Postcard From: Fushimi Inari-Taisha

P1080166

Although I made many, many trips to Kyoto during my college overseas study tour and during our two navy tours in Japan, I had not only never visited the Fushimi Inari-Taisha, it had never even appeared on my radar of places to see in Kyoto. It wasn’t until I got active on Pinterest, and pictures of the vermillion tunnels of torii gates kept appearing over and over that I became more curious, and decided that on our 2015 visit to the city I would not miss visiting this shrine.

P1080158

Torii gate at the entrance to Fushimi Inari-Taisha

P1080159

Fox statue guarding the entrance to the shrine. Smaller fox statues can be found throughout the shrine.

Fushimi Inari-Taisha is the head shrine of the Shinto kami Inari, god of prosperity, worldly success and industry, and of fertility, rice, sake and tea. Inari is also the patron of merchants and businessmen. The thousands of torii gates (in Japanese, torii literally means ‘bird perch’) located in the shrine were each donated by businesses as offerings to Inari. Statues and images of foxes can also be seen throughout the shrine as fox (kitsune) are considered to be messengers to the gods. They are often seen with a key in their mouth, indicating their mythical role as keeper of the rice granary.

P1080155

The main shrine. Visitors are lined up to make offerings.

P1080156

Main shrine roof detail and lanterns.

The girls and I set out for the shrine on our last morning in Kyoto. Located on the south side of the city, on the side of Mt. Inari, it was easy to find, only a short trip by train from Kyoto station.

P1080170

Torii are engraved with the name of the business that made the donation.

P1080173

A smaller shrine area located midway through the grounds.

P1080168

Fox ema left at one of the smaller shrine areas. The ema cost around 300 yen ($3) – the purchaser draws on a face, then writes a prayer request on the back (for examination success, sports win, good job, etc.)

After entering the shrine, we hiked through the vermillion tunnels for well over an hour, weaving our way up and over hills and through the forest. The immense number of torii massed together is almost overwhelming, and yet the tunnels beckon you to walk through and follow their turns and twists to see where they lead. Just when you start to feel like you could get lost, there you are back at a familiar spot. And, throughout the shrine are located smaller shrines and rest areas where you can sit and have a snack, or write your prayer request on the back of a fox ema (small wooden plaques). Unfortunately, because we needed to leave in order to to catch our train back to Tokyo, we missed hiking through the last great tunnel located at the back of the shrine.

P1080178

WenYu enjoys some hot, freshly made takoyaki.

P1080179

YaYu enjoys a skewer of grilled pork – she said it was the most delicious thing she ate in Japan!

The shrine is a popular destination for Japanese tourists, and as is typical at many shrines, when you leave you enter a street of souvenir shops and food stalls. We stood in line to enjoy some Japanese street food: a version of takoyaki (round pancakes with octopus and herbs) and some skewers of grilled pork.

P1080172

In the Shinto religion, torii mark the transition between sacred and profane space. Walking through the tunnels does indeed give a sense of the divine, of being in a very special place.

I can’t believe it took me so long to visit this beautiful shrine, but it was definitely worth the wait. Fushimi Inari-Taisha is a fascinating combination of energy, beauty, and mystery (I would love to walk through the tunnels at dusk!), and has earned a permanent place on my must-visit list whenever I next visit Kyoto.

Advertisements

You Lose Some, You Win Some, v.2

go-with-the-flow

Life is pretty calm around here for the most part, with days flowing in and out of each other without a whole lot of turmoil and/or surprise.

This week is already begging to be different, with both good and bad news showing up.

Bad news out of the way first:

I don’t know what’s going on with my computer. It’s doing the whole overheating and battery draining again but it’s been inconsistent. I’ll have a bad day where I wonder if it will make it through the day and then the next day everything is perfectly normal (like yesterday). On Sunday afternoon it got so bad that I decided I’d better order a new laptop, and of course right after I did the overheating stopped and the battery began operating normally. Then, Monday morning the overheating and battery issues returned with a vengeance and hung around all day, but yesterday it was back to operating normally. This morning it’s fine again . . . so far. The new laptop arrives today but I don’t know whether to keep it or return it. I’m afraid if I don’t keep it this one will soon up and die, but if I do keep it this one will continue to run fine. Arrrrgh! I’m more than a bit upset about (possibly) having to buy a new laptop after only two years, especially after paying several hundred dollars to have this one repaired just six months ago for the same issues. I’ve been using a Mac for over 24 years now, and have never had a problem until I got this one.

I spoke with my phone service provider on Sunday morning about not being able to call or text with the new phone I had just received last week, and that tech support had determined the phone was defective. The rep I talked with was wonderful, and agreed to replace the phone without hesitation. However, I first had to pay for Phone #2, so that’s two phones out of our account right now (along with a new laptop). However, when Phone #1 is returned I will be credited back the full amount (free shipping for return is provided). Then, I got a notice on Monday afternoon that my new phone would arrive . . . in two weeks. What? Two weeks with no phone? But, late yesterday I received another email that the phone had shipped (!!!) and should be here tomorrow!

Staying on the winning side of things, I found both a great price and great schedule for WenYu’s and my flight back to Boston this summer. There were a few flights with cheaper prices (although not by much) but they either had l-o-n-g layovers or not enough layover (like only 35 minutes between flights, not enough time to even move the luggage from one plane to another, let alone passengers). Each of the less expensive flights also had a redeye segment, and after last month’s trip to Colorado neither WenYu nor I was eager to repeat that experience – we were both zombies when we arrived. The new flight schedule gives us a full 13-hour overnight layover, enough time to get a good night’s sleep and breakfast in a nearby hotel before returning to the airport in the morning and heading on to Boston, and with our luggage still checked through. I also got a terrific price on a nonstop flight between Boston and Denver – less than $200! – as well as for my flight from Denver back home – $328 – which includes a nonstop flight between Seattle and Lihue (we paid $378 per ticket just for the Seattle-Lihue non-stop, which was a bargain, when we moved in 2014). I also was able to reserve a room in the same B&B YaYu and I stayed at in Colorado when we visited in 2012 – it was the most reasonable place to stay in the area, is an easy commute to my mom’s residence, and the breakfasts are to die for. All that’s remaining to arrange now is ground transportation and hotel in Massachusetts, and I’m closing in on that.

And, saving the best for the last, WenYu was notified on Monday that she had been selected as one of ten statewide finalists and will be receiving a $3,000 scholarship!! One student from each high school in the state was chosen to receive a $1000 scholarship, then ten were chosen from among those students for the top finalist awards. This means that all of her costs this year at Wellesley will be met through scholarships and grants, that she will not need any federal financial aid to cover expenses. Brett and I are so proud of this girl we could just about burst!

You lose some, but you win some too! I’m still wondering though what the rest of the week will bring . . . .

This Week’s Menu

Shrimp pad thai

Shrimp pad thai

I almost can’t believe that only one day on last week’s menu ended up getting skipped (besides the ones we already knew about). It was a crazy week of errands and meetings, but I ended up having to push the spaghetti with marinara and meatballs into this week when WenYu had to attend an all-day service project in Hanapepe on Saturday, and Brett accompanied her for the day (YaYu and I ate leftovers).

This coming week thankfully appears to be bit more calm. Thanks to last week’s big Costco shop, the pantry, freezer and refrigerator are well-stocked. We also found a nice piece of London broil in the marked-down section at Safeway, enough for two meals, so will be using some in a stir-fry, and some in Spicy Steak Pizzaiola next week.

Must-buys at the farmers’ market this week will be salad greens, fresh mung bean sprouts, cucumbers, and more broccoli (if we can find it).

Appearing on this week’s menu:

  • Tuesday (today): Classic marinara with meatballs; bread, salad (meatless meatballs for me)
  • Wednesday: Shrimp pad thai
  • Thursday: Grilled hot dogs; macaroni salad; traditional cole slaw (vegan hot dog for me)
  • Friday: Vegetable spring rolls; chicken potstickers; steamed rice
  • Saturday: Grilled teriyaki chicken; zaru soba; cucumber salad (chilled tofu for me)
  • Sunday: Turkey divan casserole (not sure yet what I’ll have, but probably soup)
  • Monday: Beef & broccoli stir fry; steamed rice (tofu & broccoli stir fry for me)

Fingers crossed that this week goes easier than last week!

Not A Poodle

bigstock-Standard-Poodle-7733433-Bigstock-Danielkz

This past December, as Brett, I and the girls were heading out to dinner with our son and his family, I made my usual obligatory remarks about my weight, that I had gained too much, that I was changing shape again, yada, yada, yada. The girls reply: “Mom. Stop trying to be a poodle.”

A what?

A poodle. Why, they asked, was I trying to or wanting to become a poodle all of the time? We don’t expect dogs to change their breed’s characteristics, even though they’re all dogs, so why do we expect to be able to change our own?

I was not born tall, or lean. I do not have long legs or slim hips and have always erred on the side of being overweight. I have small, wide feet. I have thinnish curly hair that grayed prematurely. I have blue eyes, fair skin with freckles, and I sunburn easily. Why couldn’t I be happy with who I am? the girls asked. They thought I looked terrific, and Brett agreed with them.

When we got home that night, WenYu shared the following video with me. She had used it in as part of a presentation she gave on body image, and women’s seemingly unceasing need to make ourselves over into something we are not, pushed along by both science and society.

The video was a genuine attitude-changer for me, and has helped me look at myself in a whole new light. I eat a wide variety of healthy foods, limit my alcohol intake, and get enough exercise. I am not obese. I am in good health, both physically and mentally. I have a loving family and good friends, and am living where and how I want, with little to no stress. And that should be good enough.

It is these days. No more dieting, no more scales, no more worrying about my size. It’s been positively freeing. I am not a poodle, don’t want to be a poodle, and am not trying to be a poodle any more.

Recently, there’s also been some icing on the metaphorical cake (so to speak). Scientists now think that being overweight, or slightly obese, can actually protect your health.

Sunday Afternoon 4/24/2016

image_8_1_1

An example of one of the lei we ordered for WenYu: white orchids intertwined with maile

Can I just say I will be so glad when this school year is over? There seems to be one activity after another going on these days, one meeting after another, with all the usual studying, deadlines and such still hanging over the girls’ heads. There’s less than a month left in the school year, and it feels like way too much is being crammed into these last few weeks. It’s exhausting for all of us.

I won’t be making a side trip up to see my friend in Maine next August. Although she was welcoming, she will not only be having the bathroom remodeled at her house at the time, but will also be getting ready for her daughter’s wedding at the around the same time I would be there – not a good time for a houseguest. We’re both sad about not getting to see each other, but know we’ll manage a visit one of these days.

And, just to keep things special, my MacBook has started to overheat, and is getting ready to fry itself again. I just had it repaired six months ago for this same thing, so am debating with myself now whether it’s worth it to repair again or if I should go ahead and buy a new one before this one dies and accept that I got a lemon when I bought it barely two years ago. I am not particularly happy with Apple right now (my new phone also had a glitch and has to be replaced).

Anyway, this afternoon I am:

  • Reading: I am ashamed to admit that I did not pick up a book this week even though I’m almost through Over the Edge (down to suicides and murders). I did lots of other reading – magazines, blogs, etc. – but nothing out of a book.
  • Listening to: Birds, lots and lots of birds this morning. And the trade winds blowing through the trees. It’s been a lovely, quiet morning here.
  • Watching: We finished all the available episodes of Death in Paradise this past week, and started watching The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt last night. Love it! Tonight I’ll be watching more of Call the Midwife, Grantchester, and Mr. Selfridge.
  • Cooking/baking: There’s still lots of Brett’s birthday cake left over, so no baking today. Brett made sweet bread french toast for breakfast this morning (I had cereal with soy milk and berries), and tonight’s dinner will be broiled stuffed tomatoes, salami, bread, mozzarella and grilled zucchini.
  • Happy I accomplished last week: On Thursday, Brett and I ordered all of WenYu’s lei for graduation. They are gorgeous! She will be getting one each from her brother and sisters, one from her aunt and uncle, and one from her grandmother, as well as a haku (head wreath) from Brett and I. We also stopped at a local bike shop on Thursday and got Brett on the waiting list for a used bike (his birthday present), and we got our big monthly Costco shop done on Wednesday.
  • Looking forward to next week: Hopefully we’ll have a calmer week than this last one! As far as I know there are no meetings or appointments scheduled, but that could of course change.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: YaYu was elected president of her Key Club chapter for next year, and WenYu did well in her last track meet (although not well enough to go to State, which is fine with her). Although we ran a lot of errands that day, Brett said he still had a fantastic birthday (he was so surprised by the stop at the bike shop!). I rode the exercise bicycle twice every day this past week, and we put $17.47 in the change/$1 bill jar!
  • Grateful for: So thankful for all the rain we’ve had recently. Unlike Portland, I love it when it rains here and for the rainbows that show up when it stops. Also, I’m very thankful for the terrific, friendly service I received from our phone service provider over the past few days – there was a problem with my new phone, and when they couldn’t remedy it they replaced the phone quickly and without question or hassle.
  • Bonus Question: What are your biggest time wasters? I used to waste an extraordinary amount of time on Pinterest, but these days it’s Twitter. I enjoy reading others’ pithy comments, and it keeps me up to date on things I might not otherwise know. I also love playing Neko Atsume, the cat collecting game. I usually check the site several times a day to see which cats are visiting or have visited, and find out what gifts they’ve left for me. It’s a total waste of time, but fun (and addicting).

How is your Sunday going? I hope you’ve all had a very good week!

Burma, One Woman’s Love Affair

One of the best countries to travel solo is Burma, AKA Myanmar.

I spent 31 days boating and bussing across this incredible, new to the Western world, country and I was amazed.

Warning: Don’t listen to any media news about this isolated and remarkable country. Ask a person who has actually visited Burma.

What did I love?

The non-stop devotional people who are kind caring and told me where to get off the city bus in Yangon before I asked.

This is the mark of a compassionate culture.

I didn’t want to leave, everywhere you looked, more lovely souls.

Example. My passport fell out of my camera bag in the taxi from the airport and I didn’t know it until I was checking in at my guesthouse and noticed I didn’t have it.

The smiling taxi driver returned it within the hour, without being asked to.

Wow.

The Hidden Places

I’d never heard of Pyinoolwin before arriving in Burma, but this place soothed my soul, the orchids and flowers in the botanical garden got me awake and strolling at 8AM in the morning.

I met kind women gardening who painted me up to look like them.

Yangon and Bagan are filled with little known temples, markets, and beckoning Buddhism that doesn’t make you feel like you have to be Buddhist. It’s serenity on tap, a simpler life than what most people are used to. It’s in the air and the soil.

Maybe even in the water but I didn’t drink any. I buy bottled when in Asia.

Burma has everything, kind people, holy places, simple tea shops selling noodles, and markets where the farmers will talk with you as they slice their fish, put out their wares, and haggle over price.

I didn’t feel unsafe at all. Yes I know what happened to Aung San Suu Kyi, but she’s off house arrest and things are beginning to change in this amazing country. Political prisoners are starting to be released and Burma is waking up to the fact that tourism can be good.

Don’t wait. Go now. You will never regret it. 

2motorbikingcuteBurmaGirl

Photo: http://www.bartnikowski.com

Want to see more of Burma and discover the highlights of my 31 days exploring this mystical country?

Check out my Myanmar issue of Vagabond Travel Mag in the itunes store. It’s for iphones and ipads.

Everything you ever wanted to know about Burma but didn’t know anyone who had the answers.

Here is the link.

Vagabond Travel Mag

See my gallery of photography from Burma here

Mary Bartnikowski is an award-winning photographer, author, educator, retreat leader, and lover of world travel. She has led programs at Apple, Intel, Stanford University, and globally. Come say hello at www.bartnikowski.com and get a free ebook, Secrets of Stunning Photographs.

#Kauai: Kauai Coffee Company

Kauai Coffee Company Visitor Center

Kauai Coffee Company Visitor Center & Gift Shop

Calling all coffee lovers!

It’s been a while since Brett and I have been to the west side of the island, but we’re making plans to go down that way next week, and one of our stops will be the Kauai Coffee Company.

KCC is the largest coffee estate in the United States, covering over 3,000 acres on Kauai’s west side. Over four million coffee trees grow in the island’s rich volcanic soil, and are fed with water from Mt. Wai’ale’ale.

The drive to the west side is lovely, with sweeping views of the ocean and out to Niihau island (privately owned by the Robinson Family, Niihau is off-limits except for the Hawaiians who live and work there). After turning off the highway just past the town of Kalaheo, but before reaching Eleele, signs direct you down through the coffee estate to the visitor center. From here you can take a short walking tour that gives an overview of the coffee growing, harvesting, and roasting processes.

IMG_1794

Row after row of coffee trees . . .

IMG_1801

Ripening coffee beans

Coffee harvester

Coffee harvester

IMG_1799

Drying platforms

The best part of the experience however is waiting at the end of the tour: the tasting room! If you are a coffee lover it’s like reaching nirvana. There are nearly 20 varieties of KCC coffee available to sample, from light to dark roasts and specialty varietals, as well as several flavored coffees . . . for free (I don’t particularly care for flavors when it comes to my coffee, but KCC’s chocolate macadamia nut is an exception). All the coffee is 100% Kauai grown and roasted – no outside beans are included. You’re welcome to try as much and as many as you like (cream and sugar are provided).

IMG_1809

The tasting room (which includes a small snack bar where you can purchase items to go with your coffee)

IMG_1803

Five different varieties are offered at each table

You can purchase your favorites or other KCC-related items, including gift packs and coffee samplers, in the attached gift shop before you head for home or to other west side locations (some of the flavors and varieties can only be found at the gift shop).

IMG_1805

Getting our coffee buzz on in 2014.

This Week’s Menu

Classic Marina Sauce (photo courtesy of the NY Times)

Classic Marina Sauce (photo courtesy of the NY Times)

Well, last week almost went as planned . . .

A few days got switched around, and the Spicy Steak Pizzaiola ended up being moved to yesterday. Then, I decided the steak would be better used for a beef & broccoli stir-fry because broccoli is in season here, and we bought a big bunch at the farmers’ market last week. All was well until I discovered yesterday morning that I didn’t actually have any steak in the freezer, and I still can’t figure out where I got the idea I did. So, last night we ended up having Broccoli & Tofu in Spicy Peanut Sauce, which we all enjoyed, even if it wasn’t steak.

Brett’s birthday falls on Thursday this week, but there’s one more track meet that day, so we will celebrate instead on Friday. He’s requested hamburgers and potato salad, and I’m going to make a lemon cake with coconut frosting, one of his and the girls’ favorites.

We are also doing our big monthly Costco shop this week . . . supplies are starting to run a bit low around here. We’re also going to stop and check out a new market that recently opened close to us – it sells only locally raised meat and vegetables. If nothing else we’ll pick up some ground beef for Friday’s burgers.

Here’s what’s on the menu this week:

  • Tuesday (tonight): Barbecue pulled pork sandwiches; coleslaw (I’ll have barbecue tofu).
  • Wednesday: Pizza (parent’s meeting at the high school – I’ll have . . . something)
  • Thursday: Track meet (the last one!) – leftovers and YOYO
  • Friday: Grilled hamburgers; potato salad (veggie burger for me)
  • Saturday: Grilled lemon chicken thighs; quinoa salad
  • Sunday: Stuffed tomatoes; salami; fresh mozzarella; bread
  • Monday: Spaghetti with classic marinara sauce, meatballs, green salad & bread (meatless meatballs for me)

Once again, we’ll see how it goes!

How Do We Do It?

budget-travel

How do we manage to save and pay for travel? How did we manage to afford a week’s vacation at the Grand Canyon, or our upcoming getaway to Oahu? How can we even think of taking a trip back to Japan next spring?

Aren’t we retired and living on a fixed income? Don’t we have two, soon-to-be three, children going to college? Aren’t we living in one of the most expensive places in the United States?

The answer to all the above questions is yes. We do live on a fixed income. We will have two, soon-to-be three, children attending college. And the cost of living here on Kaua’i is higher than many places back on the mainland.

How are we able to afford to travel as much as we do and afford all of the above?

Here’s our big secret: We live below our means.

We have three sources of retirement income: 1) Brett’s military retirement, 2) our Social Security benefits, and 3) a pension Brett receives from the last company he worked for (I rolled my retirement into an IRA). WenYu and YaYu also currently receive a monthly dependent benefit from Social Security, but that ends when they graduate from high school, and we are required to provide proof that the money is used to support them (the cost of which is considerably more than what they receive from SS each month). All of it isn’t very much, but it’s more than adequate for our needs.

We live simply. We rent a small but comfortable house, less than 800 square feet. Although the rent is slightly more than we’d like to pay, it is what it is for Kaua’i. We are very careful with our energy use, and keep our utility payments low. We actually use and pay less here in Hawai’i for gas and electric than we did in Portland, but we don’t have heating bills any more, we cook outside more, and use the slow cooker more, rather than heating up the stove or oven. We dry much of our laundry outside. We’re conservative with water use. We have basic cable/WiFi, but mainly watch TV on Netflix or Amazon, and we still use the low-cost family phone plan we had on the mainland. The girls don’t have data plans for their phones (Meiling does, but she pays for it herself). We fix things when we can rather than replace. Clothing expenses here are less compared to what we spent back on the mainland because we don’t need as many clothes. Entertainment is free – we go to the beach, we go watch the sunset, Brett hikes, we get books from the library, and so forth. The girls stay busy with school clubs, sports as well as community service projects.

We don’t have any debt other than my student loan. We use our credit card to earn rewards, but pay it off every month.

We own one four year-old dependable car that gets great gas mileage, a 2012 Honda Civic sedan. We bundle errands so that we’re not driving all over the place (which is hard to do anyway on this island). Our monthly gas expense has also turned out to be less than it was back in Portland, even though gas prices here are higher.

We eat well, but we do it on a budget that we have been able to bring down by several hundred dollars a month since we first arrived here. We’re able to get great prices on produce at our local farmers’ market, and save by bulk shopping at Costco and Amazon Prime, and occasionally Walmart, buying just a few fill-in items at the local, but more expensive, grocery stores. Other than our weekly visit to the farmer’s market, we shop just once a month, and only step in a store otherwise for things like milk or eggs. Brett makes the girls a lunch every day; they often take leftovers. We rarely eat out, and if we do it’s usually at small “local” spots where we can get a good meal at a low price. If we do go to an upscale restaurant for a special occasion, we let them know we’re kamaaina (local) and usually receive a discount.

We take advantage of the benefits Brett receives because of his military service, which include low-cost car and rental insurance, military hotels and recreation services, and low-cost health and dental insurance. We don’t pay premiums or for prescriptions, but have to meet a deductible and pay a percentage of other costs. Brett is enrolled in Medicare, and I will join him next year; the military insurance will stay as our supplemental. We also have a less than negligible tax burden here in Hawai’i because of our income sources and because we rent (we still pay federal taxes though).

But wait! What about all those college expenses? Surely we have to be hiding something or scamming the federal government or someone in order to cover our children’s educational costs so we can spend our own money on traveling.

Nope, there’s no hidden wealth, no secret stashes of money, no undeclared or unreported income. Believe me, we have provided more financial documentation to the federal government and the colleges the girls applied to than we ever did for any mortgage. The total amount of federal financial aid both Meiling and WenYu will receive next year will be less than $4000, around 4% of their combined total college costs. They were both eligible for much more, but are turning it down because they won’t need it. All three of our daughters have known for many years that they would be responsible for their own college expenses, and they have worked incredibly hard (and are still working, in YaYu’s case) to earn scholarships to pay for college. Both Meiling and WenYu were awarded scholarships and grants by the colleges they (will) attend as well as outside scholarships, and Meiling currently works 20-30/hours week to pay for her room & board. We take care of some of their expenses (dorm room needs, luggage, clothing and such), as well as the girls’ travel between college and home, mainly using the frequent flyer rewards we have saved. Their brother pays for their books.

We budget and save for travel because it is important to us – we value experience. We would rather travel than buy things or live in a bigger house or own a home right now or drive a fancier car or go out to eat all the time. We put away money every month for travel; it’s a line item in our budget. It’s not a lot but it adds up month after month. If we spend less than our monthly budget amount in other areas, the leftover goes into our travel fund as well. We save all refunds and gifts, we use rewards from our credit card, and all those $1 bills and the change we save (about $1000/year) goes toward travel too. And, when we take a trip, we do it on a budget, and we stick to it.

That’s how we do it. Living below our means, and saving and taking advantage of the opportunities we have earned or been given allow us to get up and go somewhere else a few times each year, to see family, friends, and eventually, we hope, more of the world.

Sunday Afternoon 4/17/2016

215311922_e68d43dc16_b

It’s another cool and rainy day on the Garden Island. Yesterday it poured most of the day and into the night, but this morning thankfully hasn’t been as bad. I am always happy when it rains here because it not only keeps things green, but also means that we don’t have to turn on the sprinklers for the lawn. It also makes riding the exercise bicycle much more comfortable.

Not a whole lot is going on around here otherwise, at least for me and Brett. WenYu made it into the track finals (running the 1500m) this past week, which means another week of practice and one more meet to go. She is ready to be done though. Both girls have been extremely busy with school and community projects, and besides their regular coursework they’ve also been studying for their upcoming AP exams, which begin in another three weeks. I don’t remember ever being as overloaded as they are when I was in school, but then again AP courses didn’t exist, and I went to school pre-Title IX: girls weren’t allowed to participate in league sports.

P.S. Why I love living here: After I posted this I went out to the garage to ride my exercise bicycle. A group of nine teenage and pre-teen neighborhood girls walked by, and all either waved or threw me the shaka. One even yelled out, “Yeah, Auntie!”

This afternoon I am:

  • Reading: I’m into the last one-third of Over the Edge (it has nearly 600 pages). I just finished reading about the freakish, accidental deaths that have occurred in the canyon. Unlike previous deaths that have been discussed, where many if not most were preventable, these are ones that no one could plan for (lightning strikes, random rock falls). Interestingly, most of lightning strike victims over the years actually survived, which greatly surprised me but was a welcome relief to read. I’m now reading about deaths that occurred because of animal interactions (snakes, scorpions, mountain lions, etc.). Believe it or not, they are extremely rare if not nonexistent. There has never been a death on any of the paid mule rides since they started back in the early 20th century, and the only snake-related death in the national park came when a man was startled by a snake and had a heart attack. The entire book has been extremely interesting, but sobering as well, and has given me quite a bit of thought about safety, planning, and such.
  • Listening to: It’s been a very quiet morning. A few roosters have been screeching off in the distance, but mostly the only sound is the wind blowing through the trees and some occasional rain. Lawnmowers and such have been quiet today because of the wet. Brett just took YaYu to her weekly history study group, and WenYu is studying in her room, so the house is quiet.
  • Watching: Instead of watching Death In Paradise last Sunday, I watched Call The Midwife, Grantchester, and Mr. Selfridge, all of which I will watch again tonight!
  • Cooking/baking: I’m making another pan of brownies this afternoon for brownie sundaes for tonight’s dessert and for the girls’ lunches next week. Dinner tonight is slow-cooker chicken pho (sesame-peanut noodles for me) – the whole house smells wonderful!
  • Happy I accomplished this past week: I finished another Shutterfly photo book for my mom and got that sent off. I also finally ordered a new phone – my four year-old one lacked WiFi calling, and because our house sits in a small valley I’ve been unable to use the phone in the house for either talk or text because I can’t get a signal, and it’s been hit or miss outside as well (Brett and the girls all have WiFi connectibility on their phones). After losing my connection twice on Friday while standing outside and speaking with a friend from Oregon, I decided I’d had enough and bought a new phone – it’s expected to arrive tomorrow!
  • Looking forward to next week: Brett and I will be going to the florist this week to order lei for WenYu’s graduation. Family members have been very generous, so she will be getting some lovely ones! Brett and I will also be giving her a haku, a floral wreath for her head.
  • Thinking of good things that happened: I had a lovely conversation this past week with my Mom, who turns 92 at the end of this month. It was obvious that there are many things she cannot remember these days, but she knew who I was, where I lived, and asked about Brett and all four of our children and her great-grandchild (thankfully I stayed connected during that call). I used the $20 coupon that I received from our last flights on Hawaiian Airlines to help cover the Shutterfly order. I also had calls from two friends in Oregon. I rode my bike every day this past week, even though the weather was a bit warm for a few days and it wasn’t much fun. We put $8.64 cents into the change/$1 bill jar.
  • Grateful for: A husband who will come and chase giant toads out of the garage for me – one came in yesterday evening. He’ll also catch and release geckos outside for the girls, and take care of any other bug that manages to make it into the house (although I have no problems handling bugs and spiders on my own).
  • Bonus Question: What would you request for a last meal? Years ago Brett and I had an anniversary dinner at The Ark restaurant in Willapa, Washington (which has since closed). To this day that dinner remains the most perfect meal I have ever eaten. I said then that my dinner was what I would request for my last meal if it ever came to that. I had fresh Willapa oysters on the shell for an appetizer, followed by a perfectly cooked medium-rare petite filet mignon and roasted potatoes with herbs. Dessert was a Swedish Creme with berries along with a cup of freshly brewed coffee. It was nothing exotic, but every bite was exquisite. I also bought one of their famous Szechuan brioches as we left and enjoyed that for breakfast the next morning.

And that’s a wrap for this Sunday! How was your week? What good things happened for you?