Foreign Coin Display

So, you guys, I still have a box of Russia trip memorabilia that is just collecting dust. I’ve been on a quest FOREVER for ways to integrate memorabilia into easily displayed / accessible mediums, but I’ve never been able to decide on anything.

For instance, I love the idea of mini-albums (like here and here), but I shudder at the thought of punching holes or using glue on my memorabilia. I also like the idea of displaying memorabilia in jars or boxes, but I kind of wanted something that would be easier for houseguests to “leaf through.” You know, because I’m sure that’s what all our houseguests would want to do … spend time looking at our old ticket stubs (end sarcasm). But, you get the idea! Indecisiveness. Analysis Paralysis. Whatever first world problem you want to call it.

Anyway, even if I can’t decide on a method of displaying memorabilia, one thing I decided on several years ago was a way of displaying my foreign coins. (And, I do feel pretty proud that I had this idea before Pinterest was around). I’ll be making room for my Russian coins soon!

Foreign Coin Display Idea

For years, (No, seriously, YEARS! As in more than a decade) I had coins from previous international trips sitting in envelopes in a drawer. Like trips to Europe in the mid 1990’s when each European country still had its own currency and wasn’t on the Euro. I had Greek Drachma, Italian Lira, and French Francs. I also had Japanese Yen, South African Rand, and Brazilian Reals. And lots more. And those beautiful, amazing coins just sat, unappreciated, in a drawer.

So, I set out to make a display of them. Even though it was pre-Pinterest days, a couple of Google search results inspired me to make magnets out of the coins. But I didn’t want to put them on the fridge, I wanted to make some sort of display.

Currently, I have two shadowbox frames displaying the coins. I’ll provide the details and how-to after the pictures.

Shadowbox displaying foreign coins from travels Another shadowbox displaying different foreign coins

And here is one of the shadowboxes with the front “door” open, in attempt to minimize the glare.

Foreign Coin Display Foreign Coin Display

If you look closely, I clustered the coins around magnet maps of the respective country. So for instance, the French Francs surround a map of France, the British pounds surround a map of England, etc.

Closeup of foreign coin display and map magnets Map magnet of England and a display of British Pound coins Foreign coin display

I wanted the maps displayed so that people would be able to tell easily where the coins were from. In many cases, it’s not immediately clear from looking at the coin. In case you’re interested, I ordered the map magnets from XOHandworks on Etsy.

Like I mentioned, this project is from several years ago, so I don’t have any photos detailing the steps I took to complete the project. But, it was very straightforward, so hopefully some text-based instructions will work just fine!

1) I purchased a 12×12 shadowbox from Michael’s. It opened in the front, but that’s not completely necessary. 12×12 shadowboxes are plentiful because that is a pretty standard size for scrapbook paper.

2) I purchased this 12×12 piece of sheet metal from Home Depot.

3) I spraypainted the sheet metal using matte black (or it might have been satin black) spraypaint. I used two coats, allowing it to dry completely.

4) Next, it was time to figure out how to make the coins into magnets. Some of the coins are ferrous, meaning that a magnet will stick to them directly. For those coins, I just put a small neodymium magnet on the coin directly. For those coins that were not ferrous, I put a tiny dab of silicone glue on the back of each coin, and then pressed the neodymium magnet into the glob of glue, and allowed it to dry completely.

**Please note that I am not a coin preservation expert! I have no idea what the long term harm might come to your coin if you use silicone glue on it. However, from my rudimentary research, silicone glue was the best option for the coins because it holds well, is non damaging, and can scrape off easily. Considering my coins are not rare, and in many cases I had multiples of each (which still sit in a drawer!), I was not concerned about this method.

5) Finally, I put the sheet metal in the shadowbox, and then started putting the coin magnets and map magnets on the sheet metal, moving them around until I was pleased with the arrangement.

6) Hang on wall or put on shelf! Enjoy your coins now on display!

There you have it! How have you displayed your foreign coins?

Hitting the Bottle (Testing the Best Travel Size Bottles)

The Best Travel Size Bottles for Toiletry and Cosmetic Bags

When I hear about folks that fly 150,000+ miles every year, I realize that I am low-man-on-the-totem-pole when it comes to being a “frequent flyer.” I find myself in the seat of an airplane about once every six weeks or so.

Even so, over the years, I have tried to streamline my travel preparation and packing routines to make travel easier. Plus, on multiple occasions in the past 18 months, I’ve had to pack in a very short amount of time due to one family emergency or another.  So, one packing-related element I have been streamlining over the past few years is the way I pack my cosmetic and toiletry bags.

The Best Travel Size Bottles for Toiletry and Cosmetic Bags

The Past

In the past, for cosmetics, such as foundation, primer, and lipstick, I used to just pack my full size bottles, since all of my bottles were 3.4 ounces or smaller, and all of them fit inside the standard quart-size baggie as mandated by TSA.

For shower-related toiletries, I used to use small “trial” size bottles of things like shampoo and conditioner.  These also fit in my quart-size baggie.

On the morning of any travel day, as I would do my makeup, I’d just put liquid cosmetics in a quart baggie, and the rest of my cosmetics (including brushes), in a separate cosmetic bag. I’d put those two things in my carry-on and I’d be on my way.

Room for Improvement

There were three things that made me reconsider my cosmetic and toiletry packing technique.

  1. The desire to pack less weight and volume. Although an individual glass bottle of foundation or a bottle of moisturizer doesn’t weigh much, put together it does add up in both size and the volume it takes up in my bag. Even normal “trial” size bottles or other travel bottles were typically way too large for what I needed. My entire tube of moisturizer is 1.4 ounces. What on earth good does a 2 oz travel bottle do for that?
  2. The desire to have a “go bag” of cosmetics that I could just grab and throw in my suitcase, leaving my mirrored makeup table intact at home.

I had read that many frequent travelers just create a replica of their normal toiletries and keep one set ready to pack and the other set at home. But heck, it takes me 3 months to go through a single bottle of foundation. Having one dedicated $30 bottle of foundation for a trip every 4–6 weeks seemed kind of silly. Plus, that didn’t address my desire to pack less weight and volume. If I was buying a second set of all the same full size products, I’d still be packing the same amount of stuff.

The longest vacation we go on these days is around two weeks. But more often, we’re just traveling for a week, or some sort of long weekend. If it takes me 3 months to go through 1 Fluid Ounce of foundation, imagine the tiny amount I’d need for just a week-long trip.

Best Options for Travel Size Bottles

So, here’s my current approach that fits both my criteria.

  • Pump bottles.** I filled three of these bottles about ¾ of the way full for my foundation, moisturizer, and primer. I was a little leary because they’re actually called “spray” bottles, and since I’m not using them for “spraying” anything, I was worried that they wouldn’t work with liquids as thick as moisturizer or foundation, but they work great! I used these for the first time on my two-week trip to Russia, and I still had plenty left in each bottle.
  • Tiny 5 gram jars. In these, I put my liquid concealer, nighttime moisturizer, and eye cream. I use such a small amount of eye cream that even this tiny container is too big for what I need, but it still works great than my heavy, overly designed jar of eye cream.

When Travel-Size Bottles Don’t Make Sense

There are some things that just don’t make sense to put in it a separate container. Like this already very small (0.35 ounce) squeeze tube of eyeshadow primer.

Plus, things like blush don’t really come in “travel” sizes. Although I have considered using these tutorials to how to fix a broken blush or eyeshadow, but just put it back in a smaller container for travel purposes.

So, after using these products like the eyeshadow primer and blush for a while as part of my normal day-to-day routine, I actually stopped using them when they were about halfway empty, and then relegated them to my dedicated travel toiletry bag. Then I just bought new, full products to replace them with for my normal routine. That way I still have those products in my travel bag, but they’re not taking up as much weight as the full versions.

Too pricey for travel versions?

There are a few things I haven’t figured out a good solution for to integrate into my ready-to-pack cosmetic and toiletry bags.

For instance — makeup brushes.  I love my makeup brushes. Only one problem, they’re pretty darn expensive, and I seem to have a mental block on buying an entire second set just to keep them in a travel cosmetic bag. I tried a smaller, less expensive travel size brush set, but I didn’t like the brushes nearly as much.

Next are my eyeshadows. I own about 30 different eyeshadow colors, but usually don’t travel with any more than 10 or 12. But, at 11 bucks a pop, I am not in any hurry to have a dedicated “eyeshadow” travel kit either.

So currently, the only two items I have to put in my cosmetic bag – Makeup brushes and eyeshadow.  Hopefully I figure out a better way for these items in the near future.

Toiletry Bag

Separate from my cosmetics, I have a toiletry bag that I have for shower and washing-related things. Items like shampoo, conditioner, facial wash, and exfoliator.

I only wash my hair twice a week, but I use a ton of shampoo and conditioner when I do. So I pack larger toiletry bottles. I used to use these GoToob bottles, but I thought that the opening was too large, allowing too much product to come out. I switched to another pump. I use these 1 oz Clear Cylinder Round Plastic Bottle, with the Pump Top.

I used to pack liquid Dove soap (instead of a bar of soap), and that pump would’ve been perfect for liquid soap too.

For other items I only need a tiny bit of, like exfoliator, I use these 8mL dropper bottles. The opening is super tiny, so you have a lot of control over how much product comes out. Plus, 8mL is so small (about a quarter ounce), you don’t have to worry about adding hardly any weight or space to your toiletry bag.

That’s it.  In the future, I’ll do a dedicated post on the rest of the items I keep in my toiletry and cosmetic bags.  How do you store your cosmetics for travel?  Do you have a dedicated kit?

** Don’t ever google the term “pump bottles.” All I got was an unwanted lesson in breastfeeding.

Being Prepared for an Emergency when Abroad

preparing for a travel emergency

A little more than three years ago, Ken and I were vacationing in Europe for two weeks. We spent a week in Spain, followed by a Mediterranean cruise out of Barcelona that took us to France and Italy.

On our third full day, we were touring in Seville, a beautiful city in Spain. After a full morning and early afternoon of sightseeing, our tour bus took us back to our hotel. Ken used the exit in the middle of the bus, while I used the exit in the front of the bus, because I thought the middle exit steps were too steep for my klutzy self.


As I exited at the front of the bus, I saw there was a minor commotion near the middle of the bus. At the center of that commotion was Ken. He had fallen down the steps of the bus. He sunglasses, which had been clipped to his shirt, flew off and slid across the sidewalk. I saw him start to stand up, and then sit back down on the ground. Three or four folks we had met earlier on the bus, including the tour guide, were helping Ken gather some things that had fallen.

There was a small cafe with outdoor tables and chairs about 30 feet from the bus. I told Ken that the sidewalk was dirty, and to see if he could get up to sit on one of the cafe’s chairs. He got up, not saying much except that he hurt his ankle. He sat down on one of the cafe chairs, and I pulled up a chair to face him. I looked down at his foot, and told him to lift his leg so I could look at it.

He lifted his ankle and just dropped it back to the ground right away. I just kept looking at his foot, and kind of annoyed I said, “C’mon, let me see your foot!” And he didn’t move. And then I heard the folks from the bus who were still standing around start gasping, and one said, “Oh my god.”

I looked up at Ken’s face, and his normally flushed red face was emptied of color. His face appeared gray and ashen. His eyes were rolling in to the back of his head and he was completely unresponsive.

I immediately thought he must have also hit his head in the fall, even though he only mentioned his ankle. I started screaming at the top of my lungs for somebody to call an ambulance. In my high-school Spanish, I started yelling, “Necesitamos un doctor!!” “Ambulancia!” (Even though I had no idea if that was the word for ambulance in Spanish, but it seemed close enough). Nobody seemed to do anything, including our Spanish-speaking guide, so I started running into nearby storefronts, saying, “Llame ambulancia,” (call an ambulance) hoping I was making some sort of sense or even using the correct vocabulary.

I ran back to the table, and saw that Ken was conscious. A doctor who happened to be eating at a neighboring cafe heard the commotion and came over. Through our guide acting as translator, the doctor said that if Ken hit his head, he needed to go to a hospital right away. Ken insisted that he had not hit his head, that he must have just fainted from his ankle pain. (Ken had told me on prior occasions he has the propensity to faint, but I never actually witnessed it, so the fact that he might have fainted didn’t even cross my mind.)**

Ken’s ankle, about an hour after the fall.

To make an already long story short, Ken never did see a doctor while we were in Spain. Amazingly, despite an insane amount of swelling and blood pooling, he had very little pain. In fact it was most painful when he wasn’t moving, so the fact that we walked a lot during the rest of our vacation seemed to help.

Ken’s foot, five days after the fall.

Saving Host Country Emergency Contact Information

Okay, so why the story?

That incident made me very cognizant that I needed to be prepared for an emergency while abroad. Luckily Ken was just fine, but any serious situation can arise while on vacation. I had no idea how to call Spain’s equivalent of 911. Similarly, if there had been some sort of natural disaster or political unrest while we were traveling somewhere, I had no readily accessible way to contact the U.S. Embassy.

Given all of the fear mongering leading up to the Olympics in Sochi, I made sure that I had every phone number and address readily accessible.

On my phone, I simply created a single contact entry called “Russia Trip Contacts” on my iPhone. The iPhone, and probably most either smart phones, allow you to create multiple contact methods for a single entry. I just customized label for each phone number I entered in the “Russia Trip Contacts” contact.

preparing for a travel emergency

I added the phone numbers and addresses for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow (including the 24 hour emergency number), the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg, and the temporary American Citizen Services Unit that was being set up in Sochi. I also added the Russian equivalent of 911, which was 112. (The State Department provides a handy list of 911 equivalents here.

I also printed out a copy of these important numbers in case we didn’t have access to our cell phones.

There are many other things you can do, like checking expatriate forums to see what local hospitals are recommended, especially in countries where health care can vary so much. We also registered with the STEP program, so that the State Department knew how to reach us if an emergency occurred while abroad.

I think we all know that we should do things like leaving copies of our itineraries with friends or family, but it was Ken’s ankle incident that made me realize that we, as travelers, needed to be prepared ourselves for emergencies while abroad!

Have you ever had an emergency while abroad?  Ever been caught up in a natural disaster or political unrest, or had a medical emergency?  What do you do to plan for potential emergencies while you’re abroad?

**Ken seems perplexed why people freak out when he faints. He had a routine physical back in November, and he had to get bloodwork drawn. He did not tell the phlebotomist that he has a tendency to faint, and of course, he fainted while getting blood drawn. When Ken woke up, there were four people standing near him and he could hear someone saying, “He’s not responsive, he’s not responsive.” He was fine, and now it’s all over his medical charts that he has to lay down when getting bloodwork taken.

Travel Tech Gear

Once we get back from a vacation, we usually try to figure out what stuff we didn’t need on our trip and should not have packed.  One thing we almost never regret packing are our technology-related gadgets.  When we talk to friends, most of them don’t really understand why we both carry around cameras with us. I have a digital SLR and Ken has a digital SLR. Well, the short answer to that is that we BOTH like taking pictures. So that got me thinking about all our other technology-related travel gear. So, what do we take with us on vacation?

  • Canon 70D, including a zoom lens and prime lens and a recently purchased wide angle lens.
  • Canon G9. This is a smaller, advanced point and shoot that I used as my primary camera before I made the switch to DSLRs. I LOVE that little camera. Before that, I had a Canon G5 for almost five years! It’s the perfect blend of compactness and manual mode options! I always bring this on our trips in case 1) One of our cameras breaks … like Ken’s did when we went to Niagara Falls in 2009, or like mine did when watching the Shuttle Discovery flyover about two years ago in DC.  As an added bonus, we can save the day with this camera! We did a guided tour for a few days when we were in Spain in 2010. An older couple on the tour had not brought their camera battery charger with them, so we let them use this extra camera during the tour! We just e-mailed them all their pictures after we got back home!
  • Ken’s Nikon D3100 DSLR
  • Sony HD Video Camera. This is the second HD Video Camera that Ken has had. He got his first one in 2007 and upgraded in late 2010.
  • Garmin Handheld GPS (eTrex 20). Ken carries this everywhere on our vacations and uses that to sync our photos with our GPS coordinates. (It’s called geotagging. More on that in a future post!)
  • Acer Netbook. If we are going on a long and complicated trip, this is likely the only computer we bring so we don’t have to lug anything heavier. But sometimes I like to also bring …
  • My MacBook Pro if I expect to want to import my photos into Lightroom every evening or blog about the trip.
  • Backup external hard drives. Combined, we can easily take nearly 10,000 pictures on a two week trip together. Since we shoot in RAW format, that can add up to … well, countless Gigabytes of photos. Plus, we’re both compulsive about having backups of backups. So, we’ll dump our photos everyday onto the netbook and then also back that up onto one of our external hard drives in case the netbook dies, gets stolen, etc.
  • iPad.  But only sometimes.  I like to use it to read digital versions of magazines.
  • iPhones. Obviously.
  • Automobile GPS. If we’re flying somewhere and renting a car, we bring my Garmin Nuvi. But if we’re going on a local road trip, we typically take Ken’s car, which has a built in navigation system.
  • Kindles. Ken and I each have one. You know, for all that “free” time and “relaxation” you expect to have on vacation!  But, we definitely use them on airplane rides!
  • A packing cube filled with chargers (iPhone, car iPhone chargers, camera chargers, video camera chargers, laptop charger, and one Kindle charger depending on the length of the trip, and a mini power strip).


Even with all this gear, we typically manage to travel with just carry-ons. What’s on your tech gear packing lists?

What to Pack for Cold Weather Travel

When your vacation plans take you to Russia in February, there is one thing on your mind.


Oh my goodness, the cold. In my research for what to wear in Russia in the winter, I came across this gem of a quote:

Don’t forget that the Russian winter defeated both Napoleon and Hitler. Do not underestimate how cold and windy it will be.

So, I undertook a major effort to find the warmest coat I could find. And I also did a lot of research on the science (er, theories?) behind layering clothes.

First, let’s talk about shopping online. Does anyone else shop online using this strategy like I do? I might want one thing. Like one pair of shoes or one coat. But I want to easily compare sizes and styles. So what do I do? Order multiple sizes of multiple styles and try them on as soon as they’re delivered. It’s like having my own personally curated fitting room, all from the comfort of my own home. The first time I did after we got married and combined our finances, I alerted Ken about my credit card statement. It went like this, “Do not be alarmed at the $1200 charge from Talbots. I will probably be returning about $900-$1000 worth of that stuff.”

He didn’t really blink an eye. Good job Ken!

Buying a Coat

So, before our trip to Russia, I used that same strategy for shopping for winter coats. Heavy, warm, but functional coats for Russia. But buying coats wasn’t been nearly as easy as I anticipated.

It went like this: Order three styles, don’t love them but don’t hate them, so I order two more styles from a different store, keeping the first three to compare once the second two arrive. In the meantime, I order three coats for my husband to try on. His coats arrive and I like them more than the women’s coats I’ve been ordering. But now I need to order a men’s “regular” instead of “long.” Oh, they do make a women’s version of that men’s coat I like. Let me order that one too.

Well, you get the idea. First world problems to the max. “I’m having a hard time deciding among these one dozen warm winter coats I currently have in my possession.”

At one point, there were stacks of coats on our living room floor.

I suppose we were lucky that we had SUCH a cold winter here in DC. It gave me a good opportunity to try out the coats.

The one I ended up sticking with was the Lands’ End Women’s Expedition Down Parka. Although it was a difficult decision between this one and the LL Bean Microsuede Down Coat. I liked the Microsuede Down Coat because it was longer and it felt slightly more fitted and stylish, but the hood just wasn’t as effective as the hood on the Expedition Down Parka.

As silly as this sounds, I was kind of concerned with the stylishness aspect. I read many internet threads that women in Russia wear stylish fur coats and high heels no matter how icy the sidewalks are. Well, both of those options were not for me. So I was prepared to stick out with my unstylish coat and hiking boots. But, as I mentioned right after we got back from Russia, everyone assumed we were Russian no matter what city we were in, so I guess we didn’t stand out that much!


I did a lot of research on layering before we left. Base layers, mid-layers, and shell layers, and all that.

I’m a real wimp when it comes to cold weather (what can I say, I’m an embarrassment to my hometown of Pittsburgh), so I really wanted to layer effectively to stay warm.

Again, after much trial and error during our Polar Vortex here in the DC area, I decided on the following:

Base Layers

Mid Layers

Shell Layers

I’m not sure if these are technically considered “shells.” But since I wore these items as my outermost layers, I am considering them to be my “shell” layer

I did not actually wear a “mid layer” on my legs, but I did pack a pair of fleece leggings in case it was necessary.


  • Eddie Bauer Essential Down Mittens (I was a little concerned about using mittens because I wasn’t sure how it would affect being able to take pictures and hitting the shutter button quickly and effectively. But I had no problem whatsoever.)
  • Glove liners (I packed these but never used them)
  • Sock liners – In 2012 during our Southwest USA road trip, I had the most perfect sock liners from REI. But I can’t find them anymore! These ones from Amazon worked to keep me warm and sweat-free, but they were quite tight as they approached the calf. I would try to find a different brand in the future.
  • Socks – Several pairs of my favorite socks (these and these)
  • Earmuffs (also never used because I would just put up my hood when necessary, but they were good to have)
  • Boots – I’ve had these boots for about a year and a half and I really like them for their comfort and support. I tinkered with buying some traditional “snow boots” for the trip to Russia, including boots that were calf height instead of ankle height, but I didn’t think any of them would be comfortable enough for extended walking and standing. These Keen boots were probably the most comfortable of the snow boots that I tried on.
  • Hand warmers (we used these during the mountain events in Sochi, since we were outdoors for such an extended period of time.)

Did it work?

So, the answer to the real question: Was I cold in Russia? Although the coastal areas of Sochi were quite warm, Moscow and St. Petersburg were definitely cold and wet. We spent a lot of time outdoors in both of those cities, and not once was my wimpy self shivering and/or miserable from the cold. Nope! I am so glad that I took the time to try out so many different coats and layering options. It really paid off.

The base layers were really key. After a long day of touring, we went back to our hotel to rest. While we were there, I changed into my pajama pants. Later that night, we decided to go out to dinner, so I changed back into my jeans. I couldn’t figure out why I was SO COLD while walking to dinner. Then I realized I had forgotten to put on my base layer pants! That was actually a fun accidental experiment. It showed me just how effective those base layers are!

I feel like now that I have this whole cold-weather travel gear down pat, I need to utilize it for other travels! Maybe I should book some upcoming Alaska and Iceland trips!

A few final tips

If you are traveling somewhere in January or February, make sure you start shopping for your cold weather gear in November, or no later than Christmas. After Christmas we actually had a really hard time finding cold-weather gear in stock in stores or even online. I guess stores start to clear out their cold weather inventory after the Christmas season.

In a future post, I’ll write about the cold weather gear that I purchased but didn’t work for me, either because it wasn’t warm enough or the fit was weird.

Have you traveled to any frigid weather destinations?  What did you pack?