Monday, October 31, 2011

Creeping Chicago

A Mexican red knee (I think her name was Harriett), a docent from the Field Museum and me.
I spent this past weekend in Chicago at a conference with a friend of mine (more on that tomorrow). I just got back and wanted to share this Halloween-esque photo with you. Also, if you are in Chicago and you have kids, the guy on my right (above) highly recommended a sleepover at the museum - he said all the bugs/arachnids/etc. would stay in their cages.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Local Yocal

I love talking to people who are true locals, the ones who grew up and still live in the town they always have lived. They have a unique love for their community and think other people are crazy to ever move away. I like that they open small businesses and become invested in the local economy and can offer recommendations for days. Brian and I recently had our weekly date night at such a place in Downtown Lee's Summit a couple of weeks ago at the Red Door Wine Store. We talked to the owner about his business and the other comings and goings of the downtown businesses, I always like to know what is new and notable. We brought in our own snacks, as the store has no food, and enjoyed a glass of wine and a beer.

Our picnic on the left (yes that is our marble cheese cutter, you can't cut cheese well without one!) and out of the window of the store, the sunset behind William B. Howard Station Park - all 0.4 acres of it, including the caboose.
Switching gears to some local shopping now. I was talking to one of my UMKC classmates who just moved to K.C. from Atlanta and we were talking about the best places to buy shoes in the area. She asked if I had ever been to Bob Jones in downtown K.C. and I said that I hadn't, that is until today. I am not sure what took me so long to check it out but it is definitely worth a visit, especially if a man in your life has shoe needs and/or wide shoe needs. I loved the "back rack" of women's sale shoes, and all the purses and accessories. Have you been yet?
And now, back to food. When we were at the Red Door Wine Store, the owner suggested that we check out a place called the Canoe Club in Lake Lotawana (same town as Marina Grog and Galley) after we were mutually complaining about all the chain restaurants in our area. [Note to any restaurant entrepreneurs - please open a good one in Downtown Lee's Summit. We need you!]

Calamari, fish tacos and sweet potato fries at the Canoe Club.
The Canoe Club was so good! They had live music, cheap drinks (w/a variety of microbrews to choose from), yummy food and our waiter was super nice. It's not very often we find all of those elements in one place. We will definitely be back. Hope you have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Balance

I am in the middle of studying for a looming financial accounting exam and trying to get over writer's block for an econ term paper, so naturally I am also thinking about taking a vacation. Ever since I got the gift of miles from my old job, I keep thinking about where to go and how to use them. As I peruse through options, I am realizing just how difficult airlines make it to use frequent flier miles and I get discouraged and get back to my studies, or in this particular moment, blogging.

Then other thoughts come along, like the fact that Brian just realized that he has 40,000 Delta miles, thanks to a quick last minute online purchase to keep them from expiring. I also have 40,000 Delta miles. So, I think the best plan would be to take the gift of 50,000 miles and split them between the two of us and get away to some place good like Europe or something like that. Of course, then the challenge is finding the time to get away from both our jobs, school, etc. in a way that is advantageous to both of us.

That's when I give up again and wander in a new direction, wondering what I am doing back in school. I ponder if it would have been better to have just spent my time traveling to get the experience I will need for the work I want to do later on. And then I remember that I am practical and do things by the book, for the most part, and that I am making the right decision - while simultaneously trying not to calculate how far the money spent on tuition could have taken me.

Sometimes I think about whether this book is right and all the experience you need can be had in an un-schooling sort of way. And then I admit to myself that this is why it's good I am in school - because I always want to know more about everything and I'm a sucker for a challenge. I just need to find a little balance...oh yeah, and some patience. Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tour-ists

Perfect snack: iced sugar cookie (had to restrain myself from asking for the one with orange frosting since it seems silly that I'll just be eating it) and a Brookside Bob (a light mint mocha).
I'm not going to lie, life has been a little crazy lately and I have allowed myself to get a little more stressed out than I would like to be. I am getting swept away by school and work - both of which I am loving - and not finding a lot of time for my de-stressing activities. However, today (after three really long days in a row) I got out of work early and had some time to kill before an evening meeting for school. So, I headed to my favorite local coffee shop - the Roasterie.

I started thinking about how much I like their coffee and the tour you can take of their roasting facility and then I realized that I hadn't mentioned that on the blog before, even though I have taken the tour twice. So, if you live in Kansas City or you are going to visit at some point, you need to register for the free Roasterie tour and you'll see what I am talking about. Also, right around the corner from their factory is the Boulevard Brewery, which you can also take a tour of. They take online reservations for their free tour and tasting - but book early as they fill up fast.

I think tours are such a fun and unique way to learn about a place or the interesting things that happen(ed) there. In fact I just booked a tour for our upcoming trip to Vegas to the Boneyard at The Neon Museum. I love old signs and I am excited to check out this graveyard for some of Vegas' greatest creations.

It's your turn! What are your favorite tours to take out-of-town guests to in your city? Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Getting Deals Part III


If you can stand it, I have a few more tips to share! Here goes:

Saving Money on Meals ~
  • Once I have a destination in mind, or a trip booked, I start thinking about where I might want to eat. (Shocking, I know.) I sometimes use Restaurant.com to buy gift certificates really inexpensively. Typically they sell them for $10 or $15 for a $25 gift certificate but you can always find discount codes (by Googling: "discount code for restaurant.com") for 60% off that price or more. SO, you pay $4-$5.60 for a $25 meal.
  • Another option is scouting out the city you'll be visiting on Groupon.com. They don't have as many cities listed but you can usually find some pretty good restaurants featured. This can also be a great way to save money on entertainment or spa services in your destination location.
  • It's always a bummer and a bit of a waste to eat a meal that you don't particularly like. I know there is always a chance of this but using an app like Yelp to read reviews really makes a big difference; it's rarely steered me wrong.
  • This might be a little old-school for some, but think about sharing a meal. Especially in the U.S., where the portions are usually ridiculous.
  • Sometimes it's not as fun to eat in a restaurant for every meal, especially if you are on a budget. I suggest a picnic or two. Many grocery stores stock one-size servings of things you don't have to cook and you can have a healthier meal in a lot of cases as well. Enjoy the scenery in your vacation spot by dining al fresco!
Saving on Activities ~
  • Many cities, especially ones with lots of tourist attractions, will give away (or sell for a nominal fee) a coupon book for attractions. These can be great BUT only if you were wanting to do the activity in the first place. Don't fall for the deal and find yourself hating the Wax Popcorn Scarecrow Museum afterwards. (yes, I made that up)
  • Ask for a discount - this is another place where mentioning AAA, student status, military service, etc. can pay off. Usually just a dollar or two but they add up over time.
  • Find fun free things to do. Lots of cities are publishing guides, articles and blog posts on ways to enjoy their location for free. I have found great things this way and there is no guilt if you want to leave early or do four of them all in one afternoon. 
I think that will be it for me, for now. I could probably go on for days. Thanks for reading along! 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Getting Deals Part II

Continuing the savings tips from yesterday, I'll move along to lodging which can often be the bulk of your expenses, especially on a longer trip. And prices don't tend to vary as often as airfare. I know some of you are very travel-savvy folks so, as always, feel free to chime in with your own suggestions! Here are some tips for saving money on lodging:

If you know where you want to stay and can't/won't stay anywhere else ~
  • Compare on different travel sites (Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, Travelocity) to see what the best price is, and call the hotel and get their best price. I often find that "deals" for conference hotels are more expensive than if booked on your own.
  • Ask for any discount you might be eligible for: AAA, military, student, bulk (if traveling with a group)
  • Book late (as long as you aren't worried they'll be booked solid). The closer they are to having dates with empty rooms, the more likely they will be to negotiate with you. This is a phone interaction, you won't be able to do this online, unless you are trying the next tip.
  • If you are getting down to the wire and you haven't booked yet, try using LastMinuteTravel.com to find your desired hotel and book it there.
  • Sometimes just booking early, paying a little more and having peace-of-mind can be a pretty good deal too!
When you're open to a little more adventure ~
  • I won't go into too much detail since I've talked about this before and before that, but book with airbnb! Searching for new places to explore on airbnb has become a new obsession of mine. I will be using this again very soon and this time I want to stay on a boat!
  • Take a gamble on where you'll stay by using Priceline or Last Minute Travel (as mentioned before) where you can book by hotel or select an area, a price and a star rating and see what you get!
  • Going to a conference? Grab a roommate - maybe someone you know or a friend of a friend. You won't be in the room much anyway so split the tab instead of getting your own place. Don't know someone who's going? Network on Twitter or through the conference's social network platform (if available).
  • Don't get stuck on stars. Go off of guest reviews instead. Many times I will see a hotel with four stars that has a user rating of 3/10 - obviously something isn't matching up there. True, hotels can cheat and put in rave reviews of their own, pretending to be guests, but if there are 50 reviews or more it's a safe bet that actual people wrote most of the reviews.
  • Stay with a friend, some family or a friend of a friend. If you need time to work and get away explore fun nearby coffee shops! I always want people to stay with me, you're not imposing in the least and you get a great tour-guide with a local host.
  • You don't have to be in Europe to find a hostel! Here's a listing of U.S. hostels - or if you need listings for the entire world check out this site.
  • Rent a house, condo or an apartment. This is especially good for groups, families and long stays where you will want to save money on eating out at every meal. Good sites for this include Vacation Rentals By Owner, HomeAway and ResorTime.
  • Rent an RV! I have been wanting to do this for awhile and just read a great road-trip article on a woman doing this with her friends in the latest Budget Travel magazine. Look out blog winner weekend, this one might be next!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Getting Deals Part I


My recent post about our $348 vacation sparked some real-life conversations on how to save money when traveling. I also forget sometimes that my obsession with travel and saving money aren't shared by everyone and that some of you might want some advice on the topic, so here goes. Today's topic is airfare:
  • Buy as early as you can and know that prices will typically increase as you get within 3, 2 and 1 week before flying. I usually see fares going up on Fridays, so booking on a Thursday can be cheaper.
  • Flying on Tuesdays and Saturdays are usually the cheapest. Consider when most people are traveling for a weekend (Friday-Sunday), business (Monday-Thursday/Friday) or week vacations (Friday-Friday), etc.
  • Sometimes booking two one-way tickets can be cheaper, Kayak.com now allows you to search and book fares easily this way.
  • If you want to try and score a free ticket or voucher in an oversold situation:
    • Scan the waiting area, look busy?
    • Position yourself near the ticket counter while you wait
    • Be alert, don't have your headphones on
    • As soon as they announce they "might" be in an oversold situation, march up to the counter
    • Politely as possible, ask what they're offering (vouchers, accommodations, meals, etc.) and when they can get you home (I have asked before if that is the best they can do and have been upgraded to first class and received more money in vouchers as a result)
    • Evaluate in your mind if you can afford to take the perks vs. hassle being offered
    • Get your name on the list and wait
  • On rare occasions, booking a package deal (car, airfare and/or hotel) can get you a lower rate but only if you really want the other items in the bundle. It takes longer but I always price each separately to see if I am really getting a good deal.
  • Book directly through the airlines' websites - they avoid the middleman fees from Expedia, Orbitz, etc. and pass the savings onto you in many instances.
  • Consider the frequent flier benefit - booking the cheapest fare is great but having miles (like I do) on ten different airlines doesn't do you a whole lot of good unless you really saved a significant amount. Picking two or three main airlines is better for accumulating some miles you may be able to use later.
  • Be aware of alternate airports you can fly into and estimate the costs of transportation with a local bus, taxi, train or public transit company to the place you are traveling too. A little hassle can sometimes save you a lot of dough.
  • Consider the baggage fees (especially on longer trips). They can vary from airline to airline and round-trip can tack on as much as $60 for one bag onto the cost of your ticket. Airlines rely on you forgetting about this since you pay it later on. If you have to check bags, checking in online ahead of time can save you a few dollars. (Or fly Southwest, where bags fly free!)
 Hope you got a new tip or two! Tomorrow we'll talk lodging. Thanks for checking in!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

World Food Day

Today is World Food Day, a worldwide event to discuss the world's food insecurity issues. There have been similar events in the past about global environmental issues, poverty and water. Mainly conducted through social media, the theme hopes to raise issues and start a global conversation about people's perspectives on the topic. I probably would have more to say about the issues highlighted in the past but I had to think more about food.

I obviously eat, enjoy and blog about food, however, I have not been one to ever go without it. My pantry is stocked full of food and sometimes things expire or go bad and they are disposed of without even being opened. I definitely try to minimize these events but they do happen and they make me feel guilty. I should probably reflect more often about the fact that I don't worry where my next meal is coming from and that I have choices about when and where I eat. I am pausing now to do just that, maybe you can join me.

After that, I hope to think about ways to help and do my part about raising a little awareness. Here are a few facts for you to ponder from The World Food Programme:




Thursday, October 13, 2011

Not there Yet

Liberians in Nimba County wait to cast their vote on October 11th.
On the coattails of co-winning the Nobel Peace Prize, the current Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, awaits the next chapter of her country's history along with almost 4 million other Liberians in the country and many still abroad. In order to avoid any errors, and to minimize the chance of violence, the results from Tuesday's election won't be officially announced until October 26th (although there are reports of preliminary results being announced today and so far Sirleaf is leading). At that time it is still possible that the election is undecided (and no candidate has received the required 50% of the votes) and a run-off election will have to take place.

A run-off election occurs when two parties are two close to call and another election is needed to decide - if needed, this will be held on November 6th. In the interim there are worries about violence resurging (the U.N. peacekeeping troops stationed there are set to leave September 30th unless they are voted to stay). However, it's been peaceful so far and there is still hope and excitement in the country about rebuilding a new Liberia and moving forward together. Here's to peace to all Liberians and hoping that progress continues!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Cool Contests

As you know, I love contests - hosting them, talking about them and best of all - winning them. Here are a few great ones that I came across yesterday that I thought you might like too!
Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS shoes (and now sunglasses), just wrote a book about transforming your life and your business and he's giving away free copies to bloggers to read and give one away. Hopefully I'll get picked to give one away, but just in case you're interested in entering your blog too, check out the contest here.
Japan is trying to boost its tourism trade in the wake of the earthquake, nuclear problems, etc. They are currently trying to raise enough money to give away 10,000 free round-trip airline tickets to bloggers willing to travel there and share their experiences through social media. If the funding gets approved, the contest will start in April 2012. I think it sounds genius and I would be stoked to go. I also love that three people in my life sent me a link to the article today.
CBS Sports and Southwest Airlines are teaming up to give away a four day ski vacation for two to Park City, Utah. The deadline to enter is January 3, 2012 and you need to travel before the snow melts on March 31st, 2013.
Good luck on those! Thanks for checking in!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dine Around Town

For those of you who have read my blog for awhile, you know I love to eat out. My friend Rachel had asked, in my 300th blog post contest, for some more local, Kansas City information on the blog, so here you go!

My delicious lunch today at Hien Vuong Restaurant in the River Market reminded me that I have been meaning to share some of my favorite restaurants in Kansas City with you via the blog.
I am sad to not have photos of more of my favorite meals but here are my top five restaurants (in no particular order) right now in Kansas City:
  1. Room 39 - I love this restaurant (at least the Midtown location as I haven't been to the Leawood location yet). From it's cozy atmosphere to yummy craft cocktails to friendly staff (although the first time we dined here they were hoping by our reservation that we were related to James Beard, which we're not) to delicious, seasonal 4-course menu offerings (currently for the low price of $39!) Room 39 has never disappointed. Perfect for a special occasion too!
  2. Reiger Hotel - I mentioned this restaurant in a post back in July and at that time I hadn't tried it yet. For my birthday my former co-workers took me there for lunch. It was so good! I had the most amazing tuna melt - I know, it didn't sound that exciting to me at first either. They have great lunch prices and portions. Now I just need to get there for dinner. I love the historical setting the most but the food is a very close second.
  3. Fiesta Azteca - This place was originally recommended to me by my friend Liz and she didn't steer me wrong. Originally located in Raytown, the restaurant moved to a larger space in Lee's Summit almost a year ago, which is better for me! I love that the owners are in the space to answer questions and give recommendations, which Brian loves, but me? I always order the chile relleno, why mess with perfection?
  4. Siki - Alright, I'm sorry to have another south of the city pick but it's where I live so just come down and visit! This little sushi place is so good. From the outside, and from parts of the inside, you may not be inclined to pull over and enjoy some sushi but I promise, you can trust me. The spicy crab salad alone will have you won over and you'll be telling friends about it too.
  5. Succotash - This place originally won me over when I saw their logo, so cute! They used to be located in the River Market but have since moved to Hospital Hill. Their eclectic style of food and decor can be enjoyed for breakfast, brunch or lunch. They always have something different to try and put an interesting twist on old favorites. I am also a fan of their baked goods - especially the foot tall rainbow cake, yum!
So, there you have it, round up number 1. There are many more where that came from, but this post is making me too hungry to continue. Until next time, thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Weakness


I keep telling myself that I need to stop, that I need to be realistic and let it go. Life is getting crazy busy and I need to grow up and be practical. But alas, my friends, I cannot, at least for now. Month #40 (November 2011) of the streak has been booked. We are going to Vegas for Thanksgiving. I just couldn't pass up round-trip airfare and four nights hotel for two for the low, low price of $438. For those of you concerned about my magical powers of manipulation of the family budget - Brian was in before he knew the price.

Using some of my sweet perks that I had piling up and some great deals for flying on a holiday and returning the Monday after the weekend, albeit later than you really want to arrive home on a work night, makes for a huge difference in airfare and my free night through hotels.com didn't hurt either. Granted we're not staying anywhere fancy, but Harrah's is rated at 3+ stars, is on the Strip and has high customer reviews. And, as I've said before, if I don't have to lint roll my own sheets, I'm happy.

To those of you not excited about a trip to Vegas, especially since I was hoping for Costa Rica, this whole thing is structured around not only continuing "the streak" (in a budget-friendly way) but also to see Jim Gaffigan (comedian). I heard he was going to be there for Thanksgiving and given his amazing food-related comedy, I thought it would be a great way to spend a turkey-free holiday (for me anyway). Brian also wants to see Penn and Teller and we might see the Lion King too. Who knows, we'll get to discount show booking shortly, anyone have any tips on that? Thanks for checking in!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Behind the Scenes

When I set out to do my last blog contest I was obviously on a budget, but I still wanted it to be fun for you guys. I decided to try and solicit some companies for some of my favorite items to give-away, especially since I had written about them all in previous posts. I just randomly emailed their customer service departments, which may be why I had low response rates, and asked if they would like to send me anything in return for a mention on the blog and a link back to their site. I knew it was a shot in the dark but I figured it would pad my prize-pack, which was made up mostly of things I got with rewards points from my credit card and my MyPoints rewards (if you haven't used that site before, you should).

Last week when I was in the Keys, I got a short email asking me where to send the stuff (not sure what stuff it was, but I supplied my home address anyway). Then yesterday I got a package (don't you just love mail?) and this was inside:

6 sets of Outdoor Products' 3-Pack Ultimate Dry Sacks. These are amazing! I hiked up a waterfall in Jamaica with my camera in the blue bag and it was perfectly dry when we got to the top!

So now, I have more things to give away! I'll make it really easy, the first six people to comment on this post will get a set mailed to you - what a deal!

Also, Brian sent me a link to this article last week about people who competitively collect countries like you would baseball cards, I think you might like it too. Thanks for checking in, hope you're having a lovely week!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Inland Waterfront

Ever since moving away from the coast (Maine and California) to the Midwest, I've missed being by the water. (This may have some impact on the travel locales I visit as well.) Then I discovered a little treasure nestled into my neighboring city that let me feel a little more at home. Every time I visit the Marina Grog and Galley in Lake Lotawana I think, "why don't I come here more often?" The setting is perfect - whether for a beer and an appetizer on the deck or some fine dining inside - to enjoy the view and get away for a little while. We went there this weekend and I finally remembered to take photos to share with you.

We had the calamari and the artichoke/crab dip with our beers (which are cheap - $3-6/bottle). Also, if you go, you have to order the chocolate lava cake at the beginning so you can enjoy it at the end, so good!
Sitting underneath the umbrellas, looking at the sun set over the trees and the dock floating in the water - I'm not sure it gets much better than that. Oh yeah, it was 72 degrees too, just perfect.
I forgot my camera so the first two photos were from my phone and Brian took this one with his phone.
I saw this boat coming into the dock and switched over to my retro camera app, which I love, and snapped this final photo. Thanks for checking in. Hope your week is adventure-filled!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Miami Spice

I had the fried green tomatoes with goat cheese and the Trio salad with hearts of palm, candied walnuts and apples.
On the last day Stefanie and I headed back up to Miami, a four hour drive in total. It was also Stef's birthday, so after getting repacked and relaxing for a little bit we headed out to meet up with some of her friends for a birthday dinner. We went to a place on the water called Trio on the Bay. The place was huge (inside and out) and the food and drinks were great. The view of the city from our waterside table was amazing but there weren't a lot of people there eating. They opened about six months ago and apparently do a huge weekend business. If you are in the neighborhood I would definitely recommend checking this place out - and no wait for a table!

There was also a culinary event going on that Trio was a part of called Miami Spice. Miami's top restaurants participate to bring three course meals for $22 lunch and $35 dinner. The event runs from August 1-September 30, so it's over for now but it will be back if you care to join in on that. A great way to try out fancy places for a reasonable price. Thanks for stopping by!