Diaries of a Wandering Lobster http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com A Journey in Personal Finance, Travel, Life, and Everything Else Wed, 24 Sep 2014 15:56:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Lost Belize Photos (Plus a Chance to Help Me With My Content!) http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/lost-belize-photos-plus-chance-help-content/ http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/lost-belize-photos-plus-chance-help-content/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 15:56:58 +0000 http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/?p=1738 Okay, so maybe the photos weren’t lost. These photos are ones my friend Lindsay took during our vacation. I’m not a very photogenic person so I generally try to avoid the camera, but she managed to snap a few of me. So without further ado, here are the lost Belize photos! Help me out! Now! […]

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Okay, so maybe the photos weren’t lost. These photos are ones my friend Lindsay took during our vacation. I’m not a very photogenic person so I generally try to avoid the camera, but she managed to snap a few of me. So without further ado, here are the lost Belize photos! :-)

express bus to guatemala Isla de Flores sign Tikal National Park ruins Tikal National Park ruins rum punch Lick's smoothie Caye Caulker sunset Caye Caulker sunset Green Elephant Shot Bambooze swing Caye Caulker Swing Bar

Help me out!

Now! I need your help! I’m doing a readership survey to gather some information about my readership here. Please fill out the below survey to help me make this blog high quality and informative. The survey is completely anonymous and only takes about 3 minutes to fill out.

Here’s the survey link: http://eSurv.org?s=LJIJJN_dbf8ffe5

Thank you!

 

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WaterFire – Providence, Rhode Island http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/waterfire-providence-rhode-island/ http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/waterfire-providence-rhode-island/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 16:07:46 +0000 http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/?p=1719 My father often goes to Providence, Rhode Island to visit my sister who lives in the area. Every time he comes back he raves about this thing called “WaterFire.” So when Jane and I visited my sister and explored the historic town of Newport, we knew we had to head into Providence Saturday night to […]

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WaterFire

Welcome to WaterFire!

My father often goes to Providence, Rhode Island to visit my sister who lives in the area. Every time he comes back he raves about this thing called “WaterFire.” So when Jane and I visited my sister and explored the historic town of Newport, we knew we had to head into Providence Saturday night to see WaterFire.

WaterFire is a sculpture by Barnaby Evans installed on the three rivers in downtown Providence. The “sculpture” contains over 80 bonfire pits tended by volunteer “fire tenders” set to the beat of enchanting worldly music. WaterFire began in 1994 with just one fire commissioned to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of First Night Providence. In 1996, Evans added the second fire for the International Sculpture Conference. Art supports and local Providence residents decided that the fire pits should become a permanent art sculpture and started a grass-roots movement to raise funds to expand the art installation. In 1997, Evans added 40 more fire pits for a total of 42 pits in three rivers. 2014 marks the 20th Anniversary of WaterFire in the City of Providence.

WaterFire WaterFire WaterFire glass bottles WaterFire WaterFire

 

Evans also selects the music for each lighting. The music is different for each lighting so you can go to multiple lightings each year and never see the same one! According to the WaterFire website, the music has a very global sound but often comes back to four different composers – an Estonian composer, an Armenian folk artist, an American avant-garde composer, and selections from Nicholas Len’s “The Fire Requiem.” The soundtracks of the lightings are available for purchase after each show.

I’ll be honest, I was slightly disappointed by WaterFire. Both my father and my sister have raved about WaterFire and don’t get me wrong, it was cool, but something was missing for me. I think I thought it was going to be more of a show with fireworks and performers. WaterFire is certainly very unique and awoke all my senses. I mean who doesn’t love fire?! Yes, I have a wee bit of a pyro in me, but I want more. Many some Chinese acrobats?

waterfire

WaterFire in Providence, Rhode Island

All the fires released those memory-provoking fragrances of wood smoke that I so loved growing up with. It smelled like camp. All I needed was some marshmallows. Providence at night, especially lit by fires and paper-laterns is absolutely stunning. I mean I haven’t seen it during the day so I really can’t compare it to much, but I think any city lit by essentially candlelight would be gorgeous. There are several arch bridges over the rivers and the “firetenders” cruise around adding more wood to the fires on a gondola. Hello Venice!

My absolute favorite part of the event was the music. It was literally out of this world. The soundtrack was heavily influenced by Tibetan chanting, so much so that I thought I was going to be stepping into a monastery. I could have sat there and listened to the music all night long, except that I was really hungry and wanted to eat (story of my life!). The feeling of the event was definitely romantic. Jane and I saw many couples having very imitate moments in quiet corners or right smack in the middle of the crowds. WaterFire would definitely make for a great frugal date night!

WaterFire paperlatern

WaterFire Paper-Latern

About a block over from the main event is a small festival area. Local artists and food vendors lined the streets selling their wares. The area was quite crowded with a mix of young families with strollers and some pretty drunk 20-somethings. My toes got ran over by strollers a few times more than I would have enjoyed! Overall, if you find yourself in Providence during WaterFire season then I recommend checking it out. It’s completely free; however, you might pay through the roof for parking! I would recommend getting there early for cheaper parking.

 

Have you ever been to WaterFire? What did you think?

 

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Sunday Postcard – September 21, 2014 http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/sunday-postcard-september-21-2014/ http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/sunday-postcard-september-21-2014/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 00:19:15 +0000 http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/?p=1731 Sunday Postcard Saint Mary’s Church was founded on April 8, 1828. The church became famous when John Fitzgerald Kenndy married Jacqueline Lee Bouvier on September 12, 1953. It is located on William Street about a 5 minutes walk from infamous Thames Street.

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Sunday Postcard

St. Mary's Church

St. Mary’s Church in Newport, Rhode Island

Saint Mary’s Church was founded on April 8, 1828. The church became famous when John Fitzgerald Kenndy married Jacqueline Lee Bouvier on September 12, 1953. It is located on William Street about a 5 minutes walk from infamous Thames Street.

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Sunday Postcard – September 14, 2014 http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/sunday-postcard-september-14-2014/ http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/sunday-postcard-september-14-2014/#comments Sun, 14 Sep 2014 17:28:55 +0000 http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/?p=1712 Sunday Postcard This Week’s Posts: Summer Book Challenge – August Reads The Millennial Spectrum: Are You Wealthier Than Your Friends? How to Get Hundreds Back From The State Just for Paying Your Student Loans: Educational Opportunity Tax Credit

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Sunday Postcard

"bird grits"

Little bird eating my grits in New Orleans

This Week’s Posts:

Summer Book Challenge – August Reads

The Millennial Spectrum: Are You Wealthier Than Your Friends?

How to Get Hundreds Back From The State Just for Paying Your Student Loans: Educational Opportunity Tax Credit

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How To Get Hundreds Back From The State Just For Paying Your Student Loans: The Educational Opportunity Tax Credit http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/educational-opportunity-tax-credit/ http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/educational-opportunity-tax-credit/#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2014 15:50:42 +0000 http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/?p=1709 Do you want to see if you can get hundreds or possibly thousands back each year just for paying your student loans? Did you graduate from a Maine college or University after January 1, 2008? Do you work in Maine? Do you pay your student loans? If you answered yes to all of the above […]

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Do you want to see if you can get hundreds or possibly thousands back each year just for paying your student loans?

Did you graduate from a Maine college or University after January 1, 2008?

Do you work in Maine?

Do you pay your student loans?

If you answered yes to all of the above then….

Did you know the State of Maine offers a tax credit called the Educational Opportunity Maine Tax Credit (EOTC) for qualifying graduates? Yeah, neither did I until recently! Unfortunately the State seems to keep this tax credit under-raps. I’m not sure if Maine colleges are supposed to tell students about this because I know UMF didn’t tell me about it! Either way, here is what you need to know to claim this credit on your State Tax Forms to possibly get hundreds or possibly thousands of dollars back!

The Educational Opportunity Tax Credit is a component of the Job Creation through Educational Opportunity program that began in 2008. The tax credit reimburses Maine workers for student loan payments for those who earned either an associate or bachelor’s degree at any Maine college or university and continues to live and work in the state after graduation. This credit can be claimed individually or by a business that pay employees’ student loans as an employee benefit. As a side note, where can I find a job that pays my student loans?

Not everyone qualifies for this tax credit, which is why I didn’t think I did when I found out about the tax credit. My friend who works for the Maine Revenue Service was the one that told me I qualified and helped me fill out the paperwork so I could amend four years of tax returns to get $1160 back from the State. Filling out all the paperwork was a big pain in the butt, but to get that check back in my bank account was amazing! I was able to pay off one of my SallieMae loans with it!

Eligibility:

  1. You must have graduated after January 1, 2008
  2. Only credits after January 1, 2008 count towards the credit
  3. You must have graduated from a Maine college or university with either an associates or bachelor’s degree
  4. You do not have to be a permanent Maine resident during college as long as you lived in Maine during the school year and live and work in Maine after graduation
  5. If you leave Maine after graduation and then come back to Maine to live and work you can start to claim the tax credit
  6. Only undergraduate loans count
  7. You must make eligible education loan payments throughout the tax year for the months that you lived and worked in Maine (deployed military members are exceptions)
  8. Up to 30 credit hours from an accredited non-Maine college or university may be earned prior to transferring and graduating from a Maine school (NEW in 2013)
  9. The credit is fully refundable if your degree is an approved degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (NEW in 2013; see www.maine.gov/revenue/forms for list of approved STEM degrees)

Filling out the paperwork can be quite stressful. More so if you’re amending your tax forms because you have to fill out several different forms.

Steps to Filling Out the Educational Opportunity Tax Credit Worksheet:

A sample form

A sample form

Note: This is for the 2013 form. The 2014 form may change.

  1. Download worksheets from the Maine Revenue Service website.
  2. Fill in your name, social security number, college or university name, name of degree, and graduation date.
  3. Check Line C if you obtained a STEM degree.
  4. Enter the “monthly benchmark loan payment.” This information is located on the instructions page. If you graduated in 2008 or 2009 then you must call your school to get this number.
  5. Enter the “monthly eligible education loan payment due.” This means what is the monthly statement balance that you pay each month from your loan lender. For the case of John Smith, SallieMae sends him a monthly bill of $150.
  6. Enter the “monthly eligible education loan payment you paid.” For most people this should be the same as “monthly eligible loan payment due.” However, it could be different if you pay less or more than the amount due.
  7. Line 4 asks for the smallest of the lines 1, 2, 3. Enter the smallest amount. In John Smith’s case his smallest amount is 150. Again, if John only paid $100 a month instead of the $150 he is supposed to pay, then he would record 100 on Line 4. If John Smith paid $300 a month, only $150 would count towards his credit.
  8. Line 5 asks for the number of months during the tax year that you are a Maine resident. The subsequent lines ask about the number of months you worked in Maine and made student loan payments. These might all be the same or different.
  9. Multiple line 4 (i.e., your monthly loan payment) by line 5c (i.e., the number of months you lived, worked and made student loan payments in Maine).
  10. Enter the number of credit hours you earned toward your degree after December 31, 2007. Since John Smith graduated in 2012 all his credits were earned after 2007. For me, only 28 credits were earned after 2007.
  11. Enter the total number of credit hours you earned toward your degree. This information is located on your transcript. For John Smith his total was 130 credits. For me, my total credits for my Biology degree was 127 credits.
  12. Divide line 7 by line 8. For all college graduate 2012 and forward this number will be one. For me, my number was 0.2205 or roughly only 22% of my credits counted towards the tax credit because I graduated in December 2008.
  13. Multiply line 6 by line 9. For John Smith his number is $1800. For someone like myself, the number will be smaller.
  14. If you first attended an out-of-state school and then transferred back to Maine then this is where you would reference the difference. John Smith spent his first year at UNH before transferring to UMaine thus he can only claim 0.75 of the $1800. However, if your transfer credits happened before January 1, 2008 then you do not need to claim this since any credits before January 1, 2008 do not count towards this credit.
  15. If you have a STEM degree then this amount is fully refundable. John Smith is getting $1350 back with his State Tax Return! Yipee! And because John Smith is super smart he will apply this to his student loan payments to get out of debt faster! If you do not have a STEM degree, then you will probably only get a portion of the refund back depending how much you “overpaid” in state taxes.

Documentation

In order to receive the tax credit you must provide documentation to the state to prove that you are really paying your student loan payments. This is a huge pain in the butt, but if you do it right the first time then you don’t have to deal with calling the state and fixing things. Here is what you need to include with your tax forms to support the tax credit:

  1. A copy of your diploma
  2. A copy of all your transcripts (from every college you attended)
  3. Proof of monthly loan payments (this can be screenshots of the payments you made or photocopied statements and receipts – include EVERYTHING)
  4. The Educational Opportunity Tax Credit Worksheet
  5. A letter from your school about the monthly benchmark loan payment (only if you graduated in 2008 or 2009)

Frequently Asked Questions

What if my monthly loan payments varies?

This is common and my monthly loan payments changed often. I provided screenshots of all my student loan payments from my three different loan vendors. I then totaled what I paid over 12 months and then divided by 12 to get a monthly average. I then used that monthly average on lines 2 and 3 of the worksheet. When I sent in all my paperwork to Maine Revenue Service I included a cover letter stating that I took the average of my total payments. The state will add everything up so make sure you double check everything!

What if the state sends me a letter asking for more information and/or denies my claim?

Call the state and see exactly what they want. If you are amending your tax returns then make sure you send each year separately. I made the mistake of including all four years in one envelope. The state quickly approved both 2010 and 2011 and then sent me a letter asking me for more information for 2012 and 2013. I called them to inform that I included all that information with the 52 pages of supporting documents that I mailed them. Apparently someone did not scan the paperwork correctly. These people are very nice but some of them might not understand the paperwork and/or how the tax credit works. I haven’t stress enough the important of crossing your “t’s” and dotting your “I’s.”

Do I need to include documentation every year I claim this credit?

Yes.

Where do I find the worksheets?

You can find State of Maine Tax Credit Worksheets on the Maine Revenue Service website here: http://www.maine.gov/revenue/forms/credits/2013.htm.

Like I mentioned above, The Education Opportunity Tax Credit can help you get hundreds or even thousands back each year just for paying your monthly student loan bills! If you’re smart then you will use the money you get back to help pay your loans off faster.

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The Millennial Spectrum: Are You Wealthier Than Your Friends? http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/are-you-wealthier-than-your-friends/ http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/are-you-wealthier-than-your-friends/#comments Wed, 10 Sep 2014 16:07:35 +0000 http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/?p=1704 Did you know according to a recent Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances that if you are a millennial (under age 35) and have a net worth of $10,400 you are wealthier than half of your generation? There are roughly about 74.3 million people aged 18-34 years old living in the United States at the […]

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Source: WSJ Blog

Source: WSJ Blog

Did you know according to a recent Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances that if you are a millennial (under age 35) and have a net worth of $10,400 you are wealthier than half of your generation? There are roughly about 74.3 million people aged 18-34 years old living in the United States at the moment. So that means you would be wealthier than 37.15 million millennials! So, are you wealthier than your friends?

What does this really mean? First, what is net worth? Net worth is simply your total assets minus total liabilities. For individuals, assets can include cash (savings, checking accounts, CDs, etc.), real estate, and investments and/or retirement accounts. Liabilities include mortgages, student loans, car loans, and credit card debit. Other items can be included in assets and liabilities if you want to get super nick-picky, but for most people the above items are comprehensive enough. Personally, I think people should track their net worth over time. I track mine monthly and report mine here on the blog quarterly. As of August 31st, my net worth was about -$15,000.

Clearly with a net worth of -$15,000 I am not wealthier than the rest of my millennial generation. If I continue to pay off my loans, invest in my retirement accounts at my current rate, and stash money into my emergency fund, then in theory I should hit a net worth of at least zero next year! When that day comes I will be celebrating!

I have high school and college friends that have far worse debt than I so. It’s a scary, scary world for millennials. The Wall Street Journal wrote an interesting blog post about the Fed. Reserve’s survey results this past week. The median income for millennials is about $35,300. In 2010, the average income for those under 35 was $37,600. That’s a drop in income of over $2,000! Two thousand dollars can go a long way for many millennials that have huge amounts of student loan debt. As a side note, the survey results only covered families headed by someone under age 35. Thus for millennials who still live at home, like myself, we would not be counted in this survey.

Another reason millennials’ net worth is so low is because of student loan debt. I think this is obviously a no-brainer. I have friends that have over $80,000 and even $100,000 in just undergraduate school loans! Add in graduate school and they will be swimming in debt for the rest of their lives. Student loan debt burdens 41.4% of people under 35 years old. Back in 2007, it was only 33.6%. Back even before smartphones in 1998, it was 23.3%. The numbers have nearly doubled over 16 years!

Very few millennials own their own home. Currently, only about 35.6% of those under 35 own homes. Before the recession it was a tad bit more at 40.6%. I would be interested to see what the home ownership numbers for people aged 18-35 were back in the early 2000s and even the 1990s. How do they compare?

Then you add in credit card debt. Several interesting article on millennials and credit cards have been released over the past couple of days. About 63% of millennials don’t have a single credit card, which completely surprised me. Many favor cash. Apparently the number of Americans without credit cards has doubled from 2007 to 2012. For those millennials with credit cards, only 40% pay their balance in full every month. That means 60% carry credit card debt each month. In January, Experian released their “The State of Credit – 2013″ that highlights the credit card debt and utilization across four different generations including millennials. Millennials have the lowest VantageScore (your averaged credit scores from the three credit score companies), which makes sense since millennials are new to credit cards and are still building their credit. On average, millennials have 1.57 credit cards with a card balance of $2,682 (the lowest of the four generations). Millennials are tied with Generation X for the highest credit card utilization rate at 37%.

Based on all the surveys above, I do find the financial state of the millennial generation rather depressing, but I don’t think we need to start worrying so fast. Millennials are just starting out in life. We graduated college with some the highest student loan debt of all time and have entered a tough job market. Many of us struggle to find jobs in our fields, but we try. It took me well over 7 months to find my current job although I continued to work at my old job while I job searched. Many people (cough cough Baby Boomers) seem to think my generation is lazy. It drives me nuts when people judge my generation as lazy. Yes, I do think there are some lazy people, but every generation has lazy people. I think there is a huge difference between the Baby Boomer (our parents generation) and the millennials (our generation). There are fewer manufacturing jobs today than when our parents were young. Attending college is generally expected of us because “most” jobs require at least a college degree. Our parents told us we could be anything that we wanted to be and to follow our dreams. Many of us got degrees in fields that don’t really have high-paying jobs. I’m looking at you art majors (no offense of course). There are a lot of factors going on and yes we struggle. I live at home because I pay a third of my monthly income towards my student loans (plus I’m saving for traveling too). I would love to live on my own in the city, but I am focusing on creating a strong financial backbone.

I think the biggest need for the millennial generation and the future generations after us is good financial education and literacy. It is something that I am passionate it about and why I enjoy sharing my story. Too many of my friends are “stupid with money.” Instead of paying their student loans (or paying more on their loans when they can) they spend money of going out to dinner, getting drinks every Friday and Saturday nights and on new designer clothes and handbags. Of course it’s okay to spend money of some things when you need them or the occasional splurge. However, more people need to focus on the basics to climb out of debt and give themselves a good chance for financial freedom and retirement. It pays to “be good with money” at a young age.

What do you think of the Federal Reserve Survey? Are you wealthier than your friends? What advice would you give to millennials?

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Summer Book Challenge – August Reads http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/summer-book-challenge-august-reads/ http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/summer-book-challenge-august-reads/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 16:00:17 +0000 http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/?p=1701 I finished! I finished the Semi-Charmed Summer 2014 Book Challenge with my last two books I read this month. For my last two books I had to read a book that was written before I was born and a book that I couldn’t finish the first time around. I struggled with finding books for these […]

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I finished! I finished the Semi-Charmed Summer 2014 Book Challenge with my last two books I read this month. For my last two books I had to read a book that was written before I was born and a book that I couldn’t finish the first time around. I struggled with finding books for these two categories hence why I put them off for the very last-minute. Without further ado, here are my last two books:

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (256 pages) – 3.5 stars

081011I struggled with a book for this category and finally settled on Black Beauty after I found it on clearance at the bookstore for $2.97. It’s a book I’ve never read, which surprises me because I’m pretty sure I have read just about every book about horses there is. Plus, Black Beauty is a classic and I can cross it off my list. Black Beauty was first published in 1877 so it’s well over 100 years older than me. I liked the book. It was a quick read and I am familiar with the story because I’ve seen the movie years ago. The book version that I have gives a little introduction on Anna Sewell and animal welfare in the beginning, which I really enjoyed. The book is written from Black Beauty’s perspective of his life from foal to old age. The book was published during the Victorian Age where people had very little empathy for their animals, especially horses that were used to transport the humans around London. When Black Beauty was published, the opinion of people changed more to animal rights and welfare thus leading to better treatment to horses. Black Beauty is a good read if you’re looking to check books off from the Classic’s list, but I wouldn’t suggest running out and buying it today.

Category: Read a book that was written before you were born – 10 points

The Winning Investor’s Guide to Making Money in Any Market by Andrew Horowitz (224 pages) – 3 stars

I started reading this book back in January when I purchased the book. I finished about two charters and then the book disappeared until I found it a couple of weeks ago upstairs in my father’s den. He stole it and read it on me! The nerve! Ha. I wouldn’t say this book was a fun read, but one of necessary for me. I’m slowly learning about investing and I’ve been reading about how the markets work and how to analyze different stocks. This book was easy to read and understand compared to other financial books that I have read that I swear were written in Greek. It’s a decent book if you’re looking for an easy-to-read and understand introduction to investing in the stock market.

Category: Finish reading a book that you couldn’t finish the first time around – 10 points

Now that I have finished the Summer 2014 Book Challenge, I am looking forward to knocking books off of my “to read” list that keeps growing on me!

Have you read any good books lately? Any suggestions to add to my “to read” list? :-)

 

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Sunday Postcard – September 7, 2014 http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/sunday-postcard-september-7-2014/ http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/sunday-postcard-september-7-2014/#comments Sun, 07 Sep 2014 13:35:22 +0000 http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/?p=1697 Sunday Postcard

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Sunday Postcard

Crawfish on Bourdon Street

Crawfish on Bourdon Street

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Walking Amongst the Oldest Oak Trees in America – City Park, New Orleans http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/city-park-new-orleans/ http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/city-park-new-orleans/#comments Fri, 05 Sep 2014 15:48:12 +0000 http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/?p=1683 New York has Central Park and San Francisco has the Golden Gate Park. But did you know that New Orleans has one of the oldest urban parks in the United States? Most tourists don’t make it past Bourdon Street or Saint Charles Street. I don’t blame them because the food and music could keep me […]

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A bridge over the lagoon at City Park

A bridge over the lagoon at City Park

New York has Central Park and San Francisco has the Golden Gate Park. But did you know that New Orleans has one of the oldest urban parks in the United States? Most tourists don’t make it past Bourdon Street or Saint Charles Street. I don’t blame them because the food and music could keep me there for days as well. However, if you’re an outdoor enthusiast or fitness freak then hop on the Canal Street trolley and head to the end of the line!

City Park is a 1,300-acre outdoor oasis located within the heart of New Orleans that has enchanted locals and visitors alike since 1854. City Park has something to offer to everyone. You can enjoy the numerous biking, jogging, and walking paths, play a game of tennis on one of the 26 tennis courts, stop and smell the roses at the Botanical Gardens, or amble around the free Besthoff Sculpture Garden.

One of the highlights of the park is the one-of-a-kind antique wooden carousel located in the family friendly Carousel Gardens Amusement Park for over 100 years! City Park is home to the world’s largest stand of mature live oaks, which includes one grand oak that is over 800 years old. The park itself contains over 20,000 trees. The park lost about 2,000 trees from Hurricane Katrina, but the park has planted more than 5,000 trees to replace the lost trees. The park contains a wide variety of trees, including oak, bald cypress, magnolia, slash pine and sweet gum.

City Park is a fitness freaks dream-come-true! I was head over heels in love with the park! The park contains a large 400-meter polyurethane track that was built for the 1992 Olympic Trials and numerous trails and paths over the vast fields or amongst the 60 acre forest. You can ride your own bicycle or rent a bike at the Boat House to enjoy the miles of bike paths. My absolute favorite part of the park (and I may or may not have shed a few tears over) was the outdoor gym. Think playground for adults! The park didn’t have one, but two outdoor gyms! Be still my little heart! The park also has an 18-hole golf course, mini-golf course and a disc-golf course.

canal street trolley new orleans city park oaks new orleans city park outdoor gym new orleans

The New Orleans Museum of Art is located within the park as well. While most of the park is free, NOMA has an admission fee ($10/adult). I didn’t have time to visit NOMA, but the museum is home to over 40,000 permanent objects and numerous special exhibitions throughout the year. Outside of NOMA and across the street from the Botanical Gardens, is the 5-acre Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden that is home to 60 unique sculptures valued at over $25 million. The sculptures are scrawled across various footpaths surrounded by colorful flowers and 200-year-old oak trees.

The Safety Pin at the Sculpture Garden

The Safety Pin at the Sculpture Garden

City Park was once the site of Allard Plantation, but was left to the City of New Orleans by John McDonough in 1850. In the early 1900s the City Park Improvement Association built several notable landmarks including the Casino, Popp Bandstand, and the Issac Delgado Museum of Art. Many of the current day attractions were built through the Works Progress Administration, a program enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of the New Deal. In the early decades of the park, only white residents were allowed to enjoy it. In 1958 the park became open to all. Hurricane Katrina caused massive damage to the park in 2005. Flooding up to 8 feet in sections of the park occurred due to the hurricane and subsequent breach of the Federal Levee System. The park incurred over $43 million in damages. Much of it has been repaired, but there are still areas of construction.

I only had a couple of hours to explore the park after sitting in a conference hall all day. City Park is easy to reach from the French Quarter by hopping on the Canal Street line and riding to the end. From the last trolley stop, you just walk across the street! During my couple hours at the park, I was only able to skim the top of the park. I still have hundreds of acres to explore! I spent some time walking around the various bike paths. It was extremely hot and humid for this Maine girl, so I quickly sought out shade to cool off. I found myself walking down one of the streets surrounded by beautiful old oak trees with hanging branches covering the roadway. It was exactly how I pictured the south. After walking in the shade for a bit, I came across a few wildflower fields. The area made me want to grab my book and lay in the grass reading for the rest of the afternoon. I made my way to the Sculpture Garden and the Botanical Gardens. I skipped the Botanical Gardens because of time and the admission fee. Instead, I opted for the free Sculpture Garden. I spent about 30 minutes exploring the garden and enjoying the creative and unique art (and playing with the ducks).

The sun was starting to set so I took it was cue to head back to the trolley stop. On my trip to New Orleans I fell head over heels for the city and City Park just sealed the deal for me. As an endurance sport athlete, I need any area where I can train. City Park offers just that area I would need to train, except that it lacks a swimming pool. I’m excited to head back to New Orleans to explore the park more in the future. I was extremely excited to find out that there is a horse farm located within the park. A horse farm in the middle of a city? Amazing!

swimming ducks field of yellow flowers purple flowers new orleans new orleans city park art wildflowers new orleans yellow flower

As I mentioned in a couple of my other New Orleans posts, I was in New Orleans for a work conference and to visit the Tulane University School of Public Health as I am interested in one of their PhD programs. Not only did I really enjoy my visit with Tulane, but New Orleans totally stole my heart and City Park was one of the main reasons. Next time you find yourself in New Orleans with the need to burn off a few hurricanes and beignets, I highly recommend a visit to City Park. The Audubon Park located in the historic uptown area across from Tulane University’s main campus is another great area to escape the concrete and enjoy some nature. The Audubon Park is home to a 1.8 mile walking/jogging path, a swimming pool, a golf course, and a horse farm. It is adjacent to the Audubon Zoo. I personally did not spend much time here, but again, I’m extremely excited to see so much green space in the city!

Have you been to New Orleans? Did you head to any of the parks?

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Walking in the Footsteps of the Vanderbilts – The Newport Mansions Tour http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/newport-mansions-tours/ http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/newport-mansions-tours/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 19:57:52 +0000 http://www.diariesofawanderinglobster.com/?p=1659 Imagine this… You put on your fancy new fringed dress to match your “marcelled” hair that you spent hours perfecting. You walk down your fancy marble staircase to meet your husband dressed in coat-tails and a bow tie and take his arm. You arrive in the Grand Ballroom where your colorful guests are dancing the Charleston […]

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The front of the Breakers

The front of the Breakers

Imagine this…

You put on your fancy new fringed dress to match your “marcelled” hair that you spent hours perfecting. You walk down your fancy marble staircase to meet your husband dressed in coat-tails and a bow tie and take his arm. You arrive in the Grand Ballroom where your colorful guests are dancing the Charleston and sipping on Champagne and cocktails. A 12-piece band is playing in the background and a group of men are corrugated in the corner smoking cigars and discussing the New York railroad business. The women are eyeing each others outfits and gossiping about the latest news of each of America’s wealthiest families.

Newport, Rhode Island was the summer home of America’s most wealthiest families during the Gilded Age into the Roaring 20s. They built mega mansions on the seaside cliffs and held glamorous parties that would be raved about until the next one the following weekend. Today, the halls of the over-the-top mansions sit in silent as the families and their homes no longer host elaborate parties for the rich and famous. However, tourists are welcomed to tour the mansions through the Preservation Society of Newport Count.

The Preservation Society of Newport County has been protecting, preserving and presenting the story of some of America’s most infamous summer “cottages” for over 69 years. The Preservation Society owns and maintains 11 historic properties, which date from 1748 to 1902 and hold a combined value of $1 billion. The Preservation Society offers different levels of memberships to help support and preserve the historic homes of Newport. Of course, if you don’t want to support and preserve some amazing homes, you can always take one of the mansion tours, which is absolutely worth it!

Jane and I opted for the “Newport Mansions Experience,” where we had the option to tour 5 different mansions of our choice for $31.50. There are several different options for you to choose from depending on how much time you have and how much you’re willing to spend. However, I highly recommend the 5 mansion tour! As you walk into each mansion, you are handed an audio handset that will walk you through each mansion. Audio tours come in several different languages and are very high quality. Again, depending on time and what catches your fancy, you can just do the simple tour or listen to the many extra stories and tidbits. Each audio tour was full of information and I loved the personal stories from old family members and employees of the properties.

The first stop on our tour was The Breakers, the grandest of the summer cottages of Newport. The Breakers was built in 1895 for Cornelius Vanderbilt II. Cornelius Vanderbilt II is the grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, who established the Vanderbilt’s fortune in steamships and the New York Central Railroad. Cornelius II purchased The Breakers with a small wooden house in 1885. The house burned down in 1893 so Cornelius II commissioned the current day 70-room summer estate to be built. The mansion was built in the Italian Renaissance-style palazzo inspired by the 16th century palaces of Genoa and Turin. In 1934, Gladys Vanderbilt inherited the home from her mother. Gladys opened The Breakers to the public in 1948 to help raise funds for the Preservation Society. In 1972, the Preservation Society purchased the home from her family and is one of the main attractions in Newport today.

The Breakers Newport, RI The Breakers Newport, RI The Breakers Newport, RI The Breakers Newport, RI

Our second stop of the day was Rosecliff. Rosecliff was commissioned for $2.5 million in 1899 by Nevada silver heiress Theresa Fair Oelrich. The home was modeled after the garden retreat of Versailles. Tessie, as she was known in her society circle, hosted many glamorous parties at her home after in was completed in 1902. Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Monroe of New Orleans purchased the home in 1947. Mr. Monroe and his wife continued the tradition of throwing lavish parties, many of which were Mardi Gras themed! In 1971, The Monroe’s donated Rosecliff and all its contents to the Preservation Society along with a $2 million operating endowment. Scenes from the 1974 version of The Great Gatsby with Robert Redford was filmed at Rosecliff.

Flower gardens Newport, RI Rosecliff Newport, RI Rosecliff Newport, RI Rosecliff Newport, RI Rose garden Newport, RI Rosecliff Newport, RI

Jane and I walked about a quarter of a mile down the street to the Marble House next. After touring each mansion I would think that mansion was my favorite until I finished with the next one. The Marble House began construction in 1888 and was finished in 1892 for Mr. and Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt. The Marble House was one of the first “mega-mansions” built in Newport that set the stage for other Newport mansions that were being built in the late 1890s and early 1900s. William K. Vanderbilt was the grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt and his oldest brother, Cornelius II, built The Breakers. The Marble House was inspired by the Petit Trianon at Versailles. The cottage cost over $11 million to build, with about $7 million of that being spent on 500,000 cubic feet of marble. William and his wife, Ava, divorced in 1895. She remarried and moved down the street. After her new husband’s death, she reopened the Marble House and built a Chinese Teahouse in the backyard. Ava often hosted rallies for women’s right to vote in the teahouse. The Preservation Society acquired the mansion in 1963.

Marble House Newport, RI Marble House Newport, RI

Jane and I ran out of time on Saturday to tour more mansions. Luckily our tickets have no expiration date thus we decided to go back on Sunday to finish our last two tours. We began our 4th tour early Sunday morning at my favorite mansion, The Elms. The Elms was the summer cottage of Edward and Herminie Berwind of Philadelphia and New York. Mr. Berwind made his fortune in the Pennsylvania coal industry. In 1898, the Berwinds commissioned The Elms to be modeled after the French château d’Asnieres located outside of Paris. The cottage cost a total of $1.4 million and was completed in 1901. Herminie died in 1922. Mr. Berwind invited his sister, Julia, to be the hostess at The Elms. She hosted parties at The Elms until her death in 1961. The house and its contents went up for action shortly after that. The Preservation Society raised money to purchased the home before it became a parking lot, like many of the other homes nearby. The Elms was by far my favorite out of the 5 mansions we toured over the weekend. The Elms was ornate, but not to the extremes like The Breakers. Each room contains beautiful craftsmanship, whether it was hand carved woodwork or colorful murals painted on the ceilings. I LOVED, LOVED this house and I can’t believe it almost became a parking lot. The Preservation Society also offers the “servant life tour” at The Elms for $15. Jane and I did not do this, but I absolutely want to go back and do it. My Downton Abbey dreams will come true!

The Elms Newport, RI The Elms Newport, RI The Elms Newport, RI The Elms Newport, RI The Elms Newport, RI The Elms Newport, RI The Elms Newport, RI The Elms Newport, RI

The last house on our tour was the Green Animals Topiary Garden house located a short drive away in Portsmouth. The Green Animal house is not like the stone mega-mansions of Bellevue Avenue. Green Animals is a modest farmhouse with an absolutely beautiful and unique gardens. The garden contains dozens of shaped animals surrounded by award-winning flowers. You can read more about my experience at the Green Animals Topiary Garden house HERE.

The green giraffe The grape arbor White lillies The elephant

Touring the mansions of Newport, Rhode Island is a very touristy activity; however, I thing it is worth waiting in line and dealing with large crowds. Interior photography of the mansions is prohibited, hence why you don’t see any photos of the inside of the mansions, so I highly recommend touring the mansions if you ever find yourself in Newport. I love the 1920s and these “summer cottages” allowed me to picture myself as a guest of the wild and elegant parties hosted by some of America’s richest families. I’m counting down the days until I can go back and explore the other mansions on Bellevue Avenue.

Have you ever done the Newport Mansions Tour? Which one is your favorite? Which one is totally over the top?

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