Restraining the inner shopper

My scarf drawer

My scarf drawer

December is the time of year when we expand our collections of stuff. The problem is that by a certain age, most of us have accumulated enough stuff.  I’m doing my best to keep new stuff out of the house, but even my best doesn’t mean rejecting everything that tempts me. Many more trips to Goodwill are in order before I feel free of extraneous possessions.

The one area where I have made headway in restraining the inner shopper is when I’m traveling.  With one exception, I’m through collecting souvenirs.  I’ve grown tired of weighting down my suitcase and of bringing trinkets into the house that belong on a tropical island or in a South of the Border setting. No more Mexican masks, embroideries or painted wooden platters. They’re great examples of folk art, but my walls are already covered.  No more clothes that don’t fit me, my house, or the climate of the Northwest. No cloisonne objects, Japanese wrapping cloths (still too beautiful to part with), and no carved or papier mâché animals.

If I would look at these collectables once in a while, they might bring back memories, but it doesn’t take long for tchotkes to blend into the woodwork, not nearly as good for reminiscing as they are for causing stress. (Yes, there is research showing that clutter produces anxiety and stress).

Photos generally work well to bring back memories and they only clog my computer, not my closets. There are exceptions. as when my husband and I both point to a shot on the computer screen and ask, “Where was that?”

These days, it’s easy to avoid trinket shops that enchanted me as a child — Ye Olde Curiosity Shop on the Seattle waterfront was my favorite, a souvenir hunter’s paradise — but no matter how hard I fight it, the inevitable craving to bring home just one keepsake overcomes me. For the last three years to satisfy that urge I have collected scarves. They’re light, practical and don’t take up much room in the luggage.

While we were traveling last September,  I made my usual announcement that I was looking for a scarf to purchase. My husband asked, “Don’t you have enough scarves?” The answer was, “Yes, but I don’t have a scarf from ___.” Just fill-in-the blank with the name of our next destination.

Shortly after we returned home we were wandering through our local mall, when he pointed to a mannikin dressed in a suit and scarf.  “Oh, look. They even have scarves here.” As if there were ever any doubt.

The bad thing is that just like all the other curiosities I’ve bought over the years, my scarf collection now fills an entire drawer. For the next trip I may have to collect something even smaller.

I mentioned this to a friend who had the perfect solution.  “Jewelry is available everywhere,” she said, “and it takes up even less room in a suitcase.”


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Driving without a license

DOL letterI wasn’t expecting to receive a letter a few days before Thanksgiving that began like this: “A recent review of our records shows that as of November 10, 2014, your driver license/ID card is expired.”

My birthday is in August, which means it didn’t just expire, it expired three months before.

The good news is not that the Department of Licensing (DOL) waived late fees because their computer failed to send me a reminder.  The good news is that I wasn’t stopped by police while driving license-free, nor was I involved in a traffic accident.  A friend told me that in case of an accident, while the DOL would forgive me, the police would not.  And I don’t imagine my insurance company would be merciful either.

The really good news is that my weight is fifteen pounds less than what was recorded on the old license and this year’s picture turned out much better. (The previous one, which was taken after I raced to the DOL from the bank, when the teller said, “Happy birthday. Your license expires today,” is the one featured in the photo above. And in case anyone thinks they can see a pattern here, I have been renewing on-line and on-time my whole life.)

My only worry is, who’s going to remind me six years from now when I have to renew it again? My memory may not be trustworthy by then.





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Much to be grateful for

gordon belly‘Tis the season to be grateful.  When asked, “What are you most grateful for?” people inevitably say “for family and friends.” Adults are reluctant to admit they are also grateful for certain possessions. It sounds so shallow. But there’s nothing wrong with expanding the scope of our gratitude to include an appreciation for the impersonal.

Winter will be here soon.  Outdoor conditions in this season rotate between dank and icy; sunlight fades a minute or two earlier each day. As temperatures have recently peaked in the mid-thirties, I’m grateful for a furnace that pumps out warmth day and night at my command, and for windows that catch the distant rays of the sun. I’m grateful for a comforter at night, a bathrobe in the morning, and a newspaper to read with my first cup of tea. Along with gratitude for the machinery, comes an appreciation for those that made it possible.

I’m also grateful to have a washer and dryer. There’s nothing like crawling between clean sheets and putting on fresh clothing to create a sense of well-being. Then there’s the shower. When I was growing up, we went on annual camping trips. Alert: Camp grounds didn’t have showers in those days.  It was hard to know which made me scratch more, not bathing for a week or being covered with mosquito bites. Even these days, when we travel in more style, keeping clothes clean is a challenge. On our last trip we found a laundromat in Paris a few blocks from our hotel and some kind people who translated the directions for using the machines. It was wonderful to have vacationed for a week and still have a suitcase full of clean clothes.

Owning an umbrella for the dank days of winter is pretty nice too, especially when my husband and I choose to get our exercise by walking around the neighborhood.

When I worked for the school system, for years the slogan to guide all school remodeling projects was “warm, safe, and dry.”

My orange cat reminds me that warm, safe, dry isn’t quite enough. He also requires frequent chin, head, and belly rubs. In human terms this translates to a kind touch, a thank-you, and a smile.

It’s time for a walk before the sun goes down. Did I mention that having a warm coat, mittens and a scarf are also reasons to be grateful?





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The perfect Christmas gift

my homemade truffles

my homemade truffles

As I exited the library the display of cookbooks, each with “chocolate” in its title, stopped me cold. I’d been struggling to think of Christmas gifts I could make. The books provided me an instant answer. This year I would make truffles.

I checked out two over-sized books with beautifully photographed chocolate desserts on their covers. I started my explorations with the book that had “couture” in its title? Among the truffle choices? Matcha and pistachio, malt whiskey and dacquoise, sake and kinako, cassis and hibiscus, mostly names I couldn’t pronounce. The recipes called for ingredients I’d never heard of — invert sugar and Neige Decor — and baking tools and supplies — silicone baking paper, a pastry bag, palette knife, and a dipping fork — I didn’t own. Did I mention that half my kitchen tools are forty-two-year-old wedding gifts?

I preferred to start with familiar ingredients and names I could pronounce, so I turned to the second book. This featured “raw cacao superfood” truffles in a recipe that called for  three tablespoons of lucuma. Others required ingredients I recognized– ancho chili powder, curry powder, garam masala and cardamom pods — but I didn’t want these flavors to interfere with the unrivaled taste of pure, dark chocolate.

In desperation I set the books aside and checked on-line, where I found a recipe with five easy-to-pronounce ingredients I could pick up at the grocery store. The recipe required two bowls, a wooden spoon, measuring spoons and cups, and a saucepan. Prep and finishing time: 15 minutes. Cooking time:  5 minutes: Cooling time: three hours. Results: delicious dark-chocolate truffles smothered in cocoa powder.

I tested my creations out as possible Christmas gifts by taking a few to friends to sample. If they liked the samples, I would wrap and deliver larger quantities later. As I expected, my simple dark chocolate samples were a big hit. My friends so enjoyed them that they immediately asked for the recipe. They plan to make them for the holidays.

I’m thumbing through the chocolate cookbooks again, searching for the perfect homemade Christmas gift. Mendiants, chocolate olive oil glazes, Nesselrode pie anyone?









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Picture the unusual

Quilters convention, Arromanches, Normandy

Quilters convention, Arromanches, Normandy

Art from the Pompidou Center, Paris

Art from the Pompidou Center, Paris

When you’re traveling you might ask yourself, “How many photos of the Eiffel Tower do I really need? Of Amsterdam canals? Of bakery windows filled with thousand calorie treats?  That’s when it’s time to think about taking a picture of something unusual or at least temporary, which will be gone before the next flood of tourists arrives.

Wall art

Wall art near Pompidou Center, Paris

Baubles fundraiser, Amsterdam

“Baubles” fundraiser, Amsterdam

Wednesday market hedgehogs, Bruges

Wednesday market hedgehogs, Bruges

bin Laden's son, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

bin Laden’s son, by Marlene Dumas, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

Moving river of words, Branley Museum, Paris

Moving river of words, Branley Museum, Paris

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Lost and found in Paris

map of parisHand me a map of Paris and I will often guide you to your exact destination, and only occasionally turn you in the wrong direction and send you miles away. Don’t hand me a map and the following happens.

My husband and I embarked on the Hemingway haunts walking tour as carefully laid out in Easy Hiker’s Hemingway’s Latin Quarter. Easy Hiker advises its readers to begin in a park at the end of the Île de la Cité, which is a natural island in the Seine and the center of the city.

Before leaving our hotel I found a reference in my guidebook to the original site of the best Paris ice creamery — Berthillon — also on this island. So we made a slight alteration in the official hike plans and decided to start from wherever we found two scoops.

We had no trouble getting to the island. It’s large. But the ice cream? I had forgotten the map. “Let’s try this street,” I said for no good reason, as I looked at the jumble of cafés, restaurants, shops and tourists around us.

We had walked a few yards when a young woman approached us.  “I’m taking a survey. May I ask you a question.”


As I prepare to be distracted from my mission, which was now ice cream and not Hemingway or a survey, I look across the street. “There it is,” I shouted and we abandoned the surveyor for more important things.

Next planned stop: Shakespeare and Company Bookstore.  We knew Hemingway didn’t borrow books from the store on the current site, because it existed somewhere else in the 1920’s, but it has such a wonderful ambiance and it does carry his books.IMG_0922

“Where do you think it is?” I asked.

“Across a bridge.” (As an aside, there are thirty-five pedestrian bridges in Paris.)

“The bridge with the memorable graffiti we used as a landmark when we were here last year? IMG_1386

“Yeah.  I think so.”

“Where’s that?”

Sadly, Buble But had disappeared since last fall, but we did eventually find the bookstore, and the neighborhoods we explored almost daily a year ago.

I pulled out my iPhone and clicked on Easy Hike and we started wandering.

“We know this street,” I said.

“Yeah and we know this one too.  This is where we stopped to listen to a jazz band.”IMG_5757

“We passed this restaurant a dozen times.”


New name and higher prices than in Hemingway’s time, probably cleaner too


Luxembourg Gardens

And so it went. The only important sites we’d missed before were the “Hemingway Slept Here” signs. Thanks to Easy Hiker, we spotted those and our tour was complete. (We skipped the Luxembourg Gardens — another part of the tour — because we walked through it every day)

“When we travel, we just walk around,” complained my husband afterwards.

Hemingway lived here too

Where did he get that idea?

Hemingway lived in an attic in this building

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Are you ready for these glasses?



As part of preparing to attend my high school reunion, I couldn’t resist looking at my senior picture in the yearbook.  And what did I notice first?  The glasses.

I started wearing glasses at age eight, which gave my mother many years to choose frames for me.  I remember wearing white cat’s eyes, blue frames, and most unusual of all, plaid frames.  My graduation photo shows dark frames that make me look very studious. My mother wouldn’t have chosen those. I must have wanted to look studious, or at least blend in.

Recently, I learned that my mother’s taste in frames were modest by comparison to today’s European styles.

If I only had to put on a pair of glasses to read the fine print I could live with any of these, but they’d get old fast if I had to wear them for sixteen hours a day…in public.















Thankfully these were not available to my mother when I was growing up.

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