Thursday, March 21, 2019

Decca and a Sombrero

This building, which I pass on my walk to work every morning, is the old Decca recording studio in West Hampstead. This is where The Moody Blues recorded some of their best-known albums, including "Days of Future Passed" and "In Search of the Lost Chord," where David Bowie recorded his first single, and where The Zombies recorded "She's Not There." The Beatles auditioned for Decca here in 1962, only to be rejected. (They also played at the Railroad Tavern, a pub just barely visible to the right.)

I've mentioned nearby Billy Fury Way several times on this blog -- a somewhat forbidding path running from West End Lane to Finchley Road along the railroad tracks. Occasionally I walk Olga there. Well, it is so named because English '60s rocker Billy Fury also recorded here at Decca.

It's kind of cool to pass the building (now home to the English National Opera) and think of all the history that occurred there. Those Moody Blues albums, in particular, are favorites of mine.

I spent yesterday at work wrapping more books. Fortunately they're all done now -- all 140 or so. I wonder which luckless 8th Grader is going to wind up with that book bearing an image of Jacob Rees-Mogg, one of the dark lords of Brexit?

Here's my latest scavenged find -- a sombrero-shaped chip bowl complete with compartments for salsa and guac! Someone left it on top of their rubbish bin on the street, clearly hoping to find it a home. It looks like it's never even been used. Is it tacky? Absolutely! And probably politically incorrect as well. But I couldn't resist!

Dave merely groaned.

Last night I planted our sweet pea seeds. And did I mention that I got packets of poppy and cosmos seeds from a magazine subscription at work? So I need to get the cosmos planted as well. I have one more empty seed tray just waiting for them. The poppies, fortunately, can just be scattered directly on the ground.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A Yellow Violet

This is what's known as a "dog's tooth violet." Kind of a confusing name, since it's not violet and doesn't bear an immediate resemblance to a dog's tooth.

I bought it at the grocery store the other day and it's already been ravaged by the squirrels -- so even though this particular blossom is a bit past its prime, I thought I'd better photograph it. Who knows how long this plant is going to last? The squirrels love anything bulbous, and the dog's tooth violet comes from bulbs. I should have known better.

We've had some action on the seedling front! So far, two hollyhocks and one burdock have germinated. I don't see any activity from anything else, but it's only been 11 days.

This is how I spent part of my workday yesterday. Remember how, in years past, we've wrapped books for a library activity we call "Blind Date with a Book"? We've usually done it for the 8th Graders on Valentine's Day. Well, this year Valentine's Day came and went and the teachers didn't mention it, so we thought they'd moved on to something new. But no -- they merely delayed it until now.

Because the romantic connection is no longer as obvious, we've dropped the Blind Date concept. But the kids will still choose a wrapped book (obviously not knowing what it is) and when they unwrap it, they can either keep it or exchange it for one unwrapped by a previous student. In this way, we'll hopefully get kids reading new things.

So yeah, yesterday I wrapped books. Like, dozens of books. We're using newspaper and I tried to at least make it interesting by centering some kind of image on the front of each package. (The dog, by the way, is Snoop the staffy -- read his sad/happy story here.)

Last night I had another surreal customer service experience. I went to the grocery store to pick up some trash bags. But when I looked at the shelf, they didn't have the tall white kitchen bags we usually buy -- only very large ones or tiny ones for our food-composting caddy. I called Dave (who usually does the shopping) and he verified they weren't the right ones. So I asked someone at the store where the other bags were.

"Oh, those are the only ones we stock," he said. "We've never had any others."

I flashed back to my recent experience at the cleaners, where I was told that I couldn't get my shirts laundered despite having done it there for the past five years. Don't you love it when they tell you not only that your product or service isn't available, but that it's never been available?

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Spring String

For years now I've noticed bits of white and red twine tied to blooming trees in springtime. I never quite knew where this tradition came from or what it meant. I think I remember seeing it in New York, too.

The bits of "spring string" in these two photos are fastened to a magnolia on my walk to work. Here's another on a different tree from 2014.

Apparently it's a tradition from the southern Balkans. In Bulgaria, the ornaments are called "martenitsi" and according to the ever-dependable Wikipedia, they often take the form of two dolls. Simpler woven bracelets and ornaments are common too. Sometimes they come with beads, as you can see above.

I learned about them after I posted the photo above, taken on my walk near Canary Wharf several weeks ago, to Flickr. Someone immediately identified it as a martenitsa. Apparently they are worn until the wearer sees a first sign of spring -- like a blooming tree -- at which point they're taken off and tied to the tree as a sign of good fortune.

I am not an expert in any of this, mind you, having just learned about them myself. This is just what I could glean from the Interwebs. Pretty interesting, huh?

In what may be another sign of spring, I found a ripped-open fast-food bag at the back of our garden this morning, with bits of bread, lettuce and tomato spread out around it. Apparently a fox scored a snack from a local trash can and chose to enjoy it on our lawn! (Or was it Mrs. Kravitz, hurling her dinner leftovers over our fence in a purple rage?)

Yesterday I spent the day immersed in database usage statistics at work. Doesn't that sound exciting?!  I'm supposed to compile annual reports showing how much our databases have been used during the previous school year, but I confess I'd slacked off -- I knew I'd skipped at least one year, but it turns out I skipped two. (Perhaps it should give me pause that no one noticed!) So I got caught up on all that, which is a relief.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Lungworts and Retirement

I know I talked about going on a photo walk this weekend, but the motivation just wasn't there. Yesterday was a nice day but I felt like I had so much to do at home, I'd better just stay here and do it!

I worked a bit in the garden, lightly trimming the bushes in the front of the house and cutting back the geraniums. Our lungworts are blooming, as you can see. They're in the same family as borage and forget-me-nots, which is why they look somewhat similar. We have a spotted variety (above) and a plain one (below). I'm seeing a few tentative forget-me-nots out there, too.

Then Dave and I took to the high street to run some errands. For Christmas I gave him a gift card to a cookware shop, so we redeemed that -- he wanted a new nonstick skillet, and we wound up getting three of various sizes. Of course that was more than the value of the gift card, but that's fine. This shows why retailers like gift cards -- not only do they get to sit on the money for a few months (I bought it in December), but card-holders always wind up buying more than the card will allow!

We visited a new pastry shop, where we got some desserts -- a smooth and glossy piece of caramel cake for Dave and chocolate pudding for me. We now have SIX bakeries on our high street, all doing some combination of breads, pastries and breakfasts. Frankly, we seem oversupplied. I don't know how they all stay in business.

Then we went to the grocery store where, on a whim, we picked up something called Eccles cakes -- "a Lancashire tradition," according to the package. We had no idea what they were, and when we asked the cashier she didn't know either. I guess she's not from Lancashire. Turns out they're miniature pies filled with currants and raisins. We had them with our afternoon tea and they were good. I'd buy them again.

I took Olga to the cemetery, where our walk was interrupted by gathering storm clouds of such darkness and magnitude that I decided we'd better hoof it home -- and it's a good thing we did because we got thunder and hail!

Finally -- and here's the day's major achievement, saved for the end -- I filed our American income taxes. Woo hoo! It's always such a relief to get that done. This year we actually had to pay a tiny amount ($24). It's the first year we've made more than the permitted exemption for foreign income, and because we paid off Dave's student loan back in 2017 we no longer have that interest to deduct, so we basically broke even. Maybe we need to set aside even more of our money in pre-tax retirement savings to avoid that situation in the future.

We were at a party recently where some of our coworkers were all talking about their retirement plans. One guy's moving to France, another to Palm Springs. They asked us what we intended to do, and we confessed that we hadn't really considered it. They're all older than we are, but not by much, and I suppose we do need to start thinking about our options. Good Lord.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Rhodies and Nature's Artwork

Spring is hovering just around the corner, and Olga and I found lots of stuff blooming on our walk yesterday, including daffodils, magnolias and this rhododendron on Hampstead Heath. The crocuses and snowdrops are pretty much finished.

I moved the geraniums back out to the patio from their overwintering spot inside the back door. I haven't seen any sign of life from the indoor seed trays, but it's only been a week so it's still early.

I found these channels carved in a dead log on the Heath. I think they're just from wood borers, but they look almost intentional, like pictures of butterflies or flowers, don't they?

I'm finding Barbara Kingsolver's book so much more enjoyable than anything else I've read recently.  I've been a lifelong reader, but after some of my recent reading experiences I was beginning to doubt my ability to sit down and concentrate on a novel -- my mind would wander and I'd force myself ahead, but it felt like work. This one, "Unsheltered," doesn't feel that way at all. It's smooth sailing. So refreshing!

Our bin locks arrived! We deployed them on Friday evening -- perfect timing, because the trash was collected that morning -- and here's what they look like. It's completely ridiculous that we have to go this far but I see no other solution to our neighbor's persistent usurpation of our bins. I have to say, they do give me peace of mind. I haven't heard a peep from her. I'll let you know if I do.

Oh, and remember how I mentioned those advertisements on London buses challenging the Michael Jackson documentary "Leaving Neverland"? Well, apparently they were crowdfunded, and now they've been taken down after complaints from a charity supporting survivors of abuse. Sounds like a good call.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Poison, Lillie Langtry and The Saint

Here are this week's iPhone pictures, mostly from my walks to work.

First, I noticed long ago that this wall on our street bore traces of old graffiti. But I could never read it until Thursday, when, for some reason, the light and the moisture on the wall and maybe other factors all conspired to render it clearly: "Poison." A tag? A threat? Who knows.

Amid dreamy reflections and behind a dirty florist's window, maybe the ugliest planter ever in the history of the world!

I've never lived in a place where people throw away so many chairs. We have three rescued chairs in our flat. I couldn't take these on too, but maybe someone else will.

Olga and I came across this forsythia on our walk yesterday. Olga's saying, "What's the big deal? We have one of these on our patio!" This one's bigger, though. I thought it was pretty impressive.

The Lillie Langtry pub got a fancy new sign several weeks ago. Here's the old one.

I blogged before about the murals painted by children in 1978 on Abbey Road. I pass them every day when I walk to work. But somehow I never noticed until this week that they include the logo from one of my favorite vintage British TV shows, "The Saint." Simon Templar!

One of our favorite old pubs in St. John's Wood is being renovated into something else -- the pub itself having closed several months ago -- and it's surrounded by this plywood wall. I thought it was funny how the wall skirts this old phone box. I'm not sure it's even operational anymore, but it's probably still owned by the utility and thus must be kept publicly accessible? (Just a guess.)

Finally, some interesting modern art! Except it's not -- I actually have no idea what these pipes are for, but I think they have something to do with utilities or construction. For ages this parking lot (British: car park) was torn up and diggers were working here. Now, abstraction!

Friday, March 15, 2019

Haircut and Media Report

Yesterday I was sitting at my desk at work when a colleague came up behind me and said, "Did you get a haircut?"

Now, I basically have no hair. I am genetically bald on top (and have been since my early 20's) and I shave the rest of my head every two weeks or so. Although my Blogger profile photo is 13 years old -- it was taken during my 40th birthday trip to Key West with my friend Sue -- my hairline still looks just like that. So, needless to say, this was an odd question.

"Are you kidding?" I said to my colleague.

But he insists he wasn't. He said my hair looked different.

Maybe my stubble is getting grayer. That's a possibility.

I finally finished reading "The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle" yesterday. This was a head-spinner of a book. I wouldn't say it's good, exactly, but it's very imaginative and complex. It's a gothic murder mystery in a gloomy British great house, involving supernatural elements that allow the protagonist to travel back and forth along the timeline and inhabit the bodies of eight different odious characters, all witnesses. By the end you've got so much information to juggle from so many nefarious sources that you're basically overflowing. My overall impression is that the book is about 100 pages too long.

Next up: Barbara Kingsolver's newest, "Unsheltered."

When it comes to TV, Dave and I just finished watching "Catastrophe," which we loved. Every episode is laugh-out-loud hilarious. We've just started "Billions," which I haven't quite warmed to yet -- I'm not sure I can identify with the motivations of hedge-fund billionaires, but it has a promising cast so I'll keep you posted. And I'm torturing Dave with "Banana," a sister show to "Cucumber," which we've already finished -- both by the creator of "Queer as Folk." Dave is not a fan, but they're just one-season shows and I like them.

Aside from consuming media, I haven't been doing much of interest. Work-wise, March seems like a long grind, with not a lot special happening. I haven't been in a great mood. This morning, the wind is howling outside once again.

(Photo: A sticker on a lamppost near our tube station.)

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Bedroom, 6:14 a.m.

Here's what's going on right now. I'm lying in bed and this is my view. The yellow forsythia is blooming outside our window, in the blue light of dawn. The dog is snoring next to me, showing no inclination to go outside, where it's gray and rainy. Another day begins.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Three Wise Monkeys

I am about to run out of bloggable photos. I've got to get out there and do more photography! I've been slack about carrying my camera recently but maybe this weekend I'll take a photo walk.

I took this shot while walking in Kilburn one morning several weeks ago. It's no big deal, but I liked the shadows from the railroad bridge across the front of the building. Only later did I notice...

...that someone is storing their beverages (and something else) on a windowsill. Maybe they stay cool there. It seems like they're in the sun, but who am I to argue?

Also visible are the "see/speak/hear no evil" monkeys on a lower window ledge. I got to wondering about the cultural roots of those monkeys. Turns out they come from Japanese art and folk imagery (possibly related, before that, to Chinese Buddhist proverbs). And they have names: Mizaru, Kikazaru and Iwazaru. Who knew?!

Not much else is going on around here. My upstairs neighbor and I are researching rubbish bin locks to fend off any more incursions by Mrs. Kravitz. I set up a book display yesterday for Women's History Month. It's Wednesday. Ho-hum.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

An Ill Wind

After enduring our windy weekend, and writing yesterday's post about it, I've been thinking about wind, and the idea that wind puts people's nerves on edge. I know I've felt edgier the past several days, and our weather has been unsettled all that time. It's still gusty out there, though not nearly as bad as it was on Sunday.

I turned to my old paperback copy of Joan Didion's classic essay collection, "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," from 1968. (I bought this book for a quarter at least 30 years ago and it's undoubtedly among the best quarters I've ever spent.) I seemed to remember Didion making a connection between wind and tension, and sure enough, it's in the first paragraph of the first essay, "Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream":

"The San Bernardino Valley lies only an hour east of Los Angeles by the San Bernardino Freeway but is in certain ways an alien place: not the coastal California of the subtropical twilights and the soft westerlies off the Pacific but a harsher California, haunted by the Mojave just beyond the mountains, devastated by the hot dry Santa Ana wind that comes down through the passes at 100 miles an hour and whines through the eucalyptus windbreaks and works on the nerves. October is the bad month for the wind, the month when breathing is difficult and the hills blaze up spontaneously. There has been no rain since April. Every voice seems a scream. It is the season of suicide and divorce and prickly dread, wherever the wind blows."

Didion further dissects the tension inherent in the Santa Ana wind in her essay "Los Angeles Notebook," and she wasn't the first person to remark upon it. Raymond Chandler, the consummate Los Angeles storyteller, famously wrote:

"There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks."

These are two relatively recent references to edgy winds, but writers have mentioned them for hundreds of years. John Heywood wrote of "an ill wind that blowth no man to good" way back in 1546. I'm sure writers in other cultures have drawn similar connections. And to bring Shakespeare into the loop, we're near the Ides of March, the season of danger and betrayal.

Of course the wind we've been feeling around here isn't like the Santa Ana. It's not a desert wind; we're not living on the brink of combustion. Our gusts have been recorded at 65 or 70 mph, not 100.

But it's still enough to make the house shudder and knock over the patio chairs and get on my nerves.

(Photo: A roadwork project near our flat.)

Monday, March 11, 2019

Kong is King

We had crazy wind yesterday. I like a windy day, normally, with the trees blowing and the air freshened. But at some point windiness crosses a line and starts feeling threatening -- and that's how yesterday felt. I was lying in bed reading, and the house was rumbling and thumping, furniture being blown over on the patio, stuff flying off our neighbor's terrace upstairs -- and I kept hearing sirens as (I assume) emergency services were called to wind-related mishaps.

I stayed in all morning, as did Dave and Olga. I did housework and read quite a bit of my latest book, "The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle," and it felt good to be able to focus on it for a sustained period of time. The squirrels are up to their old shenanigans in the garden, so I also put some screening over a few plants that they can't seem to resist digging up and/or gnawing (the sea kale and the lupine). Our lupine is barely with us at this point. The roots are pretty much gone -- there are just a few stubs of rhizome left with tiny, struggling leaves on them. Its pot sat for several months in a plastic saucer that was often full of water, and I think it got too wet. Anyway, the jury's out on whether it will pull through.

I finally took Olga to the cemetery in the afternoon, where she embarrassed me by growling and charging at another dog -- which she never does. I don't know why this other dog pushed her buttons -- maybe she was also freaked out by the wind -- but the owner gave me grief about it. What am I supposed to do? Dogs are dogs.

Anyway, everything was fine and it's not like she bit the other dog (which was roughly her size). I think part of the problem was that we didn't take her Kong with us -- I didn't notice she'd left it at home until well into the walk and I didn't want to turn around to go back for it, but the fact is, Olga is better behaved when she's carrying something in her mouth. It's like a pacifier (or a "dummy," as they say in Britain).

Moral of the story: Always remember the Kong. The Kong is king.

(Photo: A tree shadow on a building near our flat. Even with all the wind, the sun was bright yesterday.)

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Seedlings and More Cactus Flowers

This is a year of firsts in our household! In addition to our little round cactus with its yellow blossom, our bird's-foot cactus has also put out flowers. I've only seen this happen once before that I can remember -- about 20 years ago, when the parent plant of this one bloomed. (Remember, I grew this from a cutting taken from my plant in Florida.) It may have bloomed more often and I just never noticed -- the flowers are somewhat inconspicuous -- but still, it's exciting!

Hopefully some of that horticultural magic will extend to our seeds, which I finally got planted yesterday. It took much longer than I expected -- at least an hour and a half. To make things more interesting, the sun disappeared behind clouds and occasional gusts of wind whipped across the patio, where I was working at the table. By the end I was shivering and I'd probably lost a few seeds, but oh well.

I planted commercial packages of dahlia and lavender, as well as zinnia, foxglove, burdock, hollyhock, honesty and hogweed that I collected myself. I have no idea whether any of those self-collected seeds are even viable, so this is all a big science experiment. The seed trays are in the dining room on the windowsill, where they get full morning sun. I'll keep you posted!

Then, as Olga and I set out on a walk, I noticed that our recycling bin was almost completely full. This was curious, because our trash was just collected on Friday. I looked at the bags and they were full of garbage, not recycling. A closer look produced envelopes addressed to -- you guessed it -- our neighbor Mrs. Kravitz. She's at it again, throwing her trash in our bins.

I was so angry I saw red. I upended our bin into one of hers, then marched up to her front door and told her husband that this had to stop. He was very contrite. But I seriously think we're going to have to padlock our rubbish bins. I know this sounds ridiculous, but I don't know how else to keep her out of them. If she fills our recycling bin with her garbage on a Saturday, we'll have nowhere to put our own recycling all week. Or am I being overly controlling?

Fortunately, my long walk with Olga helped me calm down, although I'm sure I was muttering to myself like a crazy person the whole way. First we walked along the Grand Union Canal, where Olga was very curious about this whimsically furnished houseboat -- she sniffed and sniffed. Maybe they have a cat?

Then we got to the Scrubs, which are beautiful at this time of year with lots of this white-blooming shrub. I have no idea what it is.

We had a good long, and occasionally muddy, walk around the Scrubs and then took the Overground home. Olga always gets peculiar looks on the train ride back because by that time she's filthy. I feel like I should hang a sign around her neck that says, "This is a temporary condition. I'm about to get a bath."

Last night Dave and I went to a party at a colleague's house, for which Dave made fabulous espresso brownies. Parties can be a drag for him -- he can't drink because of his Crohn's, and being in a room full of people who are all sociably drinking has got to be frustrating. But he stuck it out, bless him.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Nukular and Neverland

Here's our newest orchid blossom -- a small pale yellow one. We still have several more plants with buds, including two that I rescued from the trash and haven't seen in bloom yet. It will be interesting to see what they look like!

I took this photo of a sticker on a lamppost in New York way back in 2004. (Remember when George W. Bush seemed like the craziest thing that could ever happen to the U.S. presidency?) I thought of it yesterday because of an incident at school.

It's a long story, and not very interesting in the details, but suffice to say that I was trying to get a group of 8th Graders settled in the library -- telling them to sit down and be quiet, basically -- when one of them mimicked me. I turned to that kid and said, "I don't appreciate being mocked." Well, an 8th Grade teacher happened to be passing through the library at that moment and she ordered the kid out of the library and banned him for the rest of the school year -- and because she didn't see what happened, but only heard it, she unwittingly yelled at the wrong kid! So then we had to sort everything out. The kid who mocked me eventually apologized, and as far as I'm concerned the whole incident is over. I appreciated the teacher's intention to help me out, and I thanked her for it, but I think she went awfully harsh awfully quickly. In other words, she went nukular.

Dave and I watched "Leaving Neverland" this week. As I've written before, I am not a huge Michael Jackson fan. I've never owned any of his albums -- although they were certainly all over FM radio while I was growing up -- and I don't have the emotional investment in him that some fans do. To me the documentary seems completely believable. As I remember, even before there were public allegations of child abuse against Jackson in the early '90s, there was buzz about his peculiar attraction to young boys. I think we all suspected something was up. What's interesting is the pushback the film has received from Jackson's supporters -- yesterday a London bus passed me bearing a big advertisement for a pro-Jackson web site that refutes the movie's allegations. Who paid for that, I wonder?

It's fascinating how entire families were utterly blinded by Jackson's stardom. They were literally star-struck. The powers of celebrity and his naif persona were apparently incredibly magnetic. Anyway, regardless of how you feel about him, it's an interesting and tragic movie.

Friday, March 8, 2019

More Trash

Gosh, am I stuck in a rut or what? More pictures of trash on the street...

...and one of the dog.

It's very colorful trash, though, so that's something.

It's my plan to get our seeds planted this weekend. I've purchased a stack of seed trays -- with compartments, this time, which I hope will spare me the painstaking task of later picking apart and transplanting tiny individual seedlings. Hopefully, in compartmented trays, I can let them get a little bigger before I move them as small plants.

Anyway, I need to get to Homebase and buy more seedling compost, but otherwise I'm ready to roll. That should give the plants several weeks of indoor growing time before they get moved outside in late April or early May.

It's been deadly dull at work these past few days. A bunch of kids are gone on school trips so there's not much activity in the library. I've just been reading a lot. The New Yorker's new article on Fox News and its transition into a propaganda machine for the White House is fascinating and, at times, jaw-dropping!

Oh, and in case you're wondering what's happening with Brexit, well -- we are too. With 21 days left in the European Union, Britain still has no plan. Parliament seems deadlocked in debate and argument. I imagine something will happen at the last minute to spare us a no-deal Brexit, which everyone agrees would be economically disastrous. I think the negotiators are playing their cards close to their vests as the clock winds down. What a nightmare this all must be for manufacturers.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Pancake Day, and an Ancestor

Tuesday was "pancake day" here in Britain -- also known as Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. I'm not sure how it came to be associated with pancakes, except that maybe, like Mardi Gras, eating pancakes was seen as a last indulgence before the austerity of Lent. I mention it only because we were served pancakes in our school cafeteria, which was kind of fun and an unexpected twist to my normal lunch routine.

I thought they were pretty good, complete with syrup and whipped cream. (It was just a small portion for dessert, two silver-dollar sized pancakes.) They were American-style pancakes, too, and not the European pancake that Americans would call a crepe. Dave, on the other hand, was not impressed. He's a tough audience.

Speaking of Dave, he bought replacement fish and completed our fish pie for dinner last night. It turned out really well. I suggested he go back to Sainsbury's and tell them he left his fish in the checkout lane to see if they'd replace it for free -- but I doubt he did, and I get that. Some things you just have to let slide. And after all, it wasn't Sainsbury's fault.

Inspired partly by Sabine, who occasionally shares old photos of her relatives, I thought I'd show you this one. I came across it in my scanned photos the other day. It's one of our oldest family photos -- so old, we're not even sure who it is. She was definitely related to my maternal great-grandmother. It could he her grandmother, who lived in or around Robeson County, North Carolina, the home of that branch of the family.

The clothes look very mid-1800s. I wonder if she was in mourning? She doesn't look particularly happy, but I'm guessing there was some bad dentistry going on, which may have contributed to the grim set of her mouth. Besides, she probably had to sit still for a while in order to have the picture taken. If she was anything like my great-grandmother, she was probably annoyed.

I believe we got this photo when we collected a box of my great-grandmother's belongings from the realtor who sold her house in Avon Park, Fla. in 2002. That box also contained my great aunt and uncle's travel scrapbooks, which I've written about before.

It fascinates me to look at this photo and think how different her world was.

(Top photo: A courtyard near the Tate Britain, last month.)

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Pillars, Nature and a Ski Resort

It's time for another random selection of iPhone photos!

First, Olga and I pass this pair of brick pillars every morning on our walk. A while back someone started working on them, and they looked like this -- with the surface of the bricks all chipped away and the tops covered with blue tarps. It was very mysterious.

Then, within a week or two, they were covered with new cement stucco. I'm not sure I'm a fan. I kind of liked the brick.

A fierce dinosaur on a deflated balloon amid some sidewalk rubbish. Who throws away whole uneaten apples?!

I found this under a tree on my way to work. Turns out Les Diablerets is a Swiss ski resort. That's just the kind of trash I would expect to find in fancy-schmancy St. John's Wood. (I think it might be a magnet, but I didn't pick it up to find out.)

Fun with shadows, part 12,457!

The Japanese magnolias have come out in our neighborhood. It seemed to happen so quickly!

This little leaf caught my eye -- it seems to have been broken, causing the lower half to die. Love that red color!

A girl at school carries around this pencil case, which cracks me up.

Olga, trying to figure out whether she can get to that cat through a window. She tried, believe me. I think she sees our walks as basically hunting expeditions.