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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

BEST handbag for travel: I'm not kidding

BEST TRAVEL HANDBAG EVER: a totally fortuitous discovery.

I am no longer a very devoted blog-writer, but my devoted readers may recall my trip to Chicago last spring. Mr FS and I went to a conference and in our off-time decided to focus on the Art Institute of Chicago. So we bought a membership.

Besides the art, the best thing about the membership was the lounge, which provided respite from the crowds and also provided very good coffee. We also got a tote bag.

The tote bag is plain: black on one side, it proclaims Art Institute of Chicago in white letters on the other side. It also has Member printed on it. The handles are a good length, suitable for shoulder AND hand carrying (unlike the iconic LL Bean tote, where you have to choose one or the other).

It is of lightish-weight canvas and has a coating inside that makes it waterproof. Zip top.  It has a tiny zip compartment where you can put your absolute necessities (for me, a credit card, a lipstick, and some dental floss).

I took the tote on our trip as a backup (haha) and ended up using it every day. Not only is it lightweight and aesthetically pleasing, but it is socioeconomically ambiguous. I have never bought anything emblazoned with a logo, but this particular logo has--i think--an interesting effect.

It is clearly an inexpensive tote, yet it proclaims affiliation with a cultural institution. Most handbags nowadays proclaim their cost, sad but true. Two summers ago I saw several women in Paris holding big Hermes bags across their chests. Truly, the effect was like holding a giant price tag.

My bag could take me anywhere. Was I a penurious artist? a philanthropist? I could be anything. The zip top would foil pickpockets, but would anyone in that line of work be attracted to a cheap tote anyway? I don't think so.

That logo though:  it gives the bag that certain cultured je ne sais quoi. I could even wear it to Hermes. Though I didn't.

Monday, July 21, 2014

My Six-Week "Shopping Fast"

Because Mr FS and I limit ourselves to a single bag, we buy very little when we travel. This last trip, we bought NOTHING. Part of our mission was to arrive in Serbia with our single bag (which could be a carry-on) and each leave with a big suitcase full of Miss Em's stuff, mostly books and sketchbooks. Mission Accomplished.

Even though I only took a small carry-on, I STILL brought too much. Since we were on the road a lot, I looked at my single bag with horror. That made it easy not to shop: I wasn't even tempted.

Here's the thing though. I thought I would get home full of pent-up desire. 'Tis the season of sales and fall previews and catalogs. I also thought that Miss Em, in her early 20s and heretofore something of an over-accumulator of clothing, would be raring at the bit to shop. She went 9 months with almost no shopping (except for a few Eileen-Fisheresque linen tops she had made for her by a Muslim seamstress who usually only sews for women who wear the veil).  Oh yeah--she bought a few things at a thrift store in Novi Pazar, which is stocked with items sent from Germany and Switzerland and ordered a couple of items from American stores which were in her room when she got back.

When we got home last week, we were horrified by what was in our (smallish) closets. Miss Em promptly took charge, filling a big suitcase with donations, snapping a few pics and listing items on Tradesy, making a huge bag of goodies for the Buffalo Exchange, and giving me much of the stuff she had worn in Serbia, since she was totally sick of it.

We even took a trip to Goodwill (when we donated). After a few hugs for me from the employees, we looked around in a rather diffident fashion--and fled.

I don't know how long this lack of shopping desire will last, but I'm really enjoying it. In my younger days, whenever I tried to "diet," I thought of nothing but food and probably ate more. I thought that the same would result from my "shopping fast." We shall see.

Has this ever happened to anyone else?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

In case anyone is wondering

I am back from a most amazing journey. Beginning in Brussels and Paris, then on to the Balkans: Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia. I can hardly begin to process what I experienced there.

And--while overcoming the jet lag from a 30 hour return trip--I finished the final volume of Proust. That too has been a journey--more than a year of reading, more than 4000 pages.

Thanks for commenting on the posts that appeared in my absence. Much appreciated, though I could only respond in my head.

One of the places we visited...

Buna and Dervish Monastery

Monday, June 23, 2014

Wisdom from Iceland

While I was cleaning up (sort of) in preparation for our trip, I came upon a postcard I picked up in the airport in Iceland. It was free (though food--except for children--was not included in the ticket cost. UGH).

There were a lot of different cards, but I picked the one with the frugal sentiment:

Everything is hay in hard times.

For more wisdom from Iceland, I recommend a wonderful book, which I would never had heard of had I not picked it up for a pittance at a book sale. Interestingly, in the introduction to the book, Brad Leithauser talks about how this is a masterpiece that most people have never heard of.

It IS a masterpiece. It is sometimes slow going, but the very end makes the journey worth it.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

What's Goodwill Not Good For?

Any particular thing that you need pretty soon.

--A particular book you want (unless it's by John Grisham)
--Something your kid needs for school
--men's pants (good luck finding the right waist and style)
--jeans (plentiful but there are probably 300 pairs to go through)
--really high quality cookware (yet I've found Le Creuset and even 2 pieces of Allclad)
--outerwear when it's cold (easy in summer)
--Christmas sweaters around Christmas (easy in summer)
--valuable stuff (yet every now and then...I've never found anything valuable)
--travel gear, especially for men
--good shoes that one can wear (lots of high heels donated, however)


Yet you will find the hard-to-find stuff  (not when you are looking) when you are there at the thrift anyway, looking for the things that are easy to find.

And even if you don't see an AllClad pan, the money you save on potholders will enable you to afford the desired object.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Recipe to Use Your Cheese Rinds: Minestra di Pasta e Cicoria

That sounds better than pasta and greens, doesn't it? I was leafing (Freud1an slip--oops) through a favorite cookbook that has been languishing unused. There I came upon a recipe that is both simple, frugal, uses both my garden greens and the parmesan rinds I brought back from Chicago.

The book is Verdura, by Viana La Place. It features very simple recipes.  Like this one. I am too lazy to do the recipe exactly, but I'm sure Viana would agree, since this kind of cooking does not require precision.

--Wash and coarsely chop some greens (recipe calls for 1 large head endive or escarole. I call for kale and chard.)
--Saute 3 cloves garlic and pinch red pepper flakes in 3 TBS olive oil. Do this in soup pot.
--Add 4 cups of water and a little salt and bring to boil.
--Add greens. Stir. Cover.
--A bit later, throw in 1 cup tubetti pasta. (I use whatever I have.)
--Add 2 ounces pecorino romano ends, cut into small chunks. (Needless to say, I'm using my parmesan rinds).

Cook till pasta is done. Serve with grated romano.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Thrift Store Gods Send Me A Message

This is a companion piece to my as yet unwritten post: What's Goodwill NOT good for? The answer is anything very specific and/or anything you need right this second.  Also: men's pants.

We are about to go for a trip to Serbia, among other spots. There we will meet our dear daughter whom we haven't seen since September. When we started to pack, I realized once again that Mr FS has awful travel pants. Each year, I say "Let's get you nice pants. From a real store."

Then, Miss Em requested that Frugal Son, who will meet up with her earlier than we will, bring a set of Game of Thrones for the brother of someone who showed her incredible hospitality. Miss Em thinks I have magic powers. She said, "It's ok if they're used." I called all the used bookshops and checked Paperbackswap. Nada. Miss Em finally said to buy them new.

The rule of thrift shopping for needs is to WAIT. Time ran out and last week I ordered Game of Thrones. Poor Frugal Son will be shlepping 5 heavy books to Europe. What a guy.

Finally I--controller of the shopping--broke down and bought Mr FS two pairs of travel pants. Ex Officio from Sierra Trading Post (a good site to know about). They just arrived. Very nice!

Here we are a day before we leave. We have been cooped up for 5 days in heavy rain. I went to Goodwill. What do I find? A pair of Patagonia travel pants in Mr FS's size. Then, I went to the Food Bank thrift. There I find the complete paperback set of Game of Thrones.

The thrift store gods are sending me a message. What is the message?