Friday, July 31, 2020

A Scrap of Paper

I'm getting a bit of a late start this morning -- I didn't wake up until 7 a.m.! Usually Olga's thumping her tail around 4:30, eager to get moving, but not today. I guess we all needed some extra rest.

I couldn't get New Blogger to function at all this morning. The screen to compose a post simply would not load. I had to revert to Legacy Blogger to make this post. I don't know if it's our router or Google, but it seems like there may still be bugs in the system.

Yesterday was the most social day Dave and I have had in weeks. One of his former students, Jacob, came over in the morning and sat with us in the garden for a while. He kept a mask on the whole time, even though we were outside and distancing, which was very considerate. Then, in the afternoon, our friend Colin finally came over for our long-awaited socially distanced cocktail date, which we'd postponed twice because of rain. He works with us, so we caught up on some work gossip and talked about how weird it will be to return to work in a few weeks and what the circumstances will be like. (No one really knows beyond the barest of outlines.)

It's very strange to have people come to the house and not be able to shake their hand in greeting or even get very close to them. It makes me feel like a bad host, though of course they don't expect it.

During my walk with Olga yesterday morning, I found this scrap of paper:


That's front and back. Sounds like material ripe for a short story -- a new identity, police, a murder, jail, a tiger coming to tea, and dancing customers. Hmmmm...

(Top photo: From my walk through Kentish Town on Wednesday.)

Thursday, July 30, 2020

It's Only Kent-ish

Dear God, I had to get out of the house yesterday. I don't doubt that my blog has been feeling a bit claustrophobic lately -- garden, dog, garden, dog, rinse, repeat -- because it's an accurate reflection of my life! I really needed to take a walk.

So I hoofed it over to Kentish Town, not too many miles away, and spent several hours taking pictures. (Dave's joke about Kentish Town, which I'm sure I've already told, is that "it's not really Kent. It's only Kent-ish.") I left Olga to the mercy of her dog-walker, and knowing how frustrated -- literally, barking mad -- she sometimes gets when I stop to take pictures, it's just as well.

I didn't stop anywhere along the way -- just walked and walked. I found some quirky street art and some interesting shadows and shopfronts and street life, and I'll post more of those photos in the coming days.

I blogged a canary above, so how about a cat, too? Isn't this a beautiful animal? Kind of a shame it was lying on top of the rubbish bins, rather than posing picturesquely on a flowery windowsill, but oh well. It's a cat -- it knows it doesn't have to please me.

In case any of you just can't live a day without seeing an image from our garden, here's a photo I meant to post a couple of days ago when I was showing you our current crop of flowers. It's a snapdragon, one of several that came up and bloomed again -- two years after I first planted them. They were slow to get going, but they're pretty durable!

Other than my walk, yesterday was pretty uneventful. We're watching the third season of "Bosch" and I had to go back and watch the first episode of the season again, because I just wasn't following a couple of plot points. Dead guy in a camper, dead guy in an apartment, potential new romantic interest, spy cameras, dead graffiti artist/hustler, and remnants of last season that never seemed to get resolved. My head was spinning. I think I've got it more or less figured out now.

The New York Times had yet another article about whether the USA should get rid of pennies. Do you know it costs 2 cents to make every penny? The government actually loses money on the scheme. I have no idea why they're still in production -- and the same is true in the UK, where they are equally useless. (In fact here we've got an additional useless coin, the two-pence piece.) Sixty percent of them are used only once before being abandoned in jars or discarded. I think we ought to round everything up or down to the nearest nickel. But the last time this idea got bandied about in the UK, the tabloids ran headlines saying "Save our coppers!" Somehow a sentimental attachment to an antiquated symbol always wins the day.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Burdock and Blackberry

Some of you may be wondering (no?) whatever happened to those burdock plants I grew from seed last year.

Well, here's an update. Some of them, as you can see above, have sent up stalks and bloomed, with their little velcro golf-ball seed pods.

The blooming plants are three or four feet tall.

Some of them held off blooming and instead formed a bigger leaf base. I assume these will bloom next year. Interesting that they've waited.

Why burdock? Well, I just like the plants. I see them when I'm out walking pretty much anywhere in the countryside, and I always thought those giant leaves were quite impressive. Apparently they're good for some insects. I'm glad to have grown them -- an interesting experiment. Hopefully they'll re-seed so we'll see more in future years.

Yesterday was also blackberry bonanza! I picked everything I could reach on our blackberry vines. (There are still plenty more berries up top, out of my reach, for the wildlife.) I don't think we've ever had such a productive year. Dave immediately made...

...a blackberry cobbler, and we still have plenty left over for cereal.

I finished "The Overstory" by Richard Powers yesterday, which I loved. It's a novel about environmental activists in the '90s who are trying to prevent the logging of old-growth forests, like the tree-sitters and Earth First! activists who were in the news in those days. More broadly, it's about humankind's relationship with trees. It's a great book.

Did you hear about Donald Trump's assertion that he was scheduled to throw the first pitch for the New York Yankees at a game in August? It took both the White House and the Yankees by surprise, as he wasn't scheduled to do so at all. Apparently he simply couldn't stand the idea of Dr. Anthony Fauci throwing the first pitch at a game that day, so he decided to steal some of Fauci's limelight. The man is such a child -- and a dangerous child, to boot.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Midsummer Garden Flowers

We had quite a bit of rain yesterday, and I could practically hear the garden sigh in appreciation. I've always loved the way the rain beads on the leaves of the lady's mantle (above).

We've got quite a few midsummer flowers coming into bloom now.

The lobelia had been overshadowed by a giant weed for much of the spring -- I was waiting to see what it was before I pulled it up. (Turned out to be a great willowherb.) I finally removed it from the pot and the lobelia bounced back and bloomed as usual.

The passionflower has put out lots of blossoms... has the agapanthus.

This dianthus is from a couple of years ago -- it was looking pretty rough this spring so I cut it back, and now it's come out with fresh growth and new flowers. I thought these were annuals but this one just keeps chugging along.

The red-hot pokers have sent up several flower stalks.

In terms of non-floral news, there isn't much. I was home all day yesterday. I gave the bathrooms a deep cleaning, which they needed, and read a lot of "The Overstory." I also watched the rest of Netflix's "Snowpiercer" -- I waited to finish it because Dave didn't really like it, so I had to find time outside our normal TV viewing schedule. I think he missed out, but then, he didn't like "The Wire" either.

There's still no sign of my t-shirt from the states. This is the last entry on the mail tracking:

As far as I know, no one came to the door on the 23rd, nor have I been notified of anything. Why didn't they try to redeliver it on Friday, or yesterday? I suspect they didn't deliver it at all and it's actually being held in customs -- but who knows.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Caught in the Rain

The forecast didn't call for rain yesterday, so I felt reasonably confident setting out with Olga for a walk in the early afternoon. Sure, the sky was a bit gray, but gray clouds don't always mean rain, right?

Wrong. At least in this case.

We were caught in a downpour at the cemetery, and forced to take shelter under a tree (there was no lightning!) until it slackened enough for us to walk to the chapel and wait it out under a real roof. It's interesting how dry we were under the tree. Those leaves really do block a lot of moisture from reaching the ground.

After a while the rain stopped and we were able to finish our walk. We saw some critters along the way, like this poor bedraggled gatekeeper butterfly. It has definitely seen better days!

This hoverfly was mopping up nectar from a flower...

...and this common blue butterfly was flitting among the thistles.

And that's literally all I did yesterday of any interest. Ho hum. Again.

Remember how we were having a friend over on Saturday? Well, we cancelled because of the rain -- we wanted to have drinks in the garden. And then we cancelled yesterday too. Hopefully at some point we'll have a dry evening so we can make that plan happen!

Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Fingers of Tutankhamun

Olga and I went for a walk to the cemetery yesterday morning, and I noticed they've been mowing. I think the cemetery people try to strike a balance between encouraging wildlife and keeping things tidy, but I don't know why they mow in the middle of summer, rather than letting the long grass stay through the season for the benefit of insects. They did at least leave the ragwort, in case (I assume) any cinnabar moths have laid their eggs on it.

I took this picture on my iPhone, which seems as good a reason as any to post another round of random iPhone pictures!

I love this mosaic Welsh dragon on the floor of the entrance to a dry cleaner's around the corner. Even the dragon wants social distance.

This discarded birthday card made me laugh!

King Tutankhamun's fingers?

An interesting box discarded outside a pharmacy. Quite a supply of meds, there!

Some nice slanting summer-afternoon light on our living room wall.

Remember the tree-in-a-bag? Well, it has remained in a bag, and not only leafed out but produced apples! Apparently it's perfectly happy to grow that way, at least for now. Soon after I took this photo someone picked the fruit.

This vase sits in the window of a nearby home-builder's office. I dig it. If I found it at a flea market I'd buy it.

A closed shop from the days of yore. Funny how they painted out the word "Hollywood" but they left behind the videos and dvds? (Neither of which should have apostrophes, I'm pretty sure.)

And finally, a weirdly specific delivery van on the high street. Avocados are trendy, but I'm surprised there's sufficient demand to require their own van!

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Mysterious Rainbows and a Crabapple

The other day Dave and I were doing something in the kitchen when I noticed these funky rainbows on our walls. They were created by some glass prisms we have hanging in the living room window. The interesting shadows were cast when the light passed through Dave's tree fern.

Pretty cool, huh?

Yesterday felt a bit frustrating. I've never thought of myself as a person prone to boredom -- I can usually find something to keep myself entertained. But I am officially getting really sick of hanging around the house. Even though I'm reading a good book ("The Overstory" by Richard Powers) I was feeling very confined.

Taking a walk didn't seem appealing because I've walked all the neighborhoods around here so many times, and yet I need exercise. So I made myself take a half-hour stroll.

I checked the once-viney tree, where the suffocating hops vine -- dare I say it -- appears to be officially dead. I haven't seen any sprouts for a couple of weeks. I also picked one of the little red fruits to finally determine what kind of tree it is. I've been calling it an ornamental cherry, but after cutting open that fruit, I decided it is, in fact, a crabapple. What do you think?

I went to the grocery store to pick up a few things -- continuing to wear my mask, since as of yesterday, they're mandatory in shops. (Although some shops say they won't enforce the rule.) Then I came home and mowed the lawn. Ho hum.

This evening we're supposed to have a friend from school over for drinks -- our first houseguest since all this virus stuff began back in March. Maybe that will make me feel less confined.

Adding to my frustration, I ordered a new t-shirt on June 21 from the USA. That shirt has been, shall we say, on a slow boat. I've been following the tracking, and its journey has been halting and circuitous. It was mailed from Santa Ana, Calif., on July 3, and it floated around Los Angeles for eight days before being flown to London -- and then, peculiarly, it seems to have gone back to New York. It is now theoretically in London again, having departed JFK on July 17. Apparently the postman tried to deliver it at 7 a.m. (!) on Thursday morning, but Dave was asleep and I must have been walking the dog. I saw all this on the tracking history but I didn't get any kind of delivery notice from the postman. Still, I put in a redelivery order for Monday. Let's see what happens.

I would blame Trump's subversion of the U.S. postal service, but clearly the Royal Mail bears some responsibility too.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Seventh Grade Macramé

Just a few days ago I wrote about the annoying carpet of walnut detritus that, with the help of hungry squirrels, accumulates under our walnut tree every morning. No sooner had I pressed publish on that post than the walnut bombing stopped, all of a sudden. I think they've stripped the tree of every edible nut.

Our nasturtiums apparently dropped seeds a couple of years ago in and around a hydrangea in the front flower bed. In early spring, Dave moved the hydrangea to a big pot, and rooting around in the soil activated the nasturtium seeds, which sprouted. We moved them to their own pot in a sunny location, and now we have our first flower!

The plants have a little aphid problem, but yesterday morning a ladybird (ladybug) larva was on duty, cleaning them up.

We also finally have some flowers coming on our sweet peas. It's been months since I planted the seeds. I was about to give up on them but they're coming through.

Olga, formerly stained with walnut juice, is now stained with blackberry juice, which she picks up on her fur while charging through the underbrush after her Kong. (Or squirrels.) She's an even more colorful dog than usual!

Yes, that's me, in seventh grade -- the one school year that probably most of us would love to forget. I'm posting this picture because blogger Miss Edna recently mentioned crocheting necklaces, and that reminded me of this macramé necklace I made in the late 1970's. My stepmother, a macramé practitioner who made elaborate creations including plant hangers and a wine rack, got my stepbrother into it, and I learned it from him. Soon both of us were making our own knotted chokers with little beads. I think my younger brother and stepsister made some too. I can't remember where those beads came from -- probably some place in the mall. The middle bead was supposed to be shaped like a very abstract dove.

This photo is one of the ones my stepmother mailed me several weeks ago. It obviously spent many years in a frame and it's very faded, but it's the only copy I have of this particular portrait, which I never liked. (What is up with my hair? It looks like I hadn't washed it in a week. Which is possible.) I'm sure my mom has better copies stuck in a drawer somewhere.

Wasn't I just quite the little hipster?

Thursday, July 23, 2020

The Nine Lives of Totoro

Yesterday, a squirrel completely altered the course of my day.

Not that the day had much direction to begin with. I spent most of the morning working in the garden and then reading. But as I sat with my book on the garden bench, I heard our ceramic Totoro bell give a noisy rattle and saw a squirrel run past it up the walnut tree, leaving it swinging from its stub of a branch.

The squirrel sat in a notch in the tree, unmoving, for several minutes. I knew it was up to something. Sure enough, as I watched, it ran back down the tree, grabbed Totoro (!), and carried it up the tree before freaking out and flinging it from a high limb. Totoro hit the ground and exploded like a grenade.

Something told me to intervene when that squirrel was sitting there mischievously. I should have listened to my instincts.

Totoro has been knocked from his perch many times, and he's even been broken before. Some critter stole his bell clapper, and I fashioned a new one out of a green plastic bead I found on the ground at the cemetery. So he's already been through a lot.

This time, I thought he might be toast.

But because we got him in Shanghai and he's a precious souvenir (not to mention a forest spirit), I walked up to Homebase to buy more Gorilla Glue in an attempt to repair him. (I got a flowerpot for our new rudbeckia as well.) I came home and sat at the dining room table, piecing him together, and voila:

The nine lives of Totoro!

(After I took this photo, I wired him to the tree, hopefully reducing the chances of future squirrel mischief.)

And once again, my fingers are covered with dry scaly patches of Gorilla Glue, which is driving me crazy. I don't know why I can't glue something together without also gluing myself.

(Top photo: A gatekeeper butterfly on ragwort at the cemetery a few days ago.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Naked, and a Starling Squabble

When Dave, Olga and I walked in the cemetery over the weekend, we came across this rather peculiar tableau on a gravestone. I like how one of the middle doll's high heels is in the little plastic plant. It's like they've all had a wild night out and have only just awakened in the street, naked.

Perhaps the person in that grave was known for being a partier.

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of our civil union, but we've deferred our celebration until we can figure out what we want to do. Dave is still wary of going out to restaurants, which would be our first choice. We're looking at options for having dinner delivered or finding a swanky place where we can eat outside.

Instead, we had a pretty quiet day, spent mostly reading, both online and not. I'm reading a novel called "The Overstory," focused on humanity's relationship with trees, and it's very good. I also noodled around online with the Wayback Machine -- an internet archive that stores old web pages. Have you ever experimented with it? If you ever want to find an old web site that has been removed or no longer exists, or an old version of an existing web site, it may well be stored on the Wayback Machine.

For example, here is an archived version of my blog from 2007, showing the old minimalist page design, my old blog links and the posts I was blogging at the time. Such a time warp! If you have a blog, you can look yours up as well using this link. Just enter your blog's (or any site's) URL on that page.

Francisco, Olga's dog walker, has been away for the past week but he returned yesterday. I'd like to say that Olga was excited to see him again, but honestly, she always leaves us reluctantly to go on her walks. She would much prefer to stay with "her pack." It's kind of embarrassing. Francisco tries so hard to win her over.

I made a little video to show you the starling madness that has descended on our bird feeder and bird bath. They are squabbly little birds! (I zoomed in on them about halfway through so you could see them better.)

Last May, Dave and I went over to our friend Lisa's house to help her and her fiance Xan clean up their new garden. At the time I brought them some hollyhock seedlings. Well, Lisa sent us a photo a week or two ago:

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! Why do their hollyhocks grow and prosper when ours are still runty little things with four leaves?!

(Actually, I think I know the answer to that question. I think it's sun. All ours are planted in places that are partially shady, and I think hollyhocks would prefer to bake. Lisa's garden is sunnier than ours.)

In any case, at least I know the plants are capable of producing flowers. I'm planning to relocate a few of ours and we'll see if we can do better next year.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020


Once again, my mornings are consumed by picking up fallen detritus from our walnut tree. I wrote about this last year, with virtually the same photo, so I guess I don't need to repeat myself. Suffice to say it's a challenge to keep the lawn clean and comfortable for walking. (And I am not a neat freak when it comes to lawns, believe me. My standards are pretty low!)

What I didn't mention last year is the way the walnuts stain Olga's belly when she lies on them. She's got a whole new layer of light brown spots. She looks sort of unwashed, but even baths don't remove walnut juice.

Remember how I recently mentioned seeing a blackbird eating our blackberries? Well, yesterday this bird landed and snarfed down a berry right in front of me. But I belatedly realized it's not a blackberry -- it's a mulberry, from Mrs. Kravitz's tree next door. The bird, despite its coloring, is -- I believe -- a blackbird, in the process of losing its juvenile brown plumage and turning darker.

There are lots of young birds out and about now. We had a noisy clutch of baby dunnocks in the forsythia bush by our bedroom door, and they seem to have vacated the nest just within the last day or two. We've seen some out in the garden that seem very young and oblivious, and I suspect they're from that nest. There were also some sparrows nesting under the eaves of the house, and they're on their own now, too.

Not that leaving the nest is easy. Yesterday I watched another adolescent blackbird tailing its parent, loudly complaining for food, but the mother -- who was carrying a berry like the one above -- refused to hand it over. She was trying to force her teenager to fend for itself, I suppose. Tough love!

I ran some errands yesterday afternoon, including buying more suet balls for the bird feeder. The starlings are nuts for suet balls. They consume them by the pound, and then take noisy, energetic baths in the bird bath. And then Olga drinks the water, which we call "bird juice." It's all very entertaining.

While at Homebase I also picked up this Rudbeckia (above). We bought one last year and it didn't survive the winter. Perhaps we'll be luckier this time around!

Dave and I finally finished the German TV show "Dark," on Netflix, last night. It's a very complicated show involving time travel and travel between parallel worlds, a huge number of characters (all with older and younger versions of themselves), and then duplicate identical characters in the parallel worlds. It's all about the structure of time and reality. As I said to someone, it's like a soap opera written by Einstein and produced by Nietzsche. I kept telling Dave -- when I wasn't asking "Who is he again?" or "Is she the same character as that girl in the previous episode?" -- it seemed very German. It was really good, but I found I had to let go of many of the details and let the story carry me along. It came together at the end, more or less.