(Image credit: Ellen Stein)

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Apparently, the old City Hall building in Philadelphia needs a lotta lotta work.

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 Looking out of my back upstairs window and across the alley into my neighbor's back upstairs window.

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Even so, we should maybe check the locks.

This is somebody's side door near Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia.

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Looking southward down Manhattan from the top of 30 Rock, toward the Empire State Building and beyond. That's the Verrazano Narrows Bridge near the top of the photo, connecting Brooklyn and Staten Island.

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To be more precise: at least one mitten came off late in the afternoon of Christmas day when Hank and Al had at it on the bluff above Kettle Cove, on the nearly snowless southern coast of Maine. It wasn't a real fight, just a little sibling rasslery.

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It may be Christmas, but the Silver Baron and all the dozens of other casinos in Reno, Nevada, are wide open for business. Nevada wouldn't be Nevada if people fretted over the propriety of parting fools from their money on Christmas or any other day.

But last weekend, with Christmas travel already in full swing, Reno looked almost lifeless by day and barely half-alive at night. As industries go, gambling must be somewhat recession-proof, but it takes money to get to Reno and to stay in the hotels there, so these days gamblers may be doing more of their gambling closer to home. I don't know if that's the explanation; maybe it's a trendiness thing, with Reno seriously losing out to Vegas. Whatever, the town is not flourishing.

Many of the casinos in Reno, including the Silver Baron, are partly or entirely underground, occupying land excavated more than a hundred years ago, back when Nevadans sought their silver deep in the ground rather than in the pockets of tourists. Silver-mining is the architectural motif of the town. Above the Silver Baron is a dome filled with fake mining machinery. Near the dome is a concert hall, where the Doobie Brothers will be playing for New Year's Eve.

Allen and his teammates from the Naval Academy wrestled in a tournament in Reno last Sunday. Their performance overall was disappointing, and the coaches got so annoyed they were yelling even when the Midshipmen won their matches. Afterwards, Allen treated me to a little blackjack in one of the casinos, and my performance would have been extremely disappointing were it not so completely predictable.

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This is the second most stunning bit of fall on my street. It's a cherry tree I planted when we first moved into this house, and it's big enough now that I could stand underneath the branches and take this picture aiming up at the sky through a crown of glowing leaves. The picture is not turned sideways; the branches just branch off one another that way.

The first most stunning bit of fall on my street is a hydrangea down the block with leaves as pink as the flowers. I hope to get a shot of it, but in the meantime . . . you don't have to take my word for it; you can imagine it however you want.

As Octobers go, this one was so too wet to be entirely pleasant. But perhaps because of all the rain, a lot of leaves are still hanging in there. Then too, the few blue-sky days have been all the more precious.
 

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The weather was raw and wet a couple of weekends ago in Bethesda,Maryland,  but the artists all showed up anyway with their tents for the annual art fair. The street was closed to cars, and I got to wondering about all the traffic arrows painted on the roadway: Did it cost extra for a booth with an arrow that directed traffic right to you, as opposed to one where the arrow on the road seemed to be steering people away from you?

I was also curious why the same lane on the street seemed to be painted with arrows pointing every which way.

In the end, I'm sure the arrows made no difference; the weather kept crowds thin all weekend long. The band kept playing on the makeshift stage at the corner, and the vendors kept hawking crab cakes and curry, but I hope the artists enjoy better days soon.
 

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Ninety-eight winters of salt have done a number on the mortar that was supposed to be holding the bricks together on my front steps. Fortunately, I count among my good friends an experienced bricklayer who was willing to take on the project. Here you see Katrin Maldre chipping away at the old mortar, using my little old rock hammer and a fancy new chisel.

To be fair, Katrin's bricklaying experience was not extensive or recent. But one summer back in Communist times, when she was growing up in Estonia, she and her friends were sent out into the country to work on a large brick construction project. Mostly, they moved bricks to and from piles---but it's a whole lot more bricklaying experience than I can claim.. (Katrin also has a son who has an engineering degree and knows about bricks and stuff, and  who was willing to supervise this project from Estonia via Skype.)

Within an hour or two we got rid of most of the old mortar, slathered the free bricks with new mortar, and set them back in place. We broke one brick, and when the job was finished we somehow had an extra piece of brick left over. But you can't tell by looking at it.

The highlight of the job was definitely the new chisel. Note that yellow foam hand protector thing. Worth its weight in gold! Its inventor is a genius.
 

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Deep in the middle of the forest, far, far away from all the houses in the village, there was a tiny little farm with a big red barn.