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The Vine: March 8, 2013

Submitted by on March 8, 2013 – 9:35 AM46 Comments


I'm in search of a short story that I first remember reading in junior high (early 1980s FWIW, but I'm sure the story is much older) — we were given short stories to act out as a group, and it was the one my group got to do. 

I read it again in a college literature class, I think, but it's not in the one anthology that I still have from those days.

It takes place in an old English manor house sort of setting, and a teenaged girl is given the task of entertaining some house guests, which she does by telling them about a hunting party that had set out from the house many years before and never returned, and sometimes if it was a misty night…"as it is now" (of course), you could see the ghosts of the men (and the dog with them) coming through the mist. Of course, the guests look out just in time to see the hunters returning, and run screaming off into the night, and the girl has a snarky line to end the story with. 

I'd love to read it again if anyone knows what it is!

Thanks much,


Hi Sars, I am hoping the all-knowing readership can help me find a source for good quality reuseable shopping bags.

I've been using my Minnesota Twins polypropylene totes for months (…hush, I know, I am not only a crazy hippie but one who roots for a horrific baseball team) but they are ripping out along the creases now. I got two of those plastic ones from Pier One and they both came apart at the seams after one use. Well done, Pier One. Nice to know you are not simply a source for bowls full of decorative orbs, you make supremely crappy tote bags as well. I had one large tote from Target that was fine but it melted in my car under the Texas sun.

So! What's an eco-conscious shopper to do? I was thinking Etsy might be a good source but the sheer tsunami of results you get if you search for tote bags is a tad overwhelming. Even searching for "reuseable shopping bags" brings up over 3000 items! So hopefully the Nation can help winnow the results a bit or point me at another source.

Here are the specs I'm looking for: 13x15x6" is the size of my Twins totes and that's worked pretty well for me. I wouldn't want anything smaller, a few inches bigger all around is OK but I do want to be able to carry a couple of the things fully loaded without a hernia, so.

A flat bottom is a must, preferably a square-ish shape (tote, not hobo), as well as handles that are long enough to go over a shoulder.

I don't have any preference for material except that ideally it is light enough to fold. Nylon, light canvas, etc? I'm not good with cloth types. I tend to use 2-4 of them when I shop so anything light and portable is good. If they can be in cute colors or patterns and for a reasonable price then that is perfection.

I am hoping for the $25-or-less range but I am OK with paying more for something that is awesome quality.

Help me save the earth, Nation!


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  • Jobiska says:

    Melerin: Boy, I wish I could unload some of mine on you–my son runs, and for a while every race package was given away in a tote from Whole Foods Market or some such, and also WF sometimes gives away its totes, and so forth and so on…I have more than I know what do do with.

    But as far as purchased, sturdy but compact ones–I've had good luck with the ones that roll up into their own little storage pouch, and have a clip to put them on your purse or whatever. I know I got some from the Container Store cheap (a discontinued color, probably) but I'm guessing they were this brand that they still have:

    My sister uses similar and has gotten them from various sources and makers, often at eco-minded stores.

  • Jobiska says:

    Aw geez, ignore that link, the other one didn't copy right. Here it is:

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Pearl River's peony totes: (you'll have to click on "peony totes"; the site nav is of the past, sorry). I got the big one as a throw-in on some other purchase a decade ago, and they are har-DEE. I carried an air conditioner in mine once.

    The drawback is that they do not fold up so well, or at least the big one doesn't, but the plaid-ish nylon totes just below the peony ones are a minor symbol of New York living, not on the level of the "it's our pleasure to serve you" cups but still on the list. Go to any NYC laundromat and you'll see dozens of them.

    …Shit, now I'm down a Pearl River hole. Clever soaps! Cherry-blossom teacups!

  • Suzanne says:

    !! To LW #1 – it is "The Open Window," by Saki!

  • Barb says:

    @ Kitty
    I remember that one, I am certain that is an O. Henry short story, but I cant remember the title.

  • Suzanne says:

    (double post; sorry!) – which is to say: Kitty! I was in such a rush to reply that I neglected to include your name. Saki himself (Hector Hugh Munro, IRL) would be ashamed of me.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Suzanne, nice work. Weirdly, I was reading the letter and thinking, "I know it's not, but except for the cat part, it sounds a lot like 'Tobermory.'" Which of course is also by Saki.

  • Suzanne says:

    Yessss, Tobermory! So fantastic. I also love "The Lumber Room" more every time I reread it – it has this stick-it-to-the-man/Victorian-Auntie that makes me grin.

  • Barb says:

    Oh, yeah; I used to confuse Saki and O. Henry. Sorry.

  • attica says:

    The black cloth bags available for cheap at Wal-mart are hands down the sturdiest I've ever had. Flat bottom, beefy handles long enough to go over your shoulders. They're some sort of polyester canvas, not the more plasticky 'cloth' bags at Target. I know WM is problematic for some folks, but I offer this fwiw.

    I live in a two-story walkup, so my grocery bag needs are filled by a sailcloth beach tote I got from Eileen Fisher a bunch of years ago. On it's face, it was way too expensive for a grocery bag, but I think I've gotten my money out of it over the years. Holds three or four bags-worth of groceries, and is slingable-over-my-back so I can sherpa up the stairs in one trip. Plus, I can throw it in the washer whenever it gets grody. They don't offer that model, but you might consider the various-sized canvas totes at, say, Land's End or LL Bean.

  • Suzanne says:

    which is to say: "stick-it-to-the-man/Victorian-Auntie QUALITY."

    Yeesh. I will get some coffee and return anon. In the meantime, I believe Kitty should read Tobermory, and I maintain that a cat would dispose of that silly Monkey's Paw in a heartbeat. You can't make a disastrous wish if the paw is under the bed!

  • While these don't fit your exact specs (but they do have a flat bottom!), I swear by these bags. They are the sturdiest bags I've ever used, they fit over my shoulder, and I can fill 4 of them to the brim and still walk a mile home with no problem. I love them so much. And – they're affordable!

    The site doesn't really communicate the sturdiness or quality, but trust me. You'll use them forever.

  • Jas says:

    Blue Q has nice shopping totes, made from recycled grain sacks. Look in the "Bags" category on their site.

  • Sue says:

    @Melerin: I'm a huge fan of Baggu bags ( They fold up into tiny little parcels: small enough that I carry one in my purse. They're strong, like 3 2-liter bottles of seltzer in one bag strong. They're made of machine washable ripstop nylon, come in nifty colors, and they're not terribly expensive. I've given them as Christmas presents tons of times. That said, they don't have flat bottoms…. Other than that, I think they'd fit the bill for you.

    @Suzanne: "Laura" is another beautifully subversive Saki story.

  • Louisa says:

    Melerin – Way back in the very early 90s when reusable bags were getting a good head of steam, I bought canvassy one from Safeway (in Canada) and butchered it into a pattern, then bought upholstery fabric and made my own. Quick, easy, and they last forever, literally I still use them probably more than 20 years later. They wash up like old rags and are the handiest thing ever. If you sew, it's a good – and cheap – option.

  • Danielle says:

    These are the best! They fold into themselves with a handy little pocket, are super strong and can carry a heavy load and the handles are wide enough that you can hook them over your shoulder. You can get a 5-pack for under $30 in their online store – I have two that I've been using for over two years and they are still going strong.

  • Lucy says:

    LW#2 – Envirosax are fantastic. They're lightweight, fold up really small, and come in great designs. I've given them as stocking stuffers to everyone I know.

  • Lucy says:

    Oh, but they don't have a flat bottom.

  • Katherine says:

    I want to second the Envirosax recommendation, even without the flat bottom; mine have been durable and lightweight and they last and last. The prints are really gorgeous. (Also, I met the woman who founded the company and she was a lovely person.)

  • Angharad says:

    @Melerin: These shopping bags look like they might fit the bill:

  • Bubbles says:

    Melerin, I know you said the Target one melted (and I feel you on the Texas car-ovens), but they do have different ones and I'm guessing you had the one made from plastic bags melted together. I've had clothish ones from them for a while, and they seem to be what you're looking for. Right size, I can throw the straps over my shoulder like nothing. And they fold down and snap, so they're this little square. Oh and flat bottom! I think they're 4.99 at the store. And survived living in my car in South Texas.
    If you look at 'em and they aren't what you want, check out They've got a great selection.

  • Kris T says:


    I'm guessing from the Twins mention that you might be near the Twin Cities. If so, I'm very happy with the Lunds/Byerly's and Kowalskis' bags. They have a cloth feel, with cardboard sewn inside the bottom so that they stand flat on their own. The dimensions are right, too. I've always carried them in my hands, but I think you could sling it over your shoulder as well. They're $1.50, I think.

  • Christy M says:

    LW #2 – I have a nylon one that is very light, but does not have a flat bottom. The very best one I have is this one (unfortch unavailable nowadays):

    So I'd recommend canvas over everything else. It's a little heavier, but you can carry ANYTHING in it, and still throw it in the washing machine when it gets gross.

  • Ashley says:

    If you want to go canvas (and a bit more of an investment) I have these in about every size and use them for everything:

  • Jess says:

    I love, love, love my Reisenthel Mini Maxi shopping bags. They fold up small enough to fit in my purse, but expand to full size and the handles are long enough to fit over my shoulder. I've had them going on 3 years now and they're holding up great.

  • Amanda says:

    I actually got some totes with a donation to the world wildlife fund and they have held up pretty well. Might kill two birds with one stone for you:

  • Sue says:

    LW #2 – I'll chime in for the IKEA massive bags. Hardy and with two strap lengths so you can haul over shoulder or carry in hand. Flat bottom design, and they fold up nicely.

  • Leigh says:

    I adore my Chico bags. They stuff down into a tiny pouch (keep them in your purse and never forget bags!), come in lots of various sizes and colors and styles, and are super sturdy–my previous ones lasted several years; I'm now on a second set of bigger ones. You can also easily toss them in the wash, which is a good idea to do from time to time with anything that contains food, ever…

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    My mom bought me a nylon roll up bag as a stocking stuffer three years ago and I use it to this day. I think she got it at Target. It's too small for what you're looking for but I'd suggest picking one up–it literally rolls up like a pair of socks and has saved my back/purse lining on more occasions then I can count.

    And NOW I have to go buy a Saki collection, so thanks for that, Nation! (really. Thanks!)

  • Krista says:

    Thirty-one bags. These are a bit more than just a reusable shopping bag and cost a bit more too, but the ones I have are very sturdy. They are sold by consultants but I got most of mine used off Ebay. There are all kinds of patterns and sizes.

  • Megan says:

    Aw man. I have got to pull down my book of Saki's short stories. Time for a re-read.

  • Nanc in Ashland says:

    I'm with Louisa–make your own grocery totes! Butterick, McCalls, and Simplicity all have patterns. Cover any old piece of cardboard with contact paper for easy cleaning and throw it in the bottom. If you don't sew offer to pay a friend or relative who does. Other surprisingly good sources: thrift stores and church rummage sales. Look for churches in well-to-do neighborhoods, you'd be surprised what great stuff you'll get!

    And how did I get through college and grad school without ever reading Saki? It's on my library list!

  • RC says:

    Okay, this doesn't exactly match the specs, but I must put in a plug for these mesh shopping bags I bought… probably 5 or 6 years ago now. I think these are the same ones: They don't look like much, but oh em gee I have fit like, two cartons of milk, two boxes of cereal (sensing a pattern), and a quart of ice cream and it can take it. I have the ones with short handles, and also I'd recommend a dark color because strawberries can stain beige, who knew…

  • Ginny Beatty says:

    Ooh – Saki for sure — and this one is just as good:

  • Maria says:

    I love my Flip & Tumble for its clever folding and non-slip felt on the strap, but the bottom isn't flat and I have never put a heavy load in it.

    I love my IKEA bag for toughness and how cheap it was (practically free) but it's loud. Some days I just can't handle extra noise.

    I love my Lands End canvas bags and they're practically indestructable. I always wish they had a drawstring closure on top, though, for rainy days and to prevent spills.

    I agree with the LW that it's really tough to find that perfect bag. I am loving the comments here and have found some new sites I didn't know about. How I love the Nation!!!!

  • scout1222 says:

    I buy a lot of my reusable stuff from the website and they have many of the brands people have mantioned above. Could be a good place to look for everything in one spot and comparison shop.

  • coleBlue says:

    I don't know if you have any of these stores in your area but Elizabeth Haub Foundation bags sell for $1 (or they did when I got mine several years ago). They stay square and hold lots of stuff and are sturdy and have two sets of handles (shorties for carrying in your hand and longer ones for going over the shoulder). They also have pretty photos on them (I was able to get one with a squirrel… that's pretty much all it takes to make me happy).

    "Practical, robust and sympathetic – our tote bags have become the benefactor of great popularity and are sold at A&P, SuperFresh, The Food Emporium, Waldbaum's and Pathmark Sav-A-Center stores in the United States and Kaiser's Tengelmann in Germany. Made of 100% post consumer recycled content: Polypropylene woven with OPP lamination and a nylon handle, the bags are an easy way to effect great change with only a small contribution." (

  • Kitty says:

    Thank you to all of you who found the story for me! I've spent a good chunk of my afternoon reading some wonderful stories (including Tobermory, which I'd never heard of before and *loved*).

  • Maren says:

    Man, these bag comments are weird to read — other people don't just pick up the $1.99 canvas bags at the Trader Joe's register whenever they need a new one?? I had no idea there were so many choices!

  • Mimi says:

    I have a wonderful woven one I got from Pearl River around eight years ago; sadly, they don't seem to have anything like it on their site now (oh, Sars, I totally got sucked down that Pearl River hole with you), but this one is a similar style with a tighter weave. It's super sturdy and has survived multiple Atlanta and coastal Virginia summers in my car with no problems; it's also an excellent beach bag. I do occasionally have to point out to grocery checkers that it's *not* my purse, but I can stuff it to the top with heavy things and my arm strength will give out before it will.

  • GrammaK says:

    My Trader Joe's bags (canvas and otherwise) last forever. You can carry bricks in those things and they don't tear

  • Emma says:

    The Open Window must have been fun to act out. I came across it in an anthology or two during my school years, but never in that context.

    (And thanks, everyone, for the other Saki recs!)

  • Leigh says:

    If you're in South Texas, run over to HEB and pick up several of their bags–the thin canvas-like ones, not the plastic-y ones. I've had mine for YEARS, they get heavy weekly use and spend all their time in the trunk of my car and have never melted or torn.

  • Susan says:

    I want to add my recommendation for the Envirosax bags,! They're washable, fold up small and wear really well (I've had mine for close to 7 years I think). My favourite feature is that they are short enough that I can carry them in my hands with my arms straight at my sides and they don't drag on the ground (I'm 5'4"), but they will also loop easily over my shoulder!

  • Jo says:

    Maren: I wondered the same thing. TJ's makes plastic bags that come apart, but the canvas ones are awesome and come in several sizes.

    For that matter, doesn't every chain grocery store there is sell canvas and/or plasticy bags for like a buck at the register? I live in a pretty conservative area where there aren't a whole lot of environmentalists and every store sells resusable bags. Just buy a few canvas bags from whatever grocery store. TJs are the best. And I would imagine Whole Foods has some.

  • Mouse says:

    I have an assortment of bags that I've picked up over the years ranging from grocery-store-logoed woven plastic to Lands End canvas. My favorite are the ones I got from a grocery store years ago, and the tag inside said EcoBags. They're canvas which hold up under a load and after washing, and the handles are long enough to go over my shoulder. You can find them at

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