Category Archives: Ways to Save Money

Money Hacks in a Time of Social Distancing

Alright, guys.

The other day I promised I’d share my answers as I found them. That’s what I’m doing today.

If you’re struggling with money right now, as so many are, here are some new, relevant ideas on where you can get more money to get through this as best you can.

Emergency Bills and Social Media

Before we get started, note that there has been stuff moving through Congress that could help you right now. As of this writing, the stuff that has actually passed is a patchwork that leaves a lot of people out. But there is still more in the pipes. Stay up-to-date with this iHeartBudgets resource.

You can also look to social media. Individuals and companies are giving away money in their @s.

This is inspiring to see, and is helping a lot of people. It’s happened to my own family members, and for that I don’t know if I can express the well of gratitude that’s now permanently lodged in my heart. It’s gone a long way to restore my wavering faith in humanity.

It is not a replacement for the safety nets our society so desperately needs, though, and I’m not going to tell you to hang out on social media all day hoping someone will mention free cash.

But while you’re scrolling through your feed anyways, keeping an eye out doesn’t hurt. <3

File Your Taxes from Years Past

If you are low-income and have not filed income taxes for the past few years, one of the best ways to come up with a big chunk of cash is going to be to file your tax returns from the past three years — if you haven’t already.

Here’s the thing: I know so many people who don’t file because they know the amount taken out of their paycheck covers them.

They’re not going to owe money. And while they might want a refund, the anxiety of taking their finances to some stranger at H&R Block who is also their Kmart cashier — aging myself, I know — is just not worth the amount they think they will get back.

But here’s the other thing: When you’re low- to lower-middle-income, there are so many tax credits that can put money back in your pocket. We’re talking about thousands of dollars in some cases on a single credit.

And another thing: You have three years to file your return.

Depending on what you qualify for, you could potentially file a return that would provide you with months’ worth of income to cover basic expenses. And if you haven’t filed for multiple years, you could potentially multiply that over the course of several more months.

There’s also a potential you would get nothing back, depending on your life and employment circumstances over the past three years. I also don’t know how long it would currently take the IRS to deliver your refund.

But it’s one of the biggest potential wins I can think of. If you haven’t filed because you know you didn’t owe, file now because our government likely owes you.

Report Your Lack of Commute to Your Auto Insurer

Sometimes one of the best ways to free up some room in your budget is to cut your expenses. I’ve been keeping an eye out for new ways to do this in 2020 over the past few weeks, and came across a really good idea I hadn’t considered, likely because my own commute hasn’t changed aside from a few cancelled in-person networking events:

When you have to live close to the margin, you know that $21 can be the difference between making a bill or not. And what I loved about this tip was that not only will she save $21 this month, but she’ll be freeing up $21 more in April, May and every month until she returns to her regular commute.

It’s a small amount. But those small amounts add up.

UPDATE: My commute changed enough over time that I did this myself and saved $17/month!

That’s in addition to the blanket discount my insurer is issuing to all its customers. This discount is being applied because with less accidents on the road, there’s less claims for the insurer to pay out.

Make sure to call your insurer and ask about both types of discounts — lowering you mileage and any changes to their actuarial tables/claims payouts during this time!

Earn Free Gift Cards

There are always platforms like Swagbucks that help you earn points for free gift cards. You can then use these gift cards to shop at stores like Walmart where you’re probably already spending money.

The time-to-money ratio is no replacement for even a part-time job. But if you find yourself mindlessly playing cell phone games and scrolling through video feeds anyways, Swagbucks rewards you for it.

Call Your Lenders

Things are real right now. If you’re worried about priorities like keeping food on the table and a roof over your head, debt payments may have to be put on hold. Reluctantly. Out of pure necessity.

That does not make you an irresponsible person.

I’ve actually seen a lot of banks actively recognizing this. Some are even taking initiative and reaching out to some of their most vulnerable debtors to make sure this doesn’t send them into a tailspin from which they can’t recover.

I’m not here to tell you all the banks are suddenly looking out for your best interests with a pure heart, though. Many of them will make more money off of you over the long-term with these new arrangements.

But also you need to buy groceries today, and might not have income from a job anymore. Paying more over a longer period of time may be the only option.

If you find yourself in this situation, call up your lenders. See if you can restructure your debt or defer payments, and ask about the following before making any commitments to a new arrangement:

  • Will this extend my loan term? This might not necessarily be a deal breaker given everything you’re dealing with right now, but it’s still a good piece of information to know.
  • Will extra interest continue to accumulate, even if you’re telling me I don’t have to make my payment this month? At what rate?
  • Will this create a balloon payment at the end of my loan? How do I avoid that at all costs?
  • If you have a secured loan, like an auto loan, at what point do you have to worry about repossession? You’re obviously going to do everything you can to avoid getting to that point, but even the banks are acknowledging right now that this is not your fault. Ask all the questions so you can learn all your options and make the most informed decisions possible.

Take Advantage of Special Enrollment Periods

If you’ve lost your job and live in a Medicaid expansion state, losing your job qualifies you for a Special Enrollment Period. You can apply for Medicaid, regardless of the time of year.

Medicaid is free in most states, though premiums may be prorated or require copays in others.

This is much more beneficial than a COBRA plan that may or may not cover everything you need. COBRA can also cost you a ton out-of-pocket while you’re dealing with a serious cash flow situation.

If you live in a Medicaid expansion state, you can apply for Medicaid at Healthcare.gov.

During this time when domestic violence is more than likely to be on the rise, it’s also important for victims to know that leaving an abusive situation qualifies you for a Special Enrollment Period, as well. That does not remove the need to be extremely careful as you do so, and to create a 1:1 safety plan with an expert in the field before attempting to make any departure.

If you’re struggling with mental health during this time, maintaining or obtaining benefits will be important, too. Turn to sources like www.betterhelp.com for professional help, even while we’re still at home.

Have more tips on making or saving money during the pandemic?

If you have any new savings tips for this brave new world we’re living in, I’d love to hear them! Leave them in the comments, @ me on social media or shoot me an email. I’ll continue sharing what’s working for readers throughout the pandemic!

How to Stay in Top 2020 Destinations for Free

If you want to head some of the top 2020 travel destinations, but don’t have the money to shell out for hotels, I’ve got good news.

You might be able to score FREE accommodations while you were in town.

Stay in Top 2020 Destinations for Free

It’s true! You can travel to many of this year’s most popular destinations without paying for an expensive hotel.

The catch is there’s labor involved.

The beautiful thing is that the labor involves cuddling adorable animals.

TrustedHousesitters

If you’re a pet lover, traveling just got a whole lot cheaper for you.

That’s because if you’re willing to pet sit while you’re in town, you can use sites like TrustedHousesitters to score free accommodations.

Your host will be out of town while you’re in town, so you’ll have the place to yourself — and the pets. Remember, in exchange for free digs, they’re trusting you with the love and care of their furry family members.

How do I get a pet sitting gig?

Just because a job is available on TrustedHousesitters doesn’t mean it’s there for you to claim.

It’s there for you to apply to. It’s the homeowner who ultimately designates who they let into their home.

You can up your odds, though, by making your profile more attractive. You can do this by adding quality photos to your profile, along with completing an array of verification options.

Where can I get a pet sitting gig?

Without further ado, here are the top 2020 travel destinations where you can stay for free via a TrustedHousesitters gig.

Dubai

That’s the Museum of the Future being built!
  • Country: United Arab Emirates (UAE)
  • Number of petsitting jobs available at time of writing: 16
  • Why is Dubai on the list? The World Expo, the opening of Museum of the Future, indoor skiing.
  • Know before you go: The UAE’s drinking laws are strict. Be sure to stay abreast of the most recent legal and cultural norms for the region in which you’re staying.

Find current pet sitting jobs in Dubai.

Courtenay, BC

  • Country: Canada
  • Number of petsitting jobs available at time of writing: 1
  • Why is Courtenay on the list? Ecotourism, for all its problematic trends, is on the rise. Airbnb saw a 114% increase in year-over-year bookings for Courtenay in particular. Your stay is likely to be a bit less problematic as you’re presumably lending a hand to a local.
  • Know before you go: You’re going to need to take a plane or a ferry to get to the island.

Find current pet sitting jobs in Courtenay.

Aberdeen

  • Country: Scotland
  • Number of petsitting jobs available at time of writing: 7
  • Why is Aberdeen on the list? Known for its biodiversity, including dolphin sightings on the regular! You’ll also want to visit the Medieval Crossing and soak in the city’s legendary architecture.
  • Know before you go: You don’t just drive on the left side of the road in the UK; you also want to make sure you keep to the left as a pedestrian.

Find current pet sitting jobs in Aberdeen.

Eugene, Oregon

  • Country: United States of America
  • Number of petsitting jobs available at time of writing: 6
  • Why is Eugene on the list? This city is going carbon neutral in 2020! It’s also nestled in a natural wonderland, and is a foodie paradise.
  • Know before you go: Pack a light rain jacket. You may need it on-the-go when you’re least expecting it, so make sure it’s compact and easy to carry with you.

Find current pet sitting jobs in Eugene.

Romania

  • Number of petsitting jobs available at time of writing: 1
  • Why is Romania on the list? It’s beautiful. It’s affordable for and welcoming to tourists. Dracula castles. Prince Charles has been obsessed.
  • Know before you go: The peak of Ceausescu’s madness happened before most of us millennials can remember. Steadily but slowly, Romania has been healing the wounds that era left behind. It’s a work in progress — but one people are increasingly looking towards with hope.

Find current pet sitting jobs in Romania.

Copenhagen

  • Country: Denmark
  • Number of petsitting jobs available at time of writing: 2
  • Why is Copenhagen on the list? Copenhagen has been under major infrastructure construction for the past several years, but in 2020, it will be back open for business! The Museum of Copenhagen also reopened a couple weeks ago after relocating.
  • Know before you go: Denmark is one of the happiest countries on Earth. But if you want to catch Copenhagen while the sun is shining, traveling in June is your safest bet.

Find current pet sitting jobs in Copenhagen.

Galway

  • Country: Ireland
  • Number of petsitting jobs available at time of writing: 1
  • Why is Galway on the list? Galway was named a European Capital of Culture for 2020. As a result, there are a ton of innovative and thought-provoking experiences to be had across all the arts on Ireland’s west coast this year.
  • Know before you go: If you’re into nearly any given music scene, July could be an ideal time to visit this year.

Find current pet sitting jobs in Galway.

Where would you look for a pet sitting job? Let us know in the comments!

Pittsburgh Boutique Warehouse Sale Alert!

This post is in collaboration with Nakturnal.

In the past few years, I’ve come to an appreciation of all the boutique shops that have been popping up in the hills of Pittsburgh.

Many of these shops design and create their own products, while others feature unique items made by locals alongside other trendy gifts. Wildcard and few other local shops even stocked The Feminist Financial Handbook, making it available locally even prior to being picked up by Barnes & Noble.

Pittsburgh Boutique Warehouse Sale

On March 6 & 7, 2020, a conglomeration of Pittsburgh-area boutique shops will be putting the third annual Warehouse Sale at The Village of Eastside next to Staples. There will be free parking available in the same shopping center as Trader Joe’s.

Be careful as the hours do vary from Friday to Saturday:

  • March 6, 2020. 9a-5p
  • March 7, 2020. 9a-3p

The sales are deep — each shop owner will be bringing their bargain basement finds. Check out each shop before you go!

The Picket Fence

The Picket Fence is a boutique store in Shadyside selling primarily clothing for women, kids and infants. You’ll also find housewares here, along with some jewelry options and adorable, Burgh-themed gifts.

Pavement

If you’re looking for clothing made in the USA, you’re going to have a lot of luck at Pavement in Lawrenceville. Here you’ll find women’s fashion from indie, sustainable and even local designers, and you’ll also find some bigger national brands like Three Dots and Stateside.

Emy Mack

Emy Mack is a local shoe designer with a gorgeous boutique open in Shadyside. Mack works with a team from Italy to turn the designs into finished products.

Kelly Lane Design

If you’re looking for handmade-to-order, organic, sustainable clothing for yourself or for the kiddos, Kelly Lane Design is for you. Everything happens here in Pittsburgh, and in the recent past, Kelly has added a home goods line.

Hippie & French

Medical marijuana is legal in Pennsylvania, but you need a patient ID card to purchase. You must have a diagnosed, qualifying medical condition to get that card.

You don’t need a patient ID card to purchase CBD products, though. These are legal everywhere, but are unregulated where medical marijuana is.

Hippie & French started as a CBD oil boutique in Lawrenceville, and that is still their primary product. But today you can purchase flower there, too. CBD flower — no THC.

Hippie & French also markets its products to pet owners.

Von Walter & Funk

Also located in Lawrenceville, Von Walter and Funk is boutique selling fun and unique housewares for your kitchen, bar, and living room. You’ll also find all the essential oils along with a one-of-a-kind jewelry line.

Cheeks

Cheeks is a lingerie and sleepwear shop in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood. If you shop in person, they’ve also expanded with an apparel line. You’ll be able to check out their best deals at the Warehouse Sale!

Piebird

Pies to die for! Make sure to leave some budget for these good eats. They’ll be served up at the Warehouse Sale for hungry shoppers.

A Meaningful Visit to Hiroshima on a Budget

This past Fall, I had the good fortune of being able to travel to Japan once again for my friend’s wedding.

During that trip, I also took some time to explore parts of the country I had missed the last time around. One of those places was Hiroshima.

Why visit Hiroshima?

I only allotted a day for Hiroshima. It’s small for a Japanese city; arguably smaller than my hometown of Pittsburgh.

I stayed at an Airbnb in Hiroshima, and my host was super generous, sending me a guide to strategize my short visit — both for time and money. His tips are integrated with my personal experience throughout this post. I love staying with Airbnb when I travel, and love that I can get you a $55 credit off your first booking even more.

After my visit, though, I realize I could have easily spent far more time here. I hope I’ll have the opportunity to do so again.

Peace & History

This was what drew me to Hiroshima; its history of being one of the two Atomic bomb sites in Japan. It felt like it would be an uncomfortable place to visit as an American, but an important one. Too important to skip on this trip. I was in the West anyways.

Any discomfort I felt was of my own imagination’s imposition. When the Japanese say they are now dedicated to spreading the message of Peace around the world, especially in context of nuclear weaponry, they appear to really mean it.

While the memorials I visited were somber reminders of what we as Americans — nay, humans — should never do again, it was not framed in that context. There appeared to legitimately be no grudges or malice. Only a desire to remind people of what happened, to ensure it never happened again. Anywhere.

Okonomimura

Okonomiyaki is a flour-, noodle-, egg-based dish with sauce and other toppings. I really can’t think of an Western equivalent at all. Depending on which part of Japan you visit, the Okonomiyaki will have a different flair, flavoring or ingredient.

Hiroshima, in particular, is known for its excellent Okonomiyaki. In fact, there’s an entire building dedicated to it. It’s called Okonomimura. In this multi-level building, you’ll find stall after stall of Okonomiyaki restaurateurs, each putting their own spin on the dish.

My friend’s dad told me I had to eat there. So I did. I had to ask some locals how to get there; Google had me wandering in circles. You ride up this elevator that’s a little difficult to find if you can’t read Japanese.

It was amazing and if you’re in Hiroshima, you should go, too. The dining is not expensive, and you’ll be fine dropping in wearing whatever you may happen to have on.

Kagura Folk Theater

Kagura is hot right now. It’s experiencing a resurgence in popularity — especially in Hiroshima and the surrounding prefectures.

 

Kagura is folk theater, performed as an expression of gratitude for the harvest. In the area around Hiroshima, each farming community has their own Kagura performance.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t in town on the right day of the week to catch a show. There are two shows every Wednesday, and admission is currently 1,200 yen, which is roughly $12 USD at the time of writing.

Shopping

As I walked around Hiroshima on my history tour, I was surprised by the amount of shopping there was. It was reminiscent of downtown Osaka in some places, with covered streets lined with multi-floor shop fronts.

I learned that this is the place you’ll want to buy Kumano brushes, which are some of the best in the world for painting, calligraphy and makeup. It’s also the best place to buy the Maple-leaf-shaped sweet, Momiji Manju and the best sake.

I didn’t actually buy any of those thing. Because I’m me and I hadn’t planned the spending.

But I learned that is what you’re supposed to do.

Save money with the Visit Hiroshima Tourist Pass

If you have the JR Rail Pass, you’ll be able to get to Hiroshima for free. You’ll even be able to ride some buses for free.

But if you’re staying for more than 24 hours like yours truly, you’re likely to find yourself paying for transportation around the city itself. In these situations the Visit Hiroshima Tourist Pass may save you money.

You get access to all the Hiroshima Electric Railway lines, almost all the bus lines in the area and the ferry to Miyajima — a UNESCO World Heritage site — for 3 days for 2500 yen, or roughly $25 USD. If you want to travel throughout the entire prefecture, you can pay 3500 yen — roughly $35 USD — for the same three-day time period.

Like JR Pass eligibility, you can’t get the Visit Hiroshima Tourist Pass unless you’re in the country on a tourist/temporary visitor visa. However, you can actually buy the pass once you’re in Japan.

You can pick up your Visit Hiroshima Tourist Pass at the Hiroshima airport or as soon as your arrive at Hiroshima Station. At the station, you can purchase a pass at the Transportation Information Center near the South Exit or at Swallow Travel on the second floor.

Peace Memorial Park

As soon as I got off the train, I locked up my suitcase and headed to Peace Park. I only had 24 hours, and I wanted to see as much as I could before the sun went down.

Everything I did and saw at Peace Memorial Park was free, moving and unforgettable.

Take the Meipuru-pu bus line to Peace Memorial Park.

The Meipuru-pu line is designed specifically for those looking to visit Peace Memorial Park. If you have the JR Pass, you should be able to ride for free by showing your pass to the driver the same way you show it at the train station. The only localized JR Pass that would also potentially work is the JR West Pass.

Otherwise, it’s 200 yen — about $2 USD — to ride. If you’re good at planning ahead and frugal, you’ll splurge on a 400 yen all-day pass. If you plan on riding the bus there and back anyways, it can only save you money.

The walk to Peace Memorial Park is doable. I took a bus almost to the edge of the river on my way there. I wanted to walk across the bridge as I approached the sites.

On my way back to the station, I walked the entire thing. I ended up walking with my suitcase all the way to the Airbnb, too. It was a beautiful night, and I wasn’t staying too far outside of Peace Memorial Park. The trek from station to park and visa versa took about half an hour each way.

It’s about half that when you take the Meipuru-pu. You can catch this bus right outside the entrance to Hiroshima station.

Hiroshima Municipal Girls High School Memorial

As I crossed the bridge for the first time, I happened upon a memorial for Hiroshima Municipal Girls High School. On the morning of August 6, 1945, 541 preteen students and 7 teachers were helping clear fire lanes in preparation for bombings. Japan mobilized many students into child labor during the war because of the shortage of working-age men in local municipalities.

At the moment these girls were pitching in for the war effort, the Americans dropped LIttle Boy from the Enola Gay over their heads. They died instantaneously.

Some of the teachers were cognizant of the planes overhead. There were efforts to save the girls. Efforts afterwards to save the dignity of those who had lost clothing along with their lives. Exposed bodies were covered. During the blast, teachers died trying to shield the young girls in cisterns or with their own bodies.

 
 
 
 
 
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One of the most heart-wrenching stories of Hiroshima is the storyof a girls’ school that was in the blast zone. So many innocent daughters lost. . . At the time this memorial was constructed for them, American forces were occupying Japan under its reconstruction. Using “Atomic Bomb” or variants thereof would have been too inflammatory. So instead, they used the formula for Einstein’s theory of relativity. . . Full info by scrolling all the way left. Sorry it’s not the easiest to read. Couldn’t get around the sun’s reflection. . . #pathofpeace #hiroshimajapan #hiroshimabombing #onethousandcranes #1000papercranes #peacecrane #hiroshima #abomb #abombmemorial #hiroshimagirlsschool #theoryofrelativity #einstein #eequalsmcsquared #hiroshimagram #hiroshimacity #visitjapan #visitjapanus #peaceonearth #japangram #japan🇯🇵 #fbf #flashbackfriday #restinpeace #sheisnotlost #travelgram #instapassport #girlslovetravel #nofilter #travelgirlsgo #travelphotography

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The love and righteous mourning of the mothers is on display at the memorial. Visitors can leave their chains of 1,000 cranes and pay respect.

Atomic Trees

I stayed at the girls’ memorial longer than most people would, I suppose. It felt like if I left, I would be breaking with the respect they deserved. I needed to spend time with their memory.

Eventually, though, I crossed the street. That’s where the bulk of the memorials and museums were.

Before I crossed paths with any museums or memorials, though, I ran into one of Hiroshima’s atomic trees. Miraculously enough, dozens of plants survived the blast and are still growing today. Eleven of them are inside Peace Memorial Park.

Cenotaph at Peace Memorial Park

Next I wandered over to the cenotaph. It was built so that those who bring offerings and prayers to lay in front of the sculpture’s feet will look out over the peaceful pond, over the Flame of Peace, and have their eyes drawn directly to the destroyed frame of the Atomic Dome.

Before it was destroyed, the Atomic Dome was the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. The bomb went off almost directly above it, pushing down into the building and igniting it and everything — and everyone — inside. Because the impact came from almost directly above, the walls and large parts of the structure largely survived the ensuing fire.

The Japanese decided to preserve the destroyed structure as a stark reminder of the destruction caused by atomic warfare.

It’s an impressive reminder, inspiring reverence every time it pops into your field of vision.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

I walked through the lobby of the Peace Memorial Museum. It was getting closer to close, though, and there was a line for headsets. My Japanese is remedial; I wasn’t going to get as much out of the tour as I wanted to, and I was going to feel rushed.

I took note of the hours, fully intending to return the next morning.

Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for Atomic Bomb Victims

I wandered over to the National Peace Memorial Hall for Atomic Bomb Victims. It was a quiet, somber place, and everything was printed in a myriad of languages, including English.

You walk in and go down this ramp lined with cement walls on either side. You feel like you’re walking down a nautilus’s shell as you read the story of everything that happened not just on August 6, 1945, but also beyond.

a room with circular walls depicting ruined buildings, rubble and dead trees after the bombing in hiroshima

When you finally arrive at the center, you find yourself in the middle of a circular room, with 360 degrees of Hiroshima surrounding you. Hiroshima as it looked immediately following the atomic bombing. It’s a place that calls you to sit and show respect for the sanctity of human life.

In the next hall, known victims are listed along with their photographs when available. The number now exceeds 290,000, but the list grows longer every year.

At the end, you’ll be able to tour the library where manifestos of mourning mothers and other family members tell the stories of those who lost their lives. You’ll be able to view some of the possessions that survived the blast, and listen to video testimony from survivors.

This testimony doesn’t just tell you what happens. It tells you how Japan’s spirit transformed and survived. Hiroshima’s mothers chose to ascribe meaning to the loss, allowing them to push forward. Allowing them to push for peace at a global scale. It was through this meaning that any semblance of healing was born.

Because of my short timeline, I wasn’t able to take advantage of it, but you can listen to live readings from parents, survivors, etc at the Hall for free. Some times slots are even read in English.

 
 
 
 
 
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Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students

The girls memorialized just over the river’s edge weren’t the only mobilized students to lose their lives. In fact, a ton of students were out working on the fire lanes that day.

As you cross the river once again via the northern bridge, you’ll run into another memorial for mobilized students. This memorial honors not only the 6,907 that died in Hiroshima’s Atomic Bombing alone, but all those who died helping the war effort both in mainland Japan and across the Pacific Theater.

Folding Origami at the Atomic Dome

I was standing there contemplating the twisted metal and lives lost in the Atomic Dome alone when I caught someone out of the corner of my eye.

He was an older man. He tried a couple languages before he got to my native English, inviting me over next to his “FREE” sign, motioning for me to sit on this tiny little portable stool so we could fold origami together.

My American backside spilled over both sides of that stool, but it did not break. My origami teacher pulled out his papers to show me he was 8 months in utero when the bomb went off. He was born during the black rains that followed the bombings. His medical records showed that he had survived many lung diseases as an infant.

I was given the portrayal of a long, vibrant life, not letting anything slow him down or defeat him. He married a Portuguese woman, and now spends a portion of the year giving Hiroshima tours in Portuguese, largely to European and South American tourists.

Later, I realized that he had shown his papers to me to tell his story. But the real reason he had them was to show to the cop that stopped over about halfway through our visit.

I love that the Japanese cop was watching out for me as an obvious gaijin, and it made me even happier to see he probably wasn’t going to try to scam me in the next ten minutes as the paperwork more than assured the police officer of the origami teacher’s legitimacy and apparent right to be in the park spreading the message of peace.

1,000 Paper Cranes for Hope and Healing

Because ultimately, that’s what he was doing. He was teaching people how to fold origami cranes — specifically the red-headed kind that migrate to Japan from mainland Asia. He was impressed that my friend’s mother had taught me the art before, and took the opportunity to teach me a more advanced method.

I’m always getting rewarded by my Japanese teachers like a little kid. And I love it. This time, my origami teacher rewarded me with the tiniest paper crane I’ve ever seen. He must have used tools to make it; there’s no way any human fingers are that nimble.

Hiroshima Epicenter

My final stop for the day was actually outside Peace Park. The epicenter — the site where the Enola Gay dropped Little Boy all the way back in 1945 — sits about a block into the city, down a smaller street.

The plaque lies in front of what appears to be an apartment building. As ordinary as could be.

But 600m in the air above this building, the Atomic Bomb went off and changed the course of history.

Like the Japanese, I hope we remember the lessons of history, allowing the massive shift that happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to be for the better. For denuclearization. And beneath it all, a current of genuine and healing peace.

Valentine’s Day Gifts for Singles Under $50

I received product for review purposes for portions of this gift guide. I don’t promote things I’ve had negative experiences with, and all opinions are 100% honest and my own.

Valentine’s Day when you’re single. So. Much. Fun.

Well, it can be fun, all sarcasm aside. My first Valentine’s Day as a single adult was about ten years ago. My friend and I went to Eat’n’Park and got the cookiest cookie sundae ever and complained about the men that had just exited our lives.

Stereotypical?

Yes.

Therapeutic, tho?

Also yes.

Today, I wanted to give you a fun way to celebrate Valentine’s Day: Spend it with your single friends. Whether you’re doing that long-distance or piling into the car to head to Eat’n’Park.

Pick up a gift while you’re at it, since you know they won’t be getting anything from a sweetheart, either. Here are some ideas to get you started–all under $50.

Astrology of Love & Sex Book

Where to get it: UncommonGoods
Price: $20

I know, I know. Sun sign astrology alone is shallow and bullshit. And honestly, I had never heard of Annabel Gat before.

But when I saw reviews from names I had heard of before, like Chris Brennan and Anne Ortelee, I knew I had to at least crack the spine.

Guy, this book is amazing. It goes through all of the sun signs, the way they act in relationships, the way they act in bed–and it does it all while maintaining the dignity of the entire spectrum of human identity and sexuality. It doesn’t tell you anyone is off limits. It doesn’t tell you anyone is your guaranteed soul mate.

It’s fun. It’s gorgeous. And it’s way more in depth than the stuff you’ll find in the horoscope columns.

Zodiac Gift Box

Where to get it: MyDailyMantra on Etsy
Price: $37.99

While we’re on the astrology vibe, be sure to check out these sun-sign based gift boxes! MyDailyMantra puts them together full of amazing bath products like candles, lip balm, bath bombs, soap, body butter and more.

Best part? You get to pick the scent:

  • Warm Vanilla
  • Lavender Sage
  • Birthday Cake
  • Lemon Sugar
  • White Tea
  • Blood Orange
  • Flowers in Bloom
  • Holiday Spice
  • Winter Cabin Nights

Create Your Own Reel Viewer

Where to get it: UncommonGoods
Price: $29.95

Nineties kids rejoice! The nostalgia!

While this old-school reel viewer is a totally adorable gift for your sweetheart, I also happen to think it’s a super V-day gift for you and your single bestie to get all sentimental over.

You get to pick the images, with each click of that black lever taking your recipient on a new trip down memory lane.

Bedside Smartphone Vase

Where to get it: UncommonGoods
Price: $32

These innovative, 21st century vases are simple, beautiful and made by creators in my hometown of Pittsburgh.

I’ve got this one on my nightstand, because single or not, flowers make me happy, dammit. I love that I can set up my phone for easily-accessible display, and the super smart design allows me to run the charging cord beneath the vase up into the bottom of my phone without looking tacky.

Bonus Sister Necklace

Where to get it: BellaAndBlush on Etsy
Price: $33-$37

This necklace is so sugary sweet you won’t even need to pick up a box of chocolates. I have so many women in my life who aren’t blood related, but feel and have acted like my family over the years. I wish I could get every one of them this necklace.

The price is variable because you get to pick the color and whether you want those interlocking rings hammered or smoothed. Here are your options:

  • Silver Smooth
  • Silver Hammered
  • Gold Smooth
  • Gold Hammered
  • Rose Gold Smooth
  • Rose Gold Hammered

Turkish Inspired Hand Woven Travel Jewelry Roll

Where to get it: UncommonGoods
Price: $20

This jewelry roll legit looks like a Turkish rug down to the very last intricate thread. Made even more legit because it’s actually made in Turkey.

Inside, the zippers, snaps and loops make organizing jewelry super easy. No more tangled chains! This is perfect if you know your friend is a traveller or at least headed out on an upcoming trip. Especially after you just gave her that necklace.

Portable Campfire

Where to get it: UncommonGoods
Price: $28

Not all Valentine’s Day gifts have to be about love or flowers.

But you should find a way to tie chocolate in.

This portable campfire is an awesome choice for those who love a good campfire but, like, zoning laws. It’s made from recycled products which are actually better for the environment than burning wood, namely soy wax and paper.

Be sure to package this gift with all the things you’ll need to make s’mores.

Kabob Grilling Baskets

Where to get it: UncommonGoods
Price: $17

Pair with the portable campfire! An easy way to make kabobs without needing to cut down trees for new sticks every time. The basket on these is even deeper and wider than they look in the picture–you can really pack a lot of great veggies and chicken in there!

I Don’t Like You, Valentine Tee

Where to get it: SymbolicImports on Etsy
Price: $18.99

TAKE MY MONEY!