$ Let’s Talk Money – Part 7: Food for Thought & an Update

click here to catch up on the rest of the series


Upon realizing it’s been exactly a year since my last update (oops!), I figured it was time for a little catch up!

As of right now, we have $10,944.54 to pay back in student loans and $11,600 on the car loan.

Over the last twelve months we’ve continued to chip away at the debt.

Sure, a few expenses popped up that set us back a little: dental surgery, passport/supplies for my trip to Europe with my mom, travel & gifts for weddings, etc.

But, for the most part we’ve been able handle whatever comes along thanks to saving / budgeting for both planned and unexpected events.

Paying off debt definitely takes time, but if you keep on it and stay committed – you’ll eventually reach the finish line!

In case you need more motivation (besides how accomplished and free you’ll feel when you see $0!), I find it helpful to follow other people’s pay-off journeys.

A few of my favorites are:

  • Newlyweds on a Budget
    “We may not have a lot, but at least we have each other.”
    They paid off $45K in 45 months…and just bought a house! This blog is chock-full of great info/advice and the comment section is always ripe with insightful discussion.
  • Clueless with Cash
    “Just a girl trying to break up with her debt and become a little less clueless.”
    Real talk from someone who’s riding the roller coaster that is trying to have a life while tackling student loans and credit card debt!
  • Kitty & Kevin
    “Two 20-somethings struggling with mountains of student loan debt.”
    No joke – mountains! They’ve been diligently working to pay down $100K… and they only have $20K left now!
  • Monica on Money
    “Saving, Budgeting, and Frugal Living.”
    Monica’s paid off her mortgage in 5 years, is paying for her Master’s degree with cash, and living frugally in Florida.

So, while it may seem impossible at times, you can get out of a difficult financial situation.

And once you’ve made it, you can start setting new goals to make sure you’re comfortable for the future!

✈ Europe | Oxford | Part II

Catch up on our grand European adventure:
Rome | Pompeii | Florence Part I | Florence Part II | Paris | Versailles | London Part I | Bath | London Part II (Harry Potter) | Oxford Part I

Day 4: We met up with some old friends of Mom’s from her college days and took a walk along the canal and through Port Meadow – where cows and horses roam. We stopped for a morning coffee at the Perch and admired a sweet little church in very small nearby town of Binsey before continuing along the canal and footpath. We lunched at The Trout with its resident peacock and headed back into town to climb up St. Mary’s tower. There we hung out with the gargoyles and took in the 360° view of Oxford before heading back down the small spiral staircase to check out the inside St. Mary’s Church. Finally, we grabbed a treat for our walk back home (a tasty little number called a “dark millionaire”).


| our little walking group heading through Port Meadow and along the canal |


| in the incredibly tiny town of Binsey and The Perch, a historic pub and restaurant |


| the small parish of Binsey – St. Margaret’s Church |


| back on the path, passed the remains of Godstow Nunnery |


| tasty lunch at The Trout – gnocchi (with beef broth, butternut squash and broccoli) and a side of peacock! |


| back in Oxford, heading up St. Mary’s tower to see the view – you have to travel up a tiny spiral staircase and squeeze through the passageway at the top – but it’s worth it! |


| … see, what’d I tell ya? |


| hangin’ with the gargoyles and grotesques |


| taking in the view – boy, we’re up high! |


| Oxford, whatta beauty! |


| we had way too much fun playing in the tower |


| back down on the ground, exploring the church below |


| inside St. Mary’s |


| St. Mary’s details – (top) beautiful wood carvings on the pews, (bottom) floor slabs, some dating back to 1645, but sadly missing their brass (most likely stolen or destroyed) |


| (bottom) the tasty “dark millionaire” dessert I mentioned, (left) Mom’s breakfast quiche, (right) delicious dumplings from a sweet street food vendor |

Day 5: Grabbed a quick breakfast and started on a walk through Iffley via the ancient high walled footpath. Saw lovely thatched roofs along the way and a very neat 12th century Norman church with fantastic carvings and ancient stone decorations. From there we crossed the Lock and strolled along the Thames, past some horses in a meadow ,and headed back into town. Mom sweet talked the gatekeepers at University College into letting us in to see the Shelley Memorial. We finished up our jaunt through town by walking through a pretty garden before heading home for dinner.


| at the beginning of the Iffley walk – the stone reads “here Ifley Hyway 1635 |


| along walk through Iffley |


| Iffley Church – The Church of St. Mary the Virgin –  built c. 1170–80 in the Norman style |


| inside the church |


| aren’t the carvings magnificent? |


| crossed the Iffley Lock to be greeted by these featured friends |


| very happy horses grazing in the sun |


pretty gardens |


finishing up our walk |

Day 6: Packed my bags, bid farewell to Oxford, and flew back to the States where a very happy Mr.C was waiting to welcome me home!




And with that,
my European travelogue has come to an end.

Thanks for following along!

It’s been fun to share these photos and stories with you.

I wish you all many adventures of your own -
be they across the street or across the globe!

✈ Europe | Oxford | Part I

Catch up on our grand European adventure:
Rome | Pompeii | Florence Part I | Florence Part II | Paris | Versailles | London Part I | Bath | London Part II (Harry Potter) 

The last stop on our trip was Oxford, England. My mom, who did her study abroad there during college, had some old friends in the area she wanted to visit so we spent our last week abroad wandering the English countryside, popping in to various local colleges and grounds, and exploring nearby villages.

A little history of Oxford – it was first occupied in Saxon times when Alfred the Great created a network of fortified towns across his kingdom. The settlement began with the foundations of St. Frideswide’s nunnery in the 8th century and was first mentioned in written records in the year 912. The University of Oxford was founded in the 12th century and is the oldest English-speaking university. Today, the university is made up of 38 colleges. In addition to hosting a significant student population and being an academic hub, the city’s main industries are publishing and car manufacturing.

Now, onto the fun!

Day 1: We slept in and then took it easy; enjoying a leisurely stroll through University Park where we ate fresh berries along the way and admired the fall colors. We also wandered through the downtown area and popped into the Pitt Rivers Museum where the archaeological and anthropological collections of the University of Oxford are on display.


| walking through University Park |


| beautiful afternoon stroll |


| wandering through downtown Oxford and side streets |


| Pitt Rivers Museum |

Day 2: We visited Magdalen College (pronounced “Maudlin”), walked their beautiful grounds, fed fallen chestnuts to the the deer in their park, gaped at their 213 year old tree, and then ducked inside the college to see their great hall / cafeteria.

From there we continued our tour around town before stopping at Christ Church to see their grounds, great hall, and cathedral. The cathedral was originally the church of Saint Frideswide’s Priory. The site is claimed to be the location of the abbey and the final resting place of Saint Frideswide (although this is debatable). Saint Frideswide, who I briefly mentioned at the beginning of this post, is the patron saint of Christ Church and of Oxford.

A few Harry Potter movie scenes were filmed at Christ Church – most notably the moment when Harry and the new first-years enter Hogwarts and are greeted by Professor McGonagall. This scene was shot on the 16th century staircase which leads up to the Great Hall. Christ Church’s Great Hall was replicated in the film studios to create the Great Hall in Hogwarts.


| entering Magdalen College |


| Magdalen College courtyard |


| exploring the grounds of Magdalen College |


| Magdalen College has a deer park! |


| more of Magdalen |


| look who we spotted… |


| Mom holding the chestnuts/buckeyes we fed the deer and oh look she made a new friend! |


This tree is called “Magdalen Plane”. It is a scion of the hybrid tree planted in the botanic garden in 1666. This tree was planted in 1801, which makes it exactly 213 years old. |


Magdalen’s hall / cafeteria |


| visiting Christ Church |


| inside the walls of Christ Church |


| the stairs leading to Christ Church’s Great Hall – they can be spotted in two Harry Potter films (the Sorcerers’s Stone and the Chamber of Secrets) |


| inside the Great Hall – which was used as a model for the Great Hall in Hogwarts |


| inside Christ Church’s beautiful cathedral |


| such neat carved details on the pews |


| stunning “Hope, Faith and Charity” stained glass window designed by Edward Burne-Jones |


| Saint Frideswide’s shrine – made in 1289, it’s the oldest monument in the cathedral |

Day 3: We hopped on a bus and took a took a little day trip out to Burford, a Cotswold village. There we walked along a few footpaths, visited their little church, lunched on the grounds, and fed the swans before bussing back to Oxford. Once there, we walked around the city to see more sites and architecture … like the shimmery Bridge of Sighs and my favorite little street of pastel houses.


| Burford village |


| walking along a footpath just outside Burford – you can see the village in the distance |


| Crossing my first stile! A stile is built along a footpath fence, wall, or hedge to prevent farm animals from moving from one enclosure to another while still allowing path users to use the route. Stiles are often steps, ladders, or very narrow gaps. |


| I may have squealed when we came across this…. just off the footpath – a World War II pillbox aka a concrete dug-in guard post. I read and watch so many things that are WWII related that it’s always exciting to see a piece of it in person. |

cotswold church

| Burford’s church (St. John the Baptist) |


| inside Burford’s church – the brass plate (bottom left) lay hidden under the floor for about 300 years. With its plea for a prayer for John’ s soul, it would certainly have been torn up during the Reformation of the Church of England. But, the brass was discovered in 1827 when work was being done on the building’s floor. |


| the church grounds |


| the quiet corner where we ate our sack lunch |


| wandering Burford – old almshouses/”poorhouse” (left), village streets (middle & right) |


| back in Oxford |


| walking around Oxford |


| the Bridge of Sighs |


| streets of Oxford  – Hoyle’s Games, The Bear pub, and my favorite little row of pastel houses! |

Up next… more Oxford and the last of our European adventure!

✈ Europe | London | Part II – WB Harry Potter Studio Tour

Catch up on our grand European adventure:
Rome | Pompeii | Florence Part I | Florence Part II | Paris | Versailles | London | Bath

When planning our trip to London, it was a given that we’d be visiting the Warner Bros. Studio for their Making of Harry Potter tour.

My friend Liz, who is currently in Scotland working on her master’s degree, had planned a weekend trip to London while we were in town and decided to join us.

My mom was Liz’s kindergarten teacher so we’ve known each other and been friends for ages. In a hometown as small as ours you really get to know everyone; it also helped that Liz and I were big into music and drama in high school so we spent lots of time together there and in youth group. It was really neat (and a bit trippy) to be able to connect while both overseas!

That morning, Mom and I met Liz at Watford Junction where we took a shuttle over to the studio and proceeded to geek out for hours!

The London Warner Bros. studio is where all eight of the Harry Potter movies were filmed, so all the original props, sets, costumes, etc. on display for the tour.


| the shuttle, giant chess pieces, Harry’s cupboard under the stairs, an obligatory studio shot, and the actors’ hand molds |


| the Great Hall at Hogwarts |


| costumes, set pieces, wardrobe/makeup, and props |


Gryffindor Dormitory |


| Snape’s Potions Classroom – our favorite! Oh, Alan Rickman… |


| Dumbledore’s Office |
| entrance to the Chamber of Secrets, the Golden Snitch, and the Burrow (Ron Weasley’s house) |
Number Four Privet Drive, Liz trying Butterbeer |
Hogwarts Bridge and the Potters’ Cottage |
| wonderful witches, the Knight Bus, Flying Ford Anglia |
| going behind the scenes at the Creature Effects Workshop – why, hello, screaming mandrake! |
| full-scale models of Aragog, Buckbeck, and a Dementor were also on display |
| the impressive Diagon Alley set |
| The magical and impressive Hogwarts Castle model that was used to create all the exterior shots you see in the films. As you circle the model, the room’s lighting cycles from “day” to “night” – which is gorgeous! |

| playing in the gift shop |

After the studio tour we weren’t quite ready to leave Harry Potter Land, so once we returned to London we made sure to stop by King’s Cross Station to check out Platform 9 3/4.


| St Pancras railway station (next to King’s Cross) and Platform 9 3/4 |

After King’s Cross, we parted ways with Liz and Mom and I headed over to the British Museum. The museum is free to all visitors and houses a vast collection of world art and artifacts.

For dinner, we found a decent Greek restaurant and feasted on our favorite dishes: saganaki, fasolakia, and taramosalata. Yum!

On our way home, we ran across a cheap ticket booth in Leicester Square and scored last-minute, 11th row center seats to Evita!


It was quite the way to end our very fun, eventful day!

Up next… Oxford!

✈ Europe | Bath

Catch up on our grand European adventure:
Rome | Pompeii | Florence Part I | Florence Part II | Paris | Versailles | London

During our stay in London we decided to take a day trip over to Bath.

My mom visited London five years ago and took a Jack the Ripper tour with the lovely people at London Walks. She had such a great experience that we signed up for their guided tour of Bath, England.  The tour guides of London Walks are incredibly well-versed in history, great at helping you see the “big picture” of the place you’re visiting, quick to share local stories or point out things you might not otherwise notice, and of course they’re quite clever and humorous too (as you’ll gather from glancing at their website).

We met our tour group at Paddington Station and hopped on a train to Bath. There we toured the Roman Baths, Royal Crescent, and Abbey.

A little history: The city was founded in the 1st century AD when the Romans built a temple and baths in the valley and baths, using the natural hot springs as a thermal spa. However, tradition and archeological excavations suggest the hot springs were known before then and were probably enjoyed by Neolithic hunter-gatherer tribes and Celtic people. In the Middle ages, Bath became and important center for the wool industry. In the 18th century, it developed into an elegant spa city, famed for art and literature (Jane Austen was famous resident).

Want to take the tour yourself but never have to leave your couch? Click here for a short video.

passing St. Mary’s Hospital on our way to Paddington Station |
| arriving in Bath: the Empire Hotel, Pulteney Bridge crossing the River Avon, and St. Michael’s Church |
Pulteney Bridge – historic, with shops built into it, similar to the Ponte Vecchio in Florence |
| part of the medieval city wall |
bath4Georgian architecture crafted from honey-colored Bath Stone and the Royal Mineral Water Hospital - a working hospital that has searched and treated rheumatic diseases for over 200 years|
bath5| historically popular bathing places in Bath |
bath6| the gorgeous Bath Abbey |
bath7| Bath Abbey: magnificent stained glass windows, fanned vault ceilings, and angels climbing Jacob’s Ladder |
bath12| (left) The Royal Crescent, one of Bath’s most iconic landmarks, is a row of 30 terraced houses arranged in a sweeping crescent, (right) another rounded landmark, The Circus |
bath9| entering the Roman Baths |
bath11| inside one of the best preserved baths in the world |
bath10| The Sacred Spring that still supplies natural hot water |

bath8| in the Pump Room curious visitors can taste Bath’s natural warm mineral water |

After saying goodbye to Bath, we headed back to London where we wrapped up the day with a hearty dinner at the pub in our neighborhood – The George & Dragon.


Up next… Oxford!

✈ Europe | London | Part I

Catch up on our grand European adventure:
Rome | Pompeii | Florence Part I | Florence Part II | Paris | Versailles 

Day 1: We woke up early to the Eurostar (a high-speed train service that travels underwater through the Channel Tunnel aka “Chunnel”) from Paris to London. As we stood in line at the passport checkpoint before boarding, I saw a bald head in front of us that looked awfully familiar. The man was with his wife, both in chic but casual attire, and talking about sweet potatoes of all things. Mom was acting like a giddy school girl when I told her who I’d just spotted but we both managed to keep our cool (for the most part). We did about lose it when the passport officer asked his occupation and he answered, “Actor.” (dreamily, Mom says!). I mean with those lashes and that talent?! Who wouldn’t be smitten with… Stanley Tucci!!! Yep, turns out he and his wife were returning to their home in London after a day-trip to Paris. I only know this because someone else blogged about being six rows away from him the day before!


| Stanley Tucci: on his wedding day with wife Felicity Blunt, alongside Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia and The Devil Wears Prada, and as the outrageous Caesar in the Hunger Games series (images c/o Google) |

Anyway, our little celebrity-sighting was like finding a heads-up penny because it definitely started the next leg of our trip off right. We arrived in London and went straight to our lodgings at Carr Saunders Hall, a dormitory that the London School of Economics rents out to tourists when college isn’t in session. We ditched our bags quickly, got a map and directions from the front desk, and set off to our next destination… the Apollo Victoria theater.

There we spent the afternoon basking in the glory that is “Wicked The Musical”. I’ve read the book series multiple times, played the soundtrack to death, and saw it once before in Chicago – but it was Mom’s first time going and we had an amazing experience. Great seats, incredible performers, knock-out costumes – Wicked is such a treat that you definitely should go if you ever get the chance!


| Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz |


Buckingham Palace |


| Everyone’s favorite phone booth! |

Day 2: We took a break from London and spent the day in Bath.

Day 3: Mom & I met up with my friend Liz and spent most of the day at the Warner Bros. Studio – Making of Harry Potter tour.

Day 4: We woke up, grabbed breakfast, and headed downtown to meet Liz and do some general sight-seeing. Big Ben, the London Eye, and Westminster Abbey – quintessential London! After taking in the scenery we split up; Liz walked over to St. James’ Park and Buckingham Palace while Mom & I took a tour of Westminster. We reconnected for lunch at The Laughing Halibut where we were joined by Liz’s friend, Lauren. It was a fun lunch –  traditional fish and trips, good conversation, and a little entertainment on the side (a pigeon flew into the restaurant and wildly flapped about until one of the cooks caught it bare handed and tossed it back outside!). Following lunch, we parted ways with Lauren and strolled down to Trafalgar Square, passing the Prime Minister’s house along the way. We then spent some time wandering the National Gallery, a free art museum that houses over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900s. After the museum, we bid farewell to Liz so she could pack and get some sleep before her long bus ride back to Edinburgh (where she’s working on her master’s degree – you can follow her adventures here.). Mom & I continued on to the National Portrait Gallery for a while before finally calling it a day.


| Big Ben – Palace of Westminster |


Westminster Abbey |


| The Chapter House of Westminster Abbey and the oldest door in Britain (it’s the only surviving Anglo Saxon door in the country)|


Palace of Westminster, The London Eye, Liz soaking up the scenery… and rain |

fishnchips | lunch at The Laughing Halibut |


| The National Gallery |

Day 5: For our last day in the city, we decided to meet up with a guide from London Walks for a tour of the Tower of London. The Tower of London is a 900-year-old fortress and castle. It has also served as a royal residence, housing for the Royal Mint and the Crown Jewels, barracks, storehouse for military paraphernalia and weapons, and notorious prison. Throughout its history, the tower imprisoned many people – from common criminals to monarchs. Famous prisoners include Lady Jane Grey (who was executed on Tower Green, an open terrain in the Tower of London, nine days after being crowned Queen), Edward and Richard (two princes, ages 12 and 9, sons of Edward IV, who are believed to have been killed by Richard III, their uncle, who took the throne for himself), and Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard (two of Henry VIII’s wives who were both imprisoned and later executed).
After touring the Tower of London, we walked along the Thames and waved to St.Paul’s Cathedral before collecting our luggage and catching a bus to the final destination on our grand European adventure, Oxford.
| The Tower of London |
| Traitor’s Gate (the water entrance where many prisoners, accused of treason, passed through), The White Tower, and one of the famous ravens (legend says that if the ravens leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall) |
| views from inside Beauchamp Tower where the important prisoners were housed |
| graffiti left by prisoners, mostly from the 16th and 17th centuries when the Tower of London was the country’s foremost state prison (this time period was one of great religious and political upheaval) |
| an arrow slit in the fortress wall, the Bloody Tower gate, and a glass memorial that commemorates those who were executed on Tower Green –  scaffolds for beheadings were often erected in front of The Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula |
| Armor and artifacts on display in the White Tower  – including suits belonging to Henry VIII |
| Tower Bridge |
St.Paul’s Cathedral |

| walking along the Thames |


| traveling first by tube, then by bus to our final European destination |

Up next… Oxford!

✈ Europe | Versailles

Catch up on our grand European adventure:
Rome | Pompeii | Florence Part I | Florence Part II | Paris

During our stay in Paris we decided to take a day trip over to the Palace of Versailles. It’s just 10 miles from the city and is easily reachable by train.

Well…easy if you can navigate the train station. In our case, we raced over to the Gare d’Austerlitz to catch the RER train only to find that there were no ticket agents on duty that morning. So we flitted from machine to machine trying to buy our tickets. We couldn’t use any of our cards and it wouldn’t take bills. Turns out – you had to go upstairs to get your cash changed to coins, then come back down stairs to buy the tickets and find your track. Thankfully after a semi-rude encounter with a worker who insisted she knew nothing and was just on the maintenance crew, a passerby took pity on us and swiped us through the gates!

Since we’d missed the earlier train, this one was caught was packed with people heading to Versailles. A band of really talented musicians wandered through the cars serenading the riders.

When we arrived, we rushed along with the rest of the herd toward the Chateau. Walking up the street, all you can see is the golden gate and decorated rooftop of the palace glittering in the morning sun. Once there, we were ushered into a winding line to wait to be let in.


The Palace of Versailles is a royal chateau in the Île-de-France region of France. In French, it is known as the Chateau de Versailles. It’s commonly just called “Versailles”.

Versailles has been known as the epitome of indulgent luxury for centuries. It’s a place of queens and kings and pure decadence. I mean, this place is definitely over the top!


We started by touring the Chateau. The ceilings, wall paper, fireplaces, and enormous canopied beds were all amazingly luxe. Marbled floors, impressive pillars, and gold in every direction you glance.

There is a stunning chapel and the sparkling Hall of Mirrors which has 357 mirrors in total. It was in this hall where Treaty of Versailles was signed following World War I. Grand celebrations and balls were also held here.

| the two-story Royal Chapel, designed after Sainte-Chapelle in Paris  |
 | the chapel |

versailles5warhall  | The Hall of Battles |

As you walk through this jaw-dropping home, it’s easy to see why the French grew angry and resentful about the unfair and undeserved privileges enjoyed by aristocracy and began a fiery revolution.


| entering the Hall of Mirrors |

| the Hall of Mirrors |

| The Queen’s Bedchamber, where she also gave birth to the heirs to the throne |

Mom and I actually walked through the palace twice. The first time we were jostled around so much by the large tour groups that we could barely enjoy a thing since we were way too busy pushing our way through the crowds just so we could breathe again. Seriously folks, it was pretty overwhelming.

Thankfully, the beauty of the place does provide a bit of distraction if you have to battle throngs of tourists. Our second pass through was much calmer and we could really take in the beautiful surroundings without being trampled.


After our visit at the palace, we explored the grounds that sprawl over nearly 2,000 acres. The gardens are perfectly manicured with flowers, grand fountains, and statues.


From there we headed to the far end of the estate, where the Trainon Palaces and Marie Antoinette’s hamlet can be found. It’s so calm and peaceful this far from the Chateau that it completely makes sense why Marie Antoinette made this her little escape.
The Hamlet was built for Marie-Antoinette in 1783, so that she and her ladies-in-waiting could entertain themselves with the charms of country life.
| The Farm was home to varied livestock such as cows, goats, sheep, chickens, etc. |
| The Malborough Tower was the point of departure for fishing outings and boat rides. |
The Petit Trianon was a gift to Marie Antoinette from Louis XVI when he became King.

| the Queen’s music room, view of the Temple of Love from the Petit Trianon.|

The Grand Trianon is an elegant residence designed by Jules Mansart in 1687. The pink marble structure is edged by geometric, pastel gardens. The large windows and bright decor give the home an airy, playful vibe – even though it’s still very fancy.

The Grand Trianon was used mainly for hosting family visitors. Following the beheading of Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI in Paris, this residence and its pink arches were left abandoned. Years later, Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte reopened it and made it his personal home.

Although the Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens in Florence, Italy, blew me away, Versailles is really something special too. If you get the chance to explore this lavish and regal complex – do it! It’s definitely a place where the past comes alive.

Up next… London!