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On the Bucket List: Return to London


On walkway across the Thames, looking back towards St. Paul’s.

I’m sure it’s not a shock that there was too much to see and do in London that it would not fit in a one-day visit.

Last week, my wife and I were hosted in London by our daughter and son-in-law. We took a train from Norwich Saturday morning, visited two museums that day, walked about central London Sunday morning, and returned by rail to Norwich Sunday afternoon.


Sunshine Sunday morning.

Along the way, we had a very nice Easter dinner in a local restaurant. It was a very pleasurable visit, and I thought about all kinds of things I would like to do now in London that 24 hours would not accommodate:

•    Visit the British Museum. I was in the same town as the Rosetta Stone, but didn’t stop by to say hi.
•    Ride the Eye. Easter weekend was a busy time at any tourist attraction in London anyway, so not standing in long lines for a giant Ferris Wheel was, all things considered, a good move. But it would be nice to spend a few days in London and maybe ride that thing on a random Tuesday or Wednesday morning when the crowds and lines are merely large and not hugemongus. This particular ambition, by the way, may come as a surprise to my kin and friends because I have a well-deserved reputation of being terrified of heights in general and Ferris Wheels in particular. But just as I can fly to London despite the clear irrational nature of the activity (you want me to strap myself into a pressurized metal tube that flies 10 miles high and trust it will both ascend and descend safely?), so I think I could screw my courage to the sticking point and ride in the London Eye, stealing brief glances at the city in between shutting my eyes or staring fixedly at my feet.
•    Do art. I would have to research which museums to stop by, but I generally love art museums, and didn’t stop in any during my brief, first visit to London.

Not that London is paradise. There is a thing called “weather” and it doesn’t play to the city’s strengths. There is a saying in Iowa that if you don’t like the weather just wait 10 minutes—in our volatile climate, the same week or day can feature warm sun, cool rain and snow, as this week testifies.

London, based on my small sample, is more so. We were blessed with sunshine Sunday for our stroll along the Thames, but we were also cursed with sudden, nasty cold rains that had us scurrying for shelter in doorways or under bridges. We saw sun, wind, rain, hail, and, briefly, snow—all in the course of one three-hour stroll.

At least we had some sun.


Granddaughter peeks out at cold, heavy rain. We are sheltering in a church doorway.

Also, London is also not the cleanest of cities. It’s not drab and black and smoggy as it used to be, by accounts I’ve read, and I’m grateful for that, but the Brits could learn to use the waste bin a bit more efficiently. Then again, to be honest, I’m not sure London is as dirty or dirtier than any large American city, where there are plenty of litterbugs, too. Maybe Norwich, a much smaller place, spoiled me a bit.

London is also full of Londoners. You have to get used to being in a crowd most of the time, which an Iowan isn’t. I didn’t’ find that to be a nasty or unpleasant experience, just a bit of a new sensation.

Of course, we were visiting the Natural History Museum and the Science Museums on Easter weekend, as was, apparently, most of the inhabitants of the small island nation were London is located. So crowds were partly an artifact of where we were when we were there—and on many parts of our walk—the journey back from the Easter restaurant, for instance—we had the narrow, inadequate sidewalks of the old imperial capital mostly to ourselves.

London! Dinner at the Chop House, dinosaur bones and old planes, fantastic architecture and a pleasant tidal estuary to stroll along and over—you are, all in all, a wonderful city. It didn’t hurt that I was surrounded by family during the visit either—it’s always nice to be in a strange place with familiar people who know their way around, and I am grateful to Matt and Amanda (and Lizzie and Juliet and Audrey) for sharing the experience with me.

I will treasure many memories. I was very enchanted by the underground and the rail system in Britain—it’s a country that makes traveling without a car an easy thing, something that the U.S. should look into sometime. The museums that we did visit were fascinating, especially the Natural History Museum where we got to say hello to Charles Darwin who was taxidermied and placed in a hallway there (not really, it’s just a statue, but this is April 1).


Charles Darwin, stuffed, mounted and placed on stairs landing.

At one tube station, there were lifts to take you to the street. While Amanda and Matt and family wisely rode those lifts, my wife and I walked up the stairs.


Looking back at many, many stairs I have just ascended. Way down there is a tube station. Way, way down there.

The sign warned us that the number of stairs was the equivalent of a 15-story building. I don’t know about that—maybe British stories, which, like everything else in Britain besides museums are smaller than their American equivalent—but it was a hike. Better to look back on than forward to, I’ll give it that. We made it, and frankly we enjoyed the long hikes—and were very impressed at how well our young grandchildren did doing much of their London adventure on foot.

London! I hope to see you again.

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In Praise of Mosquito Weather

Morning moth keeping dry on giant ceramic tooth under the entrance roof of the library and chapel at Mount Mercy University, July 12, 2014, 8:30 a.m.

Morning moth keeping dry on giant ceramic tooth under the entrance roof of the library and chapel at Mount Mercy University, July 12, 2014, 8:30 a.m.

Well, in the past 2 years, we’ve seen it tall: Drought, severe cold, tremendous thunderstorms—and, so far this summer, a cool, wet growing season.

At least it’s not 1993. Those of you old enough to recall that rainy year may appreciate this one a bit more. That year, it not only rained almost constantly, it was so cloudy that crops had trouble maturing.

As I recall, however, I did take advantage of that year to plant numerous trees.

While not as flood-prone, thank goodness, as that year, this is another damp growing season. And while it has its downsides, I’ll take damp over drought, thank you.

I was thinking about that last Saturday. I was meeting a student at the library at Mount Mercy to take her mug shot and review a column draft with her. It had rained the night before, and as I waited, I used my small point-and-shoot camera to shoot images of what I saw.

Damp marigolds near Regina Hall on a cloudy, damp Saturday morning.

Damp marigolds near Regina Hall on a cloudy, damp Saturday morning.

Flowers, of course. A moth on a notorious piece of art. Street lights that might be on some sort of light detector—on, I assume, due to the dim cloudy sky even though it was after 8 a.m. and the sun was shining somewhere above those clouds.

For the most part, I appreciated this damp summer.

The central campus of MMU reflected in a bit of water on top of a bollard.

The central campus of MMU reflected in a bit of water on top of a bollard.

What part didn’t I appreciate? Having to constantly shift so I was taking the photos as some sort of quick-moving photographer commando—if you stand still on a damp Iowa morning in this summer of 2014, you know what will happen.

You become an instant ecosystem. And you’re at the bottom of the food chain—you’re insect chow. Right now, the second bloom of gnats is clouding our mornings. Soon to come, inevitably, I think, although late in arrival which makes me wonder if something related to the harsh winter is still going on, is the second horde of ravenous insects expected any day.

A campus light shines well after the sun should have risen. It was a bit dim this cloudy morning.

A campus light shines well after the sun should have risen. It was a bit dim this cloudy morning.

Yup, its mosquito weather. Well, let’s enjoy the unexpected break from that problem. And smell the flowers. But quickly, or the gnats are going to eat you.

Something new--next to the library, a Frisbee golf "hole" has appeared. Where should I tee off?

Something new–next to the library, a Frisbee golf “hole” has appeared. Where should I tee off?

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How Does Rain Draw Our Parched Minds?

Rain falls on a toddler walker on the back deck Sunday afternoon, April 13, 2014. The fish looks happy.

Rain falls on a toddler walker on the back deck Sunday afternoon, April 13, 2014. The fish looks happy.

One of my memories of elementary school was the big windows that Sacred Heart School in Clinton, Iowa had. On a rainy day, I doubt I ever heard what the nun trying to teach us said.

True, the nuns would probably say, I didn’t hear that all that much on a sunny day either. While I was a top student in high school, I can’t say the same about my elementary years.

Anyway, what was it about rain that drew me so? Why must rain be watched? The sound of it, the drumming on a roof, the way waves of it form when there’s a wind, the thrill of danger if there is lightening.

I can’t explain it. I can’t say I totally love a rainy day—I like being outside too much to want it to rain all the time—but I am easily distracted by water cascading from the sky.

Today, there was a tornado warning east of here. I hope nobody was hurt. We had rain pelting down overnight, lighter rain this morning, and a very wet, sometimes wild, afternoon.

Raindrop on young lilac leaf.

Raindrop on young lilac leaf.

It was in the mid-afternoon that I couldn’t stand it any longer and shot some photos. I wasn’t that crazy, however—the photos are all shot through windows while I’m safe and dry inside.

Well, we need the rain The creek behind our house, however, is now out of its banks. Even this parched earth is having trouble absorbing the water as quickly as it comes down.

But, welcome rain. I don’t know why you draw my mind away from everything and put me in a rain trance. Still, it’s a good thing we are getting you. The grass is suddenly much greener.

Rain on a tin roof sounds like a drum. We're marching for freedom today, hey!

Rain on a tin roof sounds like a drum. We’re marching for freedom today, hey!

Then again, it is April. Before the water stops cascading from the sky, it’s should start floating. Yup. Snow tonight.

Hot sun Saturday, cold rain Sunday, snow Sunday night. Springtime in Iowa, baby! More photos on flickr.

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The Scenery of a Spring Sky

Late afternoon sky seen form Rockwell-Collins parking lot on my bike ride home.

Late afternoon sky seen form Rockwell-Collins parking lot on my bike ride home.

Well, the sky has started to turn interesting again. In winter, it seems that when it snows, the sky goes ghostly white or slate grey and that’s about it.

Today, the day started with a pretty spring sun, but clouded over. But not evenly, the clouds were clumped with gaps of blue. Late in the afternoon, a quick rain moved through.

On the way home, I thought some cars were throwing up some pebbles. But then, I realized no cars were beside me—the “pebbles” were pellets of ice raining down.

Another sky view.

Another sky view.

Fortunately, the ice storm was very short lived, even if it did sting a bit.

I take it as a sign of spring. In spring and summer, the sky has its’ best cloud scenery, tall mountains with whites and greys and greens and blacks. Then, the twister hits and you end up in Oz.

Well, so maybe a spring sky isn’t an unmixed blessing. Still, it is good to see. The world is brown at the moment, the snow newly melted, but the sunshine promises future green.

I guess I’ll take that interesting sky.

Looking west down Blair's Ferry Road at 5 p.m.. Then, the cloud unleashed some ice. Oh well, I'm still happy to see a spring sky.

Looking west down Blair’s Ferry Road at 5 p.m.. Then, the cloud unleashed some ice. Oh well, I’m still happy to see a spring sky.

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The Joy of a Wet Garden on a Spring Morning

Spent ash flowers on top of a Mazda.

Spent ash flowers on top of a Mazda.

I only had a few minutes this morning. Ben was being inducted into Phi Beta Kappa at Iowa State in Ames, and we had to leave Cedar Rapids by 10 a.m.

But, I had a few minutes and the sun was shining. We have not seen sol so much recently—it’s been cold, cloudy and rainy. We’re lucky—just a bit west of here, say 40 miles, it was cold and snowy while we got rain.

Damp pear blossoms.

Damp pear blossoms.

Anyway, the yard and garden were cool and wet this morning, but the air held the promise of spring warmth and the newly opened or about-to-open flowers beckoned.

Before taking my Nikon to Ames to snap Ben, I used it to snap some flower photos. The morning sunshine was delicious. All of the photos in the video are in my garden, except for the spider web, which Audrey noticed on our morning walk.

Well, time to enjoy the sweet spring garden is pretty precious in the final frantic weeks of a semester. I’ll leave you to view the video and decide if you agree.

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A Change Is In the Air on a Wet Sunday

leaves on deck

Maple leaves on deck. The big tree is just starting.

Well, more than one inch of rain can be an impressive thing. Fall break, a short two days off of classes, is scheduled this week, as is the monsoon season—they should coincide.

I would feel bad, just as  I would feel bad about two days of rain that sucked the outdoor fun out of this weekend, but, honestly, I cannot. It has been so darn dry for so long and I’ll gladly sacrifice a Saturday to the Rain Spirits–and, go ahead, take my Sunday, too.

The prettiest part of our fall is coming to an end. The golden ashes, which so jazzed everybody about the colors of this unusual autumn, are mostly bare grey branches now. The early maples have shed their leaves.

Not that fall is over—luckily, no. The sweet gum tree I’ve been watching on my way to work each morning has, so far, remained resolutely green. While the oaks in my back yard have prematurely browned, and the big tulip is finally yellow for fall, the giant maple tree, which will bury our backyard in an impressive three or four inches of yellow and brown leaves, is just now turning color and getting started.

So there for sure is more raking, and perhaps more splashes of color, ahead.

But for now, as a gardener, as we shift from color to brown, I’m grateful for a few sequential wet days, for water in Dry Creek, for a sense that spring flowers may have a bit of moisture to work with as long as some wetness continues before the ground freezes.

Rain. Hip, hip, hooray!

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A Tale Of Two Skies

Tuesday sky

Sky looking north over Rockwell-Collins in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday.

Tuesday on the way home, I shot the picture of the unsual looking cloud off to the north.

There was a chance of rain that night, but it looked sadly as if the rain was staying out of Cedar Rapids. However, last night storms rumbled through and dumped a fair amount of rain. This morning I was unsure of biking into work—should I take a chance or should I drive?

I rode my bike, and it sprinkled on me and I got a bit damp. But, just about ¼ mile south of my house, where F Avenue NE crosses Collins Road to enter Rockwell-Collins parking lots, the rain abated—I was traveling south of a narrow band of rain that remained to my north.

And the sky just looked very interesting, with the sunrise peeking around the clouds.

I noticed that there was water running in Dry Creek again. I won’t have to water my gardens for a couple of days, and that’s nice.

And the interesting skies were good to look at, too.

East sky

Wednesday morning, looking east along Collins Road at F Avenue NE in Cedar Rapids.

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A Little Rain Respite in this Dry Year

Rain at MMU

Rain at Mount Mercy University campus, around 8:15 p.m. Aug. 8–not used to seeing wet and clouds. Rain felt good–can we have more, please?

I felt as if I didn’t recall what rain looked like. It fell over the weekend and I was inside, remote from it, and Saturday’s rain tumbled down so quickly that it seemed over before it started.

Wednesday was different—several bouts of rain, including morning sprinkles and a pretty good downpour at sunset.  I was out to observe and feel the rain both times.

And when the grandchildren came over to play this morning, the leaves on the trees were all wet, and when the breeze stirred them, drops of water came tumbling down.

Yet, the ground seemed try. I get the feeling Audrey would not have had the kids play outside—because she said, from the deck, that it “looks muddy.”

It was not. Dry Creek is almost again dry, despite what The Weather Channel says was 0.89 inches of rain yesterday.

The ground just soaked it up, and the top layer of ground is already looking a bit dry. It’s amazing what a drought will do.

Anyway, at least most bushes and trees look happier today. We have a break from extreme heat, and some moisture in the ground.

We also had a chance of rain today, although the sun is shining this afternoon. I hope some moisture from the sky yet finds us, as we can sure use the rain.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack set off a minor fuss when he said he is praying for rain—but other than prayer, what is a federal official to do?

Fight climate change, I suppose.

Anyway, as long as we’re praying, a pause to say thanks for the rain that has fallen this week. It’s been the wettest week in Cedar Rapids since, well, sometime in May, I suppose. Two rainy days in under seven days.

Dare I hope for more? Might I offer up a prayer this afternoon?

Rain, rain, come today, gladly I would forfeit play. Amen.


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The Glory of Daffodils in a Slow Spring

Bleeding Heart

Bleeding Heart on MMU campus. This is the one image not from my morning walk with Zoe. Bleeding heart is a sadly apt flower-I have some but they aren't in bloom yet.

The bleeding heart is apt and reflects my mixed mood this week. One of my blog (and MMU) pals posted a rain photo on her Jenion blog earlier this week, and grey skies can lead to grey moods—let alone family tragedies.

But, let’s focus for a brief moment, even if there is a frost warning tonight, on the upside of a slow, cool spring. For one thing, despite frost tonight, there have not been the kind of bud-chilling colds that can kill flowers visiting our area of Iowa this year.

For another, for some reasons daffodils seem to be blooming forever. In one of my earlier blog posts I confidently predicted the sudden upcoming season—within days—when the crab apple trees bloom, the other trees leaf out and warm spring begins.


Daffodil in back garden by deck.

Yellow daffodil

I like other colors, but yellow is my favorite daffodil. Recent rain has kicked up some mud, this is a dirty daffodil, but like a grandkid who has been playing outside, the dirt doesn't keep it from being pretty.

More back garden daffodils

Still in the same garden, a variety of colors here.

Daffodils in side garden

Daffodils in side garden by the east fence.

It hasn’t happened. The redbud buds, the apple buds and the crab apple buds are there, but tighly closed, awaiting some sun and warmth, I suppose. Even my magnolia bush, even as others in Cedar Rapids are blooming and fading, is still quiet and on the verge of blooming—which it has been for weeks.

Pear tree

Pear tree is the first fruit tree to bloom.

The pear tree, however, has sprung to life. One advantage of cold, windy weather is that I can’t smell it very well, and if you are familiar with pear trees, you’ll understand what a good thing that is.

Anyway, the upside of a rainy, cold spring? Longer bloom time for pretty daffodils, and cloudy mornings with diffuse light that makes it easy to snap photos in the morning as you walk your dog. I’ll finish with some images of tulips and one magnolia picture–buds are so, so close, but holding back a bit in the early spring chill.

Tulip bud

Tulip ready to bloom. We are definitely going to plant more tulips, daffodils and grape hyacinth this fall.


Pink tulips by chimney.

Grape hyacinth

Need to plant more of these.

Pink hyacinth

I think this might have been my Easter plant.


Magnolia ready to bloom.

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