A long time ago I decided that typical “souvenirs” are not for me. I do like to have some kind of remembrance from my various journeys, but I don’t need any knickknacks to act as dust collectors. So, I made the rule that anything I got as a souvenir would have to be utilitarian: it must be wear-able, hang-able, or edible. Well, if it is art, it doesn’t have to be wall art. It could be statuary of some permanent material.

I think it started when I visited French Martinique in the Caribbean. At least, that is the first useful purchase I can recall bringing home with me. At that time, the U.S. had no trade with China, but Martinique, being a French possession, did. I had already begun my penchant for shopping in local grocery and hardware stores, just to see what was different there that we didn’t have. In Martinique, I discovered their incredible display of ceramic tile made in China, a myriad of patterns not yet available in the American market. So, I bought a carton of tile, and tied it on my luggage cart so I could carry it on board and not have to risk it getting broken in checked baggage.

I knew I would be able to use it somewhere. As it turned out, we were redoing a small powder room on the first floor of our house, and it was perfect for a tiled countertop in that room. The only drawback was that it stayed, of course, when the house was sold. So, the only tile from that trip that I still have is one that I bought to make a trivet. But it was a good start, and I also bought a couple of small kitchen gadgets there.

I have dream-catchers for the bedroom windows which I got on an annual trip to Kansas City. Another year in that same city I found a genuine American Indian peace pipe.

Another time I purchased a piece of wall art that had been created by a Russian refugee: it depicts an American eagle and symbolizes his love for and appreciation of the freedoms and opportunities that his adopted country has made possible for him.

I have a collection of facemasks, made from ceramics or leather or wood. That collection isn’t as big as it used to be: moving sometimes means that the new place doesn’t have room for some of these old things. I have a modernized version of a Thai traditional music group, a hand-carved wooden spirit house, and some brass statuary including a temple gong, which at my house is a dinner bell.

All of those things found places in my home, wherever that happened to be. But one has to be practical: at some point, my space has been saturated. There is no more room for stuff. Realizing that, I started to bring home only wearable or edible items.

In then-Dutch Aruba, I brought home the best cocoa I have ever tried. It made extra special hot chocolate, perfect with rice crispy squares for those treats after ice-skating in Minnesota. In Jamaica, I found a jerky sauce which was very tasty, along with Jamaican rum. In Mexico, the thing to bring home was vanilla; it too was delightful, and bottled so beautifully that the bottle itself became the part of the useful souvenir that lasted long after the vanilla was gone.

When I come back from Thailand, I can easily devote almost a whole suitcase to stuff from the grocery store or the kitchen items stalls at the weekend market. This year I brought bottles of soy sauce, oyster sauce and soybean sauce, all of which contribute to good Thai cooking. I brought dried lemon grass and packaged rice crackers, my favorite of which were garlic and butter flavored. We always bring a couple of big packages of Thai milk tea, which friends here love.

Friends also give me edible items: one always gives me two very large bottles of salad dressings, one of roasted sesame and the other sesame soy sauce. Another friend started a hobby farm for her retirement project, and this year harvested her first crop of rice. She gave us two pounds of this delightful product, and it is almost gone already.

We brought mustard from Germany, and pumpkin oil — my favorite for salads — from Slovenia.

A friend there sent a large bottle of homemade olive oil back with us, and that was a real treat, very different from store-purchased olive oil. On this last trip, to the Dominican Republic, I brought cocoa — again — and also vanilla — again. It may or not be exactly the same as what I got in Mexico long ago, but it was produced on the island with local ingredients and that’s what makes it a good remembrance.

As souvenirs, photos just don’t do it for me, because I either forget to take them or I never get them printed. And now that my phone is my camera, I refuse to scroll through photos to find one to show to someone else, who actually may or may not be interested. So, if someone asks to see photos, I can only offer a house tour of my “souvenirs,” but each one has a story behind it, and that’s the fun part.