Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Reconnecting to the Land

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

Mount Hood rises in the background as workers pick pears in the Hood River Valley.
Photo by Adam Lapierre

Michele and Dan Spatz have been visiting the Hood River County Fruit Loop since their daughters were old enough to pick pumpkins from a patch.

The couple from The Dalles, Oregon, has shopped at area farmers markets and fruit stands, celebrated the pairing of local food and wine at vineyard dinners and even bought yarn at an alpaca farm.

They are among a growing number of Americans traveling to rural landscapes and activities as an alternative to the country’s more expected tourist hot spots.

According to the U.S. Census of Agriculture, the number of farms providing agritourism—a combination of agriculture and tourism—and related recreational services increased 42 percent from 23,350 to 33,161 between 2007 and 2012.

Organized in 1992, the Hood River County Fruit Loop promotes agricultural diversity to ensure preservation of the area’s rich agricultural heritage. The collection of farms, orchards, vineyards, wineries and other agricultural businesses lines a scenic 35-mile loop.

Visitors can pick apples, pears and other fruit; tour farms ranging from berries or lavender to chestnuts or alpacas; sip a glass of locally made wine or cider; and bring home fresh produce and products.

Theresa Draper, who runs Draper Girls Country Farm with her three daughters, says she has seen a steady increase in customers at her u-pick orchard and farm stand since the 1990s, with more families with young children visiting in the past five years.

Many who come to this stop on the Loop to pick the more than 80 varieties of apples, pears, cherries and other fruit stay to picnic in the garden, enjoy a glass of apple cider from the Drapers’ licensed mill, feed the animals, and soak up the sights and sounds of farm life.

“I love it,” says Theresa, who still maintains the year-round, self-service fruit stand that her parents began in the 1960s. “I have met so many people from all over the world. Last summer, we had a family from Saudi Arabia stay at the home we rent on the farm.”

Connecting Urban to Rural
Alexa Carey of Travel Oregon says the Hood River Fruit Loop is the best example of agritourism collaboration in the state.

“It has grown from a small number of fruit farms to a destination,” she says.
More than half of Oregon’s tourists participate in some type of culinary experience—whether it is a farm, wine tour or farmers market, says Alexa.

“Agritourism has the potential to help connect people in urban areas to farms and food, and to keep these working landscapes alive,” Alexa says. “In urban areas, there is interest in local food, local producers and organic practices.

“For kids, there is a real disconnect from where their food comes from. Getting out to a farm for these experiences is fun, it is educational and it really helps kids put things together to see this is where their tomatoes come from.”

In regions of the U.S. with deep agricultural roots, agritourism has been around for generations, says Martha Glass, founder of the National Agritourism Professionals Association.

“In the late ’50s to early ’60s, that meant picking out a pumpkin at a pumpkin patch or cutting down a Christmas tree at a u-pick site,” Martha says. “Visitors to a peach or apple orchard took a bucket, picked and went home. During their visit, they hoped to see some machinery or buildings that looked like what they had on a farm where they grew up.”

By the early 2000s, nostalgia for the family farm experience became a driving force for many active, healthy grandparents who brought their grandchildren.

“That generation remembered going to grandma’s farm for a family reunion,” says Martha. “They wanted to take their children and grandchildren to show them where their food came from and what it was like to live on the farm.”

In the aftermath of 9/11, patriotism and nostalgia swelled across the country.

“We cared very much about our farms, and we realized that we were in danger of losing that way of life,” Martha says.

Expanding the Experience
From animals to crops, farmers realized they had something city people wanted to see.

Christmas tree farms expanded to include cut trees and a farm store with ornaments. The farm produce stand on the side of the road became an enclosed store with a front porch and rocking chair. Little country towns that surround these farms saw visitors coming into downtown to eat at local restaurants and buy gas.

According to Martha, about 80 percent of agritourism farms in the U.S. today have some type of activity—from hayrides to harvest festivals, u-pick produce to vineyard tours, horses to hens.

Farm-to-fork—also called farm-to-table dinners—feature meals with fresh, local ingredients, often in the settings where they are grown. Diners can tour a farm and talk with the people who made the products and prepared their meal.

Farm weddings are also popular. From rustic to lavish, outdoor or under cover, there are plenty of options for couples looking to get married with their boots on.

For those looking to enjoy the rural lifestyle for more than a few hours, farm stays provide creative and unique lodging. Accommodations range from a room in a farmer’s home or converted farm building to a guest house or campsite.

Some hosts welcome help with chores or offer classes in cooking, photography or cheese making.

Dude ranches offer another option for individuals and families looking to experience the rural lifestyle. At a working dude ranch, daily chores and activities—including cattle and horse drives—are determined by the needs of the livestock.

Horseback riding and other outdoor activities are the focus at dude ranches, while larger resort dude ranches offer diverse activities and facilities in addition to riding.

For 60 years, the Smith family has welcomed guests to the Cottonwood Ranch in Wells, Nevada, for pack trips and horse and cattle drives. The working horse and cattle ranch draws visitors from around the world who come to hike, fish, mountain bike or just relax and breathe the fresh air.

Set in Idaho’s Frank Church Wilderness, The Diamond D Ranch offers an all-inclusive traditional ranch stay with trail rides and multiday pack trips as well as guided fly fishing, hunting, hiking and family activities.

At the Triangle T Historic Guest Ranch in Dragoon, Arizona, 60 miles southeast of Tucson, guests can saddle up for an hour or a day on a desert trail. With more than 160 acres ranging from rolling grass-covered hills to rugged terrain, there is something for every level of rider. Afterward, guests can relax in the swimming pool or hot tub before heading to The Rock Saloon and Grill for dinner.

Capitalizing on Novelty
Alaska welcomes more than 1 million visitors a year. Margaret Adsit created Alaska Farm Tours to give travelers an intimate glimpse of the lives and livelihoods of farmers and ranchers in the Matanuska Valley north of Anchorage.

Many of those who work this land are descendants of early homesteaders who came in 1935 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal resettlement plan.

“People are producing copious amounts of food,” says Margaret. “We have one 6-acre farm that can produce food for about 600 people in the summer.”

With a growing season just topping 100 days and sunshine up to 20 hours a day, innovation is the name of the game for those who work the soil with limited resources to produce a variety of cold-weather crops, including potatoes, cabbages, lettuce and carrots.

Tours begin with an introduction to Alaska plants at the Palmer Grow program and the gardens of the Palmer Art Museum and Historical Center, followed by visits to three agricultural operations. At a local farm, participants have a catered lunch highlighting Alaska products.

Alan Finifrock lived in Alaska for two decades before moving to Minnesota. Now he teaches travel classes and leads tours to his former home. Many of those on his trips are from rural communities who caught the travel bug after watching TV reality shows set in Alaska.

When he brought a group to Alaska last year, Alan made sure Alaska Farm Tours was on the itinerary. He has a return visit planned this summer.

“Agriculture is so much different in Alaska,” he says. “It is a novelty topic for people from the Lower 48. They enjoy the comparison and contrast with Minnesota.”

Sharing the Life
Across the U.S., agritourism activities continue to grow and expand to meet the interests and curiosities of visitors, opening the barn door and pasture gate to the ultimate field trip.

The Hood River County Fruit Loop continues to be a popular day trip for the Spatzes when entertaining family from out of state—including their now adult daughters.

“Much of my family lives in big cities and are removed from the primary aspect of working the land and benefiting from its harvest,” says Michele Spatz.

She and her guests appreciate the friendliness of the business owners and staff, and their in-depth knowledge of their products.

“They are so proud of what they have accomplished and will share the secrets of their success,” Michele says.

Exploring Far Afield: Tips for Rural Visits

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

Rural settings let visitors slow down and enjoy the simple pleasures. Photos by Lori Russell

Looking for some country fun? Plenty of online resources are available to plan a rural getaway without getting your hands dirty.

For an overview, begin with state tourism websites. Search for agritourism attractions by location and activity at,,,,, and Washington state’s, or try one of the suggested trip itineraries.

Connect with regional visitor associations within a state to find exceptional food and farm experiences in the area.

A quick internet search by location and activity will yield everything from u-pick operations to wedding site venues, corn mazes to pumpkin patches. Most farms and ranches have websites with information about their activities, hours and rates.

Check out the local chamber of commerce or social media sites such as Facebook for current blossom, foliage and fruit availability dates in addition to seasonal events or festivals.

On small farms, the person who leads a tour may also tend the plants and feed the animals, so call ahead to arrange a visit—especially when traveling with a large group.

The U.S. Farm Stay Association provides a list of working farms and ranches with lodging at Accommodations and activities vary by location. Some cater to adults, and others welcome families. Go to the farm or ranch’s website or call directly to find out what a typical day and stay is like. Rooms or cabins for rent in a variety of rural locales can be found on (vacation rentals by owner) and

When choosing a dude ranch vacation, the size, location, accommodations and activities matter. A stay at a ranch with 10 guests differs from one with 100 people. Location determines the riding environment—from mountain trails to open pasture to desert. Is a swimming pool, TV or internet access important? Choose accordingly. The Dude Ranchers’ Association ( maintains a list of more than 100 all-inclusive working, traditional and resort dude ranches in the U.S., with offerings for riders of all ages and experience.

Before packing up and heading out on an adventure, remember that farms and ranches often are in remote locations where access to gas stations and ATMs is limited. Public transportation or ride-sharing services such as Uber or Lyft are rare or nonexistent. Cell service and GPS signals can be erratic. Fill up the gas tank and bring written directions and a map when traveling to a rural location.

Function trumps fashion when visiting rural landscapes. Washable clothing and comfortable, close-toed shoes are the dress code for most activities.

Safety is an important consideration on a farm or ranch, especially when traveling with young children or someone with a physical limitation. Depending on the tour or activity, ask about accessible pathways and instructions about livestock, landscape, equipment, and other hazards on and around the property.

Word of mouth is still one of the best ways to find out about agritourism opportunities. When visiting a business, ask about other attractions in the area. Rural business owners work together to promote tourism in their communities. They can recommend new attractions before they are on the map, or less- publicized places that are worth a visit.

Most importantly, slow down and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the rural lifestyle. After all, it is why you came.

Capturing a Sense of Awe

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

Tourists gaze up at the most iconic landmark in Florence, Italy: the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower, otherwise known as the Duomo.
Photos by David LaBelle

I saw it at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s old city, and see it over and again at the foot of the breathtaking, 375-foot-tall Duomo in Florence, Italy: that awestruck gaze washing over so many stunned and humbled faces.

Even when anticipated, such moments are able to capture us so completely our eyes water and our skin tingles.

For just a few seconds, we are bathed in the quiet wonder of the moment.

It is during these brief moments people actually experience the glory and feel the wonder, before they try to capture what is passing through their eyes.

I am confident I wore a similar awestruck expression at first sight of each of my four children.

However brief, this is a magical time, before the visitor awakens from their temporary trance and lifts their smartphone camera to make a record of the sight, or before they awaken and feel compelled to kiss in the shadow of the majestic site.

There is a phrase used when shooting film called the “latent image.” It is that hopeful time between the moment the shutter is pressed and negatives or prints are processed.

Essentially, latent means the hidden or concealed, but existing. I have always loved that thought, that state.

It might be a stunning sunrise or a spectacular sunset that stills us, wrapping around us in a reverent silence.

Or it can be coming face to face with a beloved celebrity that temporarily paralyzes us so much we are afraid to breathe, lest our breath pushes away the moment.

As a primarily documentary “moment” photographer, these fleeting capsules of authentic, unrehearsed emotion are what I hunger to witness and capture.

I have learned during these “trance” times that if I keep my distance and move slowly, the entranced are so focused with what fills their eyes they see neither me nor my camera.

While you can never plan for what you will feel when you see a breathtaking sight, you can prepare yourself to capture that sense of awe on the faces of others—especially if you have scouted the site and know where people are most likely to get their first glimpse of majesty.

The wonderful thing and difficult challenge about shooting authentic human moments is there is never a do-over. You cannot ask someone do to a thing again with the same expression.

There simply is never a second first time.


David LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He applies many of the lessons he learned during his magical boyhood years in rural California to photography. For more information, visit

Six Tips for a Comfortable Bike Ride

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

Shifting a multispeed bicycle is an acquired skill. Some consider it an art. For optimal smoothness and efficiency, take your time when shifting gears. Let each speed take hold before moving to the next. Shifting too fast may lead to the chain jumping gears or disengaging altogether. Also, try to anticipate changes in speed, such as uphills, downhills and changes in road surfaces, and time your shifts accordingly.
© Brian A. Jackson

May is National Bike Month. What better excuse to enjoy one of the region’s myriad biking hotspots.

Follow these tips to stay comfortable and maximize the fun.

  • The bike frame should fit your frame. On a properly sized bicycle, you should be able to straddle it and stand flat footed, with daylight between you and the bike. Generally, there should be about 2 inches of clearance.
  • Match your tires to the surface you ride most. For roads and paved trails, the best options are slick or semi-slick tires; they cause less friction and provide a steady, more comfortable ride on smooth surfaces. Knobby tires are best for dirt, gravel and off-trail riding.
  • Find a seat for every backside. Just because a bike comes with a particular seat does not mean you are stuck with it forever. A new seat is easy to install. Find one that fits your contours and provides the level of comfort you desire.
  • Add cush to your tush. Wider seats, cushioned pull-over seat covers and gel-filled seats are popular comfort options. For example, Cloud 9 cushioned seats are popular with recreational riders. Check out the company’s offerings at
  • Beat the heat. You can work up a sweat on a brisk bike ride. To stay cool, wear a helmet with lots of ventilation. The key is to find one that provides good protection, as well as optimal air flow.
  • Just add water. Last but not least, always carry a full water bottle. If your bike doesn’t accommodate a water bottle, consider a hydration pack. One advantage of a hydration pack—such as a Camelbak or Platypus—is it allows you to carry more water for longer, hotter rides.

Outdoors 101: Binoculars
Every pair of binoculars is described by a set of numbers that looks like a multiplication problem, such as 7×35, 8×40 or 10×50. But what do those numbers really mean?

The first number indicates the magnification power of the binoculars. The second refers to the diameter of the objective lens. The bigger the lens, the more light that can pass through the optics of the binoculars and the brighter images will appear.

Sweat the Salty Stuff
Perspiration and saltwater are the bane of multi-tools. They promote rust and corrosion. Generally, there are two ways to confront the problem. First, select a multi-tool that is corrosion resistant. Second, maintain it regularly. After sweaty, salty use, rinse the tool with fresh water, dry it and oil it with a light coat of machine oil. Make sure to get into the moving parts. Remove excess oil by wiping it with a dry cloth or paper towel.

Special Days in May
National Bike Month.
May 4: Bird Day.
May 16: Love a Tree Day.
May 27: Sunscreen Day.

Show-and-Tell Time
Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If selected for publication, we will send you $25 for one-time use of the item. When sending a photo, identify people and pets, and tell us the story behind the picture. Email your submission to gro.etilarurnull@ofni.

Many of Curtis Condon’s fondest memories involve outdoor adventures with friends and family, whether fishing with old school buddies, backpacking in the mountains of the Northwest with his sons, or bird watching along the Gulf Coast with his wife. He feels fortunate having the opportunity to write about the outdoors and other subjects for more than 30 years.

Vigilance Returned

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

Vigilance is devoted attentiveness or watchfulness—the ability to be constantly alert over prolonged periods of time, most commonly attributed to military personnel, law enforcement, first responders and the like, who are dedicated to serve and protect.

Vigilance is devoted attentiveness or watchfulness—the ability to be constantly alert over prolonged periods of time, most commonly attributed to military personnel, law enforcement, first responders and the like, who are dedicated to serve and protect.

In Washington state, the women of Anderson Island Quilts of Valor— local members of the national Quilts of Valor Foundation—practice their own brand of vigilance. Their mission is to blanket veterans in handmade quilts and to give them a hug to show appreciation for their service.

Barbara Knudson and her daughter, Trina Fischer, spearheaded the Quilts of Valor group on Anderson Island three years ago. Barbara has a lifelong passion for quilting.

“We made seven quilts in seven months,” says Barbara. “We set up a one-day ‘Sew-In’ at the Anderson Island Community Club in June of 2013, and 22 interested island quilters attended.”

The event resulted in 156 quilt blocks. They were sent to the national organization, which collected almost 6,000 blocks from all across the country.

The Anderson Island group has awarded 129 quilts to veterans so far.

Barbara says members donate their time to make the quilts because they believe the men and women who served in the U.S. military deserve thanks.

“I am blessed to have the greatest group of ladies to work with in this endeavor,” Barbara says. “They are dedicated to our mission, always helpful and a delight to work with.”

Community Effort Puts Town and Historic Hotel on the Map

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

Former Hollywood producer Deborah Mendelsohn bought and restored the historic Simpson Hotel in the small town of Duncan, Arizona. Above left, the hotel retains the charms of a bygone era and is now a popular bed and breakfast for people traveling through the southeastern part of the state.
Photos by Jeff Paries

Most weekends, the town of Duncan, Arizona—with its 2.2 square miles and a population of roughly 800—sits quietly near the state’s southeastern border.

Spring, however, means it is time for the Javelina Chase Omnium, an annual event for competitive and non-competitive cyclists. The event has grown from 24 participants in 2014 to more than 200 in 2016.

Deborah Mendelsohn is one of 11 volunteers on the Javelina Chase steering committee. As the owner of Simpson Hotel—a bed and breakfast on Main Street, off of Highway 70—she is happy to see growing interest in the annual event, which has helped put both the town and the hotel on the map.

“The Javelina Chase brings many visitors,” Deborah says.

As a result of cycling’s growing popularity in the area, the hotel recently was added to the route map for, a global organization that lists preferred routes for the sport.

Getting the hotel building to its current state did not come quickly or easily.

In 1978, the building withstood a flood with up to 9 feet of water and substantial damage. The building’s occupant—Duncan Valley Electric Cooperative—was forced to vacate.

Following the flood, a series of people bought the building and tried to work on it, without much success.

Deborah—a native of Boston—bought the building in January 2006. She spent 12 years in Hollywood as a TV producer and writer before moving to New Mexico, just outside Duncan, in 2005

“It reminded me of a house I grew up in,” she says of the hotel. “I couldn’t resist.”

The building was affordable, but took a lot to restore, Deborah says. She lived in the building through the initial 16-month renovation.

“We had no heat or cooling that first year,” she says. “Indoor temps ranged from the low 30s to 104.”

The walls were covered with fake paneling and the floors with tattered rugs.

The six-room hotel now boasts both original art created by Deborah’s husband, Clayton Jarvis, as well as period and Western pieces found in thrift shops.

A pair of javelina “greeters” made of cast concrete flank the front entrance of the hotel. A sculpture garden, which features a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a large pond and native plants and grasses, is open to the public.

“Guests come from all over,” Deborah says. “Quite a few come to visit family or tend graves. There are lots on bicycles, from the U.S. and Canada, who are touring.”

There is a teardrop trailer on the property where cyclists can stay for free.

Even following significant renovation, a mystery remains under the building’s floorboards: a safe most likely original to the hotel.

“When we did demolition work to the building, we came across a beautiful floor safe in front of the fireplace,” Deborah says.

She called on the co-op as well as locksmiths to try to open the safe, but to no avail.

“We finally gave up and built over it,” she says.

In a place where most residents work at the local copper mine—or for a business that supports the mine—a team effort is needed to make events such as the Javelina Chase a success.

“One thing about this community is how well people work together,” Deborah says. “There is a feeling of linking arms.”

This year’s Javelina Chase is Saturday, May 6, and Sunday, May 7. In addition to the cycling road races, there are fun rides, a timed criterium, a bike rodeo for children, a 5K run/walk for all ages and a Cinco de Mayo celebration.

The Three Rs of Fishing

Sunday, March 26th, 2017

If there were a fourth R of fishing, it would be recycling. For example, unwanted fishing line should be recycled, not thrown away. If it ends up in a landfill, it is hazardous to birds and other animals in the area. It should be discarded in designated receptacles found at many fishing shops, parks, boat ramps and piers. Metal pieces also can be recycled, such as lead weights, spoons, hooks and blades.
© istock/mokee81

I’ve mentioned Pop a time or two before. He was a fishing legend where I grew up.

He is worth reintroducing here because he was a firm believer in the three Rs of fishing gear: repair, repurpose and reuse.

Pop accumulated a trove of fishing gear in his 80-some years. It was as if he never threw anything away. Despite how that may sound, nearly all of it was in perfect working condition. That’s because he always followed these three principles when challenged by broken, aging or worn out gear.

Restore it. It’s easy—and satisfying—to repair a broken rod tip, grip or guide. A reel restoration is more challenging, but it is well worth the trouble if the reel is one of your old favorites. Manuals with exploded parts views for many brands and models of reels are available online. You also can sharpen hooks, polish spinner blades and restore suppleness to plastic baits with a few drops of glycerin.

Repurpose it. I’ve seen earrings created from old spinners, back scratchers made from broken rods, and keyrings assembled from crankbait and diver plugs. The uses for old and broken fishing gear are endless. But, perhaps, the best use is to repurpose it as loaner gear for children or other novice anglers.

Reuse it. A piece of fishing gear may not work properly, but that doesn’t mean it has to be discarded. Reuse any parts that do work still—such as the body, spoons and treble hook of a lure—and discard the rest. Often you can take the working parts of two broken items and combine them to make one that works.

The Outdoor Workout
Ever wonder how many calories you burn outdoors? The actual burn rate depends on the activity. For example, hiking and biking burn more calories—410 and 574 calories, respectively, for a person weighing 180 pounds—than fishing and hunting, which burn 164 and 328 calories, respectively.
Duration and intensity of the activity, body weight, age, gender and metabolism also play a role. The good news is almost every outdoor activity burns more calories than sitting or puttering around the house. So the next time you go fishing, if anyone asks, it’s OK to tell people you are going to work out.

To get a better idea of how many calories you burn, check out the calorie-burn calculator at

A Hiker’s Delight
Do you want to find trails near home or when exploring new areas? There are many trail directory apps and websites, but one of the most comprehensive is You can browse the site by location and activity type. The site also is interactive, and you can post your comments and photos, or see those posted by others.

What Makes April Special
Keep America Beautiful Month.
April 8: Draw a Picture of a Bird Day.
April 28: Arbor Day.
April 28: International Astronomy Day.

Show-and-Tell Time
Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If selected for publication, we will send you $25 for one-time use of the item. When sending a photo, identify people and pets, and tell us the story behind the picture. Email your submission to gro.etilarurnull@ofni.

Cut Down to Save Big

Sunday, March 26th, 2017

At age 49, Donna Freedman decided to change her life. It was 2006, and she was a recently divorced, single parent with $130 to her name.

Donna had always lived frugally, but found herself at a place in life where every penny counted. She had to come up with a plan to survive and thrive.

“I had to go broke to become a personal finance writer,” says Donna, now a freelance writer and author.

Personal finance stretches beyond retirement plans and stock options to simple, everyday lifestyle changes and money-saving behaviors that result in substantial savings.

For some, it is breaking the daily latte or shopping habit, or cutting monthly grocery costs in half. For others, it is viewing debt as a financial emergency and strategically planning to pay it off.

Donna says taking ownership of her monthly income saved money, and gave her both peace of mind and financial independence.

She started by contacting a former colleague from the Anchorage Daily News, personal finance columnist Liz Weston. At the time, Liz worked for MSN Money.

“I told Liz my divorce was final and the only money I could count on was $1,000 a month for the next year,” says Donna. “I told her, ‘I’m going to be able to live on this, pay off my debt and divorce, and save money.’”

This conversation led to Donna’s first personal finance article, “Surviving (and thriving) on $12k a year.” It was published by MSN Money in January 2007. The article outlined how she would build her savings account on $1,000 a month while working less and getting her education from the University of Washington.

Aside from writing, Donna became a jack of all trades, fixing appliances at the Seattle apartment complex where she lived. She also took on babysitting jobs.

Donna moved to Anchorage, Alaska, in 2012, where she continued her freelance work and expanded her blog, Surviving and Thriving—a collection of stories about intentional living and Donna’s philosophy on being thrifty.

“Spending less means more choices,” Donna says. “Someone who is in debt has no options but to pay it off. Some people stay in jobs they hate so they can pay off debt from stuff they buy to make them feel better, because they hate their jobs. You need to handle your own money. You can still fix what’s wrong.”

People are Seeking Help
Since the 2008 recession, many people have turned to online resources, such as Donna’s blog, for tips and tricks to save money. Personal finance websites, such as The Penny Hoarder, are thriving.

“We focus on keeping more money in our readers’ pockets, not so much stock markets,” says Justin Cupler, assistant editor at The Penny Hoarder.

Since it started in 2010, The Penny Hoarder has attracted more than 6 million active subscribers with posts ranging from money management to food freebies.

“We cater to the masses,” says Justin. “Everyone is looking for ways to make money. We try to catch on to trends where people can find real-life ways to earn money and save money.”

The first principle to personal finance is you get out of it what you put into it, says Justin.

For every person, regardless of age, the first step to managing money is paying off debt. Justin says there are two approaches to effectively tackling what you owe.

“The debt snowball is paying off the lowest-balance credit cards first, then once that card is paid off, rolling that payment into the card with the next-lowest balance,” Justin says. “Debt avalanche is the same concept of rolling payments, but you focus on paying the highest interest cards first.”

Easy Ways to Save
Paying off debt often means cutting back on spending. Karrie Truman from Kennewick, Washington, is an expert on household savings. Her blog, Happy Money Saver, gives readers easy ways to save at home, ranging from making their own laundry detergent to building a dream house on a budget.

“In 2009, I first started blogging because I was finding so many good deals,” says Karrie. “I love to experiment, so I started doing tests of whether making your own laundry detergent really saves money. I made my own (version of) Burt’s Bees for 12 cents a tube. I’ve been frugal a very long time. I think I just love saving money.”

Karrie’s blog has grown so much that she pays 10 people to contribute and help manage her site.

“I have some people do recipe creation,” she says. “Some people help me with photography. I have people that help with writing thrifty articles, and I have somebody that manages all the different social media outlets.”

Karrie’s most popular blog section is about freezer meals. She says preparing meals ahead of time is a great moneysaver.

“You may make multiple trips to the store every week, which leads to impulse shopping,” says Karrie. “When you do freezer meals and make 30 meals all in one day with one batch of groceries, you save all that time you would have been cooking when you get home.”

By living a frugal life, Karrie was able to make her dream of owning a piece of land and farm animals come true.

In February 2016, her dream home on 5 acres was completed, and she started her own homestead.

She blogged about the process.

“It takes a lot of research to save a lot of money when building a house,” says Karrie. “I was constantly researching everything—from the best quality and least expensive options. There’s so much research involved, but it pays off. The amount of work you put in it will pay off.”

A ‘Silly’ Way to Cut Costs
Dedicating each week to saving money also paid off for Lisa Mapuranga when she saw how lucrative couponing could be.

“For me, I kind of always thought coupons were silly,” says Lisa, who lives in Spanaway, Washington. “I actually had a co-worker friend whose mom was couponing. One day she paid like $125 for more than $900 worth of stuff. That’s $800 of savings. That’s like a part-time job.”

Lisa told her co-worker she wanted to learn about couponing, which led her to teach classes in Parkland, Washington.

“I teach people how to coupon at different levels and what would work for their lifestyle,” says Lisa.

She says everyone has a different amount of time they can commit to the task, and household needs factor into how much time is spent couponing.

First, Lisa buys four to five Sunday newspapers. She clips coupons and organizes them in a binder. She also uses apps such as Krazy Coupon Lady, the RiteAid app, and websites such as and

Couponing allows Lisa to share some of her finds with her church food bank.

While you can save money couponing, Lisa knows every person’s couponing need is different.

“Try things out and see what works for you,” says Lisa. “What works for someone else might not necessarily work for you and your life.”

Teaching Students About Finances
While Donna and Karrie had frugal upbringings that shaped their view of life, others become thrifty through practice.

Teacher Gina Pixler believes these skills should be part of everyone’s education.

“I have my Realtor license and was a mortgage lender before the market went bad,” says Gina. “The most common age demographic—between 23 and 27—cannot afford a home because they destroyed their credit. Credit isn’t something you can just fix. You have about two to three years of changing your lifestyle.”

What naturally came out of conversations with people wanting to buy a home was the question, “Why didn’t anyone teach me this when I was in high school?”

“I asked myself, ‘Why aren’t we empowering students to make smart financial decisions?’” says Gina.

Gina has been a technical education teacher at the junior-senior high school in Chester, California, for 11 years.

“It doesn’t matter how much you make,” she says. “It matters what you do with the money you make. It is not just luck. With the right choices, we can all be financially successful.”

Students in Gina’s classes create and manage a budget, receive hands-on work experience in job fields they are interested in pursuing, learn about the stock market and learn how to dress professionally.

Her students also compete in competitions such as the national H&R Block Budget Challenge and the local Shasta Youth Entrepreneurship Program at Shasta College.

“They use what we’ve taught them about the basics of income, paychecks, taxes, saving, investing and put a budget together and monitor it,” says Gina. “It’s a pretty good eye opener for all of them.”

Gina’s goal is to prepare her students for a career and college, while teaching them strategies to successfully manage their money.

“They can be millionaires by the time they’re 40,” says Gina. “That’s my pitch.”

While there are many influences in society to have the latest and greatest of everything, Donna has learned­­­—through trial and tribulation—that being thrifty leads to a happier life.

“I really do think that you live better when you have control of your finances,” says Donna. “Frugal people sleep better. We’re not lying awake wondering how we’re going to make that minimum payment. Choosing to live with less has meant not filling my life with things that don’t matter to me.”

Donna says she saves where she can so she can spend where she wants, which includes an occasional opera ticket, dinner at a nice restaurant and going to the symphony.

“I’m not a minimalist, but having fewer things means having more space in your life and your house, and not having the debt to go along with it,” she says.

Six Steps to Get Your Finances on Track

Sunday, March 26th, 2017

Assistant Editor Justin Cupler works at The Penny Hoarder offices. The personal finance website has attracted more than 6 million active subscribers.
Photo by Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

Take control of your money instead of letting your money control you

It is easy to talk about personal finance, but how do you take the talk from passive to active? Here are six steps to help you start your financially conscious lifestyle.

Step One: Financial Fire Drill
“Add up the absolutely minimum amount you need to survive the month,” says Donna Freedman of the blog Survive and Thrive.

Assessing your monthly expenses helps you make a distinction between monthly wants and needs. This amount does not include luxuries such as cable, entertainment and eating out.

Step Two: Create a Budget
Budgeting means assessing how much you need to spend on monthly expenses such as rent/mortgage, car, child or pet care and groceries, and establishing a place for money left over.

“You have to really look at how much you have, your earnings and how much you can afford,” says Karrie Truman, creator of Happy Money Saver blog.

Groceries can be a big budget breaker, says Karrie.

“Often times, food is the No. 1 huge budget breaker because everyone is on the go and coming home tired around dinner time,” she says.

Instead of ordering a pizza or going out for dinner, this mom of four encourages people to coupon to help with the expense and prepare freezer meals for easy dinners at the end of the day.

Step Three: Cut the Fat
Once you have established a budget, address the monthly luxuries you could do without.

“Cut everything that you don’t need and can live without,” says Justin Cupler, assistant editor of The Penny Hoarder. “If you have a Netflix account, but only watch once a month, or have a car you’re paying on, but only drive two times a week, start cutting those expenses. You could save several hundred dollars a month.”

Step Four: Save
Whether it is a savings account, 401(k), IRA or mutual funds, everyone should be saving for the future. Saving every month can be as easy as “set it and forget it.”

“Automate your savings,” says Justin. “There is Acorns, Digit and multiple other apps that take money and stash it away for you.”

Acorns monitors your bank account and automatically invests the change from your daily purchases into an investment portfolio of your choice, from moderate to aggressive.

Digit connects to your checking account and analyzes your spending habits, bills and deposits. It then determines how much money you can afford to have transferred into a savings account every two to three days.

Both apps are federally insured and protected.

Step Five: Be Patient
Paying off debt and getting finances in order takes time.

“Time is the price to work your way up,” says Gina Pixler. “You’re not going to have it all together all at once.”

Gina says getting your credit score in good standing can take two to three years. By establishing clear goals to paying off debt, it can make you feel more accomplished.

“Break down the cost of debt into obtainable, smaller goals you can be proud of achieving,” says Gina.

Step Six: Reward Yourself
As you move toward your goal of living a more financially conscious lifestyle, save for events and vacations.

“It can be monster truck driving or the opera—whatever matters to you,” says Donna. “Go ahead and have it, but have a plan on how to pay for it.”

Gina urges people to make rewarding yourself a goal.

“As adults, we need to make vacation a goal and not work to death,” says Gina. “Reward with fun.”

When it comes to taking control of your money, it is an active process that should be given priority every month.

“Start now,” says Justin. “Don’t start next month. Start today.”

What a Photograph Cannot Do

Sunday, March 26th, 2017

Four views of Frank, from left: The cheerful Frank I see most mornings. He talks about a former girlfriend, an Italian woman. Frank grows more serious as he explains how he came to Italy via Morocco and lost his passport. He sleeps on the streets and, at 66, is losing hope of ever leaving Italy or being able to get a job. “All I want is a simple life—a room to stay in and to live,” he offers. He has been stuck in Italy for 32 years with no hope of ever leaving or changing his existence. He says he cares deeply about me … and that we are both crazy.

I have written about what photography means to me and how it helps us cope and heal from traumas. But for all of the wonderful things photographs can do, they have limits—things they cannot do.
How often have we heard, and maybe even said, a photograph “captured” an individual’s spirit or character?

I feel like that trite expression is grossly inaccurate.

Last year I wrote a column, “I am not Richard Avedon,” confessing my inability to share painful or revealing photos of subjects without their blessing, however honest the images might be.

Space would not allow me then to elaborate on another acute realization: No single photograph—even the best ones made by the best photographers—can capture a person’s spirit any more than a mirror can capture the essence of our complicated selves.

No human is one thing, one way, all the time. We laugh, we cry, we are happy and we are sad. Between these extreme passions are myriad subtle feelings and expressions—each a tiny blinking star in a vast galaxy of emotion, each a fragment of the fleshly paint of an immortal soul.

We humans are far too complicated to be captured on film or a digital sensor. As with photographing the wind, we can only hope to capture shadowy glimpses of the spirit.

When people ask me how I am doing, I often tease, “I am fine, as long as I stay away from a mirror.”

Though this is meant to evoke a laugh, there is deep truth in what I am saying. Who I see in a mirror does not look at all like the real, intimate, internal, invisible, eternal me—at least not what I feel in my spirit.

This does not minimize the power of a good photograph or work of art. On the contrary, a photograph can trigger or awaken emotions within—sort of heirlooms to memories—that remind us or connect us to meaningful moments in our lives.

Some portraits—whether made with camera or paintbrush—offer clues about the subject’s inward person, granting us a peek at their soul.

But portraits shared publicly have context. When possible, multiple images are published to give a greater range of emotion and expression.

For me, seeing a single portrait of a person is a little like watching the tip of a snake’s tail going down a gopher hole and saying I saw the snake. I prefer to study multiple images of a person from one sitting or shoot to assemble a more complete profile.

Like it or not, we make judgments about people often based on a single image, without knowing the context of the photograph. What was the circumstance, the climate of the photo shoot? What was the question? What was the facial expression in response to?

One of the exercises I use with my students is to have them shoot a self-portrait. Then I ask other students to tell the class how they see and feel about the person.

I miss those days when publications printed a panel of portrait images from a sitting. Each individual photograph offered a different expression, like a piece to a jigsaw puzzle or mosaic, that contributed to the overall beauty of the person’s spirit and character.


David LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He applies many of the lessons he learned during his magical boyhood years in rural California to photography. For more information, visit