Thursday, August 30, 2007

9-11, 2001

Where were you on that horrific day in history? What were you doing? For me,it started as a regular day, like everybody Else's'. It should have been a momentous day for me. I closed escrow on this house on that same day. I should have been celebrating but instead it was a sad, solemn and anxious day.
It started at 6 am, the usual time for me to wake up. I was staying at my brother's house after having sold my house in Anaheim, I moved in with my brother till I find another house. I didn't want 2 real estate transactions going on at the same time. The house was sold, I got the money and I was at that time closing on my current house. There were 2 other transactions dependent on the timely closing of my transaction. It must have been a trying time for them too. The escrow company sent a roving notary to my work the night before, so I had already signed the escrow papers, all that was left to do on 9-11 was to go to my bank and do a wire transfer of the down payment to the escrow company. Then the whole package was going by Fedex to the Bank of America in Portland, Oregon, who will then fund my loan. The seller will get his money to buy his house (already in escrow), his seller is also waiting for his funds.... Guess what, the tragedy of 9-11 happened and threatened every body's best laid plans! All planes were grounded. At the outset it doesn't look like any of the 3 real estate transactions were going anywhere. With a very heavy heart, I was still able to go the bank to wire the money. I learnt later that Bank of America accepted the faxed copies of the paperwork from the escrow company and they funded my loan on 9-11 as scheduled. So while it was a happy ending for us, it wasn't so for the families of the 3,000 who perished in those attacks.
I was reading my bible at 6 am, a customary thing for me. The phone rang, it was my other brother who lives in Toronto. In his excited voice (he 's an emotional person, easily excitable) said, 'turn on the TV!'. All I could think of was, what is it this time? I did turn on the TV and saw the replay of a plane going into the first tower, my first reaction was, is he drunk at so early in the morning then the second plane hit and my world crashed that day. On the way to work, the traffic was worse than usual, the whole of downtown Los Angeles was closed, which was where I was heading to. It took my twice as long to get there and upon reaching my store was closed so I turned around and went back to my brother's place.
The news grew exceedingly dark with each passing moment as more was known about the attacks. We called each member of the family to see where they were and that they were OK. We couldn't reach Dawn (my sister) or her husband, Paul, they both work in New York city. So it was an anxious day for us, on top of the morass of what had happened. It was very late before we reached Paul. It took him 5 hours to get home to New Jersey, the Holland tunnel was closed and he waited hours for his turn on the ferry. He said, Dawn was at a conference in North Carolina. Thank God.
In a few weeks, I will celebrate the 6Th anniversary of being in this house. As usual that day will be tempered by the remembrance of that tragic and horrific day of terror.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Take this job and love it

I, once read somewhere, 'don't do what you love, love what you do.' There's so much talk about don't do anything for the money, do it because you love it and somehow miraculously the money will follow. There are people who loves their jobs and as many who hates theirs. What is the answer? I've searched for an answer all my life and have not found it. I don't think I'll ever find the answer. I have had a love-hate relationship with my work all my working life. There's nothing I'd rather do other than doing nothing, than to write pieces that no one reads, let alone pay to read. There's nothing I'd rather do than dabble in sketching and taking bad pictures and cooking so so meals and pretend I'm the next Rachel Ray.
Right now I have to contend with dealing with hundreds of people bringing their medical problems to me every day from simple itch in their butts to more serious stuff like having had a finger chopped off at work. I am a pharmacist. The money is so good lately and we are all laughing all the way to the bank. However we are not because the work is so mundane that it grinds us down a little every day until at the end of our work life, we are little shell of a people. We receive recruitment calls a few times a day, recruitment letters fill our mail boxes every day, with companies begging us and enticing us with bags of money to join them. We don't go because we know it's another trap of a job. Mind you, I have left this job many times (twice really) and rejoined the same company. It is the weirdest of relationships that I've had with my job. I'm finally resigned to the fact that this is going to be it for me, after all I don't have long to go till I can collect Social Security.
In spite of it all, this job has provided very well for me,
- a union pension
- a 401K with very generous matching
- a very comprehensive health care plan
- Social Security contributions, because of my huge pay, their 12% is very hefty
- a huge paycheck
It has allowed me to buy homes and to trade up. It hasn't just put food on the table, it has put money in the bank. Each day I check my own stock portfolio and wait for buying opportunities. I just wrote a check ($1,000) to my Schwab One account to buy 10 more shares of Johnson Controls, it is going to split in October. I've owned it on and off the past 5 years. In the chat rooms, this guy owns it and his father owned it before him. I've sold my shares of it last year, took some profit and repurchased it a month later. It was down yesterday and today I'm adding to my position.
Yesterday, a patient came in with an iphone, till than I've only seen them on TV. It looked even sleeker in real life, really neat. I was thrilled to bits when I saw it, making me glad that I own some Apple stocks.
The money from this job has allowed me to invest in stocks.
I travel to Europe twice a year. I've just purchased my ticket for my next trip in October. I'm making the final arrangements for this trip.
I've made lots of friends at this job even though, the past 8 years I've worked at a skid row location. I've met some of the loveliest people, some of them are parolees. Some comes out of prison only to be sent back, they come out again and finds out, I'm still there. They're amazed, 'you're still here?' Yes, I am and why not. The pay is good, the schedule is good, I'm so used to the work that it is easy. All I have to do is put my nose to the grind and take this job and love it.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


I'm lucky to live close to the Santa Monica airport where the monthly antique fair is held. In fact they have it twice a month, the first and fourth Sundays of every month. I remember when I lived in Orange County there was a twice yearly major antique fair. They let people in early at 6am for a higher entry fee. I remember going at 6am in the October, it would still be dark, the crazy early birds (me included) would come with flash lights. It gets very crowded later on, so it was worthwhile coming early and have the pick of the good stuff. I set myself a budget of $500 each time. I'm not that crazy anymore. Besides this event is twice a month and it doesn't get that crowded. I bought some cheap hotel silver for a dollar a piece and 2 more French garden chairs to add to the 2 I already have. I walked there, I didn't take my car and I had to carry those 2 chairs home. They got heavier and heavier and it was hot and I was sweating bullets. I really would like at least 6 chairs. If I can only find a nice antique garden table. I sit outside a lot when the weather's not too hot and we dine outside when we have barbecues.


I work every other Saturday but on the Saturdays that I do not work, this is what I do. I walk from my house to Venice Beach past the cute shops of Abbott Kinney Road and past all the cute million dollar cottages. Then I get to the boardwalk in Venice Beach where all the wacky people are already setting up to sell their wacky art. Venice beach is full of wacky people. Then I walk to Santa Monica and to the Saturday's farmer's market. It takes 1 hour and 20 minutes. I don't walk back, I take the bus back, costs me $1.25 in bus fare. At home I read, right now I'm working on my October itinerary to Sicily and Provence, so I'm getting ready to make my hotel arrangements. I've already bought my air ticket, I'm flying on Air France and Alitalia. That's why I have all those guidebooks on my bed. At the farmer's market I bought some bowls from Le pain de quotidien, some 'Molly delicious' apples, some fresh prunes, a bottle of goat cheese in olive oil and herbs (delicious, and a loaf of brioche bread. I hung out at home the rest of the day and did nothing. I did talk to my sister, Dawn who lives in New Jersey. It was a very restful Saturday.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

How to (still) afford travel to Europe

Checklist, before every trip:
- passport
- Itinerary/ hotel information
- call bank to order 1000 euros
- clothes/ packing
- trial size section of local drugstore
- tell neighbor
- tell family
This plays out once every 6 months in my house. Where am I going to or rather where have I gone to?
- the sassi caves in Matera
- the trulli villages of Alberobello
- the baroque city of Leece
- the Cinque terre
- Santiago de compostela
The list is very long and getting longer every 6 months. It reads like my version of 100 places to see before I die....or my list of Unesco World Heritage sites visited.
Europe is the crown jewel of travel and it has never been easier, though made harder by the falling value of the US dollar. Back in the early 1900's and before, traveling to Europe wasn't that easy but adventuresome people still did it. Back in the days of steamships, one traveled with huge steamer trunks and servants. Francis Galton's 1892 book on the "art of travel" documented bringing along livestock for carrying the luggage and for food. English sons were sent on long trips through Europe, especially through Italy to learn the language and culture, the art and architecture, 'the Grand tour' they call it. Today we make 2 week whistle stops to at least 10 cities of Europe. Regardless of how long our trip is, today, with low cost air carriers in Europe, fast trains, practically no borders and common currency, it has never been easier to visit Europe, on a 'grand tour' or a whistle stop. What are you waiting for? How easy does it have to get? Funds or the lack of? Well, this is for you, read on....
This article has never been more timely with the US dollar falling against the major currencies of the world especially the English pound and the Euro. When I say European travel, I mean the kind where you land in an European city at the airport and you make your way through a particular section of one country or through many countries, come out in another city in another country (open jaw) and fly home. I am not referring to visiting places as a shore excursion on a cruise. I am not referring to travel where there is a bus waiting to take you places.
I am referring to independent travel, where you work out your own itinerary, book your own accommodations and our own mode of travel- to walk, take the local bus or train or boat or fly from city to city. When we think of this form of travel, we think of college students backpacking through Europe. I've seen that in Europe and I'm envious. Why should that be relegated only to the 20 something. It is something a 30 or 40 or even 50 something (like me) can do. Maybe we've never done it before and don't know how to do it. There are a myriad of guidebooks out there that teaches us how to be independent travelers. For years these guidebooks have people crisscrossing the globe and collecting information so that we can be our own travel agents. Following a guidebook for the first time can be intimidating. The best way is not to be too ambitious the first time. Work out a simple itinerary that you feel safe with and one that you can manage confidently. There will always be trepidation. I've done this for 14 times the last 7 years. I still leave on each trip with a lot angst and trepidation. I started out with a very simple itinerary and now have moved on to more complex ones. Each trip is still new to me or has new elements and the trepidation is always there. When I started I stayed at more expensive places but then the value of the US dollar was higher. My choice of accommodations has 'deteriorated', I look for the low end places such as hostels with no bathrooms en suite. You have to hike to go to the toilet or to take a shower, lock your room and bring your valuables with you if you are traveling alone. I've walked down hallways in my undies because I didn't want to put on my pants in the wet bathroom. This was at a hostel in Rome, just as a guy in the next room came out. It didn't bother me.
Mind you, when you read articles in travel magazines, when they say the room costs $300 per night, that is my allowance for a whole week. It is off putting, at that rate, no one except the super rich can travel. What about you and me, the struggling worker. Does that mean European travel or world travel is out of our reach? My friends tell me they can't travel like me anymore, meaning schlepping it but then they don't travel, period.
I have the worst case of wanderlust and so any reason to save money for a trip and during a trip is paramount.
Saving money at home
1. Be merciless about not spending
- no Starbucks coffee, drink delicious coffee in Europe.
- no eating out- wait till you get to Palermo
- no movies, write a skit of your best life, the life you really want to live (and live it).
- no glossy magazines, no People magazine, no OK magazine etc.
- write your own life story, live out loud in your own life.
- no soda (I drink tap water) I have an empty bottle that I carry tap water in.
- pack sack lunches
- no vices- no lottery tickets, cigarettes, alcohol.
- cut down on car use, whenever possible walk or take the bus (I do), a tank of gas lasts me a long time, I only drive to work and I don't need to service my car that often.
- think hard before buying anything, do without, use it up or wear it out. The sneakers I'm wearing has lasted me 4 years, I will only replace it when it is worn out. I've been known to buy a pair of new sneakers and throwing away the old pair at the store, it was that worn out!
- limit use of paper towels, use dish cloths instead.
- eat at home, cook simple meals. Sometimes I eat take out only if the portions are large and I can make 2 meals out of it.
- wherever possible don't pay anyone to entertain you, entertain and amuse yourself and each other. Theme parks visits can be expensive.
- go to the library, read your newspapers, magazines and books there and maybe use the computers there too. Some libraries loan out music and movies too.
- Reread some of your old books, read the bible, that should keep you busy for hours. Pray. I can't read anything about Tibet or Tibetans without praying a lot. These Tibetans are so religious and each time I read about them praying, I have to stop and pray too. They put us to shame.
- work more, or take up a second job.
- fix things at home, repair things yourself and be a do-it-yourselfer.
- entertain at home.
2) Saving during the trip
- use the Internet, check out travel websites.
- use guidebooks especially Let's Go, it gives cheaper accommodations that is more to our taste and always near train and bus stations.
- use bus or train services, most buses are at the same place as the train stations, not always.
- find food at a market, I eat a lot of picnic lunches, reserving the main meal to dinner, if breakfast is included with your room, load up especially on coffee, don't drink too much if your bus trip is over 1 hour, trains are ok.
- choose a room with no attached bathroom, you can save at least 20 euros a night.
- do your own laundry, when I shower I put my dirty clothes at my feet, as I lather, I stomp on my clothes and my clothes and I get washed together. Hang them in the room to dry. The only time we were not allowed to hang our clothes in the room was in a hostel in Rome. Notice said, do not hang wet clothing on furniture. You can hang them on hangers dangling from windows, be sure they are secure, I have had a skirt fly away before. In winter and spring, the radiators are usually on, they're great for drying clothes, be careful they can scorch your clothes.
- walk a lot, learn to use the metro or bus around town.
- don't eat at touristy places, walk to some blocks away.
- don't shop. I take lots of pictures, something I don't skimp on.
- write and sketch and bring home memories.
- stay with relatives. In London I have 2 aunts that I stay with.
I'm sure there are many more saving tips. These are the things I do religiously.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Rudyard Kipling - If

If If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you; If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies, Or, being hated, don't give way to hating, And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise; If you can dream - and not make dreams your master; If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with triumph and disaster And treat those two imposters just the same; If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to broken, And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools; If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings And never breath a word about your loss; If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on !"; If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch; If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you; If all men count with you, but none too much; If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds' worth of distance run - Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son;
This is a tribute to Michael Savage (KLAA 830 mon to fri 3-6 pm, the Savage Nation) for introducing me to If by Rudyard Kipling. Thank you for teaching me about courage in standing for what I believe even when no one else believes it. Your radio show is better than any college education, it's a prelude to and an adjunct to book learning. My life is better for having listened to and for still listening to you. You are a truly brave and courageous person, a true blue brave heart. Thank you.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Mortgage crisis

Everyday, since I can't remember when, the news about sub prime mortgages fills all the airwaves and print media. Now it is affecting other conventional mortgages. Will it ever end? Probably not soon, we might not have seen the bottom yet. Each day, I read another sob story of another family stretched to the limit. Every one of these stories has a common fault, a lack of financial education, a lack of knowledge of debt and how debt works. It affects every one, even people who don't own a house and have no mortgage. Years ago, a friend told me her daughter and son in law were going to buy a house. Here am I, being the dolt that I am, asking her how much down payment they are coming up with. She, very adamant in her reply said, 'you don't need to put anything down to buy a house these days.'
I have worked with loan brokers before and looking back I have noticed the errors of my ways. They will load you up to the maximum with debt. When we bought our first home, this broker suggested that we put 20% down and take up an 80% mortgage, then on top of that he'll loan us another 10%, we agreed but thinking back we were actually getting a 90% mortgage, we didn't even realize it at that time. Why, now I am asking? We had lots of money in the bank even then- we had no understanding of how it works. They'll write you a 'no money down' loan in a heartbeat if the bank allows them and it you let them. Then they're on their merry way. It is not their job to educate you, nor is it their fault when things go bad.
It comes back to us, we're taking the risk and it is up to us to educate ourselves. The American dream is still home ownership. While it is a satisfying and fulfilling thing to own a house, it can be an albatross. Even in the best of times, when the housing market is hot and sizzling, caution in taking on the risk of home ownership should be the rule of thumb. The reason for the down payment is so that the loan amount is not too high in order to bury us.
The couple's sob story I read this morning, had a combined income of $90,000 a year, they bought a house costing $567,000 two years ago with no money down and interest only for the first 3 years. This is irresponsible even when things are rosy. $90,000 a year is not enough income, the loan amount is too big. What about the $6500 a year property tax, on top of which there is home owner's and earthquake insurance and the 2 car loans of $700. What's wrong with this picture? Everything. They can't afford that house in the first place.
When I bought this house 6 years ago, I sold another house and had a $150,000 down payment. I still had to get a jumbo loan of $350,000. The first 2 years I worked a lot of overtime and was paying $5,000 a month to pay down the loan. It is now at a very comfortable level. I want to pay it off in another 3 years, shortening the 15 year loan by 5 years. The word 'mortgage' comes from the French word 'Mort' which means death.
There are lots of books out there we can read to educate ourselves. The convention wisdom is we need a loan broker, Realtors makes you think that. They will steer their friends who are loan brokers to you. You don't need a loan broker, in fact, these days, you have to go to a financial institution first and be pre-qualified before you go house hunting. You can go directly to your bank. If their rules are strict (they should be), it is good for you too! The last few times of refinancing and financing I have gone directly to the bank.
In budgeting, when it comes to assessing your expenses, add 20% on top of it, when it comes to your savings, reduce it by 20%. Be ultra conservative. This will leave you lots of wiggle room. You can enjoy home ownership and not be strapped financially. There's still money left for those trips to Europe.
These are pretty postcards I bought on my first trip to Provence 6 years ago. I've been going there ever since.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Siracusa, Sicily

While we were in Siracusa for 3 days, we didn't spend enough time there to do it justice. Most of our time was spent taking daytrips to Noto and Ragusa Ibla. A lot of books have already dealt with the history of Siracusa and Sicily. I am not going into the history, just the compelling reasons to visit Sicily especially some of its more important cities. The sea is all around us during our trip to Sicily but it was in Siracusa that we were the closest. We stayed in a hotel next to the train station. Since most of my travel is by rail, I look for a hotel near train stations. Our room had a view of the sea and it was just a hop away from Ortigia. Ortigia is a small island attached by a small bridge to Siracusa and this is the baroque centre with a beautiful baroque duomo. The unique thing about this duomo is on the inside it retains the pillars of an ancient 5th century BC Greek temple. It is an outstanding feature and very noticeable. One can wander aimlessly in the narrow alleys of Ortigia and lose track of time. The locals are really friendly and at the entrance to Ortigia island is the site of an ancient Greek temple. Siracusa was an important Greek city and they left their mark all over Siracusa. At the huge Parco Archaelogico, there is immense Greek arena. It is huge and sits 19,000 which showed that Siracusa was a major Greek settlement more than 2,000 years ago. Then came the Romans and soon after Siracusa lost its importance.
There is a restaurant in the same building as the hotel, 'The Taverna', a greek name but serves typical Sicilian food. We ate there for 3 nights. It was pretty good. We met a group of Japanese tourists at the Archaeological Park and later that day we met up with them again in Noto. Noto is an easy 30 minute train ride from Siracusa. Their tour leader recognised us and we nodded at each other. We did meet a few Americans throughout our visit, not a lot, but it was March, only the Europeans are up and about, they're escaping from Winter in the North. We kept bumping into them throughout Sicily and it was fun.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


A typical baroque church, this is the duomo at Acireale. There is nothing in Acireale. I stopped here just to see this baroque duomo. It's facade is different and much more elaborate and therefore was featured in Sir Anthony Blunt's book 'Sicilian Baroque'.


It's teatime at my house. On my days off I celebrate teatime and it is always Tetley English tea. It bring back happy memories of times spent with my 2 aunts who live in London. We're always having the kettle on and drinking endless cups of tea. Here, I make a big to do about it, I bring out my favorite cup and saucer, my silver teaspoon (a yard sale find) and bake a cake (not always). It is teatime again and I disposed of the contents of the cup and plate pretty rapidly and enjoyed them immensely. This reminds me of a similar scene in the 'Portrait of a lady' by Henry Miller.....
"Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea...... The implements of the little feast had been disposed upon the lawn of an old English country-house, in what I call the perfect middle of a splendid summer afternoon.....The old man had his cup in his hand; it was an unusually large cup, of a different pattern from the rest of the set and painted in brilliant colours. He disposed of its contents with much circumspect....."
I've been reading this book for weeks, each night when I have trouble falling asleep, I read a chapter. John Julian Norwich, the English writer, who also wrote on Sicily, said he likes books that he can read for weeks and months, reading them slowly and savoring every word. It's kind of like that with this book. One has to get into the spirit of the book and pretend one is actually there, participating in all the drama. I have never enjoyed fiction with all the conversation but I love this one. I'm getting into all the conversation and am trying to really empathize with Isabel, a young American girl in England, she has much of her mind already made up. In conversations at my aunts' houses I do participate with my strong and conservative American viewpoints.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Ragusa, Sicily

The train is chugging up the hill. Ragusa is pretty high in the hills. I smell diesel and I started to get sick. I'm a traveling pharmacy, I took half a Diphenhydramine pill to prevent getting sick from smelling the diesel fumes. It worked and I'm ready to enjoy the day exploring Ragusa. Some of the cities in Sicily is on higher ground. The scenery is beautiful as we approach Ragusa. We come into the station which is the new part of town, Ragusa Superiore. It is a sizable and modern town. We asked for directions to get to Ragusa Ibla which is our actual destination that day. Ragusa Ibla is on another hill and the old and new are joined by a little path through some stunning scenery. Since it was lunchtime, we decided to eat lunch first before proceeding further. We stopped a local, 'dove trattoria molto buono?' That's part of our limited Italian. The lady tried to give us instructions but we couldn't understand her. She waved to us to follow her and ended up taking us to a restaurant herself. It was a great restaurant, nothing fancy, just down home where the locals eat. I love these more remote towns, everything is for the locals, nothing touristy. After lunch, we proceeded down the hill of the new town and onward toward Ragusa Ibla. The view of Ragusa Ibla, as seen in these photographs, is spectacular. It is a very quaint old town, with narrow and winding alley ways. One just wander round and round these old stone houses and get totally enthralled. We reached the top which is a piazza surrounding the baroque duomo, very beautiful. It was fenced in and locked. We didn't get to see the inside. At the end of the piazza directly across from the duomo is a beautiful park with spectacular views of the hillside around it. It is such a pleasant place.
When it was time to leave, we didn't want to walk back the way we came, so we took the bus. I thought we could buy tickets on the bus, we couldn't. The bus driver waited while I ran into the nearby tabacchi to buy the bus tickets. The two customers ahead of me let me go ahead of the line. So nice of everyone. We made it onto the bus and back to the train station for our trip back to Siracusa.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Sicily, Tomatoes

What's Sicily got to do with tomatoes? What's tomatoes got to do with Sicily? Sicily is supposed to have the sweetest tomatoes in the world. So when I was there I bought a packet of tomato seeds and planted them in pots in my backyard. It has been a few months and I am waiting patiently to taste them. They are just now ripening as I document their progress. I've picked a few to sample and see if they are really sweet. They were not and I was feeling a little let down. So I decided to leave them on the vine longer. This morning I picked a really ripe one and it was very sweet. I think it is because they have a thicker skin and can be left on the vine longer. The longer they are allowed to ripen the sweeter they become. I have turn this into a science. In Sicily and Southern Italy the tomatoes doesn't have to travel a long way to get into the restaurants and onto your plate. So the ripe and sweet tomatoes is what you get on your plate and that experience is missing in our lives. I've been sharing my tomatoes with the sparrows and the bees. It's been a lot of fun. To think Sicily can still bring me so much joy months after my trip. Well, not just that I've been busy submitting article proposals on Sicily to a few newspapers and magazines.
So be reading for the further progress of the mystery of Sicilian tomatoes and if I can to do an article on Sicily.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Noto, Sicily

Sicilians have a different sense of humor. It is reflected in their way they live, in their architecture. I have read about Noto before I went there, I went to Sicily chiefly to visit Noto. What's so special about Noto? I was in Sicily on a baroque Odyssey and Noto is the most baroque of all. After visiting Leece, a little town in the Puglia region of Southern Italy, I fell in love with baroque architecture. Sicily is cramped with all things baroque, thanks to a big earthquake in 1693, at the height of the baroque movement, all the cities affected were rebuilt in the baroque style. So if one wants to see baroque, Sicily is the place, eastern Sicily mostly. Frances Mayes , in her book, 'Bella Tuscany' took a little trip to Sicily and wrote about Noto, 'it out baroque all baroque'. We went to Noto as a day trip from Siracusa, another very delightful town, again with a very baroque part, Ortigia island. You must go and see for yourself, 2 weeks wasn't enough. I'm returning this October. Not,unlike the other town is built on a grid, it is currently being cleaned up, it is a Unesco world heritage site. They are currently cleaning and restoring everything, it is not a big city, the historical part. The train drops you off at the new part of town and you walk to the 'Centro Storico". It is a very delightful town especially on Via Villadorata where Palazzo Villadorata is. Palazzo Villadorata is famous for its whimsical balconies. The balconies are supported by carvings of lions, horses, gargoyles and bare breasted ladies. I'm reading from Sir Anthony Blunt's book, 'Sicilian Baroque', he mentioned everything except the bare breasted ladies. It is the bare breasted ladies that are the standouts when you walk on Palazzo Villadorata. The Duomo is beautiful but it was closed for renovation. We had the most delightful lunch at a little tratoria across from the duomo, it was recommended by 'Lets Go'. The name was 'Buca'. The antipasti was really, so was the pasta and the grilled sausage. We had a gelato while we strolled the streets of Noto and got kinks in our necks from staring up at baroque balconies.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Savings (written Mon 7/30/07)

It's almost time to travel again, I'm ready. It is time for me to revisit my savings plan or my spending plan. It's time to find the money to travel again. For inspiration I reread some old books and also go online to read other people's accounts of their successes in finding the money to do the things they love. Years ago my sister introduced me to Amy Dacyczn's book, "The Tightwad gazette". While I don't follow everything of what she writes about, I read it for inspiration. There's this other book by Andrew Tobias, 'The only investment guide you'll ever need'. Reading them keeps me motivated to stop spending and keep saving.
There are so many blogs out there on everything. Some are really good but with so many, there's just not enough time for all of them. One can spend the whole day surfing the net. Luckily some are just mostly pictures with a short caption. There are long ones, I am thinking of two that I sometimes check out, the simple dollar and problogger.Even so I don't do them justice by spending enough time there.
I went grocery shopping yesterday (Sunday) I'm glad because I looked in my fridge before I left, it was empty. I ate everything in it. I'm glad because I didn't have to throw away food, usually stuff I don't recognize any more and have no idea how long they've been in there. There wasn't any bread left either, usually I have at least the 'ends' of the loaf left. I used those up for the sandwich I made to take to my day long class on 'PowerPoint'. Wow, I'm happy. It pains me to have any waste.
My insurance agent called to do a check on my policies,
- home owner's
- earthquake
- auto
- annuity
I'm probably over insured, I have all kinds of extra features in all my policies that I'm not sure I need. He pointed them out to me, at least, now I know I have them in case I need them
I know where all my money is, I make myself look at bank statements, credit card bills, brokerage accounts, in detail.
All of these activities keeps me motivated in life.
PS: I've been trying to change some of the settings in this blog, I think I might have messed it up. This is totally amateurish blog. I'm in awe of all the other blogs out there, looking so good and making money.