Tuesday, February 28, 2023


Last night I had a terrible time falling asleep. Jet lag, I suppose. This is how it always works -- the first night back I collapse into bed and sleep like a log, because I've been up for something like 24 hours. But the second night is much more challenging.

Still, it wasn't that awful. I was asleep by midnight or so.

At least I get to settle in and return to routine. Poor Dave is off to a choral festival in Oman this evening with eight students and another chaperone. He doesn't mind traveling with students (and he's done it a lot) but coming so closely on the heels of our own trip makes it harder. He had just enough time to squeeze in his routine infusion of Crohn's medication yesterday afternoon.

So, yeah, for the next four nights (I think?) it's just me and Olga. Maybe I can finally catch up on my blog reading!

Our daffodils are looking good, as you can see. We have these now, and then a second crop of white ones that bloom later in the spring. Funny how they're all facing away from the house, like they're shy.

Here's the latest addition to that neighborhood advertisement I've photographed a couple of times. A vaccine critic who can't even spell the word seriously undercuts their argument, it seems to me.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Old Newspapers and 'The Yearling'

I'm still getting things organized after our arrival home yesterday afternoon. If you didn't see my previous post (because I posted it so late yesterday), you can check that out to see our reunion with Olga. She's lying next to me as I type, sound asleep. She is palpably relieved at being back to our routines.

I also haven't taken any pictures yet, so I'll post some of the old photos I bought at that antique store in Jacksonville on Wednesday. You know I love rescuing old snapshots that would otherwise be lost and adding them to humanity's digital online archive!

First, there's this bunch of kids who have evidently been collecting old newspapers. I'm guessing this is from the '70s -- I vaguely remember doing this with the Cub Scouts. I suppose we must have made some money on it. The address on the truck is Watts Street, and there is a Watts Street in Jacksonville, so I'm guessing this photo was taken there. Check out the kid in the gigantic green sports jersey -- and that girl on the right looks like she's about to go into outer space.

"Myself and Nora B." are dressed in some fancy, flower-garlanded gowns with sashes. I wonder what the occasion was?

This is the weirdest picture of the bunch. It looks like that Frankenstein-armed man is about to grab that flinching girl, and the other two are catching him in the act. It seems purposefully staged, like they're acting out a scene in a play.

"Miss! I have a question about the penguins!"

This must have been a school outing to a museum, but that kid at lower left thinks it's P.E. and he's doing calisthenics.

On back: "Stevie."

This man seems inordinately proud of his tiny fish. On back: "July 1936."

This looks like it's probably a brand-new house -- so new they haven't yet built the steps up to the back door.

Finally, these last two photos remind me so much of "The Yearling," Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' book about a poor family in North Florida. They're both from the same page in an old photo album. That could easily be Jody Baxter's father above with his horse...

And this could be Jody with Flag. (In the book Jody is a boy, but I believe Rawlings based the story on a girl in her community who had a pet deer.)

I have a few more, too. I'll eventually put them all on Flickr in my "rescued photos" album.

Sunday, February 26, 2023


We are back in London safe and sound, and as you can see, reunited with Olga. That little green object is an alligator chew toy we brought her from Florida. It squeaks, making a sound not at all similar to a real alligator, and she seems uncertain about what to do with it.

I've been so focused on getting resettled, unpacking, getting the house up to a livable temperature (it must have been 45ยบ F in here when we got home) and placating the dog that I almost forgot to blog! We landed at about 10 a.m. this morning, London time, and we caught a taxi straight to the dog kennel. Unfortunately it's on the other side of town from Heathrow and there was heavy traffic due to a game of some kind at Wembley Stadium, so the taxi bill was exorbitant. And it got doubly so when the driver then took us all home, including Olga, panting and wheezing with excitement in the back seat.

That's what she looked like in the cab, saying, "Don't you ever do that to me again!" Even though the staff at the "luxury pet hotel" apparently adored her and exclaimed about how good she is with other dogs, among other things.

She's now snoring next to me on the couch and will probably sleep for a week.

The flight was more or less comfortable -- just eight-plus hours coming back, or two shorter than the trip over, which made all the difference. I didn't even bother with movies this time around. I read a biography of folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie that I bought several years ago and never got around to before now, and I did one of several big crossword puzzles that Dave's mom gave me.

Home sweet home!

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Food and Palm Fronds

It's our last day in Florida. By the time the sky looks like this again, we'll be in the air headed toward England.

Yesterday was pretty low-key. There was lots of eating. We went to breakfast with Dave's parents and their neighbors at the Cortez Diner right down the road. (I had French toast.) Then we ran a few errands and came back here for lunch (sandwiches), and I did three crossword puzzles. My vocabulary is now refreshed with useful words like "bah!" and "eeriest."

Later we went to dinner at Mar Vista, a popular seafood restaurant on Longboat Key, where I had yummy but rather dearly priced shrimp and grits. We ate at an outdoor table beneath a spreading buttonwood tree, and I got two glasses of wine that were filled right to the tippy-top. Talk about a holiday pour!

Here are some more photos to give you a sense of the atmosphere here in Bradenton:

It's been great not having my heavy camera to tote around, but I have missed it. There have been a few photos I was either unable to take or had to take differently because I had only my phone. But it's a circumstance that has made me think differently as a photographer and I guess that's not a bad thing.

We've been checking in on Olga in her kennel every day. I know I haven't posted any dog-cam photos, but that's because they mostly look like this:

Not very exciting, right? And kind of pathetic. Poor girl! It's like she's in jail.

But the kennel (sorry, "luxury pet hotel") posted some photos to Instagram of her out and about with the other dogs, and they were a bit more lively. Here she is rolling in leaves, as she loves to do:

That Weimaraner looks very doubtful. Like, "Can you believe this crazy dog?"

Anyway, we're going to enjoy our last few hours among the pelicans in this tropical paradise, and then we're off to Tampa to see my step-sister, return her car and catch our plane. For better or worse, normalcy returns tomorrow!

Friday, February 24, 2023

The Diving Girl

I left Jacksonville early yesterday morning for the long drive south to rejoin Dave and his parents in Bradenton. It's about a five-hour trip by the most direct route, and I wanted to have a little adventure. I decided to go via Avon Park, a small town in the center of the state where my great-grandparents lived and where my maternal grandmother was born.

I was last there about 20 years ago, I think. I considered a couple of different routes, and I desperately wanted to avoid Interstate 4 if possible. (If there's a more miserable road in Florida than I-4, I don't know what it is.) Google maps gave me an option that started at I-95 in Cocoa Beach and routed me along tiny backroads through Osceola County, but that seemed a little too adventurous. One of those roads wasn't even paved!

So in the end, I stuck with I-95 to I-4, and then I-4 to U.S. 27 South. As expected, I-4 was dreary, but I survived.

When I pulled in to Avon Park -- which, by the way, was named after Stratford-Upon-Avon in England -- the first thing I did was stop at Bougainvillea Cemetery and visit my great-grandparents' graves. My great-grandfather, who was the station master for the railroad, died long before I was born. But I remember my great-grandmother, who died in 1974.

They lived in this house, which isn't in great shape these days, but it must be more than 100 years old. My great-grandmother used to have lots of flowers -- in fact, she won ribbons in flower competitions, which we still have. It was always a highlight of my visits with her to be able to pick some of the exotic flowers in her side yard, like hibiscus and shrimp plant. (Avon Park is farther south than where we lived in Pasco County, so her tropical flowers flourished.)

I walked down the Mall, a wide strip of park between the east- and west-bound lanes of Main Street, past the historic Jacaranda Hotel.

A red kapok tree in front of the hotel had dropped some of its weird, Jurassic-looking flowers.

I stopped for lunch at the nearby Diving Girl Diner.

Here's the story behind the name: For years, one of the most famous landmarks in Avon Park was the sign for Reed's Motel on U.S. 27. (It's purely a coincidence that it was named Reed's -- my family members in Avon Park were Conoleys, not Reeds, and as far as I know I'm not related to the motel owners at all.) I was disappointed to see recently on Google Street View that the sign had been taken down.

When I mentioned it in the diner, my waitress said, "Oh, she's on display right down the street. She weighs 600 pounds!" Turns out someone bought the diving girl and put her in the window of a shop called Pure Grit, where she makes a fancy shelf for cowboy hats.

So I'm glad to see the girl has survived. I think one of these days she probably ought to go into the local museum. If it can accommodate a 600-pound sign, that is. (Maybe that was the whole sign. Could the girl alone really weigh that much?)

Anyway, my lunch at the diner was great -- I had a cup of black bean soup and a half cuban sandwich (my receipt called it the "Miami Beach"). The waitress saved my dying phone by allowing me to plug it in for a charge, for which I am eternally grateful.

And then I set off for the drive west to Bradenton, where I arrived in time to appreciate the sunset over Sarasota Bay and go out for a fish dinner -- complete with martini!

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Vintage Tupperware and Other Distractions

Yesterday = another day in paradise. We dropped off my niece at school, and then went to a nearby coffee shop in north Jacksonville. It's a place my brother and I often go after making that morning run, though he's abstaining from coffee and sugar and a bunch of other things at the moment, so it was basically me having coffee and him watching. Hopefully that wasn't too annoying for him.

(That's not the coffee shop in the photo. I just liked the colors of those buildings.)

Then he drove me around town showing me some of the big developments and other interesting stuff -- the flats made of shipping containers, the motel repurposed into micro-apartments, the gigantic sports facilities for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Afterwards, we continued our quest to find a buyer for Grandmother's china.

That led us to a gigantic antique mall -- gigantic to me, anyway, though I'm sure there are bigger ones. We spent three hours looking at all the tchotchkes (like dog portraits) and having lunch and not talking to the proprietors about Grandmother's china.

In the end, I bought some old photos (rescued photo post to come!), two old Tampa postcards and a book by Jeff Klinkenberg, whose writing about Florida I've long enjoyed. I was sorely tempted by that chicken lamp but I couldn't imagine trying to carry it back to London on a plane. My brother got a few items too, and by the end of our browsing we just didn't have it in us to broach the subject of the china. So that errand will have to wait.

My brother took me to my mom's, and while he went to collect my nieces from school I took her for another outdoor walk. We sat down by the river and I just talked to her like I normally would, knowing that in all likelihood she wasn't understanding much of it. It's hard to tell, though -- occasionally she'd laugh in appropriate places, like if I made a joke, so either she understands or my tone of voice is telling her that I'm saying something humorous. I pointed out boats and ducks and she followed my line of vision, though I'm also not sure how good her eyes are. She used to wear glasses so she may not be seeing things too clearly.

Again, she seemed fascinated by my hand, holding it and turning it over and gripping it tightly. I couldn't really get any words out of her, though. Just a "yes" at one point.

It is such a relief that she's a happy dementia patient, as opposed to a distressed one.

Today I'm driving down to Bradenton to rejoin Dave at his parents' house.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

An Azalea for Mom

The azaleas are out in North Florida, and this bush at my mom's retirement center just happens to have flowers the exact shade of pink as the ones we had at our house when I was growing up. When my brother and I went to visit Mom yesterday, I picked one of them and we tucked it behind her ear as we rolled her around the property in her wheelchair. She seemed to get a kick out of that. She laughed and laughed, especially when we took her picture and showed it to her.

That was actually our second visit of the day. The first time, we went in the morning and she was still in bed. She had a scratch and a new bruise on her forehead, and the staff explained that she had just fallen out of her chair and hit her head on the doorframe. It's not common for her to fall like that, and in fact they were about to call us to tell us about it. We sat with her a while and she laughed in bed (nothing seems to faze her much), and she held my hand and just stared and stared at it. She seems fascinated with hands and fingers, and would laugh when I opened and closed them. But we didn't try to get her up and around. We decided to come back in the afternoon.

I could not get her to speak much. If I asked her a question she might nod or shake her head, and she attempted to say "yes" at one point. And she said "Oh, God" (a favorite phrase) after one of her laughing spells. But that was it. I think she knows who we are, but it's hard to tell. She'd probably be just as goofy and jovial with anyone.

Here's a little video showing a neighborhood on the St. John's River where my brother and I parked when we went to lunch at the nearby European Street deli. And then it shows me playing with his dog, Snoop. Again, don't tell Olga about my canine infidelity.

Lunch at the deli was funny. They had a pimento & cheese sandwich with ham on the menu. It reminded me of the pimento & cheese sandwiches my grandmother used to make, so I ordered it, but asked them to hold the ham. (We never put ham on our pimento & cheese!) The waiter was completely flummoxed by this request. He just couldn't seem to get his head around me not wanting meat on my sandwich. "It will be the same price," he warned. I said that was fine, just give me extra pimento and cheese. Well, they did and it all worked out but I think I made his head explode.

This car was parked outside my mom's retirement center. Not very comforting. And also, WHY?

Anyway, aside from visiting mom, it was a day for errands. We went to an antique store to ask about selling my grandmother's Wedgewood china, a huge set that neither of us want, as well as some of her mahogany furniture. And we went to the grocery store, where I saw a guy wearing a t-shirt that read, "Be the person your dog thinks you are."

This shop was across the street from the grocery store. BEST NAME EVER!

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Chickens and Kooks

As Dave slumbered in our hotel room yesterday morning, I took a walk eastward, away from downtown. There's a ton of new development out that way, on land that used to be occupied by...something. (I'm not sure what was there before. Industry?) There are lots of new apartments, including this building with a colossal mural on the side of Freddie Mercury, Elton John and Jimi Hendrix. None of them have anything to do with Tampa as far as I know, except perhaps for passing through on musical tours, but I like the mural.

I soon found myself in Ybor (pronounced EEbor) City, a traditionally Cuban and Italian area and the center of Tampa's historic cigar-making industry. It's now the nightclub district, although there's new residential there too.

Like Key West, Ybor City is famous for its wandering chickens. They're all over the place. Apparently some of the people who have moved into those new residential buildings aren't crazy about the quantity of crowing roosters in the streets. But hey, the roosters were there first.

I stopped for a cafe con leche at a cafe (not La Tropicana, which is closed now, but one nearby). I also ordered a guava and cheese croissant. The cashier, wearing a Grateful Dead skull and roses t-shirt, was clearly in training and everyone seemed to be moving slowly -- I swear they were all on edibles. The coffee eventually emerged but I had to ask again for the croissant and as it turned out, they didn't have any left. Maybe the employees got the munchies? I just stuck with the coffee.

I stopped by Jose Marti Park (more chickens!) and reminisced about all the crazy nights I'd spent in Ybor City nightclubs in my youth. Then I rode the free streetcar back into downtown and walked back to the hotel via the riverfront -- a section of the Riverwalk that Sue and I had bypassed on Sunday.

We'd arranged to meet Dave's parents for lunch, and they arrived at our hotel about 45 minutes early. I went down to chat with them in the lobby and told them a bit about the historic nature of the hotel. I was interrupted by a woman sitting nearby who insisted it had been built in 1905 and not in the '20s, as I'd said -- and then proceeded to tell us about the various famous people who'd stayed there and then about the history of Tampa. "I've never been here before but I did research," she said. I was dying to respond, "Lady, I GREW UP HERE!" But I held my tongue. (The hotel, by the way, was built in 1926.)

We went to Ulele for lunch, in a little park adjacent to a quiet canal that extends to the river. (That's restaurant seating on the right in the photo above, but we ate inside.) I had a shrimp po' boy sandwich, which was yummy, and then we drove up to Lutz to meet with my stepsister and collect her car, which I borrowed to drive to Jacksonville. Dave and his parents headed down to Bradenton, where I'll see them in a few days, and I began the long drive north.

It's a four-hour drive from Tampa to Jacksonville, where my mom and brother live. And for me it took a little longer because I got caught in a traffic jam of uncertain origin (what the Nigerians call a "go-slow," which is a great term) on I-75. I didn't dilly-dally on the drive and took just a few photos, like this graffiti in the small town of Waldo.

And these signs outside Jacksonville. That's North Florida for you.

So now I'm at my brother's for the next two days. We'll go see Mom today and run some important errands.

Monday, February 20, 2023

On the Waterfront in Tampa

I met my friend Sue bright and early yesterday for a long walk through Tampa. Sue and I have been friends since college and she's one of those people I may not see for months but who I can pick up again with instantly. It's like she just stepped into the next room and our conversation was interrupted only briefly.

We walked through Julian Lane Park and along the Riverwalk, which follows the Hillsborough River through the city and into downtown. There wasn't much color in the sunrise but the clouds were interesting. 

We checked out the monumental "Form of Wander" sculpture that sits on a pier over the river. Designed by artist Marc Fornes of the studio THEVERYMANY, and made of small aluminum panels, it's supposed to resemble the roots of mangrove trees.

Then we crossed the river and walked into the city, where we saw this interesting glass panel in a sculpture by artist Susan Gott. She gathered architectural and cultural artifacts from Tampa's history, pressed them into sand and cast them in glass. I'm not sure about the source of this face but it definitely looks like a building ornament. 

Sue loves to interact with all the dogs we meet on our walks. We came across this Chinese crested named Enzo, snug in his rainbow onesie. There was also a blue-eyed bull terrier named Clementine and another elderly Staffyish dog that gave me lazy, friendly licks on my legs as I scratched his back.

(Don't tell Olga I've been flirting with other dogs.)

We walked along Bayshore and into Hyde Park, where we called Dave to meet us for breakfast. He took an Uber from the hotel and we all went to Goody Goody, where we had diner fare like pancakes (not crepes, like the ones in England, but real fluffy American pancakes) and French toast.

Then we walked to the Water Street market where lots of artists and crafts people were selling or exhibiting their work. I liked artist Tiffany Snow's take on the Mona Lisa!

Tampa has certainly changed since I grew up here. Back then, the downtown sidewalks rolled up at 5 p.m. when everyone decamped to homes in the suburbs. Now there are lots of apartments and condos and lots of young people, bringing a wonderful millennial energy. Tampa has invested a lot in public art and amenities, and it shows.

Dave and I rested in our room in the afternoon. I caught up on some more reading and we Skyped with his parents, who are meeting us today before I get on the road to Jacksonville. Our hotel room is comfortable, but man, is it dry. They must have a powerful dehumidifying system in this building. I go to sleep a grape and wake up a raisin.

Last night we went to a place Sue recommended called CW's Gin Joint, which of course appealed to me right away. Hello, Plymouth martini with olives! The food was excellent too -- I had a lobster-stuffed baked potato which was pretty fantastic. A woman at an adjacent table was wearing the most dramatically low-cut and high-cut dress I've ever seen -- she was just barely holding it all together -- and another table full of young people were having what looked like a baby shower. They were a very diverse group, racially, sexually and orientationally, a true rainbow table, and I enjoyed watching their ease and obvious happiness with each other. Sometimes I can't help feeling that the world really is moving in the right direction.

(The martini helped.)

Sunday, February 19, 2023

The Flamingo, the Floridan and the 57 Bus

We're in Tampa, where the familiar giant flamingo greeted us at the airport. It's finished now, so we got the added effect of the silvery ceiling and aquatic lighting that ripples like it's underwater. (You don't really get the lighting effect in a still photo.) And the barriers are gone! I'm hating those red balloons, though.

The flight was LONG -- more than ten hours. I don't know why it was longer than it's been previously. I watched two movies, the gay comedy "Bros" and a Polish movie called "Eo" about a donkey that I found surprisingly compelling. It took a hard look at the way humans treat animals and the world as they might experience it. "Bros," on the other hand, was funny in places but also flawed -- the main character was so annoying he was hard to tolerate, and as in a Woody Allen movie (the only way this resembled a Woody Allen movie) a much more attractive person rather unbelievably falls for him and he gets to put them through all kinds of grief courtesy of his neurosis. It had its moments but it's not a win.

I also read an entire book, "The 57 Bus," about a nonbinary teen who was riding a public bus in Oakland, California, when a nearby boy -- joking around with some friends -- impulsively decided to set the nonbinary teen's skirt on fire. (This really happened.) The nonbinary kid was seriously injured, and the book details their recovery and the offender's subsequent treatment by the police, justice system and the victim and their family. It examines ideas like restorative justice and was very good.

Plus I polished off a couple of New Yorkers, which always feels like an achievement.

When we landed in Tampa we got our bags with no problem and caught a cab to our downtown hotel. It was only halfway through the ride that I realized the cab -- which definitely said taxi on top -- had no meter and no displayed license, which makes me think it was actually just some schmo making money on the side. He definitely overcharged us, but I was too tired to argue the point. I should have been more on my toes but I didn't expect a bootleg taxi to be waiting in the queue at the Tampa airport.

Here are Dave and I at the bar in our hotel's very grand but slightly tatty lobby. I know the etching on the mirror is covering our travel-weary faces. That's intentional.

We're staying at the historic old Floridan Palace. We had dinner in the bar -- Cuban sandwiches -- and watched a gaggle of tween girls who seemed to be on a school trip run shrieking around the mezzanine. Every once in a while an adult would rise from a group having drinks at a nearby table and tell them to be quiet. "That's a real effective chaperone," Dave whispered snarkily.

We came upstairs -- which took a while because only one of the 19-story hotel's three elevators is working -- and tumbled into bed. I slept like a log.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Photos to Pack By

I know it's a little soon for another collection of random iPhone photos, but, well, I have them so why not use them? Besides, with our flight leaving in about seven hours, I'm packing this morning and watering plants and doing other travel-related stuff. Tomorrow, insha'allah, we'll be in Florida.

So here goes with the photos!

First, a well-stickered street sign on Abbey Road near work. Because of its Beatles associations Abbey Road gets lots of tourism. For some reason, many visitors seem to feel they must graffiti the wall in front of Abbey Road Studios and, failing that, graffiti the street signs. The council cleans them off occasionally. I actually photographed this sign before, about three years ago.

A tree in the cemetery. It had been marked for something (apparently not removal because that mark has been there for years) and someone recently added the heart.

Captain...somebody? Stuck on the sidewalk near our flat. (And slightly blurry.)

Whoever graffitied this "keep left" sign apparently didn't mind danger, because I had to stand in traffic on busy Finchley Road to photograph it. It says "It is what it is, and that's that."

Dubious Household Objects in Shop Windows, Part I: How about a vase with a giant fish penetrating the side?

Cute graffiti on the pedestrian bridge over the tube station (with a train passing below).

Another curious sticker near Abbey Road. I guess a Texan visitor must have passed through. (Or at least someone who'd been to Texas.) That's Waylon Jennings and Buddy Holly on the sticker -- apparently Jennings was supposed to be on the plane that killed Holly when it crashed, but he'd given up his seat to the Big Bopper.

Dubious Household Objects in Shop Windows, Part II: Anyone want a hideously over-muscled horse figurine? I can't quite read the price tag, but whatever it says, it's too much.