Saturday, April 21, 2018

Bootcamp and a Tulip

Another spectacular day, weather-wise, although I spent most of it indoors in "Google Bootcamp" training at work. We learned about all the various gizmos Google offers, from spreadsheets to web-page building to file transfers and sharing. It was actually quite fascinating, and I immediately realized several applications for these programs that ought to simplify what I've been doing up to now.

I even thought of a way to send my brother those audio files of us as children that I had digitized, via Google Docs. And I had already used Google Slides to make the slideshow that I used last week to talk to the eighth graders about street photography and street art. It's all very handy stuff!

I got the results of my lumbar MRI -- according to the experts, my "vertebral alignment is fairly well preserved," but "there are mild degenerative changes seen of the lower two levels." These include a "mild central disc protrusion causing impingement of the thecal sac" on one vertebra, and "a mild diffuse disc bulge with associated disc deydration" on another. What this means, I have no idea, but I think I basically have a 50-year-old back.

As I said, my pain had mostly gone away even by the time I had the scan, so I think whatever was bothering me earlier this year was transient. The doctor recommended physical therapy if necessary, but I consider the matter closed unless I start hurting again.

Remember our ragged, slug-damaged tulips? Well, we have successfully coaxed a flower out of one of them. I think we may get another bloom, too -- but then it looks like that will be it for the tulips this year. I'm happy just to get one!

Also, did I mention that I re-seeded the wildflower bed? You may remember I planted it at the beginning of April, when the weather was still pretty cold and wet, and I tried walking the seeds into the ground but probably wound up with many of them stuck to my shoes. In any case, I haven't seen a whole lot of sprouts. So I put another packet of seeds down, as well as some verbena seeds. Maybe now that the ground is warmer and the sun brighter, we'll see more activity!

(Top photo: Near the West Hampstead tube station, yesterday.)

Friday, April 20, 2018

Goings-On in the Garden

We've been working a bit in the garden, and now that spring has finally decided to arrive (we've turned off the heat, and I'm wearing shorts!), I wanted to show you what things look like out there.

I had to mow the lawn a few days ago for the first time this season. It always amazes me how quickly the grass grows back once the early-spring rains stop and the yard dries out and gets less muddy.

See that flower bed at lower right? Dave created that last weekend -- he expanded the existing bed and gave it a bit of a curve. In that space he planted foxgloves and a hydrangea that he moved, and I put in some nasturtium and snapdragon seeds.

The Solomon's seal is coming up, and I put a little garden fence around it to keep the dog out. She always breaks off a bunch of those stalks, but this year (so far) she hasn't. The fence is surprisingly effective!

Remember the foxglove sprout I rescued from the side alley, where it was growing in a pipe joint? I rooted it and planted it last year, and it's now huge. I hate to count my chickens before they're hatched, but it should bloom this year. Stay tuned!

This is a close-up of the central bed. Look at all those forget-me-nots! And we don't plant them -- they just self-seed, every year. I love them.

Our poor horseradish plant has been virtually overrun in its blue pot. There are a few daffodils in there, and a big clump of valerian seeded itself there, and there are violets as well. The horseradish hasn't even appeared yet -- it's just a few tiny sprouts poking above the ground. The daffodils and violets will fade as the horseradish grows, so I think it should be fine. Everything I've ever heard about horseradish emphasizes how indestructible and vigorous it is.

One of my seed trays! As I mentioned, I got some free packs of cosmos and zinnia seeds from a magazine at work, and I found a packet of echinacea seeds in a returned library book. So I planted them all. The cosmos and zinnia are doing well (there's another tray besides this one), but as you can see, the echinacea didn't sprout at all. The seeds were several years old (packed for 2012) and I guess they were no longer viable.

Oh -- I think the sweet pea seeds I saved from our plants last year have sprouted, too. I haven't seen any activity from the hogweed and it's too early to tell about the poppies.

I've put some of the outdoor pots in "plant jail" -- just as if they were DEA or mob informants, this is for their own protection! They contain planted seeds, and the wire mesh keeps out the squirrels. I'll remove the mesh once the seeds sprout and have a fighting chance. This pot contains nasturtiums. Again, stay tuned!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Field Trip to Shoreditch

Yesterday I helped chaperone a group of students on a field trip to explore street art and street photography in Shoreditch, East London.

I've done this for the last few years around this time. It's a good springtime activity and it gets the kids out of the classroom and lets them have some creative fun. Before we go, I give them a slide show about how to compose photographs and showing them the work of some famous street photographers, like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Vivian Maier.

The walk is guided by a street-art expert, who tells the kids about the artworks and the artists who create them. Giving them a focus -- the graffiti and murals -- helps avoid a situation where they're just wandering around whining, "I can't find anything to take a picture of!"

We got lucky yesterday with amazing weather and some good opportunities for street photos. There are definitely varying degrees of interest among the kids, but you'd expect that, right? They're not all going to be into it. All I know is, I had a great day, we didn't lose any students and it was nice to be out of the library for a change!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Me and My MRI

You may remember I was having pretty severe lower back problems a couple of months ago. My back was aching in ways I had never experienced before -- a combination of dull ache when I was motionless and sharp, stabbing pain when I moved, accompanied by an overall feeling of unwellness. As far as I know, I hadn't injured it at all, so I was mystified about the source of the problem.

In late March I went to a doctor and got a referral to get an MRI. My insurance declined to cover it (of course), but the doctor knew a clinic that did them relatively inexpensively, so on Monday I had it done on my own dime.

I had a CAT scan about 33 years ago, when I was having some severe headaches in college. (They weren't from drinking, I swear!) But I'd never had an MRI. They're not the most fun -- lying inside a surprisingly small tube, surrounded by a huge piece of machinery that buzzed and clanked and beeped. I don't know yet what was revealed, if anything -- the clinic gave me a CD containing images from the scan, but my computer can't open the files so I haven't seen them. A separate set of images were sent to a radiologist for interpretation, and at some point a report will be sent to my doctor.

My guess is it won't show anything of note. (Here's hoping, anyway.) Since just before I got the referral the pain has been much better. I suspect whatever was bothering me has mostly healed up on its own. I still get twinges, but nothing like before.

Anyway, I will report back, if I learn anything more.

Dave and I have been watching the new "Lost in Space" on Netflix. In January we went through a brief flirtation with the old '60s series in reruns -- until we just couldn't stand it any more because it was so bad. The new one, on the other hand, is really good. There's a darkness to the characters that the earlier show didn't even begin to explore, the women finally have more to do than serve coffee, and the robot is fantastic. It's a very effective reboot!

(Photo: A fire hydrant cover in a sidewalk in Hampstead.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Our Exotic Garden

We had a bit of excitement at the bird feeder on Sunday when these two parrots showed up. Dave said they were back yesterday, too. In just a few weeks we've gone from the frozen north to the tropics without leaving our living room!

(I think they're officially known as rose-ringed parakeets.)

They danced around on the feeder for a while. I would have thought they'd have trouble getting to the seed, as big as their heads are, but they got in there easily enough.

They even fed each other!

(Here's a closeup of the shot above...)

They weren't always graceful. In true parrot fashion they seemed a bit clownish. But they sure brightened our day!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Elstree to Cockfosters

I tackled another 10-mile leg of the LOOP yesterday, this one supposedly the longest of all 24 segments. It was an interesting walk, partly through scenic countryside and partly along busy roadways, including one bit along the A1, which the British quaintly call a "dual carriageway" and we in the USA would call an Interstate or a freeway.

Fortunately the rural bits were more extensive than the urban ones, and I saw signs of spring everywhere -- apple blossoms, budding chestnuts, vivid tulips in front gardens of houses. Even along the A1 I saw some bright purple-flowered dead nettles and budding horsetails.

I got confused three times on this route, more than on any other. In one place, for example, the directions said, "Turn left at the waymarker and follow the path close to the woodland." Well, there was no waymarker, and I was already in the woodland.

Another time, the directions said, "Follow the grass strip straight ahead with the houses on the left and join a tarmac path just above the brook." If there was a tarmac path anywhere in that vicinity, I didn't see it. And what does "above" the brook mean? Like, a bridge?

Finally, at one point, I was told to "go left through the gap in the hedge and follow the path right up the hill." Does that mean directly up the hill, or turn right and go up the hill? (To make matters worse there was a trail marker at this location and it confused me, too -- I wound up wandering around in the wrong field until I climbed through a blackberry hedge and got to the right one.)

Whenever I get to an ambiguous spot like that I just follow what looks like the most likely path, and I'm usually OK. In these particular areas the LOOP maps (and the maps app on my iPhone!) helped.

I passed Livingstone Cottage in Barnet, once the home of the famous "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"

In the village of Monken Hadley I passed the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, "which dates back to the 12th century," according to the LOOP directions. I was more taken with this adjacent building, which looks like it might have been the vicarage.

Then my instructions said, "Follow the path beside the road past two huge cedar trees." (NOTE: Two roads, two paths!) "Just beyond a big mansion, Hadley Hurst, cross and enter the woods." I never saw the mansion -- and how do you miss a mansion? -- but I managed to wind my way through the woods along the correct roadway.

Remember the horse log I saw in South London? Well, here I found a frog log!

The path went over Pymmes Brook, where there was a rather unsightly lake as well as a quaint old bridge. I wound up at the Cockfosters tube station, mud-splattered and exhausted. At least it didn't rain!

Sunday, April 15, 2018


Yesterday's forecast called for clouds and, initially, rain in the afternoon. What we got instead was SUN! It was fabulous. Spring shook off its winter jacket, at least for a day.

Dave and I worked out in the garden in the morning, and I took Olga for two walks, one around the neighborhood and one to Hampstead Heath.

Olga was pretty thrilled with the weather, too!