Luggage brands & bag styles I’m traveling with regularly in 2017

Here’s my recent luggage use pattern:

Rolo, when carried, ends up crammed inside Tom Bihn or Red Oxx, however. It has been used as a carry-on in conjunction with a Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45, a Red Oxx Small Aviator Bag, and even a Tom Bihn Shop Bag.

I haven’t posted about the brand before, but my one set of wheeled luggage is Sherpani. We need to talk about them, too.

Yes, I’m on the record railing against wheeled rollaboard bags here and in real life, but my Sherpani wheels are on a larger, checked-luggage sized suitcase. I never lift them over my head, and I don’t try to carry them on. Large wheeled bags are the best for trips involving a lot of stuff.

It is possible that I bought my Sherpani wheeled suitcase primarily because it came in a really fetching brown and purple color scheme. Highly unusual for luggage carousel spotting! Coordinated with clothes I wore frequently for travel! The presence of cute little daisies in charming spots could also have been a factor.

The more similar your trips, and the more similar your needs during travel, the less likely it is that you need a variety of pieces of luggage. If, on the other hand, you sometimes fly carry on only in basic economy, but other times enjoy extended voyages with extensive wardrobe requirements, you might appreciate having a range of bags that can exactly suit the given style of travel.

If I didn’t have the budget or the storage space for all four types of luggage, I would rank their order of importance to me exactly as I introduced them above:

  1. Ultra-lightweight carry on,
  2. sturdy (check-able) duffle in a size that could be carried on,
  3. specialized bag (for organization),
  4. specialized bag (for extra long trips with more specific requirements.)

For someone who flies rarely or has the strength to find all carry on luggage of trivial weight, I would prioritize item #2 above all else in most cases. A sturdy rectangular bag is by far the most versatile option available.

Some people can make do with everyday items (shopping bags or school day packs) in lieu of travel gear; some people are willing to spend more on luggage than they do on the trip itself. Most of us fall somewhere in between.

A good brand will only produce bags of high quality, but that won’t matter if you buy the wrong bag for your needs.

That unforgettable Sci Fi story about a man who rediscovers how to perform calculations by hand

One of those works of fiction that I read innumerable years ago but I’ve never been able to forget was Isaac Asimov’s 1957 short story, “The Feeling of Power.” Set in the distant future when computers perform all calculations and design new technology without further input from man, it is the story of a humble technician who rediscovers the process of doing math on paper, by hand.

I had forgotten its author and the title, and was delighted to come across it in an old Science Fiction anthology I packed for pleasure reading on a trip.

While the narrative gist of a handful of stories and novels linger on in my memory, very few titles do the same. I’m one of those annoying people who says:

“You know, it’s that book about the guy who…”

Sometimes I follow up that gem with:

“I think the cover might have been blue?”

I may intrigue you, but I’m unlikely to be an efficient resource for putting the work into your hands. Unlikely, that is, unless I still own the hard copy, and the cover is, in fact, blue! If I find it (probably while you’re sitting at my dinner table), I’ll send it home with you, then promptly forget to whom I’ve loaned the book.

Returning to “The Feeling of Power,” I recommend it. It’s a short ten pages, and a quick read. I can see why it stuck in my mind so many years ago, but I also found much more to appreciate this time around. I remembered very strongly the tone of the ending, but had forgotten many details of the narrative.

It should be particularly appealing to anyone who loves math–or perhaps to those who find it hateful who would like to imagine it forgotten!–and to anyone who likes Sci Fi in general and Asimov in particular.

Here’s the particular anthology I brought on vacation. It was published in 1985.

Asimov was a prolific writer, and I’m certain “The Feeling of Power” appeared elsewhere in print. I actually thought I’d originally read this story in one of those elementary school reading textbooks full of disjointed works by a variety of authors. If anyone knows whether Asimov ever published in such volumes, I’d love to hear about it!

The “trivial” work of motherhood

I must write about trivial matters because my job is trivial. I am, after all, “just a mom.”

Of course, there’s more to trivia than the casual reader might suppose.

When the idea for this post came to me, I thought my point was a common one. That is, that without the mundane yet necessary chores done by the unsung, ordinary worker, the hungry and unclothed genius could never accomplish great things.

I was failing to grasp my own point.

Trivial has come to mean “not important.” Merriam-Webster’s definition for kids states just that: “of little worth or importance.”

A deeper reading of trivial‘s etymology—it comes from the Latin “crossroads”— underscores exactly what I sought to express.

excerpted from Merriam-Webster

Mothers are “trivial” because they are the only tangible link between every human being and all others. I am literally the crossroads between my husband’s family and that of my birth. My body made possible a new line of human succession, like that of every biological mother before me.

And, this is mere biology. Any mammal could do it. It hardly bears mentioning, let alone an acclamation.

Except…

We are the nodes in humanity’s network of biological interrelationships. We tie the web together.

Everyone bears a mother’s mark at the umbilicus, the scar where the physical tether was broken after birth. The rending of this vital connection must be followed by emotional bonding with some dedicated caregiver*, or an infant fails to thrive.

Everybody has a mother.

How trivial she must be!

*Though, at this moment, I am particularly in awe of the notion of birth mothers knitting the entire human race together, let no one read this post as a denigration of foster- and adoptive mothers and other parents-by-choice. Parenting is a monumental task; everyone who undertakes it with dedication earns an equal measure of my respect.

The rain in the plane falls mainly… in my Tom Bihn Cafe Bag

Some people carry expensive designer bags onto a flight. Me? Not so much.

If I haven’t heaped enough praise on Tom Bihn bags before, let me reiterate a powerful selling point: their water resistance.

Flying in the cramped confines of cattle coach class, if you set down your improperly-capped refillable water bottle on the top flap of your Cafe Bag, your iPad, Kindle, cell phone, and important papers might survive in spite of the aftermath of your arthritic fingers’ failure to twist.

Must you ask me how I know?

Sigh.

Some water dribbled down into the open back slit pocket, but, as luck would have it, I only keep a shopping bag and my baggies full of wipes* there during travel.

The front zip pocket and merely flap-covered main compartment stayed dry through about four ounces of slow leaking. My chocolate chip cookie and spare napkins fared less well, but I could weather their loss. I also packed a brownie!

I had chosen one of our smallest water bottles to lighten my load, and I’m so glad I did. Mine was a child’s 0.3 L aluminum Sigg bottle. There was less volume of liquid available to inundate my Cafe Bag.

This is also another opportunity to tout the advantages of heeding Douglas Adams’ advice**: always travel with a towel.Mine is a small, personal sized Pack Towl. I like to blame the kids for it being constantly in use, but any person with a water bottle and electronics in the same bag should consider such an absorbent accessory cheap insurance.

Buy Tom Bihn bags because they are designed–nay, engineered!–for real-world travel. They’re also made in Seattle, Washington USA and ultra light yet super strong. Also, you’re going to be at least as prone to wayward dribbles in flight as you are in mid-adventure. Pack like it!

Tom Bihn gear is tough enough for everyday people who scoop up the cheap fares in crappy seats to travel more often; Tom Bihn luggage is for folks who carry their own bags.***

By the way, the bags hold up equally well to containing pickle juice when traveling by automobile. Ahem.

* Might amuse the audience to know that DH requests that, if I must travel so often, I at least commit to wiping down my seating area with disinfecting wipes every time. I carry the kind for hands, such as Wet Ones, when I travel, too. And also alcohol swabs and lens cleaning wipes. If there’s a wipe for it, I’ve probably got one in my bag, or at least in my car. We’ve established that I’m a messy person and a mom, right?

** Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a very funny novel

***Full disclosure: I’d actually prefer to have someone else carry my bag, but I endeavor to pack such that this is a delightful luxury, not a physical requirement.

Gifts from the past

My mother visited a friend’s garage sale, and she sent me some little gifts plucked from the past.

There were several brand new linen handkerchiefs, including original department store gift packaging from the 1950’s. Her other find for me was an envelope with four Esterbrook pen nibs from a shop in North Platte, Nebraska, where our friend grew up.

Last year, Mom gifted me with a collection of hand-embroidered towels her mother had made and used in their home. Mom prefers non-iron terry cloth towels that match her bathrooms, and she knows that I love antique linens. During this minor downsizing, I also received the bulk of her linen and cotton hankies. They had been gathering dust in the bottom drawer of her vanity since I was young.

My father carries a neatly ironed and folded white cotton handkerchief every day, and I see it as one mark of a gentleman. Mom switched to the arguably more hygienic and decidedly less labor intensive option of a pocket pack of Kleenex before I was self-aware enough to notice. Her hankies and small collection of silk scarves only saw use in my dress-up play.

Because I’m a ridiculous packrat who also thrills to the textures of the past, I carry a packet of Kleenex for the yucky stuff and also an Irish linen handkerchief, generally poorly ironed, if at all, but trimmed with handmade lace. The latter gets pressed into service when ladylike tears threaten on schedule (weddings and theatrical productions) or eyeglasses want polishing.

The hankies from Mom’s friend included birthday cards she and her brother wrote to their grandmother as children. Don’t worry, the cards had been opened and no doubt appreciated, but their grandmother probably used sensible cotton handkerchiefs every day and saved these colorful linen confections for “a special occasion.”

Well, I, myself, have already laundered them. I plan to use them any day on which they appeal to me.

I spent my childhood wondering why my mother didn’t use the elaborately embroidered works of art her own mother had saved from her own wedding. I won’t make what I see as the same mistake.

Every day is a special occasion in my house. We can wear our finest garments, use our best china, and dry our hands on embroidered linen as we wish. Life’s pleasures are greater when we attend to our work using things that were lovingly crafted by human hands! I try to take every opportunity to do so.

In this way, mundane acts can become prayers of gratitude. At least, they do for me.

As for the nibs, some of you may wonder what they even are. The nib is the part of a pen that actually touches the paper. These are replaceable parts from old-fashioned, refillable pens, which were the norm before the advent of cheap, disposable ball points.

I collect writing implements, including fountain pens. My mother saw these and thought they might relate, somehow, to my hobby.

Esterbrook Pens, makers of the nibs unearthed in our friends’ old desk, has a website. I may just write to them and see if they can tell me when these nibs were made and sold. A quick browse unearthed a few digitized charts of Esterbrook’s nib offerings from my best guess as to their era, but no immediate answers to my mystery have presented themselves.

Contrary to my mother’s high opinion of my general knowledge, I don’t really know much about fountain pens. I own about a dozen. A few were moderately expensive. Most just delighted me with their aesthetics.

I have learned, by writing with many, that I prefer a fine nib and a fairly lightweight and narrow bodied pen. I get annoyed when a pen is too short.

My ink has to flow smoothly, but, if it does, I’m more concerned about its color after drying than any other behavioral quirk.*

Odds are, I won’t find a practical use for the nibs, but it’s easy to appreciate the gift. My mother was thinking of me. She sent me something that resonates with my favorite part of myself—the writer who cherishes carefully made objects that endure.

I’ll endeavor to make my gratitude so persistent.

*Drying time and permanence might be other considerations.

Lazy laundress’ towel tip: color saves time

This is an idea so simple as to be almost silly, but I find it helpful every week when doing laundry, so I’ll share it with the world. Note that this is a tip for the lazier housekeeper. Martha Stewart and my mother don’t need it!

Growing up, we had sets of carefully selected towels stacked in each bathroom. In the blue bathroom, Mom alternated blue and white towels, whereas peach and green were to be had in the master bathroom to match my parents’ bedroom color scheme.

When I was about to be married and we were registering for household linens, an idea occurred to me. I thought it would solve a problem that came up after laundry day in my single girl’s apartment where I was making do with a few mismatched towels received as high school graduation gifts.

Being The World’s Least Interested Housekeeper, I would usually wash my clothes and get them dried, then leave them rumpled* in the basket for days (or forever) as opposed to putting them neatly away. Hurrying to get ready in the morning, I would reach into the towel basket for a bath sheet only to pull out a washcloth or hand towel in the same color.

With visions in my affianced head of a gigantic jumbled basket stuffed with a household’s complete set of matching towels, I devised this solution. I chose colors to go with the pink floral tile in our marital home’s dated, 100 year old bathroom:

  • Face cloths in green,
  • Hand towels in pink,
  • Bath towels in white.

towels in laundry basket - 1You’ve never been in my bathroom, but I bet you could find the body towel in an instant without digging through this basket of clean laundry.

A related tip I really did get from Martha Stewart is the wisdom of selecting darker toned washcloths. I rarely wear makeup, but the idea that these little workhorses might be stained by cosmetics or plain old dirt as our family grew made a lot of sense. My darkest towels are and always will be the washcloths.

Pink for the hand towels was a matter of attempting to match an element I couldn’t change in the old bathroom. As the hand towels wore out, I moved to light grey for that room, and we’re still using some of each color in the bathrooms at our new house.

White for bath towels was the simplest decision of all. I will never tire of the look of fluffy white towels. I dreamed of renovating our really quite terribly decrepit first bathroom, and knew I wouldn’t need new towels to go with it when I did** if I stuck with white.

Though I rarely use chlorine bleach in our laundry, it is reassuring to know that it is an option with white towels when one ponders infectious skin conditions or other communicable horrors of the sort children unwittingly bring home. There can be blood, too, with growing kids, but I’d rather we didn’t talk about that.

Another nice feature of white towels is their constant availability at Costco at a value price geared toward hospitality industry buyers. The old white towels go perfectly with any new ones I add as the collection ages.

When I reach into the large basket of freshly laundered toweling after my most hurried shower, I grab something white, and it is the suitable object for drying my body. When a kid needs a washcloth for a skinned knee, he knows to grab the old green ones or the grey stripes we added when we moved into a house with a second bathroom to stock.

This works really well if you live out of your laundry baskets, even just sometimes.

Way back when we were married, I kept my original college towels (and some of DH’s mismatched collection from his hovel apartment) folded as sets for visiting guests who might be uncomfortable with a towel not visibly distinguished from those of the household. I had learned by that stage in life that some families see towels as personal linens, as intimate as one’s own clothing, where others buy towels as needed in a jubilant blend of colors and styles and pick through the commotion in a common linen closet.

Color-coded toweling isn’t for everyone. My mother doesn’t even understand what I mean about “the towels that aren’t folded yet, still sitting in a basket the next morning.” Somehow, I suspect the reader recognizes immediately whether my system might offer time savings for him or her.

Those of us who routinely dry and dress ourselves out of laundry baskets know who we are.

*I do fold actual clothing, most of the time, but it can be selective folding. Towels and underwear fulfill their functions equally well when wrinkled; outer garments do not! I’m fairly careful to fold/hang items that I might otherwise need to iron to make them presentable.

**I never did! We remodeled the kitchen, but moved before we got to the bathroom.

Full moon, full mind, fallow fields

What’s the best antidote for the heavily gravid sensation of a restless mind at the full moon?

After several days of exhaustion severe enough to put me to bed well before the little guy’s eight o’clock curfew, tonight finds me still physically debilitated but unable to settle into anything like sleep while the hours march on.

The ends of a few threads of thought have been teased out of my jumbled mind, but I don’t have the concentration to work on big ideas. I want to talk about the wonders of parallels discovered in my recent reads about Barcelona, Africa, and Churchill and Orwell during WWII. I simply haven’t the wits to show you the hidden shapes I find so exciting.

Personal stories keep fluttering into my attention, but none of them seem universal enough to share, or impersonal enough to be offered up to the world at large without serious reflection upon the living characters and my own motivations. The last thing I’d like to write is a gossip site, and one gift of my religion is a prohibition against lashon hara*, or telling tales.

This is the miserable agitation of the in between. I’m between absorbing projects, books that can’t be put down, trips to be taken, and demands powerful enough to dictate orders to my attention.

My next necessary steps are all menial errands I’m too addled to arrange whilst moonstruck. Being bathed in silvery light suggests time better spent on wonder or magic, neither of which flow from my fingers tonight.

There’s little left to do but stand by an open window in October’s mild chill and watch light clouds scud across the brightness behind the shivering trees. Ships may sail past on the ocean; witches may fly by on the breeze.

I’ll stand by, resting my fallow fields and taking in the scene, saving the contemplation for another time, when solar brightness makes ratiocination real and lunacy the dim threat in dark corners of silvered minds.

*Lashon hara, literally “evil tongue,” includes gossip of any sort–even if it’s true–as well as telling lies and using words for deception.

Media glory for villainous cowards who shoot innocent multitudes must stop

I denounce yet another pathetic, impotent coward hiding behind the false bravado of a pile of guns who tyrannized thousands, wounded hundreds, and murdered dozens of citizens peacefully partaking in the public life of my country.

Shame on the media for giving a sniveling traitor the fame that drives these base actions when he deserves nothing but ignominy.

I don’t want to hear a word about this Outis* or his playmates.

Sing the praises of heroes who protected others with their bodies, held the hands of the dying, and organized relief for victims.

Speak out with solutions to this mass hysteria—such as denying glory to recreant perpetrators—and use your power to demand action from laggards in government who found better things to do today than address egregious violence against our citizenry.

The value of the Fourth Estate is cheapened by producing clickbait at the expense of the public good and profiting from violence.

Newsweek story about media coverage encouraging mass violence

The National Review makes a similar argument

After Newtown, CT, as reported in International Business Times

*No one, as Odysseus called himself while battling the cyclops

24 hours in twenty years: marriage, discovery, and a matter of time

Do we ever really know another person? How long might that take? Twenty years can’t possibly be enough if my example is any indication of the scope of the discovery.

My husband took note recently of the fact that I opt to have the time displayed in 24 hour format when possible. He noticed this as the evening grew dark and visiting friends wondered about the prudence of getting their kids home to bed. I woke up my phone first as it was sitting rather rudely before me on the dining room table.

“20:12?” DH asked. “Your phone is set to military time?

Keep in mind that we’ve known each other for almost 20 years, and been married for most of those.

This becomes rather more amusing if you’ve ever visited my home, ridden in my car, or viewed any of my electronics. All of these conditions have been met by my husband, with most of them occurring on a daily basis.

Both of my children have had noisy arguments with me within DH’s earshot about my insistence that they learn to read a 24-hour clock and an analog one before I will buy them the digital watches they oddly covet.

In our kitchen, the microwave oven and a digital clock give the time in 24 hour format. Come to think of it, DH has always complained about being unable to find the time in our new house. Perhaps he thought those were kitchen timers in constant use?

time 24 hr clock face - 1

In the communal study the kids and I call the “workroom,” there is a digital clock set to 24 hour time displayed prominently on DS’s desk. You can’t walk through the room—which DH must do to reach his own office—without seeing its face.

The clock in my minivan displays 24 hour time and it has since I set it on the day I drove it home.

The sunrise clock on my side of our shared marital bed shows military time, too. To be fair, though, DH has his own clock on his side so he needn’t read mine with any regularity.

Are you sensing the pattern? I don’t think this is a subtle one.

I prefer the efficient notation of written time in fewer characters. I like the frequent tiny mental math problem of subtracting twelve. I don’t like the look of the abbreviations for ante- and post meridiem unless they are in small caps, and those can be annoying to implement (in WordPress, for example.)

None of these reasons matter in the least, of course, though it’s amusing that the same husband who teases me for clinging to the archaic Imperial system of measurement seems to have a similarly irrational preference for a less concise system for measuring time.

I pronounce the time in the standard twelve hour format, so, without his ears to help with the heavy lifting of comprehension, DH can be excused for never noticing what was right before his eyes.

It’s easy, after a decade and a half, to assume we know it all about a partner and a constant presence. It is very often true that I can predict exactly what DH will say, or choose, or prefer.

But, then again, human beings are awesome in their complexity, and my mate is no exception. Every day, each of us goes out into the world, changes it, and is changed by it. We grow. We evolve. Hopefully, we learn a little, too.

We aren’t the same young people who met online, like proper nerds, dated, and fell in love. We’re older, saggier, and otherwise more time-worn.

One of us prefers miles and military time; one of us is all metric, but goes to bed at 8 o’clock instead of 20:00.

The joy of it is being tickled by discovery this far in. The wonder is that we still have so much to discover, and so much desire to do so.

Does poetry offer the best analogy for humanity’s greatest scientific breakthroughs?

In the novel The Robots of Dawn, third in Isaac Asimov’s Robot trilogy, a preeminent scientist, the best on his or any other world in his field, says:

“You know it always bothers some of my colleagues when I tell them that, if a conclusion is not poetically balanced, it cannot be scientifically true. They tell me they don’t know what that means.”

Baley said, “I’m afraid I don’t, either.”book Asimov Robot novels - 1

“But I know what it means, I can’t explain it, but I feel the explanation without being able to put it into words, which may be why I have achieved results my colleagues have not. …”

I made note of the quote as I re-read this classic novel last week because it echoes so closely something I myself have struggled to put into words for my entire adult life.

As a teenager, I chose the identical comparison for explaining my delight with certain physics experiments:

[The experiment’s demonstration of the concept] is so perfect. It just sings. It’s like poetry.

I know I’ve repeated the phrase, “it’s like poetry,” many times in conversation about great ideas. I have yet to find a better expression for “the intuitive sense of the rightness” of a theory. It’s definitely something to do with harmony and balance.

Having devoured Asimov’s Robot novels in middle school*, it is now obvious to me that I’d read the quote with which I began this post well before I myself used the poetry simile. I’m now begging the question, did I get this idea from Asimov, leaving it to quietly percolate for another half dozen or so years before I re-expressed it, taking a distant memory for my own idea?

Or is this notion a truth, existing in the intellectual universe, waiting to be uncovered by one likely mind after another?

Does anyone else find herself using this expression to express a certain balanced perfection in knowledge?**

If you do, did you also read Asimov at a formative age?

Is poetry as distillation of language from the prosaic to the artistic a fundamentally apt metaphor for great leaps in scientific discovery and the expression thereof, or does the comparison only resonate with creative writers? Pardon me, please, for lumping my humble efforts with the greatness of Asimov in this respect!

Finally, as an aside, I want to shout to the world that the Robot series holds up well for revisiting decades after their impressive effect on a young reader. Asimov was a genius, and these books remain a fantastic diversion.

*roughly age 12

**Here’s a person writing about science and poetry in a literary journal. She maintains that the disciplines aren’t mutually exclusive, though they might seem so to less perceptive thinkers. A search also shows me that someone once had an e-zine at poetryandscience.com, but the link appears to be broken so I can only wonder at what took place there.