What Would You Take Along?

A couple of our fellow walkers up at the park moved to Mexico last month. They apparently moved everything they owned down there, including a baby grand piano! From some of what we gathered, the move cost them more than a small fortune but they were unwilling to part with anything.

Listening to their experience got Brett and I thinking about what we would take along if we moved to another country and we’ve talking about it ever since, off and on. After shipping things to and from Hawaii not once but twice, and having a good understanding of the expense of shipping even a small container full of furniture and other things, we quickly decided that if we ever moved to another country we would take nothing other than what could fit into suitcases. The number of suitcases would be limited to how many suitcases we were willing to check, and after some discussion we decided three full-size suitcases each as well as a carry-on bag would be our maximum because that’s all we think we could manage.

What would we take if everything had to fit into six suitcases? Below is the list we came up with:

  • Clothing & shoes: What and how much in this category would be determined by where we were moving. If we were going to Japan, for example, taking clothing for all seasons would be a priority as it’s difficult there to find clothing in our sizes there, and what’s available in military exchanges is limited as well. If we were going somewhere in Europe however, we would most likely be able to find clothing and shoes that fit so less clothing would need to be packed. Basically, the clothes we own currently for both both cold and hot weather would be enough to give us a good start.
  • Keepsakes: I can only think of a very few keepsakes I would want to take along: a few of our Japanese clay bells, one of our porcelain stacking boxes, and our remaining small Chinese teapots. There are six or seven pieces of art we would probably take, all of which would fit into a suitcase. Otherwise, we agree that everything else can pretty much go.
  • Kitchen items: Believe it or not, we would take along some but not all of our everyday dishes (unless we were moving to Japan, where they could easily be replaced), our cutlery, and some basic cooking utensils, including all our OXO tools. At first it was hard to think about living without my wonderful All-Clad cookware, which I’ve owned for nearly 30 years, but I realized I can cook just as well in pretty much anything.
  • Electronics: We would each take a laptop, a new iPhone, our Kindles, and one tablet that both of us can use along with two or three converters, and additional chargers.
  • OTC medications: If we were moving to Japan these are things we could find on any base, and the same for some places in Europe. However, there are locations where this would not be convenient so a good supply of OTC medications to start off with would be a good thing to bring. Painkillers, vitamins, nutritional aids (probiotics/prebiotics), stomach aids, cold medication, laxatives, etc. would go with us. We would carry written prescriptions for other medication so we could get those filled if necessary, although finding a local doctor would be a priority.
  • Tools: Brett has said depending on where we were going he would take along a basic set of quality tools (screwdrivers, wrenches, etc.), especially in metric sizes.

We imagined living full time in every place we visited during our travels and then paid attention to what was available in stores, the prices of things, clothing and shoe sizes, etc. Could we easily buy furniture there? What did it cost? Was used furniture available? Was there an IKEA in the area? Were our shoe sizes available and in stock? It was a helpful exercise, and we learned that what we would actually end up taking along with us on a move to another country could only be decided after an extensive amount of research about what’s available there, and after reading others’ experiences of moving to that country and the advice they offer.

Living in another country was a fun thing to think about when we were traveling and it’s still interesting to think about now. Could we get all of what’s listed above in six suitcases? Who knows? What I do know is that with time we could probably cut back on what’s listed above to where it did fit.

What would you bring along? What would be non-negotiable for you?

Sunday Morning 4/25/2021: Another Week of Good Things

We had beautiful sunset following Tuesday’s storms . . .

… and last night we thought we were in for a real treat. However, three minutes after this shot it started breaking up, and a couple of minutes after the picture below was taken the winds picked up, dark clouds filled the sky, and it started raining!

Good Morning! Aloha kakahiaka!

We went to the beach! We drove over to Barking Sands last Monday and enjoyed perhaps the most perfect beach day we’ve had in I don’t know how long. We stopped at the commissary on our way in and picked up some cold drinks, then hiked the Waiokapua Trail and back (and got overheated) before sitting down and enjoying the picnic we had brought along. Afterwards, Brett put up our umbrella and we sat out on the beach to read and enjoy the the view for another couple of hours. To make things even better we also had the entire beach to ourselves the whole time we were there! We’re hoping for another beach day again this week, although this time we’ll probably go to Salt Pond, which is closer. With visitors arriving in large numbers every day, Poipu beaches are no longer an option for us.

Our stimulus payment arrived on Wednesday, but not before I had trouble falling asleep on Tuesday wondering if it had been lost and what we would have to go through if it had. And, we got a bit of a surprise because it came in the form of a debit card versus a check, something we definitely were not expecting. We first felt a little stunned – “a debit card?” – but after some reading figured out we could download the entire amount directly into our bank account – easy peasy. Two-thirds of the amount will go into our savings account, and one-third will go into YaYu’s account to help cover college expenses in the fall. After nearly four weeks of waiting, debit card or not, it is a relief to have that money in our account.

It was very noticeable that tourists have come back when we went up to Kapaa last week – traffic was heavy once again and we crawled through Kapaa to get to the beach path and the hair salon. It’s only going to get worse too as we get nearer to summer. I felt glad for a couple of things though as we sat in traffic that day: 1) that we no longer live in Kapaa and have to deal with traffic any more when going to and from shopping, medical appointments, etc. and 2) that we had this past year to experience life here without crowds of tourists everywhere. Visitors to Kaua’i are what support our local and state economy, and they are very welcome, but everything seems to be moving at a quicker pace once again, the traffic grows worse every week, and shelves in stores seem to be empty more often.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: Choosing to read mysteries, etc. this year is turning out to be a very good (and fun) decision. I have enjoyed everything I’ve read so far, am finding all sorts of new books and authors, and am super pleased with my progress as well as I’m nearly at the half-way point of my goal of reading 52 books this year, and it’s only April! I finished another book this past week, Dead Scared, by Sharon Bolton (second book in the Lacey Flint series), a real page turner, and am nearly two-thirds of the way though with another book, Sun Storm by Asa Larsson. When that’s done I will begin reading both Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir and The Trauma Cleaner, by Sarah Krasnostein. The Trauma Cleaner is non-fiction, about a person in Australia whose business is cleaning up after violent crimes, suicides, and so forth.
  • Listening to: Right now I’m listening to it pouring rain outside along with a strong wind, which is practically blowing the rain sideways. At least it’s warm enough that the French doors can be open – the air is nice and cool. Brett’s in the kitchen making his breakfast – I can hear him chopping up an apple – and he’s finishing the coffee. Another nice quiet morning inside, another drippy morning outside! I’ve got my fingers crossed that the rain blows through and some nicer weather blows in.
  • Watching: Brett and I are still watching DCI Bates, with four more seasons to go. The stories are getting better, but they still seem to do a lot of yelling. The actress that played Doc Martin’s wife has joined the cast – she’s fun to watch. The finals are now underway for the latest season on the Great British Menu, and my favorite chef has made it second time in a row, and I am hopeful he will be chosen to cook for the banquet again. There have been too few standouts this season otherwise (in my opinion) and I’m ready to see what the next season brings. The show remains a lot of fun to watch nonetheless.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Once again, there were no big accomplishments last week, but everything that needed to be done got done and that’s good enough for me!
  • Looking forward to next week: And, we have nothing on the calendar once again, so all we’re looking forward to is hopefully another beach day.

Brett and I both enjoyed Tip Top Cafe’s banana pancakes at his birthday breakfast, and they were as wonderful as ever, the fluffiest pancakes we’ve ever eaten. The restaurant maintains social distancing which meant the line was still long late into the morning.

  • Thinking of good things that happened: We again had lots of good things happen this past week, including a fantastic beach day and a hike at Barking Sand on Monday; finally going back to the Tip Top Cafe for Brett’s birthday breakfast on Wednesday – their pancakes are, if anything, better than ever; getting my hair cut and taking a nice walk on the beach path that day, and finding some more driftwood. We have been collecting pieces for a while (we use it in our fire pit), and since I seem unable to keep much of anything alive inside the apartment, I’ve been trying to create an arrangement with some of the driftwood. I was thrilled this past week to see that Mavis has done something similar at her home in Maine and it looks beautiful (ours is currently a work in progress though). The gardenia blossoms are opening and because the bush is located just outside our bedroom window we are getting the full, aromatic benefit of them as we fall asleep. We also had a long video conversation with our grandkids the other day and got all caught up. It’s hard to believe it’s been over a year since we’ve seen them and my be over a year before we see them again. They’ve both grown up so much, and so quickly.
Our driftwood arrangement is a work in progress. It’s lacking one more tall(er) piece, and then some pieces to fill in around the bottom.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: This was a pretty typical frugal week for us on top of getting our stimulus, which went right into our savings account. We did a small food shopping on Tuesday (Costco, Walmart, and Times Market) and with some effort stayed under what we had budgeted. We’ll be doing a bigger shop next week and I’m already working on the list for that. We put $11.70 into our change/$1 bill bag last week, leftover from food shopping and a quick stop at the farm stand. I earned 2,138 Swagbucks last week and it looks like I will be able to end the month 5,000 SB ahead of the goal I gave myself for the month. Leftovers have been eaten, and nothing was thrown out this past week.
  • Grateful for: We are very, very thankful for this latest stimulus payment, especially that there were funds this time for YaYu to help with her college expenses next year, her final year at BMC. We have been contributing as much as we can, but it’s taken a real effort to make sure all her costs are covered and the stimulus will give us all a big boost. We’re thankful to be able to save our part of the stimulus payment this time, providing a real boost to our savings as we work to build it up again.
  • Bonus question: You’re handed a round trip plane ticket to anywhere in the world for a weekend and $1000 cash. The catch? You have to go alone, right then & there with only whatever you have on hand. Do you go? Where would you go? Would I go? Does an accordion player wear a pinky ring? Of course! Where would I go? Japan would be one destination, to see our son, DIL and grandkids again even if it’s just for a weekend and the flight is long – it’s been too long. The jet lag wouldn’t have time to catch up with me until I got home! I could stretch $1000 pretty far there for things I need (a few extra pieces of clothing and other supplies from the navy exchange, for example), especially if I stay with M & M. I’d be equally happy with heading back to Boston to see Meiling and WenYu. They could help me find extra clothing and supplies with lots left over to make sure we had a great time together. I honestly wish this was a real challenge, although I know I would miss having Brett along and would feel a bit guilty for traveling without him (although I know he would not be up for such a short trip and turnaround).

This week’s blooms: Hibiscus along the eastside beach path, and gardenias in bloom in our yard.

When we moved here in 2014, I told my mom that I wished we could bring her along. She would have loved it here, especially the variety of beautiful and interesting plants and flowers on the island, and how many of her favorites can be found all over and grow all year versus seasonally. Mom was a botany major in college, and to the end of her life stayed interested in plants, and had a real skill in making things grow and reviving plants that you didn’t think would or could make it. I would have loved taking her on walks and drives to see all that grows here, and I’m pretty sure she would have gotten a kick out of the farmers’ markets as well and the variety of produce that’s available year-round. I think of Mom every time I stop to snap a picture of plants and flowers here.

That’s all for this week – it was another good one. I hope the week was great for everyone, and that all are looking forward to the one coming up as much as we are.

Facing Reality

At the beginning of the year, Brett and I started looking into home-buying options on Kaua’i. We had no plans to buy right away, but wanted to be better educated about what’s available and be ready to buy if something suitable came along. We had already decided that a condo would be our best option as houses here are unaffordable: the current median home price on Kaua’i is $985K 😱! We also aren’t interested in all the maintenance, yard work, etc. that comes with owning a home here. A couple of weeks ago there were only four single family-homes on the island in our price range but two were already contingent, all were very small, one needed a lot of work, and three were in a location that doesn’t work for us. There were also issues here with the few available condos in our price range as well (fee simple versus leasehold, for example). We’re definitely not keen on living in a building with tourists coming and going most of the time, but purely residential condos are few and far between and expensive. A condo we considered purchasing five years ago now costs $100K+ more than it did then. The massive elephant in the room with any condo purchase here is always the HOA fee. While there are some that are less, the usual HOA fee on Kaua’i is over $800/month and climbs rapidly from there, and can often double any mortgage payment.

While our current income is more than adequate to allow us to do many things, live comfortably, and save, if Brett dies before me I will lose close to 2/3 of that amount – his military retirement will go away (although I will retain health insurance and all other benefits) as will my Social Security (I would receive his higher amount instead). Unless there’s a miracle, my student loans will continue and I will be paying those until I am 83 years old. A big factor for us in any home purchase therefore is keeping our mortgage payment (including any HOA fees) at an affordable level so I will be OK financially if something should happen to Brett. 

Both Brett and I are veterans and qualify for a VA loan, with no money required for a downpayment, and no mortgage insurance required. However, we can see that our best bet going forward will be to start with as large a down payment as possible to reduce the monthly payment. So, after much thought and number crunching we gave ourselves a deadline of early 2023 and decided that between now and then we would save, save, save as much as possible toward a down payment. We would continue to save for travel, but adjust those plans to fit a smaller amount of savings and tighter budget.

We also know that housing prices on Kaua’i are going to continue to rise – it’s frightening how much they’ve gone up since we left two years ago – and HOA fees are only going to go up as well. What if even with a downpayment we can’t meet our price goal? Can we accept having to rent versus owning with those costs going up as well? We love living here for many reasons, but should we honestly reconsider moving back to the mainland? And if so, where would that be? 

The discussions over this are ongoing. For the past few weeks the pros and cons of staying in Hawaii or possibly moving back to the mainland have dominated our conversations, and there has been no good answers. Our three daughters all live back east now and will be staying there. Meiling is currently in NYC, but wants to eventually move to Boston, to be closer to WenYu who lives in the area. YaYu currently attends college in eastern Pennsylvania, and has said she is planning to stay back east as well if possible (it will depend on where she goes to grad school). When we spoke with Meiling and WenYu last week they both said they would be thrilled if we lived closer to them. They know we are are happy here and love living on Kaua’i, but at the same time now admit that they wish we were closer to them, especially as we age and as they move closer to raising their own families. We miss them terribly – celebrating Christmas from a distance really drove that home – and wish we could get together with our girls more often. We recently looked at pictures of houses back east though, most currently covered with snow, and Brett and I both said, “I don’t think we can do this . . . ” (or want to).

What we know now is only that we will have to make a decision one way or the other one of these days. In the meantime we are going to stick with our deadline of early 2023, and continue to save as much as possible and then see where that takes us in the real world. 

Home Cooking: Goat Cheese, Artichoke, and Smoked Ham Strata

photo credit: Better Homes & Garden

Whenever I want to serve a special breakfast/brunch dish that can be enjoyed at any time during the morning, either cold or reheated, a strata fits the bill perfectly. A strata is convenient because it can be prepared the night before and be refrigerated overnight, so that all that has to be done in the morning is heat the oven and pop the pan in to bake. Because a strata is basically a savory bread pudding, the variations are endless, and they’re a great way to use up leftover bread, meats, vegetables, or those last bits of cheese that are hanging around, and they’re perfect for main dishes other times of the day as well.

This recipe, from Cooking Light magazine, is a long-time family favorite of ours. It blends tangy goat cheese into the milk and egg mixture, and the middle is filled with diced ham, artichoke hearts and parmesan cheese. It works perfectly as a main dish any time of day.

Although you don’t have to use lower fat ingredients, I typically keep it lean by using egg substitute and skim milk, and making sure all the fat is trimmed from the ham. And, even though it only calls for a small amount, I also usually skip the nutmeg as it’s a flavor I don’t care for in savory dish (there’s a long story there). I’m not exactly sure about a substitute for the fontina cheese as I always just bought a piece when I make this, but a mild cheese like Jarlsberg would work, I think. Finally, the original recipe asks for sourdough bread, but French bread works just as well. Day-old or leftover bread works better than fresh no matter what bread is chosen.

GOAT CHEESE, ARTICHOKE AND SMOKED HAM STRATA

  • 3 1/4 cups low-fat or skim milk, divided
  • 1 8-oz. carton egg substitute or 4 large eggs
  • 1 4-oz. package goat cheese
  • 3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp fresh thyme, or 1/4 tsp dried
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 10 slices sourdough bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 8 ounces coarsely-chopped smoked ham
  • 2 14-oz. cans of artichoke hearts, well-drained and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup shredded fontina cheese

In either a food processor or blender, combine 1 cup milk, egg substitute or eggs and goat cheese and process until smooth. Add the goat cheese mixture to the remaining 2 1/4 cups milk in a large bowl, then add pepper, thyme, nutmeg and garlic and whisk to combine. Add the bread cubes and stir gently to combine. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Place half of the bread mixture (the cheese/mil mixture will not be completely soaked in) in a 9″ x 13″ pan coated with cooking spray. Arrange the chopped ham, artichoke hearts and Parmesan cheese over the bread mixture, then cover with the remaining bread mixture. Pour any leftover cheese/milk mixture evenly around the pan. Sprinkle the top with the fontina cheese.

The strata can either be baked (uncovered) at this time, or put into the refrigerator to sit overnight for baking in the morning. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes or until the edges are bubbly. Let stand for at least 15 minutes before serving. Makes 8 servings.

So Very Thankful

In spite of everything 2020 has thrown at us, Brett and I have much to be thankful for this year. Plans and dreams were thrown to the wind back in March when the pandemic began to rear its ugly head, both while we were in Japan and in the U.S., but in spite of some roadblocks that have popped up now and again we’ve had a very good year overall.

Gratitude for all that we have is what has kept me sane this year, and I have much to be thankful for:

  • Health: I am extremely grateful for our continued good health, the health of our children and their significant others, and our grandchildren. Also, who knew at the beginning of the year that this would be the one where Brett and I finally got our act together as far as diet and exercise? We’ve at last figured out a way exercising that we enjoy doing and that works for us, and we’re getting in shape and losing weight. We’ve also set goals that make sure we maintain and improve on what we’re doing now.
  • Family: We are also truly blessed that all of our family is thriving, and in spite of not being able to get together this year following our departure from Japan, we’ve all done more than a good job of staying in touch and checking up on each other. We’re feeling hopeful and optimistic that we’ll be able to put together a reunion next year. As always, I’m grateful for the love, support, friendship, and companionship of my husband, Brett. I got lucky with this one.
  • Kaua’i: Our sudden return to Kaua’i last March was frankly a shock to our system, but now we couldn’t be more happy that we decided to come back, and are beyond thankful that our kids encouraged us to return and settle here again. This time we seem to be better at appreciating what we have here, and are more appreciative of our quiet lifestyle. While not free from the virus, Kaua’i continues to be an extremely safe place to be during the pandemic, and we are grateful for the commitment of those who live here and now visitors about wearing masks, maintaining social distance, and practicing other safe behaviors. While we enjoyed the months we had this year without visitors and traffic, we’re genuinely glad to see businesses picking up again and people going back to work, and are thankful that Hawaii’s testing protocol and quarantine seem to be keeping the virus at bay.
  • Many blessings: Both Brett and I have received many blessings this year, from spending time with friends here on the island to a long stay near our family in Japan at the beginning of the year to finding a great place to live when we unexpectedly returned to Kaua’i (and the good fortune of being able to buy back our old car). We’re blessed to have a solid, dependable income, always enough to eat, and to be able to live in such a beautiful part of our country. 
  • My readers: I have the best readers in the world, and I am always thankful for all who continue to visit the blog and read whatever I have to say. I’m grateful as well for the advice, support, and kind comments I receive. I am lucky beyond measure to have met several readers in real life and become friends with them, and hope I am able to meet many more in the years ahead.

Wishing all my readers, their friends and family, a very happy Thanksgiving. It’s been a wild ride this year, but worth remembering that “It’s not happy people who are grateful, it’s thankful people who are happy.” 

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!

ADDICTIVE PUMPKIN BURRITOS

  • 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).

PUMPKIN BARS WITH CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

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).