Merry Christmas!

May you, your family, and your friends be surrounded by all the things that bring you Christmas cheer, and reminded of all the things that bring you happiness and hope. 

Wishing all who celebrate a very merry Christmas!

Sunday Morning 12/22/2019: Week 4 in Portland

Hanukkah sameach! Wishing all who celebrate a happy and peaceful Hanukkah along with best wishes for the coming year.

In spite of breakdowns, storms, squalls, delayed flights with late departures, and middle-of-the-night arrivals, the girls (and one boyfriend) all eventually made it to Portland this past week. Meiling left yesterday morning for a couple of days down in Eugene with K and his family, but she’ll be back tomorrow. Currently, the girls are awaiting a few more of their packages to arrive, but otherwise, we all are ready for Wednesday’s festivities. And my goodness, these girls still eat a LOT! I’m frankly shocked by how much they can still put away. Meiling received some big news the day after she arrived: although she has been at her job less than two months, apparently she has made a very good impression because this past Thursday she learned her manager would be leaving the company to take a position elsewhere . . . and she was asked to take over the manager’s position! She was initially very stressed by the offer, torn between wanting the increase in salary/benefits versus the added stress she’d be taking on, at least for the first few months. However, with encouragement from her manager and several others in the company, and from her boyfriend and Brett and me, she has decided to accept the position and is getting prepped. Her manager, who Meiling adores, is already helping her with the transition and will continue to serve as her mentor even after she leaves. To say Brett and I are impressed and proud of this girl would be an understatement.

Meiling was actually not unhappy when she arrived early Thursday morning, just very, very tired since her flight on Wednesday had been delayed by several hours and she’d been awake at this point for over 24 hours)
WenYu’s flight on Thursday was also delayed by several hours, but at least it was during the day and she had been able to sleep most of the way so she arrived in a better mood.
YaYu was the last to arrive, on Friday, the only one whose flight arrived when it was supposed to. Her flight from Philly left over an hour late so she was sure she would miss her connecting flight and was surprised to be the only one whose flight got into PDX on time.
K’s flight was also delayed, but he ended up arriving just a few minutes after YaYu so we didn’t have to make two trips to the airport that day.

Brett had a follow-up appointment this past week with the doctor regarding the endocrinology issue that was discovered this past summer. The doctor wants him to have surgery to remove a misfiring parathyroid gland in the coming year, but how and when he will get this done is going to be a challenge as we will be out of the U.S. for the first half of the year, and not be back in Portland for at least a year. Thankfully the issue is not as troublesome as it was last summer, nor is the surgery urgent. We’ve already checked on whether this was something he could have done in Japan while we’re there, at the naval hospital, but we found out that endocrinology is not handled there; patients requiring the same surgery as Brett would either be sent back to the U.S. or out to a Japanese hospital. Anyway, fitting this in is going to affect future plans one way or another as it’s a very delicate procedure and the doctor did not recommend getting it done just anywhere.

I will be taking the next week off from the blog but will be back next Sunday. I am so ready for the big day on Wednesday – the girls are here, almost all the gifts have arrived and have been wrapped, and all the food has been bought and is ready to prepare. Beyond the holiday hoopla, I’m planning to bask in the simple joy of our family being together. I know our time together will fly by, but I’m going to enjoy every moment we get.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished The Jewel That Was Ours, #9 in the Inspector Morse series (which had a different ending from the TV program – I was surprised) and immediately downloaded book #10, The Way Through the Woods, from the library. I won’t get all the Morse books finished by the end of the year, but I’m making good progress.
  • Listening to: The heater is running strong this morning – it’s cold outside! Brett is making coffee and putting away yesterday’s dishes, and WenYu and YaYu are still asleep. In other words, another quiet morning (so far)!
  • Watching: Brett and I binge-watched the British detective series, Broadchurch, at the beginning of the week. We’d seen the series before but found it just as compelling the second time around. David Tennant and Olivia Colman have to be two of the best British actors working these days – both their performances were amazing. Meiling and WenYu went together on a subscription to Disney+ and have set that up here, so the girls have been busy watching stuff on that channel as well as all sorts of videos about their favorite K-Pop group, BTS (they are all slightly obsessed), and YaYu is catching up with everything.
  • Cooking: There will be lots of activity going on in the kitchen this week! We will be having big bowls of vegetarian dumpling soup this evening and tomorrow night, when we’re all back together, I’m putting together a big salad bar for our dinner (along with some sourdough bread). Then, on Christmas Eve, we’re having a pizza night. I going to make four different pizzas: classic pepperoni; roasted vegetable; lamb sausage with feta and artichoke hearts on pesto; and Thai chicken. On Christmas Day we’ll be having ham, macaroni & cheese, roasted Brussels sprouts, green bean casserole, dinner rolls, and apple and cherry pies for dessert. After Christmas, I’ll be making turkey divan casserole; pasta with ham, peppers, and spinach; and super nachos one night to break up the ham and turkey monotony. I actually baked a couple of times this past week – a pan of brownies for the girls and a pumpkin coffee cake.
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: Our big accomplishment this past week was getting all the girls and one boyfriend picked up at the airport no matter how delayed their flights were or what time in the middle of the night they finally arrived. Keeping them fed has been a bit of an accomplishment as well!
  • Looking forward to next week: Christmas, of course! But most of all just being together with Brett and the girls – the only thing that could make the week better would be having our son and his family here too. We put a different twist on the girls’ Christmas stockings this year and I’m excited to see how they react to that.
    Our tree now has some bling!
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Our hosts brought up some extra Christmas ornaments they had after decorating their tree, and now our little tree is all decked out for the big day! Little by little my stomach issues are getting better. It’s been a learning experience though about what and when to eat and what I need to avoid (for example, chocolate has sadly turned out to be an irritant), and when to take medication, etc. I haven’t figured it all out yet, but I’m getting there. Brett took all the girls and Meiling’s boyfriend out to a doughnut shop just up the street for breakfast yesterday. I haven’t had a doughnut in ages, but the jelly-filled (my favorite) they brought me was very good and much appreciated. 
    Doughnuts!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: Other than one last shop for a few things at Winco on Wednesday, parking fees at the airport ($9 total), and the trip to the doughnut shop yesterday morning we had a no-spend week. There’s also been no effort or worry this week about leftovers getting eaten!
    Grateful to love and be loved by these beautiful girls
  • Grateful for: I’m so thankful that the girls all arrived safely in Portland and that we’re together again. I love hearing their chatter and their laughter.
  • Bonus question: Have you ever regifted or returned something you got for Christmas? Yes, but only a very, very few times. I’ve only made one return that I can remember. For our first Christmas together Brett gave me a sweater. I liked it except for the color (pale tangerine orange and I don’t look good in pastels). I asked him if it was OK if I exchanged it for a different color, and he said OK so we went back to the store. However, none of the other colors were available in my size and I ended up exchanging the sweater for something else. I knew he felt disappointed, especially that he had missed on the color, but I wore the new top I got in exchange a lot so it all worked out. I can only remember regifting a couple of items, a massive three-level cake stand I received from someone one year and a set of cut-glass wine glasses I got from one of my students. Neither was something I liked nor would use and I regifted both to people who were happy to have them. There have probably been a very few other items I’ve passed along but I don’t remember them.

No matter what you celebrate this coming week, or with whom, or whether you celebrate at all, I hope everyone has the holiday they hope for and makes wonderful memories in some way. I know it can be a difficult time for some (it was for me for many years), so take care of yourself and your heart, and ask for help if you need it. For all, I wish a time of comfort, peace, calm, and love.

Happy holidays to all!

Back to the Future: Ghosts of Christmas Past

I didn’t post anything on I’m Losing It Here about Christmas in 2009, and have no memories of what we did or didn’t do that year. Brett and I may not have exchanged gifts, and presents for the girls may have been less than usual but I don’t remember anything other than it was a grim time for us. We probably still put up a big tree at the beginning of the month, but anything else about how we spent Christmas that year is lost in a fog.

However, I clearly remember writing the post below a year later, in early December 2010. I had accumulated a lot of heavy baggage from my childhood about Christmas, and 2010 was the year I was finally able to let all that baggage go and truly enjoy the holiday for the first time. We continue to enjoy simple Christmases these days with gifts kept to a minimum. As our oldest daughter said earlier this year, “Mom, it’s not about the presents anymore. It’s about us being together.” So, although this post jumps a little bit ahead in our get-out-of-debt story, I think it’s worth sharing now.

(I’ve also decided to use Brett’s name instead of other references to him because they were driving me nuts and I can only imagine what it is like for readers.)

This Year’s Christmas Non-Shopping

Christmas was not a happy, festive time at our home when I was growing up, and I don’t have any warm, fuzzy memories about those times. Christmas seemed to be another financial burden as well as a nuisance to be borne by my parents. While my dad didn’t deliberately choose the Charlie Brown Christmas tree, we usually seemed to get the nearest thing to it, with our tree shedding most of its needles before it ever came through the door. Christmas lists were eagerly drawn up by my siblings and myself every year but I don’t remember ever once receiving anything I asked and hoped for. Parsimony ruled the day unless it was for hockey gear for my brothers, then no expense was spared. The worst Christmas gift I can recall receiving (and there are many to choose from) was the November and December volumes from a Time-Life series of books my parents subscribed to and that the whole family shared. My mom wrapped the two books and put them under the tree for my gift that year. I dreaded going back to school after the holidays because I didn’t want to hear about or see all the wonderful and thoughtful gifts my friends and classmates had received.

The gifts we children gave were unimaginative as well, but there wasn’t much you could buy for five other people with a dollar or two (we didn’t get an allowance, so our funds were from pennies we had saved throughout the year). My father eventually would pass out a little money to me and my siblings in early December, but before that happened I remember giving him a bar of Dial soap for several years (and him acting thrilled) or giving my mom a bottle of “Evening In Paris” perfume from the dime store one year. She was not thrilled, but then who could be?

As you can imagine, I collected a whole lot of baggage along the way about Christmas and how it should be celebrated. After Brett and I got married, I was determined that Christmas was going to be the happiest, most exciting time of the year, with a big tree, the house decorated to the nines, lots of baking and parties, and presents, presents, presents! Money was no object, not at Christmas, even if we didn’t have it, and I tried to fulfill every wish on everyone’s list as well as knock their socks off with something totally unexpected and wonderful. As you can probably imagine, we incurred debt every year at Christmas and spent the first few months of the year paying it off.

This year is the first where we’ve had a realistic budget for Christmas, one that we’re adhering to. It’s amazing how freeing it is. There’s been no agonizing over how we’re going to pay for Christmas. We’re spending less than half of what we did in the past, supplemented with Amazon credit from Swagbucks. Each of the girls will receive one “big,” special gift that Brett and I have carefully thought about and can afford, and another smaller gift from us (clothing). There’ll be a few small things in each of their stockings, but that’s all. We cut back the amount to be spent on each “Secret Santa” gift to $25 or less per person (we exchange names within the family, including our son and daughter-in-law), and the girls have had fun thinking of useful or much-desired gifts that fit within the budget.  For gifts outside of our immediate family, we are either not giving anything this year, at least not now, or giving homemade treats. We’re also keeping decorations to a minimum, with a small tree on a table this year versus our usual 7-foot noble fir.

You know what the best part is? I’m just as excited about Christmas this year as I’ve ever been. So are the girls and Brett. Being on a budget has not made us feel stifled; in fact, we’ve found we’re having a lot more fun and being more creative and thoughtful about our gift-giving in the process. Who knew?

It appears I’ve finally tossed all that old baggage out for good. Bring on the holidays!

Looking Ahead: Living On Less in Tokyo

Tokyo is not an inexpensive city to visit or reside in but over the years we’ve discovered that there are ways to keep costs down. Brett and I are going to be on a very tight budget during our three-month visit early next year because of the cost of our lodging, and also because of what we’re putting away each month for YaYu’s college expenses and the small amount that’s going into savings each month. By the time those three things are accounted for out of our net income, we will only have around $800/month left to cover our daily living expenses. We’ll be bringing all our frugal skills to bear in order to not overspend during the time we’re there, and I have to admit upfront it’s going to be a challenge.

Currently, there is a good exchange rate between the dollar and yen, and if it holds we should be OK. If the dollar starts dropping though we may run into trouble, or have to reduce expenses and what we put away into savings and for YaYu in order for us to make it in Japan.

Our housing costs in Japan are nearly a third again more per month than what we typically pay for lodging, but much, much less than what we’d pay through Airbnb in Tokyo. It’s shocking to see what teeny, tiny studios in the city are going for on Airbnb these days, so we feel very fortunate to be able to rent again from last year’s host. The monthly amount isn’t cheap but it covers not only rent but all utilities as well, and gives us the luxury of a nicely furnished one-bedroom apartment with a well-equipped kitchen, a nice bathroom, and a washing machine. The apartment’s location is fantastic too – it’s in a great neighborhood just one subway stop from our son’s place and three stops away from Shibuya, a major Tokyo transportation and shopping hub.

Here’s the spending plan we’ve come up with for each month in order to stay within our $800/month budget:

  • Convert dollars to ¥80,000 each month (at the current rate, that’s less than $800, more around $750, but that could change). This will be divided and placed in envelopes that we’ll draw from as funds are needed.
  • ¥40,000 per month will be set aside for groceries. Besides rent, food will be our biggest expense in Japan. We aim to keep our food expenditures at or under ¥10,000 per week We spent around that much per week on our last visit, but that often included bakery visits and such which we plan to curtail this time. Before we left Japan last year we discovered a second supermarket (Seiyu) located near to us that has the same products but lower prices than the other market we had been using (Tokyu), and we’ve also learned of another discount store in Shibuya (Don Quixote’s) that we’re going to check out. We will be bringing along $400 in cash with us to use for commissary and exchange shopping trips as we’ll most likely do two of these during our three-month stay (our son loves his Diet Coke). We will get things like certain cuts of meat, coffee, dairy products, cereals, and American-style bread, items that are expensive and/or difficult to find in Japanese stores at the commissary. We also plan to buy a slow cooker not long after we arrive to increase our cooking options and will leave it with our DIL when we depart.
  • ¥12,000 per month will go toward transportation costs. We are going to load each of our PASMO cards (which are not only convenient but provide a small discount each time the card is used) with ¥6000 at the beginning of each month and hopefully, that will be enough to get us through 30 days. However, if we learned anything last year it’s that the balance on the card can drop surprisingly quickly so this amount may need to be adjusted. Our son will cover our transportation costs for picking up the grandkids from their schools which will help, and I will be starting out with nearly ¥1000 on my card leftover from earlier this year. 
  • ¥12,000 yen per month will be set aside for dining out every Friday evening. Eating out in Japan is something we have always enjoyed, and there are some things we like to eat that we just can’t make at home (like takoyaki (octopus dumplings), sushi, or handmade udon like we can get at the noodle restaurant down the street), and when our grandson comes for sleepovers we sometimes like to take him out for McDonald’s or KFC. Dining out for the two of us typically won’t be anywhere near ¥3000/meal, but a few places could be so ¥12,000 should be enough to cover these expenses each month. This budget should also work as an incentive to find sources for good food at low prices (and they are abundant in Japan).
  • ¥16000 yen each month will be for all other expenses, including occasional admission fees, occasional snacks, occasional trips to the local laundromat, and for emergency expenses. We plan to use Secret Tokyo extensively because every place listed in it is free, but of course, there will be transportation costs in getting to and from those places. One big expense we’re already planning is a day trip to Kamakura. We will take one of the free private walking tours but will have to pay for our guide’s lunch and our total round-trip transportation will be about ¥2600 – we are going to use the ¥4000 we received from YaYu to help cover these expenses and will set aside some of our extra each month for the rest. We’d also like to take a trip up to Nikko but are not sure if we can fit that into our slim budget.
“Don’t say kekko (fine) until you’ve seen Nikko.” We would love to visit this amazing World Heritage site again if we can afford it.

Sadly, for now, Brett has decided to forego calligraphy lessons during this stay. The tuition for weekly lessons plus the transportation costs for getting there and back (around ¥10,000 per month) are a luxury he feels we cannot afford this time. However, yen that is remaining at the end of the month will be rolled over until the next, which will mean a lower amount we have to convert for that month. If there’s enough left over out of our $800/budget I think the extra should go toward these lessons. We’ll see.

Our time Japan next year will be all about living a good, but frugal, life in an expensive place. Our goal is to find a path for getting more for less and discovering ideas and solutions that can be applied when visiting other expensive locations.

Sunday Morning 12/15/2012: Week 3 in Portland

A wintery day in Portland with some blue skies. I wish it could have lasted but rain and gloom arrived toward the end of the week.

Brett and I enjoyed a lovely, laid-back week – lots of sleeping in, lazy days, wonderful get-togethers with friends, good food, but things are going to change this week because beginning on Wednesday . . . the girls start to arrive! Meiling arrives after 10:00 Wednesday night, WenYu arrives at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, and YaYu comes in after 10:00 p.m. on Friday. We are more than ready for their arrivals, and so excited we can hardly stand it! We did get to spend time with Meiling this past June for her graduation, and YaYu was in and out of Portland on either side of her time in Japan for the summer, but we haven’t see WenYu for almost a year so are greatly looking forward to being together with her again. As far as how we’ll be spending our time, we’ll pretty much go along with whatever the girls want to do.

I had another rough week as far as my stomach troubles go, but I saw the doctor on Thursday evening and I’m trying some new stuff and hoping to get things turned around. The doctor’s main concern is that what I’ve experienced since I stopped taking the PPI on December 2 is not normal. An E-consult was set with a gastroenterologist – he has already reviewed bloodwork (which was normal), symptoms, reading my chart, etc. and will eventually make a recommendation, and in much less than time than I would have spent waiting for a regular appointment. So far all that I know is that several things that could be causing the issue have been ruled out (bleeding ulcer, Hep C, bacterial infection). My doctor feels the gastroenterologist will be ordering an endoscopy before we leave Portland to see if he can find out what’s going on. In the interim, she prescribed Pepcid to help with the symptoms. Brett and I stopped at Winco on the way home from the doctor’s and picked up a package to carry me over until my prescription arrives, and I felt almost immediate relief when I took the first one but unfortunately, it only lasted a few hours before the pain was back with a vengeance. It’s helping more each day though, and I can take it indefinitely as it does not cause the problems the other medication does. I am not used to being or feeling unwell so hopefully what’s going on can be diagnosed and a solution found soon. On the plus side, I found out that for all the scones, clotted cream, and jam I ate over in England (as well as the shortbread, etc.) I had only gained six pounds from what I weighed  this past summer. I’m taking that as a win.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: I finished the sixth in the Inspector Morse series, The Riddle of the Third Mile, and have downloaded the ninth in the series, The Jewel That Was Ours. I realized the books are not written so that they have to be read in order (well, except for the last book in the series), so I went with what the library has. I ordered a used copy of the fifth book, The Dead of Jericho, from Amazon for 99¢ – it should arrive before Christmas. Mysteries, even convoluted ones like the Inspector Morse ones, are about all my brain can handle right now.
    We got our Pittock Mansion mugs out of storage when we were at Joan’s. I love having my morning coffee in these mugs, and we’ve decided to take them along with us to Japan this time.
  • Listening to: Although it’s not raining right now, it is gloomy and damp which is helping to keep everything quiet outside. We both slept in late this morning, but Brett’s rustling around in the kitchen now while he fixes coffee and makes breakfast. The only other noise is the sound of the heater blowing – it’s cold outside. In just a few days the noise level is going to ratchet up a bit as the girls arrive – I can’t wait!
  • Watching: We had another week of binge-watching good shows and movies. We started out with Season 3 of Goliath, starring Billy Bob Thornton, and then watched the movie Marriage Story. That was difficult to watch at times but the acting was absolutely superb. Scarlett Johanssen deserves the Oscar for her performance. Then it was back to comedy with Modern Love, a great series on Amazon. Brett and I watched White Christmas last night, and once WenYu arrives it will be time for our annual viewing of Love, Actually.
  • Cooking: Brett and I will be finishing up odds and ends through Wednesday (soup, sandwiches, etc.) but on Thursday I will be preparing Meiling’s favorite recipe, stir-fried broccoli & tofu with spicy peanut sauce. Friday we’ll have hot turkey sandwiches with stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy; and on Saturday I’m going to make vegetable curry (Japanese style) along with rice. We have lots of things on hand for breakfasts from cinnamon rolls to quiche to breakfast sandwiches and the girls will nibble on leftovers and such for lunch (more like eat us out of house and home), and Brett is planning to take the girls up the road to the fancy doughnut shop one morning.
  • Happy I accomplished last week: Not my accomplishment, but Brett got all of our tax paperwork lined up for YaYu’s financial aid for next year (the FAFSA was done back in October) – now all we have to do is wait until July of next year to hear how much she has to pay now that she’ll be the only one left in college. I got my prescription refills ordered so I will have enough medication to get me through until we’re back in the U.S. in May, and I also got written prescriptions that I can carry along in case I lose my medication or something else occurs where I need refills (U.S. prescriptions cannot be sent overseas through the mail). I got a flu shot as well as one for pneumonia and my DPT booster and still have the sore arms to prove it! I am also due for the shingles vaccine but the clinic was out of it, so I am going to try and get it from the navy when I’m in Japan. We got our summer clothes out of storage when we were at Joan’s (to have for Hawai’i) as well as our Pittock Mansion coffee cups – they were a good purchase and we are enjoying getting to use them!
  • Looking forward to next week: I just can’t wait to be together with the girls again and hear more in detail about what they’re doing, etc. They all make me so happy!
    Joan provided a beautiful spread for our tea last Tuesday.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: I got a great haircut last Sunday – I was very pleased with the experience and the result. We had a delightful lunch/tea at our friend Joan’s house on Tuesday afternoon – she prepared so many good things to eat – and we enjoyed great conversation with the other guests. It would be hard to pick a favorite thing I ate that day, but Joan’s curry tarts with chutney were pretty amazing. The scones and clotted cream she served brought back some good memories as well. On Thursday I had coffee and a pastry with my friend Elaine – she and I met back in 2005 when her daughter and YaYu were in the same Mandarin Immersion kindergarten class and we’ve been setting the world straight ever since. Another friend, Pat, came over to our place on Friday because I was feeling too under the weather to go out, and we had a great catch-up as well. Brett learned how much his military retirement cost-of-living raise will be for next year (not very much), but between that and our Social Security increases we are happy – every little bit helps. We sent YaYu a surprise “Finals Week Care Package” full of all sorts of fun treats to get her through the coming week (lucky WenYu did not have any finals this term!). The packages were a fundraiser for the Bryn Mawr lacrosse team, and YaYu was very surprised and happy with all the goodies she got.
    This is what approximately $36 worth of yen looks like – a nice gift from YaYu!
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: The package of 25 Pepcid tablets we bought at Winco cost nearly $12 (ouch), but with the doctor’s prescription and mail delivery from our pharmacy, going forward we will pay around half of that for a 90-day supply – yeah! I paid nothing for the used book I ordered from Amazon because I had exactly enough credit left in my account to cover the entire cost of the book plus shipping fees. We got our annual rebate back from our insurance company – $96.65 this year (even though we don’t own a car, we carry an affordable non-owner policy that covers us whenever we rent a car or use a car-share service (like we did with Zipcar last summer). I had forgotten we put away some yen over at Joan’s that YaYu gave us when she got back from Japan last summer and we were surprised to discover it totaled over ¥4000! It’s mostly coins, but I know we’re going to appreciate having it, especially during the first couple of weeks we’re there. We continue to stick like glue to our shopping lists, eat all our leftovers and not throw away any food.
  • Grateful for: I was deeply touched by the many comments I received on the “10 Years a Blogger” post and cannot say thank you enough for all the continuing support, now and over the past 10 years, that I have received from my readers. You are all simply THE BEST!
    Hanging an ornament on our little wooden advent tree each day in December was a Christmas tradition for us for more than 30 years. We got the tree for our son when he was eight, then the girls took it over, and now our grandchildren are carrying on the tradition.
  • Bonus question: Does your family have any special Christmas traditions? Christmas time used to be a lot more complicated, with decorations and stuff, but we still keep our Christmas morning traditions. Our children have always been allowed to open their stockings before waiting for Brett and I to get up and before we start breakfast (although this year Brett and I have put a fun twist on the Christmas stockings). Brett usually gets up first and makes hot chocolate for the girls, with whipped cream and marshmallows, and coffee for the two of us. Before opening presents, we have always have our traditional breakfast first: toasted bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon, fresh fruit (often berries), and orange juice. Our son decided on bagels when he was eight years old, and that’s what we’ve had ever since. I asked a few years ago if I could fix something else for breakfast and was about strung up, so bagels, cream cheese, and salmon it still is. After we’re done, we open our presents. Meiling serves as our “elf” these days and chooses a gift for each person to open (our son did this before passing the duty on to Meiling), and we open presents in order from oldest to youngest, one at a time so everyone can admire each others’ gifts (if the grandkids are with us they start first though). When we’re done we all pitch in to pick up wrapping paper, etc. and then relax until it’s time to eat. Over the years we’ve attempted to add other traditions but after over 40 years these are the ones that have remained consistent, no matter where we are.

I was very happy and surprised by the reaction I got to this past week’s post from my old blog, I’m Losing It Here. It’s been interesting to go through the old posts and see what I was writing back then (I’m shocked though by how bad the photos were. They were beyond abysmal. All hail the iPhone!). What stands out is how much we learned going through the experience of ridding ourselves of so much debt – it truly changed us forever. I’m planning to share around one re-post a week to share our story and how we got where we are today.

We have an exciting, busy week coming up but I have a couple of posts ready to go, including another “Back to the Future” installment. I also plan to post next Sunday but after that will be taking the week after off for the holiday. In the meantime, here’s hoping that your week included lots of good food, good friends, good books, and all sorts of good things happening for you! And here’s to a great week coming up!

Back to the Future: Part III: The Ugly

Several commenters on the “10 Years a Blogger” post wrote that they would be interested in reading posts from my earlier blogs. While the administrative duties of managing more than one blog are more than I want to take on, about midway through answering comments I realized I could still share selected posts from those blogs. So, I’ve decided to start by offering up one of the earliest posts I wrote from I’m Losing It Here, and if readers are interested in knowing more about how our story progressed I’ll continue to share more.

The post below, published on December 31, 2009, is actually the third in an initial series I wrote in December 2009 when I started I’m Losing It Here. I called the series “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” The first two posts were about losing weight (that at least had been going somewhat well), but the main effort behind starting the blog was to document facing and getting rid of the massive amount of debt (over $65K) we had accrued. Part III: The Ugly was the beginning of that story.

BTW, Brett initially did not want me to use his name, so it won’t show up in I’m Losing It Here posts. He’s always “my husband” or “Mr. Losing It” or something along those lines.

Part III: The Ugly

If debt were categorized like weight, my husband I would be considered beyond morbidly obese.  We are drowning in deep, massive debt. While we are still able to pay all our bills on time and put food on the table, we finally had to accept at the end of this year that it had gotten out of hand, and we had to get rid of it or we would sink and drown.

Up to and during 2008, times were good.  My husband got tons of overtime so paychecks were big and fat.  I didn’t have to work, and stayed busy volunteering at my children’s’ schools, or driving them to their activities, or back and forth from school.  We put money away each month and were able to pay cash for our 8-day Disney vacation in early December 2008.  When I went to the grocery store or Costco, I filled my cart with whatever caught my eye or whatever I thought might be tasty.  While we didn’t shower the kids with anything or everything their hearts’ desired at the moment, there still was no problem getting them new clothes and shoes when they needed them, or paying for field trips or school supplies.  I bought myself and my husband new clothes now and then without worry (although I’m actually not a big shopper).  We had a new patio installed and some other landscaping done because the financing was so good and we felt we could afford the payments.  The spike in gasoline prices wasn’t an issue, mainly because one of our cars is a hybrid and also because we are just not that into driving all over the place.  There was no problem paying for the children’s music lessons, braces, etc.  We thankfully have good medical insurance and were healthy all year so we didn’t have any major expenses in that area either.  When we came home from our Disney trip, my husband had received a nice bonus from work which paid for everything for Christmas.   He also received a nice cost-of-living raise on his military retirement.

Things started to change late October 2008 when my husband’s manager announced that effective immediately, there would be no more overtime (note: The amount of work coming in for Brett did not cease nor diminish, however – it just began to back up).  We had forgotten how small his regular paycheck was, but with what we had put away we were able to continue to cover expenses. His employer also announced that there would be no pay increases for anyone in 2009, which caused us to take a small gulp. I decided I needed to find something to bring in a little money, but something that would not interfere with the children’s activities or school schedule, and in February of 2009 I started work as a kitchen assistant in a nearby elementary school. It’s a fun job, but my once-a-month paychecks did not even begin to make up the overtime pay we had lost.  We got a large tax refund in March, which I put away, but by July it was all gone, used again to cover our monthly expenses. We dipped into our overdraft accounts and ran them up to their limits, then broke out the credit cards in August. Even without shopping sprees, or fancy vacations, they were up to their (high) limits by the end of the year after covering emergency medical expenses, car repairs, and some home repairs. I personally began to be afraid that we would run out of food, and looking back I realize I spent an awful lot on food. Our pantry was always filled to overflowing as was a storage shelf out in the garage. But eventually, I had to dig into that as well as I had less and less per week to spend on groceries as we struggled to cover our mounting payments.

In early October we decided to sell one of our cars, the hybrid. It had low mileage, was in great condition and its value was way over what we owed. We had all of two serious lookers, and both of them offered far less than it was worth. We decided to keep it when we saw how much our gasoline bill spiked when we were driving our other car, a VW Passat wagon. With the hybrid, we only needed to fill the tank once a month, with the Passat it was once a week. We didn’t want to get rid of the VW though as it was the only car that could fit all of us (as well as our dogs) if we ever wanted or needed to go somewhere as a family.

In early December, we tried to refinance our house to lower our payment. No cash-out was requested, just a lower payment. After shelling out for the appraisal (based on the bank’s conditional pre-approval), running paperwork back and forth, we were denied final approval because our debt-to-income ratio was too high and because we had no cash to bring to the closing.

Thankfully I had already purchased everything for Christmas, but otherwise, by mid-December, we had hit rock-bottom. It was a come-to-Jesus time for us and our debt.

10 Years a Blogger

I rarely have given a thought to how long I’ve been blogging, but this past weekend it struck me that it was 10 years ago this month that I first started out. Ten years? How did that happen? That’s a lot of writing under the bridge. 

Some readers may remember that my first blog was I’m Losing It Here, all about our family’s efforts to get out of debt along with me (once again) trying to lose weight. I started the blog because I thought that writing about the process would help me stay honest, motivated and on track. More for my own sake than any other reason, I blogged about our ups and downs, what we were learning along the way, and eventually even shared a frugal recipe or two. Writing about that journey truly kept me sane, and I learned much along the way, not only about the process of ridding ourselves of debt, but about myself as well. I can’t begin to tell how surprised I was though to discover one day that others had somehow found I’m Losing It Here and were actually reading what I had to say. And, some were sticking around to read more. And then following me! And commenting too! As a beginning blogger you hope to attract readers, but when you actually do . . . WOW!

Getting ourselves out of debt, according to Dave Ramsey, should have taken 11 months. It actually took over three years because stuff happens, especially when you have three kids at home, but in 2013 Brett was able to retire (something we initially had no idea could happen), and we had segued into getting ready to move to Hawai’i, to the island of Kaua’i. The blog segued as well to Noho’ana Hau’ole: Life Is Good, which chronicled our steps in downsizing, selling our stuff, selling our house, and finally making our big move in June of 2014. Once again, writing kept me focused and on track as we completed our goals and set new ones every month along with everything else that went along with making such a big move. 

Once in Hawai’i, the blog changed again, this time because WordPress initially refused to coordinate with our new IP provider. The View From the Treehouse, named after the views from our first house on Kaua’i, focused on adjusting to life on a small island in the middle of the ocean and about all that beautiful little piece of rock had to offer. Brett came on board as well to add articles about his hikes around the island. The View sadly ended when the hosting company charged me more than double for my second year than what I had paid for the domain when I set it up.

And thus it was back to WordPress, and The Occasional Nomads came to be. I wasn’t ready to stop writing; in fact, at this point, I realized I almost needed to write more than wanted to write, and it was time once again to change my blogging’s focus and direction. While continuing to write about our life on Kaua’i, I also wanted to write about travel. Brett and I have always loved to travel, but at that time we were still in the dreaming stage about trips we might take once all our little birds had left the nest. Little did I guess when I started The Occasional Nomads that he and I would become actual full-time nomads, but as the saying goes, here we are. And what a ride it’s been! I know we’ll eventually slip back into being truly occasional nomads once again, and that I’ll be blogging about it, but we’re not there yet.

Back in the dark ages, in my senior year of high school, my English instructor predicted that I would someday write The Great American Novel. I’ve thought about it over the years, of writing about the daily minutia of life, the dreams, the goals, the small and the great struggles, and the successes and failures that regular people endure or celebrate every day as they create and make a life. But a novel isn’t in me. So instead I’ve documented the life I’ve made, the life I’m still creating, and the dreams we’re fulfilling. As our son once said, I like the sound of my own voice. It’s why I’m going to keep writing.

And to all who have found me and kept reading over the years, thank you. Without your validation, blogging over the years would have been nothing more than shouting into the wind. As most teachers will tell you, we always get back as much if not more from our students than we give out in the classroom, and it’s been the same with blogging – I feel like I’ve received far more over the years from readers than what I’ve produced. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some of you and becoming friends for life. Your kindness, support, and advice (and putting up with numerous typos, misspelled and misplaced words) have meant the world to me. I hope you’ll all stick around to see what happens next.

Sunday Morning 12/8/2019: Week 2 in Portland

There will be room for all of us on the sofa in our living room!

After a stop at Trader Joes, Brett and I moved over to our long-term rental last Sunday morning, and all I can say is this place is fantastic! It looked good in the pictures but it’s even better in reality. The spacious two-bedroom apartment was built into the attic of a 100-year-old Craftsman home, and you can tell the hosts had a lot of fun decorating and equipping the home for guests. I especially love the huge dining table we have this year as well as the big desk for Brett to work at, and all the room we’ll have to spread out when the girls are here. The house has everything we could possibly need as well because the hosts, a retired couple our ages, have really thought of everything. Every time we see them they ask if we need anything more, but so far we haven’t been able to come up with anything (they stopped by Friday evening with additional umbrellas for us). They’ve even offered to wash our towels and other linens for us (which we will do ourselves though). The neighborhood is nice too, quiet with lots of big, old Craftsman homes sitting on big lots, and we’re not too far away from WinCo, Costco, and other stores as well as the airport (but far enough away that we’re not bothered by jet noise).

I love the BIG dining table! Last year we could barely squeeze the five us at the table in the house we rented.
The master bedroom has its own sitting area with a television. The bed is super comfortable.

We enjoyed some pretty nice weather for several days we arrived in Portland, with blue skies on many days which helped my mood considerably. However, rain arrived on Friday and had continued for the past few days so we’re dealing with that once again. We took care of most of our big shopping errands this past week though so as long as the weather remains damp Brett and I will spend time indoors. We will be getting together with friends a couple of times this week though and I’ve got a medical appointment next Thursday evening.

Lots of blue skies over Portland this week.

The doctor I saw last summer wanted me to stop the medication I’d been taking for GERD when my prescription finished (because it negatively affects my bone density) and I took the last pill a week ago. The heartburn came right back, worse than ever, so I’m heading back to see her this coming week to find out what’s going on (and hopefully new medication). I’ll also be getting a DPT booster and a flu shot, and whatever else she recommends.

This morning I am:

  • Reading: The library took The Guns of August back yesterday. My stomach problems made made it difficult to concentrate this past week so I got little reading done. I’m not sure whether I’ll check it out again or hold off for a while. Brett got me a copy of the fifth book in the Inspector Morse series, The Riddle of the Third Mile, at Powell’s yesterday, but the fourth book, Dead of Jericho, is out of stock everywhere, new or used.
  • Listening to: We’re enjoying another wonderfully quiet morning here. Brett is in the kitchen making breakfast for us this morning (avocado toast and coffee). It’s foggy outside so it’s very quiet out there too (although the neighborhood is regularly pretty quiet all on its own).
  • Watching: The viewing highlight of our week was The Irishman. Just WOW. Superb storytelling, and even more superb acting – Joe Pesci deserves an(other) Oscar for his performance. We also watched The Highwaymen on Netflix (the story of how Bonnie and Clyde were caught) and we binge-watched a very creepy British mystery/thriller, Requiem. We also binge-watched the third season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and are going to start watching Late Night tonight, with Mindy Kaling and Emma Thompson. The house has a 72-inch television and full cable including Netflix and Amazon Prime, so we’re feeling very spoiled.
  • Cooking: Meals will stay simple for us again this week. We’re having stuffed peppers tonight, and other meals this week will include leftover quiche; broccoli & cheese soup with a sandwich of some kind; and teriyaki chicken over cauliflower rice along with some cucumber. We’ll fill in the other nights with leftovers. I am trying to eat smaller portions, and stay away from acidy foods, but there is currently nothing I can eat right now that doesn’t seem to aggravate the GERD.
  • Happy I accomplished last week: We got our big Costco shop done on Thursday afternoon and stopped at New Seasons Market for a few things yesterday so we’re ready for the girls’ arrival (although they won’t be here until the week after this one). The house is stuffed with food right now. I’ve gotten all the girls’ gifts sorted and wrapped, and ordered gifts to take with us to Japan for the grandkids. We stopped at Target on Wednesday and picked up a new spiralizer (third time’s a charm, fingers crossed, etc.) and a couple of other cooking utensils that we can use now but want to take along to use in Japan.
    We already carry a good vegetable peeler and a corkscrew along with us and have now added a silicone spatula, a pair of tongs, and yet another spiralizer. Please send reminders when it’s time for us to pack again so we don’t leave the spiralizer behind.
  • Looking forward to this week: I am getting my hair cut this afternoon and I’m so looking forward to it! I was surprised to get a Sunday appointment, but that’s one of the days the Deva curl specialist works. We’re having lunch with our friend Joan at her home on Tuesday afternoon, along with the nomad couple we met last summer, Chris and Sarah, who are back again in Portland. On Thursday I’m meeting up with another good friend, Elaine, for coffee at our favorite spot so we can catch up and set the world straight once again. While I can’t exactly say I’m looking forward to seeing the Dr., I do want to find out what’s going on with my stomach and hopefully get some new medication!
  • Thinking of good things that happened: Moving into our current Airbnb home has been a very good thing – Brett and I are still pinching ourselves that we got this place. We had dim sum with our long-time friend Sylvia on Thursday and had a great time catching up (and a good meal too). Sylvia is from Hong Kong and had just returned from a family visit, so we got to hear some about the situation there. Getting together with friends is always the best part of coming back to Portland!
    We always let Sylvia order the dim sum – she started our feast with shrimp har gow, pork shu mai, and beef cheung fun.
  • Thinking of frugal things we did: We’ve finished almost all of our food shopping (just need to buy more produce after the girls arrive) and we are well under budget – we have been super strict about sticking to our shopping lists. I ordered both our grandchildren’s Christmas gifts and received free shipping for both gifts as well as Cyber Monday discounts of at least 20%.
  • Grateful for: I’m very grateful I could get in so quickly to see the doctor this time – last summer I had to wait nearly two months for an appointment! As always, I’m extremely thankful for our good medical insurance (Medicare and TricareForLife) that covers everything with little to no out-of-pocket cost. 
  • Bonus question: What’s on your Christmas list this year? I remember that when I was young I could always come up with a long list of things I wanted for Christmas and was always puzzled when my mom and grandmother would both always say they didn’t have a list because they didn’t need or want anything. Who couldn’t come up with a list for Christmas? Well, this year I have a very short list with just four things on it, and I had to struggle a bit to come up with these: an Amazon gift card that I can use to purchase books for my Kindle; a J. Jill gift card; a Coldwater Creek gift card, and a pair of silver hoop earrings because I have lost yet another pair. I made a list because the girls insisted and because we do a Secret Santa gift swap each year ($35 or under). Like my mom and grandmother, I really don’t need or want anything else this year other than time with Brett and the girls.

Overall, I’m enjoying the calm of being back in Portland, of being in familiar territory, so to speak. I like knowing my way around and the convenience of having a car again to get to places, although we did fine without one last summer. We’ve already been talking about coming back next year, but with the intent of going through all the stuff we have in storage with the girls and letting them take the things they want, and then downsizing the rest even more. We neither miss nor have deep feelings these days about most of the stuff we kept. We’ll see though – it will depend on whatever we finally come to a decision about the keep traveling/settle down divide we’re currently working our way through. 

That’s a wrap for this week! It was a good one for us, and I hope a good one for everyone else as well. Here’s to another week of good food, good times, good friends, good books, and good health for everyone as the holiday season approaches.

30 Terrific Travel Tips

(picture credit: blog.ted.com)

Often it’s the small things that can turn a good journey into a great one. During the last giveaway, I asked those who entered to post their favorite travel tips and they generously shared ones covering topics from health to packing to souvenirs.

Below are 30 great ways to make your next travel adventure even better. I’ve added a few of my own as well: 

Planning:

  • If you love travel planning, great, but if not, travel with someone who does and then say “thank you.”

Staying Healthy:

  • Stay hydrated on long flights or train journeys by drinking lots of water and/or juice (tomato juice is a refreshing choice) and skipping caffeinated and alcoholic beverages (which can be dehydrating).
  • Swab Vaseline inside of your nose during a flight to avoid catching a cold from others
  • Wipe down everything around your seat you may touch with antibacterial wipes, and carry antibacterial gel for your hands after using the bathroom.
  • Don’t use the airplane-provided blanket or pillow; bring your own shawl for a coverup, and your own neck pillow. The airplane blanket or pillow can be placed in your seat for additional lumbar support.

Packing:

  • Pack as lightly as you can, and travel with as little luggage as possible. Once you’ve put in everything you want to take, try to remove at least a third or more of it because that’s probably what isn’t needed and won’t get used.
  • Choose lightweight clothes that can be layered easily.
  • Choose quick-drying clothes if you won’t be staying where there are a washer and dryer.
  • Only pack a few small-size toiletries. Once at your destination assess what’s on hand and purchase more there if necessary.
  • Pack a clean, damp, inexpensive washcloth in a plastic bag into your purse or personal carry-on item. Upon arrival wash your face, hands, and neck – very soothing after a long flight!
  • The most important clothing item you take along is a comfortable pair of shoes.
  • Sturdy canvas shopping totes make great, lightweight personal carry-on bags. They’re easy to carry, fit under the seat in front during a flight, and can hold lots of items along with a purse. Plus, you have a reusable shopping bag when you arrive.

Souvenirs:

  • Your own photos make the best souvenirs. Take lots of pictures!
  • Purchase interesting postcards at your destination, then back home display in a basket where you can easily pull them out and remember your trip.
  • Purchase small but useful gifts and souvenirs: tea towels, earrings, kitchen utensils, coffee mugs, t-shirts, holiday ornaments, linens, scarves, lipsticks or other small cosmetics are lightweight and pack easily.
  • Small, packaged food items make great souvenirs and help you recreate the tastes of where you’ve been. Avoid larger jars or cans as they have to go inside checked luggage and can boost the weight.
  • Give children a set amount of spending money upfront to buy their own souvenirs or snacks with the understanding that a) they can’t ask you to buy them something, and b) when the money is gone, it’s gone. Children learn very quickly to think carefully about spending when they control their own money.

Eating:

  • Carry along a cooler when you travel in a car or by train (from small to full-size, depending on the space available), or a small one with you on a plane to keep snacks, meals, or drinks cool and fresh.
  • Choose low-cost portable food (i.e. sandwiches or wraps) and add fruit or fresh vegetable for light, healthy meals – the variety is endless.
  • Save your loyalty program points to use at airport food purveyors for free or discounted meals so you don’t have to pay airport prices. 
  • Always try the chocolate wherever you go!

On the Road:

  • Pay careful attention to arrival times and make lodging arrangements accordingly. If your arrival time is early in the morning, you might not be able to check into your hotel until later in the afternoon and have to wander around with your luggage for several hours (not good if you’re exhausted). If you can’t book an afternoon arrival time, you can reserve lodging beginning the night before, and ask that your roomor  be held for you.
  • During your travel day, count your baggage and “toteables” after every stop or activity (i.e. stopping for coffee, using the restroom) to make sure nothing has been left behind.
  • Always bring along something to do in downtime, whether that’s reading, a game, knitting or crocheting. If you have to wait or have a long layover, it will make the time pass more quickly.
  • Have a plan, but be flexible. Stay calm, work with the unexpected if you have to, and accept you can’t control everything.
  • However, always have a Travel Plan B in case of an emergency, and an emergency fund to cover the unexpected.

On the ground:

  • For long-term travel, think about carrying small utensils and other practical items you can’t do without, things like a vegetable peeler or washcloths. A wireless charger is a good addition as well.
  • Don’t schedule every moment – give yourself room to be spontaneous.
  • It’s OK to have a bucket list of things to see and do on your journey but give yourself time to wander down a sidestreet or turn down an alleyway you keep passing or go into a shop that looks interesting. Try that unknown dish or food. Your curiosity will thank you.
  • Travel with a sense of wonder.

Any travel experience will be as good as you make it, and adding a few new tricks along with having a positive attitude can and will improve any journey.

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).