Saturday, 31 July 2010

Learning from Failure

I've started a number of races I didn't finish, something I always hate to do - not finish, that is.  One was a 20 mile fell race over the Cheviot Hills in Northumberland.  I'd just been diagnosed with asthma and been put on a course of steroids.  Distance runners will understand the habit of counting to 100 to pass the time, 100 steps, 100 breaths, 100 bus stops, 100 empty soft drink cans.  I was counting breaths - to 10 - when I gave up on top of the second hill.  I went back and had another go a couple of years later.  I was so relieved to have done it, because it meant I never needed to do it again!  I'm not fell runner material.

I attempted the Rotterdam marathon once.  I'd had a cold and though I was over it, I was still coughing hard,  another complication of my asthma.  After a particularly long coughing spell one day at the office, and seeing the look of concern on my co-worker's face, I remember telling him that in my next life I was going to have better lungs.  The marathon course had a loop at 20 miles that brought one back to about the same point 6 miles later.  A bus was standing there to sweep up waifs and strays.  My ribs were sore from coughing and it was too easy to climb on the bus.  I might have been able to finish, but 6 hour marathons are no fun.  I'd not experienced that particular form of hell at that time, but some things you just know.

There was a half marathon in Scotland in which the first mile was straight up and I struggled to keep anyone in sight, there were so few runners.  I'm not unhappy running on my own, but in a half marathon race in unfamiliar territory it can be disconcerting.  I found myself struggling just after half way when a nice old guy came along and started talking to me.  He was a cheery kind of person and happily admitted to having just celebrated his 109th birthday (I exaggerate, but it was an age in the late 60s or more).  He was going to keep me company and volunteered to be last in the race to save me the pain.  I didn't care about being last, but I was worried about making my friends wait for me, maybe as much as an hour or so after they'd finished.  When the sweeper bus came along I heartlessly abandoned that nice man, which I felt bad about.  I've never attempted the race since, feeling it was too small for me to enjoy.  

The most recent race was about a half marathon, but as it started and finished on a beach, there isn't an exact distance.  It varies with the tide each year, so there are no mile markers.  It's a beautiful course, but one of the tougher races around, with the hills and the beaches and, this year, a 20-mile an hour wind in your face.  It was a dull sky and not too hot, but humid.  

My main problem was being unfamiliar with the course.  I knew it finished with a mile or two a beach and I knew where halfway was, but when I came to what I thought was the last village I couldn't remember how much further I had to go.  I had no way to pace myself and I was running out of steam.  When I came to the marshalling point they were really worried at how I looked and I caved in at the offer of a seat in a car out of the wind.  Wouldn't you know that the final beach was in sight just around the corner, but once I'd stopped, that was it.  I was pretty annoyed with myself, having given up at around 11 miles, but not quite to the point of throwing the running shoes in the sea.

On reflection, I remembered that when I was running well a few years ago and really keen, I would drive the route of the race several times, particularly if it was new or I'd not done it in a while.  I would especially note the last few miles when I would have to dig deep to keep going.  Knowing the landmarks and the terrain can help pull you along bit by bit to the finish.  That would have been really valuable information this time around, but I'd not bothered as the race was not close to home.  I could have studied it on the internet more than I did.  I did do the long runs I needed, but no hill work or speed sessions.  I can't remember the last time I did a speed session...

What did I learn?  Get serious and be keen or don't go to the harder races.  I may focus on 10Ks for a while, too...

Friday, 30 July 2010

Fred Astaire was Not a Woman

Not that anyone ever thought he was, of course, just that I normally choose to read biographies of women, not men.  

 Fred & Adele, 1921

I made an exception in Fred's case because he was a dancer whose style my Uncle Bernard admired, also because he first attained fame during the inter-war years that fascinate me.  You probably know all about Fred Astaire already, but I learned a lot:

He was born in Omaha, Nebraska, of all places.

His surname was originally Austerlitz; his mother was born to German immigrants and his father came to the US from Austria. 

He began his career dancing with Adele when he was only 7 years old. 

They worked in vaudeville and the theatre in New York and in London for years before she retired and Fred was drawn into making films.

His sister Adele married into British aristocracy, becoming the wife of Lord Charles Arthur Francis Cavendish and going to live at Lismore Castle in Ireland.

Fred was friends with the Queen Mother.

He was keen on horse racing and owned several race horses.

He was more than a little wealthy.

His first wife, Phyllis, died after 21 years of marriage when she was only 46 years old (from lung cancer).

After 26 years of being a widower, he married a woman jockey, Robyn Smith, who was 45 years his junior; they were married for 7 years until his death in 1987.

If you run across a biography of Fred Astaire, you might enjoy reading it.  He was a strangely complicated man, being in show biz, but very shy; having extraordinary talent which he worked hard to polish, but not assuming that others would value his skills; not having a huge amount personal ambition, but clearly enjoying his acquired wealth.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Culling and Consuming

We did some re-organising of a room the other day that involved moving two bookcases.  In the process of removing and replacing the books, Bill decided to actually chuck a few, which rather surprised me.  That is, he put them in the pile of books I'd started for further listings on Amazon.  What surprised me about this was that a few of these books were gifts and Bill has always in the past expressed reluctance to part with gifts, even gifts he doesn't particularly want.

I have a certain amount of sympathy for this as I have tended to keep pretty much anything my Mom or my Aunt Rita made for me.  I've even kept most of what Rita bought me in the last 10 years or so, and only recently managed to part with a fleece outfit that, while comfortable, struck me as being a bit young for me.  It was a wrench, I'll admit.

So, when Bill decided to pitch a 2008 Diary that Will Change Your Life (but I don't think it did), I was pleased to see him moving on a bit (even though I gave it to him).  Our tastes in reading material overlap quite a bit (Harry Potter, Peter Wimsey and the like) but I've never been able to stomach a whole Terry Pratchett, I'm just not wired up that way.  Some of the books Bill chucked I had just assumed were sort of in the Pratchett vein, but apparently not.  We've both agreed to sell our Campion collection as well, as we don't seem to enjoy re-reading them like we do the Wimsey books.  

I rarely get a gift I don't like, but sometimes they are surplus to requirements.  I tend to put them into a drawer of a filing cabinet and look through it when I need a gift at short notice or for someone I don't know well, but I don't tend to re-gift very often.  

I've been in a use-it-all-up mode for most of this year and have stopped buying anything until I'm out or down to the last bit on hand.  Having acquired most of the body lotions in Rita's and Ella's collections, I thought I might have a lifetime supply and every time I got to throw out an empty container it almost seemed like time to throw a small party, but it looks as though I'll soon be pulling out that Christmas gift from the Body Shop...if I haven't given it away.  

I've also been working my way through the odd selection of food gifts, mainly exotic oils, vinegars and preserves.  The grapefruit marmalade was interesting and I'm finding that a 2-year out of date bottle of cranberry sauce is quite nice on toast.  Not sure about that lemon curd, though...Bill might get to use that one up.

Do you feel obligated to keep any and every gift you receive?

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Playing with Percentages

I'm a complete idiot for playing around with spread sheets and numbers.  I acquired this addiction in my former occupation and I'm not likely to shake it.  I'm also a frugal fanatic (about some things) and always on the look out for motivational challenges as well as smarter spending information.  So, when I ran across this post at Budgeting in the Fun Stuff, I saved it for play time.  Ages ago, I found some advice about suggested percentages for budgeting, from some American source, no idea where now.  At the time I was trying to figure out how much to spend on clothes (I don't think I ever managed to spend as much as 6% when I was working; much as I love clothes and shoes, I felt guilty when I spent very much on them).  

Strictly speaking, percentages are very misleading, but they can be useful for comparisons such as this.  The comparison is a rough one as well, as this lady's budget categories are different to the ones in the advice list; I may or may not have fitted those in correctly.  Also, this is just for how my money - with Bill's contribution to living expenses - is spent, where her budget is for both partners and for a total amount of nearly 5 times my income.  My 'family necessities' (? cleaning supplies and toilet paper?) are less than 1%, but not zero (we do still buy TP ;-).   My only 0% was for installment debt.  They are paying off their car this year, so that figure is exaggerated.  Oh yeah, and they live in the US, while I'm in England.  I was interested not just in comparing my percentages with hers, but to see how we're doing for the first 6 months of this year compared with last year.

Category 2009 2010 BiFS
Housing  (30-40%) 12 8 22
Utilities  (4-7%) 12 11 3
Food (15-30%) 9 6 8
Family necessities (2-4%) 0 0 3
Medical (2-8%) 1 1 2
Clothing (3-10%) 1 1 4
Transportation (6%) 5 6 10
Entertainment / Fun (2-6%) 13 10 9
Retirement/Investment (5-9%) 24 30 20
Outlays for Fixed Assets(2-8%) 2 16 4
Mad Money (1-4%) 21 11 5
Total Installment Debt (< 20%) 0 0 12
Total 100 100 100

So, what did I learn from this, if anything?  We pay a lot for utilities, not just in percentages, but in real terms, though I can't see a way at this point to reduce that expense.   Since the house is paid off, our housing expenses are limited to property tax and insurance, but I put repairs and renovations into 'Outlay for Fixed Assets' as I had no idea what else that might refer to.  I suspect the advice amount for retirement is out of date.  Some of my figures for 2010 will 'smooth out' over the rest of the year; neither of us can face any more re-decorating in the immediate future.

I wouldn't say we were necessarily having more fun, only that it represents a higher percentage of my income spent for travel, but I'm definitely 'madder' than she is, in that a lot of those totals in my columns is 'miscellaneous' which means either very small (postage stamps) items or that I've no idea where that money went...  Definite room for improvement there.

Hers is a planned buget, mind.  Mine is just what happens.  I've only ever budgeted, as in making a list of categories and assigning an amount each month, when I thought I was in danger of not having enough to meet my responsibilities.  Any other time, which is pretty much ever since I began following the principles in the Tightwad Gazette, I've just squeezed the things that matter least as hard as I could in order to make more funds available for what is more important.

How do you do your budgeting?

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Several Oranges and an Olive

Did you think I forgot to show you the Italian women I photographed on our vacation?  Well, of course I haven't, I've just been saving up, that's all.  Out of the 2000 or so pictures I took in Italy, there are close to 90 of various women, mostly ones I snapped because I liked how they looked.  So here goes.
Orange is a popular colour in Italy and it's no surprise, really.  I think bright colours look great with darker skin tones.  On the other hand, it wasn't necessarily dark skinned Italians who wore the orange.

This woman grabbed my attention with her lovely leather shoes that complemented the bright orange top. 

This woman reminded me of orange sherbet more than anything, next to her strawberry husband.  

I didn't manage to catch this young woman before she turned into the shop, but her orange dress perfectly matched her beautiful hair and she looked like a walking flame!

I noticed this girl initially because of her hair, but she is also carrying an orange purse.

You will have to look closely to find the woman with dark red hair, dressed in a light olive green colour.  I was admiring her clothes, a 3 piece knit set with flowing top and jacket and her lovely leather shoes.  She looked great from the front, but the outfit was -- as knits often are -- rather clingy.  When she turned sideways she was quite round in profile and it was a bit surprising. 

I still thought she looked very smart, but I'm afraid colour of her clothes and her red hair called to mind an olive stuffed with pimento.  That's OK - I like olives!

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Kind and Necessary Truths

Years ago I remember hearing the idea that before speaking a person should judge what s/he was about to say against three criteria:

Is it true?     Is it kind?     Is it necessary?

During the short periods when I managed to remember and practice this, I found that I had remarkably little to say!  I think I was a teenager at the time so I expect, for those near me, this improved the quality of their life immeasurably. 

Though I’ve generally always aimed to tell the truth, ‘Is it true’ filters out all sorts of gossip or hearsay, and though some of it might be true its verity is not always known, so one can’t really go there.  Another area where this shows up shabby words is where we apply stereotypes or blithely spout ‘accepted wisdom’ about people or events without first hand experience or closer investigation.  I can remember occasions when I’ve been caught out and corrected – and rightly so.  I try to be more certain of my facts and, if I can, learn about the history involved. 

‘Is it kind?’ is a criterion with which some would argue, saying that hard truths must be said and one can’t always be kind in the real world.  I think telling a hard truth is kind in a tough sort of way, though I would think long and hard to make sure I wasn’t justifying myself.  It is the snide little witticisms and sarcastic remarks that evaporate under this light, no great loss, really.  Also pointing out other people’s weaknesses and foibles, which of course allows us to congratulate ourselves for not having them.  It may well be true, but the world is not a better place for it having been aired.  Brits are fond of saying that they “Don’t suffer fools gladly”.  I’ve not heard those words in the States as often as over here; I’m sure Americans just phrase it differently.  I’ve yet to hear a person say this that I didn’t wonder if they a) felt they were suffering me; and b) didn’t perhaps think excessively well of themselves.  Thereafter I'm afraid I don't seek their company gladly.

‘Is it necessary’ was the part that really shut me up (and, I realize, if rigorously applied would end this blog)!  My dad always observed that the less you said, the smarter people assume you are.  Not a bad consequence, is it?  Mind, the things that survive all these tests are the practical bits of information that let us work together and help one another, the small courtesies and considerations that smooth the way between people and of course all those genuine expressions of affection and regard that may be neglected and lost for speaking the unnecessary.   I’m really glad I was reminded of this idea recently, so I could pull it out and try to use it again.

Have you ever consciously tried to be more careful about what you say, just as a matter of principle? 

Friday, 23 July 2010

Intensive Night!

I saw this poster in Verona and it struck me in the face.  I can't recall seeing anything remotely similar -- any advert selling a beauty product to men, not like this -- in the UK.  According to Toad, cosmetics for men have definitely arrived in the US.

Given what women have done to themselves over the centuries in the name of beauty,  I was thinking it's about time!  I had to get home to Google translate before I could fully appreciate the ad:

Stomach and Abdomen 

Intensive Night

Reduces circumference while you sleep in 4 weeks' treatment

I'm sure it really works...aren't you?

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Influential Women

I've recently finished reading a book which ranks the 100 most influential women, past and present.  I was amazed, and annoyed with myself, at how many I'd never heard of.  The book is great in that it gives a 2-3 page biographical synopsis to explain why a woman was included on the list, but to my mind it is written backwards and I read it from back to front.  I didn't want to read about the most influential woman first and the least, last, if you follow me.

I've copied down the list and will likely track down some biographies of the ones that interested me the most.  While I was at it, I put their names and years of birth and death into a spreadsheet, so that I could put them in order by the time in which they lived.  The earliest five women constitute a very mixed bag:

Sappho (c. 613 B.C. - c. 570 B.C.).  I associate this name with Lesbians, and she was apparently bi-sexual and lived on the Isle of Lesbos.  What I hadn't realised was that she was a Greek poet of epic proportion who influenced not only Roman writers but other poets from the 16th to the 19th centuries.  She can also be considered the first known woman author and so the founder of women's literature. I thought it interesting how many details of her life could be found from her poetry, including the fact that she had a child named after her own mother, she came from an aristocratic family that was exiled for their political views and her own parents died by the time she was 6 years old.  Felder ranked her number 61.

Cleopatra (69 B.C. - 30 B.C.).   Cleopatra also lived in a very different time, where the custom was for the ruling family members to marry their siblings.   When Cleopatra's father died he left his kingdom of Egypt jointly to her (aged 18) and her 10-year old brother/husband.  Traditionally, she should have been subservient to her brother, but she was having none of that.  She fled Alexandria and declared war on Ptolemy XIII, her brother.  Enter Caesar, representing Rome, who wanted peace in Egypt, under joint rule of brother and sister, so as not to rock the boat in Rome.  However, Cleopatra, smuggled past her brothers' men in a rolled up carpet, won Caesar over.  Ptolemy XIII was overcome by Caesar and Cleopatra married a 12 year old brother, Ptolemy XIV.  He apparently kept his head down and out of the way.  Caesar and Cleopatra had a child together and were lovers until Caesar's murder in 44 B.C.   Wealthy Egypt was in danger from greedy Rome, especially when Cleopatra refused to aid Cassius, one of Caesar's murderers.  Instead, she allied herself with Marc Anthony, who was supporting Octavius, Caesar's heir.  Antony had also married Octavia, Octavius' sister.  However, at some point Antony decided he wanted Parthia (Persia) for himself and he invited Cleopatra to help him attain that goal.  She did more than that, of course, as they were married in 36 B.C. and had three children together.  It was their combined might that worried Rome and Antony, having neglected his previous wife and become far too ambitious, was out of favour.  Antony and Cleopatra's forces battled with Octavius and Antony, having failed to take Cleopatra's strategic advice, failed and fell on his sword.  Rather than be taken captive by Octavius, poisoned herself with the bite of an asp.  Felder asserts that Cleopatra was a brave and savvy woman and one of only two women in history - the other being Boudicca - to truly challenge the might of the Roman Empire.  She is ranked 84th.  

By the way, there is a fabulous novel that Bill has, called The Purple Pirate, by Talbot Mundy, set in this time and place; it's a great read!

The Virgin Mary (c. 1st Century B.C. - c. 1st Century A.D.)  Felder states that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is undoubtedly the most famous woman of all time.  However, not because of her own life and work, of which little is known. 
"More a myth and an article of faith than a flesh-and-blood woman, Mary reflects the times and culture of those who view her as an embodiment of their faith, hopes and desires.  She also reveals much about how women have been seen over time, becoming for each age a guide to the ideal and the perfect."
Her parents names were apparently Joachim and Anne, which is more than I ever knew.  Felder says the Gospel writers differ in the details of her life and the importance of her role.  It was interesting to read about the attempt to refer to Mary as a person, separate from her role in history and religion.  Felder ranked Mary as 10th most influential.

The next most historic female figure on this list was named Wu Chao (625 - c. 705).  Empress Wu ruled China for 50 years, during the T'ang Dynasty, and was the only woman ever to rule that country in her own right, alone.  Though she was known to be ruthless, her reign was an era marked by peace and prosperity, major reforms and high cultural achievement.  She is remembered as one of the strongest leaders in Chinese history.  She ranked 89th.

Murasaki Shikibu (973 - 1030) was a lady in the Japanese court and author of The Tale of Genji, considered the first great novel in world literature, a book filled with believable characters in real situations.  The novel covers a 75-year period and chronicles the career of a nobleman named Genji, illegitimate son of the Emporer, and of Kaoru, believed to be son of Genji, but actually the son of Genji's best friend.  Felder says that the book invites comparison with Proust (not that I've read Proust, either).  Lady Murasaki was ranked 73rd.

I can't imagine how Felder went about selecting the 100 women about whom she wrote, or how long it must have taken her to read about them and condense their life stories, but I'm glad she did. 

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Bernard's Birthday

Today would have been my Uncle Bernard's...90th birthday.  Hard to imagine, really.  I can't recall that he was especially fond of any particular kind of food, so I plan to practice the tap dance he taught me...46 years ago.  Yep, I still remember it.  

It was an incredibly complicated routine to a piece of Latin music.  We practiced at Grandmother's house almost every day in the beauty shop when there were no customers scheduled.  I like to think I'm a fairly patient person, but both Bernard and my Mom had almost infinite patience (whereas their mother had almost none to speak of).  I wonder if that sort of thing can be genetic?

The kitchen floor is the best place to tap in this house but perhaps I'd best keep the curtains shut until I'm finished.  That said, I've often done a little time step waiting for the kettle to boil.  It's just one of those things dancers do.  In fact, did you ever see The Full Monty?  Remember the part where they were standing in the queue for the dole (in line for their unemployment checks)? 

If you've not seen this movie, you need to.  However, if you aren't from the North of England, put the sub-titles on...

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Remembering Ella

Today would have been Ella's 96th birthday.  We've made date slice in her honour.  I decided to share some pictures from her 90th birthday party, back in 2004.  

I thought it was a wonderful day.  

Several generations of her family 

gathered from England, Scotland and Australia 


to help her celebrate.  

 Friends from church, 


friends from her residential home, Abbeyfield


and several of the Abbeyfield staff 


came to wish her happy birthday.

Bill organised the lunch party at the 


Grand Hotel in Tynemouth.

And it was very Grand.

There was more food that we could possibly eat.

We 'youngsters' waited on the elders. 

I remember that made me particularly happy for some reason.


I took loads of pictures with Bill's digital camera.

That evening Ella was at our house, opening presents.  

I'd love to have a 90th birthday like that, wouldn't you?

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Packing Lessons Learned

I packed for the trip to Italy using a list for each of 4 locations:  1 suitcase, 2 front pocket of suitcase, 3 my purse, and 4 the liquids bag.  When I unpacked at home after the holiday, I made a list of every single item and made notes about whether I'd take it again.

For clothes, I mostly used this advice, that I thought came from Unclutterer, but darned if I can find it there.  (Anyone know who says to do this?)

Take two fewer bottoms and one less top than the number of days the trip will last, including what you wear on travel days. (For a five-day trip, 3 bottoms and 4 tops). Pack one extra pair of shoes (dressy flats and wedges are good), and add 1 cardigan. Wear a jacket on the plane. Mostly stick with simple pieces, but mix in one dressy skirt & top to pair for a festive evening out.
Except, I packed for 5 days instead of for 10, knowing that I would be able to wash, hang and even iron, if necessary.

The long-sleeved tee and wool cardigan I wore on the plane were too hot for Italy, but the water-proof jacket, my trainers and the lightweight navy cotton slacks were useful at other times.

So, what worked well?

My Eagle Creek backpack was perfect for this trip.  It converts to a regular suitcase and Bill found me a shoulder strap which came in handy, but I would only carry that amount of weight on a shoulder strap for a very short time. I paid about $100 for this backpack 17 years ago, after reading Rick Steves’ Europe through the Back Door (only one from about 1993).  I’ve never regretted that purchase, though it seemed a lot to me at the time. Although it would be nice to have the option of wheels, with Europe's many stairs and cobbled streets, wheels are often a real nuisance. The waist strap of the backpack was great for taking weight off my shoulders and making the backpack pretty comfortable.

5 white tops. Kept colour coordination simple. I took any technical tops I had, as long as they had no writing on.

1 blue linen shirt. This dressed up a top a tiny bit for evening and served as arm cover when I wore a tank top.

Light blue waterproof jacket. Handy once when it rained, but Bill’s umbrella would have done. On the other hand, this with a wool cardigan is good for in England

4 bottoms. Navy cotton slacks, beige linen skirt, taupe zip-off cargo pants, black 3/4 length pants. I didn't end up zipping off the cargo pant bottoms, as I don't care for shorts, and I'd decided these didn't earn their way.  However, upon our return when I had to pack away my purse, all those pockets served wonderfully in lieu of purse, and so I'd take them again. They were also made of technical material that dries overnight.

3 pairs of shoes:  every need met.  The trainers were good for heavy carrying days.  Leather sandals worked for most others.  I wore cork wedgies (light!) for evenings. The leather sandals got washed in the machine on our return and they came out like new!

5 pair underwear, 2 bras, 7 hankies. Plenty.

House keys.  (We've broken into our house 3 times now; I keep a back up set on me at all times).

Bobby pins / hair grips and clips were good to put up my hair when it got hot.

Nail clippers and emery board are always in my toiletries for emergencies.

When my liquids bag got full, I used Bill's spare capacity.

Bill and I shared the same toothpaste.

Renu contact solution (60 ml). Though I usually need saline for sensitive eyes, I found I could use this solution - as intended - as both cleaning and saline solution (though I wouldn't put it directly into my eye; I brought small bottles of eye drops for that).  I only used about 20-30 ml, so wouldn't worry about taking a partial or smaller bottle on the next trip.

Eye drops x 3; I only had partial bottles around the house, but turns out I didn't use these as much as I thought; 1 would have sufficed.

Toothbrush with a cap, dental floss, contact case, make-up brush, Eyelash curler, razor.  Check.

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry Touch SPF 30 (29 ml).  I used this as moisturizer when mine ran out.  It was brilliant.

Burts bees lip stick, Bourjois concealer (10 ml):  both nice and small!

I refilled a small Nivea tin (30 ml) with Vaseline for removing eye make-up.  This worked perfectly.

Hair conditioner tube supplied in hair colouring kit, just the right size.

Plastic ziplock bag for makeup.  Makes it easy to see and put my hands on what I want quickly.

I buy the sets of small bottles of perfume at duty free or at Boots (a drugstore/ chemist) when I see them. They work as stocking-stuffer Christmas presents, but are also the right size for this purpose. I have some samples in vials as well, but the perfume isn't as nice as True Love

I took a brown eyeliner pencil, an eyebrow pencil, and a Body Shop crayon concealer pencil, all very short -- not to mention slim, so took up less space; however, I also needed the pencil sharpener for the first two. I use every smidgeon of make-up and use a lipstick or other brush to reach all the corners. 

A tea towel in a ziplock bag to keep us tidy when picnicking. 

Small coin purse to put British currency in when using Euros. This bag also stores the Euros in the file cabinet along with US currency (in a different bag) for the next trip to either.  Even a small amount of cash and coins is useful to get started on a trip.  We tend to use ATMs / cash points in foreign countries, and I draw dollars out of my American credit union account when we are there.  In Europe, a new credit card is available that supposedly charges lower conversion fees.  Need to check that out.  A Bureau de Change may say it doesn't charge a fee, but then they don't give good conversion rates.  On this trip we noticed a 24% difference in their offers for buy and sell.

Notebook and pens: essential travel kit! 

Camera – can’t imagine life without it now!  I take a spare set of re-chargable batteries and the battery charger...and the electric thingy to plug it in.

GP prescription. Not needed, thankfully, but I take it in case I lose medications; unlikely, but I've become accustomed to being able to breathe. Same with spare contacts lenses. 

What didn’t work 

I took a blue cloche hat that I think is very flattering, but it turned out to be far too hot for Italy. My white baseball cap from Club LaSanta worked great for shade and travelled fine, but it's not very fashionable, is it?  I took a straw hat that didn’t pack as well as I thought it would, so it didn’t see much wear and I probably need to replace it.  Any suggestions for what hats travel well? 

My favourite red purse, a shoulder bag that belonged to my Aunt Rita, was an ideal size but tedious to carry in addition to my backpack. Would chose one that closed at the top for more security.  I looked for a smart leather backpack style purse, but most of the straps were zippers, which looked uncomfortable.  Didn't buy anything in the end.

Cargo pants (well secured to stay up!) might work best for travel days with backpack.  Easy to find in technical fabrics and neutral colours.

A pink scarf  I wear in bed when it’s cold: useless in that hot climate. I need to remember that 70 degrees feels more like 85 to me now that I’m more acclimatised to the colder weather. 

Asthma inhalers and tablets. Took 2 each. One each would have been fine, as long as they were full. 

Sweeteners. Never used. I can’t bear strong continental coffee and so usually switch over to tea. Discovered cappuccinos were quite nice.  Sweeteners were available on the table in most places. 

Sun glasses & case. I hate wearing sunglasses, preferring hats to keep the sun out of my eyes. Both were clumsy when using the camera. 

Electronic organiser with addresses. I never even thought about postcards once we landed. Maybe write address labels next time to help me remember? 

Running clothes (how we kid ourselves...). Neither of us was up to running after the first day of walking around in the heat. That said, the running bra was more comfortable than the underwire when carrying the backpack. 

Swimsuit and cover up. I would give this a miss unless it was specifically a beach holiday. I had hopes since we were near the Med, but to no avail. Bill even brought a beach towel, bless him. 

Dick Frances book. Was a great read, but travel was rather hard on this book, as it didn’t get the preferential treatment of being close to hand that Simone de Beauvoir got. 

Winter running socks for travel days. It wasn’t that cold travelling, so I’d skip these. Same with the socks I took to wear as slippers. Hot weather = bare feet! 

What I’ll be trying next time 

Maybelline base make-up SPF 15 (30 ml). Good make-up, but in a heavy glass bottle. Will look for smaller, non-glass container or maybe try using up all those samples I’ve collected from magazines!  Or just use concealer /highlighter and have a less made-up face. 

Mascara and lip gloss – find smaller ones. Elizabeth Arden has a tiny mascara. 

Solid deodorant – does this have to be in liquids bag? Look this up before next trip.  Keep an eye out for smaller toiletries, generally.  Rarely see them here in Britain outside of the duty free at the airport (at a ridiculous price).

Brought back 10 pouches of shampoo/shower gel (but left the small bars of soap – I have a lifetime supply already). Will use these shampoos instead of bringing my own. 

Rimmel nail polish (12 ml). Smaller bottles of nail polish available now. Either that or go without nail polish altogether. 

Styling brush and hair dryer with electrical thingy. About half the places we stayed had hair dryers, so I might have managed with out. Perhaps work on finding a wash and wear hair style or wear more hats? 

An envelope would have come in handy for all the scraps of paper we collected. 

Fewer grocery bags and more large zip lock bags. One of the grocery bags was a heavy, decorative plastic that I’d intended to use as a beach bag if needed. I think it would have sufficed, but still needs tested. On the other hand were we going on a beach holiday, which means staying in one place for the majority of the trip, I’d probably pack quite differently, take my beach bag and make it double as a purse. 

2 tea towels instead of one. 

Look for more technical clothing instead of linen, so I don’t need a travel iron to feel presentable. 

Electrical thingy and battery chargers: We need more than one as we both have electrical items to use/charge. 

40 ml bottle of shampoo. Useful to know I only used about 30 ml during the 10 day trip. Will go with the sachets we’ve saved up. 

Billfold with all my loyalty/membership cards. I’ll be looking to find a simpler wallet and to leave most all this at home.  Only need 1 cash card, 1 credit card, place for paper and place for coins.

Pink cotton nightdress. A shorter one or sleeping in one of the technical t-shirts might have saved an ounce or two of weight. 

60 ml body lotion wasn’t quite enough.  Will take 100 ml next time.

Spray on Sport SPF 30 (29 ml): see running clothes.

I may look into posting boxes home in future, in the event that I see something I desperately want but can't cram into my luggage. Mind, if it costs more than it would have to check a suitcase, it would defeat the object, but I know there was the option of posting a 20 pound box $20 from the US not too long ago.

One might think from all this that I'm really infatuated with the whole packing thing, but I'm not.  In fact I dread it and put it off to the very last minute.  I think I'm frightened of making decisions I'll be stuck with for the duration of the trip, scared of what I might forget.   I only survive the ordeal at all because of all these lists!  I hope some of these ideas were useful for you.

How do you plan your packing for holidays?

Friday, 16 July 2010

Birthday Books

You may or may not recall that the day before we left to go to Italy was my birthday.  I got some great books for my birthday and I have now read them all.  I thought they were so wonderful that I should recommend them to you.

Vivien gave me three books:

Sew and Save
This is re-published from a 1941 edition.  War time rationing in Britain during WW II was no joke and this has some serious advice about how women could maximise the use of clothing during that time.  The content includes To Plan Your Wardrobe, Tools You Cannot Do Without, Tricks for Smartness and Make More of Old Clothes, to name a few headings.  It has inspired me to put aside at least 20 minutes a day to do mending and tackle alterations in the clothes I decide not to donate or recycle as textiles.
Make Do and Mend.
Much along the same lines as Sew and Save, but this book contains reproductions of official instruction leaflets issued by the UK government and includes some leaflets about food planning and saving fuel.  "Cooking for Victory means Cooking with Economy."  I find all this really fascinating and it really makes me appreciate what a soft life I have living in this day.

Seeing a Large Cat.  This is of course one of the series of Elizabeth Peters' books about Egyptologist and detective, Amelia Peabody.  I think this is the best one so far, as her precocious son, Ramses, has grown up enough to be interesting.  There are also two other, adopted, children in their teens and they seem to make the stories more sizzling and less soppy.  I'm still looking forward to the rest of the series.  

Bill also bought me three books, one a complete surprise:

At Home.  I think I'd just mentioned seeing a billboard for this latest release by Bill Bryson and he just said 'uh-huh'.  We are both major Bryson fans, though I've not managed to plow through A Short History; it's not so much history, in my opinion, as science.  I might give it another go, or not...

At Home I read in a couple of days, it was so interesting.  I expect I'll be sharing bits with you here and there.  If you like history, particularly, social history, I think you would enjoy this book.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  Speaking of history and science, this book is both and more.  I had added this to my wish list of books some time ago, but had no idea it would turn out to be such a page-turner!  I read it practically non-stop, it was so good.  It reminded me a little of The Coming Plague, which I would also highly recommend, but it is also a biography of the Lacks family, past and present.  Though Henrietta Lacks has been dead for over 60 years, cells taken from her body had such a remarkable reproductive quality that they are not just still alive today but are a corner stone for human biological research around the world.  Though her cells, taken without permission, have launched a multi-billion industry, her family has seen none of the profits.  They didn't even know about the use of these cells, referred to as HeLa, until 20 years after her death.  In addition to learning amazing things about these HeLa cells, in a very readable way, the author, Rebecca Skloot, shares with us her adventures in researching this book, the evolution to date of medical ethics around tissue and cells and about the medical community's efforts to make amends to the Lacks family.

Driving Force.  I put this on my wish list after having reviewed my list of Dick Francis books and found one of the older ones missing.   Actually, though he died last year, there are still books being published that he co-authored with his son, Felix.  There was always some discussion about who actually authored his books, Francis or his wife, Mary.  That he continued publishing after her death suggested that he wrote them, though he always said she did the research and the books were a cooperative venture.  I presume Felix took over the researcher role.  The more recent books "feel" very much the same as the old ones, so I do think Dick Franis has always been at least the primary author.  That said, I rather hope Felix has picked up the knack and will be able to continue in the same vein for years to come.  Dick Francis' books are like comfort food to me.

As you can see, I had a great birthday!   Hard as it was, though, I took only Driving Force, a small paperback,  on vacation with me, along with a library book I was reading.  Had it been beach holiday, I think I would have taken a couple more.  I finished the Francis book on the plane over but the other book I took with me, while interesting, was not compelling.  On reflection, I think this is the best sort of book to take if you're travelling and want to see things along the way!  I read it before going to sleep and on long train journeys to pass the time.  I still haven't finished it, but I will before I take it back to the library:  

Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter.  This is the first of several autobiographical books.  She writes simply and beautifully and the insight she gives into the lifestyle of a middle class French family in the early 20th Century is what makes it enjoyable to read.  However, being spoilt by the drama of most of the fiction I'm accustomed to reading, I can't say it grabs me that much.  I picked it at the library because I'd always heard her name, but didn't know much about her.  I'm not certain whether I'll continue reading the other autobiographies, but I feel slightly better educated for having tackled this one.

What sort of books do you take on holiday with you?