Sunday, July 23, 2017

Olga's Summer Day

Olga had a busy day yesterday! We went back to the main part of Hampstead Heath, where we hadn't been since well before I left for Florida. (According to my blog search function, the last time was June 3. Can that be right?!) It's definitely looking more late-summery there, with the long grass turning dry and the rosebay willowherb (aka fireweed, a much better name in my opinion) and ragwort blooming. I love that purple/yellow combo.

Anyway, Olga ran to her heart's content. This was immediately after she went for a visit to the vet. She doesn't mind the vet -- in fact, she gets treats there, and sometimes she tries to pull me in that direction. She pretty much demands to go.

We took her because she acts somewhat stiff after long walks, and Dave wanted to get her joints checked. She also has a skin nodule on one of her legs that I thought should be evaluated. (No doubt because of my own recent experiences!) The verdict is that her joints seem well and the skin nodule is small and not connected to anything, which is a good sign. So we're going to simply monitor both.

She weighed 24.8 kilos, or almost 55 pounds. She's put on a bit of weight -- another reason to get her to the Heath!

The bill for the exam came in at £45, which I suppose isn't too bad, and I'm happy that she doesn't need anything more.

After our Heath romp, she got a bath and a special marrow bone from a restaurant where Dave and I went with our coworker Lisa and her boyfriend on Friday night. This was a hip little place in Hackney with amazing grilled meat. Olga loved her bone, which admittedly probably didn't do her weight any favors!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Magimatic

I've mentioned before that as a kid, I had a Magimatic camera. It was a point-and-shoot device that took 126 cartridge film, and it made terrible pictures. As I recall, it took a lot of force to push the button, particularly as the camera got older, and that inevitably resulted in movement and blur.

Still, I used the Magimatic for nine years, from 1974 to 1983. I documented nearly my entire childhood on that camera.

Having bought my film scanner, I've been exploring my old negatives and retrieving some lost shots. What I've learned is that I don't have a whole heck of a lot worth retrieving! But here are a few I can share with you.

Above, my friend Theresa, pointing her Polaroid (I think?) at me, sometime in the mid-'70s. I guess we were taking a picture of each other taking a picture. How meta!

I remember taking this picture of weeds near our back porch. I was enamored with the bright sunlight on the green, leafy plants, the long strands of grass and the dark shadows. And I distinctly remember being so disappointed with the picture when it came out. It does indeed look like a picture of nothing.

When I went to summer camp in the mid-'70s I painted a toucan in ceramics class. I loved my toucan, even though it had a broken tail, and I took it with me each of the next few years when we went on beach vacations. I made it our beach mascot. Well, the year I took this terrible photo, I accidentally left the toucan behind in the condo we rented. So this is the only record of my toucan.

(A side note -- sometimes the negative scanner gives really funky color results. I wrestle with adjustments and even then I often can't get it exactly right. And look how badly that negative has deteriorated!)

Utah welcomes you! From a 1983 cross-country car trip with my dad, stepmother and brother.

From the same trip, here's the front entrance of the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. You can barely see my dad, stepmother and brother on the steps at right. My brother is checking out the fountain, which as I recall featured statues of women with water spurting from their breasts. I don't think I'm making that up.

Finally, this bizarre photo was taken for a high school science project in the early '80s. I was trying to show the effect of various detergents on bean seedlings. As I recall, I fudged my data by simply abandoning the beans when we went on vacation and then declaring that they had died as a result of detergent exposure. I don't remember what grade I got, but I passed.

Anyway, I kind of like the picture -- I think I was photographing the beans (carefully numbered, you will notice) through a piece of glass. (Why?!) The glass picked up a dreamy reflection of our neighborhood.

Friday, July 21, 2017

God's Right-Hand Man

I'm back on the paperwork treadmill, trying to collect and organize all the documents we need for our immigration application. I had to travel to work yesterday -- where the building, during summer break, is under a crazy amount of maintenance and renovation -- to use the copier and get some file folders. I need to go back again today to do a bit more copying. Then we'll be ready for Monday.

I also took a bag of used books to Oxfam, including Bob Spitz's huge biography of The Beatles, which I loved when I read it about 10 years ago. (Let's face it -- I'm not going to read it again.) The guy at Oxfam got all excited when he saw it.

"Oh, I'm about to do a Beatles window!" he said. "Sometimes I think God really does listen."

Am I an instrument of divine intent? Who knows.

Also among life's questions at the moment: I've been getting lots of odd spam e-mails trying to find me a job in Medfield, Mass. It's the strangest thing. Every day I get two or three, and I remember several months ago getting similar e-mails about job searching in Worcester, Mass. Is someone in the Bay State using my e-mail address for their job search? Do I need to be concerned? I'm not sure. It's mostly just peculiar.

I slept pretty well last night, but not quite as well as the night before. The second night after a long trip is always harder, when the initial exhaustion of travel has been remedied. Part of the blame, though, lies with my new toy -- a negative scanner! Yes, I'm playing around with my old pictures again. The scanner arrived yesterday evening from Amazon, and I stayed up late last night scanning and adjusting some forgotten film rolls. I promise to share with you anything worthwhile I find!

(Photo: Rosebay willowherb atop a security wall in West Hampstead, a few weeks ago.)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Blackberry Time

So, among other things, this happened in the garden while I was gone -- the blackberries began to ripen!

I went out yesterday afternoon, when I was trying to find ways to keep myself awake and fight my jet lag, and I picked a bowl of them.

Those aren't all of them, either. But I'm trying to be especially selective, leaving even slightly underripe ones for another few days, because the longer they stay on the vine the sweeter they are. I also want to leave some behind for birds and whatever else might eat them.

I wrote about blackberry time around this same date in 2014, 2015 and last year. It's a big deal to me! Picking berries wraps itself in a perfect cloak of nostalgia for my childhood in Florida, as well as an appreciation for the warm (but ordinarily not super-hot) high summer days in England.

I managed to stay awake all day yesterday, after landing at 9 a.m. I finally collapsed into bed around 9 p.m., and let me tell you, sleep is a wonderful thing. I slept right through until 6 a.m. this morning.

Today I've got to do a few more things for our immigration application before our meeting next week. I'll be glad when that's over!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Back Home Again

I'm back in England, but I can't resist giving you one more Florida picture. I took this at the Jacksonville Arboretum on Monday. It's a snapping turtle in one of the park's ponds. Isn't that an awesome eye?

Here's a close-up:

It's so green! I'm not sure I've looked closely at a turtle eye before.

My flights home were relatively uneventful. They both ran a bit late, and I wound up landing in London at 9:15 a.m. rather than 8 a.m. as planned -- but my bag made it and all in all it wasn't a bad experience. I had a fairly long layover -- about 4 1/2 hours -- at the Charlotte airport. I spent the time having barbecue (with collards!) for lunch, reading "Herzog" by Saul Bellow and getting a much-needed back massage.

I'm reading "Herzog" because I've never read anything by Bellow, and I'm loving his descriptions of New York and environs. He is definitely a writer of city fiction. It gets a bit too philosophical for me at times, musing over the human condition, but I'm working through it.

Olga is curled up on my legs as I write this. When I walked in the door she greeted me as usual, with her Kong in her mouth, ready to play! She seems very happy that I'm home. I suppose Dave is happy too. I am going to get some serious sleep tonight.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Sexy Rexy

Yesterday morning, Mom and I went to the Jacksonville Arboretum, a large forested tract with some botanical plantings. I thought our little walk there might be a miserable experience in July, but it actually turned out to be fairly cool and mosquito-free and not at all uncomfortable.

We adjourned afterwards to Red Lobster for lunch, at Mom's request. As we were driving to the restaurant we passed a big orange dinosaur standing in front of a shopping center.

Well, I turned the car right around. How could I not?

"I bet this came from an old mini-golf course," I told Mom as I prepared to photograph it. I looked it up later, as we sat in our booth at Red Lobster, and I found this article. It explains that, sure enough, this dinosaur's home used to be Gooney Golf, and it's stood in this position for about 45 years. When the golf course was torn down, there was a local effort to save "Sexy Rexy" (one of several names proposed for it), and now it is enshrined in front of a strip mall.

It stands on Beach Boulevard at Peach Drive -- yes, the corner of Beach and Peach. I am not making this up.

Those glowing red eyes!

Anyway, as we drove home, we stopped at Target to replace my mom's toilet brush, which I inadvertently broke while cleaning her bathroom. The cheap plastic handle snapped in two! Clearly I don't know my own strength. So I got a super-strong one with a metal handle.

As we pulled out of the shopping center, a man in front of us was putting up the automatic top on his convertible, which looked pretty precarious. We joked that it might fly off and kill us as we drove, leaving us the subjects of a news story: "MOTHER AND SON KILLED BY FLYING CAR ROOF. 'They just bought a very expensive toilet brush,' a witness said."

It can be fun to imagine yourself the subject of news coverage. The day before, having a beer with my brother in his back yard, an afternoon thunderstorm blew up. As we retreated inside we imagined the headline: "BROTHERS IN IDENTICAL 'WAFFLE HOUSE' T-SHIRTS KILLED BY LIGHTNING STRIKE." While drinking cans of beer, no less. That would be a Florida story.

We had dinner with my brother and his family last night (barbecued brisket sandwich!), and now today I'm getting ready to take flight for England. I've got to do a lot of hanging around in airports -- I'll try to avoid another $26 glass of wine, but there are no guarantees. When I come to you tomorrow, I should be back in Blighty with Dave and Olga.

(Bottom photo: A grove of palms at the Arboretum.)

Monday, July 17, 2017

Waffle House and Alpine Groves

You all may remember that I'm a big fan of Waffle House, the chain of roadside diners founded in Atlanta in 1955. There's not really anything like it in Britain. You can get a fry-up at your local cafe -- I guess that's the closest thing -- and it's good, but it's not quite the same.

A few weeks ago, I got so nostalgic for Waffle House that I ordered t-shirts for myself and my brother, JM. Yesterday we donned our shirts and made a pilgrimage (which is an overstatement, because it's only about a mile away) to the local outlet. The employees were so amused when we walked in that they even took a picture of us -- and we, of course, couldn't resist our own selfie.

That's me on the left, in case there's any doubt!

After a breakfast that was so big (in my case, grits, toast, a pecan waffle, two eggs and coffee) it nullified any need to eat again until evening, we took a drive and wound up along the riverfront in Mandarin, walking on a public dock and admiring the river.

That boat beyond the channel markers is called the "Tahiti Rover," from Honolulu! Pretty impressive that it's here.

We kept driving south, and wound up back at Alpine Groves Park, where we went about a week ago. We saw more exotic insect life, including...

...this eastern eyed click beetle, which looks formidable because of its two large eye spots but is actually quite harmless. (Those aren't even its eyes. The real eyes are very tiny and on the sides of its head.)

I know my brother wasn't crazy about going out and walking around in the heat, but I'm not good at sitting around the house. He indulged me and I appreciated seeing the sights!

(Top photo: An old Pepsi cooler outside a house in the community of Switzerland.)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Driveway, and a Cicada

I'm back at my brother's house now. (That's not it above.) I think my poor mom needed a break from playing host!

This super-patriotic driveway is in Atlantic Beach. We saw it on car repair day but I couldn't shoot it because we were unable to stop. But I couldn't get it out of my mind, so when Mom and I went to Castaway Island on Friday I made a little detour and revisited it. I'm so glad I did. It's definitely too flag-wavey for me politically, but it makes a great photo.

Last night we went to dinner at a Mexican place in an old municipal building, where they seemed thoroughly perplexed by my order of a gin martini. I suppose it's not a common drink at a Mexican place. But they cranked one out, even with olives, and it tasted fine.

Then my brother indulged in one of his impromptu driving tours of the city, taking us through downtown and down the west side of the river. I'm always up for sightseeing, and my brother loves to drive. He doesn't hesitate to take the long route anywhere.

This is a cicada. They're buzzing in the trees at this time of year. They're usually pretty hard to see, but this one was caught in a doorway at Mom's apartment building. We walked through the door, and when it closed behind us we heard a loud, unmistakable buzz.

"What is that?!" I said.

"Oh, it's just the door," Mom replied.

But I knew it wasn't just the door. So I opened it again, and the cicada rolled out from under it -- I think it had been trapped between the bottom of the door and the floor. It seemed unharmed, fortunately, and I moved it out to a plant in the surrounding woods. Adult cicadas don't live very long, but hopefully this one at least got to mate and continue its species!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Castaway Island

When we were getting Mom's car fixed the other day, we drove past a park called Castaway Island, on the Intracoastal Waterway. It looked pretty interesting, and I loved the name -- very "Gilligan's Island" -- so Mom and I returned there yesterday morning.

The park's main feature is a nature trail and boardwalk that leads through the woods above and over the marshy waterway. We started along the trail, where we saw...

...a white peacock butterfly.

And then the trail abruptly ended at a "caution" ribbon, blocking any further progress. A very tan workman wandered up carrying two bottles of water, and I asked what was going on. Turns out there were tree crews taking down about 30 dead trees along the path, so the nature trail and boardwalk were closed for the day!

I couldn't believe our bad luck.

We went back to the parking lot, and walked out on a little dock over the water. We watched the fiddler crabs zipping in and out of their muddy holes, and around some obvious Fourth of July detritus.

I had heard that roseate spoonbills frequented the park, so I'd been hoping to see some. With the boardwalk closed that possibility seemed remote. And then... flew right overhead, as if on cue! He made a wide circle around the parking area, and -- unlike the last time I saw flying spoonbills -- I had my camera ready and was able to get a few shots.

So at least the day wasn't a total loss! I'd still like to go back when the boardwalk isn't closed, but we left feeling like we'd seen some interesting sights.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Raccoon and Mimosa

This plant, I learned yesterday, is called powderpuff or sunshine mimosa (Mimosa strigillosa). It grows in the grass below Mom's apartment building, and apparently it's a Florida native, though I'm not sure I've ever seen it before.

We spotted it yesterday on our morning walk, and when I took the camera out afterwards to get a photo, my lenses were immediately socked in by condensation. The camera was cold from the air conditioning, and it is so humid outside! I had to walk around for about fifteen minutes and let the camera warm up a bit before I could use it.

We also saw this critter the other morning. It was scrounging around under the dock, where Mom says people feed the local cats. There was even a cat nearby, just hanging out, apparently completely used to the raccoon.

Because of that thick humidity, and the accompanying heat, we spent all day inside yesterday. I worked on setting up Mom's new iPad, her birthday gift from me and my brother. We installed some apps and I got her logged in on Facebook and Flickr and helped her practice using it.

I think she'll really like it. Her old computer, as I have complained before, is ridiculously slow. Using it is a Zen experience -- it forces you to confront your ideas of what a computer should do, and how it should behave, and how quickly it should function, and then abandon all those ideas and face what's really happening instead. And what's really happening is: not much.

I migrated all her old photos to Flickr, so she can see them easily. Hopefully this iPad will ease her access to the Internet overall!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

More Savannah, with Forrest Gump

This is Chippewa Square, where the movie "Forrest Gump" was filmed. The "box of chocolates" bench was located along the street on the other side of this statue of Gen. James Oglethorpe, the founder of Georgia. Apparently the bench itself was a movie prop. There's not one there now, but tourists like to trample the flowers and climb up on a garden wall to approximate the perspective in selfies -- or so our catty tour guide from Tuesday said.

The square is named for the Battle of Chippewa in the War of 1812. Allegedly, Oglethorpe is facing south to guard Savannah against the threat posed by Spanish colonists in Florida.

Mom and I were up pretty early yesterday morning, and my agenda for the day was to go back to Chippewa Square, walk around town a bit to take some pictures, and visit the Jepson Center for the Arts, a contemporary art museum. So that's what we did.

This is the sign from the old Savannah movie theater, also on Chippewa Square.

As it turned out, walking around town only took a short time, and we didn't want to walk too much because it was already getting hot. The museum didn't open until 10 a.m. So we ducked into a cafe and then took care of practical matters like checking out of our hotel.

Just as we were about to leave the Hyatt Regency, we saw two women who I swear were Kardashians, or at least Kardashian imitators: skin-tight, wildly revealing clothing, deep cantaloupe tans. They were climbing into a black SUV. One had on a pink halter-top-and-miniskirt outfit that looked at least two sizes too small for her -- it was like two bags of basketballs. People on the hotel steps were stopped in their tracks watching them. One little boy's mouth was actually agape. I couldn't believe my eyes myself.

Anyway, back to the museum! My mission at the Jepson was to see "Bird Girl," the cemetery sculpture photographed for the book cover of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." It became so famous that it's now one of the best-known symbols of the city, and it was moved indoors to protect it from vandalism.

We also saw an exhibit by the photographer William Wegman, who's known for creative portraits of his Weimaraner dogs. There were dog photos in the show, of course, but also other works where Wegman would use an old postcard (or several old postcards) and contextualize them into a larger painting. It was interesting to see some different stuff from him.

After that, we had lunch and hit the road. We got back to Jacksonville in late afternoon, and then went to my brother's for a little 80th birthday dinner for Mom. We gave her an iPad, which ought to be heaven for her to use compared to her decade-old, gerbil-driven netbook computer.

I think the day wore her out. She's still asleep now, as I write!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


This is the view from our hotel room in Savannah. Isn't that crazy? We're right on the river, and I asked for a river view, but I had no idea we were going to get such dramatic action! Gigantic container ships like this one passed several times yesterday afternoon.

My mom keeps expressing fear that they're going to hit the building. I told her I was pretty sure that's not a realistic danger.

The bridge in the background carries U.S. 17 over the river and into South Carolina.

We got here yesterday just before lunch. The view of the industrial riverfront isn't typical of most of the central city, which looks more like the picture above -- the elaborate 1858 fountain in Forsyth Park. Central Savannah is dotted with 22 "squares," or small parks, so it's very green, and many of the parks are surrounded by 19th-century mansions and contain historic statuary.

When we drove into town, we dropped the car at our hotel (the Hyatt Regency) and walked a few blocks to a local cafe for sandwiches. Then we caught a trolley tour to get the lay of the land.

Apparently dolphin downspouts, like this one, are a Savannah thing. Or so our tour operator said.

We had two trolley guides. We weren't thrilled with the first one, but then we disembarked for a walk through Forsyth Park, and when we got on another trolley we had a much better guide. He kept up a steady stream of information and every once in a while he'd interject a comment about other drivers and pedestrians, like, "A turn signal would be nice. Bless your heart."

It's a good thing we weren't walking around, because it was pretty hot and Mom, who turns 80 today (!), much preferred riding. She would really have preferred air conditioning, but you can't have everything.

Anyway, after the tour we rested a bit, and then went to dinner at The Grey, a sleek art deco restaurant housed in an old Greyhound bus terminal. We had an excellent meal -- mom had foie gras with grits and I had tilefish.

Everyone associates Savannah with the book (or maybe movie) "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." I loved that book. This is the Mercer mansion, where "the incident" (as our second tour guide put it, with typical Southern discretion) occurred in the left front room downstairs.

Today we have plans in the morning, and then we'll get back on the road in the afternoon for the two-hour drive back to Jacksonville.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Beach, and Mrs. Stowe

We had to take Mom's car in for servicing yesterday, so we made an afternoon of it. My brother met us at the Acura dealer, where we dropped the car, and the three of us drove in his truck to Jacksonville Beach. We had lunch at a trendy Mexican place, with flashy margaritas and tacos that no true Mexican person would recognize. (I had one made with blackened shrimp and a pseudo-Southern one with black-eyed peas and fried green tomatoes. I also had a refreshing margarita made with ginger beer -- maybe Reed's?!)

Then we walked out to the searing, white-hot beach, where I lingered just long enough to take a picture of the water. The red flag on the lifeguard's stand means "strong currents" -- in case you were thinking of joining us for a swim.

We got back into the air-conditioned comfort of my brother's truck and drove up through Atlantic Beach, exploring the neighborhoods, and just as we were considering what to do next, the dealer called and the car was ready. Back to Acura we went. Now there is no foreseeable reason that Mom and I should have mechanical difficulties driving to Savannah today. Knock on wood.

Someone near my brother's house has turned several of the street signs into bats! Gotta love the creativity.

And speaking of creativity, remember the groovy painted rock I found several days ago on a table at Mom's retirement center? When we walked by the same table yesterday morning, it was still there. Clearly it was meant to be adopted -- by me. So I did.

Here's the modest Harriet Beecher Stowe Community Center, which is near my mom's apartment. Stowe, the abolitionist author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," bought land near the St. John's River the year after the end of the Civil War and helped launch a school here, among other things. She used to sit out on the riverfront and wave at passing steamers, or so I've been told.

We did some reading about Stowe yesterday, thinking we could go see her house. Sadly, it's apparently no longer standing. But we did run across an interesting account by Mark Twain, who lived next to Stowe in Connecticut at the end of her life. Apparently she got a bit dotty in her old age:
"Among the colonists of our neighborhood the doors always stood open in pleasant weather. Mrs. Stowe entered them at her own free will, and as she was always softly slippered and generally full of animal spirits, she was able to deal in surprises, and she liked to do it. She would slip up behind a person who was deep in dreams and musings and fetch a war whoop that would jump that person out of his clothes."
I know it's not exactly a happy image -- dementia and all -- but it's kind of endearing to think that Stowe had so much fun shaking up her neighbors. Never one to shy away from controversy!

Monday, July 10, 2017

More Dramatic Skies

We're in that rainy time of year. Every afternoon the skies darken and open up, and we get a toad-strangling rainstorm followed by a temperature drop of ten or fifteen degrees. Yesterday we had a couple of them, and in the evening my mom and I went out on the dock to check out the dramatic clouds over the river.

There wasn't much color in the sunset, but it was still impressive. It's hard to not be impressed by a Florida sky.

Yesterday morning I hung out with my nieces. We watched the animated movie "Trolls," and I thought I was going to have to suffer through a tedious, shallow, juvenile film, but no -- it was good! It was visually fascinating, with colorful, glittery characters and sets that looked as though they were made out of felt and colorful fabrics -- even though I'm sure they were all digital -- and it used a lot of great pop songs from the early '80s. And Christine Baranski, who I love, did some of the voice work. I'd watch it again.

Then we went to lunch with my stepsister and her husband, who drove up from Tampa. We went to a restaurant that calls itself a "fish camp" on the other side of this stretch of river, even though it is quite swanky and air-conditioned and nothing at all like a real fish camp. Fish tacos!

I got a text from Dave, back in England, saying that Olga "took a bite out of a fox"! Which scared me to death, but then he said neither were hurt, so maybe it wasn't a bite so much as a snarl. She chased the fox down the side of our house and the fox hopped the fence. Dave said he was in the kitchen and the commotion scared him. I'm glad I missed that!

Oh, one of you asked which river I photographed from the air on my approach to Jacksonville the other day. It's the St. Mary's River, which forms the border between Florida and Georgia. Took me a while to figure that out.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Real Florida Wildlife and Artificial Frogs

Yesterday we braved the heat and went to Alpine Groves Park, a historic site and scenic park along the St. John's River. It's in the small community of Switzerland, named for a plantation owned in the 1700s by a Swiss businessman. (I'm sure that's where the "Alpine" name comes from, too, since there's not a mountain around for miles!) We strolled the shady boardwalk and my nieces went to the playground. We saw butterflies and a striped skink and some interesting flowers, but most of the wildlife seemed to be hidden somewhere, staying cool. Afterwards we went out for tacos -- or in my case, taco salad. It was good to get out and see something new.

While walking with my mom at her retirement center the day before, I found this groovy rock lying on an outdoor table. It was signed on the bottom. Someone's art project, I guess!

And this was my find while walking the dog with my brother yesterday morning. How apropos!

When I visited Jacksonville over Christmas, I took some pictures of some colorful frog statues I found sitting on a bridge abutment, out in the middle of nowhere. I thought it odd, and on this trip I've seen even more frogs spread around my brother's neighborhood -- on bridges, mailboxes and these two on a tree stump near his house. Turns out there's a story behind them -- a retired guy called the Frog Man of Mandarin makes and distributes the amphibians. He apparently even maintains his frogs, replacing missing ones and repairing those that get damaged.

Finally, here's a picture of Queens, my loving tormentor, who also went to the park with us yesterday. She's still very puppyish, as you can see. My oldest niece loves her, but the younger one is a little unsure. She pets Queens but the minute the dog moves, especially if its mouth is open, she backs right up. I guess a dog mouth must look pretty scary to a four-year-old!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Tardy Grilled Cheese

We're staying indoors these days to avoid the heat. I did convince my mom to take a short walk after lunch yesterday, mostly under shady trees or walkway canopies at the senior center where she lives, but that was about all the exercise we could manage. There were three or four panting waterbirds in the pond, and a couple of people buzzing around in golf carts, but otherwise signs of life were few.

We had lunch with some of Mom's pals. There were four other women at our table -- as at many senior centers, women seem to outnumber men -- and one of them ordered a grilled-cheese sandwich from the cafeteria kitchen. (Apparently it takes special preparation.) Well, the sandwich was slow in coming, and it became the sole topic of conversation. I swear, those women talked about that sandwich for half an hour.

I never learned their names, because Mom wasn't sure about them. I suppose I should have introduced myself, but as long as they know I'm her visiting son -- and not a home invader or a gigolo -- that's the important thing.

In the afternoon Mom and I were reduced to watching "Leave it to Beaver," which I don't think I've seen in about 35 years. Last night after dinner I tried to be more hip and watch "Fantastic Beasts" with my nieces, but I was so tired I only made it about two-thirds of the way through the movie. I became the stereotypical middle-aged uncle, nodding off on the couch, loosely clinging to his glass of wine. (Well, actually, I'd finished the wine by that time.) I totally get why parents turn on the TV, though -- the kids quiet right down.

Queens continues to express her affection for me with puppy love bites. Fortunately she mostly nibbles me, though -- not any other family member. I think when I leave she'll be back to her better-trained self.

(Photo: Docks on Julington Creek.)

Friday, July 7, 2017

Beetle in Easy-Bake Oven

My mom, brother and I all went to breakfast yesterday at a neighborhood restaurant. The last time I went there I was appalled at the portion sizes, so I kept joking about having a "nine-pound omelet," but then when the food came it wasn't as ridiculously portioned as I remembered. Maybe I was hungrier this time. I had a two-pound omelet, and I ate the whole thing. With toast and grits.

Still, I was surprised when Mom insisted on eating lunch about two hours later. I let her make me a tomato sandwich. That was about all I could handle at that point, but Mom is on a schedule.

Other than eating, yesterday was pretty low-key. The three of us sat for a while on a covered dock over Julington Creek, a tributary of the St. John's River, where we chatted and watched the distant specks of boaters and rowers out on the wide, silvery water.

We found this nearly motionless beetle on the walk back to my mom's apartment. Apparently it's a triceratops beetle (Phileurus truncatus), and it was soporific. Could have been the heat, or as my brother suggested, maybe it got into some bug spray. We moved it from the sidewalk to a shady spot beneath a shrub.

Later in the afternoon my mom and I went to Starbucks, where I had the most godawful cup of coffee. It was so strong I felt like I was drinking asphalt. Of course, it was 95 degrees out, and I was probably the only person to walk in all day and ask for hot coffee, so who knows how long it had been hanging around. And it was their Pike Place Blend, which is supposed to be the mild one, I thought. The experience was mitigated slightly by hearing "Vacation" by the Go-Go's on the in-store music system, but still...we'll probably make afternoon coffee at home today.

Queens, my brother's dog, has decided that I am her personal chew toy. Every time she sees me she gets so excited, and before I know it she's gnawing my arm like rawhide. They're just playful puppy love bites, but I hope I'm not encouraging bad behavior!