Sunday, July 25, 2021

Bon Voyage to Dave

After I posted the photo of the crocosmia buds the other day, one of my commenters mentioned that he wanted to see it when it bloomed. So here it is, with some of our hydrangea bushes in the background. This crocosmia is a popular variety called "Lucifer."

Here's a picture that might be a little clearer.

And here's some other garden stuff going on right now:

Our purple sage, a variety called "Amistad," is blooming.

Quite a bit of this has appeared alongside the cornflowers in the wildflower bed. It's called pale flax (Linum bienne) and I assume it came from that wildflower seed mix I sowed.

The spiny flowers of the burdock are blooming.

And speaking of spiny, here's a seed pod growing on the jimsonweed. It's approaching the size of a ping-pong ball.

I just saw Dave off on his trip to the USA -- a car came at 6 a.m. to fetch him and take him to the airport. (This is the difference between me and Dave. When I went to Heathrow, I took the tube. Dave called a car service! I'm a cheapskate, but Dave doesn't have a problem spending money to be comfortable.)

As I mentioned before, he'll be gone three weeks, at a professional development event in Texas, visiting family in Michigan, and going to Drum Corps finals in Indianapolis. I believe this will be the longest we've been apart since we got married 11 years ago! I felt like my own two-week trip was pretty long, so I can't imagine how he'll feel after this one.

Olga was nervous when the suitcase came out. I think she's relieved that I'm still here.

Meanwhile, I'm going to have to re-learn how to feed myself, since Dave usually does all the cooking. I'm seeing a lot of peanut butter in my immediate future.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

White Teasels

The teasels have started putting forth their tiny blossoms -- and all of our large teasels appear to be blooming white, which means they're probably descended from the ones we planted several years ago. Those had white flowers too. All the wild-type teasels I've seen around London are purple.

So, more of the same yesterday. I read, did some light housework and spent time in the garden, where the temperatures have cooled. It's 61º F out there now (16º C) and rainy. I'm staying inside.

At least Olga had some high-quality garden time yesterday:

As you can tell, things were quieter -- the jackhammers weren't going for some reason. One of the Russian boys upstairs was whooping it up, though.

I am so sick of this quarantine. Today I'll take my Day 8 test, and assuming it's negative, I'll be set free on Tuesday. You never really realize how long ten days is until you have to stay home all that time, not even going out to the store. At least during last year's lockdown I did the grocery shopping and made occasional runs to the gardening center!

Friday, July 23, 2021

Jackhammer Summer

Another day in the garden. This hoverfly landed to rest on some crocosmia buds...

...and one of our gazanias offered up a big, beautiful blossom.

It was kind of noisy around here yesterday. There's some utility work going on (again) on the streets surrounding our flat -- something about installing fiber-optic broadband -- so there are jackhammers and all manner of groaning equipment rumbling around.

Dave and I always joke that whenever we try to have a quiet moment in the garden, something disrupts it -- Mrs. Kravitz's gardeners begin mowing her lawn, or the gardeners for the neighbor on the other side bring out the hedge trimmers, or a police helicopter starts circling overhead, or someone fixing up a nearby apartment starts running a power saw. (All of this has happened within the last few days.) Evidence that although we have a fairly bucolic back garden, we do in fact live in a big city.

I was telling Dave yesterday that I haven't seen many butterflies this summer -- only cabbage whites and, as I recall, one peacock and one common blue. I wondered if the dramatic weather about ten days ago, when I was in Florida but there was flash flooding in London, affected them. Not long after I said it, we saw a red admiral flutter past, so maybe they're around after all. (We're supposed to have more dramatic rain this weekend. Fortunately, Dave and I live on a hill.)

When I walked Olga yesterday morning we came across this guy, who owns a garage up the street. Evidently he's trying to remove the "No Parking" sign from the pavement, and rather than paint over it, he's trying to hammer it off. That seems like a lot of work, not to mention potentially damaging to the pavement. Does this mean he's going to let people park there now?

The NHS only called me once yesterday!

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Cornflower and Inula

Holy cow, did I sleep well. I just got up about half an hour ago and I'm still kind of dazed. I must be catching up after all my traveling and jet lag. Despite the fact that we have no air conditioning and the daytime temperatures have been pretty warm, at night they're almost perfect, especially when accompanied by the soft white noise of the whirring fan.

More flowers today, because that's basically my ENTIRE LIFE at the moment. Our first cornflower opened (above).... did our first inula.

Our upstairs neighbors, the Russians, have been wrestling with getting a small leak in the roof repaired. You may remember that they hired one team of roofers who did some shoddy work and abandoned a ladder. Well, yesterday another couple of guys came, and they tried to use the abandoned ladder to reach the roof -- and finding that it was too short, they simply left again. They were here for ten minutes, tops.

No word on whether they're returning or whether they have their own ladder (one would think), but we're told they may need to erect another scaffold. Argh!

Dave, meanwhile, is preparing for a journey of his own. He's leaving Monday for a teaching conference in Texas, a visit with his family in Michigan and Drum Corps finals in Indianapolis. He'll be gone three weeks, right up until the start of the new school year in mid-August. I think he has mixed feelings about traveling now, given the high Covid infection rates both here and in the USA, but as I've told him, we have to live our lives. And he is vaccinated, so even if he catches Covid, God forbid, he shouldn't be severely affected.

It makes me nervous even to say that, but we can't hide out forever. Right?

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Day Lilies and White Privilege

I finally caught one of our day lilies in bloom. They're buried so deep in the underbrush of our garden that they're almost impossible to see. This clump by the bird bath gets the most light and I believe it's the only one that has a flower. One of the many tasks on my someday-I'll-get-to-it list is to liberate our day lilies from the twilight darkness in which most of them live, either by moving them or pruning the plants around them.

I showed you the bud of our pink dahlia a few days ago -- here it is in full flower.

I had a relatively low-key day yesterday. I got two calls from the NHS wanting to know the results of my Day 2 post-travel Covid test. Unfortunately those results didn't come until 1:30 this morning (negative), so no doubt they'll be calling again today to follow up. I honestly don't mean to complain about this NHS contact, because I understand the need for it, but I wonder why they call me so often. Wouldn't once a day, or once every two days, be sufficient?

Then again, the NHS is the only excitement I get at the moment.

I'm reading an interesting book called "Life of a Klansman: A Family History in White Supremacy," by Edward Ball. It traces the life of the author's ancestors -- one in particular -- in 19th century Louisiana, bringing to life the racism and violence of the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. I've found it quite illuminating, and also painful -- I come mostly from Southern ancestors myself, and it's not difficult to imagine them holding similar attitudes to Ball's. I have never heard, though, that my relatives joined the Ku Klux Klan, as Ball's did -- and I'm still unclear on the extent to which my family owned slaves. They were farmers, and somewhat prosperous, but they weren't wealthy.

One thing I like about the book, though, is its insistence that we consider the effects of our racist past on the structure of our current society. While I was in Florida I had a discussion/argument with my brother-in-law about white privilege, and how I understand that although I personally try to hold racially progressive views, I have benefitted from wealth and opportunities accrued by my ancestors through the labor and oppression of black workers. And I recognize that while I can link no specific incidents to my family, anti-black violence is part of my heritage.

For example, Ball relates the story of a brutal attack by white supremacists, including his great-great grandfather Constant, on a political gathering at Mechanics Hall in New Orleans in 1866:

It is not a distortion to say that Constant’s rampage 150 years ago helps, in some impossible-to-measure way, to clear space for the authority and comfort of whites living now — not just for me and for his fifty or sixty descendants, but for whites in general. I feel shame about it. That is not a distortion, either. I am an heir to Constant’s acts of terror. I do not deny it, and the bitter truth makes me sick at the stomach.

Whites are my people, my tribe. They were Constant’s people, his tribe. In that way he belongs to us, and to hundreds of millions. I know the honest way to regard race violence is this: American history is full of it. It is pandemic. The United States was founded upon racial violence. It is within the core of our national identity.

Here is a way not to see these events: The marauders like Constant are immoral, abject and bad people. They are not like us, they belong to someone else. 
It is truer to say this: the marauders are our people, and they fight for us.

I think that pretty succinctly summarizes the concept of white privilege. I would add -- not to deny but to more broadly acknowledge that privilege -- that while the American South elevated racial violence to extreme levels, we are hardly the only country or society to oppress, or benefit from that oppression.

It's also interesting how little I know about some of these events. I know Reconstruction was a violent period, but I don't ever remember hearing about the Mechanics Hall riots, in which hundreds of people were killed, wounded and arrested (mostly black, many of them attacked simply because they happened to be on the street at that time). It makes me realize the blind spots in my own knowledge. Was I just not paying attention in history class, or did we not talk in detail about episodes like this?

Anyway, it's a thought-provoking book.

Here's one more garden picture. Our wildflower seedlings, which I planted several weeks ago, have finally grown to a respectable size, and some of them are about to bloom. It looks like a few blue cornflowers made it after all!

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Lilies, Foxgloves and Datura

We have a couple of blooming stargazer lilies in the flower bed near the back door. Getting a photo of them is always tricky because they point downward, and they're in a relatively inaccessible place, being surrounded by densely planted foliage. But they're having a good year.

I spent quite a bit of time in the garden yesterday -- not surprising since I can't leave the property. I finally repotted and planted out some of our foxglove seedlings:

I put seven of them straight into the ground, and another six into bigger pots. I have several trays still to deal with. I hope I can give some of them away at work. Foxglove overload!

The teasels should be blooming very soon. Those spiky seed heads will be surrounded by a ring of purple (or white) flowers.

And here's our jimsonweed, blooming away. It has several more buds and already there's a spiny seed head in the middle of the plant (jimsonweed or datura is also known as "thorn apple," apparently).

I got called by the NHS twice yesterday. I missed their first call while digging in the garden but picked up on the second, and a guy ran through essentially the same script the other three had used the day before: Am I isolating at home, did I take my Day 2 test, etc. Am I going to get multiple calls per day?!

Monday, July 19, 2021

Keeping to Myself

On my walk back from the tube on Friday morning, I noticed that the former Nam's Heel Bar now features some new street art, courtesy of artist Nathan Bowen. I wanted to go back and shoot it in full sun, but since I'm isolating, this will have to do.

Yesterday I got called three times by people from the NHS following up on my after-flight procedures -- making sure I isolate and take my Day 2 test, for example. They all followed the same script. Why I got three calls is anyone's guess. I suppose being thorough is better than being lackadaisical.

I was under the impression that my isolation might end early because, as of today, British residents traveling from amber-list countries (like the United States) don't have to isolate at all. But no! The NHS folks tell me that because I entered the country before the new rules took effect this morning, I have to isolate the full ten days. I asked them how that could possibly be true, what scientific justification might exist for such a policy, and they couldn't tell me. We are not amused.

Nonetheless, I took my Day 2 test yesterday like a good little peasant, and Dave will mail it off for me today.

I suppose I shouldn't be too resentful -- England has good reason to be cautious, given that case numbers are exploding here and I was traveling through Florida, which is having a Covid burst of its own. And yet, the UK is opening up more as of today. Inconsistent, you say?

OK, I'll stop being grumpy.

This is how I spent yesterday, lying in the garden and reading next to Olga. Temperatures were projected to hit almost 90º F (32º C) but although it felt warm, it didn't feel oppressively hot like Florida did. I could stand to be outside without suffering.

I got some little tasks done in the garden -- there's always more to do -- and I put out our old, rusty barbecue grill and old vacuum cleaners for collection by the council, as arranged before I left. They're still sitting in front of the house, last I checked, but they should vanish any time.

Oh, and I almost neglected to recognize a major anniversary for me and Dave. Ten years ago on July 14, we first arrived in London, lugging five large suitcases and intent on making new lives. Who could have foreseen all that would follow? My library job, Olga, walks on Hampstead Heath, our garden, travel to places as diverse as China and the Seychelles, Covid -- ten years ago seems like a long time.

Sunday, July 18, 2021


Our dahlias are hitting their stride. The Bishop's Children variety is blooming like crazy, and the plants are bushy and healthy with their coppery leaves. A hoverfly is lingering on this particular blossom.

Our red dahlia, a variety known as Gallery Valentin, is also looking good.

Our pink one, though, is getting off to a slow start. The plant, which I bought just last year, was small for most of the spring and it's finally put out a few buds, but it's not exactly vigorous. Maybe some dahlias come through winter storage better than others?

Not much happened yesterday. I am, of course, still in quarantine, so it was mostly a matter of pottering around the garden and doing housework. I cleaned out the refrigerator at lunchtime -- Dave had several science experiments going in my absence.

I realized I have to take my Day 2 Covid test today -- the day I arrived is day zero, according to the testing company -- and I was concerned yesterday morning because I didn't have it yet! The company hadn't mailed me a test. I checked their communication and they said it would be dispatched for arrival on Day 2, which seemed to me to be cutting it close. So I e-mailed them just to be sure, and they said it was in fact out for delivery -- and sure enough it showed up at the door a couple of hours later. Even though it's a PCR, it's a nose-and-throat swab just like the rapid antigen tests I usually take. So I'll get that done today and mailed off tomorrow.

I had a terrible time sleeping last night. I couldn't go to sleep until 1:30 a.m. (which is 8:30 p.m. Florida time) and the dog had me up at 5:30 this morning. I am going to be like the walking dead until this jet lag passes.

Saturday, July 17, 2021


This is the scene that greeted me when I returned home yesterday and looked out the back door. Crazy, right? A wall of green! I don't remember the garden ever looking so dense and lush. We can barely even see the buildings around us.

The teasels, in the center of the frame just behind the barely-visible birdbath, are huge. They must be ten feet high and they have at least a dozen flower heads apiece. Allowing those to grow -- they appeared on their own, from seed -- has really created a showstopper.

Here's the scene from another angle -- the back of the garden looking toward the house, along what is normally a narrow path between two flower beds. As you can see, the plants have encroached on the path to such a degree that Dave didn't even try to mow it the last time he mowed the lawn. There's red persicaria to the left, a large burdock to the right and beyond that, another teasel.

Olga is so happy to lie in the sun. I love how she's perfectly using the leaves to shield her eyes.

I've been calling this lamb's ear (above) but apparently it's actually a species of Verbascum, commonly known as great mullein or Aaron's rod. It grew wild, with no encouragement from us, and sent up a big flower spike. Now it's blooming yellow. 

Our jimsonweed, or datura, is blooming too. Even though it's in a pot and sitting up on a table, something's eating the leaves -- but it's a tough plant so it will be fine. Out of that entire packet of jimsonweed seeds I bought, we got only one plant. The others never sprouted.

On the front porch, the snapdragons are doing their thing.

As long as we're talking about the garden, I have some exciting news. I've mentioned the weekly BBC show "Gardener's World" here on the blog many times. Dave and I love it and have been loyal viewers for years. Last year -- in order to develop content during the lockdown -- the producers invited viewers to make videos of their own gardens and submit them to the show, and this year they've continued that feature. Each episode normally features two or three viewer videos.

Well, just before I left for Florida, Dave and I pulled together a video of our garden and sent it in, talking about how we've allowed many so-called "weeds" to grow and had some luck creating wildlife and insect habitat. The BBC asked for additional footage, which Dave shot while I was away, and now they've slated us to appear on a future "Gardener's World" episode -- number 19, to be specific. Woo hoo!

Nothing is final yet -- I get the sense that this could all change at any minute -- but apparently they've re-edited our video which is a good sign.

Dave is going to be in the states when that show airs in a couple of weeks, so I hope he'll have access there. We'll let our friends know closer to the date -- you're getting the news before anyone else. And yes, Olga is in the video too.

Can you believe it -- our garden, on television?!

Friday, July 16, 2021

Home Again

As I write this, I am sitting on my couch in West Hampstead, having coffee and a peanut butter sandwich and happy to be home. I'm exhausted, of course, but I've still been running around and unpacking and watering orchids and starting laundry and cleaning bathrooms. (Dave's housekeeping isn't quite up to my exacting standards, and of course I say that with love and I think he'll laugh when he reads it. I think.)

I saw Olga only briefly before she went out with her dog walker, so she and I have yet to catch up.

The flight home was uneventful. The overseas leg was just as empty as my flight to Florida two weeks ago, so again, I had plenty of space to spread out. I think I was even in a premium economy seat, which I didn't ask for -- I guess British Airways is taking care of me since I'm a frequent flier. (Or was before the pandemic!)

I landed in England about 10:10 a.m. and cleared passport control and customs quickly. The airlines checked my Covid test results and UK passenger locator form (which tells the government where I'll be quarantining and where I sat on my flight) before I boarded the plane, but I was surprised that none of that happened again at the border. I just sailed through.

And yes, I do now have to quarantine, though apparently not for the full ten days. The UK is changing the rules for so-called amber list countries (which have some risk of Covid but not a huge risk -- the USA is on the amber list). As of Monday quarantining is no longer necessary. So I guess I just have to quarantine until then. I do, however, have to take two Covid PCR tests, on day two (tomorrow?) and day 8.

Holy cow -- the GARDEN! It is a veritable wall of green. I can't believe how much it's grown in my absence. I'll share photos tomorrow.

Today you're seeing an old photo that I took in downtown Tampa back in the mid-1980s. I shot a roll of film while walking around the city, and then at some point I threw out all the negatives and I no longer have the prints, either. I thought they'd all been lost. I was happy to find this print at my brother's -- I guess I gave him a copy at some point. Preserved for posterity! Kind of a shoddy masonry job, wouldn't you agree?

And speaking of masonry, which reminds me of Freemasons, here's a dollar bill I got in my change while in the states. The pyramid with the eye -- often considered a Masonic symbol -- has sometimes been seen as a sign of political conspiracy. I guess that's what this person was thinking. I wonder if he/she (probably he) writes this on all his/her dollar bills? That must be fatiguing.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Frog and Bug Chorus

Well, today's the day I head back to England. I'm catching a plane to Miami at 5:38 p.m. and then connecting on to London, arriving about 10:30 tomorrow morning. So when I post next it will be from home sweet home, with Dave and Olga by my side.

Meanwhile, this morning I'm back at Dunkin' Donuts, and I'm happy to report there was absolutely no drama involved in coming in and ordering my coffee this morning. And they gave it to me free anyway! Are they reading my blog? Are they intimidated by my social media power? (Ha!)

Yesterday was mostly about getting ready for my flight. I had to take my pre-flight Covid test and get my "Fit to Fly" certificate. I also had to complete a Covid tracing document for the British government, but it requires my seat number on the airplane and I don't have that yet -- so I'm going to have to do it again after I check in. Argh!

I zipped out at lunch to meet my friend Cherie, who I've known for many years and who worked with me at a couple of area newspapers. We went to La Teresita, a Cuban restaurant in West Tampa, and caught up on all our family news. I had a media noche (a kind of Cuban sandwich) and black bean soup -- flavors of my hometown not easily available, as far as I know, in London.

Then, late yesterday afternoon, my stepmother came back from a trip to New England, so I went to the airport to help collect her and we all went to dinner. My stepsister is recovering from a cold but I gave her one of my Covid tests just to be safe -- and she was negative. So that's a relief. I sure don't want to get around anyone who might have that!

Late last night, I went to get a vanilla shake for dessert and to drive around the neighborhood a bit. On a nearby road I passed a swampy area, and even in the car with the windows rolled up, I heard the cacaphony rising from the cypresses and ferns. I had to stop and make a recording:

Now, that is nothing like any sound I ever hear in England! If I ever get homesick for Florida I can put this recording on a loop and allow it to put me to sleep -- though I think it will also make me want to swat at mosquitoes!

(Top photo: A colorful shop selling "ropas y zapatos" in West Tampa.)

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Road Trip With Eggshells

I'm back in Tampa this morning, and back at my Dunkin' Donuts. Once again, I showed up at 6:08 a.m., the lights were on and there were cars in the parking lot, but the door was locked. I stood out there like an idiot for several minutes, unable to see anyone inside. Finally a guy who looked like he was about to go bass fishing wandered up outside with a key, said "I got ya buddy," and opened the door.

I said, "I don't understand this place. They say they open at 5 a.m. but they never do."

He said, "I think they just forget to unlock the damn door."

We both came inside and he went behind the counter and appeared to have a little talk with some people back there as he got my coffee -- which he gave me free. I think he's the manager. I heard the others apologizing to him.

Anyway, all Dunkin' Drama aside, my trip back to Tampa was fine yesterday. I set out from my brother's pretty early, and drove down via Palatka and Interlachen, a different route from the one I took last week to get to Jacksonville. I stopped at a scenic riverfront park to take some pictures (top) before crossing the St. Johns River in Green Cove Springs. By Palatka I needed breakfast, so I stopped at the proverbial golden arches and ordered an Egg McMuffin, and got one with extra calcium -- the thing contained so much eggshell it crunched with every bite. (I know it was eggshell because I checked.)

I ate it anyway.

Some interesting roadside manifestations of religion I encountered:

This was outside Palatka, and it appeared to be a car wash. It wasn't until after I took my photos that I realized someone was asleep on that porch.

This little church is in Citra, near Ocala.

And so is this one. I remember when we used to drive north to my grandmother's every year, I always looked out for this beautiful little historic church.

When I got back to North Tampa after several hours of driving, I stopped off at a Goodwill near the Interstate. This place was packed with stuff, but I didn't see anything I wanted. (The bar is high, since anything I buy I'd have to lug back to England.) I was, however, tempted to buy this t-shirt for Dave:

I couldn't do it, not even for just $2.98, not even as a joke. I did, however, send him a picture.

This perfectly illustrates what's so perplexing about the Trump phenomenon. Have you ever seen any other presidential candidate depicted in such terms? How ridiculous would it be to have Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton astride a tank, holding an AR-15 with dollar bills fluttering carelessly from his pockets? I mean, it's ridiculous for Trump too, but I find it mystifying that he inspires that kind of imagery. (Pretty accurate in terms of how he manages money, though.)

Last night I met for dinner with my college friends John and Sue, and had a great time. We went to a little microbrewery near their house, and I brought them the ancient copy of the Miami Herald that someone donated to our library several months ago. Sue is from Miami and they're both journalists and well acquainted with the paper, so I knew they'd love it. John said they'd take it to work at the Tampa paper and show it around. I'm glad I found a home for it.

On the way home, I stopped for a delicious peanut butter shake at Bo's, a legendary drive-up ice cream place on Florida Avenue. Made my night!

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The Jaguar

Yesterday was Mom's 84th birthday -- not that she was entirely aware of it. Apparently her fellow residents all sang "Happy Birthday" to her in the morning, and she got a special tram trip around the grounds of her retirement center. By the time my brother and I showed up in the late afternoon, she was sound asleep. One of the nurses woke her, which I felt bad about, but eventually she got a bit more animated and we had a good visit. We brought some cupcakes and some new slippers, and we took her in to dinner and sat with her while she ate. When I left she gave me a long hug, which is very unusual for my mom -- as I've said before, it's often hard to know what she's thinking, but I know what a long hug means.

My brother and I spent the earlier part of the day at Castaway Island on the Intracoastal Waterway. You may remember from previous visits that I usually go there when I'm in Jacksonville to see birds and other wildlife.

There wasn't a whole lot happening in the heat of the day. We saw a couple of egrets (above), some cardinals, a red-bellied woodpecker, an osprey, a buzzard and some small crabs.

The cardinals, both males, sat in the trees and called to each other, beener-beener-beener.

This picture of a distant boater on the waterway shows how hot it was -- you can see the heat ripples in the air. I would not want to be out on that boat. That looks miserable.

After a sweaty walk in which we continually brushed away deerflies that did their best to penetrate the barrier of our insect repellent, we retreated again to the air-conditioned car. Blessed air conditioning! We drove to Neptune Beach, where we had exotic tacos at the Flying Iguana -- in my case, one seared scallop, and one green tomato and black-eyed-pea. We found a colorful, aquatically decorated sculpture of a jaguar (top photo) outside the restaurant.

One of the things I wrestled with on this trip was what to do with my great-grandmother's quilt. It was on Mom's bed when we visited, and it had obviously been worn by recent laundering. I initially thought I might take it home to preserve it -- Mom was always hesitant to use it, and it's mostly been in drawers and closets as long as we've had it. But then I thought, "Why?" I don't think my great-grandmother would mind it being used by Mom under these circumstances, and we can't save everything as if we lived in a museum. Maybe Mom derives some comfort from its familiarity. I left it there.

Today I'm headed back to Tampa.

Monday, July 12, 2021

BBQ Beach Bound

We woke up yesterday with nothing specific to do, and my brother floated the idea of going to the beach. The younger niece leaped around excitedly, and the older niece shrugged with apparent indifference -- typical reactions from both of them. We first considered Fernandina Beach, north of Jacksonville, but eventually settled instead on Anastasia Island near St. Augustine. We all piled into my brother's truck and headed south.We drove down A1A, the coastal highway, because my brother (and all of us, really) prefers a scenic road to a characterless interstate. 

Anastasia Island and Crescent Beach are huge, wide expanses of hard-packed sand. Once again, people can take their cars onto the beach, although in this case the cars stay on a narrow strip up beyond the tideline -- unlike Huguenot Park, where drivers can motor right down to the waterline and get themselves submerged if they're not careful.

And of course, the minute we got there it poured rain, but only for a few minutes.

None of us like to lie out in the sun, or even sit under a sunshade, though it was fun to see the colorful umbrellas and beach tents that others brought to keep themselves protected.

We headed to lunch first, a favorite place called South Beach Grill that turned out to be closed. Curses! (From the recent reviews, it sounds like the place was struggling a bit and there was some drama over paying employees, so it's probably just as well.)

We drove south, off the island, and found a place at Bing's Landing in Palm Coast called Captain's BBQ that hit the spot. We ate on a screened porch overlooking the Matanzas River, and then wandered around an old historic home site called Mala Compra ("bad bargain" in Spanish). There's not much there now beyond foundations, but it was interesting.

Then we headed back to the beach and while the kids played in the water with their mom and my brother dozed in a beach chair, I took walks up and down the beach.

I saw these guys land windsurfing, aka terrasailing. The wide, mostly empty beach looks like a perfect spot for that activity.

By the time I got back, everyone was ready to go, and we were homeward bound. We spent most of the day in the car but I didn't mind. I love a good road trip!

Sunday, July 11, 2021

North Jax Resto Tour

I went for a drive yesterday on the north side of Jacksonville to take some photos -- the less-healthy equivalent of one of my usual urban photo walks! (As in most American cities, things are too spread out here to walk, unless you're downtown.)

I came across this used car dealership and I was certain that building must be an old fast-food restaurant. It just looks the part, you know? I did some research, and it turns out it was an outpost of the local Milligan's Beefy Burgers chain, which succumbed to competitors in 1974.

This little neighborhood watering hole had an amazing green car sitting out front.

I liked the sign, too!

This one has a great paint job. I don't think I've ever seen a restaurant so prominently advertising chicken gizzards.

And finally, there's this great old Chinese restaurant over on U.S. 1, Chopstick Charley's. I just assumed it was long closed, as I think many people would, but I was astonished to find that apparently it's still in business! It's been there since the early 1950s and is known as Jacksonville's oldest Chinese restaurant.

I got out for a while to give my brother and his family some space. This is the longest visit I've ever had with them, and I don't want to put them under too much pressure to "entertain" me. I had lunch at a little restaurant in Springfield called Crispy's, where I sat and read my book. I'm going to try to get out and about some today, too.

In the afternoon my brother and I visited Mom again -- she seemed a little less coherent this time, but I think it's because we were sitting in a public area (the dining room) with a lot of distractions, and another woman (also with dementia) was sitting at our table asking us lots of repetitive questions. It was hard for Mom to focus on us, and vice-versa. She seems much better when she's in her room interacting with just one or two other people.

Last night's Marvel movie: "Doctor Strange," with Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton. It's worth it for the effects alone!

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Rooftop Rendezvous

I went with my brother and nieces to lunch yesterday in downtown Jacksonville, and my sister-in-law (who was working nearby) met up with us. There's a new Mexican restaurant on the roof of the VyStar building, and I thought it might be cool to see the city from a new perspective. Apparently the restaurant isn't fully open yet, but I guess we looked pathetic and hungry, because they seated us and we enjoyed it. I'm guessing it'll be very popular with the after-work crowd.

The view above shows the Wells Fargo (formerly Modus) building in the foreground, with one of the bridges leading over the St. Johns River. That Modus building, originally known as the Independent Life building, built in 1974, is probably the best-known structure on the Jacksonville skyline.

Here's a view of the rooftop patio, although we ate indoors. (View plus air conditioning!)

In the background of that second picture you can see these buildings. My brother says they're in the process of being turned into a single, interlinked hotel. I thought the Carling sign behind them was a beer advertisement, but no -- apparently it's the name of an apartment building.

We walked around afterwards just enough to get hot, and then headed home. I went in the afternoon for another visit with Mom, and we had a great time. I told her about the day and about lunch, and then we looked at some old photos. It was a good way to spend the time, because she didn't have to try to speak -- I could just keep up a running commentary on certain pictures or events and she could laugh or respond with a word or two. (Usually, of course, "Oh, God," although sometimes "Oh, God, no!")

Once again it's hard to tell what she's thinking, but there's no question in my mind that she knows what she's looking at. She definitely reacts to certain images. For example...

...she laughed really hard at this picture, of me and my brother at Christmas in 1970. I think my brother capsized just before the shutter clicked, and maybe I'm reacting? Anyway, she got such a kick out of him rolling around on the floor.

Just outside my mom's retirement community there are some expensive houses along Julington Creek. One of them had this in the yard:

But then next door, there was this:

I've seen this in a couple of places, where neighbors seem to be in a dialogue (to put it nicely).

Last night's movie entertainment was "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," which I liked, but I'm not sure how closely I followed the plot. It was kind of a salad of words and explosions. (The three or four glasses of wine I consumed while watching it probably didn't help.) Am I the only one who thinks Captain America's shield is a total cop-out? It basically allows him to do anything. It's like an automatic get-out-of-jail-free card.