The Suitcase Lady


November 29, 2016, 10:09 pm

It takes a true visionary to look at an abandoned, weed-infested, rusty, garbage-strewn elevated train right of way and envision a lush public park in the sky.

A New Yorker, Joshua David, was that visionary. He lived on the west side of Manhattan in the shadow of the old tracks but saw its potential. Together with Robert Hammond and many converts to his improbable vision, the New York High Line has become a reality, hosting about 5 million visitors a year.

We were lucky enough to walk its 1.45 miles a few weeks ago, and the experience was exhilarating; a mix of stunning views, lush gardens of native plants and quirky art installations. It proves that great civic projects can still happen in America.

I had followed news accounts of the genesis and construction of the New York High Line, but it is not the first high line my husband and I walked on. A few months prior to visiting New York, my photographer cousin suggested we spend a day in Chicago. Being frequent visitors and fans of the Windy City, we immediately agreed. Then, much to my surprise, he asked if we wanted to walk their High Line. We did not know it existed.

Inspired by New York, Chicago’s Bloomingdale Trail, known locally as the 606 (the prefix affixed to all Chicago zip codes) is 2.7 miles. That is twice as long as Manhattan’s and it was built at less than half the cost.

Chicago’s aerial green belt is part of a larger scheme to link six parks and public art sites by a system of ramps. Chicago makes “no small plans” and is the greenest urban area in America.

The 606 High Line links many diverse neighborhoods as well. And at one point on the trail, visitors can look down on a house in the Humboldt Park Neighborhood where L. Frank Baum penned the Wizard of Oz and its famous yellow brick road.

Bravo to all who find new paths where none previously existed.

Here is a quick tour of the New York High Line.

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November 22, 2016, 9:10 pm

Several months ago, our daughter ended a long work day at the big box bookstore she manages only to come out and discover her transportation home was missing. Her beloved orange bicycle had been stolen.

Bike and motorcycle thefts are rampant the world over in all kinds of neighborhoods. One and a half million are stolen every year, and only a tiny proportion are recovered.

Fortunately, some creative minds are tackling the problem. Billed as “the bike lock that fights back”, Skunklock has been invented by Daniel Idzkowski and Yves Perrnoud.

An entrepreneur and motorcyclist, Mr. Idzkowski lives in San Francisco. His partner, Yves Perrnoud, is a Swiss born engineer who got fed up with having his bicycle stolen about every sixteen months.

Skunklock is a brilliantly simple invention. When the would-be thief tries to saw through the bike lock, a noxious, pressurized, chemical deterrent is released which makes the thief throw up. Needless to say, a person vomiting and gagging over a bike lock will attract attention.

In addition, the chemicals will ruin whatever the thief is wearing. Since the street value of a stolen bike is only 1/10 the retail price, the thief may end up committing a crime that doesn’t even pay to replace his jacket or Nikes.

The Skunklock is ingeniously designed. A black and white stripe color scheme warns the thief of trouble. Furthermore, the lock uses no electronic parts as they can discharge or be disabled. And finally, the chemical deterrent will not harm bystanders.

The cofounders hope to have Skunklock ready to go by June 2017. They are currently working through liability and shipping issues. Good luck to them. Creating and engineering this product was not easy. The design team skunked themselves during the development process.

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November 15, 2016, 8:33 pm

Last month my husband and I missed a wonderful event. We missed it because we didn’t  know the event existed until a big woolly bear ambled up our driveway.

Woolly bears are the caterpillar of the Isabella Tiger Moth. The moths are seldom seen as they only live about two weeks and come out at night. The charismatic woolly bear caterpillar, on the other hand, is a common sight in fall and is said to be a predictor of the severity of the winter ahead. After spotting this large, fluffy larva, I was motivated to find out what its stripe indicated and how this folklore started.

Woolly bear myths have been around since Colonial times, but went viral in 1948 when  Dr. Howard Curran, the curator of entomology at New York’s Museum of Natural History, did a study in Bear Mountain, New York. He took along a reporter from the New York Herald Times. Dr. Curran found and measured the bands on about fifteen woolly bear specimens. He subsequently validated the myth that a wide rust-colored band in the middle of the larva’s body meant a severe winter ahead. News services around America picked up the resulting newspaper article that the caterpillar was a seer.

Scientists today debunk his findings. Current and more controlled studies indicate that the bands actually indicate what happened the PREVIOUS spring. The better the growing season, the shorter the rust-colored band will be and the longer the black ones.

In the midst of my woolly bear research, I discovered that four woolly bear festivals are held in America each October. The longest running one is in Vermilion, Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie. Highlights include a two hour parade, woolly bear races and a costume contest.

Who could imagine that a lowly worm could be the inspiration for the largest one day festival in the state of Ohio?

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November 7, 2016, 8:47 pm

I am cancelling the Suitcase Lady Blog for this week. I hope to return next week.

My blog began ten years ago as a direct reaction to the Iraq War. America was whipped up into a war frenzy, eager to send its volunteer army of poor people’s children off to fight a “glorious war”. My family, friends and I were struggling to keep some semblance of our sanity in the midst of this madness.

I decided to take time each week to dwell on the positive side of our private lives; to take a short vacation from worry. I created the blog to be a reminder of the joy all of us can find in nature, the arts, architecture, food, travel, laughter and love.

The election tomorrow will be a watershed moment for America. The choice is between Hillary or hatred; the rule of law or the rule of mobs and guns.

It’s hard to have a positive thought at the moment. Fear is all consuming.

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November 1, 2016, 8:38 pm

My books were checked out and I was leaving the library. But then I spotted a new book which was too good to resist, The Public Library, A Photographic Essay by Richard Dawson. I returned to the check out kiosk.

Eighteen years and many road trips in the making, this intriguing book is filled with a cross section of America’s libraries; large and small, historic and modern, opulent and shabby, treasured and abandoned. Sprinkled throughout are reflections from Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Lamott, E.B. White, Dr. Seuss and others.

The juxtaposition of the photographs is mesmerizing as it starkly portrays how American values are changing. “Free” and “public” are seldom used words in our current age. But as Bill Moyers so aptly observes,”When a library is open, no matter its size or shape, democracy is open.”

Having spent the past thirty summers presenting programs in over 160 libraries within a 200 mile radius of my home, I started contemplating all the varied library buildings I have worked in. Frequently, a tiny rural village will have an impressive library that is the result of a community’s fund raising campaign. But I have also worked in strip mall libraries and storefronts. I must note that I’ve never met a library I didn’t like. In retrospect, I should have photographed each one.

Here is a sampling…

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