Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Super Powers

What Super Power do you want?  Long ago I decided my super power would be to know from a single glance what the best thing was on any restaurant menu.  And the COG decided his super power would be to make any light turn green as he approached it.

A couple of days ago, sitting in a small waiting room with a huge tv blaring unhappy news, the COG changed his most desired super power to the ability to shut down tvs invisibly.  Yesterday in a different waiting area, this time without a tv,  there was a woman talking loudly into her phone, which was on speaker so we were all privileged to hear her conversations with multiple people.  So I decided my new desired super power to the ability to mute people who are speaking loudly on the phone in public places.

Some days I feel like a real curmudgeon.  Then I look at the COG and realize I am an amateur, and feel better.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Weekend Cat Blog

The COG and I went to a nursery to buy some bulbs to plant in pots for the winter.  We were cruising the aisles just smelling the damp earth for a while when we passed this and did a double take.

Did you spot it?  Here's a close-up.   I love cats. I love that they find places to curl  up and sleep in busy shops.  I love that they are so boneless and agile that they can make a circle when they sleep.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Veggie From Another Planet?

This amazing vegetable is a Romanesco cauliflower which we got from our CSA.  I had never seen one before.  The chartreuse color and the strange fractal quality of the flowerets is just beautiful.  Wikipedia says  that the branched meristems make up a logarithmic spiral. Also that the number of spirals on each head is a Fibonacci number.  It is one of the mathematical wonders of the vegetable world.

We are having it for dinner, boiled whole, with cheese sauce and ham and boiled potatoes.   I tried and tried to find a recipe that left it whole but most of them break it up like an ordinary cauliflower.  That's tragic, in my opinion.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Brighton Again

We just spent nearly a month in Brighton and I didn't blog at all. I have so much to blog about.

The reason I didn't blog is this. My kitchen.  This is a Before shot.  Where do I start?  There are many good things about the kitchen - it functions quite well although it would function better if I were 6 feet tall.  Mostly, it's a good kitchen, functionally.

Still, it has problems.  The biggest problem is entirely subjective - Although it's very bright, the window faces north, so it's cold blue light.  And the white and grey just make it colder.  I also hate the space between the washer and the sink, where we keep the trash can.  There was a dishwasher there when we moved in and we got rid of it.  Then, there is the dark tile behind the sink.  There's no close-up of it, but it seemed to me to suck the light from the room - it was black and very roughly textured with large ugly black sanded grout lines.

Perhaps you recall that we had a new ceiling put in when we had the lighting changed last spring. At that time they removed the soffit over the cupboards, which still needs replacing.  We had to repaint everything pure white after the ceiling job and that has made the Ikea off-white cabinets just look dirty.

We went to Ikea soon after we arrived. I had hoped to find some cabinet that would fit in between the washer and sink and also a few other things.  My hopes were dashed. I came home disappointed.

So that is where we stood when we arrived.  I can't remember how I got there exactly, but I came across some tiles that I loved.  

And amazingly, and they were very inexpensive- less than £40 for all of them. So I decided to replace the  tiles myself.  Which might have been insane, considering that I have no tools at all in Brighton.  To do this,  I had first to remove the old tiles. That proved to be pretty easy. However,  I, then, had to remove all the adhesive from a wall which was pretty much of a mess behind the adhesive.  But, I persevered and cleaned it up and smoothed it out and installed the tile.

I've just written that in -what - 3 sentences, but it took DAYS.  And many trips to various Home Depot type places. And the discovery that the window is not level, making the tiles look as if they are not level. 

Plus, there was just one tile that needed to be cut at the end. It was too thick to cut without heavy duty tile cutters. My Plan B was to bring it home with me and cut it on the saw at Home Depot. But I had a Plan A.

By coincidence, just a few houses up from us, a neighbor was having the tile on their front steps replaced.  And there were two young guys working on it and they had the tile cutter right there on the pavement.  But by the time I figured out that I needed to cut the tile, they were gone. They hadn't finished, but it poured rain for several days, so they didn't return. 

So I turned to Plan A2 and that ended up working.  I went to a nearby tile shop and asked them to cut just one for me.  It took a bit of persuading (apparently I still have some Wiles, despite being geriatric) but I was, finally, able to complete the tile job. 

I also decided to paint the lower cupboards.  Here is an intermediate shot with the tiles removed, but still a mess underneath and a couple of paint samples.

Nice yellow, nice blue which matched the tiles.  I liked both of them.  Daughter of just painted a unit in her kitchen that same blue grey.  But, I hesitated.  Since I couldn't get a a cupboard for the space, I knew I was going to have to put a curtain there and with the tiles it was just getting a little too much French Country for me.  So I ended up choosing a beautiful  dark grey Farrow and Ball color called Downpipe.  I was going on instinct alone and I thought I was a bit crazy because The kitchen is already so cold. But then I read on Apartment Therapy that black is a warm color.  Downpipe isn't quite black, but I think it's warm.  And I'm really happy with it.   

Painting cupboards is another thing that's easily said, but not so easily done. I bought a sander.  I sanded. I searched high and low and finally found a High Adhesive Primer. The Ikea units were painted, but very smooth. I wanted that paint to stick.  So I primed and sanded and painted and sanded. Three coats, it took, not counting the primer. But I finished. 

This isn't an After picture, because there is still work to do when we go back.  The upper units need to be painted a bright white and we need to get a carpenter in to replace the soffit. Before I left I installed a thing to hold the curtain under the counter.   Since I've gotten home to the US, I've made a skirt to cover the rubbish. It's a dark grey very similar to the cupboards.  I've also made a window blind.  We will probably never close it, but it's a touch of color for the window. 

So this is where we stand. 

Another view:

In an ideal world I would replace the counter top with butcher block (on the right) and marble (left and center). Also I'd have someone else tile the wall behind the cooker.  I don't like that stainless stuff.  

And then there's the floor. Old pine boards. I loved them when we bought the place. They are pretty, but they aren't great to live with.  I'm looking at washable runners but I'm not sure.  

Anyway, there is a lot of other stuff we did (Stonehenge! The Magna Carta!) but that's enough for today. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Wild Surprise of a Different Nature

Son of COG came home from work the other day and said, 'I've brought you a surprise. 'That's good,' I said -  'as long as I don't have to feed it or clean up after it.'   He laughed  said, rather doubtfully,  'maybe the second.'

It turned out to be 2 large bags of wild grapes- 12 pounds of them, after they'd been cleaned.  I haven't made jelly lately, only jam, so I found a recipe for wild grape jelly on the internet. It was a bit of work, but it made 11 pints of wonderful jelly.   Wild grapes have plenty of pectin, but you have to use so much sugar to get it to gel that my recipe advised using a low sugar pectin to bring out the wonderful flavor.  This is not Welches Grape Jelly, it has a complex almost wine-y flavor that would even go well with meat.  And it's pretty good with freshly made bread and a cup or tea, too.  

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

And Speaking of Wild Kingdom....

We had this guy on our screen last week.  He was a male because he had wings and Miss T assured us that only males have wings.

Evening in the Wild Kingdom

We had these visitors in our garden last evening:

The fawn was young, still spotted, and so sweet. He would graze for a while, then he would run around his mother in circles, leaping very high every few steps. Then back to eating.

I looked it up and fawns loose their spots by October of the year in which they were born - at 3 or 4 months.

We also heard males fighting the other night - it's rutting season.  There's a very distinctive slash of antlers and a sharp cry that they make.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Alien Life Form or Edible Foodstuff? - You Decide

My lovely neighbor brought me this from Maine. it's sitting on a 3 inch diameter jar lid. I keep wanting to wrap it in a receiving blanket - that's how big it is.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Stokesay Castle Highlights.

Back in March or April, we visited Stokesay Castle, a National Trust property, It was beautiful and atmospheric.  There were daffodils and sunshine and birds singing etc. But there were two things that, for me, were highlights.

The first was this old trackway. I'm fascinated by old trackways.  This one was appears on old maps as Bayham Track. It's believed that it was a droveway for pigs from nearby Bayham Abbey to market. Britain is filled with the very old remnants of tracks and hollow ways. They are steep-sided either worn away from use or sometimes they are very ancient boundaries between fields. The two owners would dig in the middle and throw the soil up on their side producing a hollow center with steep sides. No one really know how old some of them are. But the countryside is filled with them, sometimes only fragments now. Sometimes still marking boundaries. 

Here is a closer view:

And the second highlight for me was this funny little house.

It's an ice house. Apparently one that worked extremely well. Here's the inside. the roof is heavily thatched, so that any warm air would escape through the thatch, but that the cold would be held inside.

The hole that contains the ice is very deep. Because this is built on a rise just above the lake, any melt water drains back into the lake. I love elegant and simple solutions like this one. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Finished Closet

The closet is finished, apart from some tweaks that will take place over time. I just want to show you some photos.

Straight ahead as you enter - the window seat with boxed cushion.

To the Left, the COG's 'half,' which I realize is already a bit different.

To the Right, my 'half,'

This is the other side. You can see the mirror peeping out there in the middle. It's on wheels and fits into a narrow slot there. Also note the upper right, by the light fixture, there's a hollow where my suitcases fit perfectly.

One detail: The tin was the COG's mother's and the shoes are alligator, which she paid five guineas for in the 1930s. In those days 5 guineas was worth around $400 (according to the internet). I don't think she ever wore them. 

Puzzling British Road Signs

Turns out that 'Vogue Gyratory' is a place. It is where several roads came together near the Vogue Theatre, which is long gone. I did not know that a 'Gyratory' was a place where roads come together. Now I do.

Back Again

The COG has closed down his blog so I'm going to try to start writing again. I won't have the great photos, but at least you'll know (Hi, Mom) what's going on in our lives.

The problem is that I have so many things to post, and they are all out of order. But I've decided to just post them in whatever order.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Archaeology Closer to Home

I have not mentioned something that has been happening closer to home.

When we first arrived, I was in the kitchen and the light blew out.  We messed around briefly with the fuses and lamps, but ended up calling an electrician. One of the two lights in the kitchen was already broken, so it seemed a sensible thing to do.

When he took the fixture down to look at it, water gushed out of the ceiling. It turned out that the people upstairs had had quite a small flood from the water filter under their sink (now fixed).  It didn't take much water to wreck the light, so we needed to replace them.  The electrician suggested that if we were going to change the lights, we should do the ceiling first.  I wasn't too unhappy about this because the ceiling was horrible - water stained even before this recent flood and really lumpy.  Here you see the ceiling and the temporary light solution.

Or here is a close-up:

So we emptied the kitchen and they put drywall over the existing ceiling and plastered over that, then we left the plaster to dry while we were in Italy.

The existing soffit had to be removed to plaster over the cupboards and when we got back and were preparing to paint the ceiling we discovered an old paint & stencil job that had been hidden by the soffit.  It's Pompeian Red and a distinctly fresco-ey stencil.

Hideous now, but probably quite the thing in the 80s or 90s.  Or the first century CE.

The COG has spent the last couple of days applying coats and coats of white paint to the ceiling. It looks fantastic now, but the other walls and the cupboards all look tired and worn.  

The kitchen needs doing, but it works for us now and so we are going to paint a bit and then leave the rest for later. And a big kitchen reno will wait a while, too. 

Footwear Fashion Update

At first glance these look like  ordinary high top sneakers but they aren't. Built into the inside is a raised heel, so they are like wedge sneakers, with the wedge concealed.  They were all over Sorrento - both in shop windows and on the feet of young women on the street.   Comfortable shoes turned into uncomfortable shoes. For Fashion. 

Fashion does not make sense. Ce n'est pas logique.  Non รจ logico. 

Italian Crosswalk Ingenuity

This zebra crossing in Sorrento had us puzzled - it led right into a dirt filled planter.

Until we realized that it cleverly made a right turn and led to a walkway on the side of the street.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Various Factoids about Pompeii and Herculaneum

1) It is believed that about 16,000 people died in the eruption of Vesuvius.  They've found about a thousand bodies in the part of Pompeii that has been excavated, and about 300 in Herculaneum, in an even smaller excavated area.  But Pompeii and Herculaneum were only two towns of several that were buried and there were many rural areas as well.  Most of this will never be excavated.

2) In Herculaneum, in the largest, richest and most magnificent villa that has been excavated, in either Pompeii or Herculaneum, they found nearly 2,000 papyrus scrolls. They are carbonized, of course, but using modern technology they can be read.  This is the only private library to survive from ancient times.  At the moment, the Italian government is unwilling to let the papyri be read because they are very delicate and it may destroy them.

3) Archeology: I always thought of it as being about discovering things but it also destroys them.  It's particularly obvious when you see the results of 18th and 19th and even early 20th century archaeology. But as one archaeologist said, everytime you dig something up, you are destroying the site.  As techniques improve more can be done with less intrusive methods.

4) The date that is usually given for the eruption, August 24th 79CE, was the day after Vulcanalia, a celebration of  Vulcan, god of fire including volcanoes.

5) The best (only?) contemporary account of the eruption is from letters written by Pliny the Younger to Tacitus the historian. At the time of the eruption, Pliny was 17 and staying with his uncle, Pliny the Elder  in a city north of modern Naples called Misenum.  Pliny the Elder went to rescue some people and died - probably from a heart attack or stroke. The people he went to rescue survived.  Pliny the Younger was driven from his house with his mother by the falling ash and smoke and the darkness at midday. It sounds terrifying - he says that people thought it was the end of the world.

6) The date given by Pliny August 24th, 79 CE, is not supported by archaelogical finds.  The foodstuffs that were carbonized in Herculaneum are from later in the year.  One victim was found with a coin that had not been minted until September. People are dressed in heavy clothing.  There is speculation that the true date was late October or November, but, of course, there is no way to prove this and no explanation for why Pliny would have said otherwise.

More Herculaneum

Herculaneum was amazing  A lot of the time we were walking on volcanic ash and a lot of volcanic material was used as building materials. It was rather poignant.

I will mostly let the pictures speak for themselves below.

A street scene, showing second floors.


Rooms on a second floor. That's a wooden frame filled with blocks of volcanic rock forming the wall.

 This was a kind of flooring we saw a lot. The background - often used by itself- is made from bits of broken terra cotta roof tiles and amphora mixed with lime. The variation below shows marble tesserae mixed in for a decorative effect.

And this is a sign outside a tavern or lunch place. There's a figure who is some kind of deity associated with protecting small businesses. The four vessels indicate different kinds of wine available and their price. 

A beautiful, fairly intact home.

close-up of the beautiful mosaic flooring

This is a room (dining room?) in the above villa. The floor is the black squares on white background version of the above.  Look at the ceiling - so lovely.

Two thousand year old charred wood around the door frame of the above villa.

More charred wood in another building supporting the second floor.

More of the beautiful frescoes from the above room. This was not a private home, but some kind of club or guild for small businessmen, as far as I could understand.

This is from the House of the Beautiful Courtyard.

The picture below was one of the most amazing places. Probably a food store of some kind - selling wine and beans and other provisions.  The store owners lived above the store.

Look at the charcoaled wood, the frescos and, most remarkably, the leg and a bit of railing from a brass bed frame, just above and to the left of the wooden railing. 

From the same provision store - the charcoaled wooden racks holding amphorae of wine or oil or other things. Amphorae were basically the containers for everything - the mason jars, the tins, the plastic packaging all rolled into one.

From a nearby private villa- notice the wooden grills from the windows and this is a dining room. The dining couches are lower than I've seen in pictures, but there were a lot of houses that had this size. The remarkable thing is that they are wooden. 

Not open to the public, but  you can see through the metal supports that this was a balcony that overlooked the street. 

That's enough for now about Herculaneum.  There were other wonders but I can't find the pictures at the moment. Maybe the COG has some. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

And Then There Was Herculaneum

Herculaneum is like Pompeii's less popular sibling. But, like many less popular siblings, in many ways it is even more interesting and rewarding, than the better known site. Last Spring, at the Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibit at the British Museum, we learned enough about the place to make me want to see it, too. So the day after we visited Pompeii, we took the same train a bit farther and got off in Ercolano, walking 8 blocks down the street of the modern city, to a park in which the excavations lie. This is what you see looking down at the excavated city.

Pompeii and Herculaneum were destroyed in different ways in the eruption and this means they have been preserved differently. Pompeii had many hours when it rained volcanic ash and rocks. Thus, many buildings collapsed from the weight of the stones, killing some of the victims who were sheltering indoors. Even some of the victims found in the streets were killed by falling debris. Pompeii, thus,  was pretty much smashed and broken before the heat of the pyroclastic flow killed everything that remained alive.

Herculaneum, on the other hand, did not have the raining rock, but was engulfed by 4 or 5 waves of pyroclastic flow to a much deeper depth than Pompeii.  Anything living was killed instantly and all the organic material in the city was fried.  Paradoxically, this means that much survived in the form of charcoal.  But the particular characteristics of the flow that covered the city also made it much harder to excavate. The depth of the flow also meant that some of the present city of Ercolano was built right over the old city. So only about 1/4 of it is excavated.

The story I heard is that a farmer digging a well discovered Herculaneum. Might be true, but whatever happened, by the early 18th century when there was a Bourbon King of Naples, they developed a unique method for excavating the very difficult covering of the city.  They tunneled through it.  The goal was treasure-seeking for the Bourbons and there was little thought given to what was destroyed in the process. Nor was there any established method for excavation.  There are a few places where you can still see the tunnels made by Bourbon excavators.

As we approached Herculaneum, when we were looking down on it as above, we could hear the most amazing noise. We couldn't figure out what it was until we got down to the beginning level of the city. It turned out that it was very swampy and there were zillions of frogs making noises. I took a little video so you could hear it.  By the way, the arches you can see in this video were boat houses and storage areas. This was the beachfront of Herculaneum, which has only been excavated in the last few years. There had only been a couple of bodies found in Herculaneum, so they figured that people were able to be evacuated. However, here they have found over 300 skeletons clustered in these arched caverns.  Also, notice how high the hill surrounding this area is - you glimpse trees on top of the hill at one point.  That is volcanic material, and shows how deeply it was buried. 

Herculaneum was far less crowded and had far far more intact and fascinating things to see. Plus, it was smaller so it was possible to see everything.  Although, we learned here, again, that 2/3 of the site had been closed in 2000 because it was deteriorating rapidly.  But there was still a lot to see.

I'll post many more pictures in the next post.