Sunday, April 22, 2018

Pink Trees

It's pink tree season here in London -- the cherries are out and looking vibrant. Olga was especially impressed with this one. (OK, I was impressed and Olga was indifferent.)

And then there was this one, which we found in Hampstead on the way to the Heath. It had musical accompaniment from someone in a nearby house who was playing the flute. Not some middle-school kid, either -- someone who knew what they were doing, which gave the scene a very cultured air. I love it when spring comes and people open their windows and share their sounds with passersby.

We passed another house in Hampstead where electric guitar was pouring out of the windows. Good electric guitar. I thought, is that a record? Or maybe someone famous lives there, and they're practicing? Could I be passing the house of a '60s rock legend and have no idea?

It was a perfect day for walking, overall -- sunny and cool. And then we got quite a bit of rain in the night, and now, this morning, it's sunny and cool again! Ideal garden weather!

Speaking of which, I think the slugs are eating my wildflower sprouts. Argh! I thought, being wildflowers, they would be somewhat immune to pests. But apparently not our pests, which are seemingly bionic. I just went out to look at the seed patch and there were several little worm-like slugs crawling around on it, and some gnawed leaves on the sprouts. I also interrupted two earthworms mating, which was a puzzling sight. (Sorry about that, worms!)

Yesterday I ran some errands on the high street. A new-ish bakery moved in a few months ago, down by the Thameslink station, and I've decided I don't like that place at all. It's just a little too twee. Dave and I went there once and I think we concluded it was fancy looking and a bit expensive and just not very impressive. Plus they have a dog bowl out front that never has any water in it. It's always dry as a bone. Olga sticks her nose in it every time she passes and comes up with nothing. Somehow I find that incredibly annoying.

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!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Someone Stole My Tooth

Remember how, a few weeks ago, I packaged up my gold dental inlay (removed during my recent root canal) and mailed it to a gold reclamation company for reimbursement? Well, I waited and waited and never heard anything, and this week began calling to find out where my gold went.

You may remember that after mailing it off, I cavalierly wrote that I didn't care if it was a scam and I never saw a penny. Well, scam may be too strong a word, but it appears my inlay never reached the gold buyer. They never booked in my claim, which means it was intercepted somewhere along the way -- either in the mail or at the firm itself before it could be booked.

This is solely my fault because I mailed it with no registration or confirming signature upon delivery -- which was stupid, but as I said at the time, I only stood to make about £10 from it and I didn't want to spend half of that on postage.

So, anyway, c'est la vie. Someone stole my tooth!

Olga and I found some interesting things on our walk yesterday morning. First we found a little white-and-red bracelet hanging from a yellow forsythia bush on Finchley Road (top). There's a tradition in some cultures of hanging a red-and-white beaded bracelet on a flowering tree in spring -- I usually find them as pieces of thread tied to cherry trees. I wonder if this is the same idea -- or did someone simply drop their bracelet, and someone else hung it from the bush?

And then Olga and I found some discarded DVD towers. I thought about bringing them home, because we have a bunch of DVDs stacked in a closet, but the fact is they're fine in there and we don't use them that much anymore, so towers are probably just more unnecessary clutter. I left them in the trash.

Later in the day I found this lovely (?) painting. Which, needless to say, I also did not pick up.

Finally, at the risk of stuffing too much meaningless information into this post:

...I'm going to show you our amaryllis. Remember how I said there were no flower buds this year? The plants grew quite big and leafy but we saw no sign of blooms. It was very strange and unlike what they've done in past years, when the buds were often the first thing to appear.

But finally, finally, we're seeing little buds at the bottom of two of the plants. We'll see if they fully mature. I think the anti-fungal treatment I gave them last year to rid them of "red blotch" significantly diminished that problem -- the plants look much healthier -- but I wonder if it also delayed their flowering?

Friday, April 13, 2018

Pancake Batter

I have been really lazy about taking pictures this week. The weather's been terrible -- gray and rainy and drippy and soggy, and I just haven't been motivated to get out and walk around with the camera. I haven't seen sun since Hungary.

Spring in the UK feels like it's about a month behind. This is March weather.

So, anyway, the only picture I have today is this one, of the ceiling of the Apollo Theater, where we saw "Everybody's Talking About Jamie" on Wednesday. I wish I could have zoomed even farther out, to show the ornate gilded walls, statuary and balconies, but this is the best my phone camera could do.

As I've mentioned, Dave is now on a gluten-free diet, and he feels very strongly that it's helped him better control his Crohn's. Among other now-inedible-to-Dave food items in our kitchen, we had an unopened box of Aunt Jemima pancake mix and an unopened bottle of Aunt Jemima syrup. They were both bought in London, but imported from the USA, and I hated to throw them out. (The syrup is obviously gluten-free, but I didn't see how we were going to eat that without the pancakes -- and besides, we have some real syrup that Dave's sister in northern Michigan made from maple trees.)

I took them to work a few days ago and offered them to a co-worker who has children -- I figured, anyone who has children is going to appreciate pancakes!

Dave said he thought that was a weird thing to do, and I must say, when I conceived of the idea it didn't seem weird, but actually doing it felt a bit strange. Is it weird to give unopened food to a coworker? What do you think?

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Beans and Jamie

You know the video I posted yesterday, of my grandparents and other relatives? I posted that same clip on Facebook, and both there and here a few people commented that everyone seemed to be walking very slowly. I think they were being careful because the house was newly built and there was lots of sand and probably some uneven ground around it. My grandmother and great-grandmother were trying hard to stay on the stepping stones. (Funny how I never really noticed that slow pace before!)

Also, someone mentioned the dog in the background -- that was Beans, our Boston Terrier. My mom always said Beans was crazy, but she hadn't had any experience living with pets up to that point. I suspect Beans was just being an enthusiastic little dog when he did things like chew on the corner of her stamp collection.

Yes, I know, I was a fat baby. My dad mixed my formula incorrectly. That's the story I always heard, anyway.

In other news, I finally got the health insurance app on my phone to talk to my Apple Health app, and thus track and record how much I walk each week -- which in turn will supposedly earn me free movie tickets and other goodies through my insurance plan. (I wish they'd eliminate all that folderol, charge less for the insurance and thus allow me to buy my own movie tickets -- but no, that would be too simple.) Anyway, I did manage to get a free coffee yesterday at Starbucks as a reward for walking so far during the week. Success!

Last night I went with a group of coworkers to see "Everybody's Talking About Jamie," a show on the West End about a teenage boy who wants to be a drag queen. It was a cute show, with some excellent performances, but also with a story trajectory that was entirely predictable. Apparently actress Rebel Wilson was in the audience -- I wouldn't have recognized her, but someone in my group did and chatted with her a bit. Can I call it a "brush with fame" if I barely know the famous person?

(Photo: A rain-laden white daffodil in our garden. The yellow daffodils, which always come first, have faded and we're on to the white ones now.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Packing the Car

About a month ago I mentioned that I was having my family's home movies digitized. They consist of six Super 8 film reels shot by my father between 1966 and 1971 or so, and I wanted to convert them into good quality digital copies. I brought the reels back from Florida when I visited in February, and early last month I took them down to a film lab near Tottenham Court Road and paid to have them converted.

When I dropped them off, my contact at the lab told me it should take about a week to finish the conversion. Well, the weeks dragged by, and just before Dave and I went on Spring Break I called the lab to ask what was happening. I received a bland assurance from the receptionist that they'd be in touch when the films were ready.

Up until Monday, I heard nothing, and frankly I was beginning to get a little freaked out. Had they lost my movies? Were they more likely to get lost, the longer the lab kept them? What was taking so long? I e-mailed a polite inquiry and engaged in gallows humor with Dave about the possible responses: "Who are you again?" "Films? What films?"

But lo and behold, the lab called me yesterday and said the job was done. I didn't waste a second in getting down there and picking everything up. And indeed, I now have digital files of all six film reels and several DVD copies for my family.

I watched some of them last night. A ridiculous amount of the footage is of me as a baby (above). I guess Dad did what many first-time parents do -- he went a little nuts making a record of his first child's first days on the planet. My younger brother is in two of the reels, and most of the adults are incidental players.

The short scene at the top of this post is an exception -- no children at all, just three generations of adults. The time: Christmas, 1966. The place: Outside our newly built house north of Tampa -- the same house my mom sold just a few years ago. The participants: My grandmother, grandfather, great-grandmother, mom and uncle.

It's not an action-packed sequence -- just people wandering back and forth as they packed the car to leave after a holiday visit. My grandmother's "luggage" was a paper bag, typical for her on short stays. Everyone studiously avoided acknowledging the camera, until my great-grandmother, who was in her late 70s, decided to clown around. Such a slice of nostalgia -- and what great old cars!


When I was in college, I met a guy named Mike. Like me, he was a reporter at the college newspaper, and like me, he was gay. This magical combination of journalist and gay guy made Mike pretty interesting to me, and at a time when I hadn't yet had a serious boyfriend, I thought Mike could be one.

He was a character -- he wasn't from the South, but at times he affected a funny southern twang. He called people "Sugar Beet" and said things like, "I'm serious as a heart attack!" Our friends always joked that he was a black woman trapped in a white man's body, which is terribly politically incorrect, but seemed pretty accurate.

He told a hilarious story about going to Denny's with some friends after a night of clubbing. They were all drunk and being loud, and sitting at the next table was someone eating (probably very patiently) a late-night meal. Mike, bleary-eyed, looked over at this person and shrieked, "My LADY be eatin' an ICE CREAM SANDWICH!" Only when "my lady" stood up did Mike realize that a) he wasn't a lady, and b) he was actually eating a grilled cheese. The man walked over to Mike's table and hurled the sandwich into his face. Mike was too stunned to react, which is probably a good thing, but as he later said, he sobered right up.

Whether Mike's stories were completely true in every detail is beside the point. We didn't care.

One night in early 1988, after a party at a friend's house, he and I finally got together. We dated for three or four months, and we had a ball going to thrift stores and a kitschy '60s diner near his house that he called "Wiener World" (not its real name). I spent weekends with him in his rented old-Florida house full of flamingo-painted souvenir plates and '50s furniture, walking his Weimaraners Honer and Sheba. Once we visited a primate rescue sanctuary in northern Pinellas County, and although I found it incredibly sad, I saved the pamphlet for years.

But our relationship wasn't well timed. I was just starting an internship with a newspaper in Polk County. Mike was working for another newspaper in Clearwater, where he lived. Commuting from Tampa, where I lived, to Lakeland, where I worked, and then all the way to Clearwater to see Mike proved a challenge.

Also, I was 21. I wasn't particularly serious about any of this. I was the definition of a callow youth.  Mike was about ten years older than me, and thus more mature. Mike's sister once accompanied us on a day of thrift shopping, and as we sat in the car while Mike ran some errand she turned to me and said, "I hope you won't hurt him. He really likes you." I assured her I wouldn't.

But of course I did. Life just got busier, I got more serious about my job, and I suppose, in the end, I really wasn't all that crazy about dating a black woman trapped in a white man's body. Mike's theatricality grew a bit tiring. I didn't intend to break up. It wasn't a decision I officially made. But I simply stopped calling him.

One night, he showed up at my door in tears, demanding the return of his house keys. "You broke my heart," he said, and I could only stammer that I hadn't meant to. But that was that. No more Mike.

And then, a few years later, there really was no more Mike. He died of pancreatic cancer in 1992 or so. It was a development that shocked all of us who knew him. When I heard he was sick, I mailed him a copy of the Weekly World News, a kitschy tabloid newspaper that published obviously fictionalized articles about aliens and UFOs and freaks of nature like "Bat Boy." Mike loved the Weekly World News, and I promised him it held remarkable recuperative powers.

He wrote me back a short postcard, telling me that he'd actually bought a subscription -- but thanking me just the same. I still have the card. "Float on!" he wrote.

And that was the last I heard from him. When he died soon afterwards, I believe I was already living in Morocco and unable to go to his funeral -- or maybe I was still in Florida and simply felt it wouldn't be appropriate. Maybe I couldn't face his sister. In any case, I didn't go.

My college friends and I still remember Mike, though, whenever we get together. We laugh about his ice cream sandwich story, and part with his famous phrase, "Keep on keepin' on!"

(Photo: Some colorful boxes on the street near our flat.)

Monday, April 9, 2018

Garden Neurosis

Yesterday was gray and drizzly, but Dave managed to spend quite a bit of the morning in the garden. I don't know why, but I have incredible anxiety about what he does out there. His vision and philosophies about gardening tend to differ from mine, and he loses patience with plants very quickly. Consequently, he likes to move plants around, throw them out, replace them or prune the daylights out of them. He's also not very careful about allowing native plants or volunteers to grow.

I, on the other hand, tend to be much more passive about gardening. I like allowing nature to do its thing. I like the unexpected surprises, like the forget-me-nots that magically appear every year, and I dislike any activity that might disturb them before they can mature. And my philosophy on plants is basically that you put them in the ground and leave them there. Unless something is in a drastically wrong location (i.e. a shady spot when it needs sun) you don't move it. Plants need time to establish themselves, and every time they get dug up and relocated it shocks them -- sometimes fatally.

So, anyway, yesterday -- while Dave enlarged a flower bed and moved several plants -- I basically stayed inside and tried not to think about what he might be up to. I must say, my anxiety isn't entirely realistic, because our plants have mostly proved to be pretty resilient and few of the ones that he moves actually die.

I probably need to chill.

In other news, I can't believe that I didn't mention this yesterday but on Saturday morning I FILED OUR TAXES! Woo hoo! It's always SUCH a relief to get that done. As U.S. citizens we still have to file with Uncle Sam every year, even though we live abroad, and it's still a nightmare. In the end we don't usually pay anything because there's an exemption on foreign earnings and we pay taxes here in the U.K. It's mostly just a couple of hours of unpleasant paperwork.

I spent most of yesterday reading a book called "People Who Eat Darkness," about the abduction of a young British woman in Tokyo in 2000. It's a really good book -- a riveting story -- so much so that I didn't want to put it down.

But when the rain paused in the afternoon, I managed to take Olga back to Fortune Green and the cemetery for another very damp walk. We found a second wire-and-hay contraption like the one I depicted in yesterday's post. Still very mysterious.

(Photo: Rain on a lupine leaf in the garden.)

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Primroses and Puddles

As you can see, a certain four-legged individual -- and her pink blanket and her Kong -- are now back home. The "luxury pet hotel" dropped her off yesterday morning, and at first she was all excited and ran around the house and garden at top speed, as if to reacquaint herself with things. Then she swiftly collapsed into a several-hour nap on the couch.

I suspect she probably didn't sleep as well as normal in a strange place -- and I get that. I never sleep as well as normal in hotels either.

Then, in the afternoon, we took a walk to the cemetery, where the primroses are blooming all over the place. They've seeded themselves and are now basically wild, growing among the headstones.

We came across this peculiar contraption. I have no idea what it could be. It's a wire cage that seems to be covering a hole filled with hay, and then the cage itself was covered with hay. Any ideas? Dave thought it might have something to do with hedgehogs, but if there are hedgehogs at the cemetery it's the first I've heard of them. (And it would be surprising, given how many dogs are running around there.)

Olga managed to find a gigantic puddle in which to loll, thereby requiring a bath when she got home. We're finally to the time of year when I can take her into the garden and hose her off, rather than defile our bathtub -- but she doesn't like that cold garden hose water at all.

So, yes, things are back to normal around here. And tomorrow work begins again, as we enter the home stretch before school gets out two months from now. Onward!

Saturday, April 7, 2018


We're back from Budapest, with laundry churning in the washing machine and (hopefully) Olga on her way back to us today.

Before we left late yesterday morning I had a bit of time to kill, so I went wandering in an area not far from our hotel. I found this time capsule of a video shop -- I don't think it's open anymore. There are still some movies displayed in the window but they all looked pretty faded and about ten years old.

I also played around with Waterlogue and produced a souvenir "watercolor" of the Hungarian parliament building in shadow:

Then we hopped in a taxi and headed to the airport, listening to a retro radio station that played songs like Gazebo's "I Like Chopin" and The Monkees' "Last Train to Clarksville." It was surreal listening as we rode through the rusty industrial landscape of outer Budapest.

I bought some expensive wine in the airport to use up my last Hungarian forints. (I'm thinking we'll save it for our Eurovision-watching party in May!) The flight was unremarkable, but it reminds me that I meant to tell you about a guy we saw at the airport when we were flying to Budapest last Tuesday. He was near us in the passport control line, and he had a ninja throwing star tattooed on his face and carried a backpack printed with pictures of marijuana leaves. The guy was basically a magnet for a strip search by customs. I didn't hang around to see what happened.

Anyway, we're glad to be home. It won't feel real until Olga gets here!

Friday, April 6, 2018

Lenin and the White Cat

Dave and I set out yesterday morning for Memento Park, where some of the most memorable artworks from the former Communist government of Hungary has been exiled. (The little guy above is not an example -- I just happened to photograph him along the way.)

After Communism fell in 1989, the new government debated what to do with all those imposing bronze and granite and limestone artworks commemorating the likes of Lenin, Marx, Engels and the imposing power of the state. (And also the "friendship" between Hungary and Russia, in which Russia always seemed -- and was --dominant.)

Rather than demolish it all, the government built a special park outside the city to house it for historical purposes. I really wanted to visit, because when I was growing up, Hungary was one of those mysterious countries behind the "iron curtain" that I never expected to see first-hand -- and it seemed only fitting to at least touch base with that Hungary of my memory.

Those Communists were a subtle lot, weren't they? All the statues looked like this -- massive, bulky, powerful and a little scary.

Getting to Memento Park was fun because we had to use public transportation. We rode a tram and then a public bus. I always feel like I have a true cultural experience when I'm rubbing elbows with the locals on public transit!

When we got back into town, we went to lunch in a little bistro where I had paprika chicken with dumplings (spaetzle). Outside, this woman was playing tunes like "Alexander's Ragtime Band" and even the theme from Benny Hill on her trumpet. She was really good. We gave her some money.

Dave was feeling tired, so at this point he went back to the hotel, and I went walking. I'd seen lots of things from the bus window the day before that I didn't have a chance to photograph, so this was my chance to catch up.

I visited St. Stephen's Basilica, where I had coffee and a chocolate muffin in the plaza. Then I walked over to Parliament and around that part of town before catching the metro...

...and going to the zoo! I didn't go in. I just wanted to photograph the fabulous Art Nouveau entrance gate, with its elephant guardians and crown of polar bears.

From there I went to Heroes Square, a massive plaza that commemorates the heroic figures in Hungary's history. (I think some of the Communist statuary that I saw at Memento Park used to stand here.)

And then I went on a crazy odyssey to find some great old signs I'd seen from the bus, including this neon owl outside an antiquarian book shop. I walked a really long way, but it felt good.

I also came across lots of campaign posters. Hungarian parliamentary elections are scheduled for April 8. This young guy, who has been dubbed by Politico as one of Hungary's "hipster patriots," clearly has at least one fan -- who, frankly, doesn't seem motivated by politics!

I walked back to the hotel room and met up with Dave, who had happily spent the afternoon napping and watching "Star Trek:Voyager" in German. (!) We went out to our favorite sushi place for dinner once again -- sushi being good for Dave on his gluten-free, mostly vegetarian diet.

Today we're homeward bound!