Childhood sweets: Russian karovka & Greek pasteli induce circular rumination on parental love

What were the sweetest flavors of your childhood?

Candy Moo Korovka - 1

Pictured here is my husband’s favorite sweet. It’s a Russian candy our family calls “Moo.” Yes, like the sound a cow makes. My husband only likes the brands with polka dots on the wrappers.

It appears he isn’t the only one who yearns for cow candy to bring back memories of childhood and the act of chewing his cud?

I took this pretty picture of candy he received on Halloween because I knew it would be consumed immediately. While I don’t like the stuff at all, my sons have inherited their father’s fondness for this “milk caramel” or “gentle fudge” as I’ve found it translated online.

The candy is called “karovka,” which is the Russian word for cow. More specifically, it’s the diminutive word for “cow” in the Russian language. The Russians are masters of the diminutive!

Like Smurf-ette from Smurf, “karovka” implies a cute, dainty cow, not a regular old karova (корова), which might be a common dairy cow, or, God forbid!, a karovisha (коровище) which would be a gross, overwhelming cow-ishness!*

I knew a girl in college who was called Mary Moo.

When I met her as a wide-eyed froshling, I thought people were calling her “Mary μ,” with μ (mu) being a lowercase letter in the Greek alphabet. Its uppercase corollary, Μ, should be very familiar to all of us Westerners using a Roman alphabet. This casual use of Greek letters seemed very collegiate to my naive self.

Having just done the section in our Physics book about friction**, I felt very cool to have a new friend with a μ in her name. It turns out she was merely a vegetarian with rather bad manners who had often quite literally moo-ed at people while they ate meat in the dining hall the year before.

I learned the first of many lessons about the true nature of intellectual life at even a highly rated liberal arts college that day.

Now, as for candy, I’ll return to my starting point: the sweet memories of childhood. My husband loved karovka; I find myself reminiscing about the taste of sesame-honey candy.

One of my earliest memories of sweets is a sesame confection my mother would allow me to buy at our local, small city grocery store. A search online today tells me it was almost definitely a Greek delicacy, pasteli (παστέλι.)

I’m not sure I knew any Greek people as a child in our city. I wonder if the candy was there at the supermarket because its simple ingredients appealed to hippies (who lingered in Oregon long after they’d been supplanted by yuppies elsewhere), or if this is yet another Greek creation co-opted by the rest of the civilized world?

I’m almost positive that my mother was attempting to give me the most nutritious sweet possible without actually denying me a treat. In the 1970’s, when I was a tot, honey would have seemed a far cry from sugar. And with all those sesame seeds in the recipe? Pasteli is practically health food!

When Halloween comes around, I’m confronted in the sweetest possible way with all that’s different for my kids, here and now, and all that’s the same. My birthplace may be nearer than their father’s, but it’s still thousands of miles away.

The kids said, “Neener, neener, neener” to mock each other where I grew up; here, they tease each other with “Nana nana boo boo!” Don’t even get me started on how silly that taunt sounds to my West Coast ears.

People shop with carriages instead of carts. We get a driver’s license from the Registry of Motor Vehicles instead of the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles.) My kids are growing up in a Commonwealth, not a State.

Harrumph.

But here’s the sweeter side of these differences.

When I was a girl in the 1980’s, I sincerely believed that the USA and the USSR would destroy each other in a nuclear Armageddon. I worried about this. I lost sleep over it.

Sting released his song “Russians” in 1985. The lyrics always haunted me. They include these lines:

“We share the same biology/
Regardless of ideology/
What might save us, me and you/
Is if the Russians love their children too”

Politics are more polarized than ever. Our fears may have shifted from the Communists to the Terrorists, but it is still fear being peddled.

What has changed for my personal understanding of the scenario is the now constant awareness of the fact that, yes, the Russians did love their children, too.

They still do, and they always will. Just like we Americans love our kids, as do the Greeks, together with every other healthy human parent on the planet.

How sweet that is!

*Note that a native speaker of Russian says this would be a highly unusual word to encounter under normal circumstances. If it isn’t obvious to you yet, you should not be looking to me for guidance in correct use of the Russian language. I really enjoy this notion of turning words from diminutives into… what’s the opposite of a diminutive? I’ll go with grotesqueries.†I find them great fun.

†And now even my footnotes have footnotes. I had to look it up. The opposite of a diminutive is, naturally, an augmentative. Read more on Wikipedia if, like me, you must.

**μ is commonly used to symbolize the coefficient of friction.

Parking lot rescue: prepared citizens can help themselves and others

Picture a silver sedan in a bustling Trader Joe’s parking lot.* Two ladies—perhaps a mother and her adult daughter?—are huddled to one side of the closed trunk, but at the hinge end of the lid instead of the part that opens.

I walked right past them to unload groceries into my van. I was parked in an adjacent space. When I finished putting my things away, I noticed that the ladies hadn’t moved. Their heads were together. It looked like they were trying to solve a problem.

I asked if they needed any help.

Rescue scenario: a trapped set of keys

Here’s what they told me: the younger lady dropped her keys as she pushed down on the lid to close her trunk. The falling keys became trapped between the trunk and its lid. Without the keys, she couldn’t unlock and release the lid in order to free… the keys!

This sedan didn’t have a button inside to release the trunk. It didn’t have a fold down rear seat that opened into the trunk. Even a lady’s slim fingers were too thick to reach fully into the space where the keys were trapped.

It turned out that more was required than simply fishing them out. The keys were actually being pinched between two different parts of the car.

While I was hearing this explanation, another passer-by asked if he could assist.

An aside: This is my America! We help each other in times of crisis.

The ladies filled him in on the scenario while I grabbed the first vaguely tool-shaped object in the back of the van: a 12″ ice scraper. The flat edge could slide between the lid and trunk. They went to work trying to dislodge the keys.

While the original pair and the new helper made this attempt, I delved deeper into the array of equipment I keep in the van for emergencies.

Ammo can in the van: a tool box

Here’s a peek at a collection of useful tools in my vehicle at all times. It’s part of my personal ethos to be prepared. Some gear is switched out seasonally—like the larger SnoBrum† and a full size shovel—but these items never leave the van. Continue reading

Capsule wardrobe for San Francisco in October: nary a neutral in sight

My capsule wardrobes reflect my needs and values. I’m less about fashion for its own sake, and more about function that avoids exacerbating my chronic health condition.

That said, I like to express myself with my wardrobe. I feel better when surrounded by beautiful things, including the clothes I wear.

SF wardrobe in closet - 1

I’m particularly fond of today’s capsule wardrobe because it involves almost no neutral colors. Instead, it’s built around coordinating shades of rich gold, acid green, and deep purple. This is my favorite autumnal palette.

I love wearing these vibrant colors, and I even enjoyed the way they looked hanging together in the closet at the hotel. No neutral-based travel wardrobe would offer me that side benefit!

Compact capsule wardrobe saves precious vacation time

Packing an effective combination of pieces in a capsule wardrobe means I can dress for any occasion that arises during my trip without wondering whether I will be:

  1.  suitably attired, and
  2. sufficiently comfortable.

I care about both of these points, even more so when I’m joining my high profile* husband on a work-related trip. I had no role to play at the event DH was attending, but other participants were staying in the same hotel. It wasn’t out of the question to bump into someone who knows me by sight.

Dressing appropriately while maintaining health & function

My autoimmune condition involves widespread joint pain. I suffer particularly from foot problems. My wardrobe is constrained by the limiting factors of shoes that accommodate bulky, rigid orthotic inserts and clothes that don’t squeeze or pinch even when inflamed joints swell.

My symptoms flare when I’m tired. Travel, no matter how wonderful, comes with physical and sometimes mental stress. Traveling light is one way to reduce symptoms of my condition: I’m less likely to wear myself out, physically, with a lighter weight bag.

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Letting reality be good enough: enjoying travel in spite of chronic pain

Sometimes, reality intervenes between our ideal experience and one we can achieve.

Since being diagnosed with an autoimmune condition, I’ve found myself having to adjust my expectations for many facets of life. That includes my hobbies, which can be hard enough to prioritize for a stay at home mother of two.

One of my favorite things is travel. I’m not a full on globetrotter like some, but my trips—planning them as well as taking them—are great highlights of my life.

In the past year, I’ve had to cancel much-loved annual jaunts due to flaring symptoms. I’ve had to “waste” money already spent on non-refundable tickets, and I’ve regretted going on excursions for which I was in no condition to participate.

I’ve found myself asking:

Should I even try to travel for pleasure anymore now that I’ve been diagnosed with autoimmune disease?”

My answer to that question—when the flare passes, and when the pain and exhaustion have subsided—is that I should. In fact, I must carry on.

If I don’t persevere, the disease wins. If I give up what I love, I’m choosing misery over joy. I never want to live that way.

I got dealt a bad hand this time around, but it’s the only one I’ve got to play. I can make the best of it, or I can quit the game. I could just watch the other players, but what fun would that be? That’s not the life for me. Nor would I wish such circumstances on anyone else.

With that said, here are a few tips for putting some of the pleasure back in travel for a traveler with a chronic condition. Continue reading

Road warrior or mobile mom: on-the-go hydration without burst bottles in a 4 season climate

Many of us practically live in our cars, or it often feels like we do. From long commutes to the carpool expectations of modern parenting, our vehicles have become as familiar as our homes.

To keep ourselves healthy and comfortable on the go requires some effort. We fundamentally ignore nature’s expectations for our bodies (frequent movement, limited sitting) in automobiles.

Stock your vehicle for health & safety

What steps can we take to make our vehicles safer and healthier for our families?

Keeping a blanket handy and storing a reflective vest, safety flares and a wide brimmed hat in the trunk could reduce the hazard of an automotive emergency or an unplanned, prolonged stop awaiting rescue.

Carrying my Beastie massage ball and a pair of generic fit-over sunglasses (I’m utterly dependent upon prescription lenses to see) in the glove box helps me avoid debilitating headaches that could take our show off the road.

Little things like stocking shelf-stable snacks and bottles of water keep my family from resorting to junk food drive thru fare. Once in a while might be fine, but daily is a recipe for poor health and an empty wallet.

Storing drinking water in your car

That said, how safe is it to store drinking water in a vehicle?

Sigg water bottles - 1The poorly insulated metal and glass body of even the nicest car will always exacerbate local climactic conditions. On a hot day, the inside of the car will be a deadly inferno; in frigid weather, a stopped car blocks the wind, but quickly releases its heat once the engine is off.

Extreme heat could affect water safety

Exactly what happens to drinking water stored in a plastic container in a hot car is scientifically unclear, but it is reasonable to be cautious where heat and plastic are concerned.

My usual bottle for use in the car is a 1.5 litre Sigg made of coated* aluminum. I fill it every Monday morning, drive around with it all week, and bring it in for a thorough wash over the weekend. I have a set of glass bottles, too, which I will use cautiously in the car, but not “on the run” because I’m clumsy.

At this stage in their lives—elementary/middle school age—I’m not comfortable giving my kids glass bottles to use outdoors. They aren’t careful enough, and I don’t want shards of glass to ruin a day out. I could switch over to glass for their use solely while seated in the car, but I’ve watched a lot of objects get kicked out the door by a boy in hurry, and I also ask them to carry their own gear out from and into the house each day. My calculus on this question still points to unbreakable metal bottles for growing kids.

The sheer magnitude of the denting on their Sigg bottles tells a cautionary tale!

I’m a little more comfortable leaving water in my car in a reusable container that isn’t made of low grade plastic like disposable bottled waters, but I always try to avoid extreme temperature variations of my drinking supply.

In the summer, I typically refrigerate my bottle overnight before bringing it to the car. I prefer room temperature water, but, if it starts out cold, it may not reach “hot” before I drink it.

Sometimes, I’ll fill one of our lunchbox Thermos jars with ice cubes before I leave the house for a full day of adventures; I can add one or two as necessary to cool off what we drink from our personal bottles. It’s rare for the melt water in the Thermos to be anything but cool, even late in the day.

Freezing cold has its risks, too

Metal or glass water bottles might alleviate concerns about heating plastics containing potable water, but there’s another serious risk in New England’s four season climate: freezing.

When water freezes, it expands. Ask anyone who has had the misfortune of burst pipes at home during a deep freeze.

At least one of my children has forgotten a full aluminum Sigg container in a car parked outdoors in winter, resulting in an exploded bottle. I discovered the bottle before it thawed, so it was the loss of a pricey (~$15 USD) object that hurt, not ruined carpet or upholstery.  The lesson was taken to heart.

At our old house, we parked outside. All water bottles were carried in from the car each night, and we brought new ones out with us the next morning. Most of this effort was to prevent freezing as opposed to spoilage or stinking since children don’t get any drinks in my car except for water.**

Now, I have the great privilege of parking in an attached garage, so what was a vital necessity is just an abundance of caution. The garage temperature doesn’t drop below freezing.

Even with my van being kept warm(ish) overnight, living in the Northeast means enduring at least occasional days where the air temperature doesn’t rise above the freezing point of water, but I don’t like being caught out and about without fresh, filtered water to drink.

Solution: an insulated wine tote

Here’s my solution: an insulated wine bag. Mine came in a gift. It was part of a matched set with a lunch bag and a file tote.

The wine bottle size is perfect for my large water bottle.

The interior layer of reflective insulation helps protect the water from temperature extremes. The decorative outer material feels like a lunch bag or heavy duty reusable grocery tote.

The top of the bag has Velcro to keep it closed when relying upon the insulation to do its job; I don’t even close it in mild weather. The whole thing folds flat when not in use. It wipes down for cleaning, but that’s rarely necessary since it’s used by an adult only for water.

Since implementing this storage solution, I’ve returned to my van to find a rime of ice in my drinking water, but never a catastrophic hard freeze that bursts my bottle. On hot days, I don’t encounter that gross mouthful of sun-warmed, plastic-tainted water.

You can see in my photos how the insulation solution also works to prevent the oversized and top-heavy bottle from toppling over out of shallow cup holders when I take corners a little too fastI hang the Sigg in its insulated bag on my passenger seat armrest instead.

Velcro-ed shut, this keeps the bottle protected from temperature shifts, but it remains easily freed, even one handed, while driving. I know where to reach, and don’t take my eyes off the road.

Unscrewing the cap while driving to get a drink is actually much more difficult than accessing the bottle itself. Since my daily reality also involves having a tea or coffee mug in the car, I’ll often use that for water, too.

Once my morning caffeine fortification is complete, I’ll rinse out the mug and pour in a few ounces of drinking water at a time. This, I do while safely parked; I take my responsibilities to others on the road as a driver quite seriously. The coffee mug gets carried in at the end of every day for washing, and it’s never filled to the top with plain water. If it were forgotten, it wouldn’t be full enough to burst if frozen solid.

By pouring water from my large bottle into a cup instead of drinking directly from the spout, I also feel better about using the same one all week long. I refill it as needed, at the doctor’s office, or the gym, or school—anywhere convenient with filtered drinking water. Our town, a mere seven miles from our old home, gets its water from a different reservoir, and the taste is less than pleasing to a girl who grew up on the fantastic water sourced from the Bull Run water shed.

Keeping my mouth off the large bottle also makes it more hygienic to share when one of the boys forgets his bottle or has already emptied the smaller ones they find easier to carry when we’re active. It isn’t out of the question for us to drink from the same bottle, but I do try to avoid swapping germs willy nilly when there’s a good alternative.

Amazon is selling a range of similar insulated totes from $8 to $50. If you’re carrying a water bottle in your car in a climate that regularly freezes or exceeds comfortable temperatures, this is a good solution for keeping your drinking water at your preferred temperature for both taste and good health.

To avoid buying something new, consider using an extra insulated lunch bag for the same purpose, though you would probably need two shorter bottles instead of one large one for that scenario.

Once again, my Thermos food jars are often pressed into service like this. In winter, I’ll fill the 16 oz jar with hot water from my electric kettle. Hours later, it won’t be hot enough to brew a decent cup of tea, but it can take the chill off cold water from a bottle left exposed.

If I’m packing water for the whole family on an especially hot or cold day, I’ll nest more sets of bottles into lunch sacks with ice or heat packs as needed. I might then tuck one or two, or more! lunch bags full of waters into an insulated shopping bag or a cooler to extend the time even further before outside conditions affect our drinks.

You can spend a fortune on the best cooler available, or you can increase the insulating power of items you already have by doubling or trebling them up.

My insulated wine tote gets tucked inside the larger cooler as necessary when winter brings its worst, and my water bottle doesn’t freeze solid and burst.

*I am left with questions about the potential risk of the “non-reactive” coating inside Sigg’s aluminum bottles, but I’m not enough concerned to dispose of a container whose other features I like that is still in perfect condition. I won’t re-purchase bottles by this brand because of how they handled the BPA controversy back in 2008.

**This is partly about health: we drink water because it’s the best choice for hydration. The other motivation is avoidance of sticky substances that will annoy me if they are spilled. If you aren’t old enough to clean my car thoroughly after you spill—or pay for detailing—you don’t get any option but water. Exceptions are made on long distance journeys when the family is in the car all day for many days in a row, but, at home, during a normal commute, water is absolutely sufficient.

Playlist Shuffle Tag prompted by Julie Davide – Book Reviews and Other Musings

This was too fun for me to pass up.

Following an idea I read about on Julie Davide – Book Reviews and Other Musings, I put on the “My Top Rated” playlist from my iTunes library with shuffle selected, and I vow to honestly post the resulting list of 15 random songs.

music CD cases Vinyl records - 2

In keeping with Julie Davide’s retro artwork, I pulled out physical copies of albums where I could. Here’s Graceland, by Paul Simon, on vinyl.

I did limit shuffle to this one playlist because, as a parent, there’s a fair amount of “stuff I loaded to please other people” in my library. “My Top Rated” is all music that I’ve chosen for my own pleasure, much of which I can’t even play when the kids are in the car due to mature content…

My results are below this excerpt from—and link to—Julie Davide’s blog.

The Playlist Shuffle Tag Happy Thursday y’all. I’ve seen this tag around on other blogs and decided to join in the fun! I have a feeling that this will turn out quite the array of my musical taste as my musical palette has a wide range. Without further ado, and while avoiding any duplicates, I hope […]

via Tags – The Playlist Shuffle Tag — Julie Davide – Book Reviews and Other Musings

15 16 Really Wonderful Things that shuffled up from my iTunes Library.

  1. “Rare Child” by Danielia Cotton, whom I first heard being interviewed on NPR (i.e., National Public Radio.) She’s got a soulful rock & roll sound, and I enjoy the whole album, also titled Rare Child.
  2. “Taking a Liking” by Melissa Ferrick was included on my Out Loud compilation CD/album for the human rights and freedom of lesbians and gays. It’s a love/ wanna-be-in-love song for someone who admits her faults but also her desires.
  3. “The Lady in Red” by Chris de Burgh, a sentimental favorite from my pop radio listening childhood that now reminds me of my doting and superlative husband. I can’t help but assume his thoughts echo those of the singer of this love song. It helps that I heard de Burgh interviewed on the radio when I was a girl, and he spoke of how he saw his own wife across the room at a party and came to write this song. If they eventually broke up, don’t tell me: I love this sweet story.
  4. “Miz Thang” by SaffireThe Uppity Blues Women from their album music CD cases - 2Broad Casting; I saw them live in college. This song celebrates the powerful woman. My favorite lyrics: “It ain’t about an ego/ and I’m not being rude/ but Lord, Lord, Lord, I’ve got a new attitude/ If you like my peaches/ come on and rub my fuzz/ I’ll share with your the power, the wonder and the love…” Also consider checking out “Shake the Dew off the Lily” if you’re willing to hear another great bluesy song about a commonplace, slightly off color occurrence in the WC but draped in a lot of floral metaphors.
  5. “Fur” by Jane Wiedlin. She’s a former Go-Go, so it’s the bounciest song about protecting animals from cruelty and vivisection on the PETA organization’s 1991 compilation Tame Yourself.
  6. “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon. I doubt Mr. Simon needs further introduction, but this came from his album, Graceland, which was my re-introduction to his artistry post-Muppet Show guest appearances. He and Chevy Chase are hilarious in the music video for this song.
  7. “Money Changes Everything” from Cyndi Lauper‘s debut studio album, She’s So Unusual. This vinyl record was one of the first albums I ever purchased; I bought her greatest hits via iTunes to include these all time favorites in my digital catalogue.
  8. “There She Goes” by Sixpence None the Richer. It is a pleasant song. I rarely choose to search it out, but I almost always let it play through when it pops up. I didn’t know this band was a Christian one until I read their Wikipedia page for this post.
  9. “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds, because The Breakfast Club music CD cases - 3was absolutely my favorite Brat Pack movie of the 1980’s and this song made me feel like we could fight authority’s labels for us all and even break free from them. It still sums up that emotional climax for me. Maybe now I have more in common with the principal than the rebellious teens, but my heart doesn’t realize it.
  10. “Must Be Crazy For Me” by Melissa Etheridge. Her 1992 album Never Enough was one of the vital soundtracks of my college years, but I listen to it more from nostalgia than excitement today. This song always was my favorite from this album, but I find “You Can Sleep While I Drive* her most beautiful work.
  11. “Speed and Velocity” by They Might Be Giants. You could call Here Comes Science a kid’s album, but adult TMBG fans should enjoy it, too. I really do! Plus, it’s so educational: “Motion, direction, acceleration/ I’ve got speed—that’s how fast I am moving/ I’ve got velocity—that’s my speed and direction.” If either of my kids ever misses this question on a Physics test, they’ll be subjected to hours of non-stop listening to this tune.
  12. “Kokomo” by The Beach Boys. Slightly sheepish about this one, but I bought their Greatest Hits album last summer when I wanted to listen to… summer music. I bought a bunch of Motown singles that day, too. You feel like you should be riding in a convertible on your way to the beach listening to this stuff. And I don’t even like the beach!
  13. “San Francisco” by Brett Dennen is a catchy pop song I got for free from Starbucks back when they had those little cards on the checkout counter. My young son collected Starbucks cards like other kids collected Pokémon. It’s a catchy tune, and a helpful travelogue for visitors to the City. Our SF hotel concierge carefully cross-hatched over the entire Tenderloin district as a place to avoid at all costs, but Dennen had warned me “Deep in the Tenderloin/ you can have anything you want.” That does sound dangerous. Don’t tell the concierge, but I ate at a Tunisian place at the edge of the Tenderloin. The food was fantastic, and a bargain in an expensive city.
  14. “Little Red Corvette” by Prince. Here’s a conundrum: I’ve been meaning to reduce my rating of this song so I hear it less often. I like it, but… I’ll skip the track if I’m not busy doing something else when it comes on. For that reason, I’m going to list 16 tracks instead of the fifteen I promised up front. I hit the button to advance to the next track, which gives us:
  15. “Light My Fire” by The Doors. music CD cases - 1Does this one require any discussion? It’s an oldie, definitely a goodie, and remains a fun listen. Watching the film, The Doors, back in 1991 left me with a more melancholic reaction to all of the band’s songs, however, draining much of the counter-culture exuberance from the work. Jim Morrison and Val Kilmer are all tangled up in my mind. I’m left with a vague fear of bathtubs, at least when rock legends or hard drugs are present.
  16. “American Idiot” by Green Day. I wish I never felt a connection to lyrics that include “Don’t want to be an American idiot/ One nation controlled by the media./ Information age of hysteria/ It’s calling out to idiot America.” I’d like to be a more thoroughly positive person. I do find angry punk music a great balm for my existential crises, though, and this song rocks. I fundamentally reject the notion that this song is about the real America, much the way I rejected my older relatives dismissal of youth (in 1992! regarding my generation! X! <snicker>) as incompetent or wayward. There are incompetent youths; there are moronic Americans. All that being said, the future will be carried by the young, for as long as there is a future, and America has created and cultivated some awesome ideas for humankind. Perfection? Never. But I’ll keep working on that, along with a few million other do-gooders.

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Angelrox clothing offers chronic pain- defying comfort with a touch of glamour, perfect for travel

I started Really Wonderful Things at the urging of one particular friend, hereafter referred to as The Priestess. In spite of this motivation, I have mostly failed to write the practical reviews she wants from me.

I think she thinks I’m hoarding the results of all my overthought, overwrought purchases. I’ve got passionate and informed opinions about, among other things, travel gear, brands for women and children, housewares, books, and the physical stuff of child-rearing.

What The Priestess says is mostly true. I’ve agonized over a ridiculous number of nearly trivial comparisons, making fascinating to me distinctions between a variety of mundane items. She claims I’m not the only one who should profit from these efforts.

Made in Maine ~ angelrox

Though I think I already sold The Priestess on this particular company with an in person demonstration, I’ll take her word for it that I owe it to the world to share my opinion of Maine manufacturer angelrox‘s travel friendly knit clothing, with particular emphasis on the “Goddess” and “Glow” dresses and gowns.

Here’s the bottom line: in a Goddess dress, you can echo the glamour of an old time movie star while you feel like you’re wearing your comfiest pajamas. These clothes are that good!

Goddess dress & gown

Goddess dresses are very fitted, but made of an exceptionally soft rayon-blend knit that doesn’t pinch or uncomfortably squeeze the waist in this design. View angelrox’s product page for artistic professional photos, but I’ll share my own snapshots to give you a glimpse of what this dress looks like on a size ten/twelve, middle-aged mother of two. And, no, I’m not wearing shape wear/Spanx because they squeeze and HURT. Another reason I’m not writing a “fashion” blog.

Keep in mind that a person with chronic pain is calling these clothes comfortable. This is not the “comfortable” designation of someone who will suffer for beauty. These are garments that I choose to put on when every inch of my body hurts in some way or another, but I have to cover myself or become resigned to staying in bed.

To feel pretty under these conditions is almost unthinkable luxury.

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Travel must have: an LED light

I always travel with a light, at least a small flashlight,* but more often a mini lamp capable of rendering a strange hotel room safe for use late at night.

Pictured are similar keychain flashlights and rechargeable, motion sensing LED light bars like those I packed on my last trip.

My reasoning is fairly straightforward. It’s only happened once, but I was on a flight where the overhead light in an airplane lavatory went out in mid-flight. You can imagine how gross an unlit restroom in motion could become, so I’ll say no more about that except that now I always carry my own source of light.

I’ve had similarly unexpected needs for my own method of illumination in a retail store back room when an unreachable overhead bulb burned out, and when caught outdoors in nature after dark. Stuff happens. Life with reliable electric light is decidedly more convenient!

Travel lights, like electronics in general, have undergone more evolution during my adult life than almost any other item routinely packed.

We are all also carrying more chargers for electronics, but they aren’t much different from those that powered the much bulkier Gameboys and Walkmen of my youth. The wall wart might be a bit smaller, but plugs and cables remain fundamentally the same.

When I was a child, there was no reasonable way to fully illuminate a campsite–or a hotel room–without burning fuel or carrying an battery-powered flashlight the size of a large hardbound dictionary. Our old fluorescent lantern—the cutting edge technology of its day—didn’t even use standard batteries (AA, C, or D) most of us keep at home. It used these 6V behemoths which are the size of a cup of coffee but much heavier.

Booklights were common by the time I was a teenager. The popular Itty Bitty Book Light original used incandescent bulbs (breakable, and likely to burn out within the product’s useful life) and AA batteries. It looks like this model is still in production by Zelda!

I always packed extra AA batteries and a spare bulb when I traveled for more than a day because devices devoured them in short order. You could go through dozens of AA batteries per day if you listened to hours of music on a portable CD player.

I got the wondrous gift of a fluorescent book light** in college. The lower power requirements meant I could safely leave home without additional AA’s. The light itself was bulkier, however, than the incandescent competition. It was about the size of a two decks of cards side by side when folded flat. Its clever Z-folding design did mean that it could stand resolutely on a night table, not being easily upset, and work as a mini bedside lamp.***

I note the self-supporting feature because, even before I developed arthritis in my hands, I didn’t enjoy the excess weight of a lamp clipped to a book. I dislike the off-balance feeling.

Though I use a 15+ year old, battery powered, dual LED Mighty Bright booklight even at home for late night reading (insomnia, sigh!), I constantly fiddle with the aim of the beam, and I’m often left feeling peevish about the experience. This particular is about equal in value to my greater comfort with the lighter weight of my Kindle Voyage in making e-books my bedtime favorite format.

If you don’t travel with any sort of light, I’d recommend carrying a tiny button-cell battery powered flashlight, at least. They cost about $5 and are smaller than your little finger. You can spare the weight and space.

For those frequenting hotels or traveling with kids or partners who fumble for the toilet late at night, the motion activated feature on a mini light sporting three to 10 LEDs provides a lot more service in just a little more space. Mine’s roughly the size of a candy bar, but weighs less. It has a long lasting rechargeable battery.

Often, these rechargeable units use the same standard mini USB cable as a Kindle or phone, requiring no further accessories to pack. My light rarely needs recharging during a typical one week trip. I’ve repurchased similar bar lights on Amazon, with none of the specific models still available as of this writing. They work well in the home, as well, for spots where no convenient outlet allows for a traditional plug-in nightlight.

How do you illuminate your travels? Or am I just more afraid of the dark than the average voyager?

*Actually, I keep a tiny flashlight in my handbag at all times and I add an LED bar light for travel. I really don’t want to be stuck in the dark.

**No longer available to purchase, but you can still view the venerable Phorm Light Voyager on Amazon.

***Carrying a standard flashlight would also be an option, but I don’t enjoy the act of reading while I’m actively training a focused beam on the page. Perhaps if I’d read under the blankets with a torch, like all the bibliophile kids in stories I enjoyed growing up, but my parents were very lax about bedtimes so long as I was in bed and reading. I just used my standard bedside lamp late at night!

Exposé: My son’s moral protractor

Spoken by my younger son today:

“I don’t have a moral compass.

I have a moral protractor!”

protractor - 1

It’s moments like this that make a geek mother smile. Also, the fact that my neon protractor from eighth grade has somehow remained in my possession for thirty years is a point of pride.

Yes, the standard clear model is easier to use, but it’s less massively awesome. Like, totally.

If I were really cool, I’d have a slide rule handy to add to the math tool photo spread. Alas, I’m a product of the pocket calculator age. I did inherit my grandfather’s slide rule cuff links, however, making me capable of geek chic if I wear French cuffs.

The cuff links are purely decorative facsimiles of the venerable manual calculator, of course. That’s the first question everyone asks. Imagine how tiny those logarithm scales would have to be to fit on something that slips through a buttonhole!

°

Disposable paper coffee cups aren’t good enough for a 4 star hotel like San Francisco’s Westin St. Francis

Due to my husband’s travel schedule and a favorable fare war over the flight path involved, I had the great pleasure of spending five (5!) nights in the heart of San Francisco. His professional obligation put us up at the Westin St. Francis on Union Square.

I would be unlikely to pay for a 4 star hotel in this location—unless, perhaps, it was in an historic building I admired—but I’m eminently capable of enjoying it.*

My husband in particular dislikes a hotel which increases the fussiness or snootiness of the service at the expense of obvious value added to his straightforward tastes.**

Overall, the Westin St. Francis did a great job providing the unpretentious service we prefer at a level above what we demand to be satisfied. It was a very comfortable and gracious place to stay in a bustling San Francisco neighborhood.

Housekeeping gracious manners - 1

It’s my habit to leave a brief thank you with the tip for Housekeeping. A first for me: Westin Housekeepers thanked me back!

Though not quite to the level of get-it-before-you-ask intuition shown at five star properties, we found Room Service to be quick and attentive to detailaspicky eaters on a weird schedule. Housekeeping was very thorough, friendly, and, like Room Service, paid careful attention to special requests.

I can’t fault any of the service personnel at the Westin St. Francis, though the Front Desk was often busy or otherwise slow to serve.***

There was one item both Housekeeping and Room Service failed to providefor us when asked, and I did make requests of both. I asked Housekeeping in a note, and DH asked Room Service on the phone. I was told they could not provide a reusable mug for the in room coffee service.

Even when ordering espresso via Room Serviceor seated in the lobby cafe, it was provided in a tall 12 oz paper cup with Starbucks branding. Yuck!

My complaint here is twofold:

  • I love my coffee, and it tastes better from a ceramic cup.
  • Throwing away a paper cup for a beverage I’m drinking seated and indoors is needlessly wasteful.

I prefer a paper cup to styrofoam, but we all know there’s got to be a coating on that paper to make it waterproof, right? Coffee is hot. Wax and plastic coatings melt. Plastic, even without BPA, still contains chemicals that probably impact human health.

No, I don’t think the paper cup’s interior coating enhances the flavor of my organic medium roast.

And as for the unnecessary creation of garbage for drinks I’m consuming in the comfort of my hotel room? No, just no!

I think it is tolerable—if not my personal preference—for the Westin or any other hotel chain to choose to default to paper cups for in room coffee services. I don’t know the statistics on hotel behavior, but it’s absolutely possible that most guests most of the time are preparing, then carrying out, their room-brewed morning beverage. I understand that the glass carafes on the old 4-cup coffee makers broke regularly, creating headaches and hazards for Housekeeping and guests.

In this Tower room at this Westin hotel, the location of the coffee service near the tiled bathroom, but outside of its perils on a carpeted floor, would seem to reduce the risk of broken service items. A ceramic mug also seems less likely to crack than the thinner glass of a drip coffee machine’s carafe.

Most emphatically, if guests can be trusted to eat from ceramic dinnerware and glass cups delivered via room service, there can be no increased risk from coffee mugs of the same materials!

I suspect that the partnership with Starbucks is a part of this equation. Lots of people love Starbucks. It’s viewed as a premium brand. It probably “means something” to use that mermaid logo on your in room coffee service.

Perhaps Westin has an agreement to serve all coffee in Starbucks branded cups? Provide a ceramic mug with the iconic green logo, then, but please do have one available when I request a less wasteful coffee cup. If Starbucks is forcing the use of its branded paper cups, they need to be called to account for it or change their stated intent to reduce their environmental impact to a more honest one.

In Starbucks stores, I can always get my beverage in a ceramic cup by asking for it when I order. My estimation of the company would skyrocket if they made this policy a requirement for third parties displaying the Starbucks logo for marketing purposes. That would show a real commitment to the environment.

In a hotel with several bars and restaurants, a full menu of room service, and a complete kitchen that must include commercial dishwashing equipment, it is simply unacceptable to tell me that you don’t have a ceramic cup for me. I find it repellent, walking through the beautiful, marbled lobby, seeing a cafe full of guests settled in to drink from cups that are, essentially, garbage. I expect much better in an environmentally aware city like San Francisco.

Since 2012, the municipality of San Francisco has demanded that consumers pay for every paper shopping bag procured from a retailer. Plastic bags were banned outright in 2007. Even luxury boutique Hermès must ask if you want to pay 10¢ for a bag to carry home your new $12,000+ Birkin handbag.

How does this align with a hotel advertising rooms available “from $620 per night” during my stay that wouldn’t provide a washable, reusable mug for my use in the hotel?

My solution was to purchase a new glass “to go” cup from local roaster Blue Bottle Coffee. Theirs was manufactured by KeepCup. Trying Blue Bottle’s single origin espresso was on my list of adventures for the City by the Bay, so I got a meaningful souvenir and solved my cup problem in one fell swoop.

Blue Bottle espresso - 1 (1)

Yes, Blue Bottle Coffee’s single origin espresso was worth seeking out in its own right.

For someone like my husbandadmittedly, not a coffee drinker, like many most traveling professionals are—whose free time in the hotel is strictly limited by the rigors of his work schedule, this wouldn’t have been an option. As it was, when I offered him a soothing cup of chamomile tea in the evening, I had to clarify that he’d be getting it only after I finished my own cup of Darjeeling. We only had my one glass mug, of course.

Travel dish soap - 1

I often travel with my own refillable coffee cup† and I always carry a tiny 0.5 oz Nalgene drop dispenser bottle of dish detergent in my toiletry kit, but I left the travel mug at home this time. We were staying in a full service, four star hotel, so I assumed there would be proper drinkware on offer. I also knew that I’d have lots of free time while DH worked. I planned to savor my beverage of choice—espresso, straight up—seated in cafes and not on the go.

A recent sale flier by U-Konserve, the company that makes most of my reusable lunchbox components, pointed out the following from this study by ScienceAdvances:

“There is now one ton of plastic garbage for every person on Earth.”

U-Konserve also gives this fact in their Environmental FAQs:

“About 25 billion single-use coffee cups end up in landfills every year. If you buy just one cup of coffee or tea in a disposable cup every day, you’ll end up creating about 23 pounds of waste in one year.”

KeepCup estimates the environmental breakeven point of my reusable glass cup vs disposables to be as low as 15 uses. Put another way, if I use my new Blue Bottle travel mug 16 times instead of a paper cup, washing it between uses, I will have made the more environmentally sound choice.

Paper cups aren’t plastic bottles, but, seriously, are we still debating the wisdom of the throwaway society?

And I’m not even particularly militant on this topic. It strikes me as possible that disposables are more convenient to many business travelers, and I’m not prepared to insist that my opinions dictate what ends up in other users’ hands.

I am, however, quite wedded to my position that a hotel of the caliber of the Westin St. Francis has an obligation to provide environmentally friendlier options to guests like me who want them.

If not, it is greenwashing of the highest order by a company highlighting its sustainability mission and asking customers to “Make a Green Choice” to defer housekeeping that happens to be labor/cost saving for the hotel in addition to water-wise.

*My personal valuation of hotel class often boils down to: if the location is what I want, clean and simple will serve my needs. I prefer to pay extra for more space (i.e., two bedroom vacation rental with kitchen when traveling as a family) over luxury finishes or a more extensive range of services.

**He raved about the Philadelphia Four Seasons, mostly because room service recognized almost immediately that he prefers exactly the same menu every day. They came to answer his afternoon call with, “Are you ready for your berries now, sir?”

***When the shower knob fell off in my hand, the front desk forgot to send maintenance after my first call; I had to ring them again after 45 minutes of waiting. The service technician, once summoned, fixed the problem quickly, thoroughly, and with a total commitment to disturbing me as little as possible while he worked.

†My favorite is an unbreakable stainless steel-lined model by Liquid Solution. It has a non-slip, textured exterior, a simple lid, and holds up to machine dish washing.Coffee cup travel mug - 1