Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What Halloween's about

When I was growing up in the UK, for the couple of weeks before the 5th of November, Guy Fawkes' (or Bonfire) Night", you could be fairly sure if that if there was a knock on the door in the early evening it would be kids dragging a scarecrow-like figure around with them and asking for a "penny for the Guy." Not 'guy' as in 'bloke' or 'man', but Guy Fawkes, the man who is infamous for being one of those who tried to blow up the houses of Parliament in the year 1605. The 'pennies' the kids were asking for were usually to buy fireworks for Bonfire Night. My siblings and I were never allowed to participate in this ritual. My parents bought the fireworks and certainly would not have approved of us begging for money in that way.

Over the years, because of safety concerns retailers have stopped selling individual fireworks and age restrictions have been introduced so that children can no longer buy them. The tradition of asking for money seems therefore to have carried over to the 'new' tradition in the UK of trick-or-treating. I've written here before about how in the 20+ years since I left the UK, Halloween has claimed a place in British culture and I bemoaned the homogenization of cultures. But wait - it seems the British have added their own small twist to the tradition of trick-or-treating. I had heard my mother mention it, but was not sure whether to believe her. Today I read on the BBC site about how
On Halloween in 1986, the House of Lords debated the "recently imported trick-or-treat custom of demanding money on threat of playing a nasty trick, now being used by youths to obtain money from old people and others.
Their lordships saw trick or treating not as a tradition, but as American for begging.
I get the impression that there are many who go out trick-or-treating in the UK prepared to 'trick' - throw eggs at cars or commit other acts of vandalism. I have never seen that happen here in the US. In some communities I've seen 'TP Night' celebrated the night before Halloween, when kids throw large quantities of toilet paper at trees, but I've never seen any really damaging vandalism. This year the kids here were particularly polite. Although some of the kids had pillow cases for their candy, none were particularly greedy, and almost all asked if we were offering them one candy or more than one. Even the older kids, though noisy as they moved from one house to the next, were unfailingly polite and had made an effort to dress up.

On National Public Radio this morning there was a report about how Halloween is the 4th most commercial 'holiday' in the US nowadays (the others being Christmas, the SuperBowl, and New Year!) It seems that one way or another, it's all about the money.

Candy stash

We dug out the plastic pumpkins last night for tonight's trick-or-treating, only to discover that they still contained candy from last year! I think the little ones had been eating their stash whenever they felt like it (i.e. right before meals, how dare they?!) so I had hidden the pumpkins away high on a shelf in the basement, fully intending to dole the candy out in small doses at what I considered to be appropriate times. Apparently there are no appropriate times for children to have candy in this house as, once I put the pumpkins away, I forgot that there was candy in them! (Not at all like me to forget that there's candy in the house though - wonder if I have some kind of memory problem?)

The Halloween candy survived the year well and is still edible. (DH and I snarfed some of it last night on the premise that we had to check if it was OK and we were doing the kids a favor by letting them have the fresh stuff tonight!) On reflection, I'm sure there must also be a bag somewhere that has some of last Easter's treats in it. Cadbury's creme eggs go mouldy over time* so I hope there aren't any of those hiding in the basement - that would be a serious waste :-(

* I know this because I have been known to hide them around the house so that I have a secret supply. Once I forgot I had hidden some in a particular cupboard. When I finally rediscovered them I was sorely disappointed (after my initial excitement) because, although the chocolate was fine, the filling had gone mouldy. Even before they reach that stage, the filling can get rather dry and is not so yummy. Moral - eat your treats sooner rather than later!

Saturday, October 20, 2007


The little people in the house claim to be accident-prone today. This morning they were "accidentally" watching TV. This afternoon the larger one bit the smaller one "By accident!" Huh?

Well, at least the littler one has finally learned to say "By accident" instead of "On accident". Now we just have to work on the definition of 'accidental'!

I may 'accidentally' have the TV on tomorrow evening when today's rugby game is finally shown on a TV channel I can get without having to pay any extra for.

Autumn. Season of mists and . . .

  • road repairs
    Why one of the towns I commute through leaves their road repairs until the fall, I do not know, but it seems to be a regular thing. Last year they resurfaced a long section of road and only just got done before the first snow, and they appear to be doing the same thing this year. On Thursday the road was like an obstacle course as they had started raising all the drain covers to the new road height and it was impossible to drive in any kind of straight line down the road. Because they had surrounded all of them with large orange barrels, at times the only way to avoid the raised structures was to drive on the wrong side of the road. That made me very nervous as I set off on Friday's commute to work as we had some very seasonable, and very thick, fog. Fortunately, they had removed all the orange barrels, so it was actually possible to remain on the correct side of the road.

  • rising smoke
    Usually at this time of year there is smoke rising from many chimneys when I drive to work in the morning as people are starting to heat their houses again with their wood stoves. Not so many this year, yet, as the weather has been unseasonably warm - into the 70's Fahrenheit (over 21 Celsius) several days this week. I miss the wood stove we had at the last house. It was good to know we had an alternative source of heat, especially as we have a friend with acres of woods who's happy to give us wood in exchange for helping him cut, split and stack enough for him and us.

  • household jobs
    like taking all the window screens out and getting the snow blower tuned up for the winter. I took the window screens out last weekend, and then regretted it as the temperatures stayed so warm! Raking leaves used to be the bane of our existence in the fall, but that was at the old house. Although we have trees near the house now, the prevailing winds and the openness of the housing development means that the leaves blow right on into the neighbour's yard and we don't have to rake them :-)

  • bear tracking
    The local university tracks the bears around here, but for some reason we only ever seem to see their bear tracking vehicle (an SUV bristling with radio antennae) in October. The Littlest American was asking this week why we haven't had any bears in our yard this year. I'll have to stop and ask the bear tracker next time I see the van if the bears have changed their wandering habits this year. It may be that we simply haven't seen them, though they do sometimes leave evidence behind. Sometimes they empty out the compost bins, sometimes they leave other 'evidence' behind. I was ready once to accuse a neighbour of letting one of her dogs c**p on our lawn, when I realized that her dogs don't eat birdseed! The bears aren't the daintiest of eaters, so when they go for the bird feeders they usually destroy them - more evidence!

  • color
    Of course New England in the fall is beautiful. This week the colors around here finally started to look good - such gorgeous shades of orange, yellow, and red, that even when they were muted by the morning fog they were still stunning. I need to get some chysanthemums for the front step, though the geraniums are colorful as they are still flowering. We have a couple of little pumpkins that the kids got at school, but need to get a couple of large ones that we can carve for Halloween. It's time to buy another seasonal item too:

  • unicorn bits
    (and other kinds of candy too, as we can't give out unwrapped candy to the trick-or-treaters.)

  • Christmas decorations
    in the stores already, well before Halloween!

Thursday, October 11, 2007


I'm in that tiny percentage of the population that has familial hypercholesterolemia. My cholesterol was over 350 the first time it was tested and it had next to nothing to do with my diet or lifestyle. (That's over 9 using the units they use in Europe, and it's actually low compared to some people in my family!) I was in my 20's and I had to BEG my doctor for the blood test. He was convinced I didn't need it. When we got the results back, he didn't seem to know what to do. Rather than give me any advice, he asked what my brother and sister (3,000 miles away!) had been told to do! I knew what my first move should be - I switched doctors!

Today I watched a kid eat a "lunchable" for her lunch. Holy cow! If I'm going to eat that much fat in one meal, I'd rather it was something yummy like Ben & Jerry's icecream! I save my fat calories for good stuff! I sometimes have to remind myself though when I'm getting all self-righteous about it, that people like me are only 0.2% of the population and most people's bodies can handle fat much better than mine can. I've had to learn that what I like is not always what I should be eating - and that, somewhat like a diabetic, my life may depend on it. The difference is that a diabetic's body reacts quickly to the wrong foods. Mine reacts slowly, but over many years the wrong food will still kill me. Many people don't ever get the chance to learn that, because they don't find out until too late that their cholesterol is high.

People thought I was odd to have my kids' cholesterol tested before they were even teenagers. With an inherited condition like this, the chances were 50/50 that I had passed it on and I figured it was better to know sooner rather than later. Fortunately, we have an excellent pediatrician who agreed that an early test was a good idea and who then sent us to the appropriate expert when indeed one of the children turned out to have high cholesterol. It was a long drive for a short appointment, but well worth it! Now it is being recommended in the UK that all children have their cholesterol tested at age 15 months because so many adults don't even know what their cholesterol is. What a change from 20 years ago when my doctor thought I didn't need to have my cholesterol tested because I wasn't even 30 yet, female and a non-smoker!

Monday, October 08, 2007


Can you name all the states of the United States? Do you know where they all are on the map? How about the British counties? How many counties are there, anyway? Try Statetris and see how you do. Here's the British version, and this is the one for the USA. Oh, and there's one for the French regions too.

Even if you don't know where the state/county/region should go, you can guess pretty effectively. I'm better, nonetheless, at placing the American states in the right place than the UK counties :-( Of course it helps that I used to have to teach international students here in the USA some US geography including the names, abbreviations for, and locations of, all the states. I'm not sure that I EVER knew exactly where all the counties are. If someone tells me that they come from say, Suffolk, I nod as though I know exactly where it is, but quite frankly I'm not always 100% sure where it is in relation to where I used to live. It's easier for me to tell where US states are in relation to where I live now. (Of course, given that most of them are to the West and or south, that's cheating really - a bit like saying I know where the counties all are in relation to Cornwall!) Of course, it didn't help that the names and boundaries of the counties changed as I was growing up. North Humberside should still be Yorkshire as far as I'm concerned, and at least they've moved part of the Wirral back into Cheshire where it belongs instead of Merseyside! Oops - checks Wikipedia and discovers that North Humberside returned to the East Riding of Yorkshire some 11 years ago! Apparently I didn't notice the change in address on the occasional correspondance I receive from Hull Uni.! How am I supposed to know where all the counties are if they keep changing them? I wonder when the last time was that they changed the names or borders of any of the US states? Longer ago than 1996, I'm sure.
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