Category Archives: London to Wyoming

Two Years and a Jar of Peanut Butter

This week, Hubby and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary. Two years of marriage and not a moment of regret – I’d call that a success, I think. The first time we celebrated an anniversary, I reflected on everything that had changed in my world since moving to the States and the new ways of life I’d been learning; this time around, I bring you a tangible improvement to my impersonation of a proper American wife.

We’re celebrating properly this weekend by allowing outside parties to feed and entertain us, but wanted to do something small to mark the day itself. As contribution to that sentiment, and because I can’t think of many occasions in life that aren’t improved by cake, I decided some baking was in order. And so I made a chocolate brownie cake with peanut butter frosting, with a candle each to blow out. It was delicious – and also the proof of my learnings.

Chocolate brownie cake with peanut butter frosting

I wasn’t so successful, you see, on the occasion of our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple. I was not yet able to drive and thus unable to sneak a proper gift into the house, so I improvised by making Hubby peanut butter cups, one of his favourite sweet treats. I worked on them tirelessly, patiently painting chocolate into heart shaped moulds, lovingly filling them with creamy peanut butter, excitedly experimenting with grape jelly in one or two.

Hubby was his usual appreciative self. He thanked me, made the appropriate cooing noises and dutifully ate every single peanut butter cup in the tin over the course of the next week. I was proud of my success.

Well, I was proud of my success until I tried one myself… and discovered that you’re meant to mix the peanut butter with icing sugar. You know how peanut butter sticks to the roof of your mouth and is impossible to swallow in large quantities and is more of a savoury treat than a sweet one? The chocolate shell didn’t do a whole lot to offset that unpleasantness.

It was an experience that was testament to my husband’s endless patience and kindness, so you can imagine how relieved I was to discover my peanut butter frosting was absolutely perfect – if anyone’s interested, you mix a cup of peanut butter with a stick of softened butter, stir in two cups of icing/confectioner’s sugar, whisk in individual tablespoons of milk until it’s fluffy and smooth and then lavish whatever small amount is left over on your cake after you’re done “taste testing” it. Just, whatever you do, don’t forget the sugar.

Flowers for my anniversary

Anniversary flowers, just because

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Must Eat More Carrots

My roving and reporting recently took me to a board meeting from which I would need to drive 30 miles home after the sun had set. Nothing that worried me – I’ve often driven long distances of an evening back in England, why would something so universal as the night time be any different?

I never learn, do I? The small detail I failed to register is that America is a very, very big country with lots and lots and lots of road. Where England only has about a mile and a half of motorway and could afford to light every last inch of it with Olympic torches made of actual gold if it felt like it, the same process would require prohibitive tax dollars and an unthinkable amount of manpower over here.

A country this large also suffers much less from ambient light; this makes stargazing a joy, but doesn’t enhance the experience of night driving. As I hurtled home, desperately seeking the switch that turns the brights on in the vain hope of being able to see more than a foot ahead of the car and wondering how far I’d get before a curve in the road took me by surprise, I appreciated once again just how dark it gets over here.

Well lit motorway in the UK

A UK motorway, shining brightly in the dark

The only towns within a 60-mile radius were the one I was coming from and the one I was travelling to. Neither are city-sized and you’d be forgiven for not noticing they were there, particularly at night. By contrast, you’re never far from a well lit city as you drive the UK’s roads and the ambient light seldom leaves you behind. Even when the moon is in hiding, you’d be hard pressed to find full darkness anywhere on the island.

Not to mention the sheer number of fellow drivers whose headlights shine along with yours. No matter the time of day, there are far more people on the roads than you see over here, as evidenced by the 15-mile tailbacks that can spring up out of nowhere. This occurs for no more complicated reason than that England is small, and English citizens are many.

We’ve also adorned our roads with these:

Cat’s Eyes, a clever-bugger invention from the UK

They don’t look very impressive during the day, but they’re terribly handy on a country lane at night. Cat’s eyes – so called because they emulate the reflective properties of a cat’s eye when you shine a light into it (but not the bit where the cat bites you on the nose for your insolence) – were invented just before World War II. They’re durable little buggers designed to sink into the road if you drive over them and they vary in colour to show you what bit of road you’re currently travelling.

The US equivalent, called Bott’s Dots, are apparently less durable, don’t sink into the road and aren’t a lot of use in areas where snow removal is a daily task. Wyoming would thus not be a candidate for dotting even if it wouldn’t require a billion or so of them to cover the mileage.

Ambient light, reflective eyeballs, street lights as far as the eye can see. All these things conspire to create a situation where driving on an English night is not much different to driving during an English day: you can still see where you’re aiming for and how many twists and turns you’ll be encountering to get there. If you’re an Englishwoman on the highways of Wyoming, on the other hand, you’d better hope you’ve been eating your carrots.

 

 


Wyoming Via The Outback

It has been a source of constant consternation for me, since moving to the States, that every third person I meet assumes I’m an Australian. I’m fairly sure that my Dorset twang sounds nothing at all like the laid back drawl of your average Outback dweller and, ironically, I can’t imitate an Oz accent to save my life.

This is as close to Australia as I have ever been.

It really does happen all the time. A lovely tourist couple from Texas visited our art gallery not long ago and excitedly demanded to know which Australian city I hailed from. They were interested mostly because they spent 12 years living over there – even to people well used to the accent, mine apparently cannot be differentiated.

It’s not that I have anything against Australia – I would, in fact, dearly love to explore its oversized wonders, were I not petrified of giant spiders. It’s just that I spent 30 years cultivating this particular way of speaking, only for people to repeatedly question how successful I’ve been.

I’ve never even been here, in case of insects.

Unfortunately, I recently lost the right to complain about it. I met a lovely lady by the name of Elizabeth at a meeting of the local school board, which I was covering for the newspaper. She was helpful, courteous and friendly and I enjoyed talking to her very much, all the while marvelling that there was an Australian residing in the next town, adding to my observations of small-town Wyoming as so much more culturally diverse than I thought.

You can guess where this is going, can’t you? Yep, she was from Sevenoaks. Which is nowhere near Brisbane at all, but surprisingly close to London, England. It would seem that we British ex-pats slowly lose our accents, apparently by way of Sydney Harbour.

I’ll just go fetch my cork hat and a tinny, shall I?


An Appreciation of Snow

The title of this post is vaguely misleading. I am not, as you might assume, hopping up and down with excitement at the ridiculous amount of snow that’s been falling on us over the past two days. I am, rather, finally appreciating it for more than its uses as sculpting and sneak attack material. I am appreciating it as quite the frightening element.

The back yard, a few hours in.

Three days ago, we had almost no snow. The paths were clear, the roads were easy to drive and the sun was shining. Two days ago, the sky turned white and began to empty itself. It still hasn’t stopped – Hubby goes out to shovel the paths every so often, and they’ve disappeared again within the hour. I waded to the car through knee-deep snowdrifts, and that was in the shovelled zones.

Unlike in England, where the authorities gasp in horror at an inch of snow and shut the country down as standard overreaction, the people around me here seem unflustered and carry on regardless. Some are even so well-versed in Wyoming weather that they can tell me precisely how many storms will come before the thaw, and I have learned not to scoff at their predictions.

Hubby prepares to snowblow. And by "prepares", I mean "plays in the snow".

The night the snow began to fall, the lights went out, for miles around. There was neither ambient light nor moon and stars – the world went utterly black. I lay in bed next to a perfectly calm Hubby, for whom it was nothing more than “a bit of winter” and waited for my eyes to pick out shapes… they never did.

As I lay there, I thought about our predicament. We live half a mile from the nearest neighbour (unless you count the parents-in-law, of course, but, for purposes of this discussion, we shall not) and a couple of miles from town. Our house, without electricity, had become little more than a shell, without heating, light or means of communication. The snow was slowly building up against the door, and had already topped the deck. Our little home suddenly seemed a lot more flimsy, and the elements much more ominous.

In this part of the world, one takes extra layers of clothing with one, as well as scarves, socks and hats, and a zero-degree sleeping bag if possible, whenever one leaves the house. If the weather changes suddenly or the slippy slidey roads claim your vehicle, it’s entirely possible you’ll be waiting hours or days for rescue, if the blizzard is ongoing. This shit means business.

"I'll just have a bit of a sit down first."

I use the word “appreciation” rather than “fear”, though, because it’s hard to be too scared when you’re surrounded by capable people who know exactly what to do. I’m never allowed out without appropriate clothing, I’m not allowed to wander about in snowdrifts, no matter how inconvenient I suspect it is to be ferrying me about everywhere, there are always torches available for blackouts and the snowploughs are out in force within minutes of the end of a storm.

Less afraid, more aware of my lack of experience with snow that’s four feet deep. Mostly, I now appreciate that I need to learn to be as capable.


All Together Now: Poh-tay-toh

For the third time since we reappeared from the other side of the pond, Hubby was last night accused of having developed “a bit of an accent”. Not just any old accent, either: he’s rolling his vowels and curling his r’s like a proper southern yokel.

A yokel, yesterday

I know why it’s happened: he spent (another) fortnight immersed in the joyous surrounds of Southern England, where the accent is more pervasive than I ever thought possible. I didn’t realise I had a Dorset twang, rather than the posh totty BBC English voice with which I always imagined myself to be speaking, until I heard a recent recording of myself. It was a distressing moment, during which I was forced to come to terms with the fact that I do not have the dulcet tones required of a Radio 4 presenter, and that my yokel-ness has, if anything, strengthened since I left the country.

Furthermore, we’ve developed an addiction to Doc Martin since we returned home. If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s about an incredibly grumpy London surgeon who develops a fear of blood and is forced to demote himself to GP for a West Country village. It’s full of delightful accents and adorable old people.

Near some yokels, yesterday

We’ve also been avidly watching Downton Abbey, now available (thank the heavens) on Netflix, which explains why he’s dropping such phrases as “ship-shape in Bristol fashion” into everyday conversation. This is not a saying that ever made it over the oceans and is only going to confuse his fellow countrymen.

Interesting fact for the day (courtesy of my informational powerhouse of a father): the phrase refers to Bristol harbour, which has been one of England’s most important ports for a thousand years. The port is up the River Avon and has one of the most variable tides in the world, changing daily by up to 30m, and, when the tide is low, ships tend to get a bit beached. Consequently, until the Floating Harbour was invented, ships using the port needed to be well-made and sturdy and their cargo had to be securely stowed.

Hubby’s opinion of the matter is that he’s leeching my accent from me, to be helpful. A couple more trips back to England and he’ll be wearing a flatcap and wittering about poh-tay-tohs, and I’ll be calling everyone sons of bitches and forgetting how to make a cup of tea.


Roving and Reporting

A quiet and seldom expressed dream of mine (because my professional experience has slowly led me in a different direction) has always been to become a proper, newspaper journalist. I have vivid memories of cuddling up with Pappy (my grandfather) at about the age of six and discussing who I’d like to be when I grew up. I toyed with doctor, but didn’t like the idea of blood and guts, and was then dissuaded from “member of the Battlestar Galactica bridge crew” (on the basis that it would be difficult to work so closely with Richard Hatch, my first crush). My third answer, and the one that has secretly always remained the only answer, was Kate Adie.

Intrepid, trustworthy and dominating the news during my formative years, Ms. Adie seemed the voice of all that was interesting in the world. I’m not sure whether it was the influence of my father, who always encouraged me to find out as much about anything and everything as I possibly can (although he was probably not referring to cakes and science fiction), or the sheer pull of the knowledge that woman must possess, but I adore her to this day.

The meandering trail of my career took me back and forth between magazines, books and websites and sometimes tantalisingly close to newspapers, but never close enough for my liking. I had all but given up on that quiet dream… and then I moved across the ocean and essentially rebooted my life.

Today marks the end of my first week as the reporter for The Sundance Times, the local newspaper I’ve had my eye on since I began considering the idea of a transatlantic move. During my twiddly fingered down-time, while waiting for my green card, I dreamed up several potential ideas for columns and articles that might interest them, once I was able to begin the pestering process.

I didn’t have to. My uncle-in-law (to whom I shall be eternally grateful) poked me with a heads up that the reporter post had become available and, after a frantic update of my resume, which didn’t have my new name on it, let alone my most recent work at Amazon and FlowMotion, I called, emailed and crossed everything my body would allow me to cross, including my eyes. I was invited in for an interview, and given the job on the spot.

I have my own office (something that seldom happens in England, as we tend to utilise our lack of space with open-plan mischief), my first article is almost complete, I have attended my first meeting of the City Council and pitched a full 10 articles from what I learned – I am in heaven.

To be the staff reporter for the newspaper that published my wedding announcement as my first job in the US is a dreamlike experience. I know my father is proud, and Hubby wore his Superman pants in tribute to being married to Lois Lane (not over the top of his trousers, disappointingly), and I would like to think that Pappy, too, is looking down and smiling, and probably muttering that he told me so.

For my part, I should like to alter the claim I made in my last post that my American dream is to wake up in a pizza-sheet tent, chewing on a cookie pillow. It turns out that my American dream is also my lifelong dream, and has come true.


Food Worlds Collide

Following fittingly on from my last post’s pizza theme, I present to you my strangest food find thus far: Hubby’s lunch from our road trip.

An ordinary, gas station pizza, yes? Available in gas stations state-wide, yes? Possibly further afield, I wouldn’t yet know. (For the Brits, gas station pizzas are a darned sight tastier than you’d expect, it’s not soggy sandwiches and Ginster’s this end.)

Except… look at the name. Of all the names to choose for a pizza company that sells in rural Wyoming, they went for the hub of the city, 5000 miles away, that I came here from.

And if that’s not an excuse to eat lots of it, I don’t know what is.