Category Archives: My Life

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.

 

 


Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Our dog does not subscribe to the English opinion that a person’s home is his castle, preferring instead to assume that absolutely everything belongs to her and the rest of us are merely borrowing it. This applies to our bed, the sofa and any and all chairs, blankets and throws, despite Hubby having lavished a very comfortable dog bed upon her (which nobody but the dog is permitted to approach).

After our recent apartment renovation, we lacked a surface by a window for the cat’s sleeping quarters. Following various experiments with potential perches, she decided she liked it best when her bed was by the patio doors, where she could observe happenings on the exterior of her queendom. It shocked nobody when the dog was found, that very same day, exercising squatters’ rights while the poor cat huddled in a corner under the coat rack.

Dog steals cat's bed

It didn’t even appear to perturb her if the cat was already in the bed, fast asleep. A few nudges and pokes and she was able to make just about enough room for two, with or without the cat’s permission. Usually the latter, but a nip to the hindquarters from an irritated feline seemed only to deter her temporarily.

Cat and dog share bed

A second defining feature of our dog is her desperate desire to always be in the middle. When Hubby and I are both at home, she can only be happy when curled up precisely halfway between the two of us. It was in sympathy with this need that we’d placed her dog bed on the other side of the room, between Hubby’s computer desk and the sofa, where she could rest easy of an evening knowing she was keeping an eye on the both of us.

Despairing of ever convincing her that the cat bed doesn’t belong to her, we tried placing their beds side by side, hoping the cat could finally get some kip. It didn’t go well.

Cat and dog swap beds

At this point, I ran out of ideas and decided that documenting the cuteness of a dog and a cat snuggling up together was vastly more rewarding. I snapped several pictures of their butts bulging out of the cat bed, such as this one:

Bed too small for cat and dog

Unfortunately, this image of domestic bliss was interrupted by the click from my camera phone. Happy they may be to spoon all day long, but they are not keen on the existence of photographic evidence.

Cat and dog spotted sharing bed

The scene descended immediately into panic, a wild look in both animals’ eyes as they fled to separate corners of the house and pretended that nothing at all had happened.

Cat and dog flee from bed

After the exodus, neither pet would approach the bed for the rest of the afternoon and both kept a suspicious eye on my iTelephone. It turned out that the best way to convince them the cat bed is not big enough for the both of them was not to coax the dog back to her own cushion, but to threaten to tell the world that a cat and a dog can get along just fine after all.


The Day I Was Nearly Murdered (and then definitely wasn’t)

I’m not generally prone to panic. On the other hand, I am English and should not be placed in the vicinity of firearms without a very good reason. Because, this:

Englishwoman with a gun

In case it isn’t immediately obvious from the ineptitude of every Englishman ever depicted on film with his pistol pointed in the wrong direction (which is all of them), we’re not very good with guns. We haven’t got any, you see. To the English, a gun is a mythological weapon used in times of national emergency, such as when faced with terrorism or aliens. These are the only conceivable situations in which you should place a working firearm in the hands of a Brit, unless you want someone’s foot to be shot off.

Nope, the state of being best described as “Being Near Me With A Gun” is not one to be undertaken lightly. As far as I’m concerned, an unknown man prowling through the trees in one’s back yard while carrying a rifle does not count as a good reason to Be Near Me With A Gun and will do nothing but provoke anguish, distress and overreaction.

One cannot simply wander outside and demand an explanation under these circumstances, because the answer to, “What are you hunting?” will almost certainly be, “You”. Hopping from foot to foot while staring through each window in turn proved equally unhelpful, so I decided to gather photographic evidence of my murderer to help out the police in the wake of my inevitable demise (because our Police Chief is lovely and I wouldn’t want to cause him too much extra work).

Unknown man's truck

I immediately hit an unforeseen problem: no zoom on my camera phone and absolutely no possibility of being stupid enough to go outside. I think you’ll agree it’s a pretty ominous partly-hidden truck, though.

Next idea: call the husband. Scuppered by recorded message with no interest in predicament. Stage three panic imminent, I sent Mom-in-Law a nonchalant text, casually enquiring as to whether she knew of a reasonable explanation for there being a prowly man with a rifle outside the window. “Nope,” came the reply. “I’m on my way.”

There is one thing in this world more terrifying than a gun: a mother defending her own. I continued to hide bravely until her car appeared on the horizon, an angry dust cloud in its wake, ready and prepared to cut off the murderer’s path of escape. My heart swelled with relief to see the ominous green truck chased away, its proverbial tail between its legs. The day was saved, the damsel rescued, the murderer full of regret.

Anti-climactic addendum: it wasn’t a murderer, just a game warden. He was apparently searching for an injured deer by utilising his years of training in being unnecessarily frightening. And so, the moral to today’s tale of Almost Murder is as follows: when dealing with your easily spooked English guests, please be sure to leave your shotgun in the car. You really don’t want the rescue team alerted.


English as a Foreign Language

My lovely father gifted me a Kindle book this morning – “Notes From A Big Country” by Bill Bryson, in case you’re interested. It was every bit as good as he said it was going to be; so good, in fact, that I found myself reading out a passage to Hubby before I’d even reached the second page. As I did so, our Kinect overheard me.

The Kinect and I have a tumultuous relationship. For those of you who have yet to sample the delights of its technological prowess, a Kinect is a little black box that attaches to your Xbox console, designed with the power to overhear everything you say, spy on you in your underpants and respond to its observations as it sees fit. Largely by opening applications on demand, but only when it feels like it.

Over the past two years, I have come to accept that my voice, specifically my accent, renders it utterly incapable of functioning. In response, I’ve taken to putting on a (really bad) accent when I’m alone in the house, just to save myself the 10 minutes of “Play… play… PLAY… Xbox, play. Just PLAY, would you. PLAAAAY” I’m forced to go through when I want to watch a tellybox show. I’ve made my peace, albeit unwillingly, with the knowledge that, for the rest of my days, I will be deliberately misunderstood by a stubborn and highly primitive AI.

I was not, however, prepared for this:

What happens when your Kinect can't understand you

Eager to please as always, our Kinect immediately assumed I needed its assistance and, because really the only help a Kinect can offer is to dash off to the depths of the internet on your behalf, leaped gallantly to its search screen, where it diligently recorded everything it thought I had said.

I stress the word “thought”, because I have no idea what a joory is, nor why the Kinect is resolute in its refusal to admit that the words coming out of my mouth are, indeed, the English language. I did mention Florida, but I have never knowingly discussed akosuahs (largely because I don’t know what they are, either).

In conclusion, I can express no surprise whatsoever that no search results were found.


The Garden of Ultimate Evil

At the beginning of the summer, my father-in-law came to the conclusion (from my lily-white skin and distinct lack of freckles) that I ought to be spending more time in the great outdoors. He came up with the cunning plan to woo me into the back yard with my very own garden: a place I could grow all the vegetables I could possibly eat with my own, still-fair-even-now-because-I-stick-obsessively-to-the-shade hands.

At first, it went swimmingly. We tilled the land in preparation, built a fence to keep the beady eyes of the deer at bay and planted carrots, beets and cabbages in neat rows. Once a day, I would potter out to inspect the budding plants and gently water them with a bucket, nurturing their tiny little leaves and dreaming of plates piled high with salad.

As they grew, this evolved into Playtime With Hoses, during which idyllic quarter of an hour of each afternoon, I would drench my bean rows until the whole thing resembled a paddy field. Which action I defend by pointing out that it was over 100 degrees outside and we had no rain for a month.

I rejoiced when I picked my first crops, dutifully snapping the ends from my beans before washing, blanching and freezing them, collecting an ever-increasing stash of vegetable goodness to see us through the winter.

I presented both the husband and the parentals-in-law with piles of lettuce at dinner time, overloading everyone’s plates with salad that looked an awful lot more edible than the pathetic excuse for a spring mix that Safeway has been selling over the summer.

I marvelled at how attractive the fruits of my labours were, as well as tasty. Until the first radish crop came in, that is…

The bunch above might look worthy of the front page of a gardening magazine, but I would in no way recommend taking a bite. Somehow, I achieved growing radishes that were both utterly tasteless and so fiery that my jaw almost literally dropped off.

When the above monstrosity of a radish unearthed itself (pictured in my husband’s man-hand for full appreciation), I began to wonder if my garden was preparing to fight back, and/or take over the world. Possibly by squashing everything else in it.

It got worse. Above is a two-foot green bean that somehow managed to evade my notice and begin creeping ominously towards the back door. I cannot speculate as to what it planned to do once it got there, only that Mutant Bean had nefarious intentions. By way of fair warning, this is probably how the apocalypse is going to begin: in my vegetable garden, through the medium of disgruntled shrubbery. My squash plants are almost certainly Triffids in disguise.

I am writing this post by way of an apology, before the inevitable happens and my harvest turns on us all. I’m sorry for inflicting the Mutant Vegetable Army on the world, and for whatever consequences my selfish action has. I couldn’t help it, I had no choice: my tomatoes are about to ripen and grilled summer squash tastes really, really good.

Pictured: Triffids


The gift of tea

I’ve often wondered whether an animal can have a nationality. My dog doesn’t bark in a particularly American accent, nor does my cat show any obvious signs of craving chili dogs. On the other hand, the latter pet has been spotted on numerous occasions, scampering across the carpet with a teabag between her teeth. This is also the cat, I should point out, who steals lettuce leaves on a regular basis and has no interest whatsoever in catnip, so it’s possible she’s not the best example of sanity in the four-legged.

Despite all that, I have become convinced she is at least 50% English, something I assume she has achieved by absorbing my genes through Satanic rituals while I am sleeping. Or possibly by drinking my blood each time she gnaws my ankle when I have the cheek to move my leg across the mattress.

Here is my proof:

Shoe + teabag = shoebag

Several mornings ago, my cat sent me off to work with a carefully prepared gift. At first, I thought it was a very different gift of the ‘accidental poop’ variety, but it turned out to be a damp, used teabag. Most cats bring you mice and squashed spiders, but mine (sort of) understands that no morning should start without a nice cup of tea.

I’d have probably preferred a Twix, mind you.

“You’re welcome.”