Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Greatest of American Dreams: Leisure Time. Weekend in Lake George, New York.

There’s scene in the Lifetime film about Georgia O’Keeffe’s life where she tells Alfred Stieglitz what she misses living in New York City – the sky. Next scene: they are off to the Stieglitz family home in Lake George, New York. I had no idea of the O’Keeffe connection to Lake George until I watched the film. She seems to be finding me - almost nudging her way into my life this year, kind of like Laura Ingalls Wilder did last year (she's in my life too at the moment, more about that in a future Storytellers column). Working in the city, I miss the sky also and wanted for a change to be greeted by scenes of towering trees and a landscape of water – not towering buildings and a landscape of tourists, always-in-a-hurry commuters (me) and locals in New York City. Confession: I have a fantasy about having a lake house. Not so frugal, right?

Parasailing on the lake. The cost for this was $75 per person. I've never done this (Steve has). We skipped the chance on this visit.

I had never thought much about the name of the iconic Adirondack chairs - since I didn't know the name until spotting this book.

From history from Wikipedia,

“The precursor to today's Adirondack chair was designed by Thomas Lee in 1903.

He was on vacation in Westport, New York, in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains, and needed outdoor chairs for his summer home. He tested the first designs on his family. The name Muskoka was adopted from the municipality of Muskoka, Ontario, a cottage country area north of Toronto.

The original Adirondack chair was made with eleven pieces of wood, cut from a single board, with a straight back and seat. It also featured wide armrests, which became a hallmark of the Adirondack chair.

After arriving at a final design for the "Westport plank chair," Lee offered it to Harry Bunnell, a carpenter friend in Westport, who was in need of a winter income. Bunnell quickly realized the chair was the perfect item to sell to Westport's summer residents, and apparently without asking Lee's permission, Bunnell filed for and received patent 794,777 in 1905. Bunnell manufactured his plank chairs for the next twenty years. His "Westport chairs" were all signed and made of hemlock in green or medium dark brown. The modern name refers to the Adirondack Mountains, which Westport is near.”

The Minnie Ha Ha sounds like something out of Rose Nylund's St. Olaf stories on the Golden Girls! We mentioned our AAA membership and got a small savings. Only a dollar or two, but it adds up, right? I kept thinking how equally beautiful the scenery must be when the leaves change colors in autumn.

Carrot ginger soup and a bleu cheese, walnut and New York apple salad at the Boardwalk Restaurant. With our tickets from the Minnie Ha Ha, we got $5 off a starter, so my soup was free. :-) 

We liked the Bank Café, a former bank, so much we ate here twice.

So decadent! Nutella stuffed French toast and a Snickerdoodle coffee and OJ.
A veggie panini with vegetable chips and butternut apple soup (so good!) with an iced tea.

Wine tasting at Adirondack Winery, $5 for 7 tastings. I always think of the film Sideways when I do these. Their grapes are from California but are pressed locally. I took home a bottle of blackberry merlot.

A veggie burger and raspberry smoothie at the super casual (note the papertowel holder for napkins!) Lookout Cafe. I love guacamole, but never thought to put it on a veggie burger. I gave up eating meat when I was 14, and never miss a "real" burger.

We took a nice long drive around the lake and visited historic Fort Ticonderoga.

 We didn't really plan our visit too well, so we just missed the tour of the King's Garden. Native Americans would plant the three sisters crop of corn, squash and beans.

Signs here talk about culinary and medicinal uses of herbs. I think about just the aromatherapy from the herbs. There's no man-made perfume that can compare to the scents of brushing my hands against the basil or rosemary in our garden.

James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of The Mohicans is on my long to-read list. Classic Starts publishes a series to get younger readers familiar with the classics.

Interested in names like I am? According to Wikipedia, “The lake was originally named the Andia-ta-roc-te, by local Native Americans. James Fenimore Cooper in his narrative Last of the Mohicans called it the Horican, after a tribe which may have lived there, because he felt the original name was too hard to pronounce….

On August 28, 1755, William Johnson led British colonial forces to occupy the area in the French and Indian War. He renamed the lake as Lake George for King George II and built a protecting fortification at its southern end.”

We stayed at the Sundowner Motel. We took the cheapest room - of course ;-) - which was 99 plus tax (so $120).  The rooms were very clean, small and basic. We enjoyed the heated pool (away from the busy road, but then the pool motor is very noisy when trying to enjoy a quiet moment by their small private lake), the jacuzzi, and free kayak rentals. My first time on a kayak - so fun.

I love these little roadside farmstands.

The sweetest yummiest blackberries.

We're going to get some tents and camping supplies from Steve's father he doesn't want anymore, and hope to use them on future outings. I've never been camping.

I adored all the cute bear decor. Lake George did feel so welcoming.

On golden lake.
Did you know that "about 57% of working Americans had unused vacation time at the end of 2011, and most of them left an average of 11 days on the table - or nearly 70 percent of their allotted time off, according to a study performed by Harris Interactive for JetBlue," CNN/Money reported. Vacation time is something those who came before us fought for and I cherish every vacation day off, whether it's a trip to the Southwest, a weekend getaway to Lake George or even a staycation day. Don't lose your vacation days! I also consider vacations a vital part of our economy and this American resents the constant stream of photos with consumers with shopping bags in so many articles on the economy's health. I support inns/motels, restaurants, shops, museums, parks, local shops and more with travel. Happy travels to you, wherever your road may take you.

Monday, August 6, 2012

If I Could Turn Back Time: On Bad Spending Habits

Scene: Steve and I are at a motel lobby and I spot a $1 off coupon for a wine tasting we just attended on a weekend getaway. So our $5 for seven wines would have been $4 each. I’m annoyed at myself - $2 I could have saved! I’ve been thinking about the Golden Girls episode where Rose’s already frugal boyfriend Miles becomes even more penny pinching, and Rose finds out it’s because his doctor told him he’ll live to be a very old age, and he’s not budgeted to live that long! With the idea of starting a family in the near future on our minds (we hope! I’m turning 37 in November), money is heavily on our minds. I always read in those Americans finding themselves in France type travel books and blogs how the French allegedly never discuss money. Well in the post Recession, I think we should talk about money, a lot, and that frugality shouldn't be something to be ashamed of, it should boasted about. How to save it (for rainy days, for family, for retirement), how to be more resourceful with what you have, what you enjoy spending on that it feels right for you to spend on (for us it’s travel, thrift shopping and eating out more than we should).

Scene: Steve and I are in a God’s Plan for a Love Filled Marriage session required by his church. The man running the session talks much about family planning (he has nine children!), but money was on my mind. He talks about hand-me-downs, whipping up a feast for a large family for $10, not participating in the media room obsession (how many tvs I see on the side of the road which I’m sure replaced perfectly good ones). I’m all on board with that part of the talk. I’m also looking around at the engagement rings on the women there and seeing the large stones that make my grandmother’s ring, purchased on my grandfather’s teacher’s salary in Switzerland many decades ago, look so very humble, but I wouldn’t trade my ring for one of those large stones any day. We kept hearing couples talk on lunch breaks of the pressures they felt to have so much food at the wedding and such, and we don’t understand the treadmill everyone remains on in the post Great Recession America in 2012. Not us. No way. Steve always says we work too hard for our money. Driving home, it was raining. I’m thinking of the rainstorm and the rainbow on my drive from Santa Fe to Taos. The Southwest lingers on my mind, but I think because the day was filled with all the religious talk I thought about something my colleague said who has roots in New Mexico and who had a family member doing a religious pilgrimage to Chimayo around Easter time. She talked of chili pepper seeds and said, “That’s my religion.” I feel that way too sometimes. Steve spots a picture on the roadside. We stop. We rescue it from the rain just in time. It was a Georgia O’Keeffe, Light Iris, 1924. We were at her museum in Santa Fe, and I still felt a pang of regret for not getting an O’Keeffe at the Goodwill for a price more than I wanted to pay at the time. The universe was smiling on me I think. Guess what, the O'Keeffe I passed on, I found at a garage sale over the weekend for $1.

We talked with the homeowner where we found the O’Keeffe who was leaving as we were getting it, and spoke about the housing market, how bad the job situation is. She mentions someone who just lost her house but bought a fancy car and shops for Coach bags.

I wish we would have more of a dialogue about our own spending habits and it’s not just blame Obama for all of our financial woes, or if Romney gets in, let’s blame him. Many of us continue to live way beyond our means.  I raise my hand first and say I've made a lot of bad spending choices which were my own fault.  Unlike the Edith Piaf song, I’m not one to say “Je ne regrette rien.” There are so many times now when I think, I wish I had the money in the bank for the future instead of what I spent it on. Some spending regrets (and how many relate to my vanity!)

Expensive haircuts and color. I started doing blonde highlights in my natural brown hair in high school, and this went on for a decade. I later switched to red hair. I’m back to my natural color and while I sometimes miss being a redhead, and I actually like my current color the best. I was paying $110 for the highlights touch up and $150 for the full head for blonde and then $60 for red hair at a pricey salon. Add to that haircuts of about $50. I completely cringe. While I enjoyed experimenting with colors and wouldn’t rule it out in the future, I so wish I had done at-home color treatments. I also strongly resent the price-gouging of women’s haircuts versus men. Why should we pay $50 for some “luxury” cut when men can spend $15 at the barber? Now: I go to Supercuts and pay $19 for a wash and trim. I skip the blowout. I doubt the cashier at Trader Joe’s cares what my hair looks like when I’m getting a cut on a Saturday and then running errands. While I’m normally a cheerleader for independents, I like the value of Supercuts (my next cut is free after eight cuts), and considering this a service where you’re not outsourcing to another country, I allow it. I have a simple cut (straight with bangs) and it takes 10 minutes. Pricey cuts, not again. I may look for a reasonably priced independent salon in the future (read, not $50!) Fake blondes may or may not have more fun, but true brunettes have a bigger bank account.

Manicures/pedicures. I know most women view this as a “treat” and I get it. But now, the smells of the polish and polish remover nauseate me, and I’m skeeved about by the communal tools and dipping your feet in questionably sanitized pools. In my twenties, I paid $11 for manicures with tip and $30 for manicures and pedicures regularly. My nails have never felt and looked healthier since I said goodbye to manis/pedis. My sister wants to take me to an organic spa before my wedding, but in general I wouldn’t do polish. If I did, at home would be the way to go.

Clothing: I used to “splurge” on pieces at Anthropologie and Ann Taylor Loft. I’d think I was treating myself to a $100 skirt here or there. More cringing. Now, $25 is on the high side for a skirt (that’s from charitable thrift). The highest I spent was $35 on a DKNY skirt which I happened to like the cut of from Housing Works. Some fall wardrobe items I can’t wait to wear: a blue/white cape from the Goodwill ($5), a dress from a garage sale ($1), a tweed vintage coat ($10 or $15 from an estate sale), and a Goodwill dress ($5). I just scored vintage pieces from an estate sale that were about $1-$2 a piece. I'm so proud of Steve who is now a Goodwill enthusiast for clothes too. Heck, my wedding dress is from there!

Dry cleaning: Save for my vintage coats which I get at estate sales and thrift shops, and my thrifted wedding, I never dry clean anything. I hand wash everything on cold and hang dry it. I used to run up enormous dry cleaning bills and just didn't question the label, "Dry cleaning only." I've had a few items where the garment shrunk a bit but the lining didn't. With most of my clothes second hand, I'm willing to gamble any possible damage.

Cable: I blogged last year about how I cancelled cable, but when I moved in with Steve he insisted on cable and still does. It’s his one indulgence. While he likes to remind me how much I enjoy Mad Med (which I really do!) when it’s on, I don’t enjoy watching TV much at all anymore unless I’m watching a favorite film or having a movie night. When I had it on my own, I spent thousands of dollars on it when I did the math. Better off: getting a Netflix account, or using the library for DVDs.

Furniture: I furnished most of my first apartment from IKEA. Admittedly, I’m not proud of this, but I still enjoy browsing through their showrooms and yes, even dining in their cafeteria (their spinach and cheese crepes are surprisingly good!) I love homey stuff. I had a $100 gift card I spent at Home Goods, and totally get the appeal. I’m a sucker for almost anything that reminds me of the Southwest, or that has birds, butterflies or the Eiffel Tower on it! But when I moved and I looked at my U-Haul, I thought of my IKEA stuff, well, it’s kind of junk. Since Steve got a minivan, we’ve been able to move all kinds of furniture (hunter green couches from his brother he didn’t want, patio furniture from a garage sale for $30, etc.) I wish I had at least been better outfitting my two apartments from thrift shops and garage sales. It’s so much more fun and creative to find your own things secondhand than copying the IKEA showroom. Butterfly curtains from an estate sale in my bedroom - $2!

If I add these up and had spent instead the way I spend now, I would have thousands and thousands of dollars or more money in the bank. In my world, that's horrifying. Live and learn I know, but I wish I had learned earlier. I've always saved since I started working for my retirement and put into a savings account. One of my favorite four letter words lately - save.

So those are my financial regrets. What are yours? Ponder them in the comments section, or internally.