Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Long, Crazy Story About a Coffee Table

Ah, so many adventures.

The good news is, the coffee table situation is solved. You may remember (probably not!) that my dad was storing my coffee table, and I was trying to figure out how to get it back to London. (Here's the backstory.) On this trip I was determined to get it packed up and airplane-ready.

Yesterday morning, my dad and I put the tabletop in the back of his pickup truck and took it to the UPS store, where for $35 they packed it in a big ol' box. I asked how much it would cost to ship it, just out of curiosity, and they said about $200 -- much, much less than I had been quoted at another UPS store six months ago, but still more than I wanted to pay. So I stuck with my plan to check it with my luggage and pay for excess or oversized baggage as necessary. (The table legs fit in my suitcase.)

Dad and I ran some errands while the packers worked their magic and then came back to UPS to pick up the box. We put it in the truck and prepared to go home, actually commenting on how easy our morning had been, how effortlessly we'd managed our errands, when, suddenly...the truck wouldn't start.

We had to call AAA, which towed the truck to a local Ford dealership. But we couldn't fit the table, in its big ol' box, into my stepmother's car to get it home again. "How are we going to get it to the airport?" she asked.

At that moment, I realized how much I just wanted this ridiculous table errand finished.

I sent them all on their way and I got a courtesy van from the dealership to take me back to the UPS store, intending to ship the table. But strangely, upon seeing me return with the big ol' box, the UPS people said it would cost six hundred dollars to ship.

"What?!" I said, incredulous. "You told me $200 just a few minutes ago!"

Turns out that the big ol' box added surplus dimensions that increased the size of the parcel into the range of absurdity.

In stepped the manager of the shop, who to his credit resolved the problem. The big ol' box was cut down to the exact size of the tabletop -- which is basically two pieces of wood and not at all delicate -- and all the surplus packaging was removed. Voila! A relatively flat, cardboard-covered slab. A $200 parcel.

So I shipped it, scheduled to arrive next week.

It was still expensive, and completely, inexplicably silly given that I paid $5 for the table in the first place. Yes, I am essentially shipping two pieces of lumber. To England. For $250 (including the packaging costs).

What can I say? I like my coffee table. I am sentimentally attached to it. And now, the problem is solved, which is worth the money. I don't have to think about ferrying it to the airport, carrying it around, paying for excess baggage and getting it back to our London flat from Heathrow in a taxi, blah blah blah.

We still don't know what's wrong with the truck!

(Photo: An exotic flower in my dad's yard. Bird of paradise? Some type of ginger? We're not sure.)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Well, I arrived safe and sound. It's 6:25 a.m. in Florida right now, but of course it's 11:25 a.m. in England, so I just can't bring myself to stay in bed anymore. I got up and clunked around in my dad's darkened kitchen until I managed to make myself a cup of coffee, and now I'm waiting for it to get light enough to take a photo for this post.

I got in yesterday afternoon (Florida time) after an uneventful flight. On the airplane I watched "Noah" and "The Wolf of Wall Street," both of which I enjoyed, although "Wolf" -- which purports to be based on real-life events -- seemed ridiculously exaggerated to me. If stockbrokers routinely snorted and popped that many drugs on an average Wall Street workday, our financial markets would be a disaster. Oh, wait...

I also read a lot of "Life After Life" by Kate Atkinson, which I'm enjoying. It doesn't have an easy, linear plot and I could see how that would be frustrating for some readers, but I don't mind it. As for my fellow travelers, I sat next to a young, slim British woman who was very nice and loaned me a pen to fill out my customs declaration, but otherwise left me blessedly alone -- pretty much my ideal traveling companion.

As usual, there's a bit of social whirlwind building already. After dinner with Dad and my stepmother, I went to see my stepsister and her family, and my stepbrother is flying in today. Then, in a few days, I leave for Jacksonville with my mom to see my brother and his family. In between all that, I need to get my driver's license renewed. Head spinning!

(Photo: Tibouchina, a flower in my dad's yard.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Garden, Before and After

The gardener came again yesterday, and with his assistance we completed our overhaul of the garden. It's time for some before and after pictures!

Above is the yard on July 21, before the big clean-up. If I could write out a Tarzan yodel at this point, I would -- so just imagine it.

And here's the edge of the patio on July 21, with irises running amok and weed-choked rock garden. (By the time I took this, we'd already weeded and planted the bed in the foreground.)

And here's the yard now. Can you fully appreciate the quantity of vegetation we removed from the side of the yard? The large hedge plants -- hazel and philadelphus -- have been pruned back, the blackberries (mostly) removed, and the roses, hebe bush, camellia and other plantings rescued from encroaching undergrowth. You can even see the fence through the gaps!

The other side of the yard didn't change as much. (I don't have a before photo, but you can kind of see it here.) We trimmed things up and removed lots of weeds, but we left the big hydrangeas alone. Dave potted some ferns from the alley beside the house, hoping to cultivate them and perhaps transplant them to a more visible spot in the garden.

Here's the patio now. Dave trimmed all the irises down (they were mostly brown and apparently, being "stinking iris," they're somewhat undesirable anyway), trimmed the ivy, weeded and planted some tiny new bushes (bee balm, red-hot poker and black mondo grass near the fence). We found an old cast-iron mantelpiece at the back of the property, and brought it to the patio to add architectural interest. The eventual plan is to train our clematis over it, but we'll see how that goes.

Check out how much the horseradish has grown in its new blue pot! Kind of scary!

I'm off to Florida today, taking wing just before noon. I'm almost sorry to leave our garden, not to mention Dave and Olga. Every little bud I see, I think, "Well, that will bloom while I'm gone!" It seems unfair. I wish I could hit the garden's pause button.

Monday, July 28, 2014


Dave and I went to Greenwich yesterday to visit our friends Sally and Mike. They had a little brunch in their garden with summery gazpacho and Mike's special Maltese pasta and pastries, the names of which I've already forgotten. Two other couples were there -- Liz and Andy, and Anna and Lawrence. Anna teaches in the same department as Dave, and by complete coincidence she and Lawrence bought a house just a few doors away from Sally, who I've known for years through blogging. Worlds collide!

We toured Sally's garden and she gave us a rundown on some of the plants and weeds, so we have a better idea of what we're dealing with in our own garden and what we might plant in certain areas.

Then we walked to a nearby animal park to see some baby deer, and we found this amazing peacock.

A peacock really is an incredible bird -- ridiculous in its extravagance, an overdressed dandy. This one kept trying to court nearby chickens and pigeons. Or perhaps it was warning them away from its territory. Who knows what was going on in that tiny peacock mind?

Dave and I made our way back home yesterday evening, tired and sated both gastronomically and socially. Every time I go to Greenwich I marvel at how far away it is! We were still so full from lunch we just ate some nibblies as we watched TV, and then went to bed early.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Boyhood and a Reunion

Olga and I photographed another set of streets for Bleeding London yesterday morning. I got a little lost this time around -- I had to come home and consult Google Maps to figure out how I wound up where I did. But Olga didn't mind. Any walking is fine with her. (And me too, actually.)

Dave spent the morning in the garden. And by the way, I appreciate all the comments about the gardening being worth it no matter how long we live here (see previous post). You're all absolutely right. He should just enjoy himself.

In the afternoon we walked over to Hampstead to see the movie "Boyhood," which I loved. I thought it was very effective in showing the beauty and richness of day-to-day life. And what an amazing idea -- to film a movie bit by bit over a decade, so the audience can watch the characters naturally grow and age. It was unlike any movie I have ever seen. Dave found it frustrating -- when watching a movie, we're all trained to expect a momentous plot event, and there really isn't one in "Boyhood." But I think that's the point. It's all the little moments of our every day that are ripe with beauty and disappointment.

Finally, last night, I met up with yet another old Peace Corps friend passing through town. I hadn't seen Mark since 1994 -- and in the intervening years he had married a woman he met while we were in Morocco, had two children and divorced. His kids were with him, and let me tell you, nothing drives home the passage of years than seeing teenagers who didn't even exist the last time you'd talked to their parents. They're great kids -- squarely in the midst of growing up, like the "Boyhood" character -- and it was good to reconnect with Mark. We wandered through Soho and had dinner in Chinatown.

When I got home last night, Dave was watching one of the newer trio of "Star Wars" movies -- blasting the subtle and evenly paced experience of "Boyhood" out of his mind with a few ray guns and explosions.

(Photos: Top and middle, a vacant building around the corner from our flat. Bottom, a found bag of body parts!)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Storms, Political and Otherwise

Dave, the energetic garden maven, mail-ordered more plants and they arrived yesterday. We got a red-hot poker, a couple of bee balm plants, some ornamental grass and some lilies of the valley. He planted them in the morning, just in time for drenching afternoon rains that we badly needed.

It's been such a trip to watch Dave in the garden! We've never lived together in a place where we had a garden, so I'm seeing a whole new side to his personality. I'm glad that despite his homebody tendencies he now has a place to be outside, and surprisingly he is quite a perfectionist about how things should look. (I say surprisingly because he's not at all a perfectionist when it comes to the inside of the house. I don't mean that to sound as snarky as it probably does.) He spends a lot of time planning, weeding, trimming, planting and dead-heading flowers (even sometimes before they're really what I would call "dead," which I rib him about). He gets such joy out of it all.

My only reservation is that this really isn't our garden. I hate to see him invest too much time and money in something that we may have to give up in the next year or two, depending on the whims of our landlord. I try to gently remind him of that, while not deflating his enthusiasm. Debbie Downer.

I took Olga to Hampstead Heath yesterday (not the West Heath!) and on the way back we got caught in the first of our afternoon storms. So I ducked into a little sidewalk cafe in Hampstead and had an amazing, artistic coffee (above) and a lunch of scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and toast. Olga, exhausted from our outing in the park, snoozed beneath my chair as three people at a table next to me loudly discussed Israel's conflict with the Palestinians in Gaza. (If there's ever a conversation you don't want to have loudly and in public, it's anything to do with Israel and the Palestinians.) They came down squarely on the side of Israel and its right to defend itself. I was somewhat annoyed with their volume but I refrained from making any indication that I heard them (how could I not?) and eventually the rain subsided enough that Olga and I could get home.

I had an unsettled night's sleep. I slept very lightly and I was up early. We have a busy weekend ahead and then I'm off to Florida on Tuesday, so my mind was swirling with all the things left to do -- my usual pre-travel anxiety!

(Top photo: Houses on a street near our flat, one of my photos for the Bleeding London project.)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Well, That Was Awkward

This was the scene at the local fire station when I took Olga for her morning walk several days ago. The sign on the easel out front reads "Closed due to pension theft!" Kind of disconcerting, eh? Supposedly during such strikes firefighters will still respond to "serious fires" in homes, but not rubbish or grass fires, automated alarms and that kind of thing. Apparently this was just one in a long, long string of strikes by the London Fire Brigade to protest government plans to raise retirement age and increase firefighters' pension contributions.

Oh, my. Can't we all just get along?

I've been working on photographing my local streets for the Bleeding London project. I was out this morning with Olga in one area and we went yesterday to another neighborhood nearby. She's become so used to me taking pictures while we walk that she'll just stand next to me while I fiddle with the camera. I can drop her leash and she won't go anywhere. She's very patient.

Yesterday we went to the West Heath, a part of Hampstead Heath that I had not visited before. It's very woodsy and I could not help but notice that there were lots of single men wandering around. Sure enough, turns out it's a very popular spot for gay cruising. Not being on the market myself, I wasn't all that interested, but it's funny that Olga and I stumbled into the middle of the action. Maybe we'll just stick to the main parts of the Heath from now on!

Of course, Olga was oblivious to all that. There was mud, which made her happy. (Not me, so much.)

The neighborhood around the West Heath tends to be very upscale, at least where we walked. I found the home of Aldous Huxley and his clan, and took some pictures here and there, but overall I find that wealthy neighborhoods are much harder to photograph than more heavily trafficked commercial and middle class residential areas. I suppose it's because any distinctive or unusual features tend to be hidden behind walls and hedges.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Olga's Ball Bonanza

As we cleaned up the yard on Tuesday, Olga stayed outside with us, lolling on the grass and keeping an eye on things. Every once in a while she would disappear behind a bush, beneath some ivy or behind our built-in brick barbecue grill and emerge with a new toy!

The previous occupants of this flat had a dog -- and probably several earlier occupants before them. There were lots of stray balls out there.

Some were plain old tennis balls, to be carried around and protectively slept with (or on) until the time came to demolish them.

One was an especially groovy little football. In fact, as you can see, it bore the words "Groovy Baby!" next to a picture of a disco dancing couple. Olga punctured and partly shredded it before I had a chance to take a photo, so you're seeing only the damaged version.

Gotta love the peace sign, smiley face and lava lamp!

Unfortunately, this groovy little ball lasted only about half an hour before it was gnawed into enough pieces that it needed to go into the trash can.

(Olga's soccer ball, on the other hand, lasted several days after she found it on our walk last week. But it finally went into the trash as well, having been pulled almost entirely inside out.)

Another backyard find was a fun little hard plastic red ball that lit up, blinking, when shaken. What a great idea for throwing around at night! Unfortunately, as you can see, Olga gnawed through it as well, exposing the plastic innards and the blinking light. It went out with the trash, still visibly blinking frantically through the plastic trash bag.

We also found a solid yellow ball with a waffled surface that lasted only about 20 minutes. I didn't even have a chance to take its picture.

Olga sure had fun excavating our yard for traces of pets past!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Garden D-Day

The gardener came yesterday to whip our Tarzan-worthy English jungle into shape. Before he arrived I got to work on early-morning weeding, and I uncovered numerous snails and slugs like the critter above. (I relocated this one and several others to shady parts of the garden that stood to remain undisturbed, but I'm sure there will be some heavy duty Darwinism going on over the next few weeks!)

Dave and I have been joking about our garden being incredibly inhospitable. If a plant has painful thorns or sticky sap or proliferates wildly, we have it. Even our iris plants are known as stinking iris. "I hate them," said our gardener helpfully.

The plant I called green alkanet in my previous garden post may actually be borage -- they look so similar I can't really tell. In any case, everyone hates it. We have it in spades! I've removed tons, saving only a token two plants (for the blue flowers).

And the asters! I said before that we had only a few, but that's because I didn't recognize the millions of them that weren't blooming. They provoked a domestic debate. I wanted to save some of them, because I really want to preserve the wild nature of parts of the garden, cultivating wildflowers and native bugs and whatnot. (Snails, even!) Dave has a much neater approach to gardening -- he wants to trim and weed and edge. We compromised on the asters -- I saved a patch about two feet square, and we pulled all the others.

I also saved our largest blackberry bush but we yanked out tons of others. A ridiculous quantity, actually. And we saved our wild geranium.

The little orange flower above was a casualty. We had only one, and I'm not sure what it was -- I thought it was a garden volunteer from previous years, but the gardener seemed to think it was a weed. It was growing out in the open on the lawn, and though I asked him to try to save it, it was trampled in short order. Probably not a realistic request on my part. Maybe it will come back.

The upshot of all our hours of work (the gardener was here all day, and Dave and I worked pretty consistently all day as well) is that we have much more open space and sunlight. The gardener took three carloads of vegetation to the recycling center. And he's coming back next Monday to finish things up!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

One Short Street

I experimented yesterday with the Bleeding London project, shooting photos on a couple of streets in our neighborhood. Bleeding London, as you may recall from yesterday's post, is a Royal Photographic Society project to photograph every street in London between March and October 2014.

Here are my results from Kingdon Road, a tiny (maybe a block long?) street not far from our flat.

I often say there's always something to photograph. This project puts that notion to the test.

I mean, not every photo can be a prize-winner. I'm not sure which of these I'll enter in the Bleeding London competition. (If any -- maybe I'll go back and shoot Kingdon Road another time!)

The challenge is a lot of fun!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Airline Travel and Spam

I've deliberately avoided writing about any of the terrible news we've been hearing lately -- the conflict in Gaza, the airline crash in the Ukraine. But let me just ask -- was anyone else surprised to hear that there are surface-to-air missiles capable of shooting down a passenger jet at cruising altitude? I would have thought 33,000 feet was entirely too high for a ground-based missile to reach, but apparently not. It raises questions about the security of airline travel all over the world. What's to stop enterprising terrorists from taking a missile launcher out to sea on a ship, for example, and striking at an overhead flight path?

And how do airlines cope with global trouble spots in general? Some were apparently already avoiding Ukrainian airspace while others were not. Do airlines fly over Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran? Before this incident I would have felt relatively safe flying over those countries, believing all the conflict to be "down there" while I'm "up here," but clearly that's a false sense of security.

Anyway, it's pretty mind-boggling.

Of course, none of this will keep me from getting on a plane in about a week and going back to the states. We have to fly. That's just modern life. We can't curl up in a ball of avoidance, can we?

In other news, I have been getting the strangest spam e-mail lately. Every day I get multiple e-mails about Dr. Oz endorsing Forskolin. I had to look up Forskolin to see what it even is -- some extract of the coleus plant that's supposed to treat all manner of ills. How anyone making or selling Forskolin got my e-mail address I will never know. Attention, Forskolin marketers: I DO NOT WANT ANY.

And in still other news, a photo acquaintance from Flickr has turned me on to a cool project by the Royal Photographic Society to photograph every street in London between March and October. I've contributed a couple of pictures to the competition, and I will no doubt upload more. It's an interesting challenge to pick a street and go find something photo-worthy -- there's always something.

(Photo: Catching some rays at Camden Market, on Friday.)

Sunday, July 20, 2014


We are at the height of summer now. It's sunny nearly every day, with temperatures in the low 80s. I'm even getting a bit of a tan from all my walking, and when we sit inside in the evenings, the sun streams through the back windows and bastes us like Butterball turkeys.

I went down to Tottenham Court Road on Friday to buy a new USB cable for my camera, and I walked back to West Hampstead via Camden Town, about five miles. I got lots of photos and I was like wilted lettuce by the time I got home -- limp and dehydrated. But I learned more about how roads and neighborhoods in this part of the city connect, so that's a good thing. I have a clearer mental map.

Yesterday Dave and I went to the weekly farmer's market near the West Hampstead rail station. We bought two fresh mackerel which we cooked last night using a propane torch -- an amazingly easy and fast technique. Mackerel are such beautiful fish. They look like they're wearing silvery tinfoil zebra skin, like an aquatic Lady Gaga.

We also got tomatoes, which were not as good as I expected, and cherries which Dave turned into an amazing pie. And some other stuff. It's so fun being part of a new community, buying locally and learning about the area businesses and people. I feel like we're extending our roots little by little.

(Photo: The Exmouth Arms, a pub near Euston Station.)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The New Table, and Assorted Other Pics

Olga, clearly channeling Vanna White, wanted to show you our new dining room set. Aren't those groovy chairs? I think we scored with that purchase, though I still prefer my Dad's table (which is now our desk).

Olga scored in a different way when we went for a walk on Wednesday. She found a brand new, unattended yellow soccer ball on one of the footpaths near the cemetery. Needless to say, she had it punctured and shredded in no time. No crying children were involved.

This has been my daily breakfast this week -- with blackberries from our back yard! We hired a gardener to come next Tuesday to weed, prune and clear some brush, but I made it clear that I want our main blackberry bush to stay. I get the biggest kick out of picking my own berries, though they are super tart -- I gave one to Dave and he promptly spit it out. He's used to those ninny supermarket berries.

The robins love our slightly tilted birdbath. We've seen pigeons in it, too. We have huge pigeons that roost in the trees at the back of the garden. As Dave said, "They're like turkeys!"

This wonderful mosaic dragon greets customers at the entrance to a dry cleaner's around the corner. I asked the proprietor and she said it's many decades old, dating from the time her shop was a grocery. Apparently it's a Welsh dragon -- I suppose the shop owners back then were Welsh. The shop also has original stained glass windows and other features. Pretty amazing!

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Floridian Summer of Mr. Reed

The universe must be preparing me for my upcoming trip to Florida.

Yesterday, while walking Olga in Hampstead Heath, I was bitten by some kind of insect. I have no idea what it was and had no awareness of the bite at the time. But when I got home, I developed four itchy, raised welts on my legs. I didn't know England had any biting insects, so this is a first for me. (Florida, as we all know, has a surplus!)

Then we had a crazy thunderstorm roll through around 2:30 this morning. Thunder, lightning, pouring rain, the works -- also not all that common in England, but certainly common in Florida at this time of year.

I'm telling you, Florida is coming to meet me.

I discovered yesterday that I've lost my USB cable to download photos from my camera. I think it must have fallen out of my camera bag somewhere. The first order of business today is to replace it -- because as we all know I cannot live without my pictures. I took a photo of our new dining room furniture specifically to post here but I can't get it off the camera! Argh!

We're having a bit of a film festival around here. In addition to our ongoing infatuation with the TV show "Prison Break," which we watch every night (we're nearing the end of season two and let me just say the show is absurd, but still entertaining as all heck), we watched "Unzipped" and, on the sort-of-recommendation of another blogger, "The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone." (Not really a recommendation -- her exact words were, "Dear God, it was terrible.") "Unzipped" is a movie from the mid-'90s that follows Isaac Mizrahi as he designs a fashion collection. I saw it in the theater when it came out and I loved its campy, dishy humor, but it's complete brain candy. As for "Roman Spring," I don't know how I ever missed this film, because it's exactly what I love as a guilty pleasure -- a technicolor melodrama circa 1961 with fashions and jewels and coiffures and dramatic smoking. And Viven Leigh! And male prostitutes! And written by Tennessee Williams, wielding his strange dual fascination with and condescension to older women! The whole thing was laughable, and Dave and I snickered throughout. I would watch it again in a heartbeat.

(Photo: A barber shop in Cricklewood. Please notice the locks of hair hanging from the sign!)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Morality of Weeding

Yesterday was a very domestic day. I got out and worked in the garden for an hour or so in the morning, pulling clumps of weeds and unruly grass out of our iris and euphorbia beds. Am I the only one who has an internal ethical debate about weeding? I hate the fact that I'm killing all these plants, not to mention unseen bugs and snails and whatnot, but at the same time the garden looks so much better when it's weeded. And our own plants will be healthier, right? So I guess it has to be done.

I am trying to walk a middle path -- I want the garden weeded, but it doesn't have to be pristine and we will not resort to chemicals.

Ugh. I really am so exhausting, with all my moral dilemmas. I exhaust even myself.

Anyway, later in the day, after I'd done this work, a gardener showed up next door to work on our neighbor's yard. So Dave and I asked him to come over and survey ours, and tell us how much he would charge to tame the jungle, bringing it to a point where we just need to maintain it. We haven't received his estimate yet, but if the price is right we may take that route. Is that a moral solution -- pay someone to kill the weeds and bugs?!

We had quiche and fruit salad for lunch, left over from our Bastille Day dinner on the patio Monday evening. (Dave read that the French celebrate Bastille Day with outdoor picnics, so we attempted to join in.) Dave is still cooking more vegetarian fare, for which I am thankful. He barbecued steaks last night, though, and I must say they were terrific.

Yesterday afternoon we completed our move-in inventory. Before we moved in, the landlord had an inspector walk through the apartment and note every scratch, every nail hole, every chip to every fixture and piece of woodwork. We had to point out any discrepancies, to accurately record the condition of the place when we took occupancy. So we combed each room and made our own list, where it differed from the inspector's. The process took more than an hour and the persnickety little details were enough to drive us crazy. ("He says there are four nail holes in this wall, but I count five.")

Olga has developed a habit of streaking out the back door (particularly when she sees a squirrel in the yard) and leaping through the flower bed that Dave just planted. She has already inflicted some damage on our new verbena and lavender. Needless to say, this has not gone over well, but I'm not sure how to stop it. I think we may simply need to allow her to pave her own path through the garden.

(Photo: The couches and end tables we bought from the previous tenants, who were our coworkers. We get very interesting light in the evenings!)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Magic Staff

Olga and I went back to Hampstead Heath yesterday, taking advantage of the sunny day. I learned that it is possible, when the weather is dry, for the dog to walk on the Heath without getting completely filthy. (Until she intentionally belly-flopped into a lingering mud puddle, that is, to cool off.)

We found this staff leaning against a tree, decked with ribbons and beads. It seemed to have been left over from someone's ritual -- something about worshipping Mother Earth and wishing for healing and thriving.

We left it untouched. I try to respect people's rituals, even when I don't participate. I wonder who left it behind and why?

Olga, on the other hand, found it all rather hilarious.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Furniture Conundrum

Now that we're fully moved in to the new flat, we're dealing with the next step of setting up our household. You may remember that we left most of the furniture behind in Notting Hill, because it belonged to our landlords. For the new place, we bought couches and end tables from the previous tenants, and we inherited a pair of wardrobes for our clothes. But at a minimum, we still had to purchase some dining room chairs and a bookcase.

Get ready for a story that I hope is not too tedious.

We ordered a set of shelves that I saw, of all places, in an advertisement on the tube, and we also ordered an accompanying desk. Then Dave found a cool set of teak '60s chairs on Etsy to go with our vintage '60s dining table, so we ordered those too.

Then we began hitting snags. The guy selling the chairs asked for an unexpected shipping charge, which we choked down. Then we found out the chairs came with a table of their own. "It's in the ad," the seller said when Dave questioned him about the appearance of this mysterious table -- and sure enough when we rechecked the ad it said "...and table." (Dave is convinced the ad was edited, but I don't see how the dealer had any motive to throw in a table at no additional cost.)

So we had to decide whether we wanted that new table. We'd basically already paid for it. It only added £12 to the shipping, and accepting it would allow the set to be kept together. The downside -- we already have a table and had ordered a brand new desk!

We briefly dithered over this. The obvious solution was to keep the table and chairs together, use them for dining purposes, and use our existing table (built by my dad) as a desk. We cancelled the desk order from the other furniture company -- ultimately the most expensive of all these items, so we saved a chunk of money.

The table and chairs are supposed to arrive today, delivered from a vintage furniture dealer in Coventry. The shelves won't come for another few weeks, so until then our books will remain stashed in boxes and lining the windowsills.

(Photo: A grocery near our new flat. Georgia on my mind!)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Vintage Clothing and China

I was walking Olga the day before yesterday when I passed a new shop on Mill Lane called Passionate About Vintage. These ladies were standing out front -- it was apparently Grand Opening day. I didn't go in, since I had the dog, but I couldn't resist asking for a photo.

The rain subsided yesterday morning, so Dave and I got all our new plants into the ground. They look much better than the weed patch we previously had outside our back door! Dave weeded the whole area, and we relocated about a dozen snails and slugs. (I know we should probably be killing them -- but they were there first, after all.) We also planted the clematis and the butterfly bush that we had in pots on the balcony in Notting Hill.

Just that small amount of yard work reminded me that it is not my favorite thing to do. I have a feeling the garden, like the kitchen, will be largely Dave's domain.

While digging off the patio, I found this tiny shard of broken china. I wonder how long it's been there -- ten years? 50? A hundred? It's so cool to garden in a place where there's history in the soil. (Well, I guess all soil is history -- but not easily identifiable human history!)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sunny Saturday at the Cemetery

Olga and I took a stroll yesterday up to Fortune Green, where there's a park and a large cemetery. I was hoping I might find a closer (and cleaner) place than Hampstead Heath for Olga to run free and play, but the park turned out to be quite small (and partly dog-prohibiting) and dogs in the cemetery must be on leads. So we enjoyed the sunny day, enduring the leash.

We walked the paths among the wobbly, historic graves and checked out the large wildflower and butterfly garden. Isn't that a great idea for a cemetery -- encouraging wildflowers and the insects that follow them? In fact, some of the burial areas have been consumed by the surrounding forest -- headstones are visible beneath the trees and shadowy undergrowth. Personally I'm a fan of cremation, but if I were to be buried, I think I'd love to be in a quiet forest that grew up all around me.

After Olga and I got home from our two-hour ramble, we had lunch and Dave and I set out for Homebase, England's big-box housewares store. We needed some stuff for the flat, and once we got there and saw the selection in the garden shop we began dithering about whether or not to go ahead and buy some plants. We took the plunge -- cosmos, dahlia, delphinium, lavender and hostas. After a visit to the grocery store next door, we needed a taxi to get everything home!

I bought a palace of a pot, a big blue-glazed urn with graceful curves, for our beleaguered horseradish. No other simple horseradish plant has it so good! Behind the pot, you can see the wild state of the garden right off our patio, with the iris, weeds and blackberries running rampant. Dave is hot to get to work, but it's raining today, so gardening may have to wait.

We also bought some bird seed and filled our two bird feeders, and we hung some dried corn cobs for the squirrels (out of Olga's reach, though the squirrels will surely drive her crazy, if they are brave enough to come around at all).