Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Antiquated Technology

We're back in Detroit this morning, seeing out the old year with Dave's parents. Woo hoo!

We had a busy day yesterday, first running around Grand Rapids and then Kalamazoo. Our one big errand -- to mail a box of stuff back to London, including (gasp) my beloved milk crate! I brought it along to western Michigan, packed with some glassware and pictures, and we picked up a cardboard box and some packing peanuts from the UPS store. I boxed it all up yesterday morning, took it to the Grand Rapids post office, and it is now officially on its way to London at a cost of $75.

I really wanted to get that glassware home -- a set of unusual martini glasses -- and what better way to protect them in the mail than packed inside a hard plastic crate?

I know. It's crazy. Don't judge me.

Anyway, after that project was completed, we drove past Dave's old house and then back to Kalamazoo, where we had about an hour to explore and do some photography before meeting more former students of Dave's at another downtown brew pub. This one, Arcadia, featured some terrific barbecue. We saw our old friend Stephanie, who we used to hang out with when she lived in New York, among others -- we all sat around a steel table in a chilly, spacious room of concrete and glass, and watched the snow fall outside. (Yes! It snowed!)

Afterwards, we met Dave's former coworker Catherine at a nearby coffee shop, and then we hopped into the car and headed back across the state. One good thing about all this car time -- we got to listen to NPR, which was refreshing and just like seeing yet another old friend.

Here's one thing we're not taking back to London -- Dave's old Mac computer. Remember these? It's kind of hilarious and dinosaur-ish, like a giant prehistoric clam.

This computer has been a saga in its own right. Dave lost the power cord long ago, so we couldn't turn it on, and we didn't want to discard it without determining what was on the hard drive. We thought there might be pictures or other valuable documents.

I'd considered taking it to a computer shop and seeing if they could revive it. But instead I got online and found someone selling a power cord for just $12. I bought it, had it shipped priority, and we were finally able to plug in and power up the computer. There are, in fact, a couple of things on there that Dave wants to keep, so we're going to transfer those files to a flash drive and leave the computer itself behind. It will probably be yard sale fodder. I wonder if it isn't valuable as a collectible. It's about 15 years old --  how many of those things are still around and functioning?

It's so funny to use a computer like that now. It beeps and whirs and seems incredibly clunky. WiFi is not an option. How far we have come.

And remember these? We're not keeping them either.

(Top photo: Graffiti in Kalamazoo, complete with falling snow.)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Grand Rapids Road Trip

And suddenly, here I am on the other side of the state! Dave and I drove to Kalamazoo yesterday and stayed the night at a Holiday Inn in Grand Rapids. I'm typing this in our darkened hotel room, listening to the sounds of traffic streaming by on U.S. 131.

Unfortunately there's not much to tell about this odyssey so far. We arrived in Kalamazoo about 12:30 and met with one of Dave's former students, who is now a high school band director himself. We all went to lunch at the Eccentric Cafe (that's the name of it -- I personally would not have pegged it as eccentric) at the Bell's Brewery. We chatted a couple of hours and went for coffee before dropping him off and high-tailing it up to Grand Rapids.

The funny thing is, the whole reason we were going to Grand Rapids in the first place was to have dinner with Dave's friend Annie. But she came down with the flu and couldn't meet us. Since we had prepaid hotel reservations we drove up anyway and had dinner at the restaurant ourselves. (It was OK. But just OK.)

Today we've got some errands to run here  -- Dave wants to see the house where he lived for six years -- and we have more people to see in Kalamazoo. Then we're zipping back across the state to rejoin Dave's parents.

(Photo: A cemetery in Wyandotte, near Detroit. I don't have any pictures to speak of from Kalamazoo or Grand Rapids -- not yet, anyway.)

Monday, December 29, 2014

Day in Detroit

When Dave and I talked about coming to Michigan for Christmas, I told him I really wanted to make time to see the Detroit Institute of the Arts. When the city was going through its bankruptcy proceedings and there was talk a few years ago of having to sell some of the art collection, I lamented never visiting.*

Since we got here, though, things have been so crazy busy that I'd resigned myself to skipping the museum. We had a spare day yesterday, but with his sister and her family here, it seemed unlikely we'd be able to run off to Detroit. But then she asked yesterday morning what our plans for the day were, and I said we really didn't have any, but I'd hoped to get to the museum at some point. To my surprise, she jumped at the chance to go, so we all piled into the car and off we went.

There's a lot of tremendous art there, probably collected by the auto magnates during Detroit's heyday as Motor City. The central atrium filled with Diego Rivera's murals of the working man is terrific. (Top -- and by the way, I didn't pose that photo. Those random kids were pointing on their own.) The galleries were filled with work by Cezanne, Van Gogh (above), Picasso, Warhol, Lichtenstein, Judd, O'Keeffe, Rembrandt, you name it.

After wandering for a couple of hours and seeing pretty much all the highlights, we drove into downtown Detroit and went to the American Coney Island hot dog restaurant on a wedge-shaped corner amid the high-rises. I had a bowl of chili with cheese on top. (Yes, I know, our refrigerator is packed with leftovers and we're eating out. It's insane.)

We went walking and stumbled into the Guardian Building, from 1929, which I read about when we first got here in a magazine that Dave's dad picked up at the airport. The tiled lobby ceiling is crazy beautiful.

Dave and his niece and nephew were fascinated by the large Michigan map on the back wall. I bought a Detroit t-shirt in the gift shop, doing my part to help the local economy.

We walked a few more blocks to Hart Plaza, on the river, where the wind was blustery and we stayed just long enough to get some photos of the skyline. That's a fountain, in the center -- in the summer apparently it functions sort of like a huge shower.

Then we headed back to the 'burbs! I'm so glad I got some city time!
*Eventually, after a massive fundraising drive to placate creditors, ownership of the art collection was transferred to a non-profit entity outside municipal reach, protecting the art from sale.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas (Again)

We had our second round of Christmas celebrations yesterday. Dave's sister and her husband, son and daughter came down from northern Michigan, and his aunt, uncle and cousin came from up near Lansing. Dave whipped up a lavish meal for all 11 of us, with occasional assistance from various itinerant sous-chefs.

The menu: homemade sausage and paté (among numerous other hors d'eouvres); scallops on a parsnip puree with orange sauce; filet mignon with brussels sprouts; Waldorf salad (from his aunt); grape salad (from his mom); and Christmas cookies for dessert. I love Waldorf salad. Let me just confess that right here.

Of course there was way too much food -- between this and our actual Christmas dinner, we have enough leftovers to feed Ann Arbor. And this was after we went out for pizza on Friday night! Somewhere in the house there's also half an uneaten pizza. (This place has a network of hidden refrigerators, all liberally stocked.)

I wore the Christmas sweater and got praise for being "festive." (They're too polite to say "idiotic.") Unfortunately I was also dragging after waking up at 3 a.m. yesterday morning and being unable to fall back to sleep. I felt like a zombie. I kept myself busy by doing the bulk of the dishes both during cooking and after eating, and that helped me stay alert.

We finished off the day -- after Dave's aunt, uncle and cousin left, and his mom went to bed -- by playing a card game that his niece brought from college. We'd each get ten cards with a word, phrase or name on them. We'd then draw a question card, which usually involved filling a blank in a sentence, and all of us would have to choose one of our words to do so. Problem is, a lot of our cards were completely inappropriate, rude or pornographic. I never thought I would have to say "anal beads" in front of my father-in-law. (At one point he leaned over to me and showed me another card, one in his hand, and said, "What does this mean?" I knew, but I just shrugged and acted innocent. I'm not even going to repeat it here.)

Last night, thank goodness, I slept long and well, so I feel normal this morning.

(Photos: A house down the street. Suburbia!)

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Artillery Fungus and Kumquats

While walking the (very short) nature trail near Dave's parents' house, I noticed mats of this peculiar organism growing among the mulch. It's some kind of a cup-shaped fungus, from what I can tell. I looked online and I think what I'm seeing is artillery or cannonball fungus.

Fortunately the area where I found it is not near any houses -- because apparently those little fungal cups explode to release their spores, and those spores are super-sticky. Homeowners hate them. Out on the nature trail they're not doing any harm, and in fact I think all these are spent. I thought they were interesting. I don't recall ever seeing them before.

Yesterday was a day for errands, mostly. We went to the post office to get some information about shipping, and then Dave insisted on going to White Castle for lunch. My idea of a nightmare, but he loves it. I had four tiny burger "sliders" and they sat in my stomach like rocks for the next two hours.

Then we went to the grocery store to pick up more food -- we are constantly shopping -- and I found a pleasant surprise in the produce aisle.

Not only are they kumquats, which I love, but do you see where they're from? Dade City is about 20 miles from the house in Florida where I grew up. It's so funny to get Pasco County kumquats all the way up here in Michigan.

Of course I bought them. A taste of home!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Failed Culinary Experiments

Here's what we learned from our Christmas dinner: Don't ever buy a vegetable called cardone, or cardoon. It's horrible. And I say that as a vegetable lover. We needed a green veg to go with our braised beef short ribs, and while at Kroger I saw cardone, which I'd never had before. It looks like gigantic, grey-green celery. The label likened the taste to artichoke hearts. So I thought, "Let's try this!" (Famous last words, right?)

We trimmed the leaves off, cut it up as directed, and boiled the hell out of it (also as directed). We then sauteed it. In the end, it did not taste like artichoke hearts. It tasted like quinine. It was completely inedible. We threw it out.

So much for my adventurousness.

The rest of the meal was terrific, though. Dave made a butternut squash soup to start, accented with parsley and homemade croutons. He followed that with lobster newburgh and then braised beef short ribs on mashed horseradish potatoes. For dessert we had a store-bought Heston Blumenthal Christmas pudding that we brought with us from England -- kind of a dome-shamed, alcohol-soaked fruit cake with a candied tangerine in the middle. Dave flambéed it with cognac, and it was really good.

We didn't do presents. There will be a minor gift exchange when Dave's extended family arrives on Saturday for our second Christmas. (Oh, no, it isn't over. Not by a long shot.) Dave and I didn't bring gifts -- we're buying and cooking all the food, and we figured just getting here would be something of a present, though maybe we think highly of ourselves -- but his mom bought a few little articles and put our names on them so we're not unrepresented in the gift exchange.

We spent yesterday morning going through albums and envelopes of Dave's old photos, many from school trips with students. Dave is not a photo person, so he was ready to just throw them all away. I thought we should at least see what's there, and I rescued many of them, particularly from his childhood, along with a few mementos. I also found a $100 bill inside an old greeting card!! Thank goodness we didn't just toss that. We now have some moola to pay for extra baggage on the way home! The universe works in mysterious ways.

(Photo: A road maintenance shed -- I think? -- near Dave's parents' house. It was super foggy Wednesday morning.)

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Our hopes for a white Christmas have been dashed -- it's just rainy and windy out there. But that's OK. If snow falls I have to drive in it, and I'd just as soon not try, Florida boy that I am.

We went to church last night with Dave's parents, to the Lutheran church where Dave spent his childhood. It was cool to see this mythical place that figures so prominently -- albeit sometimes negatively -- in his psyche. He knew some of the people and saw a few guys he went to school with, all grown up and middle-aged. Time marches on.

I was struck by how similar the church service was to the Presbyterian services I'm familiar with. Same candle-lit singing of "Silent Night," same gospel story of Jesus' birth. Of course I don't believe any of it, not literally, but I'm happy to participate. For me it's more about coming together with other people in a shared observance, a shared experience -- singing carols together, marking the calendar and reciting the mythology of our culture.

Then we went to a dinner buffet at the home of some family friends. They were happy to have me there though I'm sure I was a curiosity and possibly the subject of discussion and speculation. Or maybe I'm flattering myself. I was introduced simply as "Steve," with no elaboration, though I did mention to the room that Dave and I met while we lived in New York, and they know we both now live in London, so I'm sure it's apparent to them what's going on. We ate ham and baked beans and I had a long talk with Cousin Carl -- who was about 90 -- about genealogy. I just kept drinking wine, nodding and smiling and contributing a few words now and then.

Dave and I looked into shipping our stuff home via UPS, but I'm finding the same roadblocks I found with the coffee table. Insane prices. In fact the woman at the UPS store basically discouraged us from even considering it. (I suspect because it was Christmas Eve she just didn't want to deal.) We're going to try the post office, which as I understand it is more reasonable.

I hope everyone has a happy holiday!

(Photo: An angel aglow in a vacant lot down the street from Dave's parents' house.)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Box-Sorting, and Olga's Country Retreat

Yesterday, Dave and I launched into the boxes of stored stuff in the basement. There's really not that much -- I'm making it sound like a bigger job than it is. But it kept us busy for an hour or two, and Dave is a reluctant participant. He's just not into cleaning stuff out.

There are boxes of old pictures, mostly from marching band and concert band performance trips that Dave took with this students. He's going to have to decide which photos to keep, but from my perspective, the ones showing marchers on a football field are really pointless. Everyone looks like an ant.

We did find a few items that we'll take back with us, like our gong wind chime. And we found a terrific set of martini glasses and some large, framed artwork that we'll have to ship back -- there's no way to carry it on the plane.

In the afternoon, just to get out of the house and get some exercise, I took a walk around the neighborhood. Dave's parents live in a very clean, very beige new development of cookie-cutter houses, mostly for retired people. Everything is manicured. God forbid a blade of grass should be out of place. I didn't see a whole lot of photographic potential -- in fact I didn't even bring my camera.

Meanwhile, our kennel in London sent us a few snapshots of Olga:

Their intention was to show us how well she's doing. But look at her expression! Dave and I both took one look and said, "That dog is not happy." Poor thing!

At least in the next picture (below) she's having some fun with an interfering bulldog. Olga does love a good stick.

We had to buy that silly red collar when we dropped her off because the woman who owns the kennel insisted she needed a collar to hold the kennel ID tag. They wouldn't tag her harness, and they wouldn't loan us a collar. No doubt they make a hefty profit on the dog supplies they sell.

All right, enough Scroogey remarks. Hard to believe it's Christmas eve! Where has this year gone?

(Top photo: This house is outside Dave's parents' development, on a street with some older homes. Love the lighting!)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

My Treasured Milk Crate

I just woke up from a full night's sleep! Hallelujah! Jet lag, I vanquish thee!

A quiet day yesterday, spent entirely within the boundaries of the suburban Detroit township where Dave's parents live. We managed to roust ourselves from the house to get to a European specialty market and buy ingredients for some of Dave's cooking projects, which include making his own sausage and paté.

(For some reason, the European specialty market included several shelves of Michigan potato chips. But never mind geography.)

I spent the day mostly reading and visiting, and looking through the boxes of stuff that Dave has stored in his parents' basement. We intend to go through that stuff and take what we want back to England. Dave will probably have his parents sell most of it at one of their community yard sales -- after all, this is stuff that we haven't touched or even thought about in three and a half years. It's hardly essential to our lives. But there are lots of photos and memorabilia, and some of that we want to save.

One of the items we've left behind here is my beloved Borden Dairy milk crate, which my brother and I found in the woods near our house in Florida back in 1980 or so. I used it for decades as my laundry hamper. Now Dave's dad stores caulking guns in it. I don't intend to schlep it back to England, but it was nice to visit it.

I've found some good photo opportunities, even in suburbia, and I'm still hoping to get into Detroit proper at least once.

(Top photo: A Chinese restaurant near Dave's parents, Brownstown, MI.)

Monday, December 22, 2014

What Time Is It?

Allow me to answer that question. Here, in Michigan, it's 5:41 a.m. But I've already been awake for about three hours, because at home in London it's 10:42 a.m. and I'd be well on my way to lunch by now. My body has no idea what's going on.

Dave and I endured a seemingly interminable day of travel with many minor roadblocks, erected as if to test our resolve. The Heathrow Express train from Paddington was delayed early in the morning, so we shared a cab with an Australian guy who was going to the airport to pick up his wife. (The taxi was slower, but we wound up paying about the same amount per person.) Dave's bag was too heavy to check for free, so we had to hurriedly redistribute some items while standing at the check-in counter, which later led to Dave's shampoo bottle leaking in my suitcase. Then our flight was delayed, and we got into Chicago so late that we had to be re-booked on a later connection to Detroit. Then that flight had maintenance issues and we had to be switched to another plane. So, yeah, crazy.

On top of all that, terrible food, bad movies and antiquated entertainment systems on the overseas flight -- and Dave and I didn't sit together on either plane.

But my bitching is finished now -- it really is -- because I had some positive experiences too. I watched the one good movie available, "Love is Strange" with John Lithgow and Alfred Molina -- and it was so good that I want to rent it again when we get back to London so Dave can watch it. And then, on the short flight from Chicago to Detroit, I got spontaneously switched to first class, without even asking! (Dave, alas, did not.) The dryly wisecracking flight attendant happily made me the best gin & tonic in the world, in a real glass! I hadn't had any alcohol on the transatlantic flight because we left in the morning, so that G&T was the perfect coda to my 21-hour day.

Flying into Detroit, I could look down on the starry gridwork of nighttime suburban streets and see colorful Christmas lights on the houses. It was cool.

Dave's dad picked us up and we had dinner with Dave's parents last night -- ribs and sauerkraut, which seems very midwestern. (My vegetarian tendencies will be taking a back seat for the next two weeks, I'm sure!) Now it's time to settle in and get over this jet lag.

(Photo: Airport Jesus blesses all the travelers at Heathrow! Actually it's just one of many travel posters along a long hallway, depicting the statue atop Corcovado in Rio.)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Off to Michigan

Well, as you can imagine, things have been a bit of a whirlwind around here. I was out photographing yesterday (35 streets!), as well as doing laundry and packing and watering plants and cleaning the floor and a bunch of other things. Dave is still coughing but feeling better overall. And this morning, bright and early, we're taking wing.

I'll keep posting through our trip!

(Photo: A lonely-looking yard ornament in Neasden, on Friday.)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Sexy Nurse Mona

Well, it's done. Olga is off at the kennels and the house seems strangely quiet. It's kind of nice, actually, knowing I don't have to walk her this morning! The parting wasn't hugely dramatic -- she panted in the taxi on the way there, her anxious "What are we doing?" pant, and she followed us with her eyes as we left the kennel office. But I'm sure the minute we closed the door she was on to other things. She'll be moved out to the country near High Wycombe. I told her she was going to "Christmas camp."

I spent yesterday afternoon on photography. I'd planned to work on finishing NW1 and NW3, but as it turns out we got volunteers to do those areas, so I turned my attention back to NW10. I went up to Neasden and finished another 29 streets before I had to skedaddle back home to help drop off Olga.

I found this bottle on my walk. At one time it contained "alcool sanitar," which is rubbing alcohol in the Romanian language, I learned with a little research. The wildly sexist label cracks me up -- alluring Nurse Mona, with her knee hiked up and her uniform unbuttoned.

("You got to laugh to keep from cryin'," as one of my coworkers used to say. It's a phrase that comes in handy.)

Work-wise, yesterday was uneventful. I bought some small gifts for my coworkers on the way to school -- nuts and dried fruit and chocolate gift mixes. I took down the holiday tree and discarded the dog penis chain. (Needless to say, no one ever noticed that. It remains our private joke.)

I'll be back out with the camera again today, hitting a few more NW10 streets before coming home to pack. I'm not a complicated packer!

(Top photo: Houses in Neasden, yesterday.)

Friday, December 19, 2014

Separation Anxiety

Olga is off to the kennel this evening. I have terrible guilt every time she looks at me with those bright brown eyes, all curled up on the couch -- a "bovine croissant," as we call her. Wagging her tail, so obviously cozy and happy. I think, "Oh, you poor dog. You have no idea."

Of course, she'll be fine once we drop her off. I have no doubt she'll turn her attention to matters at hand and live entirely in the moment, as dogs apparently do. This is a good kennel, the gold standard from what I can tell -- we're certainly paying gold standard rates -- and she's been there before and knows the guy who's in charge. But the moment of our farewell will be hard.

Dave is staying home again today in an effort to beat his chest cold. I'll be working until noon, and then I'm going to walk home and wind my way through Belsize Park, shooting some stray streets for Bleeding London. I spent much of yesterday highlighting maps of the NW3 and NW1 postcodes showing which streets still need coverage, so I've done my research and I think I can pick most of them off today and tomorrow. (Oh, yeah, and I have to pack at some point.)

We had a holiday gathering at work last night. I stayed just long enough to hear the staff choir sing (sans me, since I dropped out after our Thanksgiving concert) and to have a beer and rub elbows with a couple of people. Just see and be seen, you know? Dave, of course, couldn't come, so I was there as his proxy, too.

The library continued to experience a pounding pace of business yesterday. I realize it sounds ridiculous for me to complain about stress in a library, but good grief, I have felt so busy and harried and just plain crabby. Not very Christmaslike. I hope I'm putting on a convincing cheerful mask for my coworkers and the kids. I'll feel better once we're past today and Olga is taken care of.

(Photo: Isn't this a great shop? Rain barrels, boots, backpacks, suitcases, shoes, even a chair. What is "wholesale retail," anyway?)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Streetside Snow Monster

This is the way to terrify your kid -- stop his stroller in front of a huge inflatable snowman. Good grief.

Another busy day yesterday, but I did get out at lunchtime for some quick photography -- three more uncovered streets for Bleeding London. Apparently we are not ending the project completely at the end of the year, as I expected. We're going to do even more coordinated, targeted shooting through January and possibly up until Easter, or as long as it takes to cover the remaining streets.

I have mixed feelings about this, as part of me would like to move on to other things, but honestly I still have a lot of fun going out and "collecting" streets. So what the heck. I figure I can get some shooting in tomorrow (when we leave work early) and Saturday, before Dave and I fly to Michigan on Sunday. I think by the end of January I can finish the NW10 and NW3 postcodes, and I'm sure I'll shoot elsewhere too.

I wore my Christmas sweater again yesterday. Man, that thing is hot.

I am so impressed with Obama for normalizing relations with Cuba. It's about time. It's silly to maintain a Cold War standoff with little relevance in the modern world, especially with Fidel aging and infirm. As for the cafe incident in Sydney -- why wasn't that guy in custody? He was suspected in a murder, for God's sake, not to mention a string of sexual assaults. I can't imagine why the Australian justice system allowed him to be out on bail, wandering the streets.

And as for Pakistan, well, I just have no words for that.

(Photo: Yesterday, in Marylebone.)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Chocolate Knives and Hand Lotion

Things were quite hectic yesterday, between getting the dog to the vet in the morning and Dave to the doctor in the afternoon. (His cough is still hanging on. The doctor told him he has an upper respiratory infection and gave him antibiotics and cough medicine containing codeine, which we have joked we should pound before our flight back to the states on Sunday.)

The library is super-busy, too, with kids finishing fall semester projects that involve the return of bazillions of library books. And to make matters worse, the parent volunteers who usually help me re-shelve are all out this week -- so I spent much of yesterday afternoon putting cartloads of materials back. I get a fairly decent upper-body workout hoisting all those books!

Dave and I have both been the lucky recipients of Christmas gifts from parents and students. Among a few other things, Dave got a set of chocolate Swiss Army knives -- an interesting use of chocolate! (If we were in a public school in the states they'd probably have been confiscated for so closely resembling weapons.)

I got two artfully wrapped bottles of geranium-lavender-peppermint hand soap and lotion, which -- despite the fact that I am not a fancy-soap kind of guy -- smell really nice and not at all girly. They came from a parent who I do not know well, but I was so touched that she thought of me. ("Do I smell bad?" I jokingly asked my coworker when I first opened them.) I am not a lotion person in general -- I hate smearing stuff on my skin -- but I must admit this lotion is pretty awesome and it feels great after I've re-shelved 200 pounds of books.

(Top photo: I've been trying to photograph this shop for months -- love the multiple signs and slightly campy name -- but there are always cars parked in front. Yesterday I decided to go for it anyway.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Artist's Muse

Yesterday was a very peculiar day. I wound up going on a short field trip to Regent's Park with a pack of ninth graders, completely unexpectedly. My boss had planned to chaperone, but then she was called to an important meeting, so I tagged along in her place. It wasn't difficult. I didn't know any of these kids very well, but I felt useful because I watched their bags while they did some team-building activities. And I got a free Chipotle burrito out of it!

(When I was single and living in New York, I used to eat Chipotle burritos at least weekly. Here I never do. I guess Dave keeps me better fed than I kept myself. Besides, there aren't as many Chipotles here, so availability is a bit more of an issue.)

I also finally sat for the art teacher at school who wants to paint my portrait. It turned out to be an uncomplicated affair. He asked me to wear a white shirt and dark jacket -- no nakedness! -- and he positioned me on a stool in front of a black background. Then he had me hold my head at various angles, my eyes looking in various directions, while he shot about 30 pictures. And that was it! The pictures are interesting, so we'll see what he does with the raw material. I'm a little afraid I'll wind up looking like this. (He had considered having me pose in a Haz-Mat suit, but that honor fell to some colleagues.)

Finally, I'm being badgered with little things. I had to schedule an appointment for the gas company to come and do a routine inspection of our boiler. I had to schedule Olga for a vaccine booster shot prior to her being boarded beginning Friday. We also ordered her a new Kong toy, which arrived yesterday -- her Christmas present!

(Photo: Windows in Harlesden, on Sunday.)

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Frosty Garden

This was our back yard yesterday morning in the pinkish light of dawn -- the grass coated with a rime of frost, the few remaining leaves brittle and orange-brown. It was really cold yesterday morning, at least for London. I moved our amaryllis (which have dwindled back to dormant bulbs) from the patio into our metal shed at the rear of the garden, and I'm hoping it stays warm enough in there to keep them alive. I want them to have a few weeks of cold, dark hibernation before we bring them inside and prod them back into bloom.

Inside, though, we have a bit of summer! I bought these tomatoes at the produce store on the high street last week and I haven't had a chance to eat them -- which is just as well, because they're sure pretty, sitting on our kitchen windowsill.

Olga and I went for a long walk yesterday on and around Hampstead Heath. We were out more than three hours, and we encountered iced-over puddles that cracked and tinkled as Olga waded through them. Although she was full of enthusiastic energy all through the walk (and required another bath when we got home), she collapsed on the couch almost as soon as we returned and has basically been asleep ever since.

It definitely makes things peaceful around here when the dog is asleep. She's not sitting at our knees looking dolefully at us while we eat, and she's not dropping her spit-covered Kong toy in our laps. As I've often said, it's my mission to wear out the dog!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

I Feel Like I'm Being Watched

I discovered an interesting street while out walking yesterday near Willesden Junction in West London...a long row of Victorian or Edwardian houses with little sculptured portraits on pediments near the front doors.

The sculptural elements aren't all that unusual for their mere presence -- a lot of houses in London have faces carved into them. But these seemed very distinctive. The guy above, for example, seems to have a turban...or is that just his hair?

This one has a hat and a sort of Mark Twain appearance.

There was a king...

...and a mustachioed Mercury.

My favorite, though, was this one. With the column between two front doors evenly divided between two houses -- one with a white paint scheme, one with a black -- how else to paint him? He looks like one of those guys from the Star Trek episode about the half-white, half-black aliens who hate each other.

All in all, I had a good day walking. Chilly temperatures but bright sunshine! I shot 66 streets in what is likely to be my last major outing for Bleeding London. I may try to snap a few more stray streets here and there before the end of the year, but we'll be off to Michigan soon so no more daylong walks are likely. (For that particular project, anyway.)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Florida Plans

Well, I got my Florida trip ironed out. I'll be there from Feb. 14 through Feb. 21. Dave and I debated whether he should go as well. He wanted to, but that would mean doubling an already-pricey airfare and adding in the costs of boarding the dog. So in the end he decided to stay here. I hate to ditch him in London in February while I fly away to the Sunshine State, but he says he doesn't mind and he's such a homebody I'm sure that's true.

Anyway, it's good to have that settled. I really want to get home not only to visit, but to help my mom with an impending life change -- she's planning to sell our family home and downsize. Considering she's lived there since 1966, that's not an effort to be taken lightly. I'm not sure how much I can do in just a week, but I'll do all I can.

(It will be a big change for me and my brother, too -- seeing the house where we grew up sold to someone else. So far I'm not too bothered by the idea, surprisingly. We have our own lives now, and neither of us is likely to return to Pasco County, so there's no point in keeping it. Life goes on.)

I still want to pick up a couple of things for Dave for Christmas, but I sure as heck am not braving the throngs on Oxford Street again. Maybe I'll wait until after the holidays. I can probably get him some serious bargains by then!

He stayed home again yesterday in an effort to defeat his cold. It's proving to be super-persistent.

As for me, I'll be out today doing photography. We're supposed to have sunshine again! Woo hoo!

(Photo: Harlesden, last weekend. I'm always intrigued by cluttered little computer repair shops.)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Spider Rescue and Online Commerce

There's been a small spider clinging to the wall of our shower for the last few days. I'd be in there lathering away only to look down and see him huddled against the wall, resisting a mist of steamy overspray. Somehow he lived through at least four showers from me and Dave, but I was afraid he'd get swept down the drain if either of us happened to splash too much water in his direction. I also couldn't move him outside to certain wintry death. So yesterday morning I picked him up by a strand of spider silk and carried him to our big trailing geranium, which is overwintering in the living room. He's now ensconced somewhere among the leaves. There may even be a few bugs in there for him to snack on. Who knows.

I finally managed to take care of most of my meager Christmas shopping yesterday -- with the exception of my Dad, for whom I find it virtually impossible to buy a gift. I think I'll take him to dinner or something the next time I'm in Florida. It's such a relief to have presents for people! Dave has proposed that he and I each buy our own Christmas presents -- that way he doesn't have to figure out the complexities of camera lenses and I don't have to wrangle cookware. I think that's a great idea, if somewhat stonily practical. I'll probably get him a few stray items just for the sake of surprise.

I also took the plunge and purchased my ticket for one of our major trips early next year. Dave is taking a group of students to Singapore in March, and I'm going to tag along. It's a long flight (14 hours) for a relatively brief trip (three full days on the ground), but hey, seize the opportunity, right? I'm also hoping to go to Florida, probably in February, for a visit with the 'rents. I need to get that ticket ironed out within the next couple of days.

(Photo: Free furniture in Harlesden, West London.)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Health Report

Dave came down with a cold last week, and it's been lingering, so he took yesterday off work to lie around the house and rest. It was a good idea, not just for healing purposes, but also to check up on our dog walker. We've been wondering what time she really arrives and departs, and if yesterday was any indication, she's doing what she's supposed to do. She was here about when we expected and Olga was gone about two hours.

Olga doesn't seem to like this dog walker much, which has us a bit concerned. When we lived in Notting Hill, Olga would trot off with her previous dog walker like we didn't even exist. But here she resists going, and in fact clings to us if we're home. We've seen pictures of her on her walks and she seems fine then, so I think the problem is the transportation. They cage Olga (and all the other dogs) individually in the back of a van in order to take them to a park. I think she hates that cage. (I don't blame her.)

I may write to the dog walker and see if there's a way to solve this problem. Her previous dog walker let her ride in the passenger seat in his car, and she loved that. I'm sure it's not ideal in case of an accident, but maybe we should take our chances.

Anyway, back to Dave's cold. So far, I haven't caught it, knock on wood. I was feeling a bit bedraggled yesterday afternoon, but that feeling appears to have passed. It's been long enough now that I think I would be showing symptoms if I were going to get sick -- though how I avoided it I have no idea. And I think Dave is on the mend, though he's still coughing.

Ah, winter.

(Photos: I find a lot of lost stuffed animals on my walks!)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

It's Wednesday, Again

I've got nothing for you today, except this photo to show you the vast array of schlocky tote bags available at the Shepherd's Bush market.

One tiny side note about the fate of our library penguin: One of the students asked if she could have him when we took him down, and the librarian who owns him agreed. So when we erected our holiday tree, the penguin was passed along to an enthusiastic high school girl who named him "Kevin" and stood him in a corner near the high school lockers. I'm not sure he's long for this world -- he's being loved to death -- but hey, it's better than deteriorating in a dark attic, right?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Feeling Presidential

OK, I have to boast about something. I will try not to be obnoxious.

Yesterday I read an article about "cultural memory" in The New York Times. It described a series of studies over several years in which researchers asked college students to write down as many presidents as they could remember, in order. They had five minutes to do so. They then asked a group of adults to do the same thing.

The results? People remembered the first few founding fathers, "after which memorability plunged to near zero." It rose again with Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant, then faded until Franklin W. Roosevelt. Then, depending on their age, people remembered more recent presidents -- but younger people didn't remember Eisenhower, for example, while older people did. The study suggests that cultures "forget" the same way individuals do.

Here's where the boasting comes in. I thought I would try that same exercise -- and I did so well I couldn't believe it. I remembered every single president, in order, with only four mistakes. I forgot Zachary Taylor entirely (which seems forgivable), I reversed Coolidge and Harding, and I had Van Buren and Garfield in the wrong places -- but not by much.

I'm going to chalk this ability up to childhood stamp collecting. The U.S. put out a set of stamps, in the 1930s, featuring all the presidents in order. Perhaps I absorbed that knowledge from repeatedly seeing the stamps in my album. I mean, I'm sure I studied the presidents in school too, but it seems unlikely that I'd remember them solely from the classroom.

In other news, I wore the Christmas sweater yesterday. It was a big hit with the kids, as expected, but also with fellow faculty and staff members. The downside is that it's pretty darn warm -- not because of the LED lights, but because it's probably made of some awful polyester fabric. I'll try to wear it one or two more days before we break for the holidays, and I may even take it to Michigan and wear it there. I'll need warmth in Michigan!

(Photo: Cats just around the corner from the animal hospital where we got Olga spayed years ago. I was back in that neighborhood for photography on Saturday.)

Monday, December 8, 2014

Making It Up to Olga

An unfortunate side effect of my daylong photography jaunt on Saturday was that Olga didn't get any kind of walk. So I shook off my fatigue and took her to Hampstead Heath yesterday morning to make up for it. The weather wasn't the best -- in fact we got caught in a downpour strong enough to make Olga put her tail between her legs -- but fortunately I had an umbrella and it didn't last very long. We were out for a couple of hours, and she had a great time and picked up about ten pounds of mud.

Needless to say, when we got home, a bath was required. For both of us. (Not at the same time.)

The high school music concert was yesterday afternoon. Dave's concert band performed some pretty sophisticated pieces by Elgar, Mahler and Dvorak. Dave arranged the Mahler himself, a feat I find so impressive. I don't know how he can look at the composition of his band and figure out, based on how many types of each instrument he has, who should play what notes so that the end result comes out sounding like, well, Mahler. It's really pretty mind-blowing. I have a talented partner.

We went to dinner last night because neither of us felt like cooking (or shopping, for that matter -- we're down to bare bones in the fridge). Then, as Dave snoozed on the couch, I watched a fascinating documentary about Kate Bush, one of my longtime favorite musicians. She blends performance art and pop music into an avant garde genre all her own, and did so well before similarly adventurous musicians like Bjork. "The Hounds of Love" has to be one of the best albums ever, by anyone. She never gained much traction in the states because her sound is so unusual and doesn't really fit a commercial radio format -- but here in England she's much better known.

(Photo: Saturday morning on West End Lane, West Hampstead.)

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Frosty, Sunny Day, with Santas and Violin

Yesterday we actually saw sun. I know, unbelievable, right?! We've been living in a gray shroud for so long that I forgot what it's like to walk around on a sunny day with a camera. Everything seemed so intriguing, full of color and mystery.

When Olga and I first went out in the morning, the sky was crystal clear and a crust of frost covered the ground.

Olga was so funny, prancing across the ice-covered backyard like a gazelle. She's not used to ice on her paws. We took a little walk, and then I attempted to clean out the bird-feeders (in which the uneaten seed had congealed into a grass-sprouting clod of moldy organic matter). I managed to empty one of them, but the other -- which I couldn't open -- remains a garden-in-the-air.

Then I set out with the camera on a photography walk for Bleeding London. I headed to NW10, west of us, and walked all day -- as long as there was light. I covered 72 streets and even forgot to eat lunch.

I saw numerous Santas flocking to central London for some kind of Santa pub-crawl. No wonder the old man is so jolly.

Finally, after walking all day, I went to Oxford Street to run some errands. When Dave bought his new black suit a month ago, the shop forgot to remove one of the plastic-clamp theft-prevention devices. We didn't discover it until yesterday when Dave tried to put on the suit for his concert in the afternoon. So I dragged the pants around with me all day in a backpack and took them back to the store in the evening. The clerk I spoke with was very apologetic and removed the clamp right away.

(Which raised an interesting question in my mind. A la yesterday's post about Ferguson and race perceptions, I wondered if she would have so readily accommodated me if I'd been a black man showing up with a pair of pants still clamped with a theft-prevention device. I did have a receipt, but still -- I wondered. And why didn't the crazy clamp set off alarms when we left and entered the store?)

Finally, I went to Primark to get a holiday sweater. I never wear holiday sweaters, but a coworker showed up at work this week with one that I loved, featuring the skyline of London silhouetted against a night sky. He told me where he got it, so I went for my own. Let me tell you, the experience was hell. Oxford Street on a Saturday afternoon in the Christmas shopping season? It was literally pedestrian gridlock. The inside of Primark was equally insane, with hordes of locust-like shoppers throwing garments willy-nilly. In the end, though, I got my sweater. (Just £9!) I took a picture of it, but Dave thought only a video would suffice because -- oh yeah, I forgot to mention -- it lights up! You can see me modeling it for ten seconds here.

After those ridiculous errands I caught a bus home in the evening darkness, and I was so thankful to be able to sit down that I almost cried. At one point as our bus sat in traffic, my nerves a bit frazzled by the crowds, I looked over to my left and saw a man through an apartment window, serenely playing the violin. What a great urban moment! I immediately felt better.

(Top and bottom photos: From yesterday's walk.)