Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Here's hoping your travels are easy (and not snowed in!) and your thanksgiving table is full of favorite treats. Happy thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Traveling to Target & Ikea

Whenever I’m outside of New York City, I love to visit the big box stores, so Ikea and Target are stops I’m always excited to make if it works out. While we have access to these stores in New York, they are not terribly convenient to get to from most of Manhattan, and when I’ve taken the trip, the shelves are far more empty than those outside of NYC I’ve visited. In addition to the easy of location and better product choices, the sales tax is nearly always less than our 8.875%, making it a much better experience all around than we tend to get in NYC.

I see these stores as very useful for certain things – either for finding furniture that fits a particular space for the time being and will be upgraded later, or for finding small and useful household items, particularly those for the bathroom.

When I moved to NYC, Target and Ikea were both good places to find small furniture that fit my needs. Other than a couple items, the furniture my family offered me was mostly too big for the small or awkward spaces I needed to fit. Luckily, both stores sell tables and such that are sized in a way that they work well in small and often oddly laid out apartments. Knowing that I would not live with roommates forever, the other benefit was that I could purchase this “disposable” furniture and plan to swap it out down the road for higher quality long-term options.

Besides the physical constraints, 22 year olds don't always know how to take care of furniture that's been passed down -- as responsible as I may have been, I'm not certain my roommates and I would have been careful enough. For instance, my father may not have wanted me to have the cherry wood dining table when I was younger, but now that I have a better place for it, the table is one of my most-loved pieces of furniture and I feel confident that I can take good care of it. Several years ago, however, Ikea was a better fit to fill the role of the only table we had room for, as well as a microwave stand. I'm glad I got to upgrade, but I'm also glad I didn't have to worry about the cherry table when i first lived in the city.

When it comes to what I like to find at these stores now, it varies a little. I usually keep a running list on my phone of items I don’t need this minute but are good items to look for at one of these stores. It gives me the chance to check out prices, and unlike purchasing online, I can see if they look cheap in person, or if they will do for my needs. Sometimes this list includes things like a pajama set or socks, but for the most part, I let my big box purchases stick to the useful things around the house I’m just looking for a good price on. Often, these are still things I expect to swap out later for better quality, but sometimes they are things I love as is.

Here’s what I bought on my most recent trip to Ikea (in Connecticut) and Target (in Maryland), if you'd like to see...

Monday, November 24, 2014


My in-flight buddies: Samsonite & Long Champ
Happy Thanksgiving week! The weather doesn't seem to be sure of which season it wants to portray, but Thanksgiving is just days away, and I'm very happy about it.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love that there is no pressure to do anything but spend some time with family. There are no gifts to purchase, no services to attend, and no fear of offending anyone by wishing them a Happy Thanksgiving -- no matter anyone's religion or heritage, every American celebrates Thanksgiving, and I love that because everyone celebrates the holiday it has a way of uniting us all. The leaves have turned bright colors, and it's wonderful that there is comforting food like turkey, stuffing and cranberries on the table.

I've had a wide range of types of Thanksgivings ranging from the traditional big family event at home, to the New York City hot dog while watching the parade, but the very best Thanksgiving I've enjoyed was the year in Paris.

My mother and I were visiting my brother who was living there, and because I love Thanksgiving so much, I insisted on finding a restaurant that would serve the traditional American fare that day, turkey and all. Honestly, my mother and brother would have been fine with French food every day of our stay, but they obliged and found an American restaurant that was serving a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner for me -- they knew I would have been disappointed with anything else. Considering my fixation with finding stuffing and cranberries, it's ironic that I don't remember a bite of the food from that day -- what I remember instead is walking through the front door and finding nearly every American in Paris stuffed into that restaurant. In the way that only traveling abroad creates, every American in those rooms became best of friends on that day. Never have I felt such camaraderie and innocent American pride -- had there been any among us, I'm certain that even the ex-pats would have enjoyed the celebration that day.

Whether it's Paris or a parent's that will host the celebration of Thanksgiving this year for each of us, since this is the biggest travel week of the year, travel is almost a certain part of the plan. If flying is part of the travel, checked bags (and even some carry-on bags) are likely to carry the additional charges we've started to become accustomed to over the last few years. I don't like traveling with more than a purse and a carry-on mainly because I've had my luggage lost before, but in the last few years, I've discovered just how handy my fear of lost bags can be for avoiding most additional fees.

Over the years, I've gotten pretty good at carrying-on everything I need, and the biggest trick I've learned is the importance of the bag that gets packed. I swear by my four wheeled, 62 liner inches, Samsonite model.

An amazingly practical friend gave me this suitcase as a wedding shower gift, and it may be the most useful gift I received. When she gave it to me, she explained that she chose a model with four wheels to make traveling with it easy, and just as importantly, she chose the size that fits international standards for carry-ons. Prior to her explanation, I had not realized that domestic and international travel often allow for different size cary-on bags, with domestic carry-ons usually allowed to be slightly larger.

Something I've noticed in the last year, however, is domestic flights insisting on the smaller size bags which have been traditionally reserved for international travel. A couple trips ago, I heard an announcement at the gate that told passengers the flight was very full, so carry-on bags would be restricted to those that fit in one of those size-checking boxes all airports have. Interestingly, while these boxes show two sizes, this particular domestic flight insisted that every bag fit in the smaller of the two size boxes. My bag was fine, and I silently thanked my friend's great practicality as I watched other bags ticketed to be checked from the gate.

Since it seems that we're trending toward more and more travel restrictions, I assume this type of bag size requirement will become more common on domestic flights, but even if it's not, finding space in the overhead compartments on a crowded flight certainly is easier with a slightly smaller bag.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Make it Better: Mending Tights DIY

I live in tights from October through April. I have lightweight ones I pull out first and return to storage last, as well as nice, thick woven pairs of stockings, which get pulled out with the serious winter wear.

I usually buy cheap tights, but I do love a pair of pretty woven tights mixed into the options. Unfortunately, it's funny how those generally more expensive woven pairs often don't last as long as the cheap ones. Still, it is still nice to have a choice of texture to mix up the choices a bit.

As I pulled out my down coat, hats and other serious winter clothing recently, I noticed I had runs in a few of these woven pairs of tights. I'm not sure if I knew and ignored the runs at the end of the last cold season, or if I missed them as I put them away for the summer, but either way I like them too much to just throw them out. I've read that people used to darn socks over old lightbulbs, but when I fix a pair of tights, I find it so much easier to do while wearing them. The main advantage is that by wearing the tights, one can tell exactly how much stretch the tights need and if the color of the tights are lighter when worn, due to this stretch. Of course, the obvious drawback is the needle hitting skin, but I've found it's actually pretty easy to get the hang of weaving a needle in and out while limiting the number of times I stab myself.

I used a darker thread here because I wasn't too concerned about the spot showing in its well-above-the-knee location (and it was the best match I had in my emergency kit) but if I were concerned, wearing them would allow me to match the thread better than not wearing them. With this stretch in place, one knows if the thread is too light or too dark -- not something that is evident when the tights are not being worn. Also, thanks to the stretch, it's easier to tell how much slack each bit of weaving through the fabric will require so as to not add additional strain on other parts around the hole. As for the method I use, it's actually the same as the one used for sweaters -- after all, whether it's fixing sweaters or tights, the woven fabric still requires a nice -- darn -- weave.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

L.L. Bean Totes Sizes and Monograms

The other day I absentmindedly looked at sale items on L.L. Bean and found a couple things I found interesting, but ended up loosing interest and leaving the screen behind without making a purchase. Later, when my wife said "I just looked at the computer and saw something disturbing," I knew she had opened up to the page I left behind… A picture of a hunting knife. I laughed, because it certainly was outside of my usual window shopping style, but she continued, "I saw that you're looking at more of those L.L. Bean totes."

It's true -- I have amassed a bit of a collection over the years. I find them to be ever useful, and can always find something that can be corralled easily into one or another. I use them for travel and for storage, and one even became a dog bag for our pup. I have a few different sizes and colors, and while most of them are plain, I've also tried out a few monogram styles.

The monogram sizes vary quite a bit based on the font chosen. The blue bag and the red bag are both size medium, but the "MRM" in Times Bold monogram is 1.25" high by 3.75" wide, while the "B" in Heirloom single letter is huge at 2.5" high by 3" wide. The yellow bag is a size extra large, and the three letter monogram in style Classic monogram is just the right size at 2" high by 1.75" wide.

The sizes of the bags are shown in a couple pictures on L.L. Bean's site, but they are from the front, so hopefully this view also helps show the sizes in a different way. In this picture, the red bag is size medium, the blue bag is size large, and the yellow bag is size extra large. They all have the regular length handles, but as can be seen here, the handles vary in size because they are all proportional to the bag size.

I use the extra large bag mainly for carrying large items. It is perfect for taking Christmas presents on the train, or carrying items which would otherwise be awkward to hold. It is also the bag I always bring to events such as benefits or parties when I'm involved in setting up -- not only does it hold everything I need, but thanks to its open top, no one else helping to set up feels uncomfortable going into it for tape or scissors. Once the event gets underway, I can toss my sneakers and anything else in it and easily shove it into a corner. For this size, I find that the regular handles are just right. If it isn't packed full, I can still put it over my shoulder, but if it is overflowing, the handles aren't too long to hold at my side.

The large size is the one that I sometimes travel with, as it is the right size for either sheets and towels or food and wine. The zip top makes it easy to keep things inside, and actually adds just a little bit more room above the top of the bag if I've got a lot to stuff in. While at home, the zip top versions come in handy for storing things like fabric for sewing and off-season items -- the ability to close them makes it easier to stack them in a closet.

The medium size is the one I used to make the dog bag, and the long handles are necessary for carrying him on my shoulder. This red medium has a zip top and regular handles instead, and in this size the handles don't go over the shoulder easily. As shown in the picture, they're just a little smaller than the handles on the larger bags. In the long handle style, I've used both the small size (not pictured) and the medium size as summer purses, and both sizes work very well either with or without the zip top.

They come in so handy that mine are rarely empty, but if they are, unlike rigged storage or travel options they can be folded down and tucked away into a drawer or even into another bag while traveling. As many as I have, I don't regret having any of them… And I'm still always tempted to get a couple more.