New England’s glory is autumn: musings on a Hallowed Eve

At some point if you’re lucky you realize you’re old enough that half your life has happened after college. For me, that also marks the division between growing up “at Home” in the American Pacific NW, and then living for almost two decades in the Northeast, first in Central* New York, then still further eastward until I ran out of land and stopped just short of the Atlantic Ocean.

While Home is still where my heart resides, autumn is the season when I most appreciate living in New England. I find that my otherwise least favorite chore—driving on the region’s rarely planned, oft overcrowded roads—becomes a source of radiant joy on crisp, clear fall mornings.

garden view of bench on frosty autumn morningI am the sort of person whose heart really does feel swollen to bursting in the face of beauty. I get moved to tears easily and often, especially by evidence of the enormous capacity of human beings for goodness and generosity. I literally jump for joy when I get excited. I’m not what you might call “hard to stir” at any time. And yet…

Simply passing along our suburban lane these past few days has been a wonderland of well-framed vistas, with all credit due to Mother Nature. I may hate the new McMansions thrown up around the corner, but even they look fantastic bedecked with pots of purple mums and overhung by turning leaves in yellow, orange, and blazing red, mirrored by their fallen comrades drifting the street below and browning into dust.

With the ground heavily frosted this morning, I stole a moment I couldn’t spare in the yard to snap a photo of rimed flowers, drooping toward death, yet somehow more magnificent than ever in their regal fading.

Frost rimed flower and fallen autumn leavesThe best photos, I’ll never capture. It is the empty road embraced by fiery foliage that stirs me, moves me, but can’t be caught. I’ve always loved the promise of whirring along en route to the pleasures of a destination, and it is this combination of robust kinetic energy within the season of winding down and wrapping up that makes these moments so momentous for me.

I hope someday to return Home to stay, resuming the mantle of grey days and soft, cool mist that is my birthright. I miss the sight of constant, snow-capped mountains swathed in evergreens, and even the ubiquitous rain. But, if I do depart, I will always miss New England’s blazing autumns. These daily miracles will remain forever etched on my soul.

Happy Halloween, dear readers!

*Not “Upstate” New York, which means somewhere else in the large state that also happens to house that glory hog, New York City. This is a distinction quite dear to those who live near my alma mater. I went to college in a rural part of the state, where cows outnumbered even students. Our little village didn’t even host a gas station.

Here’s where I can’t help but make a terrible and rather inappropriate joke, so I’ll keep it below the fold. Stop here, children. Continue reading

Exposé: Cuisine-ophobia or the xenophobic kitchens of another generation

While celebrating a family birthday around a crowded, multi-generational table, I pontificated at my children about the way certain dishes and cuisines have shifted within American society from outsider status to everyday favorites. My immigrant in-laws nodded in agreement as we all discussed the way “normal” home cooking varies over time and between homelands.

pizza“Why, when Grandma was a child,” I intoned, “spaghetti was an ethnic Italian food that your American great-grandmother would never have made at home. Isn’t that funny, since we eat pasta and pizza every week?”

“Ah yes,” replied my younger son, “cuisine-ophobia is a terrible thing!”

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Café notes: Brew Lab Coffee, Edinburgh, Scotland

Fortified—or, perhaps, better described as “fat-ified”—with a salted caramel doughnut, I embarked upon the best espresso I’ve yet tried in the UK at Brew Lab Coffee.

doughnut on plateespresso with foam art served with sparkling waterBrew Lab is in Edinburgh, Scotland, an easy walk from the tourist madness of the Royal Mile. Located near a university, its clientele seemed to consist mostly of students and…pregnant ladies.

These notable women may also be students, but I was mildly amused to find myself seated next to someone immensely gravid on both of my visits. And, no, it wasn’t the same woman, unless she was a Mission: Impossible spy wearing an unimaginably perfect fake face. I think it is safe to describe Brew Lab Coffee as a family friendly establishment.

It is also a “coffee snob friendly” cafe. I find the coffee shops I wish to visit when traveling by searching for “single origin espresso.”

coffee shop menu board featuring espresso from Colombia and Peru

I’m not so elite a coffee snob that I refuse to drink any blend of beans, but I do find that the overall beverage quality is higher in shops that at least offer the option of exclusivity. Brew Lab Coffee features two different kinds of beans at the espresso bar: one for straight, black shots, and another for drinks blended with milk. That’s a clear marker that the drinks are going to be good.

And, yes! Yes, their espresso drinks are excellent. It is well worth a moderate walk up and down Edinburgh’s ubiquitous hills, through sometimes heavy rain, past a multitude of other shops offering fair espresso, and even with arthritic feet. Brew Lab’s coffee was so good, I did not explore the other fine options I read about online, but returned to savor it again.

heavy rain falling outside cafe doorcafe interior made of old stone, brick, and reclaimed wood

As luck would have it, Brew Lab Coffee is as charming a setting for a good sip as it is competent in the making of one’s drink. Like much of Edinburgh’s Old Town, the visitor will feel steeped in history here. The cafe’s brick walls and reclaimed wood elements are atmospheric, warm, and inviting. The warren-like layout offers cozy corners enough for all patrons, though admittedly this may not be the best hangout for those with extreme claustrophobia.

Hints of the space’s former use as an office remain in the rather cheeky access to the men’s toilets. I felt a bit indelicate photographing it as the large window offers a rather generous view. I liked the “Meeting in Progress” sign, however, and risked my Victorian sensibilities and the poor gents’ modesty with a quick snapshot.

phone displaying map to Brew Lab Coffee shop

Brew Lab Coffee is located at 6-8 South College Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9AA. It’s open seven days a week, and worth the walk from the Royal Mile.

http://www.brewlabcoffee.co.uk

info@brewlabcoffee.co.uk

0131 662 8963

And two more coffee varietals for pour overs at their brew bar, making four types in total. I stuck with my preferred straight espresso shots having only a few days in Edinburgh and a tragically low threshold for caffeine consumption.

Key Straps save my stuff: how Tom Bihn’s bags keep arthritic fumblefingers from ruining my day

In other posts, I’ve referred to the way Tom Bihn bags often make my life better. I want to expand upon that point lest I sound like a mere company shill.

Tom Bihn PCSB and Cafe Bag with Sunday Afternoons hat on hotel desk

Tom Bihn bags and Sunday Afternoons hat

Today I’ll talk about how one “key” feature of this particular brand helps me stay organized and deal with the ongoing issues of a chronic medical condition. I’m talking about removable Key Straps that can be attached to O-rings integral to Tom Bihn bags and many other anchors on luggage or in hotel rooms.Tom Bihn Clear 3D Organizer attached with Key Strap to handicapped rail in hotel bathroom

Key Straps are the “key” feature

I carry a Cafe Bag ($70, size: Medium, color: Original/black Halcyon with Wasabi lining) almost every day, sometimes swapping it out for a Travel Cubelet ($40) or my Packing Cube Shoulder Bag (PCSB, $34) when I travel light. My Cafe Bag is generally fitted out with six separate Key Straps at once, each serving a unique function.

Tom Bihn yellow Key Strap on Cafe BagKey Straps ($5) come in 8-inch and 16-inch lengths, and are currently offered in seven colors. Many of mine are the older style, sewn from folded Dyneema/Halcyon nylon fabric. Newer Key Straps are made of webbing instead. Key Straps come in two varieties: with a snap hook on both ends, or a snap hook on one end with an O-ring on the other.

Additional Tom Bihn accessories that go virtually everywhere with me include:

  • Clear Organizer Wallet ($17) for cash on Wasabi TB Key Strap
  • Coach purple leather card wallet on Steel/grey TB Key Strap
  • Solar/yellow TB Key Strap left empty for… my keys!
  • Pocket Pouch ($10) in Aubergine with Wasabi lining for lip balm attached with its own integrated clip
  • Eagle Creek pouch on Ultraviolet TB Key Strap
  • Aubergine Small Q-Kit ($18) on Iberian/red TB Key Strap for medication
  • Wasabi Mini Q-Kit ($15) on Wasabi TB Key Strap for electronic charging cables and earbuds
  • Clear pouch with red back for paper and longer objects I want to carry, often including a checkbook, a full length emery board (nail file), or a passport

I attach non-Bihn items by various methods. You can see the Key Strap snap hooks attached to a key ring on my card wallet and a fabric loop on my Eagle Creek purple pouch in my detail photos. The integrated O-rings and detachable Key Straps are tiny things that make a tremendous functional difference in my Tom Bihn satchel, but these accessories play very nicely with other brands.

By designing modular pockets, pouches, and parts for the end user to attach or not with separate Key Straps, every bag can be customized precisely for its specific purpose. This works really well for me.

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10 hour airport layover teaches me: to covet Eames Lounge chairs

The up side to using airline miles to join your spouse at an international conference is paying a mere $18.10 for a Business Class ticket to the UK. The down side? A layover stretching just over 10 hours.

Being a glass half full type, I’ll get back to the positive: tickets in international Business Class get you access to premium lounges. The dreadful reverse?

DFW Lounge Eames chair - 1Now I wish I had a very expensive Eames Lounge chair and Ottoman of my very own.

American Airlines (AA) Admiral Club lounges, at least those at DFW, are known for having a few of these classic, Mid-Century Modern pieces of furniture.

DFW Lounge Eames chair row - 1Love or hate the looks, these are some radically comfortable chairs.

I spent at least six hours in one Eames Lounge chair or another this July as I “enjoyed” the comforts of DFW airport and visited all four Admirals Club locations therein. It made for a pretty solid product test. Having viewed the iconic seats previously in museums and catalogues, it was fun to take one for a spin.

DFW Lounge Eames chair ottoman - 1No part of my body hates any other part when I sit in an Eames Lounge. Try not to judge that statement if you don’t live with chronic pain. That’s a damn fine chair.

Not familiar with the groundbreaking and multidisciplinary work of designing duo Charles and Ray Eames during the 20th Century? Get an overview on Wikipedia or go straight to the goods at their official site, Eames Office.

For my favorite thing they ever did, view their nine minute short film, Powers of Ten. It’s on YouTube. When I wanted to show it to my children, I found it on DVD at the local library.

3 reasons I book domestic airline tickets in one way increments, not round trip

I keep being surprised by how many of my friends and family members still book domestic airline trips as round trips. Today, it is often smarter to book two separate tickets, one for your outbound journey, and another for the return.

Why?

Airfares within the USA* are no longer discounted for a round trip as opposed to one way. Your two one way tickets to and from wherever you’re headed will add up to exactly the same price as the round trip fare if you book the same segments.

If price is a draw, why book two separate tickets then?

1) If you need to adjust one segment of your journey, odds are your ticket these days is non refundable and costs over $100 to change. A domestic one way fare could cost less than the change fee. I’ve booked domestic legs from BOS-SEA, cross-country, for $119 in recent memory. On my favorite airline, Alaska, change fees are typically $125. Always double check fares for a new flight before paying an exorbitant change fee.

2) If there are changes to the outbound leg of your journey, your return segment won’t get screwed up when it is a separate ticket. Most leisure travelers avoid changing their airline itineraries because the costs are so high, but my husband travels for work. Due to his demanding schedule, it’s not uncommon for him to reschedule part of a trip. Changes to the outbound leg seem to have correlated with annoying, unexpected adjustments to his return flights. Usually, his seat reservation is changed. Occasionally, the entire reservation has disappeared from the system. Admittedly, DH has the worst travel luck of anyone I know, and a slew of amusing party anecdotes to show for it, but this is less likely to happen when two flights are booked as one way journeys.

3) You can book the best flight for your needs there and back, regardless of airline partnerships. This may be saving the best for last, but I suppose it needs to be stated for those who’ve never considering breaking up their domestic flights into two pieces: you aren’t beholden to one airline with this strategy. Book the combination of time, date, and airport that works best for you. This can be enormously more convenient for those who live near busy airports served by many airlines; it will matter less to those whose airport is part of a modern monopoly.

When is this strategy not a good idea?

Booking two one-way flights is good domestic strategy, but less often applicable to international flights from the USA with the big airlines, often referred to as “legacy carriers.”

The alternative, “discount carriers,” are more likely to offer one way bookings, even internationally.

NZ passport documents - 1If you are being reimbursed and your company accountants can’t accept two separate receipts for one trip, you’ll want to do what it takes to get your money back from the corporate overlord.

Some fare sales apply to “round trip fares.” You’ll need to meet whatever the stated conditions are to get the very best special fares, and that might include a round trip purchase.

Similarly, JetBlue’s frequent flyer program has gameified the mileage accrual process. There are bonuses to be earned, and a number of them depend upon “round trip” travel activity. If you are a points or miles collector, you’ll have to figure out whether one way flights will help or hurt your bottom line.

*Internationally, it’s usually old school all the way. Go compare fares for round trip as opposed to one way to Europe, and you’ll see prices thousands of dollars higher for the single leg.

That being said, you may save hundreds of dollars by booking a flight FROM Europe to the USA and back if you are considering spending cash for Business Class. You will still need to get to Europe to begin your trip, however.

This works if you have multiple trips coming up, allowing you to book your initial outbound flight TO EUROPE as a separate round trip coupled with with your ultimate return flight FROM EUROPE, leaving the Europe TO USA and FROM USA in the middle for a second ticket. It also works if you book your initial flight out using miles or points from a frequent flier program. Perhaps you’re taking a cruise, arriving in Europe by ship. Check one way and round trip fares back from Europe to the USA if you’re willing to walk away from an unused return and want the lowest possible fare, though choosing to ditch an unwanted return can have repercussions with the airline if you do it often because it is technically a violation of your contract with the airline created by buying the ticket.