Sunday, May 29, 2016

Rainbow Bike

A move is on to try and get more Americans to commute to work or school via bike. In many parts of Europe, bikes are the primary mode of transportation. This presents a new set of challenges already faced by the Dutch. How do you find your bike in a parking lot that could hold hundreds or even thousands of them? One answer is to customize it with a brightly colored plastic basket, handles wrapped with florescent duct tape or unusual colors of  paint. Many city cyclists also see the value of having a junky looking bike that can take a lot of wear and tear and isn't so appealing to would-be thieves. I love this bike, with its strange marbeleized paint job. But perhaps some bicycle bandits would consider it a little too girly. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016


It has been a gloomy May, with rain almost every day. Some plants offer up a few soggy flowers while others seem to be waiting for bluer skies and drier days. So this clump of spiderwort was a welcome surprise. Also known as dayflower, Job's tears or spider lily, Native Americans ate the leaves, brewed a tea that alleviated stomach aches and used the plant to make a poultice that calmed insect bites. This variety, with it yellow and chartreuse leaves, is new to me. How nicely those leaves set off the blue-purple flowers. It’s a lesson in the eloquence of complementary colors. the three-petaled blooms last just one day, but how brilliant they look against those leaves.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Victorian Embroidery Fibers

How tempting this looks to me, the colors so luscious and lustrous. I wanted to pick up the spools and feel them. Unfortunately, they were on the other side of the glass, as part of a display in the Fashion Museum in Bath, England. These days, embroidery is merely a relaxing hobby for many people. But before about 1920, it was an essential skill. Women of modest means had to sew and darn. In wealthier families "fancywork" embroidery was a desirable accomplishment. For women whose lives were so constrained in other ways, it offered a certain amount of creative freedom. Do not underestimate the skill it takes to work with softly-spun silks like the ones in these boxes. Most of us who consider ourselves to be fairly advanced in our skills today would have great difficulty dealing with them. "Womens' Work," indeed.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Phone Booth In The Cotswolds

In the United States, phone booths have become a rare sight. They never had the iconic status of the UK's traditional red phone booths. The last time I visited Broadway, in Gloucestershire, this one still stood in the center of the village. It's such a perfect tableau, with that horse chestnut laden with blooms and a bench for waiting your turn. Do people actually use that phone any more or is it only for tourists, a prop for photos, a piece of something so many of us still see as essentially "English?" Maybe that's okay. I hope it remains.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Lilies of the Valley In a Blue Vase

A small house in my neighborhood will soon be torn down, destined to be replaced by something larger and more up to date. Every spring, in the shady side yard of that house, a tidy bed of lilies of the valley unfurl their leaves, revealing stems of aromatic flowers. My grandmother had some in her side yard, a mysterious place, full of moss and sometimes mud, shaded by a huge tree. I always wondered why the flowers drooped and looked so downcast when they were beautiful and carried such a lovely scent. This year, the local lilies of the valley will soon be excavated out of existence. Perhaps I will try to rescue a few plants. My grandmother would surely approve.