Cast Your Burdens on Him

Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you…

I Peter 5:7

Image by congerdesign on Pixabay

We can’t save the world. Or at least, that’s what I’m told. I sure try, though. Every friend, every loved one who shares a struggle, a burden, a pain or a sorrow magically becomes my responsibility. And if you’re taking care of someone day in and day out, some of those burdens genuinely are your responsibility.

Whether you volunteered for the role of caregiver or not, you probably have a tender, compassionate heart that battles against this struggle to save the world as mine does.

I used to work at a small summer camp in Georgia where we memorized a new verse each of the 5 days of the week camp was in session. I Peter 5:7 was one of those verses. And it has saved my spirit so many times over the years since.

I’ve struggled a lot with many issues and trials over the years – losses, pain and suffering, watching loved ones suffer, et cetera – and this verse reminds me daily to think about Him and abandon my burdens to Him.

He’s capable of taking on the troubles of the world. We’re not. All our anxieties are more than we can bear. All the struggles and pains of people we love are even harder to bear. But we don’t have to do it alone. In fact, we can’t.

Jesus, thank you for taking my burdens. Thank you for taking the burdens of those I love. Please help me to remember, every day, that my burdens are not my own, but yours.

Take a Walk With Jesus

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

– Luke 5:16

Image by Free-Photos on Pixabay

Sometimes, I have a hard time making space and time for my own relationships, particularly my relationship with God. It’s easy to get caught up in helping loved ones, making sure they have everything they need. The list of things I can do to help my husband on his bad health days is more than enough to eat up my entire day.

But the longer we’ve been married, and the more challenging we’ve found things, the more I’ve missed my old college days when I’d take my “walks with Jesus.” I’d wander the streets of Chicago, praying for an hour making my way through crowds of people who didn’t know me and wouldn’t stop to ask me for help.

Jesus often went to the mountainside to pray alone. His relationship with God was the most important thing for Him. We can learn from His example and withdraw ourselves, even if it’s to the crowded streets of a busy city. We need to step away from our responsibilities to have time without interruption to let God take care of us.

And for me, the simple act of walking alone, without my phone out, without a human companion beside me, gives me that precious time, even if just for 20 minutes.

God, thank you for meeting with me in my limited moments. Please help me to have more time for you; time when I can step away from everything else and just talk to you and listen to your Word. I need you more today than I did yesterday. I love you.

If You Can’t Always Pray, That’s Okay

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.                                                                                                                                           – Galatians 5:1

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My whole life, I’ve been taught that you must read your Bible and pray every single day if you want to be like Jesus. I ritualistically followed this mindset growing up, throughout my college and missionary service years and into my marriage.

But like every other human, I’ve struggled at times to read and pray. And the guilt I’ve felt over not doing so could overwhelm me, until recently when my husband and I were chatting with our pastor. We mentioned our struggle with doing this every single day, especially together, but she stopped us.

“If it’s a legalistic thing that drains life from you, don’t do it! You’ve been set free in Jesus to have a relationship with Him, not be a slave to policy.”

While praying and reading the Bible are good to do every day, if you can’t some days, you don’t have to. Your relationship with God won’t be destroyed because you’re too tired or distracted. And life is so much healthier and happier knowing He’s there for me, and I’m there with Him and that He loves me. No conditions. Not even that one about reading my Bible everyday.

God, thank you that you don’t want a legalistic pursuit of you, but a genuine relationship. Please help me to remember that you love me, even when I can’t spend time with you every single day. Thank you for being such a kind, loving, compassionate friend and lover.

Hitting That 52+ Countries Goal in 2020

Photo by langll on Pixabay

This year, I am the same age that Jerrie Mock (my grandmother and the first woman to fly around the world) was when she made her record-taking flight around the world. In fact, I’m exactly 18 days older than she was. So this year seemed like the perfect time to accomplish one of the two dreams she had for me.

Jerrie’s Dreams for Me

There are three dreams that Grandma had for me. The first was that I would pursue my own dreams instead of the dreams others had for me – i.e. that I would be my own person and follow my heart and passions in life, no matter what society might tell me I should long for and be.

I’ve been achieving this dream for years. Many people don’t understand me because of it. They don’t get the decisions I’ve made, financial choices I’ve gone with, etc., but that’s okay. Folks like me are rarely understood by anyone. I’m grateful that my mother, best friend, and my amazing husband all get me, at least.

The second dream Jerrie had for me was that I would be an opera singer. She loved opera and music and knew I shared that passion for music. When I was eight-years-old, she heard me singing along with the opera on the classical station and popped into my room. “You’re going to be an opera singer,” she said, and then vanished.

I am a singer, and have always been one, and am actually classically trained. I can sing opera, though I choose not to. But, hey, at least I can. And I have been in some operas, operettas, and done some operatic productions in other settings as well.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on

The third dream she had for me was to make it to more countries than she managed in her lifetime. She made it to 51 countries and six continents, so that means I’m going for 52+ and six continents – maybe seven, if I can figure out how to swing Antarctica. I already have between 34 and 37 (depending on how I ultimately choose to “count” them), and this year, I’m going for the rest.

So now my task is to plan all of that for this year.

Choosing the Destinations

Havana, Cuba – photo by Falkenpost on Pixabay

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been to over 30 countries already. And though I do have that goal of getting 20ish more this year, I don’t want to simply travel places because they would “count” towards this goal.

Instead, I want to make sure that every place I visit holds some kind of meaning for me. Some countries may be places where I can visit friends and missionaries I know. Others may have a personal tie because of my own fascinations and interests. Some will include places that meant something to Grandma or someone else I care deeply for.

For example, Cuba was a place that my dad loved dearly, though he never visited. He once attempted to fight in the Cuban Underground to overthrow Castro. (That’s a story for another time!) He was never able to go to Cuba. But I may be able to. I want to help people. I want to visit this country. With the new travel rules, etc., there may be a way for me to go. I’m investigating that.

Choosing the Time to Travel

Holland in spring, photo by djedj on Pixabay

There are several factors in choosing the time for travel. A lot of it is based on the location, of course, which is closely related to the climate and time of year.

I grew up in Florida, so hot, muggy weather isn’t much of an issue for me. I definitely want to pick as cool a time to travel to humid climates as possible – after all, dehydration is a thing for hikers – but I’m not limiting myself if I can’t go during ideal weather.

For me, I have two main factors that will determine when I’ll travel for a couple of weeks or months in a single go.

First, I’ve got responsibilities and family that I have to consider. I’m in seminary now and have assignments due throughout the year, so I have to consider due dates and be situated in locations where I can study throughout the week and turn in assignments on time.

My family has specific dates that matter for us being together. Anniversaries, for example, and birthdays, special holidays, and some special events are incredibly important for us. Traveling on these dates (unless my hubby can travel with me) just don’t work.

Creating a Budget

Photo by stevepb on Pixabay

Traveling can have a hefty price-tag, especially this much traveling, even on a budget-traveler’s plan. So, that means I’ve got to budget every aspect of the trip(s) I’m taking and keep close accounting of everything to avoid going over what’s reasonable for my family’s income.

I’ll go into a step-by-step plan for this later on, but planning the right budget that’s doable for my family is critical for every stage of my travel. I’ll be working on lodging at super low costs, airfare at low rates, finding buses, trains, and other cheap means of travel that will still allow me to travel as responsibly as possible.

Choosing My Travel Buddies

Best friends in Scotland, 2007

Some of this travel is directly related to work or impacts my writing career in some ways, so there are some places I cannot have travel companions along for the ride. But for much of my travels, I would like some company.

But in order to do this travel well – to hike places I want to hike, explore cities I want to explore, etc., I have to choose my travel companions well. I’ve written an article on this in detail, but wanted to mention that this is a huge consideration for me.

I have invited 10 different people to travel with me. And as we discuss dates, interests, health needs, etc., I’m carefully crafting my travel plans with them around these things to ensure they’ll enjoy the travel and I will be able to do what I need to for work, pleasure, etc.

True Budget Travel Essential: The Lavender Eye Pillow

I love good travel gear. I love good inexpensive travel gear even better. Best of all, I love good inexpensive travel gear that makes life better overall.

And that’s why I’m mentioning the lavender eye pillow that I purchased for my husband for Christmas. I randomly found it tossed into the Christmas section at Target, where someone had obviously changed her mind about purchasing it and dumped it there. Thank you, stranger! I would never have found this item or thought to purchase it for Matt otherwise.

On Christmas morning, my husband, Matt, opened the wrapped gift and looked a little surprised, but nodded pleasantly, wrapped the eye pillow in a zipper-sealed bag and tossed it into the freezer.

That night, he had a headache, so he tried out the eye pillow. It brought significant relief, so we’ve both been using it ever since for headaches, sleeplessness, and sinus issues. It gives gentle relief for all of the above.

Image By greencurrymonster – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

What to Look for in an Eye Pillow

Eye pillows are similar to but not the same as sleep masks. Sleep masks use straps to adhere them to your head and can cause strain or pressure. If you’ve already got a headache or sinus issues, that stress isn’t very helpful. Which is why I’m recommending eye pillows to you instead.

Look for these qualities to find what’s going to work best for better sleep and pain relief.

1. Silky Fabric

I’ve had eye pillows and sleep masks in the past. They were always made of cotton or cotton blend fabrics. They were okay, but silky fabrics add a whole new level of comfort and soothing.

Image by ctvgs

The slick, cooling aspect of the silky fabric holds the cool of the frozen pillow better while resting on your 98.6-degree face. It also just helps soothe because of the sensation of the smooth texture.

2. Lavender or Eucalyptus/Mint Filling

There are options for eucalyptus, spearmint, peppermint, and other fillings. While any of these might work, there’s something about lavender that helps our bodies relax, while things like mint and eucalyptus awaken our senses.

Image by Jill Wellington

If you need to soothe for sleep, go lavender.

If you need to clear sinuses, go eucalyptus/mint.

The Best Eye Pillows I’ve Come Across

I’ve looked all over the web for the same exact eye pillow I purchased for Matt. I haven’t found it. But I have found some options that rival it in quality, though they’re a bit more expensive. The one I found at Target was only $5 though, so even something twice the price is a good purchase.

Best Lavender Eye Pillow

The Blissful Being lavender eye pillow is my top pick for the options I could find online. It’s got the silky-smooth fabric, high-quality lavender fill, and comes at a reasonable price. You can microwave it or freeze it – just remember to put into a zipper-seal bag to preserve the lavender scent and avoid it absorbing other scents.

It even comes in a few colors, which is nice for those who care about that.

Product image on Amazon

Best Eucalyptus/Mint Eye Pillow

The DreamTime Spa Comforts eye pillow is my pick for the best eucalyptus/mint eye pillow. It uses flax seeds for mild acupressure – which can come in handy a lot of times – and uses eucalyptus as well as peppermint and spearmint for maximum cooling and soothing.

This eye pillow also has that silky-smooth fabric and can be either microwaved or frozen for the best soothe possible. It also has some lavender oil infused in for added benefits.

Product Image from Amazon

How to Get to Machu Picchu for $1500

If you’ve ever dreamed of doing Machu Picchu, but you’re on a super tight budget that doesn’t exactly allow you to hit up five-star hotels and dine in elegant restaurants, you may think it’s out of reach. I’m here to tell you that it’s not. In fact, I’m here to tell you that you can get to Machu Picchu for well under $2000 if you simply plan properly and give yourself enough time to get there.

This kind of trip requires dedication, a bit of physical training, and advanced budgeting, but if you’re determined to get there on your minimum wage income, it can still be done.

Machu Picchu, the ancient wonder

What to Do to Get There

There are several things you’re going to have to think through, plan, purchase, and decide ahead of time. Things like flights, lodging, and food are obvious places to start, since they’re the big-ticket items, but there are other things to consider if you want to make it as inexpensive as possible.

1. Find the Cheapest Flights

The most expensive chunk of any travel overseas is going to be your flights. Everybody wants to go First Class, but who can afford that? Instead, shop around for budget deals on coach flights that may come from unconventional companies.

The Big Flight

You can purchase your main leg from the United States to Lima on a variety of airlines that will charge anything from a reasonably low rate to “that’s my rent for six months” kinds of fees. Obviously, you’re looking for budget-friendly flights that will only sting a little, instead of drive you into the poor-house.

Flight over the Andes Mountains, from Lima to Cusco

For such flights, I tend to start with consolidation sites like Priceline, Vayama, and Expedia, just to get an idea of the kinds of prices you might find at the high end of things. From there, I head to the budget airlines I know of that fly to the area where I’m headed.

For example, most places in Central and South America are serviced by Spirit Airlines. This airline has a well-deserved reputation for nickel and diming folks, but it’s still a legitimate way to fly overseas for less money than most, if not all, of the other guys. As you calculate costs, remember to include things like baggage fees, taxes, and any extras like those from companies that charge seat selection fees (if it’s important for you to have that window seat).

Google “cheap flights to Lima” in the search bar and see what prices they offer up. And, look for “cheap airlines to Peru.”

You can grab your cellphone and call up airlines that fly to a destination like Lima and tell them the price you’ve found and ask if they can beat it. Sometimes they can, which means you can get a better flight than Spirit or Aeromexico have listed. Sometimes they can’t, and that means you settle for the Spirit flight that charges you extra for your carry-on.

When I Made the Flight in 2017

Heading down to Lima from Chicago, I flew with Spirit Airlines that had a layover in Miami. The flight was around $800 round-trip, which is pretty darn good for a round-trip flight from North America. I signed up for the $9 Fare Club, and saved on my luggage, which is how I kept it under $800.

I was booking for very specific dates (as I was meeting up with a missions team a week later) and didn’t have six months to plan my leg of the trip. If you plan ahead a bit more and keep an eye on sales, you may well find something cheaper. I’ve seen flights as low as $400 round-trip to Lima.

The Little Legs

Next, you’re going to need to find the right flight from Lima to Cusco, the closest reasonably priced airport to Machu Picchu. For these, you’ll want to check out local airlines instead of American or European airlines.

The smaller, local airlines tend to have lower prices since they’re catering to locals and trying to compete with the big companies. These planes tend to be just as comfortable as the big company planes, and often offer more amenities.

When I Made the Flight in 2017

I used Vayama to find the best deals on some of these flights, as well as looking for “Peru airlines for domestic flights” on Google. These resulted in flights to Cusco from Lima for about $80 one-way. I flew with Peruvian Air (unfortunately out of service temporarily due to embargoes) and Star Peru.

The plane just after landing in Pucallpa, Peru, where the team I was serving with would be working

Total, it was about $1000 for my all my flights.

The Best Deals on Flights

Generally speaking, you’ll find better deals on flights if you book reasonably far in advance. If you know you’re going to Peru in July – which, by the way, is the peak of travel to Peru, and therefore more expensive – you’ll want to start looking for tickets in January. Many sources say the ideal time to book the Tuesday that’s approximately 60 days before the flight.

Many companies run deals both six months out from a flight as well as closer to the flight dates, if they haven’t booked up the flights as much as they expected. There are also Black Friday deals, and various other holiday deals that may save you hundreds of dollars. You can also keep up-to-date with the travel app Hopper and the website Scott’s Cheap Flights. They both notify you of new airline deals and changes in prices for potential flights.

2. Be Willing to Make Some Sacrifices on Comfort

One of the main things you’ll have to be willing to do to save major money on your international travel is sacrificing some of the luxuries of resorts and big-name hotels like many folks focus on for their vacations. This tip is a huge part of how I’ve managed to travel to 30+ countries on very low income in the past decade plus.

Finding Cheap Lodging

The first key to saving money once you’re on the ground in Peru, or any country for that matter, is finding inexpensive lodging. Generally, that’s going to mean youth hostels and motels. There are certain criteria I always look for in these apart from the “not-disgusting” factor.

To find out if a hostel or motel fits my needs, I read the listed amenities, but I also read through as many of the reviews left by travelers as possible. They’ll tell you how clean the place is, if they had issues with bed bugs, if the WiFi works, and other various information that can be critical to the comfort and usability of a location.

The view from my hostel dorm room window in Aguas Calientes near Machu Picchu

I always look for these things when choosing my hostel:

· Access to airport shuttles/cabs

· Access to public transit

· Linens included or for rent – Unless I’m traveling with my own towels and sleep gear

· Luggage storage – Free is best, but I’ll go up to $5 a day

· Free WiFi – This is not a thing everywhere, so it’s seriously important if you need to keep in touch as you travel

· Acceptable payment types – I tend to only use VISA, MasterCard and cash

· Kitchen and grocery store access – The absolute best way to save on food, is, of course, a shared kitchen and nearby grocery store

I have found that both Hostelworld and Hostelbookers have great success rates for good youth hostels and inexpensive hotels/motels. Through these sites, I found a hostel in Aguas Calientes for under $15 a night, a hostel in Lima for $10 a night, and a Cusco hostel for under $10 per night. Total, I spent only $64 for my lodging the entire trip.

View from the square while wandering the streets of Aguas Calientes the night I arrived.

Saving on Food

As mentioned above, the easiest way to save on food costs is cooking for yourself. If you’re not a cook, you can still mostly do this and save loads on food costs.

Hit up the local grocery and find ingredients for things like sandwiches – this is tough as a gluten-free traveler, I’ll attest, but you can find some alternatives like corn tortillas – and salads and things to eat on the go.

While traveling, I rarely eat out. I will, however, indulge in a cup of the local brew. In this case, on the bus route to Hydroelectric, I tried some of the Coca Tea.

Be sure to wash all produce thoroughly, and avoid buying street food, especially if you have a weaker constitution – i.e. have IBS or other GI tract issues – and that includes produce from the streets.

You can easily find the ingredients for local foods and make them at the hostel with a quick recipe search on Bing. You won’t have to miss out on local cuisine this way. Budget ahead of time for a certain number of meals that you’ll eat out, though, so you get some of experience as well, if food is a part of the adventure for you.

3. Save on Transit Through a Variety of Options

On the ground, transit is one of the other major expenses while traveling. You can easily dodge some of these bigger costs by getting creative, walking a ton, or finding the discount methods for transport.

Take a Bus, Instead of the Train, to Machu Picchu

One of the major savings for getting to Machu Picchu is taking a small bus from Cusco to Hydro-Electric and hiking up to Aguas Calientes – the town closest to Machu Picchu – where you can stay overnight and hit the mountains the next day.

You can get this bus ticket for very little money – mine was about $30 round trip – and you can either purchase online or wait until you get to Cusco and find one of the many spots there that offer these “tours.”

Stopping for a photo break on the way to Hydroelectric
A stop along the bus ride to Hydroelectric. The glaciers on the Andes…a priceless sight we got to stop and snap photos of. So, bonus, save money AND get some awesome snapshots.

Stopping for a photo break on the way to Hydroelectric

Get in Your Exercise and Save Big Time

The cheapest way to get to Machu Picchu is by hiking your way there from a drop-off point a couple of hours away. The hiking is mostly flat, after the initial climb from “Hydroelectric” a well-known spot nearby. There’s a mild incline much of the way, but you really don’t notice it too much, even with a heavy backpack loading you down.

You’ll want to do some training ahead of time for this hike, both up to Aguas Calientes and up to Machu Picchu itself. You’ll need to be able to walk for a couple of hours, carrying at least a minimum of supplies like food, water, a change or two of clothing, and your camera. You’ll also need to be able to climb stairs if you’re going to hike up to Machu Picchu itself – and save transit costs that way.

Out on the trail to Aguas Calientes from Hydroelectric. Not just a free transit option, but an awesome way to see more of the country and have some unique experiences along the way.

I have bad shoulders, so for my preparations, I ran a ton – I am a runner, so I did this anyway – and did tons of pushups, especially in the weeks leading up to the hiking. I knew I needed a strong upper body to handle the weight and pressure of the backpack on my shoulders.

If you have any messed-up joints or health issues, first be sure to check with your doctor about any training you plan to do, as well as talking through the hikes you’ll be taking. Then, find the exercises that will work the joints and muscles that are your weakest. Shoot to do these for at least three months leading up to your adventure to make sure you get the results you’re looking for.

Hiking from Hydroelectric to Aguas Calientes along the railroad tracks (as thousands do every day)
Hours of sweat. Check. Hundreds of photos. Check. Free transit. Check.

Hiking from Hydroelectric to Aguas Calientes along the railroad tracks (as thousands do every day)

Side Note for Additional Transit Savings:

I also tend to walk everywhere instead of using public transit inside city limits. This allows me to save $5-$25 a day, but it also gives me views and insights into the city/village/countryside that I don’t get when passing it by on a bus or local train.

Cabs and Shared Rides Around Cities in Peru

While Uber or Lyft is not available everywhere, before you go, check to see if it’s available in the major cities you’ll be visiting on your travels. These may or may not be cheaper than a cab, so they’re at least worth looking into, even if you don’t use them.

As to cabs, sometimes, you just have to do it. Most cabbies in places like Lima will negotiate. They want your business. Have a firm figure in mind of what you’re willing to pay, and don’t budge up unless it’s reasonable. But start lower than you’re willing to pay and go from there. If you’re like me and hate haggling, I just start with my top amount and walk away if they won’t meet it. I almost always have them come down to my figure. If not, I just walk away and find someone else who will. There are dozens of them, so you’ll be fine to find another one. Just don’t wait too long after the flight lands, as there won’t be as many around and that means the prices will be higher.

You can also try to get a group of people going to the same area to lower the price as well.

Public Transit in Lima

And, ultimately, your cheapest route is always going to be local transit versus a cab or some service like Uber. Local buses run to and from airports, around the city, and even out to some sites of interest, though not specifically to Machu Picchu, as that is a darn long way from Lima.

4. Pack Well to Save Yourself Some Additional Money

There are a variety of smaller things you can do to cut the overall costs of your trip. From things like packing food to bringing two pairs of sunglasses, you’ll save loads if you just pack properly.

For International Flights

One of the ways I save money while traveling is packing myself a lunch, snacks, and a water bottle that I can fill up at the airport.

Just be aware that once you enter a new country, most laws prohibit you from bringing food in that isn’t still manufacturer sealed. And most will not allow trail mix – nuts and fruit – any kind of produce, meat, or similar items in, even if sealed. You may be able to bring chips, granola bars, et cetera in, however, as they are thoroughly processed items.

Small Savings For Domestic Flights

Once you’re in country, many airports will allow you to travel with liquids from one airport to another, as long as it’s a domestic flight. These will also allow you to travel with food you have on your person, in your bags, et cetera, as you purchased the item in-country and it won’t be bringing foreign contaminants to their country. So, before you go from Lima to Cusco, be sure to load up on those snacks and drinks before hitting the airport and save yourself a bundle.

Saving On the Bus to Hydroelectric

You’ll probably stop one or two places along the way to Hydroelectric. There’s also a small restaurant there at the base. But the prices at both locations will be higher than purchasing snacks for the ride and hike ahead of time from a local supermarket. Instead, grab some hot tea at the stop, or a cup of coffee, and maybe grab a bag of nuts or something. Avoid the produce, generally speaking, however, as you won’t be able to properly wash it yourself.

Bring Small Change Everywhere

Most places where you stop along the way, whether on the bus or while hiking to Aguas Calientes, you will find that you need to pay to use the facilities. Be sure to have some Peruvian Sols on hand to avoid losing money because someone doesn’t have change or refuses to give change.

You’ll also find people all along the way selling wares – be it souvenirs or snacks and water – and you may want to buy something then, too. Most of them won’t be able to offer change for larger bills.

Pack a Few Duplicates

I have the tendency to lose my sunglasses. Because of this, I pack extra pairs of them. I’m good about shoes, socks, and other clothing, chapstick, and sunblock, but for some reason, sunglasses evade me. Whatever you tend to lose most often at home, grab a duplicate and bring it along. But be selective. You don’t want to bring duplicates of a bunch of things – just the one or two that will be a hassle to replace while in Peru.

5. Your Other Preparations

One of the main things I recommend doing before heading down to Peru is purchasing your entry fee to Machu Picchu ahead of time. This will save you some money, as well as guarantee you have passage to the places you want to go before flying down there. Entry to Machu Picchu is limited to 2500 per day. Generally speaking, this isn’t an issue. But during peak months, you may find you can’t get in if you wait until the day of to purchase your tickets.

As soon as you have your basic dates for the trip in mind, go to the website and make your purchase, especially if you want to climb any of the other mountains around Machu Picchu.

And be sure to be on time, with your tickets in hand. You’ll have to employ a tour guide on site, and you’ll have to present your tickets, or you won’t get let in. These tickets need to be printed out.

If you arrive late to your mountain climb, you won’t be allowed up to the peak, so timeliness is key if you plan to hike more than Machu Picchu itself.

My Total Costs for Going to Machu Picchu

My total cost for my trip to Machu Picchu, for 6 nights and 7 days, was $1000 for flights, including all fees, $150 for food, including eating out about 5 times, $64 for lodging, $30 for transit to Hydro-Electric, $40 for cabs, $100 for souvenirs and gifts, $68 for my hiking/entry fee for Machu Picchu, and $30 for hiring my Machu Picchu guide. There were some random incidentals, which cost approximately $50 as well.

My total for everything was: $1532.

Machu Picchu at last! (And yes, those are Vibram Five-Finger hiking shoes)

Adventure or Vacation: You Choose

Having an adventure honestly isn’t for everyone. Some folks need a vacation more than they need or want an inexpensive adventure across the globe. If you’re on a tight budget, and want both, you can definitely have both, you’ll just have to choose which things are most important in your travels.

Find great deals on your flight, and you might be able to afford a hostel that’s closer to the city center. Or, if you don’t care that much about hostel location, you can take transit instead of hiking up Machu Picchu and save some energy for hanging out with new friends you make that night.

Whatever you choose, you can do this within your budget. Just plan ahead, decide which luxuries you’re willing to sacrifice, and purchase your flights and book your lodging ahead of time to save some dough.

Digestive Enzymes for…Kitty?

We here in the Pike household are cat people. So we’re always on the look out for products and services that help our kitty and the cats of others.

And you see, our cat is adorable. She’s gray and fluffy and only weighs about six pounds, despite being fully grown. But this tiny ball of fluff has one of the most horrendous natural odors on the planet.

When I say horrendous, I mean blinding, soul-eating kind of horrendous. I wear a bandana over my nose and mouth when I change her litter box. And then I go cry somewhere for a while over the trauma of the biological warfare our cat has waged against us.

That is, until I found NaturVet Digestive Enzymes for cats.

Image by katka foldvaryova

We were desperate to find a solution. She was crabby, the house smelled like a moose had been slaughtered within, and we had no idea what to do.

Visiting a Pet Supplies Plus near home, I saw the Enzymes sitting there, basking in its aura of life-saving hope, and I remembered products that my dad used to deal in way back when I was a kid: Digestive Enzymes. They were considered a kind of miracle for people in a certain part of Africa where the government was buying them and giving them to locals to help with a health epidemic of some kind.

“This has got to be it.” I grabbed the carton, dashed to the register, and rejoiced the whole five-minute drive home.

I brought home the Enzymes and fed them to our cat twice daily for a week. Miraculously, the blinding odor of decay faded, and our cat was more energetic and playful than ever. And so were we.

Now our kitty enjoys these wheat-free supplements intermittently, and we love the lack of lingering death hovering around the home.

The Review of NaturVet Digestive Enzymes for Cats

Texture, Flavor, and Smell – 4.6 out of 5 stars

Stardust loves the small of the enzymes. She loves the flavor of them and gobbles them down, as much as she’s able to. However, she can’t handle the texture of them. For some odd reason, she’s not so great with soft chews and has to have them broken up for her. That’s just a Stardust thing, though.

Effectiveness: 5 out of 5 stars

Within the prescribed 2 weeks of use, these are effective enough to reduce the digestive issues of this small kitty effectively. Evidence of this is clear: less smelly everything (breath, stool, urine), fewer hairballs, and generally a happier demeanor.

Overall Rating: 4.8 out of 5 stars

You Know You’re a Writer When…

Here’s just a little fun, revamped and “restored” from my old writing blog that has been painfully neglected in recent years.

You know you’re a writer when…

…every other email in your inbox has the subject heading, “idea for book.”  And nothing is capitalized or punctuated because you didn’t have time for such frivolities before the traffic light turned green again.

Photo by Roman Pohorecki on

…it suddenly occurs to you that nobody has actually ever heard of the greatest band on the planet, because your book hasn’t hit the presses yet.

…You dream in blue ink, but your nightmares are full of red.

Photo by Ree on

…the idea of seeing your book in print is more exciting to you than the idea of marrying the perfect man. (Of course, I’m lucky. I got both!)

…your best friend dreads Facebook conversations with you because she’s certain you’re going to ask her for more commentary on “the book.”

…you have conversations with imaginary people to work on your dialogue writing skills, since your husband is passed out at four in the morning and can’t help you.

Photo by Bruno Thethe on

…and then you discover that those same imaginary people talk back.  And they’re way more intelligent than you are.

The Healthy Life: Learning What’s Truly Healthy for You

A healthy lifestyle on the surface looks the same for everyone: proper nutrition, exercise, healthy weight maintenance, and emotional and mental support. But when you cut beneath the surface, we all have slightly different needs. And sometimes, it’s difficult to find those differences and what specifically works for you.

With all the advertisements out there trying to convince you that their gym, their personal trainers, their supplements, or their diet programs are the only way you’ll lose weight and get healthy, it can get confusing and messy. So instead of getting overwhelmed, try a few simple things to help you find the truly healthy lifestyle you’ve been looking for.

Photo by theformfitness on

Be Patient with Yourself

Your journey to the ultimate healthy lifestyle for your body will take some time. Be patient with yourself as you look for all the elements that come together to bring healing, mental wellness, and physical health to your body.

Ignore the Advertisements and Look for Authority

There are millions of products out there that are advertised as “miracles” for healthy living. Skip clicking on links that use language like, “lose 24-pounds in two weeks!” or that use the word “diet.” Instead, look for reliable, nutritionally balanced, realistic, and medically sound options.

Check into legitimate programs and supplements that don’t have celebrity endorsements or hyped up miraculous promises, and are backed by qualified physicians and trainers who didn’t go into the weight-loss business to earn the big bucks.

Take Small Steps Instead of Giant Leaps

Taking giant leaps into goals of weight loss, better diets, or guzzling a gallon of water daily will most likely cause frustration, and possibly cause harm. You’ll also get discouraged because you won’t be able to keep up with your monumental plans. Instead, make one or two small changes on a semi-regular basis.

If, for example, you’re trying to improve your eating habits, try switching out your bag of chips at lunch for a pack of baby carrots or an apple. And then for dinner, switch out your routine of watching television with dessert to sipping a cup of herbal or green tea while relaxing with a good show.

After a few weeks of success, switch out another one or two small things, and repeat until you’ve replaced your bad habits with good ones.

Listen to Your Body

There are small things that vary from person to person, which can affect how healthy and happy your life is. Some people, for example, are simply better off not eating any kind of meat, while others just can’t be happy without it. If you’re struggling constantly to fight your craving for meat, you’re going to have stress over food. Stress over food may cause obsession over food. And obsession over anything causes unhealthy living.

Whatever you most love eating should be allowed in your diet sometimes, even if not all the time. Be kind to yourself, and those around you, by giving yourself permission to figure out what foods are healthy for you to include in your diet on occasion.

Keep an Eye on Everything

While it’s important to avoid obsessing over your health, keeping track of everything in your life can help you gradually improve your lifestyle. Keep a journal that allows you to make notes about things like how you feel on days you don’t drink enough water, how sluggish or energized you are with or without caffeine, or how certain foods affect you.

Listen to what your body tells you about new food options you’ve tried, a little extra walking you did, and how your interactions with your spouse affect your mental or physical wellness. Jot down your genuine observations, even if only using a sentence per category.

After a couple of months, look through your journal at all entries of the same kind. Are there significant differences in how you’ve felt after eating sugar, after drinking coffee after four p.m., or after arguments with your kids? How often did negative events happen? What positive things boosted your morale, weight-loss, or productivity?

From this gathered information, assess what you might do to change bad habits, even if slowly, to improve your mental, emotional, and physical health.

Your Healthy Living Won’t Look Like Your Sister’s

Every person is different. Every human body is different. And that means everyone’s pursuit of healthy living will look just a little bit different from everybody else. Remember to be patient with yourself, be kind to yourself, and give yourself some time as you learn exactly what your healthy lifestyle should look like.

The Most Haunted Places of Chicago: Tour Guide Style

Welcome to the wild and woolly Windy City, where the town takes a nickname for all the blustering windbags and conveniently happens to have that lake effect wind.

We’ll be taking a brief tour through some of the creepiest, weirdest, and most haunted places of the city, as we pull that pea coat closer and huddle as we walk.

First off, let’s pause at the Chicago River and get a bit colder as we talk through three events and locations.

The Eastland Disaster

The Western Electric Company was doing a good thing: a giant family picnic for the whole of the company. Unfortunately, they weren’t so great at selecting a company for their excursion to Michigan City, Indiana however, because the Eastland was hired.

This boat was already notorious for not being in the best of shape, but the crew upped the ante by removing the ballast so that they could cram in even more passengers on that fateful morning of July 24, 1915.

The ship began to list within a couple of minutes of loading. And by the time they were between the LaSalle and Clark Street bridges – less than 10 minutes after departure – disaster was upon them.

Nearly 850 people, including 21 entire families, perished that day.

So, of course, the river banks and many of the temporary morgues are haunted. The home of Harpo Studios, for example, has had tons of reports of creepy happenings. Old -imey music playing in hallways, children screaming, hundreds of footsteps marching the empty halls. Just an average day there.

Marina City

Next, let’s look at these corncob looking buildings side-by-side at the river. The idea behind these buildings was to create a city within the two buildings, to appeal to and keep folks from moving out to the suburbs. They’ve got stores, restaurants, groceries, and more in these two buildings, to keep everything self-contained.

But when construction on these buildings began in 1961, a ton of weird and terrifying things started happening.

  • 1961 – Three workers were killed when scaffold plummeted 43 stories
  • 1961 – Seven men were injured when a workers’ elevator dropped suddenly
  • 1962 – William Jones, working on the 40th floor had a dizzy spell and plunged to State Street Bridge
  • 1966 – The body of Roy Holland was found in his apartment after 3 weeks and 3 suicide notes
  • 1967 – June Fleck leaped from her fiancé’s 50th-floor apartment shortly before the wedding
  • 1969 – A retired government worker shot his 88-year-old mother and then himself
  • 1972 – Gloria Kirkpatrick – manager at the Marina City Theater – was stabbed to death outside the building
  • 1973 – Sandra Easton leaped to her death from the 52nd floor and crashed through the canvas on the now Smith & Wollensky restaurant
  • 1976 – Kenneth Parvin fell from the 57th floor and landed between the two towers

And the craziest part? Every single one of these incidents is associated with the East Tower, and not the West.

So, what’s our lesson here, folks? If you move to Marina City, go West!

The Chicago House of Blues

Our third point of interest is just next door at the Chicago House of Blues, formerly the home of the Marina City Theater. There’s a tale here of a little girl who haunts the joint. It’s said that she “died of an illness,” but we don’t know anything else about her.

Once, it was reported that a little boy was present, playing with his toys. When he wouldn’t share with a little girl, she screamed and cried, and vanished into thin air.

The Old Cook County Courthouse

Next, let’s move on to some chilling places nearby on Dearborn Street where some horrifying figures have been haunting the place. First up, the Old Cook County Courthouse.

The alley behind the building is a great place to take in the full ghouls of the night. It used to be the site of the gallows where some notorious figures in Chicago history were removed from society.

Some of these nasty folks include four members of the Haymarket Bomb throng who chucked a bomb into the police ranks at the famous labor rally.

Some other folks who’ve been on trial here include mobsters like Frank Nitti, Al Capone’s “Enforcer,” the crooked White Sox players who fixed the 1919 World Series, and the infamous Leopold and Loeb who committed the “Crime of the Century” when they kidnapped and killed 15-year-old Bobby Franks because they thought they were too smart to get caught.

And if you love musicals, you’ll love knowing that the trials of Belva Gaertner and Beulah Annan who inspired the lead roles in the musical Chicago were put on trial here, too.

The Haunted Chicago Fire Department

Right next door here, you see this firehouse. Well, that used to be the location of the jail that was attached to the courthouse. Something like 100 convicts were hanged here in this alley, and tons of unsavory things happened inside the jail walls.

It’s no wonder numerous firefighters report unsettling happenings and an unwillingness to stay overnight on shift in the firehouse.

The Castle

Our final stop along this brief tour of the most haunted places in Chicago is currently called Tao, but formerly has been known as Excalibur, the Castle – not to be confused with the H.H. Holmes Murder Castle, the Limelight, and formerly the Chicago Historical Society.

By Goldnpuppy – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

There are three main theories on who’s haunting the place.

1. Eastland Disaster Victims

The folks placed here when it was a temporary morgue seem to be haunting the Dome Room where they take liberties with flying rags, breaking glasses, and eerily speaking the names of employees when no one else is around.

2. The Lady in Red

One of the three women seen fleeing the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 ran into the then wooden structure on the site. She’s seen regularly going about the building in her bright red Victorian gown.

3. The Man in Gray

Before all of this, probably not long after the Fort Dearborn days, there was a land dispute over the spot. One man claimed to own the land while a squatter refused to leave, saying he had the right to live there.

The “landowner” however wasn’t keen on squatter’s rights, so he sent a hitman to take him out. The squatter’s body was left to rot on the land, and so it seems kind of likely he’d have a reason to haunt the place.

Thanks for Coming Folks

I appreciate you joining me for this windy walk through some of the most haunted spots in Chicago. Be sure to keep your ears open by the River where you might hear some old-timey music playing, or by the Holy Name Cathedral where two mobsters supposedly haunt after being murdered nearby. You might see the weird floating orbs of light and have your own haunted tale to tell.