Wednesday, October 4, 2023

A Good Heart

For some reason I've been thinking about an episode that occurred many years ago while I was a Zen Buddhism practitioner in New York.

I used to attend a Zendo where we would all sit in meditation, and every once in a while we'd consult with one of the teachers in a process called dokusan. Either the roshi, the Zendo's spiritual leader, or one of the junior teachers would be sitting in meditation in a closed room. You'd enter the room, bow to the teacher and seat yourself on a cushion facing them, and then have a talk about your practice. The subject of the talk could be anything, really, and although dokusan was formal, it wasn't stiff -- you could laugh or cry or reveal anything you felt pertinent to your practice.

One day, while we were on a weeklong summer retreat, I was asked to be the attendant for one of the teachers during dokusan. That meant I lined up the waiting students on a row of cushions outside the door, and I sat with them, signaling to each one in turn when they could go in -- normally when the teacher rang a little bell.

Now, dokusan is supposed to be confidential, between the student and teacher. But as the attendant, I was sitting right outside the door -- and on this particular day it was very quiet. There wasn't much ambient noise. The bell rang, and I signaled to the first waiting student -- a Zendo member who was senior to me -- to go in.

When he began speaking to the teacher, I realized I could hear them both. I tried not to listen, because that violates the spirit of dokusan, but try as I might I couldn't block out the conversation. And what I heard him say shocked me.

My dharma name -- the name I used in the Zendo, bestowed on me by the roshi -- was Junryu. The student in dokusan told the teacher, "I don't think Junryu has a good heart." He sounded emotional, perhaps even tearful, when he said it.

The teacher questioned him and I don't remember what else was said, if I even heard it. As I said I was trying not to listen and at the same time I was stunned. Why didn't I have a good heart?!

Now here's a piece of essential backstory: Part of my job as attendant was to announce dokusan to the rest of the Zendo, all sitting in meditation. At the very beginning I'd stand and say, "Dokusan with (teacher's name) is now available," and line up those who wanted to attend. On this particular day, when I did that, I apparently mispronounced the teacher's name. It was a mispronunciation so minor that to me it barely qualified -- as I recall, I said "tan" to rhyme with the color tan, when I should have said "tan" to rhyme with swan.

The student now sitting in dokusan had softly corrected me, and I'd rolled my eyes and smiled at him. I'd meant it in a friendly way. What does Bart Simpson always say? "Don't have a cow, man!"

Apparently he did not appreciate my response. Still, I was shocked that he would take it so seriously that he'd tell someone (a teacher, no less!) that I didn't have a good heart.

Now, this left me in a predicament. I wasn't supposed to be hearing what was going on in that room. How could I address this situation?

First, I got an electric fan and set it up outside the dokusan room, using its white noise to drown out any future conversations so they wouldn't be overheard by me or the other waiting students. And that night, I spoke to the student who'd made the comment about my heart -- I didn't come out and say I'd heard him in dokusan, though I'm sure he must have suspected it. But I said I was sorry for the eye-roll, that it was a defensive mechanism because I felt insecure being the dokusan attendant. (Which was probably true.)

The entire episode subsided after that, but I have never forgotten that remark -- that I don't have a good heart. Every time I get annoyed at anything or anyone -- like the mob of rambunctious 10th grade boys I'm constantly trying to corral in my current library job -- I think, "Oh my God, that guy was right! I really don't have a good heart!"

Anyway, please don't assure me I have a good heart. That's not what I'm looking for here. I just wanted to relate the story and the impact it had on me. If anything it's provided an opportunity for self-reflection over the years. For the record, I do think I have a good heart, to the extent that phrase means anything -- but I can accept that there are those who don't appreciate my occasionally flippant sense of humor.

(Photos: More images of our sunflowers, which are definitely the most interesting thing happening in the garden at the moment, and they're on their way out already. In the Zen spirit of transience, we'd better enjoy them while we can!)

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Graffiti Advice and Floppy Disks

I have nothing much to write about today, so I think it's a good day for another random photo post. Here are some shots I've had hanging around a while and haven't had a chance to blog.

First, some advice from a nameless graffiti writer on Finchley Road. I don't grow food myself, but I figure I have enough gardening experience that if the apocalypse comes I'll be able to figure out how. (Once I get my hands on some seeds, which would be a whole 'nother challenge!)

I saw this very elaborate spider web built on the back of someone's Land Rover. I couldn't help but feel bad for the spider. It wasn't going to end well.

This poster has been put up all over our neighborhood. Have you ever seen such an expressive emoji? (I blocked out the phone numbers, since I'm sure this person didn't mean for them to be circulated internationally.)

This heap of trash has been sitting on the sidewalk around the corner for at least a week. I can't figure out what the pickup schedule is supposed to be for this building. (And clearly their residents can't, either.) Olga liked the smells.

Camden Council, our local government, is trialling a new system of sidewalk rubbish bins along our high street. Until now residents of flats above the shops have been expected to put their bagged rubbish on the sidewalk, unprotected. But the bags inevitably get torn open and become an unsightly mess. (Here's a local resident's rant about that.) Let's hope the bins go over well -- then maybe trash heaps like this won't exist, at least not for days and weeks at a time.

I didn't see this guy's "concert," so I'm not sure what that entailed -- perhaps he was just making himself available in case someone recognized him as the owner of the wallet? (Once again, I blocked out most of his phone number.)

This is a very hip barber shop on our high street. They will leave your man bun intact!

I laughed at how Olga and her blanket managed to take up our ENTIRE gigantic couch.

(We will soon need a new couch. This one, as you may remember, came with the flat, so it's about ten years old and it's pretty saggy and tatty. It's never been my favorite. But I don't want to replace it as long as Olga is with us, since she loves it so much and it's a good dog couch.)

Finally, I laughed at the cover of this old book in our library. It was published in 1989. Will kids even know what that device is on the desk? And what are those little square things next to it? "Floppy disks," you say? What the heck do those do?

Monday, October 2, 2023

Cabbages It Is

I woke yesterday with great ambitions to do a photowalk. But the sky was cloudy and gray, there were no shadows, and despite all my cleaning on Saturday I still had a ton of things to do around the house. So, photowalk on pause for one more week.

I went to Homebase in the morning, thinking I could pick up a chrysanthemum for the front patio. Our summer flowers were looking tired and we needed something fresh. Everything at Homebase except the plants is on sale because our local store is closing soon -- it will eventually be demolished along with the surrounding parking lot, an auto dealership and some other stuff to make room for 1,800 apartments in multiple buildings, as well as a park and commercial area. (A lot of people are against this scheme but I don't mind it. Homebase and that parking lot are ugly, and it does seem like an awful lot of underused land.)

On the way I passed a guy wearing a t-shirt that said "Ew, David." Made me laugh.

Anyway, Homebase was devoid of chrysanthemums, so I bought some ornamental cabbages instead, as well as a couple of trowels and some hedge-trimming shears. I stopped by Waitrose on the way home, thinking they might have chrysanthemums, and they did -- tiny, dead ones. Cabbages it is!

Home again, I continued my cleaning spree and watered all the houseplants. I discovered our aloe, which sits undisturbed on a windowsill in the living room, had a case of mealybugs. So I took it outside and hosed it off and washed those little monsters away, and cleaned the window and the sill.

I had no idea the aloe was so big until I had to carry it outside! It's the same one I mentioned finding in this post (although I called it "overwatered," I think I meant "under-watered," because as I recall it was very dry at the time). Anyway, it was much smaller then.

All houseplants can benefit from a good rinse, and this one was overdue. I think it's been years.

I spent the rest of the day reading. I'm enjoying "Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow." It's been good all along but last night it got really good and even made me cry. I can't tell you the last time I cried over a book!

(Top photo: The back of some buildings on our high street.)

Sunday, October 1, 2023


Here's another shot of the little sunflower, about a foot tall, blooming at the edge of the garden. When it came to producing that flower it was like the Little Engine that Could: "I think I can! I think I can!"

Before I talk about yesterday's fascinating activities, let me just add a couple of links in support of my skepticism over lending my phone to that guy on the bus. (See previous post.) Borrowed phones are in fact a vehicle for thievery, both in the UK and in the USA. From what I can tell this most usually happens via money transfer apps like Venmo or Zelle, neither of which I have on my phone, so maybe my risk wouldn't have been the same.

I was glad to see most of my commenters seemed to share my skepticism. And as Mitchell and others pointed out, even dialing the guy's wife and letting him talk to her would have revealed to them my number -- and here's quite a story about why that can be scary. I have belatedly realized the ideal solution to this dilemma: Block the phone, call the wife, put her on speaker but don't hand the phone over, and then disconnect and unblock.

However, the part of the story I failed to mention is that when the older guy first approached me, we were getting off the bus at the next stop. So there wouldn't have been time for all that anyway.

Now, having spent a ridiculous amount of time on The Old Man and the Phone, a la Hemingway, I'll fill you in on yesterday. Not that anything all that exciting happened.

I spent the morning cleaning like a fiend. I cleaned the bathrooms, I cleaned the windowsills, I washed the window behind the Hypericum bush that was demolished by the construction guy (as you can see in that post it was quite filthy), I did two loads of laundry. I also tended to all the houseplants around the back door, moving several of them outside for a wash and cleaning the floor around and under them.

Then I mowed the lawn, and...TRAGEDY! The mower caught the head of the Little Sunflower that Could and POPPED IT RIGHT OFF!

Well, at least now we can enjoy it in the kitchen.

We have one more stunted sunflower that also has a bud, so I don't think we'll be deprived of a miniature sunflower in the garden. But still, I couldn't believe that happened!

Saturday, September 30, 2023

No More Apple Tree

Look what's disappeared! The apple-tree-in-a-bag! I wonder if it's been transplanted somewhere or if it simply got discarded. You know how, when a pet dies, parents sometimes tell little kids that it has "gone to live on a farm"? I suspect that tree has gone to live on a farm.

Olga is saying, "I didn't take it. I swear."

Another busy day yesterday. The 8th Graders were getting their school pictures taken in one of the rooms of the library, which resulted in mobs of yammering kids lined up all morning not too far from my desk. An aide was assigned to keep them more or less under control but that's a thankless and impossible task. When her shift ended, she walked past my desk, pinched her fingers together and said "My patience is like THIS."

After work, Dave and I went to a pub gathering for a friend of ours who's taking a year off work. He's sailing in the Canary Islands, getting some kind of captain's certification. His ultimate plan is to be at the helm of a boat in the Caribbean during the winter and into next spring, before coming back to school next fall. I guess there are rich people who hire captains to move around yachts and that sort of thing. It's a completely alien world to me, but hey, nice work if you can get it!

We took a bus home, and I made sure to sit by the window so I could get this footage of Emminster House being demolished. The first part of the building I show in the video used to be the Lillie Langtry pub. The demolition seems to be taking a long time -- the other buildings seemed to come down much more quickly. But maybe I just didn't see a lot of the work, or maybe there are special concerns with this one. All speculation on my part.

After I finished making that video, I turned to Dave and we were talking, and an older man came up to me and said, "Would you mind if I use your mobile phone to call my wife and tell her I'll be late?" I thought for a second and said, "I can't do that, I'm sorry." He gave me a dubious look and went back to his seat.

I felt bad about it, but I've heard too many stories about scammers doing things on borrowed phones. Once you hand your phone to someone, and it's unlocked (as it must be to make a call), they pretty much have control. He didn't look like a scammer, and unlike many people I don't have Apple Pay set up on my phone, but still -- you just never know.

I suppose I could have called her for him, but of course I didn't think of that in the moment (and after two pints of beer)!

Friday, September 29, 2023

The Wrong Bus

I made my coffee with pumpkin spices this morning -- cinnamon and nutmeg -- in celebration of autumn. I started the coffee-with-cinnamon thing several years ago when we had an overload of cinnamon and I was trying to figure out how to use it up. We're down to a jar and a half now, which isn't too crazy.

Some more street scenes this morning. That's Abbey Road above, of Beatles fame, a few tenths of a mile north of the famous crosswalk and Abbey Road Studios. When I take this route to work, I usually join Abbey Road at this point and walk north. I don't pass the crosswalk.

Last night I was returning from a pub outing with my fellow librarians, so I decided rather than walk, I would take the bus. I grabbed a bus at the stop above...

...and sat on the upper deck. I thought, "Why is no one else on this bus?!"

That's when I realized I was on the wrong bus, so I had to get off at the next stop and get on the right one. My bad.

I waited across from the stadium-like Alexandra Road Estate, a Brutalist architectural landmark on Abbey Road built in the 1970s. I've always thought this was an intriguing design and I've photographed it several times.

Anyway, from there I came home uneventfully.

Yesterday was another busy day at work. No blog reading for me! I don't know what it is about this year, but I feel like I always have so much to do. More so than usual. This isn't a bad thing, necessarily, because the workday goes pretty fast, but it's bizarre. My job hasn't changed, so what's different?

The head librarian is considering ways of dividing up our fiction section to help kids find books at their reading level. Right now all fiction is shelved together, with books for our youngest readers (Grades 5 & 6) marked by a red dot. She's thinking about moving adult fiction to its own section. I have my doubts about this, and if I start enumerating them all this post will be huge -- but they're mainly logistical. I don't know what we'd do with books like "The Catcher in the Rye," or "The Handmaid's Tale," or "The Bluest Eye," or classics like "David Copperfield" that are staples of high-school reading yet were written with adults in mind. And what about books like "Divergent" that are technically YA but read by adults as well?

Having said all that, it's certainly not an unprecedented idea. The library at the school in Vienna where I went for training in April was divided up that way. In fact as I recall, there were three sections there -- kids, YA and adult. I believe this is often true of public libraries too. (At our school, books for the youngest readers, fourth grade and below, are already in a whole different library in another part of the building.)

I think I need to better understand why we're doing it, and what the goal is. A conversation still to be had.

One thing I've learned about sunflowers is that even if they don't grow well, they will crank out a blossom. This little sunflower was planted at the same time as my others, and for some reason it only grew to be about a foot tall. Maybe it didn't like its location or the soil or something. But darned if it didn't bloom!

Thursday, September 28, 2023

A Swiss Snarl

Another street scene today, once again from Finchley Road, where I walked home last night. This is kind of a weird stretch where the road bed is well above the sidewalk -- the cars pass by on the other side of that barrier, basically at eye-level to pedestrians. I guess at some point the road was built up, probably for engineering purposes. There's been some attempt at beautification, by adding a tile mosaic to the retaining wall, but it's all rather dismal, I think.

Here's a slightly more attractive sight on Finchley, the alpine-style pub in the community of Swiss Cottage. It's essentially on a big traffic island, along with a cinema, an apartment building and some shops. There's a subterranean walkway -- which the British confusingly call a "subway," unlike our American subway, which is a train -- that leads under Finchley Road to the pub and to the other side of the street. There's always a snarl of cars and buses in this area, but you'll see people sitting out in front of the pub with their beers like they're in the most bucolic country village. A hedge does wonders.

Not much to say about yesterday. I worked, I came home.

While walking to work I passed this perfectly nice lily protruding from someone's yard waste bag. I snapped it off...

...and it's now decorating my desk!

Wednesday, September 27, 2023


Here's another random street shot from one of my walking routes, along Fairhazel Gardens in South Hampstead. On the right you can see the kickboxing studio Gav the Champ, which I've photographed before. Right across the street used to be the dubiously named salon Ho Hair, though it's a coffee shop now. Farther along, with the red awning, is a wine bar called The Arches, which is a popular after-work spot for many of my colleagues. In fact, as I walked past right after taking this photo, I waved to four of them sitting out front.

I think this is a much more pleasant walk than Finchley Road. Some of you defended Finchley in yesterday's comments and said it wasn't as ugly as I was making it out to be. I think the key, for me, is the lack of trees. Trees make a street a million times more pleasant, and on Finchley there are virtually no trees and a lot of cars and buses. Plus the roadway has been built up above the sidewalk in places, so you feel like you're walking through a tunnel.

Anyway, I kind of like this challenge of taking a random street shot each day. Maybe I'll make a week of it.

Yesterday a workman came to inspect the gutters and do some repairs on the fascia board at the eaves, over our patio. Dave met him when he showed up first thing in the morning and then went to work, leaving the guy on his own to do the repairs. When we came home we found he'd apparently taken out some rotten wood and patched the sketchy spots (whether with new wood or some kind of filler I'm not sure).

I was annoyed, though, because the guy demolished a Hypericum bush we had growing next to the wall. Granted, it grew there of its own accord, in a crack in the pavement, and I'm sure he thought it was just a weed. But we left it on purpose and every year it blooms with big yellow flowers, and the bees love it. I guess it was in his way, and it looks like he literally just ripped it apart with his hands! I neatened it up with some secateurs and it will come back. But still -- for all he knew, that could have been my favorite bush in the whole world!

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Once...Maybe Twice

I tried another random street shot while walking home from work yesterday afternoon -- this time on Finchley Road, which has got to be the ugliest street for miles around. It's a busy six-lanes of stop-and-go traffic, overseen in this location by an electronic billboard advertising "The Kardashians" for Disney+. (The Kardashians don't seem very Disney, do they? What would Uncle Walt say?)

I blogged that white building on the right not quite a year ago. It still looks decrepit.

I don't have to walk on Finchley. There are two alternate routes to work, via Priory and Abbey roads or Fairhazel Gardens and Loudoun Road, that are much more pleasant. But Finchley Road is the shortest and most direct route, so I often walk it for the sake of expediency. Sometimes I get a bubble tea to make up for the visual brutality.

I called the vet yesterday and made an appointment for Olga's shots. They can't see her until Oct. 17, which is bewildering. Usually we get right in. Based on what the receptionist said, it seems they've started setting aside a certain proportion of their appointments for vaccinations and those fill up more quickly. Who knows what practice management technique is behind that decision. I'm sure it's economic!

Yesterday I mentioned one of my mom's favorite expressions, that everything has to be done at least twice.

That reminded me of an old t-shirt she used to have in the '70s with a different (but similar-sounding) phrase on it: "I'll try anything once...maybe twice."

My mom thought that shirt was hilarious. As a little kid I didn't understand it, and even now the vaguely risqué humor seems pretty subtle. She wore it for years.

Later on she had a much less subtle t-shirt from a furniture rental company that said, "I lease by the piece!"

Monday, September 25, 2023


Not a whole lot of news today, since I spent most of yesterday on the couch, reading. It was a great way to spend a Sunday, I'll say that much.

I've had vague ideas of taking a photo walk somewhere in town, but when it comes down to it I don't have the motivation to go. This is different from even five or ten years ago, when I struggled to stay home. What has happened? Is it age? The pandemic? I'm not sure. I just don't feel the same compulsion.

That's not to say I won't go again, but I have to psych myself up more.

I tried to call the vet to schedule a check-up and vaccinations for Olga, but our vet no longer keeps weekend hours, so I was routed to the sister clinic in Belsize Park -- and they can't make reservations for West Hampstead. So I'll call back today. As my mother used to say, everything has to be done at least twice.

Our sunflowers are continuing to open, as you can see in the top photo. Those are the ones on the patio. We also have a blooming primrose next to some asters that grew in a crack in the paving stones. (I should probably weed those pots -- but they're in keeping with our laissez-faire gardening style!)

Indoors, the new orchid (front) looks a lot like my favorite orchid (back). That's a pleasant surprise.

Speaking of orchids, one of the recently rescued orchids appears to be dying. The crown of the plant has gone soft. I don't know if it got damaged when it was thrown out or what, but losing one isn't terrible. The other four look fine.

Last night Dave and I started a show called "Minx," on Paramount+, about a woman launching a feminist porn magazine in the '70s. Historically dubious but kind of fun.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

The Dangling Cable

Yesterday morning the sun coming through the leaves of our spotted begonia turned them a fiery red. It's a beautiful plant. It probably needs to be trimmed -- it has several stalks that are about four feet long and they're a bit unwieldy. But I hate to cut it (even though I could root the cuttings).

I spent yesterday morning cleaning the house, changing the bed sheets, vacuuming, blah blah blah. Then I sat down with "Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow," which I have back from the library after surrendering it to that teacher who wanted to finish it. Since I'd only gotten about 20 pages into it on that earlier outing, I started from the beginning again and I'm well into it now. I'm really liking it.

Of course a day couldn't go by without the Russians presenting me with some sort of problem. I looked out our bathroom window and saw this white cable swaying in the breeze. It's coming from waaaaaaay up at the top of the house, where it was running along the gutter. I asked Mrs. Russia about it, and she said, "Oh, yes, it's an old unused cable so we just cut it."

I made plain that I didn't want it hanging down the side of the house and in front of our windows, so she agreed to lean out her window with some wire cutters and chop it off. It fell down into our side return and I put it in the trash. There's still a bit of it hanging up there but I don't see it so I can live with that.

Olga spent the morning on her new bed in the garden. She's adapting to it. As you can see, I was doing laundry too. A few more sunflowers have opened!

In the afternoon we took Olga to the cemetery. We hadn't been there in a while, and even Dave -- who thinks recreational walking is completely pointless -- came along. Olga chased her tennis ball and eyed squirrels with great hostility but couldn't quite bring herself to run after them.

We saw this very well-appointed grave. The red and pink flowers are cyclamens, and I believe that yellow bench is new, or at least newly painted. It's very colorful.

Speaking of colorful, last night we rented the movie "Barbie" from Amazon. I enjoyed it and I'm impressed that they (and when I say "they," I really mean Greta Gerwig) were able to take such potentially shallow source material and make a culturally relevant movie out of it. I've always thought of myself as a feminist but it made me consider ways that I perpetuate patriarchal ideas without meaning to do so. I think I'm more of an Allan than a Ken (if you've seen the movie you'll understand that) but I'm sure I benefit from maleness just as I benefit from whiteness -- in ways that are largely intangible to me but allow me to exist with a level of security that others don't share. Anyway, it was all very thought-provoking, and who expected a movie about Barbie to ever be that?

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Street Scene with Dental Filling

Last night Dave and I went with one of Dave's co-workers for a drink at our local pub. We decided afterwards that we no longer like this pub, which is a shame -- it used to be a good hangout but then they renovated and it now seems very soulless. It's also a ripoff. I spent £18 on a "black bean salad" that contained romaine lettuce, a scattering of kidney (not black) beans, some hot peppers and a few cubes of sweet potato -- maybe £3 worth of food. And I don't even like hot peppers so I pulled them off.

Anyway, I had a couple of glasses of wine to make it all palatable, and then on the walk home, while Dave ducked into the pharmacy, I snapped the photo above. I didn't have a specific subject -- just random street activity -- and wound up capturing three buses, a furry dog and a woman in a yellow-green coat. Life in West Hampstead.

I went back to the dentist yesterday. Remember my broken front tooth? Well, I showed it to the dentist and she examined it and kept exclaiming how "very bizarre" it was that it broke in the way it did. But fortunately the break was such that it was easily filled. I told her I wondered if it had something to do with my recent cleaning -- not in an accusatory way -- but she didn't cop to that. And indeed it may be completely unrelated. Who knows.

I'm just glad I can no longer feel that jagged absence with my tongue. It was driving me nuts.

As I wrote yesterday, the recent rain and wind has been battering our garden. I cut several stalks of the Alstroemeria (Peruvian lily) that were left dragging on the ground and brought them inside. Why give them to the slugs?

This morning, when I opened the back door to let Olga out, a chill hit me. I looked at the temperature and it's 48º F out there! (That's about 9º C.) And today is the Autumnal Equinox, so fall has officially arrived.

Friday, September 22, 2023


We've been having some gnarly weather here -- lots of wind and rain. My sunflowers are still standing but their stems have been tested! (I staked them up so they've had some help.) This is Olga on our walk yesterday morning, with a colorful arrangement of street gear.

I honestly don't have much to report, and I'm sure you're not interested in my reflections on Rupert Murdoch's retirement (my one-word summary: FINALLY!) or anything else in the news cycle. I have been listening to a fascinating podcast called "Q-Anon Anonymous," in which three regular hosts take a critical and humorous look at a lot of the weirdness in and around the Q-Anon movement. It's darned entertaining and my take-away, after hearing roughly seven one-hour episodes, is that there's a lot of undiagnosed mental illness out there.

Dave, meanwhile, has been watching YouTube. He looked up from his computer the other day and said, "A wuzzle is when same-sex dolphins get together for an orgy."

What did we ever do without the Internet? Honestly.

In the library, a child returned a book the other day that felt slightly lumpy beneath the dust jacket. (I handle so many library books I can immediately tell if something is off about one of them, just as I can immediately tell if a book is out of place on a shelf.) I peered beneath the dust jacket and found this:

So here's my helpful message to school children everywhere: PLEASE don't store your raisins in your library books.

(It's interesting to note that on the lower left flap of that raisin box is the date "Aug 22." I hope that's a date of production and not an expiration date. How long have those raisins been in that book?!)

Thursday, September 21, 2023

From Puppy to Peace Corps

Yes, that's me -- in 1975 or so, when my dad was building his new house after his divorce from my mom. My brother and I would visit him on weekends, and we'd often go to see the progress on the house. I'm holding Puppy, my favorite stuffed animal, a bedraggled dog with its tongue Scotch-taped to its face. My parents, like the Argentinian junta, eventually "disappeared" Puppy because they thought I was getting too old to be carrying around a stuffed dog, and they were probably right. (I was eight or nine.) Anyway, I've always liked this picture.

I came across this photo while looking for something else, which led to me combing through files and files of images. I thought, "Why not make this a blog post?" All photos were taken before 1993, and hopefully I haven't blogged any of them already!

This is me in 1984, when I was a senior in high school, with our two dogs, Herman (L) and Hoover. I've written about them before. That's our house in the background.

In 1989, when I was 22, I took a trip with my mom and brother to Glacier National Park in Montana. The Sydney shirt was sent to me by my Australian penpal, Narelle, when I was in college. Narelle and I wrote to each other for several years. She introduced me to the band Dead or Alive and was mildly offended when we exchanged cassette tapes and I told her she sounded British. "I don't think I sound like a Pom at all!" she said. I just never expected Australians to have accents. (Apparently I'd forgotten "Crocodile Dundee.")

This is me in about 1990, at a burned-out convenience store somewhere in Central Florida. You can't quite tell but I'm wearing a shirt celebrating banned books. It says "CENSORED" diagonally across a list of titles that had historically been controversial, like "The Catcher in the Rye" and "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich." I wish I still had that shirt!

In 1990 I went to San Francisco with my friend Arthur. That bag contained a loaf of sourdough that we ate for dinner -- and as I recall we ate ONLY the sourdough, and drank a bottle of red wine. Anyway, I was excited to be on Grant Avenue, which runs through Chinatown and is the title of a show tune from "Flower Drum Song" -- I had it on vinyl sung by Florence Henderson. (Yes, I had a Florence Henderson album. I know, SO GAY. I got it at a thrift store somewhere.)

That corner hasn't changed much. Here's a Google Street View image -- if you rotate it to the right you can see that signpost, still looking the same, as well as the fire hydrant. (The newspaper box is gone, though.)

This is me in Key West in the early '90s, in a truly ridiculous outfit. Those shorts had the Flintstones on them. Throwing my arms out is my standard method of trying to make a photo more exciting.

This old dead tree used to stand in a pasture not too far from our house in Florida. Again, I'm doing the arm thing, with a leg thrown in for good measure. I'm trying to imitate the outstretched pose of the tree. This was probably 1990 or so.

Here I am in 1991 outside the post office in Toast, North Carolina, which really is the name of a community near Mount Airy. I was with my friend Suzanne and we were greatly amused to find a town called Toast.

And finally, when I first went to Morocco in the Peace Corps in 1992, I stayed in a village near Essaouira on training. The guy in the red hat, Ali, was my host -- I slept at his house and he insisted that I ride his donkey to the training site. I was nearly as big as the donkey and after this first day I insisted on walking!

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Drying Out

It's a bit early for the leaves to start falling, but I'm already finding some interesting ones on my walk to work. At least, they're interesting to me!

Yesterday I had to race home in the middle of the day to meet with the contractor who's supposed to finish our bathroom/hallway renovation work. You may remember we had much of our bathroom replaced this summer, which fixed an internal leak in our shower. Since then we've been waiting for the hallway wall to dry out so it can be painted. (It's a very dense wall. I think it's plaster and lathe, but there seem to be bricks involved too, so I'm not sure of its construction.)

I went to work in the morning, because I had a noon appointment with the guy. Or so I thought until I checked my old e-mails at 11:30 and realized I was supposed to be home to meet him RIGHT THEN! How did I screw that up? I have no idea. But I raced out of there like a jackrabbit on bennies and/or dexies, and still managed to get home before the contractor, who fortunately was running late himself.

He used his little moisture-measuring gizmo to determine that although the wall is slowly drying, it's still too damp to paint. "It must have been absolutely saturated," he said. He's going to recommend scraping off the old plaster to give the wall more breathing ability, and they'll re-skim it before painting.

Meanwhile they're coming next week to look at the gutters and eaves around our patio. It's always something. At least I'm not paying for any of it (well, except through the rent).

I've been cutting back on my alcohol consumption for a while now. Not that I was ever a huge drinker, but at one point I was having a gin & tonic and/or a glass or two of wine almost every night, which really did feel like too much. I was modeling that behavior on my dad, who had a cocktail and wine each evening in his later life, but I've stopped the gin (except on Fridays!) and now I'm going for several weeknights each week with no wine either.

One thing I've noticed is that it seems to make a big difference in my sleep patterns. If I drink nothing, I sleep much more soundly and often through the night with no interruption. That doesn't seem to be the case after just a glass or two of wine.

Anyway, I feel better and I'm sure it's the right thing to do. Especially since Dave no longer drinks, having given it up because of his Crohn's disease. Wine used to be something we could enjoy together with dinner, and it went hand-in-hand with Dave's culinary training, but now it seems a little desperate for me to drink alone. (Dave actually encourages it, saying he's living vicariously through me. I tell him he's like the Bad Idea Bears from "Avenue Q.")

Last night I made a reservation for a little getaway during our October break. We'll be staying in a grand country house outside London, Olga in tow. It's good to have an escape to look forward to!

Speaking of Olga, I finally had to throw away her Union Jack dog bed. We've had it for about ten years, and it was quite faded, but after it recently developed a couple of huge holes I decided enough was enough. Olga has a replacement bed but she doesn't seem to like it as much. Perhaps she misses that connection with her sense of British patriotism.