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Castles and windmills...

November 2nd, 2011 at 03:24 am

...are some of my favorite memories. It's been a week since we returned from our European trip, and our life has fallen back into a comfortable routine. We had an amazing trip visiting 8 countries in 30 days, but it is good to be home. We stayed within our budget, but I did spend on an item I couldn't resist: a carved Black Forest musical cuckoo clock. It hasn't arrived yet but I have the perfect spot for it when it does, and it can be turned off if it drives us crazy.

Life in Europe is very expensive, especially in Switzerland. For example, in most countries, gasoline ranged from a low of ~$6 a gallon to ~$8. Understandably, many Europeans walk extensively, use public transportation, or ride bikes. We certainly can't complain about paying under $3.50 a gallon in Idaho. Food was expensive, both in markets and at restaurants. Of course, if we lived in Europe we wouldn't dine out as often. A meal that is ~$40 in the USA ran ~$70-$75 in Barcelona and even more in Geneva. Two coffees and two pastries at the Starbucks in Basel was $29. (Yeah... dh had to get a Starbuck's fix.)

I loved Amsterdam with its beautiful canals and was fascinated by the Dutch custom of bike-riding everywhere. It seemed there were more bikes than pedestrians. Not surprisingly, the Dutch, in general, seem very fit... I didn't see many overweight bike riders. People of all ages and professions cycle everywhere, often with kids, pets, and packages in tow as you can see in the above link.

What would I do differently? We had to pack for two climate zones (the warm Mediterranean and cool fall weather in Switzerland, Germany and Holland), so next time I would try to avoid this to pack lighter. Instead of taking as much cash in USD, I would just get more Euros from an ATM. Businesses give a lower exchange rate than banks when you pay with USD. It worked well to use my Chase Sapphire card when I could, and the Schwab savings debit card was used at ATMs... neither charge foreign exchange fees.

All in all, it was a great trip. We enjoyed traveling with friends during the first half, then spending time with my Switzerland family, and finally ending with a romantic week-long cruise on the Rhine. People tell us we're "lucky" to travel as much as we do, but in reality it's due more to years of focused planning and saving for retirement rather than luck.

Here are some pictures of the trip:


The view from Erice, a medieval town in Sicily, Italy.


The Parthenon at the Acropolis of Athens, Greece.


The Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.


Montserrat... a monastery near Barcelona, Spain.


The United Nations compound in Geneva, Switzerland.


Old homes in Strasbourg, France.


Marksburg Castle in Braubach, Germany.


One of the many windmills in Kinderdjik, Netherlands, used to pump water to reclaim land from the sea.

My Shrinking Carbon Footprint

October 9th, 2009 at 05:29 pm

I'm somewhat amazed but very pleased at our progress on the goal of reducing our carbon footprint by saving energy. Here is the analysis of our PGE bill (gas and electric) for the last three months compared to last year:

7/2008 $83.85
7/2009 $63.38
~25% less

8/2008 $99.57
8/2009 $61.91
~38% less

9/2008 $130.14
9/2009 $ 82.02
~37% less

I am home more, but apparently using less energy. Reducing our energy consumption has not resulted in deprivation of any kind. We manage to keep warm on "cold" days and have stayed cool in the heat. On warm summer nights we always open the bedroom window to let in the cool night air. We also changed all the light bulbs to energy saving CFLs. PGE offers a "Balanced Payment Plan" option that is now at $91 a month vs. $125 about a year ago. I don't use this option but it illustrates that we are making good overall progress. This could change... it seems colder this year than last year at the same time. So far, we have yet to turn on the heater but it is waiting with new, clean filters.

Carbon Footprint Update

July 8th, 2009 at 02:16 am

I'm happy to report that we continue to make good progress on the goal of reducing our carbon footprint by saving energy. Here is the analysis of our PGE bill (gas and electric) for the last three months compared to last year:

4/2008 $116.63
4/2009 $76.87
~35% less

5/2008 $94.53
5/2009 $80.31
~16% less

6/2008 $84.45
6/2009 $ 36.59
~56% less

The June figures are somewhat skewed because we were gone for several weeks, but I am still pleased that our usage has been lower each month in comparison to the previous year.

Our Carbon Footprint is Shrinking

March 19th, 2009 at 07:32 pm

I'm making very good progress on my goal of reducing our carbon footprint by saving energy. Here is the analysis of our PGE bill (gas and electric) for the last three months compared to last year:

1/2008 $165.17
1/2009 $154.07
~7% less

2/2008 $186.94
2/2009 $151.70
~19% less

3/2008 $109.03
3/2009 $ 72.77
~33% less

I was pleasantly surprised at the savings in February, especially since I am home more now that I'm retired. But the reduction in March was even better, so my challenge is paying off. Here are a few things we've done or are doing that have helped:

~ Switched out all the incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent;
~ Lowered the thermostat on our FA heater;
~ Unplug appliances/computers that are not in use;
~ Grab a sweater when it's chilly instead of turning on the heater.

Eco-Friendly Sandwich Wrapper

March 13th, 2009 at 03:00 pm

Yesterday the Wrap-N-Mats I bought came in the mail. While we're in Guatemala later this year, we'll have to pack a sandwich for lunch to work every day so my motivation to buy them was related to this foreseen need. I like these little contraptions because they're a reusable wrap and also create a "place mat" for eating. They're made of food-safe materials (free of lead, BPA, and Phthalate), have a liner that is easily cleaned, and it stays secure with a small Velcro strap. These will come in handy whenever we travel and pack a picnic lunch. Best of all, we can reduce of use of plastic lunch bags that take over 1,000 years to decompose in landfills!

Oh baby, it's cold outside!

February 1st, 2009 at 06:56 pm

Caught a late flight out of Silicon Valley, off for a few quiet days at our second home. I'll enjoy spending time with my DDs and SILs. DD2 and SIL live a few blocks away (from our house) and DD1 and SIL live about 25 minutes out of town in the country. I didn't get to see them during the holidays because we were in Central America, so this is a treat for me.

Dh's work schedule doesn't permit him to take time off, especially at the beginning of the semester, so I came alone. I'll go back to CA in time for my Friday afternoon seminar, the only "work obligation" I have in the coming week. Later in the semester, the pace will pick up, making it more challenging to get away, even for a few days.

Outside, it's 19 degrees (~7 C) and the ground has a patchwork of snow. I'm not comfortable driving in extreme weather but we keep our reliable, well-maintained 10-year-old SUV here, and it has 4x4, so that helps. Fortunately, today the roads are clear and there is no ice or snow to contend with.

Our second home is averaged-sized (~1800 sq. ft.), one-story, and highly energy efficient. Right after we bought it in 2006, I invested in shutters for all the windows and this has added to its energy efficiency. This morning I analyzed the total energy costs for 2008:

Gas: $369.11
Electric: $196.29

Monthly average for both: $47.12

Not bad, considering that our townhouse in CA is smaller yet costs much more to heat and cool even though the weather there is milder year round.

Guess I'll get my book and relax by the fire until it's time to go to DD1s to watch the Super Bowl.

Carbon Footprint Update

January 25th, 2009 at 06:51 pm

So far I am on track with the goal to reduce our carbon footprint by saving energy. Here is the analysis of our PGE bill (gas and electric) for the last two months:

12/2007 $193.68
12/2008 $116.99
~40% less

1/2008 $165.17
1/2009 $154.07
~7% less

I have also been buying more organic foods but haven't determined the cost impact yet. Sometimes the organic produce at the store I shop most frequently looks pretty sad, so I have to pass and go for the non-organic.

I'm on track

December 10th, 2008 at 09:00 pm

with my 2009 goal to reduce our carbon footprint. Our gas and electric bill came in ~ $10 higher than the previous month. But in comparing October and November 2007 with 2008, I have reduced energy consumption and saved money. We have had some mild fall weather, so this is likely a factor but I'll keep up the effort.

10/07 $87.16
10/08 $69.54
~20% less


11/07 $90.28
11/08 $79.67
~12% less

Our Carbon Footprint

December 8th, 2008 at 03:47 pm

One of my 2009 goals is to reduce our carbon footprint (see sidebar). There are quite a few calculators on the web, but the one I like gives me a good grasp on "doable" ways we can reduce our footprint. For our 2-person household, DH and I produce 16.44 tonnes (metric tons) of CO2 emissions. This is below the US average of 20.40 tonnes for a 2-person household. The average for the world's industrial nations is 11 tonnes, so we have lots of room for improvement. The worldwide target to combat climate change is 2 tonnes.

One way to reduce our carbon footprint is to become more efficient with our energy consumption (electricity, natural gas, gasoline). Another of my 2009 goals is connected to my carbon footprint: to reduce our gas/electric bill by 10%. Not only will it save us money, but also will have a positive impact on the environment.