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Each time we go away, I think we are learning to finesse the trip.

Next time we visit Seattle, we will get an ORCA card so we don’t have to worry about exact change on the bus. (How many times did we look up bus schedules, only to remember we needed cash to ride? How many times did we have to “round up” since we didn’t have any quarters for the fare?)

Bit by bit we are learning. We seem to be collecting big city transit cards, and as long as our oldest lives in Seattle, we will visit often enough to make the ORCA cards a nice convenience.

We got into a nice rhythm of walking over to Chandra’s in the morning from our cozy Airbnb. Chandra showed his youngest brother, Ellis, how to make macaroons — whipping egg whites, adding sugar and color, and piping them out onto cookie sheets. When they ran out of cookie sheets way before the egg whites, they put into service cake pans, broiler pans and even plates until every flat-ish piece of cookware was filled with discs of sweetened egg in pastel colors.

They made sandwich cookies that looked a little like tiny hamburgers. We then sat around the coffee table playing Settlers of Catan while munching on the sweet treats.

Later in the day we realized if we were to have a Christmas feast, we’d have to hit the grocery story. We went without a plan and kept changing our minds about what we would feast on.

I held steady though, with my idea of mashed cauliflower instead of potatoes. (In my old age, potatoes give me inflammation, and cauliflower, when mashed with white beans, milk and butter, are just as delicious.)

That night we visited a fancy bar, and not being a cocktail connoisseur, I chose my drink by the glass it was served in: a pewter goblet with a knight in relief, vines scrolling around the stem.

Ellis ordered the drink that was served in a classic metal Star Wars lunchbox, the drink itself in a ceramic milk carton. He got a pack of cookies on the side. That caused us at the table to reminisce about our own lunchbox days. Chandra missed the metal lunch bucket era and had a plastic, purple Dark Crystal lunchbox.

I remember two from my youth: a Peanuts lunchpail with comics on the side (I did get bored reading the same comic day after day, with Linus running away to prove a point and Lucy calling after him, “Write.”) and my favorite, a U.S. Mail lunch bucket shaped like a mailbox with the thermos in the lid.

Those were in the days of glass thermos bottles, too. If you dropped your lunchbox, you would hurry to open it and shake the thermos, and 90 percent of the time you would hear the dreaded slush of glass and milk. It would be weeks before you got the glass part of the bottle replaced and had cold milk for lunch again.

My grandmother used to tell about her own lunch bucket days, when she carried her lunch to school in an actual metal pail. The town kids at school would go home for a hot lunch, while the farm kids were teased for the cold lunches they carried in a bucket.

On our last day in Seattle we visited the Seattle Art Museum, with its giant worker moving sculpture, hammering away like a shadow. Someone had yarn-bombed it, giving it colorful leggings slouched over its giant shoes.

Michael, Ellis and I spent a pleasant afternoon wandering the museum, and then walked down to Pioneer Square, where we enjoyed the antique feel of the buildings and rustic, artsy businesses. That’s what we like to do when we visit new places: walk around and look at stuff.

A text from Chandra asked what we’d like to do for dinner. After a flurry of discussion, we decided on Dino’s, a New Jersey-style pizzeria with a wood-fired oven. We walked uptown and met Chandra and Lila there. Greg, Ellis’ friend from undergraduate days, joined us for our last night celebration.

We ended the evening with perhaps my favorite activity: wandering around a huge independent bookstore: The Elliott Bay Book Company. It’s so heartening to know that independent booksellers are coming back, and that some have never left.

Wander in Beauty; Visit in Peace; Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. If you’re missing your weekly dose of Birdland Letters in The News Gazette, you can still read them every week in the Piatt County Journal-Republican and at Consider subscribing to support your small-town newspaper. You can follow Birdland on Instagram (@BirdlandLetters) and Twitter (@BirdlandLetters). Mary can be reached at or via snail mail care of this newspaper.