Monday, September 30, 2019


I've done nothing in the last 24 hours but clean the house and get myself organized. It always takes at least a day to recover from the chaos of traveling -- to unpack and do the laundry and pick up the cleaning and go grocery shopping. (Although, truth be told, Dave did the shopping. I just made room in the fridge by discarding some now-inedible leftovers from before my trip, as well as some creme fraiche that had become a biology experiment.)

Olga cut her paw on one of her walks in my absence (did I mention that already?) and left little blood spatters all over our floors. Dave cleaned it up -- he said when he got home on the day it happened, the house looked like an episode of "Law & Order" -- but I was still seeing blood yesterday so I gave everything another mopping. I think we're blood-free now, but I suppose if the cops showed up with one of those ultraviolet crime-scene devices things might still look pretty scary.

Anyway, because I barely went out yesterday, I don't have any pictures yet -- so here's a photo of some autumnal "heirloom pumpkins" on display at a Publix back in Florida. I would have called them gourds, but maybe they're edible.

Here's the original, pre-Waterlogue shot. They are pretty, aren't they? I love that big orange warty one.

I felt awful yesterday, with jet lag and all that, but hopefully I'll be back on schedule fairly quickly. I always get so cold when I don't get any sleep -- it's like my body can't regulate its own temperature. I took a quick nap after lunch, which I usually try not to do, but that helped and thank goodness it didn't inhibit my ability to sleep last night. I feel fine this morning. Onward!

Sunday, September 29, 2019

This Green and Pleasant Land

Well, I'm back in soggy London, where rain was apparently the order of business all last week -- and Dave is looking at the forecast and it's not changing any in the next few days. I don't mind, honestly. I felt like I was baking in Florida. I could stand to cool down a bit.

My flights were mostly uneventful, except that our takeoff for London was delayed by about half an hour because Delta was waiting for passengers' duty-free purchases to be delivered to the plane. Doesn't that seem a little crazy? Holding up hundreds of people and an entire plane for the sake of a little shopping?

"I guess someone really needed their bottle of Jack," said the guy sitting next to me.

We eventually left without it. The flight attendants said shoppers would have to be content with a refund.

I watched "American Graffiti" and a recent Ethan Hawke movie, "Stockholm," while in flight. I hadn't seen "American Graffiti" in a very long time. It was fun to reconnect with that movie and all its  winsome stars -- Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Harrison Ford, Cindy Williams. Everyone looked so young.

I also read Fintan O'Toole's recent book about Brexit. It was quite interesting and revealed a few things I hadn't really considered before. For example, certain wealthy Brexit backers are ultimately trying to destroy nationhood as a concept -- to be replaced by a sort of global gated community for the rich and entrepreneurial. (The rest of us can go suck eggs, apparently.) Among the working classes, O'Toole likens Brexit enthusiasm to cutting -- the self-harm that makes people bleed but also makes them feel and gives them a focus for their otherwise diffuse pain. I thought that was an interesting comparison.

Now I am home, unpacked, and exhausted. Olga was very happy to see me.

Apropos of nothing, here's the ridiculous alligator I bought at Target a few days ago for my mom's bed. She laughs every time she sees it! I spent time with her yesterday morning before my flight, and after my brother, niece and I went to Waffle House for an authentic southern breakfast!

(Top photo: The Jacksonville airport, with a window mural of someone walking and carrying a bag featuring a map of the city.)

Saturday, September 28, 2019

The Butterfly's Secret

Yesterday morning, in between buying Mom new socks and visiting her for lunch, I took a break and went briefly to Alpine Groves Park, an old homestead and wilderness area in the small community of Switzerland. The butterfly garden there is always buzzing.

I found this orange gulf fritillary (above and top) making the scene... well as this zebra longwing.

And I learned something interesting about the long-tailed skipper, which I showed you in yesterday's post. It seems like a relatively drab brown butterfly -- until you look at its body. You can see a hint of its coloring in the photo above. The body and head are bright, iridescent blue. I've been seeing these butterflies practically my whole life but I had no idea they were hiding blue lingerie underneath their brown overcoats.

When I picked up Mom's new socks yesterday, I also bought Target gift cards for the two beauticians who work in the salon at her retirement community. They still deserve more -- possibly a humanitarian Nobel Prize -- after Mom's extreme mani/pedi experience. But gift cards are the best I can do.

Mom and I ate lunch in the small dining room in her unit. (I offered to take her to the main cafeteria, where she'd been eating before her move, but she said no -- which I take as another sign that she's settled.) To my surprise we sang the national anthem and recited the pledge of allegiance before the meal. I don't know what the heck that was about, unless it's simply a "memory exercise" meant to benefit the patients. Why do I have to declare my allegiance to the United States before I'm permitted to eat my roast beef au jus and peach cobbler? Then they put on some Frank Sinatra, and I was fine with that. As I told Mom, "Frank Sinatra makes everything better!"

As you can imagine, eating at a table in the memory unit is a strange experience. People don't say much, and when they do, it often doesn't quite make sense. Conversation is limited, to say the least!

Last night, my stepsister and her husband drove up from Tampa and visited. We went back to our favorite riverfront restaurant...

...and once again I had the crab cakes. I'm in a Florida rut!

Now, my work here is done, at least for the time being. I'm taking to the air at 2:40 p.m. this afternoon -- back to Atlanta and then on to London, where I'll arrive tomorrow morning. Mom is settled and seems happy, and thank goodness for that. We'll visit her once more this morning after breakfast.

I just have to try to get everything back in my suitcase. I'm not taking much additional stuff home -- just two boxes of family slide photos, a tablecloth I brought Mom years ago from Madagascar, and a pig-shaped wooden cutting board she made at summer camp as a girl. (Even though another cutting board is the last thing we need.) You know that expression, "When pigs fly!" Well, this one will be.

I can't wait to get back to sleeping in my own bed!

Friday, September 27, 2019

Watching the Wildlife

Well, we got the Tina Turner nails taken care of yesterday. I know Mom appreciated getting rid of them. Afterwards she kept looking at her hands and saying, "Oh, that's wonderful!"

We'd made a single morning appointment for a mani/pedi and to have her hair cut, but as it turned out, we needed a second visit for the pedicure. So we went back in the afternoon. The beauticians said they're going to put Mom on a regular schedule and coordinate it with the staff in her memory care unit, so her nails won't get so out of control. Let me just say they deserve a medal. I think I seriously am going to buy them each a gift card or something.

Mom and I spent most of the day together. After the beauty shop we went to lunch at the cafeteria, and then sat on a bench by the river, where we saw this long-tailed skipper butterfly (above). We also saw a red-bellied woodpecker, some titmice, a yellow-throated warbler and a yellow sulphur butterfly. Mom used to be really into birds, and although she's lost interest in recent years -- I think she can't remember all their identities -- I pointed them out and she watched them.

I also went to Target and bought her some new bedsheets, as well as a stuffed alligator that now sits on her bed. It's a completely ridiculous gift for an 82-year-old woman, but was so cute I couldn't pass it up.

My brother and I were driving through her complex the other day when we came upon this guy and his dog, and I had to take a picture through the windshield. How is it possible for one man and one tiny dog to occupy the entire roadway?! The man didn't realize we were behind him, so we had to inch along for several minutes before he finally reeled in that yappy critter and we could pass. We didn't want to beep the horn. We were afraid he might die.

One of the items we came across in Mom's apartment is this quilt, which was made many decades ago by my great-grandmother. Pretty amazing, isn't it? All those little cloth bits no doubt came from discarded, repurposed articles of clothing.

Several of Mom's neighbors around her old apartment have approached me and my brother to ask about her. Apparently people knew she was slipping and sort of kept an eye on her, but Mom is a bit of a "lone wolf" (as one of them put it) so she defied close contact. I think they expect us to be sad about having to move her, but honestly, I'm just relieved. I have no doubt she's in a better situation now and she seems to have adapted to the change just fine.

My brother and I have just two more items to get out of her old unit -- a chair and a floor lamp -- and then we're done.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Tina Turner Nails

My brother takes my niece, Jane, to school every morning. She goes to school in downtown Jacksonville at a magnet school, so getting her there is no small feat. They usually stop at a neighborhood cafe for coffee (my brother) and a cookie (Jane) along the way.

On Tuesday, as they drove toward school with me along for the ride, I spotted this incredible shopfront. We went back yesterday morning for photos after dropping off Jane. Isn't that awesome?

And right behind it, parked in a grove of trees... this amazing food truck!

Mom continues to do well. Today she has an appointment at the beauty salon in her retirement center. She is in dire need of a mani/pedi. I think she basically stopped filing her nails at some point, and they're like talons now -- and my mom has never in her life had long fingernails. I keep teasing her about her Tina Turner nails. I told her she either needed to get them painted bright red or we were trimming them back!

Coincidentally, we've taken her to a local diner a couple of times on this trip and both times we've heard a Tina Turner song playing in the background over the restaurant's sound system. I told her, "It's those nails!"

My brother and I spent yesterday continuing to deal with some of Mom's remaining possessions. I make it sound like she has a lot of stuff but she really doesn't. It's just that it requires sorting and the task can be time-consuming. We took some stuff to Goodwill and my brother brought a lot of it to his house. He's painstakingly restoring a lot of Mom's cookware -- which is caked with lime from the terrible water at her retirement center -- by soaking it in vinegar. I had no idea this would work but the pots and pans do come out looking shiny. Like I said yesterday, he's going to store them, maybe for eventual use by Jane when she gets her own apartment in years to come. (She's in eighth grade now so that won't be for a while yet.)

I went to dinner with Mom last night at the little dining room on her memory care unit. I wanted to get a sense of what the other patients are like. They do chat and they seem to interact pretty well, so that was good to see. The food was hardly inspired (gray chicken chow mein and canned spinach, in my case) but it's the same as at the big cafeteria where Mom routinely ate before, so she's fine with it. At least it's easily accessible and nutritious.

I've been so immersed in all this I haven't had time to think about much else. I've barely been in touch with Dave, but he tells me London has had immense amounts of rain. I was shocked to come upon a picture in the Guardian of street flooding right around the corner from our flat! Fortunately our place is up on a hill so I think we've been fine but Dave tells me Olga hasn't wanted to go on her walks in that sorry weather.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019


This is all still working out much better than I'd feared.

Yesterday Mom seemed in a good mood. I think overall she's happy with her new apartment. (And it is a beautiful space, with a window wall and lots of light.) I think the biggest challenge for her may be managing intrusions from the assisted living staff. They'll knock on her door several times throughout the day and she's just not used to that. But she also seems receptive -- yesterday the assistant activities director came and asked if she wanted to go to a piano concert that evening, and to my astonishment Mom said "Yes!" (Hopefully she actually went and didn't back out at the last minute -- I'll find out today.)

She was very bothered that some of her clothes were missing -- my brother left a few business suits back in her closet at the old place, thinking she never wore them and wouldn't miss them. But she knew they were gone -- she kept taking clothes out of the closet and looking at them, and gesturing to the space where the suits were supposed to be. So I went and got them, along with a handful of other things we hadn't brought yet, and she seemed satisfied.

Occasionally, as we sat on the couch, she would utter a spontaneous "Oh, God!" I wondered if she was suddenly being struck by the reality of the situation. Maybe she occasionally has a Talking Heads moment, thinking, "This is not my beautiful house!"

My brother, meanwhile, has been coordinating all kinds of things, like getting her TV running via a forceful phone call to the cable company. He and I also worked on the old place yesterday. Mom had already downsized a lot, but we're paring things down even more -- all her kitchenware, for example, which she won't need since she no longer has cooking facilities. My brother's keeping a lot of it -- he has an attic for storage.

Mom still has the petrified, ancient spices she brought from our old house! I couldn't believe it. These have to be about as old as I am. That rosemary and curry powder are priced at only 49 cents apiece, and the oregano was 31 cents. My brother kept them, at least temporarily.

Here's our old bathroom scale -- also easily as old as I am. The trusty Zero-Matic from Sears, which ironically weighs about 30 pounds all by itself.

It still works -- although I think it may read slightly heavy. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it! I'm usually about 180 pounds.) The fate of the Zero-Matic hasn't been decided, but I'm betting my brother will keep it, sentimental collector that he is.

Last night I finally got a decent night's sleep, too, so that was a blessing which will no doubt help my mood! I think we'll go back and finish cleaning out the old unit today -- and hang out more with Mom, of course.

(Top photo: A morning glory at Castaway Island, on Monday.)

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Move to Memory Care

Well, I'm happy to report that Mom's move went much better than I expected yesterday. (This is possibly because I was being dramatic and expecting complete disaster, but still.)

We'd told Mom the day before that I was going to come over and take her to breakfast. So we showed up at her door at 8 a.m., and she seemed surprised and ill-prepared to go out. The movers were going to show up at 8:30, and we didn't want her to be there when they arrived, so I sort of had to hustle her to get dressed and out the door. I blamed my completely realistic and truthful need for morning coffee STAT, and it all worked out fine.

A blog commenter asked yesterday whether Mom knew she was moving to a new unit. It's hard to say. My brother and I had both discussed it with her. In fact, on Sunday afternoon we made clear it was going to happen. But you can never tell with Mom how much she understands and remembers. She said at one point on Sunday, "I'm not moving!" And then two minutes later she was laughing about something completely unrelated, the whole issue apparently lost in the mists of her mind.

The staff at the retirement center had actually advised us not to tell her -- discussing it, they said, would just cause unnecessary stress and it would all be forgotten anyway. But I felt like we needed to at least have the conversation, maybe just for my own sake, to lessen the sense that I was somehow deceiving her.

So who knows.

Anyway, I took her to breakfast, and knowing I was going to have to keep her entertained all day, we ate a leisurely meal. Then I put her in my rental car and we drove out to Castaway Island, a park on the wide, grassy Intracoastal Waterway that we'd visited a couple of times before. I figured this was a good destination because it was a bit of a drive, and the car travel would eat up more time.

Once there, we walked the boardwalk beneath trees studded with buzzing cicadas. We saw a large osprey in a tree, several orange butterflies (fritillaries, I think, but they didn't stop flying long enough for me to identify or photograph them), an egret fishing for shrimp and a distant roseate spoonbill. We watched crabs in the water beneath the dock. We spent a couple of hours there, altogether -- Mom is physically quite healthy so she was up to it -- and then drove to my brother's house.

We spent the afternoon resting there. My brother, meanwhile, was working with the movers to get Mom's furniture to her new unit and to set it up in a reasonable facsimile of her previous apartment. He did so right down to the pictures on the tables and the items on her nightstand.

Finally, I drove her back to the retirement center and told her we were meeting my brother. I led her to her new building. This is the point at which I was most afraid she would grow suspicious and/or alarmed, but she followed me gamely and just rolled with it when we came in the door and staff members began introducing themselves. When she saw her new apartment, she seemed happy with it -- she walked around a few times looking at things, counting the pictures on the walls and making sure everything was there. Then she sat down and tucked into a box of cookies. My brother and I just looked at each other, amazed at how smoothly it all went.

Of course, there may still be rocky patches. She might not fully comprehend what's happened. Or she might really be fine with it. When she lay on the couch and one of her daytime nurses put a blanket over her, she said, "Oh, I love this!" So let's hope that mood continues!

I didn't stay with her last night as I'd planned -- my brother and I went to dinner and by the time we finished it was too late to go back to Mom's. We'll go over today and see how she's doing.

Monday, September 23, 2019


My brother and I spent part of yesterday watching birds on his backyard feeder. There were chickadees in the morning and tufted titmice (above) in the afternoon.

We also saw a big ol' pileated woodpecker in a tree above his driveway -- its forceful pounding dislodged a dead branch that fell on my brother's recycling bin and scared us. (We were afraid it hit the car.) Doesn't that bird look very punk-rock, with a red mohawk? Or maybe kind of Bowie, with streaky eye makeup.

At my mom's retirement community we saw this white moth on the sidewalk. I think it's either an agreeable tiger moth (Spilosoma congrua) or a fall webworm moth (Hyphantria cunea). I'll be darned if I can tell the difference, especially since I didn't get a good look at its underside. We gingerly moved it off the path and onto some nearby grass.

We took Mom to lunch at Five Guys, where I had a hamburger and fries and a vanilla shake and then felt like I didn't need to eat for the rest of the day! (It was a good burger, though.) Today we'll go back and while I take her out for breakfast and maybe a visit to a park, my brother will supervise her move. We hope to have it all done by the time I bring her back in the afternoon. Fortunately she doesn't have a lot of stuff.

I haven't really blogged about why she's moving. I want to protect my mom's privacy and not go into it too much, but suffice to say that her memory, cognition and communication skills have been failing for a couple of years now. She was fine living on her own until fairly recently, but it's getting to the point where she loses track of time, forgets (or refuses) to take her few medicines, doesn't eat well and shuts herself inside alone. So she's moving to an apartment where she will have some assistance in staying on a schedule and hopefully interacting a little more with people (while maintaining a private residence).

The new unit is smaller than the one she's in now and she won't have a kitchen -- but honestly, she doesn't cook anymore (and shouldn't be cooking) so I'm not sure that will matter. We're going to set it up as similarly to her current place as we can. She's not going to like this change, as I said, but I'm planning to stay with her the rest of the week and I'm hoping that will help her settle in a bit.

As I lay in the hammock in my brother's yard last night, decompressing from yesterday and dreading today, his dog Queens stalked lizards in the bushes. She's obsessed!

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Fromage Deception

I made it to the Sunshine State, via a sunny layover in Atlanta (above). I flew on Delta this time, despite my loyalty to British Airways, because it was easier to get to Jacksonville with Delta -- and it turned out to be a very pleasant flight.

The only slight disappointment came early on, when an attendant came down the aisle with a drinks cart and asked if we wanted "cookies or cheeses" to go with our beverage. I thought, "Fab! I can get a cheese assortment!" I was picturing a little packet with some sliced gruyere, maybe some cheddar, maybe even a blue, with accompanying crackers. So of course I said cheeses -- except they turned out not to be cheeses, but Cheez-Its. Which is not at all the same thing.

At least it gave me an opportunity to laugh with my seatmate, a lanky German kid who looked very tan and seemed like he might be heading somewhere to play tennis, or possibly golf. I never like talking to strangers who sit next to me, but I try to say something, just to break that wall of silence and not seem totally cold and rigid. So we broke it and then ignored each other the rest of the trip. Perfect!

I was pretty exhausted by the time I reached Jacksonville, having traveled something like 17 hours including tube, airport waiting time, and two flights. (Fortunately I had Tim Winton's excellent book "Dirt Music" to accompany me -- I read the whole thing, and also watched perennial crowd-pleaser "Breakfast at Tiffany's" on my transatlantic flight.) My brother picked me up at the airport, and I'm now a guest lodger at his house.

I'll see my mom today, to help prepare for her move to another unit in her retirement center tomorrow. She's not going to like this at all, I predict, but unfortunately it's a necessary step.

I'm pretty sure these next few days aren't going to be pleasant. I hope I'm wrong.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Bathtub With Chicken Bones

I'm off to Florida today, and I still have to pack and get myself to the airport. (Fortunately my flight isn't until about 2 p.m.) So it's a good day for a quick post of some random photos!

I've photographed this woman before. I see her around our neighborhood all the time. She makes her own clothes and has some very interesting fashion sense. Her dresses all seem to follow this basic pattern, but she has quite a few of them in different fabrics.

(This picture is from way back in July. I just never blogged it, probably because it's blurry. But oh well.)

Doesn't this footstool (or pouf or whatever it is) look like a giant squash? Ghostly Olga, reflected in the furniture store window, thinks so.

Some of you liked the unusual dormitories at the University of East London that I blogged last weekend. Here's another view. Like all panos, it's a bit distorted -- the buildings are actually all the same size, and the two pairs face each other at a slight angle, if you can picture that.

No idea what this is about. Some paranoid gibberish, probably.

An interesting letter box in a front door near Childs Hill.

Anybody want a free (slightly extremely used) bathtub?

This tree is on our street, and as you can see it's been positively consumed by that vine. (I think it's a hops vine, as in hops used in beer, but I'm not sure.) I wrote the council to let them know it needs to be cleared but I haven't heard anything back. I have half a mind to do it myself -- I think the tree is doomed otherwise -- but first I'd have to check with the person who lives in the nearest house. For all I know they planted that vine and maybe they like it. And then I wonder, am I being a busybody?

Discarded office furniture, with chicken bones. Urban life!

And finally, a rainbow flag on the path to a nearby shopping center. I have no idea what it's doing there, but it looks pretty bedraggled so I imagine it's been there a while!

Friday, September 20, 2019


Here's another one of my plant rescues. Dave and I went to Waitrose, our local supermarket, several weeks ago and saw this plant, a scabious, looking really sad. It was wilted and many of its long flower stalks were broken. It was the last one, and it had been priced down. So we bought it.

("Scabious," by the way, is kind of a gross name, isn't it? A little too much like scabs or scabies. Well, there's apparently a connection -- it was once believed to be a treatment for scabies and other itchy skin conditions. Hence the name. Who knew?!)

Anyway, I brought it home, potted it up and trimmed it back, and now it's doing great -- so great, in fact, that it's blooming again. I think it will overwinter and come back next year. Fingers crossed!

I don't think I've mentioned it yet, but we have an "innovator in residence" this year at the school where I teach -- Kwame Alexander, a well-known writer of books for children and young adults. He's a great guy and he's pretty much based in the library, so I've been seeing him in action quite a bit. Yesterday he led a workshop with our English teachers in which they wrote and published a poetry book in a single day, and although I wasn't participating, it was fascinating to sit by and see (and hear) the process unfold. Some of the teachers wrote remarkably personal and touching poems. I learned a lot, both about poetry and my colleagues!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Another Main Break

There's another water main break right in front of our house. This has happened several times now. I don't know if there's a particularly weak section of pipe there, or if we just have lousy luck, but we definitely seem to be the epicenter of water repairs on our street.

We first noticed it a few weeks ago when a sinking puddle formed in the middle of the pavement and water began trickling down the gutter. We called to report it, and I know the neighbors called too -- but it took Thames Water a surprisingly long time to finally get here and start to fix it.

Anyway, they're here now, and as you can see they've dug up a good-sized section of road.

I don't know if you can tell from the photo, but our front garden is also ridiculously overgrown. The bushes are obscuring our front window and overhanging the sidewalk. I've notified our property manager that they need a trim (we manage the back garden but the landlord manages the front) -- we'll see whether that has any effect.

A couple of big pieces broke off the christmas cactus at work. (It's now much bigger than it was when I first pictured it here on the blog, so it could afford to lose a couple of branches.) They were already pretty wilted when I noticed them, but I put them in water and brought them home last night. I'll plant them over the weekend and see if I can root them. Supposedly christmas cactuses are easy to root. We'll see!

We're having our first autumnal blast of chilly weather. I went out with the dog yesterday morning, wearing shorts and a thin sweatshirt as usual, and I was freezing by the time we were halfway through our walk. I checked my weather app on my phone and it was 45ยบ F! No wonder I was cold!

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Flowerpot Men and Royal Blue

Last spring, when I posted about walking the Capital Ring through South London, I included a picture of some curious home decorations. Some of you immediately identified them as Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men, who were the subjects of an old children's TV show on the BBC.

Well, when I was walking the last segment through East London over the weekend, I found these two figures on someone's patio. More Bill and Ben! Now at least I understand what they mean!

I just finished a book called "Red, White & Royal Blue." A co-worker bought it at an airport while traveling, and after reading it was conflicted about putting it in the school library collection -- she offered it to me for a second opinion. It's about a college-aged son of a fictional female U.S. president. The son falls in love with a British prince, and the two carry on a clandestine relationship that (of course) is eventually revealed to the public. At the end, as the president fights for re-election despite this revelation, and the prince and first son try to navigate their lives together, I actually got misty-eyed! On one level, it's completely silly, but on another, I found it quite entertaining and optimistic -- and in her afterword the author, Casey McQuiston, says she was motivated to write the book partly to give progressives some hope after the disastrous U.S. election of 2016.

As Booklist said in its review, "In between sweet and steamy love scenes, 'Red, White & Royal Blue' allows readers to imagine a world where coming out involves no self-loathing; where fan fiction and activist Twitter do actual good; and a diverse, liberal White House wins elections. This Blue Wave fantasy could be the feel-good book of the summer."

We added it, despite those steamy love scenes. I think it's fine for an older high school student, particularly at our school, which emphasizes tolerance and inclusion. I wouldn't check it out to anyone under tenth grade, though, and we'll have to be a bit careful because the cover is bright and cartoony and suggests a book for younger readers. The perils of the school librarian!

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Just a Tuesday

The days are drawing in, getting darker and darker. The garden is well past its peak -- one buddleia is still blooming purple among its dead seed heads, one last red-hot poker is slowly fading, the inulas are done, the cardoon is entirely brown and listing to one side. Yesterday I picked a last handful of blackberries for my cereal.

When I mowed the lawn on Sunday I did some trimming and neatening, but I don't want to be too neat. Apparently it's good for bugs and critters to leave some dead and dying plants as winter hideaways. I haven't touched the wildflower area at all -- it's a tangled mess but I'm just going to leave it alone, so all the plants can go to seed and the insects can hunker down.

A few nights ago, while Dave was Skyping with his parents, I went out and sat in the garden in the dark. (I usually join in their Skype calls, but sometimes I like to give them space to catch up on family business more candidly without me there.) I never sit outside at night, for some reason, but it was really nice. The apartment blocks behind us were all lit up, and the sky was a dusky blue. I could even see stars -- not a lot, because it's London and light pollution drowns out everything celestial, but a few.

I've repotted our foxglove seedlings and lined them up atop the old mantelpiece on the patio. The squirrels can't easily get to them there. I'm not sure they're getting enough sun -- that spot is entirely shady -- but I don't know where else to put them so the squirrels can't rough them up.

Dave and I have been watching "Mindhunter" on Netflix. We really like it! I'm trying the second season of "Top of the Lake," too, but I don't like it as much -- it's changed settings from New Zealand to Australia, and now there is no lake, and the main character seems almost like an entirely different person. Where she was firm and certain in the first season, she is shaky and hesitant now. It's very strange. I'll probably stick it out, because I usually do, but I'm waiting for the magic to reoccur.

Oh, and Dave said a bird got into the house yesterday! We leave a living room window cracked open, and apparently a little tit flew in and couldn't get out again. Dave came out of the shower and found it flapping against the glass. Olga, lying on the couch, was completely confused. He opened one of the windows and it flew away unharmed. I've seen birds sit on that window frame before, looking for spiders and other insects that nest there, so I'm not surprised one took a wrong turn and flew inside. This is what happens when there are no window screens!

Monday, September 16, 2019

Early-Bird Special

I had grand plans yesterday to take Olga on an adventurous outing, maybe to Wormwood Scrubs or an even more distant park. But life intervened.

First, when I took Olga on her regular morning walk -- usually just a circle around our neighborhood -- she was like a tightly coiled spring. She had so much energy to unwind that I just couldn't get her to turn back toward home. We wound up walking toward Kilburn and then up through Fortune Green to Childs Hill and THEN back home. It took a couple of hours, and finally, toward the end, her spring was unsprung enough to allow her to relax. (I think she was so wound up because I was out all day Saturday and she got very little exercise.)

I also had a million things to do at home -- cleaning the bathroom, mowing the lawn, doing the laundry. I had to order a birthday present and do some other stuff online, although I was on the computer very little overall. (And I know I still have to catch up on blogs -- sorry!)

Because Olga walked so far in the morning and I frittered away so much of the day on other tasks, our grand plans fizzled and I wound up just taking her to the cemetery in the afternoon. I shouldn't say it like it was a small thing, though -- she chased her Kong and squirrels and generally acted like a lunatic. I don't think she came home disappointed.

I heard the turaco again -- it's still hanging around!

Dave and I went out to dinner on Saturday night with his Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Roger, who are visiting from Michigan. We went to Pied-a-Terre near sunny Goodge Street, and for some reason Dave had us show up a half an hour before the 6 p.m. reservation, which is a crazy time to go to dinner in London. (Even 6 p.m. is ridiculously early.) When we walked in the staff were still vacuuming! But they seated us and we got cocktails and Phyllis and Roger arrived at the appointed hour and dinner was terrific. Phyllis and I had halibut with mussels; Dave and Roger had lamb. I hadn't seen them in five years, since we last visited Michigan for Christmas, and it was good to catch up.

Right now there's a very annoyed squirrel trying to get into our peanut-filled bird feeder. It just can't get to the nuts through the fine wire mesh (obviously designed to repel squirrels). We've shuffled the bird feeders around to deter Roy, and it may have worked -- we haven't seen him recently. But maybe I need to shuffle them some more, before this squirrel does any damage!

(Photos: Geranium leaves in the garden, backlit by morning sun.)

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Hackney Wick to Woolwich

I walked the final two sections of the Capital Ring yesterday, which completes my 78-mile circular journey around London and put me right back where I started last March. Seems like a really long time ago!

Yesterday's portion of the walk started in Hackney Wick, where I picked up the canal towpath and enjoyed fine views and reflections across the relatively still water.

Londoners never miss an opportunity to take advantage of a nice sunny day. (And yesterday's weather was about as close to perfect as a person could want.) There were lots of people out and about, some simply soaking it in like this guy, others biking or running.

The walk left the canal and joined the Greenway, a 6-mile walking path on top of the elevated Northern Outfall Sewage Embankment, a legacy of Joseph Bazalgette's sewer system built in the 1860s and still in use today. It runs from Hackney to Beckton, where the sewage is treated.

The Abbey Mills Pumping Station (above) was built in 1868. It's a lift station, bringing sewage back toward the surface from the gravity-operated system beneath the ground, and apparently it's still used occasionally, though most of the work is done by a more modern facility next door. It's definitely the most amazing, ornate lift station I've ever seen!

Eventually the path reached the Royal Albert Dock, a former shipping basin connected to the Thames. The University of East London, with its groovy dorms (above) is located here, and London City Airport is just across the water. I could watch planes taking off and landing with the skyline of London in the background.

I accidentally veered off the path and passed the ornate Galyons pub, where I decided to stop for lunch.

I'm not usually a cider drinker, but I'd never seen Strongbow's "dark fruit" cider before, so I decided to try it. Not bad! And a beautiful color, too. I asked the bartender if it was a seasonal drink, but he said no -- they stock it because the university students like it.

I rejoined the path and soon found myself at the Thames, walking along the riverfront.

The path got a bit dicey at this point -- overgrown with blackberries and buddleia, and passing behind several large construction sites. I eventually came to a couple of canal locks leading from the river into the shipping basins. The map and Capital Ring signage directed me to walk across the lock arms, but at the King George V lock there were gates closed and padlocked across the path! I couldn't believe it. I had to climb over a chain-link fence to keep going -- and judging from the condition of the fence others have done the same thing. Super annoying!

From there the path went behind some housing estates and through Royal Victoria Gardens until it reached the entrance to the Woolwich Foot Tunnel, a pedestrian tunnel beneath the Thames that opened in 1912. I took the lift down to the tunnel itself and walked a quarter of a mile beneath the river to Woolwich.

In case you're wondering what it's like down there...'s my not-very-dramatic 22-second video. There were only a few other people in the tunnel but a trio of boys with a basketball managed to make a fair amount of noise in that echoey space.

Finally, after walking 9.2 miles, I got to Woolwich -- only to find a carnival going on! I was too exhausted to hang around very long, but I saw some Rajasthani (I think?) musicians and lots of other people marching in a parade around the main square. I caught a Thameslink train that took me straight back to West Hampstead.

And now I can say that I have walked both the 150-mile London LOOP walk (the blue ring) and the 78-mile Capital Ring (the red one, obviously). Whew!