Personal exposé…

Revealing one’s inner self is intimidating. Some of us are an open book, some of us never reveal anything about ourselves, and most of us, like myself, only reveal their truest feelings, deepest thoughts, fears, hopes, and dreams of those we know, trust and love.

As a lurker in Facebook, various blogs and web sites, and has been an obsessed Internet user since the early ’90s, (hence the name of my most recently lost beloved little dog, WorldWideWillie), I have preferred anonymity as opposed to notoriety.
Over the years my younger sister, Julie, a TV producer in Los Angeles, has asked me to appear in one of her many shows. In life, I am lively and animated. In front of a camera, I somehow turn into a stone statue with a curious forced smile that makes me (and others) cringe.  
Twenty years ago, she talked me into appearing on an episode of a gardening show she was producing. With sweaty palms, heart racing, and voice quivering I got through it. I was so inept as a performer that I was unable to watch myself on the video she sent a few weeks later, hiding it from Tom, throwing it away a few months later. With angst, I awaited its broadcasting, fearing friends and acquaintances would see it and call, pretending to enjoy my “performance.” Thank goodness, no one called.

Us lurkers tend to enjoy the quiet seclusion of our non-public lives, preferring to spend our social time with long time friends, neighbors, and family. Oh yes, at times, we can be quite the social butterflies, preferring to flutter among the familiar garden we have harvested over a lifetime.
So, here I am, writing for anyone in the world to see, about a very personal dream, its adjunct expenses (discussing money was always a “no-no” in my little world), my relationship with my more popular and outgoing husband, my fears (zip lines, vaccinations, bungees, bats, guano, being trapped on an airplane on the tarmac, stuck on a chairlift or tram and on and on). 
Also, I will be compelled to deal with the vulnerability of exposing the many mistakes we’ll make along the way, which invariably will fall upon me, as the “official world travel planner” in this pairing.
Reveal, I will. As hard as it will be to say here, that when we showed up at the supposedly lovely stone house we rented for a month in France, for which we paid in advance, is actually a freestanding 300 square foot vacuum repair shop in the industrial district, next to a chlorine processing plant. We’ll take the hit and we’ll take it here. Stay tuned.

Not many vacations…

Last August, Tom and I went to Hollywood, Florida for a work-related convention for six days. He was to be in meetings all day. My plan was to relax by the pool, read books on my Kindle, and soak up the warmth of the sun, none of which occurred. It was either windy, rainy, or cold.  

I spent each of the six days, going back inside, going up the elevator to our room on the 34th floor to get out of my bathing suit and into warm clothes. An hour later, I did the reverse, the sky would clear to a sunny 80 degrees.  

I worked out twice a day in the well-equipped hotel health club, reading four books and at times, wandered aimlessly around the hotel, hoping to strike up a conversation with another bored soul, such as myself.

The sound of the plastic card in the slot of the hotel room door made me squeal with delight as Tom opened the door at the end of each day, a wide grin on his face, his blue eyes twinkling. I couldn’t have been happier to see him.  

Our evenings were spent talking and people watching at various convention festivities, gabbing over candlelight in cozy local restaurants, or walking along the well-lit boardwalk on the inter-coastal waterway, conveniently located outside of our plush hotel.

This trip was a vacation for me, but unfortunately, work for Tom. We seldom went on vacation these past 21 years together, so content at our lakeside home, enjoying our vacation days as “staycation days” mulling around the house, moseying in our yard, fixing this and that, preparing for the upcoming season, entertaining our family and friends and providing a safe haven for our little dogs, who never once saw the inside of “doggy daycare” (Willie, the last of our little dogs, went to “doggie heaven” four months before this trip).

When we returned from Hollywood, Florida we both sighed, relieved to be back home, immediately nestling back into our familiar routines, our comfy chairs, our favorite TV shows, and our homemade meals, always prepared with the utmost of love. We were quite content to be back and to be together.  

No need to wander around the house looking for someone to entertain me. He came home each night after a hard day’s work. No need to change back and forth from bathing suit to clothes. I just leave the suit on.  No need to ride an elevator to the 34th floor, although I do walk down a flight of stairs and back up again while doing laundry or, up a flight and back down to prepare a guest room for company. Cozy candlelight dinners are had right in our own well-appointed kitchen.

I unpacked our overly stuffed suitcases, observing that over half the items we had packed were never worn; the extra shoes, the snacks we never ate, the toiletries we never opened. A day later, the dirty clothes were clean and back in the closet, the suitcases back up in the attic, the snacks back in the kitchen drawers. We were at home. We were happy.

How in the world, how on this planet, how in heaven’s name will we get rid of all of our “stuff,” pack all of our clothes in a maximum of 44 pounds each, be gone for 946 days (so far), have no permanent home, no TV shows in English, no comfy stuffed chair. Are we crazy or what?

926 days and counting…

Big Island Rental

Tom and I have often talked about going to Hawaii together. I had been there many times before we met and have anxiously awaited the day when he and I could share this glorious experience together.

Houseplants here in Minnesota are huge flowering bushes and trees in Hawaii, the lush greenery and colors mesmerizing along with the roaring surf on the world’s best beaches and a tropical climate that only fluctuates a few degrees year-round.

Big Island rental interior

I could write for days about the reasons why one must experience this remote collective of islands, each with its own history and personality, each appealing to travelers for their own personal reasons.  

As we have planned our now 926 days beginning Halloween 2012, Hawaii was definitely in the mix, although not conveniently located to accommodate our lofty itinerary. We grabbed a pricier ocean view house on the Big Island  (outside of our budget for the first time) for one month to bring our family together for Christmas 2014.  

Big Island Rental Master Bedroom

To compensate for the increased cost of the Big Island rental, we decided we must find a home in which to stay put for two to three months earlier in the year at a rate that would compensate for the increased cost of the Big Island house. We were able to accomplish this seemingly impossible scenario by renting a fabulous house on the remote island of Madeira off the coast of Portugal.  

Madeira, Portugal view from the veranda.

Upon researching vacation homes all over the world, we have discovered that both Hawaii and Alaska are some of the most expensive places to visit. An 800 square foot vacation cabin in Alaska typically rents for over $3000 a month for both winter and summer. Hawaii is slightly less at about $2500 a month for the same size condo running around 20% higher during the high season of US winter months. All vacation rentals in Hawaii are subject to a 13.42% state tax.

As we continue to post information about properties we have booked, the theme is consistent, beautiful homes with distinct personality and style, whether a 17th-century farmhouse in Tuscany or an aptly named 14th century “Stone House” on a quaint cobblestone street in Cajarc, France.

Madeira, Portugal interior view

As we’ve come to the realization that it makes sense to stay in Hawaii after the family Christmas gathering to keep costs under control, we realize that Hawaii is an unlikely state to visit with the intent of controlling costs. The islands require most products to be imported with the exception of bananas, pineapple, coffee, ginger root, guavas, macadamia nuts, papayas, and taro. About 90% of Hawaii’s gross product is produced in the service industries.

Our long-term goal has been cruising to Alaska in May 2015 to spend the summer living one month at a time in three different locations providing us with the opportunity to experience its beauty, its people, and its diverse wildlife.  

Madeira, Portugal exterior view

This objective left us with the difficult task of finding an affordable property on any one of the Hawaiian islands for a period of four months. Perhaps we’d island-hop, spending a month in Maui, Kauai, Oahu, and Molokai.  

After spending no less than 40 hours looking online at hundreds of rentals we came to the conclusion that island hopping was not realistic for our budgetary concerns due to the high costs of one-month rentals during peak season and the cost of travel from island to island. Nor did we want to sacrifice quality or location.  
We knew we’d have a better opportunity to negotiate a four-month stay. Preparing a property after one and two-week stays is time-consuming and costly for landlords.  

With the new goal of finding one location for this extended stay, we were able to stay within our monthly budget with a fabulous two-bedroom ocean-view condo in breathtaking Princeville on the north shore of Kauai, a highly sought-after location in the islands.  

By adding this booking to our already packed itinerary, we find we are now booked for a total of 926 days beyond October 31, 2012. Will we continue to book well into the future? Yes, based on prices in Alaska, we will continue to look for the ideal properties. Also, the cruises for 2015 from Hawaii to Alaska are not posted as yet.  It could be another year before they’ll be available. In the interim, we’ll wing it! Yes, we’ll wing it!

Last Easter with the family for awhile…

Family life is often filled with traditions, the traditions we created for our children when they were young, that we adapted as they matured and those that we’ve rekindled for their children, our six grandchildren, years later. 

The comfort and familiarity of reenacting holiday traditions, each year filled Tom and me with guarded anticipation. Over these past years, we have come to accept, although at times painfully so, that our adult children have the right to build their own traditions that may at times, not include us.  

We recall the struggle and oftentimes, the guilt we felt when the first Christmas morning came when we chose to stay home as opposed to going to our parents’ homes. We wanted to savor Santa’s bounty with our own children, their eyes wide with delight as they anxiously ripped open package after package, them in their cartoon character pajamas, us with big coffee mugs warming our hands, all with the ease and comfort of spending this special time cozy at home.

And now, as their families have grown, their own traditions firmly rooted in their lives, in their own homes, we especially find ourselves reeling with the anticipation of all of them breaking away to spend special time with us once again, this Easter Sunday.

Practically dancing on my tiptoes, around our ten-foot-long dining room table, my arms were laden with gifts of every variety, candies carefully selected for special diets and preferences, I gleefully fill the 17 Easter baskets (including four pet baskets). I swap out one Thomas toy train for a Transformer truck from one basket to another, stepping back, visualizing the correctness of my decision, and smile. Each year, we always say, “this is the best year yet.” And it is.

Oh, good grief! I’d better improve my photo taking skills before we leave!

The meaning of Easter is not lost on our abundance of baskets, the colored eggs, the homemade bunny rabbit cake, the carefully planned and executed brunch, and of course, the painstakingly thought out game and Easter egg hunt. No, it’s not lost. It’s for forgiveness. It’s for thankfulness and, most of all, it’s for love.

This year is no different, the traditions are all here, the pile of fuzzy bunny rabbit ears everyone will place on their heads when they enter the door, the laughter over the rambunctious silly games, the glee in the voices of the little ones when they discover yet another plastic egg filled with candy, a small toy or a dollar bill.  It’s all the same. It’s all predictable. Laughter fills the air. It’s all heartwarming.

Tom and I will look at each other from across the room, our faces hurting from too much smiling, our eyes glistening with too many tears, as we enjoyed this last Easter tradition, knowing full well that we and they, will be building new traditions in the time to come.

Why so long???…

Our family and friends are asking, why so long? Why 880 days (so far)?

There are only a few answers to this question. Aging is one. By the time we leave the US, I will be 65 years old and although physically fit as a result of healthy eating, healthy living, and daily exercise, the ravages of “old man time” (darn him!) can be felt every morning as I step out of bed.

Tom will be 60 years old (“They,” say I robbed the cradle!), but after 42 years on the railroad, his knees and other joints are worn to the bone and he too feels the aches and pains upon awakening.   

There is no doubt that down the road, when and if we tire of traveling, we’ll hunker down to a warm climate and into the predictable senior citizen condo complex. We’ll get a little dog, play some bingo, hang out with guys whose pants are pulled up six inches above their waists, and with the ladies with the purple permanents wearing silky flowered print blouses. That will be us, as well.  

We have traveled very little these past years, always preferring to stay home to enjoy Minnesota’s short summers and our lake home. It often felt as if we were on a vacation on the warm summer days with the fish jumpin’ and the birds’ singin’, while we lounged in the comfy white lawn chairs.  

We didn’t have a care in the world other than to fire up the grill, pour ourselves a cold glass of something good, or to haul some wood to the fire pit for a roaring fire when the sunset (and the mosquitoes came out to indulge in our tasty flesh).  

We had traveled in our minds, a few years ago when we recorded every episode of the TV show, House Hunters International. We dreamed while we discussed the possibility of owning a home in an exotic location. As time has neared, (7 months and 2 days), we knew that staying in one place was the opposite of what we really wanted. We want to be “free” to explore the world.  

Tom believes that the state of the economy and that hyperinflation will take hold in the entire world. We will travel before the effects of such inflation will prevent us from being able to do so.  

Our last reason is simple. Tom and I both had our children when we were teenagers. We spent our 20’s making every effort, with a certain level of immaturity, to be responsible parents. In some ways we were successful. In other ways, we weren’t. 

As our family has grown with the addition of significant others, and six precious grandchildren, we feel their lives and their traditions are established and we can let go, with the love, with the hope and, the dream to share a piece of our adventure with all of them in times to come and to build new memories to cherish together, forever