Summer Bounty : Saucetravaganza

Preparing gallons of tomato sauce may not save the world, but it is certainly helping to calm my unease at a world seemingly gone awry. Watching the news this past week has been disheartening.  I suppose famine, disease or sectarian/ethnic/religious or just plain political conflict is always with us, but this summer the world seems to be particularly chaotic. Sometimes, doing things the old school way is a means of creating a tiny island of security and stability in an otherwise challenging sea. Freezing tomato sauce was one of my summer goals, and I’m happy to say that the carriage house freezer is now housing the results of yesterday’s marathon. Here are the steps I followed, improvising after doing a bit of online research: First, I acquired the following :

25 pounds ripe organic paste tomatoes, washed, chopped into one inch dice with hard membrane but not skin or seeds removed (I like chunky sauce so I don’t bother to skin or seed)

chopped tomatoes

4 large organic white onions and as many cloves of fresh garlic as you wish, chopped

chopped organic onions and garlicFresh Italian parsley, fresh basil, fresh rosemary, fresh oregano (washed, dried and chopped)

organic Italian parsley and  basil

Any good red wine, salt and pepper

Freezer containers with no toxic chemicals

Next, I sauteed the onions and garlic in olive oil until just translucent. I then worked in four batches with one batch just tomatoes cooked until tender with no seasoning to serve as diced tomatoes in future recipes:

voila!!The other three batches cooked for a much longer time. After a strong covered boil on medium heat for about ten minutes or so, the tomatoes had cooked down to about 2/3 of their original volume, but the sauce was very watery.

I took the lid off the pot, turned down the heat to a simmer, added all of the chopped herbs (except the parsley, which went in at the very end to preserve its greenness) a bay leaf, salt and pepper to taste, and about a cup of a good red wine per batch. Stirring every ten minutes or so, I let the sauce cook down until it was less than half the volume of the original diced tomatoes. On a very slow simmer, this took about two hours.

Finished Sauce

(If I had been making just one batch I might have used my slow cooker, but doing so many batches required using the stove.) Finally, I tasted and corrected the seasonings, added the parsley and allowed the sauce to cool, giving an occasional stir. Once everything was cool, I ladled the sauce into washed and dried ziploc plastic containers, leaving space at the top of about a half an inch.  I did the research, and these containers (and the bags) contain no evil chemicals or contaminants so they won’t leach bad stuff into my luscious sauce. I refrigerated the containers until chilled and then transferred them to the freezer. All in all, the process (including picking up the tomatoes at my CSA drop off point) was pretty much an all day affair. Judging from the way Mr. D and I gobbled our spaghetti dinner last night, it was worth it! Up next …. freezing a giant batch of corn. I may not be able to fix the world, but I can darn well fix some delicious meals in a sustainable and rewarding way!!

I’m a Pacifist Waging War

No negotiating. No ceasefire. No UN observers thank you very much.  For nearly twenty years I have been locked in a struggle over territory. A variety of invaders have questioned my border’s right to exist. I’m talking mugwort, Canadian goldenrod, switch grass, pineapple mint.

Do you know these terrorists? They should be on the FBI most wanted list for destruction of perfectly lovely perennial beds, meadows and prairies. The CIA should be listening for their underground activity instead of spying on the Senate. Where are the embedded journalists wearing combat gear? Where is the Tea Party outrage over the breach of this border by juvenile invasives? Where is the open carry crowd when I need them? (Shopping at Target no doubt).

I have, at various times, double dug this inherited perennial bed to a depth of two feet, sprayed with RoundUp, covered the bed with layers of cardboard and mulch, used fabric weed blocker and tried to drown the invaders with my tears. (OK, I had other people do the horrible task of double digging up rhizomes as thick as your thumbs and I couldn’t generate enough salty tears to kill one dandelion). Nothing has worked.

Oh, I’ll get a year or two of optimism during which I invest in many new plants and delude myself into thinking that this time, for sure, I will have a manageable plot. And then, a vacation at the wrong time, or an unusual weather spell in the winter (or the spring or the summer or the fall) and BOOM. The next dastardly marauder takes hold.

Some have just been dormant — like naughty two year olds waiting for my inattention — ready to stage a full-scale tantrum in the midst of my shocked and awed blooming plants of choice. Some have been seeded by pooping birds dropping them, like cluster bombs, between the lilies. Some have been smuggled in by perfectly innocent looking topsoil, mulch or expensive nursery plants in pots. And, fool that I was, I planted ONE tiny pineapple mint plant two decades ago.

I’m going to tackle this thing full on (again). I’ve cut the offensive plants down to two or three inch stalks. If it ever rains again I will dig up as many rhizomes as I can. I will use glysophate on whatever has the temerity to sprout between now and the end of September. Then, before I go away on vacation and thus giving the little bastards time to regroup, I will once again put down three layers of cardboard covered by three inches of mulch.

Next spring I will not make the mistake of thinking the war won. I will rinse and repeat the steps mentioned above and NOT PLANT ANYTHING VALUABLE ALL SUMMER IN THAT BED.

And if, by the end of 2015 the problem isn’t solved, I will take out the entire $#%*ing bed and put down sod. Which, by the way, might be the only patch of actual grass that I have in my “lawn” since I refuse to use weed and feed, or preen, or any other chemicals on my turf, vegetable beds, woodland garden or the perennial beds near my front gate. I garden organically, pull endless weeds with my own two hands, and try to be a good person. Now you can see why I’m a little bit alarmed by the aggression that this situation brings out in me. But my garden is my baby, and no unwanted, allergy inducing, greedy territorial usurper puts baby in a corner!

I’m Seeing Red

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It all started a week ago when Mr. D and I went to Capitol Hill to visit an awesome private gallery of Americana political memorabilia with his West Coast cousins. I fell in love with the brilliant red door, the lipstick colored apartment building framed by flaming red flowering shrubs, the Tasha Tudor like urban garden complete with Corgi and little old woman weeding.  Then, on Saturday we went to Hains Point and walked most of the length of the East Potomac Park.  The most spectacular day of the summer yielded wonderful views of planes landing and departing over the Potomac as we lay on our backs in the grass.  Families fished, picnicked and frolicked along the waterfront, but not in numbers or decibels sufficient to dispel the sense that we were vacationing in some far off coastal area. Glimpses of red caught my eye there, too.

Then, this morning, my CSA notified me that I could preorder 25 pounds of Roma tomatoes for canning or freezing next week. While Mr. D and I are happily tending our own tomato plants, most of which are cherries and slicers, we welcome the volume that we can get of these organic, beautiful Romas.

Those of you who follow my blog may remember that putting up tomatoes and tomato sauce is on the to do list for this summer.  So, onto the interwebs I went to find the perfect recipes.  I’m a little bit afraid of poisoning Mr. D by canning incorrectly, and I have a freezer in the carriage house that has plenty of room, so freezing it will be.  With some due diligence I’ve discovered that Ziploc bags do not contain BPA or other evil things so that will be the preferred containment system.

I’m going to use this recipe or a close variant depending upon my whim, possibly slow cooked in my slow cooker. I’ll do a post documenting my efforts next week!

This is What Medicare Looks Like

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My Medicare card just arrived in the mail, sparking a variety of responses. Relief that soon I will no longer be paying my very expensive monthly COBRA bill. Delight that I will now be able to rejoin Kaiser Permanente after a seven-year stint elsewhere. Anxiety over the fact that I am now officially considered to be an old person.

Aging gracefully is an art. Women (and men) who try too hard to look like they did twenty years earlier strike me as foolish. Men (and women) who want their partners to look like they did twenty or thirty years ago strike me as despicable/disposable. (See this wonderful article by Robin Korth in the Huffington Post about this very topic.)

My goal is to remain elegant, strong, hale and hearty. Serendipity brought me good genes. I supplement my good fortune with a commitment to a rigorous physical fitness regimen and a healthy lifestyle. Nonetheless, no number of crunches or warrior twos will keep my fair skin from losing some of its tautness, but well chosen clothing and a continued zest for living can give me the radiance that came so naturally in my younger years.

I’m actually in better shape now than I was in my forties and fifties, brought about by a bout four years ago with piriformis syndrome, an excruciatingly painful condition that I vowed never again to experience. Once I could get up off the floor and walk more than a few paces without Advil and curse words, I went to a rehab specialist/personal trainer, who “fixed” me. In the process he got me addicted to working out and doing yoga; if I go three days without either a gym session or a vinyasa class I feel physically and spiritually depleted.

Every time I think about cancelling my once a week sessions with my trainer I remind myself that our workouts are the best insurance policy I have against future injury, frailty and loss of mobility. He tells me that I am in the top one half of one percent of fitness for my age, and that makes me feel better than saving the almost $300 a month would. And, thanks to him and to my awesome yoga teachers, looking in the mirror feels really good as long as I don’t glance above the neck. (And, of course, Nora Ephron had the last word on that subject).

Sometimes, when I do catch a glimpse of myself without makeup in the morning, I wonder who the hell that old hag staring at me is. I don’t have a wattle, or jowls, or flaccid shoulders, but the dark circles never seem to go away no matter how rested I am and the parentheses around my mouth are much more pronounced than they used to be. I’m still blonde, but I do get highlights now to blend in the darker, muddier, not quite blonde not quite grey hairs. I accept the lines on my face as evidence that I have seen a full range of human experience and chosen to persevere in the face of personal challenges. I have no interest in Botox or fillers, no desire for a tummy tuck or a knee lift. Concealer, a bit of mascara and I’m ready for the real secret to staying young: finding the daily balance between savoring the moment and continuing to set goals for myself.

My yoga practice keeps me robust and graceful, and more importantly centered. It has become a cliché that it’s not about the destination but the journey. For me, the journey takes me back to the “aha” moment I experienced shooting a bucket of balls into the lacrosse net for hours on end until I could target particular gridlines in the net. Or the split second burst of nirvana in midair knowing that I was going to nail the entry on my pike with a half twist low board dive. Achieving a new yoga asana through a combination of athleticism, determination, proprioception and practice, practice, practice fills me with gratitude for the breath that each new day brings. Knowing that I can count on my body to hold me up frees the rest of me to reach for improvement in other ways; I’m working on being more patient, more loving, more forgiving.

When it comes right down to it, I am lucky to be “old,” let alone in fine fettle. With luck I will grow to be as ancient as my 94-year-old father, inspirational as he is setting new physical goals for himself each day as he recovers from a recent medical crisis. As he put it, “As long as I keep improving, I am happy to be alive.” Word.


Summer CSA Stirfry


This week our  CSA (community supported agriculture) share included garlic scapes, carrots and a beautiful fresh cabbage.  What else to do but stir fry!  Here’s what I did:

Tossed julienned carrots, one inch garlic scape sections, fresh minced garlic, half an onion chopped, chicken tenders cut into one inch pieces in canola oil with a splash of hot chili oil and a sprinkling of cayenne powder for good measure.  I made sure that everything was in one layer and on high heat in my awesome 15 inch Calphalon pan. (I don’t have a wok).



Next I washed and chopped half a giant cabbage into rough one inch strips and threw them in after the first ingredients had browned and become transparent.  I splashed in some rice vinegar to add some zing and some moisture, stirred like crazy, and for the last few minutes put the lid on.


When everything was tender but not at all close to slimy, I added some sweet chili sauce from Trader Joe’s.


And then Mr. D and I served it up and ate it!  Nom Nom Nom.


The Year in Review

It’s been a year since my retirement after nearly thirty years of classroom teaching and school administration. While this last weekend in June may not be New Year’s Day, it is nonetheless time for taking stock and setting goals for the coming year. Nearly all of my friends and acquaintances advised me to take a year off, to just chill out, before setting big goals and expecting to chip away at my bucket list, but I didn’t believe them. I think the karma gods figured out right away that I was now available for all sorts of unplanned speed bumps on the road to a new life phase; let’s just say that it’s been an eventful year. Let the record show that those who warned me were right and I was wrong!

So what have I learned?

1) Just because I don’t have to get up at o’dark thirty to go to work doesn’t mean my animals think I should sleep in, even though I don’t go to bed at 9:30 anymore.

2) It’s a lot easier to eat well and to exercise well and often without the daily grind of working full time.

3) As an introvert, I sometimes have to remember to get outside of my own head and interact with people other than my partner, and then I have to do something about it, which I mostly have, but there is room for improvement.

4) I don’t seem to have much in common with a lot of the people my own age. I am the oldest person in most of the new adventures I’m involved with, and that’s just fine.

5) While I miss the actual act of teaching — interacting with kids, thinking up new ways to present material, mentoring students and younger colleagues — there are big parts of being a K-12 teacher that became more and more onerous in recent years. I am delighted to never again have to:

o   Write another report card comment

o   Explain in person or on some idiotic online form that no one ever reads “how I’ve developed myself professionally this year”

o   Sit through another faculty meeting

o   Post an assignment in yet another format on yet another piece of crap software

o   Endure being told that I am blunt and intimidating because I have decades of experience and am not afraid to say what I think

6) Maybe I just need some space, but the book I wanted to write about the state of contemporary American education is the furthest thing from my mind right now.

7) Finally, having the time to deal with all the junk I’ve accumulated — both physical and virtual — doesn’t mean it’s actually any fun to sift through it and, as they say, “deaccession” (except for most of the work clothes, which went to Goodwill immediately).

So what have been the best things to happen during this first year?

1) Traveling, from planning a trip to actually doing it, has enriched my life and my relationship beyond measure. Mr. D and I have spent months away from home, visiting the West Coast, Asia, New York and Rehoboth. We’ve become a well-oiled partnership on the road, and it has brought us closer. We’ve met some seriously inspirational new people on our travels, almost all of them adventurous and younger than we are, because we don’t ever stay in impersonal and/or expensive places. We’ve had quality time with friends and family during times other than school vacations, and we’ve been able to take leisurely trips to places known and unknown rather than freaking out over how many days we have until we go back to work. I know, most people think, “teachers have all summer off, what’s the problem,” but let me tell you, I used to work my butt off during the summer catching up on household chores, planning for new courses and making “old” ones fresh.

2) I’ve taken two classes that have seriously changed my life. Getting started on learning to really use my DSLR camera enabled me to see the world anew. I wish it weren’t such a pain to transfer these photos in real time to Instagram! Even more importantly, the short story semester class I took with the renowned author and professor Mary Gordon gave me the jumpstart I needed for my own writing. The reading list was challenging, her lectures were riveting, and the comments I received on the five papers I had to write for the course renewed my confidence in my ability. I nearly cried tears of joy when she wrote that she was “blown away” by the “depth and elegance” of my thought and prose. I really needed that as I began to get serious about committing to the next step in my intellectual life.

3) Serendipity brought me a forum to test my authorial wings, and also gave me the opportunity to share with three women who have become my writing touchstone. Kate and I met at the first meeting of an author’s group at our local library, but decided independently that the group just wasn’t for us. She took the initiative to start a group and before we knew it we had four committed women ranging in age from twenties to sixties and several others who came and went sporadically. We meet every two weeks to share work with no restrictions as to genre. Pieces must not exceed 1200 words and must include a word drawn at random the previous session. After one school year so far (not including vacations) we have by my count met sixteen times. The support and critical acuity of my co-members has emboldened me to write deep from the gut, enabled me to hone pieces after receiving excellent criticism, and given me a sense of community and grounding in what can be a lonely or overly narcissistic endeavor.

What have been the biggest challenges of this first year of retirement?

1) Without question, health issues have been major stressors, even though none of them have been my own:

o   My father’s wife’s death after an arduous battle with ovarian cancer

o   My father’s own frailty and ultimate health crisis and recovery

o   Mr. D’s very unexpected pacemaker implantation

o   My brother’s bout with colon cancer

o   My sweet elder dog Sydney’s cancer recurrence and consequent euthanasia

o   My feisty middle aged terrier’s thyroid cancer surgery

Can I tell you how much I loathe cancer?

2) It’s taken a long time to let go of the goals I set for the first year (blogging on two separate blogs every week, accomplishing a number of home improvements, consolidating and perhaps getting rid of all of my electronic and physical teaching materials, becoming a better person, blah blah blah). I’m now choosing to focus on how much I have really accomplished rather than how much is still left to do.

3) It was very hard to adjust to not earning money. This was not so much a financial hardship as a change of self-definition. I continued to do some tutoring, but in effect was, for the first time in decades, not receiving a paycheck per se. I’ve gone from being not just employed but also having at least one freelance situation on the side to being retired. I have no plans or desires to return to the workforce and feel fine now, but those first few months were anxiety producing.

So what’s next?

I’m much less future oriented and much more present in the now than I used to be. My goals are simpler. I want to

o   Be able to hold a handstand in the middle of the room by my birthday

o   Work through the tutorials on the photography program Lightroom5

o   Spend quality time with my remaining terrier now that I have a sense of her mortality

o   Freeze fresh sweet corn and can fresh tomatoes

o   Post on my blogs at least once every two weeks

o   Clean out the garage and the carriage house

o   Get the tile and floor jobs done, preferably by paying someone else to do them

o   Read more

This past year has been one of the best of my life, even though the challenges have been many. I’m looking forward to each day as it comes, and I can honestly say that retiring when I did was one of the best decisions I have ever made!

On a Lark

I am a lark and my partner Mr.D is an owl. It’s not because I am as happy as a lark, or because he is as wise as an owl, although both clichés fit. As far as I know, Facebook hasn’t yet had a quiz to determine which bird one is, and if one popped up in my news feed I’d be afraid to take it after finding out that if I were a dog I’d be a pit bull.

Nope, it’s all about our circadian rhythms. I’m a morning person even now, in retirement. I’m up and at’em at first light, down in the kitchen brewing coffee, cooing at the cats rubbing my legs and feeding the goofy terrier who is ineptly balancing on her hindquarters in anticipation of breakfast. By 10:30 PM I am past ready for bed, savoring appropriating the entire mattress acreage to myself before one, two or three other beings claim their fair share. Dan, by contrast, routinely sleeps until 9:00 AM and goes to bed closer to midnight. He is in charge of letting the dog out for a last pee and insuring that both cats are inside, safe from marauding foxes and prevented from terrorizing small sleeping animals and birds. (PS — Mr.D got Great Dane on the dog quiz. Jealous.)

While the saying goes that opposites attract, I don’t think we are well suited for one another primarily due to our sleep patterns, although they do afford each of us alone time at bookends of the day. As we age, we each have nights when the sandman forgets to sprinkle one of us. Lying awake, listening to the sleep noises of as many as four other beings, one can sometimes fantasize about using pillows for other than their intended purpose.

It’s interesting that sleep researchers have nicknamed morning people after a species of bird known for its grounded nest, beautiful song, and ability to learn as many as thirteen other vocalizations. Larks are favored pets in Asia and I saw and heard many in their ornate birdcages perched either on windowsills or hanging like lanterns from balustrades in Hong Kong and Vietnam. Poets have immortalized the lark as the harbinger of dawn, the gatekeeper of the space between heaven and hell, torpor and consciousness, ignorance and enlightenment. A humbling charge for this tiny feathered creature! On the downside, larks are a favorite delicacy in some parts of the world, eaten bones and all, and not just by cats.

I wonder whether larks, too, sometimes have nights of fitful sleep. If so, do their minds wander as mine does, from semi-consciousness to moments of clarity? Do they too suffer from the indecision of whether to rise (if not shine) or try to induce somnolence through a combination of will and relaxation techniques? I suppose I do feel a bit bird-brained at 2:30 AM as I review every possible thing I could add to my to do list or try to recall the main plot points of the dream I just awoke from.

My sleep patterns are, not too surprisingly, often ill-adjusted during times of transition. I well remember realizing that newborns first sleep through the night as a survival instinct, natural selection having chosen those who did so just before their mothers, psychotic from lack of sleep, flung them against the cave walls. In menopause I would sometimes awake in a puddle of sweat, needing to change not just my PJs but my sheets. At the time of my divorce I spent many an anxiety riddled 3 AM hour diverting myself by working a New York Times Sunday Crossword in a book I kept by my bedside. And of course we all know about jetlag.

It turns out that one’s circadian rhythm is probably inherited. I got mine from my father and my grandfather, both of whom — like me– could fall asleep instantly and sleep through the night for a solid seven hours until their late middle age. I clearly remember Papa napping on the davenport in the sunroom of my grandparents’ house. What I didn’t realize was that he never actually went to bed at night, leaving the big mahogany sleigh bed to my Nana, thereby sparing her his restlessness and insomnia. And now my aged father has as his primary medical complaint his own nighttime wakefulness, for which he is perpetually overmedicating himself, causing a chain reaction of other problems like impaired cognition and wobbly balance.

Will this be my fate? Will I lose my morning warble? My groundedness? Will I become not a songbird, but a misunderstood pit bull, snarling at strangers from the cumulative abuse of lack of sleep, banned from apartment buildings and public places because of my supposed unchangeable evil disposition?

I think not. I’m not much of a napper now, but I can learn, just as I have learned to really let go during the savasana phase of my yoga practice. After all, my pit bull profile tells me that I’m sincere and extremely versatile, and larks are one of the smartest members of the species, able to mimic the tones and behaviors of other birds. And who really cares whether one sleeps between 2 AM and 5 AM or between 2 PM and 5PM? Whole cultures do this in the form of a siesta, and medical research has it that this is a partial explanation for the longevity of Mediterranean and Latin American populations.

My grandfather, the expert napper who just went with the flow instead of trying to change it, was the sweetest most loving man, like Dan, a Great Dane “ genuinely humble . . .extremely smart . . . approachable . . . the kind ruler of [his] own kingdom.” So, chronotype is not destiny. Circadian rhythm is not fate. All twenty four hours are there to be lived whether as a misunderstood but lovable and fascinating pitbull or a happy song-filled lark. Or maybe both. 

What Worked and What Didn’t on Our SE Asia Trip

Overall, I think the research I did and the fabulous advice I found from so many smart travelers helped me to have a stress free carry on only trip.  So here is the round up:

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1)  My Osprey backpack was terrific.  I carried it on my back easily, hoisted it up into the airplane bin easily, packed and repacked it easily, and never had it weighed after the first flight with Turkish Airlines.  I think the people at the check-in counters just figured that a tiny little old lady with a backpack probably couldn’t carry more than the allotted 7 or 8 kgs.

2) Packing cubes are the bomb. ‘Nuf said.  Or perhaps I should phrase that differently for security personnel ;-0

3) The luggage scale was indispensable at home because it made me ditch lots of things which I never really missed anyway.  Admittedly, we never used it after we left home.

4) My three smartwool shirts (one short sleeve black and two bright colored tanks) worked as advertised, although I must say that the black tee was the most useful.  The weather was unseasonably chilly in both Hong Kong and Hanoi and that shirt got one heck of a lot of wear. And I never washed it.  And it never smelled.  And it didn’t itch. The tanks . . . meh. Once we hit warm sunny places I actually wanted more coverage and didn’t wear tank tops at all. So, bottom line, I just ordered another Icebreaker short sleeve tee in grey from Moosejaw (on sale, natch) and a super lightweight 3/4 sleeve merino v-neck in ballet pink from J Crew (also at a steal).  I’m totally convinced that merino wool in a fine gauge works for both hot and cold temps and packs and wears like a dream.

5) The rayon long sleeve T was a lifesaver, mostly because of the chilly temps early in the trip, but if I had it to do again I would take the new J Crew merino instead.  The button up tunic blouse, not so much. I really didn’t use it.  The Coolibar sarong was a great idea, and would be more useful if we had done more beach time.  So, no regrets, but it didn’t get as much use as I thought it would. My bathing suits worked out fine, but we didn’t swim as much as we thought we might on this particular trip.

6) Most worn item:  the Adea white tee shirt.  Loved it.  Cool, non-smelly, great coverage but stylish fit, washed that sucker out day after day and it was dry in a matter of hours with no wrinkles.  I immediately ordered four 3/4 sleeve shirts when I got home, only two of which were on sale, which tells you how much I love the brand since I hardly ever pay full price for anything.  The feel of this fabric on the skin is to die for, the fit is oh so Italian designer, and the care is easy peasy.  I could do an infomercial on this brand!

7) Pants: the Lululemon travel/bike-to-work/dry-quick grey pants were AWESOME.  Wore them constantly in heat or cold. The Athleta taupey haremish pants were perfect, but I am a little concerned that they won’t last. Only wore the Kuhl shorts one or twice, but they were comfy and fit great. I much preferred wearing the yoga cropped tights out in public in warm weather places. I only wore a skirt once in Cambodia.

8) My hat was a great success, and totally necessary once we left Hanoi. Best part–it smushed down in whatever shape to fit into my pack and then could be reformed (the wire in the brim meant it didn’t flop). And, it fit my rather small head and stayed on even in gusts. And of course, sunglasses both prescription and regular, were essential.

9) I really didn’t need the Prana yoga top.

10) All of the shoe choices were great.  No blisters. Lots of walking in each pair. Felt stylish and not clunky. Win.

11) Ex Officio underwear is everything everyone says it is.  I bought two more pair on sale when I got home as I have discovered they are the best for yoga and the gym too–no panty line and (ahem) no stink. Plus they dry in an instant.

12) My Patagonia Nanopuff jacket was indispensable.  Not only for the chilly times, but wadded up as a pillow on the plane (we took nine flights in all). And it took up no space in either my purse or my backpack.

13) The Athleta SPF50 white ruched v neck coverup and my  Blockshop Textiles scarf were the most used items, providing layers, sun or wind protection, style, all the while keeping me cool when that was important, skin cancer free we hope, or warm when necesary. I can’t say enough about either one.

14) Tech-wise, I never used the new camera tripod.  It was bulky and I hadn’t practiced before the trip. We didn’t need the voltage converter because all of our electronics did that themselves.  Those two items were heavy.  We never bothered to get phones in Vietnam, but I will get a new iPhone 5 or 6 before our next international trip so we can use SIM cards. Best tech tip:  Get Tunnelbear. I never felt compromised using public wifi in hotels or cafes or airports. It’s worth it and very reliable. My RFID tiny wallet was also great for peace of mind.

15) TSA was fine with my scissors — both the small kid ones and the sewing kit ones.  Hong Kong balked at the kid ones, measured them and let me pass. Danang security took the sewing scissors. No one cared about liquids. Sometimes I had to take my shoes off, sometimes I didn’t.  Moral of the story: you never know. Every checkpoint is different.

16) My J Crew purse was terrific for flights because I could stuff so much into it (camera, liquid 1 quart bag, guidebook, IPad, chargers). Outside of Hong Kong I didn’t carry it but instead used a fabric carryall that folded into a tiny pouch.  Why? Best not to be carrying an expensive leather bag in places where that seems first-world extravagant.

I have a lot to say about toiletries, cosmetics, medications, etc. but I’ll save that for the next post.

Technology for My Trip to SE Asia

So, its two hours until I leave for the airport and six hours until takeoff. I’ve packed, repacked, weighed my luggage, stuffed my purse, and printed out all of my documents. I’ve cleaned the house (I hate coming home to a place that feels icky) filled the cat feeders, done the laundry, paid the bills and fired off some last minute work stuff. I’ve taken a nice long soak and gotten into my travel clothes.

I have just enough time to write this post about what technology I am taking. So here goes:

Canon Rebel Eos Rebel XS DSLR camera with the kit lens (18mm – 55 mm) and a Canon telephoto (55mm – 250mm). This camera is an oldie but a goodie, and all I need as an amateur.

Joby SLR GorillaPod tripod with ball head

Canon battery charger

3 8GB Sandisk SDHC cards (I like the smaller ones because I don’t reuse them but keep them as backup after downloading into Lightroom 5)

1 card reader to IPad connector

IPad 4 with retina display, 16GB

IPhone 4

Chargers for the IPad and IPhone

Eagle Creek kit containing worldwide universal adaptors for any and all circumstances

Earbuds ( I don’t have fancy headphones, although I’d like to)

RFID passport cover and wallet (these protect against folks scanning electronic data while merely walking past)

Tunnelbear VPN (virtual private network software) to be used on the Iphone and the Ipad.

Sewing kit

Eyeglasses repair kit

Rhodia 5 X 7 notebook with pocket


Lock for my backpack

I think that’s it!! You can follow my journey here and on Instagram @farmhousebythefalls

Bon Voyage!!

What I’m Packing for Three Weeks in Asia

One of the first bits of research I did involved choosing a carry on.  I vowed to travel light, as I always had back when I was a twenty something and exploring the world. After our trip to the West Coast this October, when I had mailed half of what I had packed home midway through, I was done with checking luggage and using space bags that ended up weighing the equivalent of kettle bells. Time for a reset.

I found a wonderful site that led me on the path to what I hope will be carefree plane, train, boat and bus travel: TravelFashionGirl. Also, there are numerous YouTube videos showing what (and how) a variety of male and female backpackers and other travelers packed for their journeys.  Yes, most were twenty somethings, and included items like denim booty shorts that this “lady of a certain age” will not be including in her wardrobe.  But with a bit of adaptation I put together a stylish, functional kit.  No white sneakers or baggy cargo pants with too many pockets, zippers, straps and horrible fabrics for me! 

What am I packing?

1)  Osprey 46L backpack. It meets airline carry on regulations, opens like a suitcase instead of from the top, is comfy to wear from plane to hotel (its not intended for heavy duty backcountry hiking) and is simple in design.  You can see a video review here.


                                           Osprey 46L Porter

2)  Packing cubes. Not only do they separate your items by type, they hold an amazing amount of stuff in ventilated little packets. You can watch a how to video on using them here. 

Image    Image

3)  Luggage scale. This seemed kind of silly at first, until I realized that Vietnam Airlines required carry ons to weigh no more than 7kg (or roughly 15 pounds). What a challenge it has been to whittle down to that!  While it seems unlikely that my backpack will actually be weighed, I don’t want to have to decide what to throw away while standing in the check-in line with lots of people yelling at me in a foreign language.

4)  Smartwool. I was like, “huh?” when I first read about smartwool in the tropics, but I am a convert. After all, those sheep in New Zealand live through hot summers, right?  A company called Icebreaker makes really wonderful things that are 150 weight, are guaranteed not to be itchy or hot, do not wrinkle, wash in the sink and dry quickly, provide natural SPF protection, and (this is key) do not smell.  Lots of travelers swear by these as insulation layers in the cold and stand-alones in the heat.  I got a black tee shirt and two tank tops in bright colors. And they came with info about the actual sheep who provided me with the wool!!!!

5)  Sun protection. For me this was essential.  I got a sarong in a cute print from the SPF specializing company Coolibar that can double as a scarf, beach towel, blanket, etc. I bought a great sun hat at Athleta, along with a white SPF 50 mid-thigh length beach cover-up/hoody.  I can also wear that as an extra layer for cool evenings or sails in Halong Bay.  I have a white rayon long sleeve tee and a white rayon button up collared shirt/tunic to throw on when visiting temples or just plain getting fried in the sun.  Both are lightweight, but provide some additional protection.  And of course I have a pair of cute long rayon pants from Athleta to cover my legs in the heat and for temple visits where modesty is expected. 


                                   Giddy Up!

6)  Layers. Istanbul (where we have a layover) will probably be in the 50s, Hong Kong in the 60s and 70s during the day, Hanoi ditto and then hot from Hoi An to Siem Reap. I calculate I need to be ready for as much as a 50 degree temperature swing!  That means layers.  Everything I have coordinates with bottoms in basic colors like grey, navy and taupe and tops in white, grey, black and a few brights thrown in for good measure. Scarves add color, sun protection, modesty and warmth when needed. I can layer to my heart’s content, up to my Patagonia nanopuff jacket, which folds up into its own pocket when not needed.

7)  Wash and wear, ie quick dry. EVERYTHING.  Including undies from Ex Officio, yoga capris and skinny pants from Lululemon, a mid-calf skirt from Athleta and the aforementioned items. 

 8)  Sensible shoes.  One pair flip flops, one pair mesh and suede ballet flats from Patagonia, and my trusty Dansko sandals.

 So, here is the complete list:


2 pairs long pants (pinky taupe and grey)

1  pair black yoga capri tights

1 white Prana tank as an underlayer and for yoga

1 white long sleeved tee

1 white button up shirt, tunic length

1 white SPF hoodie

3 cap sleeve tees (black, grey, white)

4 tank tops with full coverage in back and high cut in front and good bra strap coverage (azalea, turquoise, pale yellow, pale pink — two are smartwool from Icebreaker and two are Italian miracle fabric from Adea.  I don’t think I really need all four but I want to see which ones I use the most).

1 navy skirt

1 pair water resistant shorts from Kuhl (you can get them at REI or Title Nine)

2 bathing suits

1 SPF sarong

1 sun hat

2 pairs socks (one Icebreaker to wear on the plane — my feet always get cold) and one pair quick dry biking socks for whatever)

5 undies

2 bras

1 pair flips flops

1 pair ballet flats

1 pair sandals

1 jacket

2 scarves (one very lightweight to dress up tops when going out and one Block Shop Textiles mango chevron pattern for warmth, sarong wear, whatever BECAUSE I LOVE IT.

 As for wearable items — that is it!!!

NEXT:  Electronics and Security