Sunday, May 31, 2015

Coffee and a Banana

We seem to be coming to a place where nothing works around here.

I've already mentioned our washing machine Niagara. We thought we had that fixed, but the other day when I did a load of laundry -- with no other water-using appliances running -- I found water oozing up from beneath the floorboards in the kitchen. So while it's true the surface of the floor is mostly dry, apparently there's still some leakage beneath.

Our Internet has been sketchy for weeks. It comes and goes, and lately it seems to be mostly going. We have an incredibly weak connection, even when I go sit next to the router. I've been dreading calling our provider because I know they're going to demand that I do all kinds of tweaking on my end, like turning things off and on (which I've already done) and connecting an ethernet cable (which I don't think we even have) to test the line. I just want them to send someone to fix it.

Last night I woke up around 1:30 a.m., incredibly thirsty, so I got up for a drink of water. I went into the kitchen and the dishwasher was still running! Now, I'd started it around 10 p.m. There is no reason why the dishwasher should run for 3 1/2 hours. And according to the timer, it still had about an hour to go. When I opened it, the water inside was sudsy but cold. C'est pas normal.

And finally, my computer no longer seems to work as well as it used to. I have a terrible time downloading pictures from my camera. I have to disconnect and reconnect multiple times -- as many as 10 or 15 -- before the computer will offload the content from the camera's memory card. Dave has been pushing me to get a new computer but this one is only four or five years old. Granted, it's been heavily used -- but I had hoped to get more out of it.

Yesterday we went to school to see the end-of-year dance performance. Before the show we stopped at Starbucks, where the (Polish?) barista had a bit of trouble figuring out my name.

Afterwards, we went to a party at the home of one of Dave's coworkers, near Holborn. You've seen articles about the tiny house movement, right? Well, this guy had a relatively tiny house, but right in the heart of London -- a two-story townhouse with roof garden, but with small rooms, a narrow spiral staircase and a ladder to the roof. We had to climb out of the skylight. It was very spare and free of clutter. I loved it. I'm into small and minimalist, so it was right up my alley.

(Top photo: A banana in our kitchen. That's breakfast this morning!)

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Saturday Selfie

(I suppose I really should have saved this photo for Sunday!)

As I was waking up this morning, I had a great idea for my blog. And then I fell back asleep. Now I have no idea what my great idea was.

Oh well.

At work, the drive to get items back to the library continues apace. I swept the middle school classrooms yesterday, gathering whatever library books I could find lying around. I found two lost books and a few that were almost certain to be declared lost if I hadn't pulled them from the back of that shelf. I love collecting all our books. It appeals to my sense of neatness and completion.

We only have a week and a half of school left!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Odds and Ends

This book, "Iqbal," is one of our summer reads at school. I haven't read it yet so I suppose I'll try it too. I liked the pattern all the new books made, sitting on the shelf.

I took my camera to work yesterday in order to take some pictures in the library for a woman who wanted general book photos for her web site. I don't really know this woman -- she's a substitute teacher so I've had contact with her, but that's all -- but I told her I'd give her some shots for free. It seemed churlish to try to charge her for pictures that required very little effort on my part!

Oh, and speaking of substitute teachers, I am no longer filling in as sub coordinator -- thank god. The coordinator returned from the states on Wednesday and came right back to work. Whew!

We still have ladybirds in the garden. Here's one on the campion -- which, by the way, is amazingly aphid-free. Dave ordered another box of ladybirds now that we've discovered all those scary-looking aphids on the roses.

And speaking of scary-looking, here's a student artwork -- by a second-grader -- that's hanging in one of the halls at school. Apparently there was a class-wide monster art project, because this one is displayed alongside lots of other monsters -- but it's definitely a standout. One of my colleagues mentioned how much she loves him (or her?) so I took a photo and e-mailed it to her.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

A College Prank

I've been meaning to write this post for a long time -- since the police incidents in Ferguson and Cleveland and South Carolina and elsewhere.

When those events occurred, those fatal police clashes with young black men, I got to thinking about my own history, and how it relates to the pervasive injustice in the differences in police treatment of blacks and whites. Aside from traffic infractions, I've only had one brush with the law myself, back in the mid-1980s.

This is how it unfolded:

I was with a group of friends, and we were drinking. (How familiar is that for an opening line to a story about a night gone wrong?) We were in college at the time, and somehow we got it into our heads to pull a prank on one of the college administrators. We chose as our victim the housing director, who was responsible for maintaining the dorms and food service and that sort of thing -- which of course, being students, we found lacking.

One of our group knew where the housing director lived, not far from his own home in a small suburban town just outside Tampa. So we bought a bunch of toilet paper, went to the administrator's home, and TP'd the large tree in his front yard. We also put dish soap on his car.

Then, like the complete and utter idiots we were, we jumped in our car and drove away, then drove back again to view our handiwork. Laughing hysterically, we went to a neighborhood park not far away and sat on the swingset.

Of course, the police showed up. We'd not only been seen TPing the tree but also driving back and forth in front of the house. The cops asked us some questions -- I think we had to give them our identification, but I'm not sure -- and they instructed us to come back to the house, apologize to the administrator and clean up the mess. (This despite the fact that we must have been visibly intoxicated and surely shouldn't have been driving anywhere.)

We got to the house and the police marched us to the front door. We knocked, but thank goodness, no one was home. So we scurried around the front yard in what must have been a fruitless effort to collect the toilet paper, and then the cops let us go. They never saw the soaped car. To my knowledge, they never made a police report. They never administered a breathalyzer or any other tests for intoxication. We were merely instructed to go back to my friend's house -- which we did, driving drunk all the way. (They may have escorted us -- I can't remember.)

We got the velvet glove treatment from these suburban cops for a couple of reasons. Obviously, our crime was relatively minor. There was no real damage. My friends lived in this small town, so the police saw us as locals. And we were clearly middle-class and white, out for a lark.

I'm not arguing that we should have been treated more harshly. I think the cops did the right thing in cutting us a break. And granted, this was 27 years ago -- the authorities may be less forgiving today, in the age of "broken windows" policing.

But what would have happened if we'd been middle-class black college students? Would the police have let us off so easily? It's speculative, but I suspect this is where the injustice would have occurred. What if we'd been poor and black? Surely the consequences would have been much more dire. We'd probably have been arrested, and quite possibly roughed up in the process. In fact, if we'd been poor and black, I suspect just sitting in the park at night -- without the TPing, without the drunkenness -- would have been enough to get us questioned.

Whenever someone mentions variables in the way police treat suspects, I think of this incident -- my one brush with law enforcement. In all likelihood, a black kid would have walked away from that incident with a criminal record -- not to mention the attendant fines and costs of legal representation and loss of driving priveleges.

I walked away and went back to my regular life -- albeit with a hangover -- the next morning.

(Photo: A photogenic pub in Bloomsbury.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Sub Frenzy

I have not had a day as stressful as yesterday in a long time. I'm still serving as the substitute coordinator, and for most of yesterday it seemed as if I'd be in this position for at least the rest of the week -- in addition to my normal library job. And things were crazy. Lots of subs are out this week, maybe because of the holiday weekend, and two cancelled pre-existing agreements to come in and cover classes. So that left me scrambling.

In fact, I even substituted a class myself. My first teaching gig! (I don't mean to say that in a way that suggests there will be a second.) It worked out fine -- it was a single journalism class, and when the regular sub cancelled late yesterday morning I thought, "You know, I ought to be able to handle this!" So I volunteered. The kids were great, stayed focused and worked on a project with only minimal instruction.

There were some other kerfuffles that needed attention, too.

But then, in the evening, the regular sub coordinator said she'd be returning tomorrow (meaning today), so that's a relief. I think I'll be able to hand off these duties and I will have made a little extra money, so that's not a bad thing.

Otherwise, honestly, I haven't had time to think about anything else!

I have, however, been meaning to highlight a comment from one of my readers. Remember when I mentioned the upsetting New Yorker story about elephant poaching, about a week ago, and I asked, "What am I supposed to do about it?" I suspect this is a feeling a lot of us get when we read the news -- a feeling of frustration at injustices that we cannot control or seemingly influence. I've even had friends stop following the news because they've felt this way. Well, the writer of 37 Paddington left a comment that I really appreciated. She said, "I once asked this question of a Buddhist monk, in connection with something else, and he said, 'It is enough for you to know it, to be awake to it. That ripples out. That is doing something.'"

I love that. And I believe it, too. Awareness is much of the battle. When people are aware, change begins to happen.

(Photo: Wedding photography at All Souls Church near Oxford Circus, a few weeks ago.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Stinking Iris

I am back in the hot seat today as substitute coordinator for the school, finding subs to fill gaps for absent teachers and staff. The real sub coordinator is away, and returning to my old job has not exactly been fun. I spent yesterday evening dealing with repeated interruptions and wound up unable to fill one position -- so they'll have to cover it internally. Ugh! I hope to god that phone doesn't ring again before school starts this morning.

Yesterday was fun -- a holiday here in England, as well as in the United States. I had brunch with my coworkers in the morning (two brunches in two days!) at The Wolseley, a schmantzy restaurant on Piccadilly. One of our number is retiring this year, so we gathered for a little celebration. (And she's not being replaced, which means one less librarian next year.) I had eggs florentine, at the absurd price of £16.

Afterwards I came home and, in between vacuuming and doing laundry, I took Olga to the West Heath. She had a fantastic time and became positively wild-eyed at the prospect of chasing more squirrels. She even ran up a tree trunk -- the tree was growing at a low angle -- and fell about four feet to the ground. She was unfazed, but everyone around her seemed momentarily stunned -- probably thinking, "Did I just see that dog go up a tree?"

And look! Our Iris foetidissima or "stinking iris" has bloomed. It's an underwhelming blossom, to be sure -- a sort of sickly beige. Dave said he actually likes it, but I am not impressed. It doesn't really smell at all. Apparently the "stinking" (I read somewhere) refers to the scent of the leaves when they are crushed. I'll take their word for it.

(Top photo: The sign for a show at the London Palladium, yesterday.)

Monday, May 25, 2015

A Eurovision Brunch

Several years ago I wrote about this old Art Deco cinema near Queensway, the Queens Cinema. Back then it was an empty hulk with an ornate facade. This is how it looks today. The project to turn it into condos -- in which the entire building was demolished and rebuilt, except the facade -- is finished. Pretty swanky!

I was in that neighborhood yesterday to visit our friend Keith, who hosted a special brunch to watch the Eurovision song contest, broadcast live the night before. You've probably heard of Eurovision, the annual event where each European country (and increasingly, a lot of countries not in Europe) enters a pop music act, and through a complex system of viewer and music-industry voting, one is deemed the winner.

I'd never seen Eurovision, and I must say it was really fun. (Dave was not the least bit interested, so he stayed home in the garden.) Sweden justifiably won with this performance by Måns Zelmerlöw, which perfectly combined the elements of a catchy song, clever production and an adorable, sexy singer. My personal favorite was Belgium's entry, which came in fourth. I thought it was very unusual and imaginative. The tragedy of the evening, as far as I was concerned, was the shunning of France's entry, which got only four points and wound up near the bottom. I thought it was a good song, well-performed and well-produced.

Wanna see something terrible? Watch Albania.

Anyway, we had a fun time, though the show ran for four and a half hours so it killed off quite a bit of the day! Afterwards I took a bus to Wandsworth to do some photography in South London, where I haven't been shooting for months. (Aside from my recent trip to the South Bank, which really doesn't count -- that's only barely south of the river.) It was gray and lightly rainy and I didn't get a whole lot before climbing onto the tube and coming back home.

And look! Jesus was on my train! (I believe he was a costume-party Jesus, as opposed to a super-religious Jesus. He seemed quite drunk and his robe was none too clean.)

Here's our latest garden mystery. We have these bugs on our roses. Apparently they're a kind of aphid, though they're the biggest, meanest-looking aphids I've ever seen! We discovered quite a few aphid infestations on the rose bushes, and we can't spray them, because that's also where we released our lacewing larvae. Dave is thinking about ordering more ladybirds!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Squirrel Killer

Olga and I took a walk in the cemetery yesterday, and a landmark event occurred: Olga killed her first squirrel.

I am not celebrating this. In fact, I feel terrible about it. But I suppose it was bound to happen.

She was running through the grass, Kong in mouth, when she heard a noise from a thicket. She crashed into the bushes as she usually does, and I laughed at her eagerness until I heard what I can only describe as a tiny squirrel scream. I ran to the thicket shouting "Drop it! Drop it!" When I got there, Olga was nose-first into a pile of leaves. She backed up to reveal an adolescent squirrel with no outwardly obvious injuries. It wasn't really moving -- just oddly flexing its little squirrel jaws.

We walked away to give it some time to recuperate -- I hoped it was playing dead. But when we went back a few minutes later, it was still there, and even the jaw movement had stopped. The prognosis was not good.

I can take a small degree of solace from the fact that gray squirrels are invaders in the U.K., displacing the native red squirrels. If Olga had to kill something, at least it was an exotic species. I suppose squirrels (and probably other critters) are particularly vulnerable at this time of year, when the new generation is young and clueless. Dave and I have discussed the need to keep her indoors early in the morning to protect the young fox(es?) in our garden.

On a brighter note, our first rose of the year blossomed yesterday, and we have two other bushes that are just a day or two away from flowering. The blackberries are also blooming -- berries for cereal later this summer! And the ladybirds are still on the campion.

Last night Dave and I went to dinner with several others at our friend Keith's house, where we had beef bourguignon and several bottles of his co-worker's special stash of Châteauneuf du Pape. We contributed some champagne to kick off the evening. Now I am contributing some much-needed coffee to my system.

Saturday, May 23, 2015


I had the dubious honor of sitting in a dunk tank yesterday afternoon at an event for the high school students at work. One of the student organizers sent an e-mail a few days ago to me and a list of other teachers, saying we "had been selected" as potential candidates for the dunk tank, and did we want to participate? This, of course, set off immediate speculation among those of us on the list about why we were chosen. Was it because the students hate us, or because they like us?

At any rate, I agreed to be dunked. So yesterday at 1:15 p.m. I traveled to the school athletic fields in suburban North London, and soon I was sitting on a tiny little board over a huge tank of water while kids threw tennis balls at a target. It wasn't the warmest day to be doing this -- about 65 degrees, I'd say -- and I kept praying they wouldn't hit the target. But of course someone did, and it was the strangest sensation, going from completely dry to underwater almost immediately. I didn't even have time to be shocked. I just thought, "Oh, hey, I'm underwater."

I sat on that board for 15 minutes and in that span I got dunked five or six times. But my crowds were definitely smaller than those for the high school principal. One girl walked by and said, "None of us want to dunk you, Mr. Reed, because we like you!"

I told them to think about all those times I harassed them for overdue materials!

Anyway, it was fun, but I was glad when it was over.

Then, last night, Dave and I met up with one of his former students, who's now at Yale and working temporarily in London. He took us to Cadogan Hall to see the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which was terrific. I'd never been in Cadogan Hall. It's a great space for a concert -- smallish and with pew seating upstairs that allowed us to spread out a bit. Among other things, the orchestra played one of my favorite pieces, Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major, which was a nice surprise. Dave had said they were going to play Rachmaninoff, but when the pianist started, I thought, "Gee, this sounds like that Ravel piece I like!" Turns out Dave got his composers mixed up.

(Photo: A bookstore in Bloomsbury, two weeks ago.)

Friday, May 22, 2015

Wild Kingdom

We've had some more "Wild Kingdom" excitement around here. (And I apologize that this has become something of a gardening blog lately, but what can I say -- that's where the action is!)

Our lacewings came in the mail yesterday. They turned out not to be fully-grown lacewings, but rather lacewing larvae, which are incredibly tiny and thus not very photogenic. So, sadly, I have no pictures to share. We opened the envelope and extracted the cardboard "wafer" the larvae inhabit, and put pieces of it on various plants. Supposedly the bugs will crawl off the wafer and onto the leaves. Somehow this is far less satisfying than releasing easily visible ladybugs that begin consuming aphids right away!

Speaking of which, the ladybugs are still visible on the campion, eating. I can't find them on any of the other plants where we released them, so they may have moved on. Who knows.

We also had a bit of excitement with our foxes this morning. Olga leaped out of bed at about 4:30 and stood in rapt attention at the bedroom door. I didn't hear anything but I got out of bed and went to the window, and sure enough, the adult fox and at least one kit were romping around in the back yard. The kit hopped up on the birdbath and knocked it over. Such a puppyish thing to do! Once again, I couldn't get to my camera while they were out and about -- and I think it was really too dark to get a decent shot, anyway.

"Hey, are you eating behind me?"

I read the most distressing article in The New Yorker yesterday, about elephant poaching in Africa. It began with an account of a caravan of well-armed poachers -- hundreds of them, including janjaweed fighters from Darfur -- traveling from Sudan to Cameroon, where they proceeded to occupy a national park for three months and slaughter 650 elephants. Even the Cameroonian army couldn't drive them out. A group of them went north to Chad and killed several park rangers along with more elephants before heading back home again. And of course, they only want the elephants' tusks, which they sell to the Chinese.

The article made the point that this occurred in a relatively well-governed African state -- so imagine what's going on in Congo or the Central African Republic, places with huge national parks and barely functioning government. The central figure in the story is an elephant researcher in the CAR, who was driven out of the country by political instability and later returned to find many of "her" elephants poached.

Are the people in Asia who buy all this ivory aware of what they're doing? Do they not care, or simply not understand? I just don't get it. Such a waste, for nothing. And even more frustrating: WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO ABOUT IT?! I could donate money -- somewhere -- but forgive my skepticism that it actually reaches the elephants.

One thing the elephants have going for them is that the proceeds from poaching often help fund terrorism and war -- which gives governments like ours in the U.S. and Europe an even more urgent reason to pay attention. But still. Agony.

(Top photo: Blue doors in Bloomsbury, a couple of weeks ago.)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ladybird Liberation

Things have mellowed in the garden, partly thanks to the fact that there were no new plants waiting when I got home from work last night! Dave did some online research and found a web site that recommends geraniums for gardens with underplanted bluebells and grape hyacinths -- exactly our situation. So I feel more confident that they won't kill our wildflowers. He agrees that we probably need to find another place for the hydrangeas, and I think he understands that I need to feel more a part of the garden decision-making.

Meanwhile, another of Dave's purchases arrived yesterday -- a box of ladybugs, or "ladybirds," as they are known in Britain. We bought them to help control aphids and other pests, which we have in abundance on some plants, as you can see from the photo of the campion above.

The ladybirds came crawling around in a hard plastic box...

...many huddled on a piece of non-sticky tape within the box. The directions were to simply open the box and leave it on a desirable plant, or gently encourage the bugs to crawl out onto the leaves.

We put a couple of bugs on each rose bush...

...and some on our lily-of-the-valley, which has easily visible aphids clustered along the stems.

They really seemed to like the campion, and they're still there this morning, feasting on the aphids.

These are native British ladybirds that came in a box of 20. Dave also bought a box of lacewings, another beneficial garden insect. They haven't arrived yet, but my guess is they'll come today. His coworkers think he is insane to be spending money on bugs! I think they're great, though, and apparently they won't fly away as long as they're able to find food.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Bit of Mania

I came home from work last night to find nine new plants in pots on the hall table. This is in addition to at least seven new plants that are still sitting in plastic pots out in the garden, waiting to go in the ground. And I got really annoyed. What resulted was a come-to-Jesus conversation with Dave about his mania for purchasing new plants that, in my view, we don't have room for and don't need to basically donate to our landlord.

I know Dave loves the garden, and it looks great. I don't mean to dampen his enthusiasm for it. But he's making lots of decisions without talking to me, and when I do agree to something, he takes it farther than I intended. When I agreed to mow the forget-me-nots around the roses, for example, he also pulled up all the forget-me-nots around the perimeter of the yard. I hadn't intended to get rid of those, but now they're gone. He cut the tops off all the daffodils while they were still green, against my advice. He weeded out some of the campion. He's overzealous.

My big thing is, I want wildflowers. British wildflowers. And I'm afraid that the wildflowers are being slowly pushed aside by all this planting and weeding. The newest plants are destined for a part of the garden that's already full of bluebells and grape hyacinths. Dave believes he can plant them so that they don't disturb (too much) the existing flowers, but I just can't imagine that adding three hydrangea bushes and nine geraniums for ground cover isn't going to shade out all those little bulbs.

Oh well. It could be worse. I suppose I should be happy that he's not snorting cocaine.

I am tense in general these days. I've been feeling like there's so much to do, with all the year-end stuff at work and planning our summer. Last night I got online (despite our dismal domestic internet connection, which is another story entirely) and bought a ticket to Florida for two weeks in July and August to visit my family, and I booked a guest house in York for a holiday with Dave and Olga. (I tried to book a different place that advertised itself as dog-friendly, but the desk clerk crisply informed me that while they do accept most dogs, they don't accept staffys. Well!)

I also have some work to do for another upcoming photo project, which I'll write about separately sometime. I have got to sit down and etudier my Francaise. The New Yorkers are piling up.

(Photo: Dave's brolly in our front hall.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

More Garden Goings-On

We got a surprise yesterday when our first iris bloomed! We have two kinds of iris, this one -- which is quite elegant -- and another called foetidissima or "stinking" iris. The stinking iris hasn't bloomed yet, but I am very curious to see it (and smell it) when it does.

The wild geraniums are also blooming profusely. We learned from a gardening TV show that this is a proper geranium, and the plants that so many of us call geraniums -- with the thick woody stems and bright bunches of flowers -- are actually pelargoniums. For what that's worth.

This mysterious wildflower grew up out of nowhere. I believe it's pink campion. I've seen it on Hampstead Heath, too. Dave accidentally weeded some of it, but we left this plant alone.

And this is Solomon's seal, which we found growing here when we moved in but, like the iris, we've never seen it bloom before.

What did I ever write about before we had a garden?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Sunny Sunday at the Heath

I know I'm repeating myself here: another Sunday, another day out with Olga. What can I say? Our lives develop a pattern of routine, do they not?

Yesterday we went to the West Heath, Sandy Heath and Hampstead Heath Extension. The weather was spectacular. We stayed out about three hours and I got the dog good and exhausted...

...but not so exhausted that she didn't need a good scratch from an available brick wall.

And needless to say, we weren't the only humans and dogs out and about on such a nice day. Check out this crowd!

While I was out with Olga, Dave was in the garden, and things are looking impossibly neat and manicured back there, at least by my standards. It's amazing. I helped Dave mow and weed when I got home, but he redoes everything I do because I'm not thorough enough, in his judgement!

We mowed down the forget-me-nots in the center of the yard. They were looking very weedy. I hope we left them long enough to re-seed so they come back next year.

I had an extremely annoying conversation with our next-door neighbor, who is constantly harping about how many rubbish bins we have (she also keeps hers in our driveway -- don't get me started) and finds our gardening wanting. She declared that she's going to remove a limb from our walnut tree because it hangs over her property ("that tree is only good for the squirrels, anyway"), and urged us to have the entire thing cut down. Then she told me all about how the previous tenants "did so much" in the garden. "I mean, I know you do some work there too, but..."

I think it's best if I just steer clear of her.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Day on the South Bank

It was such a beautiful day yesterday! After my French class, during which we struggled through descriptions of our daily activities ("Je me réveille à cinq heures et demie tous le jours") I decided to go for a photo walk. I went down to Westminster to walk along the river.

I haven't been to the Thames in months. While I was focused on Bleeding London -- basically for the past year -- I kept mostly to residential neighborhoods and stayed away from Central London. So it feels great to get back to where the action is.

Starting at Westminster, I crossed the Lambeth Bridge and then walked eastward along the river, all the way to Bermondsey. I passed most of London's major sights and wound up with about 160 pictures, of which I kept about 40.

I can't wait until school ends and I can do things like this more often! My photo wandering is pretty much limited to once a week at this point. We only have a few more weeks to go.

There were lots of interesting characters out yesterday, too, so I got some pretty good people pictures. I'm sure I'm in a lot of their pictures as well, though I doubt that I am as interesting!

Today looks like it will be nice, too. Olga and I plan an outing while Dave works more on the garden.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Missing Printer Cable, Part 3

Victory! I finally finished "Shantaram" yesterday, all 930 pages. I read in a long sprint through lunch and the afternoon, whenever I could grab a moment, so I wouldn't have to lug the book home again. I am so happy to be done with it. I feel like a great weight has been lifted.

I wouldn't say I loved it. It was easily readable, but overlong and full of a lot of unsavory characters, including the protagonist. Lots of blood and testosterone and swagger. I had hoped it would be more redemptive.

Also, I did my French homework and Dave and I went to my departmental end-of-the-school-year party last night. So I'm feeling a little less swamped than I was yesterday. I appreciated Ellen's comment that it's "easy to get overwhelmed with all the stuff we think we have to do." That's exactly right, isn't it? Think being the key word.

This weekend I'm going to do my best to whittle down the stack of magazines that has accumulated while I've been mired in that book.

And speaking of great weights being lifted, my mom reported that she has sold the piano. It was taken away yesterday. I know she's relieved, and I am too. I'm sorry I couldn't be more useful in helping her to get rid of it, but the dealer who bought it said he did remember hearing from me, so at least I made some kind of impression.

Oh, and our wayward printer cable arrived in the mail yesterday, so our printer is once again functional. Poor Dave's parents had to pay $9.45 to mail it from Florida!

(Photo: Olga likes the morning sun in the dining room.)

Friday, May 15, 2015

Falling Behind

I'm sitting in the living room, in the early morning silence, hoping the foxes will make an appearance. Olga is also on red alert. Yesterday morning we saw two of them, not far from the back door. Even with Olga standing at the door emitting gruff little barks and growls, they seemed unafraid -- obviously they know the door is a barrier and the dog can't get to them. When I moved, though, they darted away. There's an adult fox and at least one kit.

Yesterday we had a little Nepal fundraiser at school -- everyone was supposed to wear red and donate at least a pound in collection buckets around the building. I wore one of Dave's Izod shirts, because I don't own any red clothing (since giving away the Santa Claus pants). Even then, the Izod was really orange. Oh well. I did the best I could.

I am feeling a bit behind on everything. It's a busy time of year in the library, I haven't been studying my French as well as I should, I have a small stack of New Yorkers I haven't even opened, I'm still slogging my way through "Shantaram" (page 826!) and it's been hard to keep up with my online reading. I have been watching TV each evening with Dave, but that's our ritual -- our together time. We chat during the shows and talk about our days. So that time is sacrosanct.

And now we're entering a busy social time of year-end gatherings. Whew!

(Photo: Doors in Islington, London.)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Too Much of a Good (?) Thing

Have you ever heard of Lythrum virgatum Dropmore? I hadn't either until Dave bought some to plant in our garden -- and then I realized with horror that it's purple loosestrife, a plant that I remember well from my years in New York as an invasive. It's pretty, but in North America purple loosestrife has taken over thousands of acres of wetlands. I thought, "We can't plant this!"

But then I started doing some reading and it turns out that in U.K. gardens loosestrife is perfectly acceptable. Apparently is does have a tendency to seed itself quite vigorously -- unless the flower heads are removed before they go to seed -- but it's not dreaded (and certainly not prohibited) the way it is in parts of the U.S. For one thing, it's native to Europe, so as I understand it, it's not exotic to our ecosystem and it has natural pests that help keep it in line.

So I'm less nervous now about the loosestrife.

As I was reading about it, though, I came across a list of the 100 worst exotic invasive species, and on the list I recognized another name from our garden: Fallopia.

Dave planted Fallopia baldschuanica, or Russian Vine, on our fences. I've been wary of this vine from the beginning. It grows incredibly fast and it's already threatened to twine its way into our trees. The Fallopia on the exotic invaders list is not Russian Vine -- it's Fallopia japonica, or Japanese Knotweed, a sister plant. But still! I read enough warnings about Russian Vine in gardens that I've persuaded Dave to remove it. We're going to plant climbing hydrangeas instead.

And finally, another name on the list caught my eye: Euphorbia esula, or leafy spurge. We have lots of this stuff, too, or a very similar Euphorbia cousin. It was here before we moved in. And we like it, so we've left it, but man, it is a vigorous grower.

And then there's the borage, which one of my commenters recently warned would  "take over your garden when it seeds." We have a borage hedge growing at the back of our property. We have wisteria and rose vines winding up into our trees from the neighbors' garden. And there's English ivy, and persicaria, and purple buddleia, and our newfound forget-me-nots -- all vigorous growers.

I guess gardening really is a matter of constantly reining in the craziness!

(Photo: Another species that tends to proliferate wildly -- the pigeon.)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Washing Machine Niagara

Have I mentioned our leaky washing machine?

A week or two ago, while doing laundry, I heard the conspicuous sound of water running. It seemed louder than it should have been, but I didn't see any problems and I just kept washing. After two loads in a row, though, I found water on the kitchen floor, spreading from beneath the machine. Not good!

I sent up an SOS and the management company sent a repairman who showed me how water practically poured out of a pipe joint behind the machine as it emptied. That was the sound I heard -- a hidden Niagara in our kitchen. He dismantled the pipes in the back and found them stuffed full of crud. (Not all our crud -- he said this had been "going on for a while.") He cleaned them out and went on his way.

Well, two more loads of laundry and there was more water on the floor. Following my mom's dictum that Everything Needs to be Done Twice, I called the repairman back. After putting us off for a few days -- during which I held off doing any laundry at all -- he appeared yesterday afternoon and cleaned out more blocked pipes in the kitchen. (Apparently all those pipes are connected somehow.)

I did laundry last night and for the first load there was no problem. After the second load -- during which I was also running the dishwasher -- there was a bit of water on the floor behind the machine, but nothing like before. So I'd say our pipes may still be a bit backed up, but I'll just avoid running both machines at once, and running concurrent loads, and we should be fine.

Wasn't that exciting? Don't you wish you were me?

An unfortunate side effect of the leak is that the kitchen floorboards -- which were already warped -- are now slightly more warped. If it were my floor I'd take up that wood and put down tile.

Remember I mentioned my friend Susi visiting on Sunday to take pictures of Olga? Well, here's one of her shots. I especially like this one. Olga would not face the camera, so Dave and I had to physically turn her and distract her with her (soon to be stolen!) Kong.

Some of Susi's other shots of Olga can be seen on her Flickr photostream here.

(Top photo: The Baker Street tube station. See the Sherlock Holmes tiles? His office was on Baker Street in the Arthur Conan Doyle novels, and the tube station is all Sherlock, all the time. Oh, and that wall really IS curved. It's not lens distortion.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Geums and a Bay Leaf

Olga and I were out in the yard a few minutes ago, making the early morning rounds and checking out the plants, when the neighborhood fox began barking a short distance away. Olga, of course, went ballistic and threw herself at the fence a couple of times before I convinced her to come inside. The fox hasn't made an appearance yet but he was close by. I think we may see him soon, with Olga safely indoors.

The picture above shows our geums, which just began blooming -- even the one I accidentally pulled up, mistaking it for a weed. Olga is in the background, feeling blurry.

Speaking of Olga, we gave her the last of the lamb stew last night. She loved it and wolfed it down. (I definitely witnessed the origin of that expression -- because a dog is pretty much a wolf, after all, and Olga can make huge amounts of food disappear almost instantly. I'm not sure dogs really taste anything.)

We got a good laugh because although she wolfed down the stew, she left behind the carefully licked-clean bay leaf.

Oh, and her replacement Kong arrived yesterday, so all is once again right with the world.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Kong Thief!

I took Olga to Hampstead Heath yesterday and someone stole her Kong.

Yes, like taking candy from a baby, someone took my dog's favorite toy.

Can you believe it?

It all began uneventfully enough. Dave and I were counting on an entire day of leisure, and I spent the morning cleaning the apartment. Then I got a text from my friend Susi reminding me that she and her husband were coming over to photograph Olga for a project she's doing. I had completely forgotten that plan, but it wasn't a problem -- Dave and I decided to go to lunch with them, after which he would come home to work on the garden and I would take Olga to the Heath.

After lunch, Greg and Susi decided to tag along to the Heath too. Of course, we brought Olga's Kong -- because, as you know, without her Kong to occupy her jaws, she is fatal to local soccer balls.

Well, it being a nice day, the Heath was packed with people -- possibly more crowded than I have ever seen it. Olga spied two young American guys playing catch with a baseball and immediately streaked over to try to intercept it. She ran between them, back and forth, for several minutes -- it was pretty hilarious to watch. (I don't think she's ever seen anyone play catch before.)

Apparently when she raced over to join the game, she dropped her Kong. I was talking to Greg and Susi and didn't immediately realize it. But when I got her away from those guys and told her to find her Kong, she couldn't. Which is very unusual. Normally she knows exactly where it is. The American guys said a woman had picked it up and asked them if it was theirs, and they said no. Apparently she took it, because it was nowhere to be found.

Now, I ask you -- if you were walking through a field full of people and dogs, and you found a warm, spitty dog toy lying on the path, would you pick it up and take it home?! I still can't quite believe it.

I'd just bought this Kong, too. So that was £20 out the window, and I had to order another one express delivery from Amazon last night.

And of course, because she didn't have her Kong, Olga got into all sorts of misadventures on the rest of her walk. She darted in and stole four soccer balls from unsuspecting people, at least one of which she punctured. (I heard the air escape: "fssssssss...") Everyone was quite nice about it and no children cried, at least not while I was there. But still.

This capped off a day of general misadventure. I forgot to put a battery in my camera, which is why there are no photos of Olga playing catch with those guys. I also pulled a weed out of our horseradish plant, only to find that it wasn't a weed at all, but a flower stalk -- our horseradish's first flowers. Oops.

Hopefully today will go better. The new Kong arrives this afternoon.

(Photo: Reflections in a cafe window in Islington, on Saturday.)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A Walk to the Barbican

Yesterday was busy! I went to my French class in the morning -- that class moves fast, and I need to do some studying, but I'm holding my own pretty well -- and then I went out for a photo walk.

I decided to walk from Baker Street, the location of the Alliance Francaise, toward the Barbican, which is across Westminster and Islington at the western edge of the City of London. The weather cooperated and it felt good to get out with the camera and do my own thing, as opposed to Bleeding London's thing, although I feel a bit rusty. It's been a long time since I've taken my own photo walks with no agenda.

One of my goals was to photograph this entranceway. I've always found it amusing that Shakespeare and Defoe have their names on a parking garage, a structure they probably couldn't even conceive of. What would they think?

I came home with a pretty good haul. I thought I might go out again today, but Olga requires an outing, so maybe I'll focus on her instead. I'm also Skyping with my mom this afternoon. I'm eager to hear how the house and piano sale are going.

Meanwhile, Dave is toiling in the garden, planting things and moving things around. We had a low-level disagreement about the daffodils -- he wanted to cut off all the leaves now that the blooms are spent, and I told him to leave them because the plants need to gather energy. Well, his mom said on her visit that they always cut them off at their house, and that seemed to embolden Dave, because now all the daffodils are down to the ground. Hopefully they absorbed enough solar energy over the past couple of months!

(Photographs: All taken at the Barbican.)

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Missing Printer Cable, Part 2

We heard from Dave's parents yesterday. They arrived back in the U.S. to find that, lo and behold, they had packed our printer cable in their luggage. They're mailing it back to us.

Other than that, there is literally no news around here. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

(Photo: The sky above St. John's Wood, April 30.)

Friday, May 8, 2015

David Cameron and Pink Floyd

I feel like I should have something to say about the British national elections, but to be honest, I am still a bit mystified by politics here. And in any case I can't vote. If I had voted I'd have gone for Labour, which shows that even here I'm probably going to wind up in the minority for my entire electoral life, just as I almost always was in the United States.

The Scottish National Party apparently won big, which makes me wonder if we're going to have to go through another Scottish independence referendum some time in the near future. (Please, no!)

I'm sure the Staffy Vote went for Labour, but Olga won't tell me, so I can't be sure.

This was Google's homepage for the election yesterday. I thought those of you in the U.S., who were perhaps deprived of this art, might appreciate it.

Speaking of politics, a lot of the high school students are working on U.S. History projects at school right now, and it's freaking me out a little bit. Their projects have to be about history post-1973, so we're basically talking about my memory span. They're writing about the Iranian hostages, about Reagan and Star Wars, about Iran-Contra.

"Reagan is so confusing," I heard one girl tell another.

"Reagan was confusing at the time," I told them both. (I wish I'd said he was confused at the time, but I didn't think of it until later.)

One girl wanted to write her paper about Pink Floyd. The teacher and I gently discouraged her, pointing out that while Pink Floyd was undoubtedly a major cultural force in the '70s, the band probably wasn't a suitable topic for a U.S. history project. She wanted to weave in an anti-war element, but Vietnam was mostly over by the time Pink Floyd hit the big time in the states, wasn't it?

Anyway, she's choosing another topic.

(Photo: Street art in Brick Lane, a couple of weeks ago. I suspect the pink house wasn't an original part of this mural.)