Travel Gift Ideas

Every year for Christmas my eight siblings and their spouses draw names for gift giving around a particular theme.  Some years the themes have been practical – “emergency supplies” or “favorite cooking tools,” for example. Other years we’ve shopped for entertainment items like an Oscar-winning movie from the year the recipient graduated from high school–which is how “Young Frankenstein” came into my video library.

The past few years we’ve all been traveling to family weddings as the next generation grows up and starts their own little Loosli-related families.  So this year we decided that the theme would be “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” and the gifts would be travel related. Thinking about things that make travel easier and enjoyable for me, I came up with a list of possible gift ideas for our designated recipients—my baby brother Aaron and my oldest brother Brian’s wife Karen. I’m sharing it here, in case you also have someone on your list who likes or needs to travel.

1. A Personalized Packing List. Years ago I created a few packing list spreadsheets based on how I travel.  Basically they fall into a few simple categories—hot or cool weather and weekend or weeklong travel. (Even if I’ll be on the road for multiple weeks, I’ve found a week’s worth of clothes will likely suffice with some strategic laundry maneuvers.) These lists keep me from reinventing the wheel every time I travel and get me out the door with all the essentials. Possible gift: Packing advice book wrapped in your own packing list template and/or a packing app.

2. Travel Bags. I have suitcases in 3 sizes–a true carry-on, a possible carry-on if I squish everything in really tightly and pray the zipper holds, and a larger suitcase that I know I’ll check.

My “personal item” carry on is usually a lightweight Le Sport Sac tote.  Into that tote I’ll throw one or two smaller bags with travel essentials.  The first one is a smaller multi-zipper Le Sport Sac cosmetic bag that carries an old iPod—to save my phone battery—some lipstick, lotion and hand sanitizer.  The second comes along on longer trips and includes a sleep mask, earplugs and a flashlight.  The small bags are always packed, ready to go. I’m thinking this might be a good gift for Karen who is always so organized. Possible Gift: A small colorful bag packed with in-flight essentials.

3. Paper Goods. I keep travel documents, itineraries and pertinent sections of guidebooks (I still prefer a paper copy) in transparent plastic envelopes, one per city/country, to make getting around easier if I’m a little jet-lagged or just disoriented. These folders also store paper ephemera—entrance tickets, brochures, etc.—to review when I’m back home. I also make sure I have a Moleskine notebook on hand to to capture some impressions or contact info. Possible Gift:  Clear plastic envelopes and a Moleskine notebook.

4. Travel Books. I love guidebooks and always pack relevant sections in my travel folders (see above.) But my favorite way to prep for a trip or enhance my time there is to read a novel set where I’ll be traveling.  Some of my best leads for new-to-me books have been found in the literature section of the Rough Guide travel guides. Possible gift: A specific guidebook or novel if I know where the person is traveling or an Amazon gift card with a note designating its purpose.

5. Destination Gift Certificates. As regular readers know, I tend to track down needlework shops wherever I go.  Though I travel to discover new things and places, sometimes it’s nice to drop in to a familiar setting and see how it’s different elsewhere—for example, the cheery yarn shop I visited in remote Oxapampa, Peru last January.

These gifts take a little more research.  For example, my brother Aaron owns a Cold Stone Creamery franchise.  We just spent time together in San Diego at a nephew’s wedding and I noted that he enjoyed checking out the competition at a local ice cream shop near our vacation rental. So I’m thinking a gift certificate to a top-ranked creamery in Las Vegas—our next family wedding destination–might be just the ticket.  Possible Gift: a gift certificate to a restaurant or specialty shop in a city you know your recipient will travel in the next year.

6. Cold Hard (and usually very welcome) Cash.  Years ago when our young family did a home exchange in London, my in-laws gave us a generous cash gift and told us it was to be used for any entrance fees to museums or sights so we wouldn’t forgo opportunities because we were pinching our pennies. Even though we’d saved a tremendous amount by doing a home swap, we were still stretching to afford air fare.  Their gift allowed us to happily explore London without worrying so much about the cost. Possible Gift: A fancy/humorous card and some greenbacks.

Bon Voyage!


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Friday Things: The Early December Edition

I love the early days of December when everything seems possible, don’t you?

The Christmas carols that irritated me in stores two weeks ago seem festive now.   Spending time in the kitchen making artful cookies is creative fun. Dressing up to go out with friends feels like a treat. And I’m confidant that somehow all that shopping and present wrapping will happen eventually – falalalala!

As the season progresses and things inevitably don’t go as planned, I’ll try to remember that the best Decembers are usually the ones where I’ve spent more time observing and less time orchestrating.  Planning is important but I’m merrier when I focus on priorities not perfection.

Lighting up my house is pretty much at the top of my seasonal decorating list. So I’m looking forward to picking out a tree for our new place this weekend—tall and skinny should do the trick—and experimenting with outdoor light hooks specifically designed for flat roofs (rare in this land of peaked-roof Victorians.)

In the next few weeks we’ll be setting up a “glamping” tent to help house all our kids when they come home for Christmas.  I’ll share that temporary guest room with you as it evolves, but in the meantime here are some other things that lit up my early December:

A year later, some thoughts on Frozen – an animated musical that left me cold but took the world by storm.

A year end best book list from Maris Kreizman, the wit behind Slaughterhouse 90210.

What I’m giving my girlfriends this year–lavender shortbread wreaths, a “fancy” cookie that’s easy to make, beautiful and tasty.

Some journaling exercises for reflecting back through the year from photographer and blogger Susannah Conway.

And now, just for fun (and my brother Joel) – a new Christmas classic by the Killers and Jimmy Kimmel : “Joel, the Lump of Coal.”

Happy Weekend All!

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Thanksgiving Things

Happy Thanksgiving Eve, everyone!  I hope you’re happily prepping for the holiday whether that means confirming your reservations at a favorite restaurant or harvesting persimmons to make Aunt Nell’s favorite pudding. Around here we’re baking pies.  Well, truthfully, we’re watching my mom bake pies.  Because that’s the kind of helpful children and grandchildren we are.

Actually, I was photographing and watching, trying to figure out how she so effortlessly assembles the crust and then rolls it out with nary a tear (tare) or a tear (teer.)

I always bring the pies to Thanksgiving dinner at my friend Pauline’s and I estimate it took making about a hundred pies before I actually achieved anything close to my mother’s perfect and painless pie crusts.

She makes it look so easy.  Glad you could share this Thanksgiving with us, Mom–and not just for the pies. I’m also looking forward to your creamed onions.

While your pie crusts are chilling, here are a few Thanksgiving things to consider:

Aspirational Thanksgiving recipes by state.

What we actually cook for Thanksgiving by state. (Frog-eye salad, Idaho?)

Strategies for Thanksgiving dinner table conversation.

Anne Lamott on saying grace.

A grateful shout out to Mother Earth.

Nice to learn that we grow more grateful as we age.

Happy Thanksgiving All!


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Thoroughly Modern Amish Quilts

Amish quilts had a heyday in the ’80s and ’90s.  Their bold colors and graphic patterns worked well with contemporary interiors and evoked the rural Amish lifestyle that was portrayed so appealingly in Peter Weir’s thriller “Witness” and  Sue Bender’s bestseller “Plain and Simple: A Woman’s Journey to the Amish.”  In an age of increased technological complexity, simplicity sold.

Though Amish quilts are used less frequently in today’s home decor, any time they’re exhibited they tend to draw a crowd.  If you live in the Bay Area you’ll find some excellent examples at Antique Ohio Amish Quilts from the Darwin D. Bearley Collection, a new exhibit opening this weekend at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles.  A companion exhibit of  twenty modern quilts from three Bay Area modern quilt guilds (including the quilts shown here) shows the continuing appeal of hand-sewn simplicity.

You can read more about the exhibits here in my BANG article, but I wanted to share two other things that San Francisco-based quilt expert Joe Cunningham had to say when I interviewed him for the story. First, he pointed out that the modern quilter’s aesthetic is not only inspired by the past but also developed in reaction to it.  “Young quilters don’t want to shop at their moms’ favorite fabric shops or join their mothers’ quilt guilds,” said Cunningham. “And they really don’t want to make their mothers’ quilts.”

I can imagine their mothers’ quilts—elaborate constructions made possible through improved cutting tools and exposure to a wide range of techniques demonstrated in quilting publications, workshops, and fabric stores. Some of those women made spare Amish-like quilts, but most tackled complex patterns with an incredible variety of fabrics. Then they appliqued and embellished the layers of fabric and batting to within a 1/4 inch of their mitered borders. More was more.

So it’s no surprise that in order to create something that they can call their own, a new generation of quiltmakers has embraced a more spare, Amish-like, style of quiltmaking.

The young quilters I interviewed told me that they’re busier than their mothers—working full time while raising kids–and not able to devote as much time to their craft. I hear what they’re saying, but I also think that women have always been busy.  Certainly 19th century quilters had plenty to do but still managed to produce intricately pieced quilts covered with exquisite hand-quilted stitches. So I’d propose that we all seem to move more quickly through our obsessions nowdays. None of us are spending hours, weeks and months working on a single craft or art project any more.  Simpler quilts mean quicker turn around times which is in keeping with the pace of our modern lives.

The other point Cunningham made is that women have always made quilts not because it’s the most efficient way to cover a bed, but because it’s one of the loveliest.  “You could make warm bed coverings by simply tying whole layers of fabric together without going to the trouble of piecing fabric scraps into artistic patterns and then covering them with hand stitching,” says Cunningham.  “Historically quilts were works of art that allowed women to get together and make gifts for the people they loved. That hasn’t changed.”

Modern quilters may purchase materials, learn techniques and share their art online, but my guess is that they’re still motivated to quilt because they want to make something beautiful–and warm–for real live people.

 “Antique Ohio Amish Quilts: The Darwin D. Bearley Collection” and “Amish: The Modern Muse” open Saturday, November 15 at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles. 


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Friday Things: The Thank You Edition

On this first Friday in November I’m thinking about gratitude.  Throughout the year I try to count my blessings—sometimes in a daily “gratitude journal”  but more often than not by documenting the (mostly) good and interesting things in my life on Instagram. (Thank you, Insta!)

In case you haven’t tracked this yet, Thanksgiving comes late this year–November 27– which means there are plenty of days left to start or up your gratitude practice.

For me, I’ve decided to do more than just recognize gratitude this month, I’m trying to put my grateful feelings into action by saying Thank You to the people who bring the good and interesting into my life.  I’m doing it through short email messages, hand written notes and by saying Thank You (with gusto!)  at least once every day in November to the people who make my life better. That includes you, dear readers.   Thank you for reading and for letting me know you’re reading. I’m lucky to have you in my life.

Some other (mostly practical) things I’m grateful for this week:

Arguments for retiring Daylight Savings Time.

Looking ahead to Thanksgiving, a simple table setting featuring random candles and wrinkled linens.  (What, you think the pilgrims had no-wrinkle options?)

How to make a killer grilled cheese sandwich.

Everyday objects as art subjects.

Six stretches to do at your desk.

What your zip code says about you–well, really, your neighbors.

Grammar tips worth repeating.

And now for something a little more glam. . .the Divine Miss M. covers TLC’s Waterfalls.



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Field Trip: Minted

It’s always fun to take a peek behind the scenes, don’t you think?  Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the San Francisco headquarters for the online stationary company Minted.  You may remember that I’ve touted Minted’s high-quality papers and sophisticated designs before.  No surprise, their offices were just as aesthetically pleasing as their products.

I’d been invited to participate in a focus group discussing Minted’s art prints.  The other women gathered in the conference room were mostly in their 20s and 30s.  We were interviewed about our art buying habits by the company’s founder, Mariam Naficy, while she and several other employees took notes.

I came away with a greater sense of Minted’s mission and what younger consumers are interested in.  There was certainly some overlap in our interests — we all favored limited edition pieces, wanted tools that would help with art placement and shared a propensity for late-night shopping.

Where we differed, I think, was in our acquisitional aspirations.  The younger members of the panel were all about feathering their burgeoning nests. I have plenty of art that’s sitting boxed up in my garage with nowhere to go now that we’ve downsized and modernized. Where the younger women are anxious to fill their blank walls, I’m angling for more negative space.

Nevertheless, I may find myself buying one small Minted piece.  I liked some of the foil-pressed samples Naficy (who, by the way, couldn’t have been more gracious) showed us before we left.  The glittering Golden State map of California just released today was especially enticing.  For about $40 framed, it seems like a good deal and a good fit for my home–not too big, speaks to my story and is quite pretty. (It’s hard to get a sense of the quality and feeling of the piece online–but trust me, it’s very nice.)

I’m still thinking about the first question of the day – “Why did you make your most recent art purchase?” I’ll tell you more about mine in a few weeks when I can show you an image (it’s currently being framed). I’m curious, though, how would you have answered that question had you been in the room?


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Parsi Chicken Soup with Rice

After a week on the East Coast working and visiting our kids I came home with happy memories and a little intestinal bug.  Not big enough to warrant a trip to the doctor–we didn’t bowl in Ebola-exposed lanes while in NYC–but some queasiness lingered for nearly a week.  I looked up my symptoms and learned that I could be suffering from a psychotic illness (always possible) or pregnancy, which at my age would be downright Biblical.  Figuring there was nothing to do but wait it out, I rallied to make my favorite under-the-weather soup.

I can’t remember where I first came across the recipe–the yellowed clipping looks like it might have been in the New York Times Sunday magazine–but it’s called “Parsi Chicken Soup with Rice” and is adapted from The Varied Kitchens of India by Copeland Marks (M. Evans, 1986).  I can tell you that it’s delicious and simple to make and the spices–ginger, garlic, red chile flakes and cumin–add just enough kick to make me feel alive when I’m otherwise dead to the world. As we’re entering flu season, I thought you might want to add this to your medicinal arsenal.

Parsi Chicken Soup with Rice (serves 6)

1 chicken, 3 pounds, cut into serving pieces, loose skin and fat removed*

6 cups water

1 teaspoon Kosher salt, or to taste

3 tablespoons corn or peanut oil

1 cup onion cut into chunks

1/2 inch piece of ginger root, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes

1/2 cup fresh tomato puree, or canned

Cooked basmati rice

1. Cook the chicken in the water with salt over moderate heat for 20 minutes.

2. In a food processor, puree the onion, ginger and garlic.  Heat oil in a skillet and over moderate heat fry the onion paste for 3 minutes.  Add the cumin and chile flakes.  Stirfry the mixture for 3 minutes more.  Add the spice mixture to the chicken pot with the tomato puree and simmer over moderatley low heat for 20 minutes more.  Adjust the salt if necessary.

3. Serve hot with plain basmati rice added to each bowl.

 *I’ve also used boneless chicken breasts and prepared chicken broth to speed up the cooking time and further reduce the minimal prep mess. All the better to quickly resume my sickbed Scandal-watching.

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Friday Things: The Halloween Edition

In our new modernist home, a few splashes of orange around the house and a skeleton on the front bench suffice for demonic decor.

I’ve been experimenting with deer-resistant plants in the front pots and though several perennials have given up the ghost already the nasturtiums are thriving.  Right now a strand is crawling into Mr. Bones’s mouth and should pop out of his eye socket just in time for our first batch of trick-or-treaters.  Boo-ray!

Here are some other spooky things spied this week:

Halloween Candy Exchange Rate.

5 Historical Haunted Houses to visit.

Eerie interiors.

Eau d’ Halloween.

A spooktacular alphabet.

No surprise, Elsa rules.

Squash Toast with Ricotta and Cider Vinegar.

An oldie but a goodie – teaching kids about the Day of the Dead.

And finally, for those of you who quake and tremble when facing a trip to IKEA – an IKEA Halloween.

Happy Halloween!

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Things Elsewhere: Lenzburg, Switzerland + Jugendfest

As you may recall from my Europe packing post, this summer I traveled to Switzerland and Germany.  For my inaugural “Things Elsewhere” post I thought I’d share some images and impressions of the charming  festival I attended in a small suburb of Zurich. Think Heidi meets The Hunger Games.  The Lenzburg Jugendfest was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.  Come see!

The primary purpose of my trip was to see our son Will who was wrapping up a six month internship at Porsche Engineering in Stuttgart (lucky guy!)  In planning the trip I discovered that Lenzburg, Switzerland—my great-great-grandmother’s home and the setting for the first part of the historical novel I’m working on–was only two hours away from Stuttgart.  A side-trip was in order.

I decided to time my visit around the annual Jugendfest (Youth Festival) celebration, hoping to get a sense of the town’s customs and costumes. My D.C.-based sister Michelle offered to join me and we met up in front of the central clock in Zurich’s main train station for the thirty minute ride out to Lenzburg.  Once there we took a short taxi ride over to the Hotel Krone which has been in operation since 1765.  Situated at the base of the hill below the schloss (castle) and a five minute walk from the old town, the location was ideal and the gummy bears on our pillows set the tone for the rest of the sweet and sometimes silly weekend.

From my research, I knew that the 400 year old Jugendfest celebration included a week of activities culminating with a parade of children dressed in white followed by a mock battle fought between teenage cadets and a group described online as “booty lusting irregulars” (?!) before ending in fireworks launched from the ramparts of the castle.  I thought it sounded ein bischen hokey.  But happily, it proved to be absolutely charming.

Michelle and I spent the day before the main events exploring the beautifully preserved schloss and its cheery formal gardens.

That afternoon we toured the town’s numerous fountains that had been decorated with flowers by local townspeople.  Our tour guides wore the city’s cornflower blue and white colors.

While strolling around we saw firemen stringing evergreen boughs and hanging flower bouquets causing some seasonal confusion. The whole town smelled like Christmas in the height of summer! In the main church where we enjoyed a dress rehearsal of the children’s concert (including an impassioned vocal performance of “Let It Go” and a spirited xylophone rendition of “It Don’t Mean A Thing if You Ain’t Got That Swing”) the floral displays were especially wonderful.

Marching bands and drum corps were everywhere.  An English-speaking woman standing near us for the evening band competition told us that though she and her husband had moved away from Lenzburg they try to come back every year for Jugendfest and their children and grandchildren all participate.  The local townspeople were so enthusiastic about every little detail.

Later that night Will drove over  from Stuttgart and the next morning chatted with more drummers outside our hotel before we headed over to the main square to see the children receive a ceremonial coin from the mayor and then parade with their teachers through the old town.

They were followed by the high-spirited teenage cadets wielding guns with flowers peeping out of the barrels and those “booty-lusting irregulars” which turned out to be adults dressed as marauders from around the globe.

The irregulars were decidedly unpolitically correct. But the adults enthusiastically playing these multicultural villains clearly had no problems with ethnic stereotypes.

After they paraded through town we all marched out to the fields to watch the battles that raged across the farmland.

Finally ending up at the local fairgrounds where a substantial replica of Schloss Lenzburg was burned to the ground.

That night we sat on the edge of one of the decorated fountains in front of our hotel and watched the children parade through the streets one more time–this time with beautiful paper lanterns–before fireworks sparkled above the schloss.

As advertized, the Lenzburg Jugendfest was the festiest of festivals! I almost hesitate to share it with you because I don’t want it overrun with visitors but my, oh my, it was magical and definitely worth attending if your travels take you nearby.

If you choose to go, the annual Lenzburg Jugendfest happens the week leading up to the second Friday of July but the maneuvers are only every other year.  Check here for further details and look for programs and other information at the tourist information office which is located right across from the Hotel Krone.   

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Friday Things: The Long Shadows Edition

Reading about the young Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, this link to an earlier film about her life appeared.  Watching it I was struck by her shy smile, the rushing waters where she lived in northern Pakistan and the inescapable violence that surrounded her.  But I was also fascinated by her parents–the never photographed mother and her charismatic father.  Early on in the video her father explains to the filmamker that though Malala wants to become a doctor he wants her to go into politics because he thinks she could effect more change in the world that way.  His statement is chilling knowing what we know now, that little Malala would later be shot in the head by the Taliban but would recover and go on to be an activist for female education eventually becoming the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Some time ago I read a study showing that though a mother can do much to direct a girl’s life, a father’s example and expectations have an even bigger impact on his daughter.  Certainly Malala’s did on her as my father’s did on me.  Their shadows stretch out long before us much like the shadows of me and two young parents as we recently watched their children play in the surf.  May the shadows we all cast on our children be ones of encouragement and sound direction. May they provide shelter for them as they navigate troubled waters.

Some other things that caught my attention of late–

Furnishing a “galactic ark.”

Brainy Octopi.

Why short men make better husbands.

Do design pros have an obligation to dress up? 

For the glasses wearers and writers out there, a curmudgeonly but thought-provoking interview with Thornton Wilder.

How to tour a museum using the “slow art” method.

Is your stationary stash up to snuff?

And finally, Annie Lenox puts her own spin on a classic.

Happy Weekend All!

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Kathryn Pritchett

writes about Things Elemental — where we find shelter, why we connect, what sustains us and how we strut our stuff.

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