Wednesday, February 29, 2012

simply beautiful: visit Killarney National Park with me on a bright summer day

All of these photos were taken in Killarney National Park, County Kerry, Ireland, back in Summer 2010.


I loved how the light was coming through the trees right here.

Tall wildflowers along the trail
I wish national parks in the U.S. had castles.
One of my favorite photos-- I like the way the walls of the castle frame the lake and mountains.
Pretty light comes through the trees on a forested trail.
It was a looong walk to this stately manor home-- and well worth it.
Unbelievable view adjacent to the manor.

So beautiful here!
Approaching the ruins


In the nave...(ignore the eye infection).

This spot along the path was one of the most beautiful I've ever seen.

frugal furniture


One of the several things I have learned in recent years, since becoming a grownup, is that furniture is expensive.  I dislike this, so I've developed the following methods of combating it.  I have listed these in order from best option to least-best (but still good).

Best option: DIY
There are two paths to accomplish this: either make what you need yourself, or refurbish and spruce up old furniture you've already got.  Some ideas for the former:  Stack up stuff (such as large books) to make a side table, use plywood to build shelves or bookcases or a table, make a platform bed out of old pallets, etc...  You're only limited by your imagination.

As for fixing up stuff you already own, there are a ton of options: add new handles/hardware, paint it (I've done this with plenty of furniture, and it's the easiest way to completely change the look), create designs and decorate it, and just do anything you feel like to make it your own.  If you don't feel like being really artsy, but simply want to refurbish something old, that's also a great idea.  One of my favorite things is an antique Japanese lamp we had sitting around that was nonfunctional, and I was easily able to rewire it with a kit that probably cost five dollars or less at Wal-Mart.  Another is our homemade bookcase (which is also by far my most useful piece of furniture).

This option is the most creative, and thus the most fun, and that's why it's my favorite.

Second-best option: choose used over new
The best option in this category is to "adopt" a family member's spare furniture, since this would be free.  Mom, for example, might be a good candidate for a furniture source, though I would suggest asking first.  Second-best (and a personal favorite of mine), is the thrift store-- the only store in which I enjoy shopping.  This could be Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or any number of thrift stores you probably have locally.  The furniture is usually of lower quality, and you'll need to weed through a lot, but remember that you could combine this with Option #1 and artfully spruce up something you pick up for ten dollars.  Another great idea is the Craigslist furniture listings.  I've gotten a few good things this way, always for a swell price.  The only downside is that you will generally need to drive to where they're at and pick the stuff up-- but there is some great stuff to be had, and it is well worth sifting through what's available.

Third-best option:  when all else fails
I am loathe to buy something new, because the other options are just so much more fun (and cost so much less)-- and because I love old things.  But when I must buy something new, my default choices are Target or Ikea.  Not everything on the Ikea website can be ordered online, so keep that in mind when attempting to order that way.  Mom and I recently had the joy of shopping in their real, live store (in Charlotte) for the first time and had a ball, and we bought one of everything (almost).  As for Target, I have found that shopping conditions are ideal in September, when their dorm stuff goes on clearance.  My freshman year I scored a sweet coffee table (for five bucks!), a nifty purple desk lamp, and assorted kitchen stuff, all of which I am still getting use out of now, years post-dorm-- so I am certainly getting my money's worth.

--One last thought: I've never tried this myself, but Freecycle.org is also an option worth mentioning, especially for the truly broke and/or frugal.  It's a site where people give away stuff for free-- so it's certainly worth checking out!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

what's worth spending money on

View of the snowy courtyard from inside Nymphenburg Palace, December 2010.  Travel is a high priority for me, so in my budget, it is worth saving for, planning thoughtfully, and spending on.

To gain greater control over your finances, decide carefully and thoughtfully what the most important expenditures for you are, and work towards eliminating the rest.  How I allot my discretionary expenditures is something I've been working on increasingly in the last several months-- aiming towards prioritizing better and fine-tuning my budget.

In contrast with my previous post, these are things I've decided are worth spending my money on:
-world travel (on a small budget)
-visiting/staying in touch with family and friends
-used books
-college classes
-better quality/ healthier food
-additional/unplanned giving to a cause that's important to me
-occasional treats like wine or champagne and high-quality, real chocolate
-memorable events or experiences--  celebrating a meal out on a special occasion, going to a concert, a hiking or skiing trip, visiting a museum or historical site, etc.

Everyone's priorities are personal, so pick and choose carefully which expenditures are MOST important to you, and prioritize accordingly.  My intention is to have more money left to direct towards these important things through budgeting more thoughtfully and deliberately, and developing the self-control to not let what I earn slip through my fingers (or, perish the thought, escalate into consumer debt.)

The things I choose to spend discretionary money on are, of course, a secondary priority.  My monthly income is first allotted towards:
1.  Contributing to a supplemental retirement fund (in my case, a 457b plan for state employees)
2.  Transferring a pre-determined amount of money automatically into savings to build up a savings fund
3.  Paying down debt
     -Right now, my first priority is what remains of my only private student loan, which has a relatively high  interest rate.
     -Second priority, which I will focus on in my budget in two months, will be my car loan.
4.  Setting money aside to pay for class tuition and books, so that I can pay for these upcoming expenses in cash rather than on credit.
5.  Any planned giving
     I'm a fan of Compassion International and Save the Children as well as a few other local/national organizations, but any charity/cause you choose to support should be checked out first to verify that most of your contribution is going towards what they claim to be supporting.  Guidestar and Charity Navigator provide resources for this.

What, to you, is worth spending discretionary money on?

Friday, February 24, 2012

silly (or unnecessary) things people buy

What if we took the money we routinely waste on mindless or even harmful addictions or habits, and put it into our retirement accounts instead?

It is truly amazing, if you think about it, the ridiculous things people will spend their money on:
4-dollar coffees
cigarettes
mixed drinks
new cars
too-big cars
gas to drive too-big cars
too-big houses
utility bills for too-big houses
designer purses
junk food
soda
diet soda
bottled water
status symbols (clothing, shoes, etc.)
expensive jewelry
new things (when used is a viable alternative)
clothing to be worn once
fake nails/manicures
granite counter tops
shiny stainless steel appliances
impulse purchases
overpriced pre-portioned snacks
elective plastic surgery
unnecessary/high-end cosmetics
expensive haircuts at trendy salons
high-maintenance hair-coloring regimens
gym memberships
over-the-top weddings
status-symbol electronic gadgetry
paper-thin wall-sized television sets
...................................................................

I have been guilty of wasting my money on a number of these in the past-- and, at the same time, am glad to not be tempted by quite a few of these money-traps-- but I hope to not make any of these particular mistakes in my financial future.  The things you can resolve to live without may be quite different from mine.  But we all have things we know we will never have a valid reason to spend our hard-earned money on.

What expenses or purchases could you think a little more critically about, starting now?

avoiding advertising

"Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.” - Will Rogers

It feels too obvious to mention that advertising has a number of negative effects on us, and it bombards us in this day incessantly and unavoidably.  It is intended to make us feel inadequate.  It makes us want to buy stuff we don't need, and deep down may not even truly want.  It creates "needs" out of "wants;" it creates needs in our minds that don't exist in reality.  It leads us to believe we lack for something, when the truth is, we more than likely already have too much, and are enormously wealthy compared to billions of people in the world.  In short, advertising confuses us.  It gets in our heads and then into our wallets.  I've been trying to combat this persistent stream of marketing and advertising in the last year especially, and I've brainstormed some ways to reduce my exposure to advertising.

My thinking is that since advertising makes us want stuff, it follows that we can decrease our perceived material wants by minimizing our exposure to advertising.  These are a handful of steps I've taken myself recently or at some point in the past:

-Cancel magazine subscriptions.  The vast majority of what you are paying for is simply advertisements.  You'll receive a partial refund for issues not yet sent.

-Cancel subscriptions to catalogs you receive automatically in the mail.

-Cancel any store/shopping-related email mailing lists you may have gotten yourself onto (or simply direct these emails to your spam folder).

-I find TV commercials to be incredibly obnoxious-- but that may be because I so rarely encounter them.  Three tactics to avoid them: mute commercials, watch less TV (better option), or eliminate cable (best option-- watching DVDs and using a cheap Netflix plan is a great alternative).

-Eliminate window shopping; shopping is not entertainment or therapy.  Last year I decided to no longer go to the mall-- and I'm only happier and more contented for it.  Remember that retail stores are purposely set up to manipulate you and get you to part with as much of your money as possible.

-Cease online shopping for entertainment-- even just browsing.  If you need to make a specific purchase, just make it, and then exit the shopping site.

-When you must shop, have a plan.  Go armed with a shopping list, stick to it, and then leave the store.

-Use a pop-up blocker in your browser to block the most obnoxious ads (though hopefully you already do).

One last thought-- Though we can purposely reduce the barrage of advertising in our lives, we will never be able to eliminate it completely without living in a remote village.  So, another helpful tactic to keep in mind is to remember to think critically when you are confronted by an advertisement: Think, what is it trying to make me want?  How is it trying to manufacture a mental or emotional "need" for this product?  How is it trying to manipulate me, the viewer or reader or shopper, emotionally?  How does it try to make me feel inadequate or incomplete-- without what they are selling?

Book recommendations for further reading on the subject:
Why We Buy by Paco Underhill
http://www.amazon.com/Why-We-Buy-Shopping--Updated-Internet/dp/1416595244/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1330137354&sr=1-1

Can't Buy My Love by Jean Kilbourne
http://www.amazon.com/Why-We-Buy-Shopping--Updated-Internet/dp/1416595244/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1330137354&sr=1-1

And, lastly, this is a fast-paced, entertaining video short I highly recommend:
Annie Leonard's "The Story of Stuff"

simple ways to de-stress and relax

The Orange Trees, by Caillebotte. 1878.

-in warm weather: sit outside in the sunshine
-in cold weather: take a long hot bath
-immerse myself in a book (or twelve)
-take a walk in the woods
-talk to a friend
-enjoy a piping hot cup of tea
-plan my next big trip
-clean (really-- a dirty or cluttered environment makes me feel overwhelmed)
-attack my to-do list
-eat (a little) chocolate

These are mine.  Yours may be totally different.

moneysaving tips for college kids

Your education is undoubtedly an investment in your future, and in your capacity to earn over a lifetime.  However, I would like to encourage you in the strongest terms possible to avoid accumulating debt during your student years.  Here are a handful of simple ways to save on the cost of your college education-- from someone who knows:

-CLEP tests.  This pretty much allowed me to graduate at all.  These are computer-based tests that you pay about $75 dollars for (though probably a bit more these days, and the cost may vary by institution) that award college credit for prior knowledge (though you can also just memorize a textbook on the subject, like I did for a few of them).  I earned a year and a half (18 hours) of credit this way, and saved myself many thousands of dollars, being at a private institution.

-Think long and hard about your choice of major.  I followed my less practical instincts and majored in Creative Writing--  and now, a few years later, I'm shelling out cash to pay for education classes, since I am now-- as I knew perfectly well I probably would be-- a teacher.  I still plan to be a full-time writer someday, though, so the background is still useful to me.  Just make sure you graduate with an actual plan.  And, ideally, a backup plan.

-Use distance education-- right now a 3-credit-hour distance course I am taking through a public university here in NC costs only $350.  At for-profit distance education universities, the price might be almost double, so try to find these courses through a public institution or community college.

-Increase your load to graduate early.  I did this towards the end and, by upping the number of CLEP tests I was taking as well, squeezed two semesters of work into my final one.  Obviously this saves you not only tuition costs, but dorm, food, and general living costs-- thousands of dollars.


Handy tips for current high-schoolers
-Consider dual-enrollment classes while still in high school.  I tried this my senior year but unfortunately became over-committed and ended up withdrawing.  This is a great opportunity to get a head start on your college graduation requirements and get some general ed courses out of the way-- and, importantly, it gives you a feel for what will be expected from you in college course work.

-Consider community college.  If you do this for even just your first year of college, while you're taking the general classes, you could really save a ton of money.

-Do apply for every scholarship possible!  Do the research.  Treat it like a job.  I won some I didn't think I had a chance at-- and I can guarantee you will miss out on 100% of the ones you don't apply for.


Additional tips for saving money while in college
-Whenever possible, buy textbooks used online, and at the end of the semester sell them online-- the bookstore buy-back scam at the end of the semester just takes advantage of you.  If you sell the book online you may well break even, assuming they haven't published a new edition in the last ten seconds (which happens, unfortunately, quite often).

-Think about living at home-- this not only saves the cost of a dorm or an apartment, but should allow you to skip the mandatory meal plan, or at least get a lower-priced one.  One of the biggest wastes of money for me in college was the mandatory meal plan-- I always had a large quantity of unused meals left over at the end of the semester, with no roll-over.


One last tip for college students (or those soon-to-be)
Run far, far away from credit cards.  If you do choose to get one-- if you can be grown-up about it, you can start to build your credit history-- always pay the balance in full before it's due.  But I'll be honest, the vast majority of college students (myself included, at the time) should just run in the other direction.  The data supports this-- the average college student graduates with thousands in consumer (credit card) debt.  Choose to be the exception.


And one really final tip, and by far the most important:
Enjoy it-- college never lasts nearly as long as we'd like it to.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

make meals more enjoyable, without spending more

It's wonderful to enjoy a meal al fresco whenever beautiful weather permits it.

There are a myriad of easy ways to become slightly more creative, artistic, and thoughtful in your meals that can greatly increase your (and your guests') enjoyment of them.  These are just a few very simple ideas that come to mind: 

-Use the nice dishes or silverware that you probably have stored somewhere and probably never use.  Any particular day that you happen to be alive is a special occasion.

-In the evening, especially in the darkest winter months, use candles.  In the summer, or whenever the weather permits, dine al fresco!  This is always my favorite place to eat, and whenever I can eat my meal outside, I do.

-Enjoy setting the table properly.  Use a tablecloth.  Enjoy the ritual of the occasion.  

-Display basic decorations for the season or holiday.  This can be as simple and natural as some small pumpkins and maize displayed in fall, a fresh bowl of seasonal fruit (in any season), some flowers clipped from the yard and displayed in an old jar in spring, etc.

-Be creative and try cooking something new, something you've never tried before.  It is so easy and fun to branch out and discover an unlimited array of flavors and tastes and combinations that are totally new to you.

-This may be the most important tip, and unfortunately may not be something that many of us here in the United States were taught.  Learn to eat slowly and savor it.  Put your utensil down between bites.  Actually chew your food.  Taste it.  Think about it, rather than mindlessly consume it.

-Personally, I think the best way to enjoy any meal is to use fresh herbs, fruit, or vegetables from your own garden-- there is nothing more satisfying than that.  It can be as easily done as growing a couple of potted herbs in your windowsill.  The two I use the most are parsley and rosemary.

-Add a little something special that complements the meal-- a glass of chardonnay, a slice of Brie or Camembert (or whatever your cheese preferences dictate), special chocolates for dessert, etc.  Remember that all days for which you are present are special days.

-Enjoy the conversation and company.

a beautiful painting you may not have seen before

Der Kindergarten, Johann Sperl, c. 1885
I discovered this painting two winters ago at the Neue Pinakothek (www.pinakothek.de) in Munich.  I love the lush colors, the peaceful bucolic setting, and the depiction of nature in this painting.  There were many far better known and more impressive works at the museum but this was by far my favorite.

Monday, February 20, 2012

simplify your beauty routine: less is more.

This lovely lady could almost certainly benefit from the tips below.
You could probably pare back, implementing some of the suggestions here, to save yourself both time and money.  This is something I've been experimenting with a lot recently in an effort to determine what is truly worth the cost of my time and money, and what really just isn't.  Funny thing I've noticed about using less makeup?  I find that I am spending way less money on makeup, and I'm able to wake up later in the morning.  Those are results I like.  Here are some of the ideas I've come up with.

-When purchasing beauty products, don't allow yourself to be fooled by elaborate advertising schemes.  The truth is that inexpensive products usually work just as well as expensive ones.  (Large conglomerates own and produce the high-end products as well as the cheap ones, so there is generally little to no difference in quality.)  If you choose to pay for high-end products, what you are paying for is most likely fancy packaging and the extensive marketing that allows them to charge you the high price in the first place.  I find that it is, however, absolutely worth the effort to search for more natural products and to avoid irritating ingredients like sulfates.

-Get some sun, just not too much.  There's no need to be paranoid about it, and likewise there's no need to use a tanning bed, ever.  Use sunscreen everyday-- it needn't be an expensive one.  Right now I use Lavera, a natural German product, but I have also been happy with less expensive domestic brands such as L'Oreal and Neutrogena.  To prevent eye wrinkles (not to mention eye damage), always wear sunglasses when enjoying the sun.


-This is probably the most helpful tip I can give overall: Do less.  Use as FEW products on your skin as possible.  This goes for cleansing products as well as makeup.  Most women use far too many substances on their skin to begin with.  You shouldn't be exfoliating more than twice a week, and if you have sensitive skin like I do, do it sparingly, once every week or two.  In the past I've been guilty of over-exfoliating and using harsh clay masks, not realizing how much damage I was doing to my delicate skin.  After years of trial and error (largely error) I've found that it's best to simply wash my face with cool water in the morning, and then use a very gentle cleanser at night.  A lot of products create problems, which you then use more products in an attempt to resolve.  A great book that touches on this topic is The Japanese Skincare Revolution, by Chizu Saeki.  One of my favorite ideas from her book is the concept of "skin fasts": do your skin a huge favor by simply "fasting" from all product usage for a day or days at a time, and your skin will thank you.  It really works for me-- I do skin fasts on the weekends.


Clemence Poesy, one of my favorite French actresses, perfectly illustrates Le No-Makeup Look.
-Do like the French, and aim for Le No-Makeup LookGive yourself a make-under.  Many American women are in the habit of wearing FAR too much makeup for their own good, and too much visible makeup is aging.  More is emphatically not better.  If you wish to combine a lot of products to create the look of flawless skin, and you don't mind putting in the time and effort to apply them, then go for it-- but use these products to create a totally natural appearance, however artful. If you wear lipstick-- don't.  Fortunately, I got out of that phase circa 1999.  Use a light gloss instead.  I use gloss on rare occasions but daily I prefer a sheer Burt's Bees lip balm.

-Break a sweat.  Exercise, or use a sauna (I prefer the latter option, but around here, they can be hard to find.)  Sweating improves circulation, eliminates toxins, and is all-around fantastic for the health and appearance of your skin.  It also doesn't cost anything.

-I don't know anyone who actually does this around here, but there are a ton of young women in the UK who need to know this, so I'll put it out there: don't use sunless tanner.  Just don't.  You look like an orange.  Accept your skin the way it comes-- if it was meant to be a different color, it would be.

-Pare back on the number of makeup products you use.  I've found that many products simply aren't necessary.  Experiment and evaluate the products you use to determine what is truly worth buying and using, and what isn't.  Remember that your time has value as well as your money-- is the time you spend applying the product worthwhile to you?  Personally, I've found that my Lancome eyeshadow primer and undereye concealer do genuinely improve my appearance-- but I simply don't care to spend the time to apply them.  And at around $30 each, for the minimal improvement in appearance, neither product would be worth the financial cost to me personally, so even though they work, I won't be buying them again.

-Go from black to brown mascara.  I made this switch a couple months ago and have been quite pleased with the results.  Since the age of 12 I've always worn a heavy coat--or three-- of blackest-black mascara, which has a dramatic effect, but I began rethinking this recently, after realizing that my natural lash color and brow color is very light, which makes the heavy black seem costume-y.  GreatLash by Maybelline is the cheap and effective product I've used for the last 14 years, but I recently upgraded to a more pricey Lavera mascara, which I like because it has only natural ingredients.  The downside to this is that the product has a shorter shelf life, so when I need to replace it, I'll probably revert to GreatLash-- which they have for even cheaper at the dollar store here, by the way.

-Don't over-pluck.  Another example of doing less.  I over-plucked my brows in years past, as do many women.  Don't.  Fuller brows are more attractive, and obviously, appear more natural.  I've stopped plucking mine, aside from obvious strays.

-Accept what you've got.  Stop worrying about it; stop trying to change it.  (This can apply to lots of things in life, not just your visage.)  I used to try to cover up my freckles and used heavy powder to make my skin appear more single-toned.  Now I've chosen to accept that I will always have freckles, and I'm just going to let them be, and let them be seen.  I'm OK with it now.  I've got wrinkles around my eyes, too, but I don't plan on buying any expensive creams that promise to combat it.  It is what it is.  (I do, however, wear sunglasses when in the sun, and you should, too.  That only cost me six dollars.)

Reserve elaborate eye makeup for special events, not daily wear.
-I've gone a bit extreme lately and saved wearing all eye makeup only for special events.  This isn't about cost-- I already own the makeup.  For me, right now, it just isn't worth the time and effort, and I've found I actually like the way I look without it.  (To open up your eyes visually without a dab of makeup, use an eyelash curler.  In fact, you should be doing this everyday.  The cost is just a few dollars, and remember never to use it once mascara is on the lashes.)
 
-If you wear glasses all the time, try contacts.  This allows your beautiful eyes to be better seen and admired.  I wear glasses or contacts, depending on how lazy I'm feeling, but I know I always look better in contacts.

-Accept your hair the way it comes.  Whatever nature gave you-- curly or straight, light or dark-- choose to accept it, and then learn to love it.  I spent many adolescent years dyeing (and even perming) my hair, making it darker or lighter, and never being quite happy with the results.  And now it's never looked better, because for the past several years I've committed to just leaving it alone, simply getting a trim every few months.  Simplify your hairstyle: get a cut that doesn't require styling or extensive product use.  My hair routine is simple, and I like it that way: I brush it.  Rethink coloring your hair.  Hair dye has strong chemicals in it, which are readily absorbed by your scalp and then passed into your bloodstream.  And personally, I think every human on the planet looks better with their natural hair color.  I have yet to see someone whose appearance is improved by chunky highlights or visible roots.  Hair-coloring is also an expensive cycle to get into.  Personally I use only shampoo and conditioner, no styling products, and no heat styling tools.  Over time, blowdryers, curling irons, and straighteners really do damage your hair.  In the past I've had higher-maintenance cuts that required styling and straightening, and I would never consider going back.  My hair looks fabulous after a blowout, of course, but I've simply stopped doing it-- and the quality of my hair has improved.  Think in terms of long-term benefits, not short.

So here's how my current minimalist makeup usage breaks down:
What I use everyday:
    -moisturizer
    -sunscreen
    -lip balm
    -light concealer/mineral powder, as little as possible, only as necessary
What I use on special occasions:
    -light coat of brown mascara
    -possibly eyeliner
    -lip gloss
What I never use:
    -blush, eyeshadow, undereye concealer, lipstick.

One last thought: DO make the most of your appearance!  Not everyone needs a make-under: if you never use ANY products to enhance your appearance, a light gloss or lip balm, an eyelash curler, and a little light mineral powder could make you look and feel like a million bucks-- at minimal expense and effort. 

What products do you deem worthy of everyday use, or worthy of the expense?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

seeds are for planting

These seedlings will become grapefruit trees, and my old jam jar should sprout what will grow to be apple trees.

Rather than throwing seeds out, why not plant them?  Why not experience the joy of watching something grow?

I love planting seeds and watching them grow in the windowsill, and I grow much more container-gardening outside.  Our soil here is rocky and not conducive to planting-- plus we have lots of pests and wildlife, being on the edge of the woods-- so container gardening is the solution for me.  For a year now the edibles I've grown are parsley, green onions, leeks, romaine lettuce, strawberries, red potatoes, sweet potatoes, garlic, and brussel sprouts.  I've been able to eat all but the brussel sprouts.  I've grown a few other vegetables which died off in the winter weather, so these are just the plants I've been successful with.  The ones I found most useful in the kitchen are the parsley and green onions-- they can be added to almost any dish.  And there is such satisfaction in creating a meal incorporating something you grew yourself, at no cost.

Next time you see something grow-able you might throw out-- seeds from inside a fruit, a potato that's starting to sprout-- why not plant it instead?  Kids enjoy this immensely-- my students' favorite thing in our classroom was the planter I brought in with potatoes, scallions, romaine, and brussels growing in it.

on the subject of place: Beaulieu-sur-Mer

This is the view from a villa where I stayed in Beaulieu-sur-Mer, a little town close to Nice in the South of France.  This is, so far, my favorite place on earth.  When I am stressed, as happens from time to time, this is where I like to imagine myself.

take a tour through Reykjavik with me

This was the beautiful view of Mt. Esja from my bathroom window in the hostel.

The view from inside a little cafe where I would order hot tea or coffee to 
warm up before braving the outdoors again.  Not much snow in this picture.

A view in the downtown area
I like this mural next to our hostel, though I have no idea what it says.

A good view of the Hallgrimskirkja, the national cathedral, where I enjoyed a beautiful though incomprehensible Christmas Eve concert.
A further view of the Hallgrimskirkja
Just starting to trudge away from the hostel into the town
Reykjavik is a really charming and picturesque little city.  This was snapped during the ~4 hours of daylight.
I adore this little fountain with a bridge.
Still more snow
A square downtown
Walking down onto the main shopping street, catching the last few minutes of daylight
Quirky Cafe Babalu, where I enjoyed a Christmas dinner with other clueless travelers who didn't realize all the shops would be closed.
A view from the harbor
This is my favorite photo, a view of Harpa, the Concert Hall.
The view from inside Harpa
Good night, Reykjavik!

thrifty vintage find

I spent a lovely morning walking around Wake Forest, and came across a stash of vintage magazines at "For Old Times Sake," one of the handful of antique shops on offer.  As I wasn't carrying my wallet, I came back a couple hours later and picked this up for five well-spent dollars.  And at long last, I will finally learn how to make two outfits out of one!

for free fun, seek out the beauty around you


A few months back I spent a lovely Autumn day enjoying Falls Lake Park.  Exploring the woods in fair weather is one of my absolute favorite ways to pass the time.  In Germany I did this most days, even in the snow-- I couldn't get enough of the natural beauty around me.  I also really love the simple, natural beauty of the woods, especially in contrast with the modern idea of "landscaping," which is so contrived and artificial in appearance-- twig-like trees spaced equidistant apart, manicured shrubs, mowed lawns.  There is no beauty in that.

 

The cost for the beautiful day spent at the lake was only that of driving there and back.  I brought with me an apple for a snack, my refillable water bottle, my camera, and of course, a book.

Other ways I enjoy spending my time without spending my money: going to the library, walking in the neighborhood or, better, on a trail somewhere, browsing the little shops downtown (I just leave my wallet at home-- literally), trading my old books in at the used bookstore, writing, creating simple meals using ingredients from my garden, and-- my absolute favorite-- sitting outside on the deck with a good book on a sunny day.  Nothing is better than that.