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Monday, June 29, 2015

I Heart Baby Wipes for the Traveler (and Duct Tape)

Does everyone already know this? I only thought of this last summer.

Our first purchase in Paris (after some food, of course) will be BABY WIPES!

Carry a few in a ziplock to wipe your sweaty brow, the back of your neck, and--MY FAVORITE--your sweaty feet.

They are amazingly restorative.

And, from Mr FS, DUCT TAPE. This can be hard to find when you need it. This serves many purposes, of course. We are mainly taking it for SHOE EMERGENCIES. In Chicago many years ago, my sandals fell apart. Disaster! I didn't want to buy new shoes because I am a well-known cheapwad and hate emergency purchases. Besides, I have troublesome feet, so I can't buy just anything.

Eventually, we spied a store that stocked those cheap Chinese Mary Janes, which saved the day. Now I always carry extra emergency shoes on walks. But we also carry the beloved DUCT TAPE.

Mr FS wraps some around a pencil. What can I say? He is a genius.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A technique for shopping your closet

I have a tendency to wear the same things over and over--a common affliction based on the well-known 80/20 Pareto Principle.

Well! I just packed for my trip (following the guidelines of the great Sue of unefemme). Hence, I perforce HAD to wear things that were not in my suitcase for my last few days at home. That was the "other" 80% Wow! I have a lot of nice things that have not made it to my desired "cost per wear." There's some space in my case, and I was tempted to add a couple of these "new" nice things. I resisted. Looking forward to the "new" pieces.

If there's a method here (and I'm sure I'm too lazy to follow it, unless forced to by the necessity of packing)  it would be to hide (for a while) your favorites and see if the results are agony (in which case say good-bye to the unfavored items) or, as in my case ecstasy (in which case wear them on your return).

Monday, June 22, 2015

Second Hand Shopping: Reality Check

The great Janice of the great Viviennefiles has a new goal: to buy only secondhand for the next year. I got so excited by this that I kept returning to read the comments and left several myself. At last, something in which I have expertise!

Along with tales of fabulous finds (cashmere and more)I detected a bit of anxiety amongst the commenters: can you really find great stuff at thrift stores?

My answer: it depends where you live. I myself have thrifted in various places. Right now, I live in a small town with a tiny affluent population, a mid-sized middle class, and a large very poor population. Surprisingly nice things show up on occasion and the prices are very low. There is little competition for the things I look for.

I once lived in a small town with a small college. The town had been decimated by unemployment. I dutifully wandered over to the Salvation Army once a week for a year and found perhaps two items. That may be stretching it.

When we visit relatives in affluent Northern California, I have seen great things, usually clutched by others. There are lines of what look like bonafide hippies circa 1971 lined up outside a tiny thrift shop in Marin. When it opens, they rush in; within minutes, the stock is decimated. 

So--to oversimplify--what you find depends on the population and the competition. There are zillions of other people shopping, many with more expertise than you possess. A large proportion of the shoppers are shopping for a living. They know what they are doing. Many go every day. One of my thrift friends is an expert in jewelry: she laments the fact that she can no longer find Danish silver to sell on Ebay.

If you try a few times and find mostly ugly overpriced stuff...well, that is the way it is most places. I am lucky because I buy things for my whole family: my chances of success are higher than if I were shopping for just me. And I'm mostly looking for quotidien stuff: a colander for Frugal Son, some books to read, etc.

Recently, I have discovered the joys of on-line second hand: not terribly cheap, but reasonable. My favorite so far is Poshmark. Check it out. (Since I wrote this I've noted that some of the on-line resale sites have really raised their prices. On Poshmark and Tradesy, the seller sets the price. Twice Clothing, in particular, seems to have really jacked up its prices).

In the more than 30 years I've been thrifting, I've found a vintage Gucci bag, a pair of Chanel loafers, and a single Hermes scarf. That's one status item every ten years. My best find this year: a set of Sferra sheets (no cases).

Shopping in bad thrift stores is time-consuming and depressing. If the pickings are always slim, it's not you. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

People Watching in Paris: Frugal Hermes?

I've been reading over my little travel notebook. It's just one of those little 19 cent spiral jobs. I don't  do much shopping in Paris (I know: a crime against nature) but I do like to window shop and people watch. Sometimes I make note of what people are wearing. I like to observe how people communicate style and status. 

One fellow caught my attention not just last summer, but also the summer before. He is the proprietor of a shop that sells vintage midcentury modern furniture: you can spy various Eames pieces and the famous Egg chair through his window. He happened to step out for a cigarette as we were looking in the window. Both times he was wearing the exact same thing: a wrinkled black button down shirt and baggy faded jeans. His gray hair was unkempt. He did not have the narrow physique of the stereotypical Parisian in a fancy neighborhood. Rather, he was stocky, with a big belly. He looked like the stereotypical guy at the market, dramatically wielding a knife and a piece of meat.

He was also wearing a prominent status item: a belt with a big H announcing its maker as Hermes. It occurred to me that the belt was actually a frugal purchase. He could wear it every day with his faded/wrinkled clothes and look upscale. His customers would, no doubt, recognize the belt and realize that his is a high end store. His "cost per wear" was probably less than one euro.

Such a belt would be wasted on me. My students would say "I thought your initial was E???!!!" 

But for Monsieur, the belt was a communicative part of his uniform. 

I'll be looking for Monsieur again this summer. His shop is somewhere near rue de Verneuil, where there are a lot of art galleries. Many people make a pilgrimage there to see the house owned by the family of the iconic Serge Gainsborough.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Museum Bargains in Paris and other Unicorns

As travelers, Mr FS and I are easy to please: we like museums, historic houses, and long, long walks. We live in one of the foodie capitals of the US, if not the world, so we don't sweat the restaurants. I already have too much stuff (and Mr FS gets hives if he goes into a store), so I don't do much shopping other than for food at markets. 

Here's a reminder  about a little-known museum bargain. At least we didn't know about it till last year. First, we discovered the Louvre membership for "professionals" like teachers. That is 35 euros per person. Luckily, the one we got last year still will have almost two weeks on it when we return!

However, anyone can get a membership. It's 80 euros for a duo/family. Even for a short stay, that breaks even (close) at 3 visits for two. With a membership, you can avoid the line for tickets! You can also use a special member's entrance, which, in typical gallic fashion, has never been open--maybe once.

Psychologically, the membership enables you (at least us--we're cheap) to go for several short visits rather than one LONG visit. If you're willing to skip the Mona Lisa and the awful crowds in that room, you can go to some of the less visited parts. Mr FS and I fell in love with Chardin last year. The room was almost empty. (Note: the bathrooms in the underpopulated areas are usually line-free and have toilet paper!)

There's also the well-known Paris museum pass. You can buy it at any museum or at the bookstore fnac. I think we only did this once. Since we like to stay at museums for a long time, it's not a good bet for us. If you like shortish visits, it's good. Another advantage is that if you go to a DUD museum (Victor Hugo was a dud for us), you can leave quickly without guilt or remorse. You might want to visit anyway since it's in the beautiful Place des Vosges. You can also avoid some lines.

Many Paris museums are free on the first Sunday of the month. For the first time, we will be able to partake. Mr FS has already mapped out a route: Picasso, Pompidou/Beaubourg, and a few others.

Our best museum deal: last summer we stayed in a miserable TINY room whose saving grace was that it was near the Cluny. We were only there a few nights waiting for our regular place to be free. Not only was the room tiny, but it was filled with the owner's stuff: mostly massive quantities of linens, arranged in rainbow order. He also mirrored most of the walls in weird ways. (His larger apartment next door was similarly mirrored--including mirrors on the ceiling over the bed and on the surrounding walls-- and piled high with neatly folded stuff). I didn't realize how stressful the space was till we went to our next lodging: I fell asleep for several hours upon arrival. 

The Cluny, home of the gorgeous Unicorn tapestries. We wandered over, planning to buy a museum pass. The Cluny was free, owing to some issue with a strike or trains or something! We spent the morning there and then returned after lunch. The next morning, we returned and it was still free! So we did a very thorough job taking in the rooms we had not spent a lot of time in.

When we walked by the next day, we peeked in and things were up and running. We had other plans but we wanted to see how long the free days were in effect. We went in. Why? Because the Cluny has an accessible bathroom. Keep an eye out for those in Paris. They are sometimes as elusive as unicorns.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

Paris Shopping Plans: Not Very Exciting

Last year Mr FS and I met up with Miss Em in Belgrade, where she had spent a year. We were charged with bringing some of her stuff home. That made any shopping plans really simple: we couldn't buy anything. We needed every bit of space for her things.

This year, we have a bit more leeway. Miss Em will, I hope, be able to rendezvous with us in Paris. Our tiny apartment sleeps three. She will probably give us some things to bring back. We will bring her some make-up requested by her friends. It is a testament to...well, something..that her friends want makeup by ELF, Wet n Wild, and NYC, all extremely inexpensive drugstore brands. Everything on their wish lists came to under $30. 

Still, even though I know we can bring back a few things, I am ambivalent. Europe is not the shopper's paradise for Americans that it used to be. No need to lug home a Le Creuset pot. It costs the same in the USA. (I already own several Le Creuset pots). Besides, after about a week of post-grade-turn-in going through my stuff, I am, as always appalled by the accumulation. I am, perhaps foolishly, going in reverse of the famous Konmari method: I am putting things away before embarking on a  declutter. 

So here's my list. It is as humble in its way as the make-up list. I am lucky that it is humble by choice; Miss Em's Serbian friends crave consumer goods that are simply unavailable to them. 

1. Frugal Son likes little notebooks. Where better to get some than in Europe where the pages are graph paper? My plan is to get some at Muji while Mr FS is waiting on line for the famous falafels at L'As du Fallafel in the Marais.

2. To improve my French, which has been on the wane since I left the wonderful M. Giordano and M. Moore (how did these two non-native speakers leave me with an accent that has been complimented over the years? Merci, fellas), I peruse the Monoprix site. Now whenever I actually go to Monoprix I find myself quite underwhelmed by the quality, so I usually don't buy much of anything there. Mr FS buys food in the basement while I look around upstairs. 

Two items are on my radar. Five years ago, I bought a pair of black leggings in the Nantes Monoprix. They have served me well but are starting to get holes. I will wear them on the plane and swap them out for a new pair for 13 euros.

The site also features some black sarouel  pants, which to my eye look quite a bit like the famous Eileen Fisher slouchy pants that I am too cheap to buy. They are about 20 euros. 

Of course, cheapwad that I am, I will test my luck and wait for the sales, which start on June 24

Why is my list not longer? The most expensive part of the trip is the flight. When we get there, I start plotting our next trip. So I put the stuff I don't buy in my virtual savings account, where it can go toward a plane ticket.  Of course, there's always a chance I may succumb to temptation. I'm always tempted by a Longchamp handbag. Every year, I say I'll buy one next year. That's why I have to go back.

Monday, June 8, 2015

A Public Service Announcement from William Blake

So many hurt feelings and so much festering anger in our lives.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Wisdom from Iceland

While I was cleaning up (sort of) in preparation for my trip, I found a postcard that I brought back from the airport in Iceland. There were a few FREE postcards on offer. The only one I took has a picture of a haystack with the following caption:

Everything is hay in hard times

Isn't taht great?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Make your grilled cheese with mayonnaise

Why is this so earth-shattering? I love grilled cheese, but for some reason dealing with butter is a pain in this instance. I recently read SOMEWHERE (can't remember) that grilled cheese is better made with mayo, which is, after all, nothing more than oil and eggs.

It was great. So easy.