Monday, May 31, 2021

Halcyon Days

Another ridiculously perfect day yesterday. Everyone grouses about the UK's weather, and justifiably so. I always think of a line in a song by the Sundays:

England, my country
The home of the free
Such miserable weather...

But on the occasions when England has nice weather, it's really nice.

I spent the whole day in the garden. I planted all the jimsonweed seeds in small pots, after having soaked them for 24 hours as directed. I had so many seeds I also stuck some directly into the ground out in the garden, so I have no idea what's going to happen. We may be overrun by jimsonweed.

I also planted nasturtium seeds that I'd saved from last year. And I think those are the last of my seeds -- fingers crossed.

I noticed that the irises are blooming next to the camellia bush (above). Just as I took that picture, a bee zoomed into the frame and crawled between the petals to get at the nectar down in the throat of the flower. Can you see it? I'd never thought about bees pollinating irises, but there you go.

One of our brook thistles has bloomed...

...and so has this white flower, surrounded by blue forget-me-nots and Mexican feathergrass. For the life of me I can't remember what it's called.

Olga couldn't resist the opportunity to pose next to more flowers, in this case the Calceolaria I bought at Homebase a couple of weeks ago.

Last night we had our friends Gordon and Donna over for dinner. Dave made fish en papillote and we talked about all the world's problems and solved every single one.

And today is a bank holiday, so we're off work! More garden lounging for me!

Sunday, May 30, 2021

A Different Path

I managed to get some stuff done in the garden yesterday morning. I dug up a crescent of grass in front of the flower bed by the steps and planted most of my remaining seeds there -- the wildflower mix, the rest of the sunflowers, and the cornflowers. Basically I took away the grass, piled on some compost and jammed in the seeds. I'm sure that's not quite an ideal planting method but hopefully it will work, and I almost don't care if it doesn't. I just couldn't stand looking at those seed packets anymore. The pressure! "Don't forget to plant me! Do it soon before it's too late!"

I'm also soaking the rest of the jimsonweed seeds and I'll get them planted today, along with the nasturtium seeds I saved from last year. And I planted some zinnia seeds in a pot, but not the whole packet -- they're supposedly good until 2025 so I'll store the rest.

Every year I say I'm done with seeds, and every year I plant more. This is partly the fault of Gardener's World magazine, which we get in the library and which sends out seed packets every spring. I gave away many of them this year, but I always feel compelled to grow some myself.

Anyway, after planting seeds and trimming back some ivy that's climbing up the house and was blanketing our dining room window, I took the dog to the Heath.

We took a different route this time, up a shady walking path called Oak Hill Way (above). Olga always wants to walk this path, and I have no idea why. I guess it seems like fertile territory for squirrels.

We passed this apartment building, which is set in the middle of the woods on beautiful, sloping lawns. I really like it, even though architecturally it's pretty mundane. I'm sure the apartments cost ridiculous amounts of money.

We passed some purple rhododendrons on a shady traffic island...

...before finally getting to the Heath itself.

I should have prefaced all this by saying it was a BEAUTIFUL day. Like, painfully beautiful.

The sun shone down through the leaves of the beeches, highlighting their reddish tint.

Olga indulged in some leaf-rolling... well as a quick swim.

We took our time on this walk, because Olga moves more slowly these days, but she definitely enjoyed herself. By the way, but we took her to the vet for a physical a few days ago, after her recent bout of stomach illness. She got a clean bill of health -- her blood tests all looked good and the vet could find no evidence of any internal problems. We've taken her off the Metacam, in case that's what's upset her stomach, and we're treating her arthritis with paracetamol (acetaminophen) instead.

Toward the end of our walk, we sat in a field on the West Heath and rested. I saw a teenage boy and a man with a cat on a leash. I suppose they thought they'd give the cat some outdoor time in a new setting, but of course the cat wanted no part of it. It basically just sat frozen, as cats do when they're in an unfamiliar environment.

As we walked, I set my iTunes on "shuffle" and listened to whatever old pop favorites came up, like this one -- and with the warm sun coming dappled through the trees, it all felt like a transcendent experience. I honestly felt moved.

Anyway, we came home and had a quiet evening and the dog is still in bed, which is a sure sign that she had a great time.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Late May iPhone Roundup

A couple more post-pandemic firsts for me yesterday! (I know, I know -- the pandemic isn't over, but you know what I mean.) Dave and I went to the Carlton Tavern with some of our co-workers after work, and unlike our previous visit, we sat inside -- which was a good thing because the weather was terrible. It was as close to a normal pub experience as I've had yet, in more than a year.

Then, to get home -- we took a bus! I took the photo above, of the Old Bell pub in Kilburn, out the windows of the upper deck. I hadn't been on a public bus in at least 14 months.

So, a few more signs that normalcy may be returning to our lives. But there have been setbacks too. My flight to Tampa on July 1 has been cancelled by British Airways, so I need to find an alternative to that. Ugh.

While I sort that out, here are a few more random pictures from my iPhone:

When I walked Olga yesterday morning, we found this little bowl of water and some nibblies set out on the sidewalk, along with this sign: "Hi, I found the crow and took him home. He was not safe there from foxes. It was 11:30 p.m. I rescue birds so lucky I found him. In future please call London Wildlife Protection on xxxxx. Thank you for your kindness."

Which is a long way of saying, "You did everything wrong, but thanks anyway."

Some fallen geranium petals around our newly sprouted Peruvian lilies.

Olga beneath an impressive Ceanothus on the housing estate near our flat.

(We have a strong blue-and-white theme going with these pics...)

Found a dinosaur. He looked a bit...disintegrated.

This trailer rolled up to our street with some giant coils of pipe, part of an ongoing pipe-replacement project by Thames Water. There are still big holes in the street, and in fact we got a letter saying they're shutting off our water mid-morning this Thursday. But it's only for a couple of hours and we won't be home, so no big deal.

I found several of these Post-it Notes stuck to walls in our Middle School, all bearing vows of support for the LGBT+ community. Maybe it was a class exercise? (Yes, I know, "community" is spelled wrong, but that is somewhat offset by the correct use of e.g. (exempli gratia) to cite an example. Pretty good for Middle School, I'd say!)

Finally, rays of light from an interesting fixture at the Carlton Tavern.

Friday, May 28, 2021

No More No-Mow May

As you may remember, we've been doing "No-Mow May" this year, which means we haven't mowed the lawn all month. (It's for the benefit of emerging insects.) This is how things were looking yesterday when I came home from work.

Here's another shot from a lower angle. As you can see, the grass was about a foot high in places.

The daisies grew much longer stems, and we've also had at least six ragwort plants appear. I found some fox-and-cubs (I thought it had all died) and yet another teasel. Not mowing definitely led me to notice more plants in the lawn.


...things were feeling just a bit too chaotic out there. I felt claustrophobic, unable to walk anywhere but on my single path through the grass. So yesterday evening, I ended May a few days early and mowed.

You've got to admit, it looks better.

As a legacy of "No-Mow May," however, we've decided to leave a corner of the garden unmowed all summer. Three of the ragwort plants are in this zone, as well as daisies and creeping buttercup, and it backs up to "Borageland," our wildflower area. We're also no longer mowing around the bird bath and bird feeders.

All told, we've devoted massive amounts of our garden to insects and wildlife. The rear area behind the bench and shed is full of trees, shrubs and borage (alkanet) that we don't touch at all. That's where the foxes tend to hide out. (In fact I saw a fox trot across the lawn as I wrote this post.)

And the sides, although planted, are full of ground cover that we don't do much to maintain -- so they're basically wild too. Even the flowerbeds in the center and by the back door are not very carefully tended and contain lots of wildflowers like asters and dandelions. I think we're doing our part for the birds and bugs.

Speaking of wild plants, look how big this burdock has grown! Insane!

Anyway, at least now Mrs. Kravitz can't complain about me to the council. Or, I suppose she could, but I think she'd have less of a case.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Garden Activity

Yesterday when I got home from work I took the camera out into the garden, which is looking extremely jungly as we near the end of "No-Mow May." Here's some of what's happening at the moment.

The bees have seemed a bit reluctant to come out, given our low temperatures and all the rain. But things are supposed to warm up now, and we've been seeing more and more of them, like this one on green alkanet and creeping buttercup in our wildflower garden.

In fact a couple of days ago a bumblebee the size of a ping-pong ball flew into our living room and clumsily bounced itself off the windows trying to get out again. Olga was alarmed! We finally had to lift it out the window on a magazine, and it flew away unscathed.

An old leaf on one of the pelargoniums, looking very autumnal with all that pigment!

The lupines are sending up new blossoms, despite the aphid invasion. This plant, which I rescued from the supermarket last year in a sorry state, has seven flower stalks! It's a variety called Persian Slipper, as I recall. The red Beefeater lupine also has flowers coming, while the pink Rachel de Thame has some smaller flower stalks -- it's running a bit behind because of its aphid problem.

And here's our lily-of-the-valley, growing in a shady spot beneath one of the hydrangea bushes.

So things are blooming, but we are significantly behind this year. There are no roses yet, for example, and there are no poppies. The brook thistles are still tight buds. Last year, all of those were blooming in profusion by now.

Finally, here's our battle-scarred Chinese banana tree. As you can see, it survived our winter freezes but it's going to take a while to get back to its former voluptuous glory. (Probably just in time to freeze again!)

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Contains Celery

I just opened my computer to find a helpful alert from Apple that yet another system update is now available. I swear, there's an update like once a week. Maybe I'll deal with it this weekend. Or maybe I'll ignore it.

Speaking of computer stuff, I'd noticed in recent weeks that the battery on my iPhone was running down much more quickly than it used to. Just walking around seemed to be draining it. I turned off mobile data, thinking that might help -- and maybe it did, I'm not sure -- and then yesterday, my boss showed me how to find a battery usage report that shows how much energy different apps are using. On my phone, the top energy consumer was something called "exposure notifications," which used 35 percent of my battery capacity! What the heck is that?!

It turned out to be the NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app, which was basically "shaking hands" with every iPhone I encountered, and then creating a log of these contacts as a way to keep track of who I'd been near. I don't mind being traced from a privacy perspective -- it honestly doesn't matter to me -- but I don't think I knew the app would operate at that level of intensity. I shut it off.

I may be failing the cause of public health in England, but I want my phone to function.

Dave and I finished the ninth season of "The Walking Dead" last night. We've gone as far as we can go for the time being. The second-to-last episode was quite shocking -- some major characters died. As I told Dave, it was like the famous "red wedding" in "Game of Thrones." (We never watched "Game of Thrones" beyond season one, but I heard so much about that wedding scene that I eventually watched it on YouTube and yeah, basically everybody dies.) We may or may not watch season ten of "The Walking Dead" when it comes out -- I think we both feel like we've had enough of zombieland, although we enjoyed it. The earlier seasons were better than the later ones.

We've bought some products lately that featured mystifying notices on them. Dave bought this celery root (above), which helpfully informed us that it "contains celery." I should hope so!

And I've never seen a notice like this on a bottle of wine. Obviously I know not to drive after drinking, but now I can't walk either?

(Top photo: Olga snoozing on the couch on a sunny afternoon a few weeks ago.)

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

A Sunflower Tragedy

Remember those sunflower seeds I planted back at the beginning of May? Well, only one of them came up, and the poor thing was subjected to all manner of windstorms and rain and even hail. It wound up growing sideways (above), so last night I brought it inside, hoping that a little shelter on a sunny (ha!) windowsill might encourage it to grow upright.

This morning, I went to check on it and found this:

Yes, that is a snail -- inside the house -- and as you can see, it completely decapitated my seedling. Argh!

If there's any consolation in this sorry state of affairs, it's that the snail probably came inside on the seed tray, so this would have happened outside too. It was lying in wait, licking its snail chops.

The jimsonweed seeds that I planted on the same day haven't come up at all. Not yet, anyway.

I'm also battling a case of killer aphids on our Rachel de Thame lupine. (This is a terrible picture, but you can see them on the new leaves.) The plant was starting to look a little peaked, and when I examined it more closely I realized its interior stems and new growth were positively coated with aphids. Apparently lupines are subject to a kind of super-aphid all their own, one that comes from North America and has no natural predators in England. Nothing eats them because they absorb alkaloid compounds from the plants and they get huge. (Well, huge by aphid standards.)

I killed as many of them as I could by hand, and then sprayed the plant with bug spray -- which I almost never do, but this seemed like a crisis. A day later, stray aphids were still crawling around. I'm thinking our bug spray isn't worth much. I plan to go the soap-and-water route next, but I have to go buy a sprayer bottle. I suspect squashing them by hand is going to be the only truly effective method of control.

Here's a happier story -- so far, anyway. My foxglove seedlings are holding their own. I wouldn't say they're prospering in these cool temperatures, but at least they're still alive. I have two trays indoors that are a bit bigger than these, which are outside on the patio.

Finally, while talking about my blog stats yesterday, I mentioned that I'm apparently getting about a thousand views a day. I'm basing that on this graph (above), but I'm under no illusions whatsoever that this number reflects real, human eyeballs and certainly not different individuals. I know I don't have a thousand people reading this blog.

I'm sure it's mostly bots or Internet pings. I think Blogger used to offer a statistic called unique readers, or something like that, reflecting the different IP addresses of blog readers and thus more accurately estimating the number of individuals looking at the blog. If I remember right, mine was somewhere around a hundred a day, and I'm sure even some of those were automated.

If I had to guess, I'd say I get about 50 real readers a day, and that's fine by me. I appreciate each and every one of you. You're welcome to come over and help me kill aphids any time.

Monday, May 24, 2021

A Movie and a Blogaversary

Dave and I actually went to the cinema yesterday. It was our first time back in a movie theater since Covid-19 began, and honestly we hadn't been for quite a while even before that. The last movie I can remember seeing in a cinema is "Rocketman," and that was way back in June 2019.

Anyway, we saw "Nomadland," which we both loved. It's very slow-paced, and the beginning is quite bleak, although it improves in perspective as it goes. We loved how true-to-life it is -- like listening to real people having real conversations, which makes sense because only a few of the cast members are professional actors, and most of the characters use the actors' real names. Apparently many of them are actual "nomads" who appear in the book that inspired the movie.

There were five other people with us in the theater, and before the movie began, a staff member came in and said we didn't have to wear masks while seated. But he asked us to please put them on if we went to the bathroom or the snack bar. We sat at least two rows away from everyone else, so we weren't too concerned. At the end we were surprised to find only three other people in the theater -- apparently one couple left because the movie was "too slow," or so the cinema staffer told Dave.

I can't imagine walking out, if only because the tickets were so darn expensive. For the two of us it cost £39.70, or just over $56! And that's without any food! Now I remember why we don't go to the cinema more often.

Today is a big day because -- drum roll please -- it's my blog's 15th birthday. (They grow up so fast! I remember when it was born, and now it's a teenager in high school!)

By the numbers: This is my 4,860th post, and for the last nine years I've posted almost every day. I took two substantial breaks, between November 2008 and February 2009 (when I was still wrestling with blogging vs. keeping my paper journal), and again between October 2010 and May 2011 (when I was working as a reporter in New Jersey and just couldn't bring myself to write both on and off the clock).

I apparently get about 1,000 page views a day, which surprises me because it seems like a lot. Here's how views have fared over time:

Why was I so popular in 2017, and why have I gone downhill since? I have no idea. Maybe I'm getting too repetitive.

Over all those years, here's where my readers have come from:

They like me in Brazil! Who knew?! But I have not caught on in India.

And here are my top referrers over the last seven days (you know who you are):

How is it that Bing is sending so many people my way?

The top search terms that have led people to my blog include, in first place, "shadows and light blog," followed weirdly by "phoenix bail bonds," "queen elizabeth funny moments," "how much to pay a dog sitter per day," "fake grass," "drain blockages" and "how to get rid of the spotted lantern fly." (Have I ever written about a spotted lantern fly? I don't think so.)

(Photo: Aquilegia in our garden, Saturday morning.)

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Cow Parsley

Olga had a very quiet morning yesterday, sleeping for hours on the couch as the rain pattered down. I figured we wouldn't take a walk at all, given the weather and her upset stomach. I got some reading done, working my way through two New Yorkers, and I also did housework -- watered the orchids and all the other plants, vacuumed, washed dishes, washed clothes. The normal Saturday stuff.

But Olga seemed to feel better as the day wore on, and in the afternoon she surprised me by enthusiastically jumping up for a walk. She ate and drank and we went to the cemetery, where the cow parsley is blooming in clouds of white among the headstones. (Video above -- be prepared for barking!) She even ran after her tennis ball several times, so she can't be too sick, although she also nibbled grass as you'll see.

Things are definitely not quite back to normal, so we're still keeping an eye on her. (I'll spare you the details.)

We saw the turaco, which added a bit of excitement to the walk. I heard it calling from a large tree and walked over to find two women, one of whom was throwing sticks at it (!). Fortunately the bird was way too high up to be bothered, and while I told the women what I know about it (which isn't much), it continued nibbling berries or buds or something from the tree. I didn't have my big camera so I couldn't take a picture.

Speaking of pictures, I meant to post this one yesterday but I forgot. When I went to the French restaurant with my co-workers on Friday night, I found this photo hanging in the loo. Not a very auspicious location, but I got to wondering about all these people. Except for the man and woman front and center, they look like they could be young teachers or even students, perhaps new graduates of this lycĂ©e. In which case they were probably about 18 in 1949, which would make them 90 now.  I wonder if any of them are still with us.

It made me consider the brevity of life, and the unpredictable fate of all our photographs and documentation. What would they have thought if they knew their photo would wind up hanging in a restaurant men's room in London in 2021?

I'm guessing the woman, at least, might have declined to participate.

I moved our asiatic lily outside yesterday. It still has a terrible aphid (or something) problem -- little tiny bugs are swarming all over it. Honestly, it's like a horror movie. I was concerned about putting it outdoors because I used bug spray on it several weeks ago, and I don't want to expose any of our outdoor insects to that. But I've showered it with water a few times since then and besides, the spray didn't seem to do a lick of good. So anyway, it's living outside for the rest of the season. Maybe I'll even plant it in the ground. Despite the tiny bugs, the plant itself seems fine and the flowers have been beautiful, but they've now faded.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Brain-Fog Saturday Morning

It's drizzling rain as I write this, sitting on the couch next to a snoring Olga. Apparently we are in the midst of one of the wettest months of May on record, which is crazy coming just one year after our driest May. It's also been unseasonably cool, and remember how I kept complaining about the frosty weather in April? Well, that was record-setting, too.

Crazy days in the weather department. At least I don't have to go outside and water plants.

Olga hasn't been feeling well the last several days -- she was pretty sick two or three days ago, with some kind of stomach ailment, but then she seemed to improve. She ate and wanted a walk yesterday morning. Today, though, she's feeling rough. Once again I suspect her anti-inflammatory medication and I may take her off it for a few days just to let her stomach settle. The problem is, her joints get creaky without it, poor girl.

I'm feeling a bit rough myself, having gone out with my co-workers last night. It was all rather last-minute, with my colleague and boss uncorking a bottle of gin after work, and led to us going to a restaurant and sitting indoors. I hadn't done that in almost a year! It was a little French bistro where we had red wine and I had a small order of Eggs Florentine. A very fun return to normalcy!

(Photo: Houses along the Regent's Canal.)

Friday, May 21, 2021

Pub Tile and Inconsequential Thoughts

A relatively nondescript day yesterday. I did more book weeding in the library -- mostly in the food section, where I purged some old cookbooks. (None that had been recently used -- we still have "The Joy of Cooking," Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson and Julia Child, among others.) I feel like cookbooks are interesting as items of nostalgia but if we want a recipe these days, don't we all go online?

I sometimes wonder how our library wound up with so many random books. I'm sure no one ever bought cookbooks with library money. I think they were probably donated by one of our families, perhaps when they moved back to the States. We are pretty discriminating about donations now, but I think in the old days the librarians used to add stuff to the catalog much more freely.

Anyway, I also finished "This Is How It Always Is," about the family with a young son who, over time, realizes she is actually a daughter. I enjoyed it, although I found it a bit cutesy. The parents were both dramatically accepting, and I'm not sure the book fully explored the depth of conflict that is likely to occur in that kind of situation. But the author apparently has a trans child herself, so she has first-hand experience with the issue and I do not. Maybe I'm just a cynical critic. We had a fair amount of drama in my family when I came out as gay, and my family was more liberal than most -- but that was 35 years ago.

I also spent time unsubscribing from e-mail listservs yesterday. I get e-mails from a ridiculous quantity of places, many of which I haven't dealt with in years. For example, the place that digitized my family's home movies, and places where I bought old postcards back when I actively collected them (like 20 years ago), and the Tribeca Film Festival (I left New York City in 2009). I finally decided to put a stop to it. We'll see if it works.

I've long believed that it's better not to unsubscribe from spam because then the spammers have confirmation that your e-mail address is active, and they double down. Who knows. I just got sick of deleting it all.

A few days ago Dave and I were looking at the patio, where we moved the potted avocado tree, and he said flat-out, "I don't want the avocado inside again." So he's thrown down the gauntlet on that issue. This may be its last summer!

(Photo: Tile on the outer wall of the York Pub in Islington.)

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Fencing (But Not That Kind)

Well, we had an eventful morning yesterday! The fence contractor came to give an estimate for repairing our garden fence. You may remember that one of the fence posts leans slightly in Mrs. Kravitz's direction, and she is not happy. I believe she even sent a legal notice to our landlord, arguing that the fence encroaches on her property. We arranged for her to be able to speak to the contractor, so she could express her concerns.

(I should preface this by saying that in our neighborhood, all property owners are responsible for the fence on the left side of their garden -- thus, the fence that upsets Mrs. K is our landlord's responsibility.)

After he examined the fence from our side and took some measurements, I took him next door to see it from Mrs. Kravitz's patio. She argued for a whole new fence, which has been a long-standing campaign with her, but to my surprise the contractor took her on. He told her that the fence, with a few minor repairs, would be fine and structurally sound. This led to a shouting episode in which she screamed "I AM ENTITLED TO A NEW FENCE!" She said ours is not the kind of neighborhood where people do "cheap repairs," and threatened more legal action. She's obsessed with some cosmetic issues like small gaps in the boards and deteriorated caps on the fence posts (which, to me, look weathered but not bad).

He explained to her that some of her demands are basically a matter of opinion. I echoed that, telling her that we like a more "casual" approach to gardening and emphasizing that the leaning post and a couple of warped panels would be fixed. She insists that all the other fences around her have been replaced more recently, but I pointed out that the fence on our other side was just as old. "Well, you should tell your neighbor to replace it," she said.

"But it doesn't bother us!" I replied.

Anyway, I apologized to the contractor before he left, but I bet he deals with this sort of thing all the time. In retrospect I think he knew exactly what he was getting into -- and, in fact, exactly what the scope of the work would probably be -- before he even arrived. I was surprised he pushed back at her. If I were him I'd have nodded and smiled, and then done whatever the heck I wanted, which is my usual approach to Mrs. Kravitz. But it's just as well that he did.

When we got home from work later in the day, I mowed a sinuous path through our "No-Mow May" lawn from the patio to the bench in back, just to show that its shaggy state is deliberate. I don't want her taking pictures and arguing that we're letting the place go to pot.

At work, I continued to weed our library collection. Here are some other books I've targeted for removal. This one (above) is from 1952! The end papers are covered with cowboys and rocket ships and other mid-century images. It's all very "Make America Great Again," but I don't think we need a 69-year-old book when we have much newer materials covering the same time period.

I'm on the fence about this one. It's a photo essay with accompanying text describing, as the cover says, a day in the life of a Pilgrim boy. It's written in the style of Puritan speech, and thus not particularly easy to understand, and frankly I find the photos kind of cringey. But on Goodreads it has lots of positive reviews and some people say they really liked it as a kid. Maybe I'll leave it.

And finally -- who cares?! I realize our kids weren't even born in the '90s, and their relationship to that time period is a lot like my relationship to the '50s. But if they want to read about Tamagotchi, Nirvana and "Friends," surely they can do it online. (For the record, none of these books have been used in ages, if at all.)

(Top photo: Phone booths in Limehouse, East London.)