Home Cooking: Addictive Pumpkin Burritos

photo credit: allrecipes (I think someone went a little nuts with the cilantro)

Several years ago a friend sent me this recipe for burritos and when the girls were young they quickly became a favorite and a nice change from more “traditional” burritos. They’re not only delicious and easy to make and the ingredients don’t cost a lot. They’re also quite nutritious, and surprisingly low fat (and can be vegan with the cheese left out). They can also be wrapped individually and frozen to reheat later for snacks or a quick meal.

The original recipe called for cooked and mashed sweet potato, but I substituted pumpkin and it worked perfectly. With pumpkin, add the water to the bean mixture gradually though as canned pumpkin tends to be a bit “wetter” than  baked sweet potato and the bean mixture doesn’t need to quite so wet (which risks making the burritos soggy). Canned refried beans can be substituted for the kidney beans in the recipe to save on time, although I personally never thought it took all that much time to mash the kidney beans. There’s no reason either why other types of beans, such as black beans or pintos, couldn’t be substituted if you prefer them, and pureed butternut squash or a large can of sweet potatoes (follow the same advice about adding the water) can also be substituted. The spices might seem excessive to some, but I happen to think they’re just enough (and we have also added salsa as well). The friend who sent me the recipe halved the chili powder, cumin, mustard and cayenne pepper and said they still tasted great.

If you do end up with some leftover bean mixture it can be added later to scrambled eggs for a breakfast burrito!


  • 3 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 cups canned kidney beans, drained
  • 2 cups water or less, as needed
  • 3 TBSP chili powder
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 4 tsp prepared mustard
  • pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 3 TBSP soy sauce
  • 4 cups cooked and mashed pumpkin puree, sweet potato, or butternut squash
  • 12 10-inch flour tortillas, warmed
  • 8 oz. shredded Monterey Jack cheese (or Pepper Jack if you’d like a little more spice)

Preheat oven to 350°. Heat oil in a medium skillet, and saute onions and garlic until soft. Add beans and mash well. Gradually stir in water, and heat until thick and warm. Remove from heat and stir in chili powder, cumin, mustard, cayenne pepper (if using) and soy sauce. Divide bean mixture and pumpkin puree evenly between the warm tortillas; place next to the lower edge and top with some cheese. Fold the edge over tightly, then fold up the sides and fold over again to close. Bake for 12 minutes in the oven and serve warm. Chopped green onion and sour cream go well with these burritos.

You can freeze these burritos for later use. Don’t bake them, but wrap each one individually in foil, then place in a bag and freeze. Heat by taking off the foil and microwaving for two and a half minutes, or defrost and bake according to directions.

Home Cooking: Pumpkin Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting

(photo credit: chocolatewithgrace.com)

Fall has arrived (well, everywhere but here) along with pumpkin season. If I remember correctly, Trader Joe’s and lots of other places probably have a pumpkin version of just about everything they sell (pumpkin cream cheese? pumpkin coffee?) on their shelves right now, both sweet and savory, or at least they did a few years ago. My favorite pumpkin item from Trader Joe’s was the pumpkin spice toaster pastries, which were a fun breakfast treat. 

We are still big fans of pumpkin (although we gave the pumpkin cream cheese a pass and I may be the only one who doesn’t like pumpkin spice lattes). I have been known to stock up on organic canned pumpkin in the fall (when prices are low) so that I have it available year round, and back when we had a garden we grew our own pumpkins and then baked them and froze the puree. We love pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin coffee cake, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin nut bread and roasted pumpkin, but I think our whole family would agree that these pumpkin bars with cream cheese frosting are at the top of our list of ways to enjoy this iconic fall squash.

This pumpkin bar recipe comes from a restaurant Brett and I used to regularly dine at, especially for special occasions: Ron Paul’s in NE Portland. The restaurant closed many years ago, long before we left Portland, but while it was open the wonderful Mr. Paul put out a regular newsletter which included this recipe. They’ve been a favorite since the first time I made them.

The bars are rich and moist, and the frosting adds just the right amount of sweetness without being overpowering. Mini chocolate chips can be substituted for the nuts if you want to take it to the next level, but we prefer pecans (or walnuts).


For the bars:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 2/3 cups sugar
  • 2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (or mini chocolate chips)

For the frosting:

  • 3 oz. softened cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup softened butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a large bowl, blend together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda and salt; set aside. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs, then add sugar, vegetable oil, and pumpkin stirring until well mixed. Add pecans (or walnuts or chips). Pour into a well-greased 10″ x 15″ x 1″ (jelly roll) pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until lightly golden and set. Cool and frost.

To make the frosting: Beat cream cheese and butter together until fluffy; add powdered sugar and vanilla and beat on high speed until smooth. Frost when bars are completely cooled. Makes 32 bars.

The Walk to Our Son’s House

Our son’s home is the next stop from our subway station but requires about a mile’s walk once we leave that station. I have yet to be bored with the walk even those Brett and I have made it more times than we can count. The walk always offers a slice of “real” Japan and “real” Tokyo, and we continue to discover new things along the way every time we make the journey.

(The pictures below were taken on two different days, which is why the sky is blue in some and not in others.)

We pass a 24-hour underground McDonald’s on the way out of Komazawa-Daigaku station. We’ve never gone in.

Once out of the subway station we begin a long walk alongside a busy major street (cars drive on the left in Japan); up above is an expressway. The stacking is common throughout the city as it saves room in crowded Tokyo. In fact, just a little farther down the road, closer to where we’re living, we just discovered there are actually TWO expressways stacked on top of the road, one on top of the other. Some of the bare trees on the side of the street are ginkos, but I’m not sure what these are. Yes, it’s much more attractive when they’re leafed out.

This is our view down the sidewalk as we get started. We walk on the left side going to our son’s, on the right coming back, often single file because of the number of people using the space. There are all sorts of shops and restaurants along the way, just about everything you could imagine, with offices and apartments above (an apartment building will have balconies; an office building won’t).

We pass one gas station not too long after we get started. If you’re a cardholder, regular gas costs ¥144/liter ($5/gallon). If you don’t have a card, it’s ¥146/liter.

There are many tempting restaurants on the road, like this traditional ramen shop with its glowing lantern.

Our favorite though is this little okonomiyaki (Japanese savory pancake) restaurant, run by a woman and her son. It’s very cozy and old-school, and the food is very good!

Eventually, we turn a corner and head for the Komazawa Olympic Park. Right after the turn is this traditional sweet shop, with a noren (shop curtain) over the door. Strawberry sweets are big now, but I want to stop in one of these days for some sakura mochi (mochi folded over a sweet bean filling and then wrapped with a pickled cherry leaf). It’s my favorite, and only available for a few months every year, around cherry blossom season.

Mitsubishi corporation employees can live in one of these subsidized apartments. They range in size from two rooms to some rather large apartments with terraces, assigned I assume, according to one’s position in the company. This complex contains three other equally large buildings.

A little further along, we walk past the entrance to Komazawa-Daigaku (Komazawa University). The apartment building in back is new since last year – and they built a separate little house on top!

We eventually reach Komazawa Olympic Park, where we turn left and pass by a pretty vegan restaurant called Mr. Farmer. We’ve checked out the menu but it’s expensive and nothing on the menu really appeals to us.

We turn right at the large skateboard park. 

Just past the skateboard park is the new baseball stadium, which was under construction all last year. Those big, bare trees will be loaded with cherry blossoms in April!

Some of the seating in the new stadium. We thought it might be have been built for the upcoming Olympics, but it’s used by local college and high teams, for games and tournaments. Our son said it’s incredibly noisy when a game’s going on. Although the sports venues at Komazawa Olympic Park were built for Olympic sports and crowds, there is a lack of transportation infrastructure in the area that makes holding such events there impossible.

Just across the road from the stadium is a small bird sanctuary that we walk past, although we’ve come to call it the “cat cafeteria” because there are usually three to four cats waiting inside the fence. We’ve even seen people leave out food for the cats. We have yet to see a bird there.

A couple of turns later and we’re at our son’s home! It’s a big house for Japan and sits among several other big houses along a narrow road. It has a large, bright open plan living/dining/kitchen upstairs, five bedrooms (including a traditional tatami room) on three levels (two are used for offices), two toilet rooms, a large bath, two balconies, one in the front and one in the back, and lots of storage. It doesn’t have any yard but there is a small garden area on the right.

We usually don’t walk back through the park when we walk back to the station at night, but instead walk up the street and turn right back onto the street we walked on to get to the park. It saves us a few steps doing it that way, but during the day we prefer the scenery and activity in the park.

The Argument for Continuing to Travel

Brett and I are still feeling restless, and not ready in many ways to again take on the responsibilities that come along with settling down in one place. The biggest argument against us stopping our travels is still that there are too many places in the world we want to see and experience!

Below are some of the places we’ve talked about wanting to visit in just the last three weeks:

  • Botswana photo safari (it’s too expensive really, but we still love talking about it).
  • Capetown, South Africa
  • Morocco
  • Kenya (Brett has visited before but would like to go again – me too!)
  • Scandinavia: Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland (we’d also like to see Iceland, but it’s not as high on our list)
  • The Benelux Countries (Belgium, Netherlands, & Luxemburg)
  • Germany
  • Austria
  • Czech Republic
  • The south of France
  • Spain
  • Northern Portugal
  • Naples and Sicily – Brett has been to both, courtesy of the navy, and would love to return
  • Greece (yet another place Brett has been before and we both want to visit)
  • Ireland
  • SE Asia: Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Singapore
  • Australia (to ride The Ghan from Adelaide up to Darwin)
  • The South Island of New Zealand
  • Mexico
  • Costa Rica and Panama
  • Argentina (including Mendoza, Patagonia, and the Iguazu Falls this time)
  • And, just because, a trans-Atlantic cruise on the QE2

Of course, we also want to continue to spend time in Japan with family, and we’d also like to visit some parts of China we haven’t seen yet.

This continues to be an ideal time in our lives to travel, and even with helping out YaYu for the next couple of years, if we’re careful it’s doable. And, we ask ourselves, with a wish list of destinations this long how can we possibly think we’d be happy settling down?

And yet . . . from the We Did Not See This One Coming files, our daughters let us know the other day that they would like it very much if we settled back on Kaua’i again. That was a surprise! While Southern California is still high on our list, we’d love to live in Hawai’i again but up to now hadn’t considered just the two of us going back. They’ve given us lots to think about there.

So, everything is still on the table, with good arguments on both sides. For now though, we feel our plans for after June will be a good compromise between the two . . . stay tuned!

Closing Out the Books for November

Yeah for us!

After two frustrating months of being over budget while we were in the UK, we had a very good month in November and ended up with a daily spending average of $29.93! We had an overall daily spending average for our entire three months in the UK of $38.30, not where we hoped to be but not as bad as it could have been.

The main reason November was a less expensive month was that other than our quick trip to Bath and another over to Stratford-upon-Avon, we really didn’t go anywhere. We didn’t even get out that much in Blockley! While the gloomy weather was frankly depressing and kept us indoors much of the time, it also meant there were fewer chances for spending. Winding down our food shopping at the end of our stay helped to keep costs down as well. Our daily average was low enough that our (expensive) dinner at the village cafe, our travel day spending, and a quick trip to Trader Joe’s after we arrived in Portland didn’t take us over $30.

We’re sticking with our $35/day spending average in December. While food spending is going to be higher than usual this month it’s really our only expense other than gas for the minivan. Being very careful and sticking to our list is going to be key to not going over budget this month (we’ve done a good job of this so far). I’ve made a menu for when the girls are here, but they all still have big appetites and I hope everything I’ve planned will be enough for them without us having to overspend. We hope to be able to go out together once for dim sum, but a trip over to IKEA for some Swedish meatballs may be all we can afford (thankfully the girls love those meatballs).

Sunday Morning 12/1/2019: Back in Portland

Our Thanksgiving travel day turned out to be not so bad, although it was still a very l-o-n-g day and very, very tiring. However, we are back in Portland, rested (somewhat), and ready to turn our efforts toward getting ready for Christmas and the girls’ arrivals.

One last sunrise over the countryside as we left the Cotswolds.

Our travel day did not start well though. When we got on to the platform at Moreton-in-Marsh there was an announcement that our train had been canceled! This was not good, but we got on the next train (which was late) with our heavy bags, crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. We changed at Oxford and got on another train which ended up arriving 10 minutes late into Reading. We had to literally run through the station there to catch the train to Gatwick, climbing on board less than 30 seconds before the doors closed. If we had missed that train our travel day would have turned out very differently than it did.

We arrived at Gatwick with less than two hours to check our bags, go through security and get to the gate, and there was a very, very long line at check-in (there were other flights besides ours going out). While we were waiting though we saw a sign announcing that upgrades for our flight were available. Brett and I made a quick command decision and a few minutes and a few hundred dollars later we had premium seats (Norwegian Air premium class is a sort of a blend between first class and premium economy). The upgrade meant we didn’t have to pay extra for our overweight luggage and also allowed us to go quickly through the premium security check line. We had just enough time to grab some coffee and food at Pret A Manger before heading to our gate. We had been warned we might not get any meals on board because of our last-minute upgrade (and apparently Norwegian won’t bring meals from economy up to premier) so we bought enough at Pret for two meals, just in case. The plane was boarding when we got down to the gate and the next thing we knew we were buckled in our seats and on our way.

Our comfortable seats were in the last row of the premium cabin, which meant we could fully recline without bothering anyone behind us. I used the blanket for additional lumbar support.

Upgrading to Premium was the right decision and worth every penny, especially since if we hadn’t done it we would have most likely missed our flight and spent a LOT more for tickets on another flight. We had bigger seats with footrests, increased recline, and lots of legroom and along with a very smooth flight our 11-hour trip to San Francisco was very comfortable. We both slept for a long stretch in the middle of the flight which made the time onboard speed by, and while we didn’t arrive in San Francisco feeling refreshed and perky, we weren’t dragging either. They did have a meal for us – a turkey dinner for Thanksgiving (!!) – and we ate a couple of our Pret A Manger sandwiches for a later snack. The layover in San Francisco didn’t drag as much as we thought it would (we ate a third Pret sandwich there so didn’t buy anything in SF other than some coffee) and before we knew it we were on our way to Portland. Things got weird again though once we got to the car rental agency because there was no car for us in spite of having a reservation (there were no cars at all)! We were initially offered a pick-up truck instead – NO THANK YOU – but we stood our ground and ended up with a seven-passenger minivan at no extra cost. All’s well that ends well.

It’s December 1 and time to announce the winner of the Afternoon Tea giveaway as promised! Chosen out of 87 entries using a random name selector, the winner is:

HELEN! Come on down!

Congratulations! I will email you in the next day or so to get your mailing address and plan to have your package on its way by the middle of the week. I again want to thank everyone for all the fantastic travel tips you sent – I will be pulling them all together for a post later this month! I was very happy to learn a few new things I can use going forward!

This morning I am:

  • Reading: Because of the packing we had to do, and a general case of pre-travel nerves toward the end of our stay in England, I found I couldn’t concentrate on all the names and places in The Guns of August, so I downloaded Stephen King’s The Shining because I knew it would keep my attention. I finished it last night because once again I was scared enough that I couldn’t put it down (I read it when it first came out and stayed up all night to finish because I was so scared). I’ll get back to The Guns of August later today, after we’re settled in our long-term rental.
  • Listening to: Brett’s getting his breakfast ready in the kitchen, and the heater is blowing overhead but otherwise, it’s very, very quiet here. The heater has been on constantly since we checked in on Thursday night because it is COLD outside, below freezing last night. This rental has been very quiet and comfortable overall as we have worked through the jet lag and a crazy sleeping schedule, but we’re looking forward to getting into our long-term rental later today.
  • Watching: We haven’t been watching anything the past few days because there’s no TV here! I didn’t watch anything on the plane either, a first for me; the flight was smooth enough that I could read instead. We’ll get reacquainted with American television once we get to our new place.
    We did a quick shop at the nearby Trader Joe’s to get us through the first couple of days in Portland. I love their food but so expensive compared to the UK! The chili relleno was good enough that we’re going to get more to have this coming week.
  • Cooking: For now all I’m planning to fix this week is Thai red curry chicken with sweet-sour coleslaw; chili rellenos with avocado; tomato soup and toasted cheese sandwiches; and breakfast for dinner (eggs, bacon, and fruit). We picked up a few things from Trader Joe’s on Friday and are going back again this morning to do a bigger shop before we move over to the rental, but it’s a little hard to know what to get because I don’t know yet what cookware or utensils there will be in the kitchen there (Are there baking pans? Casserole dishes?). Brett and I will be sticking with low/no-carb eating once again during our Portland stay (it’s back to cauliflower rice for me!). Shopping trips to Costco and Winco will be next week to get ready for the girls and their appetites, and then we’ll hit the Asian markets with them when they’re all here.
  • Happy I accomplished: A successful travel day is always an accomplishment, but with trains being canceled or late, making it in time to catch our flight felt like a miracle because of so many things going wrong when we started out.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: We came out ahead getting the minivan for our car rental – we now have more than enough room to carry everyone around and Meiling’s boyfriend as well when he’s with us for a couple of days. I can be very assertive when I need to be – Brett says I scared him a bit at the rental agency because I wouldn’t back down LOL.
    We shared two Pret A Manger sandwiches for a snack on the plane – tuna salad with cucumbers and smoked salmon with cream cheese. We ate our other sandwich during our layover in San Francisco (a yummy roast hoisin duck wrap) which saved us from having to buy food there.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We had a fairly low-cost travel day as those things go, spending only $71 for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and coffees (which is pretty low for airport spending, all things considered – everything in an airport is expensive, no matter where you are in the world). We still had two pieces of cake leftover when we arrived in Portland which Brett ate for breakfast on Friday morning before we could get to the store (I ate the free Kind bar we got on the Alaska flight up to Portland). Paying for upgraded seats cost extra but still less than we expected, and the upgrade covered our overweight luggage. We also ended the month under our daily spending average!
  • Grateful for: Brett and I were especially thankful to make our flight because if not we would have had to book with another airline at the last minute which would have been beyond expensive in so many ways. We are grateful we had the funds to cover the upgraded seats, although our travel fund is now practically at zero. All of our upcoming flights are covered until the end of next May though, which gives us a few months to build up the fund again.
  • Bonus shoutout: I want to give Norwegian Air a huge shoutout for their service. First, flying Norwegian almost always costs half or less than half of what legacy airlines charge for the same route. This was the second time we’ve flown with them back from London Gatwick and once again we had a very good travel experience for a very reasonable price. The service is superb and the cabin crew top-notch (they hire from throughout Europe). If you’re taking a long-haul flight to Europe and back I can’t recommend Norwegian enough for both price and service. They are a low-cost carrier (LCC), so have tough weight limits for baggage, but if you’re traveling with only a carry-on the low fare ticket prices are amazingly low (they charge for everything extra though). The Low-Fare Flex option in coach is the way to go if there’s a bag to check, and with this fare, upgrades are sometimes possible for exit row seating (more legroom), and meals are included in the price of the ticket. However, based on last week’s experience, paying a bit more for Premium seats for longer (7+ hour) flights is well worth it. Norwegian Air only operates out of a few airports in the U.S. on a somewhat limited schedule, but most of these flights use the 787 Dreamliner. The 787 is quieter, the air is humidified, the lighting more subtle, there are bigger windows with dimmers instead of a shade, more bathrooms, and more overhead luggage space too, all of which make for a much more comfortable flight.
Some much needed blue skies and sunshine greeted us in Portland!

The past couple of days in Portland have been cold but clear and sunny, a much-needed respite from the gloom we experienced our last three weeks in England. Those weeks were a very hard time for me, and I could feel myself slipping deeper and deeper into seasonal depression, not wanting to get dressed or do much of anything. I actually had a few days in a row where I stayed in my pajamas on the sofa and wasn’t able to muster the enthusiasm to do much of anything, not a good sign. Thank goodness we had the packing and such to do, but I’m not sure how things might have turned out otherwise as much as I loved our little village and being in England. Weather is going to be a key factor whenever and wherever we end up settling down. I can take the gloom for short periods of time, but extended periods of gray skies and incessant rain have a very negative effect on my well-being these days.

It’s a cliche to say so, but I honestly can’t believe 2019 is almost finished. It’s been another great year for us, and we have much to look forward to next year as well. In the meantime, we still have plenty to do before the year ends and our girls will be here before we know it. So, here’s to a great week and a great month coming up!

Sunday Morning 11/17/2019: Week 11 in the UK

The fall color is glorious now (if there are any leaves left on a tree, that is).

We’ve had another week of weather extremes, from bright sunny days to rain and wind. The only constant has been the cold. Because of the nicer days, we were able to check another couple of things off our list, including fish and chips from a neighborhood chippie in Moreton-in-Marsh on Monday to a wonderful visit to Stratford-upon-Avon on Wednesday to a long walk in Blockley yesterday. The rest of the week we spent indoors bundled up and with the fire going, trying to stay warm!

The War Memorial in Moreton-in-Marsh. The squares filled with names are those from WWI.

Monday was Armistice or Remembrance Day in the UK, although unlike our Veterans and Memorial Day, it was not a holiday, or at least as far as we could tell. Buses ran on a regular schedule, kids went to school, and so forth. The war memorial in Moreton-in-Marsh was covered with poppy wreaths, and we sat there while we ate our fish and chips, and talked about how many more names there were for WWI versus WWII and later conflicts. Over 700,000 British men were killed in WWI (2% of the population) and another 1.675 million were wounded, many grievously. A whole generation of young men was lost, and the British have never forgotten them.

Brett and I shared an order of fish & chips because it was MASSIVE. The crisp, delicious piece of cod was over 14 inches in length, and the chips (fries) would have fed our whole family. All this cost just slightly over $9.00. We tried our best to finish but couldn’t eat all of it.

We woke up to glorious weather on Wednesday so bundled up and caught the bus over to Stratford -upon-Avon, about an hour away from Blockley by bus. We bought Full Story Tickets (yeah for senior discounts!) so that we could visit Shakespeare’s birthplace, the New House (where he lived at the end of his life), and Hall Croft, home of his daughter, Susanna, and her husband, Dr. Hall. Both the birthplace house and Hall Croft buildings are original from the 16th century and have been preserved, but the New House deteriorated to the point it was demolished in the late 19th century, and only the gardens remain now. Actors presented soliloquies from Shakespeare’s plays or recited sonnets so we requested a sonnet and heard the 18th (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.”), and another visitor requested Marc Anthony’s eulogy of Caesar from Julius Caesar (“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. I come to bury Caesar not to praise him.”). Both performances brought high school English roaring back for me – I was surprised by how much I could remember from both the sonnet and the speech. The New House gardens (Shakespeare and his wife had gardens here back in the day) were lovely and filled with stunning modern sculptures representing many of Shakespeare’s plays. Hall Croft was an amazing opportunity to experience the layout of a Tudor-era home from the kitchen to halls to bedrooms. The whole place was fascinating and beautifully preserved. Afterward, we shared a sandwich in a nearby pub while enjoying fancy gin and tonics. We had planned to visit the Guild Hall after lunch, but it had become colder and was getting darker at that point so we instead headed for the bus stop and the long ride home, a good thing as it began raining shortly after we started. We had a great day and are glad we made the effort to get over there – below are a few pictures from our visit:

Finally, don’t forget to enter the giveaway! It will be open through November 29, and you can enter once a day to increase your chances of winning. Thanks much for all the great travel tips that have been submitted so far (if you’ve already posted a tip you don’t need to leave another for future entries). I will announce the winner on Sunday, December 1 so I can get it mailed out quickly to the winner in case they want to use it for a holiday gift.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished both Code Girls and  A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier, this past week. Code Girls started off sort of slow, but by the time they were in the thick of the war I couldn’t put it down. How they broke so many codes was (and is) pretty amazing all on its own, but these women’s success rate was nothing short of impressive. I also read A Single Thread straight through this week. It was a real page-turner and I’m so glad it was recommended to me. Today I’m going to begin the next book in the Inspector Morse series, Service of All the Dead. By the way, when I finished A Single Thread I achieved my goal reading of 52 books for the year!
  • Listening to: We woke up to the sound of rain hitting the skylight windows, so it looks like another day indoors for us (but that’s OK; we have laundry to do). The church bells have rung but otherwise, all is quiet. We haven’t turned the fire on yet though – that’s a near miracle these days. It’s cool inside but not chilly yet while outside it’s just plain gloomy.
  • Watching: We finished up the new season of Doc Martin this past week – there was a surprise ending – and are still watching Endeavour with one more episode to go. Tonight we’ll begin the new season of The Crown – I’m excited about that!
    We could have had local pheasant for dinner one night – just $9.00 for two (no thanks though – not a fan of game bird).
  • Cooking: We’re having breaded cod and roasted root vegetables for dinner tonight, two of our favorite Aldi products. We’ll head over to Moreton-in-Marsh one last time this week to shop at Aldi for the last time. It’s been a great resource for us while we’ve been here and saved us a bundle too. I usually have a shopping list made at this point but have been unmotivated so far this week to make one. 
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Getting to eat authentic fish and chips from a chippie and getting to Stratford were two big accomplishments, as was our walk yesterday. Having to walk almost the whole way on pavement though aggravated my bursitis once again – walking through fields and pastures has been much easier. Another accomplishment was getting my carry-on bag packed with things to go back to the U.S. on our flight and am so happy that’s finished and ready to go. We found out that paying to check the bag to San Francisco cost less than paying $$$ for postage. We will also have to pay to check it from San Francisco to Portland, but even with that, it’s still less than postage would have been.
  • Looking forward to next week: We have nothing planned for next week except for a special dinner on Friday evening at the village cafe. They do a three-course dinner every Friday evening, and we have been saving that experience for our last week here. If we get some breaks in the weather this coming week we want to take more walks through the village – I don’t think we could ever grow tired of this place.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: The two beautiful days we enjoyed this past week allowed us to do a couple of things on our list as well as grocery shop, and they also cheered us up. We were also glad for the somewhat warmer temperatures yesterday that let us get out for a long walk. Brett is almost completely over his cold, thank goodness. It could have been worse, but between medication, lots of liquid, and staying warm he’s been able to get over it fairly quickly. I have thankfully stayed well.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We saved nearly £10 on our visit to Stratford by purchasing the Full Story tickets for the Shakespeare locations and using the senior discount. Other than having a simple lunch while we were there we didn’t spend anything else. We spent a bit more than usual when we went grocery shopping this past week but bought extra to get us into the coming week in case the weather is bad enough that we can’t go shopping tomorrow. I used up all the odd bits of vegetables in the refrigerator to make a big pot of chicken and vegetable soup, and we’ve eaten all other leftovers and not thrown away any food. Our daily spending average is and has stayed below our limit of $35/day.
  • Grateful for: We may be confused or unsure right now about what we’ll be doing after the middle of next year, but we are very, very thankful that we have choices. So many in the world, including the U.S., do not and we know we are fortunate to have several paths we can potentially take. I’m also exceedingly grateful for all the feedback we received from readers this week – it has helped us to refine our thoughts on what we should be looking at and thinking about as we go forward.
    Chobe National Park in Botswana
  • Bonus question: What are the top three places you still want to visit? For me, number one remains a visit to Botswana, in southern Africa, to visit the national parks and the Okavango Delta to see as many animals as possible. I’m still trying to figure out how we can do this but it may take a while. Numbers two and three on my list are Amsterdam and the Benelux countries, and Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Finland – I want to visit all of them!). Germany tops Brett’s list, but otherwise, he agrees with me about the second and third.
Trains no longer stop in Blockley, and there’s no longer a station building either. Where the station would have once sat was a good 1.5 miles out of town.

Yesterday we took what may have been our last “big” walk during our time here – a trip out to where the old Blockley Station used to stand. The skies were overcast, but the temperature was a bit warmer than it has been so the three miles was doable although we had to walk most of the way in the road as the paths on the side were too muddy or even underwater. Once again we discovered parts of Blockley we hadn’t seen before, from the village garden allotments to the cricket field to more beautiful stone houses. We imagined what it must have been like back in the day walking to and from the station to go shopping, or to school, or even to work at the mills. Back to the village from the station was uphill the whole way.

Empty and quiet now, the Blockley village garden allotments sit right outside the edge of town. We could see many vegetable plots and fruit trees, and there was a (now empty) stand outside the gate where produce is sold during the summer.

It’s almost hard to believe but this coming week will be our last full one in England, and ten days from today we’ll be up early and off to Moreton-in-Marsh station one last time to catch the train to Gatwick Airport for our (long) flight back to the U.S.

I hope everyone reading had a great week. I’ve seen several pictures of snow falling back in the U.S., and hopefully that’s a good (or at least an OK) thing for most people, although it seems rather early. Wishing for good things happening for everyone in the week ahead as well as good books, good food, and good friends!

The Luxury of Slow Travel

A side street in Lisbon, Portugal

What do you think of when you think of luxury travel?

Is it flying first class and having a big, comfortable seat with a footrest, one that reclines into a bed? Dining on real china with real silverware instead of having to use plastic everything? Receiving special treatment the airport, like being seated early and greeted with fresh coffee or a cocktail?

Is it being pampered in five-star lodgings with high thread-count linens, every amenity you could imagine, or a staff that knows your name and takes care of every whim?

Or is it taking the time at your destination to truly unwind and experience your location in more depth versus skimming the surface and racing from sight to sight or activity to activity?

While I have greatly enjoyed the first two aspects of luxury travel, over the past year I have come to realize that embracing slow travel was the most luxurious thing I had ever experienced. While we enjoyed our structured tour of India, and our train ride across Australia, embracing the ethos of slow travel and the opportunities to connect with a place and its rhythms, culture, food, and sights has made for our most memorable travel experiences, with the added benefits of costing us far less than it would otherwise and being easier on the environment.

A magical shot of St. Peter’s at dusk, captured as we walked back to our apartment one evening in Rome.

Our slow travel experiences didn’t mean we had to make or find the time to be in a place for a month or longer, although we were able to do that in a couple of places. But it did mean what the name says, that we slowed down, and didn’t feel like we had to try to do and see everything (especially on a rigid schedule) or eat everything, or try to fit every experience into our visit. Slow travel meant interacting with the local culture up close whenever possible, trying to overcome some of the language barriers that we encountered, and taking the time to notice and observe local customs. Slow travel for us was about making connections. All of this took place sometimes within the space of a few days all while visiting and experiencing some amazing sights along the way.

Street art can be found down alleys or off the main thoroughfares, but sometimes you have to look up to find it, like with this work in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Some of the ways we did this were:

  • Staying in homes and apartments through Airbnb versus staying in hotels.
  • Shopping for most of our food in local markets versus eating out all the time.
  • Using public transportation most of the time.
  • Not having a set schedule every day, or a list of things we had to see or do. For the most part we got up and got going when we were ready to start our day. And some days we did nothing but explore the neighborhood we were staying in, or stay home and read.
  • Adapting ourselves to local customs whenever possible, such as removing our shoes when entering a home in Japan (and then turning them to face out), or greeting shopkeepers and other workers in France with Bonjour! before any beginning business operation.
  • Not expecting people to speak English with us. If they could or wanted to that was great, but we never made it the expectation. We tried to learn how to at least say hello and thank you in the local language of every place we visited (and excuse me or pardon me if possible).
A fruit market in Italy

Time, whether long or short, can either be one’s nemesis or one’s ally when traveling, something that there’s never enough of or a luxury to be savored even if all one has is a few days. When the emphasis is on experience over sights, and quality over quantity, the time one has can become the ultimate luxury of travel. 

Minimalist Life, Simple Life, Happy Life

When we moved to Hawai’i back in 2014, we only shipped 4500 pounds of household goods over with us. We were ready for a simpler life, and during the four years we lived on Kaua’i we only added five small pieces of furniture, a washer and dryer, and not a whole lot more. It was enough.

Still, Brett and I often asked ourselves if we could make do with less. The answer was always no though, mainly because we still had two of our daughters living with us, and we were using everything we owned. However, when it came time to prepare for our last daughter leaving the nest, and for us to begin our Big Adventure, we began shedding items again and eventually got our possessions down to just 1500 pounds. No furniture other than two small side tables, one made from an antique hibachi and one from an antique Japanese kotatsu, and two small rugs made the cut to be put into storage back on the mainland. We sold it all.

As Brett likes to joke, these days we carry our net worth in our suitcases. While that’s not true, we do move around with very little these days. We are living a very stripped down, minimal life now, especially so this summer. Our Airbnb apartment is nicely decorated and has everything we need, up to and including a slow cooker and small hand mixer, but there are no extras, no frou-frous. We are living without a car as well, and have found that to be less hassle than we expected. Going with out a car has actually been quite freeing.

We love our life right now. We can’t get over how free and light we feel living with so little. There are no geegaws or tchotchkes to dust or maintain, no books to keep track of, no car insurance to pay or gas to buy. We’re producing less trash these day. We have a basic set of cookware and enough utensils, but our cooking is simpler these days and we eat less. There is a small set of dishes but enough that we usually can get away with running the dishwasher only every other day. All purchases, clothing included, are made with purpose, and after thought and discussion.

We are also not tied down these days with loads of obligations. While we miss our family and love spending time with them and our friends, our days and our time are for the most part our own for a change, with the freedom to decide what to do each day or even if we want to do anything at all.

The best thing though about our simple, minimalist life in Portland is that we’re getting to experience and contemplate how small we can live after we eventually settle down in our own place. We may not want all those things we thought we couldn’t live without when we left Hawai’i, although I suspect we will keep most of them. But maybe not. We can see ourselves living in a much smaller space than we first imagined, even a studio apartment, as Brett and I have learned this past year about how to carve out our own spaces. Being in a truly small place doesn’t scare us any more. Being able to live without owning a car would be the icing on the cake.

Less truly is more these days. 

Sunday Morning 6/23/2019: Week 6 in Portland

What a busy, crazy, mostly wonderful week we had!

Happy and proud Mom & Dad!
Our graduate – I caught this shot of Meiling as the grads were recessing out.
The Don Latarski Trio provided music for the reception following the ceremony. We know Don from the years of campouts we attended when the girls were little. He’s a professor of music (guitar) at the University of Oregon.

We departed for Eugene at a little after 7:00 in the morning on Monday, had an easy drive down, and arrived around 10:00 with one stop for coffee/tea in Albany. Parking near the UO campus was already a nightmare by then, but we eventually found a timed spot somewhat near to Meiling’s apartment. A little before noon we had to move the car again, but this time found a metered spot and gave ourselves enough time to attend her ceremony. The Department of Computer & Information Systems ceremony was lovely. A bagpiper led the graduates in, there were a couple of short speeches, those winning awards were recognized, and finally students were presented with their diplomas. The whole thing was over in a little less than an hour, a good thing because it was very sunny and quite hot, although thankfully there was a breeze from time to time. Meiling’s department graduated 113 students this year (although not all attended the department ceremony), but only 13 women, including graduate students. In spite of all the female computing genius characters on TV shows, associations like Girls Who Code, and so forth, CIS appears to still pretty much be a boys’ club, but hopefully the number of women in the field will continue to grow over time. After the students recessed (again to bagpipes) we were entertained with live music, with the lead guitarist an adoptive dad we knew through the campouts we used to attend every summer! There was also a lovely buffet provided for everyone. We mingled a bit but didn’t eat much so we could enjoy a post-graduation lunch with Meiling at her favorite spot, where we all ended up ordering breakfast for lunch. By late afternoon Brett and I were still feeling full, and tired, so we headed down to our hotel in Cottage Grove while Meiling got together with friends for the last time and finished up cleaning her apartment.

The Mosby Creek Covered Bridge, built in 1925, one of four we visited.
The interior architecture of the bridges was just as beautiful as the exteriors.

On Tuesday morning, before picking up Meiling, Brett and I drove a bit of the Cottage Grove Covered Bridge tour and visited four bridges. I had known there were a couple of them in the area, so was a bit surprised by how many there actually were. We picked up Meiling and her cat around 11:00, she turned in her keys, and we headed back to Portland where she rested at our apartment for a while. In the late afternoon we took her and Sophie to the airport (through horrific traffic), dropped off our rental car, got her and the cat checked in with the airline and said our goodbyes. She got bumped up to first class for her flight to New York (!), although she apparently fell asleep the minute she got into her seat and said she didn’t get to enjoy any of the amenities. She is now happily settling in to her new life in New York City!

Ready to head to New York with her beloved cat, Sophie! She’s wearing the lei we forgot to take along to Eugene for her graduation

On Wednesday afternoon I saw the dentist again for what was to be crown prep for the molar that broke last December. However, when she took off the temporary crown she discovered things were much worse than expected. There were some heroic actions that could be taken to save the tooth but they would have cost thousands of dollars and taken loads of time, so I made the decision to have the tooth extracted. She took care of the second filling while I was there (and discovered yet another cavity – no!), then made an appointment for me with an oral surgeon and early Thursday morning I had a second extraction done. This tooth was a big molar so not as easy an experience. On the plus side, the extraction costs less than a crown, and our insurance covers more for an extraction than a crown as well, but down the road I am going to have to get an implant. At least I have some time now to save up for that. I just got the first bill for the initial x-rays, comprehensive exam, two fillings, and first extraction: $504 after insurance, although insurance hasn’t paid for the second filling so really more like $350. It’s still awful, especially with another filling, the second extraction and then the lower bridge to come.

Later Thursday afternoon Brett and I headed back downtown to meet reader Pat, and to give her the obi she won in the first giveaway. Like us, Pat had previously lived in Portland, and we had a delightful time chatting for a couple of hours. I have always had the best experiences when meeting readers and this time was no exception.

On Friday I pretty much collapsed, so no Japanese and Rose Gardens again this week. My mouth still hurt quite a bit from the extraction that day and both Brett and I felt tired and worn out. So, we stayed in and read, relaxed and recuperated. I mostly did the same again yesterday, but Brett went his calligraphy class in the afternoon and we took a short hike when he got back. We don’t have any plans for today other than to take a nice, long walk in the forest – this tooth thing knocked me out and I’ve also now got a cold. Life is good though.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished with two more books last night: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone and Spearhead: An American Tank Gunner, His Enemy and a Collision of Lives in WWII. The second book is about a tank division stationed in Europe near the end of WWII. It’s been a fascinating book for two reasons: 1) although I have seen tanks operate in every war documentary, film or mini-series I’ve watched, I have never really had any idea of how they worked, the tactics of using them, and their vulnerabilities, and 2) the book also delves into the German side of tank warfare, and includes information and opinions from both soldiers and civilians, which makes the story all the more interesting. The best part though was the reunion at the end of the book of an American and a German tanker who had fought against each other – it was a wonderful finish to the book (they became good friends). The Tatooist of Auschwitz came off of hold this past week so that’s what I’m reading next as well as continuing to pour through the Cotswold guide book (I renewed it for another three weeks).
  • Listening to: Another quiet morning here, although both Brett and I are coughing quite a bit. It’s going to be another lovely Portland summer day so we plan to get outside later and enjoy it as later in the week rain is expected.
  • Watching: Brett and I finished the miniseries The Pacific, and then for something completely different have been watching Father Brown. It’s been fun seeing places around the village where we’ll be staying.
I’m looking forward to a big VERY low-carb Cobb salad tonight topped with Trader Joe’s green goddess dressing. YUM!
  • Cooking: My mouth is still a tiny bit sore today from the extraction, but getting better and I’ve already returned to eating regular foods. Because I had to go with fairly soft foods for the first couple of days Brett was eating leftovers and such, but tonight I’m going to put together the Cobb salads I had on the menu last week. Also on the menu this week will be CookDo mabo dofu, Polish sausages with sauerkraut, Scotch eggs, and a Friday evening chicken fajita pizza. We have a lot of food on hand that we need to use.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: It was a good week even with the surprise dental work, but just getting through it all took a lot of coordination, and there were still lots of regular chores, like the laundry, to fit in among everything else. We were able to book a Zipcar for two days in late July and made a reservation for a night at a wonderful B&B for a getaway out at the coast (we got the last available room at the B&B), something we wanted to do while we’re in Oregon this summer. I somehow managed to get my goals card completely filled in for the week – the only thing I missed was a walk on Friday. Even though it doesn’t feel like we walk very much some days, by the end of the day our tracker usually shows we’ve done over two miles so I’m happy with that. I have arrived at the end the first section in the kanji workbook and can now read over 40 words! I am getting ready to take the first big review test in the book, but that probably won’t happen until next week. It’s humbling to remember I’m still struggling with characters and words Japanese kids learn in the first grade.
We greatly enjoyed meeting Pat, winner of the obi giveaway. I think I look rather dopey though, like someone who just had a major tooth extraction a few hours earlier.
  • Looking forward to next week: We will have a less-busy week coming up, and I’m also excited about finally getting over to the Japanese Garden and the International Rose Test Garden. Brett starts a beginning Japanese conversation course at Portland Community College on Wednesday. Mostly I’m looking forward to not having a whole lot of stuff on our calendar.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Both Brett and I greatly enjoyed Meiling’s graduation ceremony – the smaller departmental gathering was so much nicer than having to sit through a giant all-school event like big universities traditionally hold. Our short drive through the area around Cottage Grove on Tuesday morning to see the covered bridges was delightful as well, especially with the beautiful weather and blue skies. Our meet-up with Pat on Thursday was great fun, and I hope we will be able to get together again some day. Not entirely sure having another tooth extracted was a good thing, but the procedure didn’t take too long and if it had to go, sooner was better than later. All three of the girls called me on Friday to see how I was doing, and they’re all having a good summer so far. YaYu has started getting out on her own – a big step for her – to visit places in Japan. She went to Harajuku one day this week and then to the maneki neko (lucky cat) temple another day. We’re very proud of her initiative as she’s the least adventurous of the three girls.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: 1) We thought we’d be eating out a lot in Eugene, but our affordable post-graduation brunch orders were so large that there were plenty of leftovers. Meiling took those with her and finished them off for her dinner and breakfast, and Brett and I were full enough that we skipped dinner and then ate the free breakfast at the hotel on Tuesday morning. 2) The rush-hour traffic was terrible when we set out to take the car back to the rental agency on Tuesday (even though we left more than an hour early), and we had no time to top off the gas before dropping off the car which cost us an additional $23. That was the more frugal choice though – bringing the car in late would have added an additional $67 to our bill. 3) We picked up 30 cents in pennies on the ground in front of a ticket machine at the Max station when we went over to the dentist on Wednesday – apparently someone discovered the machine would not take their pennies and dropped them all in disgust. 4) We ate all of our leftovers and didn’t throw out any food this past week. 5) I closed the Amazon Prime account so that I wouldn’t get charged following the free trial period. 6) We put $18.52 into the change/$1 bill bag – along with the week’s change I also discovered a small stash of $1 bills I had hidden away in my wallet!
I’m so grateful for opportunities this summer to enjoy Oregon’s beautiful scenery.
  • Grateful for: It’s difficult to pick any one thing this week as so many good things have happened and are happening. I have so much to be grateful for these days, including my children; my health (bad teeth and all); having good health and dental insurance; the opportunities we have this summer to enjoy Portland and other parts of Oregon and be close to friends for a few months; the time I have to read and relax these days; an abundance of good, healthy food; and our upcoming travel and opportunities for adventure. I am feeling especially blessed right now.
When I saw Eggs Benedict on the menu I knew that’s what I’d be having for our post-graduation brunch. I went with the smoked salmon, spinach and dilled hollandaise option. Meiling ate my ciabatta bread, and took the sweet potato fries for her dinner.
  • Bonus question: Do you have any “must order” items when you see them on a menu? Yes! Eggs Benedict are always a must order item for me. The restaurant we ate at in Eugene had ten different varieties of Eggs Benedict to choose from and they all sounded delicious so the decision of which one to choose was not easy. Other “must order” items for me have always been Reuben sandwiches, French dip sandwiches, or patty melts. If two or, heaven help me, all three appear on a menu I will do rock, paper, scissors to decide which one to have. Since I’m not eating starches this summer, the sandwiches have been easy to avoid so far, and in Eugene I asked them to leave the eggs off of the bread this time (which Meiling ate). Otherwise than these items I go with whatever on the menu looks good!

It’s almost hard for me to believe that we’ve already been in Portland for six weeks, and have two more full months to go. The time seems to be going very quickly here though. I’m also enjoying using the buses and trams more than I thought I would, and it’s been easy to reserve a car when we need one. I am especially enjoying living on the west side of the city, and being able to easily get down into downtown because Portland’s downtown is so pretty, easy to navigate and walk around in. I think if we ever came back to Portland we’d settle somewhere over here.

Here’s hoping all of you had a great week and are looking forward to the one coming up, that you got a lot accomplished, have a good book to read, and had lots of good things happen for you. Finally, don’t forget to enter the Kitchen Set Giveaway!