Friday, December 14, 2012


I don't think school children in the UK practice 'lockdowns' the way they do over here. Just like we practice evacuating the building in case of a fire, we practice what we would do in case some loony with a gun came into the building. Of course, in the case of a real fire things are never so organized as they are when we drill. And I always imagined that in the case of a loony with a gun, things wouldn't go so smoothly either.

Every time we do a practice lockdown at school I wonder how useful what we're doing might actually be. We have to close the blinds, get the kids to huddle in a corner and pretend no one is in the room. We are to ignore anyone knocking on the door and not to answer the phone in case it's someone trying to find out if there are actually people in the room - as if they couldn't tell! I wonder how we would even know to go into lockdown if the first place the loony with the gun goes is to the office where the public address system is and kills the people who could make that announcement. We do have a backup system of making phone calls to individual classrooms, but I wonder if it would be fast enough.

The events in Newtown, Connecticut, today reminded me that lockdown practice isn't just about making the disaster preparedness committee feel like they've done something. It's not about trying to completely prevent a tragedy because, honestly, there's no way we can do that - it's about minimizing it. I have no doubt that the person in the office who managed to call a lockdown today saved lives. I heard kids describing hiding in closets, huddling in the corner of a room and waiting while they heard gunshots until the police arrived to tell them to evacuate. They did exactly what they had practiced, except this time it was real :-(

I can't even begin to imagine how the children and staff go back to school after a tragedy like this. Despite all the loss it is clear that there were some very brave people there, both adults and children, who helped save lives. I'm not sure if this is a genuine quotation from Mr Rogers, but I like it anyway:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” ― Fred Rogers

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving survivors

I see this flock of wild turkeys regularly on my drive to work. I'm often halfway past before I even notice them. Occasionally I have to slow down or even stop to let them cross the road. This morning they caught my attention a little sooner because the one nearest the camera was up in that small tree - small tree, big bird! By the time I hopped out of my car to take the photo, s/he was back on the ground.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Black Friday

Friday, October 26, 2012


About this time last year we were looking at this map:
We ended up losing power for 'only' two days - we had friends who lost power for over a week!

Today we have this:

Here's hoping they're scaremongering, but knowledgeable people are taking it very seriously! I'm sure if we wanted to buy a generator we're too late already, but I'm heading out now to gas the car up, get some cash and do some (non-perishable) food shopping. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Masked bandits at night

I blogged recently about how DH and DD have been handfeeding the chipmunks in our yard. Not surprisingly, the local wildlife seems to have decided that our property is restaurant central. We came home the other day and found a chipmunk inside the bird feeder that hangs in the tree outside the front door! The squirrels have claimed the feeders hanging from the back deck. They get very frustrated with the thistle seed feeder because the openings are so small, but it doesn't stop them from repeatedly trying to get seed out of it. The birds hang around waiting for the squirrels to get tired or full (they eventually do!) so they can have their turn.

Soooo . . . we had been blaming the squirrels for the speed at which the bird feeders were emptying, but the other night DH happened to look out of the kitchen window and saw not one but THREE raccoons on the deck, two of them up on the railing stuffing themselves silly with sunflower seeds. They didn't even turn around when we knocked on the window. They barely seemed to notice when we switched the outside light on. One of them even came right up to the glass door and looked in - with the kids' faces pressed right up to the glass on the inside! Fortunately,  even DH agreed that there is no way THESE animals are going to be hand-fed. They are too big, and potentially too dangerous. We were all tempted to open the door though because it was really difficult to get a good photo in such poor light from the other side of a window or glass door. This was the best of a bunch of photos:

Monday, October 08, 2012

27 years

I just realized tonight that I forgot to change the header for this blog back in August - the anniversary of my arrival in the USA. It's been 27 years now. I've lived here more than half my life. Most of my life. I'm still not sure that I can really grasp that. And last week, someone I had just met randomly asked me to say "schedule". When I asked why, she commented that she had noticed my accent.  More than half my life in the USA and I still don't sound American!

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Olympics opening ceremony

I didn't get to see the opening ceremony on Friday (but I've heard lots about it and read about it) because I spent most of the evening driving my daughter to an event 70 miles away, waiting for her, and then driving her back. Of course, by the time we set off, the ceremony had already been underway for almost an hour, but we hadn't been able to watch any of it because the American broadcaster, NBC, was making everyone wait until prime time in the evening to see it (and BBC's iPlayer won't work from outside the country without some jiggery-pokery I can't be bothered to get involved in.) 

Apparently their explanation of why NBC couldn't show it live, or even just stream it online was:
"They [the opening ceremonies] are complex entertainment spectacles that do not translate well online because they require context, which our award-winning production team will provide for the large primetime audiences that gather together to watch them."
Context? Hmm - they meant translation or interpretation  I suppose  - apparently the cultural divide between the UK and the US is now so large that the opening ceremony would be incomprehensible unless it were explained. Hmmph! I think not. But if any explanations WERE needed, the NBC presenters didn't appear to be the people to do it. OK, so a lot of people don't know who Tim Berners-Lee is but the point of having facilitators "give context" to the production should have been for them to sound knowledgeable! Meredith Vieira made it sound as though the ceremony was honoring someone of no consequence outside the British Isles! And after choosing not to broadcast an entire segment of the event, NBC condescendingly commented that it was "a credit to (ceremony director) Danny Boyle that it required so little editing."

So, once the opening ceremony was over, I thought I would at least be able to use the handy-dandy NBC Live Olympics app I'd downloaded to be able to watch live events on my iPod. Despite subscribing to a digital cable package and internet service from Comcast (who owns NBC, or vice versa, I forget which) I keep getting the message that my subscription needs to be upgraded (to a more expensive one of course) in order to watch this free streaming service. Grrrrrr . . . .

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Ice cream flavors

I've blogged in the past about an unusual icecream flavor available locally. Here's the board listing the flavors available at an icecream parlor in downtown Bar Harbor. Do you see any unusual ones?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Warm beer

I always thought of warm beer as being an English thing. Well, that's the stereotype anyway, isn't it? So I laughed out loud when I saw this sign in a supermarket in Maine:

And yes, they did have another aisle with a sign that said 'Cold Beer'.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Birthday cake candles

Expat Mum just blogged about the kind of candle holders you put on a birthday cake and said that they don't seem to be an American thing. Well, I know they don't sell the holders with the candles, but I definitely have some in my kitchen drawer and they didn't come from the UK. As MsCaroline, one of her commenters, suggested, maybe they are an east coast thing in the US?

Come to think of it, the ones in my kitchen drawer aren't exactly in wonderful condition - they do look a little chewed . . .  And they don't always stop the cake from ending up covered in candle wax  - the way some kids huff and puff at the candles, the wax ends up spraying over the cake anyway! I only appear to have eight of them. I'm pretty sure they don't sell them in packages of eight. I wonder where the others went and where I can buy any more? Maybe I'll just keep buying the tall skinny candles the kids insisted on for their father's birthday a couple of years ago. Better yet, we'll just use the regular candles the way most other people over here seem to and just shove them in the cake. After all, we've got plenty of candles because every time you buy a birthday cake here they automatically include a packet of 20 candles. I don't remember the last time I bought a birthday cake as opposed to making one, and we still have enough candles in the kitchen drawer to see us through several more birthdays! Well, so long as they're kids' birthdays :-)

Saturday, June 09, 2012

The Jubilee celebrations

It was interesting to see the differing reactions in our house last weekend to the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations. As we settled down to watch the Thames flotilla, DS was completely dismissive. I don't think he saw anything particularly interesting in watching a lot of boats travelling down a river. (Like his father, he'd rather be in a boat than watching one.) He didn't understand what it was all about, and said, "It'll be on again next year anyway - I'll watch it then!"

DH, of course, is interested in most things that involve small boats and seemed at least mildly interested. DD, however, was glued to the screen and fascinated. She didn't get all the cultural references, but did ask about the ones she knew she didn't get: "Mommy, what's an MP?" I was gobsmacked to discover however that, although she knows the British national anthem is God Save the Queen, it took her forever to come up with the name of the US anthem! "Umm . . . something about rockets and a battle" was the best she could manage until I gave her some hints!

The Jubilee Barge carrying The Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.

Seen from Chelsea Embankment, looking towards Albert Bridge.

  © Copyright Oast House Archive and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

BBC America update

Back in January, I blogged about how Comcast was changing our channel lineup and we were going to lose BBC America if we didn't pay significantly more each month, which I didn't want to do. I mentioned at the time that we had had the experience with Comcast that they don't always follow through right away with their threatened changes. True to form, four and a half months later there have been no changes as far as Comcast is concerned. BBC America, however, has moved Graham Norton an hour later on a Saturday night - too late for me to bothered staying up anyway :-(

Monday, May 21, 2012

Feeding the (rabid?) vermin

Deprived of a pet since both the gerbils died within the last few months, DH and DD have taken to feeding the local vermin. Not content with leaving food out for them, they have been determined to make friends with them.  Much patience last weekend led to Mamma Chipmunk actually coming up on the front porch and eating out of their hands. (DH swears that chipmunks and squirrels don't carry rabies, though the CDC says that any mammal is susceptible.)

This afternoon when DH came home from work, Mamma Chipmunk was waiting for him - she raced over and stood on his foot, looking up as if to say: "Where's my dinner?" A lot like me really, except I don't stand on DH's foot ;-)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Rabies is not something I had to think about about when I was growing up in the UK. With the UK being an island with very strict quarantine laws, rabies was something that was basically non-existent. Although I was aware that rabies exists in North America, I hadn't particularly thought about it much here either. However, twice this spring my son has brought warnings home from school about rabies. Despite the fact that the warnings admit that it is very rare for anyone to die from rabies, we have been encouraged to put the following notice on our fridges:

Serious as rabies can be, with the very mild winter we have had this year, I think they are sending notices home about the wrong thing. The local media has been full of information about how it is likely to be a record tick season because the warm winter didn't kill off the ticks the way it usually does. Ticks carry Lyme disease, which is really quite unpleasant if not treated promptly. Another pest that is more likely to affect people this year is the tiger mosquito. Native to Asia, the tiger mosquito was first found in the USA in 1985.  It's smaller than most mosquitoes, but its bite causes more irritation than most and, unlike the mosquitoes we are used to around here, it dines throughout the day, not just at night. The tiger mosquito is capable of transmitting a variety of diseases including the potentially fatal West Nile virus.

Somehow, I think people are far more likely to be bitten by a mosquito or a tick than by a rabid bat or raccoon! It's also more likely that you would seek medical help if bitten by a raccoon or a bat, so, nasty as rabies is, to my mind the tick and the mosquito are significantly more dangerous.

Friday, April 20, 2012

I wonder if the Queen likes . . .

. . .  Marmite?

(From The DieLine blog.)
Apparently Marmite is selling a limited edition Jubilee version exclusively at Sainsbury's.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

My Easter Egg

Moe, over at Badgers With Knives, was giving a chocolate Easter egg  away recently and I won. It arrived last week. The kids were very excited by the customs sticker:

Moe's note said she doubted it would arrive in one piece, but she was sure that wouldn't affect the flavor. I agree 100% - in fact, I figured that would just make it easier to share with the kids.  Then I noticed that the box had crumbs of chocolate on the outside, and a suspiciously greasy spot on the side . . .

I hadn't really put two and two together, but the weather last week was insanely warm for March. It hit 80˚F  (26.7˚C) the day the egg arrived and the chocolate egg was sitting in my (black) mailbox (in the sun) for at least four hours before I got home. The result:

A puddle of chocolate at the bottom of the box :-(

I put the whole box in the fridge for a couple of hours and it ended up being perfectly edible, even though it didn't look anything like an Easter egg anymore. For some reason, the texture was rather like an Aero bar. I happen to like Aero bars, so that was fine. Anyway, the egg is no more. All gone :-) It was yummy - thanks Moe!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Haunted by Transatlantica

Back in the fall of 1985, when I had only been in the United States a few weeks, I read a copy of Vanity Fair magazine that I'd found in the office I shared with several other grad students. One paragraph in the editorial in that particular magazine, written by Tina Brown, resonated enough with me even then that I photocopied it and kept it. I misplaced the photocopy at one point in one of my moves but I found it again today. Here are the words I wanted to keep:
In fact, once you've lived on both sides of the Atlantic, it's impossible to be content with either. One becomes haunted with the perfect place called Transatlantica, which is somewhere in between. Its population shares England's civility and America's energy, England's irony and America's optimism, England's coziness and America's breadth, England's sense of the past and America's belief in the future. Whichever side you settle, your sensibilities are forevermore on the frequent flier's program.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

World citizen

My children have two passports - British and American. DD is quite impressed with that and feels very special because of it. Recently, she made friends with someone who has more passports than her. Her friend has three passports! American and two different European passports. DD is jealous. She now wants a third passport, and has decided that she would like a Chinese one.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The cost of BBC America

Years ago, when the kids were very little, I was trying to cut down on our expenses and I decided that one bill we could easily slash was for the cable TV. I called and canceled all but the most basic of cable service, which brought our bill down to something like $5/month. Years later when we finally decided to go with cable internet access instead of dial-up, the sales rep tried to talk me into a more expensive TV package. I said I really wasn't interested in paying so much more for so many channels I had no interest in watching when the only channels we didn't have that I knew we were interested in watching were the History Channel and BBC America. I was glad I'd mentioned the specific stations I was interested in as the rep immediately informed me that we didn't need to spend much more money to get a package that would include BBC America. The deal she offered was quite reasonable and that's the package we've had ever since.

A couple of years ago we got a message from the cable company that the package we subscribe to was no longer being offered, but we were 'grandfathered' in. In other words, we can keep the package we've got so long as we don't make any changes to it. Unfortunately, they didn't guarantee that they wouldn't make any changes from their end! Last month we got a letter informing us that BBC America would be being moved from the 'Digital Preferred' level of service to 'Digital Starter'. Of course I have no idea what channels are included with which packages so I had to look it up.

The way the packages are listed, it looks as though they are listed in order of expense:
  • Limited Basic (that's the super cheap package we had for years - it's still only $7.28/month for 30 channels, though you won't find it listed on the cable company's website of course!)
  • Expanded Basic (48 channels)
  • Digital Economy (35 channels)
  • Digital Starter (64 channels)
  • Digital Preferred (90 channels)
  • Digital Premium (46 channels - HBO, Starz, Cinema and the like)
So we have Limited Basic+Digital Preferred and I'm thinking having fewer channels doesn't bother me because we mostly just watch PBS and BBC America anyway. Limited Basic+Digital Starter will obviously be cheaper, and we'll still get BBC America. But of course (and I know you're way ahead of me here) - it doesn't work out like that. To get Digital Starter (the only package that includes BBCAmerica) you not only have to get Limited Basic but Expanded Basic too.

On looking closely at the list, I discovered that the Expanded Basic channels are, for the most part, the same ones you get with Digital Starter except they are not digital. So Expanded Basic+Digital Starter is not 48+64, but more like 7+64. To switch from the package we have to the one that has BBC America will mean going from 120 channels (124 of which I  rarely if ever watch) to 101 channels (96 of which I will rarely if ever watch).  I will lose Nat. Geo., BBCWorld, and a couple of other channels I like to watch occasionally, but I'll gain some other channels that  don't currently have that I'm sure will prove entertaining from time to time. So why I am still wittering on about this as though it's a huge issue? It's because the only change that the cable company has made that has even made me think about changing my subscription is to move BBC America to another tier. Had they moved almost any other channel I couldn't have cared less. And if there was no change in cost, or even a savings, I wouldn't be wittering, but there is a change in cost.

My current bill (including internet service) is just over $75/month. I know plenty of people who choose to pay more, but I don't. If I switch packages just to keep BBC America my monthly subscription will change to $120. That's a HUGE percentage increase. Is Graham Norton really worth $45/month?
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