Monday, April 28, 2008

Tonight's dinner conversation

Discussing the possibility of a trip at some point in the future to DisneyWorld, DH (who apparently does not find the idea of a trip to see The Rat and friends enticing) made the comment: "I think the only fun ride I've ever been on in Florida was Miss Michigan." For just a moment I thought he was referring to a trip he once made to Brownsville, Texas, when he ended up on a plane with all of the Miss America contestants. However, I know he sat next to Miss Idaho so my response was "Speak English, why doncha?" (My usual comment when he's failing to explain himself well.)

DS suddenly remembered a very important question he's been asking us about regularly for the last month or so: "Where did the first baby get born?" This question has been really bothering him as we have been unable to answer him. This time he continued without waiting for an answer: "All the scientists are trying to find the answer, but some of them know the answer. A long, long, time ago when I was three a scientist somewhere near Blue Planet told me but I forgot, and they might be wrong so all the scientists are still looking for the answer."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Need some Marmite?

I never had Marmite as a child and it's not something I can honestly say I like. However, I know that there are many British expats out there who miss their Marmite and who will be delighted to find out that you can buy Marmite from Amazon! It's $44.40 - but don't have a heart attack yet - that's for a CASE of TWELVE 4.4 ounce jars and the shipping is free! That'll see you on for a while, right?

I'd never thought of Amazon as a grocery import store, but they have some good stuff! They sell PG Tips tea in bulk. 640 tea bags for $30, and again no shipping charges. They list 3 kinds of chocolate digestives - unfortunately all out of stock though :-( Probably a good thing, as you have to buy them in bulk too and I could do serious damage to 6 packages of chocolate digestives! They even sell custard creams - but it's a brand I've never heard of so I'm not going to risk it given that they come in a 24-pack! I think that's about 8 pounds of biscuits! I have to check the price of Pataks sauces at our supermarket tomorrow and see if $20 for 4 jars at Amazon is cheaper than I can buy them locally.

There's no easy way to find the import goods at Amazon. You just have to do a search in their grocery store for items you'd like. There are several "British import stores" online that carry a wider range of goods and are more easily searchable but I've never ordered anything from any of them. When I first arrived in the US 23 years ago it was not easy to find certain British foods - custard, digestive biscuits, Ribena . . . Nowadays, though, we have a small import section at our local supermarket and a very good international 'market' nearby where I can usually find most English things I'm craving. They're not always cheap, but usually much cheaper than buying them online! Finding reasonably priced imported foods at Amazon was quite a surprise.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

$8 a gallon

I live in an area of the US where petrol (gas) is relatively cheap, and I paid $3.36/gallon this morning for 'regular'. I think that's the first time I've paid over $40 to fill the tank. In California apparently it's up over $4/gallon already. There are currently lots of images like these doing the rounds:

Meanwhile, petrol in the UK is predicted to reach £5 a gallon soon. That works out to be $8.37 per US gallon. Well, I think so - maths was never my best subject! Far more expensive than here in the US anyway! Imagine the panic here in the US if petrol prices were that high! Of course, over the next few days people in the UK may be happy to get petrol at any price if the refinery workers' strike hits as hard as expected. I'm sure some Americans feel as though the prices are as high as in Europe already - it's all relative! It really doesn't feel that long since I was paying less than a dollar a gallon and it is hard to believe that we are now looking at prices that have quadrupled in ten years. The following cartoon dates back to 2004, when people surely thought petrol prices would not go any higher:

Sadly, petrol is NOT a luxury item in the US. Relatively few people live anywhere where there is public transportation. Even when people live within walking distance of the places they would like to go, it is often not practical to do so because there are no pavements (sidewalks). The road we live on is being widened, and closer to town part of the work last year included installing pavements. Unfortunately, there are no plans to bring them any further out. It would be nice if they did as it would then be possible to ride our bikes to town. There's no way I would consider that with my kids without a pavement to ride on - the drivers go too fast and they are too unused to seeing cyclists on the road.

Meanwhile, so many other prices are being affected by the price of petrol. Grain prices are going up not only because of increased production costs but also because of the increased demand for biodiesel. I was amazed to hear this week that Costco is limiting the amount of rice customers can purchase because there are shortages! (Note the touch of fearmongering in that article when the author makes a comment about there being no plans to "to limit food purchases" in general at Walmart stores!) The World Bank estimates that globally "food prices have risen by 83 percent in three years". I guess I just have to work a little harder to convince DH that we really DO need to dig up at least part of the lawn to grow some veggies!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Degrees in selling beds

Twenty odd years ago when I first came to the United States, one of the reasons Europeans considered the American university system a joke was that you could take classes like basket-weaving for academic credit. Now the British education system is moving in the same direction with McDonalds offering A-levels and now Dreams bed company offering a foundation degree in partnership with one of the new universities.

Although the concept of a qualification in bed-selling might seem laughable at first, it actually makes a lot of sense. There are plenty of people who do not do particularly well academically who are quite capable of learning more than they do in school, and they often don't realize that until they get out into the world of work. Options that allow people to go back to school while still at work and learn the theory behind what they are applying on a daily basis seem to me to be a good thing. I particularly like the idea that a foundation degree, like the HND in the UK or an associate's degree here in the US, can be a stepping stone towards a traditional college degree qualification whilst still being vocational at heart. It certainly makes more sense than trying to increase the numbers of people getting traditional, academically focused, degrees.

One of England's newest universities is offering tailor-made degrees in the management of selling beds. Buckinghamshire New University in High Wycombe is offering a retail management foundation degree developed in partnership with bed company Dreams. This is the kind of collaboration between industry and higher education the government wants to encourage. Most of the sector's expansion is through such two-year courses mixing academic and work-based learning.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


British Daffodilly tagged me with this meme a few days ago, and I've finally managed to find some time to follow up on it. It's the first time I've been tagged. I suspect it's like junk mail - interesting the first couple of times, but annoying eventually if you get memes you're really not interested in! I liked this one though.

1. What was I doing 10 years ago?
I was relatively newly married and childless - but seeing as DH and I lived a two hour drive away from each other and only saw each other on average every other weekend, the childless thing is not surprising! To tell the truth, I wasn't exactly childless as I was 'mommy' to some 20 teenage girls at a boarding school! This time ten years ago I had in fact just got a job offer that meant that come the end of the school year I was going to be able to move 'home' to live with DH. I was very happy - not to mention the fact that the job came with a 5% raise and significantly shorter hours! (My immigration lawyer refused to write down the hours I really worked on my green card application - she said it was too many and knocked about 15 hours off on my job description!) Little did I realize that eventually I was to return to the role of mommy - but this time without being paid for it and without another mommy to be on duty with the kids every other night! Oh, the bliss of being able to ignore the knocking on my door, knowing that there were two other adults whose turn it was to be on duty and I could pretend not to be there! Everyone said I would be well-prepared for having my own children but looking after 20 kids who are not really yours is in many ways MUCH easier than a mere 2 of your own!

2. 5 snacks I enjoy:
Dark chocolate, Cadbury's Creme eggs, chocolate-covered blueberries, chocolate digestives, Nutrigrain bars (but not chocolate ones - tried those in the UK and thought they were disgusting!)

3.Things I would do if I was a billionaire:
Pay off the mortgages of everyone in the family, do the additions/alterations to our house and garden that we talk about but never have the money to do, quit worrying about how to pay for the kids' college tuition. Set up a trust for charitable donations to a variety of causes. Give regularly to NPR and PBS. Travel abroad more. Volunteer more. Read more. Learn to quilt. Oh yes, and quit my job!

4. 5 jobs I've had:
Assistant in a bookshop
Cleaning lady
Hotel receptionist

5. 3 bad habits:
Biting my nails
Eating too much chocolate
Red wine

6. 5 places I've lived:

7. 5 people I want to know more about:
Hmm - looking for people who haven't already been tagged with this one . . . sorry if I've goofed and someone already tagged you!
Only Crook in Town
Bloody Brilliant

Friday, April 04, 2008

Flying penguins

The BBC had a rather nice April Fools video about flying penguins. They are now using it as an ad for their video player service on their website. However, I was really frustrated when I went to watch it on April 1st to find that iPlayer did not work for me as I am outside the UK :-( Happily, that particular video is available from other sources (including this blog post.) The CGI is wonderful, and they got the 'David Attenborough' tone just right.

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