus – we had stuffy heads and sore throats but no cough, respiratory issues, or fevers), but those thing disappeared on Monday and we’ve felt great all week. Our walks took us to some interesting and beautiful places in our neighborhood that we probably wouldn’t have discovered otherwise and we’re looking forward to expanding our range in the future. We had another fun sleepover night with our grandson – we baked a cheese pizza, went out for Baskin-Robbins, and played some games. K came with over as well but just stayed for dinner. On Thursday evening, after walking around and checking out several places (in the cold and wind), we ended up eating ramen at a shop just around the corner from our apartment – we were welcomed heartily, and the ramen was delicious! (The Hiroshima place turned out to be somewhere we did not want to eat!). Finally, I lost an earring at our son’s place last year (which was never found – it’s believed to be buried deep in their sofa), so my DIL surprised me this week with a new pair of blue and white ceramic earrings, my favorite colors! They also presented us with a nice bottle of wine for helping out last week.
    The small ramen restaurant around the corner from us has just three tables and seven counter stools; it’s very cozy and inviting.
    There is no waitress – ramen or other items are ordered using a machine. You put in money and then push a button for your choice and hand the ticket to the chef. Thankfully there are pictures for some of the many varieties available.
    We each chose ramen topped with greens, a slice of tender roast pork, and some nori (seaweed). The broth was meaty and delicious, and pork tender enough to break up with our chopsticks.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: Although we overspent on groceries this past week, we did have three other no-spend days and on the days we did spend it was less than ¥500. We spent only ¥1500/$14 for our ramen dinner, half of our weekly dining out budget, and used our miscellaneous funds to pay for ice cream with the grandkids on Friday evening. After our first week in March we are well under budget!
  • Grateful for: Brett’s “walk or die” decree has made me appreciative and thankful for all there is to see in the area around us, and how nice it is to walk through our neighborhood’s quiet streets. Most of our walking though is to and from the station to get to our son’s place and back, but on the weekends there are lots of places we can walk in our neighborhood. One of the reasons I’ve always loved being in Japan is because every time we step out the door we go on an adventure. Even after years spent living here, and multiple visits, there’s always something new to see or discover, something to ponder or try and figure out, something to learn. 
  • Bonus question: What is the weirdest food you have ever eaten in Japan? Although there are things I don’t like, I don’t find much of Japanese food weird (although others might). However . . . back in 1982, during our first tour in Japan, I went to a dish festival in the pottery town of Seto and bought what I thought was yakitori (grilled skewered pieces of chicken, basted in a sweet soy sauce) from a street vendor. I hadn’t been feeling very well and thought yakitori would be a “safe” dish. I took my first bite and it crunched. That’s interesting, I thought. Maybe I got some bone in this piece. I took a second bite and it crunched again. So I looked at my skewered meat a little more closely and realized I was eating . . . baby birds! I could see little wings! And beaks! GAH!! I threw it away and later found some nice, safe noodles to eat. A few days later I told my English students about what had happened and learned that these baby birds (sparrows) were quite the delicacy and I had been lucky to find them. I still think NO WAY.

We continue to stay cautious and we’re staying well, knock on wood. The number of cases of the coronavirus here has slightly increased, but we still know that things could change quickly. What we are concerned about these days is our upcoming flight schedule and whether some of those might have to be changed or canceled. We have to leave Japan in April, so we’re not thinking of canceling or changing that flight, but trips beyond that are a concern, and I’m already worrying whether Wellesley will hold a graduation ceremony this year, or whether it will be safe for us to travel to New York in May to see Meiling (or go to the theater). So far there have been no announcements about us not being able to enter anywhere or having to stay in quarantine because we’ve been in Japan, but we are keeping a close watch on that and will adapt to whatever happens. 

On a happier note, because of the warm winter here, cherry blossoms are due to blossom earlier than usual this year. The latest calendar has them starting on March 19, and in peak bloom on March 23. We do plan to go out to a couple of special locations to see them this year, but again will be careful about train trips, crowds, etc.

That’s all for this week! I hope it was a good one for you, that you’re staying well, lots of good things are happening, and you’re looking forward to the week coming up!

Sunday Morning 3/1/2020: Week 6 in Japan

The shopping street near our apartment is usually packed with people, either walking or riding bicycles – these days there’s a lot less traffic. This picture was taken on Thursday at about 2:00 in the afternoon, but on Saturday afternoon the street was almost full again.

It’s Sunday morning in Japan . . .        

There have been more changes occurring since my post on Wednesday because of the coronavirus threat. Streets, shops, stores, everything seems emptier than usual as people avoid going out unless they have to. All schools will close tomorrow for the remainder of the winter term (until the first week of April). We will be going over to watch C while M works at home; he will be getting his lessons via distance learning for the rest of the term. Can you imagine this happening in the U.S.? We still go out for walks so we don’t go stir crazy, but otherwise, just for specific purposes, such as food shopping, or to go to our son’s, and we combine errands whenever possible. It’s going to be a challenge going forward to match our previous walking levels. We are taking things a day at a time.

We have been riding the bus more this past couple of weeks in order to avoid passing through Shibuya and other large stations, and as a result, we’ve been discovering all sorts of new places. For example, the other day, as we walked to the bus stop, we found an antique store just around the corner from our apartment! We had no idea. And, it’s been fun to travel through nearby neighborhoods at ground level on a bus versus speeding by them or be underground on a train. Bus rides in Japan always used to scare me – it was so easy to get lost, and the automated announcements for stops were always done by a woman with a soft, high-pitched voice that I could barely understand. These days the woman’s voice is still there, but we can track our route online before we go and know which stop to get off at, plus at the front of the bus is a large screen which announces the stop in both Japanese and English. Those things have proven to be very helpful, for me anyway. 

Tokyo Rusks: maple, sugar, and Earl Grey & orange. The three of them are just 133 calories.

I did not see myself loving something called a rusk, but I have fallen in love with Tokyo Rusks. Who would have thought that a thin slice of toasted baguette finished with a slightly sweet topping could be so delicious? The ones we took along with us this past weekend were a big hit, and the grandkids LOVED them, especially the maple flavor (but they also liked the Earl Grey with orange ones too). Brett didn’t get to try one of the maple ones so we went back to the shop this past week and bought some more, and we also got more of the Earl Grey with orange ones (my favorite) and some of their original flavor, sugar rusks, to try them out. Japan really does have the greatest snacks and cookies. We discover something new every time we visit.

This morning I am: 

  • Reading: I’ve gotten only a few pages read of American Dirt because lately I’ve been falling asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow. I see a lot of free time coming up though in the next few weeks where I’ll be able to get in a lot of reading.
  • Listening to: Brett’s puttering around in the kitchen, making coffee and putting away last night’s dishes. I can hear crows outside this morning, but it’s quiet otherwise. It was raining last night, but this morning the sun is out and the sky is blue. 
  • Watching: Brett and I have been watching the fourth season of Better Call Saul, one episode each evening except for Friday when our grandson was here. Things seem to have taken a darker turn this season, but it’s still one of the best TV shows out there, in my opinion.
  • Cooking: We’re having tuna melts and clam chowder for dinner this evening. Also on our dinner menu this week will be gyūdon (thinly sliced and simmered beef over rice); CookDo mabo nasu; California roll salad; French bread pizza; and we’ll make quesadillas when/if our grandson comes over on Friday. We want to go to the okonomiyaki restaurant for our dining out night if it’s still OK to go out. However, M & M canceled an evening out last week so we’re not sure if this will be happening for us anymore going forward. We may just get takoyaki again from the stand up on the corner.
    Flavor #23: Strawberry Cheesecake
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Brett and I went over to the New Sanno Hotel on Tuesday to see if they had Diet Coke – Brett figured out a way to get there with only two train stops. They were out of everything we were looking for though, including Diet Coke, but we did find a new flavor of KitKats, Strawberry Cheesecake. We stopped at the National Market on our way back and got some freshly ground peanut butter as our commissary supply ran out this past week. We still can’t find hand sanitizer anywhere, but have broken out the hundreds of sterile alcohol swabs we carry in our medical pouch and are using those as necessary (we had sanitizer, but have no idea what happened to it). Yesterday our son drove us over to Hardy Barracks, another small military lodging facility in Tokyo with a minimart and we stocked up on a few more supplies while we were there. They had one case of Diet Coke open in the fridge – I took six of them as I’m running low. We managed to get in 6500 steps on most days.
  • Looking forward to next week: We’re not sure yet what we’re going to get to do as it will depend on how much time we spend watching C (K is going to continue going to her hoikuen for the time being). Grocery shopping may soon become the most exciting event of our week. We’d like to visit the Maneki Neko temple again – it’s just a couple of stations away from us by tram, and we plan to walk some more around our own neighborhood. Every trip out is anthropological – we always see and learn something new about life here, or find something to ponder.  
  • Thinking of good things that happened: 1) We had a wonderful getaway last Sunday up to the Chichibu area in Saitama Prefecture. Our first stop was at Nagatoro, an area of scenic beauty and geologic interest where we walked along the Arakawa River and explored the Iwadatami, which means “tatami mat rocks.” Afterward, we had a traditional, multi-course Japanese meal at a nearby restaurant and then drove over to Mt. Hodo, where we rode a ropeway up the side of the mountain to the top. Plum blossoms and wintersweet were in bloom all over, and the views of the Chichibu mountains were spectacular. Finally, we made a special visit to the Chichibu Rare Rock Museum, which had been opened especially for us so we could visit! 2) Our grandson stayed over with us again on Friday evening. We took him to Mister Donut for a treat, played games most of the evening, and rewatched Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse – a fun evening! 3) I appear to be changing shape, and maybe even losing some weight because my leggings keep sliding down now whenever I wear them! Of course, it may just be that they’re not shrinking back to shape because they’re being line dried. I’d like to think though that all this walking we’ve been doing has been having an effect!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We didn’t go crazy, but again it wasn’t a particularly frugal week. We used some more of our miscellaneous funds to buy the KitKats at the New Sanno Hotel, some more Tokyo Rusks, and doughnuts for C at Mister Donut. We spent some additional money from our grocery funds at the Hardy Barracks, and to get peanut butter at National Market, kaarage for Friday’s dinner from a specialty stand (it was outstanding!), steel-cut oats and brown sugar at Kaldi Coffee Farms, and a 12-pack of toilet paper and a bottle of vegetable oil at Tokyu. We have more than three weeks’ worth of meals on hand but are still thinking of stocking up a bit more on things like pantry items and paper goods. I was glad we picked up the extra toilet paper the other day – it’s also getting difficult to find these days.
  • Grateful for: As our ability to get around becomes more restricted, we’re thankful for all our previous visits to Japan, and for all the many things we’ve gotten to see and do here, and the memories we’ve made. We’re grateful as well for the ways people here appear to be working to keep everyone safe and the coronavirus contained (although whether that will be successful remains to be seen).
    Tatsuzawa Falls
  • Bonus question: What’s the best trip you’ve taken in Japan? Back in 1982, Brett and I signed up for an overnight tour up to Fukushima through the Navy Recreational office. We got a sitter for our son, and then managed to oversleep the morning of the tour and missed the bus! We called the recreation office and they gave us directions for how to go by train so we could meet up with the tour group that evening at the inn. The train ride up north was absolutely beautiful, and we made it to the inn and connected with the group in time for a great Japanese dinner. The inn put us in a large, traditional tatami room for the night, complete with tea, snacks, and a beautiful view. It was very romantic. However, in the morning, at breakfast, we discovered that everyone else in the group had had to sleep dormitory-style in two rooms, one for the women, one for the men, so we kept our mouths shut about our fabulous room. During a traditional Japanese breakfast (rice, fish, pickles, and tea – it was actually very good), we experienced a strong earthquake. That was exciting in an unnerving sort of way, to say the least. We continued the tour with the group after breakfast and visited the beautiful Tatsuzawa waterfall, and returned home on time in the evening. We still rate that trip as the best we ever took in Japan, all because we overslept!

Brett and I walked over to Setagaya Park yesterday, and then around the park and back home so we could get out of the apartment and get some fresh air and exercise. There were lots of people at the park, lots of families, and again, fewer people wearing masks. It really brightened our mood to see so many people out enjoying the day. Our son said they are going to give us a few masks to wear if we have to ride a train. M & M keep us informed daily about updates – the school closings throughout the county are a huge step to try and contain the virus here although it’s older adults who seem to be catching it versus children. I asked if our daughter-in-law’s office would close or have people work from home, but our son reminded us that she works for the government so unless things get very dire it will be business as usual for her. We’ve also been checking on what our status might be when we leave Japan, but so far we only need to self-report if we have any symptoms. We are watching things very closely in the U.S. as well. It will spread quickly if it gets into the dorms at WenYu and YaYu’s school, but Meiling can work from home if things get bad in New York. I’m far more frightened about potential outbreaks and the spread of the virus in the U.S. than I am here.

Anyway, that’s all for this week. I hope everyone reading had a great week, got lots done, has a good book to read, and had lots of good things happen for them. We’re looking forward to seeing what the next week brings, and hope you are too!

Sunday Morning 2/23/2020: Week 5 in Japan

It’s Sunday morning in Japan . . .

It’s been a busy and tiring week with lots of pickups, schedule changes, and so forth. We ended up spending three days this week at the park with the grandkids where we usually just do one. Thankfully the weather has been beautiful this week, cold but bright and sunny. Monday it was actually quite balmy – even a light coat was too much! We’re in the middle of a three-day weekend here (tomorrow is the Emperor’s Birthday, a national holiday), so no pick-ups tomorrow, but we are going on an outing with our son and family today, to Chichibu, in Saitama prefecture. The area is new to me, but there’s an unusual museum there I read about that I hope we get to visit.

It was a great week for the kids to go to the park!

Brett and I had a day off from picking up the kids on Friday, so we went out and did a little more exploring in our own neighborhood. Our first stop was Mr. Donut to get ourselves some donut holes for a treat. Donuts in Japan are far less sweet than what you find in the U.S. but they were still good – the raspberry one was fantastic. Then we walked across the main road to check out a “dirty dish store” we had seen the other day. “Dirty dish store” is what we use to call a dish shop open to the street (the dishes get dusty quickly) that carries odds and ends of dishes for a fraction of the price you’d pay elsewhere. These shops usually don’t look like much, but there are treasures to be found if you take your time (I didn’t buy anything, although I was tempted). Next, we stopped in a compact but interesting ¥100 store (currently 89¢ for us), called CanDo, and we bought coffee filters and a pair of silicone-tipped cooking chopsticks that we’ll carry along with us. Then it was window shopping down the road for a while, but eventually, we stopped into a well-known cookie shop called Tokyo Rusk and purchased some to take along with us on our outing today (three flavors: Earl Grey tea & orange, maple, and almond). Finally, we crossed the street to check out the Kaldi Coffee Farm store, which not only sells really good coffee but also foods from around the world at fairly reasonable prices. The selection of goods in that store was incredible, and we ended up buying four cans of Campbell’s soup, a small bottle of vanilla, a box of crackers and one of our favorite cheeses, Boursin black pepper, to have with our wine on Friday evening. Instead of making another long trip out to the commissary, we’ve decided we’ll replace the things we run out of at Kaldi – it won’t cost too much more and will be far easier and more convenient.

This past week at the park with our grandson, I got the chance to observe his bilingualism in action as he switched seamlessly back and forth between speaking with Brett and me in English and his friends in rapid-fire Japanese as he played a game on my phone. As a linguist, it was exciting to observe his code-switching as it’s something I had only read about but never actually experienced. Our granddaughter is moving in the same direction but is not there yet. For now, she understands us when we speak English to her but responds completely in Japanese. I can understand her (which tells you my level of Japanese is that of a three-year-old), but Brett can’t, so the other day when he was watching her she would eventually spit out a word or two in English when she figured out her Grandpa wasn’t getting the message in Japanese. 

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished The Hunting Party – it was good, but not as good as I had hoped – and am now reading American Dirt, by Jeanine Cummins. I’ve got five more books on hold at the library, but I’m not expecting any of them any time soon.
  • Listening to: It’s quiet inside and out – Brett’s reading, I’m writing, and our stuff is by the front door so as soon as our son calls and lets us know he’s downstairs we can slip on our shoes, pick up our stuff and be out the door to meet them. It looks like it’s going to be another beautiful day!
  • Watching: We finished watching The Stranger – a very surprising ending – and are currently looking for something new but are not in any hurry.
  • Cooking: Tonight we’re going to have the fancy udon bowls for dinner that we picked up a couple of weeks ago. Otherwise, dinners this week will be CookDo sweet and sour pork; karaage, potato salad, and cucumbers; chicken yakisoba; spaghetti with meat sauce; tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlets) with shredded cabbage; and dim sum for dinner (shumai, gyoza, spring rolls and chili shrimp). The karaage will come from a shop near C’s school that our DIL has recommended. For our dining out this week we’ve decided that instead of going out to dinner we’ll go out to lunch instead. Also near C’s school is a restaurant called The French Toast Factory that Brett has been wanting to try because he loves French toast, so we’ll go there sometime this week before picking up C.
  • The olive oil orange cake – it came out looking good but tasted even better. C wants to help me bake a cake next time he comes over!
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: I successfully baked an olive oil orange cake, and it felt like such an accomplishment – baking is not something I do much of anymore, and nothing was familiar here. Although not as much as the week before, we again did a lot of walking every day. We averaged 6,500 steps per day, although I topped 10,000 steps on Thursday. We got the grandkids picked up at the right time every day, even though it was a different kid at a different time each day. Toward the end of the week I found a very good price to get us from Boston to Portland and got those seats booked.
  • Looking forward to next week: We are planning to visit Shinjuku tomorrow as we don’t have to pick up either of the grandkids.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Even though we didn’t get out much, everything that happened this week was good, even the weather!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: Brett filed our taxes this past week, and we will be getting a nice refund this year, enough to cover our tickets from Boston to Portland. I bought a single cookie at Tokyo Rusk because I wanted to try the flavor (matcha-covered chocolate) and the salesperson gave Brett another one for free! We put ¥3000 back into the food shopping envelope this week (we used miscellaneous funds for shopping trips on Friday and yesterday).
  • Grateful for: I’m always thankful for the chance to see new places in Japan, and I’ve never been to Chichibu, but most of all I’m thankful for the opportunity to spend a full day with our son and family as these days it seems we see them more on the fly when they’re returning from work, etc. Their lives are so busy these days, so we’re glad we can help out for a while and enjoy time doing things with them.

Treasures at the “dirty dish store”

  • Bonus question: When it comes to spending money in Japan, what thing is the most “dangerous” for you? Hands down, that would be dishes, especially pottery dishes and some of the blue and white. It’s my favorite section in any department store, and my favorite place to visit in Tokyo is Kappabashi, the kitchen district, because of its vast selection of tableware and low prices (and it’s so close to us now and easy to get to). We bought some bowls and small plates when we were here last year, and I’d like to get some larger plates and teacups but we have no way to carry them back this time as we’re not returning to where we could put them into storage. Anyway, I have a hard time ignoring the dishes here – they’re beautiful, there’s an incredible variety, and all the different shapes, sizes, and coordinating colors and motifs (especially the different ways blue is used) speak to my personal dislike of matchy-matchy dish sets. The second most dangerous thing would be unique Japanese sweets and snacks, things like Hato Sabure (bird cookies), Tokyo Banana, Tokyo Rusk, and so forth.
Our yummy roasted chicken dinner – we will DEFINITELY be going back for more of this!

One thing I love about Japan is that there are so many small (tiny?) businesses that take a simple idea and then execute it perfectly, whether it’s serving ice cream, selling clothing or flowers, opening a cafe or tea shop, whatever. I was completely exhausted and sore on Thursday evening after my 10,000+ steps and really didn’t feel like cooking dinner, so we made a command decision to “dine out” that night and stopped at a little hole in the wall place selling roast chicken that we pass every day on our way to and from Sangenjaya station. All the place sells is roast chicken, roasted potatoes, and green salads, all made in the place’s tiny kitchen. We bought a half chicken along with roasted potatoes for ¥1500 ($13.40) and practically inhaled it because it smelled so amazingly good. It was absolutely delicious too – the chicken was perfectly roasted and the potatoes were as well, lovely and crisp on the outside but tender inside. I love the Japanese ethic that if you’re going to do something – anything – you do it well or you don’t do it at all. We see and experience it everywhere we go.

Finally, one more accomplishment: yesterday Brett and I rode over to Tokyo Station and purchased three new KitKat flavors, all from Tokyo Banana, a famous snack in Japan. We got the regular Tokyo Banana flavor, and also caramel banana, and banana milk. The last two are limited edition flavors and will be gone in March. We had to go to three different gift shops to find them, but we now are up to 22 different flavors of KitKats! We also purchased a small package of the original Tokyo Banana cakes (sponge cake filled with banana creme – yummy) because we had never tried them before, and we also bought a five-pack of Hato Sabure (bird cookies). We can’t be here and not have a bird cookie!

That’s all for this week! We’re leaving to go over to our son’s in just a few minutes and then off on our adventure. I hope everyone had a great week with lots of good things happening, and that you’re looking forward to the week coming up!

Sunday Morning 2/9/2020: Week 3 in Japan

A perfect meal on a cold night: piping hot housemade udon noodles in savory broth with tempura shrimp, fish, and vegetables on the side.

We’ve survived another very busy week with the grandkids! Because of meetings, school activities, and such, schedules were a bit crazier than usual this week, but we got to where we needed to be on time and all went well, although Brett and I are feeling a bit more tired because of the amount of walking we’ve done. We are sleeping very well at night these days though – exhaustion helps!

We were able to pick out our apartment building while we were at the top of Carrot Tower – it’s the light gray building next to the green roof.

In spite of our busy pick-up schedule, we were still able to get out and do a bit of exploration in the area. Our goal this visit is to choose free activities and see and do things we haven’t before. So, on Tuesday morning we continued walking past the Seiyu department store to discover what there was in that direction, and we also explored a few of the alleyways in the neighborhood to see what was going on there. We were excited to find a couple of new restaurants we’d like to try for our Friday dining out, including a Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki place, and another one that serves Singapore style noodles. We finished Tuesday with a ride to the top of a local high-rise office building, Carrot Tower (it’s covered with red-orange brick), and were rewarded with an amazing 360° view of the Tokyo metropolis. We got a close look at our neighborhood from above and made a few discoveries as well. Both Brett and I commented to each other that while looking at Tokyo from up high is amazing and somewhat overwhelming, it gives absolutely no indication of all the energy happening at street level, and all the wonderful, interesting places that exist on those streets and throughout the city.

On Friday we went to Sakurashinmachi station, two stops down from our station, Sangenjaya, to look for a couple of places noted in Secret Tokyo. Sakurashinmachi (“New Cherry Blossom Town”) is famous for being the home of Sazae-san, a beloved animated show that’s been on the air for over 50 years (and holds the Guinness record for most episodes in an animated series). Sazae and her extended clan are an archetypical middle-class Japanese family, and over the years the show has offered considerable insight into Japanese daily life and culture. Images and statues of Sazae were found all over in Sakurashinmachi, and we stopped at a Sazae-themed traditional sweet shop so that I could get a couple of pieces of sakura mochi. With some much-appreciated help from a couple of local residents, we were able to find two nearly 100-year-old towers that were used back in the day to supply Tokyo with fresh water. Built in the early 1920s (Taishō Era), the Komazawa water towers survived both the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and World War II, and these days are a heritage site (a third tower was planned but never built). They were spectacular and well worth going to see. We also visited two small but beautiful shrines while we were there: the Sakura-jingu shrine, which had two cherry trees almost ready to burst into bloom, and the Hisatomi Inari-jinja shrine, a fox shrine (also recommended in Secret Tokyo).

The wind picked up and the temperature began dropping just a few minutes after I took this picture of what looked like a lovely spring day in the park last Wednesday. It was nearly freezing by the time we got home! By the way, those trees were filled with noisy green parrots!

Although the week’s temperatures started out nicely, by mid-week it had turned bitterly cold. On Tuesday it was overcast but warm enough that I didn’t need a coat, just a sweater, and on Wednesday we woke to a nice clear, sunny day and warmer temperatures again. Something told me though to put on my coat when we headed out at a little after 2:00 to pick up the grandkids from their schools, and at the last minute, I also decided to also tuck my scarf into my bag. Both those choices turned out to be smart ones because by 4:00, the wind had picked up and the temperature was falling fast, to the point where it was close to freezing by the time we got home! Thursday was also very cold and very windy while on Friday it was still cold but at least without the wind. I can deal with the cold as long as it’s not raining, and thankfully our apartment is always toasty warm. Yesterday it was sunny but it’s still very, very cold. 

This morning I am:

  • Reading: By mutual agreement, C and I decided to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on our own, so I finished it this week – I couldn’t put it down – and I’m looking forward to rereading the rest in the series. C got through Chapter Three on his own. Reader Vicky recommended a book a few days ago, Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan’s Disaster Zone, about the horrific earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan on March 11, 2011 and what followed. I read it in four days, and while it’s truly one of the saddest books I’ve ever read it also offered insights into the Japanese character and culture that I didn’t know or knew about only slightly. I finished the Inspector Morse book, The Secret of Annexe 3, and have started the 11th book in the series, The Daughters of Cain, which I’m reading at night before going to bed.
  • Listening to: A helicopter was just flying overhead but it’s gone – wonder what was up? Otherwise, it’s very, very quiet inside and out (Brett is reading). It’s amazing to me how such a densely-packed city can be so quiet. The sky is very blue today – looks like another bright, sunny, but probably very cold day again as well.
  • Watching: We didn’t watch anything this week.
  • Cooking: For dinner tonight we’re having zoodles with Italian sausages – we found zucchini at the commissary, a nice surprise because they are difficult to find in Japan. Summer squashes don’t grow well here because the blossoms rot before any squash can set. Also on the menu this week will be katsudon (from the prepared foods section), CookDo pork and pepper stir fry, BLTs and soup, breakfast for dinner (sausage, eggs, toast, and fruit), and CookDo mabo dofu. For our Friday dining out, we’re thinking of trying the Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki restaurant we found this past week.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: We did a LOT of walking last week. On Wednesday we got in over 13,000 steps and hit 8,000 on a couple of other days. The minimum number of steps we’ve done in a day this week was 6,500. Going up to the 26th floor of Carrot Tower was an accomplishment for me because I do NOT like being up in tall buildings (the eighth floor is at the top of my comfort level). The views made it worthwhile though.
  • Looking forward to next week: Next week’s pick-up schedule won’t be as busy as this last one because of a couple of school holidays, but what we’ll get to do otherwise will depend on the weather – it’s supposed to rain. We’d like to visit the nearby Setagaya history museum and the local governor’s residence that sits next to it. The residence dates from the 18th century and is the only one of its kind to have survived in Tokyo. We were looking forward to visiting a flea market and street fair held there on the 15th and 16th of the month, but learned that only happens in December and January.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We had another great sleepover with our grandson on Friday – we played Scrabble with him before going to bed and he was a very good opponent. We got to eat at Mos Burger with the grandkids on Wednesday evening, one of my favorite fast food places in Japan. Along with traditional burgers, Mos Burger also serves unique burgers that appeal to Japanese tastes, with rice “buns” filled with Japanese vegetables (my favorite) or yakiniku (grilled beef) among others. On Friday evening we went out to the noodle restaurant down the street with our son and family – it was so good, and perfect for warming up on a cold night. My stomach issues have improved since we’ve been here to the point that I now only need to take one acid inhibitor most days. I still take two Tums daily, but more for the calcium than anything else. I think the improvement may be due to the Yakult I drink each day, which I believe has helped get things back in balance once again. A new tea shop opened during the last year, located just down the road between our place and the subway station, and we finally got around to trying it out on Wednesday. I had a hot green milk tea with tapioca bubbles, and Brett had a strawberry milk tea with custard pudding. They were sort of expensive (around $5 each) but were larger than expected and delicious, so we decided we would stop in every few weeks or so as a treat. However, our DIL treated me another drink from the shop on our way home from dinner on Friday (because she wanted to stop there and try it out)!
    This tea shop is new since last year and has an extensive drink menu. All drinks can be ordered either hot or cold, and you can add special additions like tapioca bubbles, pudding, chocolate chips, etc. as well as choose the sweetness level of your drink.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: Other than our Monday food shop at Seiyu, our stop at the tea shop, and my two sakura mochi (¥386/$3.50) on Friday we had a no-spend week. Our son and DIL paid for our Wednesday evening meal at Mos Burger and our Friday meal at the noodle restaurant.
    I’ve now had my sakura mochi fix for this stay – they were delicious! Brett hates the pickled cherry leaf but I think it’s the best part.
  • Grateful for: In spite of the cold and our sometimes aching feet and muscles, both Brett and I are very grateful for all the walking we’re getting to do here. It’s one of the things we love about being in Japan – we have to walk no matter what! When we add up our grandchild pick-up trips, the walks to and from our son’s, our trips to the store, and our getting out to see things, we’re getting a LOT of exercise these days. Combined with watching our diet while we’re here and avoiding most sweets, we will hopefully leave Japan a little less large than we were when we arrived.
  • Bonus question: Just what are you going to do with all of these KitKats you’re collecting? We’re not going to open or eat them while we’re here, only collect, but when we get to our mystery destination we plan to open them all, mix them up and put them into a big bowl. Then, every evening after dinner, we’ll pick one at random and try it. We’ve done this before and it works well – one a day is enough, and we’ll have enough time to try every flavor! Whatever is left over at the end of our visit we’ll divide up and give to the girls when we see them in May! For anyone interested in knowing more about the whole Japanese KitKat phenomenon, a friend sent me a great article this past week that explains it all, Japan’s Love of KitKat Bars: 300 Flavors.

On a more serious note, we are monitoring the current coronavirus situation here in Japan as closely as we can, and our son keeps us updated. A cruise ship is currently anchored and quarantined in Yokohama, and an additional 41 cases of the virus were just registered on the ship on Thursday, including eight Americans (total number with the virus is 64, but more cases are expected, and another four were announced this morning). Outside of ship passengers, the total cases of the virus in Japan stands at 25, and there have been no deaths. Unfortunately, Japanese researchers have discovered that over 50% of cases are spread before anyone shows any symptoms. The main advice we’ve received for now is to avoid areas where large amounts of tourists regularly visit, which means that we won’t be visiting Asakusa and Sensō-ji, Yokohama, or the Meiji Shrine or Harajuku any time soon. We also avoid taking the grandkids through crowded stations, like Shibuya. Mask usage among the Japanese is normal for this time of year (they are used more to keep germs in rather than keep them out anyway), but we are being more careful about handwashing, etc. In other words, we’re not panicking, but staying alert and being careful.

That’s a wrap for this week. We enjoyed another great one here, are looking forward to the next, and wishing the same for you!

Sunday Morning 2/2/2020: Week 2 in Japan

We headed back to Shibuya station across the famous Shibuya zebra crossing on Friday. It was as crowded as ever.

This past week went nothing at all like we thought it would. Our son and family all came down with a stomach virus beginning last Sunday. It started with the grandkids, so they were home from school for a couple of days meaning no school pick-ups for us. Then the virus hit our son and DIL hard on Tuesday night, so we went over and got the grandkids on Wednesday, took them out to lunch and spent a couple of hours in the park with them before taking them back home and helping them play quietly until their parents woke up and were functional again.

The weather was pretty crazy this past week as well. On Monday, when we headed over to the New Sanno Hotel and the National Azabu Market, the weather was very cold and overcast, and it felt like it would start snowing at any moment. But rain showed up instead in the evening, and on Tuesday it rained. All. Day. Long. Seriously – it never stopped for even one moment. We stayed indoors and read and stayed dry and warm. But on Wednesday we woke up to bright sunshine, blue skies and temperatures more normal for April than January. Thursday and Friday were also very nice, but nowhere as warm as Wednesday; in fact, by Friday night it was bitterly cold again. Yesterday was sunny and clear again, and fairly warm again, and I can see blue skies outside again today.

Other than Tuesday and Saturday we’ve been out walking every day, racking up the steps (anywhere from 8,000 to over 10,000 per day) and climbing stairs (at least 14 flights per day). On Wednesday we went with the grandkids to the Olympic Memorial Museum in the Komazawa Olympic Park (which was built as a secondary site for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics). The museum is one of the free places listed in Secret Tokyo. It’s a small museum primarily covering the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, but it had some interesting displays and activities. For example, visitors can walk around with one of the actual (unlit) Olympic torches that had been used by runners, see different uniforms the Japanese team had worn, and see medals awarded that year. We picked up both kids from their respective schools on Thursday and got them home with lots of train riding and stair climbing and walking but zero complaints! Brett and I went to Shibuya early Friday afternoon to check out a new-to-us discount market, Don Quixote, famed for their supply and selection of KitKats, and then picked up C later on and brought him back to our place for a sleepover. While we were in Shibuya we also went over to the nearby Tokyu Hands store so I could have a tea float (iced tea with a scoop of ice cream – absolutely delicious) while Brett enjoyed some hot cocoa. We made a trip out to the Atsugi base yesterday and stocked up on American foods and supplies that will help get us through the next three months.

Hot cocoa and a very delicious tea float. I still think these need to become a thing in the U.S.

Overall though it was a very good week. Our son and family are well again, Brett and I didn’t get sick, we did and saw some new things as well as some old favorites, got some other things accomplished and had fun as well. We’re looking forward to resting and relaxing today though before starting in again next week.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I honestly thought I was going to get to the end of January without finishing a book, but I finished both Killing Commendatore and an Inspector Morse book, The Wench Is Dead this past week. I’ve started the next book in the Inspector Morse series, The Secret of Annexe 3, and I’m also reading the second book in the Harry Potter series, The Chamber of Secrets (while still reading the first book with our grandson). It appears this year is going to be one of nostalgic reading, at least for a while. I’ve also been considering rereading John Le Carré’s George Smiley series later in the year. We’ll see.
  • Listening to: Brett’s rustling around and making coffee in the kitchen but otherwise, all is quiet – I love it. I thought we’d be hearing more noise outside because of the nice weather this morning, but there’s been nothing but silence from out there.
  • Watching: I watched Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse with C on Friday night but that’s all.
  • Cooking: The chicken soup and beef curry on last week’s menu plan didn’t get made, so we’re having the curry tonight, and the soup tomorrow, both with some naan bread we got at the commissary. We bought an inexpensive Crock Pot at the exchange and got a pot roast at the commissary, so I’m going to fix a Mississippi pot roast later in the week along with some roasted potatoes, and we’ll use the leftovers for French dip sandwiches on another evening. I’m also planning to make CookDo sweet and sour pork along with some rice this week, and maybe spaghetti with marinara and sausages one evening. The whole family is planning to go out for udon with us on Friday. There’s a very good restaurant down the street from us where they serve some amazing housemade noodles and we’ve all been looking forward to eating there again (our DIL said she could eat there every night and never grow tired of their noodles because they’re so good).
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: See all the above. I accomplished everything I wanted to and then some.
  • Looking forward to next week: Other than doing school pick-ups every day, Brett and I are planning to visit a couple of nearby places in the Secret Tokyo book. Also, we want to do a bit more exploration in our neighborhood and go check out a few alleyways that look interesting. We learned that our neighborhood is apparently one of the hippest in Tokyo, especially because of the little bars and gastropubs (izekaya) that line the alleys.
    My seafood doria – it wasn’t very big but it was very delicious and satisfying. I want to try making one of these – there are many variations.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: I got to try a delicious new Japanese dish when we took the grandkids out for lunch on Wednesday: a “seafood doria,” a combination of shrimp, scallops, and rice in a delicious cream sauce and topped with cheese. I had no idea what a doria was before this, but have since discovered it’s a Japanese-style casserole made with seafood, chicken, or other meat along with rice and put together with a cream sauce and a small amount of cheese. I am now collecting doria recipes! We had another great time with C when he slept over on Friday night – we really enjoy spending time with him. We hit the KitKat jackpot at Don Quixote and found 11 more flavors, so we’re now well over halfway to our goal of finding at least 18 different flavors!
    We bought four special regional flavors from different prefectures, including autumn leaf manju (Hiroshima), strawberry monaka (Hokkaido), Shinshu apple (Shinshu), and purple sweet potato (Okinawa) . . .
    . . . as well as bags of custard with caramel, strawberry, cherry blossom and kinako, roasted tea, strawberry daifuku, party ice cream, and tangerine flavors!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: Other than buying food and the KitKats this past week, we spent very little, or at least it felt like we did (our son paid for our lunch out on Wednesday). We budgeted $400 for our shopping at the exchange and commissary but only spent $253.50 The Navy Exchange is running a scratch-off coupon event right now, and we won 15% off our entire purchase there, the highest amount off available! Although we saw several things in Tokyu Hands that we thought about buying, we were able to walk away and didn’t spend anything there other than for our drinks. We spent only ¥580 ($5.32) for our takoyaki on Friday, and even with the addition of some potato salad for us and a beef korokke (potato croquette), cherry tomatoes, a dinner roll and ice cream for C’s meal that evening (he doesn’t like takoyaki), the total for everything was still only ¥1843 ($16.92), so ¥1200 went back into our dining out envelope.
    Watching takoyaki being made. They were the perfect meal on a cold night!
  • Grateful for: Both Brett and I very thankful we didn’t pick up the stomach virus from our son, DIL, or grandkids. I don’t even want to imagine.
  • Bonus question: What won’t you eat in Japan? There are only two things I can think of that I absolutely won’t eat in Japan: natto, fermented soybeans, and niboshi, tiny, infant sardines used as a condiment. I have tried to eat both and just can’t do it even though natto is considered a superfood and is beloved in Japan. I can’t get past the smell of natto (like rancid, old socks to me) and with the niboshi it’s the hundreds of tiny eyeballs staring up at me as I bring the fish to my mouth. There are other foods I avoid, but I could still eat them if I have to, but these two are absolutely not happening for me.
    The much-dreaded natto . . .
    . . . and the equally disliked niboshi. Those eyes! (They look sort of big in this picture but the fish are actually about an inch or so long.)

Although it can be tiring sometimes, Brett and I are very happy for this opportunity to help out our son and daughter-in-law when we can, even if it’s just for a few months, and of course spend time with our grandchildren. With our DIL now working (a fairly intense job, it seems), and with our son’s and the kids’ busy schedules, we are thankful we can give M & M a breather now and again, and serve as a back up when needed. It may be a while before we can get back to Japan again after this visit, but we’ve seen and done so much here already and are happy to make the most of our time with them and help as much as we can.

We experienced our first earthquake very early yesterday morning, a little after 2:00 a.m. We’ve been through several earthquakes here in the past, but this is the first time we’ve been awakened by our phones flashing off and on and blaring “Alert! Alert!” We were curious how they knew to call our number but our son said as long as we are connected to any Internet network we will get an alert. The earthquake was a small one, just 2.3 on the Richter scale and very short, but all earthquakes here are taken extremely seriously.

Anyway, that’s it for this week. I hope everyone had a great week with lots of good things happening for them and is looking forward to the week that’s coming up. For now, Brett and I are looking forward to a well-earned day of rest!

Sunday Morning 1/26/2020: Week 1 in Japan

Well, it’s Sunday morning in Tokyo – I’m not sure what time it is elsewhere!

Gong xi fat cai! 新年快乐! Happy New Year! Welcome the Year of the Rat! The rat is the first of the twelve zodiac animals, so this year should be one of renewal and new beginnings. As rats are highly perceptive and intelligent, a rat year is also considered an auspicious one. Obstacles will not become problems, and challenges will bring the best out of everyone.

We are off to a good, if slow, start on this visit to Japan as we’re both still suffering from jet lag nearly a week after our arrival. Our trip over from Honolulu was easy, albeit long, and we actually arrived in Tokyo nearly an hour ahead of schedule! The thing about arriving at Narita though is that if you’re going on to Tokyo you’ve got at least another two-hour journey ahead of you, or longer if you take something other than the express train. With our son’s help, we eventually made it to his house for a happy reunion with our daughter-in-law and the grandkids. We had a light dinner and passed out gifts, then our son drove us and our luggage over to our apartment as we were about ready to collapse!

We really, really like our apartment this time. It’s a bit smaller than the one we had last year and more minimalist, but it’s bright and has a nice kitchen (with a window and an oven, very unusual in Japan) and a real sofa instead of those two slippery chairs we had last year. The bed is very firm, but we’ve been sleeping well on it. It’s so nice being familiar with our location and how to get places versus how confused we felt last year. Other than going to the grocery store, over to our son’s home a couple of times, and walking around the neighborhood, we haven’t been out much. It’s quite cold here now, with rain off and on, and next week there may be snow! We are getting in lots of steps and stairs climbed – last Wednesday, for example, we took 9,000+ steps and did 19 flights of stairs climbing in and out of subway stations; we did 6,500 steps yesterday and 12 flights of stairs. We are sadly very out of shape but that’s going to change.

Next week we begin “grandparent duty” and start picking up our grandson from school a few days during the week. He is involved in several after school activities (basketball, swimming, etc.) so we’ll be figuring out his schedule and where we need to be when in order to get him home.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I am back to reading Killing Commendatore and am now almost a quarter of the way through it. Like many of Murakami’s books, it’s gotten sort of weird but in a good way, if that makes sense. I need to step up my reading though if I’m going to get through 52 books again this year. Our grandson and I are reading The Sorcerer’s Stone together – we read Chapter 1 together yesterday morning.
  • Listening to: It’s very, very quiet here on a Sunday morning. The only noise outside is the sound of rain falling. Brett is up and fixing our morning coffee in the kitchen making some indoor noise. Don’t know if we’ll get out today or not because of the rain – we may just stay indoors and rest one more day before the week’s busyness begins.
  • Watching: I watched one movie on the plane, The Farewell, and enjoyed it. So very, very Chinese, in its story, the relationships, and the resolution. Otherwise, no TV as we can’t understand anything here. 
  • Cooking: Besides karaage, potato salad, and fresh cucumbers for our first meal in the apartment, we also had mabo nasu with steamed rice and cucumbers on Thursday; took our grandson to McDonald’s on Friday for burgers and then to Baskin-Robbins; and were going to have a Chinese-themed meal for the New Year with shumai, gyoza, and chili shrimp along with a cucumber salad, but we were invited for dinner at our son’s so will have our Chinese meal tonight. Other meals during the week will be smoked sausages, broccoli, and dinner rolls; CookDo stir-fried pork and cabbage with steamed rice; chicken vegetable soup; pork cutlets (tonkatsu) with rice and shredded cabbage; beef curry with vegetables and rice; and takoyaki (octopus dumplings) from the corner stand with some sort of side dish for our Friday dining out. One goal this visit is to eat no more than 1/2 cup of rice with our meals and try to have it only three times a week to help keep our carb intake down. The apartment rice cooker is thankfully a small one and able to make just a cup of cooked rice at a time.
    Getting ready to unpack and put everything away – the best part of a long stay
  • Happy I accomplished last week: After a good night’s sleep on Tuesday, we got up Wednesday and got everything we needed out of our suitcases and put it away (followed by the suitcases). We brought along a few personal items this time, such as our own coffee mugs, to personalize the place a bit as well. We’ve loaded up our PASMO cards for the month, bought food for the week including some pantry items, have figured out the stove and oven (with the help of our landlord), and have also rested up so we’re really ready to get going next week. Our monthly allotment of ¥80,000 has been withdrawn and sorted into envelopes for the month (our month goes until February 20). We discovered the fee charged by the 7-11 ATM (¥220) is the same no matter how much we withdraw (up to ¥50,000), and as we also pay an international transaction fee to our credit union for each withdrawal (1% of the transaction) and an additional $1 for using a non-credit union ATM, we plan to only make two withdrawals per month, ¥30,000 and ¥50,000. We use a 7-11 ATM versus going to a bank because the fees are the same and the 7-11 ATM is closer and more convenient!
    The nearest 7-11 and its ATM is about a two-minute walk from our apartment. I have no idea what all the signs around it are saying, but the instructions on the screen can be accessed in English. Other convenience stores have ATMs, but many won’t accept a US debit card, while all 7-11 machines do.
  • Looking forward to next week: If it does snow, we’d like to revisit the Todaroki Ravine Park again – when we went last year we wondered how it would look in the snow, and now we may get our chance to find out! We’re looking forward to establishing a routine for picking up our grandson from school – we can’t get over how much he has matured over this past year. Our son will continue to pick up our granddaughter every day, but we’ll get to see her and spend some time with her when they get home and before we head back to our apartment. We are looking forward to having takoyaki (octopus dumplings) from the stand just around the corner from our apartment for our dining out experience this week. They’re one of our favorite things, and at the stand we can watch them being made, and it’s close enough that when we get home the takoyaki are still hot. We’re also looking forward to going to the commissary next Saturday to get some American things and get our son stocked up with Diet Coke.
    K named her new Bitty Baby doll “Marion.”
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We had a wonderful reunion with our son and family when we arrived, and all the gifts we brought along were a hit. C is already halfway through building the crane from his Erector set – we thought it might be difficult for him and he might need his dad’s help, but so far he’s managing on his own and enjoying the challenge. We had a fun time with our grandson on his first sleepover with us and look forward to many more. When our DIL dropped him off she brought us a package of Fuji apples, some more strawberries, and a box of some delicious Japanese rice crackers! Several of the Japanese words I learned last year, especially those used in train or subway stations, have come back very quickly and I can easily recognize what’s being said – yeah!
    C had the first of hopefully many sleepovers with us on Friday. He’s developed an appetite too: last year we were lucky to get him to finish a burger but on Friday he ate a full meal (burger, fries, and drink) from McDonald’s along with an order of sweet corn and then two scoops of ice cream from Baskin-Robbins for dinner. And, he ate six big pancakes in the morning! He’s also eating vegetables – last year nothing green would cross his lips.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: The dollar to yen exchange rate is currently very favorable for us, which means we are not spending as much US$ when we exchange for yen. For example, our monthly budget of ¥80,000 only cost us $728.47, so that’s $71.53 that’s staying in our bank account. Our Friday night dinner with our grandson from McDonald’s and Baskin-Robbins (called “31” here) cost us just ¥2,220 versus the ¥3000 we budget for each week, so ¥780 will be rolled over for future dining experiences. Both Brett and I were surprised to discover our PASMO cards had over ¥1000 left on them from last year so we are starting off a little bit ahead on transportation costs. Using the card also saves a few yen each trip (our son added yen to Brett’s card as well to cover our extra expenses in picking up C). While we spent over our ¥10,000 limit for groceries this week, we were able to use the extra ¥4,000 YaYu gave us so we still are within our Japan budget. I think we will be a little over our $35/day budget for January however (up to the 20th), but not by much.
  • Grateful for: This week I’m very thankful for our son taking time off to meet us at Narita and get us back to Tokyo and moved into our apartment. I don’t think we would have managed without him helping us get all our luggage onto the express train, then off the train and through Shibuya station (which is still under construction!), into a cab to his house, and then finally driving us over to and moved into our apartment, especially at night. We arrived in Japan feeling very tired and his help made a huge difference.
  • Bonus question: Is everything this same this year or have there been any noticeable changes? Mostly everything in our neighborhood appears to have stayed the same, although the big house next to us that was getting started when we left last year is now completed. We actually think it may be a house on the ground floor and a separate apartment on the second, but don’t know for sure. Most of the other stores and restaurants seem to be the same although we discovered a few new places that have sprung up. Some prices have increased, but most things have stayed the same. The big baseball stadium that was being built in the park across from our son’s home is complete. It’s huge, quite attractive actually, and according to our son, incredibly loud and noisy in the summer when games are being played. Anyway, it’s nice to walk around and recognize things again and know where we are.

I somehow managed to hurt my back moving my big suitcase the day before we departed Hawaii (when will I ever learn?), so I’m still dealing with a bit of that, but it’s getting better and I didn’t do as much damage as I have in the past so it should be well soon. Furniture in Japan is closer to the floor compared to the U.S., things like chairs and sofas, so getting up and down can be difficult, but we’ll eventually adjust. My stomach is also doing better and seems to have finally settled down. So, all is well and we’re very happy to be here again. Japan remains our favorite place of all.

This restaurant is located about halfway on our walk back to the subway station from our son’s home. It always catches my eye, a lovely little bit of tradition tucked in among modern Tokyo. The flower arrangement is different every day. Also, I have no idea what this place serves as I can’t read the daily menu.

I hope everyone has had a great week, and I appreciate your patience as we get things up and running again on this end. Here’s looking forward to another great week of good friends, good books, good food, and adventure!

Sunday Morning 1/19/2020: Farewell to Kaua’i (for now)

Waves crash against the cliffs in Kilauea on the north shore – I could stare at this view for hours.

Early tomorrow we will fly back to Honolulu and then on to Japan for a three-month stay. We have had an absolutely wonderful time being back on Kaua’i. In spite of the weather, we’ve still done some of our favorite things, eaten at some of our favorite places, and visited some of our favorite locations. And best of all, we reconnected with some of our favorite people. The weather here was honestly pretty lousy up until late Wednesday afternoon, then got nicer for a couple of days, but reverted once again to strong winds and colder temperatures on Friday. Yesterday and today it’s just been OK (and of course tomorrow when we leave it’s supposed to turn sunny and warm again). Our time here has been everything we hoped for though, and we’re now pretty sure this is where we’ll land in another couple of years. We still have some traveling we want to do and we still need to get YaYu through college, but Kaua’i feels like home, we have friends here, and the girls would love for us to live here again.

We visited the Kilauea Lighthouse and National Wildlife Sanctuary yesterday. It’s always beautiful, no matter the weather.

Brett and I are no longer the parents of teenagers. YaYu turned 20 this past week, and thus ended an era for us. I can so clearly remember meeting each girl for the first time, Meiling and WenYu as infants, and YaYu when she was five years old, and now they are all beautiful young women ready to make their mark on the world. The years have been busy ones for all of us but they have flown by, and I’m feeling a bit bittersweet, sad that their childhoods are over while happy for all they have accomplished and the paths they have chosen.

Finally, one of the blog’s readers, Char, wrote this week imploring me to ask other readers not to forget about Australia. It has started to rain (finally) in parts of Australia, but the fires are still raging in areas, and help is needed in so many places and will be for some time, for firefighters, residents affected by the fires, and for animals who have been injured or whose habitats have been destroyed. The New York Times has a full list of charities that you can donate to help out in Australia, and The Center for Disaster Philanthropy is another highly-rated charity that will continue to help long after the media has moved on to other things. I hope you’ll reach out and contribute to Australia’s recovery if you are able.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I have done no reading this past week. We’ve stayed up most evenings chatting with Alan and Cheryl and then I’ve gone to bed and fallen right asleep. The insomnia is pretty much gone (thank goodness).
  • Listening to: Outside it’s a typical Kaua’i morning: roosters crowing in the distance, birds singing, palm trees rustling in the breeze. It’s still overcast, but I did see a few patches of blue move by so it looks like the weather will be like it was yesterday. We would have course loved to have seen more of the sun this week, but I remember how much I enjoyed this cool weather when we lived here, especially knowing what would be arriving in a few months.
  • Watching: Neither Brett nor I have watched anything this past week for the same reason I have read nothing.
    The sweet, juicy rambutans inside these thick, wiry husks were well worth the effort it took to get to them.
    Last night’s dessert: vanilla ice cream topped with fresh lilikoi and grilled pineapple – easy and delicious!
  • Cooking: I have absolutely no idea what I’ll be eating or cooking this coming week – I don’t even know what we’re having tonight. I do know I am going to miss all the wonderful fruit we’ve enjoyed this week. We’ll most likely have our dinner at our son’s home on Tuesday night, maybe some sort of take-out. We’ll get moved over to our apartment later in the evening and do our first grocery shop at the Seiyu store on Wednesday. Both Brett and I have decided we want to have kara-age (Japanese fried chicken), potato salad (Japanese potato salad is the BEST), and Japanese cucumbers for our first on-our-own meal, but after that I have no idea what we’ll get other than I’m pretty sure some variety of CookDo will be purchased and prepared.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: We went to the bank this past Monday and I got all the business for our local accounts taken care of for the year. My big suitcase has been repacked and is ready for our departure tomorrow; Brett will be working on his later today. It’s amazing how much space we had after my winter travel outfit, boots and coat came out! Brett filled up the gas tank yesterday so we are ready to turn the car back over to Alan and Cheryl. We’ve had a busy but relaxing week, and seen and done pretty much everything we wanted to do while we were here. That’s accomplishment enough for me.
    We introduced Alan & Cheryl to our favorite breakfast place, the Tip Top Cafe, and the best banana pancakes on the island.
    We also took them to the Kilauea Bakery after we visited the wildlife sanctuary (our favorite bakery on the island) for some wonderful cookies and other treats.
  • Looking forward to next week: While we are feeling very sad about leaving Kaua’i, we are thrilled to be going back to Japan! Our son will meet us at the airport on Tuesday afternoon (we arrive the day after departure thanks to the international date line) and will get us back into Tokyo where we’ll spend some time with our daughter-in-law and the grandkids in the evening before heading over to our nearby home for the next three months.
    Beautiful Princeville view
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Our get together with Joy on Friday was fantastic, and I was so very happy to get to see her again. The place she suggested for us to meet up in Princeville was perfect, with lovely views overlooking the town and out to Hanalei and the ocean. The five of us shared two pasta dishes and two salads and chatted away the whole time. We were all having such a good time that I forgot to get the group picture I wanted and didn’t think of it until we were halfway home! I found fresh lilikoi at the farmers’ market we visited yesterday morning after enjoying breakfast at the Tip Top Cafe, so I got to have another one of my favorite tropical fruits while we were here this time. Everything we’ve done this week has been a good thing.
    Friday evening’s beautiful sunset view of Bali Hai on the north shore.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We’ve been very careful and have not spent all the money we allocated for this visit. We had gotten a notice that our bank here was going to charge me a fee because my account had been inactive all of last year, but one of the transfers we made took care of it and I didn’t have to pay anything extra. I will definitely need to remember to make another transfer in 2020 or I will get charged next year. After paying Portland prices in December, we’ve found island prices to be quite affordable (gasoline is 25¢ less per gallon here, for example).
  • Grateful for: We are beyond grateful for the generosity Alan and Cheryl have shown us during our stay. We have had the full use of our old car all week so we didn’t have to rent a car, and we also haven’t had the expense of a hotel or Airbnb as we stayed in their lovely home (we’ve actually been sleeping in our old bed!). There’s been no pressure to get up and go every day, and we’ve been able to set our own schedule. We’ve had an absolutely perfect visit because of their hospitality.
  • Bonus question: What’s been your favorite thing about returning to Kaua’i? I think the most surprising thing for both Brett and me was how quickly we felt right back at home here, especially when we were driving around in our old car. We thought coming back we’d feel differently about the island, but for the most part, it’s almost been like we never left. All the things we loved about living here before are still here, especially the joy of seeing the ocean every day, even with the surf rough and the skies overcast. The island is still intensely beautiful, and the people exceedingly friendly. The pace of life here remains slower and more laid back than on the mainland or other places we’ve been. Of course, the humidity is still hellish and my hair has looked like a fright wig most of the time. The traffic issues remain as well, but we know now those are things we can find ways to deal with or work around if we return here to settle.

I want to end with a question for you: Are topics you’d like me to cover during our time in Japan? Would you like me to write about how we’re doing with our budget each week since we’ll be living on less this time in a famously expensive city? Would you like to see what our food shopping looks like each week? Is there some aspect of life in Japan you’re interested in knowing about? I will stick with my usual format for the most part, but I’d also like to write about topics you are interested in knowing or have questions about. Let me know! (I will be continuing the Back to the Future posts from time to time).

Anyway, that’s a wrap for this week! I hope everyone had a great week (and better weather than we’ve had) and is looking forward to the week coming up. I’m not sure when I’ll post next as besides traveling we’ll also be under the influence of jet lag for a few days, as well as busy getting settled. I’ll definitely be back with a post next Sunday.

Monday Morning 1/13/2020: Back on Kaua’i

We traded clouds and rain in Portland for clouds and rain on Kaua’i. But it’s warm (80 degrees) and we’re happy to be here. This is the view from Alan and Cheryl’s lanai, looking out over farm and ranch land to the Anahola mountains. On a clear day, we’d be able to see the ocean.

I don’t think there are words to express how happy Brett and I feel to be back on Kaua’i. We’re treasuring our time with Alan and Cheryl, and it feels like we’re home again. Even though the weather has been windy, rainy and/or overcast since we arrived (and will continue to be the rest of the week), it hasn’t bothered us in the least since we know how to have a good time here in spite of bad weather. Yes, it’s still humid but less unpleasant than I remember (although when I woke up yesterday morning my hair had exploded from the humidity and looked like a giant dandelion puff). Something new has arisen though – I appear to be suffering from some sort of allergy this time and have been dealing with watery, itchy eyes and a runny nose ever since we arrived. I have no idea what’s causing it because when we lived here I never had any problems while Brett was the one who dealt with allergies.

You know you’re really back in Hawaii when you’re tossed a container of POG on your inter-island flight.

So far we have scheduled nothing for our time here – we’re all mostly having fun catching up and chatting with Alan and Cheryl, and just relaxing. We went to Costco yesterday to pick up a few things to use/eat while we’re here, and also some things to take along to Japan, like a couple of bags of the world’s BEST granola. Later today Brett and I are heading down to Lihue to do some banking (we still have an account here on the island) and may stop at Walmart to pick up some shampoo to take to Japan. Alan and Cheryl bought our car when we left in 2018, but are loaning it back to us to use while we’re here – talk about deja vu! Other plans for the week are to get together with our friend Joy up in Princeville and get down to Poipu for a Puka Dog and some Lappert’s ice cream. I don’t think the weather is going to improve enough for us to get to the beach until next weekend, but we’re OK with that.

It was sad to say goodbye to WenYu and YaYu on Friday, and we were grateful to have lots to do for our own departure on Saturday. We will be seeing the girls again in May at WenYu’s graduation, and when we’re in NYC, and I know that time will arrive sooner than we imagine. We had a really great time together this year, and we’re all planning to be back in Portland one more time next December, and will go through our remaining things with them. We plan to rent the same Airbnb as we stayed in this last time because it was just about perfect for us.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I’m slowly making progress through Killing Commandatore, but haven’t had a lot of time for reading the past few days.
  • Listening to: Roosters! Although we’ve seen them around we haven’t really heard them (maybe because of the rain?), but this morning they have been out in force even though it’s still damp and overcast. Who knows? They really are the background sound of Kaua’i.
  • Watching: I watched the Downton Abbey movie on the plane before I fell asleep, and really, really enjoyed it (and laughed out loud a couple of times – Maggie Smith as the Dowager is a treasure).
  • Cooking: I’m not cooking much of anything this week. We bought a few easy things to fix at Costco (lumpia and Polish sausages; Alan and Cheryl bought a giant pizza and Costco’s stuffed peppers), and we also plan to eat out a couple of times. We made a supreme effort before we left Portland and finished just about everything we had bought – all that was left in the refrigerator when we left was a tiny bit of whipped cream and a little bit of jam.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Packing to leave Portland was a bit of a challenge because the grandkids’ Christmas presents are taking up a lot of room in our suitcases. We finally gave up and decided to check Brett’s new bag (no extra cost) and carry-on the giant Erector set we got for our grandson instead when we couldn’t make everything fit otherwise, and that did the trick. 
  • Looking forward to next week: In spite of the weather Brett and I are planning to take at least a couple of walks on the beach path, and we’re looking forward to eating at a few of our favorite places: lilikoi chiffon pie at Hamura’s, pancakes at the Tip Top Cafe, Puka Dogs, and lau lau from Pono Market. I’m especially looking forward to seeing my friend Joy later this week.
    Getting to know the bunnies at the Hoppy Hour experience.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: WenYu and YaYu had a wonderful time at the bunny petting experience I had booked for them in Portland, and both were happy they got to go (they love rabbits). I had a great visit with a friend last Wednesday and then went for a much-needed manicure and pedicure which was very relaxing. While we were glad to be in first class on our flight over to Hawai’i, it was an older plane and sort of “old-style.” While we were served breakfast on china with real cutlery and a linen tablecloth on our tray table, and we had more legroom, the section still felt cramped, and the seats didn’t really recline all that much and there were no foot or leg rests. The seats were more like economy plus, but were still a good deal for what we paid for them and much nicer than what we would have endured in the main cabin. Kai Kahele, the Hawaiian state senator that’s running for Congress, was on our flight over to Kaua’i from Honolulu and it was exciting to meet and chat with him. We’ve been followers of his since he announced he was running last year.
    Breakfast on the plane was a tasty chorizo and cheese omelet accompanied by a chicken sausage, potato wedges, a bagel, and fresh fruit.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: I received close to a $300 refund from the dentist; we will use that as part of the $400 cash we’ve budgeted for commissary shopping when we’re in Japan. We were expecting to have to pay nearly $150 to get our luggage over to Kaua’i on Hawaiian (no free checked luggage) but we only paid $70 for four bags. We think it may have been our Hawaiian driver’s licenses that did the trick and got us a kamaaina discount. We spent less than $150 at Costco, which I think is a record.
  • Grateful for: Both of us are very thankful for this opportunity to be back on Kaua’i, especially since our daughters just surprised us with their thoughts about us coming back to live here. It really does feel wonderful to be here again – we’ve missed it more than we realized. We’re glad we’re experiencing some of the things we didn’t care for before (humidity and traffic, for example) to see how we feel about those now. Overall, we love the feeling of familiarity with the island – this was a happy place for us.
  • Bonus question: Do you think you could actually move back to Kaua’i? Off the top of my head, yes. For a variety of reasons, this would be a great place for us to settle down, especially since it would just be Brett and me, and we would not be beholden to the girls’ schedules and needs. They all said they would love to have a strong reason to return as well. If we return, we would not need as much furniture or as many things as we did before, and very little to ship over. We are also more aware of the things ahead of time that became problematic for us before, like the humidity, and hopefully, we can better deal with those things on a second time around. There are still negatives about living here though, like Hawaii’s isolation, which would make it expensive and difficult for future travel if we wanted to continue doing that and also for the family to come and visit us. It’s also still an expensive place to live (although we felt Portland was almost more expensive now), and we’d of course have to have a car here. But overall, the positives outweigh the negatives and we are giving the idea of returning real consideration.

I’m not sure how much I’ll get posted this week but I will try my best. We’re looking forward to relaxing as much as possible while we’re here and not overdoing things, so we’ll see if I can squeeze in any writing. In the meantime, I hope everyone had a good week, and that your new year is off to a good start!