Saturday, October 21, 2017

College and College Visiting-Not Cheap!

Just back after a Thursday morning to Saturday morning college visit road trip with DD2. We have a pretty firm cap on what we can afford so not stretching to look at unrealistic options beyond what either we think we can afford or could with anticipated scholarships. Even so, there is about a 35% swing in overall cost between lowest and highest expected out of pocket, roughly $7,000 per year, so pretty significant stakes that we invest the time early and in detail to find the right school. You have to look at out of pocket and not just sticker price. Private schools have many buckets of scholarships to offer, depending on student profile, than do public schools. Besides division, and she is looking at DI, DII, and DIII-mostly private, size of student population, distance from home, urban or small town setting, and surrounding amenities seem to factor into the varied costs. We have perhaps four more schools to visit over the next 10 months before she starts the application process, narrowing down to applying at two schools she'll likely be accepted at, one that could go either way, and perhaps one dream school. 

She clearly has a favorite right now, but I won't reveal as it is a long time before she needs to make any choices at all. She did not want to buy any t-shirts or sweatshirts as she felt it would be pointless to buy from a school that she wouldn't be attending, despite seeing so many others in the different tour groups carrying University book store bags. She was given a free t-shirt at one school as part of the visit, pens and pencils at another, and a mini-backpack, pennant, and key chain at a third. She has folders from all of them. Believe me though, collecting free swag is not a reason to go on visits. 

We consolidated this road trip into potentially as many as seven different college visits. We ended up doing two formal, one informal, and two stop bys. The stop bys were only because they were on route, and if something excited her, we would plan to schedule a more formal visit later. Neither drew her in. The informal visit was due to late planning on our part and not getting a reserved slot. We probably could have tagged along on a tour, but we were able to talk with people in the departments she has interest in, see the campus and classes in session, the student union, the performing arts center, and between you and me, all dorm rooms and dining options are about the same, so she ended up with a pretty solid insight.

We spent quite a bit on this trip, though economized in a few places. We stayed at my older daughters Friday night and she made us a delicious meal of red lentil daal and cauliflower rice. I picked up muffins and bananas for breakfast. Here is our rough budget for a 2 1/2 day road trip. Our hotel, to which I had applied some Orbitz bucks, had both a complimentary hot breakfast and a managers reception with beer and wine and appetizers so we had a bite to eat before looking at Madison a bit Thursday night, which meant we didn't need much dinner and ended up picking up a pick two 1/2 salad (me) and cup of soup(her) an an extra baguette from Panera to bring back to hotel room.

Gas-2 tanks (have about 1/3 left)                $72
Hotel Thursday                                          $74
lunch Thursday (wraps and soup)               $19
supper Thursday                                        $12
chocolate, ibuprofen, diet coke                   $10
lunch Friday                                              $15
iced tea and coffee for road                        $ 7
muffins, milk, bananas, soda,Mikes            $12
Total spent                                                $221

Next opportunity will be spring break for looking at schools. She is toured out at this point, back to focusing on her high school years, but glad she has had the opportunity to see options. I enjoyed our time together. There were a few surprises to what both she and I had assumed and what we saw and learned. She has a more realistic view of the differences and will better be able to compare features based on her longer term goals.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

I Can't Have It All, But Maybe Have Some

"Do I want it now, or do I want it more?" asks writer Tsch Oxenredier, guru of simple living in her book, Notes from a Blue Bike. It is possible to have more and more of what I want in my life without putting too great an effort into it, at least on paper. Our salary suggests we could travel more, have a clean home by hiring a cleaning service, eat delicious and healthy prepared meals ready for me to swing by my deli counter or a meal subscription service, and update my clothes with each change of season and trends. But, I can't spend money on all these things if I wish to also have a quality of life in retirement on a timeline I get to set. I can't spend money on those things and have piece of mind that we are prepared for emergencies or a twist of fate. The cost is too dear.

Even when we splurge, I try and keep a somewhat thrifty mind, saving on things when the pricier version will not add to the experience. On our weekend, we stayed in a hotel that was far from luxury and was very outdated. However, it was clean, had great water pressure for warm showers after our long days walking in the sunny, but cool outdoors. Cumulatively in the 44 hours we spent there from check-in to check out, we slept, showered, and grabbed a little toast, coffee, and juice, to set us up for a long day exploring, but not much else. We could have spent 50% more on a room but it would have not added to the weekend fun. When eating out, we ordered what we wanted, but since we would have no place to store or time to eat leftovers, we made sure to order for our appetites, not wasting food or money. We saw many hoodies and t-shirts and totchkes in abundance in the stores. There they stayed. We didn't need to bring home bottle openers shaped like light houses this trip.The brewery glasses were fun, but for $8, my glasses at home will do just fine to hold a cold beer.

I like the look of stylish work clothes and pretty evening wear. Neither are needed, nor practical in my life so I prefer to spend small sums to have a minimal, but appropriate work and nice occasion wardrobe. I splurged on a Columbia winter coat this year, but it still was on clearance, bought after season. It is  good quality, basic black, and will serve me well for my long commutes and  walk from the parking lot to my office, and long walks for pup. I could really use a new dress coat, but instead, I'll pick-up new buttons for my 14 year old wool dress coat and have it dry cleaned extending the wear a little longer. I'm fortunate in that my family is the same way. DD2 has rescued an old generic three season water repellent unisex jacket of her brothers, still in the closet from his middle school days. While the  removable liner has broken zippers, she just removed as she'll wear over her own sweatshirts if needed. She calls it retro (from 2000.)

None of this is new material from me. I write this to remind myself that even though we could, we don't really have need to spend more than is necessary to have a good life. A simple meal made in a crock pot is as convenient as a delivered meal kit. A trip to state parks is  more to our tastes than a weekend flying off to Las Vegas. I'll tuck pennies, nickels, and dimes into my savings can, often make do with what I have, and put those funds towards our summer trip, while figuring out how we can stretch our dollars once we are there. I can't, nor do I want it all. I'm happy though with the some I have now.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Gooseberry Falls

Yet another majestic state park, DH and I almost didn't stop on our way back home on Sunday. The sunny weather though beckoned us to pull over to the park entrance that also serves as a wayside rest. We once took the big kids to Gooseberry Falls state park, 20+ or more years ago, long before they added walking paths and scenic overlooks and we just snapped a few pictures from an accessible place. I remember a kid from a 1979 wilderness trip after my 7th grade year, slipping off a rock tying to get to a better vantage point, twisting his ankle and banging his head severe enough to cut a gash. Nobody worried about concussions or head injuries back then; the chaperones slapped a gauze bandage over it and he went on about the rest of the trip. 

DH and I took full advantage of the new trail and walk way system, making a lop around the middle and lower falls area, to the upper falls, to the main road where when you look out, you can't even see the falls yet, but can see the vast forest area heading to Lake Superior. Gooseberry Falls too has a visitor center with amenities of a gift shop, information center, vending food and beverage options, and clean plumbed bathrooms. They didn't have those in 1979! 

I could have spent hours at the falls, but off the beaten path a bit where there were fewer tourists. On a weekday during the school year, I bet it is incredible to be there without the crowds. As we wanted to get home before dark, and still had more than three hours to go, we only stayed about 75 minutes. this park will be back on my list to go again. It was a nice  close to our weekend get away.
The top of the falls.Lake Superior in distance.

Middle falls. My phone cam didn't do justice.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Split Rock Light House

Split Rock Light House
I mentioned I was underwhelmed with the Grand Marais light house. That was probably not totally fair as up close, it too is a unique work of labor that kept hundreds of ships and their crew safe for decades before modern maritime tools and equipment were presented. Since Saturday though was as lovely as Friday and we had looked at most of the shops, we decided to venture back south to Split Rock Light House. Built in 1909 after the federal government authorized a whopping $75,000, this beautiful piece of architecture is a wonder to see when you approach traveling north along the shores of Lake Superior. We chose to park and paid the $7 daily state park pass, and the $10 a person admission for the tour and to go into the lighthouse and other buildings. We could have just walked the path tot he beach for photo's but the fees go to support the site and it seemed a good use of our funds. I don't know why we do not have a state park pass-something to add to our plans for next year perhaps. We both remembered it being closer to Grand Marais, but it took well over an hour to drive, so we made the most of the afternoon.

Grand Marais Light House. The hike out was not as docile as it
looks as it weaves around rugged rocks starting behind the coast
guard station

View of Coast Guard station from the Grand Marais lighthouse.
 I'm not a historian, but to tell the story short, the Split Rock light house came to be after the horrific November 28, 1905 storm where 116 sailors on 30 different vessels were killed. While this particular storm accounted for the most loss of life and property, throughout the years others have also met with  terrible ends. The site is a Minnesota Historical Society property and they have a very interesting 13 minute movie that explains the history and the building process where the lighthouse, outbuildings, and three homes for lighthouse keepers and assistants were built. The light house was only accessible by boat until the 1940's when highway 61 came through heading north out of Duluth. The tourists came with the highway and the hard working keepers and their families were expected to manage the tourists as well, sometimes over 1,000 in a day. My words cannot do justice, so if you would like to learn more visit  Split Rock official site.  I'll just leave you with a few of my pictures.
Beacon that rotated every 10 seconds to warn ships of the rocky ledge.

Three Keepers house's, all identical. The perk of the job.

Some of the rocky shore.

The view from the light house.
View of light house from beach.
We stopped on the way back to Grand Marais at Cascade Falls and snapped a few pictures. I lost track of how many state parks were on our route, but from this brief weekend experience, including what I'll share tomorrow, I want to challenge myself to visit all Minnesota state parks in the next  decade-it might take at least that long to achieve. The UK has national trust properties with beautiful gardens and iconic views, and no doubt I would like to explore all of those. I live near a few state parks that we visit on occasion, but I have not been taking advantage of the riches in my own back yard. If you find yourself in Minnesota, I highly suggest you get a state park map and include a few in your visit.
Cascade Falls-as seen from the main road bridge.