Inconspicuous Consumption

A Hygge-lism Book Review

**Caution** This review pays no mind to “spoilers”.

“Inconspicuous Consumption – The Environmental Impact You Don’t Know You Have.” written by Tatiana Schlossberg, is an eye opening look at how our everyday habits affect the environment.

Stop!  Do not disregard this book as just another confusing climate change rant packed full of numbers, percentages and fuzzy math interspersed with ten dollar words that you’re not sure are actually words.  This is not that book.

This is an excellent book, written in a clear, easy to understand, relatable and sometimes even comedic way.  It is an enjoyable, in an apocalyptic way, eye opener that makes you think twice before continuing on your blissful way, blindly consuming your way through life.

Never before had I realized the true cost of streaming a show on Netflix, or the distance that products have traveled before landing on my doorstep.  Buying strawberries in the middle of December and buying roses for Valentine’s day all come with a climate cost attached to them. Tatiana Schlossberg does an excellent job tracking down these costs and the amount of impact associated with all of these items.  She translates them in a way that is easy to digest and even offers alternatives and ways to counteract them.

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How many of us really know the difference between Eco friendly and organic and naturally grown produce and livestock?  Sure organic looks good on a label and we have been told that we should buy organic, but should we really be? Our, we know what we want and we want it all the time and it should look exactly like it does in the healthy food magazines that we read, mentality has led to an incredible rise in food shipping and refrigeration, and therefore a larger carbon footprint.

Back-doors and loopholes in the ways that regulations have been written have caused exporting and importing goods and materials more beneficial in most cases then utilizing them at home.  Governments are playing the blame game by exporting their manufacturing climate impact to other countries and importing the finished products. Even the different types of shipping used to move products are broken down to the types of full used for each method and therefore have different levels of impact.

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Fast fashion has been talked about ad nauseam and for good reason.  It is a waste on such a large scale that it can not be ignored. It is also not the only problem, I am now aware of the amount of water it takes to make a pair of jeans, an American staple.  The exorbitant amount of water required to produce jeans, besides being ridiculous, is also typically outsourced to countries without the water resources to be able to support this production.  All in the name of saving a couple dollars to keep profits high and costs low because the consumer demands it.

A lot of what is going on is out of our control, but whose responsibility is it to ensure responsible Eco friendly products are being produced?  The consumer or the producer?

I completely and wholeheartedly recommend that everyone should pick up this book, and give it a read.  I was able to borrow an e-reader copy from the library myself.  

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Pizza Night

A Simple Meal With Endless Possibilities

I would like to share with you a quick, easy and cheap meal that has become a staple in our household.  Pizza night has become a dinner that we all look forward to, with an eight and six year old this isn’t something that can be stated very often.

Three simple ingredients is all it takes to make a meal, but the additional topping options are endless.  At its core, pizza is a vegetarian meal, and depending on the toppings that you choose it could stay that way, or become a meat lovers dream.

A hot pizza, and a movie makes this meal more of a party, and creates great, non-corona memories.

Ingredients per pizza

1 package – Betty Crocker Pizza Crust Mix

5 to 8 oz. – Canned Pizza Sauce

5 to 8 oz, – Shredded Mozzarella Cheese

Additional toppings of your choice

Process

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Mix the pizza crust mix in a medium bowl with ½ cup of Hot (not boiling) water, until it forms a solid dough ball.
  3. Cover the bowl with the dough and let it sit for 5 minutes.
  4. Flour your prep station and hands; press the dough into a 12” circle.
  5. Spread sauce over the dough, followed by cheese and your desired toppings.
  6. Bake for 12 to 17 minutes, rotating halfway through.

The combined ingredients cost of each pizza, minus the endless topping combinations that you can add to this recipe is about $3 per pizza.  Two pizzas easily feed our family of four for less than $10 total. It’s hard to beat that!

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A Hygge-lism Quick Tip

One of the first steps when adopting a hygge / minimal lifestyle is purging the excess.  This excess is applicable to all facets of our lives, but the area that is typically assessed first is the physical possessions within the confines of our living areas. 

There is a helpful question to ask yourself when it boils down to whether or not something should be kept and is valued.

Would I buy it again at the same price?

Take a look around the room that you are currently in.  

Now picture that room completely empty.  

How many of the items that you currently own, would you buy all over again at the same price point that you paid initially to put back into that room?  You now have the unique advantage of having “test drove” everything that you own.

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You can utilize this process for each and every object that you own if need be.  I would not base your decision on what to purge and what to keep solely on this process, but it is a good way to really assess the value that you place on the items that you own.  If you can look at what you own and say that I would absolutely buy everyone of these items all over again, that is fantastic. If you say that you would not repurchase a single thing, that is fantastic as well.  What you are looking for is an honest assessment of what you deem valuable and useful.

Oftentimes, seeing an object for the first time in a store window will invoke false feelings of desire and need.  Impulse decisions more often than not lead to regret later, a buyer’s remorse of sorts. Even purchases that were not made on impulse, but were thoroughly researched and contemplated can disappoint after the fact.

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Cheap Vs. Luxery Vs. Quality

On the rare occasion when you are ready to bring some new items into your life, it is important to do it responsibly.  High quality, responsibly manufactured items are often more expensive than what you would find at a bargain store but are not to be confused with luxury items.

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Cheap

Stores like Wal-Mart do everything they can to acquire and sell the cheapest and most irresponsibly manufactured items possible in order to be able to sell items at a low price and still maintain a large profit.  The reason you can buy a pack of three t-shirts at these stores for less than five dollars, is because they are manufactured in countries with the lowest labor cost and that have the most lax labor laws. They are made of the cheapest possible materials and are designed to last only a few wash cycles before they begin to fall apart.  This planned obsolescence is causing you to return to purchase more items; increasing their profit; proliferating their poor manufacturing morals; increasing their foot traffic through their doors and exposing yourself to their marketing tactics. This in turn, adds to the amount of clothing waste as these items are so poorly made that they do not have a secondhand life.  This causes more material to be harvested with all of the equipment required to convert them from nature to material to shirt. Uses an enormous amount of energy and water to complete this conversion, often from developing countries where water and energy are an extremely limited commodity. Leading to increased climate change, and the eventual peril of the planet. All for the sake of saving a few dollars and not being inconvenienced by having to travel to more than one store.  But I digress, this is a soapbox for another day.

Luxury

Luxury items are often expensive due to the brand name attached to the item.  They are more of a status symbol than a functional item with a high return on investment.  Luxury items sole purpose is to elevate one’s perceived status, regardless of the quality of the item.  These items are often tempting due to the marketing tactics of the brands and the draw of celebrity endorsement.  Endless barrages of social media ad placement and television commercials promoting these brands in combination with a high price tag transform these items into luxury items.  They are designed to separate the low and high income classes via a prominent brand name or symbolized association.

With all of that said, luxury items are often also quality items.  Luxury items can be bought, utilized and kept for long periods of time.  Most often though, the extra high price tag makes the return on investment hard to achieve.   

Quality

Quality items are gauged by their return on investment and durability.  You are paying for the reliability, responsibility and peace of mind that you receive when you purchase a quality item.  Quality items are made of quality materials and are assembled in such a way as to make them useful, reliable and long lasting.  The higher price tag that comes with quality items is due to the time put into the manufacturing an item in a responsible matter, with a lot of thought put into the design and the quality assurance that the item is well tested and known to be reliable for an extended period of time.

For example, a well made watch that will last you for innumerable years and keep perfect time is a quality item.  When the word Rolex is attached to the item and an additional zero is added to the price tag it becomes a luxury item.  In contrast, a cheap, irresponsibly manufactured watch that is designed to be replaced completely if the battery dies, has questionable time reliability and never works the same after it falls off a dresser one time will have one less zero on the price tag and will be on sale.

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With this said, luxury items are often but not always high quality items, and cheap items can on occasion be quality items.  A Rolex watch has been known to keep exceptional time and last for many years, even being passed down through generations. For the additional cost of the brand name Rolex though, being passed down through generations is what it takes to achieve the return on investment that was put into it.

You could purchase, say for instance, a Citizen brand eco drive watch and receive the same amount of quality and reliability for a fraction of the price.  Both are quality, responsibly made items that could be purchased one time and last a lifetime. Weighing the up front cost in this situation is the determining factor.

Fast fashion brands on the other hand do not correlate luxury and quality as well.  Brands such as Forever 21, H&M and Nike all sell what would be considered name brand, luxury, status symbol items.  They do so though, while manufacturing them in developing third world countries utilizing cheap labor and questionable labor practices and still charge a premium price.  They are able to do so and still claim the items are U.S. made because as little as 3 or 4 percent of their products are still made in the U.S., in this instance luxury does not equal quality.

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     The most reliable vehicles of the past decade…Toyota owns the top 3 spots; 4 Runner; Prius; Camry, in that order.  In no way would those three high quality vehicles be considered luxury vehicles. Lexus holds down the number 4 spot, and is the first luxury car to make the list.

Do Your Research

So how do you tell what is what?  Simple answer – research, research, research.  One luxury that we all have, and we all happily pay for  these days is the internet. Researching quality brands and the manufacturing processes of any and all brands of any object is at our fingertips.

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Financial Freedom Update #3

April – 3 Months

It’s that time again, a new month calls for a new update.  

Our investment accounts have been rolling for 3 months now, let’s see how they are doing.

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Betterment High Interest Savings – Initial Deposit $5,000.00.  Last month’s total: $5,014.84. Interest Gained $4.10.  In order to capitalize on the Coronavirus induced market downturn I moved $4,000.00 from this account into my General Investment Account.

Total Amount Invested: $1,000.00

Total Interest Earned to Date (Passive Income): $18.94

Running Total: $1,018.94

Betterment Investment Account – Initial Deposit $10,000.00. Surplus March deposit $10.39.  Additional investment made to capitalize on the market downturn $8,000.00 ($4000 from income tax return & $4000 from Betterment Savings Account).

Total Amount Invested: $18,010.39

 Last month’s total: $9,105.87. March’s Betterment Performance -$1,021.48.

Total Dividends Earned to Date (Passive Income): $45.15

Running Total: $16,094.78

My personal retirement savings now totals:

$137,236.75

I will admit that investing more money into the market at this time is a little bit stressful. All over the news you are hearing about how the stocks are plunging due to the coronavirus outbreak, which has also detrimentally affected my Thrift Savings Retirement plan.  At the same time, when the markets are low it is time to invest, also with the stimulus plan passed the markets will no doubt rebound. Of course, with time, this crisis will pass, and when it does I look forward to reporting my fortuitous gains.

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I will be focusing our additional monthly savings due to our budgeting into restoring our Betterment Savings Account back to its full strength, unless of course another advantageous investment period rears its head once again.  

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Stepping Up Our Coffee Game

The French Press

There is no time like the present, stuck in the house, highly discouraged to travel from within the confines of our humble abode.  Forced to take time and pleasure in the small daily activities that we more often than not take for granted.

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As I stand in my kitchen listening to the drip coffee maker grumble and groan about its one responsibility, I am in no hurry to fill up my bamboo travel mug and run out the door.  I am instead, deep in thought contemplating the status of my coffee brewing situation.

“You know what, I’ve had enough, I’m doing it.”  I say out loud. “I’m doing it!” I yell up the stairs to my wife.

“Doing what?” she yells back.

I don’t answer, how is it possible that she is not in the same train of thought that I am in?  Confounding.

I am a thorough researcher when it comes to purchases.  This is in part because I don’t really like to buy things…ever.  So when I do decide to purchase something, I want it to be the right thing.  I had previously debated our coffee brewing situation in the past, and had previously researched the perfect combination of french press, hand grinder and decanter.  So my decision to finally go for it and upgrade the quality of my morning cup of Joe is not without precedence.

Decanter not pictured.

When looking into a french press, I kept coming back to the classic, the original, Bodum 1.5L Chambord Coffee Press.  It’s hard to beat the original, it has kept the same design since birth over a hundred years ago. How can you even compare with that?  Plus, it is glass and metal for the most part, I was a little disappointed that plastic was integrated into the design, and this did dissuade me a little, but not enough to ignore the clearly unrivaled reputation of the device.  It is the boss of the french press coffee mafia, no doubt about it.

Next was the grinder.  I had a couple stipulations for this, for one, I get up earlier than everyone else on work days, and if I have to grind some fresh coffee beans I don’t want it to sound like a cave full of bears are growling at each other in the kitchen inducing nightmares for the rest of the family.  Second, glass and metal are the materials that I am more comfortable bringing into my household. I don’t want a big plastic obstrocity judging me every time I pick it up. Third, research convinced me that an adjustable, ceramic, conical shaped grinder results in the highest quality coffee.  So now I have my Triple Tree Manual Ceramic Hand Grinder. It unfortunately has a small amount of plastic on the end of the handle, and a rubberized lid, but it’ll do.

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Lastly, once again thorough research led me to understand the need for an insulated decanter.  Even after the coffee is “pressed”, letting the brew sit with the coffee beans will lead to a bitter taste after a little time.  One option is to scoop out the beans as well as you can, not ideal. The other option is to pour out the brew into a decanter, bonus, an insulated one will allow you to have hot coffee for hours past initial brewing.  Hey, all of a sudden I have plenty of time to enjoy another cup of coffee halfway to lunch. The decanter is also a place where you can dare bask in the aesthetic as well. So, a visually pleasing accessory is on the checklist alongside the usual, metal/glass only prerequisite.  Large enough to hold an entire freshly brewed 1.5 liters of coffee is the only other requirement. Decision made, Upkoch Insulated Stainless Steel Coffee Carafe, it is.

Supplies in hand, a test run or two is required to attain the perfect cup of coffee.  Everyone’s tastes are different. Experimenting with coffee bean intensity, grind consistency, amount of grounds per brew and brewing time are all to be carefully considered. We have fine tuned our mix to our version of perfection.  We will continue to experiment with brands of coffee bean, but the basics are ironed out.  

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There is just something incredibly relaxing about that first steaming cup of coffee in the morning, mug in hand, looking out the sliding glass door into the world.  Even better yet, once the weather warms and the world returns to whatever its new version of normal is, sitting outside on the patio sipping a cup and listening to the birds chirp as the rest of the world wakes up before your eyes.

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A Convenient Inconvenience

A “Flirting With Zero Waste” Tip

Zero waste is an achievable lifestyle, though sometimes it feels as if it is unattainable.  Sometimes a little tip or trick will help to urge yourself further in that direction. Here is one such tip that may be worth trying out.

Make Wasteful Items Inconvenient 

A lot of our most wasteful habits are born from convenience.  By making things slightly inconvenient you will gently nudge yourself in the right direction.  

As a real life example, our house commonly used paper towels regularly.  It is very wasteful, but quick and easy, to tear off an entire paper towel to wipe up the smallest of spills and then just throw it away.  We have plenty of kitchen towels, but paper towels were just easier and they were right there on the counter. So we moved them. By putting the paper towel rack into the cabinet under the sink we took it out of our sightline and made it inconvenient to bend down, open the cabinet, reach awkwardly under the sink and tear a sheet off.

Make Non-wasteful Items Convenient

In respect to the previous tip, zero waste habits can in turn be born from convenience.

At the same time as us moving the paper towels to an inconvenient location, we also made sure that the kitchen towels were placed in a more convenient location, and we make sure to always have one hanging from the oven handle.  People like water will always default to the path of least resistance. Snatching the towel off of the oven handle is a whole lot quicker than digging around under the sink for a paper towel.

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Since we made this change, we have noticed a drastic difference.  Rather than changing out the paper towel roll once or twice a week, shamefully.  We now have to put a new roll on the dispenser once every month or two. Still not perfect, but what a difference.  

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The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

A Hygge-lism Audio Book Review

**Caution** This review pays no mind to “spoilers”.

“The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A counter intuitive approach to living a good life” written by Mark Manson was released in September of 2016.  It is a direct, not so subtle approach to living your best life.

In this book, Mark talks about how life is not all rainbows and fairy tales, and walking around pretending that it is, is not going to make it so.  Don’t be misled by the title though, this book is not about not caring about anything either. It is really a balance of figuring out what to care about and what is important to you.  In other words, what to and what not to give a f*ck about.

It is a refreshing, honest look at life and people in general, almost an anti-self help, self help book.  Delving into our most controversial personality traits, with entertaining metaphors like the disappointment panda, and the self-awareness onion.

Beyond the crudeness and “slap you in the face” honesty, he delves into deeper issues such as where fault and responsibility lie, they are not the same.  He touches on anxiety, indecision, rejection and failure, not painting them in a negative light, but in turn as positive experiences that shape how we are.  He points out how some of our worst experiences growing up, turn out to have the most positive impacts on our life and that we just can’t see it at the time.  He goes into the intricacies of how our values largely determine our outlook on life and how we feel about how successful we are. Eye opening perspectives delivered in a witty, honest, fast paced way than can be nothing but appreciated. He supports his points with well placed references to philosophers, historical facts, stories and quotes.

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This was the first audio book that I have listened to solely in my car while commuting to and from work, and I would absolutely start it over from the beginning and listen to it all over again.  It forced me to digest the book in small portions and really think about each part by itself before listening to the next. I am not typically a self help book kind of guy, but the title and the recommendations could not be denied, so I gave it a listen and I don’t regret it.  In fact, I recommend it to anyone else to give it a listen, whether you are a self help kind of person or not.

I plan on trying to switch from driving my car to work, to a combination of a bicycle and train for my commute this spring.  I think that I just may make this my first headphone commute audio book for those rides.  

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Our Many Addictions

Recognize and Remedy

When the word addiction enters a sentence, it is most commonly in reference to a drug or alcohol.  Addiction can be attributed to so many more facets of our lives though, and recognizing this is the first step towards combating it.

Too much of just about anything is not healthy, and if you are doing anything to such an excess that it begins to be detrimental, you are addicted to it.  By the same token, if you are avoiding doing something to the point of it being detrimental, you are an addict. Perhaps a few examples are in order.

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Harmful things that are done to excess are easier to recognize.  Besides the obvious drugs and alcohol, addictions to things such as eating, shopping, exercising and working can all be harmful.  All of these things can be addictions and a lot of these things don’t even carry a bad connotation depending on the phasing of the sentence.  

Some would tout a hard worker as having a good work ethic, while others point out that a workaholic virtually abandons his family and is irrevocably harming his health with the added stress and not so restful sleep. 

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Shoppers could be called collectors or bargain hunters, while chronic shoppers are throwing money away on unnecessary, frivolous items and stacking up debt.

Someone who likes to exercise his health conscience, or an exercise addict is permanently scarring their body and destroying their joints.

Someone who eats too much may have a sophisticated palate or likes to explore the flavors of life, while over-eaters are killing themselves, risking diabetes and heart disease and causing undue strain on their bodies.

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Excess is one side of the addiction coin, and deprivation is the other side.  This is most commonly recognized with eating disorders such as Anorexia. In this example the addiction is not associated with the act of doing something, but rather the result you get from not doing something.  You are not addicted to not eating, you are addicted to the result of not eating, of weighing less.  

Someone who is tight with their money can be described as thrifty and money conscious, or they can be described as a scrooge, a tightwad or cheap.  They are not addicted to spending money, but rather saving it. Even minimalism can be taken too far, when the refusal to purchase an item in the name of being a minimalist begins to affect you and those around you causing undue strain, it is time to reevaluate your lifestyle and the possibility that you have an addiction.

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In both of these scenarios; excess and deprivation, the common thread is that the act is being taken to the extreme. Modern day types of addiction have been extended to the world of social media and technological devices.  Cell phones and video games are real addictions that can lead to serious issues. The unending pursuit of internet fame by any means necessary can have massive detrimental effects on a person and their families.  The fear of missing out can stop someone from living a “normal” life, an addiction to information of sorts. 

In order to combat addiction, one must begin to live in the realm of moderation.  With the exception of drugs and alcohol, these acts are not inherently bad. They are only detrimental when taken to an extreme in either direction.  Moderation is the antidote to addiction.

Similar to those fad diets that never seem to stick, extreme restriction is the precursor to failure in a diet.  A diet that is all inclusive with a wide variety of foods but stresses serving size moderation is the key to well balanced, healthy food intake and is easier to maintain.  Shopping is not bad, eating is not bad, social media, working, dieting, video games, exercise. None of these are bad…in moderation.

The hardest part is recognizing the addiction.  It is hard to look in the mirror sometimes and evaluate all of the decisions that you make in your life, but sometimes this is necessary.  Sometimes all it takes is to really start listening to those closest to you. Unfortunately, often the only way you are really able to come to realization of an addiction is through tragedy, disappointment, let downs, struggles and broken relationships.   

Once you realize the problem, the answer is combating that addiction with moderation. A swing to the extreme opposite is just as harmful as the addiction itself.

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Burg Eltz, Germany

A Hygge-lism Day tripper

So where do you go when all the borders are closed and large gatherings are frowned upon due to a spreading virus pandemic?

A beautiful castle in the German countryside on the off-season of course.  I present to you Burg Eltz (under construction).

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Spring has sprung and the last thing that we want to be is shuttered up inside our house because of a flu running rampant.  We want to be outside, enjoying nature and getting some fresh virus free air. Burg Eltz is just under a 2 hour drive from our house and a lazy Sunday combined with mass hysteria leads to light traffic on an unrestricted roadway.  This combination allows us to cut about 20 minutes off the estimated arrival time both to and from our trip.

Just before arriving, we leave the highway and enjoy some beautiful country side back roads driving as we head up to the parking area for Burg Eltz.  The lot is at the end of a nice forest walk about one and a half kilometers from the actual castle. Winding through the woods, you never even have a hint as to how close you are to the castle.  Suddenly after rounding one last bend it reveals itself. A massive structure surrounded on all sides by a winding river, only accessible by a single stone bridge…amazing.

You approach the castle from an elevated vantage point and can enjoy the panoramic views for a good while as you descend to the bridge.  Being the off-season we are not able to enter and tour the grounds, but we new that ahead of time and are not disappointed.

We circled around the castle and explored just a few of the many nature trails all around Burg Eltz, each giving you a different unique view.  Stopping at one of the river banks we sit and have some of the lunch we brought with us. Just imagine, hundreds of years ago there was a very possibility that the residents of Burg Eltz sat by this river, ate and enjoyed the Spring weather just as we were doing today.

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After mulling around for a bit, we headed back towards the car, taking a different path than the one that we followed on the way in. 

Burg Pyrmont

On the way home, we drove by another Burg, Burg Pyrmont.  Castles are rampant in Germany, you can practically see the next one before you’re out of sight of the first one.

We stop down the hill from Burg Pyrmont at a little guest house that we notice is open and serving food and drinks…also somewhat rare on a Sunday.  We sit between a waterfall and a view of the castle and enjoy some coffee and beer while the boys have ice cream, relaxed and carefree.  

At this moment, it is hard to believe that the world is in the midst of losing its mind.

For more and better photos of Burg Eltz and everywhere else, visit my wife’s Instagram by clicking —–>@vaca_with_katie

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