Good enough


A common theme among our friends who build their own houses (or gut remuddle them in our case) is this magical point of good enough. Diehards and perfectionists excepted, many of us get to the stage where our house is functional and we declare it “good enough,” and move on to other pressing projects.

The house is then frozen in said state for the next ten, twenty years. As the owners, we’ll perfectly happy, but every time we walk by that spot, we might think, “Oh, I should really finish that trim.” But we won’t, until it’s time to move. Then it’s a mad dash to finish house, declutter, and decorate it. And right before our lovely home passes on to the next owner, we’ll look around and say, “Now why didn’t we get around to doing that last 10%? This looks great, but we don’t get to enjoy it!” Not that I’m projecting or anything…ahem.

Well folks, we’ve reached that point in our kitchen remodel. That door to the pantry will be cut in the spring. Someday, kitchen shelves and a windowsill will be made. Not now, though. Now it’s time to appreciate this beautiful space and its evolution.

Kitchen before.














Kitchen after

Some notes about the space I don’t want to forget:

The walls are Sherwin Williams Harmony (no-VOC) paintline color-matched to Colorhouse palette’s Beeswax .01. It’s a lovely warm color, like…beeswax. The kids helped us prime and paint the walls, which was an exciting and sometimes hair-raising event in itself.

Cabinets were from Barker Cabinets, a company based in Oregon. We liked their plywood box construction, solid fronts, dovetail drawers and soft-closing hardware. The cabinets were manufactured in Oregon, flat-packed (except the drawers, which are pre-assembled) and shipped to us on a pallet.

Countertops were Geos recycled glass surface in Cirrus, measured and cut by a contractor. Apparently, my head was still in the Stone Ages; I was expecting someone to come and make paper templates. Instead the guy showed up with lasers and a laptop and proceeded to make CAD drawings for our review–welcome to the Digital Age!

We switched over to a propane stove which Tig got used from Craigslist. Between the stove and the exhaust fan, I’m over the moon. The power, the flame!

The tile backsplash behind the stove is remnant tile we bought from a contractor friend for $20 or less. The brand is Iron Gate, and it’s been discontinued, but the tiles are nice quality. Tig came up with a gorgeous pattern that he knew I would like.

One of my favorite concepts of architect Sarah Susanka’s Not so Big House design that we used here is varied ceiling heights to define space. The dropped ceiling in our kitchen not only hides electrical wires and exhaust fan ducting, but also helps to frame the space (design geek moment).

Lastly, but not least, the best thing about this kitchen is the french door that closes off the icy-cold ell where our old kitchen used to be. The old kitchen where my feet would freeze and when I opened a drawer in the wintertime, the thermometer inside would read 40 degrees. All that is in the distant past now.

Our house now feels warm and cozy, and that’s good enough.

Before: view from living room


After: view from living room


One step further

Throwback to November 2014.

Three years ago, the day after Halloween, a huge snow dump cut off our power (this was the beginning of the infamous Snowvember). We were still living in the back room at that point, which was in the poorly built addition that was heated only by one oil-filled electric radiator. Said radiator cut off once the power went out, along with the electric stove and our lights.

And, oh, by the way, Tig developed a migraine.

We sat huddled in our one room off the kitchen, getting colder by the minute (because, no insulation), unable to cook or heat any water. After a few hours, we cried uncle and called up our neighbor’s Mark and Sasha. We were able to go over and have a hot meal, and a warm place to sleep. It seemed the powers that be were telling us in no uncertain terms that we were not cut out for Maine living. After all, we were “from away.”

Fast forward to October 30th of this year. High winds and storms slammed us this time instead of snow. The power cut out in the morning and wouldn’t come back for another 12 hours.

This time, we threw in another log in our wood stove. The 9-inch thick insulated walls in the main part of the house kept us a toasty 68-70 degrees. Our new (scratch and dent) propane stove turned out breakfast, lunch and dinner. Tig hooked up our small boat generator to the refrigerator to keep the food from spoiling. I had by chance bought some beeswax candles the day before, so we had lighting. Best of all, we had put in an insulated door between our newly built kitchen and the old one (see our remuddling overview post). Now all the heat stays in the main footprint of the house, instead of leaking out the back ell.

We had a pleasant evening by candlelight. Tig even broke out the laptop and played a movie since we were done so early. By the time they finished watching Charlotte’s Web, the power came back on and we rejoiced. We had made it through one small power outage, a small but worthy goal in my mind.

Yes, we’re still from away. Yes, we still have a lot more to do in order to be prepared. But we’re one step further than before.




Spring 2017







Early spring looked brown and drab here in Maine, while the rest of the country seemed to be vibrant and green. While we plant seeds, there were still many hours cozying in front of the wood stove. When April came around things started to brighten up.










Closing out: Postcards from Taiwan


Another month (or two) and we haven’t uploaded the rest of our Taiwan pictures. Spring started out with a bang with various projects underway, so it’s time to close out the winter chapter. Here are the last pictures from our trip to Taiwan.





The Chiang Kai Shek memorial was a fun attraction for our kids. I imagine it holds similar appeal to the Buckingham palace with their silent, immovable guards. I love these pictures because, damn, it’s hard to get photos without selfie bombers these days!





Food, always food. Shaved ice, Chinese pastries, pickled and fermented jars. We could spend the rest of our lives eating and still not experience all there is food-wise.



Friendly Taipei festival.





We took the gondola lift up to the Taipei Zoo. This trip was even more fun, because our old college friend, Darren, joined us from Hong Kong. The kids really enjoyed hanging out with him. Darren gave us the audio commentary on the film he worked on, The Grandmaster, which we all watched together one night.




Last, but not least, going up the Taipe 101. That completed (for us) our tour of tall buildings in that corner of the world. A few months later, we still talk about Taiwan being our favorite part of our trip. We hope to visit again someday.





Taichung (台中) and Lukang Old Street (鹿港老街)







One of the things on our list for Taiwan was to ride the bullet to make O happy–keeping kids happy is a big part of adventure planning. So we took the High Speed Rail (HSR) to Taichung, an industrial city on the western side of central Taiwan. We stayed at The Holiday Inn Express near a park, so that kids had access to playgrounds and green spaces.

The public parks in Taiwan were wonderfully planned places for people of all ages. I personally loved watching the seniors gather in the morning. It seemed that each senior citizen who went there had his or her own movement practice or group of friends that they exercised with. Taichi or chigong classes were often happening at the same time. Scattered around the parks were “exercise stations” for adults. The kiddos called these places “grandma stations” as we guessed that they were strategically placed near playgrounds so that parents/grandparents could exercise while watching young children.





We did some geo-caching, and visiting of markets around the area. As a treat, Tig took us to indulge in tea time at Miyahara, a flagship store that sells packaged baked goods as well as ice cream from the back of the building. But we were mostly there because Tig had heard that the inside distinctly reminded people of a Harry-Potter-esque Hogwarts set, do you agree? Tea and pastries were served on the second floor, with bubble tea of course. We learned that “apple pie” in Chinese is just “píngguŏ pie”, haha.

With the help of Uncle Henry, Tig got in touch with a cousin he hadn’t seen in over 20 years. We met up and had dinner in Taichung one evening. The next day, we received an invitation to take the train down to Yuanlin to visit her family.






The trains and subways in Taiwan were super-efficient and modern, a dream to navigate. Often there was English alongside Chinese in the signage. People are civilized and queue up in designated lines. The train to Yuanlin was just a regular train, but O was still happy to ride it. Once we arrived, Tig’s cousin met us at the train station and took us to her house. We went out to lunch with Tig’s, jiu ma (maternal uncle’s wife, Chinese familial relationships are very specific, see this table). It was nice to connect with a side of Tig’s family that me and the kids had never met before, even if our language abilities were somewhat limited.

After lunch, cousin Jessica took us sightseeing. First, to Taiwan’s Glass Gallery, a Taoist temple, and then to Lukang Old Street. The kids loved having an auntie who spoiled them. It was a wonderfully full day, and we returned by train to Taichung feeling grateful for family.














Night market












Even though we had a long list of things to do in Taiwan, it seems to me that we spent half the time looking for bubble tea, and half the time looking for dumplings, neither of which are hard to find. Another top list item to check off: going to the night markets.

An Epic Education lists the most popular night markets here. The first one we went to was the Raohe Night market near Songshan TRA station. But first, Tig had arranged a meetup with Jeremy–of the popular financial blog–and his family.  The cafe we met at didn’t have bubble tea, so we took a stroll and ended up at some playgrounds where the kids could burn off some energy. Notice my kids barefoot and not wearing much in the above pictures? That is the height of bad parenting in Taiwan. We actually bundle up quite a lot, normally. In Maine.

During our conversation, I found out that Winnie (Jeremy’s wife), who is Taiwanese, is a successful author and blogger in her own right, all the while juggling motherhood and traveling. After some time, we all decided to head over to Raohe via the subway. We got to taste all sorts of yummy foods, with Winnie’s guidance. There aren’t many pictures of the food, because our hands were busy…holding food. But I will say that we crossed one more thing off our list: stinky tofu. The verdict: me and O liked it, V and Tig not so much.

A week later, we met up with Jeremy and his son one more time at an interactive art and light exhibit, which was fun for the kids.







Jiufen (九份) and Jinguashi (金瓜石)

Almost a month had passed before I picked up the camera and downloaded some photos. After looking through our photos and reminiscing on our entire trip, we all agreed that Taiwan was the highlight for us.










Jiufen17 Jiufen18

Jiufen and Jinguashi are mountain towns in northeastern Taiwan. It took us a long bus ride from Taipei to get there. Jinguashi is notable for its historic gold and copper mines (now inactive) and its Gold Museum. We walked through the old mining facility and learned about the history of the Japanese occupation, the plight of the British POWs, and got to touch a 220kg bar of gold. We also took a break for a “miner’s lunchbox,” which was a tiffin box with a hot meal inside, wrapped in a handkerchief with a pair of chopsticks tucked in (we got to keep all of it as a souvenir). Afterwards we went for a hike around some of the scenic trails.








Jiufen is a short hop away by bus. This town is well-known as the inspiration for a fictional location in Hayao Miyazaki’s 2001 fantasy anime Spirited Away. It is a heavily visited area (read, touristy) with narrow alleyways packed with street-food shacks, teahouses and souvenir shops. We especially enjoyed the peanut shavings with ice cream in a wrap, and the soup dumplings. After a while, though, it felt like a long train of eating and shopping.

Once we stepped out of the alleyways, we meandered back to the bus stop, past all the family shrines that dot the hills. Seeing these shrines and family altars, I’m reminded of my own grandparents who have passed away.










Thoughts and Practical Tips on Bali: Food & Water

These are my thoughts from 2 months in Bali (January – March 2017). Please note that prices are either in US dollars ($) or Indonesian Rupiah (IDR). At that time 10,000 IDR was about $0.75.


Food scooter
Who needs a food truck when you have a food scooter?

We were excited to try a new ethnic cuisine that was cheap ($1-4/dish). However, after a week we were pretty tired of the cheap local food.

Lots of MSG and spicy (pedas). I eat and like spicy food, especially some of the sambals (chili sauces – many places make their own), but not the kids. Fried noodles (mie goreng) was mostly fried ramen noodles. Fried rice (nasi goreng), special fried rice (nasi campur) was okay, depending on the place. Fried chicken (ayam goreng) was usually dry.

Notice a lot of fried foods.

Soups (soto) were okay, again usually having MSG or meatballs (bakso) that I didn’t love. We were probably biased towards Indonesian cuisine, having eaten good Chinese food for most of our lives.

Ikan Bakar
Ikan bakar (grilled fish), ayam bakar (grilled chicken), and pelecing kangkung (water spinach)

We did however find some inexpensive gems while there. Fish is pretty fresh, although I’m worried about some of the reef fish they catch and serve (i.e. parrotfish, jack, etc), mostly because of concerns about ciguaterra. Grilled fish (ikan bakar) is very yummy. We did find a great grilled fish and chicken place in Tabanan called Ikan Bakar Jimbaran, which is the style they cook in the more expensive Jimbaran beach area. There were a couple gems in Ubud with fried chicken in chili tomato sauce (ayam goreng) and one place with all dishes cooked in coconut oil and no MSG. Water spinach (pelecing kangkung) is a vegetable we liked a lot. And you can’t go wrong with chicken satay (sate ayam). Our little inside joke was: “We brake for smoke!”

sate ayam
Mmm, smoky chicken satay (notice the use of bathroom exhaust fan; and how many legs are on that scooter)

Morning fruit plate of papaya, watermelon, pineapple, and rambutan

Fresh fruit in Bali was great: dragonfruit, mangosteen, salak (aka snakefruit), guava, papaya, pineapple, rambutan, etc. It was hard to go wrong there. Although at one of the local markets, I tried buying bananas (pisang), but I kept getting plaintains. Turns out bananas are pisang manis. Oh well.

One time we bought locally grown strawberries–did you know Bali has a strawberry growing region? I had a conundrum on how to clean/wash them. I decided it was best to give them a quick rinse in the pool (chlorine water) and then rinse with bottled water. BTW the strawberries back home taste way better than the ones in Bali. Stick to the tropical fruit.

Anytime we had juices, we made sure it did not have ice in it, because of the questionable water source.

Fruit market in Denpasar.

There are plenty of restaurants that cater to westerners, but they are priced accordingly ($6-$15+/dish), so we rarely ate at those establishments. If you stick to more to local warungs, it tends to be cheaper to eat out than to buy food at a grocery store and cook. That’s because most Indonesians will shop at the local morning markets where prices are much cheaper than the grocery store.

Ice cream on a hippo
Kiddos eating dragonfruit ice cream

We definitely tried to have some kind of cold snack everyday. In Ubud, it’s easy to find boutique ice cream shops with fancy flavors and premium popsicles ($2-6). But most of the time, we frequented the local mini-mart and bought some flavored ice or popsicle. Some of our favorites included Trico (watermelon, soursop, and lime?), mango, and watermelon which cost 15 to 40 cents each. We did have ice cream, but dairy products are pricier, so we stuck mostly with flavored ices.

Kids having a cold snack on different days, even though their shirts are the same.

Obviously we like trying the local snacks. At the store, things that caught my attention that I had to try were: green tea flavored Kitkats, seaweed-flavored Pringles, wasabi-flavored potato chips and dried salak. I even found a chocolate-covered dried salak (at a fancy store), mmmm.

Indonesian junk food
I don’t care what diet you are on, how can you not try these?

I have to mention kopi lewak. This is the famous coffee bean that is eaten by the cat-like civet, then pooped out, harvested and roasted into coffee. You see signs for it everywhere there are tourists. We didn’t try any because it seemed too gimmicky and we could not verify the treatment or mistreatment of these animals.


UV treatment

No, I don’t travel with a portable lava lamp. That light is a fancy UV treatment system for my water bottle. It’s a well known fact that Bali does not have clean drinking water; not even the locals drink it. The UV filter kills 99% of the pathogens, but it doesn’t filter out contaminants or heavy metals. We decided it was best to stick to bottled water. We bought one-gallon jugs and/or 5-gallon jugs. Tip: if you stay at a large western branded hotel (like the Hilton Garden Inn), there is usually bottled water available in the fitness room; usually a large 5 gallon water dispenser where you can fill up your water bottles.

Bali Belly

All of us went down with a bout of “Bali Belly” to varying degrees. I even had to take antibiotics for two weeks to treat a potentially lethal parasite. Water is the main transmission route. If you eat street food, be careful of plates that are not completely dry. A good tip we learned towards the end of our stay was to get food to go (takeaway), so that way food is in brand new (uncontaminated) containers. But this has the unfortunate side effect of creating a lot of waste. And obviously be careful of raw/uncooked foods like salads. We only ate cooked vegetables unless it was from a good reputable source.

hotel breakfast
I confess, we did eat at this western establishment a lot.

Overall it was a good experience and we were able to find foods we liked at cheap prices. However with the contrast of food from Kuala Lumpur (Malaysian) and Taiwan (Chinese) on this trip, Bali’s cuisine paled in comparison. Sorry Bali.






Thoughts and Practical Tips on Bali: Transportation, Accomodations, Communications & more

These are my thoughts from 2 months in Bali (January – March 2017). Please note that prices are either in US dollars ($) or Indonesian Rupiah (IDR). At that time 10,000 IDR was about $0.75. Yeah, it’s weird taking out 2 million rupiah from the ATM.

road through banyan tree
No problem if there’s a tree in the middle of the road

Infrastructure and Transportation

On our first stint in Bali, we rented a car and saw a good chunk of the island. An automatic transmission rental car cost us around 200,000 IDR/day. The interior of Bali contains mountains and tropical forests while the outer rim is scattered with beaches and cliffs.

We mostly stayed on the coast, but did venture up and through the mountains once (we tried coming back a different route through the mountains, but was stymied by weather and road conditions).

Bali MapTopographic map of Bali and our route

The bulk of the island is built around tourism. Infrastructure, with some exceptions, is pretty poor (i.e. clean drinking water and trash management). Roads conditions were inconsistent, often with lots of potholes. We visited during rainy season which meant there was often rain every other day. Storms were generally fast moving and many times early morning rains were followed by sunshine in the afternoon. One time, we had a few days of nonstop rain and mountain passes would flood with debris and trees limbs, blocking the roads.

Beaches in touristy places are good (Kuta, Seminyak, Lovina, Nusa Dua) because they get cleaned. Once off the main track many beaches can get filthy from trash–some of it from land, the rest from the ocean itself. Storms often wash land-trash down to the ocean, but the surge brings the trash right back past the tide line.

Local beach in Banjar near LovinaLocal beach in Banjar near Lovina

Snorkeling was good but limited. We did manage to get to West Bali National Park and stay at the only hotel there. We did not get to Menjangen Island (although we could have swam there) and the best snorkeling was under the dock at the hotel. We are a little spoiled by the quiet beaches, crystal clear waters and great snorkeling while sailing through the Bahamas last winter.

Driving around Bali

Driving is on the left side of the road, and the median line is just a suggestion. There are lots of scooters. Might is right, watch out for the huge tourist buses coming to/from Java. Road rage does not exist in Bali, so don’t take anything personally. Large traffic circles work the way you think they do. For small traffic circles, you usually take the straightest path, even if it seems counter-intuitive. If you don’t know what to do, just slow down a little and follow the locals. Often times there is traffic. And then you will see scooters getting creative (i.e. driving on sidewalk, etc). Indonesians are extremely resourceful with what they can fit onto a scooter; you will be amazed.

Bali temple traffic
Traffic for a local ceremonial procession

You have to pay for parking almost everywhere (on a car or scooter). It’s usually only 20 cents or less (2,000 IDR), but it can get annoying. Sometimes people collect right when you park, other times they collect as you are leaving. Go figure.

Technically you will need an international driving permit to drive a car or scooter in Indonesia. I picked one up at local AAA office for $20. None of the people I rented from asked for it, though. One place required a deposit. Driving a scooter is relatively easy and costs less than $5/day. I did pay a little more (60,000 IDR/day) to get scooter rental with small helmets that would fit the kids. If you want to blend in more, wear long pants and/or long sleeve shirt/jacket while driving the scooter. Even in 80+ degree Fahrenheit weather, most of the locals are quite covered up on their scooters. The guys in shorts are almost always tourists. I’m not quite sure how insurance (if any) works. Best to drive slow and carefully.

kids with helmets

Ride Hailing

I’m a fan of economic transparency and I do like the Uber business model (not so much the management and culture). As touched upon earlier, ride hailing is frowned upon in most places in Bali, Denpasar being the notable exception. However, it appeared that many people in Bali and Indonesia routinely skirt the local taxi drivers and still use ride hailing.

Grab Scooter

The three main ride-hailing services in Bali (and Indonesia) are Uber, Grab, and Go-Jek. Uber is based in the USA and offers rides in cars or scooters/motorbikes and even has full-day hires (5-hour minimum for 60,000 IDR or about $5 USD/hour). Go-Jek is an Indonesian-based company that offers rides and delivery service via scooter/motorcycles. I tried using the app, but had a hard time with translating things and getting it set up properly. Grab is based in Singapore and offers rides in cars, motorbikes and full-day hires for about the same price as Uber. One main difference between Uber and Grab: Grab drivers know your destination before they accept your ride; Uber drivers don’t get that information until they pick you up. Also Grab gives you the exact price and Uber gives you a price range.

In the beginning I used Uber because I had the app. I eventually used Grab toward the end and liked it better (the promo codes helped). Grab also does deliveries like Go-Jek. I was very tempted once to deliver a stool sample to the doctor’s office via Go-Jek (not as a prank, but because I had a parasite). Rides on the scooter were 50 cents to $1. You typically don’t want to travel too far on a scooter, for comfort and safety reasons. A 30 – 60 minute taxi ride from Tuban/Kuta to Denpasar cost around $4 – $5. Bluebird taxi (the reputable taxi group) has an app and their price estimate was almost double Uber’s. In the end it’s really not that expensive.

What we’ve found is that Uber/Grab drivers are just trying to make a living like the local taxi drivers. And they all offer full-day hires as well. The going rate was 60,000-100,000 IDR per hour of driving. It seemed to us that Uber/Grab was a way for drivers to meet tourists so they can get a driver-for-hire gig next time. I received about half a dozen business cards from Uber/Grab drivers. And I did end up using a couple of them again for some of our longer one-way trips (2-4 hours). If you’re looking for a driver in Bali, I can recommend two, both of whom have young families:

Budi: +62 813-3701-6782 (WhatsApp) – His childhood village is in Banjar (near Lovina) so he knows routes to/from northern Bali through the mountain roads.

Nyoman: +62 857-3821-9123 (WhatsApp) – He worked on a cruise ship so his English is very good.


This trip, I’ve been grateful for smartphones, in particular my android phone. I used Google’s Project Fi cell phone service. It is a practically seamless international cell phone plan. Upon landing and my phone acquiring a cell signal, the screen displayed this message:

Welcome to Indonesia

Data is the same rate, text messages are free, wi-fi calling is only $0.03-$0.10/minute to Indonesian numbers (and still free to US numbers). It’s pretty awesome. If you want to try it, I have a referral code to get $20 off. (Disclosure: I get $20 off and you get $20 off). I do think it’s a great deal for the price of $20/month + data. What makes it even more awesome are the free extra sim cards for data-only. The data is on a pay-what-you-use basis. However, the data-only sim card did not work in Indonesia for us probably because our phone did not have the proper radio frequency for the local cell carrier. In Malaysia and Taiwan, Serena used a data-only card and we messaged each other through WhatsApp. We used less than 0.5 GB/month while traveling for 2.5 months.

Here are some of my most used apps in Bali:

Google Maps – Duh! I downloaded offline maps for Bali before the trip, saving data while driving. GPS directions worked great. I even plugged in a headset and had my phone in my pocket while driving the scooter and getting audio directions from Google.

Google Translate – Also, downloaded offline language packs to translate without data. You do need data for Google to speak the word aloud.

Uber / Grab – ride-hailing apps

WhatsApp – the social messaging network all Indonesians use

Agoda / Booking – hotel booking app

HiltonHonors – hotel app for Hilton branded properties


We stayed at local hotels, an airBnB rental, an Indonesian resort, a facebook acquaintance’s place, and 12 nights at the Hilton Garden Inn.

Pano Nusa Bay Menjangan room
Pano from our bungalow at Nusa Bay Menjangan resort and are great hotel search engines for Asia. I tried both apps, but I ended up liking Agoda better. Although I used the apps to search for rooms, I only used them once to book the Nusa Bay Menjangan resort. Why? It was slow season and all the hotels had vacancies. I would check prices with the app, then go to the hotel and ask if they could give me a better price than online. And all but one place I asked did. So no middle man. The price range of hotel room was $20 – $60 (for 3BR villa) with the exception of the Nusa Bay resort ($100+). And they all had awesome pools. I actually filter properties to see if they had a pool with the Agoda app (kids need to swim).

On a side note, we stayed once at a villa with no air conditioning; it had bug netting and fans. It looked beautiful and rustic and we thought it would be no problem for us. Unfortunately, hotel bug netting does not keep out all the tiny no-see-ums. O and I had many bug bites. At first I suspected bed bugs, but after stripping the beds and finding no evidence I concluded no-see-ums. Argh. Bugs are a part of life in any tropical paradise. Mosquitos, ants, spiders, spiders that look like ants, etc. We brought bug spray, bug bands, and even laced a set of clothes with permethrin. But the bugs will find a way. Lesson learned, we then searched for rooms with air conditioning.

pool at Bali Hilton Garden Inn
Did I mention how all the places we stayed at have awesome pools?

Nusa Bay Menjangan is the only hotel inside West Bali National Park and you need to take a boat to get there. That means there’s no other place to eat than at their expensive restaurant for breakfast (thankfully included), lunch and dinner. We stayed two nights and loved the nature and solitude; there was one other couple first night and we were only ones there on second night.

In Ubud, our two-bedroom AirBnB apartment with pool was about $40/day. And of course, the Hilton Garden Inn near the airport in Tuban/Kuta was free after using hotel loyalty points. Although the location is not central Kuta, it is close to the airport. The hotel offers free rides to/from airport and even offers free ride to Kuta beach (twice a day). And renting a scooter for less than $5/day is an easy way to get around.

Travel hacking

Okay, I admit to have done some travel hacking. Here’s what I did for this trip and some tips if you’re new to it:

Our 12 nights at the Hilton Garden Inn for me cost around 65,000 points. Most of the time it costs 5,000 points/night, which by all accounts is a bargain. (Note: you can get 12 nights at this property for as low as 50k points).

I accumulated Hilton Honors points by opening two American Express cards last fall. One was the no-fee Hilton Amex card which gave me 50k points after minimum spend. The second was the $75/year Hilton Amex Surpass which gave me 75k points after minimum spend and automatic Gold status at Hilton. Hilton Gold status is probably the best mid-tier hotel status level at any of the large hotel brands. That $75 annual credit card fee gave us free breakfast buffet at our Hilton stays–which was amazing–and free room upgrades.

Quick plug: those sign up bonuses from Amex have increased to 75k and 100k respectively (referral link, we get extra points but it doesn’t cost you anything) and Amex only gives those bonuses once per person per card, so now is a good time to get them. But if you’re new to travel hacking, you should do a little research to see if those are the best cards to get for you. Credit card sign-up bonuses are the easiest way to get started in travel hacking.

You might also consider a Chase Sapphire Preferred card to start. If you open more than five cards within a 24-month period they will not approve you, so you might want to consider getting that one earlier.

And if you want free Hilton Gold status along with other nice benefits (at least for one year), you could open Ameriprise Amex Platinum because the first-year annual fee of $450-$550 is waived.

Of course, I’m only sharing my personal experiences. Nothing shared in this post and on this site should be taken as financial advice or guidance.

Whew! I’m done geeking out about travel hacking.

Next up… FOOD.













Ubud, Part 2

The first time we were in Ubud, we only stayed a couple of days to scope it out. The second time around, we spent a week and dove right in.


We rented a small two-bedroom apartment through Airbnb for a week. The place was far back from the main stretch, amongst the rice fields. It came with a small kitchen and a pool. The owner also rented us a scooter. Like many places in Bali Ubud has many narrow streets. Driving a car is not convenient, and parking is very limited. We were too far from Ubud center for walking, so…when in Bali…


These mini-gas stations tickle me.

Ubud is family friendly place. There’s a wide variety of eateries, plenty of shopping if you’re into that. There are temples, dances and activities for kids to participate in. Here are some of the things we did:

Goa Gajah (elephant caves)

Goa Gajah is an archaeological site that dates back to the 9th century. The rock wall carvings, bathing pools and fountains took us back to another time and place (similar to our experience in Macchu Picchu).





Hawkers outside Goa Gajah pushed us to buy sarongs, but as long as your legs are covered , purchasing a sarong isn’t necessary. (The covering of the legs rule seems to apply mostly to men and women, our kids were allowed in as they were). The temple also has a basket of sarongs at the entrance which you can borrow. I’ll confess, as amazing as the stone carvings were, my kids were most excited about the lizards and geckos in the temple area.

Big Tree Chocolate Factory Tour

We found the Big Tree chocolate factory tour while searching for things to do with kids in Bali. The factory is located 25 minutes south of Ubud so we hired a driver to get us to and from. You have to make a reservation with Big Tree ahead of time in order to take the tour.


I liked that their tour began with a chocolate drink, coco mojo and, after a short presentation, some sampling of chocolate! I also liked that their products are organic and fair trade.


The building itself is made of bamboo, with some concrete and rebar reinforcement. Bamboo, we learned, is a renewable building material. It’s fast growing and flexible enough to withstand shocks like earthquakes. Plus it’s beautiful to look at. The tour lasted around 45 minutes, and we took a taxi back to Ubud.

Paradiso Ubud

If you’re looking for some entertainment, our lovely host Rony recommended Paradiso Ubud to us when we were in Lovina. Paradiso boasts itself as the world’s first vegetarian and vegan cinema. We’re neither, but we had a good time anyways.



For about $15, our family got to see a sweet old kids’ movie (Babe, 1995). In true Bali style, we took our shoes off before entering the theatre. Our tickets gave us vouchers for food (vegan and organic). We paid a little extra for taxes and service. Food was brought to our table while we enjoyed the movie. It was a fun night, so glad we did it!


When we got tired of doing touristy stuff, we turned to geo-caching. It’s a great way to get everyone outdoors and moving. Tig used C:Geo geocaching app for Android.


Kids will climb up and down hundreds of steps in order to write their name on a little piece of paper, and exchange a little trinket. We’ve learned long ago not to call it a “hike”…they seem allergic to that word.



Nope, we’re not on a hike, we’re geo-caching.




Exploring through eating

Food in Bali is fairly inexpensive, so we enjoyed eating out much of the time.

At warung Garasi, one of our favorites. Their ayam goreng (fried chicken with chili sauce) is a hit with our family.


We also like warung Puspa’s, because, no MSG and only coconut oil, yo.


Moksa Ubud is a plant-based restaurant. The food was surprisingly good, and I was interested in their permaculture garden.



These bamboo seedling starter trays. It made me wistful for my garden back home.

Aside from exploring and eating, I managed to squeeze in two classes at the Ubud Yoga Centre. V took a silver jewelry-making class and made a necklace pendant. Our week felt very full.

I know that for many digital nomads and vagabonds, Bali is their paradise. The large expat population in Ubud is a testament to the magic here. And though I enjoyed visiting, my heart is still in our little community in Maine. Deep down inside, I prefer wide open spaces, sparsely populated areas, walkable towns, plenty of nature, a solid infrastructure for trash management, and clean drinking water. Bali is beautiful and complex, but after almost two months, we were looking forward to our next destination.