We’re in Mexico! (in spite of another wretched travel day)

The view from our front door: palm tree, flowers, and an orange tree again!

After some sad goodbyes to the girls throughout the day, Brett and I were packed and ready to leave Pennsylvania last Sunday night. We got a good night’s sleep, and woke up at 6:00 a.m. on Monday, ready to head back to Baltimore to turn in our car and get checked in for our afternoon flight to Toronto. The drive back to Baltimore was lovely this time, the complete opposite of our trip up to Philadelphia. There was little to no traffic, the scenery through Pennsylvania bucolic, and we arrived at the car rental return right on schedule. We had time for a leisurely lunch at the airport and were checked in for our flight approximately two hours before boarding. Heavy storms had been expected to pass through Baltimore, but although it was cloudy when we arrived a couple of hours later the sky was clear and there were nothing but blue skies as far as the eye could see. What could go wrong?

Plenty as it turns out. At 3:30, less than an hour before boarding, we received a notice that our flight had been delayed by an hour because of “technical” problems up in Toronto. Soon after, a second message arrived that the flight had been delayed for a second time and would now be departing two hours after the original flight time. Over the next five and a half hours we receive eight messages, each announcing a further delay, caused as it turned out by staffing issues in Toronto and a very inexperienced ground staff in Baltimore. We were finally boarded around 7:00 p.m. but sat on the plane for another hour while the staff tried to fix the tickets of six passengers they had screwed up earlier (they failed). We eventually arrived in Toronto at 10:20 p.m., more than six hours later than our scheduled arrival.

Our room at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel was beautiful and comfortable, and conveniently located to the airport, but we spent less than four hours there.

We had been told to expect possible long delays at Toronto airport both for arrivals (two to three hour waits to get through customs) and departures (two to three hour waits to get through security), but we sailed through immigration and were welcomed to Canada. Brett’s suitcase appeared quickly on the baggage carousel but mine was nowhere to be found. We eventually learned that was because the staff at Baltimore had checked my bag all the way to Mexico City but Brett’s only to Toronto! All I can say is thank goodness we went to look or Brett’s bag never would have made it to Mexico. We then headed the short distance to the Sheraton hotel only to find ourselves at the end of a line of over 50 people, all waiting to get a room for the night. After standing in line for over a half hour the manager came out and announced going forward only those with a reservation would be given a room. The line suddenly got very small and we were soon handed our key. We walked into our gorgeous room just after 1:00 a.m., the room where we had planned to get a good night’s sleep before heading to Mexico. We instead got a two-hour nap and a hot shower before leaving before 4:00 a.m. to recheck Brett’s suitcase and beat the long lines at security.

When we set out yesterday though our fortunes had changed, thank goodness, because we were now flying Business Class. We had a special check-in line and a special line through security so no waiting. We ate a light breakfast at the airport (bagels and coffee, purchased with the dining voucher we had been given at Baltimore by Air Canada), boarded on time, and had a very comfortable flight to Mexico City, which arrived on time. I got to watch my all-time favorite travel movie during the flight, Crazy Rich Asians (I’ve so far watched it 12 times on different trips), and we both got a little sleep. The line to get through immigration in Mexico City was long, but before long we were through and on our way up to San Miguel de Allende in a private van with a great driver. We were delivered to the door of our charming apartment by our driver and lovely host, then unpacked our pajamas, fell into bed, and slept for another 14 hours!

We awoke this morning to birdsong and a lovely view from our front doors, almost like the view from the apartment in Kaua’i! I’m enjoying my second cup of coffee, the washing machine is taking care of our first load of dirty travel clothes, and all is well. We’re heading out in a little while to check out our neighborhood and have some breakfast, as well as find a grocery store to stock up. But otherwise, today will be a day of rest and recuperation as we begin our time in San Miguel de Allende. We’re so happy to be here!

Just Plain Nuts

The title of this post is the only description you need to understand what’s going on with real estate on Kaua’i these days. There is a real estate bubble pretty much everywhere in the U.S., and mortgage rates are rising, but prices on our little island have now left the stratosphere and entered unknown territory.

This 320 square foot “studio” condo is priced at $315,000 ($984/square foot). There’s no kitchen, and the HOA is $1,372/month and covers electricity, cable, wireless Internet, water, and trash. The resort does have an amazing swimming pool and lovely beach, but it’s basically a hotel room for sale.

The lowest priced condos on the island are selling for around $250K right now. That’s for a one bedroom, one bath, 640 square feet place in a lovely resort setting. That sounds affordable . . . except the monthly HOA fee is $1,822! And, the condos are leasehold property, not fee simple, which means there’s a small monthly leasing fee to pay as well. The lowest HOA I could find on the island was $431/month, but that was for a 720 square foot condo (selling for $350K) in a complex with no amenities.

This 1100 square foot kit home in Hanalei, with no yard and in very close proximity to two other homes, has an asking price of $2,495,000.

Buying a home here versus a condo might save you a ridiculous monthly HOA fee, but the current median home price on Kaua’i is $1.3 million. The lowest priced home for sale on the island is $480K for a 1,100 square foot leasehold home in the Hawaiian Homelands (blood quantum requirements must be met). The home pictured below, 916 square feet on a 10,000 square foot lot (located a very short distance up the road from us), is priced at $675,000. Out of 307 homes currently for sale on the island, there are only ten houses selling for that price or less.

It’s just plain nuts. And yet, people are buying property on the island hand over fist, not only to live here permanently, but as vacation homes and investment properties as well. Purchasers are remodeling like crazy too. It’s frankly mind boggling the amount money being spent.

A home bought in the $500K range in 2014, the year we first arrived on Kaua’i, is now most likely worth a million or more, or at least very close to it. Locals who bought their homes back in the 80s or 90s in the $50K – $60K ballpark are now holding millions worth of value in their property. There is also a building boom happening on the island as land is sold and divided, some of it given to children to build their homes with other lots sold as people cash in. Our friends told us the other day of a “view lot” on their street that had recently sold, with about 30 feet of flat land from the street before dropping down a steep cliff. The sale price was $300,000.

It doesn’t take much imagination either to guess what rental prices are like these days. We know we were very, very fortunate to find this place when we did. The owner is asking nearly $200 more per month for our apartment than what we’ve been paying . . . and will easily get it.

Could it all go bust? Of course – a deep recession, a huge storm, or some other unforeseen issue could cause housing prices to plummet. But for now, property owners and home buyers with money to burn are riding high and it truly seems not even the sky’s the limit any more.

Beyond Plan Z

We did not see this coming. At all. It was not anywhere on our list of future or possible plans. But . . . life happens. And, family comes first.

As planned, we will be heading to Mexico after YaYu’s graduation, but in early July we will depart San Miguel de Allende for:

Our daughter-in-law works for the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and toward the end of last month was offered a two-year posting at the consulate in Nashville. It’s a major promotion for her and, as she says, her “dream job.” However, our son cannot relocate because of his position and the nature of his work in Japan, so they asked if Brett and I would be willing to put our plans on hold and move to Nashville for the next two years as support for M and our granddaughter, K, who will accompany her.

We didn’t hesitate to say yes.

Our grandson, who is now in middle school, will stay in Japan with his dad. They plan to travel to Nashville 2-3 times a year, during our grandson’s school breaks, and our DIL and granddaughter will travel back to Japan at least once a year.

Everything is changing rapidly and plans are being drawn up, reworked, etc. We are being reimbursed by our son for our UK Airbnb deposits and our plane tickets to England. We’re starting the process of choosing and buying a car online to pick up once we arrive in Tennessee, and we’ll again be buying some basic pieces of furniture once we get there as well as other necessities. Instead of London, we’ll be flying from Mexico City to Boston to rent a minivan and pick up our stored things from WenYu to take along to Nashville. We don’t know yet whether we’ll be sharing housing with M and K or getting our own place. M will receive a housing stipend but it’s unknown at this time if she’ll be allowed to use that for shared housing with us or not. There are of course lots and lots of other unknowns as well but details are getting filled in as they come up.

Full-time travel for the Occasional Nomads is off the table for the time being. Following our time in Tennessee, we think we’ll either move to a permanent location in New England or do one last long road trip around the U.S. interspersed with shorter international visits. In the meantime, our priority for the next two years will be to help and support our daughter-in law and granddaughter – travel can wait.

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (3/6 – 3/12)

In 1975 I read The Save Your Life Diet: High-Fiber Protection From Six of the Most Serious Diseases of Civilization by David Reuben, M.D. To say it was life changing would be an understatement. I have required surgery for conditions partially caused by a low-fiber diet and this book had a huge impact on how and what I ate going forward. I haven’t always followed it religiously, but since I read this book I am conscious about getting enough fiber every day from a variety of sources, and I’m convinced fiber is the unsung hero of a healthy body and a healthy life.

High fiber breakfasts: FiberOne cereal with blueberries and whole grain pancakes with a tablespoon of syrup.

The benefits of fiber in the diet are many. Adequate fiber helps prevent appendicitis and colon cancer. It can control diabetes as fiber slows down digestion and keeps blood sugar levels steady. Fiber can help lower cholesterol as fiber recycles cholesterol and produces a medicine-like substance that reduces the amount of cholesterol our bodies make. Getting enough fiber in your diet can help with weight loss and and weight maintenance because a fiber-rich diet makes you feel full longer. Fiber from whole grains also helps increase and maintain “good” bacteria in the colon, and crowd out the “bad” bacteria, keeping the digestive tract in balance.

Last week was all easy cooking for me with not a lot of preparation or time spent over the stove. In other words, we have pretty much moved to convenience foods most the time. We’re careful with our portions though, and stick with meatless and healthier options. I used up the last of my rice supply so the rice cooker has been packed up for storage (because I don’t want to buy another rice cooker ever again) and going forward we’ll be eating pre-cooked Japanese-style rice that’s reheated in the microwave.

Sunday: Margherita pizza

Monday: Chili shrimp; cilantro rice; stir fried peppers

Tuesday: Fried plant-based chick’n tenders; mashed potatoes; country gravy; green beans

Wednesday: Tofu burgers; rice; cucumber spears

Thursday: Stouffer’s macaroni & cheese; green beans

Friday: Mini pizzas with pepper & onions

Saturday: Vegan corn dogs; stir-fried green peppers; cucumber

Desserts this week have been Costco red velvet cupcakes (yum!), Pepperidge Farm coconut cake (which honestly has no right to taste as good as it does), and some more mochi ice cream.

Strawberry and mango mochi ice cream

We’re planning to pick up some sushi at Costco next week, and I’m going to make risotto once more in my InstantPot, but otherwise we’ll mostly use up what’s already in the freezer and refrigerator:

  • Sushi
  • Cacio e pepe
  • Zaru soba & hiyayakko
  • Chick’n pot pie
  • Mini pizzas
  • Tofu & pepper stir fry
  • Shrimp risotto

Ironwood (casuarina) trees line the Maha’ulepu trail and their roots stretch out into the trail, sometimes appearing as snakes slithering through the sand, but also creating “stairways” between different elevations.

We got in four great hikes together last week and Brett got in two more while I stayed on the beach with our stuff. Out and back on the trail to our turnaround point takes around 45 or so minutes, not counting short stops to check for sea creatures swimming by and to watch waves crash against the rocks. Total distance for our hike is 2.5 miles at a pace of three miles per hour. It’s a bit slower pace than we used to walk at the park but we’re walking on sand for the most part, climbing over rocks and roots, and up and down hills so it’s a bit more strenuous than walks ever were at the park. At the turnaround we hydrate and share a small snack before heading back. The reason for the early turnaround is that rest of the trail is very rocky and uneven and always causes my bursitis and foot to flare up – it just isn’t worth it.

Our view at the turnaround

Singing the Curly-Hair Blues

I have curly hair. Very, very curly hair actually, with my curls rated somewhere between 3B and 3C. That rating means I have corkscrew curls loose enough to put my finger through but a few tighter ones in places.

My naturally curly hair used to be the bane of my existence, or at least it was from middle school onward, when long, straight hair was the fashion. However, my hair grew curlier and curlier with each year. I chemically straightened my hair, ironed it, or used other heating tools to try and get the straight look I craved (it’s a miracle I still have hair). For years I slept with giant 3- or 4-inch rollers on my head at night or made a big braid if I wanted waves, but no matter what I did, a few minutes after I stepped outside all was lost and I would usually end up with a fuzzy puffball on my head. When others said (and still say) they wished they had curly hair like mine I would laugh and say “no you don’t.” Curly hair is always the boss and does whatever it wants in spite of all your dreams, plans, and efforts. Every day with curly hair has the potential to be a very bad hair day.

Curly hair also brings along with it an issue of finding someone who knows how to cut it properly. I won’t go into how many bad haircuts I’ve had over the years except that they are legion. I wore my hair short-short for many years just because it was the easiest style to explain to a stylist and not have to worry about getting a bad cut. It’s been very daring of me to grow my hair out here on Kaua’i because of the humidity, but with the help of some good curl cream it’s been going pretty well.

One of my big headaches when we traveled before was finding a stylist who specialized in cutting/styling curly hair. In the U.S. I look for Deva Curl salons, where stylists are trained to work with curly hair. But overseas? And with the language issue? Let’s just say I never got a haircut while we were out of the U.S.

However, through the miracle of Google I have found curly hair specialists in Strasbourg, Oxford. and Edinburgh, and even one in Tokyo, although cuts at the salon there start at around $150, an amount I would honestly be happy to pay if I need a cut. I haven’t checked Mexico yet, but I’m sure I can find a stylist there as well. I also haven’t researched other places around the world as we’ve only planned our travels through a Tokyo stay at the end of the year, but I now know salons and stylists for curly hair are out there. I plan to get my hair cut before we leave Pennsylvania (have already located a stylist), probably let it grow out in Strasbourg, and then get it cut again after we arrive in Oxford.

I’m taking along plenty of curl product in my suitcase this time too, enough to last until I can find products for curly hair locally. I will say that styling my curly hair these days is a piece of cake compared to earlier efforts: a quarter-sized dab of curl cream rubbed through my wet hair and finger styled and I’m good to go.

The curly-haired blues is definitely a first-world problem, but it is a problem. Thankfully my days of craving straight hair are over, and there are products out there to make life with curly hair easier, as well as trained stylists who know what they’re dealing with when they see a head of curls. I just need to put in the effort to find them, and so far I’m off to a good start.

So What’s Plan B?

We always travel with a back-up plan and with COVID’s presence in the planning this time we’ve felt we needed more than one plan depending on which way the wind might blow. Which plan would be B and which one would be C went back and forth for several months and we have never really decided on an order – both have multiple pros and cons. And, during all our deliberations and discussions we stayed patient, things calmed down with COVID, and we will be flying to France as planned in May following YaYu’s graduation.

Now, with the invasion of Ukraine and potential threats posed for Europe, we once again have had to come up with an alternative plan if travel to France becomes untenable or there are too many unknowns.

Our first Plan B way back when had us moving to Seattle and renting an apartment there. We picked Seattle for several reasons: it’s located halfway between Japan, where our son is, and New England, where the girls are, with direct flights to both locations. There are good healthcare resources in Seattle, good public transportation (no car purchase would be needed; we would use Zipcar like we did during our summer in Portland), and lots of other things we need and want in a permanent location. On the negative side, and these were big negatives for us, the cost of living is very high and we were not sure about living again with the gloomy winter weather. We decided it might be best to have another option.

Another one of the big downsides to settling in Seattle was that we would be settled. It would mean buying furniture again, and building a life there, and we were not sure we’re ready to do that right now, especially after planning and getting ready to travel full time again. So, we began to think that maybe we could travel full time around the U.S. We could buy a car (a Prius) and drive around to different locations and stay in Airbnbs like we do elsewhere in the world, or we could get an RV of some sort, either a camper van or a trailer and travel that way. We got very excited about Boho camper vans for a while, but eventually realized a camper van was just too small for full-time travel and also a big commitment. So, we looked at several trailers but they were too much of a commitment at this stage of our lives as well. Also, RV living is really not our style so we went back to the Prius/Airbnb option.

Both the above plans have been moved down the list. Our current Plan B has us going to Mexico for a few months instead of France as the airline we’re flying to France also flies to Mexico, and we could change our destination without too much disruption and no loss of funds (no change fees and the Mexico flights are less than the ones to Paris). We will lose what we paid for our first month in France, but it’s a sacrifice we’re willing to make to stay safe.

We hope to follow our original plan and head to Strasbourg for three months followed by stays in Oxford and Edinburgh, and then hopefully heading back over to Tokyo. We have until April 18 to make a decision. Frankly, if we had to decide now we would be going to Mexico.

By the way, working through these plans, evaluating all the plusses and minuses, greatly helped us organize our thoughts about where we’ll eventually settle when our traveling days are over. New England (Massachusetts or Maine) has landed at the top of our list. Winters are brutal there but WenYu reminded us at Christmas that, “the sun comes out a lot. It isn’t gloomy and overcast for weeks on end” like the Pacific Northwest, and she and Meiling have come to love the winter season. We have no plans to settle there any time soon, but we’ve decided that’s where we’ll go.

Tanned, Rested, and Ready to Write Again

Our happy place

After a month away I’m ready to write again. I did a lot of thinking about whether I wanted to return to the blog, and if I wanted to start up the Sunday morning post again if I did. It’s always been the most popular post each week, but had grown to the point that it took a lot of time to write. I had also grown very tired of taking pictures of our meals every evening. But, Sunday Morning will be back, with a few small changes, and Monday’s Staying Healthy post will be back as well. Otherwise, I’ve decided to write only when I feel like it and have something to say. That could mean several posts in a week, or maybe none other than the Sunday post, but I want to enjoy the process again and not have it become a chore.

So what did we do for the last month?

  • I don’t really tan, but Brett and I got in a LOT of beach days, going at least two, sometimes three times a week up until the last week of February, when it became cool and windy again. The weather was glorious and we made the most of it. We spent around three to four hours at the beach each time – it was wonderful.
  • We continued to hike at least four days each week at a minimum, mainly on the Maha’ulepu Trail in Poipu. We thought about going back up to the park one day, but looked at each other and said, “nope” and headed to the trail. Kukuiolono Park was a fantastic walking venue for us, but we realized that we were finally too bored with it to go back. The ocean views from the Maha’ulepu have yet to disappoint and we’ve gotten in a LOT of whale watching during our hikes. We’ve also spotted turtles and large manta rays off shore a few times, and once saw a ray in a fight with a shark!
The pantry is pretty empty these days.
  • We’ve been doing a good job of cleaning out our pantry, and our shopping trips have become very minimal as well. We only have three more Not-So-Big shops left on the island before we depart and they will get smaller each time. I’ve only had a large frying pan and one saucepan to cook with and have done fine with just those two pieces. The condo we’ll be staying in before we depart only has a microwave, a toaster, and a coffee maker so our meals there will be very simple, and we’re starting to plan and put things away to take along for that stay.
  • I had to have major dental work done in February when an old bridge (22 years old) collapsed and needed to be replaced. While I was waiting for the new bridge, one of the teeth holding a temporary bridge began causing a lot of pain after the temporary broke not once but twice. I was afraid I was going to need a root canal on top of everything else, but thankfully that wasn’t necessary. The new bridge was very expensive all on its own (thank goodness for dental insurance!). In spite of the cost, I feel fortunate to have had the replacement happen here instead of outside the country. We are really good to go medical-wise now. Brett got his new glasses, all our prescriptions have been refilled and emergency 90-day supplies ordered, and all OTC meds we’re taking along have been acquired.
  • I closed my Etsy shop the second week of February. I had just one sale in the three weeks preceding, and decided this was as good a time as any to shut it down. The remaining hashioki (less than 50) will go out at our yard sale and anything left over after that will be donated to the thrift store. My Etsy venture was far more successful than anything I imagined and I accomplished more and made more than I imagined as well.
The first round of packages
  • Everything we’re keeping has been packed and the first 14 packages are on their way to Massachusetts. Postage has been expensive, but still far, far, far less than what we would have paid otherwise to have it all professionally shipped to the east coast. Most of our furniture has been sold or will be listed next week. The car will be listed for sale in early April, and we’ll have a yard sale for our remaining things the last full weekend in April.
  • Our flight to Paris has now changed four times (!!) since we purchased tickets, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it get changed at least once more before we depart, especially with all that’s going on right now in Eastern Europe. We’re watching the situation carefully there and will decide sometime next month whether it’s safe for us to go to France or whether it’s time to activate Plan B.

We stayed busy these past weeks, got a lot done, but best of all I feel rested, relaxed and ready to get back to writing once again!

Sunday Morning 12/26/2021: The Day After

There were no sunset views this past week, but the weather brought us lots of rainbows.

Good morning! Aloha kakahiaka!

New travel bags for the Occasional Nomads!

Meiling and WenYu departed yesterday morning with heavy bags filled with things we had been storing for them and Christmas goodies. We had a wonderful Christmas celebration on Christmas Eve, opening presents in the early afternoon followed by a Zoom call with our son and family. There were lots of gifts exchanged this year but all are useful and wanted. Brett got his beloved t-shirt, ball cap, and socks, but also some other clothing for travel and a back-up voltage adapter. I received a new Kindle and case from Meiling (a happy surprise!), and three pairs of silver earrings and some other travel goodies – both of us are now fully provisioned and ready to go. The girls also gave Brett and me two large personalized Occasional Nomads canvas bags from L.L. Bean, perfect for food shopping and as an under-seat bag on flights. YaYu will be getting her (early) graduation and birthday gifts from us next week, and along with the cash and gift cards she received for Christmas will have enough to purchase the new phone of her dreams (her old one is barely hanging on) so she is a happy girl, and Meiling and WenYu got several items off their lists and went home happily supplied as well. We gave each girl a big box of Hawaii/Kaua’i treats and will mail WenYu and Meiling’s to them this week, and YaYu’s right before she heads back to school.

The clutter grew as the week went along – the table looks surprisingly empty to me in this picture!

The apartment feels empty now with Meiling and YaYu gone. We were very crowded in our small space, and there were bags, boxes, and constant clutter everywhere, but it felt so good to be together again. We fell back into our old rhythms easily and got along well the entire time. Somehow everyone got to use the bathroom when necessary, got a shower every day, had a place to sit and eat, and everything went smoothly. YaYu is back on the sofa now and has put away her stuff so things once again feel a bit more normal, but I miss our crowd (probably another week of those conditions though and we all would have snapped).

Although we never got to the beach because of the weather and cool temperatures, the girls said they got to see and do everything else they wanted on the island, and eat all the local specialities they had craved including Spam musubi, Pono market fried chicken, Puka dogs, poke bowls, and breakfast at the Tip Top. They also enjoyed mom’s cooking every evening and eating some favorite meals again, and appreciated having mom and dad do their laundry, and taking care of other tasks for them, if only for a few days. We were happy to do it all for the time they were here but admit to being grateful we don’t have to do it full time any more.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished The Death of Mrs. Westaway, and thought that would be the end of my year of mystery and suspense, but I still have a few on hold that will be showing up very soon, so last year’s theme will be continuing for a few weeks more. In the meantime, I am getting started on Thoreau’s Walden to be followed by Civil Disobedience.
  • Listening to: I’m enjoying a very quiet morning after all the hustle and bustle of the past week. YaYu is still asleep on the sofa so Brett and I have been tiptoeing around – I’ve never heard him put away the dishes so quietly! It’s quiet outside as well with only a soft breeze blowing, but still quite cool with (more) rain expected later today.
  • Watching: We watched lots of random stuff with the girls last week including the new-ish Disney movie, Luca (loved it!); almost all of the new Dexter series (the final two episodes will be released in the next two weeks); a game show that involves sword making (weird but interesting); Love Hard, a cute Christmas movie on Netflix; Love, Actually with WenYu – last year was the first time we both missed it because we always watch together; and Home Alone and Elf. I watched White Christmas last night to finish off the season, and also started watching a new (creepy) series on Netflix with YaYu, You.
  • Happy we accomplished this past week: 1) The girls’ sorting continued and several bags were taken to the thrift store. 2) We all somehow managed to live together in our tiny apartment for more than a week without any arguments or hard feelings, with all of us chilling about the stuff that normally makes us nuts (in my case, clutter). 3) Brett and I firmed up a schedule for what will be sold and/or shipped to WenYu for storage next year. Up first, toward the end of January, will be the market umbrella, the sake jug lamp (it turned out to be too heavy to ship), my All-Clad cookware, and our teak table and chairs (Brett and I have been eating at the coffee table and that’s worked out fine for us). The first things being sent to WenYu for storage will be our Christmas things, the art work we’re keeping, and three boxes of pottery. 4) I had one small Etsy sale, a pleasant surprise. 5) Allie the cat was reunited with her favorite girl!
Reunited!
  • Looking forward to next week: Hopefully there will be better weather so we can get back to walking regularly. I’m looking forward to having less stuff/clutter all over the place, and letting YaYu do more of the cooking.

Breakfast at the Tip Top Cafe

  • Thinking of good things that happened: 1) We had an absolutely marvelous Christmas week with the girls. Every minute of their stay was perfect and WenYu and Meiling are already missed more than I thought possible. 2) We had an amazing breakfast at the Tip Top Cafe last Thursday; the girls ordered their favorites of oxtail soup, fried rice, and a big bento plate, and Brett and I had yummy banana pancakes. 3) The Zoom call with our son and family on Christmas Eve (Christmas Day in Japan) was also wonderful. We couldn’t get over how grown up and big our grandkids are now! They spent their grandparent gift money on Legos and a Paw Patrol set and were excited to show them off to us later that day.

Together for Christmas this year, one way or another.

  • Thinking of frugal things we did: 1) We bought what we thought was a heavy, full-size suitcase for WenYu at the thrift store for $12 and discovered a matching carry-on bag inside (which she didn’t need). We’ll use it to take some of YaYu’s things to her when we go to Pennsylvania in May. 2) With the full-size suitcase from the thrift store Brett was able to get all of WenYu’s things, including her mini-Strat guitar and amplifier, into two suitcases for her flight home. Meiling and WenYu upgraded their seats on their return flight for $40 (each) so WenYu only had to pay $40 to check her second bag. The total for getting all her stuff back to Massachusetts, including the cost of the suitcase, ended up at $92 versus the hundreds it would have been to mail them or ship via UPS. Meiling was able to get all the things she kept into her one big suitcase and carry-on. 3) We bought three tomatoes (that we had forgotten to buy the week before), one can of tomato paste (which thought we had it but didn’t), a box of oranges at Costco, a tank of gas; breakfast at the Tip Top, a lilikoi pie, and WenYu’s suitcase and that was all! 4) We put $2.43 into the change/$1 bill bag. 5) There were very few leftovers this past week and those were always eaten the next day, with no food wasted or thrown away.
  • Adding up the things we sold: I sold one hashioki on Christmas Eve. The total going into my travel account next week will be $3.32.
  • Grateful for: Brett and I are beyond thankful for the 10 days we got to spend with WenYu and Meiling, and eight days with all three of the girls together – we have missed them so much and it was fun to see them interacting with each other again. We’re grateful that all three girls are healthy, vaccinated (and either boosted or getting it done next week), have good jobs or in YaYu’s case, working toward educational goals, and that Meiling and WenYu are in happy, supportive, long-term relationships. We couldn’t ask for more and feel very blessed.
One of our favorite scenes from Love, Actually: “I hate Uncle Jamie!”
  • Bonus question: What’s your favorite holiday movie? I have three favorites: White Christmas, Love Actually, and Home Alone which still makes me laugh out loud. Love, Actually is at the top of my list although I know many think it’s an absolutely awful movie. WenYu and I have always loved it and the ensemble cast, but Meiling and YaYu left the room when we put it on. I finally got around to watching Elf for the first time last year and it’s another must watch for me now. Die Hard is NOT a Christmas movie in my opinion, and I’ve only watched It’s A Wonderful Life twice in my life (good but twice was enough) and I’ve never seen A Christmas Story.

The girls and I had a conversation last week about marriage when Meiling asked why their dad and I had gotten married so young (I was 25 and Brett was 27!). WenYu and Meiling are in that age range now, and are in long-term, serious relationships, but see no need to get married and feel that they’re too young (YaYu says she doesn’t want to get married). I explained that for their dad and me, besides being in love, it was also about getting me/us qualified for military benefits, including health insurance, commissary privileges, housing, etc. We didn’t think of ourselves as “too young,” and both of us had been previously married and knew what we were getting into. To them though it still seemed like I was marrying “to get benefits,” which was a poor reason in their minds. However, when I mentioned I knew women that had gotten married and had children in their teens and that felt too young to me I was told I was being judgmental! The whole thing was a great adult conversation, and although the generational gap between us is large, and yes, times have changed, it was interesting and important to hear their thoughts on the topic (for the record, I am in absolutely no hurry to see any of our daughters get married).

That’s a wrap for what was a wonderful week at Chez Aloha. I hope everyone (who celebrates Christmas) had a wonderful week and holiday celebration as well. We turn now to the end of the year and the month coming up as well as spending time with YaYu, who will be with us until near the end of January. Wishing all a great post-holiday week!

Staying Healthy: Eating & Exercise (12/12 – 12/18)

The meat-a-thon has begun! It hasn’t been as bad as I thought it might be, and Brett and I have watched our portions carefully, but after only a few days of including meat we’ve decided we like our meat-free ways better and will be returning once the girls have returned to their homes/school. We continue to be careful about portion sizes, etc. but everything just feels heavier (to us). Eggs have also been added back into the mix, but with two of our three daughters lactose intolerant, dairy other than small amounts of cheese hasn’t been making much of an appearance. The big exception was macaroni and cheese, which we all love, but precautions are taken before it’s eaten, and our portions were small.

We’ve been bingeing TV shows with the girls, and I’ve been making snacks to enjoy while we watch. So far we’ve had chips & salsa, chips & guacamole, charcuterie, and apples with cream cheese dip (8 ounces cream cheese, 1/2 cup brown sugar, and 1 bag of Heath toffee chips. Blend and let sit for 1/2 hour before serving with chilled apple slices – delicious!). I have indulged a little, but most of it is stuff I can pass on – a bite or two and I’m done. The girls could still eat us out of house and home though – oh to be young again, eat what I want, and not gain weight!

Brett and I finished cleaning out the freezer and refrigerator at the beginning of last week and then I went back on serious kitchen duty cooking favorites for the girls. It wasn’t always easy in our tiny kitchen with our tiny stove, but I went in each time with a plan and everything turned out okay.

Sunday: Lentil soup; toasted cheese sandwiches

Monday: Spaghetti with plant-based ‘meat’ sauce; roasted peppers

Tuesday: Mini pizzas with roasted vegetables

Wednesday: Broccoli & tofu stir fry with spicy peanut sauce

Thursday: Italian sausage & pasta in garlic wine sauce

Friday: Ham; macaroni & cheese; sautéed green beans

Saturday: Chinese 3-color salad

Other than s’mores made over a fire in our fire pit last Thursday, we’ve each been enjoying a thin slice of Costco’s chocolate mousse-filled cake for dessert every evening.

We’re enjoying more family favorites next week, and will finish up next Friday evening with Mississippi pot roast, mashed potatoes, and green beans for our Christmas Eve dinner. We will continue to finish off any leftovers each day (if there are any), and use up what we have on hand.

  • Mississippi pot roast
  • Cheesy black bean bake nachos
  • Chili shrimp, lumpia, and potstickers
  • Mabo tofu
  • Italian sausages; risotto
  • One pot pasta with ham & broccoli
  • Ham fried rice

We got off to a good start this week with our exercise. Monday’s weather was perfect for walking – clear skies and a stiff, cool breeze – and we did four and half miles at the park. Tuesday was our Big Shop and between Costco, Walmart, and Times Market we walked two and a half miles (and it was as exhausting as ever). We got a surprise on Wednesday though when we woke up to a message from Meiling that their flight from Phoenix to Lihue was arriving three hours earlier than expected (schedule changed at the last minute in their favor), right when we had planned to be walking! We figured we could skip a day of walking to pick up our daughters. Late Thursday Brett and I did a perimeter walk with WenYu and found 56 golf balls! WenYu found a lot of them, but she was mostly impressed with the scenery up at the park. We were all feeling very tired on Friday after lots of sorting, etc. at home and decided to skip our walk, and then on Saturday the girls got back later than expected from a hike and along with rain threatening we decided once again to stay home. So, only three day of walking this week – we need to pick it up next week!

Sunset walk at Kukuiolono Park on Thursday and our golf ball finds (they looked much better after being washed)

The girls Keep telling me I am tiny. I don’t feel tiny but Meiling says that’s because I suffer from dysmorphia and a poor body image (true). It’s a bittersweet assessment for me though. I’m happy that my diet and exercise efforts are noticeable, but at the same time I remember that each time I saw my mom as she aged she grew smaller and tinier in my eyes. However, when I think about my mom at my age she was still alert, active, and traveling the world, so I’m going with that image instead of her shrinking.

Sunday Morning 12/19/2021: Having a Simply Wonderful Time

We caught a beautiful sunset up at Kukuiolono Park on Thursday evening.

Good morning! Aloha kakahiaka!

Current chaos in the living room (we had it somewhat organized a couple of hours later).

Brett and I are two happy parents right now, with all three of our girls here. We’ve been having a great time together whether it’s watching TV, going on walks, or sorting through their things. The house is in a crazy state right now, with stuff all over the place, but I refuse to freak out because I know it’s only for a short time and not worth worrying about. We rearranged some of the furniture in the living room before they arrived which helped give us a bit more space, and there have been no complaints from Meiling and WenYu about sleeping on the sofa (YaYu won the draw and got the inflatable queen-size mattress for her bed). YaYu is still decompressing after a stressful finals week and then the long flight home, but she’s glad to be home and spending time with her sisters again.

Experience has taught us that when it comes to travel plans, we can almost always count on things changing. The girls’ flight on Wednesday arrived three hours ahead of the original schedule, the one we were still working off of. If Meiling had not messaged us that morning with the new flight schedule we would not have been at the airport to meet them! YaYu’s flight also arrived over a half hour early. On Thursday morning I woke up to a message from Air Canada telling us that instead of leaving for Paris in the late afternoon as planned, our flight has been re-scheduled and will be departing at 10:00 am, meaning we have to change our plans and spend the night before somewhere near the Baltimore airport. The new schedule also has us arriving in Paris the day before our Airbnb reservation, so that’s something else we’re going to have to figure out, whether to stay overnight in Paris, or go out to Strasbourg and spend one night in a hotel there. We’re not doing anything now because we know things will probably change again before we go, but we’re definitely going to have to stay on our toes.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I am still slowly reading The Death of Mrs. Westaway and am about two-thirds of the way through. I’m pretty busy these days with other things and don’t get to read until late at night before falling asleep, so sometimes all I get through is one chapter. I wasn’t sure at first whether I was going to like this book or not but it’s grown on me the further into it I get, and more addicting.
  • Listening to: Brett’s making chocolate chip mini waffles in the kitchen, the girls are listening to a podcast and chatting, and the wind is blowing strongly outside (and it’s cold!). I’ve got a hot cup of coffee though and am in my happy place.
  • Watching: Brett and I were watching Home Before Dark, and another series, Chestnut Man, (I read the book earlier this year) before the girls arrived but those are now on hold. Last Sunday we watched The Elephant Queen, a beautifully filmed documentary about a group of female African elephants and their leader. If you have Apple+ streaming, I highly recommend it! We’re now watching random stuff with the girls but we started bingeing the new Dexter series last night (on Showtime).
Post-shopping, our little refrigerator is stuffed! Getting things in and out is like doing a jigsaw puzzle.
  • Happy we accomplished last week: We had two big things that needed to get done last week: a BIG shop, and picking up the girls – mission accomplished for both! The shopping trip was positively exhausting this time though. The piles of the girls’ things we had kept for them are growing smaller because of their efforts but there’s still quite a bit to get through. Meiling and WenYu have each already filled one giant suitcase with their stuff. We visited Old Town Koloa this past week, and Meiling brought foot masks for the two of us to do together. Those were weird.
  • Looking forward to next week: 1) We’re hoping for some good weather so we can get out to hike, and hopefully go to the beach at least once with the girls. 2) We also plan to go to the Tip Top Cafe one morning this week for breakfast (probably Tuesday). Otherwise, we’re all happy spending time together at home and always can find plenty to do to stay busy. 3) We’ll be doing a Zoom call with our son and family on Friday afternoon, before our Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas celebration.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: 1) I had seven sales on Etsy (small ones), every one a complete surprise as I didn’t expect to have any sales last week. 2) None of the stores during our Big Shop were overcrowded, nor was Old Koloa Town or the Kukui’ula Market last Thursday, which was also surprising – we expected to have to deal with hoards of people. Kukui’ula felt like a ghost town it was so empty. Everything will probably get crazy this week though. 3) The wind was mild enough on Thursday evening that Meiling, WenYu, Brett, and I could enjoy a fire outside and make s’mores. 4) Our orange tree is loaded this year, maybe with three times as many oranges as there were last year. The tree produces super sweet oranges, and they should be ready to start picking by the end of January.
So many oranges this year!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: 1) Our Big Shop was a BIG one this week but we somehow managed to keep it under control and actually finished under what we budgeted. We stuck to our list like glue, and found everything except a box of graham crackers and some carrots, and I forgot to get a box of pasta and 3-4 apples which I picked up later at Big Save. Every inch of our little refrigerator and freezer has been filled to overflowing with food. 2) I used three of my Delta gift cards to purchase tickets for our flights (exit row Comfort+ seating) to Baltimore next May. The price for the tickets was low enough that I still have enough Swagbucks left over to purchase a $500 PayPal deposit into our travel account. 3) We put $6.06 into the change/$1 bill bag, leftover from the Big Shop and lunch out on Thursday. 4) We ate all of our leftovers and didn’t throw out any food.
  • Adding up what we sold last week: I sold 15 hashioki from the Etsy shop and $75.99 will be going into our travel account, $75.99 more than I expected this past week. My profit margin is somewhat low right now though as everything is on sale, but I’m glad to get more hashioki out of the apartment and on to new owners. WenYu said she will take over the shop if I want to keep it going but we’re trying to decide if that’s possible or worthwhile.
  • Grateful for: One of the greatest gifts I have ever received has been the opportunity to parent our three girls. For reasons we will never know, their birth parents were unable to keep these girls with them, but instead chose to place them where they would be given a chance at a new life. And through what we consider nothing less than a miracle, we were matched with these girls, each of them a perfect fit. Raising them hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve never felt anything less than profound gratitude that three times some unknown bureaucrat in China chose these threel to be placed with us. We cannot imagine our lives without them.
  • Bonus question: Do you have a favorite coffee drink? I’m pretty much a “black coffee is perfect” gal, but occasionally I enjoy a nonfat latte. I love, love, love Starbuck’s peppermint mochas this time of year but haven’t had one for the past two years. I also love their nonfat green tea lattes as long as they’re unsweetened. I do not like pumpkin spice lattes or any other flavored drinks, and prefer to keep things simple.

We have made a huge amount of progress getting the girls’ items organized. Their suitcases are already stuffed, boxes are being packed for mailing, and other items sorted for the thrift store, trash, or recycling. I’m not quite sure where or how they’re going to squeeze in their Christmas gifts. They have had fun looking at the things they kept or we kept for them, remembering when they got an item or made something or when a picture was taken. Many things have puzzled them though: Why did I want to keep this? Meiling and WenYu plan to take almost all their stuff back with them on the plane, including WenYu’s electric guitar and amplifier. We going to buy a big suitcase at the thrift store this week for the guitar and amp, and she’ll check it as additional luggage, much cheaper than mailing or shipping UPS. We’ll do the same with YaYu’s stuff and take it along when we head to Pennsylvania next May.

I hope everyone had a great week and are looking forward to the one coming up. Less than a week to go until Christmas! I’ll have my regular Monday food and exercise post up tomorrow, and then will be back next Sunday, post-holiday. Wishing all a wonderful week of good food, family and friends, good books, things accomplished, and lots of good things happening!