Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Brexit II

The debate over whether the UK should remain in the European Union is heating up as the date of the "Brexit" referendum approaches (June 23). The other day at work I heard a couple of colleagues, both British, discussing it in the hallway. Arguing about it, even.

And when Dave and I went to the Chelsea Flower Show on Saturday we ran into a contingent of "Leave" campaigners outside the gates, handing out fliers. That was interesting because so far, at least in London, the "Remain" group has seemed more visible to me. I picked up a brochure and read their arguments for leaving -- basically, as I said earlier, although they're couched in concern for the future of the NHS and national security, they mainly come down to immigration. "Imagine if Turkey joins this broken system?" the brochure warned, in italics.

As I've said before, being an immigrant and non-citizen myself, I can't vote in the Brexit referendum. But the "Leave" arguments remind me so much of the pro-Trump position in the United States. There's worry that public services are being swamped, that the culture is being corrupted, with a healthy dose of fear of brown-skinned people thrown in for good measure.

Accompanying this debate is a rising tide of right-wing and nationalist politics all across Europe. Anyone who knows anything about history ought to be worried about that phenomenon.

I just think you can't turn back the clock. A lot of people -- and I say this about both the UK and the United States -- want that "Leave It To Beaver" ideal, when everyone on television was white and women wore pearls to do the dishes and many of the world's disadvantaged had the good sense to stay in their own disadvantaged countries. But putting up walls doesn't work. Isolationism isn't the way to go. It never has been.

Is integrating immigrants into our societies difficult? Of course. Does it strain our resources? Yes. But then we need to invest more in those resources. We need a fairer distribution of economic gains so our own middle classes don't feel excluded. We need to engage more with other countries to educate women and stabilize population growth and political unrest, so that refugees and potential immigrants have reasons to stay home. After all, didn't the western world gain a lot of its wealth by plundering the rest of the globe? We didn't get where we are by growing potatoes.

If the machinery in Brussels and Strasbourg is broken, then we need to fix it. Reform isn't impossible.

In the end I think the best example we can provide -- in both the UK and the United States -- comes from being free, tolerant, open societies. Turning ourselves into gated communities is not the answer. It's sometimes uncomfortable to live that example. But it's also right.

(Photo: West Hampstead, yesterday.)

Monday, May 30, 2016

Olga and Wisteria

Olga and I went walking on all four parts of Hampstead Heath yesterday morning: The East Heath, Sandy Heath, West Heath and Hampstead Heath Extension. (Here's a map, if you're curious.) We've never done all four in a single day, at least not that I can remember. She got a workout!

(She also got a bath when we got home, because, you know -- mud.)

On the way to the Heath we passed this amazing wall of wisteria in Hampstead. We first saw it a few weeks ago, when it hadn't yet bloomed, and I filed it away in my mind, thinking, "That will make a fabulous photo!" I was afraid it would be past its peak by now -- and I think it is, very slightly -- but it still made a good shot.

I unleashed Olga and told her to stay.

She's not the best listener. But eventually she complied.

Aside from our vigorous walk, yesterday consisted mostly of housework. In the evening our coworker Colin had a barbecue at his house, and Dave didn't feel up to it, but I went and had fun. (Is it bad that I left my sick husband at home while gallivanting off to a party? I think he was probably glad for the peace and quiet after being tormented by the vacuum and the washing machine all day.) Colin has a fire pit, and we all drank wine and sat around the fire roasting marshmallows, which I don't think I've done in -- oh, what -- 30 years? More? Anyway, today I smell like one of Smokey the Bear's assistants.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Chelsea Flower Show

Dave and I went to the Chelsea Flower Show yesterday, probably the UK's single most famous gardening event. It's so popular that tickets can be hard to come by -- we got them through our membership in the Royal Horticultural Society, a gift from one of Dave's colleagues at work.

I had never heard of Chelsea before I moved to England, but here it is quite the thing.

Royalty was present, at least in cutout form. (The queen did attend earlier.) I took this photo and realized only afterwards that those two ladies on the other side were posing for me.

The royal visage hovered over all of us...

...and over all the floral displays, like these proteas from South Africa.

Dave and I wandered through the great hall -- packed with exhibits by growers of specific types of plants -- and around the grounds, where vendors were selling everything from garden statuary to gazebos and treehouses.

We popped into the cafe and had coffee (Dave) and a Pimm's (me) overlooking the Thames. We joked that we should have worn t-shirts reading "FLOWERS SUCK" -- just to be provocative.

We saw the huge display of crocheted poppies between the show grounds and the old Royal Hospital. It's meant as a tribute to the armed forces, kind of like the installation in 2014 at the Tower of London.

And of course we saw the show gardens, which are quite amazing and unlike anything we're ever likely to have at home. It's interesting to see how the garden designers use certain plants and colors and shapes to have the desired effect. (We loved that orange flower in the lower right -- I have no idea what it is. A zinnia, maybe?)

Still, after we got home from all the hustle and bustle we agreed that our own peaceful garden was our favorite!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Squirrel Hijinks and Starling Madness

As I've mentioned before, Dave and I have a bird feeder in our garden. It's on a tall pole and it's supposedly squirrel-proof. I say supposedly, because as you can see, our squirrels have outwitted it.

They climb up and set the whole thing to swaying, trying to figure out how to get to the suet balls.  (They're not interested in the dried mealworms.)

Squirrel ballet -- en pointe.

And finally, jackpot!

Olga sits inside and watches all this with quivering excitement.

An hour or so later...

...the starlings show up, and the whole contraption becomes a seething mass of fluttering birds. It's almost Hitchcockian.

"Feed me!"


We get other birds, too -- lots of tits and occasionally something more interesting. I haven't seen any parrots this year, though. It all depends on which food we put out. The mealworms seem to draw primarily tits and starlings. Last year a woodpecker went for them but I haven't seen it yet, either. It's an ever-revolving cast of characters!

Friday, May 27, 2016

A Street Sweeper and a Fox

The other day I mentioned London's street sweepers. Here's one I came across yesterday morning on my way to work. The poor guy had a big job!

I am always intrigued by garbage. It appears in so many of my photos because it's such a constant feature of the urban landscape. I find it an interesting counterpoint to all of London's noble and historic -- or modern and flashy -- architecture, as well as a constant reminder of what an insanely wasteful culture we are. (When I say "we" I don't mean the UK alone. I mean the western world in general.)

I'm always finding interesting things discarded on the street. I did not take this pillow home, however. I draw the line at pillows.

On a completely different note, here's our garden fox. It ran past our patio doors yesterday evening and poked around among the flowers for a few minutes -- just long enough for me to get a few shots through the window. It seems lithe and young. I don't know anything about the growth rate of foxes, but it seems conceivable that this is its first spring.

I hope it can move fast, because not only do we have Olga, but our next-door neighbor -- the one I have not very kindly dubbed Mrs. Kravitz -- just got a dog. In fact her dog, a bouncy, fluffy, fancy thing of refined breeding, came over to play with Olga a bit yesterday evening. Olga did not beat it up, thankfully.

Mrs. Kravitz and our upstairs neighbor are involved in a dispute over the use and placement of the trash cans. Despite my past complaining about the trash situation, Dave and I haven't taken sides. I want to get along with everyone involved, so I'm waiting to see how it plays out.

Finally, our irises are back, too! This one, our first of the year, just bloomed yesterday. There's a bud right behind it, and plenty of other buds as well, so we should have irises for a while.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Debt Collector

As it turns out, Olga didn't eat the dying pigeon in our garden. In case you were wondering. I think I know what happened to it, though -- for the last several mornings and evenings we've seen a young fox make a quick, silent circle through our yard. My guess is he found that tasty morsel hunkered down beneath the shrubbery.

I finished "A Life Discarded" by Alexander Masters, the book I was reading about the diaries found in the trash bin. The author does resolve the ethical issues involved in writing about someone else's personal diaries. I can't tell you how without giving away the ending -- the book unfolds as a series of revelations that lead to a surprising conclusion. I really enjoyed it. In fact I was right at the end yesterday when I kept getting interrupted at work (yes, I was reading at work, but as a library assistant I'm allowed!) and it was sweet torture to have to put the book down and deal with whatever student needed a computer charger at that moment.

I'm on my annual campaign to get library materials back before the end of the school year, which is zooming toward us pretty quickly. I have one girl who's had two books out -- "The Beautiful and Damned" by F. Scott Fitzgerald and "Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?" by Raymond Carver -- since before Christmas. They were due Jan. 6. She's been getting automated overdue notices by e-mail for about four months now, in addition to personal e-mails from me. I went to her classroom to talk to her twice. I wrote her parents. It's always the same old story: "Oh, I forgot, I'm so sorry, I'll bring them tomorrow." At this point I don't know what more I can do. Bill her family, I suppose.

And remember the girl with the wayward biology textbook? Well, she checked out a geography textbook last fall and lost it. So I'm trying to collect money for that as well. Again: Spoke to student, wrote to parents. Nothing yet. Stay tuned!

(Photo: St. John's Wood, last week.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Take a Seat

When we moved into our current flat, we found a bench tucked away in a back corner of our garden. As you can see, it's not the greatest.

Dave and I have been using it, but I've always been aware that it might at any moment collapse under me. It wobbles slightly from side to side, and those two fallen slats aren't attached to anything. They were regularly knocked loose by squirrels.

But now...

...ta-da! We ordered a new bench from Amazon!

It arrived yesterday, and putting it together was kind of an ordeal. The directions said it "should be assembled by no less than two people," which I suppose is a fancy way of saying not to do it alone -- but also seems to suggest that assembly by, oh, eight people would be perfectly acceptable. (As we all know, that would simply lead to a massive argument.)

I enlisted help from poor infirm Dave, thinking he would only have to hold a few pieces while I screwed them together. Things got a bit more complicated than that, but rather than go into detail, let me just say that we survived and we now have a fabulous, stable place to sit outside and enjoy things like...

...our lilies of the valley, which are in bloom. Did you know the French call May Day "La FĂȘte du Muguet," or "Lily of the Valley Day"? Apparently it's tradition on that day to give bouquets of lily of the valley to friends and relatives. (Never mind that it's poisonous.)

We're having amazing, sunny spring weather, and the garden is going gangbusters! This is a great time of year.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Ten Years Ago!

Do you ever think, while reading my blog: "Good grief, this guy has nothing to say."

I wouldn't blame you. I sometimes feel that way myself. And here's what's remarkable -- as of today, I have been saying nothing online for TEN YEARS!

Yes, exactly a decade ago -- as I recall, while I was sitting at my desk at The New York Times -- I launched Shadows & Light.

Let's take a trip down memory lane: That's me, at left, when and where it all began, with my view over the theaters and rooftop water tanks near Times Square. (I used to love that shirt. I bought it at Macy's. It eventually faded and went to Goodwill, but I still miss it. And look at my prehistoric computer! Good Lord.)

I began blogging almost on a whim. I'd been curious about it for a while, having kept a journal for years and years -- I was already in the habit of writing about my life. And then I bought a simple point & shoot digital camera, my first, and began taking pictures on the streets of New York. I thought, "Wouldn't it be great to put these images online?"

I wasn't on Flickr at the time, and a friend had recently launched his own blog on Blogspot, so I chose that as my platform and took the plunge. I named the blog Shadows & Light partly as a tribute to Joni Mitchell, one of my favorite singers -- ironically, her "Shadows and Light" album is one of the few I don't have -- and partly because, well, that's what it was going to be: Pictures of shadows. Pretty basic!

And it was pretty basic, especially at the beginning. Basic to a fault, in fact. I was actively practicing Zen at the time, and I was very focused on simplicity. I really wanted most of my posts to be just a picture and a few lines of text. I remember my friend Kevin suggesting I write more, and I resisted the idea. (I was also nervous about putting information about myself online.)

I wasn't sure what to expect. I suppose, like many bloggers, I thought I might eventually have hordes of people following my posts. Hundreds! Thousands! Tens of thousands!

I quickly learned that most people are way too busy and absorbed in their own lives -- and rightfully so -- to pay any attention to mine. I wrestled with disappointment, but also realized I was giving my readers very little. So gradually I opened up more -- there's freedom in obscurity -- and found some reliable readers and a community of fellow bloggers.

Now I think of us like a little creative-writing club. You read what I write, I read what you write. We exchange feedback. I eventually abandoned any attempt to become a widely read blogger -- after all, I'd been writing for years in paper journals with no audience at all. Why did I need one now?

These days, I get something like 500 page views a day. Not that many, especially since some of them are mine! But I'm fine with that. I could be Tweeting and boosting my blog on Facebook -- the vast majority of my Facebook friends have no idea this blog exists -- but I appreciate being a bit under the radar.

According to my Google stats, they like me in Russia. I'm not sure why that is, but I have a sinking suspicion that it isn't good. And they like me in France, strangely, but the English appear largely indifferent. ("Another bloody Yank!")

My most popular posts? This one, a short, grumpy post about those silly family stickers that people put on the back windows of their cars, tops the list. In fact, a lot of people find my blog by searching "family stickers" on Google. Which is bizarre.

Then there's this one, in which I recounted being ripped off by a taxi driver in Istanbul, and this one, in which I told about a visit to an exhibit of Australian art at the Royal Academy. (I have no idea why that rates so highly.)

For a long time, my most popular post was tangentially about the actress Tina Louise. After it went up, I made a short-lived vow to mention Tina Louise in every post, because she brought me so much traffic.

As you can see, my page views have grown steadily -- from nothing to next-to-nothing.

But I must add a caveat to this overlong blogaversary celebration, by admitting that although I've hit the ten-year mark, with 3,035 overall posts, 17,337 comments (merci!) and nearly half a million all-time page views, I haven't really been writing a full ten years. That's because I took two substantial breaks: for just over two months between November 2008 and February 2009, and for seven months between October 2010 and May 2011. During that latter break I was writing and reporting full time and I just didn't have it in me to sit typing off the clock.

Now, I can't imagine not blogging. It has become such an important part of my day -- when something happens to me I often think, "This will be great for the blog!" And the community I've developed and the friends I've made have changed my life. I've been to a blogger May Day party, complete with a maypole. I've visited other bloggers on their own turf, experiencing a blissful kind of blog-meld. Other bloggers have visited me. I met up with a blog pal in Paris!

So thank you, bloggers and readers, for this awesome experience. I promise I will never write another post this long.

(Photo: Revisiting one of my favorite photos from my New York days, originally posted ten years ago tomorrow.)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Reading Someone Else's Diary

Dave made another expedition outside the house yesterday, this time to see his high school students perform in their year-end concert. Another music teacher conducted, but Dave at least got to watch the kids present the pieces they've been working on for weeks and months. He enjoyed it (and the concert was great) but once again, he was surprised at how tired he gets, and how quickly.

Last night we were eating dinner when someone rang our doorbell. It's almost always a salesman when someone rings at that hour, particularly on a Sunday, so when I went to the door and saw an unknown face through the window, I simply turned around and went back to the living room. It was only after I sat down that I thought it could be a delivery or something and I'd better double-check. Turns out it was a repairman from Thames Water, here to fix a wastewater problem at the side of the house. "Sorry!" I told the guy. "I thought you were a salesman!" He didn't seem too put off, but I guess I really should at least open the door and ask next time.

I'm reading a fascinating book -- especially for anyone who keeps (or has kept) a diary or journal. Called "A Life Discarded," it's non-fiction about some people in Cambridge who find more than 140 diaries, many of them decades old, in a rubbish bin. The book's author mines the contents of these diaries in an attempt to write a biography of the unidentified author -- he knows neither their name nor, for a while, their gender. It makes me think of that old diary I own that I bought at an estate sale in Massachusetts years ago -- and also of my own paper journals. It reconfirms my desire to finish transcribing and editing them so my raw venting doesn't fall into someone else's hands and, God forbid, become a book. I don't want to be remembered for things I wrote down when I was in a snit.

Which brings up an interesting question about the ethics of writing a book based on a stranger's private diaries. The author, Alexander Masters, hasn't really broached that subject yet, except to occasionally quote the diarist writing that he/she doesn't want the diaries to be lost and occasionally referring to future readers. I suppose everyone who keeps a diary thinks, on some level, about the possibility that it will be read -- it could be their ultimate horror or their ultimate motivation.

(Photo: St. John's Wood, May 16.)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

La Mort du Pigeon

I'm posting early today because Olga woke me up at 4:30 a.m., very insistent that she go outside. So I let her out, and she promptly started eating grass, which means she has an upset stomach -- probably from eating sticks. Now she's sitting next to me on the couch looking none the worse for wear. Ah, the life of a dog owner.

Our bedraggled, picked-on, possibly dying pigeon made a reappearance a few days ago. As you may recall, it had been hanging out on our garden bench a while back, but then it flew away when Olga lunged at it, teeth bared. (At least it had the strength to do that.) I'm not sure where it went, but we didn't see it again until Friday, when we discovered it hunkered down in a dark spot beneath our shrubbery.

It looked even worse than before, with raw skin and ragged feathers. I'm not sure what was going on, but it occurred to me that we don't often see the end of a pigeon's life (except for those unlucky enough to be squashed in the road). Maybe this is what old pigeons become -- ostracized, raggedy looking and hunkered down in a dark place, waiting for the end.

Anyway, I felt bad for it, but I had to let nature take its course. The next morning it was still there, but unmoving, and I couldn't see its head to see if it was still alive. A few hours later, it was gone altogether, with just a few feathers left in its wake. Whether something carried it away or it flew, I don't know.

I have a feeling we probably won't see it again.

(And I am just now putting two and two together: Does Olga have an upset stomach because she ate the pigeon?!)

I spent yesterday morning at French class, learning about making comparisons -- this apartment is more expensive than that apartment, etc. Then I came home and repotted some plants -- Dave's hospital anthurium and some colorful kalanchoes I bought at Tesco for next to nothing.

Last night, I accompanied Dave's students to the opera. Only four of them showed up, even though seven more spent £20 apiece to attend! A friend from work tagged along too, to use Dave's ticket, so I had some adult company. The production was beautiful -- I'd never seen Madame Butterfly before, at least not that I could remember. (Spoiler: Not a happy ending.)

(Photo: Shoreditch, in mid-April.)

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Not Seeing David Sedaris

Last November, an acquaintance at school told me about an upcoming appearance by the writer David Sedaris at Cadogan Hall in London. She was going, along with some other teachers, and she suggested I get tickets too.

I've always wanted to see Sedaris live. When I lived in New York I was once supposed to see him at Carnegie Hall with a friend, and something happened -- I can't remember what now -- and I didn't go. So rather than miss out again, I went online and bought two seats for his London appearance. I even bought coupons for glasses of champagne at intermission.

The tickets arrived in the mail, and I stupidly tucked them between two books on our bookshelf. And of course, I forgot about them completely.

Sedaris came and went, on Feb. 27, and neither Dave nor I ever realized we'd missed the event. Our friends at school didn't mention it to us. I only discovered it yesterday when I pulled a book off our bookshelf and found the now-completely-useless tickets.

So that's £98 down the tubes.

I sent one of our school friends an e-mail telling her of our mistake. "How funny!" she wrote. "You must have filed that away in a deep vault in your mind." (She's being charitable. It wasn't filed in my mind at all.)

"It was fun!" she continued. "Hopefully next time he comes around you can get tickets and actually go!"

Have you ever done anything like this? I swear I think I'm getting Alzheimer's.

(Photo: The remains of a tile surface at a building site not far from our house.)

Friday, May 20, 2016

I (Heart) Teeth

A reader points out that in yesterday's photo, there appears to be a man with a broom sweeping the sidewalk. "Does that really happen over there?" she asks. Believe it or not, yes. The councils -- local governments -- employ armies of contracted street-sweepers to walk around with shovels, brooms and little carts and pick up trash. Not just litter, but also fallen leaves and dog poo. They don't pick up larger items, like discarded furniture, or piles of illegally dumped trash bags, and those sometimes tend to hang around a while. They also don't get to things that aren't on the sidewalk itself -- like all the litter along the trash path.

I'm not sure it's the most practical system of urban cleanup, seeing as how there's still plenty of rubbish lying around. Those guys just can't sweep up everything. (They also seem to spend a fair amount of time standing on corners and tapping away on their mobile phones.)

On the other hand, think what the streets might look like without them! Especially since we have a dearth of public trash bins, the photo above notwithstanding.

Speaking of today's photo, by the way: What you may not be able to see are all the toothbrushes hanging in the window of that dentist's office, in front of the "I (heart) Teeth" poster. A colorful touch!

I (heart) teeth too. Especially mine.

Dave came to school yesterday morning for the first time since his surgery. We took a taxi together and he sat in on just one class -- high school band -- so he could hear how they're doing. The students all applauded him when he walked in the room. It was great to see. Their year-end concert is this Sunday and we plan to attend.

It looks like I may also wind up going to the opera with some of his students on Saturday night. Dave booked a performance of "Madame Butterfly" for his AP music students, with tickets for the two of us as well. Now he can't go, so someone needs to collect the tickets and distribute them to the kids at the theater. That person will probably be me, and as long as I'm there I may as well use my seat!

(Photo: Finchley Road, earlier this week.)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Patriotic Headgear

Olga and I found this shimmery Union Jack hat yesterday morning on our walk. It looks like a remnant from someone's party. My guess is when the owner stumbled home from the pub their hat didn't quite make it!

Speaking of patriotic themes, I have an acquaintance on Facebook -- someone I went to high school with -- who recently posted a news item from a far-right political party here in the U.K. This friend lives in the American South, is ex-military and often posts anti-Obama rhetoric, so I'm never surprised when he distributes items with a conservative bent. But I found it interesting that he'd latched on to a bit of propaganda based here in the U.K. Why does he care about U.K. politics?

To me, it illustrates how far-right and anti-immigrant movements are interlaced -- paradoxically, across international lines -- as well as inherently racist. My friend dislikes Obama, supports Trump (apparently) and now he's latched on to a political movement in a foreign country that preaches the evils of multiculturalism. To the best of my knowledge -- and admittedly I don't know him well -- he has no real interest in the U.K.'s internal affairs. But he's invested in the discriminatory ideology.

Maybe this connection is obvious, but frankly, I was surprised he even knows the U.K. exists.

Olga is sitting next to me watching starlings on our bird feeder. The starlings love the mealworms we put out, and they swarm the feeder en masse, the adults pulling out dried worms and feeding them to their nearly-grown chicks. Every once in a while a squirrel will dive into the mix and try to climb the feeder, sending everyone flapping. Our back yard is a hive of activity, and Olga is shaking -- she can barely stand the excitement!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Nail Studio

Remember the big fire in our neighborhood last October? Two shops were severely affected, a nail studio and a mobile phone repair business. Both are still closed. The phone repair place is boarded up, but the interior of the nail salon is visible from busy Finchley Road through the ash-and-soot-streaked front windows.

It's a strange scene, with nail supplies still laid out on trays atop tables, and debris from the building heaped on the floor. It looks to me like they locked the doors after the fire and haven't touched the place since, though a representative -- on the shop's Facebook page -- said a few months ago that they intend to return as soon as it's safe. Perhaps the building itself is still unstable.

I often walk past this shop after work. It's such a weird, frozen-in-time tableau.

Dave is still on the mend here at home. He's excited because today he's taking his first trip outside the house, to go get a haircut. He hopes to go back to school tomorrow, not to work, but just to see his students for a short time.

Yesterday some of my coworkers gave us a valuable grocery store gift card and some free movie tickets. It was very thoughtful and certainly unexpected! Between that and the "meal train" from the parents I've been impressed by everyone's generosity, though I still have a creeping feeling that we don't really deserve it. Why do I have such a hard time accepting help?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

First Rose

Our roses are awakening after their winter pruning and subsequent spring growth spurt. They have lots of greenery but until this week none of them had bloomed. Finally, one gave us some flowers, and there are buds on several more.

Our neighbors, meanwhile, have an extremely unusual azalea in their front garden.  Have you ever seen one this color? I'm not sure I have. It's really nice.

Hey -- I sold a picture! Someone contacted me via Flickr to buy this image for use in a real estate brochure. I negotiated with them but took it all with a grain of salt, until yesterday when they deposited £50 in our bank account. "Wow!" I thought. "This is real!"

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Mean, Mean Cat

Olga was in an exploratory mood yesterday morning. Rather than following one of our normal walking routes, she led me north and west into Cricklewood.

We were on this street, near this bridge, when a woman (walking unsteadily and, it must be said, dentally challenged) called to me loudly across the street. "I like your dog!" she slurred, then waited a beat before adding: "And you're not looking bad yourself!"

Hey, I'll take a compliment anywhere I can get it.

We met the toughest, meanest street cat in the world. Olga passed inches from it on the curb, growling and straining at her leash, and the cat didn't budge. It just hissed and puffed itself up to twice its normal size. Then it followed us for two blocks.

It basically ordered us out of the neighborhood and escorted us to make sure we left!

And as if that weren't already enough excitement, we found a priceless Canaletto propped against a wall next to a recycling bin! Alas, I couldn't pick it up, because I was carrying a bag of Olga's poo while searching for a rubbish receptacle. I was forced to leave my fortune behind.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Eurovision, and Some Purple Flowers

One of the houses down the street has an incredible wisteria vine in front, twining through a blooming hawthorne tree. It's quite a display. Wisteria has a bad reputation for taking over, but -- kind of like water hyacinths in Florida -- it sure looks nice in the meantime.

And here's a little violet we have growing up through the paving stones on our patio. We don't use weed killer, because I'm convinced it's a menace to ecology, so we get all kinds of plants coming up through the patio cracks -- violets, campanula, forget-me-nots. (As well as plain ol' grass.) I like the ragged look!

Last night we had some friends over to watch the Eurovision song competition. This was Dave's first social gathering since his surgery, and we figured he could manage because he'd be home -- if he got tired he could simply go to bed. As it happened, he stayed up for the entire contest, and watched it stone sober, for which he deserves his own Eurovision award.

Personally, I found the contest as a whole less interesting this year. Ukraine's Jamala won for her song about the World War II-era deportation of Crimean Tatars by Russia. It was a good performance but it's not a song anyone's going to walk around humming. I suspect it won largely for political reasons. (Take that, Vladimir Putin!) Our UK entry came in 24th, even though it was much better than last year's and, I thought, pretty catchy. (Maybe we're being punished for Brexit?)

Will we ever have another Bucks Fizz?

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Pasta and Suet Balls

Not a whole lot went on around here yesterday. I had an uneventful day at work and then came home and mowed the lawn. I weeded one of our flower beds and once again mistook a garden plant for a weed. This time I didn't pull it up, thankfully, but I did cut most of the leaves off. They'll grow back.

I'm a menace, I tell you.

Dave isn't well enough to get out in the garden yet. Even standing up long enough to cook pasta is a challenge for him (as we discovered last night while cooking pasta, when I had to step in and finish up). Het gets dizzy and feels weak, which I suppose is normal for someone who lay in a hospital bed for two weeks, barely eating, and lost much of his muscle mass. I wish we'd weighed him before and after his surgery, because the difference would be dramatic.

He is continuing to improve, though, which is what I tell all the students and teachers who ask about him. He's eating more and slowly feeling stronger, though even he gets frustrated by the slow pace of his recovery.

You can see some of his get-well cards on the windowsill above. The roses came from one of his teaching colleagues.

Olga antic of the day: We have a bucket of dried suet balls that we bought for one of the bird feeders. I was refilling the feeder yesterday morning when I looked down to see Olga chowing on one of the suet balls. (They're full of seeds and about the size of a small orange.) She had that whole thing in her stomach before I could say a word. Her dog walker must wonder what the heck we feed her.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Garden Update, with Surprise Tulip

When we first moved in here a few years ago, a bulb plant of some kind was growing through the ivy at the side of the garden, beneath the roses. It didn't have a flower, so we weren't sure what it was. Last year it appeared again, but still no flower.

This year, however, our mysterious bulb revealed itself to be a yellow tulip. It's all by itself, so I have a feeling it's been there for some time and outlasted its compatriots.

Our snowflake is blooming once again. This plant always makes me think of Sabine, who identified it for me.

Remember how I said last week that I wasn't sure the Solomon's seal would survive Olga's trampling long enough to bloom? Well, I'm happy to report that we have flowers, or at least buds. (Staking them up did help.)

Our geums are blooming, both yellow and orange ones...

....and the horseradish is finally emerging from dormancy. I moved it to a sunnier spot on the patio for encouragement.

Overall, this year's blooming cycle is a bit behind last year. The gardening shows (yes, we watch gardening shows) attribute this to a cooler spring, even though we had a relatively warm winter.

Things certainly are looking verdant, though!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

A Viral Chaffinch and a Wounded Pigeon

We've had a lot of rain the last couple of days. The petals have been pounded off the cherry trees and litter the street like pink confetti.

Dave is continuing to improve. Some of the parents at school have banded together to bring us meals every few days. It's really incredibly kind -- we got a lasagna on Tuesday and today we're supposed to get a chicken casserole. Dave can't easily stand up long enough to prepare a meal, and as we all know my cooking skills are somewhat limited, so these dinners are much appreciated. I'm trying not to feel defensive about it -- like, why am I such a loser that I can't handle our meal preparation myself? But it is hard when I'm at work all day. (Frankly, we probably really needed the help about two weeks ago, when I had to fly back to Florida and Dave was here by himself, unwell. But it's certainly great to have it now.)

I took this picture of a chaffinch eating a sunflower seed on our garden fence the other day. It was only when I looked more closely that I saw his scaly feet. "What is up with that?" I thought. After some internet research I've learned that chaffinches are susceptible to a particular papillomavirus that causes this condition -- and apparently the virus only affects chaffinches. Strange how specifically evolution works! Apparently it doesn't hurt the birds, but it seems like it might be uncomfortable, doesn't it? There's also a mite called cnemidocoptes that causes a similar problem.

Speaking of birds, when I came home last night, Dave said, "I think there's a wet, dying pigeon sitting on our garden bench." I looked out in the yard and sure enough, a bedraggled bird was sitting on the backrest of the bench. I went outside to take a closer look and the bird, though wary, didn't move. It's feathers looked somewhat, well, plucked. I put some seed on the bench next to it and came back inside. A short time later we saw another pigeon land nearby, and I thought, "Awww, he's taking care of his friend." But no -- the second pigeon began to peck the hell out of the first one. No wonder its feathers were mangy-looking. I wonder how it earned the opprobrium of its fellow pigeons?

Anyway, it's gone this morning, so hopefully it survived the night. I did see our neighborhood fox trotting through the garden first thing this morning, so who knows.

Olga, as usual, loves to sit on the couch and watch all this wildlife. Dave and I crack up when she sits in this pose. It's not very demure, but it seems she's trying to sit upright like a person!