Saturday, August 29, 2009

Search terms

I do like looking through the list of of search terms used by people who found my blog. Searches for Smarties vs M&Ms seem to have finally stopped. Here are some of the recent ones:
  • scared of wasps
    Aren't we all?
  • black currants, how to eat?
    I could get really sarcastic with this one, something along the lines of 'put them in your mouth', but it's actually not an unreasonable question. How do you eat something that sour? By adding lots of sugar of course!

  • wasp nest blackcurrant bush
    Not sure how this is any different to a wasp's nest anywhere else. Presumably you don't want it and want to get rid of it.
  • are there any other plants that look like blackcurrants but may be poisen. please show picture.
    If you think you've just poisoned yourself, looking up the answer on a stranger's potentially unreliable blog is perhaps not the best idea. Did you notice that s/he said please to a computer!
  • how to learn speaking english well with red lavel
    I have a feeling this person was probably looking for a specific textbook.
  • i am 9 and liking for a mice
    I wonder who taught this cat to type?
  • glaswegian accent scary
    It can be, can't it? (For the record, one of my grandmothers was from Glasgow and, despite many years of not living there, never lost her accent!) I wonder just what this person wanted to know about a scary Glaswegian accent though?
  • how do i wash dishes at a tent campsite?
    A questions asked by someone who's only ever used a dishwashing machine perhaps? Depends a little on the campsite. In France the sites we visited often had sinks dedicated to washing dishes. Camping at state parks here in the US we boil water on the stove, pour it into a bowl and do the dishes in the bowl, remembering of course to have some clean water to wash the suds off in case they poison us ;-)
  • how long can i drive in the usa on my englishy liecence?
    That depends on the state I believe, though I may be wrong.
  • pronounce: oregano
    I hate questions like this - people are either trying to make me sound more British or more American than I want to be.
  • britain has too many rules
    Hmm - the obvious retort if the searcher is not British is to say "Well, go home then!"
  • american back to the us after london culture shock
    If an American has to leave London because of culture shock, all I can say is they'd better not leave the US again because the rest of the world will probably be even more shocking! Not that you can't get culture shock traveling in the USA!
Finally, the following two continue to turn up regularly:
  • the reasons americans shouldn't travel
  • why americans shouldn't travel
    No one from any country should travel if they're not prepared to tolerate at least a little culture shock, try some new experiences, and accept that one of the delights of traveling is to visit somewhere that is different from home!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tornado alert

Brit Gal Sarah is used to severe weather in her part of the US as she lives in 'tornado alley', but (even after 24 years here!) it still surprises me that here in New England we also have occasional tornado watches! They can even, though fortunately very rarely, turn into tornado warnings - meaning that rather than the weather conditions simply being propitious for a tornado, one has actually been sighted. The forecast for this afternoon included a thunderstorm watch but has just been upgraded to a tornado watch through until 9 p.m. tonight. Ah well, no trip to the park this afternoon!

Sunday, August 16, 2009


One of my favourite summer fruits is blackcurrants. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to find them here in the US. Blueberries, on the other hand, which I never had when I was growing up in England, are very popular over here. Blueberries look very similar to blackcurrants, but taste very different. For years blueberries have disappointed me. I would see a blueberry pie being served and it looked so much like blackcurrant I would have to have a slice. Then I would realize it was indeed blueish in colour and not purple. I'd take a bite and be disappointed by the lack of flavour. Blueberries always seem very bland compared to blackcurrants.

It wasn't until recently that I discovered the reason for blackcurrants' rarity in the US is that many states banned blackcurrant growing in the early 1900's in order to prevent the spread of white pine blister rust, Cronartium ribicola, a disease affecting white pine trees, a mainstay back then of the timber industry. Today the use of white pine as lumber is rare and disease-resistant plants are available, but the antiquated ban on producing blackcurrants remained in effect pretty much nationwide until recently. Some states are now allowing blackcurrant plants to be reintroduced. In New York State it was primarily the result of the efforts of one 'gentleman farmer' who now runs a company that sells blackcurrant 'nectar', blackcurrants. I can now buy blackcurrant 'nectar' at our local supermarket! (I can buy Ribena too - but it is insanely expensive as it is imported. Blackcurrant jam too, imported from Poland, and worth the price even though DS has decided it makes very good PB&J sandwiches now that he's finally understood that the lumps in the jam are the fruit!) I could order frozen blackcurrants online at $5/lb, for a minimum of 3 lbs (plus shipping & handling of course!)

They even sell currant bushes via mailorder. The law in my state still says however:
"No person shall deliver within the Commonwealth from outside the Commonwealth any blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum) plant, root, scion, seed or cutting."
So no blackcurrant bushes in our backyard for the foreseeable future! Still, over the years I have gotten to like blueberries for what they are and appreciate that, unlike blackcurrants, you can eat them raw. In fact, I've decided that's mostly my favorite way of eating them, though I don't object if they're cooked into pancakes or muffins. Tonight's dessert was definitely one for blueberries though, not blackcurrants, as it did need raw fruit. However, I modified the original 'Real Simple' recipe slightly and the 0% fat Greek yogurt (instead of cream cheese and cream - thanks for the inspiration Mum!) along with the lemon zest (called for in the original) gave it some of the tartness I miss from blackcurrants.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Blue Sky

After far more rainy days than usual this summer, it was a delight to see a blue sky with no clouds at all in it!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bucking fugs!

Normally I wouldn't be very happy to find a large hole dug right next to the house when I hadn't planned to have one there. I would probably start by blaming the kids, but I couldn't this time because I know they haven't been out playing in this particular spot recently. This hole was clearly dug by a very persistent animal, possibly a large one. DH says it was probably a bear. How would having a bear digging next to the foundation of your house make you feel? A little nervous? Me too, except that this time I'm actually also feeling grateful to the bear, if that's what it was!

This animal (for the sake of argument let's assume it was a bear) knew what was down there and actually did us a favour with its digging. It's hard to tell from the photo, but the hole is about 9 or 10 inches wide and a foot deep. At first glance it's just a hole, and rather a tidy one at that. In another location it would look like a hole dug for a new plant. But look more closely and you can see what the bear was digging for.

This was a nest of yellowjacket wasps. (Did you know that bears do like to eat wasps? They are a good source of protein!) We regularly have to get rid of paper wasp nests, but at least those are easy to spot as they're usually hanging from the eaves of the house or the roof of the kids' climbing structure. This was hidden between the side of the house and the hatchway to the basement and could have been there for ages without us spotting it. Incubating large quantities of vicious stinging insects! I know they're supposed to be beneficial because they eat other insects, but they are also extremely annoying. Had the bear not started digging to get at the grubs, it would have taken us much longer to discover the nest and spray it. Here's hoping the bear had a feast, and also that it decides not to return. I'd hate for it to be poisoned by eating the grubs and wasps that have now been sprayed. If it comes back through the yard anytime soon, I hope it will decide the compost bin (which is much further away from the house!) is a more promising place to snack!

Of course, the hole could have been dug by a skunk as they also like a tasty wasp and grub meal, and I know we have skunks living close by.

Meanwhile, at the front of the house we have some of these "Great Black Wasps" or "Katydid Killers" (about an inch and a half to two inches long!) flying around. Supposedly fairly harmless, but they sure don't look it!

(This photo from Bev Wigney's wonderful collection of nature-related photos.)

Then there are all the biting things that make my son look like he has hives when he's simply covered in bug bites, and the fruit flies that have invaded the house, and I saw a couple of Indian meal moths today . . . I think I will be happy when it's winter again! At least then the only animals we have to deal with are the mice in the attic!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Magic roundabouts

I asked DH this evening how he feels about driving around rotaries and his response was that he hates them. Not because he dislikes rotaries, but because he says drivers over here don't know how to navigate them properly, and they are too aggressive. He has experience of roundabouts in the UK (as a passenger, not a driver) and thinks they work well when people know how to use them.

American drivers in general have no idea how to drive around a roundabout (more usually called a rotary or traffic circle over here.) Apparently this has to do with the history of 'rotaries' because they did not originally give priority to the traffic on the rotary, nor were they necessarily seen as places where the traffic should slow down. Many American drivers have never encountered a rotary. Nowadays, because over the years rotaries have tended to become known as choke points or bad bottlenecks, there is enormous resistance nowadays when local authorities decide that a roundabout is needed. Interestingly, the word 'roundabout' tends to be used now instead of 'rotary' to highlight the fact that the design has changed.

Roundabout design in Britain changed in the 1960's to require that drivers on the roundabout have priority, and that drivers entering the rotary slow down, if not stop, before entering it. This design has worked much better than the American one, and in more recent years American highway departments have begun to use the British design. This diagram makes it look more complicated than it really is I think.

They're not really that complicated and used properly they do keep the traffic moving. Still, people who have no experience of them complain. Recent arguments against a rotary in my town include complaints that there will be extra noise for nearby residents from trucks braking and accelerating. Do they think that if there are traffic lights (sorry, a "signalized intersection"!) the trucks won't have to brake or accelerate? Puh-lease! This particular roundabout would go in at a very simple intersection - currently a "T-junction" - and the entrance to a local park would be altered so that it was also on the roundabout. Both roads are very busy only at certain times of day. A roundabout would be the perfect solution here as it keeps the traffic moving and no one would have to sit at a red light when there's no traffic or sit in frustration for 10 minutes waiting for some polite person to let them out. It does actually happen - there are some polite drivers around here, but almost inevitably they have someone impatient behind them who will try to pass on the inside and then cause an accident!

And after all, this is not a Magic Roundabout that's being proposed! That really would make most American drivers' heads spin!

Monday, August 03, 2009

License to drive

When I first came to the United States I had no need of a driver's license. Instead I got what was called a "liquor ID card" after I discovered that my UK passport was not considered adequate proof of my age when I wanted to get in to a local bar!

A couple of years later I finally did get a driver's license. I didn't have to take a test of any kind - not a road test or even a written test. I seem to remember showing them my UK license, perhaps along with my (by then expired) international driving permit and my liquor ID as well as my passport. (Multiple forms of photo ID seem to be required - a couple of years after I got my liquor ID I helped a Russian friend get hers and it was not an easy task.)

A whole bunch of years down the road, having renewed my license a couple of times in between, I was royally annoyed after waiting over an hour to renew my license to be told they would not renew it until I turned in my liquor ID, which I hadn't used or even seen in years. I finally found it, and had to turn it in along with the old license. I really wanted to keep the older license as it had rather a good picture of me on it. (i.e. it didn't look remotely like me, but in a very good way - I looked young, slim and pretty!)

At the next license renewal they had switched over to digital pictures. I was fairly happy with the photo they took, so at the subsequent renewal when I was asked if I wanted a new picture I decided to decline.

My license expired today so although I should clearly have set about renewing it some time ago, I headed off to the local Registry of Motor Vehicles after lunch. There is an option to renew online, but you can only do that so often and then you have to go in and have your photo retaken. My last experience there was a good one - no line, in and out in under 10 minutes. What were the chances of such luck this afternoon? Slim to none! Apparently this registry was off the beaten path in the past - relatively new and in an out of the way location. Since then, the busier registry office has closed due to a dispute with the landlord. My heart sank as I saw the number of people waiting - and me with a 6 year-old in tow and, foolishly, nothing to occupy him! There were big signs warning not to take a number until AFTER filling out the application form. I took a number anyway, while I was waiting to get close enough to the counter where the forms and pens were. Yes, of course it would have been helpful if I'd brought my own pen with me, but that would have required a degree of organization I don't appear to possess. I had a choice of a plastic spoon, a lipstick or a Sharpie marker so I chose to stand in line and wait for a pen!

So I took a number, got a form and filled it out/in. One question asked if I have a license to drive in any other US state or any other country. I don't remember seeing that question before, but now I can truthfully answer "No" seeing as I've lost the UK one and can't get it replaced! (See previous post.) I had palpitations though when I saw that it said that for certain transactions further forms of ID like a Social Security card might be required. I'm pretty sure my Social Security card is in the safety deposit box at the bank, and I knew I didn't have enough time to go get it, get back in line, and still make it to the pick-up point for DD's bus bringing her back from Girl Scout camp. And if it wasn't in the bank, I certainly didn't have time to figure out where it was and still get my license renewed today! That would be a Very Bad Thing given that (remember?) my license expired today and tomorrow involves a fair amount of ferrying children around to different activities! The ticket with my number on it said B236 and my anticipated wait time was 24 minutes. I'd only been waiting a couple of minutes when I thought I heard my number called. It was a good thing they also had an electronic board where the numbers were displayed because they had in fact called C236. How you make a C sound like a B is beyond me, but they did - repeatedly over the next half hour. Every number that started with a C sounded like it began with B! DS even argued with me about it, he was so sure he was hearing B.

In the end it was only about half an hour until my number was called and DS was extremely well behaved and patient. I did not have to produce anything other than my old license, the completed application form and $50 - whew - no crazy search for my Social Security card needed after all! The lady asked if I wanted my photo retaken (when I thought I'd have no choice given that my current photo was taken 8 years ago.) She then took my picture twice and let me choose which one I preferred! She even wished me Happy Birthday as I was leaving! Not a bad experience at all in the end! Oh, and this time I was allowed to keep the old license "as a souvenir"!

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Licence to drive

I have misplaced my UK driver's licence. I'd kept the original slip of paper (because that's all it was - not even a photo on it) safe for almost 30 years, and then sometime in the last 2 years I lost it. Given that I don't live in the UK anymore and I don't even need my licence when I'm over there as my US one is good for 12 months, it doesn't really matter, except that it's a link to the United Kingdom I wasn't planning on giving up. It looks as though I'll have to though, as I can't get a replacement.

The DVLC (oops - apparently they changed the name to DVLA - wonder how many millions that identity change cost?) has some useful tools on their website that make it relatively easy in most cases to replace a lost licence, or change your name or address. If the name on my licence matched the name on my passport, the DVLA could pull my digital photo from my UK passport file and issue me with a new photo licence. (Actually, that's a little scary that their databases are linked like that - I'm not sure that I trust the UK government with my personal data!) Unfortunately, I never got my name changed on my licence when I got married. Plus there's the small matter of not actually being resident in the UK any more.

Whether I fill out the form for a lost licence plus change of name online or on paper, you have to swear that you are a UK resident. I'm not and I'm not willing to risk the (something like) £4,000 fine if I get caught lying! Given that technically it doesn't actually expire for at least 20 years, I've got plenty of time to replace my licence if I ever do actually move back to the UK. Heck, I could even take the test again - after all I passed first time (unlike almost all of my friends!)
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