Saturday, July 31, 2010

Strip-Down Saturday: Human Sacrifice

It's only been a week, but still: I miss the Auntie Christ.

I bought her for $250 in 1997 and she never really graced my walls. She lived a life of shame in the basement for 13 years, hiding from the disapproving sneer of my husband and the tender sensibilities of my daughter. She lived this half-life with me, impoverished, unappreciated, dragged into the light for yard sale after yard sale, never to be claimed. Until last week.

She walked away with a stranger at my latest pay-what-you-want sale. She was free, and--what is it they say? If you love something everyone else considers unredeemingly hideous, let it go. Something like that.

I have tackled the middens in my basement so many times I can't count, yet there's always more to strip away. Even after a successful yard sale, I was greeted with this when I donned waders and went down today:
The yard sale midden.

I did what any self-respecting person would do under the circumstances. I set the chicken timer for 60 minutes, and proceeded to clean:
this used to be an office.
we're all lucky it's blurry.
and clean...

until this.
might even get the chair back soon.
and this...
It may not look like much, but that's the midden pile after.

Sort of like humans might live here someday.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Free Friday: Waking and Weeping

Charlie Kaufman said it recently, but Alexander Pope said it first:

How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!

The world forgetting, by the world forgot.

Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!

Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd;

Labour and rest, that equal periods keep;

"Obedient slumbers, that can wake and weep;"...

For as long as I can remember, I have harbored a fantasy of a monastic life. The clean-swept floor, the small but perfect cell of my own making, the paucity of possessions, the spareness of human contact.

For as long as I can remember, my life has been many satisfying things other than this. Despite all my efforts, I have a full life and nine brooms (that's right; only five are pictured).

I'll have a period of eternal sunshine next week, as I drive my little girl into the mountains for her time in nature, among friends, and I go seek my own at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

CheapBohemian will keep posting--for, all wisecracking aside, CB is my best and most fruitful writing gig in a very long time. I'm hoping to deepen your experience here as I go along into month four on the blog.

Some stuff I'm going to be doing in the coming months:
  • Guest posts and interviews with smart, creative people about their money and their ideas,
  • Reviews on books that touch on the choices we make about money, and
  • Essays on the interaction of culture and money, on gender, class, and education.
Of course I will continue to humiliate myself publicly by copping to my own spending habits. Poetry Thursday will continue. And naturally, I will do my best to make this blog freakin' funny at least some of the time.

But for now, I'm off to the hills, to take advantage of my free time and stare off into a lot of this:

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Poetry Thursday: How a Rabbit is Like a Writing Desk

I fell down a rabbit hole last night.

I've always wanted to. It was brilliant.

One moment I was preparing for today's poem about money, and the next---

---when I came to, I was surrounded by quizzical beings and shattered sentences, the pointed edges of words glinting around me on the earth.

The artist behind Words Are Art maintains a warren of interconnected blogs that exhibit her art and her stories. She's a prolific writer--something like seven novels so far, none yet published in a conventional sense--and she generates a lot of words.

She is also a gifted illustrator, with a penchant for trees, landscapes, the moon, and bunnies (which is how I discovered her, while working up a post to commemorate the passing of BB Rebunzo).

She interweaves the art and words into a game that speaks to the Alice in all of us:

If you buy a piece of art, you’re buying a piece of the novel and a password, too. Take your password to the site and use it to open the chapter that is sliced and pasted in the picture you bought. Remember, every picture tells a story.

Spend a few turns of the pocket watch with her today. It will work wonders for you.

And if you are so inspired, I am still looking to match contributions for animal welfare in BB's honor, all week long. See this post for further detail.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

End of an Eara

My friend Ellen's bunny of 11+ years, Bebe Rebunzo, died two days ago.

He was adopted away from an exotic pet farm in New Mexico years ago, and when she met him he was smaller than her fist. He has been her constant companion through cross country moves, job changes, life changes, marriage, births, illnesses, and deaths.

A few days ago I made a new ground rule for my savings plan: to keep myself looking outward, I give full credit for charitable donations, as if I have saved them for my own purposes.

And what about you? This week, please give to any animal charity you like, then drop me a line and let me know how much you gave.

I will match your contribution penny for penny with my own  to 3 Bunnies Rabbit Rescue in Connecticut, a group that focuses on abandoned and mistreated rabbits.

Bebe, may your path be strewn with thistles and blueberries.

[image is via Words Are Art]

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

We're Only in it for the Money

I've salted away a discreet advertising spot in my sidebar, and opened my own little merchandising empires at Zazzle and at a certain enormous online book-and-more emporium. These are crude freshman efforts, to be sure, but they are fun. They pay in pennies, and pennies are okay by me.

(For those of you reading me via Open Salon, any media whoring you're subjected to is strictly OS's, not mine. I can only speak for the one corner I whore at in Blogger.)

I'll be tinkering and toiling at these and other efforts to make CheapBohemian pay its rent, and maybe a little of mine too.

While I mess around with the money bits, I want to renew the pledge I took a few months ago. I will always put my readers first. You are not consumers, impressions, eyeballs, or conversions. You are participants and many of you are friends. In fact, if you have found this blog at all, chances are you are a true Cheap Bohemian, and won't part with your money so lightly.

That said, if you actually see an ad here that you can't resist, by all means click it. (I saw an ad for Frank Zappa's Greatest Hits myself the other day, but I can't click my own ads). I've tried to keep the really annoying come-ons at bay.

If it seems worth your while to discover an author or a great book, film, or recording through me, your purchase will pay me about 4% of the cover cost for my time (not counting lextrical, of course--he's his own man).

And if you love, hate, or have a suggestion for me regarding how this blog makes its daily nut, please email me or leave a comment, and I will try to oblige.

P.S. If you hit the site at just the right time, there's an ad cycling through that promises full cat urine odor removal. Not partial: FULL. Just saying.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Get Yer Gig On

I like the Big Site of Amazing Facts©.

It promises only Interesting Random Facts, and it delivers. Apart from that, it doesn't care if you take it or leave it. It doesn't tell you who it is.  It doesn't cite its sources. It's full of ads.

It's not there for corner-cutting high school students or medievalists who are also rhetoricians and  media scholars. Unless you are John Paul Walter. Then it's totally your thing.

It's there to settle bets, amuse, help you raise an eight-year-old, or let you go back to sleep after this has been bothering you all night.

It just came up number one on my search to confirm the origin of the term freelance. So whoever is behind the Big Site of Amazing Facts© really knows his/her/its* way around the Internet.

(*Is it me, or is it only a matter of time before that phrase can be compressed into "shits"?)

Where was I?

Let's assume you're actually using my links for the purpose the good Lord intended: to find out stuff. Then you probably already know that freelance means exactly what it sounds like. A freelancer fights for anyone, under any standard, for any length of time, but ultimately fights for shitself.

Although freelancing can be full-time by choice or circumstance, it is often a part-time, side occupation. Given the changing nature of the world's work, the fluctuation of economies, and growing life expectancy, it's safe to say we will all of us be freelance at some point in our lives.

So why not now?

This site does not yet have enough readers to comprise a scientific sampling (I think I'd need 40 of you to be jelly beans and 40 of you to be cooking beans), but let's just say for shitssake that 10 of us here are full-time freelancers, 10 are part-time (including full-time parents who occasionally freelance), and the rest have paying employment and do nothing part-time for extra money.

So I am really talking to 5 of you today.

Maybe you have no time. Maybe you believe you have nothing to offer. Maybe you're in a career or workplace that prohibits freelancing, either for implicit ethical reasons or explicit non-competition purposes. Maybe you aren't counting something you do naturally, like selling on craigslist, ebay, or from your own stoop.

I would respectfully suggest that you devote a few minutes' thought to this question each day this week. Are you missing a possibility? You may not be crazy enough to rent out your own bedroom like some I can name. But maybe, just maybe, there's a knight-errant in you just fighting to get out for the gold.

Let me know what you think.

[image via FreakingNews]

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Adventure Capital, Week 2

As of Friday, we're up to $2,483.

Good news: I am still 9 weeks ahead of my goal of $12,775, about $245 per week for a year.

Bad news: That's mostly the accumulation of paybacks and savings I calculated last week, using methods that would make Arthur Andersen blush.

This week I actually put away:
$16 saved on groceries,
$2 on parking,
$70 net from AirBnB after I bought some things to make the visitor's stay nicer, and
$50 just because the money was staring at me from my bank account looking for a job.

Total for the week: $138, just about half of what it should have been.

I'm still pretty happy. My contributions to this fund go on top of my regular savings of 10% per paycheck and 30% per freelance writing assignment, a goal I started back in April when I realized the roof had fallen in on my finances. Thus my overall savings this week was pretty substantial.

Here are my house rules:

1. Move the money toward debt or into savings within seven calendar days of reporting it to piggymojo, or it's null.
2. Only count extra savings, not associated with my basic savings from regular and freelance pay.
3. Forgive and forget lapses (an impromptu splurge or emergency expense does not count against me).
4. Count charitable giving as savings too. Can't all be about me. Cash and in-kind donations both.

Oh, and I just put part of my driveway up for rent on Craigslist. Sweet.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

10 before 9: Rebecca's Report

Here's Rebecca's approach to stripping down:

I've given myself the challenge of throwing away 10 items before 9 a.m. (when I'm at my most ruthless) every morning until I no longer want to puke just from looking at our possessions.

To make it fun, I give myself little themes or goals: I started with any 10 random items, then 10 items of clothing, then 10 items from a slightly scary closet (before and after results are pictured above).  

Today my theme was "low-hanging fruit."  So, whilst in the bathroom performing my morning ablutions, I found and excised 10 items while waiting for the shower to heat up.  

I have to say, it was harder than I thought to get rid of pricey beauty items that didn't instantly transform me into Angelina Jolie.  Hope springs eternal, I guess.

Today's haul included hair thickening spray, after-shaving lotion (the husband just never got into the routine), blow-dry lotion, face freshening spray, and about six partially used tubes of Monistat.

And if there's anything drearier than six partially used tubes of Monistat, let me know.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Yard Sale!

Is there a nicer phrase in the English language? Don't answer that.

I have this on my mind because tomorrow is a big day for us at CB headquarters.

It's made me nostalgic for the days when Charles Bukowski and I were still making a go of family life. We had a succession of yard sales back in the day.

He's a serious collector of all kinds of things--tools, clocks, furniture, even antique phones--who has been rich and has been poor, plus everything in between. Me, I am a serious holder of grudges and the possessions of the dead. You can see how this combination could really keep the romance alive.

One day--I believe it was our fourth yard sale in almost as many weeks, at the sweet turning point between "where have you been all my life" and "where did you put my keys this time?"--we were a little behind putting stuff on the curb because of, oh, a wee argumentito.

As we stood in the open doorway airing our dirty premarital spat for the neighborhood to enjoy, along came a few of the Early Birds. If you have ever had a yard sale, you know exactly who these people are.

This was a momentary boon for me, as Charles Bukowski had a new place to vent his spleen. I don't remember what exactly he said to the feckless carrion-seekers on our doorstep, but it was even better than the time the Mormons showed up. And definitely not to be repeated on a family blog.

What happened next is still a blur. All I know is that I was standing amid the accumulated junk of our two stranded families in my boxers and B.Kliban T-shirt, desperate to be shut of all that ballast.

"EVERYTHING IS FREE!" I shouted. And for the next six hours, people handed us wads of cash anyway because suddenly it all meant something to them.

"You mean this is really free?" asked a typical customer, clutching a cracked egg cup and a cow skull some friend of mine had wired up as a lamp.

"Yes," I said. "Unless you really want to give me something for it." And they did.

We learned a lot that day. Like, there really is an aftermarket for orphaned power cords and stray pieces from Candyland. And that when you offer just about anything with an open hand in a setting where people expect to pay, they will set the price themselves, and sometimes to your advantage.

I also learned that I really will let anything go if the time is right. A beautiful woman showed up with a great feeling about her, so I took her down to the basement to show her a prize white albatross: a pair of orphaned Balinese doors I'd been unable to part with or price.

I gave them to her, and I have no doubt they live happily ever after in her home.

I know what that nicer phrase is: Free. Everything is free.

Free Friday: Playing for Good

Today we celebrate a site that really puts the "free" in our Friday: FreeRice.

Started in October 2007 by private citizen John Breen, and now under the aegis of the United Nations World Food Programme and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, FreeRice has garnered donations of 80 billion grains of rice--a day's worth of rice for 4 million people.

How much of a dent does that make in world hunger? Read here to find out.

The site receives more than 500,000 hits a day and is played by 40,000 people regularly around the world. Profits are generated by the ad banners that appear on the site when you play.

The most familiar game on FreeRice--and the one I can't leave alone--is its vocabulary game, which pops up in the home page as soon as you visit. The game generates multiple choice questions derived from 12,000 words at 60 levels of accomplishment. The computer default determines your level as you go, although you can set the beginning level yourself if you wish. If you're a competitive geek like me, you'll be interested to know that few people attain levels above 50.

FreeRice offers a whole host of other games in math, chemistry, art history, geography, English grammar, and several other languages. So pick a game and play around today. Free for you, freedom from hunger for others.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Magic of Snowflaking

Baby, it's hot outside.

Let's think about snow.

Magical, silent snow. Snow that falls, moment after moment, hour after hour, day after day, flake by flake, transforming the workaday world into a paradise.

Getting out of debt is just like that.

No, really!

As the writer of this now-quiet blog here knows, snowflakes can cover up a world of financial hurt over time. The principle takes its name from an approach to curbing debt called the debt snowball strategy, attributed to Dave Ramsey, the Internet's coolest bald money guru.

The snowball strategy--which for reasons of delicacy should never be called snowballing (and no, I'm not linking it--look it up yourself)--has so many followers that there are now strenuous debates and varying approaches to its application. All of which interests me about this much.

I like the little things in life. And--coincidence?--little perfectly describes what I can save. Every day. Until it might be a lot. Here's what "I've Paid for this Twice Already" has to say about the snowflake:

"I ... try to collect up little bits of money wherever I can and I apply those as well to my top priority debt as immediately as possible."

Because I already have so little,  I can only save what I would have spent anyway. So I am looking hard at every daily decision I make. Yesterday I sent piggymojo two texts: $16 saved on groceries, $2 on parking. (I'm about to get really insane and calculate how much gasoline my common rounds represent, and claim the credit when walking.)

Last night, I sent $18 directly to debt payment. Didn't wait for my turn or pass Go.

If you already bank on line, the magic is pretty sweet. A couple clicks and you're done. If not, I won't press you. I know you have compelling reasons not to bank on the Internet, just as there are compelling reasons to keep it all under a mattress (preferably your own).

If you are a proud Luddite, you will still need to set up a trustworthy system that permits you to set aside small bits of money daily that you can't touch easily thereafter. Short of writing yourself a daily check, handing it over to Big Baby (or your spouse, whoever is creepier) and depositing the lot each Friday, I'm out of ideas.

Really, you say? So soon?


[image via RealSimple, the glossy magazine that makes you feel like you're saving money]

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ringing Up Baby

Give me a minute, and you might agree that saving money with piggymojo is a bit like entrusting your cadre of oppressed toys to the guardianship of Big Baby. No good unless you want it to be.

This is not the first time I've tried to cock up a bizarre connection to pop culture to justify my flawed financial ways. But bear with me.

Saturday I took Miss M and a friend to see Toy Story 3 (that will be $34 please). Sitting in a darkened theater, alone, playing Brickbreaker on my overpriced phone while sort of following the plot, I couldn't help having thoughts that went a little like this:

"$8,200! JHC ON A CRACKER, 8,200 DOLLARS!!!!"

So when I got home I set about saving back everything I'd just spent traveling, tracking it through the unique genius of piggymojo. This terrific little tool permits you to set a savings goal and then choose not to spend in order to meet that goal.

Did you stretch your week's gasoline budget, bike instead of taking transit, or skip expensive parking this week? Send piggymojo a ping listing the difference through Twitter or your phone's texting capability. In line for a soy double macchiato blahdidah? Get plain coffee instead and track the two bucks you saved. Can't make up your mind between the cardigan or pullover? Leave both in the store and message the mothership that you avoided a $200 expenditure.

The greatness of this is its simplicity. It makes you think before you spend, and as a bonus it's a lot of fun. Piggymojo gives you all kinds of little toys, from a puzzle-picture that assembles itself as you save to an app that invites friends into your cheering section. It doesn't even have a busted eye or a lot of toddler-imposed tattoos.

Still in its infancy, piggymojo is undeniably appealing. It coos back when you coo at it. It wants to make you happy.

But if you don't do something savings-minded with the money you're tweeting about--immediately-- piggymojo won't give a farthing.

Since the application tracks your progress by the week, it's easy enough to set up a weekly payment transfer from your bank to your worst-outstanding credit card or your savings every Sunday or so. In fact, I'm tempted to set up a daily transfer, cause I trust myself about that much.

If you try out piggmojo, drop me a line and tell me what you're doing. Better yet, add me to the invitees for your cheering section. I'm at

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Adventure Capital: Week One

I promise not to go on about this enormous debt every day from now on. Just on Sundays.

Close to $8,200 spent, and on what? Indelible memories of faraway shores, priceless moments shared with my daughter, unprecedented adventures on the Northern Sea and on the shores of Flanders and under the bridges of London? Warm buttered lefse and the subtle pleasures of English rocket on sandwiches and Belgian white beer on a hot summer night? Bridges built (and some repaired) with important people in my life? 
East London in the morning and Brussels at dusk? The original and only Beowulf, Jane Austen's writing desk, and the London production of Wicked? Hikes and swims and pints and cobblestones?

To say nothing of the discovery that ounce for ounce, Northern Europeans know a hell of a lot more about how to wrap a sandwich than your average Yank?

Is this what a person spends $8,200 on?

No! It should have been only about $6,500. But never mind. There's always next year.

I've set myself a goal, see, of making back the cost of this year's trip plus about $4,000 toward next year's. I'm giving myself about a year to do it, so I'm calling it Europe on $35 a day.

Because that's how much I have to set aside--over and above my usual saving--in order to make it. No more Europe till I do.

This week, of all my reporting weeks, will feel the happiest. Through a combination of honest hard work, creative financing, and thrift, I've totted up $2,345 in savings and earnings to offset the original 
debt and put me about nine weeks ahead before I've even started.

About half of that--no lie--is what I might have spent on day camp or other activities for Miss M in lieu of the trip. The next biggest savings is the $550 I would have spent on groceries, fuel, restaurants, and entertainment even if we hadn't gone away. Next is the $400 (and hopefully counting) that I have made
on ebay or yardsale proceeds so far. A little is the cash value of points I earned on my credit cards for my expenditures. Soon a few small refunds will come my way, plus portions of my upcoming freelance assignments, oh, and AirBnB reservations--received my first this week.

Next week will be the hard part, starting from scratch. $245 a week from now on. Can I do it?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Doing Good on the Fly

One of the nicest things about our recent flights with Virgin Atlantic--right up there with the free chablis and cheerful red sleeping masks--was the chance to take part in the practical, simple Change for Good program, UNICEF's longstanding charitable partnership with leading international airlines.

Since 1987, passengers on selected international flights have been offered a small discreet envelope for their unspent currencies. The program has raised nearly $100 million dollars through this simple approach, money that goes to support childhood health and family programs in developing countries all over the world.

If you're traveling abroad this summer, consider giving these airlines your business first if you'd like to take part:

Aer Lingus
All Nippon Airways
American Airlines
Asiana Airlines
Cathay Pacific
Virgin Atlantic

Or send contributions directly to your country's UNICEF affiliate. Here is the address for the U.S. branch:
U.S. Fund for UNICEF
ATTN: Change for Good Program
125 Maiden Lane
New York, NY 10038

Friday, July 16, 2010

Free Friday: Kitsch Hunt

I'm so not over it yet.

I'd much prefer to offer you a sampling of things to do for free or almost free in London, Copenhagen, Oslo, or Flanders tomorrow.

But I've got to work with what I've got. Which is luckily plenty.

So if you find yourself in D.C. with me today, you might want to do one of several Smithsonian scavenger hunts going on, from the Museum of American Art to the Renwick Gallery.

If you are up for a super challenge, with access to a Droid or iPhone plus the time to explore up to nine museums (not necessarily in a single day), you can match yourself to the goSmithsonian Trek, a phone-based adventure available through July 24.

And if you're still in the mood when the museums close for the night, you might offer yourself up to a lifetime of curious joys through geocaching.

Please don't ask me to explain that last bit to you. Go ask Rebecca.

[image of the Ravishing Red Raiders scavenger hunt team via Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2007]

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Poetry Thursday: Isaac Rosenberg

Today I continue my ongoing Poetry of Work series, delving again into unspeakable work, this time into the trenches of any war you can name.

Had I grown up in England, I might have been exposed to the brief, intense career of Isaac Rosenberg along with those of the other Lost Poets of World War I, whom we are compelled to read in high school and whom we tend never to visit again.

As it was, his strangled shout across the ages hasn't quite reached as far as Wilfred Owen's or Rupert Brooke's. So I only encountered him through his papers, on display at the British Library, and then in the very same day in a more meaningful brush via Iain Sinclair's book London Orbital, a methodical walk through the city's present and past via its sprawling M25 highway loop.

Rosenberg grew up in London's East End, in the Jewish enclave at Spitalfields, an area that continues to have a strong presence of new London residents (so much so that many street signs are in English and Bengali).

His poems are grim, mostly half-lived, young and unsurprised. The early ones constantly threaten to break out of their formal brackets into full-throated voice. The few, last poems actually do. Had he lived past the age of 28, his mature work would have combined a cool modernist eye with a fiercely primal set of lungs.

I would have liked to see what he could produce in the confessional eras of the '40s and '50s, as a man of late middle age. We'll never know. His work was ended April 1, 1918.

Break of Day in the Trenches
The darkness crumbles away - 
It is the same old druid Time as ever.
Only a live thing leaps my hand - 
A queer sardonic rat - 
As I pull the parapet's poppy 
To stick behind my ear. 
Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew 
Your cosmopolitan sympathies 
(And God knows what antipathies). 
Now you have touched this English hand 
You will do the same to a German - 
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure 
To cross the sleeping green between. 
It seems you inwardly grin as you pass 
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes 
Less chanced than you for life; 
Bonds to the whims of murder, 
Sprawled in the bowels of the earth, 
The torn fields of France. 
What do you see in our eyes 
At the shrieking iron and flame 
Hurled through still heavens? 
What quaver - what heart aghast? 
Poppies whose roots are in man's veins 
Drop, and are ever dropping; 
But mine in my ear is safe, 
Just a little white with the dust.

[Image is via Peter Chasseaud, artist, printmaker, and writer. Among his astonishing works in progress (one of which is for mature viewers) is a book of woodcuts accompanying Rosenberg's poems. View here]

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Out of the Hole and Into the Light

We're home, we're safe, we're happy.

We're broke.

Broke, broke broke! And ready to do it all over again next year.

But before we do, there's a little bookkeeping to do. And in my household, these days, bookkeeping is a lot like beekeeping: the hive has a mind of its own, swarms out of my hands as soon as I have it, and produces stings as well as honey.

$8,178 worth of bees have flown from my hands to better fields, and I must lure in their equivalent plus about $5,000 more if I want to travel like this next summer.

In the interest of good taste, I will not share the full Devil's calculus by which I arrived at the daunting figure for this Northern Adventure for two. But I will say that about two thirds of this was paid for ahead of time, either through savings or earnings, so my mood today borders more on resignation than panic. The strong of stomach may want a few salient highlights:

Getting there: Nearly half of the budget went for plane tickets and rail/plane transfers from one country to the next: about $3,740 to be exact. Buried within this figure is one of the greatest finds of the whole trip, the DFDS overnight ferry from Copenhagen to Oslo. For $485 roundtrip, the two of us enjoyed a comfortable cruise-worthy experience complete with two nights' sleeping accommodations, four amazing meals, and an irreplaceable experience on the Northern Sea.

This disconcertingly large figure for transportation will drop considerably for next year's journey, as I have a full year to plan and shop around. For example, a costly Eurostar connection from Lilles, France to London was entirely avoidable with better planning--about $330 for the two of us. I also made several decisions to travel easier rather than cheaper--never a mistake when traveling with a youngster. Vice versa in fact.

Lodging: Just over $1,200 in three weeks, not a realistic figure for four countries unless you can go the hosteling/camping route or you have places to stay with people you love about half the time. Don't forget couchsurfing and AirBnB to save on your bottom line and live well while you're at it.

Gifts and souvenirs: $950, not a penny of which I regret. Wish I could have spent more on loved ones, in fact. Mona got great summer and school clothes with her cousin in Belgium, and one of my greatest finds for myself--surely acquirable elsewhere, but would never have been on display in the States--was Iain Sinclair's London Orbital, the fascinating story of his walk around the M25, the highway loop that encloses sprawling Greater London.

Food, supplies, transportation within cities: We seem to have spent only about $350 on my credit cards in each of these categories. If this sounds too good to be true, it is: add in the $1,200 or so in cash I withdrew, most of which probably found its way toward these costs. And don't forget the love and generosity of our friends and fam in Norway and Belgium, which accounted for two weeks of the trip.

Admission fees, tickets, finance charges, and house care: $240 for sightseeing fees, about $200 in various transaction and exchange fees, and $300 for our generously low-cost housesitter brings us to the final finish.

How will I pay for all this, you might ask, much less save for next year? Some small rebates are due to me, and I will be counting in some offsets for things like groceries, transportation, and restaurant visits we might have made anyway, the cost of summer camp that we avoided, and the like. Then there will be a little bit of hustle: I've just put my own room up for rent on Airbnb, oh yes I did.

The rest is work. Long, hard, unglamorous work. I'll update you weekly on my progress and try to make it amusing.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Travels With Humans

Our travels these past three weeks have been human-powered. In between stays with family and friends in Oslo and Belgium, we also experienced the kindness of strangers in London and Copenhagen, courtesy of airbnb.

Our longest airbnb stay was an apartment for a week in one of London's loveliest West End neighborhoods, Notting Hill. We also booked private rooms in homes for shorter stays, in East London near Brick Lane and in Copenhagen.

Before going, we checked out Couchsurfing, the virtually free and mostly loved network of fellow travelers worldwide, and HouseCarers, a site that matches homeowners with housesitters. We haven't tried them in person yet.

All of these sites run on a foundation of trust and self-disclosure. All have registration requirements, which ensures some level of ombudsmanship on the part of the site owners. But by and large, as with all travel, there's a touch of caveat emptor.

The genius of airbnb, founded by San Francisco roommates in 2007 to pay their rent, is its scale: With listings in more than 5,000 cities in nearly 150 countries, it can suit every itinerary, age, budget, and taste. Want a couch, a modest studio, or posher digs in Paris? A yacht in Charleston? An apartment on the island of Korcula in Croatia? Seek here.

To a fault, our hosts were congenial, proud of their neighborhoods, and eager to share with us as if we were friends. In fact, one of our hosts--in Copenhagen--lived up to the original name and spirit of airbnb (started as Airbed and Breakfast in 2007) by providing us with an incredibly comfortable airbed in a private bedroom for one night.

The friendliness and intimacy of airbnb brings its challenges: You are a paying customer as well as a guest, and you are expected to review your stay after you leave. (I was getting strenuous email reminders to do so for our first stay before we'd even left the city for the next.) All three stays presented difficult moments, from an unexpectedly long walk-up in one, to uneven ideas about hygiene in another, as well as our own minor screw-ups (a broken bowl) in still another.

This brings us back to the point: traveling like a human. We did. From conversation and a midday lunch with one host to an evening of appointment TV and visits to the corner pub with another, from shopping at the Kiwi Pris in Copenhagen (roughly equivalent to Safeway) to making chicken soup to cure a pair of summer colds in London, we lived a little more like ourselves and a little less like tourists each day.

The co-founder of airbnb, Brian Chesky, is trying it for himself. He just moved out of the apartment that inspired the site, now turned into offices for the growing concern, and is using his own site to book living space for a year. You can track his progress through San Francisco at his blog.

[image: Rungsted Plads in Copenhagen. My eternal thanks to Stuart for finding airbnb, and some other stuff]

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Poetry Thursday: John Constable

On a good day, getting lost = taking time = gathering riches. Yesterday was a very good day.

First we stumbled on Borough Market in London, just south of the river between London Bridge and Tower Bridge. Under the bridge arches and through winding passages are fresh green grocers, fish and meat counters, and cheesemakers that really do deserve to be blessed.

Then we proceeded along Red Cross Way, a brilliant walk for the lost. Poet John Constable, known locally by some as John Crow, is the shamanistic speaker for the lost, author of a modern mystery play dedicated to them. Southwark Mysteries has only been performed twice--in 2000 and 2010--on Shakespeare's approximate birthday. Next performance is 2020. I hope to attend. By then the site may at last be a hallowed memorial garden, for which there is growing support.

On a nighttime walk around the area in the 1990s, Constable began "hearing" the lines of a sort of dirge being sung for a whore, a woman he called The Goose after the Winchester Geese--the whores who worked in the legalized brothels of Bankside, within shouting distances of the Rose, Swan, and Globe Theatres. In the middle ages they paid tithe to Bishop Winchester for their livelihood, but the fee did not carry their legitimacy into death. Their dumping ground was an unblessed potter's field that eventually was known as Cross Bones Graveyard. Later it became a paupers' cemetery, and is said to harbor as many as 15,000 skeletons, even after 150 or so were moved in recent excavations.

Now owned by the London Underground, the vacant site has become an impromptu shrine and gathering place on certain nights of the year. Halloween being one of them, of course.

But let's let The Goose speak for her fellow Outcast Dead.

I am hag Ceridwen with Her raw red rag on.
I am Kali, razor in the flash and slash.
I am the light in the shadow revealing.
I am the Grace that transfigures the Sin.
I am the Wound that prefigures the Healing.
I am the Light at the Traveller’s Inn.
I’ll be your icon, your Muse, your conceit.
I’ll be whatever you would have me be.
I’ll be Mary Magdalene washing your feet
If it helps you see through
What divides ‘you’ from ‘me’.

[Lines copyright John Constable and cited from Goddess Pages. Video clips of John Constable's work are here.]

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Eats of East London

On a sunny Sunday in East London, you can wind your way along Brick Lane in Shoreditch, sampling food from around the world for just a few pounds. Lose a few, gain a few--seems like a fair exchange.

Sampling the food stalls in Brick Lane was how I met Michael and Christiane last week. Since this husband-and-wife team started the straightforwardly named Brazilian Food Company in 2009, they've served up sweet, cinnamon-dusted churros at the market every Sunday, with your choice of chocolate or caramel filling. More recently, BFC branched out to include catering with a wider range of dishes, and has its sights on a restaurant featuring the food of Christiane's native Brazil.

Meantime, BFC participates in the Full House supper club, an ambitious underground restaurant launched in 2010. Full House members subscribe in order to receive directions to the latest meeting spot, always in the East End, always intimate, and always adventuresome. Not happening during the summer, sadly, but if you are traveling to London in any other season, find them online first and follow your stomach East.

Of course there's more to life than food, and much more to Brick Lane on Sunday or any other day than fresh donuts that make you weep and want to leave your motherland. But even if that's so, I'm past caring.

Tomorrow (or when I will), I'll report on adventures in lodgings.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Fourth of July

So we're in Flemish Belgium, it's not Free Friday anymore, and the festival we actually went to yesterday is not free.

But you can attend a free festival every day of the summer in Belgium, and I've uncovered two in July on the Flemish coast. As I write this, most of you are waking up for Sunday and 4th of July festivities. You can't and wouldn't stop by Belgium today. So this post is as irrelevant today as it is informative next July.

The only reason we got into the gorgeous annual Sand World sculpture festival gratis on Saturday was that Tom is a journalist working for Het Nieuwsblad, one of the sponsors. (He also parks free everywhere, but that's another perk for another post).

Blankenberge, where the festival is held, is a nice coastal town near Bruges (Brugge in Dutch, pronounced a soft Brughuh by the Flemish). Brugge itself is beautiful, overrun with tourists pretty much all year but still very much worth seeing. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is one of the last European cities in the world with a largely intact medieval plan and two standing towers from the days when merchants and visitors had to pay to enter the city walls. Here's the donkey gate:

We got into Brugge for free, and we left for free too, largely because it was raining and we stayed in the car. We missed the chocolate, amazing museums and street walks, and mussels near the sea. But I have pictures.

Along the coast of Belgium and throughout the country, free summer festivals are plenty. In Kortrijk, where Tom and Sarah live, there's ParkJazz this weekend, and on the coast, close to Brugge, the city of Ostend (Oostende) hosts Fuzee,  known for its fireworks, in early July and Woosha, a big music festival, in mid-July. Virtually free, as long as you can get here.

Point of Pride: Oosetende was supposedly the first Belgian city to host a same-sex wedding and features a friendly button on its website entitled Gay. Click it, and you receive the city's solemn pledge: "Oostende is a city with a heart for homosexuals."

Next week, a couple of sporadic posts from London and then back home to couponing and saving for retirement from home.

[photo of Lady Liberty via me at SandWorld; photo of Brugge via me courtesy of Tom's car]

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Poetry Thursday: Piet Hein

In honor of the Scandinavian portion of our journey, today's poet is Danish inventor and aphorist Piet Hein.

Investment Policy
by Piet Hein

Anxieties yield
at a negative rate,
increasing in smallness
the longer they wait.

[med takkuten tak to YH]