Friday, July 10, 2020

Mission for Marigolds

Before I get started on today's post, several of you mentioned the lack of masks on the people in yesterday's photo. Believe me, this is not unusual! Especially outdoors. I've seen recent articles about the percentage of people wearing masks in the UK, and it's significantly lower than in many other countries, including the USA -- something like 21 percent to the USA's 60-something percent, if I remember right. There's been an argument that the UK government needs to issue clearer recommendations on masks -- although as some of you mentioned a few days ago, Scotland is now requiring them in shops. (According to The Guardian, some men find masks un-masculine.)

But anyway, that's just an aside, because what I really wanted to write about today is...plants. Big change there!

Yesterday I took a walk to Homebase to buy some marigolds for our hanging baskets. Our violas were sagging and leggy, and badly needed replacing. (One wayward blossom found its way into the tiny puddle created by Olga's paw print in our garden stepping stones, above.)

Mission accomplished, although not without minor drama. As I stood in line at Homebase waiting to check out, the woman behind me -- yakking on her cell phone -- kept bumping the back of my legs with her shopping cart. Social distancing, people! I finally turned around a glared at her and to her credit, she apologized and backed up. I'm such a crab.

As you can see, we've had a lot of rain. Our first stargazer lily has opened -- we have a few more on the way, too, despite the best efforts of the slugs and lily beetles.

Our nicotiana, new this year, has put out its first flowers. Dave has named the plant Nicole.

Our purple lupine is at its peak, or maybe just a bit past. Those are hydrangeas behind it.

Also at Homebase, I found this plant -- a curcuma, which I'd never heard of, but I bought it anyway. Turns out it's the same type of plant that turmeric comes from -- a member of the ginger family. Pretty, isn't it?

Aside from my outing to Homebase and some minor gardening, yesterday was pretty uneventful. The mail once again failed to bring several items I ordered weeks ago from the States -- some graphic t-shirts and a mask. It's ridiculous how long international packages take to arrive. Dave's parents mailed him a birthday present in May -- you may recall his birthday was June 22 -- and that still hasn't shown up. We've basically given up on it. I'm wondering if it somehow got returned to their winter home in Florida, and maybe they just don't know because they're in Michigan now.

Dave also asked me to mention that he made a fabulous cauliflower gratin for dinner two nights ago. And it was indeed fabulous. Duly noted!

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The Cookware Scare

Late yesterday morning, Dave came into the living room and proposed taking a little walk.

I said to him, "Who are you and what have you done with my husband?!"

This is a guy who's barely left the house or garden since lockdown began in March, and a guy who doesn't like "going for a walk" under even the best of circumstances. But yesterday he said, "I have to get out of here!"

So we walked up to the post office so I could mail a birthday card to my mother, and then we visited a local cookware shop. I'd bought Dave a £100 gift card from there last Christmas, and he'd barely used it. When the place closed in March and the future of retail in general looked very precarious, I was afraid we'd never get our money out of it. But the shop reopened last week. Whew!

Dave picked out some Le Creuset gratin dishes, a metal pie plate and a pie/cake server. But then the woman at the checkout counter said she couldn't read the gift card -- the store had changed computer systems (!). Fortunately Dave had a receipt in his ridiculously overstuffed wallet that showed our last purchase, and included the card balance -- about £89. And that's exactly what our stuff cost. So we called it even and left, mission accomplished.

That was a close call!

Meanwhile, my brother has given me the unwelcome news that two employees at my mom's retirement center in Florida, including one who works in her building, have tested positive for Covid-19. So they have everyone isolating, and I can't imagine how they're managing that in a memory care unit where routine is so important. I've been unable to reach my mom on the phone, and as I've written before, she has trouble communicating verbally anyway, but I think they'd tell us if any of the residents came down with anything. What a nightmare! I suppose it was inevitable, though, given the density of infections in Florida.

I'm reading poet Mark Doty's new book about Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass." I must say I've always found Whitman difficult, if not impenetrable, so I'm hoping Doty can shed some light on him. I'm particularly interested in what he has to say about perceptions that Whitman was gay and wrote on gay themes (before they were even understood as such). I'm not far into the book yet but we'll see how it goes.

(Photo: From my walk on Portobello Road a couple of weeks ago.)

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Of Lilies and Koi

Our first day lily bloomed yesterday. Our poor day lilies face challenging circumstances -- they're sun-loving plants, but they grow in a part of the garden that has become heavily shaded by blackberry, climbing roses and a few other things. In the early spring they get plenty of sun but by midsummer, when they're supposed to bloom, they're practically buried in foliage. Last year, Dave transplanted some of them to a sunnier spot, and this bloom came from the transplants. The originals -- which were here when we moved in -- haven't bloomed yet. And I don't want to clear out the blackberries because I eat them!

Speaking of lilies, on June 23 I ordered a second canna lily, a variegated type with purple-and-yellow streaked leaves. It was on sale for £4.99 from a gardening website I'd never used. I waited, and waited, and finally, yesterday, it arrived:

Now, isn't that just the saddest plant you've ever seen? Here it is from another angle, after I repotted it:

Here's hoping it bounces back. I'm not impressed with the quality of the merchandise.

Some people mentioned in comments on yesterday's post that they've never been able to see the "koi pond" widget on my blog, in the sidebar on the right. Just to give you a sense of what it's supposed to look like, as well as to preserve it in my own memory -- in case it does stop working because of the abandonment of Flash technology -- I made a little video, complete with pseudo-Asian music courtesy of iMovie.

Of course this deprives you of the interactive element -- "feeding" the fish -- but you get the idea. I love how the koi hungrily follow the cursor! To give credit where credit is due, this widget was developed by a guy named Adam Bowman.

And this is one reason I love blogging -- I taught myself how to make a screencast video in Quicktime in order to make this recording. I learn so much indulging my stupid little blogging whims!

Dave and I have been watching a German show on Netflix called "Dark," half sci-fi time-travel and half murder mystery. Have any of you seen it? It's really good, but it has a cast of thousands and I have a terrible time keeping track of all the characters and their relationships. I need a flowchart! I'm also still watching "Snowpiercer," but Dave abandoned that one -- he decided he didn't like it, and I must admit the idea of a monstrous train running endlessly around a depopulated, frozen planet is a little bizarre. I mean, London trains stop running when we get a light dusting of snow, not to mention myriad other routine mechanical failures!

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Shiny Beetles and Technology

When I was walking on the Heath on Sunday I found this shiny green thick-legged flower beetle (Oedemera nobilis) -- they're pretty common but I always enjoy seeing them because, as I've said before, they remind me of David Bowie. In fact I always think of them as David Bowie beetles.

Well, I'd like to say I did something productive yesterday but it would be a complete lie. Oh, I guess I did deadhead some flowers in the garden -- so there's that. It's amazing how quickly a completely unstructured day can slip away.

I've been wrestling with the new Blogger. Well, I shouldn't say wrestling -- it's mostly been fine -- but I continue having trouble with using html code. You know, like embedding a video? In "old" Blogger there was a button at the top left of the dashboard that allowed me to toggle between the "compose" and "html" modules. I'd switch to the html module and embed the code, then switch back to compose to write the post, with the video now embedded. If there's a way to do that now -- and I've read online that there is -- I'm not seeing it. I have to switch back to "legacy" Blogger every time I embed a video. I suppose I should figure that out.

Also, Google Chrome (my browser of choice) and Adobe are going to stop supporting Flash at the end of the year. I don't know if this means Flash will instantly stop working -- I suspect it will be a more gradual thing. A couple of my blog widgets use Flash. One is the "koi pond," which I really like and I've had on my blog for years -- it's quite old and although I'd like to keep it, I suspect technology is leaving it behind. The other is my Flickr photo badge, which mysteriously stopped working several weeks ago. It's still in the sidebar way down at the bottom, in the probably vain hope that it will magically reactivate.

(If you're reading this on mobile, like on your phone, I don't think you see any of those widgets anyway.)

Technology! Argh!

I found this little wooden toy (I think?) in the forest on the Heath on Sunday. I have no idea what it is, but I kind of like it, especially how it's all gnawed away around the edges. It looks like it's wearing a parka. Is it a penguin?

Monday, July 6, 2020

Catch a Butterfly or a Tennis Ball

I took Olga to Hampstead Heath yesterday, and I am happy to report that the anti-inflammatory medicine we're giving her seems to be working wonders. She was like a young dog again! No limping, no hesitancy, no dragging her heels. She had a great time and even after we got home she didn't seem to experience the stiffness she sometimes gets after a long walk.

It was a beautiful day, sunny and comfortable. I found quite a few interesting opportunities for photography, including this dragonfly. I saw it in mid-flight and thought, "that looks weird," and then realized why -- it was carrying a cabbage white butterfly. It landed on some weeds and I watched it gnaw that butterfly apart like a paper shredder. It was pretty amazing.

We left it alone and about half an hour later, passing the same spot, I found it having a little post-prandial rest. See the white dust on its body and wings? That's butterfly shrapnel.

I tried to get a video of Olga catching her tennis ball. If I bounce it hard on the ground she'll sometimes leap into the air to catch it as it comes down:

We had mixed results as you can see, but she got a little bit of air on that second attempt. She made two really good jumps when I had the camera off -- of course.

I also saw a couple of comma butterflies, the first ones this season. 

Unfortunately we also had a sad nature experience yesterday evening. We'd just finished Zooming with Dave's friend Annie in Michigan when I went into the garden and found a dead baby bird in one of the trugs Dave uses to collect rainwater. I guess it fell in and couldn't get out again. It was fledging but didn't have full-grown wings -- either a sparrow or a dunnock. I felt terrible, and we've covered the trug to keep that from happening again. I still feel a lead weight in my chest just thinking about it.

It was super-windy yesterday afternoon and all last night. The plants all seem to have survived but I wonder if the wind had something to do with that little bird winding up in the trug. Maybe it tried to land on the edge and got blown in?

Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Tin Tabernacle, and Reopening

This peculiar building, which I often pass on the bus in Kilburn, is made of corrugated sheets of metal and used to be a church. It's known as the "Tin Tabernacle" and dates back to 1863. In the 1920s it ceased being a place of worship, and was eventually taken over by the local chapter of the Sea Cadets, a sort of scouting organization. The interior was transformed to fit a nautical theme.

When Victorian England was booming, corrugated metal churches were apparently a thing. They could be erected quickly to serve a growing population, and the technology was relatively new. Apparently this is one of the last in London, but there are plenty of others around England.

As long as I've lived here, there's been a sign in the window saying they need £250,000. I think this dates back to a fund-raising campaign in 2010 meant to restore the building and update its electrical works. I have no idea whether than ever happened, but the Sea Cadets say on their web site that they now meet at St. Augustine's, a nearby church -- if that's any indication.

Yesterday was the big reopening day for our pubs and restaurants in the UK, and I went out on the high street around noon to see what was going on. The pub I consider our local, the Black Lion, still doesn't appear to be open. But many other places were, and people were sitting inside and out. I obviously didn't measure the space between them, but they seemed fairly close together.

I went into one restaurant where I've bought take-away fish in the past, and there were about 20 people inside. I was the only person wearing a mask. None of the servers and obviously none of the customers (who presumably were eating) were masked, and no one seemed at all concerned about maintaining any distance from me. So, on the plus side, they seem to be doing a good business, but on the minus side, I felt anxious and eager to get out of there.

Then I went to the grocery store, and again, I was one of just a few people who were masked. Masks have never caught on in this country, and they seem even less ubiquitous now.

We'll see how this goes! I hope our infection rates don't spike in the next few weeks.

I have a couple more Olga pics to share with you. The first is by Francisco, the dog walker, on one of their outings together...

...and then there's this one, which I took a few days ago on our walk along Billy Fury Way. Olga, who so often seems to be smiling and is even standing beneath smiley faces, appears more wary than anything.

We didn't do anything special for July 4. I heard a couple of pops and cracks last night, as some of my fellow Yanks apparently set off fireworks here and there. But with that awful man in the White House I am not particularly feeling any national pride. If we throw him out in November, then I'll celebrate!

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Summer Colors

Yesterday was another quiet day at home. I finished a book, I walked the dog around the corner, I did some minor stuff in the garden. Ho-hum.

Doesn't Olga look regal next to those red crocosmia and pink hydrangeas? She was on high alert, keeping an eye on some squirrels rustling around in a nearby bush. 

Our fox & cubs (or hawkweed) has finally bloomed. For some reason this year we only have a few in flower, at least so far, and the plants are very small. I think the dry spring held them back.

This is one of our roses, a bright orange single. It's always an eye-catcher, and this year it's one of the last to still have blossoms. All the other rose bushes are in a kind of resting phase, gearing up for (hopefully) another flush of flowers.

Remember how I rescued a sad lupine from the grocery store a couple of months ago? It has flourished, sending out new leaves and a big purple flower spike. I believe this is a variety called "Persian slipper."

I really need to motivate myself to get out and do something. It's easy to sit around the house, doing housework and reading, but it's also stultifying. I almost took a walk yesterday, but with rain off and on, it wasn't a great day for an excursion.

At one point, while reading on the couch, I looked over at Dave, and he was blankly staring at his phone, which was sitting on the armrest of his chair. I said, "What are you doing?"

"Watching my phone update," he said, and laughed. "Things are getting dire!"