Saturday, June 30, 2018

House and Garden

Just a few more house and garden news items, because I once again barely left home yesterday!

First, I can't resist another picture of one of our young blackbirds, this time with one of its parents. The parent was scooping up bits of suet below the suet feeder and jamming them into the chick's mouth.

I kept hearing Pink Floyd: "If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding! How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?!"

This ladybird emerged from its pupa yesterday morning, and was hardening its new shell. I confess that I kidnapped it -- the leaf is from a tree on the street, but I plucked it and brought it into our garden, tying it to our aphid-ridden cardoon. The ladybird (which didn't budge during the move) will have plenty of nutrients and surely our garden is a better habitat than the road?

When I looked for it later in the afternoon, it was gone -- hopefully off doing its job.

Remember those purple poppy seeds I planted -- the ones that remained sprout-high for weeks and weeks? Well, they've finally gained a few inches in height, and this one sent up a lilliputian flower -- not even an inch across. I'm not sure why they didn't grow to normal size, except that I probably planted them way too densely. (I never imagined they would all germinate!)

Oh, and you know how I blamed the starlings for emptying our bird feeder of mealworms? Well...

...they may not have been the only culprits.

(They definitely ate a lot of them, though, because I watched them!)

I never knew a squirrel would eat mealworms, but I guess they'll eat almost anything, being rodents.

And here's Olga, hiding beneath the hostas and watching that squirrel, trying to decide when and how to catch it. (Spoiler: She didn't.)

Speaking of rodents, we caught a twelfth mouse in one of our kitchen traps yesterday. Just when I thought for sure we were finished with all that. Sigh.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Gawky Teenagers

This is the adolescent blackbird that's been trailing his parent around the garden, twittering to be fed. There are two of them, actually. The mother (I assume it's the mother) dutifully plucks morsels from the ground and sticks them into the chicks' mouths, but yesterday I saw one of the chicks pecking the ground on its own. Hopefully they're almost ready to feed themselves, thus preserving Mom's avian sanity.

Speaking of awkward adolescents, check out this guy. He's got a kind of punk-rock haircut going on there. This is a blue tit, and I assume it's molting into new feathers -- or maybe it's an adult and this is a seasonal molt? I'm not sure. (That unfocused object in front of him is the suet ball feeder. I couldn't get a clearer shot. I think he's embarrassed.)

I've been sprinkling some mealworms on the ground for the blackbirds, the dunnocks and other ground feeders. Yesterday I filled up a feeder with mealworms, and the starlings discovered them -- it was a noisy mob scene. The feeder was emptied by the end of the afternoon. I'm fine with that, because Dave bought a huge, industrial-sized sack of mealworms a couple of years ago and I'd love to use them up this summer.

Speaking of using up food, I'm still doing some weird eating of my own. Last night I had quinoa, edamame pilaf and fried eggs for dinner. Cleaning out the pantry!

It has been so dry here that yesterday evening I not only watered the garden, but I got out the sprinkler and watered the lawn. We rarely water our grass, but we've had no rain for weeks and there's none on the horizon. Apparently there are wildflires burning on a moor up near Manchester and farmers in some areas are struggling to get enough water for their livestock.

But on the bright side, did you see that a Scottish lawmaker has been praised for discussing her period in Parliament? She went on to advocate for better support for poor women who need menstrual supplies. You go girl!

I've mentioned my crazy project to transcribe my old paper journals into a (for now) private blog online, in order to edit them, make them more searchable and to back them up in case, God forbid, the house burns down. I'm almost finished, after three years of on-and-off work. All the journals on the right, from 1989 to 2005, are done. I only have those on the left to go. I think I may wrap up by the end of the summer!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Letterboxes, a Rose Tag, and an Elephant

These old letterboxes decorate doors on Mill Lane, not far from our flat. In fact, they're on either side of the minimalist antique store. (Which is now closed entirely, from what I can tell.)

Aren't they great?

Yesterday was another sunny day spent mostly in the garden. I planted our two oriental poppies, which you may remember bloomed so beautifully last year. This year they not only didn't bloom, but were looking quite sickly in their pots, so I put them in the ground back by the wildflower bed. I don't know whether they're going to survive -- in fact, one already seems pretty much dead. But here's hoping.

Remember how I found an old rose label when I dug in that corner of the garden several weeks ago? Well, I found another one!

This one's a mystery, because we don't have anything I would characterize as a "coral pink" miniature rose. I've tried Googling pictures of it, but none of the results look familiar to me. So maybe rose Eleanor was planted but didn't survive, or maybe my concept of "coral pink" isn't accurate.

I think the tag was singed by being thrown into the fire of the brick barbecue grill that stands in that part of the garden. We never use it, but some previous tenants clearly did, because the ground is full of charcoal and other barbecuing debris.

And now, I feel like I should address an elephant in the room. (Hello, elephant.)

You may be wondering, in the midst of all the chaos and ugliness going on in the world at the moment, why I haven't been blogging more about current events. I'm reading the newspapers, at least as much as I can stand.

But honestly, I don't have the heart to rehash it here. I believe this may be the scariest time I have lived through as an adult -- even scarier than the period after 9/11, when Western resolve was more united, and scarier than the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, a travesty of monumental proportions. George W. Bush's time in office was dark, but this feels darker. We in the West are turning not only on people from other parts of the world, but also on each other.

"Rats in a cage," my father would say.

I'd rather my blog not be the place where I wallow in it every day. And I'm sure you don't want to wallow, either.

So that's why I'm talking about Olga and gardening and finding weird stuff on the sidewalk. I don't mean to be in denial. But for all of our sanity, I think it's important to try to enjoy what we can of each day that passes.

And with that, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Living Walls and Lasagna Noodles

While walking in Camden last week I came across this very colorful building. From one end of the street, it displays a rainbow of hues from the cooler end of the color spectrum. But if you walk past it and then look back...'s the warm colors that you see. Pretty cool, huh? It has to do with that polychrome corrugated facade. Apparently this is the headquarters for MTV and other Viacom Media properties.

That's also a very impressive living wall, isn't it? Much better than the one I sometimes pass when I'm walking with Olga in West Hampstead:

Isn't that just sad? I can't imagine who would go to the trouble and effort to include a feature like that on a building and then let it die. Seems like some re-engineering is in order.

Anyway, I have very little news here. I stayed in all day yesterday, working in the garden and around the house, doing the sorts of mundane tasks that don't merit description. I left the house only to walk the dog and go to the grocery store.

I've been doing some slightly bizarre eating, because I'm trying to use up a lot of random ingredients that we've had sitting around the house for ages. An example: For dinner last night I made pasta, but I used a box of lasagna noodles that we've probably had in the cabinet for at least a year. A noodle is a noodle, right? (I'm sure pasta aficionados would tell me that's not true, but for me, it is.) Anyway, it tasted fine.

I haven't yet devised any recipes that require mass quantities of cinnamon. But I'm working on it.

More of the same domesticity is on the horizon today. Ah, vacation!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018


This is Bushra Fakhoury's sculpture "Dunamis," which sits on the wide median on Park Lane. It's been there several years and I've meant to photograph it, but I'm never really in that area. So when I found myself in Mayfair on Sunday night I decided to make a side trip to see the sculpture.

According to the artist, "It symbolizes human struggle to achieve excellence, pushing boundaries to make the impossible possible. We need to prioritize, work positively and relentlessly towards reaching our goals and dreams."

Achieving the impossible for me yesterday meant figuring out how to lug 50 liters of potting compost, a flower pot and a flat of petunias back from Homebase. It may not sound like much, but that's a heavy, cumbersome armful of stuff! I managed, pausing for rest at a few strategic spots along the way, but it could easily have ended in tears. My arms didn't quite work for the rest of the night!

I found the same "Night Sky" petunias I got last year, so I bought them again. I really like that variety, and now they're in the hanging baskets on the front porch and in the back garden, looking better than the bedraggled pansies that had been there for weeks.

According to our weather forecast, we're having cloudless, sunny days all through this week, with high temperatures in the mid-80's. It was the same last week, only a touch cooler. It's like L.A.! It feels like it hasn't rained in ages. I watered the entire garden thoroughly yesterday evening, which took a long time, and the soil soaked it up greedily.

Monday, June 25, 2018

A Disco Bunny and a Flag Cape

I'm getting started late on the ol' blog this morning. I didn't wake up until 7 a.m.! I've discovered that when Olga starts waggling around at 4:30 a.m., I can put her under the covers and she'll go back to sleep for another few hours. Heaven!

Yesterday I walked down to the high street to catch a bus, and saw this camper sitting outside Waitrose. Up to the time my bus arrived, no one who looked obviously like a "disco bunny" appeared on the scene, but I read later on Facebook that he was dancing down by the train station. From what I gather, he's a performance artist who travels around and dances in public. I wish I'd seen him!

I caught the bus to Notting Hill to visit our friends and former neighbors Linda and Chris. We went to lunch and had a great time catching up.

Above the streets of the old 'hood, the somber reminder of Grenfell Tower has been shrouded in scaffolding marked with the words "Grenfell: Forever in our Hearts."

We went to a cafe that specializes in farm-fresh food, and I had English muffins with poached eggs, spinach and hollandaise -- essentially eggs Florentine. And wine, of course! Then, after lunch, I had a few hours to kill, so I walked eastward through Bayswater and into Mayfair.

There were lots of enthusiastic football supporters out and about. England won its game yesterday, so it's advancing in the World Cup. Big excitement! (For some people.)

In Mayfair I met up with my co-worker Lorraine for a concert of choral music where another co-worker, Lisa, was performing. It was an excellent performance of some rather somber pieces, C. H. H. Parry's "Songs of Farewell," mixed in with old British folk songs. As you can probably tell, I enjoyed the folk songs more, but it's interesting that a lot of the truly musical people on hand seemed to prefer the Parry. I guess it was more complex.

Afterwards Lorraine and I went to dinner, where we dined al fresco (mac and cheese!) in the warm evening air. I got home around 10 p.m., so I owe Olga more time and attention today!

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Cassette Tapes and Vincent Price

The England flags are flying all over the place nowadays. Apparently there's some big football game happening? (Yes, yes, I know -- the World Cup.)

I'm oblivious to pro sports in general, so this is probably all you're going to hear about it on my blog.

Let me tell you instead about my dog, because I haven't talked about her since, oh, yesterday!

Seriously, she is sound asleep down by my feet as I lie in bed typing. You know how she wakes me up at 4:30 a.m. every day, raring to go? Well, today she did not. We took a long, long walk on the Heath yesterday -- about three hours, I think. She ran and swam in the mud pond and in general had a ball, and she's been sleeping ever since, with brief breaks for scratches and food. The good news: no limping!

As we walked, we found a couple of boxes of discarded cassette tapes, which made me sad. I used to have tons of cassettes and it made me nostalgic to see these all piled together. There was some Al Green, some jazz, some Jamaican and reggae stuff. Kind of a shame, but the world moves forward, right? I didn't take any of them. I couldn't play them if I wanted to.

Last night I rented "Theatre of Blood," a 1973 movie starring Vincent Price and Diana Rigg. It's about a hammy actor who seeks revenge on the London theater critics that he believes have not given him his due, and it's not nearly as gory as it sounds, at least not by modern standards. Part of the movie was filmed at the school where I work, though it looks different these days, and there are lots of other interesting shots of old London -- like the Putney Hippodrome, which was used in the filming and then demolished. It's been gone for more than 40 years.

Coincidentally, a much younger Price was also in "Laura," the film noir I rented a few nights ago.

I actually met Price once, when I was a cub reporter in 1989. He came to the Florida town where I worked to shoot a promotional video for a new 3-D camera, having starred decades before in some famous old 3-D movies. Here's my article, which you can click to enlarge and read, if you are so inclined:

Price was 77 years old then, and to me -- a callow 22-year-old -- he seemed a million. I remember him moving about and delivering his lines a bit slowly and stiffly. My friends at the time joked, with the cavalier cruelty of the young, that this was the day Vincent Price drooled on me -- but to be fair, I don't think there was any actual drool. I only got one quote out of him, about the weather. No Pulitzer for me!

(And whatever happened to that camera, I wonder? Seems like 3-D photography never quite took off. There are some on eBay, for fans of obscure camera technology.)

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Seed Success!

Remember those sweet pea seeds I planted back in March? Probably not, but anyway, I'd collected and saved them from our sweet pea plants last year. I wanted to try to grow them on as a kind of experiment -- I wasn't sure the seeds would be fertile or if the plants would bloom.

Ta-da! Finally, FINALLY, those little devils have started to flower. That's the first one, above, but as you can see there are some other buds coming along. Success!

Our nasturtiums are also blooming, and the cosmos and zinnias are coming along too, though we've had no flowers yet. If we have any disappointment on the seed front this year, it's the snapdragons. They haven't done much, although I think a lot of them were dug up by squirrels -- just like my purple poppies, which had finally been gaining some height before I saw, yesterday, that a squirrel rummaged through the pot. Some of them are still intact, but...grrrrrr....

This is how I spent my morning -- lying on the grass, reading. It was cool enough that I needed a sweatshirt, but at least I could wear shorts!

The garden is a flurry of activity at this time of year. Right now there are tits and robins and blackbirds on the feeders, and yesterday I watched a blackbird parent feeding its (quite large) chick. It would fly up to the suet feeder, collect some suet, bring it down to the ground and feed the chick. The chick could fly, and it was practically as big as the parent, but brown-streaked rather than black -- I'm not sure why it wasn't collecting its own food. Like any adolescent, it would apparently rather sit on the couch and play video games.

Anyway, what else did I do? I mowed the lawn. I transcribed more of my old journals. I went to the grocery store. I trimmed our front garden, which is basically a mountain of shrubbery -- some shrubs need to be cut back every now and then so as not to overwhelm the others. And between all the shrubs we have a wild foxglove blooming! Nature finds a way!

I also watched "The African Queen," which I'd wanted to see again since I read "Blood River," that book about the Congo, a few months ago. It was filmed there, and if Bogie and Hepburn aren't enough reason to watch it, the shots of the crocodiles and hippos and elephants certainly are. It's interesting to note that the population of the Congo when that movie was made, in 1950, was 12 million. Despite all the civil war and deprivation in that country since, it's now 78 million and counting. I wonder how those animals are faring?

Friday, June 22, 2018


Yesterday was the solstice, and it was basically daylight the entire time I was awake. Olga started wiggling around at about 4:30 a.m., eager to get up as the skies brightened, and the sun didn't set until about 9:30 p.m. (and dusk continued for a while after that). I'm not complaining. All this light is wonderful!

Olga and I took a long walk in the morning. Doesn't she look a little downcast in that picture? Her stomach was upset yesterday -- she probably ate something suspect. Anyway, she seems better today.

I stayed home all morning, finishing "Less" by Andrew Sean Greer, which recently won the Pulitzer for fiction. It's a terrific book. The guy is a magical writer.

Then, when Olga went on her daily trek with the dog-walker, I went into town to the National Portrait Gallery. It's time for the annual BP Portrait Awards exhibit, which I always try to catch.

On the way there, I made my own photographic portrait of Pikachu (top), hanging out in Trafalgar Square.

This is the BP first-prize winner, the stunning "An Angel at my Table," by Miriam Escofet. There is nothing about this painting that's NOT amazing. At first it seems hyper-realist, a careful portrait of the artist's mother -- but then you notice some mysterious things going on with the tableware, a supernatural ghostly movement. It's remarkable -- as were all of the other portraits, each in their own individual way.

Afterwards, I walked through Soho and up to Oxford Street, so I could pop into Selfridge's and redeem a gift card that Dave got from one of his students. I picked him up a couple of pairs of colorful socks. Then I continued wandering, and wound up in a crowded little square called St. Christopher's Place, where there were cafes and a sculpture and hanging baskets full of petunias:

I grabbed a coffee and a chocolate muffin and soaked up the ambience for a while. In London, when the weather is nice, everybody gets outside -- you've got to seize the moment! We're actually having a pretty lengthy period of remarkable weather, with temperatures in the 70s and lots of sunshine.

Finally I continued my walk north to Baker Street, where I caught the tube for home. A good day all around!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Beautiful Weeds

What's the difference between a weed and a plant? It's the age-old gardening question. A lot of people say a weed is simply a plant in the wrong place, and there's something to that, I think. We allow several plants to grow in our garden that many people consider weeds.

Above, the red campion, or Maltese Cross, which is going gangbusters at the moment. It's not really a weed, but its cousin the pink campion spreads readily and grows wild -- we have quite a bit of it, too.

These are the first blooms on our comfrey, which I just planted a few weeks ago. It's a variety that doesn't self-seed, which is supposed to help contain it. I've already seen bees crawling in and out of those bell-shaped flowers.

This is Lamium album, known as white nettle. It doesn't sting like true nettles, and it can create quite an impressive patch of ground cover. I found this lying on the sidewalk, no doubt discarded from someone else's garden, and brought it home and planted it in a hanging basket -- it seems to be doing fine there.

This is self-heal, which spreads like crazy and grows all around our patio. I pull some of it up and leave some of it -- the bees love it and the purple flowers are impressive.

And finally, this is valerian, which also spreads readily. We have four plants -- both dark pink and white, as you can see -- and innumerable seedlings. A light pink variety grows around the steps to our front door, and comes up every year all on its own.

I spent all day at home yesterday, working on my many little projects. I now have all my old photos moved off CDs and onto a portable hard drive, which makes them much easier to access. I also watched "Laura," the 1944 film noir, which I hadn't seen in years -- I love those crisply shot, shadowy old black-and-white movies! Dave isn't a fan of old movies, so now is my opportunity to revisit some of them. Maybe "The Maltese Falcon" next?

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Camden Tropicale

There used to be a big mural of Carmen Miranda on the wall of this Brazilian restaurant in Camden. When Dave and I rode by on the bus the other day, I saw that Carmen had been swapped out for a pair of parrots. I miss her, but I do love the birds. (Maybe younger people don't know who Carmen Miranda is?)

I got myself back to the dentist -- again -- yesterday morning so he could adjust my crown. I tried to live with it, I really did, but it was driving me crazy. I felt like I could barely close my mouth, much less chew. So he ground it down a bit and made some other changes, reducing its height by a millimeter, and that made a big difference. It still feels a bit high, but I think I can adapt.

Then I took a walk through Camden Town, so I could shoot the wall above and some other interesting stuff. It's been a while since I've taken an urban photo walk, having spent all my recent walking time on the LOOP or with the dog, but I hope to do more this summer. I started at the Kentish Town overground station and walked south and then north again, in a sort of U-shape, eventually up Haverstock Hill into Hampstead and then home.

And then, last night, I had my big night on the town with Lulu! I saw "42nd Street," and let me tell you, Lulu may be 69 but she's still got a great voice. It was a fun, flashy show with lots of big song-and-dance numbers  -- I'd seen it in New York years ago and I remember enjoying it there, too.

I bought a glass of white wine at the theater bar before the show, and the barman asked if I wanted a small or large.

I didn't have much time before curtain, so I said, "I think I'll take a small."

He said, "Do you want it in a plastic cup so you can take it to your seat?"

I said, "Oh, I can take it to my seat?! In that case, I'll have a large!"

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A Flute, a Fox and a Philadelphus

The last few mornings, someone in a building behind us has been playing a wind instrument.  As I sit on the back garden bench reading and having my coffee, I can hear it drifting over the treetops. I romanticized it into some type of exotic Asian flute -- maybe played by a virtuoso of this obscure instrument, who otherwise plies his or her talents on stage in front of adoring multicultural fans.

But then I asked Dave about it, and he said, "Oh, that's just some kid fooling around with a recorder."

I'm not sure I agree with him. There's definitely a repeated pattern to the notes, which to me suggests deliberate playing, and this person plays for at least an hour at a time. I don't know why I think it sounds Asian, and I hope it's not offensive to anyone for me to say that, but it's definitely not "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." Listen to it in the video above -- while enjoying a serene corner of our garden featuring our gong wind chime and blooming Philadelphus, or mock orange -- and tell me what you think.

And here's another mystery.

Yes, that's me, and no, I did not kill that animal. But it is a real animal, or at least, it used to be. While walking Olga I found a discarded round hatbox-style suitcase, very fashionable in a sort of Linda Ronstadt "Lush Life" way. I looked inside, and it contained some vintage women's hats, including a nice red 1940s number with a Macy's New York tag. It also contained this fur stole, which was made to be clipped around a woman's neckline. You've seen photos of those types of furs before -- they used to be quite the thing. (You can still buy them, although I wouldn't advise it.)

Apparently it's a fox, and it's extra long because it's made from more than one. (I picked up that little fact here, a website for a museum where a nearly identical stole is on display.) Although it looks a little scraggly in the photo, it was actually in good condition.

As gruesome as it is to my modern sensibilities, I couldn't let that creature go out with the trash, could I? Some vintage clothing aficionado would be so into it! So I picked everything up, hats, suitcase and all, and later took it to Oxfam. I showed the workers there what the bag contained, so there would be no ugly surprises when they opened it.

Meanwhile, Dave couldn't resist taking a picture, because without a doubt this is one of the weirder things I've ever brought home.

Speaking of Dave, he got launched on his American odyssey yesterday, and last I heard he was in New York waiting for his connecting flight to Michigan. He's probably there by now, and probably sound asleep.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Mid-Life Heath Walk

Olga and I went back to Hampstead Heath yesterday -- the first time we've been to the main Heath since her leg injuries several weeks ago. I know! It doesn't seem that long. I'm happy to report that after a walk of more than two hours, she was fine. There was no limping and no evidence of any re-injury.

That dog is never happier than when she's running free in the forests, looking for squirrels.

Except maybe when she's lying in long grass, in the sun.

The grass on the Heath is an amazing color, green and straw-brown but with hues of pink and purple. I haven't seen a photo yet that really does it justice.

We looped through the woodlands and meadows before climbing Parliament Hill to take in the view. As you can see, lots of other people had the same idea... Olga snuck off to the side to find a quieter spot.

She's still in good health, but I definitely see the effects of age on Olga. Where she used to pull me to the Heath with puppyish abandon -- I literally could not walk fast enough -- she now pauses, sniffing here and there and taking her time. She runs through the trees and chases her Kong, as always, but she takes more rest breaks. I don't mind that at all. I guess middle age catches up with all of us.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

A Broken Tooth and Lulu

Yesterday got a bit crazy, for some unpredictable reasons. As Dave was eating dinner on Friday night, he suddenly exclaimed, "I think I broke off part of my tooth!" And sure enough, he had. He wasn't in pain, but as he's about to travel to the states on Monday, he had to get the problem fixed right away.

So I walked the dog in the morning (sorry Lesley -- the boots were gone) and at 9:30 or so we set out to find a dentist. My dental clinic was dark and unoccupied, despite the fact that their front door and their website said they open at 9 a.m. on Saturdays -- and it's just as well because, let's face it, the jury's still out on the quality of their work, given my recent experiences. So we walked up to a dentist near Fortune Green, but they weren't open either.

I had to mail some stuff at the post office, so we walked to the other end of the high street and, lo and behold, across the street was yet another dentist's office! So Dave got his tooth repaired while I came home and...

...bought theater tickets!

I passed John, the used-book seller outside the train station, who had a huge portrait of Elvis Presley propped against his table. I bought a paperback that I really didn't need and gave Sugar, John's three-legged staffy, some scratches.

So, yes, theater tickets. I wanted to go see "42nd Street," because singer Lulu is performing in the show. I've always liked Lulu, going way back to "To Sir, With Love." (In fact, here is a 10-year-old photo of me playing a vintage single of "To Sir, With Love" on a Popeye record player -- what more could you want?!) So now I'm off to see Lulu on Tuesday.

And I also bought a ticket to see "Hamilton" in November -- because it's such a phenomenon and Dave doesn't want to go. He acts like it would literally kill him to sit through a rap musical. I figured I'd just take the plunge on my own. What the heck.

Our ladybirds are still at it, providing aphid relief -- but as you can see, they've got a long way to go!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Je Suis Libre!

Well, that's it! Finito! Finis! No more teachers, no more books, etc. I am now a free agent until mid-August.

I have lots of plans for my time. I've got several projects I really want to finish, such as the seemingly endless journal transcription and photo archiving. I have a probably unrealistic stack of books to read. There are some short trips I'd like to make. And there's one big trip, in July, that Dave and I have planned to Vietnam and Cambodia. I'm surprised I haven't mentioned it before now, but I think I've been trying to convince myself that it's really going to happen. And it is -- the tickets have been bought, the plans made.

So this will be a full summer, and yet hopefully a summer in which I wrap some things up.

The last day of school went well enough, although I still have the remnants of my cold and didn't feel so great. I got through first aid training (thank goodness that's over) and did you know that when you do CPR, you're supposed to press the person's chest firmly enough to go 3/4 of the way into their body? The instructors said if you don't break any ribs, you're probably not doing it right. Good lord! I hope I never have to go there.

I also got through the recognition ceremony for departing staff members, including my colleague Lindsey, who's been at the school 16 years. She and her husband and dog helped introduce us (and Olga!) to Hampstead Heath years ago, and she's been a lot of fun to work with. I'll miss her.

I did not go to the after-work cocktail hour because I had some errands to run, including picking up Dave's repaired sandals (which look great). And last night, sitting in the garden -- where I counted five ladybirds remaining on our cardoon -- I felt so relaxed knowing that there are no demands on my time for the next eight weeks!

(Photo: Street art along the Regent's Canal near Camden.)

Friday, June 15, 2018

Ladybirds and Leather

Although I called in sick to work yesterday, I did get out of the house for one critical errand. I had to get Dave's sandals repaired, because he's taking off for the USA on Monday and he wants to wear them while he's there. One of the ankle straps, near the buckle, was broken. He even considered buying a new pair, but I did some research and found a place that would fix them in time.

So, impaired only slightly by my sniffling and hacking, I made my way to Camden Road, to the shoe repair place on the right in the photo above. (They also make keys, engrave trophies, fix luggage, repair horse saddles, do alterations and tailoring and fix watches. A "one stop shop," as the sign says.) I dropped off the sandals and they should be ready today.

Then I came home and got into bed and pretty much stayed there.

When the mail came, I was happy to find our newest order of ladybirds had arrived! We ordered 25 adult ladybirds and 50 larvae, in the hopes that they would snack on the aphids populating our cardoon and our inulas. When Dave got home from work, we took them out in the garden and set them free.

Some got to work right away...

...and some had other ideas of, I believe, an amorous nature.

We also released the larvae, which were so tiny I could barely see them. They came nestled in shredded paper, and we simply scattered the paper on the lower leaves of the plants. I could not possibly begin to verify that there were actually 50 larvae in that box.

These are Adalia bipunctata, the two-spot ladybird, one of the native varieties said to be suffering at the hands (?) of the larger and more vigorous Asian, or harlequin, variety. I'd read that buying ladybirds for the garden actually has little practical effect, because most of them fly away, but I don't mind just adding them to the environment and letting them do their thing, even if it's ultimately not on our plants.

And sure enough, when I went out in the evening to see how they were doing, I could only find two of them. So they may already be off on their ladybird adventures!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Blocked Pipes

For the past couple of days I've had a little cold. I haven't mentioned it because it was so mild, but yesterday afternoon it suddenly ratcheted up to a whole new level -- I was shivering and coughing with a low fever, and I called in sick today. I didn't have much to do at work anyway. Tomorrow I have first aid training (ironic!) so I'm hoping I can be there for that, hopefully without infecting everyone else with germs passed on via the plastic CPR dummy. (Do they still use those?)

Yesterday was the last day of school for students, and I got asked to sign a couple of yearbooks, which always makes me feel good. I'm glad I make enough of an impact for kids to want to remember me!

When I was in elementary school, I remember one year trying to get everyone to sign my yearbook. All the teachers, the secretaries, the lunch ladies, the custodians. Some of them thought I was pulling their leg, but I wonder if secretly they were flattered?

Anybody want a fax machine? Yeah, me neither.

We had a repairman come yesterday to fix our leaking dishwasher. He dismantled the pipes in the back and found a hunk of old pipe inside the other pipes, blocking the outflow. He thinks it's been there since the dishwasher was installed, and only lately, with the accretion of old soap and lime and other materials I'd rather not think about, did it become a blockage serious enough to cause leaking.

Fortunately, no mice came rocketing out from under the machine when he moved it.

I think the problem is now resolved and my hope is that the warped kitchen floor will flatten out a bit once it gets good and dry. Meanwhile, we paid for this repairman -- £72 -- and I'm going to approach the management to try to take it off our rent. We'll see!

(Top photo: A colorfully planted fire escape near school.)