Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Window Washer

We're having a party on Saturday. Have I mentioned this? Probably not, because until yesterday I've sort of had my head in the sand. I'm not feeling hugely enthusiastic about it, I must say.

I didn't grow up around parties. Generally speaking, my parents would sooner die than host anything, although occasionally my mom would allow our house to be used as the site of a potluck gathering for people from work. I don't come by party-hosting naturally.

Dave is more excited about it, and in fact the party was kind of his idea -- initially it was going to be our wedding party, back when we thought we could marry in England. (Now, in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling, we're thinking we'll get married in Florida later this year.)

So, anyway, yesterday I finally got motivated and began preparing for this shindig. Most dramatically, I cleaned all the windows in the house, which was a long, hard job! At one point I had to stand in a hedge, holding a bucket of soapy water, leaves dropping down my shirt, to squeegee the front windows. They all look great now, though.

It was a beautiful day, so Dave and I had lunch on the high street -- we sat out in a little cafe and watched the passers-by -- and then went to a local garden center. It was a peculiar little place we'd never been before, tucked behind the parking lot for a construction site. I wanted to buy a hanging basket for a forlorn-looking vacant hook near our front door, but they didn't sell finished baskets -- so I bought some petunias and bargained for an old, slightly rusty empty basket, which I brought home and planted. The hook is no longer forlorn!

We also bought a few more plants for the garden -- because if there's one thing I've learned from Dave it's that you can never have too many.

I know you're probably sick to death of me writing about ladybirds/ladybugs, but check this out -- yesterday afternoon several of the pupae were standing on their heads (or tails?) in this fashion. I'm not sure what was happening. I tried to find the answer online, and one commenter in a thread on a gardening site said it's a defensive posture to keep away predatory wasps. That seems unlikely to me -- why would a wasp be any less likely to attack a "standing" pupa? The standing ones all seemed to be in direct sun, so my theory is it has something to do with heat.

If that's the case, they'll all be standing today -- it's supposed to get up to 92ยบ F!

(Top photo: A cafe in Kilburn.)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Birds in the Garden

We had a very active evening in the garden a few days ago. Several birds that I've never seen before stopped by for a visit.

We had at least three long-tailed tits swooping around. As you can see, they live up to their name!

This is a great spotted woodpecker. They're supposedly common in England and Wales, but the only ones I've seen have been in our garden, and they only stop by now and then. Quite different from the green woodpecker I used to see in Hyde Park!

I think this is a juvenile goldfinch. Its red face simply hasn't grown in yet.

The pigeons are obsessed with this seed-filled feeder, and they're constantly bumbling around it and knocking into each other like NFL players. We don't see as many smaller birds here as we used to, I think, because the pigeons scare them away.

Finally, here's the state of some of our ladybird larvae at the moment -- they've turned into pupae, particularly on our apple tree. Presumably at some point a mature beetle is going to emerge from this pupa. I'm not sure how long they have to "cook" in their little shells before they're ready to face the world. Insects are so bizarre, aren't they? On the other hand, it seems like a good way to manage adolescence.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Bloggers Visit Olga

Yesterday Dave and I had a visit from two other bloggers, Linda Sue from Walk the Dog and Sarah from Circles of Rain. Linda Sue is on one of her periodic visits to London from her home in Washington state, and she and Sarah (who lives in London) came up to West Hampstead -- primarily, I suspect, to meet Olga.

By the time they arrived in early afternoon, Olga was about to jump out of her skin. She was literally shaking in anticipation of a walk. So we had a quick cup of tea, then walked over to Hampstead Heath, where Olga went on immediate Squirrel Patrol.

We climbed up to Parliament Hill to take in the view...

...and then discovered an outdoor concert by a band called Whiskey Moon Face. We liked their music so Linda Sue ponied up for two CDs, one of which she gave me. (Thanks, Linda Sue!)

It was great to see people sitting out in a field of daisies enjoying a sunny afternoon.

Maybe because we made her wait until afternoon for her walk, Olga was especially mischievous. She stole both a soccer ball and a tennis ball from small children (I don't believe the balls were harmed, though the tennis ball was probably slathered with dog spit) and then she settled into this muddy ditch for a belly-roll.

We all went to an outdoor cafe in Hampstead for an afternoon coffee -- I did my best to keep the filthy Olga away from everyone's legs, with limited success -- and then Sarah and Linda Sue boarded the tube in Hampstead. Olga and I made our way home, with a quick stop at a local cemetery to work off some additional canine energy.

Needless to say, someone got an afternoon bath!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

London Pride

As promised, I went down to the Pride parade and festivities after French class yesterday. I got there just in time to see the beginning of the parade turn the corner at Oxford Circus onto Regent Street, and the crowds were dense. I couldn't get close enough to see much of the parade itself, but I had a great time wandering through the throngs of spectators and taking photos.

Everyone was in on the festivities...

...from the very young... the not-so-young. This lady said to me, "I'm a revolution!" I agreed with her, but I should have said, "We are all a revolution."

And of course, there were dignified drag queens...

...and various other costumed individuals.

False eyelashes were definitely at a premium.

I wandered around for a couple of hours before coming home and collapsing. I did see a couple of U.S. flags waving, presumably a reference to the Supreme Court's decision on gay marriage. It has been a week to celebrate!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Sunshine and Rainbows and Kittens and Puppies

Holy cow. What a couple of days this has been! First a ruling that upholds Obama's national health plan, and now the nationwide legalization of gay marriage. Just when I'm thinking the world is going to hell, that everything is terrorism and refugees and war and economic inequality and greed, goodness is reaffirmed and progress is made.

Or, as someone memorably expressed it on Twitter:

I never, ever thought, as a kid growing up in the South, conflicted about being gay, that I would see this day. Wow.

And we have Republicans speaking out against the Confederate flag! Southern Republicans! What the hell is going on out there?! It's like the sunspots have all aligned and justice is being rained down upon us. Granted, there's still plenty of bad stuff happening, but let me just continue to set that aside for one more day and celebrate.

My Facebook feed is a continuous scrolling wallpaper of rainbows. It's blissfully free of retrograde people posting warnings about how we're all going to hell. I have the right friends, I guess.

Today is Pride day in London, so after my French class I'm going to take the camera down into town and see what I can see. I'm guessing there's going to be a lot of serious celebrating going on. Even though gay marriage is already legal in the UK, the American decision is seen as a huge step forward for the world as a whole.

Dave and I, meanwhile, are still talking about how this affects our own plans. Stay tuned!

(Photo: Kentish Town, June 16.)

Friday, June 26, 2015

Here's To Being Home Again!

This teapot sat on the windowsill in the breakfast room at our guesthouse in York. I was looking at it yesterday morning and said to Dave, "It looks like someone from Dickens. Like maybe Mr. Pickwick." I turned it over, and lo and behold, it was marked on the bottom, "Mr. Pickwick proposes a toast" by Lingard pottery. I've never even read "The Pickwick Papers" but I guess I've seen enough representations of him in illustrations!

I sort of liked him, but Dave thought he was creepy.

We were out and about in York yesterday morning. We walked the dog down to a nice park on the riverbank, but because of her obsession with eating goose poop we had to get her away from there pronto. We walked over to Clifford's Tower, the last remaining part of York Castle, initially built by William the Conqueror. (This present structure dates from the 1200s.) We didn't go in; we just walked around the base of the mound.

And as I suspected, we were surrounded in York by reminders of the Wars of the Roses -- the symbolic white rose was everywhere. Even though I just went to Leicester a few months ago and read all about the battles at the Richard III Visitor's Centre, I had to read about them again in York to remind myself what happened. For some reason I just can't keep the details in my brain.

After walking through town, Dave and I found a cafe where we sat with Olga and watched the other tourists and interesting local characters.

We caught the 1 p.m. train back to London, which mercifully was an express and made no stops before King's Cross. Amazing! We were all so happy to get back home. I did laundry, Dave took care of the garden, and Olga slept on the couch all afternoon and evening, apparently exhausted by traveling and the change in routine. At heart, animals are creatures of habit and they are most comfortable with what they know. (People too, I suppose!)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Further Adventures in York

It says a lot about York that the top headline in the local newspaper is "Dog Rescued From Locked Car."

We were out and about almost all day yesterday. We first walked around town, visiting some streets we'd missed the day before. We came across an incredibly colorful group of Japanese (I think?) tourists. I actually ran after them with my camera to get a shot.

I really wish I'd been able to photograph them in the sun. They were so spectacularly dressed.

Then we went to York Minster, the gothic church...

...which towers over everything in the old part of the city.

It stands on the site of the Roman settlement that eventually became York, and in parts of the building you can see architectural remnants left by the Romans in the third century. It's mind-boggling. There's a gothic screen that depicts past kings of England and acres of stained glass, including the largest single stained glass window in the country. (Unfortunately it's under conservation at the moment, so we couldn't see it.)

There are also lots of interesting artifacts, including the Doomstone, a Norman carving from the 1100's depicting demons stoking the fires of hell under a cauldron of sinners.  Burn, baby, burn!

We walked the old city walls -- in shifts, so that one of us could stay with Olga on the ground -- before meeting up with an acquaintance of Dave's from Michigan who just happens to be in York at the same time we are. (Ah, the wonders -- and curses -- of Facebook.) We had lunch with him and his traveling companion and then made our way back to the room for a nap.

In the evening we walked the dog, went for a take-out dinner and spent a quiet night here, watching "American Beauty," which may seem like an odd thing to do in York but we were tired. Even Olga is tired. As Dave said, "She hasn't been getting her 40 naps per day."

This morning we're going out to see a few more sights and then we're back on the train at 1 p.m.