Friday, August 1, 2014

Driver's License

Another obstacle down! I have a new driver's license!

You may remember that in addition to solving the coffee table issue, the other major goal of my trip was to switch my old New Jersey license to my family home address in Florida (and thus renew it, because my New Jersey license was about to expire). I never drive in the U.K. so I don't need a license there, but I do need to maintain one here in the states so that I can get around when I return.

So yesterday morning my mom and I went to the county tax collector's office (which is apparently where they process driver's licenses now -- I'm not sure what became of the DMV) and after shuffling many documents I emerged with a new license. I registered to vote, too, so I can exercise my rights as a U.S. citizen in a state where I actually have roots (as opposed to New Jersey, where I voted in the last elections, it being my most recent state of residence).

It's all a huge weight off my shoulders.

The picture isn't even bad. Unlike the UK, where I'm asked not to smile for official photos, here I could at least look friendly.

To celebrate the maintenance of said driving privileges, mom and I went to Village Inn for breakfast. Later I drove dad's truck back from the dealer (turns out it died because of a bad fuel pump, which required $900 in repairs) and exclaimed, "My first drive with my new license!" I felt like a teenager.

It's good to know I'll be mobile for the foreseeable future.

(Photo: A dragonfly at the lake behind my dad's house.)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Long, Crazy Story About a Coffee Table

Ah, so many adventures.

The good news is, the coffee table situation is solved. You may remember (probably not!) that my dad was storing my coffee table, and I was trying to figure out how to get it back to London. (Here's the backstory.) On this trip I was determined to get it packed up and airplane-ready.

Yesterday morning, my dad and I put the tabletop in the back of his pickup truck and took it to the UPS store, where for $35 they packed it in a big ol' box. I asked how much it would cost to ship it, just out of curiosity, and they said about $200 -- much, much less than I had been quoted at another UPS store six months ago, but still more than I wanted to pay. So I stuck with my plan to check it with my luggage and pay for excess or oversized baggage as necessary. (The table legs fit in my suitcase.)

Dad and I ran some errands while the packers worked their magic and then came back to UPS to pick up the box. We put it in the truck and prepared to go home, actually commenting on how easy our morning had been, how effortlessly we'd managed our errands, when, suddenly...the truck wouldn't start.

We had to call AAA, which towed the truck to a local Ford dealership. But we couldn't fit the table, in its big ol' box, into my stepmother's car to get it home again. "How are we going to get it to the airport?" she asked.

At that moment, I realized how much I just wanted this ridiculous table errand finished.

I sent them all on their way and I got a courtesy van from the dealership to take me back to the UPS store, intending to ship the table. But strangely, upon seeing me return with the big ol' box, the UPS people said it would cost six hundred dollars to ship.

"What?!" I said, incredulous. "You told me $200 just a few minutes ago!"

Turns out that the big ol' box added surplus dimensions that increased the size of the parcel into the range of absurdity.

In stepped the manager of the shop, who to his credit resolved the problem. The big ol' box was cut down to the exact size of the tabletop -- which is basically two pieces of wood and not at all delicate -- and all the surplus packaging was removed. Voila! A relatively flat, cardboard-covered slab. A $200 parcel.

So I shipped it, scheduled to arrive next week.

It was still expensive, and completely, inexplicably silly given that I paid $5 for the table in the first place. Yes, I am essentially shipping two pieces of lumber. To England. For $250 (including the packaging costs).

What can I say? I like my coffee table. I am sentimentally attached to it. And now, the problem is solved, which is worth the money. I don't have to think about ferrying it to the airport, carrying it around, paying for excess baggage and getting it back to our London flat from Heathrow in a taxi, blah blah blah.

We still don't know what's wrong with the truck!

(Photo: An exotic flower in my dad's yard. Bird of paradise? Some type of ginger? We're not sure.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Well, I arrived safe and sound. It's 6:25 a.m. in Florida right now, but of course it's 11:25 a.m. in England, so I just can't bring myself to stay in bed anymore. I got up and clunked around in my dad's darkened kitchen until I managed to make myself a cup of coffee, and now I'm waiting for it to get light enough to take a photo for this post.

I got in yesterday afternoon (Florida time) after an uneventful flight. On the airplane I watched "Noah" and "The Wolf of Wall Street," both of which I enjoyed, although "Wolf" -- which purports to be based on real-life events -- seemed ridiculously exaggerated to me. If stockbrokers routinely snorted and popped that many drugs on an average Wall Street workday, our financial markets would be a disaster. Oh, wait...

I also read a lot of "Life After Life" by Kate Atkinson, which I'm enjoying. It doesn't have an easy, linear plot and I could see how that would be frustrating for some readers, but I don't mind it. As for my fellow travelers, I sat next to a young, slim British woman who was very nice and loaned me a pen to fill out my customs declaration, but otherwise left me blessedly alone -- pretty much my ideal traveling companion.

As usual, there's a bit of social whirlwind building already. After dinner with Dad and my stepmother, I went to see my stepsister and her family, and my stepbrother is flying in today. Then, in a few days, I leave for Jacksonville with my mom to see my brother and his family. In between all that, I need to get my driver's license renewed. Head spinning!

(Photo: Tibouchina, a flower in my dad's yard.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Garden, Before and After

The gardener came again yesterday, and with his assistance we completed our overhaul of the garden. It's time for some before and after pictures!

Above is the yard on July 21, before the big clean-up. If I could write out a Tarzan yodel at this point, I would -- so just imagine it.

And here's the edge of the patio on July 21, with irises running amok and weed-choked rock garden. (By the time I took this, we'd already weeded and planted the bed in the foreground.)

And here's the yard now. Can you fully appreciate the quantity of vegetation we removed from the side of the yard? The large hedge plants -- hazel and philadelphus -- have been pruned back, the blackberries (mostly) removed, and the roses, hebe bush, camellia and other plantings rescued from encroaching undergrowth. You can even see the fence through the gaps!

The other side of the yard didn't change as much. (I don't have a before photo, but you can kind of see it here.) We trimmed things up and removed lots of weeds, but we left the big hydrangeas alone. Dave potted some ferns from the alley beside the house, hoping to cultivate them and perhaps transplant them to a more visible spot in the garden.

Here's the patio now. Dave trimmed all the irises down (they were mostly brown and apparently, being "stinking iris," they're somewhat undesirable anyway), trimmed the ivy, weeded and planted some tiny new bushes (bee balm, red-hot poker and black mondo grass near the fence). We found an old cast-iron mantelpiece at the back of the property, and brought it to the patio to add architectural interest. The eventual plan is to train our clematis over it, but we'll see how that goes.

Check out how much the horseradish has grown in its new blue pot! Kind of scary!

I'm off to Florida today, taking wing just before noon. I'm almost sorry to leave our garden, not to mention Dave and Olga. Every little bud I see, I think, "Well, that will bloom while I'm gone!" It seems unfair. I wish I could hit the garden's pause button.

Monday, July 28, 2014


Dave and I went to Greenwich yesterday to visit our friends Sally and Mike. They had a little brunch in their garden with summery gazpacho and Mike's special Maltese pasta and pastries, the names of which I've already forgotten. Two other couples were there -- Liz and Andy, and Anna and Lawrence. Anna teaches in the same department as Dave, and by complete coincidence she and Lawrence bought a house just a few doors away from Sally, who I've known for years through blogging. Worlds collide!

We toured Sally's garden and she gave us a rundown on some of the plants and weeds, so we have a better idea of what we're dealing with in our own garden and what we might plant in certain areas.

Then we walked to a nearby animal park to see some baby deer, and we found this amazing peacock.

A peacock really is an incredible bird -- ridiculous in its extravagance, an overdressed dandy. This one kept trying to court nearby chickens and pigeons. Or perhaps it was warning them away from its territory. Who knows what was going on in that tiny peacock mind?

Dave and I made our way back home yesterday evening, tired and sated both gastronomically and socially. Every time I go to Greenwich I marvel at how far away it is! We were still so full from lunch we just ate some nibblies as we watched TV, and then went to bed early.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Boyhood and a Reunion

Olga and I photographed another set of streets for Bleeding London yesterday morning. I got a little lost this time around -- I had to come home and consult Google Maps to figure out how I wound up where I did. But Olga didn't mind. Any walking is fine with her. (And me too, actually.)

Dave spent the morning in the garden. And by the way, I appreciate all the comments about the gardening being worth it no matter how long we live here (see previous post). You're all absolutely right. He should just enjoy himself.

In the afternoon we walked over to Hampstead to see the movie "Boyhood," which I loved. I thought it was very effective in showing the beauty and richness of day-to-day life. And what an amazing idea -- to film a movie bit by bit over a decade, so the audience can watch the characters naturally grow and age. It was unlike any movie I have ever seen. Dave found it frustrating -- when watching a movie, we're all trained to expect a momentous plot event, and there really isn't one in "Boyhood." But I think that's the point. It's all the little moments of our every day that are ripe with beauty and disappointment.

Finally, last night, I met up with yet another old Peace Corps friend passing through town. I hadn't seen Mark since 1994 -- and in the intervening years he had married a woman he met while we were in Morocco, had two children and divorced. His kids were with him, and let me tell you, nothing drives home the passage of years than seeing teenagers who didn't even exist the last time you'd talked to their parents. They're great kids -- squarely in the midst of growing up, like the "Boyhood" character -- and it was good to reconnect with Mark. We wandered through Soho and had dinner in Chinatown.

When I got home last night, Dave was watching one of the newer trio of "Star Wars" movies -- blasting the subtle and evenly paced experience of "Boyhood" out of his mind with a few ray guns and explosions.

(Photos: Top and middle, a vacant building around the corner from our flat. Bottom, a found bag of body parts!)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Storms, Political and Otherwise

Dave, the energetic garden maven, mail-ordered more plants and they arrived yesterday. We got a red-hot poker, a couple of bee balm plants, some ornamental grass and some lilies of the valley. He planted them in the morning, just in time for drenching afternoon rains that we badly needed.

It's been such a trip to watch Dave in the garden! We've never lived together in a place where we had a garden, so I'm seeing a whole new side to his personality. I'm glad that despite his homebody tendencies he now has a place to be outside, and surprisingly he is quite a perfectionist about how things should look. (I say surprisingly because he's not at all a perfectionist when it comes to the inside of the house. I don't mean that to sound as snarky as it probably does.) He spends a lot of time planning, weeding, trimming, planting and dead-heading flowers (even sometimes before they're really what I would call "dead," which I rib him about). He gets such joy out of it all.

My only reservation is that this really isn't our garden. I hate to see him invest too much time and money in something that we may have to give up in the next year or two, depending on the whims of our landlord. I try to gently remind him of that, while not deflating his enthusiasm. Debbie Downer.

I took Olga to Hampstead Heath yesterday (not the West Heath!) and on the way back we got caught in the first of our afternoon storms. So I ducked into a little sidewalk cafe in Hampstead and had an amazing, artistic coffee (above) and a lunch of scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and toast. Olga, exhausted from our outing in the park, snoozed beneath my chair as three people at a table next to me loudly discussed Israel's conflict with the Palestinians in Gaza. (If there's ever a conversation you don't want to have loudly and in public, it's anything to do with Israel and the Palestinians.) They came down squarely on the side of Israel and its right to defend itself. I was somewhat annoyed with their volume but I refrained from making any indication that I heard them (how could I not?) and eventually the rain subsided enough that Olga and I could get home.

I had an unsettled night's sleep. I slept very lightly and I was up early. We have a busy weekend ahead and then I'm off to Florida on Tuesday, so my mind was swirling with all the things left to do -- my usual pre-travel anxiety!

(Top photo: Houses on a street near our flat, one of my photos for the Bleeding London project.)