31 August, 2009

Budget Educational Travel (part one)

I have been nudged by a few people to write about taking tremendous trips on a budget. We don't take yearly family vacations and have been participating in what has come to be known as a "Staycation" before the term was ever coined. There are so many shortcuts that I'm sure I don't know about, but I can share some of the things we have done to save hundreds, even a thousand or more dollars on some wonderful and educational trips.

When we do travel, it is not to Disney or other typical or more common destinations that American families tend to take. Not that we look down on those types of trips, they are just not our personal 'cup-of-tea' so to speak. One exception to this was our family visit to Branson with my in-laws 6 or 7 years ago. However, since I lived in Missouri during my middle school and high school years, and have sung/performed in Branson/Silver Dollar City, and had my share of fun with childhood friends and family on many occasions, going back was more about taking the kids to some of my home territory.

Even then, we visited a wonderful used bookstore down near the wharf where I bought Shepherd of the Hills for the kids to read, so they could get a sense of the history of the Ozarks. Thus, the trip became more of a historical, natural, and literary trip, instead of just being about visiting a theme park for a few days. We spent some time down by the river doing free things, instead of filling up our time with purchasing tickets for one show after another. But I am getting ahead of myself, here.

Tip number One: Drive instead of flying, if applicable

~ obviously, you cannot drive to Australia, Europe, or Hawaii

~ If you have access to frequent flier miles ... use them!!

~ weigh the cost of taking your own vehicle versus renting. Our cars are paid for and we keep them tuned up, so we take our own vehicles most all of the time.

Tip number Two: Go where you've been before or go where you know someone who lives where you want to go.

~ By doing this, you have insights into the places only the locals know or care about, both historic and practical. Also, you may be invited to stay with family or friends in their homes for free. This also lowers the cost of meals. Offer to buy groceries with or for your host family or take them out to eat. Be a gracious guest.

~ Find cabins or campsites from which you can base your day trips. Tent camping is the cheapest, and once you get your own things and set-up/break-down duties organized, this is not even a nuisance. If you prefer, you can also rent motorhomes for your roadtrip! I don't know if that saves much over hotels or not. It is not our option of choice, so I cannot comment with good quotes, facts, or actual experiences of prices and quality. We've done camping cabins through KOA years and years ago, when it was just too cold or wet to set up a tent.

*** Pack a small cooler in your vehicle and buy groceries as you go. Drink lots of water instead of soft drinks. Buy healthier beverages on occasion, but for the most savings, drink water!

*** Take your own coffeepot and propane stoves to cook your own meals and coffee. There are times when in a time crunch that stopping at a gas station or local donut or coffee shop is worth the extra expense. When you are camping, the best use of your daylight time must be factored in to your budget of both time and money.

~ Consider staying in a youth hostel. I have not done this, but our son has, when he spent a summer in Scotland back in '07. My best friend also stayed in youth hostels when visiting England with her boys when they were young.

Tip number Three: Read multiple sources and do your research before you take your trip

By doing this, you can find more obscure museums and surprising exhibits that might be running for only a short time that you might not have found out about otherwise.

~ The internet can have the most up-to-date events. I say probably because some websites do not stay updated very well, so check dates on the site carefully.

~Travel guides are very helpful, and older Travel Journals or writings are great, if you take the time to plan several months in advance. You can read what some of our best-known authors wrote on their own travels, which adds a different layer to your trip, if you are so inclined. One of my favorites that I actually took with my daughter and me to Italy: John Ruskin writings and lectures on multiple topics, such as "Mornings in Florence" or Art and Architecture. Love doing that!

***Some of my other favorites are Rick Steves' travel guides and Frommer's. You can find good ones at used book and thrift stores, even current or near-current printings. $ saved, up to $25 dollars per book (by finding them in thrift stores).

***Travel guides for kids. I purchased some in Florence, Bologna, and Venice. These have more pictures and include neat facts, such as seemingly hidden walkways and architectural constructions where you can whisper in one corner of a little plaza and hear it in the other corner. If you are simply taking a bus tour of a famous city, you will miss these little side-excursions and adventures.

~ Who can calculate how much will be saved by learning where to buy a city pass, which allows you to by-pass long lines at museums and saves you money by paying a flat fee instead of one fee per person or per family at each new museum, park, or historical site. Similarly, in Europe, you can purchase a Eurail pass for a set amount of time, which can save you a lot of money by not having to buy individual train tickets. Similar things are available for tram tickets, bus tickets, etc.

Tip number Four: Take a GPS, if you have one, or borrow one from a friend. Our friend offered hers to us for our most recent trip to New England. While there is a learning curve which is rather frustrating, you can turn off the voice and figure out her short-comings and work around them. You can set these to pedestrian setting for walking tours. These also can suggest hotels and campsites, plus historic museums you may not have researched on the internet ahead of time.

Tip number Five: Be a chaperon with your children's school or youth group. While you may be limited in what you can tour and see, you will almost always get to go to some wonderful destinations, both in the US and abroad, either for free or half-price. Sometimes you can even arrange to stay on for extra time and return later, and sometimes even for the same price, if arranged before the tickets are purchased.

I'll stop there for now. Do send me your tips or questions that I can speak to in Part two of Budget Educational Travel. Stay tuned!


30 August, 2009

Grilled Alfredo Pizza

This recipe is a combination of a couple of different meal ideas we picked up this summer. We made these on our grill for the wedding party the day after our son and daughter-in-law's wedding in early July. It was a huge hit, not only because it tasted so good, but because everyone participated in the making of their own pizzas.

Using either your favorite or a standard dough recipe, roll out personal sized crusts. You can roll out larger pizzas for this, we just found it fun to have a lot of toppings in different bowls so each person can choose their own favorites. Make sure your grill is nice and warmed up, but on low. It is too easy to burn these, and the main point is to help the dough "set up" firmly to hold the toppings and not become soggy. Brown only slightly on one side then remove from grill. Note that this step takes only about a minute!

Each person can take their own pizza dough round and add their favorite sauce, either tomato or Alfredo, spreading with the back of a large wooden spoon to the browned side of the dough. Add toppings of choice, such as chopped or sliced, colorful bell peppers, shredded zucchini, baby spinach, onions, artichoke hearts, olives, pineapple chunks, meat of choice, what-have-you. Next, place pizzas back on the grill to toast the other side, warm the veggies and or meat through, and to melt your cheeses. This takes a little bit longer than the first grilling, and watch closely to prevent burning the bottoms. If you prefer, you may keep foil under your pizzas to help prevent burning.

The sauce most in demand around here is a doctored-up Alfredo sauce (recipe below). After adding the sauce of your choice, add veggies and/or meat, top it all off with either mozzarella or smoked Gouda cheese, perhaps a little of both! When the pizzas come off the grill, we also have small bowls of fresh grated Romano cheese and crushed red peppers, for those who want them.

If we have cooked chicken to add as another topping, we'll marinate it in balsamic vinegar, then pre-cook it before the party, and chop fine.

While your grill is warming up, cook up some enhanced Alfredo pizza sauce:

8 oz. of mushrooms, sliced or diced, whichever you prefer)
1/2 cup onion of choice, chopped (more if you like!)
2 T. butter or olive oil
1-2 garlic cloves, chopped fine. (If you pre-roast the garlic, it adds another amazing flavor layer to the sauce)
1 jar of basic Alfredo sauce, or make your own!

Warm your skillet well, add the
oil or butter and spread around the skillet, then saute onions and mushrooms, adding the garlic when the onion and mushrooms are softened and lightly browned. Add the jar of Alfredo sauce to the pan and warm through. Lower temp and keep warm till guests are ready to begin building their pizzas.

Gluten-Free Option:

We bought pre-made gluten free crusts for one or two of our guests the couple of times we have shared and cooked this with company. Gluten-free crust recipes can be found here . I can't vouch for those particular recipes as of yet, since I haven't personally tried them. Feel free to send your tried-and-true recipes to me, if you'd like!



27 August, 2009

Of Books and Coffee!

I wanted to post a few photos of books, book related-things, some of the coffee shops, and coffee-related things we enjoyed along the way on our journey to New England and back a few weeks ago. I thought it an interesting way to present our vacation in between visiting and lingering at some pretty phenomenal historical, natural, and literary places.

I'll start with this shot on the inside of The Old North Church (aka Christ Church of Boston). Notice the hymnals in the boxed-in pews. We knew ahead of time that we would be able to worship with the congregation there. This was a highlight at the end of our first week away. The liturgical service was absolutely wonderful. The music, simply stunning. I loved reading musical notes again. I was not familiar with the hymns we sang, so it was a good workout to my sight-singing skills. The sermon was surprisingly casual, yet well-done!

We saved our bulletin/order of liturgy sheets. No photo of that, though.

We do know this hymn, but we did not sing it on that day.

We visited S'bux occasionally for a quad-shot Americano for most of us. The Americano is one of the cheapest routes to go w/coffee drinks here. Getting the employee discount saves quite a bit, too.

This is the former home of the once-famous Corner Bookstore, the *first* brick building in Boston. Here, Ticknor and Fields are said to have revolutionized American book publishing between 1845 and 1865. They earned the status of "worldwide renown" for "having a well-stocked shop, a prominent publishing house, and for being a magnet for the literary world." Here, they published the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, Longfellow, and Horace Mann.

I should remember the coffee shop and bakery just to the left of the shop there. We bought iced coffees, but I'm not sure I took a photo of the place. What I keenly remember was that the iced coffee was too weak, so hubby bought a shot of espresso from s'bux to add to my iced coffee ;-)
I love that man.

Further interesting reading along our path in Boston: It kind of makes me smile.

Hubby found this treasure for me, off the tourist path:

We spent probably 1 1/2 hours here at this basement bookstore and came away with some treasures, plus a couple of free books thrown in! Nice staff here. Hubs bought a couple of books for himself, one nice, boxed copy of The Autocrat of The Breakfast Table by Oliver Wendell Holmes. I picked up an 1896 copy of Women of Colonial and Revolutionary times by Eliza Pinckney. Though written about her family who lived in N. Carolina, I thought it perfectly appropriate to purchase it at the home or 'hotbed' of the Colonial Revolution. This book was only ten dollars, btw.

The dollar table to the left where I purchase an old, large hardback copy of the sketches and works of Winslow Homer for just $1. Another fitting purchase from New England.

Leaving Commonwealth Bookstore

I didn't get pictures at the garage sale we drove by while in Concord the second time. Sweet Hubby stopped so dd and I could search for little treasures. I found a stack of five or six books, an old limp-leather bound Bible, a hardbound book about The White House, and another book about the presidents, all for just two dollars. Dd bought a book on herbs and a cookbook. I think she spent 75 cents. Nice find, that! We also visited with an older British couple whose sons live in America now, down south not too far from where we live. It was a neat exchange about culture and climates. Not just small talk about the weather, for sure!

We didn't buy coffee here in the heart of Boston this time, so I couldn't compare flavors. However, the storefront is simple and elegant.

Coffee shop on the edge of Lexington.

Monument on Lexington Green, near the Minuteman Statue. It has the names of all the ministers who served at least one of the historic churches in some way. I think it was for the John Hancock church there on the green. (There are two buildings of different congregations on the green, but the monument was nearest the J. Hancock church building). Yes, one of the men on the list was John Hancock himself. Something new for me to research. I also liked the book/Bible on top of the monument.

(photo taken by our 14 yos, so is not crisp and clear)

The next photo depicts ice cream night at our old favorite home-made ice cream shop in Lexington that is *still* in business after all these years, so no coffee. We could, however, enjoy some wifi while we just lingered on the benches, taking in the fresh air and visiting like the locals. We did not feel rushed, nor did we feel like tourists. We were oldies coming back to one of our homes. It was fantastic.

This S'bux is on the main street in Lexington, just down from Lexington Green and the Minuteman Statue which marks yet another place where militia fought and fell on April 19, 1775.

This next shot is not a book but it is from the writing of R. Waldo Emerson. It is etched in stone near the Minuteman Statue and the North Bridge in Concord, MA. This brief section is but a portion of what became known as "The Concord Hymn."

Now to one of my favorites of the trip. This is a reproduction at Plimoth Plantation, a well done replica of a period, hand-sewn, raised-band, leather on board binding, with 'splayed-out thongs.' You can see them in the photo, they look like stick people under the leather. This was exciting to see and handle.

And I cannot forget our own, special camp coffee. Has a taste all its own! Most of the time, it is pretty good!

I would be out-of-line if I did not confess that several times, when we got up quickly and quietly to break camp and move to our next destination, that we opted for Dunkin Donuts coffee. This was for hubby, as we do have fond memories of DD coffee when we lived and worked in the Boston area. I took no photos, though some of the DD shops were in old, old homes and structures. All part of New England building codes, which certainly adds to the charm and keeps New England looking mighty lovely. I am a huge fan of that.

One final place in Maine was a log Cabin. I lost that photo in transferring all our shots from a laptop to my computer after returning home. At this little shop in a small township, we shared Maine Blueberry Pie and a giant Pecan sticky bun, for breakfast. Both were fresh and hot. The coffee was just alright, but the simple sweets and berries MORE than made up for it!

In Vermont, I found this treasure, but it was too expensive and too heavy to bring home:

a giant coffee grinder, over $300. Cast iron, and probably nearly as heavy as my antique book press!

Other books and coffee presents picked up or purchased on our journey:

clockwise: Cape Ann mug, American Writers at Home (photojournal of the homes around the country of our American authors, including some that we visited), Orchard House mug (Louisa May Alcott), Plimoth Plantation authentic reproduction mug (dd bought two for herself), The Wayside (House) pamphlet with historical timeline, sketches, and a few photos, bookmarks, Vermont camping magazines

Walden Pond bookbag/tote. This one is nice and large, and has a flat bottom. I needed one like that to tote things to bookclub. The two books are from Hubby's collection of Library of America series of books. I brought these along to read during the trip, to gain more insight into our travels, and these men's writings. It has been a long time in coming. Truly, I should have read these through before now.

Mosses from an Old Manse, purchased at The Old Manse (appropriate, don't you think?). This is a collection of some of Hawthorne's best known short stories, including ones that are traditionally studied in High School American Lit courses like the one my husband teaches. The first story is non-fiction and is the author's descriptions and memories of scenes from renting and living in The Old Manse with his young family. Loved this story! I began reading it in the Walden Woods/Pond one day, then finished it on the long drive home.

I hope, my dear reader, that you have enjoyed a few of the treasures from the Books and Coffee trip journal of...

Javamom :-)

24 August, 2009

Boston as a turning point

Boston is (and the surrounding townships are) a milestone in our early married lives; one of those turning points that propelled us in a whole new direction for our future.

Living in Boston before children, and as our family first began to grow beyond 'just the two of us,' was one of the best things we ever did. Not to dwell on and be stuck in the past, but to reflect on how the things we learned and chose in Boston really did set a good foundation for our lives that would proceed through the late 80's, 90's and the early part of the 21st century.

Revisiting the old haunts, and getting a better look at some we missed when we lived there, was a "coming full circle" moment in time. Being able to share that with some of our kids is (as the commercial slogan says)

~ p.r.i.c.e.l.e.s.s. ~

I'll spare you the specifics...A brief outline would include such things as:

~ an even better realization of freedom of worship and religion, and the discipline of grace...we
broke free from extreme legalism here, in so many ways. We also helped a little with cult or extreme church legalism recovery with a small group outside of Boston. Yes, we helped physically move people out of controlling situations, one lived with us for a time, even. We counseled, and we met with said people when they had to face accusations or teams who'd try to guilt trip them back into submission and confession. Egads. I wish we had done more and been even more feisty...the kind of righteous indignation that comes after half a lifetime of experience.

~ became educated about and chose home birthing here
~ were first exposed to the idea of homeschooling here
~ continued on with the healthful lifestyle of more nutritional eating and long-distance cycling
that began back in OK City, first year of marriage, inspired by the lifestyle of my boss and her
~ worked in an environment of wellness with an excellent, encouraging, and upbeat boss.

The Opera House (under repair at the moment) Saw "The Nutcracker" here for the first time in my life while on a triple date!

Vistas, Downtown Boston - love the triangle shaped buildings and connecting "bicycle-spoke" streets

We didn't have S'bux back then, but we did have Au Bon Pain :)

Lots of street musicians both underground at the T stops and at Fannieul Hall, Old State House, etc.

The South Street Diner, with the giant tea-cup (This is Boston!) still standing on top. This is where we would meet hubby's brother, on his very-late-night "lunch" breaks. Excited that it is doing well and still there.

South Market (beside Fannieul Hall) We used to get bagels here or at Quincy

Quincy Market (also beside Fannieul Hall)

Fannieul Hall. fun shopping here, on the bottom floor.

Juxtaposition of the very old, crammed beside the new. Always reminds me a little of Europe

Entrance gate to Chinatown - We walked and we walked and we walked, b/c Ms. GPS got us turned around. The blessing? We got to see all the old places we used to visit or where we'd do a little shopping.

Chinatown - no we never ate at McD's there. We ate Chinese in Chinatown. The best in the city!!

Filene's and Filene's Basement, which recently closed :( Could find many deals here on all the necessary things like boots, gloves, scarves, for a real winter ;-)

More City vistas

Making our way out of the city, along the Charles and toward our old workplaces and home.

Hubby's old commute via bicycle. What scenery! Can't really beat it, unless you live in Colorado, or Vermont, or Oregon.......maybe Europe, LOL.

Ever driven or ridden through rotaries? Ever done it multiple times by bicycle for commuting or weekend extended rides? It is exhilarating, haha.

Where Hubs worked, just of the Charles River in Cambridge, near MIT

Hubby's old workplace

Where I worked, in Arlington, for a chiropractor there.

Historic church building down the road from where we lived.

Where we loved to eat Greek food quite a lot, down the road from where we lived. Best secret in Boston and the townships! Still open after all these years!

Our former home in Belmont. :::sigh:::

I'll post historic and literary homes later. I hope you're enjoying the tour!


19 August, 2009

Spending a little time in Pennsylvania

you recognize Independence Hall, right? We spent a wee bit of time here before driving on to New England. It began raining as soon as we entered the complex for the tours. Didn't dampen my spirits, but I did have to cover my camera for safekeeping.

You can see one wing of Independence Hall which part of my family is walking in front of, and Congress Hall is to the left. A couple of other copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation are kept in the small wing.

Supreme Court Hall. Their first meeting hall when the USA was young

Hall of Philosophy

Inside Congress Hall (The Continental Congress and the Patriots! Loved this place)

Congress Hall, where John Adams was sworn into office as second president of the United States.

Downstairs in Congress Hall. This is where we sat to hear the beginning of the tour

Benjamin Franklin Library...We will spend some time here when we go back in two years. To read more about this historic place, click here.

upstairs meeting rooms of Congress Hall

Senate Hall - upstairs in Congress Hall Building

Senate Hall - other side

upstairs meeting rooms

Some of the library upstairs. Some of these are just encyclopedias, but their covers are still very lovely

Look what I found! An old, old bookpress in one of the upstairs meeting rooms

Antique book press, other side. This is as far into the room as we could venture

stone walkways in the complex of historical building in the middle of Philadelphia --fabulous path on which to walk

Do you have any awesome field trips scheduled into your year for your family's bonding and learning experiences?