Friday, August 19, 2011

GPS Money Management

Well, we're back from our year abroad, ending with the Big Trip from Budapest, Hungary, to Rome, and then across southern France to Barcelona. Then Kent and Steve left for home from Barcelona, and Kathy and the kids and I drove back through Italy to Venice, then back to Budapest.

Here's what it looked like.

It came to over 4700 km, not counting the side trips to various points of interest, and a few times we got lost and had to back track.  Thanks to the GPS, we didn't have to do that too much. We named our GPS Helen, for the the Paul McCartney song "Helen Wheels". When we made a wrong turn, or got off on the wrong exit, Helen would patiently say "Recalculating." Then she would get us back on track, either pointing to another route which we could take, or helpfully suggesting that we should "Make a legal U-turn when possible." At one point in Genova when we ended up in what can best be described as an alley, hemmed in by parked cars and stone walls, Helen gave up on us and said, "Please drive to highlighted route." We knew we were in trouble then.

Now we're back at home, digging out from our year of Too Much Fun. We could use a little input from the "Money GPS" I think.  Can you imagine it?  Just as you're about to make an impulse buy, Helen would weigh in, telling you proceed to the next exit, abandoning your cart full of frivolous purchases.  And if your credit card was swiped at the high end boutique, or Cole Hahn, or Williams Sonoma, or Abercrombie & Fitch. (pick your poison) Helen might helpfully point out that you needed to make a legal (and fiscal) U-turn. The GPS could be attached to your wallet and would monitor when it got opened, and the location of your spending. Market Basket supermarkets? Good choice; spending wisely. But open your wallet at Whole Foods (aka "Whole Paycheck")  Helen would weigh in with "Take next exit to responsible spending."

I'm working on developing my own internal "Fiscal GPS" this year. We are shopping at Market basket, not Whole Foods. We're going to the local farmer's markets for "seconds" or things that the farm stands call "utility" vegetables, like tomatoes for canning. They don't look pretty but they taste good and they're half the price (or less). We're eating vegetarian meals, and trying to move beyond pasta and tomato sauce in the vegetarian column. Two nights this week we ate vegetarian- one admittedly was pasta and sauce, but one was one eggplant Parmesan and corn on the cob. High summer has its benefits.

In terms of furnishing our temporary home, I'm going to use websites like "Freecycle" and Craig's List which has a "Free stuff" category. I've seen a couple of "curb alerts" on Craig's list where people leave an address and a description of what they're giving away. I haven't bit yet, but am on the lookout for some book shelves and will cruise the curb on trash day here in town as well. Some of my best stuff came from the curb! I found a couple of 1950's lawn chairs out in the trash one day and took them home and sanded and painted them. They're amazingly comfortable. My husband thinks I've gone around the twist, but then I see the exact same stuff in catalogs from Pottery Barn or other fancy home furnishing places. For example, several years ago I picked an old window out of the trash and put mirrors in the panes. No need to buy something with a trendy "distressed finish" to make it look old. It really was old.  There's one selling on Ebay now with a starting bid of $90.  Mine? Around $5 for mirror panes.

I'm linking up this weekend for the Weekend Rewind, the frugal living edition. I'm looking forward to reading other people's ideas about how to save money. In the meantime, I'm working on hearing Helen's voice in my head. "Recalculating...."   I'm recalculating how much I'm spending and driving "to the highlighted route."

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Lying in Bed

This is a post for my dear friend Melissa and I'd really like your help. Whether you're reading this regularly, or just stumbled on this page or something in between, please read on and contribute your ideas or prayers or good wishes or whatever else....

Melissa is in the hospital on bed rest for potentially the next 12 weeks, until her baby is born. She's nervous, worried, as well as capital "B" Bored. Any ideas about:

  • A Good Book to Read
  • A Good Use of Time for Long Afternoons
  • A Calming Meditation
  • A Laugh Out Loud Movie
  • A Soothing Tea (since margaritas seem to be off the list of "doctor approved relaxation methods")
  • A New Band not to be missed

Have you been in this position? What helped you?  I told her she should start a blog, but who knows where that may lead! Please post your ideas; I'll share them in a Top Ten List (I'm optimistic if nothing else-- maybe a Top Three List)

Thanks for your input!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Small Town America Fire Department Training

On our way back from Laura's farm, we saw all these flashing lights. A whole lotta fire trucks parked next to the lake. Which is strange, because there's nothing there that could burn; it's a lake afterall. And a cemetary- nothing there that can burn either. I thought  maybe there was an accident. Then I noticed that all the fire trucks were aiming their water hoses into the lake. Okay, now I had to stop.  What the...?

The firman came over to tell me that the road was closed for their training. I said we just wanted to take some pictures. Then, like almost all firemen he invited Jack over to put on the fireman's hat and touch stuff on the truck. I LOVE that about firemen. They all know that little kids love firetrucks and they all want the little kids to love firetrucks as much as they clearly do, and so they invite the kids right in to check it all out.
Then the fireman said he'd help me get by the trucks. I said that we were in fact not going down this street anyway, but had stopped just to watch the trucks. He seems Oh So pleased by that. Good end to the day. Everyone was happy.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

To eat the compost in the compost pile. of course! Better bugs there, I guess. Here are the girls crossing back over to the barn when they were done. The way that they jump down off the stone wall cracks me up; they're not very sure of themselves, kind of like uncoordinated aunties climbing over a fence. (Okay, kind of like ME jumping off the stone wall, bracing for the impact and looking kind of timid and silly.)

Run lady, run!!

More pictures from the day at the farm. We picked blackberries and I made cobbler for dessert. Yum!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

It's all about the WC

Here in Hungary and in the rest of Europe, people have to pee. Not just at home, but when they're outside too. And you know what??? They CAN. All over the place. It's possible. In Hungary and in other EU countries, there are buildings and rooms marked "WC", which stands for "Water Closet". This is a foreign concept in the US. (no pun intended) In the US there are Very Few public toilets, and you have to know where they are. They're not well marked. They're secret. And often they're dirty in addition to being few and far between. But, I for one am grateful for the insight of the Europeans for putting these out there for public use.  Here are some of them.

 Well marked-- Obvious

 Well marked-- Can't miss it.

Clear Signage- you know what this is.
Some are more colorful than others. But still- you get the message. 

And they're always nearby. How many times have I had to ask here in the US at a store, on;y to be told that they "don't have" a bathroom. Impossible. People have to pee sometimes.  US-- take note. Charge is you have to- give someone a job keeping it clean. But please-- put in more public toilets!!

My rant for the day. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Pony- A Love Story

Pony has been Jack's "lovey"since he was born. Pony had a small accident in Barga and needed a little plastic surgery on his face. I heard panic in Jack's voice as he asked me, "Mom- do you have your sewing kit with you? The one with the needle and thread?" (yeah, that would be the sewing kit, the one with the needle and thread) Pony's face started to separate from his head. Uh oh. I'm not a good sewer. My mother fixed him last time. And then she tea stained the patch to match the rest of face. Time to belly up to the bar and see if I get the "magic mother can fix anything" merit badge.

I got a piece of t-shirt and reattached his face. It was important to make sure I didn't cover up his nose holes, so he could breathe. The look of relief on his face after Pony was put back together was so powerful and wonderful. I did feel like the magic mother who could fix anything.

Here's a portrait Jack did of Pony.

And a picture of the real article. See his patch?
The picture of love.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Re-entry. Hot and Bothered

We're HOME! It's 100 degrees. Literally. We are staying temporarily at Kent's parents' place outside of Boston, and it feels Really Far Outside of Boston.  Add to that the fact that we don't have a car, and I feel a bit of Nagykovacsi déjà vu- the "Holy Sh*t, what have we done?" feeling that wakes you up at night from a dead sleep. We have no car, no house and I have no job. "It's just part of the process", I keep telling myself, as my children turn into surly creatures, teasing each other and smart mouthing me. We've already left one person's house rather abruptly when Nate had a sudden teenager spell and gave me a flippant answer to a serious question. "Okay-- we're DONE- get in the car!" He looked shocked; "huh?" I said it again- "We're Done. Going Home. Get in the car." I was quiet most of the way home, and he ventured a wary "Mom?" About 20 minutes into the ride.  "Are you okay?" Yeah. I'm okay. I'm just a quart down, and so is everyone else. Everyone is tired, jet lagged and trying to re-establish the rhythm of life here. It's a hard thing. Nate says he wants to go back to Budapest in the fall. I'm half in, half out. It will get better; it's the transition that will kick you in the teeth. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Harry Potter, Harry Potter, Harry Potter!!

We have the fever. We listened to it in the car, all through Italy, southern France and Spain. We've seen the advertisements everywhere, too. Some of these pictures aren't so good, but we think it's cool.

We watched the movie (in 3D) at Mom Park in Budapest in English-- Great Stuff!!!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Kathy and Jordan do Budapest!

I've been so neglectful! Kathy and Jordan had never been to Budapest, and so we did some of the sights of the town, in between cleaning out the shelves in the kitchen and trying to pack up the remainder of our stuff. 

The Buda Castle District:

This is outside the Buda Castle (now the national gallery). It's King Mattyas symbol. There's some story about a raven stealing his ring and him chasing the thing with his men for a day and then the raven giving it back to him. 
The view from the FIsherman's Bastion- Parliament and the Szechenyi Bridge.

Venice Morning

Here are some images from the morning in Venice, where the real work of the city gets done. Gondoliers washing down their boats for the coming tourists, the Rialto market set-up, supplies coming down the Grand Canal, people on their way to work, a photo shoot at the Rialto Bridge. All before the tourists get up and get their coffee for the day.

The fish stalls at the market.
Cleaning up the gondolas for the oncoming groups of tourists.
Restaurant at the Rialto Bridge

Friday, July 15, 2011

Venice- Our first night

We settled into the hotel with only a minimum of trouble. We're staying here at the fancy schmancy Westin Regina and Europa Hotel on the Grand Canal on both Starwood points and Starwood Friends and Family discount, compliments of Kathy's friend Michael. But it means that we have to change room tomorrow, since they were 2 different reservations. Kathy called and emailed, and was told everything was set, and that we could have the same rooms for 2 nights, But-- um, no. Not so much. So, we'll change rooms tomorrow.

We went out to explore and take some pictures. (how surprising, right?)
Here are some of the shots we liked.