May 25, 2014

Resurrection

It's been about 9 months since I last posted on here. Whoa!

I never expected to just up and leave this space for so long, but it happened.

So, why did I just disappear? Well, transitioning into a new situation proved to be pretty tough, and it all hit me after the first few months back in the states. It wasn't really a reverse culture shock, so much as trying to figure out what this next chapter was going to be and how it was all going to work out.

I found out that it was really hard to accept coming back to my hometown after so many years of being away and bouncing around. Being here, settling in here, it wasn't easy. For a wanderer like me, it was confusing and uncomfortable. I had to adjust.

Adjustment.

That was the hardest part for all of us. But, we did it, and we're still doing it. It takes some time to get established in another country (even when it's your own), and I was really hard on myself about it for a while.

We haven't even been here for a year though, and things are finally falling in to place. I'm so optimistic for the future, and I feel like myself again. I see this place, my hometown area, through a new lens.  It doesn't look the same as it did when I left all those years ago. I have a new appreciation and new found interest in it. I'm ready to explore Pennsylvania.

Of course, there's always the possibility of moving to a new place, too. We don't rule that out; we're still up for anything. It gets discussed often, as you can probably imagine. For now, it's nice to be close to family. It's important.

This used to be my expat blog, and I think I need to resurrect it as simply, my blog. I'm still traveling, still exploring. I don't see that changing. I'd like to share more travels, and especially more about Bulgaria.

We just booked a 3 week trip to Bulgaria for September. The best part? My sister is coming along for the first 10 days  I'm so excited to show her around and experience BG as a tourist again.

So I think we're all caught up now. How've you been?

Sep 6, 2013

Budgeting Made Simple

Stuart Miles
Personal finance has become a serious topic of interest for me over the last few years.  I regularly read personal finance blogs, many of which have been helpful for finding new and different ways to manage our money.  We've always been very frugal and responsible, but it's become especially important as we have transitioned from living in Bulgaria to starting over here in the states.

One website that I kept seeing come up again and again on various blogs was Mint.com, so I decided to give it a try earlier this year.  Maybe you already use it and I'm just late to the game, but it's been such a great tool for our budget.

Before you think this post is some sort of sponsored content, I promise it isn't- I just really like this site!

How it Works  

Mint.com is a free and easy way to track all of your spending, savings, and income.  Once you sign up, you add all of your account information for checking and savings, credit cards, loans, etc.  Mint will securely retrieve your info online, and then you're all set.

What's so nice about it is that once you link your accounts, you're good to go.  Each time you spend, the money is appropriately categorized so that you can see where it goes.  You won't have to log into separate accounts to keep track of things.

You can also go in and manually refine the spending categories to really narrow things down.  Bought groceries and clothes at Target?  You can break down a single transaction to accurately reflect what amount was spent on what.  So not only is it a great way to see the numbers right in front of you, but you can also see exactly how much you spend weekly/monthly/yearly in each category.

Stay on Top of Bills

You can use Mint to stay on top of your bills and upcoming expenses.  Just enter the dates and amounts for monthly bills, or even a one-time expense that you have coming up, and you'll receive an email reminder a few days in advance of the due date.  It's a smart way to make sure that you never miss a payment.  

Making Goals, Tracking Progress

Earlier this year, Martin and I made a few financial goals.  By using Mint, we've been able to see where we've been successful, as well as where we need to make adjustments to stay on track.  Since all of the accounts are right there in one place, we don't have to waste time logging into each individual account and seeing where the numbers stand.

You can set up a monthly budget to help you stay within specific amounts.  At any time, just log in to check how you're doing.  For example, if your monthly grocery budget is $300 and it's the middle of the month, you can see how much you have left to spend before you head out to the store.

No more jotting things down on paper, entering amounts into spreadsheets, or holding on to receipts and trying to add up expenses.  Keeping tabs on all of our accounts in one place and seeing where the money goes is so much simpler.  Mint is really the best way I've found to be more conscious of spending and to stay accountable, as well as to stay on track with our financial goals.

Sep 4, 2013

Why You Should Experience Alaska


I think it's safe to say that Alaska is the most majestic and untamed of all of the states in the union. The natural beauty is breathtaking, the adventures are limitless, and the people are truly as interesting as they come.

Alaska is so vas,t and because of its expanse, life in each region varies somewhat. It's more than 2 1/2  times bigger than Texas. (Texans- feel free to be skeptical, but it's a cold, hard fact!)

The Inside Passage in the Southeast is a popular cruising route. Juneau, the capitol city, as well as small towns like Skagway play host to thousands of tourists during the summer months. The cruising/land tour season runs from May through September, so those are the best months to visit.

The weather in the Southeast is pretty predictable in the summer- cloudy, chilly, steady light rain, and the occasional break in the clouds for rare sunny days. When my husband and I were living and working in Skagway for 3 summers, we soaked up every minute of those days. Not hard to do when there's over 18 hours of daylight by the summer solstice!
There is so much to see and do, like hiking, zip lining, and fishing. You can take a ride on the White Pass & Yukon Route, which was built during the Gold Rush in 1898. You can hike through a temperate rain forest, or ride a tram up the side of a mountain. How about whale watching? Walking on a glacier? Dog sledding? River rafting? You can pick your adventures and plan accordingly.
If you're up for a road trip, you can drive up from the lower 48 and hit the Alcan, the Alaska-Canadian highway. This takes you through the Yukon Territory and British Columbia in Canada, so be sure to bring your passport. There are some quirky little towns to stop in, and so much breathtaking beauty to marvel at.  Chances are excellent that you will encounter wildlife like mountain goats, moose, bison, and of course, bears!  (Pro tip- avoid the temptation to approach wildlife, no matter how good of a shot you think that you can get with your camera!)
I have barely even scratched the surface of this amazing state; it's just impossible to summarize Alaska so briefly. I can't recommend it enough, whether you choose a cruise, a land tour, or brave the adventure of driving there on your own.

It is absolutely a must see, especially for nature lovers.  Although I can't claim Skagway Alaska as my home today, I definitely plan on returning in the future. There is just something so incredibly captivating about the place that you just can't put into words. If you have an adventurous spirit and can appreciate the beauty of untamed nature, this is one state that you truly have to experience for yourself!


*Also-If you want to check out more about life in the last frontier, I recommend visiting my friend Whitney's blog, Suitcase Sweethearts.  She's living out a life of adventure in Alaska's interior with her husband, and she blogs all about it!

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