Thursday, April 19, 2018

Field Trip to Shoreditch

Yesterday I helped chaperone a group of students on a field trip to explore street art and street photography in Shoreditch, East London.

I've done this for the last few years around this time. It's a good springtime activity and it gets the kids out of the classroom and lets them have some creative fun. Before we go, I give them a slide show about how to compose photographs and showing them the work of some famous street photographers, like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Vivian Maier.

The walk is guided by a street-art expert, who tells the kids about the artworks and the artists who create them. Giving them a focus -- the graffiti and murals -- helps avoid a situation where they're just wandering around whining, "I can't find anything to take a picture of!"

We got lucky yesterday with amazing weather and some good opportunities for street photos. There are definitely varying degrees of interest among the kids, but you'd expect that, right? They're not all going to be into it. All I know is, I had a great day, we didn't lose any students and it was nice to be out of the library for a change!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Me and My MRI

You may remember I was having pretty severe lower back problems a couple of months ago. My back was aching in ways I had never experienced before -- a combination of dull ache when I was motionless and sharp, stabbing pain when I moved, accompanied by an overall feeling of unwellness. As far as I know, I hadn't injured it at all, so I was mystified about the source of the problem.

In late March I went to a doctor and got a referral to get an MRI. My insurance declined to cover it (of course), but the doctor knew a clinic that did them relatively inexpensively, so on Monday I had it done on my own dime.

I had a CAT scan about 33 years ago, when I was having some severe headaches in college. (They weren't from drinking, I swear!) But I'd never had an MRI. They're not the most fun -- lying inside a surprisingly small tube, surrounded by a huge piece of machinery that buzzed and clanked and beeped. I don't know yet what was revealed, if anything -- the clinic gave me a CD containing images from the scan, but my computer can't open the files so I haven't seen them. A separate set of images were sent to a radiologist for interpretation, and at some point a report will be sent to my doctor.

My guess is it won't show anything of note. (Here's hoping, anyway.) Since just before I got the referral the pain has been much better. I suspect whatever was bothering me has mostly healed up on its own. I still get twinges, but nothing like before.

Anyway, I will report back, if I learn anything more.

Dave and I have been watching the new "Lost in Space" on Netflix. In January we went through a brief flirtation with the old '60s series in reruns -- until we just couldn't stand it any more because it was so bad. The new one, on the other hand, is really good. There's a darkness to the characters that the earlier show didn't even begin to explore, the women finally have more to do than serve coffee, and the robot is fantastic. It's a very effective reboot!

(Photo: A fire hydrant cover in a sidewalk in Hampstead.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Our Exotic Garden

We had a bit of excitement at the bird feeder on Sunday when these two parrots showed up. Dave said they were back yesterday, too. In just a few weeks we've gone from the frozen north to the tropics without leaving our living room!

(I think they're officially known as rose-ringed parakeets.)

They danced around on the feeder for a while. I would have thought they'd have trouble getting to the seed, as big as their heads are, but they got in there easily enough.

They even fed each other!

(Here's a closeup of the shot above...)

They weren't always graceful. In true parrot fashion they seemed a bit clownish. But they sure brightened our day!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Elstree to Cockfosters

I tackled another 10-mile leg of the LOOP yesterday, this one supposedly the longest of all 24 segments. It was an interesting walk, partly through scenic countryside and partly along busy roadways, including one bit along the A1, which the British quaintly call a "dual carriageway" and we in the USA would call an Interstate or a freeway.

Fortunately the rural bits were more extensive than the urban ones, and I saw signs of spring everywhere -- apple blossoms, budding chestnuts, vivid tulips in front gardens of houses. Even along the A1 I saw some bright purple-flowered dead nettles and budding horsetails.

I got confused three times on this route, more than on any other. In one place, for example, the directions said, "Turn left at the waymarker and follow the path close to the woodland." Well, there was no waymarker, and I was already in the woodland.

Another time, the directions said, "Follow the grass strip straight ahead with the houses on the left and join a tarmac path just above the brook." If there was a tarmac path anywhere in that vicinity, I didn't see it. And what does "above" the brook mean? Like, a bridge?

Finally, at one point, I was told to "go left through the gap in the hedge and follow the path right up the hill." Does that mean directly up the hill, or turn right and go up the hill? (To make matters worse there was a trail marker at this location and it confused me, too -- I wound up wandering around in the wrong field until I climbed through a blackberry hedge and got to the right one.)

Whenever I get to an ambiguous spot like that I just follow what looks like the most likely path, and I'm usually OK. In these particular areas the LOOP maps (and the maps app on my iPhone!) helped.

I passed Livingstone Cottage in Barnet, once the home of the famous "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"

In the village of Monken Hadley I passed the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, "which dates back to the 12th century," according to the LOOP directions. I was more taken with this adjacent building, which looks like it might have been the vicarage.

Then my instructions said, "Follow the path beside the road past two huge cedar trees." (NOTE: Two roads, two paths!) "Just beyond a big mansion, Hadley Hurst, cross and enter the woods." I never saw the mansion -- and how do you miss a mansion? -- but I managed to wind my way through the woods along the correct roadway.

Remember the horse log I saw in South London? Well, here I found a frog log!

The path went over Pymmes Brook, where there was a rather unsightly lake as well as a quaint old bridge. I wound up at the Cockfosters tube station, mud-splattered and exhausted. At least it didn't rain!

Sunday, April 15, 2018


Yesterday's forecast called for clouds and, initially, rain in the afternoon. What we got instead was SUN! It was fabulous. Spring shook off its winter jacket, at least for a day.

Dave and I worked out in the garden in the morning, and I took Olga for two walks, one around the neighborhood and one to Hampstead Heath.

Olga was pretty thrilled with the weather, too!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Someone Stole My Tooth

Remember how, a few weeks ago, I packaged up my gold dental inlay (removed during my recent root canal) and mailed it to a gold reclamation company for reimbursement? Well, I waited and waited and never heard anything, and this week began calling to find out where my gold went.

You may remember that after mailing it off, I cavalierly wrote that I didn't care if it was a scam and I never saw a penny. Well, scam may be too strong a word, but it appears my inlay never reached the gold buyer. They never booked in my claim, which means it was intercepted somewhere along the way -- either in the mail or at the firm itself before it could be booked.

This is solely my fault because I mailed it with no registration or confirming signature upon delivery -- which was stupid, but as I said at the time, I only stood to make about £10 from it and I didn't want to spend half of that on postage.

So, anyway, c'est la vie. Someone stole my tooth!

Olga and I found some interesting things on our walk yesterday morning. First we found a little white-and-red bracelet hanging from a yellow forsythia bush on Finchley Road (top). There's a tradition in some cultures of hanging a red-and-white beaded bracelet on a flowering tree in spring -- I usually find them as pieces of thread tied to cherry trees. I wonder if this is the same idea -- or did someone simply drop their bracelet, and someone else hung it from the bush?

And then Olga and I found some discarded DVD towers. I thought about bringing them home, because we have a bunch of DVDs stacked in a closet, but the fact is they're fine in there and we don't use them that much anymore, so towers are probably just more unnecessary clutter. I left them in the trash.

Later in the day I found this lovely (?) painting. Which, needless to say, I also did not pick up.

Finally, at the risk of stuffing too much meaningless information into this post:

...I'm going to show you our amaryllis. Remember how I said there were no flower buds this year? The plants grew quite big and leafy but we saw no sign of blooms. It was very strange and unlike what they've done in past years, when the buds were often the first thing to appear.

But finally, finally, we're seeing little buds at the bottom of two of the plants. We'll see if they fully mature. I think the anti-fungal treatment I gave them last year to rid them of "red blotch" significantly diminished that problem -- the plants look much healthier -- but I wonder if it also delayed their flowering?

Friday, April 13, 2018

Pancake Batter

I have been really lazy about taking pictures this week. The weather's been terrible -- gray and rainy and drippy and soggy, and I just haven't been motivated to get out and walk around with the camera. I haven't seen sun since Hungary.

Spring in the UK feels like it's about a month behind. This is March weather.

So, anyway, the only picture I have today is this one, of the ceiling of the Apollo Theater, where we saw "Everybody's Talking About Jamie" on Wednesday. I wish I could have zoomed even farther out, to show the ornate gilded walls, statuary and balconies, but this is the best my phone camera could do.

As I've mentioned, Dave is now on a gluten-free diet, and he feels very strongly that it's helped him better control his Crohn's. Among other now-inedible-to-Dave food items in our kitchen, we had an unopened box of Aunt Jemima pancake mix and an unopened bottle of Aunt Jemima syrup. They were both bought in London, but imported from the USA, and I hated to throw them out. (The syrup is obviously gluten-free, but I didn't see how we were going to eat that without the pancakes -- and besides, we have some real syrup that Dave's sister in northern Michigan made from maple trees.)

I took them to work a few days ago and offered them to a co-worker who has children -- I figured, anyone who has children is going to appreciate pancakes!

Dave said he thought that was a weird thing to do, and I must say, when I conceived of the idea it didn't seem weird, but actually doing it felt a bit strange. Is it weird to give unopened food to a coworker? What do you think?