March 31, 2015

Joyeux Anniversaire Tour Eiffel

When I lived in the UK, one of the projects I worked on required me to go to Paris every few weeks for the day. Since I needed to be there at 9:00 on Sunday mornings, I had to fly over on Saturday. I got to know Paris pretty well, a day at a time, and my French language skills showed a vast improvement.

A highlight of each trip, which was otherwise grueling and difficult, was seeing the Eiffel Tower which just turned 126 years old. You may have seen the Google Doodle. doodle

I am endlessly fascinated by the images taken over the year and a half that it took to construct the Tower. public-domain-images-eiffel-tower-construction-1800s-0007

As I would walk around Paris, it was always fun to try and spot the Tower and see if I could get my bearings, the way I used to do with the World Trade Centers in New York. I took dozens of pictures of it, in all kinds of light, but lost most of them when my computer was stolen soon after I moved back to the States.

I did save a few pictures, and when I started this blog, I needed some words to live by and selected these, which still appear on the blog: The difference between an ordinary life and an extraordinary life is finding extraordinary things in an ordinary life. I knew how lucky I had been to have so many amazing experiences when I lived abroad, so I took one of my images of the Eiffel Tower and superimposed my words to live by over it. Extraordinary life

I made this more than nine years ago, and it still sits in my kitchen. I still try and live by those words.

Happy Birthday dear Eiffel Tower and thanks for the memories!

March 29, 2015

A Country Garden: The Greenhouse

There is nothing better than spending a raw, cold Saturday morning, complete with intermittent snow showers, in a nice warm greenhouse looking at bright and cheerful flowering plants. So when my friend Jonathan asked me to come look at the greenhouse, I leapt at the chance. IMG_9732

The ribbed glass diffuses the light and the pea-gravel and blue-stone paths ensure that the water drains off and no plants are sitting in puddles of water. The potting area is filled with rooting hormones, small biodegradable pots, amended potting soils and all of the tools of the trade. IMG_9722

Jonathan is already starting seeds, like sweetpeas, an early bloomer which hates hot weather, in the greenhouse. He’s got pots of rhizomes which he’s cut from last year’s crops of plants and is also starting them.IMG_9690

My geranium, which was a cutting from one that Thomas Jefferson owned, and which was a gift from the owner of the late lamented blog, Reggie Darling, has, under Jonathan’s expert care, finally grown from a pitiful little stalk, into a bushy plant. IMG_9686

Jonathan is a big fan of succulents, and their wonderful shapes, which follow the Fibonacci sequence. IMG_9763IMG_9681

There is such symmetry and mathematics in nature, and this gorgeous begonia leaf followed what is known as the Golden Spiral, which is an offshoot of both the Golden Ratio and the Fibonacci Sequence. IMG_9672

imageimageI am such a dork. This stuff fascinates me so much, even though I am total failure at math.

Another plant that Jonathan likes is the begonia family, which is what the leaf above is. While the leaf below looks like it would be very sharp and uncomfortable, it’s actually sort of rubbery.IMG_9707IMG_9706IMG_9706x

Here are a few more begonia leaves.


The greenhouse is also home to some amazing orchids, which are notoriously difficult to grow, but under Jonathan’s care, they’re thriving. IMG_9696IMG_9698IMG_9704IMG_9710

Jonathan also has a collection of clivia which are native to Southern Africa. Their sword-like leaves and bright flowers make a beautiful presentation. IMG_9670IMG_9758Their buds look like little baby fingers and toes!IMG_9776

It was such a cheerful and warming experience to spend some time in the greenhouse, learning about new flowers and realizing that, despite the snow-showers, that spring is right around the corner. IMG_9754

Thanks, Jonathan!

March 26, 2015

Jury Duty

In Baltimore City, the rule is you either serve on jury duty for one day, or for one trial. So, that’s what I spent Thursday doing – waiting to be called for a jury. Luckily, my number never came up, so I was excused at the end of the day.

However, being downtown for an entire day, without racing to get to a meeting, or back to work, gave me an opportunity to spend some time walking around and looking at buildings. At the end of April, I am giving a lecture titled “An Amateur’s Guide to Architecture in Baltimore”, and so I am assembling the buildings that will be used for the slide show. (Click the image for more information)image

When I arrived at the courthouse, the statue of Lord Calvert, the founder of Maryland, was decorated for Maryland Day, just two days ago. Jury Duty Day (2)Jury Duty Day (12)

When I entered the courthouse, I remembered how beautiful it was, with gorgeous tesserae marble floors, Jury Duty Day (3) elaborate wood carvings, Jury Duty Day (13)

and decorative metal work, Jury Duty Day (14)but with thousands of people in and out every week, it’s a little run down, and accommodations have been made for modern conveniences. Jury Duty Day (4)

As one of my modernist architect friends said, “yeah, why did they have to 'fancy up' the simple, honest expression of ductwork by putting a cornice on top of it? Postmodernism taken too far…”

As I walked around during lunch, I realized that this is the section of Baltimore that was completely destroyed by a fire in 1904, and so all of the buildings that I was looking at were constructed after that point. image

The architecture is sort of blousey and beaux arts, which fits because the golden age of beaux arts architecture in the United States was between 1880 and 1920. Lots of allegorical figures and decorative carving everywhere, deep cornices, lots of swagging and festooning…Jury Duty Day (15)Jury Duty Day (16)Jury Duty Day (7)Jury Duty Day (29)

On Monday, I will be on another type of jury. The Morgan University School of Architecture and Planning is having a competition for the students to design interiors of a rowhouse, of which we have thousands here in Baltimore. I am looking forward to see what they do!

March 24, 2015

Maryland, My Maryland

March 25th marks the celebration of Maryland Day, which marks the date 381 years ago when settlers first came ashore on Clements Island in Southern Maryland. My ancestors were not too far behind the earliest settlers and one of our family houses still stands in St. Mary’s County.


A few years ago, Katie Denham challenged bloggers to come up with five things they love about their state. So in honour of Maryland Day 2015, I will take up the challenge again.


The Chesapeake Bay divides Maryland’s Eastern and Western Shores. It’s 180+ miles from where it starts with fresh water from the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania and from the Adirondack Mountains in New York, to where it meets the ocean off the coast of Virginia. image

So many activities around our part of Maryland involve the Chesapeake. From sailing to fishing to crabbing, there’s always plenty to do. It’s always great to have friends who have houses on the water, so you can spend a day on the Bay.image


The history of Maryland is all around. From 200+ year old buildings in the city, imageto churches where my family has worshipped since the 1700’s. image


As I frequently say, Baltimore’s Not Just The Wire! It’s a big small town, and people here call it Smalltimore. It’s the kind of place where you run into friends you’ve known for years while shopping in the grocery store, you navigate by landmarks which have not been there for decades, you spend a minute or two triangulating with new friends to figure out who you both know. SS200  (42)

There are world-renowned institutions here like Johns Hopkins Hospital and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. image


I do some of the same things my parents and grandparents did, like attending the horse-races in the spring. Now my nieces and nephews are attending the races, continuing the tradition for another generation. image


There’s a secret short-hand language that only the natives know, and it’s always fun to run into someone from Baltimore when you’re not here and know what the other person’s saying. The people are quirky in their own ways, but no one thinks that it’s odd. image

In a coming together of several of the above traits that I love about Maryland, this picture exemplifies several of them. Our mothers were at school together (tradition), he is good friends with some of my good friends (Baltimore) and we’re both a little off center (quirky).


March 22, 2015

A Trip to Terrain

Finally a gorgeous day, so we hopped in the car and headed up towards Philadelphia to Terrarium Terrain, Anthropology’s garden shop and nursery. It reminded me, in equal parts, of Smith & Hawken, back before Target got its hands on it, and Petersham Nursery, a garden shop/Michelin-starred restaurant outside of London, which I visited several years ago.Terrain  (11)There are only two Terrain outposts, one outside of Philadelphia and the other in Westport, Connecticut. Funnily enough, one of my besties was in the Connecticut shop last week and raved to me about how terrific it was!

Even though I am not a gardener, I have an appreciation for great terracotta pots. Terrain  (5)My father, who was a very good gardener, and President of the Maryland Horticulture Society for a number of years, had an extensive collection of terracotta pots in all shapes and sizes. Perhaps not quite this extensive, but not far from it. Terrain  (6)

Although we’re just coming off a harsh winter, including snow on Friday, there was a fairly decent number of plants available, although mostly succulents, begonias, bromeliads and other similar varieties.
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Since Easter is just a few weeks away, there were plenty of great items to fill or make a basket including these EggNots, which are clay eggs which you can decorate. Terrain  (1)
There was also a good kitchen section, with tabletop items and cookbooks.Terrain  (17)
I thought these cutting boards, made of maple and marble were fun, and elsewhere in the store, they were used for chargers.
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I am a huge fan of bright and cheery flowers, especially ranunculus, which always remind me of my first solo trip to France and the Netherlands. I needed something to brighten up a small hotel room, so bought a huge bunch of ranunculus.
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There’s a restaurant at Terrain, similar to Petersham Nursery, but we didn’t have a reservation and found that it would be almost a two-hour wait, so we declined. You can wander around the greenhouses on the property, but they, and the yard, were both pretty empty as the gardening season hasn’t started yet. Terrain  (27)Terrain  (53)Terrain  (58)

My friend Jonathan came home with a carload of plants, which are headed to the greenhouse in preparation for summer. Terrain  (43)

I managed to resist a lot of things, including these gorgeous glasses, which I shot several times.
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I bought one small plant that looks like it came from an alien planet,Terrain  (49) and two packages of paper to make cyanotype prints from… kind of sad, huh?