Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Lawn

The English lawn is so simple, and yet it takes a lot of maintenance to make it look so good. Supposedly, that was part of the point originally - the manicured lawn was more prestigious than the one nibbled by sheep or other livestock. When we moved to our current residence we inherited a gorgeous lawn that was the result of rather a lot of chemicals, and vast amounts of watering. The previous owner's liberal use of weedkillers created a monoculture that has been easy to maintain without resorting to chemicals. Despite the size of the lawn, we now dig dandelions out one by one rather than poisoning them.

We have very little topsoil - dig an inch or so down and there's nothing but sand, so it drains extremely fast and is very dry. Trying to get a nice green lawn is completely dependent on the sprinkler system, though we run it less often than the previous owner. Because of the weather, we haven't had to run the sprinklers more than a few days so far this year. (Yay! Smaller water bill!) The grass has been growing rampant, but has been too wet to mow as often as we would have liked. (Yay! Less spent on fuel for the mower!) Because of the damp, a new species has invaded the lawn that we haven't had to deal with before:

Mushrooms growing in the lawn
If I were braver, I would look this fungus up and try to determine if it's edible, because there's enough out there in the back yard for several meals, but I'm too scared I'll simply poison us all!

In the long run though, at least some of the lawn needs to go. We need a real vegetable garden. The kids are loving their garden on the front porch, but I think our choice of plants was ill-advised for container gardening! It's beginning to look like a jungle out there!

It's a jungle!

Friday, June 26, 2009

A little ruined . . .

You've Been a Little Ruined by American Culture

Whether you live in the US or not, deep down you're a little American.

And there's nothing wrong with loving American culture, but it may have negative effects on your life.

Slow down and enjoy what you have. Reconnect with life's simple pleasures.

You don't need to be in a consumerist rat race. Life's too short to overwork yourself!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Scratch Art

DD brought this piece of art work home from school last week. She likes doing scratch art projects like this and over the years she has become much better at them. This one has nice strong lines, with little evidence of any indecision as she scratched the black layer away to create her design.

But on looking more closely, I wondered if her teacher realized the significance of the item to the left of the flowers. I'm pretty sure that if she wore a T-shirt to school that advertised alcohol she would be asked to change, and I'm sure if the teacher had realized what UFO is she might have been asked to alter her design (or sent to the school counselor!) Well, maybe not, but I still thought it was an 'interesting' choice.

UFO - Unfiltered Offering. A Hefeweizen beer from Harpoon Brewery.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Visitor from the UK - guest post

Since starting to blog, and choosing to blog much of the time about being an expat, I have met many other expats online. Michael Harling is an American living in the UK. If you haven't visited his blog, Postcards From Across the Pond, I highly recommend it. Although I haven't bought his book yet, I'm thinking it would probably be a good purchase for my husband before we go to the UK again. Actually, given how much I enjoy his writing, I should just buy it for myself. Michael is currently travelling around the world, from one blog to another and I invited him to stop off here.
Quiet day today. I think I had one too many mint juleps at Wendy and Rob's last night. But when you’re embarking upon a World Tour (even if it is the virtual world) you can’t let a little thing like a hangover slow you down, so my pounding head, dry throat, sandpaper eyeballs and I all got up at 5AM to catch the 8:27 flight out of Little Rock. When Almost American picked me up in Chicopee this afternoon, I was still feeling a little fragile so as soon as we got to her place she made me tea and toast; she even cut it into soldiers for me.

It's nice to be back here in Massachusetts, only one of two states whose name I can't spell without having to look it up (the other is Connecticut).

I used to live here, you know; when my first marriage ended, I moved into a flat in Pittsfield with my buddy and his girlfriend and her two-year old child. I had no other place to go and they were kind enough to take me in. Overnight I went from living in a four bedroom house with one and a half baths, dining room, office, full basement and redwood porch to sleeping on a sofa in a second floor walk-up. It was not the high point of my life.

That unhappy incident did not sully my feelings for Massachusetts, however. It's a lovely state, and I have many happy memories of climbing its mountains, visiting its quaint and touristy towns and peeping at its leaves. A drive along the Mass Pike at the peak of autumn is about the prettiest sight in the world (barring, of course, a drive up the The Northway, through the Adirondack State Park). Almost American is lucky—having left England, she is now living in a place just as beautiful.

It is amazing how much Britain and New England resemble each other, terrain-wise, at least. Where I live in Sussex, the weald and downs look much like—and are every bit as fetching as—the Hudson Valley and Berkshire Mountains. And further north, the Scottish highlands have more than a passing resemblance to the Adirondacks and the mountains of Maine. But seeing as how they used to be part of the same land mass (or so they tell me, it was a few years before I was born) perhaps it isn't so amazing after all.

Back then, of course, when we all lived together, we all spoke the same and things were a little less confusing; an elevator was an elevator, not a lift, and a car had a trunk and a hood, not a boot and a bonnet, and aluminium had not yet developed that extraneous syllable. It wasn't until we drifted apart that the Brits started needlessly searching for new ways to pronounce “oregano,” “lieutenant” and “schedule” when they already had perfectly acceptable pronunciations. At least that's how it looks from this side of the Atlantic. Or perhaps my thinking is still a bit muddled by mint julep fallout.

I think I'd better have another cup of tea and some toast soldiers, then I'll get back to you on that language thing.

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Visit the Tour Page to sign up or to view the latest Tour updates.

Michael Harling is an American author living in the UK undertaking a virtual world tour via the kindness of strangers.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The local ice cream

Well, one of my commenters got the ice cream flavour right, but I'm afraid I'll have to disqualify her and not give her the non-existent prize because she cheated. I'm sure she's actually been there (right Molly?), and has probably eaten some of this ice cream. It is indeed unusual - so it's not honey or maple flavoured, although those are both local products. It is not listed on the flavours board as locals simply know that it's available in season.

Unfortunately, I don't have any in-focus photos of the ice cream. This is not deliberate. I was trying, but perhaps I was focusing too much on eating the ice cream instead of taking photos of it. I'll blame it on the fact that I didn't have my glasses with me. I have sadly reached that age where my arms are not long enough and I need glasses to focus on anything closer to me than the length of my arms. I had thought that maybe the camera with its so-called AUTO-FOCUS (they lie!) might be smart enough to do just that and focus, but apparently I'm still supposed to do something to get it to focus. I need a camera that will read my intentions and focus on the thing I am thinking of. Then my photos would be much better. In the meantime, I'll just have to remember my glasses and learn how to work the camera!

Back to the ice-cream! Here are said blurry pictures. They look a little greener than the photo in the last post, but I think this is closer to the true color.

The flavour is, as Molly said, asparagus. Sounds disgusting doesn't it? Well, it's actually asparagus and almond and it's pretty heavy on the almond - although as you can tell from the photos the asparagus is definitely in there! If you think of asparagus in a cream sauce it becomes a little less strange I think. It is perfectly edible, although I think I would go for chocolate brownie or cookie dough another time. Remember a lot of American ice cream places will give you a taster spoonful of a flavour or two before you buy, so if you see an unusual flavour you don't have to commit yourself and find you hate it.

Zooming in on the photo from the previous post, you can actually see both the almonds and the asparagus in the ice cream. (See, sometimes I CAN make the camera work!)

I bet they have asparagus ice cream at the British Asparagus Festival. If you can't find anywhere locally that sells asparagus ice cream and you'd like to try it, you could always try making it yourself. There's another recipe here. I'm not sure I would serve it with smoked salmon though as this English restaurant suggests! Nor would I be up for asparagus beer!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Ice cream

Many years ago when my parents came to visit me for the first time in the United States we spent some time travelling around New England. I remember being in Rockport, Massachusetts, one afternoon and deciding we needed some ice cream. My father was delighted at the selection of flavors, and happy that they let him try a couple before he bought. I suggested that he buy a small ice cream. He indignantly insisted that he wanted a large. I suggested a small would be sufficient. He got the large and it very nearly defeated him. I think he only finished it out of sheer stubbornness!

Like many other things, ice cream servings do tend to be larger over here than in the UK. This afternoon a friend described the 'small' ice cream served at our most local ice cream stand as ' the size of a child's head.' We had run into her at a slightly further afield ice cream stand, where her kids were getting a treat after a long and sweaty hike. Ours were just getting a treat. Next time we should do a hike first!

This afternoon's destination is a local dairy farm. They sell a variety of ice cream flavours, all but one (the peanut butter one) made on the farm from the milk from their own Jersey and Holstein cows. You can tell how local the product is as soon as you step out of the car - one of the other products they sell (to enrich the soil in your garden) has a much stronger smell than any ice cream could! The kids like going here for ice cream because they like visiting the cows. You can't feed them or pet them, but there's just something irresistible about these very large animals.

Here's a pic of my (small - I asked for ONE scoop but I think the girl couldn't count that high!) ice cream:
I chose to have a particularly local icecream. Not only does the milk come from the cows on the farm, but one of the other main ingredients does too. It is a seasonal flavour, not offered all year round, so it is not listed on the flavours board.

Can you figure out what flavour my ice cream was? (I removed the name of the farm from the flavours board photo, so you can't just Google it!) It's one of those things that doesn't sound like a good idea necessarily, but is actually quite good. No prizes for the winning guess I'm afraid.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Later . . .

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