North of the Border

by Pat Mestern


Holiday greetings from North of the Border. May there be turkey on your table, love in your heart, presents for all and a rollicking horde of knee huggers underfoot. I wish for you that 1999 be a year of vision - a year of ideas - a year to create. In 1999 my hope is that you achieve a chosen goal. General Stonewall Jackson said: "'if you must succeed you must ride toward the sound of battle." Good riding in '99! Now for your questions - - -

Where do hubby and I vacation cheaply in the U.S.A.? As we live in central Canada, most of our vacationing in the States is in the east and southeast. There comes a time in everyone's busy lives when it is either a short get-away or a straitjacket. Vacations should be well thought out before the car leaves the driveway. As soon as Canucks cross the border, every U.S. dollar we spend is worth $1.50+ Canadian. It can be expensive for us to vacation in the U.S. but there are exceptions.

Even travel publications are now recognizing and addressing the needs of the large budget-minded market. The rules apply to all--Canadians and U.S. residents. Try to travel during off- and shoulder season. Choose locations that are not so well known that they are vastly overpriced. Do all groundwork re: accommodation, events and attractions before leaving home. When at your destination, select restaurants that are reasonably priced. Ask residents where they eat. Never visit obvious *tourist traps*.

If you love meeting and mingling with *the locals*, small town ambiance and an easy-going vacation, try the following destinations. . .

Washington County, New York State - the home territory of painter Grandma Moses (and now her great grandson Will). This county, approx. one hour north of Albany, is an undiscovered gem and a great destination at any time of the year. The area is a genealogist's dream; it is the *cradle* of early U.S. migration and history. Its old cemeteries are worth a visit, even if one does not have ancestors from the area. The countryside is beautiful. The architecture is pure New England. Accommodation and meals are half the price of those in neighbouring Vermont, a half-hour drive away. Go soon, before the area is *discovered* and then exploited. Take your time touring the county. Enjoy! tourisminfo@washingtoncounty.org #1-888-203-8622

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania - May through December this is a VERY BUSY visitor destination. So we go in February or March when accommodation is CHEAP and traffic is manageable on Rte #30. In February and March most tourist traps are closed. We spend a week visiting large farm markets, small country stores, mom-and-pop restaurants, farm gate operations, covered bridges, factory outlets. We love to sit and watch the Canada geese as they migrate north. This is a CHEAP shoulder season destination, even though it is very well known. #1-800-PADUTCH www.800padutch.com

Laurel Highlands, Southwestern Pennsylvania - Break rules about going off-season. I recommend a vacation in the Laurel Highlands in September/October. History buffs will revel in reconstructed forts, battle fields and heritage sites. The area has a score of autumn festivals (sometimes three a weekend) with low admission rates and great entertainment value. Good food can be had at reasonable prices. Hike mountain trails. Enjoy architectural gems (Frank Lloyd Wright). This area is a bargain. Budget carefully and make lots of phone calls ahead of time for best deals. November and April are considered shoulder season, so they are a little cheaper but you will miss the festivals. Do visit Johnstown, site of the Johnstown Flood, one of the worst disasters in American history. www.laurelhighlands.com #1-800-925-7669

Unlike many Canadians, we have not recently visited Florida or Arizona. Myrtle Beach is on our list when *seashore-born* hubby must be *dipped in salt water* - or when we wish to extend summer a bit. If one can avoid the hurricanes, Myrtle Beach is a reasonably priced destination in late September and October. People tell us that March and April are nice times to visit too. We do not play golf. We go for the privilege of being by the sea www.myrtlebeach.com

More in 1999 about reasonably priced U.S. get-aways. For excursions over Christmas try visiting the elderly in seniors' homes (some never have visitors), help serve Christmas dinner at a soup kitchen or hostel, take meals to shut-ins so regular deliverers can spent Christmas with their families, visit the local pound and take the dogs for a walk, drop small gifts in the mailboxes of people less fortunate than yourself. We have also packed a bag of books and spent Christmas in the quietude and seclusion of the north woods.

Cheap baking: I have a tip for those who have large families, a freezer and little time to bake. Check out your local bakery. Ask about availability of their day-old product. We have several bakeries close by who put their day-old baking on sale each day. One makes up a large basket of dated goodies that is sold for $6. Another gives patrons three plastic bags to fill from their day-old shelf for $7. Do you know how much you can stuff into three plastic bags? When the entire family is due to visit and I do not have time to bake, I head for a bakery - very early in the morning for best selection (6:30 a.m.). The last time I picked up three bags of goodies and tallied them at regular prices, I bought $40.50 worth of baked goods for only $7 --sticky buns, loaves of specialty bread, croissants, whole wheat buns, veggie buns . . .

Odd House Plants: This info comes too late for this year. Try it in 1999. Visitors, admiring my house plants, suddenly realize some healthy greenery belongs to large pepper plants, several with peppers almost ready to pick. After the threat of frost each plant (in its pot) is planted in the garden, where they produce big green peppers during the summer. Just before the first frost I lift the pots and place them in a sunny window. After final harvest (usually in November), I pinch back the tops just a little to promote new growth, and keep the plants watered. A month before they are put outside again, the plants are given fertilizer to stimulate growth.

Great cheap Christmas gifts: Flower pots, small bags of soil and a packet of herb seeds; jars of homemade spaghetti sauce. Friends hold a sauce-making party, followed by a spaghetti dinner. Each couple goes home with 6-8 jars of spicy sauce. Original personalized story *books* for children. Each book is a very short story (100-150 words), written by you and illustrated with photos or pictures cut from magazines. Neighbourhood and grandchildren love these. My latest is entitled *Who's in My Closet?*. The last page reveals a photo of the child when a cut-out door is opened; several dozen homemade cookies for the busy household; a small handmade cotton bag full of cheap plastic dinosaurs or farm animals for children (these toys are cheap at flea markets and farm co-ops); a book from your personal collection that you feel someone else would enjoy, along with a box of bookplates.

Purchase a box of appropriate decorative or collectible note cards (art shops and galleries carry these products). Choose one or two, then frame them nicely. Frames need not be expensive. Check out your local big box store or make them from twigs or cardboard and tinfoil, wrapping paper or cloth. One box of ten cards will give 5-10 reasonably priced gifts. Some people frame nice post cards, or the cards that artists sometimes give out as promotional material, or calendar pictures.

Seniors, especially those on a severe budget, appreciate receiving food products. Find out about dietary restrictions. Cheese and crackers - homemade squares and cookies - jars of jam and jellies - several pounds of good butter - homemade breads - fudge - a casserole - a basket of assorted fruits (Decorate the ordinary basket with old Christmas cards and spray paint) - any treat they cannot usually afford. If you can afford the luxury, consider a talking book for seniors with sight problems, or a cassette of their favourite music. These tapes are often found in sale bins. I have read favourite books onto tape for someone with failing eyes. (The Celts c1878 was Auntie's last choice-took me forever but the look on her face was worth the effort). Make sure the senior has the equipment to listen to tapes. Taping loving messages from grandchildren to grandparents is also an appreciated gift. Add your own message to the tape. Make it plain to the senior that he/she must not feel obligated to give gifts in return.

Remember that the gift is the act of generosity itself, not in what is given, how much a present is worth or receiving something in return. If given with love, even if it be a button, a gift is to be treasured.

By the way, Adumb, the old cat does not receive a Christmas gift. Giving gifts to pets is a waste of money. The image of a dog wearing a manmade coat while a child goes hungry or coatless upsets hubby and me. Adumb receives a ration of turkey and lots of attention from the grandchildren - food for his table, love for his heart.

Happy Hogmanay to one and all!


Periodically Pat Mestern provides us with frugal living tips from a Canadian perspective. You'll find some of her other musings at mestern.net. Her latest work of historical fiction is entitled "No Choice But Freedom" which takes place in England and British Colonial America c1750.

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