Orchids in greenhouse

Orchids remind me of my grandmother because she used to breed them when she was alive. When I was young I would stand in her garden and contemplate their ugly beauty. She grew ones that were trained up a supporting stick and had skinny yellow petals with deep red markings. I wondered why she didn’t choose the bigger, prettier ones with lush vivid petals, like these orchids at the Akatsuka Orchid Gardens in Big Island, Hawaii.

Years later, I read a book called The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean, which is about a horticulturalist named John Laroche and his quest for the rare ghost orchid. It is a broad tale about orchid obsession and the lengths to which plant collectors will trek into dark swamps and headhunter-inhabited rainforests to find rare orchids. Orchids like humidity and the shyest ones live in the humid low-light density of forests. It’s a wonder that we think we can buy them from the supermarket and grow them in our houses. I’m minded to read the book again.

~ Spotted Cow

Pink orchids Purple orchidsWhite and purple orchidsThe Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean

Summer Reading

Summer reads

Summer is here. The days are long. Easier office hours and holidays are around the corner. I’m hoping to catch up on my Book A Month resolution. I’m up to number 5.

The trouble is, I’m reading three books simultaneously so I don’t get over the line easily. It’s not as mad as it sounds. The one I’m reading properly is Then We Came To The End by Joshua Ferris, which is pretty much like The Office tv series but in book format. I cringe when I spot my own dysfunctional behaviour.

The other two are books I dip in and out of.  One is 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism by the Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang. Yes, I know, it’s a little bit eclectic. But if you want to know why your life isn’t much enhanced in spite of rising incomes and better technologies, there is a very good discussion in here. And the chapters are short.

The other is El Monje Que Vendió Su Ferrari – The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari – by Robin Sharma. I’m learning Spanish and a self-help book is the most straightforward kind of book to read. I’ve learnt the word for leadership … although haven’t had the opportunity to use it in conversation yet !

In the pre-Kindle days, I used to be able to spot the popular books by what people were reading in the tube. Now, almost everyone has an electronic reading device and it’s impossible.  I still don’t have a Kindle and because I’m not on-trend, I tend to buy books secondhand on eBay.

Anyway, I was hunting down light summer reads and found some ideas on EssieButton’s blog, where she’s made a selection with Books and Quills. There’s an entertaining little video to go with it. I’ve plonked for The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I’ll let you know how I get on.


~ Spotted Cow

Holiday reading

The Longest Way Home

Every year, one of my new year’s resolutions is to read a book a month. Sometimes I make it and sometimes I don’t, but unfailingly every year it’s a challenge. I read a lot for work, and if you throw in newspaper & magazine subscriptions, and several must-read blogs, it gets pretty tough to squeeze in books.

I ticked off Number Three (yeah, I’m lagging) over Easter weekend, a book called The Longest Way Home by Andrew McCarthy. It was recommended by Juliann over at Browsing the Atlas.

I didn’t quite appreciate that it was the Andrew McCarthy from Pretty in Pink and St Elmo’s Fire, until I saw the photos in the book. Oh him, I thought. He has added travel writer to his CV.

This book is his personal journey, written candidly about his coming to terms with making a commitment – specifically getting married to his now wife D – interspersed with introspective trips to the Amazon, up Kilimanjaro, down Patagonia, through Costa Rica, around Chicago, somewhere anywhere so that he can figure out what he wants home to mean to him. Although his particular need is extreme, it speaks to all of us who prize personal space and love the freedom of travelling solo … every once in awhile, that is.

~ Spotted Cow

Sydney from a 727

Sydney Harbour Bridge & Opera House

I’ve booked my flight home to Sydney for Christmas – woo hoo ! – to catch up with the folks and hang out with the other cows. It’s ages away yet but I wanted to get a decent fare and a decent flight, ie. one without 7-hour connections. I have 8 months to savour the anticipation and note the things I want to get up to, places I want to eat & drink at, and stuff that I didn’t appreciate when I lived there. Anyone with interesting recommendations, feel free to comment below.

Sydney from a 727. It’s the Paul Kelly song that springs up – I can visualise it now – when the plane flies into the harbour head, over the iconic opera house and harbour bridge, then circles into Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport. Only, these days Paul Kelly has upgraded to Sydney from a 747. He originally wrote the song about the red eye flight from Perth to Sydney. I love it. It takes me back to a time when I was a (very) young adult, still naïve and feeling empowered by my new independence.

While looking for the song, I discovered that Paul Kelly had done a TEDxSydney talk in 2011. He talks about his book How To Make Gravy, best listened to as an audiobook, where he tells his life story and there’s one of his songs associated with each chapter. It’s going on my Wish List.

~ Spotted Cow

City Guides

Everyman Mapguide

Several readers have asked what guide books – if any – we use on city trips. Well, we do a fair bit of internet research at home first, but take the Everyman Mapguides along with us.

The Everyman guides are handy because they are pocket-sized and you can tuck them away into your coat or into a small handbag. They don’t weigh much and we find them especially useful in cities. The guide divides the city into sections and each has a foldout map as well as listings of places of interest, eating & drinking holes, and shops. The front and back covers also carry some cultural and logistic information.

There’s a decent spread of global cities but bear in mind that Everyman don’t update these guides very often. Places of interest remain unchanged for decades but the eating/drinking and store listings tend to be old favourites and granddaddies, rather than the hip and trendy. That doesn’t bother us too much because we discover those ideas online, through recommendations or with the concierge.

That doesn’t mean we don’t get lost. I had a long weekend in Marrakesh with The Ladies where we couldn’t make head or tail of the labyrinthine streets and alleyways of the souk and they weren’t always signposted. No matter … there were lots of ‘helpful’ citizens who led us round in circles, only to ask for a healthy tip at our destination !

Let us know how you plan your city breaks. We might indulge in a bit of crowd sourcing on this blog soon.

~ Spotted Cow

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Weekend away book

I’ve got a weekend away coming up and I like having a book, especially as my work involves reading a fair chunk of technical information.  I’m one of the few people I know who doesn’t have a Kindle. I’ll admit that it’s efficient not to have the bulk when you want to take 6 books with you, and I do like portable technology. But nothing quite replaces the physical energy of turning pages.

Chiara over at booksteensandmagazines.com runs a project encouraging teenagers to read. She’s an avid reader herself and I like her recommendations. She also has an adult reading list, including one on books to read when you’re travelling.  I like the sound of the top choice, The Sea Sisters by Lucy Clarke – an unfathomable suicide mystery in Bali of the narrator’s sister. Intriguing. I know that they read it in her book club recently and were absorbed by it.  That’s it. I’ve clicked and when it arrives in the letter box, it’s going in my bag. And I’ll be one less book behind on my One Book A Month new year resolution. Done and done.

~ Spotted Cow


Wish List

This is what I want for Christmas – Before They Pass Away, a travel photography book by Jimmy Nelson who went around the world looking for remote indigenous tribes – in Papua New Guinea, Mongolia, Russia, Tibet, to name a few –  whose ways of life may one day disappear into our urban continuum.  His photographs are awe-inspiring – the composition, the light, the detail, the portraiture, and the lengths it took to get them.  These are the photographs I want to take.  In a world of the ubiquitous smartphone, he shows us that you have to be present and be engaged – that in these instances, you cannot simply hold up your phone and click.

The book costs £100+. It isn’t cheap, but this is an effort worth paying for.

Go onto his site. Listen to his TED talk. Marvel at the photographs. You’ll be enchanted.


Spotted Cow

JNelson Umschlag fDummy3.indd