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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

10 Gifts Under 10 Bucks for the Portable, Budget-Minded Minimalists Who Like to Travel

The title sounds so specific that surely it's all about me, right?

In a way, yes. But only in that I'm using myself as a focus group of one. This is because travel gift lists tend toward the extravagant. "Living simply" gift lists tend toward the smug and expensive. And "frugal" and "budget-minded" mean different things to different people, mostly resulting in gifts that are still over my price range.

If I were to create my own list of gifts for the portable, budget-minded minimalists who like to travel, this is what would be on it:
  1. Write a letter with a pen and mail it to the recipient. Doesn't have to be lengthy or detailed. Might just be three sentences telling the recipient you were thinking about them, hope they are well, and that they have a wonderful year ahead.  
  2. Make a phone call. Express the same three sentiments as above: I was thinking about you, hope you're well, want to wish you a wonderful year ahead. 
  3. Cash. It fits everyone, is accepted everywhere (except Norway), and has no expiration date. Quantity unimportant. Five bucks- woohoo! There's a lot one can do with five bucks. 
  4. Whistle. For one, whistles are cool. They're small. They're useful for security (or at least a reassurance of security). They may or may not scare bears.
  5. Travel alarm. Sure, your recipient has a phone with an alarm clock app on it. But shit happens. The phone, for whatever reason is inaccessible or unusable. You inadvertently set the alarm volume to zero. (Not that I've ever done this. Not even three times.) You can get a perfectly serviceable, eminently packable travel alarm for less than 10 bucks. 
  6. Paracord lanyard. If you're crafty, you can make your own and distribute them as gifts. Otherwise, you can buy one. I like the idea of a paracord lanyard because of its utility, strength, and style. Search on "paracord lanyard" and you'll find lots of DIY instructions and also where to buy them readymade. 
  7. Drawstring bag (aka "sack bag"). I've come to appreciate my two cheap-ass drawstring bags, which I got free as promotional items from a booth at some event. They're lightweight, take up virtually no space in my car or apartment, and they attract no covetous interest by strangers. I use them on short hikes, at the grocery store as a plastic-bag substitute, and at dance venues, so I can take along a fan, bottle of water, and a few other items. 
  8. Small flashlight. Do some review searches for the best-quality small, budget flashlights. Sure, your recipient may have a camera with a flashlight app, but this assumes a charged phone when, where, and for how long she may need it. Besides, like whistles, little flashlights are cool.
  9. Duct tape. You can buy a travel-ready roll or you can create one for your recipient
  10. L-o-n-g clothesline. Cotton or nylon, whatever. Just the rope; no fancy-schmancy hooks or rigs. I say long (i.e. 20 feet) because it will still pack up compactly and offer maxium utility to the recipient: Camping, tying down trunk lid when transporting bulky stuff, hanging laundry in hotel rooms, etc. If necessary, the recipient can cut off a length as needed. I currently use my clothesline as a way to hang artwork on one wall in my apartment. The excess length is coiled neatly (kind of) in a corner.

But I'm not much for creating lists. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Welcome to America, My Syrian Friend

I don't know you yet, but welcome to America, my friend! I am glad you're here. We are an immigrant nation, and you are our newest members.

In my travels in different parts of the world, whenever I ran into people who'd visited Syria, they told me how warmly you embraced them, how good they felt while in your company, and in your country. I thought, I must visit Syria some day!

But horrible events intervened, smashing your communities, your livelihoods, your families. You were forced to become rootless, wrenched from your homes, but lucky enough to be alive.

I wish we weren't meeting under such circumstances. But I'm happy we were able to make a place for you here.

A fellow blogger, Wandering Earl, was one of the folks who shared how he loved your country. Here are a couple of his posts about Syria:

From which I borrowed the title to my post today: Welcome to Syria My Friend (2010). An excerpt:
.... from the moment I crossed the border into Syria, just about every single person I’ve met, from the hotel manager to the falafel vendors to the shop owners to the strangers I’ve passed in the street to ‘Tony’, the old man who sits in a chair on the sidewalk every night puffing away on his shisha, has welcomed me with nothing but a cheerful smile and open arms. I am simply unable to recall any other country that I’ve visited where I’ve been so instantly and warmly welcomed and I still cannot believe how many people have approached me in the streets just to literally say the words “Welcome to Syria my friend!” (I’m not sure if they learn that line in school but even those who don’t speak English know these words.)

The Most Important Word in the World (2010). An excerpt:

Finally, I had found a town in Syria that was not as ridiculously super-friendly as all the rest. I had been expecting it to happen at some point, because, after all, it would be impossible for every single city, town and village in this country to maintain such a high standard of hospitality. ... 

And so, on my third day, while I was wandering the streets of [Palmyra] in search of a local place to eat lunch, I was no longer surprised by the lack of assistance I received. At one point, I simply gave up, stood on a street corner with hands on my hips and made the decision to buy some bananas from a shop near my hotel instead.
Of course, as most travelers would learn to expect, that’s also the very same moment that I heard a voice, in English, say “Hello.”
I turned around and found a middle-aged local man standing before me with a huge smile on his face and so I naturally returned his greeting, although all I could muster was a quick, mumbled “Salaam”. He then asked me if I was lost and when I explained that I was simply looking for some good local food, he didn’t hesitate for even one second before patting me on the back and stating, “Let’s go!”.  He then led me to his minivan which was parked across the street.
The next thing I knew we were speeding through the backstreets of Palmyra. ....

Welcome to America, my Syrian friend.

Credit: Refugees Welcome Music

Other posts related to Syria here.


Friday, November 13, 2015

A Visit Back to Missouri: A Barred Owl, Dead

Barred owl, Arkansas. November 2015.
I recently made a visit to Missouri.

There was a stretch of road in Arkansas with an inordinately high number of dead birds of prey. If I'd caught on to the trend earlier, I would have counted them.

Barred owl, Arkansas. November 2015.

 The beauty of this barred owl compelled me to turn around and go back.

Barred owl, Arkansas. November 2015.

A strong breeze riffed through the owl's feathers, suggesting a life that no longer was. Its head appeared to be gracefully tucked into a wing.

Was it the victim of a good intention?

Not long ago, I learned at a state park event that we drivers are discouraged from throwing food remnants, such as apple cores, out our car windows. We may think we are doing good - a lil mouse or rabbit or other creature will enjoy our largesse. But it's possible we've set into motion a series of events that ends in death. 

Barred owl, Arkansas. November 2015.

Apple core out window --> mouse steps to roadside for delicious snack --> owl spies juicy mouse eating said morsel --> owl swoops into roadway --> owl and oncoming vehicle collide --> dead owl.

Other recent carcasses include:

Dead frog. Highway 190, west end of Opelousas.

Dead snake. Convent Street, Opelousas.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Opelousas: Happy Making at Briskett Baskett

Briskett Baskett owner, Wilfred Kinnerson, with his brother Wilbert Kinnerson. Opelousas, Louisiana. November 2014.

There are many ways to save the world.

Years ago, a friend described how the masses of blooming bluebonnets that Lady Bird Johnson sowed on the Texas highway meridians brought joy to thousands of drivers when they whizzed by.

She proposed: Do not such simple and relatively small acts have as much merit as other good works?  

Mr. Wilfred's sisters, Miss Linda and Miss Ramona, and their niece, Miss Deborah. Also known as The Briskettes.

It is in this spirit that I appreciate the smiling warmth radiated by Briskett Baskett owner, Wilfred Kinnerson, and his family members whenever I see them.

A happy Briskett Baskett customer. October 2015.

We can't measure the quantity or value of happiness moments we derive from natural beauty or from small gestures of loving humanity, but isn't it a string of such moments that contribute to a good life?

Fresh chicken from Briskett Baskett, Opelousas, Louisiana. October 2015.

On several days in November 2014, I cruised the streets of Opelousas looking for promising neighborhoods with rentals, in anticipation of my relocation to the town in February 2015.  On one such foray, as I drove slowly down North Market Street, I noticed, hey! A Briskett Baskett sign outside a building! Being around lunch time, I pulled in, where Mr. Wilfred and his brother, Mr. Wilbert, told me the building remodel wasn't quite complete, but they generously took me on a tour of the almost-finished restaurant.

Briskett Baskett front porch.

Mr. Wilfred described his vision for the future, which included good food and drink, a place for folks to watch the football games, a venue for some jazz and other musical evenings, and maybe a slot machine or two.    
Soon after I visited in November 2014, the Briskett Baskett restaurant opened for business.

Recently, Mr. Wilfred got his liquor license (a critical piece of paper in South Louisiana, sha!).  

Briskett Baskett food truck, albeit with previous owner's artwork

I always smile when I see Mr. Wilfred or one of his family members because I know that in just a few moments I'll be on the receiving end of some warm rays of human sunshine.

There are many ways to save the world.  

Monday, November 9, 2015

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Opelousas: The Palace Café Sign

The Palace Café Billboard, west end of Opelousas on eastbound 190, Louisiana.

When I enter Opelousas on eastbound 190, coming in from Lawtell, it pleases me to see the Palace Café billboard.

I like everything about it. The turquoise and coral. The title's Art Deco font. The ubiquitous crawfish jutting out on the side. The lines of shade and light that play from the tree behind. The coulee it overlooks. The red and white checkerboard header.

The Palace Café Billboard, west end of Opelousas on eastbound 190, Louisiana.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Opelousas: Morning Glories

Morning glories, Opelousas, Louisiana. October 2015.

I visited Briskett Baskett on North Market Street the other day and saw these sweet morning glories in the back yard. Technically, I think they are in the neighbor's yard, but let's not quibble.

Morning glories, Opelousas, Louisiana. October 2015