The Big Family Event

Plan One for the Big Family Event has already come and gone. The original idea for our 2023 Big Family Event came together and then crumbled quickly as other events rose up to overtake it.

The original idea was a five-day family reunion at Walt Disney World in Orlando. WDW was not Brett’s nor my favorite choice for a location, but the kids all have fond memories of our visits there and have always wanted to go back, and we knew the grandkids would love it. The plan was to go in early January of 2024, when crowds were smaller, and Brett and I would have less trouble getting rooms for everyone at the military resort (Shades of Green). However, no matter which way we sliced things pulling it off was going to be expensive for everyone. It was doable but we were all going to have to stay very focused throughout the year.

But then Meiling and KN got engaged, and with that everything changed. Our one big plan has ended up broken into several smaller (and thankfully more affordable) plans and ideas:

  • M & KN are going to have a small, family-only wedding in the New England area this summer, so we will be heading up there for that, and we’ll add on a few days in Maine.
  • WenYu and I have talked about possibly making a 10-day visit to England (London, Oxford, and the Cotswolds) in September of this year. WenYu was supposed to spend a few weeks with us in Oxford this past summer, and she and I would still like to go if we can. If it happens, Brett would stay home with Kai and he’s fine with that. However, both she and I are also willing to wait and go to Mexico in 2024 along with YaYu.
  • We may possibly visit Washington D.C. with our son and family this summer.
  • The entire family agreed that we’d like to get together again for Christmas this year, so there will be planning going on for that as well throughout the year. We may gather here again but WenYu’s home in the Boston area may be another possible location.

So, there will be no one big encompassing family event happening but rather a set of smaller gatherings and travels throughout 2023 and into 2024 to keep us connected. All the ideas are exciting, we’ll still be saving like crazy, and there’s still much to look forward to this year!

What A Celebration We Had!

Because our family is scattered all over the place and has been for a while, getting all of us together only happens once in a very few whiles. I think the last time we were together was in 2015, but that was minus one grandchild and Meiling’s partner, KN. However, with our daughter-in-law, granddaughter, and Brett and I living in Tennessee, and knowing our our son and grandson would be here for the Christmas break, the girls made plans to join us as well so we could celebrate Christmas together this year. Brett’s sister and her husband, Linda & Erik, also drove over from Dallas to see everyone so we had a very full but very happy house for several days. YaYu stayed with us, WenYu, Meiling, and KN stayed at a nearby Airbnb, and Linda and Erik stayed in a nearby hotel.

There was always some kind of game being played.

Our son and grandson had arrived in Tennessee on the 17th, the girls and KN on the 21st, and Linda and Erik on the 22nd, and we made the most of our time together. We ate together, played together, talked together, and just had a grand time being with each other. Brett and I had a blast watching the kids interact whether that was everyone playing Nintendo or the girls and KN doing wiggle dances with six-year-old K. Although Kaipo was initially upset by all the strangers that had invaded his space, he got to know everyone and loved being spoiled by all.

Christmas Eve

Of course with ten family members who hadn’t seen each other for ages there was an abundance of presents to open on Christmas morning following our traditional breakfast of bagels, cream cheese, smoked salmon, scones, and fruit (and mimosas for some too). Meiling and our grandson served as our elves making sure things kept moving and gifts were given out in order. We all had a lot of fun and oohed and aahed over everything everyone received. Our children were very generous this year – all of them chipped in and got Brett a beautiful mountain bike and all the accoutrement (helmet, pump, lock, mirrors, etc.) and he is still floating up on Cloud Nine about that. I received a few items off of my list as well, including a much-desired Le Creuset grill pan and some beautiful pieces of silver jewelry. I think we managed to make a few of the kids’ dreams come true as well as fulfill some of their needs, and the grandkids got everything they wanted and more. I had gotten input from almost everyone of what to serve for Christmas dinner, and the final menu included ham, macaroni and cheese, roasted Brussels sprouts, roasted sweet potatoes, broccoli, sushi, namasu, biscuits, and apple pie and cupcakes for dessert. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to pull it off, but with help from our daughter-in-law everything got made and served on time.

Christmas Day

The day after Christmas, Brett’s sister took the girls and KN out to lunch so Brett and I could relax a bit (we still had the grandkids over for a while) and get the house back in order. We all got together at our son and daughter-in-law’s apartment in the evening and were treated to a fabulous pizza party! Afterwards, the kids took the grandkids back to their Airbnb for a sleepover to the delight of both M&M and the grandkids. On Tuesday the girls and I went to Aldi – none of them had ever been even though all three live near one – they were impressed!

Family

It was honestly the most wonderful Christmas celebration we’ve ever enjoyed. Brett and I were in heaven with the whole family together, and even if we all were crammed into our small apartment everyone had a place to sit and there was always enough (usually more than enough) food for everyone. Actually, having so many people here made things a bit easier for me as someone was always helping to keep things picked up, putting dishes in the dishwasher, or otherwise helping to keep things organized. And, to top it off, it snowed two days before Christmas but was too cold for the snow to melt so we also enjoyed a bit of a white Christmas. However, the weather was pretty miserable overall and very cold from the deep freeze that came through while everyone was here. I have to salute Brett for going out in the cold every day to pick up Meiling, KN, and WenYu in the morning and well as taking them (and YaYu) shopping on two days and getting them back to their Airbnb every night.

On top of all things Christmas we also celebrated M & M’s 20th anniversary (they were married on Christmas Day in Japan), and Meiling & KN’s engagement!

Of course all good things come to an end, and the good times ended here when the girls and KN received word the night of the 27th that their Southwest flight the next day had been cancelled (our son and family had left for a few days in Florida). What a mess that caused! The first affordable flights back to Boston for all four were not until the 31st, and with their Airbnb rental over the girls and KN moved in with us (thank goodness we had a sleeper sofa). Meiling ended up finding an affordable ticket and returning to Boston on her own on the 29th – they have a pet that needed care and she was also running low on medication. WenYu, YaYu, and I went out and bought a bit more food on the 28th to get through the extra days they would be here, and we managed to keep everyone fed and provide them a place to sleep. We took walks, they worked out in the complex’s gym, played cards, we cooked together, and watched movies (Maverick and Glass Onion were our two favorites). Brett and I put our Christmas things away on the 29th which eased up the space somewhat, but by noon on the 31st Brett, Kaipo, I were finally on our own again. We enjoyed a quiet New Year’s Eve, barely staying awake until midnight, and then celebrated on New Year’s Day with a steak dinner and the sparkling wine we were too tired to drink the night before. We had had a wonderful time with our kids and were grateful for the extra time with them, but the last four days with everyone crowded into our little apartment were truthfully tiring for everyone, and we know the girls and KN were grateful as well to be back at their homes again.

Kaipo always found his spot.

In spite of all the unexpected turmoil this year we are planning to gather again for Christmas next year, either here or maybe up in Boston. Hopefully we’ll have a slightly less crazy and over-the-top occasion than we had this year, but who knows? In the meantime, we have much to enjoy as well as look forward to and celebrate this year, including our grandson’s relocation to Tennessee (for school) this month, Meiling and KN’s wedding in the summer, and some possible other upcoming travel.

Simple

photo credit: Weronika Karczewska/unsplash

Brett and my guiding word for 2023 is SIMPLE. That is, we intend to either make, maintain, or change things in our lives to enhance simplicity.

Although I feel we already live quite simply, we would like to add nothing to what we have (after a year of downsizing, and accumulating stuff again), and figure how to do more with what we have now. Living simply will mean doing more of the things that make us happy, of finding and enjoying challenges in trying something new, rereading books I’ve read before, or relearning/reusing old skills we haven’t used in a while. This will also be a year of spending less and saving more, and using less technology whenever possible. I want meal preparation and planning to be more simple as well, even if it means we have to rely on more prepared foods (easier to do with the food stores and healthy choices we have available here).

I am going to continue to blog, hopefully somewhat regularly, but I will be giving up the Sunday Morning post. It had been the most-read post every week for years, but decidedly not a simple one for me to write (totally my own fault; I kept making it more complicated in spite of trying to cut back) and last November it nearly drove me to folding up the blog all together. For the time being I plan to take the weekends off from writing, and use the time to do things with Brett, our daughter-in-law, and our grandchildren, even if that’s just staying home, reading, and enjoying each other’s company. Several readers commented that they hoped I would continue with news about the family, and I know there are ways of doing that other than the Sunday post. Hopefully with time there will be some regular features again as there have been in the past, but for now the only one I know of will be a recap of our monthly goals and how we did with them the month before. I don’t want to feel trapped or obligated to write certain posts which is what had been happening.

We have nothing on our calendar this month other than an eye appointment for me (getting new glasses – yeah!), dog grooming, and haircuts, and will otherwise take each day at a time. We will continue to enjoy time with our little Kaipo as he segues from puppyhood into adult life, and pick up and watch our grandchildren after school, or when otherwise necessary. We plan to choose one local site to visit each month. We also hope to do a couple of local hikes and more walking, weather permitting.

It’s simply going to be a great year!

Local Tourism: Historic Carter House in Franklin, Tennessee

The front of Carter House. The room on the left was Fountain Branch Carter’s bedroom, and the room on the right was the parlor. Upstairs are two children’s bedrooms. The home’s dining room was in the basement (under the bedroom). An addition to the home behind the parlor contained two more bedrooms. The Carters raised eight children in this home. (Photo credit: The Battle of Franklin Trust)

When we decided to visit the Carter House in nearby Franklin we thought we’d be taking a quick stroll through the grounds, checking out the house’s exterior, learning a little bit of Civil War history, and leaving with enough time left to walk through downtown Franklin to check out the shops and restaurants located there. Little did we know that we’d end up spending a fascinating afternoon learning about a short but decisive Civil War battle and a family that unexpectedly ended up in the middle of it. Our visit to Carter House turned out to be one of the most informative and enjoyable historic tours we’ve ever taken.

The Carter House was home to the extended Carter family, built by Fountain Branch Carter in 1830. A farmer and businessman, Carter owned 28 slaves, and not only owned a large farm but also owned and operated the largest cotton gin in the area (located just across the road from his home). He ran a third successful business in the city of Franklin as well.

Outbuildings at the Carter home, clockwise from the upper left: original slave quarter house which was moved to its present location from another part of the property: slave quarter interior (which probably didn’t look as cozy and comfortable back in the day); kitchen interior; kitchen exterior – the building sits just outside the house in back; bullet holes in the south-facing back wall of the farm office; the bullet-riddled south-facing back wall of the smokehouse; the hand-hewn brining trough in the smokehouse.

On November 30, 1864, Carter House ended up in the middle of the Second Battle of Franklin, perhaps the shortest battle in the Civil War (only five hours long), and maybe the bloodiest as well, with heavy casualties on both sides but more so on the Confederate side. The family had been given a small window of time to leave the area before the fighting began but decided to stay and ended up barricaded in a basement room as the battle raged outside. The house and outbuildings are said to have more bullet holes than any other surviving buildings from the war, with every one still standing on the site – house, farm office, kitchen, and smokehouse – riddled with holes and scars, mostly on the outside but some inside as well, including the main house. The 28-member Carter family, ranging in age from three to sixty-seven, survived the battle.

The parlor, the dining room (located in the basement), and our wonderful guide telling about life in the Carter home. Many of the furniture pieces in the house were owned by the Carters and were in the home at the time of the battle. The interior has been authentically restored.

Because we had brought our puppy along with us for the day and he was not allowed inside the house, Brett chose to walk him through the grounds where the fighting took place. The property is well-marked with informational plaques about the Second Battle of Franklin and what happened in different places on the property that day. I went on the home tour to learn about the Carter family, the house, and what happened on that day in 1864. I can honestly say I’ve never had a better guide anywhere! A natural storyteller, he brought the history of Carter House and the Battle of Franklin to life in a clear and engaging way. The more I learned as we went along, the more I wanted to know.

The south side of Carter House shows the large covered porch at the rear of the house. Bullet holes are visible up and down the side of the house.

Fountain Branch Carter lived in the house into the late 19th century and was its original tour guide as veterans of the battle and their families returned to visit the site. He eventually sold the house to private owners but when they put the house up for sale in 1951 it was purchased by the state of Tennessee as a historical site. It is now operated by the Battle of Franklin Trust who maintain and manage the site along with two other mansions involved with the battle that also survived, Carnton and Rippavilla.

Our guide took my picture through one of the bullet holes on the north side of the farm office. The number of bullet holes visible on the property was truly shocking.

Carnton, also located in Franklin, will be our next visit. The area around Franklin is loaded with historic sites and markers, and we’re making it our mission to get to as many as we can while we’re here. Carter House though was the ideal place to start!

Eating & Exercise: Getting the Ship Turned Back Around

A tasty, healthy dinner, courtesy of Trader Joe’s: air-fried vegetable spring rolls, steamed chicken shu mai, and organic coleslaw.

As we both feared and somewhat expected, the eating and exercise regime Brett and I created in Hawaii fell apart when we started traveling again, and we were never any place long enough to set a consistent routine and stick with it. Restaurant meals, airport food, and delicious and affordable local cuisine in Mexico changed how we we ate the past four months. Hot and/or humid weather, dealing with San Miguel de Allende’s higher altitude, and sometimes uncomfortable walking venues kept exercise opportunities inconsistent or impossible at times. We did our best, but always knew we could do better.

Surprisingly, we gained very little to no weight. We had learned to keep our portion sizes small, so large lunches or brunches in Mexico meant we would skip dinner. I thought all the delicious bakery items we enjoyed in San Miguel de Allende would do us in, but they came with less sugar and fat than they would have in the U.S,, and that seemed to help keep things on an even keel. We’re both out of shape though when it comes to walking and moving around. My hips are stiff again, and the heat and humidity knock me out in short time. There are no refreshing ocean breezes here to keep us going like they did in Hawaii but I can and will acclimate.

It’s time for both Brett and I to get serious again with our health. We’re settled now, we have an abundance of sources to supply us with fresh, healthy food, and a dog that needs to be walked a few times a day. Our apartment complex has an air-conditioned gym with treadmills we can use on super hot, humid or bad weather days, so we have no excuses for not exercising every day.

I am once again keeping a daily food diary. We’ve added meat back into our diet, but only occasionally and in small portions. For the most part our diet is still mostly vegetarian/vegan. We’re eating more fresh fruits and vegetables again, drinking several big glasses of water each day, and we’ve stopped buying sweets other than something small to enjoy after dinner each evening. Both of us have new walking shoes on our shopping list. Brett walks Kaipo several times a day, and I go with them for a long walk every evening. As time goes on, the distance we walk will increase.

Beginning next week I’m going to start the weekly eating and exercise posts back up again – they were a big help to me before and will be again. Brett’s and my efforts in Hawaii made a genuine difference in our health before and it’s important we get this ship turned around and heading in the right direction again. We can do this!

Moving In, Getting Settled

A short update from my phone . . .

All is going well in Tennessee although we still don’t have an Internet connection. A technician is scheduled to come on Saturday to see if he can figure out what’s wrong. Data through my phone is all I’ve got right now.

We are almost completely unpacked and the furniture we’ve ordered has been arriving daily. Brett and his trusty tool kit have been busy every day assembling things (the bed came without instructions but he had it together in three hours), and so far we’re happy with everything we’ve bought. We currently have a sofa & loveseat, dining table & chairs, a very comfortable bed (I’ve been sleeping like a log), and bedside tables & lamps. Oh, and a lamp in the living room that about broke my hand when I made the lampshade. Brett said it was easier to assemble the bed without instructions than put one piece of the lampshade together (and there were over 75 pieces to assemble). Our coffee table arrives tomorrow, a console table and small desk for Brett on Saturday, the credenza for the TV on Tuesday, and a rug for the living room on Wednesday and then we’re done!! The apartment is very, very nice but lacks storage somewhat so organizing has been a challenge at times but we’ve made good progress and found a place for everything.

We’re having a terrific time with our son and family. K is sleeping next to me as I write this – her first sleepover at Grandma & Grandpa’s. Brett will fix her breakfast tomorrow and take her to school as our son will be on his way to pick up our grandson from camp. They’ll be back here on Saturday for another week before returning to Japan. Our son just received a major promotion at his company so we’re all celebrating that and M’s work is going well too.

Fingers are crossed that we’re back online on Saturday, but no guarantees. If all goes well I’ll post a giveaway next week! In the meantime, thanks for hanging in there with me. It’s been an exhausting week, but we can see the light at the end of the tunnel . . .

. . . when we’ll be adding a small, very energetic puppy to the mix! I think (hope) we’re ready.

Sunday Morning 8/7/2022: A Quick Update

Sunset and blue hour on the way to Boston

We are on our way to Nashville today! We were up early this morning, enjoyed a wonderful free breakfast at the hotel (sausage gravy and biscuits for me!), have loaded up the van once again and will hit the road in a few minutes. Our drive today should only take around three hours (versus the eight hours we’ve driven the past two days).

Our first stop once we arrive in Nashville will be at the car dealer to pick up our new car! Once that piece of business is taken care of we’ll head to our hotel for the night and get checked in, unload the van once more, then head over to see our son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter. I’m so excited about that I can barely stand it!

We had a long day last Tuesday getting out of San Miguel de Allende and up to Boston, but our flights were comfortable and we actually arrived on time with WenYu and Meiling waiting for us. After we got home to WenYu’s we spent a couple of hours catching up with the girls, and then Brett and I fell into a deep sleep. I honestly did not sleep well the entire time we were in Mexico and it was wonderful to sleep so deeply again without waking up several times during the night or super early in the morning (like between 4:00 and 6:00 a.m.). I couldn’t get over the difference in how good I felt the next morning.

Good times in Massachusetts

Our two days in Massachusetts went by too quickly. On Wednesday, WenYu and I went to Trader Joe’s to pick up a few things for Brett and I to carry along on our journey. Afterwards she took us on a walk around their property (the house sits on 10 wooded acres) – such a lovely place to live! Meiling had found a box of oil paints in a free box on her street, and brought them along with her along with a couple of canvasses, so we had fun watching the girls both try oil painting for the first time. In the evening we had dinner over at WenYu’s partner’s parent’s home. We enjoyed our time with them immensely and it was obvious they adore WenYu and look out for her. Early Thursday afternoon WenYu took us over to pick up our rental van, which turned out to be not only brand new but much, much bigger than we expected. Brett loaded it with all our stuff when we got back to the house, then he and I went with the girls to a concert being held at WenYu’s workplace. The band was great, and we had a very good time at the event (WenYu had recently worked with the band to design their logo). WenYu picked up sushi for everyone on the way home for a late dinner.

If there was a downside to our stay it was that WenYu’s partner wasn’t feeling well most of the time. He has long Covid (although currently disease free) and has no energy most of the time. It’s made it very difficult for him to work or do other things. He did show us around his work spaces (some in his home, some in his parents’ home), and provided us with gifts (a t-shirt for Brett and some of his product adorned with Meiling’s and WenYu’s artwork for me, to which I will add necessary accoutrement for a Christmas gift for our grandson). We left with a much better understanding of his product and the process that goes into designing, fabrication, and then getting it to customers.

We set off early Friday morning, and made our way through five states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, stopping in Chambersburg for the night). We were up early again yesterday morning, enjoyed a delicious free breakfast at the hotel, reloaded the van, and traveled through another five states – Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, a long drive through Virginia, and finally Tennessee – stopping for the night in Knoxville. We have spent over $100 less than expected on gas, and less than $10 for food and drink while we’ve been on the road (WenYu gave us sandwiches to bring along). Breakfasts have been free at both hotels, and the hotel in Knoxville (Drury Inn) provided a free dinner as well.

There was lots of road work in MA, CT, and NY that added about an hour to our drive on Friday, but we also endured an awful rain storm in Pennsylvania for nearly an hour – we could barely see the road in front of us! Thankfully almost all the other cars and trucks put on their emergency flashers so we could see them. The roads were better yesterday but we had to drive through not one but two even worse storms, one in Virginia and one as we approached Knoxville. Both of these storms were frightening, with even heavier rain than Friday and loads of thunder and lightening, but very few put on their flashers and some didn’t even turn on their lights. Thankfully Brett is a good driver who remained calm and just kept going although we had a near miss during the final storm when a car pulling a trailer without any lights on stopped for some reason in the middle of the Interstate versus pulling over and we almost ran right into him. Thankfully Brett was able to swerve around him at the last second.

Anyway, it’s been quite the journey so far but we are ready to finally be in Nashville and start unpacking and settling in. We will meet with the property manager tomorrow morning to get the keys to our place, then will unload the van for the last time and head to Costco to purchase a mattress and TV. The van will be returned on Tuesday, and after that’s taken care of we’ll go food shopping. Our furniture will arrive on Thursday and we should be nearly settled by next weekend!

San Miguel de Allende: City of Fountains

San Miguel de Allende is a city of fountains. They come in all shapes and sizes, with some still providing water while others are dry. All are a delight to stop and admire, and it’s been exciting to discover new ones.

Though often dry today, the fountains have lost none of their history and charms.  They provided, of course, the water the town was founded around but also locations to provide an opportunity to gossip.  Some of that gossip rippled into international consequences with the notion of gaining freedom from Spain – San Miguel Times.

Below are seven fountains we’ve come across so far (in no particular order), but we’ve learned there are more than 30 fountains all together in the city, so there are many more to discover and we’re actively looking now!

Rethinking Some Things

We had everything planned out: Leave Mexico. Fly to Boston. Pick up stored items. Drive to Nashville. Rent an apartment. Buy a car. Buy furniture. Live there with our little dog for two years and enjoy the company of our daughter-in-law and granddaughter. After that, either road trip around the U.S. or settle in New England.

We honestly were never very excited about either of those post-Nashville options, but we knew with a car, furniture, and a dog any other future travel options would be limited.

While I was once again looking at cars the other day I noticed that Subaru offered a two-year lease option; everything I’d seen up to then only offered 36-month terms. Two year leases can be difficult to find, and although the monthly payment for a 24-month lease is higher than for 36 months, it’s still affordable (and far less than a car payment if purchasing). Leasing while we’re in Nashville would give us the opportunity and freedom to ditch the car at the end of our two-year stay if we want. And, while leasing is normally not the wisest financial choice, our short time in Nashville would be one of those occasions where leasing, at least initially, makes more sense than buying.

Leasing a car also got us thinking again about whether it might make more sense to lease furniture while we’re in Nashville versus purchasing. I’ve had a lot of fun these past few months looking online at furniture and deciding what to buy, but realized if we leased we could return the furniture at the end of two years and not be tied to having to find a place to settle elsewhere or storing the furniture if we decide to return to our nomadic lifestyle. Leasing became a serious consideration for a few days until we crunched numbers again and figured out it would be less expensive to purchase a few things from IKEA when we arrive and then sell them when we leave rather than getting tied down to either expensive furniture purchases or a monthly rental payment.

Leasing a car, and buying a few pieces from IKEA still leaves us with the responsibility of owning a dog, but I’ve been reading about traveling internationally with a dog, and while it does require a bit more effort it’s not all that difficult to bring your pet along to many countries. Our little guy will be small enough to travel in the cabin with us on flights, and while entry into several countries with a dog, including Japan, Mexico, Great Britain, and the E.U., requires some paperwork and keeping up with vaccinations and tests, it’s not overwhelming and would mean no quarantine. With our preference for longer stays, a little upfront effort would mean our dog could accompany us on future travels. Having him along would of course change the nature of travel and somewhat limit where we can go, but would not curb it entirely.

Brett and I still would very much like to travel as much as possible before we can’t any more. We like the nomadic lifestyle, and it’s a good fit for us. At first living in Nashville seemed like a complete game-changer, but we look back and realize our last two years on Kaua’i passed in what now seems the blink of an eye. Treating our time in Nashville like the temporary stay it will be is a more sensible frame of mind for us to be in, and one that better seems to fit our needs, dreams, and desires for the time being.