Sunday, June 30, 2019

Hot Dog

You've probably seen the news about the massive heat wave in Europe. France got up to something like 114ΒΊ F a couple of days ago. Insane! We've been spared the worst of it here in London -- it did get to about 92ΒΊ F yesterday afternoon, and that was no fun, but it was tolerable.

Olga and I went to the cemetery in the afternoon. She was excited for a walk but you could tell the heat got to her. She was more subdued than usual and ready to go home earlier. On the way back, she lay down on the cool, shady pavement in front of this skiwear shop, lifting her head so she could pant freely. Or maybe she was gazing at the sign and dreaming of the snowy Alps.

These posters appeared near our flat a couple of days ago. I like them, but Olga couldn't stifle a yawn. She's not into politics.

On Friday I watched Martin Scorsese's new movie about Bob Dylan's 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue tour, on Netflix. It used a lot of archival footage of the tour, which gathered singer-songwriters like Velcro as it traveled around the northeast United States and parts of Canada, becoming a sort of small-venue supergroup featuring Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Roger McGuinn and others. I enjoyed the old footage of all those singers in their prime, paired with contemporary interviews about what the tour was like -- it seemed like a very weird affair where Dylan wore white face paint as a "mask." But overall I found it awfully LONG. (About two and a half hours.) And although Dylan is a master songwriter, a little of his singing goes a long way in my book.

Also, it's not a straight documentary. Parts of the movie are explicitly faked. I think this is Dylan playing with reality, poking fun at his own hagiography, but it's exasperating when you're not sure what to believe.

I also finished reading "The Handmaid's Tale." I was afraid it was going to be a didactic slog, but it was actually very good and very readable. I wish I'd read it before I saw the TV show, because although the show follows the book very closely, all my mental images were of those actors and scenes -- Elizabeth Moss as Offred and that kind of thing. I wonder how different I'd have found it if I'd started with a blank canvas?

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Seven Summer Flowers

There's so much happening in the garden now! I can't possibly show it all -- but here are some highlights.

First, our delphinium, which is new this year, is blooming away. We tried growing one years ago and it got eaten by slugs (or something). The secret to success -- put it in a pot!

The snapdragons are still going strong.

Also blooming for the first time -- the rescued acanthus, or bear's breeches. It sent up an impressive flower spike, with purple-white petals dangling like moths' wings from purple-green bracts.

This purple poppy is a volunteer, growing under a tree out by the street.

Our "Bowl of Beauty" peonies are done now, but this bright magenta one is still going strong.

Also blooming is our Maltese cross, or red campion. This may be the last year we get flowers from this plant, unless we move it -- it's being slowly smothered by an adjacent bay shrub, and it's much smaller this summer than last. We may try to dig it up and relocate it, if we get ambitious.

Of course there's the added complication of whether we'll even be here next summer, given our landlord's recent request. Maybe we'd be smart to put it in a pot!

Finally, our red lupine is blooming. This is a cousin of the yellow one I showed you a few weeks ago. Pretty!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Chihuly at Kew

Yesterday, Dave and I went to see Dale Chihuly's blown glass artworks on exhibit at Kew Gardens. The pieces are set out among the plantings on the grounds and in the greenhouses, like gigantic thistles and lilies. This one, called "Sapphire Star," is the first piece inside the main gate.

At the gardens' art gallery, more of Chihuly's smaller blown glass is on display, like these "macchia." (They're not that small -- maybe a couple of feet across?) We also picked up a map here, showing us where the rest of the pieces were located.

These are called "Niijima Floats."

And this, inside the Temperate House, is "Persian Column," created especially for this space. Wonder how much that thing weighs?

This isn't the first time I've seen Chihuly's work in an outdoor setting. Long ago, soon after I first started my blog, I went to see Chihuly's show at the New York Botanical Garden. Many of the pieces we saw yesterday seemed similar to some I saw in New York, but I guess they must not be the same ones, because these were created more recently (according to the dates on the exhibit signs).

This is "Scarlet and Yellow Icicle Tower." Everyone was taking pictures, like the woman in the background using her iPad. As I said in that old blog post, Chihuly's shows provide "lots of fodder for photographers!"

This is "Ethereal White Persian Pond," echoing the water lilies in the lily house.

And this is the top of "Summer Sun," outside the Palm House. (An homage to my earlier photo of a similar sculpture in New York!)

We had fantastic weather for our outing, and enjoyed lunch at a nearby cafe before walking around the show. Unfortunately Olga couldn't come, because Kew doesn't allow dogs. But she wasn't entirely abandoned -- she got some exercise with her regular dog walker on the Heath.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Eight Months

This is a picture from my Germany trip -- a bus shelter near WaldbrΓΆl bearing smudged-out graffiti, which reads "Undank ist der welten lohn." Apparently that's a German expression translating roughly to "Ingratitude is the world's wage," or more commonly, "Nothing is so hard as man's ingratitude."

That expression fits my mood at the moment. We're trying to renegotiate the lease for our flat, and our landlord has agreed to a year-long extension. Which is a good thing. But she wants a new clause that will allow her to ask us to leave after eight months, with two months' notice. In other words, she could tell us in January, or any time after January, to vacate in two months.

Apparently it's not that unusual -- a lot of leases have these clauses, which are meant to give "flexibility" to both landlords and tenants. (We could also give her notice, under the same terms, that we want to leave.) But it still seems very squirrelly to me. What's the point of having a lease if it doesn't give both parties security?

I'm trying not to get too worked up about it. This is her place, after all. If she wants us out, we'd have to comply. But this change suggests she's at least thinking about taking repossession of the apartment.

And that sets off a whole cascade of anxiety for me. I'd hate to have to find another place in the middle of the school year, before the garden even comes into bloom next spring -- and around the time that Dave is wrestling with taking students on their annual Music Tour. That would be a drag. To put it mildly.

Still, I don't see that we have much of a choice. As I said, it's her place. We gotta roll with the punches. Maybe this is just a good reminder that even though we always pay rent reliably and on time, and we have improved this place tremendously with our repainting and gardening, we shouldn't get too comfortable here.

Ingratitude, indeed.

Then again, maybe she just wants flexibility in case Brexit causes huge fluctuations in the real estate market.

She's also increasing our rent by £10 per week, but I don't even care about that. She's never asked for an increase in the five years we've lived here, so I can choke that down without too much trouble.

In other news, yesterday Dave and I went to see "Rocketman," the Elton John biopic that came out recently. I didn't love it. It's a fanciful, glittery film, as one would expect, and very well-acted, but parts of it seem a little cringeworthy. (Singing children -- ugh.) I also didn't like the way it skewed the timeline of Elton's career -- introducing songs into the plot at times when, in actuality, they hadn't yet been written, for example. I would have preferred a more straightforward, accurate portrayal of Elton's career development. But it apparently got good reviews, so I may be the only one who feels this way.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Paperwork Done!

I went in to school yesterday afternoon to get my reimbursements sorted out. It feels so good to get that out of the way. Now, the money for my trains to Germany should be on my next paycheck. Fingers crossed.

While I was there I stopped in to the library and neatened things up a bit. Some people had thrown some books into the return bin -- as well as a used fork and spoon, ugh -- so I got everything checked in and did a few other small tasks. I saw my colleague Joe, who was with me at the Buddhist retreat, and we bowed to each other and laughed.

"It doesn't feel right not to do that," I said. Will we be bowing to each other all through the upcoming school year? The kids ought to be amused. Either that or they'll accuse me of cultural appropriation.

Back home again, I planted an envelope of foxglove seeds that we received in the library with our Gardener's World magazine subscription. I didn't really want to deal with them, honestly. I'm kind of seeded out after all my seedling adventures this spring. But no one else wanted them, so I managed to get them in a seed tray. At least they won't be wasted, and if they grow we'll be glad to have them.

I also called our property manager about renewing the lease for our flat. It expires in about two weeks and we've heard nothing. I feel like I have to do this every year. They're remarkably lackadaisical about renewals. Anyway, they're supposed to get back to me.

I've started reading "The Handmaid's Tale," which somehow I've never read in all these years. It came out while I was in college, so I didn't read it in school the way a lot of students do today. Somehow I just never caught up with it before now. Coincidentally, we've just started watching season 3 of the TV show, so it will be interesting to compare the two!

(Photo: Greenford, West London. See? There really is sun in England. Not at the moment, though, admittedly.)

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Mermaids and Wind Chimes

Here's something you don't see on a pile of rubbish every day. I came across this mer-creature while heading out for my long walk on the Capital Ring last week. She was a bit battered, with a hole in the side of her head and some chips and scratches -- she looks like she's wooden but I believe she's actually made of plastic. Anyway, I couldn't take her with me, so I left her there. She was getting lots of attention from passers-by, so I'm confident someone rescued her.

Yesterday was very productive. I finished the book I'd been reading, I sorted out accommodation for an upcoming trip to Scotland that Dave and I are planning, and I cleaned the house top to bottom. I took all our bedding to the laundromat because I got a distinct whiff of dog when I shifted the blankets on Sunday night. And then I bathed the dog herself.

So we're all spic-and-span here at Shadows & Light, at least for the time being.

Dave is trying to sort out what to do about our lawn mower. While I was gone last week he mowed the grass, and in doing so he ran over the power cord for the mower. (It's electric.) Of course that cut the cord -- in two places, in fact -- so now we need to get the cord repaired or replaced. I was just glad he didn't get electrocuted, but he said he didn't even feel it -- and fortunately he was right at the end of the mowing job so our grass still looks uniform. Yesterday he contacted a place that apparently will send a technician to us. That's ideal, so we won't have to schlep a lawn mower across London with no car.

And yes, Dave's birthday passed on June 22 while I was in Germany. I felt kind of bad about that, but he wasn't concerned. I gave him his present -- a pair of noise-cancelling headphones -- before I left, and then bought him these nifty wind chimes in Germany. Aren't they great? The discs are copper, but they remind me of those chimes made of round seashells that I used to see in every gift shop in Florida when I was a kid. They even sound a bit like those -- a little chimey, a little clattery.

Today I need to file some receipts at school to get reimbursed for parts of my trip. Paperwork!

Monday, June 24, 2019

Back in London (More Mindfully?)

One of the blooming trees outside the main building of the Buddhist Center was positively teeming with butterflies every morning. Here's one of them -- a painted lady, I believe. I had to stand there for quite a while before the butterfly cooperated and opened its wings for a picture!

Well, I'm home now. I got back at about 10 p.m. last night, having done the same train-train-train-bus combination that got me to WaldbrΓΆl, but in reverse. The traveling wasn't hard, but it was long. We didn't even get started until mid-afternoon and we'd all been up since 5:30 a.m., so after finally trudging up our street and opening the front door I had just enough energy to greet Dave and Olga, eat a peanut butter sandwich and unpack my bag before falling into bed.

Now I'm lying here in the morning stillness, drinking a cup of (real, brewed) coffee with both Dave and Olga snoring next to me, and it feels wonderful. I can't wait to take a shower and get to work on my laundry. Doing laundry after a trip always feels so satisfying to me, like hitting a "restart" button.

I'm also looking forward to reacquainting myself with the garden. Several things have bloomed or changed in my absence. Remember the poppy that sprouted at the edge of one of our flower beds? Well, it got broken off a few weeks ago -- probably by Olga -- and I put the stem in water, hoping it would survive just long enough to bloom. In fact, it had a purple flower while I was away -- Dave took a photo and sent it to me.

Here's another bug I saw frequently in Germany. This is called a firebug. (I had to look it up.) They were common under certain trees, and every day during walking meditation we'd see them on the ground -- I was always afraid they'd get stepped on, and I'm sure some did, but if you're a tiny insect and you have to be surrounded by gigantic people with gigantic feet, I suppose your chances are much better if they're Buddhists!

As I said in my last few posts, I found the retreat to be very positive overall. There's always part of me that wants to get the heck out of there, particularly at the beginning and at the end -- this was true when I did Zen retreats years ago, too. Part of me always resists, wanting my human comforts and my routines.

But once I settle into the rhythms I usually find some valuable insights, and I think I had them this time, too. I have things to think about and to practice with -- some internal things, I mean -- as well as a renewed appreciation for moving just a bit more slowly. We'll see how long that lasts! The challenge will be to maintain those realizations in some form once the afterglow of the retreat has worn off.

And now, back to real life!

Sunday, June 23, 2019


This is the stupa, a ceremonial tower, at the Buddhist Center where I’m staying. Like the mosaics I posted about a few days ago, this structure has connections with the center’s Nazi-era past. The columns were meant to be part of a grand entrance portico for the Nazi hotel. They were brought to the site, but the portico was never built. The columns were stored here and when the Buddhists took over the property, they were used for the stupa. This is meant to be symbolic of transformation.

This bell is located in the base of the stupa and is used ceremonially.

This is our last day here. We depart around 3 pm (after several more sessions!) and I’ll arrive in London about 9:30 pm. This has been a good experience but I’ll be glad to get home. Maybe I’ll write more about it when I’m not on my phone.

But let’s take advantage of phone blogging one more time! Here are some farm animals, because I can:πŸ„ πŸ– πŸ‘ 🐐 πŸ“ πŸ‡

Saturday, June 22, 2019

A Walk in the Woods

Yesterday afternoon we visited a forest. We walked with a forester who explained how the forest’s resources are used and how he helps the landowners maintain them responsibly. It was mostly a forest of Norwegian spruce and beech, but we also saw interesting fungi, a wild boar wallow and, in a pond, a big ol’ golden carp. (Not a native species, but still impressive!)

We also saw yellow loosestrife and purple foxgloves blooming beside one of the roads into the woods. A lot of the plants look just like what I often see in England.

Overall, I think this retreat is going well for me, professionally. It’s definitely helping me to consider more mindful ways of responding to students. Rather than getting cranky about their overdue materials or the fact that someone wants yet another computer charger, maybe I can pause and breathe and put things in better perspective — be a more compassionate presence. This isn’t a new idea, but my practice here may help to reinforce it. (Let’s hope I’m still feeling as conscientious by the time mid-August rolls around!)

Here’s my empty porridge bowl at breakfast this morning.

And here are some marine creatures, because I can: πŸ¦‘ 🐠 🐬 πŸ‹ πŸ¦€

Friday, June 21, 2019

Yo from the Sound Boat

If yesterday’s post seemed to end a little abruptly, that’s because I couldn’t get my phone to scroll down far enough to let me add a proper ending. I also couldn’t enlarge the picture of the hearts. Blogging on a phone isn’t the best! I can tidy things up when I get back to London, I suppose.

Yesterday I played hooky during our late-morning walking meditation and went exploring in town (where I found the graffiti above). The Buddhist Center is on one of the main roads through town, but it’s a rather characterless stretch of highway with a supermarket, some mini malls and some uninteresting shops. But walking toward town brought me into the older heart of Waldbrol, which has some cool old timbered buildings, and some covered with slate shingles and interesting ornamentation. Yesterday was a religious holiday of some sort, so everything was closed and the church bells were ringing.

And look what’s in town — the Circus Florida! My home state! Did they know I was coming?

Yesterday afternoon an event called the Sound Boat was on the schedule. I had no idea what this could possibly be, but it turned out to be fascinating. A man named Elmar brought an instrument he had created, consisting of a sort of open box suspended from a wooden frame. A person could lie in the box, and Elmar would play the strings attached to the underside — all the same tone. The result was a sort of all-encompassing yet minimalist experience in which you could hear and feel the vibrating strings while lying in the secure, enclosed space covered by an orange curtain. Apparently it’s used in music therapy. I’ve never seen anything like it, and Elmar built it — I believe it’s unique.

The sound reminded me a bit of a sitar. Lots of water images flashed in my mind as I lay there — rain, a river, pebbles skipping on a pond. Elmar said he could also sense communication from people as they lay in the boat — in my case, he said he sensed something about my mother. This is interesting because my brother and I had exchanged e-mails about her just before the session and she was definitely on my mind. Who knows — maybe Elmar is like a fortune teller, giving his “customers” a vague reference that could be connected to any recent thought or experience. But he says a lot of communication is extra-verbal and the boat helps him pick up on that.

All in all, it was fascinating.

And now, back to retreating! But first, here are some bugs, because I can: πŸ› 🐞 πŸ¦‹ 🐝

Thursday, June 20, 2019


Remember the mosaics I mentioned yesterday — the ones adorning the lobby of the erstwhile hospital and Nazi-era hotel where I’m staying? Well, here they are.

See what I mean about the naked Aryan lads? Nazi iconography was SO gay.

Things are going well so far. I’m settling into the routine of the retreat, having ironed out the basic necessities like where to find the showers and how to get (instant) coffee. The food is actually quite good — rice, lentils, bread, pasta, lots of vegetables and crisp, fresh salad greens. Yesterday the monks who do the cooking prepared a sort of stew with tofu, green olives and mushrooms, and I loved it. I can never have too many olives.

Yesterday was a procession of meditation sessions interspersed with a dharma talk about the practices of following the breath and walking mindfully, an outdoor relaxation exercise, and a “sharing” session to relate our observations so far. The focus of the retreat seems mostly to be on caring for ourselves and our own spiritual happiness, so we can then employ that happiness and calmness when we relate to students.

Oh, and just so you can see an alternative to Nazi-era mosaics, here are some cloth hearts that were sewn and put on display to represent the physically and mentally handicapped patients at the hospital that used to be here before World War II. Apparently many of them did not survive Nazi rule. The hearts are displayed near the mosaics to create a “dialogue” between them.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

In Germany With No WiFi

OK, I’m writing this blog post on my phone, which is something I never imagined I would do. But WiFi is apparently not to be had here at the European Center for Applied Buddhism, so I’m scrambling!

I got here yesterday after a full day of travel — three trains via Brussels, Cologne and Hennef, and then a bus to the town of Waldbrol. (There’s an umlaut in that name but I have no idea how to do that on a phone.) The train trips went smoothly, although European passport control from St. Pancras station in London was a nightmare. One of the passport officers was laughing at texts and videos on his phone while screening passengers. I couldn’t believe it.

It’s probably not very Buddhist of me to point that out, is it?

I’m staying in a former hospital that was appropriated by the Nazis for use as a hotel. It has big tile mosaics in the lobby of naked Aryan lads cavorting with horses. I have pictures, but of course they’re on my computer so you may not get to see them until I get back to London.

There IS something poetic about a grim Nazi edifice being turned into a Buddhist retreat with all its emphasis on peace and loving kindness.

This morning I was up at 5 a.m. and soon afterwards we were meditating. Then we adjourned to the car park in front of the hotel for exercises using bamboo poles. Qui Gong, I think? Or is that something else? Anyway, as you can see in the photo above, the light was dramatic and it was actually a nice, refreshing start to the day.

Here’s a view from yesterday out the train window — or actually a reflection of the view. Can you see the dog at far left?

Aside from meditating and mindfulness we haven’t done much yet. And as I write that line I realise how ridiculous it is, because meditation and mindfulness are both a little and a lot! I’m plunged back into the feelings and experiences I was having on Zen retreats in New York a decade ago — appreciating the silence and the stillness, feeling frustration at not being able to move or talk or find good coffee or get WiFi! We cling to so much, don’t we? (Like blogging.)

And now, here are some trucks, because I can: 🚚 πŸš› 🚜 πŸš’

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Boston Manor to Greenford

I really wanted to walk another leg of the Capital Ring before I set out for Germany today. I knew if I didn't do it yesterday, it would be at least another week before I had a chance. So I took the tube to Boston Manor and got out on the path.

This might be one of my favorite segments of the entire walk. So much of my time was spent in green landscapes like the one above, along a secluded stretch of the Grand Union Canal and then the River Brent. I had perfect weather -- comfortable temperatures and enough sun to need sunblock.

I joined the canal at Osterley Lock, where I sat on a bench and drank a coffee I'd bought at a cafe in Boston Manor. I noticed that some of the paving bricks near the benches had been carved or sculpted, or were molded to include images of bolts, wrenches and even a cassette tape. The bricks were in terrible condition but I could still get a hint of what some of them might have looked like.

I found a pair of coots along the canal, feeding their three chicks on a nest.

The canal is always scenic, with brightly painted narrow boats moored along its banks. (This one is named "Dorothy.") At this time of year the banks are covered with flowers.

I saw lots of insects, like this hoverfly, as the path led through meadows of hogweed and cow parsley, red poppies and blue cornflowers and yellow blossoms like these.

The path led beneath one of the arches of Hanwell Bridge, and apparently sometimes it's under water so there's an alternate route to cross the road above. I managed to take the low road, but it was a bit squishy. According to my map, there's been a bridge here since at least the 14th century, with the present structure dating from 1762 and augmented by later widening.

A bit further on, I passed under the Wharncliffe Viaduct, built in 1838 to carry the railroad across the River Brent. It was a product of the fertile imagination of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who designed many railroad structures in the Victorian era. Queen Victoria herself supposedly stopped her royal train atop the viaduct so she could admire the view.

At a cafe in Brent Lodge Park I ate a vegetarian English breakfast (some people will find that a contradiction in terms) with egg, toast, beans, tomatoes, mushrooms and veggie sausage. I sat out on the patio, where I was joined by a group of teenagers who were clearly on a school trip. Fortunately, they were well behaved!

In the town of Greenford, I left the path to wander the high street and found a deteriorated Boots pharmacy sign on the side of a building. (I didn't see a Boots so I think it must be pretty old.)

I also passed someone's charming little garden outbuilding.

The walk ended at Greenford tube station after 5.8 miles -- one of the nicest walks I've had so far in London!

Monday, June 17, 2019

More iPhone Photos

I was pretty domestic yesterday, doing errands around the house. So I don't have a lot of news for you. Let's catch up on photos from the ol' iPhone!

First, I liked these dramatic jet trails, with that big shaggy pollarded tree in the foreground. The council trims street trees like that to keep the root systems stunted so they're not as destructive to sidewalks and roads.

I found a German math textbook in the library a week or two before school ended. No idea whose it was or why it was there, but it was falling apart. I just left it and someone came and claimed it.

The takeaway restaurant with the dying plants near the tube station now appears to have closed completely. I never went to this place -- I saw somewhere online that it had dubious food hygiene ratings. Hopefully whatever replaces it will be better!

Another view of my neighbor's hugging frogs.

Olga and I found this can yesterday morning. Someone had tossed it onto the sidewalk from the nearby railroad tracks. I never drink Coke, much less Cherry Coke, but I had a hunch this was an old can. Sure enough...

...if the copyright is any indication, it's been lying around for as long as 17 years. And it's in Polish! (I think it was originally black-on-red, but the red has faded away entirely.)

Then we walked to the cemetery, where Olga lolled in the long grass -- her favorite thing to do. (Well, besides eat and sleep and chase squirrels.)

At the cemetery I saw this amazing geranium. Isn't that a beautiful variegated leaf? I've got to get some of these!