Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Thoughts On Happiness

Yesterday we had an all-school staff and faculty meeting to kick off the new year. Part of the main presentation was about two recent books, one of which, "The Happiness Advantage" by Shawn Achor, led to a discussion about what creates happiness. (I haven't read this book, but our head of school did.) The gist of the book is that success doesn't create happiness -- happiness, instead, creates success.

Let me just say that I am not a fan of self-help books. When people start talking about success, my eyes glaze over.

But I was interested in the list of five factors that lead to happiness, as outlined in the presentation by our head of school (and I confess I'm not sure whether these came from the book or elsewhere):

-- Make a list of three good things a day
-- Find something to look forward to
-- Express your gratitude
-- Spend money (but not on stuff)
-- Cultivate work friendships

As I listened to the presentation it occurred to me why I'm so insistent about blogging (and before that, journaling). Not only does it create a record of my life, thereby assisting my own pathetically inadequate memory, but it fulfills both the first and the third items on that list. I usually try to keep my blog relatively positive, and I post all the time about the cool things I come across or the experiences I have in a given day. I don't know that I necessarily mention three good things every day -- let's not get crazy! -- but the number, I suspect, doesn't matter as much as simply acknowledging that good things happen regularly.

As for stuff, as my friends know, I have never been much of a stuff person -- but I seldom hesitate to spend money on traveling or experiences.

I don't mean to suggest I'm the paragon of happiness. But I think being able to find beauty in the commonplace, and being interested in what's around us, definitely leads to a more positive state of mind. The list is simplistic, like all self-help advice, but there is a kernel of truth to it.

And on that note, I am going to go walk the dog, who is lying across my lap in a rather awkward and insistent fashion, making it very hard for me to type.

(Photos: A back alley in South Hampstead.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Evening in Wembley

Yesterday after work I took the tube up to Wembley to do some more street photography for Bleeding London. I thought I'd head out to an area that seems underrepresented so far in the competition, and the Wembley postcode definitely qualified.

It was an interesting area to photograph because of the dominant presence of Wembley Stadium, looming over the surrounding neighborhoods like a giant UFO (as I previously said). As usual, I had a lot of fun exploring an area I'd only been to once or twice, and I got some good pictures.

I enjoyed getting out for a walk after work. I had a few hours of daylight left -- which will seem remarkable in December, when it gets dark long before I even leave school.

In the coming weeks I'm going to experiment more with getting out on photography walks after work. I have a few more distant neighborhoods in mind!

Monday, August 18, 2014

I Ought to Hit You in the Face

Such a busy weekend!

I spent much of it on photography for Bleeding London. I went out with Olga both mornings, slowly extending my network of covered streets. Poor Olga gets jerked along on the leash when I see something happening farther up the street and have to get into position. I'm sure she is not a fan of my camera.

One guy actually threatened me. He was coming toward me on the sidewalk on the other side of the street. By coincidence, at the same time, I saw a house on my side of the street that I wanted to photograph. So I crossed the street, positioning myself in front of him to get the picture. He stopped, and I was aware of him standing off to my right as I snapped. When I finished, he said, "I ought to hit you in the face."

I was so aghast I wasn't even alarmed. "Why?!" I asked. He gestured weakly to the dog and then said, "Are you all right?" I said, "I'm fine. Are you all right?" At which point he turned and just kept going. The whole exchange was so bizarre that I think he was high on something -- but the upshot, I believe, is that he resented me crossing the street and blocking his path, and he was afraid to walk past me because of the dog. (Vicious as she is.)

I also worked in the garden, cutting out blackberry sprouts that are coming up from bushes we removed. And I harvested all the ripened blackberries from the bushes we saved -- some of them were way past ripened, soggy masses of brilliant purple juice, because Dave isn't a fan and they didn't get picked for the two weeks I was in Florida. We're definitely coming to the end of the season. In just a week or two, I think, they'll be done.

Dave made this plum tart for dessert on Saturday. Doesn't it look like an abstract expressionist painting? He was disappointed because some of the plums were more tart than sweet, but I think it turned out really well. (Again, he is not a huge fan of tartness.)

Last night, in memory of Robin Williams, we watched "Dead Poets Society," which I haven't seen in years and Dave hadn't seen since its initial release. It was a bit surreal to watch a movie that hinges on a suicide, given the circumstances of Williams' death, but it's still a good film.

(Top photo: A house front in South Hampstead.)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Jersey Tiger, Front and Back

The other day Dave and I were in the living room when I spotted this critter on the windowpane. "Look at that!" I said, and ran for the camera.

It's not often I get a chance to take a close-up photo of the underside of a moth. I didn't know what kind of moth this was, but I was even more impressed when I went outside to see what it looked like from above.

Beautiful, isn't it? Turns out it's a Jersey Tiger Moth, a mainly continental species that's relatively uncommon in England. Apparently they've been seen in London each year since 2004, so the theory is that they've established a colony here, according to Wikipedia.

I had no idea what I was looking at was all that unusual. I wish I'd had a chance to see its underwings, which are usually yellow or orange, but the moth did not oblige.

I wonder what brought it to our garden?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Olga Finds a Hole

When we walked to Hampstead Heath a few days ago, Olga found a hole in the ground.

Olga loves holes.

She could fit her head in this one...

...or her behind...

But not both.

What's not to love? Especially when she also has her Kong toy! It's a perfect day in the park!

Friday, August 15, 2014


I was having a busy morning yesterday -- doing laundry, walking Olga, photographing a few more streets for Bleeding London, getting things organized after my Florida trip -- when my phone rang at about 10:30. It was my boss.

"I just wondered if you were planning to come in today," she said.

Was I supposed to come in? I thought I began work next Tuesday.

Incorrect, as it turns out! Despite the online school calendar and various circulated e-mails that specify an Aug. 19 return date for staff, I was expected a few days early. How I was supposed to know this, I am not sure.

But no big deal. I threw on some long pants and went to work, and spent the whole day logging and organizing the magazines that stacked up over the summer. Vacation is officially over! I'm back at work today, too.

Here's my $5 coffee table -- the one I had shipped across the ocean for $250 -- complete with reattached legs. As you can see, it is now our TV stand. Not too shabby, right? Very clean-lined.

Also, we did get back all but £100 of the security deposit on our Notting Hill apartment. That was a relief. I was concerned because our new landlord basically demanded that we occupy our new flat in early July, forcing us to move a few weeks early from the old place. But the previous landlords worked with us, which is all I can ask. (The £100 was for unspecified "repairs," which is fine with me. Having dismantled the door frame twice, I can imagine a bit of fine-tuning was needed.)

Now we need to hire a dog-walker, pronto! Dave had intended to work on that while I was gone, but I think he was a bit distracted by the garden. So that's got to happen today, because we are out of summer.

(Top photo: An older lady and her older dog on Mill Lane in West Hampstead.)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

From a Great Height

I'm writing this 35,000 feet over Detroit, having just taken off from Chicago on the second leg of my flight home. I've already had a mildly eventful trip.

I was on the noisiest plane in the world from Tampa to O'Hare, with a great whistling wind-machine of a ventilation system that drowned out every announcement made by the flight crew. And in Chicago, we were held at the gate because the pilot had to wait for the plane's maintenance log. ("This is ridiculous!" he opined over the loudspeaker to all of us. "The plane has been here at this airport for 24 hours!") The paperwork finally showed up, we pushed off, and I watched the distant John Hancock Building and Sears Tower (which I think is now called something else) as we taxied to take off.

And then American Airlines had the audacity to try to charge me $7 for a gin and tonic, my customary transatlantic indulgence. Seven dollars! On an international flight! What is the world coming to?

I opted instead for the white wine, which was terrible but free. (For the record, British Airways always gives me a gin and tonic.)

Many hours later...

Now I'm back in London. This may be my first bi-locational blog post!

The rest of my flight was uneventful. I read, and watched "The Color Purple" and "The Other Woman," a vapid but surprisingly funny movie with Cameron Diaz. It was a chick-flick kind of flight.

I endured rush-hour tube traffic, always a challenge with even a small amount of luggage, and got home to enthusiastic greetings from Dave and Olga, who would not stop licking me. (Olga, that is, to be explicitly clear.) I got a tour of our newly elaborate garden, picked some overripe blackberries and took Olga to Hampstead Heath for a good long walk.

People say dogs don't have a sense of the passage of time, but I can tell you that Olga greeted me much more energetically than she does when I'm gone for a standard workday. She practically climbed me, she was so happy to see me! It's nice to be missed.

And on a side note, as Dave was showing me the garden, we found a dead squirrel in the grass. It had obviously been there for some time, stiff as it was, but Dave swore it wasn't there the day before. We don't know whether Olga got it or if it died some other way. The former seems most likely and obvious, but the squirrel looked strangely undamaged to have met its maker in Olga's jaws.

Nonetheless, I guess I can't say anymore that she never catches squirrels!

(Photo: Pipes and shadows on a street near our flat.)