Category Archives: Economic

100+ Places to Park Free in the U.S.

The National Park Service Free Entrance days are back. Free entrance to over 100 National Parks and Historical Landmarks. See detailed coverage in Free U.S. Parking in September 2011.

Vernal Falls, Yosemite Park, California

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend in January has passed. However, opportunities remain to check out one of our national treasures in 2012:

  • April 21-29                     National Park Week

  • June 9                            Get Outdoors Day

  • September 29               National Public Lands Day

  • November 10-12           Veterans Day weekend

The fee-free entrance includes:

  • entrance fees; 

  • commercial tour fees; 

  • and transportation entrance fees. 

Other fees, such as camping, tours, concession , etc, are not included.

Although these will be great outings for couples and families, singles (as a group or solo) will have an awesome experience, too. For me, simply taking in some of the majestic views that ease stress away makes a trip worthwhile.

Sawmill Geyser in Yellowstone National Park

In addition to beauty, you’ll find lots of magnificent flora, birds and geological treasures.  Oh, and wildlife. Probably no tigers, but lots of bears. Don’t worry, the parks with a bear population will give you safety precautions and tactics should you meet one.  Most parks also offer loads of walking trails, which give new meaning to walking in majesty. Or, take a driving tour. The rangers in the parks also lead programs specific to each park. The kids get educated without even realizing!

Morning Glory Pool in Yellowstone Nat'l Park

You can also enjoy biking, fishing, lunch in the great outdoors; as well as a multitude of exhibits and films. In the National Landmarks, you’ll relive history.

The Vanderbilt Mansion in New York provides a “complete example of a gilded-age country place, illustrating the political, economic, social, cultural, and demographic changes that occurred as America industrialized in the years after the Civil War.”

Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site
Photo – National Park Service

Gardens at the Vanderbilt Mansion. Located at ...

Gardens at the Vanderbilt Mansion. Located at the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site, 4097 Albany Post Road, in Hyde Park, New York. Designed for Frederick W. Vanderbilt (1856–1938) by McKim, Mead & White in the Beaux-Arts style, and built between 1896–1899. Historic house museum and gardens maintained by the U.S. National Park Service. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The National Park Service’s (NPS) list of free entrance sites includes several National Historic sites.  These include ones within the parks, like The Yellowstone Fort; in addition to stand-alone monuments (i.e. the Vanderbilt Mansion).

 The NPS also provides a listing of the National Historic Landmarks such as the Jekyll Island Historic District in Georgia, Valley Forge in Pennsylvania or the F. Scott Fitzgerald House in Minnesota. This listing also includes landmarks in U.S. territories (i.e. American Samoa.

Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, designated thirteen (13) new historical landmarks this past March. Landmarks such as the Carrizo Plain Archeological District in San Luis Obispo County, California. It’s described as representing “a unique concentration of pre-contact sites, art, and artifacts, the outstanding significance of which has been recognized for almost a century by anthropologists, archeologists, artists, and novelists.”

As you can tell, the NPS offers much to do, see and experience. You’ll find reasonable fees outside of the fee-free days. too. The parks also offer packages and passes (i.e. seniors, lifetime, etc.).  And, like last year, you’ll find discounts and special offers from park partners and neighboring businesses. These come in handy for the amenities and services not covered in the fee-free deal. Services like camping, concessions, etc. 

For more details on activities the parks offer and fees, if any, see the 2011 article, Free U.S. Parking in September 2011.

Go here for a listing of the fee-free parks for 2012. Parks like Yosemite in California; The Petrified Forest in Arizona; the Everglades in Florida; Big Bend in Texas; Yellowstone in Idaho, Montana or Wyoming; the Vanderbilt Mansion in New York; Death Valley National Park in Nevada.

The fee-free days and other discounts apply, again, to over 100 parks in the National Park System.  41 states and 2 territories.  Is your area among them?  The list probably includes one you’ve wanted to visit.  And, there is probably one, or more, within driving distance from you.

Go out and enjoy these U.S. National Treasures when you can.  If you can’t go, at least visit the sites and enjoy the photos, podcast, videos and historical facts the NPS created for you – fee-free or otherwise at

And, if you have 45 minutes, watch the film, THIS IS AMERICA, which gives the diverse history and stories of the National Park system. The film includes some gorgeous footage of various parks, too.  

Big Sur, California

Big Sur, California (Photo credit: CCC the_tahoe_guy)

©2012 DLewis



Posted by on April 7, 2012 in Economic, Tips, Uncategorized


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…and if you want to make an impression these gifts will help. These gifts show you’ve given it some thought and gone beyond the “usual suspects”.  I think it’s safe to say, most of us don’t need a big ol’ box of sugar and carb-laden candy filled with cremes, nuts and fruit.  Most people have watches, or they’d rather pick their own anyway. Flowers, well they’re nice, but they die within days.  You get the idea.

Some of you have Valentine’s Day covered, but this post is for those who need some creative examples. Bonus: All these suggestions are under $50US.  However, time’s running out to to order. 


So, as a different take on the chocolate idea, consider, Figs In Chocolate with Walnut and Orange.

Luigi's Figs in Chocolate

This beautifully packaged presentation is from Calabria, in Southern Italy where the fig is king. That alone could spark lively conversation. Once your recipient
tastes one, there might be too much ooohing and ahhing going
  on for intelligible talk. Each ‘Dottato’ fig is stuffed with walnuts and a piece of candied orange peel, then immersed in dark chocolate. Figs, walnuts and dark chocolate? Love with a side of healthy. All prettily packaged in a wooden box tied with a generous ribbon. Now, that’s a memento. Available atLuigi’s of London ,  300 g – £12.95 (Currently about $20US, but use a converter, such as for exact pricing if you purchase. ) 
To continue on the healthy, yet memorable, theme. How about the Bronze Japanese Koi Teapot?  This also is a conversation piece, not only at presentation, but at later small gatherings with friends. At any rate, even if your recipient isn’t trying to drink more healthy tea, this teapot works a great addition to any decor. The enamel coating interior in this beautiful, classic cast iron teapot ensures it won’t rust. Cast iron means the water heats evenly. A removable stainless steel tea filter is included. The Koi insignia on the teapot symbolizes perseverance, courage, and good fortune.  Now, that should give you something to talk about over drinks.  And if you’re really astute, you might Google the history of the Japanese teapot and tea. Knowledge is not only power, it’s endearing. Just remember a little goes a long way on these occasions. Maybe, it’s a better idea to print off the information and present it in a frame or bound nicely. Oh, and don’t forget to pick up a nice green or black tea to go with your gift.Check out the Koi teapot at Enjoying Tea for $46US

Especially for the couple with children or one on the way: the family sculpture.  

Family Sculpture

Bonus: If your recipient is into sustainability and free trade, this gift hits both marks.  The sculpture’s available through Serrv.Org for $40US

                                            HEART IN POCKET

Isn’t it lovely? She’ll likely think so, too; and smile every time she checks her appearance in the red Compact with Jeweled Heart. Smile because she’ll be thinking of you. She’ll easily find this beautiful  mirrored compact in her purse.  And get admiring looks as she uses it. The compact is almost a piece of art. 

Get it for $28US at Beautiful Wishes.   


Know a Doctor Who fan? Or some similar iconic figure? Check out this Doctor Who TARDIS Talking Cookie Jar. A series fan will go bananas over it. The light and sound effects will tickle them.   Fill it with their favorite type of cookies (no one said you had to BAKE them! That’s why God made bakeries), with a promise of more in the future. Nothing says love like: I understand and respect your obsession.

$33 at BBC America Shop

Doctor Who Cookie Jar



Does your loved one love to visit a certain city or miss one because of relocation? Get them hand-drawn globes that depict a single city (e.g. Los Angeles, Rome, San Francisco, Paris, NYC). The globes include descriptions of landmarks and points of interest in the chosen city, as well as the usual map detail. Includes informational booklet elaborating on the historic and tourist sites illustrated on the globe. Comes in 4″, 6″ and 9″ sizes. starting at $31 from Pylones-usa

If you visited, or love the same, city, then this is a gift you both can enjoy. And one  that evokes great memories.


Does he or she ramp up  for the tailgate party every other weekend? Do they love to hang out at the beach or love to camp? The Grande Chef Portable Chill and Grill BBQ Set with Chiller is a great gift for this type.  This two-in-one grill and cooler combo has heavy-duty insulation and lots of room. The grill is portable and easy to store. It even has an ash catcher.

$26 at Amazon


And well, what’s Valentine’s Day without a sensual option.  This is a gift to give yourself for both of you.The Bijoux Indiscret L’Eau à Deux – Romantic Bath Kit creates a most intimate romantic experience. A kit that includes bath milk, a romantic jazz CD and, one of the well-known symbols of sensual love, rose petals.$42 at A Romantic Gift

These are just a few suggestions. If they don’t quite fit your recipient, they’ll hopefully get your creative juices flowing to think outside the candy heart. You, of course, still want to make certain that the “unusual” is something that will delight the recipient.  And if you must do the roses and chocolate thing, do consider going the sustainable, free trade route.
Best wishes on your quest!
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Posted by on February 3, 2012 in Consumer, Economic, Uncategorized


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In the last blog on price comparison sites, I mentioned product reviews in passing. I considered a short follow-up on that topic in regards to being careful about trusting product reviews on these sites as if they were gospel. Today, I caught part of a CBS This Morning story on problems with these reviews.

 If you’re making a large purchase, read reviews from several sites, retailers and otherwise. Do keep in mind that there are sources with nothing to gain from reviews. I’ve added a few more to the ones CBS mentioned:


 You’ll find product reviews on price comparison/deal, retailer’s and blogger’s sites. Some of them have begun to pay consumers to write positive reviews. It’s too much for some companies to resist.  Bad reviews can cost companies money—lots of money. Some companies put up fake reviews. The NY Times discusses this practice. It’s a good article to help understand how this practice works.

It might look enticing, but is it really?

Experts suggest employing these tips to avoid being seduced:

1)  Click on the “reviewers” name/handle to bring up other reviews they’ve done. Are there too many to be believable?  Have they reviewed several different variations of the same product? Are they effusive in every review?

2)  Did the reviewer do several reviews on the same day and/or within a small window of time?

3)  Does a glowing review seem out of kilter with the product to you? For example, someone rhapsodizing about a hair ornament.

4)  Does the review contain marketing speak? For instance, they describe something as “lightening fast”.

5)  Does the review include specific specifications like model numbers?

6)  Does the review fail to discuss the reliability, performance, and perceived value of product being reviewed? An average consumer would note these things in a review.

Lifehacker offers more suggestions for spotting fake reviews here.  

The FCC says fake reviewing is a pervasive practice. They claim it’s difficult, and tedious, to uncover and prosecute the fake reviews; and have neither the budget nor staff for this task. Additionally, the FCC only acts on reported incidents.

 So, if you encounter a retailer, product manufacturer or comparison site soliciting glowing reviews for cash or goods, report them to the FCC.


Also, pay attention. Be cautious. Buyer beware has taken on a whole new dimension.

UPDATE: A couple of articles (below) from help clarify this issue. Although these are meant as a caution to businesses, it could also help you recognize foul play. Sure, some will say reporting will be useless given the governmental agencies track record.  However, no change happens if there’s no change agent.

©2012 DLewis

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Posted by on January 31, 2012 in Consumer, Economic, Tips, Uncategorized


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 Social media has forever changed how we shop.   

New-and-improved shopping search engines (e.g. Shopzilla) provide quick price checks from lots of retailers, online as well as brick and mortar. You can find great deals on these sites, as well as merchant ratings, feedback scores based on hundreds of consumer responses.  Some of the retailers need to get rid of excess inventory. 

Public domain image -cairo

Here’s a few comparison shopping sites to try. – get consumer feedback on retailers and compare prices from “tens of thousands of retailers” in the U.S. and Europe. Type in what you’re looking for or select one of the categories. –Type in a product in the “Find it” box and you’re on your way to comparing values on electronics, home & garden, health and beauty, food and wine, video games, clothing, hotels—“millions of products”. – gives you price comparisons right where you live, as well as listing all the local ads in one place. 

Woot!  – a comparison membership site that works with retailers to sell excess inventory daily—at a steep discount. Note this site is mostly about listing deals and community forums offering opinions on and alerting others to new deals. – is another community driven, deal sharing bargain site meant to help shoppers in making the best purchase decisions. 

Google Product Search  – The site allows you to filter selections for free shipping, new items and different locations (which comes into play for the off-line stores.),, camelbuy and camelsounds are specific to retailers. Amazon, NewEgg, Backcountry, Best Buy and, respectively. It sends customers each retailers price drop alerts and price history charts, and does require you to sign up. – this site’s goal is to list every online store in one place, thousands of trusted stores, for price comparisons. It boasts over 162,000 stores and 244,000,000 products as of 2011. – also does price comparisons, but on electronics (e.g. camcorders, GPS, home theater systems, laptops) It includes lots of information on the gadgets themselves and with comparison to similarly styled products. 

Yahoo Shopping  – allows consumer to sort searches by store, brand or price. It also allows visitors to find sale products and rebates among its 94 million product listings. Product reviews by Yahoo users come up with each product search. 

Now, that should give you lots of ways to save money, find bargains and get just the thing you’re looking for at the perfect price. 

©2012 DLewis

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Posted by on January 29, 2012 in Consumer, Economic, Tips, Uncategorized


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Every year, usually twice a year, spas around the country offer specials on their services during spa week. An earlier blog post, 2011 Spa Weekprovides more details.

This year Spa Week <> happens April 16-22, 2012.  The event web site gives details. It also details helpful information like monthly spa deals across the U.S. and Spa Week – deals,  every Wednesday, similar to Groupon deals with purchase deadlines.  One recent deal: 6 Zerona Treatments (reg.$2,000) + Free Gift for $299. The Zerona treatments purportedly rid you of inches of belly flat without being invasive.  There are, of course, less expensive deals. You’ll also find spa travel bargains on the site.

You can begin to book as early as March 12, 2012. Mark your calendars and start checking out the spas in your area.  Be warned the site does require you to sign up to get locations and the discounted services each spa will offer during Spa Week.



In meantime, you might want to make do with this relaxing and soothing  sea salt bath recipe.  This bath isn’t the spa, but will certainly make you feel great. 

1/4 cup baking soda

1 cup borax

2 cups Epsom salts

3/4  cup coarse sea salt*

7.5 ml (or 150 drops**) of lavender essential oil

Clean eye dropper or pipette


English: Glass vial containing Ginger Essentia...

Image via Wikipedia

1. Mix and stir the borax, salts, and baking soda together with a wire whisk. (Use medium to large bowl)

2. Carefully mix in the essential oil a few drops at a time, constantly stirring.  Do not allow to lump. Mix well until appears lump-free.

It’s a good idea to place drop in different places in the mixture as you add the essential oil–this helps avoid lumps also.

3. Fasten lid on bowl and leave overnight to fix the scent.

4. Mix again with wire whisk the next morning.

5.  Pour into one, or more, glass containers*** with sealable lids.

To Use:

Add ¼ to ½ cup lavender salt bath to a tub full of warm water.


*    Buy seal salts in bulk at Whole Food and similar.

*    Buy essential oils at health food stores, Whole Foods or similar.

      A 15 ml bottle (1/2 ounce; 300 drops) of lavender will cost $6-$9 (less if one sale)

** Jars with attached lids that fasten and seal will work.  You can also buy candles in glass jars, with rubber sealable tops, to use after the candles burn down. (Do clear the jars of candle residue first!)

For additional bath recipes using essential oils, check the Aura Cacia bath page here < > . Most of these also provide ingredients for one bath at a time if you’d rather not store up.

©2012 DLewis

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Posted by on January 28, 2012 in Economic, Tips


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Project Gutenberg has been around for many years and is still going strong.  It bills itself as the first producer of ebooks.This site makes books in the public domain, over 38,000, available for free. Free for Kindle. Free epub books. All of these books were originally published in the traditional sense. Classics like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle  and The Crystal Crypt by Philip K. Dick 

You can download or read the books online. In no time, you’ll build a significant electronic library. There are even more books available through Gutenberg’s  Partners, Affiliates and Resources. Most of the works appear in English and several other languages.  


Although Gutenberg’s diligent volunteers continually digitize and proofread new offerings, the site welcomes donations to make sure that the benefit continues.  The site also gladly accepts more volunteers to proofread here

©2012 DLewis

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Posted by on January 23, 2012 in Consumer, Economic, Know this?


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You may have read about the free iPod classes in the Power of an iPod Education post. Well, some universities also offer free, open courses on-line.  Harvard is one of them. Open courses open to anyone with access to the Internet. That’s right–free instruction from Ivy-league professors.  You don’t earn credits with Harvard Extension School’s Open Learning Initiative , but you still get the knowledge. Harvard offers open classes such as Algebra, computer science, and  Shakespeare.

The university also has more credit and non-credit classes for a low tuition.  How about 16 weeks of being Harvard trained in the Economics of Business? For $1,025 for non-credit or undergrad credit?  In our current economic and business environment, this could be quite the illumination class.


Princeton, and some others, also offer similar courses; which I’ll cover in another post.  But do also check out the iPod offerings.

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Posted by on January 20, 2012 in Economic, Know this?, Tips


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