Thursday, March 29, 2012

Home and Garden Dogwood Tour

Despite my previous post with all the set dates, spring has arrived way too early so the blossoms have peaked and some even past their prime. So today after work I drove around the 2009 featured Dogwood Trail in Oak Ridge. Please excuse the quality of the photos as some of the pictures were taken ::whispers:: while I was driving. :P Whoops. Actually, I don't think I can use that excuse because the pictures I took while driving were not that great (Who's surprised?!) so I'm pretty sure the pictures here were all the ones that I pulled off the road to photograph.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Spring Plans!

The super mild winter for us here in most of the United States meant that spring came a lot earlier.  For the Eastern and Midwestern part of the country, they have seen record highs and tumultuous weather in March.  As for me, that meant I got a glimpse of spring blossoms to brighten my mood and my first trip to the basement to use as a tornado shelter!  Both exciting for different reasons.  Ha.
Source: Dogwood Arts Festival
Last weekend as my landlord was making preparations for a garage sale to clean out the things she owned, it began to dawn on me that my time remaining in East Tennessee was short.  SO I decided that even though gas prices are sky rocketing, I need to make better use of my time here.  I'm going to go on some day trips during the weekend.  In fact, these places are so close they're hardly considered a day trip but I've never been super comfortable driving to new places, especially by myself because I get lost while I drive... a lot.  So for me, these short little trips might be equivalent to a typical person's day trip.  It sort of works out because with these places being so close, it saves on gas money, right? 

East Tennessee Spring Destinations!
  • One of the Historic Houses of Knoxville Crescent Bend's Tulip Time!  April 1 donation-based admission fees 
    • I was a huge fan of Tulip Time in Pella, Iowa from when I was in college, so I look forward to continuing my annual Tulip Time tradition
  • Norris Dam State Park Guided Wildflower Hike March 31 & April 7
  • Frozen Head State Park Wildflower Pilgrimage April 14 & 15
  • Oak Ridge Reservation Wildflower Walk April 15
    • Sponsored by the Environmental Sciences Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory
  • House Mountain Scenic-Recreational State Natural Area 
    • A couple from church is leading a hike right after church ends, I'm excited!
  • Dogwood Arts Festival Events from late March to late May
    • Dogwood Trails and Gardens April 11-30
      • I plan to drive and maybe walk through the Oak Ridge route where it was featured a few years ago.  Since dogwood is a tree, it should be relatively permanent and equally beautiful.  There are also two sites in Farragut that I'll check out.
    • Dogwood Art Detour April 28 & 29 visiting artists work spaces
      • There's a studio in Oak Ridge near my house so I plan on visiting that one.
  • Museum of Appalachia
    • A replicated village of about three dozen real Appalachian buildings plus a museum, sounds wonderful to me!  The restaurant also looks like it serves authentic Appalachian cuisine.  Double bonus!   Luckily I have AAA to save an extra few dollars.  
    • Sheep Shearing April 27 sounds... awesome!  Includes spinning and quilting with the fiber.  And, homemade ice cream and freshly squeezed lemonade.  Although I hear it gets majorly busy during special events, so I might want to avoid that instead..
And now, looking at all of these activities that I may or may not actually partake in, I feel less restless with my spare time here and cherishing my downtime even more.  Ha.  Wonderful!  Also, I should note that all of these places are less than an hour away, which for me is perfect! 

Anyone else planning to take advantage of nearby spring attractions?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Savoring those Moments

Lake Tahoe, California
We all have embarrassing guilty pleasures, and more than going places for cheap, I like to read personal finance blogs or articles for fun.  No, this is not a joke.  It's a Friday night and, prior to writing this entry, I was sitting on my bed reading personal finance blogs.  Again.  I do it on Saturday mornings too.  In the beginning it was because I was trying to learn how best to manage my money but now, it's just enjoyable to read that stuff.  So I learned about the idea of "savoring" from LearnVest, a website designed to teach money management skills with a female audience in mind.  I don't find their articles overtly feminine but perhaps a male would disagree.

Savoring is a way of making your money go further.  Oftentimes we spend money thoughtlessly and then wonder where it all went.  The alternative is building up anticipation prior to the event, living in the moment and then reliving and reminiscing that moment afterward.  Here are some concrete ideas for savoring those moments that I came up with:  

  • Plan out an itinerary 
    • It should be obvious but in the age of smart phones, it's getting easier and easier to just "wing it" and so you won't have as much time to research the destination if you rely on a single source on the go
    • You can also save money if you look ahead to find the happy hour specials, yummy hole-in-the-wall, or free events (to add a non-food activity)
    • Don't overload the itinerary or if you do, prioritize the list so that the activities won't be crammed in
  • Reading about your destination 
    • Duh?  But there have been so many times I just went and had no clue about the rich historic context of the place because I was "too busy" beforehand
    • A more literal reading, my alma mater's off campus studies director suggested that we read historical fiction or popular literature from our destination country to get a feel for the place in a way that is more interesting than reading history (he was assuming that not everyone was into history, but maybe you are!)
  • Set aside spending money for the trip and each time you save it, you can smile in excitement of what is to come :)
  • Finish your work prior to leaving for your destination so it doesn't bug you (and your companions) on the road
  • Pare down your expectations because sometimes high expectations ruin everything
  • Make sure you packed everything you need so that you won't be wasting your time & money buying something you already own because you forgot it
  • If traveling with others, communicate well with them beforehand so that you don't have mismatched expectations for the trip that could lead to problems during the trip
  • Toss those tech distractions to the curb!
    • Screen those work calls!  
    • Avoid long phone conversations, it can wait and people in the traveling with you really don't wanna hear it while on vacation
    • Save Facebooking and other social networking for when you have nothing to do at home
  • Engage all 5 senses
    • Just a reminder your 5 senses are: seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, touching (uh, watch out for germs but like, touching the water, for example)
    • Or your 6th sense and counting
  • Remember to savor the moment sans camera
    • Sometimes I find that I see the place more from my camera lens than with my own eyes, which distracted me from what I was there to see
    • On the other hand, once my brother and sister used the camera to take all these goofy pictures using the interesting rock formations as a viewfinder and it was a lot of fun!
  • Take a deep breath and go at a leisurely pace
    • Some vacations end up being more stressful because of the overly high expectations or the packed itineraries that leave everyone worn out and short on patience
  • Communication is still important to ensure that everyone is savoring the moments like you think they are
    • Traveling can sometimes bring out the worst in people, so prevent interpersonal conflict as much as possible!
  • Look through your pictures
    • Save it onto your computer
    • Post online
    • Set aside the best pictures for a scrapbook, photobook or calendar someday
  • Document your trip in a journal or an e-mail to someone OR write a letter!
    • My anthropology professor said that her best ethnographic notes were from letters that she wrote to other people because they were more descriptive than her notes for herself
  • Recreate your favorite meal or foods from the trip
    • You can turn it into a party!  Have a themed potluck reunion!  
  • Recommend the destination for another friend 
    • If they choose to go to that same destination, you can continue to reminisce as they plan and return to talk about it 
  • Write a guest blog post!  I would love to feature different voices here!  

At some point in time I'll probably be doing some of the "anticipating" on this blog, but so far it's been reminiscing.  Despite the impression you may have gotten while some of the entries, I am not out and about every weekend.  I mostly stay in during my time in Oak Ridge.  I enjoy it though, which is ironic because the name of the blog is Go on the Cheap.  For me I need that balance between going and staying, otherwise excessive going would become too tiring.  Or I could argue that there's no cheaper way than staying in so instead I'm emphasizing the "on the cheap."  Ha.

Anyone have other concrete ideas for how to stretch out or savor your vacations?
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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Happy Pi(e) Day!

Happy Pi(e) Day!!  I had originally intended to make pie but discouraged by not finding an ingredient and not willing to make sub-par substitutes, I didn't.  Ha, great story!  No, wait, that's not it!  I'll tell you where to find the best pie.  I eat a lot and I've had a lot of pie over the years.  The best pie has always been in...

 ::drum roll::

Or drool roll!

"Is this heaven?"  
"No, it's Iowa!"

Yes, the best pies I've ever had have been in Iowa.  The first picture is of pies entered in the 2009 Iowa State Fair, the best state fair where "Nothing Compares" and everything is deep-fried and on-a-stick.  Also the only state fair I've ever been to despite growing up only an hour from the California State Fairgrounds, so it's not quite fair (ha!) to say it's the best.  I hear that the Minnesota State Fair is pretty darn good too...  Anyway, these pies look gorgeous, alas, I didn't have the privilege of tasting the pies.  I wonder what it takes to become a judge at a state fair?  Wouldn't I like to know!!?  (The answer is YES, I would and probably should proceed any further)

This pie was made today in honor of 3.14 by my college buddy, Sara Woolery, who now bakes for Saints Rest Coffee House in Grinnell, Iowa.  This strawberry pie is amazing.  One of my favorite college memories was a warm spring afternoon (which is a HUGE deal in a place of long winters) where she invited a bunch of us over to "help her" make pie.  You didn't have to ask us twice or remind us, we were there.  We had so much fun catching up with each other and just hanging out.  As we were rolling out pie crust dough, one of my friends said, "You guys, this is like a staple of India and I don't even know how to make it!"
"Pie crust?"  
...Maybe you had to be there.  We were all confused.  She meant the kneading and rolling process for making staples like roti and naan.

These perfectly whipped mini lemon meringue pies were made by another good friend who I also met while in college, Simone Bates.  She moved from the bustling Melbourne (Australia, not Florida) to small town Iowa.  As I've been learning, there is a strong coffee culture in Melbourne so when she moved to a town with no coffee shops, she opened one herself!  While she is from Melbourne, her coffee shop, Simone's Cuppa features Iowan, Australian and German baked goods (double emphasis on the goods).  Either way, her recently remodeled bank-turned-insurance-office-turned-coffee-shop is in Montezuma, Iowa so it totally counts as a Iowa.  

Oh and another wonderful pie memory.  Also in Iowa, what can I say?  My friend was on the committee that planned events on the behalf of the College.  I was part of the Christian fellowship and so she asked if our organization was interested in hosting a game night.  By hosting an event with her committee, we had a hefty budget to work with and since they had the board games already, she asked what I wanted to do with the money and I suggested...  as many pies as the budget would allow.  I was a happy, troopin' camper.  I think we got 10 or 12 or 14 pies?  Of course they were all different flavors, of course!  

I don't know why Iowa baked goods are so good.  I think it's because food is the perfect pick-me-up and Iowa on a freezing, windy day really requires good Iowan food to warm the bones and heart.  So next time you drive through Iowa, remember to stop at a bakery.  Where was the best pie you've ever had?

Happy Pi(e) day!  

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

California Redwoods

I grew up in the Central Valley of northern California, the bread basket of the state and if accounting for international trade, many countries as well.  During long drives to LA I'd stare outside the car window and watch the neat rows of the orchards or fields zoom past me.  I found agricultural landscape to be quite beautiful and mesmerizing.

Portola Redwoods State Park

My favorite part of California though are the redwood forests.  It's not enough to see one tree, it was seeing the entire forest and smelling the forest that captivated me.  The redwoods give off a fresh and clean scent.  Too bad we haven't gotten to a point where we can pass scents through the internet.  Aside from their scent, they are famous for being the tallest growing trees.  Its cousin, the sequoias, don't grow as tall but they grow to be very wide.  Redwoods need a moist foggy environment to grow and what's fascinating is how it grows in a dry state like California.  When we were hiking in John Muir Woods National Park, one minute we were in a damp redwood forest and as we ascended, we exited the redwood forest where we look ahead and see the yellow hills and look back and see the lush redwood forest.    

John Muir Woods National Park is famous for its redwood forests however it can get quite crowded there, to a point where you are too distracted by the conversations of the fellow hikers ahead and behind you...  (It's especially hard to enjoy the forest when others are complaining about how hard the hike is the whole time.)  Don't limit yourself to Muir Woods!  You can also find redwoods in the Santa Cruz area, near Palo Alto and of course, further north.  Here is a map from Save the Redwoods League on where to find redwoods:

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Monday, March 5, 2012

Why get a rental car?

Isn't the point to go on the cheap?

The first time I got a rental car was while in college, our school started a Hertz Connect pilot which allowed students to rent the car for $8 an hour (including gas and insurance) or $64 for the day.  What made this service compatible on a college campus was that the driver only had to be 18 or older.  Typically, there are fees for drivers under the age of 25 and some companies do not rent out to drivers under 21.  Both times I got a rental car, my school paid for it because it was for an organization activity.  A lot of students that did own cars hardly drove it because our school was like a bubble, and so it was more cost effective to pay for a rental car the few times they needed it, rather than the cost of car ownership.

The first time I got a rental car after graduating was because I had a visitor and no car to show them around.  At first I was totally flabbergasted at the price of the car rental because I'm under 25 so there was an additional $10 per day fee, which undoubtedly added up.  Even after getting a car though, I still got rental cars on occasion.  My car is 12 years old and struggles with driving uphill.  On a trip to the Smokies (and again through the Smokies to Asheville), I was not going to put my car through that and potentially face mechanical problems sooner than necessary or worse, have the car break down on me during the trip.  At least, if there was a problem with the car during the trip, I could call the rental company and they would bring another car.  Sure, it would delay the trip but at least not ruin it.  The cost for renting a car for the weekend would be far less than the cost of repairing a car (as I know all too well...).

I didn't think of this on my own though.  I've known of people who drove their own cars for daily commutes to work and running local errands but renting a car anytime they made longer journeys.  Part of that has to do with mileage, because no matter the age of the car, high mileage can shorten the lifespan of the car.  So in the long term, rental cars can make sense even when you have a car of your own.

Plus, some Enterprise periodically runs a weekend special where it's only $9.99 per day (but a 100 mile per day limit and $0.20 per mile after that) and Hertz often has promotions such as waiving the under 25 driver fee and you can combine discounts.  Hertz partners with AAA, some insurance companies, and probably other companies to offer discounts.  The cheapest deals on rental cars that I've seen are on Hotwire, but to book you must be 25 years old.  Bummer!