Sunday, August 31, 2014

Inevitably, More Sore Feet

Wow! Yesterday was a marathon of street photography for Bleeding London.

First, I took Olga for an early-morning walk and polished off a handful of forgotten streets near our flat -- another step on my endless quest to photograph every street in our postcode, NW6.

Then, at 10 a.m., I took an overground train and the tube out to far east London, to Woodford, which had not been photographed at all. There I met up with Susi, the woman I know from Flickr who introduced me to the project, and her husband Greg. We had coffee at a Costa coffee shop where we got to know each other a bit. Then we set out, Susi and Greg going in one direction and I the other. (We were in the IG8 postcode, for those of you keeping track of such things.)

It was a somewhat suburban area, with detached and semi-detached housing. Lots of cars and garages. Many of the streets I photographed were no more than cul-de-sacs, barely big enough to turn around in, which inevitably led to photos like this (above). Not terrible, but not exactly inspiring.

Occasionally I got luckier and found a quirky street feature or an interesting person, like the running girl in the top photo.

This (above) was the lamest picture of the morning. I really try to not just photograph a street sign. I hoped the hollyhock would redeem it a bit, but I'm not sure.

I walked for two hours in and around Woodford before reuniting with Susi and Greg for lunch. Then they headed back to central London, but I pressed on to the equally ignored E4 postcode, slightly to the west. I took a bus toward Chingford and got off at the wonderfully named Friday Hill, and walked southward to the Highams Park train station.

More suburbia. Lots of cats.

If there's one frustration I have with this project -- aside from the fact that not nearly enough photographers are participating -- it's that the content of the photos tends to be repetitive, at least in my case. After all, on an average residential street, you're pretty much confined to photographing the outside of houses. And what do people leave outside? Cars, garbage bins, cats, flower gardens, lawn or patio ornaments -- kind of the same stuff over and over. I try to shake things up a bit but it's a challenge.

There's always the occasional odd piece of street art.

By the end of the day, when I took a bus, the tube and two overground trains to get home, I'd photographed 43 streets in Woodford and 27 in lower Chingford. That's definitely a record for me!

By the way, I don't know if I've mentioned this, but you can browse all the photos here. Mousing over the images shows the location and photographer's name. You can't search for specific streets or photographers, but you can sort by postcode using the drop-down menu at the top. You can see the photos from me, Greg and Susi by sorting for the IG postcode.

Or you may be happy with what I've put on the blog, which is fine too!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Airing Out the Stuffed Animals

Thank god it's the weekend! I had a four-day workweek and yet it felt like forever.

Our singing at the all-school assembly went off without a hitch yesterday. I had to be at work at 7:45 a.m. for a short rehearsal, and then I had more than an hour to kill before our performance (and my official start time for the workday). So I went out for an hour and shot more streets for Bleeding London.

I know, you're sick to death of hearing about Bleeding London. Sorry about that.

Today I'm meeting up with the woman who introduced me to the project, someone I know through Flickr but have never met face-to-face. That should be interesting! We're meeting in East London -- north of Ilford, to be specific -- where there are some postcodes that have been left virtually uncovered. We're going to spend a couple of hours there and see what we can find.

As I began writing this it was pouring rain, but it's slacked off and it's supposed to be partly cloudy during the day. So hopefully we won't meet up with a deluge.

I spent about an hour in the garden yesterday evening, weeding and cutting out more blackberry sprouts. I have steadfastly resisted the use of chemicals as much as possible, but I did put down some slug pellets around our amaryllis (which are in a pot) because they're being devoured. Sorry, slugs.

(Photos: An unusual photography opportunity in West Hampstead.)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Ebola Dreams, with Roses

I had the strangest dream this morning. I was working in an airport, cleaning the floor. Hundreds of people were walking all around me, and I was down on my hands and knees, so all I could see were their ankles. As I cleaned the tile near one cluster of people, I realized from their conversation that the group consisted of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and members of her staff. My first thought was, "Wow! It's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia!" My second thought was, "Will I catch Ebola?"

I'm not saying it's right. I'm just saying that's what I dreamed -- a weird confluence of the worlds of celebrity, politics and hypochondria.

We are in the middle of discussions with the landlord -- via the management company -- about the garden. The landlord offered to hire her own gardener to improve the garden, with the proviso that we maintain it. We explained that we'd already brought in a gardener, but we'd love it if she allowed us to deduct that cost (or part of that cost) from the rent. She got back that she is concerned about the roses, specifically. So Dave told her we'd be happy to have another gardener come and work on the roses (since neither of us are rose specialists) at her expense. We'll see what happens.

We've had quite a few roses bloom this summer, especially the yellow ones (which also smell the nicest). I put these in the Roth bowl I got from my mom's house and used it as a centerpiece during our dinner with Chris and Linda on Saturday. Linda kept commenting on how wonderful they smelled.

You can see from that picture how often I dust.


I just about can't stand to read the news. I'm sure some of you wonder if I ever get out of my little bubble of school library and street photography -- and truthfully, lately, I haven't much. But what can I say about the broader state of the world? With ISIS beheading journalists, Ebola testing the government in Monrovia and nine-year-olds killing their gun instructors with an Uzi (!), well, there seems to be a lot of madness and despair. I understand why people go on news blackouts, and I have often wondered if knowing the details of such events really benefits me at all. (Although I read the story about the Uzi, I didn't watch the video. I drew the line there.)

Here's a story I found touching in a positive way -- the account of the British volunteer nurse who went to Sierra Leone, worked in an Ebola ward when others wouldn't, ultimately became infected himself and is now (hopefully) on the mend. Now that is bravery. That's Florence Nightingale stuff, right there.

(Top photo: Kilburn Park Road, on Wednesday.)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Blue Hair and a Blue-Eyed Dog

The mornings are darker now. As I sit here at nearly 6 a.m., it's still murky outside. When I let Olga out, she raced across the yard to do her business and I could barely see her, hunched in the dark. Hard to believe just a few months ago it was daylight at this time of the morning.

Our library talent video was shown at the Middle School assembly yesterday. The sound wasn't great, so the audience didn't get the full effect of our rhythmic performance, but there were some laughs and overall I think it turned out OK.

We also had our second faculty and staff choir practice. We sound pretty good, if I do say so myself! It's surprisingly fun to sing in a group, where you're adding to the sound and yet your own little flubs and foibles don't register. It's risk-free singing. (None of us have solos!)

After work yesterday I went walking in northern Maida Vale for Bleeding London and photographed 23 more streets. It's the far southern part of our post code. I'm trying to do all of NW6, slowly but surely, in addition to occasionally striking out for other parts of town. Anyway, I got some good shots, I think, including this one:

She walked past me and I couldn't resist stopping her to ask for a picture. (I always tell people I'm working on a project for the Royal Photographic Society, and that gives me a little gravitas!) I really like that shot -- the dog's blue eyes, the woman's blue hair, her grass-stained shoes -- even though it's just a bit out of focus, which is annoying. (I took it quickly, and then the dog stood and turned so I didn't have a chance for a second one.) A galloping horse won't notice. Hopefully.

(Top: Carlton Vale, yesterday.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sunflowers, and No News

Another rainy day yesterday. Of course, I was at work, so looking out at the rain from the cozy shelter of the library was no hardship. The kids are back to school this week -- high schoolers yesterday and middle schoolers today -- so the halls are getting busier (and noisier).

Some of the kids greet me like they're happy to see me again, and some ignore me. I just remind myself that I am merely a minor feature of their school landscape. In many cases I can't remember their names, which I hate to admit!

A few commenters asked to see our middle school talent video, which I mentioned yesterday. I'm working on making that happen, but I can't promise anything. I don't even have a copy of it myself. It'll be on the school's web site, but behind a firewall, so the general public can't get to it. (Yes, we were THAT BAD.)

I finished "The Sea" yesterday. It wound up being good after all -- lyrically written, with a couple of twists at the end. I'd have made much shorter work of it if I'd had more spare time lately. Tonight I may get back out on the photography trail, if the weather cooperates.

(Photo: Sunflowers in Alperton, on Saturday.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Marian the Librarian

It's ironic that I'm posting a picture of laundry, because yesterday was definitely not an ideal laundry day. It poured rain pretty much constantly. I sat inside and read, finally making a dent in the second half of "The Sea" by John Banville, a dreamy novel of loss and nostalgia that I may or may not like -- I haven't yet decided. I probably won't decide until the last page.

It wasn't just rainy -- it was also cold, in the mid-'50s, cold enough that I needed slippers and a hat indoors. I needed a jacket all last week. We have definitely been experiencing the first pinch of autumn.

Dave and I spent the afternoon watching old musicals. We started with "The Music Man," which I wanted to see because of our library talent video. Backstory: Each department in the school where I work produces a short video to welcome students. These are compiled and shown at an opening assembly. For our library video, I suggested we do a rhythmic piece using the various beeping, stamping, shushing sounds of checking out books and managing students. A co-worker suggested we use the music from "Marian the Librarian," from "The Music Man," to set the rhythm -- so we found a karaoke version on YouTube and played it in the background as we stamped, scanned and stacked books to the beat. I haven't even seen the results yet -- and I won't until the assembly -- but it made me curious about "The Music Man." So there you have it.

I'd seen "The Music Man," but it had been decades. The only thing I remembered was the teenage girl who kept exclaiming, "Ye gods!" Turns out the "Marian the Librarian" scene employs library tools as rhythmic devices in the same way we did, which is probably why my coworker thought of using that tune.

Then we moved on to "West Side Story," another movie I hadn't seen in years and years. Both of these are pretty long movies, so they were perfect for killing off a rainy afternoon.

Between the rain, reading and films, I managed to sneak in a short walk for Olga -- who seemed pretty much content to sleep all day -- and some cleaning.

The Bleeding London folks apparently did meet up for photography yesterday, despite the rain. I admire their dedication but I decided early on that I was not going out in that weather. I have my limits!

(Photo: Laundry day in Alperton, on Saturday.)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Post-Meetup, With Sore Feet

Yesterday's Bleeding London photo meetup was interesting. I showed up at the Golders Green tube station with three other photographers -- all women -- and the leader of the group divided us into teams of two. Each team was assigned a sector of the map and we set out to photograph all the streets in our sector. The effort has been described as a game of Battleship, though I must confess I don't really see the analogy.

In my case, my teammate Sarah and I split up, and we finished everything that was assigned and then some. We wound up farther south in Hampstead, near areas where I've walked with Olga.

Afterward Sarah and I met with Jen, another meetup photographer, for a pub lunch at the Old Bull and Bush on North End Way, just down the street from Evelyn Waugh's former home. We talked about the project and about camera bags and lenses and other photo-related stuff. Jen said she expects we'll finish all the streets by the end of October as planned. "Why not be positive?" she said.

One of our group laughed about how her standards have slipped for photos. She doesn't even try to make them all artistic, she said -- she's just focused on getting the street. I feel a bit of that in my own work. I think my standards are slipping, which always happens when quantity takes precedence over quality, right?

Today is supposed to be rainy and I've planned to stay home and take it easy. I have some laundry to do, and I'm allegedly reading a book that I haven't so much as opened in more than a week. But there are two more meetups if I get motivated!

(Photo: Hampstead, yesterday.)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Bird Feeder Mystery Solved

I'm writing a bit later today because I had an hour's worth of cleanup to do before I could even make my coffee. We had Chris and Linda, our former neighbors, over for dinner last night and Dave's cooking -- although fabulous as usual -- left our kitchen looking like the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew. It was such a wreck I couldn't face it before going to bed. Now everything is whipped into shape.

It was fun to see Chris and Linda again and hear about the old neighborhood. We also had the perfect opportunity to use the cheese board they gave us when we left Notting Hill -- so any potentially nagging "I wonder if they ever use it?" question has been put to rest.

Yesterday's photo walk turned out to be quite an adventure! The neighborhoods I visited in Alperton, near Wembley, are mostly Indian, which I didn't know when I set out -- so that put an interesting cultural twist on many of the pictures. I also had more questions than ever from people curious about what I was doing, wandering their streets with a camera. I'm sure I stood out! But when I explained the project everyone seemed satisfied. I'm surprised no one's called the cops on me yet.

When I was trying to leave Wembley about 1 p.m. I got caught in a huge scrum of people all headed to a rugby championship game. They filled the sidewalks, wearing team colors and singing fight songs at the top of their lungs. This went on for blocks. I really should have taken photos there, because some folks were dressed in crazy costumes and it was quite a scene visually, but I was exhausted after more than three hours of walking and also a bit intimidated by the crowd.

I've got another photo walk today, this one a meetup in Golders Green with some of the other photographers participating in Bleeding London. It will be good to meet people face to face!

Oh, and remember that question about the bird feeders?

It's been answered! In fact, as I write this, there are several pigeons clustered in the yard and one hanging precariously from the feeder, furiously flapping, just like the one in the photo. We do see other birds on the feeder as well, so pigeons are not solely responsible for the seed consumption, but I bet they make the biggest dent.

(Top photo: An outtake from yesterday's walk.)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

More of the Same

Work, photography, filling the bird feeder -- it's like the movie "Groundhog Day" around here. I am living the same events over and over.

Yesterday after work, when I could have gone to an afternoon social to kick off the school year, I instead snuck away because, frankly, it's been a long week with a lot of school-related business and I just needed some time to myself.

I went walking through Queen's Park and took care of 33 more streets for Bleeding London. What a haul! I'm skirting the edges of burnout, here. I'm starting to feel like I'm shooting the same things over and over -- doors, houses, cats, flowers, construction rubbish, random bicyclists. But then, when you're shooting street photography, that's what there is, right?

Today I'm planning to head back out toward Wembley to shoot another neglected area.

Oh, and thanks to my readers for their comments about the bird feeder. I had no idea birds could eat so much! I mean, I'd heard that they eat many times their body weight as they gear up for migration, but I didn't realize the sheer quantity of seed that would mean. I refilled the feeders again today, and I'm hoping that with me and/or Dave home for most of the day we'll identify the hungry culprit(s).

(Photo: West Hampstead, on Thursday evening.)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Phillip Squared

More photography after work yesterday -- I walked a network of different streets between work and home, and got some pretty good shots. For Bleeding London, where the object is to photograph every street, I consider it a special bonus when I can get a shot that includes the street sign!

Otherwise, not much excitement. I am participating in the faculty/staff chorus at work, which performs just once a year at the opening assembly, and we had our first rehearsal yesterday. We're going to perform "Home" by Phillip Phillips, which I didn't think I knew until I heard it, and then I thought, "Oh yeah!" It's a simplistic little ditty and not very challenging, but it sure does stick in your head. I was singing it for hours after we rehearsed.

We have a mystery on our hands involving our bird feeders. The level of seed seemed to plummet just within the last few days. Yesterday morning I filled them up before work, and when I came home, fully 2/3 of one feeder had been emptied. Squirrels? Pigeons? We're thinking the latter, because we found several pigeon feathers around the base. The feeders are housed inside cages atop a pole, and I don't see how squirrels could get to them -- but pigeons probably could.

Oh well. I suppose they need to eat too.

(Photo: Mazenod Avenue, yesterday.)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Issues of Space Usage

I was going to be a complete wild man and blog from the front room of our flat today. But in the end, I fell back into old habits, and here I am on the couch looking out at the garden.

Seriously, one of the problems with this new flat is the allocation of space. We have two large rooms at the front of the house -- an entry foyer and the front room, where our groovy dining table is -- that we barely use. We drop our shoes and umbrellas in the foyer, and that's about it. We don't use the dining room because we commonly eat in our living room in front of the television -- as culturally and intellectually bankrupt as that sounds. In fact, the dining room still contains boxes of books waiting for the arrival of our new bookshelves. (Where are those bookshelves, anyway? I've got to check up on that.)

It's kind of disconcerting to think that we could chop off fully one half of our flat and not even miss it, aside from the fact that it stores a couple of large pieces of furniture.

This weekend, though, we're planning on having our former neighbors, Chris and Linda, over for dinner. So we'll use the table then. We probably should eat in there more often, rather than fueling our mealtimes with reruns of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "The Streets of San Francisco."

Oh, and did I tell you that the landlords of our old flat sent a notice to the school trying to find a new renter? Yes, this after they had us move so they could sell the place. I guess it's not selling. (It's still listed, anyway.) It seems odd to me that they would try to find another tenant, rather than just lowering the price to try to spur a sale. But who knows -- I admittedly am not privy to all the financial information that must be factored into such a decision.

Yesterday was a bear of a day at work. Part of the library was reconfigured into classroom space over the summer, and that required shifting the shelves in the fiction section, which meant the books were all out of order. I had to re-shelve fully half of our fiction -- thousands of books -- and even with a co-worker's help it took hours of bending and lifting, pushing and pulling. Once again, who knew that working in a library would be so physical?

(Photo: A wary cat in Wembley, on Monday.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Thoughts On Happiness

Yesterday we had an all-school staff and faculty meeting to kick off the new year. Part of the main presentation was about two recent books, one of which, "The Happiness Advantage" by Shawn Achor, led to a discussion about what creates happiness. (I haven't read this book, but our head of school did.) The gist of the book is that success doesn't create happiness -- happiness, instead, creates success.

Let me just say that I am not a fan of self-help books. When people start talking about success, my eyes glaze over.

But I was interested in the list of five factors that lead to happiness, as outlined in the presentation by our head of school (and I confess I'm not sure whether these came from the book or elsewhere):

-- Make a list of three good things a day
-- Find something to look forward to
-- Express your gratitude
-- Spend money (but not on stuff)
-- Cultivate work friendships

As I listened to the presentation it occurred to me why I'm so insistent about blogging (and before that, journaling). Not only does it create a record of my life, thereby assisting my own pathetically inadequate memory, but it fulfills both the first and the third items on that list. I usually try to keep my blog relatively positive, and I post all the time about the cool things I come across or the experiences I have in a given day. I don't know that I necessarily mention three good things every day -- let's not get crazy! -- but the number, I suspect, doesn't matter as much as simply acknowledging that good things happen regularly.

As for stuff, as my friends know, I have never been much of a stuff person -- but I seldom hesitate to spend money on traveling or experiences.

I don't mean to suggest I'm the paragon of happiness. But I think being able to find beauty in the commonplace, and being interested in what's around us, definitely leads to a more positive state of mind. The list is simplistic, like all self-help advice, but there is a kernel of truth to it.

And on that note, I am going to go walk the dog, who is lying across my lap in a rather awkward and insistent fashion, making it very hard for me to type.

(Photos: A back alley in South Hampstead.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Evening in Wembley

Yesterday after work I took the tube up to Wembley to do some more street photography for Bleeding London. I thought I'd head out to an area that seems underrepresented so far in the competition, and the Wembley postcode definitely qualified.

It was an interesting area to photograph because of the dominant presence of Wembley Stadium, looming over the surrounding neighborhoods like a giant UFO (as I previously said). As usual, I had a lot of fun exploring an area I'd only been to once or twice, and I got some good pictures.

I enjoyed getting out for a walk after work. I had a few hours of daylight left -- which will seem remarkable in December, when it gets dark long before I even leave school.

In the coming weeks I'm going to experiment more with getting out on photography walks after work. I have a few more distant neighborhoods in mind!

Monday, August 18, 2014

I Ought to Hit You in the Face

Such a busy weekend!

I spent much of it on photography for Bleeding London. I went out with Olga both mornings, slowly extending my network of covered streets. Poor Olga gets jerked along on the leash when I see something happening farther up the street and have to get into position. I'm sure she is not a fan of my camera.

One guy actually threatened me. He was coming toward me on the sidewalk on the other side of the street. By coincidence, at the same time, I saw a house on my side of the street that I wanted to photograph. So I crossed the street, positioning myself in front of him to get the picture. He stopped, and I was aware of him standing off to my right as I snapped. When I finished, he said, "I ought to hit you in the face."

I was so aghast I wasn't even alarmed. "Why?!" I asked. He gestured weakly to the dog and then said, "Are you all right?" I said, "I'm fine. Are you all right?" At which point he turned and just kept going. The whole exchange was so bizarre that I think he was high on something -- but the upshot, I believe, is that he resented me crossing the street and blocking his path, and he was afraid to walk past me because of the dog. (Vicious as she is.)

I also worked in the garden, cutting out blackberry sprouts that are coming up from bushes we removed. And I harvested all the ripened blackberries from the bushes we saved -- some of them were way past ripened, soggy masses of brilliant purple juice, because Dave isn't a fan and they didn't get picked for the two weeks I was in Florida. We're definitely coming to the end of the season. In just a week or two, I think, they'll be done.

Dave made this plum tart for dessert on Saturday. Doesn't it look like an abstract expressionist painting? He was disappointed because some of the plums were more tart than sweet, but I think it turned out really well. (Again, he is not a huge fan of tartness.)

Last night, in memory of Robin Williams, we watched "Dead Poets Society," which I haven't seen in years and Dave hadn't seen since its initial release. It was a bit surreal to watch a movie that hinges on a suicide, given the circumstances of Williams' death, but it's still a good film.

(Top photo: A house front in South Hampstead.)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Jersey Tiger, Front and Back

The other day Dave and I were in the living room when I spotted this critter on the windowpane. "Look at that!" I said, and ran for the camera.

It's not often I get a chance to take a close-up photo of the underside of a moth. I didn't know what kind of moth this was, but I was even more impressed when I went outside to see what it looked like from above.

Beautiful, isn't it? Turns out it's a Jersey Tiger Moth, a mainly continental species that's relatively uncommon in England. Apparently they've been seen in London each year since 2004, so the theory is that they've established a colony here, according to Wikipedia.

I had no idea what I was looking at was all that unusual. I wish I'd had a chance to see its underwings, which are usually yellow or orange, but the moth did not oblige.

I wonder what brought it to our garden?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Olga Finds a Hole

When we walked to Hampstead Heath a few days ago, Olga found a hole in the ground.

Olga loves holes.

She could fit her head in this one...

...or her behind...

But not both.

What's not to love? Especially when she also has her Kong toy! It's a perfect day in the park!

Friday, August 15, 2014


I was having a busy morning yesterday -- doing laundry, walking Olga, photographing a few more streets for Bleeding London, getting things organized after my Florida trip -- when my phone rang at about 10:30. It was my boss.

"I just wondered if you were planning to come in today," she said.

Was I supposed to come in? I thought I began work next Tuesday.

Incorrect, as it turns out! Despite the online school calendar and various circulated e-mails that specify an Aug. 19 return date for staff, I was expected a few days early. How I was supposed to know this, I am not sure.

But no big deal. I threw on some long pants and went to work, and spent the whole day logging and organizing the magazines that stacked up over the summer. Vacation is officially over! I'm back at work today, too.

Here's my $5 coffee table -- the one I had shipped across the ocean for $250 -- complete with reattached legs. As you can see, it is now our TV stand. Not too shabby, right? Very clean-lined.

Also, we did get back all but £100 of the security deposit on our Notting Hill apartment. That was a relief. I was concerned because our new landlord basically demanded that we occupy our new flat in early July, forcing us to move a few weeks early from the old place. But the previous landlords worked with us, which is all I can ask. (The £100 was for unspecified "repairs," which is fine with me. Having dismantled the door frame twice, I can imagine a bit of fine-tuning was needed.)

Now we need to hire a dog-walker, pronto! Dave had intended to work on that while I was gone, but I think he was a bit distracted by the garden. So that's got to happen today, because we are out of summer.

(Top photo: An older lady and her older dog on Mill Lane in West Hampstead.)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

From a Great Height

I'm writing this 35,000 feet over Detroit, having just taken off from Chicago on the second leg of my flight home. I've already had a mildly eventful trip.

I was on the noisiest plane in the world from Tampa to O'Hare, with a great whistling wind-machine of a ventilation system that drowned out every announcement made by the flight crew. And in Chicago, we were held at the gate because the pilot had to wait for the plane's maintenance log. ("This is ridiculous!" he opined over the loudspeaker to all of us. "The plane has been here at this airport for 24 hours!") The paperwork finally showed up, we pushed off, and I watched the distant John Hancock Building and Sears Tower (which I think is now called something else) as we taxied to take off.

And then American Airlines had the audacity to try to charge me $7 for a gin and tonic, my customary transatlantic indulgence. Seven dollars! On an international flight! What is the world coming to?

I opted instead for the white wine, which was terrible but free. (For the record, British Airways always gives me a gin and tonic.)

Many hours later...

Now I'm back in London. This may be my first bi-locational blog post!

The rest of my flight was uneventful. I read, and watched "The Color Purple" and "The Other Woman," a vapid but surprisingly funny movie with Cameron Diaz. It was a chick-flick kind of flight.

I endured rush-hour tube traffic, always a challenge with even a small amount of luggage, and got home to enthusiastic greetings from Dave and Olga, who would not stop licking me. (Olga, that is, to be explicitly clear.) I got a tour of our newly elaborate garden, picked some overripe blackberries and took Olga to Hampstead Heath for a good long walk.

People say dogs don't have a sense of the passage of time, but I can tell you that Olga greeted me much more energetically than she does when I'm gone for a standard workday. She practically climbed me, she was so happy to see me! It's nice to be missed.

And on a side note, as Dave was showing me the garden, we found a dead squirrel in the grass. It had obviously been there for some time, stiff as it was, but Dave swore it wasn't there the day before. We don't know whether Olga got it or if it died some other way. The former seems most likely and obvious, but the squirrel looked strangely undamaged to have met its maker in Olga's jaws.

Nonetheless, I guess I can't say anymore that she never catches squirrels!

(Photo: Pipes and shadows on a street near our flat.)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams and Monkey Box

Isn't the news shocking about Robin Williams? I was so sorry to hear it. Many comedians, I suspect, have dark undercurrents that propel their skills and talents, and Williams certainly had a manic, almost desperate intensity that, in retrospect, perhaps hinted at such undercurrents. But still.

Here was a guy who, at first, seemed like a mere goofy comedian playing a space alien in rainbow suspenders. Then he turned around and made "Good Morning Vietnam" and "Dead Poets Society" and "The Fisher King" and "Good Will Hunting," and we were all blown away by his depth. When I say "we," I mean the world in general.

You just never know what's going on in a person's head, how deep their discontent can be -- even a person who is so successful, who has so much.

Just last week at my mom's house I was marveling that my brother still has his "Mork from Ork" sleeping bag, vintage late '70s. It's rolled up in the top of one of our closets. We certainly never anticipated, when we bought it, that it would outlast Mork himself.

On other topics:

I took both of these photos yesterday, and the Gods were not on my side. I've been wanting to shoot the fireworks store (top) for a while, but then when I finally got around to it, that grotty white pickup truck was parked out front. I took photos anyway, because the Zen of photography is that you just have to work with what's there. I passed the shop again later, and the truck was still there, so I was denied a better opportunity. Looks like it broke down. I bet the shop owners are miffed.

As for the flame car, my lens was fogged because I quickly took the camera from an air conditioned car to a humid, rainy roadside. Hence the whitish blur in the center.

Oh well.

Finally, have you ever heard of a place in Florida called Monkey Box? I hadn't, despite the fact that I grew up here, until I saw WFLA's weather map on television. This map shows tiny, tiny settlements all over Central and West Florida that are really no more than wide places in the road: Sturkey, Harrisburg, Antioch. One of these settlements is called Monkey Box.

According to its one-line entry in Wikipedia, it's "an unincorporated community in Glades County." But actually, from what I can gather, Monkey Box isn't a town. It appears (on Google Maps) to be an area of marshy wilderness on the western edge of Lake Okeechobee. An article on a fishing website seems to bear that out.

Apparently no monkeys (or people, for that matter) live in Monkey Box. It seems the only residents are bass and perch, with occasional fishermen passing through.

Monday, August 11, 2014

An Earthenware Bowl

Every time I come to Florida, I wind up carrying the strangest stuff home in my suitcase. In January it was my middle school spelling bee trophy. This time around, it's table legs, a flowerpot painted by my niece, and a bowl made by an acquaintance of my parents in 1964.

The bowl has kind of an interesting backstory, actually. In the early '60s, when my parents first moved to Florida to teach at the then-nascent University of South Florida, they lived near a couple named Jack and Rachel Roth. The Roths were apparently a bit Bohemian, at least by Tampa standards in the early '60s -- my dad tells a funny story about Jack Roth parking his car on the patio of the planetarium after he got exasperated trying to find a parking space. They were both artists, assembling a collection of found-object sculptures in their front yard that perplexed the neighbors, and Rachel was a potter. My parents wound up with a few pieces of Roth pottery.

When I was at my mom's last week, I happened to notice a bowl in her side yard that she had long used as a saucer for a potted plant. It was overturned and half-buried, but on the bottom it clearly said "Roth '64." So I cleaned it up and claimed it.

It's very earthy and minimalist, as you can see. I'm sure Dave will be thrilled that I'm bringing home yet another piece of pottery.

My mom also has a couple of mugs made by Rachel Roth -- but my brother and I use those when we're at her house, so I didn't try to claim them.

Did anyone see the "supermoon" last night? Supposedly the moon was brighter and larger, being about 30,000 miles closer to the Earth than usual. The news has been full of stories about this celestial event, but when I went outside to photograph it last night, I was underwhelmed. To me, it just looked like any full moon. I didn't even bother to download my pictures.

The spectacle may have been somewhat softened by atmospheric haze. It's super humid here and it was very rainy yesterday, as you can see above. That's a leaf floating in inch-deep puddled water on the walkway in front of my dad's house.

Oh, and did I mention my terrible martini? I went to dinner with my stepsister and her husband and son on Friday night, and I ordered a martini with olives. "Would you like it dirty?" the waitress asked. I'd never had a dirty martini, so I said, "Sure!" Well, this martini was not dirty. It was filthy. It had so much olive brine in it that it glowed greenish brown and was basically undrinkable. I sent it back, which I never do, to be diluted with a bit more gin -- and even then I wasn't pleased with it. I decided pushing a dirty martini was the restaurant's way of selling otherwise useless olive brine and saving on liquor. Never making that mistake again.

(Top photo: A wary anhinga on the lakefront at my dad's house.)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Piano, Maybelline and Failed Architecture

Sorry about the short post yesterday. I was up to my eyeballs in family business, but I think that will subside somewhat from here on out. I'm hoping to spend the next few days relaxing and seeing two more friends, and then I'm outta here on Tuesday morning, returning to the Big Smoke. It's always good to visit but I'm looking forward to getting back to my routines.

Families can be so complicated. And the funny thing is, I suspect my family is actually simpler than many. Whew.

One failure on this trip: I did not get my mom's piano sold. She has a Steinway baby grand that belonged to my grandmother, who was a professional pianist and organist. Though we saved it after Grandmother's death in 1989, no one has played it and it has essentially served for the last two decades as an extremely large decorative element in my mother's living room. Mom has decided it's time to pass the piano to a new owner. We called a local Steinway dealer to give us some prices but they didn't seem overly eager to get back to us. I'm still in e-mail dialogue with them but I had hoped to have this ironed out by the time I get on the plane -- and it doesn't look like that will happen.

I finally finished "Life After Life." It seemed to take forever, but that had less to do with the book than with all the stuff going on in my life at the moment! I really enjoyed it, though I as I said before, I can see how the non-linear plot is difficult for some readers. I've plowed my way through the entire stack of library books I checked out at the beginning of the summer!

Apologies to the writers of blogs I normally frequent -- I am definitely behind on my blog-reading. I just haven't had much time to linger online.

I've been meaning to post a couple of extra links. Here is a video I took of my dad's dog, Maybelline, playing with her Jolly Egg toy. You may remember we bought Olga the same toy, based on how much Maybelline loves it -- but Olga hasn't taken to it quite as strongly. The egg is Maybelline's best friend!

And for those who are interested in architecture, I found a really interesting web site called "Failed Architecture." Check out the urban squatters who have moved into a once-elegant colonial hotel in Mozambique, repurposing it into a new village. Find out what happened to 1960s modernist villas in Cambodia during that country's civil war. Read about what's become of some really bizarre and unusual Best storefronts from the 1960s. It's a cool site!

(Photo: A black swallowtail butterfly at Walter Jones Historical Park in Jacksonville, last week.)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Interlude at the Lake

I think I need some quiet time. I always start to feel this way when I come back to Florida. It's important to visit everyone, but it also leads to an inevitable whirlwind of social interaction and even family mediation. Holy cow.

Back when I was sitting regularly, meditation gave me that outlet -- a dedicated period to simply watch my mind, watch the thoughts flow, be silent and without purpose or goal. Maybe I'll sit some today.

(Photo: The lake behind my mom's house, late evening.)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Out and About in Tampa

Yesterday I met up with my college friend Liz for breakfast and a drive. We went to a terrific old diner on Nebraska Avenue, the Three Coins, where I had pancakes -- and real American ones, not the skinny crepe-like European version. We stopped at a Salvation Army thrift store where I got two new shirts for work, one with original tags still attached. And we ran a few more errands before I dropped Liz back at her apartment and returned to my mom's for lunch.

It was good to see Liz, as usual, and even better to drive around North Tampa and stop whenever we saw something photo-worthy. We could not resist an opportunity for her to pose in front of the Liz Salon (top).

Ah, Tampa. The good old hometown.

Today I'm headed back to my dad's for the duration of my stay. I Skyped with Dave yesterday and he showed me some of what he's done with our garden back in England -- he's been working his behind off, poor guy. Things look great. I tried to say hi to Olga but she didn't respond much. To her ear I probably don't really sound like myself on Skype, and she certainly doesn't understand looking at a screen and what it represents. Poor mystified dog!