Saturday, July 23, 2016

Critters


More nocturnal garden shenanigans! Remember our poor, beleaguered venus flytrap plant? It's been hanging on, sitting in our garden in its plastic pot, shaded by some larger plants. Well, yesterday morning we awoke to find it dragged across the yard and pulled from its pot. I'm thinking it would require an incredibly athletic squirrel to do that, so once again, I suspect the fox -- although why the fox was interested in the venus flytrap I have no idea. We put the plant back in the pot. It may survive.

Our hanging basket on the patio was also excavated and dirt flung everywhere. That had to have been the work of a squirrel.

Critters!

Speaking of which, for weeks now, Dave and I have been marveling at how quickly the peanuts in one of the bird feeders have been disappearing. We see tits eating them all the time, but tits are tiny little birds, and we were impressed they could consume so much.

Then, the evening before last, as darkness was falling, we saw the true culprit:


Aha! That explains everything. We've since seen at least three of these little mice eating the nuts. (The photo is a bit blurry because it was so dark and I had to manually focus.)

Dave and I went to see the new "Star Trek Beyond" movie yesterday afternoon. We stopped in to a cafe in Swiss Cottage before the film -- that's Dave in the top photo, sitting out front -- and then caught a 3-D IMAX show. We both loved it. I wouldn't say it's very cerebral but it sure was fun, and the effects are amazing!


And finally, it's blackberry season again! These are the first berries harvested from our backyard vines. I cut them back quite severely in February and thought we might have fewer berries this year, but as it turns out, the blackberries always win. We have just as many as before.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Bare


Yesterday morning I got up and went out into the garden, and was confronted by a pungent, unpleasant smell. Really pungent. Like the cargo hold of a fully loaded shrimp boat that's been locked up at port for a week with no refrigeration.

I found a bag of garbage that had been torn open and its contents spread across our grass. I can only surmise that Mr. Fox retrieved it from some local trash can and brought it to us. How thoughtful of him! I wasn't wrong about the smell, either -- rotten eggs and last week's scallops. Lord. I picked it all up and hosed down the grass, but the smell lingered until midday.

The rug cleaning people did come to collect the rug on Wednesday. Now that it's gone, I'm kind of wondering why we have a rug at all. It's pretty nice in the living room with just a bare floor, and it would certainly be easier to keep clean!

Also, ever since we moved in two years ago, Dave and I have been hating the living room drapes. Saggy, dusty and colorless, they served no purpose since we never closed them -- our garden is pretty private, and even if someone were to look in, all they'd see is us reading or watching television. So we took them down entirely -- even the curtain rods, where possible. Again, the room looks much better! So much light!

We're apparently doing the minimalist thing, at least during the warmer months of summer. Maybe when winter returns the rug will feel better on our feet.

We've planned our trip to Copenhagen a week from tomorrow -- bought our tickets and our hotel room. We'll only be gone three nights, but long enough to stroll the Tivoli Gardens and enjoy a Danish beer or two. This will be our one fun trip of the summer, so I'm looking forward to it!

Also, I solved my colonoscopy problem. I found a hospital where I can have one done privately, and although it's expensive, it's not insanely so. I'm going for it. Monday is the day. Dave and I met with the gastroenterologist yesterday for our initial consultation and he agreed that my family history warrants the colonoscopy. He seemed surprised that my NHS doctors wouldn't recommend one -- he said he was willing to write them a letter and suggest it, but it would probably take several months. I told him I was tired of waiting and I'd rather just pay and get it over with.

And finally, Dave and I celebrated our sixth anniversary yesterday. Although we married last December -- as you may remember -- when the law finally allowed it, we were first civil-unioned in New Jersey in July 2010. So we count that as our real anniversary. In addition to the gastroenterologist (how romantic!) we went to a local Vietnamese restaurant that we've always wanted to try. There was some unexpected excitement when a tragedy occurred at the train station next door -- suddenly lots of people were running and looking down on the tracks with expressions of horror. Dave and I caught a glimpse but we didn't want to see too much. It was an alarming yet useful reminder that life can be cut short at any moment. Any day could be our last!

(Photo: Hollyhocks in Lisson Grove, on Monday.)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Armchair Traveler


As I've written before, every once in a while I get curious about a remote corner of the world, and I do some exploring on Google Street View. I just run up and down a few streets on my computer to see what the place looks like. Occasionally I get lucky and turn up pretty interesting images. Here are some of my recent favorites, all courtesy of Google.

Above is Archangelsk, Russia, on the White Sea north of Moscow.


Camden, New Jersey


Santa Barbara in the Azores, a tiny island group in the Atlantic


Vientiane, Laos


Sofia, Bulgaria


Perth, Western Australia


Lagos, Nigeria -- Ghostly figures sometimes appear when someone walks through the frame during the making of a 350-degree panoramic photo.


Montevideo, Uruguay


Henderson Island, an uninhabited speck in the Pacific (but not devoid of plastic!)


And finally, Vina del Mar, Chile

It just goes to show that great photo opportunities are all around us all the time -- even a completely unskilled robot camera gets a good capture now and then!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Hot and Sunny


We are having quite a little heat wave. Yesterday's skies were sunny and temperatures reached 91ยบ F, which is pretty impressive for London. I seized the moment and took our blankets to the laundromat, then brought them home and hung them outside to dry -- which they did in no time.

(Still, it's not Florida. It's not THAT hot.)

I also bathed the dog, and I arranged to have our living room rug cleaned. We bought it in January 2012, soon after moving here, and although it's a dark plum color and dirt isn't easily visible, I know it's there. It's starting to smell a bit earthy. So the cleaners are going to pick it up today and, for £55, clean and return it to us in a week.

Did I mention that I've put together a new photo book? It contains the best of my pictures from 2013 (the date of my last London book) to 2015, and it's my biggest book yet. (Those were busy years, with all that Bleeding London photography!) I made an inexpensive e-book version, too. Check it out here and here, if you're interested. You can preview it by clicking on the covers. I'm happy with the way it turned out and I plan to order a copy for our school library, where the kids seem to have enjoyed my two previous London books.

Also, remember how I rescued those slides from my neighbor's trash? Well, I came across a similar story in The New York Times the other day -- by a woman who found a bag of slides on the sidewalk, and investigated whose they were and how they came to be there. It's an interesting video clip! You can check it out here.

(Photo: Notting Hill, on Monday.)

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The 'No' in Colonoscopy


Be warned that this post concerns medical matters, and as such, should probably not be read over breakfast.

I went to the doctor yesterday to follow up on my recent gastrointestinal illness, which hit its peak while I was in Florida. The doctor seems satisfied with my conclusion that I had gastritis, and indeed nearly all of my unpleasant symptoms (stomach pain, bloating, gas, irregularity, cramps) disappeared after I began taking Nexium. So, in terms of the immediate, acute problem, I'm much better.

The doctor prescribed an additional medication for a "cleanse," to put it politely, which I may or may not do. It seems a bizarre recommendation, as my body now appears to be taking care of things in that department more or less normally.

Given my symptoms, though, I have an additional concern hovering at the periphery of my mind: colon cancer. This is a topic about which I have long been hyper-vigilant. My grandfather -- who I greatly resemble -- died suddenly from undiagnosed colon cancer at age 59. With that family history, I had two screening colonoscopies in the USA, and my doctor in New York recommended them every five years.

Next month, it will be seven years since my last colonoscopy. Last summer, I asked my NHS doctor in London about colon cancer screening, even with something as simple and inexpensive as a fecal occult blood test.

"Oh, we don't start that until you're 60," he said rather blithely. He told me to simply "keep an eye on things" and report back if I experienced anything worrisome. (Never mind that my grandfather had NO SYMPTOMS and was dead before he was 60!)

I've mentioned my concerns to two other doctors since. Yesterday, the doc confirmed that even with gastritis I am ineligible for cancer screening, given the absence of critical symptoms -- chronic diarrhea or bleeding.

So it seems that I have stumbled onto an area of medical disagreement between the USA and the UK. In the states, we're practically begged to get cancer screenings and colonoscopies. The American Cancer Society suggests that people of average risk begin them at age 50. That magic birthday comes for me this year. (Whether I am at average risk seems debatable -- my grandfather doesn't count as an immediate family member and apparently doesn't statistically elevate my risk, even if I do look like him and have his build. But my American doctor regarded that history as significant.)

Remember how Katie Couric, at age 43, had a colonoscopy on American national television to publicize the benefits of the procedure, after her 42-year-old husband died from colon cancer?

Well, here in the UK, the NHS says no. Katie Couric would have been turned away.

If I want a cancer screening, it looks like I need to pay for it myself -- probably a fecal occult blood test, since paying for a colonoscopy is out of my price range. (Granted, I'd have had to pay in the states, too -- except that I had private insurance there.) I understand the NHS wants to avoid unnecessary tests and expenses, but it's not reassuring to be told that I can't be screened unless I am bleeding, by which time early detection is a moot consideration.

(Photo: I walked home from the doctor's office along the Grand Union Canal.)

Monday, July 18, 2016

Garden Progress Report


A lot has happened in the garden during the two weeks I was in Florida. For one thing, the hydrangeas have exploded!


The ragwort, that mystery plant that appeared this spring in the middle of our roses, is also blooming. I saw quite a bit of it along the train tracks when I was coming back into town from Gatwick Airport yesterday morning. Still no sign of any cinnabar moths, though.


The thistle that I moved from the front of the house is blooming, too.


And our speedwell, which we planted a couple of years ago, came up from the roots and is now flowering.

We've also got flower spikes on our red-hot pokers (including one that a snail gnawed through -- argh!) and the butterfly bushes (buddleia) are all in bloom. Dave has planted some marigolds and the cosmos that I saved is doing well, too.


All is right with the world, at least in Olga's mind.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Home Again!


I made it back across the pond. I'm a bit bleary-eyed, but I had a good flight. I watched "Meet Me in St. Louis," with Judy Garland, which I rented from iTunes and which basically advertised to the entire plane that I am a big ol' gay. I may as well have painted a rainbow flag on my forehead.

I sat next to an older couple who were a bit too chatty for my taste, but when I wasn't watching Judy I buried my nose in Jane Mayer's terrifying book "Dark Money," about the influence of the Koch brothers and their ilk on American politics. Thus I wasn't drawn into too much conversation.

When I walked in the door, Olga leaped into the air -- literally, all four feet off the ground. Dogs always make us feel so loved, don't they? (I guess Dave was glad to see me too.) Dave had a garden surprise in store -- he cleared out a big patch of English ivy and planted the area with some new flowers, as well as lots of new plants in other areas. He said he moved or planted 47 plants during my absence. How he keeps track, I have no idea.

Today's photo is courtesy of Dave, who sent it to me just after I posted yesterday. That's pretty much Olga's pose today, too!