Wednesday, November 29, 2023

A Workout

As I sit here in the pre-dawn darkness, under the soft glow of the Christmas avocado, it's 36º F outside -- which is warmer than I expected, actually. I thought it was going to freeze last night, and all our tender plants are indoors. I'm just going to keep them here because overnight temperatures are supposed to get colder over the next few days -- into the 20s by Saturday.

Yesterday at work I think I moved more books than I have ever moved in a single day -- except maybe for that period of time a couple of years ago when we reorganized the whole library. We have a lot of classes and activities going on and I had to pull 120 books about ancient China, about 100 narrative nonfiction books for 5th graders, and I helped my coworker pull about 400 books about science. Oh, and we changed up the book displays to reflect the winter holidays -- Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.

There is a physical-fitness fringe benefit to this job! Lots of bending, kneeling and lifting. Who needs a gym?

I found this fun but rather dated book on our technology and innovation shelves. Yes, that is a vintage iPod on the cover, the likes of which I haven't seen in years (though I think I still have mine in a drawer). When you turn the book a certain way, the image reveals its inner workings. Unfortunately, no one uses an iPod now and I'm sure many of our kids wouldn't even know what one is. The book is from 2005, and "Cool Stuff" has changed a lot since then. I'm weeding it.

I also found a pile of dessicated tangerine peelings helpfully placed on one of my DO NOT EAT IN THE LIBRARY signs. To be fair, tangerines don't generate crumbs, but still -- it seemed like a pointed act of rebellion.

(Top photo: A pair of lions, one upper and one lower, guarding a doorway in Chiswick.)

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Charlie Brown Avocado

Apologies if my talking about adding Christmas decorations to our avocado tree made it sound like the picture of festivity. It's actually a rather spindly Charlie Brown tree. Especially this year -- it's slightly out of balance because once of its limbs broke off in a windstorm during its summer in the garden.

I had fun decorating it, I must admit, mainly because I got to get our ornaments out of their boxes and actually use them, which we haven't done in a while.

I don't know where some of them even came from. Where did we get this penguin playing a lyre?

Snoopy on a...caboose? This belonged to Dave. We retrieved it years ago from his boxes of stored belongings in the basement of his parents' house. (Come to think of it, I suspect that's where the penguin came from too.)

Our Holyrood Castle crown came from our trip to Edinburgh way back in 2012...

...and these weird little bristly animals made from bits of pine cone and other woodland detritus I bought at Target back when we lived in New Jersey. Every time I use them I think, "These have lasted far longer than they were ever meant to."

Of course there's our drag alligator. (Yes, the price tag is still attached. She has a kind of Minnie Pearl thing going on.)

I discovered I also have a drag frog, which I'd completely forgotten about.

Anyway, you get the idea. I understand the appeal of Christmas ornaments, which can reconnect us with memories and people and events from our past.

The drain guy showed up yesterday and cleared the kitchen drain, which seems to be flowing fine now. Not to gross you out, but he pulled a big wad of long hair out of it. I find this very strange given that I don't have hair and Dave's hair is fairly short. I blame...the Russians! Mrs. Russia has long hair and I don't know which of their pipes may feed into this same drain. Fortunately we didn't have to pay anything because drains are covered under our landlord's home care policy with British Gas.

Also, in another momentous household development, Dave and I finished our turkey leftovers last night. Yay!

No sooner had we cut it up and put it on our plates than Dave said, "Now we need to talk about the Christmas menu!" I implored him to keep it simple. We'll be at the rental cottage in Pevensey Bay, just the two of us (and Olga), and I don't know what kind of cooking utensils or apparatus we'll have there. We certainly don't need to make another turkey or some other gigantic roast beast, though Olga might disagree.

Monday, November 27, 2023

A Blocked Drain (Again)

As I write this, it's 49º F outside according to my weather app -- which is positively balmy compared to Saturday night. We have a lot of cloud cover and light rain, and I left some of the tender plants outside to soak up that moisture, but I'll bring them back in tonight because it's supposed to get cold again.

Talking about temperature reminds me of a funny story I forgot to tell in yesterday's post. I was walking along the river near the Tate Modern when I passed a family with a little kid. The kid was bundled up against the chill, but she was trying to take off her jacket, whining, "I'm HOT!" To which her mother responded, "No you're not. Not in this weather." Which prompted the kid to have a full-on screaming meltdown.

It was that mother's certainty that I thought was so funny. Why didn't she let the kid just open her jacket, or take off her hat, or do something to cool off a bit? Seems like there might have been a middle path there.

As you can see from these photos, Olga and I went to the cemetery yesterday, where a lone pink rose was blooming in the circular memorial garden. It was very Novembery, dreary and damp with most of the leaves either fallen or just barely clinging on.

The butterfly garden, which in summer is a mass of wildflowers and thistles so high that all those little gravestones are completely obscured, has been mowed flat. The cemetery workers do this every year, and I always wonder if the butterflies haven't laid eggs on those plants or might otherwise be using them in their life cycle. Isn't mowing counterproductive? But every year there are butterflies, so maybe they know what they're doing.

I am stuck at home this morning waiting for a drainage repairman. We have some kind of clog in our kitchen drain, where the pipes go into the ground outside (and eventually lead to the sewer). Wash water from the sink, washing machine and dishwasher doesn't flow into the ground as it should -- it bubbles up outside and runs down the steps to the area where we keep the garbage bins. It's not sewage, and it is draining enough to use the kitchen, but the drain obviously needs to be opened before it gets worse.

It's always something.

Late last week, Dave took out one of his Merino sweaters -- intending to wear it on Thanksgiving -- and found that it had been positively ravaged by moths. There were several fairly big holes in it. I threw the whole thing away. We have anti-moth sachets in our cupboards but they apparently need refreshing. I checked the rest of Dave's clothes and didn't find any further damage, and fortunately I own almost nothing made of wool so my wardrobe isn't likely to be targeted.

Anyway, I am off to spend the morning reading "Barnaby Rudge," at least until the repair guy gets here. My goal yesterday was to get through 100 pages, and I got through about 75, so that's not terrible. I'm about two-thirds finished.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

An African Photo Show

Yesterday I spent the morning at home, trimming and neatening in the garden -- cutting old dead flower stalks, trimming the lavender, pulling up old asters, just making things neater in general. (Believe me, the overall impact is minute.)

My main goal was to deal with the dahlias. I guess I'm not lifting them this year because I am unmotivated to do so and I don't have a box for the tubers or any newspaper or other supplies. So it looks like they're staying in their pots for one more season. I trimmed the ragged tops off, pulled any weeds and stashed them in the shed, where they will overwinter. Job done. I guess I can always repot them in spring.

Then, after MORE TURKEY at lunch, I decided to go experience some culture. I went to the Tate Modern to see the exhibit "A World in Common: Contemporary African Photography." It featured photographers from all parts of Africa, Morocco to Lesotho, Mozambique to Senegal, working with an interesting mix of styles and materials. There were found historic photos from South Africa (which you know I liked, given my interest in old photographs), collages, mixed media installations and artists working with portraiture using religious iconography, trappings of royalty like thrones and crowns, and traditional African masks.

I was quite fascinated by this piece, "Will I Still Carry Water When I Am a Dead Woman?" by Wura-Natasha Ogunji. It's a 12-minute video of the artist and six other women, dressed in similar jumpsuits and hoods, laboriously dragging gold-colored bidons of water around the streets of Lagos, Nigeria. It poses questions about work, womanhood, resource availability, poverty and other issues and I found it riveting. I sat down and watched the whole thing. It was interesting to see the reactions of people on the street, from laughter to puzzlement.

If there was an overall theme to the show, it was how contemporary African artists are using the medium of photography to reclaim their land, heritage, spirituality and culture after centuries of colonialism.

When I emerged from the show in the late afternoon, the setting sun was casting an orange glow on the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral across the river. "Bellissima!" exclaimed the Italian tourists walking behind me.

I crossed the Millennium footbridge, where I was happy to see...

...that many of the works of chewing-gum art by Ben Wilson have been preserved. The bridge was recently closed for a couple of weeks to enable a deep-cleaning, and I'd read that the gum art would be a casualty of that process. But apparently Wilson arranged to preserve many of the miniature artworks, which he painstakingly paints on hardened, discarded chewing gum left by pedestrians.

I wonder if Sehnaz said yes to Tafayel?

I caught the tube home from St. Paul's and, back with Dave and Olga, finished decorating our indoor avocado tree for Christmas. I went all-out this year, putting up not only the Christmas lights but hanging ornaments as well. Photos to come!

I also brought in our tender plants as we had frost last night. They can probably all go back out today, but we're supposed to have sub-freezing temperatures next weekend so we'll be back on that merry-go-round for the next few months.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Back to The Palladium

Late yesterday morning I took a long walk through Shepherd's Bush and Chiswick, following a route I first took way back in 2012. It took me along Goldhawk Road and then along Chiswick High Street to Gunnersbury. The area around Shepherd's Bush Market has lots of exotic fabric shops and other colorful stores that make for good photography.

More than six years ago I posted a picture of this building, a former cinema that was then a colorful (but closed) "Australasian bar." I mentioned at the time that it had been purchased by a developer who planned to save the facade but erect a new residential building behind it. Here's the result.

It's not terrible, but it doesn't have the same quirky charm. It's just in bland good taste.

Someone's front garden (if you can call it a garden) collected this deep drift of yellow ginkgo leaves...

...and the residents of this street, Wingate Road, decided to experiment with all sorts of obviously coordinated colors for the facades of their houses.

Finally, I passed the somewhat posh shops and cafes along autumnal Chiswick High Street before coming home via the Overground train from Gunnersbury station. I walked up to our flat just as Olga's dog walker was bringing her home, and she slept all afternoon. I think she's still recovering from all the excitement on Thursday.

What did I have for lunch? Turkey! And then what did we have for dinner? Turkey! And what will we have for lunch and dinner again today? Yep, you guessed it.

Friday, November 24, 2023


Well, we survived! There were no dogfights, no food poisoning, no injuries involving cutlery. Of course I didn't think to take a single picture of our meal before we ate it, but here's a picture of the wrecked kitchen afterwards.

And while cooks justifiably get all the attention on Thanksgiving for the hours, or in Dave's case days, they work to put a meal on the table, let's also sing a song of praise to the poor unsung schmucks like me who turn this (above) into...

...this, about five hours later.

Thank god for that new dishwasher.
Olga and Luna -- our co-worker Dylan's dog -- got along fine, and in fact they seemed to enjoy each other's company. They played and chased balls and Olga got so excited she was barking in the house, which she never does. (We could have done without that bit.)

Oh, some of you asked yesterday about deboning the turkey, and how that works. Dave has tutored himself on the process and was prepared to do it himself, but when he bought the turkey, our local butcher offered to do it for him. So that's what happened. When we got it, it was already cut into four quadrants and the bones were handed over separately, for making stock. It made carving and serving a breeze.

It's a bit like spatchcocking, which Dave did several years ago, and which also makes the turkey much easier to store in the fridge -- the end goal, as far as I'm concerned.

During the meal, Dave and I were trying to remember whether we'd ever hosted Thanksgiving dinner in London. We normally travel during Thanksgiving break, but I had a feeling that during the past ten years we must have stayed home at least once. A quick survey of my blog showed me where we've been each year:

2022: Brighton
2021: Bray (Clamato Cottage)
2020: Dave had a root canal and we got take-away
2019: Rules restaurant with friends; a weekend traditional feast
2018: Traditional feast for guests
2017: Cambridge
2016: Copenhagen
2015: Lisbon
2014: Cotswolds
2013: Istanbul
2012: Leuven, Belgium
2011: The great grouse experiment in Notting Hill

So we've hosted Thanksgiving twice before with guests, in 2018 and 2019. How soon we forget!

Anyway, this was fun, but I'm kind of missing the travel. Hopefully in coming years we can get back to more of those long-weekend getaways!

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! (Or, if you're in the UK or elsewhere, Happy Thursday.)

I think we're as ready as we'll ever be to host today's dinner. The deboned turkey is flat out in the fridge, rubbed with a dry marinade that Dave made, and he'll put it in the oven later. The stock has been reduced and it's also in the fridge, ready to become gravy. The countertop is piled with potatoes, brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes, and Dave ordered canned cranberry sauce, creamed corn and marshmallows from Amazon. We have a ridiculous quantity of butter. Oh, and he got a pecan pie from Whole Foods! One of our guests is bringing two more pies, so we'll have plenty of food.

There will be eight of us -- mostly past and present co-workers of Dave's -- including two kids, who will probably stay in the living room on their iPads all afternoon.

One of Dave's co-workers, Dylan, is bringing his dog, Luna. Olga is staying home from her daily walk in solidarity. They've met each other before and get along in the way Olga gets along with most other dogs -- by ignoring them.

All I have to do is clean the house and set the table, play host, and then do all the dishes afterwards -- which will hopefully be a breeze with our newly replaced dishwasher!

Yesterday we had only a half-day of work (as a private American school, we observe the Thanksgiving holiday) and it was devoted to professional development. I attended a session about working with Google workspace, and also one on intercultural awareness that included a model I'd never seen before called the "Johari Window." It's actually a very interesting idea -- that we all have traits and characteristics that we bring to an organization, some openly acknowledged, some known only to us, some known only to our co-workers, and some known to none of us. I find the latter idea fascinating -- that our behavior is motivated partly by hidden characteristics even we don't know about or understand. We watched a four-minute video (linked above) that explains the concept.

And now, I have to go kill some mealybugs on an orchid.

(Photo: On my walk home Tuesday evening.)