Thursday, May 31, 2018

Lupine and Mouse Update

The garden is going gangbusters! The lupine sent up a tall flower spike -- the blossom must be a foot long -- and the roses are as riotous as Disney fireworks. The peonies are producing fat round buds like bright pink golf balls. It's crazy out there.

Did I tell you Dave and I pulled the plug on the wildflower garden where no wildflowers ever grew? Instead we've ordered some mature wildflower plants -- cow parsley and something called milk parsley, which grows even larger than cow parsley -- and also some comfrey. Coincidentally, Mrs. Kravitz had her gardener pulling out all her comfrey yesterday, because she said it blocked her view of her roses. Maybe the bees will now move over to ours.

Anyway, those plants haven't arrived yet, but I think they come this weekend and we'll get them in the ground.

These are skylovers, a type of blue pimpernel. Remember how I salvaged them after their pot got smashed in a storm in January? Well, they've come through for another season.

As you can see, the peanut feeder on the patio fence has continued to attract non-bird critters. I'm sure this is what set off our recent mouse infestation. I decided something had to be done, so yesterday I went to Homebase and bought a tall feeder pole. We moved the feeder off the fence so that it's free-standing and the mice can't climb up to it. (At least, I don't think so.)

The mice appeared last night for their regular meal and darted frantically around on the fence, confused about where their all-you-can-eat buffet had gone. I felt so bad for them I took them five peanuts. "Why would you do that?" Dave asked. But I couldn't let them starve completely! It was less than they'd normally eat, so I'm hoping they'll be inspired to round out their diet elsewhere -- and not in our house. I'm not going to feed them every day. I was just letting them down easy.

We haven't caught any more indoors since I blocked that opening in the closet under the neighbor's stairs. But the traps are still set, should any of them get ideas about becoming domestic mice.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018


I found another cool old bottle the other day. It's a Unigate milk bottle, and apparently the Unigate brand name was discontinued in 2000, so it has to be at least 18 years old. I'm thinking it's probably from the '80s or thereabouts, based on similar items I see elsewhere online.

I was walking Olga along the Black Path in West Hampstead, which I sometimes call the Trash Path because of the prodigious quantities of bottles, cans and other litter along its length. I was sort of absent-mindedly eyeing the trash as I walked when I saw embossed glass -- often a sign of something interesting. So I reached through the fence (the path runs along a fenced rail line) and pulled out this bottle.

Apparently Unigate was a big name among English dairies until the company was sold in 2000 and its name changed.

Anyway, I now have quite a little assortment of found bottles on our kitchen windowsill!

(Do you like Dave's method for storing apples?)

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Chigwell to Harold Wood

I did another ten miles of the LOOP yesterday -- the segments from Chigwell to Harold Wood, via the village of Havering-atte-Bower. This is all east of London, on its border with Essex.

It was a good day for walking, generally clear but with enough mist or cloud cover to not be blistering hot. In Chigwell I passed this impressive old pub known as Ye Olde King's Head. Apparently it's a legendary place, known as "the most famous pub in Essex" (according to my LOOP map) and a haunt of bandit Dick Turpin in the 1700s. Charles Dickens even included it in one of his lesser-known novels, "Barnaby Rudge," which I checked out from the library and meant to read last summer, but never did. Maybe now, having seen this pub, I'll try it again.

This is typical of the landscape I walked through -- lots of hills and rolling farmland. You can see how misty it was in the morning.

In Hainault Forest Country Park, I came across a circle of carved totems featuring different animal forms like lizards, owls and other birds. I particularly liked this one, covered with tadpoles. I have no idea what the circle is for -- there were three seats in the middle. Human sacrifice? Do they do that in Hainault?

I got extremely lost trying to cross the Hainault Forest Golf Course. The directions were unclear ("cross the fairway and walk just left of a tiny grove of trees") and golf courses are so well-manicured that any trace of path is obliterated by mowing and signposts are not to be found, at least in areas of play. The maps app on my phone was useless, showing me as a dot in the middle of a featureless green expanse. I bet I wandered around out there for half an hour, grumbling, before I figured out where I was supposed to be.

After I got back on the path I passed horses grazing in a pasture full of buttercups...

...and eventually entered Havering Country Park, where there are giant sequoias planted in the 1800s. They're small compared to the ones in California, but then, they're just babies.

In the quaint village of Havering-atte-Bower I stopped for lunch at a tidy pub, but sadly, it had no food, and there was no other restaurant or shop in the immediate vicinity. So my lunch was a Stella Artois and a bag of Walker's vinegar & onion crisps.

I could have stopped here, after six-plus miles, but the directions for getting back to London from Havering-atte-Bower seemed complicated, with buses and a train that, yesterday, was out of service (replaced by more buses). So I kept walking.

I passed a field of horses with these strange masks over their faces. I guess it's a form of blinders, maybe to keep them from getting nervous? It gave them a sort of sinister look.

This is the "Round House," once the home of Joseph Hardwick Pemberton, a well-known cross-breeder of roses. I think Dave and I saw a segment about him on the BBC's "Gardener's World" TV show last year.

I passed the rusty iron entrance gates of Pyrgo, a former home of the Tudors that no longer exists, and along the edge of a woodland where I saw...

...these bright red beetles buzzing through the air. They're called cardinal beetles, apparently.

The path took me across more farmland and along some small brooks (more like deep, wooded ditches) into the suburban area known as Harold Hill. Those waterways feed into the River Ingrebourne, which you may remember I saw at the beginning of this walk last August.

These little sparrows seemed to be hunting insects on the flowers of the cow parsley along the waterways.

Finally, I got to the Harold Wood train station, only to find that trains were out of service there too. Curses! (And I'm virtually sure I checked that on the TFL trip planner web site the night before, but never mind.) So I wound up on a bus after all, winding through Romford and Chadwell Heath on my way to a tube station. It took me about two hours to get home.

The good news is, I'm almost finished with the LOOP. I have only a short four-mile segment to go, which I hope to polish off this coming weekend!

Monday, May 28, 2018

Jersey Flashback

Yesterday I spent some time moving my earlier digital photos off CDs and onto a portable hard drive. CDs, after all, are old technology, and I need to put my photos somewhere I can access them even when I no longer have a disc player.

In the process, I found myself going through a lot of pictures from New York and New Jersey in the late "aughts." Here are a few that I'm pretty sure I never published before.

First, a self-portrait from September 2009, taken in a reflective window near my old apartment in Manhattan. I took several pictures in this window as I recall, but this may be the only one that also includes a Seinfeld advertisement.

Here's a close-up. I had some biceps back then, when I went to the gym three days a week! That was my "Je t'aime Henry" t-shirt, which eventually fell apart in the wash.

Right around New Year's Day in 2010, after I'd moved to New Jersey, I took Dave's car on a photography trip from East Brunswick toward Newark, which I wrote about at the time. I took a picture of this restaurant along the way. Doesn't that look like the saddest seafood restaurant you've ever seen? "Hey, let's stick some pilings in the sidewalk to give this characterless strip mall a nautical theme!"

I think the restaurant was out of business, even then. It definitely is now. (I looked it up on Google Maps.)

Later that same month I drove to Perth Amboy to photograph graffiti, which was my thing at the time. Apparently I wandered around beneath this bridge, on what looks like quite a slope. What the hell was I thinking?! I honestly don't remember it, but the picture doesn't lie.

In the scheme of things, these pictures weren't taken that long ago -- not even a decade. But my head spins when I think of how much has changed since then. When I took that top photo I'd only known Dave about five months, and I was still working for The New York Times Co. I hadn't yet been laid off or embarked on my second brief career with Gannett in New Jersey, and I certainly hadn't even begun to conceive of England and Olga and working in a school library. So much has changed in the last eight or nine years!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Back to the Heath, Cautiously

I took Olga back to the West Heath yesterday. It was the first time we'd walked that far since she injured her back leg and her front paw a couple of weeks ago, and I tried to treat her a bit gingerly to see how she'd do. (I only threw her Kong toy a couple of times, for example, because when she chases it she goes all-out. I think that's very possibly how she injured her ligament in the first place.)

Contrary to what you might assume from the picture above, she did fine. She got really hot at one point and lay down smack in the middle of the shady road that crosses the West Heath. (No cars use that road, so she was fine there.)

But then she took a dip amid the duckweed in the pond on Sandy Heath and that perked her right up.

She also got wildly, crazy muddy -- so muddy that passers-by laughed at her. And yes, she chased squirrels.

But as is always true of Olga, by the end of the walk most of the mud had magically disappeared. Her fur just sloughs it off. She still got a bath when she got home.

I was glad she got through her walk OK, but it's kind of sad that we've reached the point where we have to think cautiously about her activity levels. Our Olga is seven or eight years old now, so she's well into middle age and I guess those joints may be getting a bit tired!

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Back to the Stone Age

Our spring irises have bloomed, waving their blue flags in a corner of the flower bed beneath the faded camellia. I remember when we first moved here, that camellia dropped its blossoms and I felt obligated to try to collect them all and put them in the yard waste recycling -- just to neaten things up. This year I haven't picked up a single flower, and the garden still looks great. Why not leave them to compost beneath the bush?

Yesterday was an interesting day in the library. Our checkout system wasn't working at all. We could look books up in the catalog, but when we tried to check them in or out the system would hang up and freeze.

So we had to do everything the old-fashioned way -- with pencil and paper. I wrote down the names of kids who took materials and the bar code number of every item, and if they returned any of it later I'd just scratch them off the list. And I wrote down the numbers of all the items to check in. Hopefully, on Tuesday, when we're back at work, I can feed all this info into the computer and bring us back up to date.

It made me think of the high school librarians when I was a kid, and how they'd have to take a card from a pocket in the back of each book we checked out, and stamp it, and we'd have to sign it to show that we had the book, and then they'd file that card somehow. I suppose when books got turned in they'd put the card back in the pocket and return it to the shelf. All that fussing with cards! At least I didn't have to do that.

The kids found all my writing pretty amusing, I think. To them, not having a computer is like living "The Hunger Games."

I clipped this rose from our garden and brought it inside. It's huge! I put Solar Liz next to it for a sense of scale, but of course you don't know how big she is either, so I suppose that wasn't a very good system.

I mentioned going back to work Tuesday -- and that was not a typo! We're having another three-day weekend, our second May bank holiday. Woo hoo! Unfortunately the weather is going to be a bit damp, but not too terrible -- and dampness is good for the garden, after all. I hope to get out with the dog and also do one more leg of the LOOP. Stay tuned!

Friday, May 25, 2018

Fake Grass and Miniature Pyramids

It's Friday, and I have nothing very illuminating to say because I've been stewing about Trump and North Korea and the state of the world in general.

Maybe I'll make that the subject of a later post. But I try to be more or less positive here at S&L, so let's just look at some random photos, shall we?

Yes, that is a grass-covered car. Or artificial grass, at least. It's for a company called Easigrass, which can replace your lawn with low-maintenance fake turf. If you want. Which I don't.

I came across this brightly painted "Wasteater" garbage truck in Marylebone several weeks ago. Definitely an attention-grabber. If only some creature really did eat all our waste, and not to its detriment.

Some street art from St. John's Wood. I walked home from work on the route I usually walk to work, and I saw this on a wall that I normally don't see because I'm always coming at it from the other side. Does that make sense? In other words, walking in a new direction made a difference!

Is that Charles Blondin?

There are some gargantuan weeds growing at the base of trees on our street. This one is cow parsley, I think, and will eventually have a big Queen Anne's Lace-like bloom. There's also a big thistle, and this....

...which to me looks something like wild cabbage or broccoli.

This pigeon left its mark in history. Dave and I were watching pigeons on our bird bath last night and saying they're actually kind of pretty birds...if only there weren't so many of them.

This poster hangs in the window of a shop on the high street. Does anybody know what language that is? I'd guess Polish, but that's only a guess. Maybe they sell Polish sausages?

And finally, someone's school project on ancient Egypt has gone out with the trash. I guess things like this can't really be saved forever, can they? There was also a volcano project, underneath this one.

I hope this person got a good grade, because there's a lot of detail there -- the pyramids and the huts and the boats on the river.

There's even a little crocodile!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Foxglove Payoff

Remember that little foxglove sprout I pulled out of a seam in a pipe at the side of our house last spring? The one I rooted on our kitchen windowsill for a while before planting it out in the garden?

Well, this is what we've been working toward. After all that time and effort, here's the payoff. It's blooming!

Dave and I love foxgloves. They're very low-maintenance (once you get them growing in the right place!) and they're pest-resistant. I hope this one re-seeds so we get more in coming years. The plant itself is ginormous, with several flower stalks.

You can see it behind and to the right of Olga, with its purple spire of flowers. The roses are coming out quite vividly, too!

This is another variety of foxglove -- fancy hybrid, as opposed to our scrappy wild variety, that Dave got from a garden supplier. It's also blooming now. In fact, everything in the garden seems to be at its peak of spring lushness, a dense canyon of green punctuated by bright flowers.

I slept incredibly well last night. It was a bit of a struggle getting through yesterday -- at one point I was reading something at my desk and I found myself not only losing the plot, but embroidering it with a dream-state of my own. Party fatigue plays interesting games with the human brain!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018


Hooo boy. We had quite the work party last night -- our regular departmental end-of-year bash, with an additional going-away speech for one of our librarians, who is moving to Myanmar. (And how cool is that?!)

We rented an upstairs room in a pub in Kilburn, which we had all to ourselves, and it started off amazing because the room had big windows and it was a sunny evening, and then after dark it remained amazing because there was a piano in the corner and one of my co-workers can play and sing.

Those of us who work in the library all collaborated on the send-off, which basically consisted of a list of the ways -- funny and not -- that we will miss our colleague. And then we drank, and some of us drank more, and a few of us drank even more. By the time I walked home, passing pedestrians seemed like mere dark, shadowy forms, like the train passengers in "Spirited Away." Let's just say I am feeling a bit fuzzy this morning.

We caught a seventh mouse yesterday! When will it end?!

(Photo: A rainbow created by a glass ornament hanging in one of our windows.)

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Paper Thing

Remember, from school, how kids would fold a sheet of paper into a multi-sided device, with facets bearing numbers and words like yes, no and maybe? Then they'd stick their fingers into it and you'd ask a question and they'd shuffle their fingers back and forth a specified number of times until an answer was revealed?

Do you have any idea what I'm talking about?

I don't even know what to call it. Wikipedia refers to it rather blandly as a "paper fortune teller," though there are apparently some other more colorful nicknames. I seem to remember a version where you could label it with people's names and use it to choose your next girlfriend or boyfriend, but I may be making that up.

Anyway, I hadn't thought of these things for years -- I never see kids playing with them now. Then, the other day, I found this one on the sidewalk. It's a little different from your standard paper fortune teller -- not labeled with numbers or words, but rather with intricate designs. I'm not even sure the folding is the same, but it's close.

It opens up into this:

And the backside looks like this:

I don't really get the point of covering it with drawings, but I couldn't just throw it away, since someone had obviously put so much work into it. So here it is, immortalized in blogland, and hopefully it has brought you some childhood memories, as it did for me.

Just when things seemed to be quiet on the rodent front, we caught a sixth mouse last night. Am I supposed to leave these traps out in perpetuity? Hmmm...

Monday, May 21, 2018

Enfield Lock to Chigwell

I walked two more segments of the LOOP yesterday, a total of about 9 miles. Getting to the start of the trail at Enfield Lock, where I left off last time, was a nightmare -- I wound up using two tube trains, an overground train and I'd planned to take a bus as well, but the next one wasn't scheduled to arrive for half an hour. So I wound up re-walking part of the LOOP along Turkey Brook that I'd completed last time.

The benefit, though, was that I got to see these little ducklings.

Once past Enfield Lock station, I walked past houses, over canals and across the River Lea. Can you see the dog in the doorway in the photo above? He/she cracked me up. That's just what Olga does sometimes -- sit in the sun, right at the back door, and watch the world go by.

The reeds in the River Lea rippled peacefully with the flow of the current. I walked along the river...

...and past a field with some grazing sheep and lambs. This lamb was very wary of me.

From there, the path led through a marshy wildlife area loaded with blooming comfrey and cow parsley, and up a steep hill which gave me a view over North London.

Eventually I wound up at a scouting camp called Gilwell Park. This is a detail from the "Leopard Gates," carved in 1927 by a former Boy Scout named Don Potter.

I got a bit turned around in this area, because there was no waymarker and the guide was vague on where to go. I had to ask someone at the camp, and eventually I came out onto a hilltop with a wide-open view of the city.

It's a bit hazy, but you can barely see the skyline on the distant horizon at lower left. At the right is one of the reservoirs in the Lea Valley that collects London's water supply.

I wandered through some woods and then alongside a golf course in Chingford. My guide said: "All golfers on this course are forced by an ancient law to wear bright red whilst playing golf so that everyone else can see and avoid them. They still must do that!"

Although I saw a couple of people in red, many others were in other colors. Sure enough, apparently since the guide was written, the "ancient" red-clothing rule has been abolished. Sad!

I ate lunch (a vegetarian full English breakfast) at table outside a little cafe in the golf course clubhouse, watching golfers over a fence laden with Union Jack bunting.

From there, the trail led me to Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge, a timbered building from 1543. It's free to go inside, and it was interesting to see the timbered ceiling and walk the slightly sloping floors. Apparently it used to be a sort of open-air viewing stand from which royalty could watch the hunt on the nearby Chingford Plain, but windows were later installed and the building is now fully enclosed.

I then got thoroughly confused about where I was supposed to go, because the trail didn't seem to be where the guide said it was -- and I saw another walker who seemed to be wandering aimlessly, too, so it wasn't only me. But I found a parallel trail and eventually wound up in the right place. Near the Linder's Field Local Nature Reserve, I saw this longhorn moth with its dramatic antennae fluttering in the breeze.

From there, the path led me through the Roding Recreation Area and along the Roding River. And there, on the riverbank, I saw an EXORCISM!

I am not kidding you. I heard some yelling and growling from a fair distance away, and I thought it was a man trying to control his dog. But no -- the growling and barking and roaring was coming from that man lying on the ground, as the others stood over him repeating, "Leave him! In the name of Jesus Christ, leave him! He does not belong to you! He belongs to Jesus!"

The man on the ground thrashed around and I was, frankly, a bit terrified. It did not seem like a seizure or anything like that. I took a couple of discreet pictures and beat it out of there. And then, after walking about ten minutes, I realized I'd dropped my glasses case -- so I had to retrace my steps, and of course it was right back where I'd taken the pictures. And the exorcism was still going on!

How long does it take to get a demon to leave someone?

Anyway, it was surely one of the strangest sights I've ever come across on any of my walks.

From there I made my way into the community of Chigwell and caught a tube train back into town. I think I can finish the LOOP with just two more days of walking!