The Suitcase Lady

Past Blogs


June 11, 2019, 7:07 am


Luxembourg City is the capital of the tiny but extremely wealthy country of Luxembourg. Perched above sheer rock cliffs, the city began as a fortified medieval town. A series of bridges and viaducts span the valleys beneath the city connecting it to the rest of the world. All of Luxembourg is a UNESCO heritage site.

One of the most spectacular entrances to the town is the 1903 Pont Adolphe bridge, a 501 feet long stone structure and a beloved historic landmark. When cracks were discovered in the bridge in 1996, plans were made to stabilize and widen it. Great care was taken to retain the historic look of the bridge. As part of the restoration process, all the stones creating the arches were numbered, removed and taken away for cleaning.  When the work was completed in 2016, the stones were put back in place like assembling a giant puzzle. The completed bridge has two one way traffic lanes and two tram lanes plus an award-winning new feature, bicycle and pedestrian lanes hung under the vehicular roadway.

The bike lanes are suspended between the arches and are described by architect Christian Bauer “like a well-controlled spider’s web, barely visible from the outside.” Architects have long looked to animals and plants for inspiration.

Since the bike path opened, riders and walkers have turned out en masse with great enthusiasm, too much enthusiasm, in fact. The Luxembourg Times reports that it is impossible to bike a straight line through the lanes. Too many riders are stopping to enjoy the incredible views framed by the arches. They can hardly be blamed.

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June 4, 2019, 9:29 pm


The color indigo is a fashion star this summer, popping up in clothes and home goods in stores all over America. This is a trend I can relate to as I love both the color and its fascinating history.

Indigo is probably the world’s oldest textile dye dating back at least 6,000 years. Derived from a Greek word meaning “coming from India”, the dye was used in ancient India, China and Egypt.

While the color blue is common in many plants and berries, few produce a bright, long-lasting dye. Several varieties of the indigo plant are the only natural source for a vivid, permanent blue textile dye. Ironically, no blue color shows in the leaves, flowers or stems of the indigo plant. The dye is produced by fermenting the leaves via a tedious, smelly process.

Sadly, European demand for indigo was an important factor in colonization and the slave trade. The British, French, Dutch and Spanish all established highly lucrative indigo plantations in the New World. The labor was done by slaves.

The invention of synthetic “indigo” dye in Germany in 1897 wiped out much of the demand for field grown indigo. The intricate process of dying textiles with plant-based indigo dyes is now practiced around the world only as an art, which it truly is.

Here as several fascinating facts about indigo:

  • In the Elizabethan era, English law dictated that only royals and others with high status could wear indigo blue clothes. Hence, we still have the term, “royal blue”.
  • Years after the Elizabethans, indigo clothing was definitely not only for the elite. Working people embraced indigo blue jeans and blue-collar shirts.
  • When a fabric comes out of the indigo dye bath, it is pond scum green. When exposed to air, it slowly turns to the characteristic intense blue color.
  • When Newton named the colors of the rainbow, he threw in indigo to bring the number to seven to match the number of notes in the Western musical scale. From ancient times, seven has been cited as a “lucky number”. In the rainbow, indigo is just one of the infinite number of colors on the visible spectrum. Newton had an unscientific moment. Most scientists now have removed the “I” from ROYGBIV. But that does not make indigo one iota less beautiful.

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May 28, 2019, 9:31 pm


Spring has been extremely reluctant to come this year. Dwelling in the northlands on the shore of a huge lake, we don’t expect anything to happen when the calendar hits the spring equinox. We are realists.  But when Memorial Day has come and gone and the cherry trees have yet to bloom, our patience is taxed.

We began to sense trouble back in April when it was time for our flock of purple martins to return. For almost two decades, they have come punctually in mid-April to raise their families in our large martin apartment houses. A few scout birds were spotted last month, but they must have reported back that it wasn’t bug time here yet. Finally, last week, these lovely flocks arrived to occupy their houses. It was thrilling to look out at the fields across from our house and see over thirty birds swooping in the skies scooping up insects.

We are still waiting for the green leaves on our trees to fully open. When the first whisper of green appears on the trees, our spirits soar. This year that gauzy stage has lasted a long time, almost as if those tiny leaves tasted the air and decided to stay snuggled up in their buds until things improved. Our birch trees, always the last to leaf out, are more reluctant than ever to unfurl their greenery. Here is what they looked like last weekend.

A sure sign that spring is fully present is when the flowering trees all simultaneously burst into bloom. This glorious spectacle has always occurred in May… but not this year. June will be here before our flowering trees are covered with their pink and white blossoms. They better hurry up and get their act together. Summer is just around the corner.

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May 21, 2019, 9:19 pm


Amazing as it may sound, cardboard is coming into its own as a building material. Architects and designers around the globe are creating furniture, interiors and entire buildings from this humble material usually thought of in connection with the word “box”.

Architect Frank Gehry was one of the first designers to create cardboard furniture with his Wiggle side chair in 1972. He got the idea from a pile of corrugated cardboard stacked outside his office. From building cardboard architectural models, he knew the material became strong when glued together. His furniture consists of corrugated card board glued in alternating layers. He did this unique test to prove the furniture’s strength.

Cardboard is now being used worldwide to create unique interiors as well as entire buildings. Here are two interiors constructed entirely of cardboard, a cafe in Mumbai, India, and a retail store in Los Angeles.

Architect Shigeru Ban thinks bigger. He won the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2014 for “his innovative use of cardboard and his dedication to humanitarian efforts around the globe.” Using large cardboard tubes, he has designed housing for refugees from earthquakes and wars around the world. His units are sturdy, sustainable and recyclable. Some are long lasting as well. His “temporary” cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand, built after the disastrous 2011 earthquake, has an estimated lifespan of 50 years.

And, finally, a Dutch design group named Fiction Factory has designed a cardboard house that has a life expectancy of up to 100 years. Called the Wikkelhouse, it can be assembled in days.

I must note that another species surpasses us in its use of cardboard for housing. I have yet to meet a cat that does not instantly convert an empty cardboard box into a kitty condo.

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May 14, 2019, 8:21 pm


I had an interesting conversation with a second grader the other day. He had just gotten back from spring break and was wearing a T-shirt that said “Morocco”.

“Did you go to Morocco over break?” I asked.

“Yes”, he replied, “and we visited Portugal, too.”

I then asked my favorite travel question, “What was the best and the worst thing about your trip?”

His answer came immediately. “We camped in the Sahara and that was great, but the beetle we saw there was really, really big and scary. I also liked Lisbon very much.”

“How lucky you are to have such wonderful adventures,” I said, and his reply was gratifying.

“I know I am. My parents want me to know there are many different kinds of people and places in the world.”

I know that foreign travel probably isn’t high on the wish list of most of the second graders I teach. Many kids cannot even stand long car rides in their native country without the bribe of multiple electronic devices. I found it delightful to chat with a young person who wants to see all the continents. He hopes to get to South America next.

Over decades of teaching, I have learned that kids are curious to learn about places different from their own. And I know from being a parent that it is possible to raise children that love to travel. Our son has been to Katmandu and Vietnam this year and our daughter is planning a trip to Newfoundland. We continue to explore as well, having driven to both coasts in the last two months.

We showed our kids a large part of America before turning them out in the world. Of all the money we have spent in our lifetime, those trips were some of the best investments we have ever made…..both for them and us.

Here are my favorite quotes from famous travelers:

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” Susan Sontag

“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep rolling under the stars.” Jack Kerouac

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness.” Mark Twain

On the road


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