Sunday, December 28, 2008


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.


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'.

" 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?






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!


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


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?
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