Sunday, April 30, 2023

Best Day Ever: Heath, Martini

I wrote yesterday that everyone's been complaining about the chilly, rainy weather. Well, never mind! Yesterday we had the most PERFECT day of the year so far. The temperatures were in the mid-60s F (or about 19º C), the sun was shining, the birds were singing, winged unicorns were galloping through the sky and all of humankind put away our grumpy tendencies. Or so it seemed. (Maybe I just put away my grumpy tendencies.)

I did get the lawn mowed for the first time this year (above) and did some minor trimming and neatening. Then Olga and I settled down on the grass and I read "American Dirt" until around lunchtime. Dave and I had a package of bacon in the fridge that we needed to eat, so we made bacon sandwiches -- and although I wouldn't normally opt for a bacon sandwich, they were darn good.

Afterwards, I took Olga for a walk. I just couldn't face going to the cemetery again, and the sunshine was inviting us to do something bolder, so we set off for Hampstead Heath. I wanted to see if the coltsfoot was blooming on Sandy Heath.

As you can see, Olga -- despite being 75 or 80 in dog years -- was up for the challenge! Here's a video of our Heath activities, distilled to an essential five minutes. Have you ever seen a happier dog? She's a little stiff toward the end but she did well, and once we got home and she had a paracetamol with her dinner she was right as rain. Sorry about the loud airplane in the bit where she's rolling in the dry leaves -- I lowered the volume on that segment of video so you wouldn't get slammed with it.

We did indeed find the coltsfoot, but the flowers were past their prime. (We're about a month past when I've seen it in previous years.) It was still great to revisit an area we hadn't been to in ages. I briefly sat on the crack pipe bench to give the dog a rest. (No crack pipe this time.)

We also lounged on the grass in Golder's Hill Park, which you can see at the end of the video above. And we detoured past the Lulu trees -- so called because someone has carved "Lulu" into the trunk of one of them. The huge beeches (I think?) are leafing out colorfully.

Now there's a selfie I could never have taken with my big camera!

We made our way back home very slowly, as is an old dog's prerogative. There was lots of leisurely sniffing. After we finally arrived and Olga had a bath, we settled ourselves back onto the new-mown lawn:

As you can see, I had an evening refreshment. (I know, I know -- I shouldn't set a drink on my computer. But I was careful!) I pulled up my iTunes and played an array of old '60s music as the sun slowly diminished. As I recall, "Rainy Day Mushroom Pillow" by Strawberry Alarm Clock was playing at the moment I took that photo.

What a fantastic day!

Saturday, April 29, 2023

The Future as Seen by the Past

Dave, Olga and I all had a bit of a lie-in this morning (we slept late) and that felt great. Long overdue! I had a dream in which I went to visit my mother, and when I told people who she was they all gave me sad, sympathetic faces because they knew of her cognitive issues. But then when she appeared, she was perfectly normal. Her hair was gray, but it was cut the way it used to be when she was in charge of it, and she looked very put-together. I spoke to her in simple sentences, and she said, "Why are you talking to me like that?"

If only.

Yesterday was busy at work, but I feel like I'm on top of things. I got the reading lists compiled for the sixth graders and I've finished inventory from the 000s through the 600s -- with only two books missing so far.

I found a 1996 book about electronics that we somehow still had on our shelves:

Did you know that by the year 2000 we'll all be carrying a device called a MOBILE PHONE? Will wonders never cease!

(I weeded the book.)

For the record, I didn't get my first cell phone until October 2005. But I was admittedly a latecomer. I remember all my friends had one long before me.

Today I'm hoping to make serious headway in "American Dirt," which is pretty good but I haven't had a chance to really sit down with it and focus for any period of time. I also might mow the lawn if I get wildly motivated. Everyone's been complaining about our cool, damp spring, but the plants love it -- it's a jungle out there!

Friday, April 28, 2023

Work Stuff and Mahler

I felt insane yesterday. I was so riddled with anxiety over the amount of stuff I had to do -- which is ridiculous, because let's face it, my job is not that hard -- that I was snapping at co-workers and being a general Grumpy McGrumpypants. I attribute it partly to having very little downtime this week, and that's my own fault.

I was feeling burdened because I had to compile our annual database statistics report, and one of the librarians needed me to put together some reading lists for Grade 6 social studies, and I've got inventory to do -- which you may remember from previous years involves scanning every book in the library to see if any are missing.

On top of all that, a fifth-grader came in asking for true crime books. I showed her where they are and asked if she was sure she really wanted something that, well, violent. "Oh, I love true crime!" she said. So she chose one about a serial killer and although I checked it out to her -- because we have no age restrictions on non-fiction books -- I had misgivings. I mentioned it to the head librarian and we agreed we needed to talk to the kid's parents about whether it was OK to give it to her. So I had to go find the kid in class to reclaim the book, and as it turned out, her teacher had already taken it away from her and written the parents to ask about it. What a kerfuffle!

We wouldn't have done all that for someone just a little older. But a fifth grader is still pretty young. I think we're going to have to develop a system holding back certain non-fiction (mainly sex ed and some true crime) from our youngest readers. It's usually not a problem because they're not looking for that, but our recent travails with book challenges have us thinking more about these things.

Speaking of which, those challenges are still being decided. The review panels have all read the books and met and rendered their decisions, but now the head of school needs to make a final determination and notify the appropriate people (the complaining parent and the board).

Here was one bright spot in our week -- the parent group brought in a mac n' cheese truck as a treat for all the faculty and staff. We got to choose a snack from various different flavors of mac n' cheese. (I chose the "American western," which included a beef hot dog, barbecue sauce and crispy onions.)

Do you recognize that truck? I've blogged it before! It's usually parked not too far from our flat, on the other side of the tube station, and Olga and I have walked past it many a time. I'm glad I finally had a chance to sample their product.

Finally, last night I went to the third (and final) concert of my week -- this one with Dave and some other co-workers. It was the London Philharmonic at Royal Albert Hall, playing Mahler 3. It was fun but now I'm looking forward to a long, restful weekend at home! (Monday is a bank holiday so we have the day off.)

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Penguins, Peace Signs and Banana Skins

Time for my end-of-the-month collection of random photos. I find if I do two of these posts per month, I can mop up many of the pictures I haven't blogged elsewhere. And unless you want to hear about my work life -- compiling database statistics, re-shelving, doing annual inventory -- this is the way to go today!

First, a meditation on the color red.

Do you remember the sad tree I blogged several weeks ago? (In my last post of random photos, actually.) I wondered if it was about to come down, but apparently not. Whoever owns it erected a new fence and it looks like it's staying put, which is good.

This is a photo of my computer screen while it's showing an episode of "That Girl" from 1970 or so -- one of my "comfort food" TV shows that I sometimes watch when I need something uncomplicated. I liked perfect boyfriend Don Hollinger's groovy peace-symbol tie! It would probably cost a mint in a vintage store nowadays.

Someone has developed the annoying habit of regularly leaving a banana skin on a wall around the corner from our flat. Apparently they're also Millwall fans.

I came across this peculiar sticker in Vienna. Turns out it's a band. Not really my style, musically, but it's a fun name.

Other fun band names I encountered recently at the Roundhouse here in London: The Moldy Peaches, Rainbow Kitten Surprise, and Blackberry Smoke.

I liked this sticker, also from Vienna. I'd hug back!

This seal adorns the corner of a building in Vienna. I'm guessing it used to be a fur shop. I can't imagine why else a seal would be there.

And finally, a fun sign from a Vienna nightspot. That cat is on the ceiling! (A new twist on the Internet meme ceiling cat?)

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Another Night Out

After work yesterday, I walked over to Camden Town to go to another concert with Colin at the Roundhouse. This is what my walk looked like. It sure is pretty out there at this time of year.

I fed the picture into Waterlogue to see what it could do with it. A bit vague, but I like it!

Last night's show featured Guy Garvey, the lead singer of the band Elbow, and some fellow musicians he's featured on his weekly radio show on BBC Radio 6. I've never heard this show, and in fact I've barely heard Elbow, but when Colin approached me with this ticket I figured, "Why not?" (Same way I wound up at Rodrigo & Gabriela the night before.)

For example, we heard from a singer named Jesca Hoop, and I was struck by her unusual songs. Here's a video she made with Garvey more than ten years ago, but you don't even need to watch it -- just listen to the song. She performed that one last night, as well as this one.

Another singer, Katherine Priddy, also made quite an impact. And there were many more, all accomplished and skilled, with Garvey as the common thread in many of the performances.

Here's Garvey, in black in the middle, with a group of young musicians called the Roundhouse Collective.

Anyway, it was another good night out, but I hope I can hold it together to get through my workday. Two concerts in a row has cut into my sleep!

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

The Avocado Story

It seems almost supernatural that on the very day I wrote about Tucker Carlson, he got FIRED from Fox News! That was the best present ever. Thanks, Universe, even though my birthday isn't for seven more months.

I promised yesterday to tell you why I moved the avocado back inside.

For one thing, winter is giving us a last gasp or two. Temperatures tonight were originally forecast to be in the 30's F, even just a few degrees from freezing. Now the weather folks are saying 40º F, so apparently it won't get as cold as they first thought.

But that's not the main reason. The main reason is hinted at by the photo above.

Dave and I looked out the window on Sunday and saw a squirrel climbing around in the avocado. We were amused until I realized it was eating something. The tree is budding at the top, with nascent new branches emerging, and I feared for their safety, so I opened the door and chased the squirrel away.

That evening, though, I looked outside and saw THIRTEEN perfectly healthy avocado leaves littering the ground around the tree, and when I examined it I could see they had been snipped off as neatly as if I'd done it with scissors. Rodent teeth!

So yes, I brought it in again, to save it from the squirrels. My hope is if I wait another couple of weeks to move it back outside, temperatures will be warmer and maybe the squirrels won't be as hungry (?). There may be no scientific foundation for that latter belief.

Last night I met up with my co-worker Colin in Camden Town for a concert at a venue called the Roundhouse. First I found a pub and sat with my book and a pint, waiting for Colin to join me. The mural above was painted on the side of the pub.

There's something pretty great about a cozy pub, sitting by the fire, when it's chilly and rainy outside.

Colin and I had a decent but unspectacular dinner at Nando's, a fast-food chicken chain, before proceeding to the theater. That's what the stage looked like from our seats. We were there to see Rodrigo & Gabriela, a pair of Mexican guitarists, but the picture above shows the excellent opening singer, Chisara Agor, and her accompanists.

Here's just a brief clip of Rodrigo & Gabriela, to give you a taste of their music. They're truly astonishing guitarists, creating rhythms and all sorts of unusual sounds and effects from their instruments. They used some background recordings as well, and sometimes the stage would go dark and these low tones would begin, and I almost expected David Copperfield to step out from behind the curtains and make them disappear.

Of course the minute they began playing, a HUGE man sat down right in front of me and I spent the rest of the concert trying to see around his HUGE head. Still, it was a great show.

Anyway, now I'm off to work. I have another concert with Colin at the Roundhouse tonight!

Monday, April 24, 2023

A Christmas Tree and a Demagogue

Mr. Pudding's comment on yesterday's post -- about Olga hiding herself away while I cleaned -- made me realize I haven't shared an Olga pic with you in a WEEK! Unheard of!

Let me remedy that. Here she is on our walk yesterday morning, next to a planter full of bluebells.

It was an eventful walk, actually. Back in January, someone shoved an old Christmas tree into the landscaped garden of an apartment building on the corner. It sat there, turning brown, between two other shrubs, and frankly it was an eyesore. You'd think the maintenance man or super or whatever of that building would resolve the situation, but maybe there isn't one.

So yesterday I pulled it out, set it on the sidewalk beneath a tree and reported it to the council via my handy phone app. Coincidentally, just then, a garbage truck drove by and I thought, "Oh no! They're going to ticket me for fly-tipping!" But they didn't -- at least not yet -- and the tree was gone within a couple of hours.

Someone also left an old wooden door leaning against a wall on another corner, and I reported that too. It's also gone now. Cleaning up the 'hood!

I spent the morning reading the news and my current book, "American Dirt." In my continued quest to understand the conservative mentality, I also listened to Tucker Carlson's recent speech to The Heritage Foundation. I am no fan of Tucker Carlson, and this speech showed him to be quite convinced of his own cleverness. He's just certain that we're all eager to listen to him blather on about anything.

He depicted our current political climate as a sort of apocalyptic struggle, which seems to be a common theme on the right these days. He insists it's not like the liberals-vs.-conservatives of yore, two tribes with different ideas about how to reach common goals. He thinks modern liberals are EVIL, and helpfully defines for us what that means. (That's sarcasm on my part.)

He seems especially focused on transgender issues, and makes it sound like tribes of liberal lawmakers are out there forcibly castrating (his word) children. Of course this is ridiculous, as is most of the hysteria around gender identity. He mocks people who specify their pronouns. To me, the whole pronoun issue -- and in fact the issue of gender identity as well -- can almost be reduced to simple politeness. If someone who was born male sees themselves as a woman and wants to live as a woman, who am I to say no? Why wouldn't I accommodate that simply out of respect for that individual? It's the kind thing to do, and it's no skin off my back.

I don't get the furor. But I also don't have a particularly religious perspective about any of this, which makes a difference. That's not to say there aren't legitimate questions about how best to accommodate transgender people in public facilities, on sports teams and that kind of thing. But let's have a conversation. Let's not just dismiss them or their supporters as evil, castrating agents of Satan.

Liberals and conservatives are, in fact, still two tribes with different ideas about how to reach common goals. There is no apocalypse. (But casting the conflict as apocalyptic helps raise money, doesn't it, Tucker?)

I just wish we could all get out of ourselves and stop trying to impose our beliefs on each other. Live and let live. Stop trying to tell others what to read, what gender they are, who they have to love -- just be KIND. If someone wants us to stop using language they view as hostile or hurtful, let's do it. Why not? Again, how does it hurt us?

Anyway, sorry about that diatribe. Back to our regular programming.

I walked Olga in the cemetery in the afternoon. That's her with Skippy, some random little white fluffy thing, in a corner of the cemetery that's changed a lot in recent years. It used to be almost inaccessible, but now there's a muddy path that winds back into that corner and all the dog-walkers use it.

The British Government sent out an emergency alert test to everyone's cell phones yesterday around 3 p.m., and mine went off in the cemetery. It was quite loud. I'm sure even the turaco heard it. Apparently some people didn't get their alerts -- I think it depends on which phone network we use. At least the government didn't send the alert at 4 a.m. by mistake.

Despite our spring-like weather and all our colorful tulips and blooming trees, I wound up bringing the avocado tree back inside yesterday evening. That's another story for another day.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Totoro and Avocado

There is ostensibly a dahlia in this pot. But I'm not seeing leaf nor stem of it yet -- which isn't unusual, because none of the others have sprouted either. It's still too early and too cold. Meanwhile, the pot has been colonized by a thriving cluster of forget-me-nots.

And that's a good photo to begin this post, because yesterday was all about plants. I started out by watering the orchids, and then realized the jade plant was infested (once again) with mealybugs. So I got out the rubbing alcohol and the Q-tips and spent some time knocking them back, followed by a good rinse with the garden hose.

I decided to rinse off the other plants, too. So I hauled the avocado, the yucca, the Thanksgiving/Christmas cacti, the ficus and some others into the garden and gave them all a good watering and washing down. I also trimmed the purple heart, which had become HUGE and as monstrous as Medusa.

Finally, I cleaned the floor where all these plants sit.

And voila! Spring cleaning around the back door, checked off for another year.

I keep telling myself I'm going to someday sand down that wooden step, leading out to the garden, and re-stain and refinish it. And then I tell myself, "Hey, you don't own that step!" It is looking worse and worse, though. At some point, whether I own it or not, it's going to bother me enough that I'm going to want it worked on.

Anyway, I left the avocado outside. I think it's safe to move it outdoors for the summer, even though our temperatures are going to drop down into the mid-30s (F) at night later this week. I don't think the cold will last long and as long as it doesn't freeze it will be fine.

I also moved Totoro back outdoors. The Japanese forest spirit returns to the garden!

Saturday, April 22, 2023

The Proselytizer

Dave and I came across this guy standing on Westminster Bridge last week. Whenever I see someone proselytizing like this, I don't think about my relationship with Jesus. I wonder what the heck would make a person stand on a busy bridge with a sign all day. I guess he thinks he's saving souls.

The side of the sign shown above is relatively nice -- the "carrot" in his message. The other side is the "stick":

He was happy to make sure I got a picture of both.

I may flatter myself, but I have no anxiety about meeting Jesus. If it were to happen -- and that's a pretty major IF -- I have no doubt he'd know that I am basically a good person and have lived my life well. Perhaps that's a prideful thing to say (and isn't that one of the seven deadly sins?) but that's how I feel. I don't get people who have all this internal struggle about sin and purification. Maybe that's because I grew up Presbyterian, a relatively guilt-free religion.

Speaking of how (and where) I grew up, I got another Florida History postcard a few days ago:

This photo by Bruce Mozert is captioned: "Visitors looking into the water during a glass-bottom boat ride at Paradise Park, 1950s." Back in the days of segregation, Paradise Park was adjacent to Silver Springs, in Ocala, and was meant for black customers. As with the other postcards I've received, this one just has a number on the back (4) and no other message.

Friday, April 21, 2023


Time to check in on our orchids! Now that it's spring, several of them have burst into bloom, and several more have flower stalks that haven't yet fully developed.

These yellow/green ones have been blooming for a couple of weeks. In fact, I thought I'd already posted a picture of them but I can't find it now, so maybe not.

This is where five of the orchids live, on the dining room windowsill. We have two more in the bedroom and four in the living room. About half of them are foundlings that I retrieved from trash cans or found abandoned somewhere.

This one is one of my favorites, and it hasn't bloomed in a couple of years, so I'm glad to see it having another go!

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Cotton Candy Cloud

I passed this amazing pink cloud of a tree on my walk to work yesterday. Isn't that great? It felt good to get out and walk briskly beneath those springtime colors.

Yesterday was a catch-up day for me. I experimented with some of the stuff I learned at my librarian training, and also did a ton of re-shelving and processed about two weeks' worth of magazines. (Which doesn't sound like a lot, but when you get 35 different magazines they pile up!)

Then I came home and changed the sheets on our bed and made a run to the laundromat to drop them off, and did a load of our own laundry here at home, and restocked the bird feeder. The parakeets were appreciative, as they showed by screeching at me.

I'm having that kind of racy feeling that's whispering in my ear "YOU HAVE SO MUCH TO DO!" I think that will dissipate some today, when hopefully I'll also have a chance to do some blog reading and get back to answering comments.

These are our two surviving tulips in the garden -- the ones the squirrels haven't demolished. (There were originally four.) I love those feathery petals. We also had a nice, bright yellow tulip of a different variety growing at the side of the house, but I saw yesterday that it now looks like Marie Antoinette post-guillotine. Squirrels = garden rats!

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Back Home Again

I am indeed back in London, after yesterday's long day of training followed by my flight home last night. (And a long-ish tube ride from Heathrow, given that there was a signal failure on one of the lines I would usually take and I had to go in a roundabout way.) It's good to be home!

I'm mostly looking forward to eating my own food and getting some exercise. Although I walked around Vienna, I missed my daily walks to and from work.

Once again, most of yesterday was spent in a meeting room, but after our training sessions broke up around 4 p.m. I went straight into town and had one final look around:

I think my phone did pretty well for photos on this trip. I occasionally missed having the big camera -- when I wanted to zoom in on something, for example -- but I sure didn't miss carrying it.

Anyway, after a quick walk I caught a train to the airport -- that's the Vienna train station in the top photo, with all the umbrellas -- and made my way back to London. No cranky security agents, no Strauss waltzes on the plane. (I flew home on British Airways.)

Now I have to go to work and sort out my expenses, somehow making sense of my stack of wrinkled receipts!

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Wir sind Fisch

I spent most of yesterday in a meeting room at the Vienna International School, where our librarian training is being held. I'm sure you don't want to hear about the intricacies of the computer system we use to manage our materials, but trust me, it's been very interesting to learn about all the things it can do. There are so many functions we don't use, and even if we never use them -- because a lot of that isn't my decision -- I'm glad to know the possibilities.

After the day ended at about 4 p.m. I came back to my hotel (which is right around the corner from the school) to drop off my computer and other stuff.

My hotel has terrific carpet. I'd buy this rug.

Then I walked to the subway and caught a train back into the center of the city for a wander. That picture up top shows a typical scenic street, with a monument to Johannes Gutenberg. 

I stopped at a sidewalk restaurant for a glass of wine, to unwind and get all the computer talk out of my head. I was amused when this car drove up. Looks like a rolling tribute to Tupac Shakur?

Then I walked some more, staying mostly within the Ring Road that encircles old Vienna. I found the hotel where I stayed with my mom when we were here in 1997. It's a Hilton and I remember it being quite swanky. It still looks swanky.

I found lots of peculiar signs, stickers and advertisements. I think we're supposed to know who that bearded guy is above. Karl Lueger, maybe? Remember him from yesterday?

I wasn't sure what I wanted for dinner. I stopped at a place that had some traditional Viennese fare, like Wiener schnitzel, but that seemed too heavy. Finally I found a little fish joint near the Stephansplatz called Nordsee (slogan: "Wir sind Fisch") and ordered a fried fish sandwich and some fries. Yes, that's right, I came all the way to Vienna for fish & chips.

Here are the bells ringing from St. Stephen's Cathedral:

Then I hopped on the tube again and came back to my hotel, where I watched Todd Haynes' gorgeous movie "Carol" before going to sleep.

Another day of training today, and then an evening flight to London. I should be back in my own bed by about 11 p.m., knock on wood.