Sunday, December 28, 2008

Mandalas

I was inspired this afternoon by the beautiful artwork at Chewy's blogsite, "The Back of my Headboard," particularly by the gorgeous mandalas she has created. They are done in Photoshop, which I have used a little but not enough to figure out how to create such images myself. (It's the math of the rotations and flips of the picture that's beyond me to figure out on my own.) I was wondering if she would teach me, or if I could find a class - and then as I went back into her archives I found she had linked to a fantastic tutorial on exactly how to create mandalas. (Although I visit her blog from time to time, it wasn't on my RSS feed - if it was I'd've known about the tutorial a couple of months ago.) Thanks Chewy - and you're on my RSS feed now!

Here's the first mandala I've made, from a photo of a snowy tree in our yard:


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Nice to see you!



We've been using Skype for a while now to call family in the UK. I think the first time I logged in to Skype there were fewer than a million people online. Nowadays it's more like 15 million. I was surprised this morning when it was only 10 million - but I suppose a lot of people use it for business. Anyway, we have only recently started making video calls using Skype, and I have to say it's wonderful! We made a couple of calls to the UK today and saw my parents, my niece and nephews and their parents. It's a long time since my kids have seen their cousins, and DS probably doesn't have a really clear memory of them, so being able to see and talk to them was really nice. DS enjoyed putting his face close to the camera to show off the fact that he's lost two of his baby teeth and there is a new one coming through.

The best part of the calls was the fact that I was using a Macbook with a built-in camera, so I was able to walk around the house with it. At one point my sister said, "Take me to the kitchen!" and I did. My mother wanted a closer look at a piece of artwork on the wall so I obliged. We were about to hang up when my kids yelled that my father-in-law was just pulling up on the driveway. My mum said she'd stay online until he came in the house so she could say hello to him - after all it wasn't going to cost any extra! Rather than walk away from the computer to let him in, I took the laptop to the front door with me, so as he walked in the house she greeted him with a cheery "Merry Christmas!" The look on his face was priceless! The kids' great-great-aunt (in her 90's) was with him, and her reaction was complete discombobulation - at first she thought she was looking at herself, then she thought it was a video and finally asked "Is she answering me back?" Great-great-aunt is, as my mother-in-law used to say, a hot ticket and she commented later in the day that she'd love to live for another 90 years just to see what new technologies will come along.

It's really not that long since the idea of video phone calls was still pure science fiction, and now not only can we make video calls but with Skype they are free! I wonder what we'll be doing with technology when I'm in my 90s?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Snow day

It didn't start snowing until almost 1 o'clock this afternoon, but school was cancelled for the day anyway. The kids and I had a lazy start to the day, having breakfast about 9. The squirrels were out there pigging out as usual, but suddenly there was a huge flurry of activity, animals racing across the lawn, that caught our attention. We realized that something large had just chased a couple of squirrels up a tree. They went too high for the larger animal to follow them, at which point it started to back down the tree and then raced off into the woods in pursuit of another squirrel. It took me a moment to figure out what it was - it looked vaguely racoon sized - but then as it turned and I saw its face and then looked again at its tail, I realized it was a bobcat! They're not particularly uncommon animals in North America, but it's really unusual to see them in broad daylight! Descriptions of them usually include the words 'elusive' and/or 'seldom seen'.

DS was convinced he'd seen a leopard or cheetah until I looked it up online and showed him some pictures. You can see why he was confused:

Of course the whole thing happened far too fast for me to get any photos of my own. We went out afterwards to look at the footprints, but although the bobcat's prints were noticeably different to all the squirrel prints out there they didn't look particularly cat-like. The snow on the ground this morning was covered in a layer of ice and there were several places where the bobcat hadn't even broken through the ice and so there were no pawprints at all!

tree snow
The large white circles are not snowflakes but drops of water on the window.

birdfeeder

Bacon flavoured chocolate?

Apparently I missed out on the excitement in the British press back in November that not only had Selfridges started to sell bacon flavoured chocolate, but that it had sold out. It reads as though it's some weird British thing - BUT the chocolate is produced by an American company in Chicago and sold here in the US through their website. They have some other interesting sounding offerings, but this one I think I'll pass on! Green & Black's is cheaper anyway, and easier to find. Oh, and "Mo's Bacon Bar" is only 41% cacao, so hardly worth the effort ;-) I wonder if it tastes better than the new Burger King perfume smells?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The scent of seduction . . .


. . . with a hint of flame-broiled meat - Flame - a new scent from Burger King! Apparently you can't buy any though because it's only available in the US (wonder why?) and it's already sold out. (Wonder why?) Hmm - if the date were different, I would say it was an April Fool . . .

Why would you emigrate?

Would you emigrate (would you have emigrated) if you knew the reality of the country you were moving to? I think for those of us who moved from the UK to the US or vice versa, we had a fairly good sense of what we were letting ourselves in for. There are always little things that surprise you though. Despite the similarities in the language, the differences can be disconcerting. Despite knowing about the US from TV shows and books, dealing with it on a day to day basis still resulted in some culture shock. I'm not sure if the shock is worse for those who come from a very different cultural and language background - surely you must expect the US to seem strange if you have moved here from Afghanistan or Somalia, whereas I was truly surprised to find the US seemed 'foreign'.

From http://booj.blogspot.com/2008/10/why-hell-would-you.html
" I like the idea developed in the Netherlands that if a foreigner wishes to immigrate there, then they have, apart from learning the language, to watch a film showing the life of the country, warts and all, drunks and nudes, hookers, hookahs, pornography, taxes, frost and floods and all. It gives a message to those who would enthusiastically tumble into Europe that it ain't necessarily quite the wonderful place you might think it to be. We have unemployment, we allow people to drink and become drunk, we allow people to express opinions, though we may not necessarily agree, we allow gays to express themselves. The clear message is "Don't like it? Don't come." "If you can't stand it, having come, go.""

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Who ate the tree ornaments?

I finally found some chocolate tree ornaments - for some strange reason they're not very easy to find over here. I put them on the tree after the children were in bed. Within seconds of coming downstairs for breakfast the next morning, or so it seemed, they noticed them. They appear to have inherited my chocolate gene. I warned the children not to touch them.

The children left for school, I started on housework. As I was transferring laundry from the washing machine into the dryer, I found a very distinctive wrapper in with the laundry. Someone, though I couldn't tell who, had eaten one of the tree ornaments and put the wrapper in their pocket. (I suspect this was probably before I put the ornaments on the tree.) I wasn't counting as I put them on the tree, but I counted as I followed through on my warning and took them off the tree again and realized that not one but two of them were missing. However, there were a couple of new ornaments on the tree:

Both children deny having taken the chocolate off the tree in the first place, but given the appearance of the poinsettia leaves, I would bet it was DD. I can't believe she really thought I (the chocolate queen) wouldn't notice!

Postscript: She 'fessed up to taking one chocolate ornament off the tree, but denied having eaten the mini candy canes missing from the kitchen - this despite her breath smelling like mint this morning and the candy cane wrappers being hidden under her pillow. She claimed her brother must have put the candy canes in her mouth while she was asleep, and the wrappers under her pillow! She really doesn't lie very well, but I guess that's a good thing!

Would you drink sun tan oil?

When I lived in the south of France, my preferred brand of sun tan oil was Bergasol. It gave very little skin protection, but I did get a nice tan. Of course, given the amount of time I spent in the sun, I would have got a nice tan no matter which oil or lotion I'd used, given that back then no one used high SPF products. I certainly wasn't thinking about protecting myself against skin cancer. Apparently the original formula Bergasol is no longer sold because of the amount of the tanning accelerator psoralen, a cancer-causing substance, that was in it.


Despite its quintessential Englishness, I didn't encounter Earl Grey tea until many years later and disliked it intensely at first sniff. It took me a while to figure out why - the flavour comes from oil of bergamot - the same oil that gives Bergasol its distinctive smell! Earl Grey is DH's favorite kind of tea and I have to make sure that it is kept in a separate Tupperware container from my Tetley's British Blend so as not to contaminate it!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas thoughts


I miss mince pies at Christmas time! Occasionally our local supermarket has them, but they are in the import aisle and very expensive. I suppose I could buy them via mail order, but they're even more expensive that way. I miss Christmas cake too - REAL Christmas cake though - not the nasty dry stuff you find here in the US masquerading as fruitcake. DARK fruitcake that was made (or bought) back in September and has been fed a regular diet of brandy (maybe a little Guinness) ever since so that the fruit is nice and MOIST and with marzipan and royal icing on top. Sigh! One year I will get my act together and make one. That way I'd get one exactly the way I want - without cherries which I always pick out! I suppose I could make some mince pies too. I made a green tomato pie back in September and was surprised to find that it was remarkably similar to mince pie - but then again, with a ton of brown sugar, raisins and ginger, the tomatoes didn't really contribute much to the flavour!

It is possible to get Christmas crackers here in the US now. Not 20 odd years ago though - or at least nowhere where I shopped. Even so, a confused American blogger in the UK recently referred to them as "cylindrical "bang" packages" and clearly had never heard of them, let alone seen them before. Of course it's the same here as in England - cheap crackers have cheap junk inside them. Expensive crackers have better quality junk. Our crackers this year came from The Christmas Tree Shops so I don't know why we bothered. The internationalization of holiday traditions goes both ways as last time I was in the UK for Christmas I noticed that it is possible to buy candy canes over there now. Again, that wasn't true when I first came to the US.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Accidental expats

In response to a question from Stinking Billy, I posted a question on this blog a couple of weeks ago:
For British expats in the US: Stinking Billy wants to know - when you first came here, did you plan on putting the UK firmly behind you and never returning to live there again?
It would seem to make sense that if you're going to move several thousand miles that it would be with a plan. People like Sarah, for example, emigrated quite intentionally, knowing that they were committing themselves to their new country. The long-term plan wasn't that clear for some of us though. My original plan was to stay in the US for as long as it took to get a Master's degree and then return to the UK. Other people also emigrate on a temporary basis - moving because a job posting has forced them to, but not really intending to stay in the country they've moved to any longer than the job lasts.

Admittedly my sample was small, with 20 people responding, but 75% of us said that when we first left the UK we either had no intention of leaving the UK for good, or we weren't sure that we were leaving for good.

I did actually try to return to the UK, back in 1989. I spent several months over there fruitlessly looking for work, only got one interview, and got not one but two job offers back in the US. It was a no-brainer - continue to be unemployed in the UK or accept a job with a former employer who really wanted me back and was even prepared to pay half my moving costs back to the US. Even when I moved back to the US at that point I still wasn't sure that I would be staying for good, although obviously the odds increased.

Right now it would be really hard to make the reverse trip. I have no doubt that both DH and I would have a hard time finding employment in the UK, even though work visas are not an issue. The sheer logistics and expense of moving would be overwhelming. I am sure people do it and survive, but we would really have to need to do it. A move back to the UK for us would be very deliberate, almost certainly permanent (for DH and I at least, if not the kids) and not at all accidental!

The poll results:
When you first came here, did you plan on putting the UK firmly behind you and never returning to live there again?
5 said Yes (25%)
12 said No (60%)
3 said Wasn't sure (15%)

Monday, December 08, 2008

From the fringe of the bell curve

Maddy asks:
"Consider sharing a recipe that your family, a family member or you, enjoy that doesn’t seem to be appreciated by many other bodies on the planet."
I'm not sure that this really counts as a recipe, but something my mum served when we were growing up and I loved, was grated cheese and ketchup sandwiches. I remember her serving them at a birthday party of mine and some of my friends thought they were weird. I seem to remember most people eating them though. Well, some people anyway ... though, come to think of it, maybe that was me and my sister! I tried feeding them to my own kids last weekend as we had somehow ended up with a lot of cheese in the house. (We rarely buy it as too many of us in this household have high cholesterol.) I was very disappointed to find that when offered this rare treat, the children decided they hated it. I thought that as Americans they would eat anything that was accompanied by ketchup.

There's no recipe - just grate as much cheese as you need and then add ketchup until the cheese sticks together in one big glob. A shortcut would be to simply cut slices of cheese (REAL cheese with a nice sharp flavour - none of those horrid plastic squares that masquerade as cheese!) and put them in between two slices of bread and add ketchup. The gloppiness of the grated cheese with ketchup is definitely preferable as far as I'm concerned though - it's a texture thing! Another variation - using HP Sauce (steak sauce) instead of ketchup - was always reserved for grownups as my mother thought we'd find the HP Sauce too spicy.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Hungry squirrels

First snow of the winter this morning, and the squirrels came running for food! Actually, that's not true - they've been pigging out all week and I commented to DH yesterday "Anyone would think it was going to snow the way they're eating." The kids have spent so much time watching thr squirrels that they swear they can identify them individually. "Inky" is the black squirrel, "Piggy" has a white spot on her (?) side, "Bossy" races from one bird feeder to the other chasing other squirrels away. There's one who likes to eat hanging upside down by his toes, and then does situps to reach the next mouthful. On Friday they finally discovered the lone uncarved pumpkin sitting by the front door and they devoured it. They looked very funny with their heads inside the pumpkin. Who needs TV with entertainment like this?

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I don't think this one was intrigued by me so much as looking for the feeder that was on the kitchen window last year. It isn't there this year because it eventually got broken by the squirrels jumping in and out of it. They seem to understand the concept of glass - we could go right up to the window and touch it and they didn't even stop eating!

squirrel

Oh, and after last night's events, DS claims to be feeling better enough to want cinnamon rolls for breakfast.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

What's a babysitter worth?


DH and I don't often go out on our own without the kids as that involves paying for a babysitter. Sometimes it's worth it though, especially when dinner's free as it was tonight at DH's company Christmas party. At some point in the conversation someone asked me how much we pay our babysitter per hour. She was shocked by my answer, I think because she usually has relatives babysit. I admit that we do tend to pay our babysitters fairly generously, but we do always hire adults not teenagers.

Tonight's babysitter is worth her weight in gold though. The kids love her, despite the fact that she stands no nonsense, so that's a good start. But when we came home tonight we found that she had loaded the dishwasher, washed the pots and pans and cleaned all the surfaces in the kitchen so that it was cleaner than when she arrived.

Not only that, but when she heard a funny noise coming from DS's room she went upstairs to investigate - and then cleaned up the projectile vomit that was all over his room. She woke him up (apparently he threw up in his sleep!) got him to get in the bath, and when he reappeared claiming he was clean she sent him back, (with his sister to supervise this time,) to get the chunks out of his hair. She shook the chunks out of the comforter into the yard, and put his bedding in the washing machine. (She took the clean, dry clothes out of the dryer and put them in a tidy pile upstairs, and moved the wet clothing into the dryer and switched it on.) She cleaned up a lot of the puke using paper towels and thoughtfully put them in a new trash bag ready to go right out in the garage. She then also did her best, with DD's help, to figure out how to work the steam cleaner to finish cleaning the carpet in DS's room and she remade his bed with clean sheets and blankets. And although she had our cell phone number, she didn't spoil our evening out by calling!

An experienced, well trained, babysitter - $10/hour
An experienced, well trained babysitter who cleans up your child's vomit so that you don't have to after your oh-too-rare evening out - PRICELESS!



Thursday, December 04, 2008

Snack wisely

Seen in the parking lot of a Maine highway rest stop:



There were snacks for sale from a vending machine at this rest stop - but there was nowhere to buy a meal.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Britz

Quite by chance I ended up watching the second part of Britz on BBCAmerica last night. Shortly before the end I was pleased to discover that it is being shown On Demand on our cable service so I will be able to watch the show in its entirety. (Though it is being repeated next weekend, it's on during the day when I won't have chance to watch it.) From the BBCAmerica website (where there are even a couple of video clips from the show):
On July 7, 2005 four men strapped explosives to their bodies, walked into the heart of London's transport network and blew themselves up. Fifty-two people were killed, in addition to the bombers - three weeks later, four more men tried to do the same.

None of them were mercenaries or émigrés sent from abroad. No one spotted them, they didn't stand out. They were born, brought up and educated in Britain - Manchester United supporting, iPod owning, dress-like-us, speak-like-us people. They were Brits.

Britz explores how a young intelligent British Muslim could feel so disenfranchised, so powerless and become so angry at their country of birth that they would commit an extreme and despicable act and ultimately it asks how we can ever hope to prevent such an incident re-occurring.

The idea for the films, according to Peter Kosminsky, started with the July 7 bombings. Kosminsky considered telling the personal stories of the July 7 bombers, in the way he had told the story of government scientist David Kelly in The Government Inspector. But in light of his own experience as a second-generation immigrant, he wanted to look more generally at second-generation Muslim disillusionment with Britain (domestic and foreign policy in particular.) "I decided, in discussion with my colleagues, that the best thing was to fictionalize it - to research the way Muslims think and feel at the moment - and then try to create some fictional characters drawing on what we'd learned."
Given my interest in immigration and cross-cultural issues, I found it fascinating, despite what seemed (to me) like some overgeneralizations. Clearly if it were a book there would be more time to develop some of the characters' motivations. Did anyone else see it? What did you think?

Friday, November 28, 2008

An unscientific poll

Stinking Billy asked me a question, and not knowing the answer, I thought I'd ask my expat Brit readers who live in the US to help. I made a poll, but if you read this blog via RSS reader it probably doesn't show up so, if you haven't already, can you actually visit the blog and pick an answer? Thanks! If you're feeling really bored, you could explain your answer in the comments.

I've already (at least partially) answered him via my response to his original comment - I'm Accidentally Almost American.

Becoming American part 3

Born to Indian parents in London and raised in Rhode Island, author Jhumpa Lahiri spoke in her interview on NPR about becoming American of a "sort of a half-way feeling [of being American]."

Like me, she is a US citizen who does not always feel American. She seems to have struggled with this over her 40 years in the US, particularly with the idea that her parents stood out as not American despite the fact they did have American passports. They never socialized easily with her friends' parents.

"I think this was a two-way street. It wasn't just that they were afraid or unwilling — there was a fear, an unwillingness on both sides."
As a white immigrant, with an English accent rather than a foreign language accent, I have had less difficulty fitting in than many immigrants to the US. Some people seem to put me in a different category than the more obviously foreign newcomers to the US. One person, mid-rant about how all immigrants should be sent home, paused to say, "Not you of course, you're different." The irony was her grandparents immigrated from Poland! It is important to remember that assimilation IS a two-way street. I fit in partly because it is assumed I will. I listen to comments made about some of the immigrants I come into contact with through my work, and am amazed that people see them as so different just because they don't speak English well - and then they wonder why these immigrants don't assimilate better?! 'Black' president or not, we have along way to go in learning tolerance!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving in New England

One advantage of celebrating Thanksgiving in New England as opposed to some other areas of the United States is that once the fridge is full, the garage can become a walk-in fridge.


At least this time it all went on a table instead of on the steps!

Becoming American part 2

Joseph O'Neil was the second author interviewed for NPR's series on Becoming American. He talked of how the decision to emigrate has become much less decisive than it was. I think he was comparing immigration today to the waves of Irish immigration in the past when those who left knew they were unlikely ever to return to their homeland, when he says that nowadays:
"You can go backwards and forwards as much as you like, subject to legal and financial restrictions. And you can stay in touch with everyone back home. You can read their blogs, you can speak to them on the phone."
You don't have to go that far back though - even 20 years ago it was a very different experience than it is today. Phone calls home cost dollars per minute instead of cents, there was no such thing as the Internet yet (as far as the general public was concerned anyway) and blogging certainly hadn't been invented. The experience must be very different for a new immigrant (or even an exchange student) in any country than it was for those of us who moved pre-Internet and cheap phone calls! I wonder if it doesn't have the potential for worsening culture shock in some respects because it allows you to cling to home? Or maybe for some it lessens the disorientation because you don't have that shock, like jumping into cold water, of being completely immersed in the foreign culture?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving

I loved the very first Thanksgiving I ever experienced. I was living in a dorm (hall of residence) and was staying there over the long weekend. It was the only dorm on campus that catered specifically to international and graduate students, and as such was the only one that did not close for vacations. It emptied out though. Even many of the international students who had no family or friends in the US to visit chose to travel for those few days. A few of us remained behind and we planned a Thanksgiving lunch.

Sometime in the morning we congregated in the area outside the tiny kitchen and started to get our feast ready. We had the most enormous turkey. It would probably have fed 15 or 20 people but there were (to the best of my recollection) only 6 of us, none of whom had ever cooked a turkey before. Somewhere I have a photo of Andy determinedly shoving every last ounce of a very large quantity of stuffing into the bird. It didn't occur to any of us until sometime after lunch that the turkey was not going to be cooked until sometime in the early evening. Ah well - not to worry - we had snacks and beer and we had nowhere else to be! We sat around all day chatting. I seem to remember some homework being finished. In the mid afternoon it began to snow for the first time that winter just as Andy and Sarah headed outside with some scissors and attacked some of the campus evergreens to get some greenery for a centerpiece for the table. I think we even had candles on the table when we finally sat down to eat - strictly against the rules of course, but there was no one around to stop us!

Of course we ended up with enough food for several days, especially as we decided to make soup with the turkey carcass. None of the campus dining rooms was open and it was much more convenient to keep eating turkey than to go out shopping again or go to a restaurant. (Back then I still hadn't mastered the concept of calling for pizza!)

All in all, it was an extremely pleasant day. Some of my later Thanksgivings were not so relaxed. I eventually got fed up of people inviting me over "because you can't be alone on Thanksgiving!" It felt like people who celebrate Christmas not understanding that some people don't and not realizing that because non-Christians don't celebrate Christmas they're really don't care whether they spend the day in a special way or not. I remember choosing to be alone on at least one Thanksgiving because it was just easier. I remember one Thanksgiving spent with other non-Americans and us all laughing together at how all the Americans we knew had been so concerned that we might be on our own on such a 'special' day that meant nothing to us.

Nowadays, I enjoy Thanksgiving again, and not just because we get a couple of days off work! It's also nice to spend time with family, some of whom we don't get to see very often. Although the children never had a chance to meet their great-grandparents, they have a great-aunt and uncle and a great-great aunt who will be spending the day with us. Of course not everyone can make it, and this will be the first Thanksgiving since my mother-in-law died, so we will make a point of thinking of those who are not with us.

I finally understand now the willingness of Americans to open their homes to me at Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday, but it is an American holiday. It means more to Americans of course than non-Americans, but it's a holiday everyone can enjoy. It's a good excuse to spend extra time with family and friends, to take stock of our lives and of course to be thankful for what we have. This year we made a point of asking a friend of ours who we thought would be on his own if he would like to join us. It wasn't so much that we were horrified that he might be alone on Thanksgiving, but more the attitude that if he wasn't going somewhere else we'd love to spend some extra time with him! Looking back, I'm sure that some of the invitations I received were made with similar motivations that I perhaps misinterpreted. Ah well, that's the nature of cross-cultural communication!

I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving whether you're celebrating it or not. If you're not - take a moment to count your blessings anyway! You don't have to be American to do that, and it's a good thing to do from time to time!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Becoming American

During this week of Thanksgiving — the most American of holidays — National Public Radio is spending time thinking about what it means to become an American in a 3 part series of interviews with noted authors who've written about newcomers to the United States.The first is Junot Diaz who immigrated from the Dominican Republic at age 6.
"Feeling like an outsider at a young age made Diaz become a "fanatic" for his home country.

"I don't think that I ever would have thought so fondly of Santo Domingo had I stayed there my whole life," he says."

You can hear the interview here.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Cultural knowledge

When DD asked yet again this year what they eat in England for Thanksgiving, I realized we have been failing miserably to teach her about both her cultures. It was brought home to me even more when I realized after reading Daffodilly's post about Bonfire Night, that my children have absolutely no idea what it is! Sadly, our children are really not bi-cultural at all, though they don't go quite as far as chanting that "England is evil." (Well, they haven't yet, but it's a while since we've been back there - DS really doesn't remember the UK at all at this point!)

Perhaps one day I will have to make good on my threat to send them to live with their cousins in England for a year or so . . .

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

How do you want that?

It took me years to feel comfortable ordering a sandwich here in the US. I hated being asked "How do you want that?"

Umm - you mean I have choices? Which one of several kinds of bread? Toasted or not?

"And what do you want on it?"

Oh no, MORE choices! Mayonnaise, or oil and vinegar? Onions? Pickles? Tomatoes? Lettuce? Hot peppers? And on and on . . . it was just too much work. Oh, to be in the UK where I just had to decide which one of the prepackaged sandwiches I wanted. (Usually chicken tikka just because I never see it in the US!)

Eventually, I simply resorted to a sandwich that does not require choices to be made except whether I want fries with it - the tzatziki chicken gyro.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Scary pumpkins

DD commented as we walked out of the house today, "Mom, the pumpkins are looking really scary today."
Scary? Today, but not yesterday? In broad daylight? I didn't understand at first, but that's because I wasn't looking at the pumpkins . . . when I did, I saw what she meant.

They were beginning to go mouldy:
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And one was beginning to ooze and collapse - those horizontal wrinkles weren't there yesterday:
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Apparently it's not been cold enough recently - with unseasonably warm temperatures over the last week (in the 60s at times during the day), the pumpkins were beginning to rot already. Given what I paid for them and what a short time they lasted, the ceramic pumpkins I've seen on sale are beginning to look like an excellent bargain in comparison. Of course, the ceramic ones wouldn't be as much fun to prepare each year . . .

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Huh?

The polls have not yet closed in my state, yet Yahoo's state-by state results map shows that 3% of precincts have already reported their results, and that Obama "has won" in this state. Well, yes, in this state he probably has - but it just seems so wrong for them to be announcing 'results' before the polls have even closed in this state, let alone out west!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Letter to the tooth fairy


The tooth fairy doesn't have to bring her pliers to our house! In the last week, the tooth fairy has paid us two visits, and she'll be back again tonight. DS lost his two top middle teeth - so now he actually has an excuse for his inability to say the sound 's'! One of his teeth was so appallingly wiggly that when I tried to straighten it in DS's mouth, (so it wasn't sticking out at a 90 degree angle!) it came out with no effort on my part. The other came out a couple of days later when DD kicked him in the face. She was sitting on the couch and he was crawling on the floor by her feet annoying her, so I'm pretty sure the kick in the face was as much his fault as hers. "Well, if you hadn't put your face next to her feet, she wouldn't have been able to kick it, would she?!!!" Yeah, yeah, I'm an unsympathetic mother!

Just yesterday DD discovered that one of her teeth was wiggly too. She kept asking when it was going to come out, and I had to tell her that it looked as though it would be a few days yet. However, shortly after I sent her to bed tonight, she reappeared downstairs - bloody tooth in hand, and gum bleeding profusely! She went back to bed quite happily though, leaving the tooth with me so I could clean it up before putting it next to her bed for the tooth fairy. I just went upstairs to do that and found that she had written her tooth fairy a note:
Dear Pearl,
Do you know my brothers tooth fariy if you do could you wright it hear __________ (signuture)
I would like a picture of you to if you could
sincerly
DD

PS I forced the tooth out.
One of DD's friends found out that her tooth fairy was called Pearl, and what do you know, when DD asked, she found out that her tooth fairy is called Pearl too! I suspect DS has the same tooth fairy as his sister. (I'm too tired tonight to be creative!)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The next Dr. Who


Dr. Who is one of the reasons I'm glad we have BBCAmerica. I wonder if the original creators of the series back in 1963 ever envisaged that it would continue as long as it has? Having the hero be able to die and regenerate into a new body obviously helped!

David Tennant announced this week that he is leaving the Tardis and will not be playing the role of a Time Lord in the next season of Dr. Who. His successor has not yet been chosen, but there are plenty of good actors to choose from. I suppose it's extremely unlikely they'd choose a woman! Of the contenders suggested on the BBC website, I think I like the looks of Paterson Joseph and David Morrissey. Whoever gets the role, I'm glad the series will continue for yet another season.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Of EOBs, lying dentists and cheap insurance companies

We never used to hear from our health insurance company, but now they send me mail regularly. Apparently it's now state law that every time they refuse to pay 100% of what the doc bills them for, they have to send an Explanation of Benefits (EOB) to me so that I can see what the original amount billed was versus how much they actually paid. When the health insurance does that I simply file the paper in the trash (after recovering from being gobsmacked that the doc charged $132 for putting some freezy stuff on DS's verruca/plantar wart - a 10 second item that suddenly turned into outpatient surgery on the bill!) However, when the dental insurance company sends me an EOB, I pay closer attention because in that case I have to pay the difference between the amount originally billed and what the insurance paid :-(

I lived for years in the US without dental insurance. Many employers simply don't offer it, or it is so expensive it's not worth it. When I finally had a job that offered dental insurance and decided to sign us up for it, I was advised to look for a dentist that was already cooperating with that insurance plan, or to find one who was prepared to do so. If we go to a 'plan dentist', routine visits are covered 100%. If we go to a non-plan dentist, routine visits are covered 100%. So what's the difference? Either way, the insurance reimburses the dentist what they believe to be reasonable rates for the service. Unfortunately, that is usually significantly less than the dentist actually charges. (Hmm - can you spell NHS?) If you see a plan dentist, they have agreed not to bill you for the difference. A non-plan dentist, on the other hand will bill you for whatever they don't get from the insurance company. And if you need any treatment other than routine checkups and cleanings, the non-plan dentist's work is only partially covered.

My dentist back then would not sign up with the insurance company we had because their reimbursement rates are too low. (Just like the dentist I used to see in the UK, who no longer does any NHS work!) I continued to go there because I liked the dentist. I called once to make an appointment because I had a lump on the inside of my cheek. Although usually it takes months to get appointments, the dentist agreed to see me the same day. In fact he gave me the last appointment of the day - at 8 o'clock in the evening! I was there until after 9 o'clock even though it turned out to be a minor problem that the dentist was able to resolve quite easily. When he told me what the cost was, I almost fainted! As he was a non-plan dentist, I would be responsible for 50% of the charge. I pointed out that had I gone to see my doctor instead and been referred to an oral surgeon, it would have cost me a lot less. His solution: to bill the insurance company for a more involved procedure, let me make just the $10 copay I would have made to my doctor, and so long as the insurance company paid him a specific dollar amount he guaranteed he would not bill me for the difference! Although I was grateful, I was really rather taken aback that he was so quick to offer to lie!

We are currently receiving mail on a regular basis from both our medical and dental insurance companies. The children's routine dental care is covered by our medical insurance, and fillings and so on are covered (at least partially) by the dental insurance. Right now the two companies are arguing about who is the 'primary' insurer, and who's going to pay what. Fortunately, before I got too worked up about it, I noticed that the letters I've been getting are actually only cc'd to me, and it is up to the dentist's office to sort it all out. I suppose that's part of what their insane charges are supposed to cover in the first place so I'm going to let them earn their money!

When it comes time to deal with the orthodontist I'm sure it'll be easier. That's because the coverage for orthodonture is, and probably always will be, simple to calculate no matter which dentist we see - ZERO!

BTW, unless something remarkable happens this year to inspire me, you'll have to consider this my Halloween post, as I've already blogged about Halloween here, here and here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Bumper sticker theft

I saw this on a car at work this week:

bumper sticker

Apparently this is the third Obama bumper sticker that's been put on this vehicle. The first two were stolen. By McCain supporters d'you think? Or Obama supporters too cheap to buy their own?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Political thinking

I had never heard Colin Powell speak at length before viewing the video clip below, but I had heard good things about him. I was impressed with him in this interview - not just because his views coincide with my own but because he reasons well. He is even handed. He seems comfortable pointing out both the strengths and the weaknesses of the candidates. I do not believe that Obama will be the perfect president and wreak miracles, but like Colin Powell I am convinced that he will do a better job overall than McCain.



Thanks to Houston for posting the video on his blog. As an ex-pat American, he has a lot to say about the election. I wouldn't have seen American Prayer if not for him either. (I guess I just don't watch enough television!)

Monday, October 20, 2008

If the world could vote

It makes sense that a lot of people all over the world are intensely interested in the outcome of the US presidential election even though they cannot vote in it. This site gives everyone, US citizen or not, the chance to 'vote'. I was somewhat surprised by the results so far when I visited the site this evening. I had no idea they would be so skewed!

So even if you can't vote in the real election, go ahead and vote anyway - online!

Monday, October 13, 2008

New England fall weekend

This was Columbus Day weekend in the United States. This is traditionally a weekend when the roads here are swamped with out-of-staters driving slowly 'leaf peeping'. As the weather was just stunningly gorgeous, with not a cloud in the sky and temperatures reaching the 70's we decided the heck with petrol prices - we'd head out in the car in search of fall foliage to photograph too! Although a lot of the colours seemed very muddy, and we didn't think the colour was necessarily at its peak, there were still some beautiful sights.

forsale
What's for sale? Not the lone pumpkin, or even the house! It's the dead corn stalks! Yes, really! I don't know what it is about dead cornstalks, but Americans (around here at least) like to decorate their porches and mailboxes with them in the fall.


yankeecandle
We drove past the insanity that is Yankee Candle ("the scenter of the Universe"!) beginning in the fall all the way through to the New Year. You'd think they didn't sell candles in New York and New Jersey. Parking two deep on the grass! I don't need candles that badly! Nor do I need to visit their version of "Old World Europe where fairytale dreams come to life and every day is Christmas." Yuck! I suppose for many Americans it's very original and 'cute', but we moved on to some authentic New England scenery just a few miles down the road.

chicken
That's a real live (and very noisy) chicken in the front yard of this house!

hitchingpost
A hitching post with burning bush.

fallfestival
Small town New England celebrating with a 'Fall Festival'. Games for the kids, lots of things to eat (fried dough with maple cream - yumm!), crafts being sold, music and dance performances (we missed the Morris dancers though - would have liked to see them), and lots of money being generated for local causes like Boy Scouts.

balloon
Every now and then a balloon escaped . . .

tree
Despite the general muddiness (to my mind) of the colours, there were still some stunning trees!

leaves

Fall

fall

I was hoping when I took this that you'd see the colours on the hillside in the background. I'm happy that the tomatoes and peppers have not succumbed to frost yet. The pot on the right had (dead/dying) nicotiana in it that I pulled out and replaced with the chrysanthemum today. I may try to overwinter the geraniums as they are doing so well but haven't figured out where in the house I'd put them. The pumpkins won't get carved until closer to Halloween - the temperatures are supposed to be back up in the 70's this week and carved pumpkins will rot much faster. Is it fall yet with temperatures like that?

Friday, October 10, 2008

In which I give in to temptation

Friday was relatively exhausting, but certainly not the worst day I've ever had. After I got home with the kids I sat and read my Handwoven magazine while the kids attempted to tidy the playroom. When DH got home he not only prepared dinner for the kids, but also made a cake for us to take to a friend's house for an Oktoberfest celebration on Saturday. So I'm not at all sure why I was feeling so stressed that I felt I needed to go downstairs to the basement and retrieve the 10 pound (yes, that's TEN pound) bar of Ghirardelli chocolate that I have been successfully ignoring for the last four or five years since I received it as a Christmas present. (Ironically, the magazine subscription was from the same relatives who bought me the chocolate!)

Fortunately, it is a solid block of chocolate and it's extremely difficult to break pieces off it! (You know me and chocolate!)

chocolate
Yes, that's a 12 inch ruler on the chocolate bar!

6 things meme

Karen (aka CrunchieMummy) tagged me to do this meme.

Here are the rules:
1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write 6 random things about yourself.
4. Tag 6 people at the end of your post.
5. Let each person know he/she has been tagged.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

Six rules. Six things about myself.

1. I've worn glasses since the age of 7. I hated them and as soon as I heard about contact lenses decided that I would get some. At age 13 I was the first in my class to get them, which confused the teachers who were supposed to make sure I wore my glasses. They thought I was lying when I said I had contact lenses.

2. I'm terrified of deep water. Swimming pools are OK, but I hate lakes and rivers.

3. I somehow always knew I wouldn't marry a Brit, though I never imagined I'd marry an American. I thought my kids would be bilingual, but I suppose they are in a way.

4. I had a hampster as a child that died after eating a green crayon that my brother fed it. I'm sure the color was significant. Had it not been green, the hampster wouldn't have eaten it. (My brother was a toddler at the time, so I don't blame him!)

5. I've almost never used a PC. I'm very happy using my Macintosh computer.

6. I'm nickel sensitive like my maternal grandmother. This proved to be a problem when I didn't think to tell my Ob/gyn and she used staples instead of stitches when I had my first C-section. You can be sure I let her know the next time around!

Hmm - now I'm supposed to tag 6 people . . . I hate this part of it . . . so if you want to do it, go ahead - let me know and I'll put a link here!


Thursday, October 09, 2008

Learn to speak English, why doncha?












As evidenced by my blogroll, I love to read about other people's ex-pat experiences. I have a lot of ex-pat Brits listed here, but that's mostly only because I followed links from one to the next, to the next . . . However, most of the ex-pats I encounter in my 'real' life are not Brits. In fact, most of them do not speak English as their first language. Some speak almost no English at all. I remember being in that situation when I was in Asia - the foreigner who doesn't speak the language. The grownup who is treated as a child. The college-educated adult who is treated like an idiot. It's frustrating, and it's not a situation you can remedy quickly. It takes time (and a lot of effort) to learn a language, and some languages are harder to learn than others. Even when I lived in France and spoke the language well, I was always an outsider.

When I think of what new immigrants with children have to deal with in terms of language - specifically communications from their kids' schools - it makes me really angry when I hear people complaining "Why don't they learn English?" "Why should we have to provide interpreters and translations?" "They should just go home if they don't want to learn English!" These are all legal immigrants, and the United States government did not require a language test of them. They are hard-working members of society and the reality is that many of the parents are so busy working in menial jobs that people born here won't do that they have no time now to take English classes.

I met a teacher last year who has been in the US as long as I have - over 20 years. Originally from Germany, her English is excellent. (In fact, she teaches English to new immigrants.) Yet even she - a fluent English speaker, familiar with the public school system - said she felt discombobulated trying to navigate the system trying to get support for her special needs child. The people who are complaining that parents in our school system should make more effort to learn English clearly have no experience themselves of having to navigate real daily life (not just tourist life) in a second language and culture. I'd love to drop some of those complainers off somewhere like China or Russia for a year and see how they fare! Sadly, the experience would probably do nothing for them except to 'prove' to their blinkered satisfaction that the United States is the best place in the world to live.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Community organizer vs. governor

Seen on another blog:

JESUS WAS A COMMUNITY ORGANIZER;
PONTIUS PILATE WAS A GOVERNOR.

Hmm - but didn't Pontius Pilate have Jesus killed?

Friday, October 03, 2008

That Obma!



Even elementary school children around here are discussing the upcoming presidential election. The children are clearly influenced in their political views by their parents. One 9 year-old of my acquaintance (not one of my own kids!) walked up to me today and announced unprompted: “That Obma [sic] better win the election.”
“Really, why do you want him to win?”
“Cuz when they kill him, then the president won’t be a woman.”
“And why would any one kill him? You know he’ll have lots of body guards?”
“Yeah, but he’s a bl . . . brow . . . umm . . . black man and my dad says people don’t want a black man to be president.”

I wonder who her father would have voted for if Hillary Clinton had been the Democratic candidate for Vice-president?!

Racism is alive and well even in the liberal northeastern United States :-(

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Same Old Email Scam

Yet another email scam asking for money, but this one's gone viral - you may have seen it on other blogs already:
Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gramm, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transactin is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to wallstreetbailout@treasury.gov so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully Minister of Treasury Paulson

Henry Merritt "Hank" Paulson Jr. is the United States Treasury Secretary and member of the International Monetary Fund Board of Governors. He previously served as the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Goldman Sachs.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Chuck E. Cheese

I was very cruel to my husband today. DS had a birthday party to go to and I suggested to DH that he might like to take DS. He knew that the party was at Chuck E. Cheese's, but apparently what that involved was unclear to him so he said yes. I've never been there myself, but I've heard enough about it that it was the last place I wanted to spend my Saturday afternoon!

Several hours after he returned home, and three beers later, he was still shaking his head in amazement.

"An onslaught to the senses."

"No wonder people don't like America if they think that's a typical American experience."

"It was so awful!"

"Hell on earth!"

"Chuck E. Cheese would make a lot more money if they sold alcohol to anesthetize the parents, but they probably couldn't sell it fast enough!"

Apparently the parents of the birthday boy were stunned too. "It wasn't like this 20 years ago!"

DS, on the other hand, had a blast and wants to know if he can have his next birthday party there.



That would be a resounding "NO!" from both parents.

Apparently I now owe DH big time!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Chain letter - forward it if you like


I usually just delete chain emails that have been sent to me and dozens of the sender's closest friends. The one I got today was a little different. If you've read my blog recently you know what my political leanings are, so you won't be surprised by the fact that I thought the suggestion I received via email today seemed like a pretty good idea. Good enough that I thought I'd pass it on. If it's not to your taste, feel free to ignore it. Most importantly though, whether you agree with me or not, whether you follow through on the suggestion in the letter or not, if you have the right to vote on November 4th, DO IT!
Dear Friends:

We may have thought we wanted a woman on a national political ticket, but the joke has really been on us, hasn't it?

Since Palin gave her speech accepting the Republican nomination for the Vice Presidency, Barack Obama's campaign has raised over $10 million dollars. Some of you may already be supporting the Obama campaign financially; others of you may still be recovering from the primaries. None of you, however, can be happy with Palin's selection, especially on her positions on women's issues. So, if you'd like to make your opinion known, may I suggest the following fiendishly brilliant idea?

Make a $5 minimum donation to Planned Parenthood. In Sarah Palin's name. A Planned Parenthood donation is tax deductible.

And here's the good part: when you make a donation to PP in her name, they'll send her a card telling her that the donation has been made in her honor.

Here's the link to the Planned Parenthood website.

You'll need to fill in the address to let PP know where to send the 'in Sarah Palin's honor' card. Use the address for the McCain campaign headquarters:

McCain for President/Sarah Palin
1235 S. Clark Street, 1st Floor
Arlington, VA 22202

Feel free to send this along to all your women friends as well as your men friends and urge them to do the same.

Thanks.

The idea of fund-raising for Planned Parenthood in this way was first suggested in 2001 by an LA Times journalist. Back then it raised over $1,000,000 for Planned Parenthood.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I'm not dumb

I know these online tests of 'intelligence' are really very silly, but I still like it when I do well!



Just wondering though, who on earth would post a score like this on their blog?


Especially when with just a little savvy you can change it to one like this:


And which one was my real score? I'll let you figure that out!
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