Monday, August 31, 2015

Balloons and a Celebrity Diver

Did I mention that we're having a three-day weekend here in England? This is the August bank holiday weekend, sort of the equivalent to Labor Day in America, without the political and social connotations. This is also the weekend of the Notting Hill Carnival, and Dave and I are once again glad we no longer live in that neighborhood.

I took a walk yesterday -- our one non-rainy day of the entire weekend -- around the City of London. I really wanted to get out and take some photos. I had an Americano at this quirky coffee shop at Broadgate Circle, near Liverpool Street. What do you suppose those chairs mean?

I also ran into Tom Daley. Or at least a cardboard cutout of him, standing in someone's office window.

I got some good photos overall, walking in and around Moorgate and then west to Covent Garden via The Strand. I explored the Temple -- a cloistered area of mainly legal offices and gardens, formerly the domain of the Knights Templar. I'd never been there before but I didn't find much to photograph. The buildings have some charm but on the Sunday morning of a bank holiday weekend, as you can imagine, it was all dead empty.

Covent Garden was a bit more lively. The ceiling of the central market area is filled with balloons, an art installation by Charles P├ętillon called Heart Beat. Apparently the balloons are lit and the light pulses, although I must admit I didn't notice the pulsing. I was too busy trying to navigate the crowds enough to get some decent pictures.

I walked from there to the Leicester Square tube station and caught the train home.

I had planned to walk Olga in the afternoon but I was happy to find that Dave had already taken her to Fortune Green, so the pressure was off. Instead we relaxed at home and watched the Jude Law movie "Side Effects," which we'd already seen in the theater a couple of years ago. I roughly remembered what happened but not so much that I couldn't watch it again with some suspense.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Kilburn Grange Park

I took Olga to a new park yesterday, Kilburn Grange, which is south and west of us. We never walk in that direction but it's not far away, and I don't know why I don't go there more -- especially when, like yesterday, I just can't face the long schlep to Hampstead Heath.

Olga was perfectly happy with the outing, even though Kilburn Grange is much smaller and more manicured than the wilderness of the Heath. We found a neatly laid out rose garden...

...and Olga could lie in the nearby grass and watch squirrels in the trees.

There was even a bit of graffiti to give the park an urban flavor! (That's busy Kilburn High Road right behind those buildings, definitely an urban venue.) We'll probably go here more often now that I've reminded myself it exists.

The afternoon was lightly rainy, as predicted. I got a lot of housework done, finished the book I was reading and even took a nap, which is unheard of for me. It felt great!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Americans vs. Europeans, and Nightclubbing Too

Scenes of vulpine misbehavior in the garden this morning: an overturned bird bath, an overturned potted fern, suspicious smelly spots among the flowers. Olga got up before Dave or me -- which never happens -- and basically pulled me out of bed. She must have heard the critters. I didn't see them until after I'd let her out and she streaked to the back corner of the garden. I went with her to see what was so interesting, and there was a fox atop the garden wall a few houses down, staring back at me. So I brought Olga back inside. I'm not sure the fox will dare come back across our property now that it's seen both me and the dog out and about.

I read an interesting column in The New York Times yesterday by Roger Cohen in which he discusses the differences between American and European social structure. Americans, writes Cohen -- citing a Pew research study and a new book, "The United States of Excess," by Roger Paarlberg -- value individualism and chafe against any perceived restrictions on their freedoms, including taxes, regulations and incentives to conserve resources. Europeans, meanwhile, have a more collective approach, seeing government as beneficial and resource management as a social obligation.

That difference helps explain a lot -- the out-of-control gun culture in America that results in thousands of deaths a year (in more and more spectacular fashion!), the obesity epidemic, the lack of well-used public spaces, the crumbling roads, bridges and schools. I once lived in a part of Florida populated mainly by retirees, some of whom chafed at the idea that they should have to pay taxes to fund local schools. They didn't have children in those schools -- their own kids were grown and gone. Why, they asked, should they have to pay for them? (Can you imagine asking such a question?)

This American go-your-own-way psyche is mystifying to many British and Europeans. Obviously not all Americans feel this way. I'm American, and I don't get it. But there is a strain of ornery individualism there that I am convinced comes straight from the Pilgrims, perpetuated by life on a sparsely populated frontier.

Cohen and Paarlberg aren't the first people to point out these differences, but it was interesting to read them so succinctly described.

On another subject entirely, I read an article in The Week about the demise of nightclubs in England. Apparently there are 1,733 commercial nightclubs today, compared to 3,144 in 2005. The reason? Today's young people don't want to endure the miseries of standing in line to dance in overcrowded, overloud spaces and pay for overpriced, weak drinks when they could hang out and meet each other online, listening to their own carefully selected music. The Guardian points out that other factors -- such as an increase in the popularity of live music and larger dance-music festivals -- has changed clubbing culture.

I have mixed feelings about this. I always had a ball when I went nightclubbing as a young person, although admittedly it sounds like hell to me now. I hope today's young people aren't ceding too much of their lives to computers and virtual connections. On the other hand, connections made in bars and nightclubs are seldom long-term, valuable ones -- so maybe this evolution is a step forward after all.

(Photo: Second-hand furniture in Kilburn, in June.)

Friday, August 28, 2015

All About Pylons

I sat down to blog this morning and instead went on a half-hour tangent reading about the history of the TV show "Land of the Lost," which shows how easily the Internet can distract us. I was trying to remember the word I've heard in England for high-transmission power line towers like the one above -- I believe it's "pylon." And the word pylon reminded me of "Land of the Lost," because those little supernatural structures holding the colored crystals that controlled the time portals in that oh-so-'70s show were called pylons.

So there you have my train of thought. It's scary in my brain. Scary as a Sleestak!

I am off to work early this morning because I'm once again singing in the faculty choir. We are doing a much more loosely prepared song this year to welcome the students. Last year, you may remember, we had several rehearsals. This year we've only had two, and I missed one of them. Fortunately I already know the song, "Lean On Me," so I'm not too worried. ("Lean On Me" is one of my least favorite songs, right up there with "Stand By Me," and I frequently confuse the two. But there you go. Needless to say, I didn't pick it.)

The squirrels still haven't figured out our squirrel feeder. We propped open the lid, and yesterday morning one sat on the open lid and sniffed at the nuts inside -- and then scurried away, startled by a nearby pigeon. I couldn't believe it. The pigeons love the squirrel feeder.

(Photo: The docklands, in July.)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Gift Horse

This is Hans Haacke's sculpture "Gift Horse," which has stood in Trafalgar Square, in front of the National Gallery, since March. The skeletal horse has a live stock ticker tied to its front leg, supposedly questioning relationships between art and commerce and the role of money and power in modern London.

(This is the same spot where the big blue chicken stood last year.)

Our venus flytrap has sent up a long stalk with a bud at the top. I never realized that venus flytraps bloom -- and apparently many growers cut off the bloom because it takes a lot of energy from the plant. But I want to see what it looks like, so we're leaving it. It's taking forever to turn into a flower, and it's true that the plant isn't looking so great these days. I say, let it run its course!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Stupid Squirrels and Transit Strikes

It's a gray, rainy morning here. I'm not looking forward to walking the dog. In fact, when we get outside, she may just turn right around and come back in, which occasionally happens in bad weather.

Did I mention that Dave recently bought a squirrel feeder? It's a little wooden box atop a platform, with a plexiglass window. The box is filled with nuts and, theoretically at least, the squirrels sit on the platform, lift the lid and eat the nuts. Our squirrels, however, don't seem to get it. They often ignore it completely, though I did see one a few days ago sitting ON the lid and sniffing around before scurrying away. We've begun propping the lid open to clue them in, but all that does is attract big, lumbering, flapping pigeons, and tiny tits that fly away with entire nuts as big as their heads.

Apparently our squirrels are challenged in the realm of problem-solving.

I saw one of my French teacher pals at school yesterday, and I could not bring myself to try to speak French to her. Why am I so hesitant? She's a teacher. It's not like she never hears bad French, and I really do need to practice! I also need to do some serious studying. I feel like I'm forgetting so much, and our next classes don't begin for a few weeks.

We were supposed to have another substantial tube strike this week -- there was lots of drama in the newspapers about it -- but it was called off at the last minute. As I've said many times before, I'm generally a labor supporter, but I think the transit unions create a lot of ill will with these strike threats. They're shooting themselves in the foot. (Feet?)

(Photo: A sidewalk chalk artist in Trafalgar Square, on Saturday.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Second Portrait

Here's one more shot of our red-hot pokers, which are almost at the end of their season. They really do stand out in a garden, don't they? That bright orange is pretty incredible. You can just imagine them growing by the thousands in the valleys of the Drakensbergs in South Africa, their home turf.

As promised, here's the second portrait Martin painted of me. This is the larger one, apparently -- I still haven't seen the original, only a small copy. I told Martin I thought I looked pensive and maybe even sad, which he said he hadn't intended. I guess my expression is open to interpretation! I love the way the jacket vanishes into the dark background.

Finally, here's the latest picture of our avocado, which has been growing like crazy this summer. Remember how it looked in June, when I repotted it? Dave's already talking about moving it again, but we can't get a bigger terra cotta pot -- at least not from our normal supplier -- so I'm not sure what the next step will be. I think it can go another year or so in that pot. We're in no rush.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Wizard Staff

Olga and I made it to Hampstead Heath yesterday morning, before the rain began. We found several peculiar mountains of trash just like this one, atop Parliament Hill. Is this merely a sign that the Heath was incredibly crowded during Saturday's beautiful weather, or was there some special event that generated such debris? (Mostly cans, bottles and food wrappers, from what I could tell. The aftermath of a massive, drunken picnic.)

Included in the trash were stacks of beer cans taped together to form a single long cylinder. I'd never seen this phenomenon before:

With the help of Google I learned that this is called a "Wizard Staff," and is the relic of a drinking game whereby people tape their empties together, drinking only from the topmost, full can. This way, they progressively build a staff while becoming a very Wise Wizard. (This dude -- and I'm about 90 percent sure it probably was a dude -- drank NINE large beers, which must have made him very wise indeed.)

Anyway, anthropological observations of picnicking aside...

...Olga and I had lots of fun walking, as usual. And then the rain came, by which time we were safe and dry at home. Dave and I watched a movie called "Chef" with Jon Favreau that we liked a lot, and then Dave took Olga out in the damp yard to play Kong while I cleaned the house, and Olga raced in to prance with muddy feet all over the newly cleaned, pristine white bedspread.

I could have killed her. But out of an abundance of patience, I only yelled at her to GET DOWN. (I wished I'd been sampling from my own Wizard Staff right about then.) I let the mud dry and vacuumed the bedspread last night before bed, which got the worst of it -- at least the loose bits -- before we went to sleep.

Ah, life with a dog.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

'Taking the Piss'

The BP portraits show yesterday turned out to be terrific, as always. I met up with Sally at a deli near Leicester Square, where we grabbed lunch (falafel pita!) before walking over to the National Portrait Gallery. These BP shows always take portraiture beyond the staid, realist images that we think of as portraits, and advance into the unusual. Here's an online gallery of the exhibitors. My favorites were this one and this one -- I love the lines and composition, the echoing shapes, of the second one, as well as the idea of a portrait depicting someone as a rather anonymous figure, from behind.

Anyway, it was a cool show -- for a hot day! We did indeed have crazy warm weather yesterday. I set out from home in a long-sleeved shirt and a pair of jeans, and within a couple of blocks decided to turn around and come back to the house so I could change into shorts and a t-shirt.

Before I met Sally I spent a little bit of time in Trafalgar Square, photographing the crowds out enjoying the sunshine. And after the exhibit, she and I walked across the river toward Waterloo, and I spent more time taking photos around Southbank -- like the photo above. Those colorful strips of heavy, clear plastic made for great photographic effects.

I almost forgot to show you these awesome toilet seats from the pub where we went on Friday night! It seems very British to mock Parliament by putting the noble edifice of Westminster Palace and Big Ben on a toilet seat. "Taking the piss," as they say -- by which they mean making fun of someone or something, deflating an inflated ego.

Would Americans put the U.S. Capitol or the White House on a toilet seat? I dunno. Maybe we would.

Finally, here's Olga with some pals in a photo taken by her dog-walkers. I found it on their Facebook page. Olga gets along with other dogs but I don't think she's hugely social -- in many of their photos she's off by herself, chewing a stick or a ball. I liked this one because she was actually playing and interacting.

Speaking of which, I'm off to take her to the Heath. It's supposed to rain this afternoon so I want to get her out early!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

I Join the Mona Lisa

We're supposed to have a very warm weekend. Something called a "Spanish plume" is pushing warm air up from the south, and temperatures are supposed to reach the mid-80's. This may be one of summer's last hurrahs, so I'm going to do my best to be out and about!

I just walked Olga around the neighborhood and it's still quite cool this morning -- mid-60's. I found a nice pair of black brogues that someone had set out near the sidewalk to be taken, but they weren't my size, sadly, so I left them behind.

Dave and I went out last night with some coworkers and spent a couple of hours at this pub solving the problems of the school and the world in general. We had a great time. This was after an afternoon wine reception at school for faculty and staff to kick off the year -- an event where I had more fun than in years past. I'm making an effort to be more social at work. I'm often hidden away in the library and I frequently read at lunch rather than talking to people. So at least some of the time, I have vowed, I'm going to mix and mingle and get to know my coworkers more.

Today I'm off to see the 2015 BP Portrait Award exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery with my erstwhile blogger friend Sally.

And speaking of portraits, did I tell you that the portraits of me painted by my coworker Martin are going to be included in a museum show beginning Sept. 1? (I believe it's this show, but don't hold me to that.) There are now two finished portraits, the one I posted earlier and a second, larger one that includes more of my body and has me looking upward pensively. Martin was kind enough to give me a canvas copy of the latter, so I'll post it soon -- and I'll certainly go check out the exhibit. How often will my likeness ever hang in a museum?!

(Photo: Near the Billingsgate Fish Market, Canary Wharf.)

Friday, August 21, 2015

That Damn Kong

We had another over-the-wall Kong incident yesterday evening. I'd just gotten home from work, and Olga was dancing all over the house, eager to play outside. So we took the Kong into the back garden, where I threw a perfect underhand grounder that shouldn't have caused any problem -- except that it hit a piece of tile that surrounds an area where we pile leaves and brush near the back wall. That tile flipped the Kong into a huge, arcing bounce that just cleared the top of the ivy-covered barrier.

I was so annoyed.

Fortunately we had another Kong at the ready, so I just gave it to Olga, and stomped around muttering that I was not under any circumstances going to go through all the trouble of walking around the corner, ringing the neighbors' door bells, fishing around in their shrubbery, etc.

After Dave came home and we'd watched some TV and had dinner, I felt a little more energized. (A glass of wine helped.) So I walked next door, rang some bells and got the exact same kind woman who helped me the last time this happened. (How many times can I ring her bell before she becomes not-so-kind?)

So, the Kong is back in our possession. An £18 loss has been averted. It would be nice to figure out a way to keep this from happening, but short of adding another two feet of barrier to our back and side walls -- or not throwing the Kong in the back garden at all, which really isn't a practical solution because the dog would explode -- I'm not sure we can.

In other news, did I ever update you on our appliance travails? The saga ends well. We got a brand-new dishwasher, which after some delay was installed while I was in Florida. And the washing machine, which had been acting up for a while and stopped running entirely while I was away, was repaired just after I got back to London. The repairman immediately knew the nature of the problem and, as precisely as a surgeon, extracted a tattered t-shirt tag that had wrapped itself around the water pump. Now the machine works fine! Go figure.

My solar keratosis -- that little pre-cancerous spot on my forehead, a very common problem for pale people who have spent time in the sun -- seems to have vanished entirely. I'm supposed to apply the medicine for two months, and it hasn't quite been that long since I went to the doctor. But I can't even find the spot now! I dab on the lotion in roughly the same location each day, but at this point it's really just a guess. I'll be glad when I can stop.

I read a fascinating article in The New Yorker about a couple who adopted 20 children, many of them already older, many of them special-needs kids. The results were clearly mixed, with some winding up in prison and many getting pregnant. It made me think about people who hoard animals -- not that children are animals, but I think the parents' impulse to rescue is similar -- and about the fact that at some point, helping so many actually reduces their ability to care for those they already have. There's a law of diminishing returns. You know what I mean?

(Top photo: A boat on the Thames, in early July. Bottom photo: Upside-down Olga.)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

More School Meetings

Another early morning at school. Today we have a diversity training meeting in the morning (...) followed by a departmental meeting to discuss the results of an internal employee survey. Sounds fun, right? I wish the students would just show up already. (Next week!)

I have most of the prep work done to open the library. Last year's departed patrons have been removed from the library computer system, I've printed out and assembled the reservation book used to assign library space for classes, and I've prepared the magazines for display and routing to employees, among other things. I'm sure it all sounds thrilling. Don't you wish you were me?

I just don't have time to think about, much less write about, anything other than work at the moment. Which makes Jack a dull boy.

Anyway, I'm off to walk Olga before I leave for the day. She's peering out at the backyard looking forlorn!

(Photo: Near Baker Street, in June.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Planning a Wedding

I wrote in June about Dave's and my frustrated attempt to get married in England. The upshot was that we couldn't, because we'd already been Civil Unioned in New Jersey, and thus are already effectively married under English law.

We let the matter lie for the time being and had our wedding garden party anyway.

Now, we have a different plan. We're thinking we'll get married this December in Florida, with another small party for our American friends and family members. I still need to make sure our earlier Civil Union won't present a conflict under Florida law, but I don't think so -- since in America a Civil Union is not quite a marriage.

Oh, the bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, my friend Sue is saving my neck by helping to plan our party, which will be a very casual, very small gathering in Tampa. As we have already established I am not a natural party planner.

We've settled on a location, loosely selected caterers and chosen a date. There are still Evites to send -- no fancy engraved snail mail for us -- and rings to buy. Dave's parents have said they'll bring the cake. (Woo hoo! Will it have two little grooms on top? I wonder.)

I'm still filled with a pervasive doubt that all of this is even necessary -- in my eyes I married Dave five years ago, and my instinct is to do things quietly and without fanfare. But because the same-sex marriage laws have changed so dramatically since then, Dave feels we should now have the benefits -- whatever they are -- of full-fledged marriage. And he wants a public event to celebrate the occasion.

Ultimately, we're getting there!

(Photo: Westbourne Grove, in early July.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Small Post with Small Dogs

I haven't got much time this morning, because Dave and I both need to be at school by 7:30 a.m. for the all-faculty-and-staff meeting that kicks off every school year. The big challenge on mornings like this is getting both of us in and out of our one bathroom! So while we contend with showering and shaving, I leave you with a new video of my dad's chihuahuas, which I've been meaning to post ever since I got back from Florida. They're much cuter and less cranky in this one than in the barky video I previously posted -- because they're about to get fed.

(Photo: Plaistow, East London, July 19.)

Monday, August 17, 2015

Muddy Olga and Kenneth's Memoir

I took Olga to Sandy Heath yesterday, where, once again, she had a fine romp in the muddy pond. She actually attracted a small crowd of spectators watching her lazily stretch in the water, roll onto her sides and push her face into the mire to keep track of her Kong. She put on quite a show.

The Kong itself disappeared under the water several times. I worried I'd have to go in after it -- but she always retrieved it, sparing me the indignity. And believe it or not, all that mud simply fell off after she air-dried during the rest of her walk. By the time we got home, she was clean as a whistle. She didn't even need a bath. Teflon dog!

The rosebay willow is going to seed now, as are many of the other flowers from earlier in the year -- the thistles, and those yellow clumpy daisyish things. Nothing gold can stay, as Robert Frost said. (Nothing can stay, period!)

I'm finally reading my friend and former co-worker Kenneth's memoir, "Wasn't Tomorrow Wonderful?" which I ordered from Amazon more than a year ago.  Kenneth, the blogger behind Kenneth in the (212) (where my photo appeared once, back in my journalism days!), is about my age and I identify with a lot of the cultural landmarks he cites in his essays about growing up gay in Michigan and Arizona (Olivia Newton-John, Billie Jean King's palimony lawsuit, "All the President's Men," Asteroids and Space Invaders at the local video arcade). Kenneth's blog attracted so much attention and so many followers that it led to this book deal, and although the blog itself is padded with photos of hunky men and occasionally snarky celebrity news, Kenneth is a good writer. I've always liked his more personal posts. He has produced an engaging, candid memoir, and I'm really enjoying it.

He mentioned what, for him, was a watershed TV moment -- an appearance by Kate Jackson on the Tonight Show in 1982 where she discussed the movie "Making Love" and was booed by the audience after bringing up homosexuality. I'd never seen this clip but it's on YouTube -- you have to sit through several minutes of awkward banter before you get to the good stuff. That interview did for Kenneth what the swishy gay characters on "Barney Miller" (at minute marker 12:44 in this clip) did for me -- it illustrated the public aversion toward gay people and helped reinforce his own teenage self-loathing. It's interesting that such seemingly insignificant moments can cause pain deep enough that we never forget them.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Banks and Brambles

Dave and I have been having all kinds of drama with our bank. This is a very long story, but it basically comes down to the extensive security questions they always ask whenever we try to do any business with them over the phone. Dave can never get through these questions correctly. (We recently learned that the bank had an incorrect e-mail address on file for him -- it wasn't even close. Where it came from, who knows.)

Anyway, he recently had to cancel his bank card and get a new one. The new one only half-functions -- he can use it at an ATM, but he has trouble with it in shops. While canceling the original bank card, he also got a new code for logging into our account online -- and because he had been using my code, my online access was canceled. All this happened while I was in Florida, so I've been unable to get into the account for a couple of weeks now. And I'm the one who pays the bills!

Yesterday we tried logging in with Dave's new code, but because it must be used in combination with his membership number -- which isn't the same as the account number, and which he did not have -- we had to call the bank again. We're still not able to get into the account online. It's a nightmare. Dave has been threatening for years to dump this bank and go elsewhere, and this may push him over the edge.

Meanwhile, my online access is also being reset. I tend to have slightly better luck with this stuff, so we'll see whether it works. Stay tuned.

After struggling with the bank, we got some other errands done. I signed up for French beginning in September, and we took Olga to Fortune Green for a long session of Kong play and a loop around the cemetery.

I tried to order a Waffle House t-shirt -- but they wanted to charge me $18 for overseas shipping! That's just insane. That's more than the cost of the shirt. I'll wait until we're closer to Christmas, when Dave and I will be returning to Florida, and I'll order it then and have it sent to my dad's house.

I also picked a bowlful of blackberries from our bushes, and Dave made a blackberry and apple cobbler -- as suggested by Yorkshire Pudding, whose ongoing attempts to get me to "speak British" included correcting my use of blackberry to "bramble." (So it's a bramble cobbler? That doesn't sound edible. But OK -- I'm in England, I'll roll with it.)

Anyway, we didn't eat the bramble cobbler last night, because in the afternoon Dave began talking about having a headache and not feeling well. We took his temperature and it was 101┬║ F. Yikes! And with the beginning of school just days away! He went to bed, and the cobbler remained in the fridge. We'll try it today.

(Top: Family portrait with cash machine. Bottom: Olga and Dave at Fortune Green. The Kong, which Dave has just thrown, is the black speck in mid-air just to the left of the middle tree.)

Saturday, August 15, 2015

French Classes, Waffle House and a Fox

Finally -- a day of rest! I can get my laundry done, read, and catch up on some blogs and other stuff I've been meaning to view online. Maybe I can even just reflect on it all for a moment or two. Sometimes I feel like I'm missing that opportunity -- a chance to process the information and experiences I take in. You know?

Among today's tasks, I need to sign up for the fall term of French classes. I haven't been studying or practicing at all for the past two weeks, and though I can remember highly useful things like the word for shark (le requin), I'm not sure I can still make the past tense. I had enough to do in Florida without taking that on.

Speaking of Florida, I forgot to mention that on my last day there, I indulged in a bit of Southern tradition by going to Waffle House with my family for breakfast. I love Waffle House. I had toast and grits and a waffle and eggs and man, it was good! I think I'm going to order a Waffle House t-shirt, but probably not the camo one.

As I was deciding which pictures to use with today's post, this fox wandered into the garden! Or, more accurately, loped. He or she is very gangly -- an adolescent, I'm guessing. Don't you think? Olga went ballistic, banging herself against the glass doors in the living room, but the fox only departed when it saw me. Clearly I'm more frightening than Olga.

We've decided that the proper way to dispose of the large rose sawfly caterpillars that occasionally infest our roses is to feed them to our venus flytrap. The flytrap loves them -- snaps shut on them right away. Is that cruel? Probably. But it's also nature.

(Top photo: A poppy petal on the patio.)

Friday, August 14, 2015

Red-Hot Pokers

This is one of our most impressive garden flowers at the moment -- our red-hot pokers. We have two plants, one with one bloom and one with four. I was afraid I'd miss them entirely but fortunately the blooms are long-lasting and ours look like they'll go on for a while.

So how did I fare yesterday? Fine, surprisingly! I wasn't even that tired during the day, when I sorted magazines and caught up with all my coworkers. And in late afternoon I came home to this:

Olga's immediate reaction to my return was, "Let's play!"

Our blackberry bushes are covered with berries. Dave doesn't eat them, so I knew I'd have a supply waiting!

I unpacked my suitcase and got everything organized, took a shower, and then Dave and I watched some TV with homemade vegetable soup for dinner -- at which point I began seriously nodding off, dribbling soup on myself. So it was off to the laundry hamper and then to bed. I slept like a rock.

It feels so good to get back to routines!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Back Home Again!

I'm writing this on the train from Gatwick Airport into Central London. It's a typical England day, gray and lightly rainy, and I must admit it looks pretty great after the torrential downpours and blistering heat of Florida.

I loves me some Florida -- it is my birthplace, after all -- but England is just so much milder.

My flight was OK, although I was surrounded by exuberant children. There were lots of young, tattooed, overtanned British parents on board bringing their offspring back from Disney World vacations. They kept moving around between seats as if playing musical chairs. I couldn't quite figure out what was going on -- I just kept my head down, drank my gin & tonic, and finished my book about the sinking of the Lusitania. (Maybe not the best book to read while traveling!)

The flight was delayed a bit and the lines at passport control in London were long, so I'll be a bit late getting to work. Hopefully the boss will start this year off in a forgiving mood!

(Photo: A food truck outside a Tampa restaurant.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Few Last Florida Shots

I'm off to London this afternoon. And amazingly, there's only a 40 percent chance of rain today, so maybe weather won't hold up my flight!

Here are a few last pictures from the Sunshine State. The sliding door business above is in Lutz -- pronounced "Lootz" -- where my dad lives.

This might be my favorite sign in the entire world. It's in Ocala, near Silver Springs. I drove up there yesterday to visit my aunt and cousin, who I haven't seen in eight years or so, and I made a side trip specifically to take pictures of this sign. It has neon components too. I've never seen it at night but I bet it's awesome.

The lake behind my mom's house, seen from my old bedroom. I'll miss this view when the house sells. (If it sells.) I'm not saying goodbye yet, though, because at this rate, we may have access to it for a while.

My mom and I agreed, with the assistance of some of my friends, on a few changes we're going to suggest for the real estate listing. Mainly we'd like to de-emphasize (i.e. remove) the photos of the vintage 1966 bathrooms, with their vintage blue and yellow toilets front and center, and focus more on the land and the lakefront. I'm going to write the agent soon to ask some questions.

This is especially for Ms. Moon, who is always fond of pointing out that the scandalous scientific name of the wild butterfly pea is Clitoria. I was lucky enough to catch it in the middle of pollination! Such voyeurism.

And finally, early Sunday morning, I got a clear shot of this building, without that stupid white truck.

It's going to be strange to go back to real life in London. I feel like I've been here for ages, and it's been great to catch up with everyone. But I miss Dave and Olga, even though Dave has been sending me virtually daily photographic updates of the mostly-sleeping dog and the abundant garden.

Tomorrow morning I'll go straight from the airport to work in the library. Hopefully, as I sort and log an entire summer's worth of magazines, I can keep my eyes open!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Sarasota Sojourn

And so our quick beach trip comes to an end. Mom and I will be back in the car driving up to Tampa this morning, leaving Longboat Key to my brother and his family for the rest of the week.

I drove down to Sarasota yesterday to meet my friends Jay and Nancy for lunch. Sarasota is my old stomping ground -- I was a reporter for the local newspaper for seven years until 2000, and Jay and Nancy were coworkers. It was great to see them, and the city, again. I last saw Jay two years ago. He's the one who took me to my only Broadway opening -- where I got to watch Celeste Holm eat a Hershey bar, although that was obviously not the focus of the show -- back in 2008.

Sarasota has changed a lot since I lived there -- it's much more vertical now, with many more high-rises in and around downtown. What would John D. MacDonald say? (MacDonald used to live there and repeatedly emphasized the folly of coastal development in his novels.)

I also went to visit my old condo, which was probably my favorite of all my various houses and apartments. It had a skylight and a glass wall facing a wooded creek, and at 1,100 square feet it was easily the biggest apartment I'd ever had. I installed pale Berber carpeting, and I owned it, and I loved it -- and in the end I only got to live there a year before the opportunity arose for a job in New York. Oh well. Je ne regrette rien. I loved New York, too!

Last night we all went to dinner at the Seafood Shack in Cortez. I don't know who invented placemats that can be colored with crayons, but thank god. They keep kids occupied and they keep parents sane.

(Top photo: A house in Sarasota, yesterday.)

Monday, August 10, 2015

Driving Up, Driving Down

Well, my mom and I made it down to Longboat Key yesterday with no problem. I set out from Anna Maria Island about sunrise (above), and drove up to Tampa to pick her up.

I know it seems kind of ridiculous to drive all the way up there and then turn around and come back almost to the same place I started from. I'm traveling up and down Florida, up and down, like those mermaids inside the water-filled plastic pens we used to buy at beachfront souvenir shops.

But my brother felt that my mom shouldn't have to drive down to Longboat on her own. We also had concerns about parking should we all bring our own car. So, yeah, that was me, zipping over the blistering-hot Howard Frankland bridge (above) yesterday morning, headed for Tampa and home.

Now we're here.

This is the same condo complex where my dad used to rent a unit each summer between 1980 and 1985 for all of us to stay a week. I was surprised, when I walked down to the beach, to see how well I know this curve of sand -- the way the coastline dwindles to a point in the north, the profile of the buildings to the south. I've gazed at that horizon many, many times. (Before we stayed in these condos, we rented a cabin just a few doors to the south. All in all I spent about eight summer weeks here.)

It's great to see my nieces now in my shoes -- exploring this beach as children, picking up broken augurs and ark shells and cautiously skirting clear globs of jellyfish. Rolling in the waves. We walked the beach yesterday evening and found silly, stilted birds, a filmy dead angelfish, a broken sea fan, a strip of green sea grass that would have made a great headband if only it had been longer.

I know I keep moaning about the heat, but man, is it hot. It's like an oven out there. A nuclear reactor. I don't remember it being quite so intense when I was a kid. Is it just my age? All I know is, my knees go weak with delight when I come inside.

I also feel no desire to get into the warm bath of the Gulf. I used to love swimming in the Gulf as a kid. Now I'm content with the pool, and even then, only occasionally. We get so soft when we get older, don't we?

I know I haven't been around blogland much lately. I've managed to post each day, albeit somewhat superficially, and my reading has fallen behind. I'll do my best to keep up!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

A Short Entry Featuring Mr. Spock

A short post today -- I've just driven back to Tampa to pick up my mom, and we're about to set out for Longboat Key, off Sarasota, where we'll be spending the next few nights with my brother and his family.

I'm certainly getting some time behind the wheel on this trip! It's a good thing I like driving.

John, Sue and I had a good day in Anna Maria yesterday. Sue and I plundered some yard sales in the morning, where I tried very hard not to buy anything given that I'd have to haul it back to London in my suitcase. Even when I'm not buying, I get a kick out of yard sales, though obviously the sellers probably weren't all that happy with me. (I did pick up two books, including a Julia Child cookbook for Dave, and a candle holder.)

I've discovered a downside to my recently acquired Berger cookies shirt. The iron-on on the back of the shirt is so stiff and new that I can feel it clinging to my back when I wear it. I feel like Mr. Spock when that giant single-celled neural parasite attaches itself to his back in Star Trek:

I hope after I wash it a few times it gets a bit more flexible!

(Top photo: A bar in Elfers, Fla.)