Month: October 2012

“I see things better with my feet,” said the blind man who was, in his day, the world’s greatest traveler

Jesse Kornbluth, of, this week with a totally inspiring story.

James Holman was a 21-year-old British sailor with the bad luck to be the man on deck as his ship was buffeted by a winter storm off Nova Scotia. He had the frame of a boy — he weighed just 146 pounds — and not enough of a man’s coat to make a difference. By the end of his watch, he felt stiff in every joint.

The diagnosis was gout. He got some rest, was sent home, received a new assignment — and, once again, was on deck in terrible weather. By 24, he was taking water cures in Bath. But this time, he developed new symptons: shooting pains in his eyes.

At 25, for reasons unknown, he was completely blind.

You can scarcely bring yourself to read about the treatments for blindness in 1810. Start with leeches “applied directly under the eyes.” Move on to a “slender spike” inserted in the eye. Luckily for Holman, he wasn’t looking for a cure as much as he was seeking an explanation.

He never found one. But he did find something better: a refusal to live out his days as an invalid on a Navy pension — or, worse, as a beggar. So he acquired an “ordinary walking stick” and a writing machine. He soon learned to get about the streets. And to create documents.

He was now ready to make his way in the world.

The world. Well, he had lifetime tenancy of three rooms. He had 84 pounds a year. He was 26 years old. [To buy the paperback from, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

He enrolled in medical school. He made it look easy — but then, he made everything look easy, so as not to call attention to himself. Still, he took ill. Doctors recommended a rest in the South of France. He taught himself to swim alone. To be self-sufficient — although the wives of fellow travelers were only too happy to help him make ready for bed.

And then comes the huge surprise. This guy wants to go around the world. On the cheap. Without a guide. Traveling through expanses too daunting for the average tourst — who crossed Russia in those days?

What happens on these trips is so beyond our sense of what is possible that you read this book with jaw slack. You can readily understand how his travel writing became immensely popular, why Darwin cited him as an authority — as Holman put it, “I see things better with my feet.”

You will see things better if you read this remarkably entertaining and inspiring biography.

The spook list: top 10 Halloween links

I asked some local mothers last week if the kids in our community celebrated Halloween and was over the moon when they said yes. This is not all that common in Australia. “We need to decorate the house!” I told Mr B, clasping my hands together with glee. “And stock up on chocolates and lollies!”

And then I thought about it some more. And figured most kids would all be out and about around six o’clock at night, which was RIGHT when I would be feeding my baby Madeleine, so I couldn’t come to the door if they knocked. Feeding Madeleine and then coaxing her to sleep normally takes me until just after seven o’clock. And after that, any ringing of the door bell FREAKS me out (and not in a fun, spooky, Halloween-esque way) because it might wake her up and then we’re all in for a rough night.

So I think I will hold off on the “I’m inviting you to knock” decorations until next year and, instead, get my freak on in the online world instead. Here are some of my favourite Halloween-related links:

* I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. These homemade costumes! Sigh.

* What’s Halloween without a suitably spooky soundtrack?

* Or a stylishly decorated front door?

* Bake this: tricks or treats… hidden inside these cookies

* And how about this utterly adorable monster cake!

* What do you think of this case for keeping it handmade?

* Mood lighting is important. Oh hello, black kitty

* There are no excuses now with these FREE printables

* The Etsy treasury to die for (see what I did there? Oooh, scary!)


* A Halloween-inspired dinner party. For the classy ghosts.

Happy Halloween, friends!

Yours truly,
Naomi Bulger (messages in bottles)

(ps. cute vintage Halloween photo from here)


Each year National Geographic Traveler Magazine holds a photography contest. This year there were entries from over 6,615 photographers and 152 countries. The winners are posted now, and they are amazing.

First Place - Butterfly by Cedric Houin. This image was shot in the Kyrgyz lands of the Wakhan Corridor.
Second Place Winner - My Balloon by Vo Anh Kiet, shot in Moc Chau, Son La province, Vietnam.

Looking at these beautiful photos of far away places, makes my wandering foot itch. I love nothing more than the sense of excitement, that feeling that anything can happen, that you get when you land in a new place.

Merit Winner - The Village of Gásadalur by Ken Bower. The village of Gásadalur and the island of Mykines in the background.
Merit Winner - Looking into Another World Photo by Fred An, a shot of the great Japanese maple tree in the Portland Japanese Gardens.
Merit Winner -Underwater Surf by Lucia Griggi, this image was taken at an outer reef in Fiji.
Viewers' Choice Winner - Huset by Michelle Schantz , taken in Finnmark, Norway.

It is amazing how diverse and beautiful our world is. When we are stuck in our own private grinds we sometimes forget that. Traveling is a great way to remind us, even planning a trip can make the most mundane of days glow a little bit.

Merit Winner -Lost in Time - An Ancient Forest by Ken Thorne, taken in a sacred Baobab forest, near the city of Morondava, on the West coast of Madagascar

Wherever your road take you…

Happy Trails,

Sarah from Design Flourishes

all images from the National Geographic Traveler Magazine website

PS – Pamela over at Sweet Peach has been writing about her trip to Italy and Wow – I know Italy is a slam dunk pretty much any time, but her stories so make me want to be there.

Mentors in the Broadest Sense

Hello, Musers!

This weekend on Secrets of a Belle, I’ve been doing Last Minute Costume Ideas, and I just couldn’t help myself; I had to do Martha. While the post is quite tongue in cheek, Martha really is one of my heroes. In her book “The Martha Rules,” she talks about mentors in a broad sense. (For example, Martha considers Julia Child a mentor despite the fact that the two did not meet until well into Stewart’s career.) Well, I often find myself looking to Martha for wisdom so today I thought I’d share a few of my other “mentors,” and I hope in the comments section, you’ll share a few of yours!

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“Life is to be lived. If you have to support yourself, you had bloody well better find some way that is going to be interesting. And you don’t do that by sitting around.”

Kate had the right idea. She was fiercely independent.  She was incredibly talented and a hard worker. She had impeccable style that not only went against the grain of the day’s popular fashions, it changed the day’s popular fashions. (Also, who doesn’t love watching her carefree attitude in Bringing Up Baby? It’s impossible not to love Susan.)

Recommended Visit: Dressed for Stage and Screen – an exhibition up now at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

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“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”

What do you see in your dreams that should be a reality? Are past failures stopping you in your tracks? What are you allowing to be a roadblock? Don’t talk about your dreams, try them on for size.

Recommended Reading: Walt Disney: Conversations

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“Choose your corner, pick away at it carefully, intensely and to the best of your ability and that way you might change the world.”
-Charles Eames 

What are you best at? What is your gift? How are you going to change the world?

Recommended Viewing: American Masters: The Architect & the Painter

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Until Next Week,

Hannah B.

A French novel that sold 1 million copies in France in 1927 — and you’ve never heard of it

Jesse Kornbluth, of, this week bringing you a droll voice from the long-lost past.

Maurice Dekobra?

His name is now almost completely forgotten, but in 1927 he published a novel called “The Madonna of the Sleeping Cars” that sold a million copies in France. (It was eventually published in 24 languages.) In 1928, The New York Times described him as “the biggest seller of any living French writer — or dead one either.” Fifteen of his novels became films. (“Madonna” was filmed twice.) Over his career, he sold 15 million books in 32 languages, and his kind of writing — a slick blend of journalism and high-society intrigue — acquired a brand name: dekobrisme.

“The Madonna of the Sleeping Cars” went out of print in 1948.

It’s finally back. So let me introduce you.

Maurice Dekobra (1885-1973) began his career as a translator (Daniel Defoe, Jack London, Mark Twain). In the early 1920s, he was a journalist and foreign correspondent. His fiction reflects his training — it’s grounded in the news, is briskly paced and has an unusually tart point-of-view.

The plot, as these things go, is simple. Lady Diana Wynham is a London widow known for her beauty (“the type of woman who would have brought tears to the eyes of John Ruskin”). She is just as well known for her unabashed amorality. Presented with a list of her lovers, in chronological order, she has only one correction: “Excuse me, but they were contemporaneous.” [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here].

Lady Diana is about to be ruined financially. Her sole hope of salvation is l0,000 acres of Russian oil land that her late husband, the English ambassador to the court of St. Petersburg, received as a gift from the government of Nicholas II. It is — in 1920s money — worth 50 million dollars.

The bad news: Russia’s Bolshevist government has confiscated all foreign property.

The good news: Leonid Varichkine will get it back for Lady Diana in exchange for “one night” of love.

What are a few illicit hours to a woman “who could never be happy without a great deal of money?” But Lady Diana is as clever as she is amoral. She proposes a better deal.

“Madonna” starts in London, makes stops in Berlin, an Arabian prison and a yacht in the Mediterranean, with a melodramatic climax in a castle in Scotland. In addition to distance, lessons are learned: a Communist can be converted to capitalism for less money than you might think, and “passing infractions of fidelity” are “trivial.”

I’ve dipped into a few other Dekobras. They’re not awful. But “Madonna” is clearly his showpiece. It’s a fun, terse, story that is as convincing about London drawing rooms as it is about Russian execution chambers. And he makes you care about Lady D.

Sign language

Hello dear friends, it’s Naomi Bulger of Messages in Bottles here.

Recently I came across the blog of photographer Nirrimi Firebrace, and it has been haunting me ever since. There is something so incredibly touching, raw and intimate about her photography.

Nirrimi is so young. But by just 19 she had already found love, travelled the world, forged an international career, and given birth to a baby girl, Alba.

And I was struck by the contrast between her words and her images. Her words are every bit what you would expect of a young woman just beginning to find her path in the world.

But her images! Her eye is that of an old soul. I keep coming back to these photographs, again and again. Soft, natural light. Unexpected crops. Stolen moments.

This afternoon I sat with my father, also a photographer, and looked through image after image in one of Nirrimi’s posts, trying to figure out what it was that so spoke to my soul.

“The hands,” he said. “Look what the hands are doing. Here. And here. And here.”

He was right. In frame after frame, hands told a piece of a story. Sign language. Take a look here, and tell me what you think.

Unbelievably Delicate


At first glance these look like they might be intricate ink drawings, but look a little closer and they are revealed to be incredibly fine paper cuts.

This is the work of Hina Aoyama, a Japanese artist living and working in Paris. On her website she says:

“I am trying to create a mixture of the traditional and modern styles and to produce my own world through super fine lacy paper cuttings.”

She makes her work with a simple pair of scissors. The patience and vision that go into her work is stunning.

Have a lovely Tuesday,

Sarah from Design Flourishes


all images from Hina Aoyama’s flickr page

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