The Casual Blog

In New York: Trump-TV land, Rauschenberg’s big heart, Bolshoi beauty, and trying rugby

Looking west  from our balcony at the Bernic Hotel on 47th Street

We just got back from a long weekend in New York, where we celebrated Jocelyn’s birthday, went to art museums and galleries, stopped in at a double Dutch jump rope festival, saw the Bolshoi Ballet, and watched a rugby game.  

Of course we talked about the latest Trump oddities and outrages.  Though Jocelyn may have been the first to say it, it’s getting to be a commonplace that the current presidency resembles a reality television show, with ginned up drama that seems to have no point except drawing continued attention.  Indeed, Emily Nussbaum had an interesting piece in The New Yorker this week about Trump’s reality TV career.  Trump apparently liked the job, and may well think of the presidency as mainly about being surrounded by people who make him feel like a big shot.  

He may have no other objective, but I wonder whether there could be a long game.  It’s possible that somebody (maybe Bannon) has a plan that’s well served by stripping all dignity from the presidency and substituting crass vulgarity.  As we come to think of the president as an idiotic clown, we also may view the executive branch as basically ridiculous and unworthy of any respect.  This could make us more open to a solution along the lines of Russia’s Putinism or fascism.  But maybe we’ll be smarter than that.  

Black Market by Robert Rauschenberg

In New York I went to the Robert Rauschenberg show at the MoMA with low expectations.  From prior encounters, I’d thought of his painting and sculpture as facile and kind of messy.  This show changed my mind in a big way and  gave me some new ways of thinking about and looking at art.  Rauschenberg’s art emits swirling emotions and ideas, which are always subject to change, even as we try to comprehend a single painting over time.  He expects the viewer not just to look at the work but to bring feeling and intelligence to it, to become part of it.  Engaging with the art this way is exhilarating.  

Rauchenberg’s approach to art was open-hearted and continuously experimental, trying new materials, new sources, new subjects. There was such a range of feeling and humor, and engagement with the world.  His art was highly collaborative and connected to friendship and love.  These works are particularly resistant to photography, because of their rich textures and sculptural depth.  There’s no good substitute for standing in front of them and seeing what they do.

First Time Painting by Robert Rauschenberg

We also did some gallery hopping in Chelsea.  We noted a lot of new construction in the area,  which made me wonder if the galleries will eventually be priced out.  For the moment, the scene is still lively, and we saw works in many different styles.  Some people are still mining the 60s pop vein, just as some are continuing expressionism and other established styles, while some were creating objects that haven’t and may never be part of a movement.  I particularly liked the photo collages of a young Chinese artist named Ji Zhou at the Klein Sun Gallery and Sally loved a show of Japanese Nihonga painting.

On Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Center we  watched kids of all ages showing their skills at double Dutch jump roping.  There were some impressive feats of speed and agility, as well as creative athleticism.  I briefly considered giving it a try, but couldn’t quite get in the right mental gear while wearing black loafers.  

After that, Sally, Jocelyn, and I saw the matinee show of the Bolshoi Ballet, which performed a new ballet version of the Taming of the Shrew.  We loved it!   The dancing was of the highest caliber, with athletic energy balanced by delicacy and natural-seeming ease.  The acting was strong throughout.  The leading ballerinas in this performance (Kristina Kretova and Anastasia Stashkevich) were beautiful and charismatic, and fully inhabited their roles.  Together with their male partners (Denis Savin and Artem Ovcharenko), they brought great romance to this sometimes disturbing drama.  

That evening, we went to Pier 40 on the Hudson and watched a rugby game between the New York Knights, Kyle’s team, and Boston.  Kyle was injured and unable to play, but was able to give us a tutorial on the rudiments of the sport and first lessons on tactics and strategy.  It was fun!  Happily, the Knights won, completing an unbeaten regular season.  

Learning new things, including the butterfly stroke and about our worst tendencies

It was brutally hot here in Raleigh this weekend, which made me consider breaking my commitment to getting outside with my camera at least once a week and trying to see something fresh in the natural world.  But I ultimately hung tough and did a short photo safari at Raulston Arboretum, which was not as miserable as I expected.  I was happy I got these pictures.

Learning new things is sometimes fun, and sometimes hard, but always important, to keep our brains from turning to mush.  And so I decided to take some swimming lessons, and had my first one this week.  As I told my teacher, a young woman named Deanna, I would like to try to learn the butterfly stroke.  It’s one of those things I’ve always wondered if I could do, and it would add another variation to my lap swimming.  My first efforts were awkward, but by the end of the lesson, I had a version of the dolphin kick going.  I found it hard and fun.  

In these tumultuous times, we’re learning a lot about our weaknesses and strengths.  Under a constant deluge of lies, vulgarities, and mad fantasies, it’s more difficult to be open and curious, to think rationally and critically.  Panic and anger seem natural, and at times overwhelming.  We’re seeing how some of our worst tendencies, like intolerance and bigotry, are unleashed and encouraged.  

It’s not exactly cheering news, but at least we have a more realistic idea of the extent of our ignorance, intolerance, and susceptibility to manipulation.  We’ve gotten these and other  problems out in the open where we can potentially address them.  Eventually we might figure out how to be better people.

In the policy area, we’re learning more about our health care system.  Repealing Obamacare somehow became a mantra for the right — a symbolic acid test for signalling membership in the conservative tribe.  It’s hard to feel great about the enormous waste of time, energy, and public funds from the repeal effort, and the failure so far to address pressing problems, but there is a slightly bright side.    

It’s looking like some delusions are getting cleared up.  We now know that the mantra of repeal had almost no relation to the real issues of our health care system.  Some who liked the mantra have belatedly realized that cutting off insurance means real humans die prematurely. It appears that even the most committed ideologues, or at least the majority, get uncomfortable once we reach a certain level of cruelty.    

This debate has cleared the landscape like a forest fire, and some fresh ideas are starting to germinate.  For the first time in a couple of generations, we’re starting to widen the discussion about health care.  It’s starting to be more widely understood that we pay way too much for it, and the quality of care is bad in comparison with our peers.  There’s a new openness to the possibility of a sensible single payer system, such as an expanded version of Medicare.  

It won’t be easy to get from here to there.  Even leaving aside our dysfunctional political leadership, there are powerful institutional forces supporting the status quo.  Here’s how the Economist recently put it:  If the amount the U.S. spends on health care were reduced to the level of France, Germany, or Switzerland, we would save a trillion dollars, or $8,000 per family.  “Much of that trillion dollars goes to enrich the owners and executives of drug companies, device manufacturers, and relentlessly consolidating hospitals.  This rent-seeking is supported by an army of lobbyists:  there are more than twice as many lobbyists for the pharmaceutical and health-products industry than there are Congressmen.”  

Indeed, there are quite a few other blockers, like doctors, many of whom would be resistant to having their incomes reduced, and insurers, with similar issues.  Real improvements don’t seem likely in the near term, but I’m not giving up hope that eventually we’ll make progress.

Dragonflies, On Tyranny, and the strange reverence for Putin

 

A dragonfly at Apex Community Park

On Saturday morning I had to drive out to Apex for a haircut with Ann, who’s been cutting my hair ever since we lived there.  I asked Sally if she had any good ideas for nearby places to hike and look for dragonflies, and she suggested the reservoir at Apex Community Park.  I spent an hour and a half there before my haircut, and took these pictures.  It was quite hot and muggy, and with my 180 mm lens and tripod, I managed to work up a considerable sweat, as Ann noted.  

 

This week I read On Tyranny, Timothy Snyder’s latest book.  Snyder, a history professor at Yale, has  a deep knowledge of the authoritarian regimes of the twentieth century, and perspectives on how they bring civic life to an end.  He points up that these developments have been the product of many individual choices, including choices to quietly compromise, let go of moral principles, obey orders,  and submit.  His book is short and unsystematic, but full of sparky insights and practical advice on opposing authoritarianism.

Do we need such advice?  Yes.  I’d been starting to think once again that Trump was more a disturbed clownish bumbler than a genuine threat to our democracy.  But even after several months of failures, embarrassments, and scandals, he’s still popular with conservative Republicans (90 percent of them approve, according to one poll last week), which is making me wonder.  

I felt a cold chill when I read in the NY Times yesterday that there’s a prominent branch of conservative Republicans that are aligned with  Trump in admiring Vladimir Putin.  The Times cited several high-profile ideologues like Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Rudy Giuliani, and Pat Buchanan as viewing Putin as the kind of leader it would be nice to have here.  Apparently they admire his “Christian” values (such as criminalizing homosexuality) and manly aura, and aren’t much bothered by his murdering of opponents, military invasions of neighbors, looting of his own country, or his subverting of elections here and elsewhere.  I somehow had missed that this point of view existed, and found it shocking.  

Snyder’s book shows how the personal is related to the political:  authoritarian systems invade the personal realm and then undermine it.  Accordingly, there is a political aspect to maintaining personal integrity and ordinary human relationships.  Eye contact, smiles, and small talk have a deeper meaning  and value when the government is unleashing attacks on minorities or suppressing dissent.  Part of resisting is maintaining human contact.  

Snyder observes that constant grandiose lying is a common thread of the successful authoritarian regimes in Germany, Russia, and elsewhere.  But we now have a related problem never seen before:  the internet echo chamber, filled with bots, which create and amplify illusions, and make it hard to distinguish true from false.  The very concept of truth is at risk.  For some, facts seem to be irrelevant.  It is both ironic and scary that Trump and his minions have repurposed the term “fake news” to mean news they dislike.   Part of resisting is serious reading, evaluating evidence, and applying reason.  

Of course, it’s still possible that our institutions will work as intended and our traditional liberties will survive without permanent damage.  The recent demonstrations of the weaknesses in our systems could teach us some lessons, and we might even emerge stronger and wiser.  But it’s a good idea to do some contingency planning and worst case modeling.  We may  need all of our courage.

Reconsidering racism

A water lilly at Frank Schwartz’s Water and Garden Creations

On Saturday I visited a water lily garden in southern Wake County.  The outing was organized by the Carolina Nature Photographers’ Association, and there were some nice people there who had good cameras.  Along with the lilies and other flowers, there was a little green frog.  

As regular readers of The Casual Blog know, from time to time I express myself on political subjects, but recently I’ve had some trouble doing so. There are so many issues worthy of closer examination and critical thought.  But that’s also the problem — it’s hard to know where to start.  Issues are proliferating. Before you’ve got one terrible problem in focus, there are two more even worse.  

You can wear yourself out with fear and outrage, while accomplishing nothing.   While it’s very easy to get depressed about the state of the union and various real world problems, that doesn’t help anything.  I’ve been trying to develop a perspective that’s connected to what we know of reality, but that isn’t hopeless.  Admittedly, it’s a challenge.

Lately my non-work long-form reading has been mostly history, which I find both calming and stimulating.  It helps to take a longer view.  Stories of tyrants, like the Roman emperors who were insane and murderously sadistic, are interesting in themselves, but also put our problems in a bit of perspective — that is, there have been worse heads of state.  

I used to think of history as facts collected in history textbooks that could be known with certainty.  It turns out, though, that history is far from fixed.  It changes.  Historians can be completely blind to aspects of their subjects which later historians bring to light.  It’s a safe bet that our vision also is clouded and incomplete.  But it’s capable of improvement.  

Alan Taylor’s latest book, American Revolutions, reframes the revolutionary war from one of united American colonists against England into a multifaceted and lengthy civil war with international aspects.  It was in significant part a war between groups of colonists, many of whom favored England and were uprooted, tortured, and killed for their loyalism.  It was in part a war to maintain slavery and to seize native American lands.  The level of blood and gore was high, and the level of idealism and integrity not as high as we thought.  

I’ve also been reading Carrie Gibson’s Empire’s Crossroads:  A History of the Caribbean from Columbus to the Present Day.  I came to the book with a vague idea that the islands of the Caribbean were useful as stopover points for explorers transiting the Atlantic in the age of sail.  It turns out that beginning in the sixteenth century and for hundreds of years, they were wildly successful in generating wealth for Europe.  The English considered their islands more valuable than the American colonies, and gave up those colonies in part because they thought it better to use their navy to defend the islands.  

Empire’s Crossroads tells the story of the development of hugely successful sugar plantations, which is also the story of the development of the African slave trade.  The extreme brutality of Caribbean slavery was not well understood in Europe at the time, and probably not well understood by many people today.  Gibson observes that slavery wasn’t caused by racism, but rather racism was created to justify slavery.      

It would be nice to think we’re over racism.  But we noticed quite a few Confederate flags when we were on the Outer Banks last week.  There are numerous reports from around the U.S. of displays of hangman’s nooses and swastikas.  New laws are limiting voting rights of minorities and freedom of movement of immigrants.  And of course, not all the violence is symbolic.  There seems to be a stream of racist attacks and murders, which are somehow recognized as “terrorism.”  

One good thing about the Trump presidency is that it has brought a virulent racist element of  America  into the light.  I’d thought it was almost gone, but now there’s no mistaking, it’s still there.  Encouraged by the regime, the racist minority has felt emboldened.  I suspect that explains in part Trump’s rise.  His rallies, with coded messages giving permission and encouragement to prejudices that had been held in check as shameful, sparked an enthusiasm that lots of us didn’t take seriously enough.  Now we know this racist minority are highly motivated, and they won’t give up their hateful ideology without a fight.  

But history can be inspiring.   Our ancestors, black, white, and other, finally, after hundreds of years, did away with legalized slavery.  They eventually ended the legalized racism of Jim Crow, and the housing regulations that prevented black people from buying houses in white neighborhoods. There are still living some who risked their lives in the struggle for voting rights for blacks and school desegregation.  We stand on the shoulders of moral giants, who pointed the way forward.  But there’s still some hard work to be done.  

 

At the Outer Banks

Just before the four-wheeling area at Corolla

We had a family gathering at the Outer Banks for the Fourth of July Weekend.  My sister and her family made us welcome at their place in Corolla, and we did what you do at the beach:  some reading, dipping in the ocean, walking on the beach, getting sunburned.  I went out at sunrise with my camera and tripod.  I took some pictures of pelicans, got my new SUV stuck in the sand, and needed a pull to get out.  We ate and drank too much, and had some good laughs.  

It was good to relax, and take a little break from the Trump show.  You could easily wear yourself out with worrying these days, with so many big things to worry about, but  the resistance needs a little R&R from time to time.   

One afternoon three of us signed up for a wild horse tour — that is, a four-wheeling trip along the beach north of Corolla and up into the dunes to look about for the resident wild horses.  We had some good luck, and found a group of four eating before a storm moved in.  I felt a little better about getting stuck after I saw dozens of vehicles having the same problem.  

Feeling my new SUV, trying digital drawing, and learning Italian

 

At Durant Park

Getting used to a new car is kind of like moving into a new house — everything’s a little confused, but also fresh and exciting.  This week I’ve been figuring out the fine points of my new Mazda CX-5 (a/k/a the Tiller Advanced Photographic Expeditionary Vehicle), pushing buttons and turning knobs, and occasionally consulting the owner’s manual.  I’ve always thought of myself  as a person who doesn’t much care for SUVs, and I got the TAPEV for more practical reasons (getting to outdoor adventures) than romantic ones.  But unexpectedly, I may be falling in love!  

The biggest challenge for me is getting clear on where the outer edges of the vehicle are.  Because of my left eye injury, I don’t have very good depth perception, so getting into tight parking spots is a bit fraught.  At Gabe’s suggestion, I did some practicing in an empty parking lot, using some old paper boxes as obstacles.  It must have looked odd, if anyone noticed, but it helped.  I only mashed one box.  

 

Along with getting oriented in my new SUV, I’ve been learning to draw with digital tools.  I got an Apple Pencil to go with my iPad Pro, and have been refreshing on drawing fundamentals — lines, curves, shapes, shading — and trying some figure drawing with online models.  I found some helpful YouTube drawing lessons by Stan Prokopenko.  The Apple technology works great — it’s easy to vary the line, use  different colors, and erase.  It’s very portable, and the risk of embarrassment is low, since I can delete the things that don’t work, which at this stage is almost everything.  I enjoy it.  

An American Lady at Raulston Arboretum

I’ve also started studying Italian, trying to learn the fundamentals and maybe a little more for our trip to Venice this fall.  I put my German studies on pause, and got a discount on the Rosetta Stone Italian course.  What a gorgeous language!  It’s a cliché, but also true — it’s very musical.  The R’s are challenging, but I’m starting to get it.  I’ve got my basic greetings, colors, and numbers, and can accomplish a few simple things, like asking for a sandwich.  

 

The landscapes here were taken yesterday morning at Durant Park in north Raleigh, and the flowers and insects were taken this morning at Raulston Arboretum.  At Durant, I was hoping to get some close views of dragonflies, but didn’t.  It was hot, but also peaceful by the water.  I used the tripod on all these shots, which made the process slower and more deliberate. 

Saying goodbye to my Porsche, getting an SUV, and looking at the art of Renaissance Venice

At Yates Mill Pond

Last week I realized it was time to say goodbye to Clara, my sweet Porsche 911.  Clara was kind of like a superpower — flying — but things have changed.  I don’t see as well as I used to, so I’ve become a less exuberant driver.   And I’ve got different objectives, like getting out to woody and marshy areas where the roads are not paved, and cars like Clara get stuck.  

I still enjoy unleashing that amazing engine, working through the gears, and carrying speed into and out of the turns.  But as I’ve changed, the inherent downside of living with a sports car came into bolder relief.  I’m talking about absorbing every rough spot in the road, finding room for your stuff, and the mild athleticism required to get in and out.  Not to mention the painful costs of ordinary repairs.  

The TAPEV (my new ride)

And so this weekend I bid Clara farewell and acquired the new Tiller Advanced Photographic Expeditionary Vehicle (TAPEV).  It’s  a  Mazda CX-5, which is a small SUV, and mine has all wheel drive and all the latest electronic gizmos.  I test drove the Honda CR-V, which I liked, but I found the Mazda slightly better looking and much more fun to drive.  A friend bought Clara and will give her a good home, and gave me approximately the same amount as I gave the Mazda dealer.  

I would have been happy to do the entire sales process on the internet, but since I needed to do testing, I came into contact with some of that old-fashioned pressure selling.  The dealer did not have my preferred color (which they call deep crystal blue mica, and I call dark blue) with my preferred options on the lot, and it took some fortitude to resist settling for something else.  But I ultimately convinced him I was not buying any color other than the one I really liked, and yesterday he came up with the car.  

I like it!  It is so comfortable and easy to drive that I’m almost embarrassed, but not quite.  Sitting up high is different, but it seems easier to see what’s happening.  The various safety devices are reassuring, and it’s very pleasant to be able to have a Bluetooth phone connection.  I look forward to many adventures. 

On Friday evening we went to see the Glories of Venice: Renaissance Painting 1470-1520 at the N.C. Museum of Art.  It was a strong exhibit of some 50 works, including masterpieces by G. Bellini and Titian, made in one of the most amazing artistic intervals in world history.  We were particularly excited to see all this since we’ve got our first trip to Venice coming up in October.  

There were a couple of paintings that really moved me, but most of my enjoyment was more about getting insights into Venetian history and culture.  One comment described it as the Silicon Valley of the early Sixteenth Century, generating both incredible wealth and new ideas.  It was a trading crossroads and assimilated influences from Byzantium and Islamic civilizations, as well as rediscoveries from ancient Greece and Rome.  It was a publishing center, turning out some of the earliest printed books.  And these books in turn influenced the master painters and their patrons.  There were a widespread passion for learning and discovery.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could say the same?

The early paintings were about religious subjects, though as the decades went on there more classical and secular ones.  I noted that the rich and successful patrons of the artists were prominently depicted alongside some of the Biblical figures.  These paintings were part of a complex and changing culture, and sent multi-layered messages.  I don’t much doubt that some of these paintings were used for sincere devotional purposes, or that they some involved pure aesthetic delight.  But I was also seeing how they served as displays and consolidators of status, and propaganda for a particular social ordering.  

I took these photographs this weekend at Raulston Arboretum and Yates Mill Pond.  I’ve been trying to use the tripod more, as I did in most of these shots.  It takes more time, but it may be that the more cumbersome process results in more thoughtful images.  Anyhow, I’m experimenting, and trying to find a little moments of peace and beauty.  

My trip to Grandfather Mountain

 

A blackberry flower at Grandfather Mountain

Our mountains in  western North Carolina aren’t especially imposing, compared to the Rockies or the Alps, but there’s something moving about them.  They roll out to the horizon in waves, covered with thick forests, and topped in places with jagged cliffs and wildflowers,  They’re full of life and, for me, memories of long ago summer camps and family vacations.  

This weekend I went to Grandfather Mountain for its annual photography weekend, a gathering of perhaps 100 photographers with several lectures on techniques and time to hike about and take pictures.  

I’d always thought of Grandfather Mountain as kind of a tourist trap.  Though relatively large for the neighborhood at 5,945 feet, it isn’t much more beautiful than its surrounding mountains that don’t have names and charge admission  I always had imagined it as overrun with tourists, and so had never visited it before this weekend.

It was a big mistake to disrespect Grandfather Mountain, and I promise to never do so again. I had more fun than I expected, but also had a somewhat harrowing episode due mostly to my hubris and lack of preparation.  

I started my visit at the mile-high Swinging Bridge, a suspension footbridge that you must see if you’re there, just as if you go to Paris you must see the Eiffel Tower,  It was windy, and the bridge was squeaky, but not terrifying.  On the other side there were rocks to climb on and pretty vistas.  The red rhododendrun were in bloom, along with other wildflowers.

After doing the Swinging Bridge, I noted that that was a trailhead close by for Grandfather Trail, which was described on the sign as “advanced.” This was catnip to me, and off I strode.  In retrospect, I should have planned better for equipment (including warmer clothing and a map) and provisions (like water and food).  Once I got a good look at McCrae Peak, I wanted to climb it, and after pressing on for another hour, I mounted the various ladders and guide ropes up the rocks and saw a  beautiful vista.  

But I got lost on the way back.  The hiking was rugged, over rocks and boulders, requiring careful placement of each foot for each irregular step, and lots of hoisting up and lowering down.  There were almost no other people around.   I never had a fall, but I got some bruises on my legs, and a little bloody when I banged my hand on a rock, and a blister on my big toe.  

I got cold and thirsty and hungry.  Happily, I did not get leg tired — my early morning gym workouts, with all those squats, lunges, and step ups, paid off.  But I started to get a bit anxious by 5:00, and worried about whether I would have to break the rule about getting to your car 6:00.  I even started thinking about spending the night with the bears  Obviously, I survived, but it took almost 6 hours of hard hiking.  

The photography lectures were at a good level for me, and I learned a lot.  I decided to enter one of my shots in the competition.  It turned out that there were many highly skilled photographers competing, but after looking at some of the work, I thought I was competitive in the wildflower category.

 As the winners were announced, I thought my blackberry flower (the first one above) was stronger than the honorable mention.  It also seemed stronger than than the third place finisher, and the second place.  So for a second I thought I was going to win it all!  But  no, I didn’t, though I still liked mine quite well.  

Saying farewell to our best dog

This week we said goodbye for the last time to Stuart, our beloved family dog. He was a long-eared, short-legged Beagle-Basset mix with soulful eyes and a waggly tail.  Stu was with us a long time — from puppyhood to almost 15 (about 100 in dog years).  In his younger days, he was playful and athletic, always eager for walks, and relishing every meal.  He was a sweet, friendly little guy who greatly liked being petted, and he made many friends in our building during elevator rides.  

In these last months, he lost almost all of his hearing and much of his eyesight, and with hip problems he found it increasingly painful to walk. His tail wagged less and less.  

Now Stu’s suffering is over, and I’m glad for that.  In this regard, we often treat our pets better than our fellow humans, accepting death as a reality and helping our animals to have a good death.  But it’s hard.  He added sparkle to the world.  We loved him, and he loved us.  In that way, he became part of us, and changed us for the better.  I keep thinking he’s here, just in the next room, and then remember with a sharp pang that he’s gone.

Speaking of complex emotions, I recommend the edition from last week of the podcast This American Life .   The first of its three stories related to a former physicist talking about Fermi’s Paradox, which raises the question of why, given the evidence we have that complex life can arise, we haven’t encountered any evidence of it elsewhere in the universe.  The reporter felt sadness in thinking we’re existentially alone, and discovered that those around him couldn’t relate to that sadness.  

The second story related to a couple in couple’s therapy with serious problems who discovered that talk was not the primary solution.  The third was about a delightful 9-year-old girl who kept asking her father annoyingly big questions about the world.  He worked on long scholarly answers, only to find that what she was really looking for was to connect with him.  In short, three explorations of the modes of loneliness and possible paths to redemption.  

Insurance problems, a high-powered spin, and Chapel Hill flowers

 

Rita and concrete

Our apartment looks like it’s under construction, with concrete instead of wood flooring in the kitchen and dining room, and the dining room furniture in the living room.  But we’re at a standstill on repairs, pending resolution of an insurance dispute.  Our homeowner’s insurer and the building association’s insurer seem to agree on one thing: that the other insurer should pay.  I’m trying to stay calm and keep the discussions on a positive note, but it’s a challenge.

At Coker Arboretum in Chapel Hill

Perhaps the stress helped my spinning.  Anyhow, I had a new personal best at Flywheel this week:  370!  For my non-Flywheel-spinning friends, this number is a measure of the total energy output for 45 minutes, and it’s a big one.  I was 60 points ahead of the second place finisher.  I can’t explain it.  My approach was simple:  come out of the gate fast, and try to keep it up and not collapse.

At N.C. Botanical Garden

On Saturday I went over to Chapel Hill with my camera and explored Coker Arboretum and the NC Botanical Garden.  The arboretum, which is next to Morehead Planetarium, has some lovely wise old trees and stands of flowering plants.  I found it calming.  The botanical garden has as its mission education along diverging lines, including native NC plants and exotic flowering  plants (including carnivores).  I enjoyed looking about, and got some shots I liked.