Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Scrambled or Fried

Another orchid is now blooming -- the "Golden Leopard" variety. We've had this one several years and it's very productive.

I finally finished my latest Newbery book, "The Bronze Bow," yesterday. I've been carrying it around for at least a week and a half. I have a bit of Newbery fatigue, I must say, but I checked out another stack to plow through over Spring Break, which begins Friday. I'm hoping with a week of spare time I'll be able to put a dent in the remaining books. "The Bronze Bow" takes place in Galilee at the time of Jesus, and in fact Jesus is a character. The story is good, and its Biblical references more historic than proselytizing, but its Christian perspective seems to somewhat limit its appeal. I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable recommending it to a student, unless I knew them well and knew they'd be cool with that content.

We have a second crop of daffodils coming in -- these are the white and butter-yellow triple variety that we planted in 2014 right after we moved in, when we redid the garden. Actually, the guy we hired to help with the garden planted them. He just showed up with a big bag of bulbs, and this is what emerged! They're fine, though I prefer the simple yellow blossoms as a rule.

We also discovered this unusual daffodil in our flower bed this year. I have no idea where it came from. I don't remember seeing it before, but we haven't planted any since that first batch, so it must have been here all along and I just never noticed. If the triples look like scrambled eggs, as I believe they do, then this one is sunny side up!

Tuesday, March 30, 2021


I racked up 13,222 steps yesterday, according to the health app on my trusty iPhone, and much of that was running around school. Mondays are usually pretty busy because we have a bunch of books coming out of quarantine that need to be shelved, and kids are turning in books they finished over the weekend and (if we're lucky) looking for more. I delivered quite a few books to classrooms.

I always hate entering rooms when classes are in session, but usually teachers have a place for me to leave books without disrupting things. And sometimes I overhear pretty funny stuff.

Last week, for example, I walked into a sixth-grade classroom as the teacher was explaining what I think must have been synesthesia.

"It's like where you hear colors," she said.

A boy piped up, "I thought that was called schizophrenia!"

Remember the old Art Linkletter show, "Kids Say the Darndest Things"? That's basically my life.

A ninth-grader returned this book yesterday, positively stuffed with Post-It notes. What's the point of marking a place in a book if you're going mark every third page?! And more to the point, WHY ARE YOU LEAVING IT FOR ME TO CLEAN UP?! I sent the student a polite but firm e-mail telling her to henceforth remove her own Post-It notes.

I'm such a crank. The kids probably think I'm either evil or hilarious.

Back home in the afternoon, I worked in the garden. Almost exactly a year ago I picked up a free crown imperial fritillaria from Homebase, when that store was giving away plants before our first lockdown. I put it in a big pot along with some daisies. Well, the daisies died and vanished over the winter, and the crown imperial should have appeared again this spring -- but it didn't. So I dug into the pot and found nothing. It had evidently rotted away. So it goes. We have the worst luck with those things.

I now had a big empty pot, so I once again repotted the newly-divided Peruvian lily. We initially put it into pots that were too small. It's not showing any growth yet but I think it will be happier with more space.

It's supposed to get to 73º F (23º C) today -- positively balmy!

(Top photo: Olga on our neighborhood walk Saturday morning.)

Monday, March 29, 2021

Iceberg Removal, and the Turaco

I took this photo while I was walking with Olga at the cemetery on Saturday. It's a "Where's Waldo?" composition. Can you see what I was aiming at?

Here's a close-up:

That squirrel was really hidden away, nibbling on something held in his tiny paws. It looked like a Stella D'Oro bread stick, but how a squirrel would have come by one of those, I'm not sure. There was no one else around and I didn't provide it.

Yesterday was consumed by more domestic tasks. I cleaned out the refrigerator, emptying all the shelves and pulling out the removable pieces to wash them. I feel like I did this not too long ago, but I somehow still found a bottle of vegan salad dressing that expired in July 2018. Dave bought it during his vegan phase and neither of us liked it; how it never got thrown out I don't know. We also have a jar of mustard that expired last October, but I figure, it's mustard. What could go bad? I kept it.

And then, because I'd done the fridge, I obeyed a wild impulse to defrost the freezer. We'd never defrosted it in the almost seven years we've lived here, and there was so much residual ice that pulling the drawers in and out was difficult and produced a shower of frost. I actually broke the plastic handle of one of the drawers some time ago, trying to free it from the enveloping glacier.

I extracted all the drawers, dumped ice cubes on the food and set it all outside on the patio, where it's cooler. (Not really cold, though -- I should have done this during our freezing weather several weeks ago!) I turned off the freezer, put pans of warm water on the shelves and old towels around the base. And waited.

Defrosting a freezer is a messy job, but it's not really difficult. Nature does most of the work. Within a couple of hours it was ice-free and I put everything back and turned it on, et voila!

Olga and I took a walk in the cemetery in the afternoon. Unlike Saturday, which was sunny and clear, yesterday was cloudy and windy. But for the first time this year, we heard...

...the turaco! Yes, it's back again, if it ever left. I couldn't see it, but I didn't really have time to look closely, because Olga was being very impatient. You can hear her barking on the recording above, frustrated that I had dared to pause our walk.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

A Pink Tree

This tree is one of my neighborhood favorites at this time of year. It's growing in a rather downtrodden area near the railroad tracks, surrounded by a plywood fence, next to a pedestrian footpath. I've photographed it before.

Olga and I took the footpath yesterday morning specifically to check it out. I think it's actually a bit past its peak but it still looks amazing.

Speaking of trees, it appears someone's finally going to do something about the dead tree at the cemetery. They've put construction tape and cones around its base, perhaps so branches don't fall on people, and surely that can't be a long-term situation. They need to remove it, as well as the dead hedge around the chapel, which seems to have succumbed to box blight.

Yesterday I wrangled with our own landscaping here at home by giving the lawn its first mow of the season. It looks much better now. I also vacuumed (sort of the indoor equivalent of mowing, isn't it?) and took care of some errands.

And look!

The little Christmas (or Thanksgiving?) cactus cuttings mailed to me by Frances from Harpenden last November are finally, finally showing signs of growth. I wasn't entirely sure they were going to pull through, but at last, they've borne a new leaf.

Dave and I have been watching Adam Curtis' documentary series "Can't Get You Out of My Head," which is a fascinating if head-spinning account of social and political evolution (or devolution?) over the past 125 years or so. It expounds on Chairman Mao and his ambitious wife, the rise of the Sackler pharmaceutical empire and its mind-numbing products, the trend toward individualism in society, colonialism in the Middle East and the rise of the Islamic State, and more, all jumbled together in a giant salad bowl and presented as a visual feast. Curtis relies on the viewers to make the connections between these disparate forces and events, and the connections aren't always clear but, as I said, it's fascinating. (This is the same guy who made "HyperNormalisation," which Dave and I watched about a month ago.)

And what about the gigantic container ship blocking the Suez Canal? Isn't that a mess. This story, about the tiny canalside village with a close-up view of the crisis, is pretty interesting. Their situation reminds me of Mollie Wilmot, the Palm Beach socialite who lived with a derelict tanker in her backyard back in the mid-1980s -- although she and the Egyptian village are obviously at opposite ends of the economic spectrum.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

The Cards We're Dealt

The title of this post sounds like a grand metaphor, but no. This is actually about playing cards.

I used to play card games with my family as a kid and I loved them. My stepmother is an expert card player who still plays Bridge regularly, and on our annual weeklong beach trips to Longboat Key in the late '70s and early '80s she always led us in nightly rounds of Canasta. She's like a walking Hoyle's. But somehow, as an adult, I've fallen out of the card-playing habit.

Still, I appreciate cards as little artworks, interesting pieces of cultural ephemera, and I have three decks that have been with me for ages. I hang on to them just in case, some day, I am seized with a sudden desire to once again play Hearts or Spades. Like, if the world has ended and there's no TV or Internet, and in between scavenging for root vegetables and gnawing on small mammals, we need something to kill the time.

I got this deck (above) from a Goodwill shop in Florida several decades ago. The cards were old even then. I'm guessing they're from the 1930s or '40s.

Congress is apparently a brand of playing card, from what I can glean on the Internet. I think they're known for those gold borders. As you can see, these were made by the U. S. Playing Card Co. of Cincinnati.

My friend Kevin, who grew up with me in Florida, gave me these cards. I love old vintage Florida souvenir stuff. We lived between Tampa and Weeki Wachee Springs, about midway up the state on the west coast. Funny how the card designers totally ignored the western panhandle. Tough luck, Pensacola!

The Florida cards are a product of the E. E. Fairchild Corp. from Rochester, NY. Kevin kept an identical deck. Are playing cards still made in the United States? I wonder.

I've had these cards ever since I was a kid. I think we bought them at the drug store, so they're from the '70s. My brother had a matching deck with a black or black-spotted dog, as I recall. I'll have to ask him if he still has it. Knowing him, he probably does.

Despite the earthy canine artwork, they're Stardust brand cards, from Brown & Bigelow Inc. of St. Paul, Minn. 

Finally, here's a deck we have at school, on the games table. I think it's pretty old and I have no idea where it came from. The kids will play chess and a variety of board games, but I've never seen anyone play with these cards.

They also have gold edges and, once again, are Congress cards from Cincinnati. I wonder who "Marie" is?

Friday, March 26, 2021

An Ancient Onion

Here's another photo from a memory card found in my old camera bag. This was taken in the very beige kitchen of our former flat in Notting Hill, on Sept. 30, 2013.  What possessed me to photograph an onion on the cutting board, I have no idea. Kind of a nice still life, though. Very Cézanne: "Still Life with iPhone Charging Cord."

There was also a photo of the awful gelatin shooters Dave made for a dinner party. They were supposed to look like the blue methamphetamine from "Breaking Bad," which we were watching at the time:

As I recall, they were made with plain gelatin dyed blue, and lots of vodka. They were meant to be cut into cubes and swallowed. They were disgusting. What's weird is, I mentioned them on the blog at the time, but I said I was unable to take a picture because I'd left my camera at work. And yet, obviously I took a picture, using my other camera. Why didn't I blog it? I have no idea.

I had the strangest dream yesterday morning. I dreamed I was in Miami Beach on spring break with my friend Sue, and I was going to appear on stage as a drag queen. My drag name was Violet Star. Where this came from, I have no idea -- I have never done drag in my life (well, except) and I suspect I would be a really homely drag queen.

I suppose all the recent news about crazy spring break antics in Miami Beach prompted the dream. I spent several three-day weekends in Miami Beach with friends back in the late '80s, but they weren't anything like what we're seeing there now. The wildest thing we ever did was get drunk at "The Melting Pot" and have to leave dinner early. Oh, and we had a shaving cream fight in our hotel room at the Eden Roc.

Dave left work before I did yesterday, and when he got home he texted me that the scaffold had been removed. Hurray! So it lasted slightly longer than a day, but not much longer. The workmen have to come back today and remove some equipment and that derelict TV antenna, and then we're done with them.

We also had repairmen come around yesterday to fiddle with our fuse box in the kitchen. I don't even know what they did -- something that our recent electrical inspection demanded. They may have just changed the fuses. Whatever happened, it didn't take long. And they left behind a hand-held power drill, so now I have to try to call them back and arrange for them to come and collect it.

The other day, I promised a cat picture. Here you go.

My brother sent me this last November. It has something to do with this guy, who ran his cat for political office down in Kent. I've heard no more about it, and we have since Brexited, so I'm assuming the cat didn't win. I consider that this fulfills my obligation.

Thursday, March 25, 2021


I have an old Canon EOS Digital Rebel camera that Dave gave me back in 2009. I used it pretty heavily for several years, but it's been sitting in a bag in our closet since I bought my much bigger Canon EOS 5D Mark III in 2012. I've been saving the smaller Canon as a backup, but I haven't touched it in all this time, and to be honest, if I needed a camera backup these days, I'd probably just use my phone.

I don't think the Rebel has much value, being 12 years old -- an eternity in digital equipment. So I decided to donate it to the school where I work. They use DSLR cameras in their photography classes and it has some lenses -- a zoom and a macro -- that could be passed around too. (They don't fit my current camera, which has its own bigger, better lenses.)

Anyway, this is a long way of saying that I cleaned out the old camera's bag yesterday and I found a couple of memory cards, and on one of them were these pictures. I took them at a public attempt to break the world record for longest marathon hug, held at St. Pancras train station in January 2012.

I visited the event with a photography class I took that month -- in fact I briefly mentioned it on this blog, and when I re-read that post not too long ago (trying to find something else) I thought, "What ever happened to those pictures?" I never did anything with them -- never posted them to Flickr or blogged them. Now we know why. I don't think I took them off the memory card!

It was funny to stumble across them yesterday.

As you can see, the marathon huggers were a mix of people: older, younger, women and men. I wonder where they are now? This was almost ten years ago!

The pictures are of variable quality. I really like the second shot from the top, for example, but it's blurry -- as are many of my pictures from the event. I obviously didn't have my shutter speed set fast enough. (Probably another reason I never bothered to process the images.)

Still, I got a few decent shots.

Four of the marathon hugging couples were ultimately successful in setting a record, by hugging for slightly more than 24 hours. (The older women above got disqualified, along with another couple that was already gone by the time I arrived with my camera.) Their record was broken a few years later by some guys from Norman, Okla., who hugged for more than 32 hours straight!

This is why St. Pancras was chosen as the venue -- it's the site of a huge sculpture of a hugging couple called "The Meeting Place." The marathon huggers undertook their project at the base of this statue.

Anyway, a fun little journey back in time and memory!

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Scaffold with Cute Fuzzy Kittens

This is the view from our living room windows at the moment. What are those metal poles, you ask?

Ta-da! Yes, it's another scaffold, erected on our patio yesterday so the upstairs neighbors, the Russians, could get some roof repairs done. I got a rather plaintive e-mail from Mrs. Russia asking me to leave the garden gate open so the workers could have access. "Our flat is literally falling apart and we had to change the tiles in the kitchen for health and safety reasons as they broke and it was quite dangerous for the kids to walk," she wrote. As for the roof repairs, "It’s a small job and will take just one day to finish," she said.

Setting aside for the moment the dubious risks involved in allowing kids to walk on cracked tile, have you ever heard of a roof repair that takes only one day? Especially one that requires the erection of a scaffold? I bet we'll be living with that thing for two weeks at least.

I am happily willing to be proven wrong, though.

Apparently while up on the roof the workers removed an old TV antenna, which is now luxuriating atop some flowerpots at the side of the house. Our TV reception doesn't seem to be affected, so I guess it must have been defunct. I hope they take it away.

Oh, and there are no kittens. I just wrote that to show that I'm capable of producing a post title featuring something other than worms and worts -- even if it is false advertising. Sorry about that, cat lovers.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021


Our two kinds of lungwort are blooming once again. These plants hang on year after year and reliably give us bright blue flowers at the beginning of spring. There are a couple of spotted ones (above)...

...and some plain green ones.

I have no news today. I am sitting here with an utterly blank blogging agenda. I suppose no news is good news, as they say.

This was my (unnecessarily wordy) fortune from our Chinese take-away a few nights ago. I can't think of a long dispute in my life, so I have no idea what they're talking about, unless it's something beyond my immediate bailiwick. Will China and Taiwan become friends? Will India and Pakistan sort out the Kashmir question? Will cats and dogs curl up together?

Monday, March 22, 2021

No Worms, I Promise

It was a dream of a spring day yesterday, with blue skies and sunshine. Olga wasted no time getting out in the garden to lie in the grass and gnaw on her Kong. She's just as eager as the rest of us for winter to be over!

The census turned out to be no big drama. The website even worked! It took slightly longer than I expected, because I thought they'd just want to know how many people lived here. But no -- they want to know names, occupations, employers, relationships, nationalities, religions. They wanted to know if my spouse was a man or a woman and whether I identify with the gender I was assigned at birth. I don't mind that they ask these questions because, after all, how else will we understand the composition of our communities?

I filled it out for both me and Dave. "I told them you're a Mormon black woman from the Ukraine," I said to him later.

(Note to census officials: I did not. Don't fine me £1,000!)

Here are some garden updates. These random bulbs are growing in a pot with a hydrangea. They were in Mrs. Kravitz's yard waste bag last year, and I thought, "Well, that's a shame. I'll plant them!" I had no idea what they were -- turns out there's a small daffodil, several grape hyacinths and, I believe, an allium.

Our flowering quince is putting on a better show than it ever has in the past. Maybe it just needed a few years to mature.

This came up of its own accord. I believe it's known as lamb's ear? We'll see what it does -- I put a stake next to it to keep Olga from stepping on it.

This is one of the burdocks I grew from seed a couple of years back. Some of them bloomed last year and then died, while some of them overwintered and will presumably bloom this year. Funny how they're on different timetables. This one looks especially vigorous and might become huge.

I mentioned grape hyacinths -- they're blooming now too.

Finally, on the downside, this is our poor banana tree. It got pretty badly frozen but I think it will pull through. The stalks feel pretty solid and they're still green. We'll see what happens!

I also potted my one corncockle seedling and moved it outside, and then worried in the middle of the night that I'd put it in the wrong kind of soil. Now, in the morning, it seems insane that I was even thinking about it. Funny how middle-of-the-night thoughts are sometimes so bizarre and obsessive.

The title of this post stems from the fact that, as reader Ellen D pointed out yesterday, several recent post titles have all concerned worms and slugs. That was purely inadvertent on my part, I swear!

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Earworms and a Census

For some reason, Neil Young's "Dreamin' Man" is stuck in my head this morning. I haven't heard it in ages, yet there it is, playing on repeat on my mental turntable, complete with Nicolette Larson on backup vocals. (I love the line "In the meadow dusk, I park my Aerostar" -- though I confess I've always thought it was "in the meadow dark" and only learned I was wrong just now when I looked up the lyrics. I think "dark" sounds better, but who am I to correct Neil Young?)

The other night I was stuck with Dionne Warwick warbling "Trains and Boats and Planes." Earworms are strange things.

Anyway, yesterday was pretty low-key. I did some cleaning and two loads of laundry, and finished yet another Newbery book ("Bud, not Buddy," the one I had such trouble starting, which was my fault, not the book's). Now I need to pause the Newbery project and catch up on The New Yorker again, and even as I write that sentence I feel a sense of numbing sameness.

Today is the census in the UK, and we're all supposed to go online to some website and fill out our census forms. The letter I received was oddly specific about this: "All households should complete the census on Sunday 21 March 2021 or as soon as possible after. You must complete the census by law or you could be fined up to £1,000."


It sounds like a recipe for disaster -- every household in the country going to a government website on the same day?! We'll see how it goes. Dave and I had Zoom drinks with our friends Mike and Sally on Friday night, and they said they'd already completed their forms, so I guess we could have done it early -- but I didn't want to wind up in the Tower of London awaiting the executioner's axe.

On Friday the beloved BBC show "Gardener's World" began its new season, and Dave and I watched it on the iPlayer last night. "Gardener's World" stops broadcasting during the winter, and it's always encouraging when it resumes in the spring -- as encouraging as the primroses growing wild in the cemetery. Apparently "Gardener's World" became quite a thing in the states during lockdown, at least according to The New York Times, so maybe some of my American readers are watching it too.

Speaking of which, I need to get out in the garden today and get a few minor things done -- mostly putting stakes in the ground to keep the dog from walking on the tender new shoots of our plants as they come up from their winter slumber. Olga is notorious for plowing heedlessly over everything in her path.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

A Slug Parade

Thanks for all your comments on my post yesterday, relating my fed-upness with our current state of affairs. It's good to know that so many of us are having similar feelings to various degrees. In fact I talked to my boss and co-worker about it yesterday -- how I'd had that sudden crashing paralysis sitting at my desk -- and they both said they can totally relate. We talked about it a long time and we're all the same place.

I really do think this is the "darkness-before-the-dawn" syndrome, as John Gray commented. The end is in sight, we can see it coming, and yet we still have a ways to go and we're fatigued and desperate.

Anyway, it helps to compare notes with others, doesn't it? Express our inner monsters?

And that's a fairly obvious segue (given the top photo) to today's post, which is another set of random recent pictures from my iPhone. On days when I don't have my big camera and I see something interesting, I just pop a little snapshot and they wind up in these posts.

For example, here's an evergreen shrub in a planter, decorated for spring. It's like a Christmas tree for Easter!

This isn't the greatest photo, but here's what it's showing: eight slugs, all traveling in the same direction on the pavement -- and there were a few more beyond the brick wall. A slug parade! I have never seen anything like this and I wonder what it's about. A mating ritual? A migration?

I found this little miniature sequined handbag sitting on someone's garden wall. (Olga thought it might be food, as you can see.) It would make a great holiday ornament or decoration for a car mirror. I left it there and it was gone later, so someone nabbed it.

Of course I don't believe all this anti-mask conspiracy talk but I am always intrigued by it. It's interesting to see what other people are thinking. I suspect this is someone else who's sick to death of it all and rather than being merely annoyed or depressed, their frustration has veered into denial.

These plants were grown from cuttings taken from the gigantic dracaena in our bedroom. We've had them rooting in the dining room for weeks and weeks, and yesterday I finally enlisted Dave's help and we carried them to school, where they're going to live on a wide windowsill in the Lower School. (You can't tell, but there are lots of other plants around the corner.)

The martenitsa are appearing on blooming trees again, celebrating the arrival of spring. These are on a magnolia that I pass on my walk to work; I've photographed them on this same tree before.

And finally, a sticker on a rubbish bin near the tube station. It's very Jack Nicholson. Inspired by all of us being stuck indoors, looking out at the world, perhaps?