Monday, 30 August 2010

Fabulous Things About England #21: Jalapenos

I love jalapenos. I love them with spread cheese (cream cheese). I love them with beans and rice. I love them in Hoppin' John. I love them in salsa. I only like them in vinegar. I've spent five years trying to source fresh jalapenos. The local veg guy will get them in if I can buy a whole bushel. I can't. The local grocery can get them in if I can buy a kilo. I can't. So I am left to make due with the sliced jalapenos in the International Foods section of the grocery store--the ones which are pickled.

A few years ago, my housemate saved my Jalapeno plants. We had a huge crop. For a few months, I was in lovely heaven. I haven't succeeded since. For now, I'm grateful for jars even if they are pickled.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Tagged in Cyberspace

I spend a lot of time untagging myself from photos on Facebook. I'm relatively unpopular for pointing out that I have a professional life, a family, and some sense of privacy, and I do get to decide whether or not someone gets to leave a picture of me up. I'm not amused by Facebook's encouragement of tagging on the fly, but I am amused by their ability to identify a stick figure as a person rather than a symbol.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Fabulous Things About England #20: Charity Bags

In England, many charities have charity shops on the high streets. They are what you might expect of a Salvation Army or Deseret Industries thrift store. Common ones in Bath include Oxfam, Dorothy House Hospice, and Julian House. Dot House and Julian House are both local charities.

Many of the charities will pick up large (both in quantity and size) donations by request, but they also put these bags through people's doors. They're large bin (trash) bags, usually with the charity's name on. You then leave the full bags outside your house on the designated day ready to pick up. It's a system that works really well. You do have to be careful to check that you're giving to a charity as there are a few questionable companies around who give the impression of being charities, take you donations, and then sell your clothing at a premium rate abroad.

Monday, 23 August 2010

I'll Be Home Soon

In the old days, we used to play a game. Every time one of us was off to see Gram, we’d take bets on which part of our appearance she’d take objection to. Our eyebrows were uneven. We needed to get our hair cut. Why didn’t we wear contact lenses? Why had we bought such ugly shoes? 

Gram and my sister C1975
Whenever we would turn up to visit, she’d insist that we borrow her clothes. In my childhood, it was a coat or a sweater here and there. And then it was her shoes. A few years ago, Gram was hospitalized after a particularly nasty attack of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. I hopped the first flight I could find out of Bristol, England to look after her while she recovered. She was feeble. She couldn’t walk the fifty feet from her bedroom to her kitchen. I spent a lot of time telling home health aids that she was using five liters of oxygen. They’d correct me and tell me that it was point five liters of oxygen. And I’d reiterate that I knew the difference between one half and five whole. Five liters of oxygen is a shedload. 

Still Gram went rummaging in her closet and handed me her shorts—four sizes too big for me—and couldn’t understand why I insisted on sticking to my skirts and dresses. Still she sent me into her closet to pull out her leopard print slippers to prove that they wouldn’t fit me. She wore a seven, I wear a ten. She insisted my feet were supposed to hang out the back.

In those first few days, I had to wash bras as, in my hurry, I had had to pack dirty laundry. As I placed them the washing machine, she insisted that I could borrow hers. There was a period in my life, twenty-years ago, when Gram and I had matching bras right down to measurement and cup size. I had to reach into the washing machine and pull out a bra to prove to her that I wore a different size. She didn’t believe me, so I stripped off and slung hers over my shoulders and stuffed myself in. “God, you have big tits,” she said. We had to revisit that scene every evening, as she tried to fathom out how I had ended up with comparatively giant tits. 

At least of my sisters was offered Grams underwear. Gram insisted on referring to the panties; I think she did it to watch me shudder at the word. Every time I visited, she’d check to make sure I was wearing my good panties because I might meet someone. Like all good Floridian Grandmothers, she tried to hook me up with every man she saw. In that last visit home, she wanted to get new dentures made not because hers were a problem, but because she thought I’d make a good match for her dentist. He might not like his wife, she told me.

Last weekend, Dad asked me to proofread her obituary. He sent me exactly a paragraph. I spent most of Thursday night thinking about how short that paragraph was. I wanted it to be longer. I wanted it to include all of the things in her life that she was proud of. I wanted it to say how thoroughly inappropriate she was. How she’d been willing to give the shirt off her back to someone who needed it more than she did. How after the love of her life died, she’d carried around a photo of John Wayne to show people who dared to ask if she was dating anyone. I wanted to say that she once walked out on a job to touch John Wayne. I wanted to say that just once she’d loved so fiercely that that love carried her through the rest of her life. I wanted to say that she’d sold condom trees in her beauty salon one Christmas. 

She Wanted All of Us to Love as Fiercely as They Did
Here’s the thing. Gram didn’t want a big deal obituary. She told me that on the way to rewrite her will. I asked if we could talk about this when I wasn’t driving. She told me I drove too slowly anyway. She didn't want me telling people any of the things I was proud of. Those were things for the family, she said. She said that she didn’t want a bunch of wailing and weeping. She wanted a mass said. She threatened to haunt me, if I wore all black. I pointed out that my suit was black. She told me that I dressed like a schoolmarm. I could buy a pair of colored shoes. She had a list for me: No weeping and wailing. No house full of whispers. No wake. What? We don’t get to get drunk and tell stories? I wondered. That we could do. I am not to pace myself. I am to drink and laugh with abandon. 

When I was very young, Gram and  Grandpa Joe lived on ten acres on the Great Plains of Colorado. When the prong-horned antelope would make and appearance, she'd wake us up and let us press our noses to the window. She'd feed us up with bacon and waffles. She filled each square with syrup and let us eat away. When Grandpa Joe died in the early nineties, I started sleeping in her room with her. I'd fall asleep to Mash re-runs and stretch my body across his side of the bed. She missed him terribly, but she still kept us in breakfast food.

Gram and Grandpa Joe on their wedding day 197?. She hated these pictures.
When I left that summer, I knew that it would be the last time I saw her. She could no longer travel, and I knew that it would be difficult for me to leave England again. I knew that she faced a terrible death. There is nothing peaceful in a COPD death. I rang home on June 23rd to say that I needed four months to get the final bits and pieces taken care of, to obtain a new visa, to find work, and then I’d be home. Dad called early Thursday morning. Gram had died peacefully in the night. She was 78.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Fabulous Things About England # 19: Meat off the Back of a Lorry

Butcher Lorry, Chippenham Town Center
Generally if you say you bought or were given something off the back of a lorry (truck), the item has unknown origins. Though people generally use the term to mean that they bought the item from a car-boot sale (flea market) or from an ad in the paper, the saying itself implies that the item is (or may well be) stolen.

Just to confuse the matter, you can buy fruit, veg, and meat off the back of a lorry and actually mean that you bought it from the farmer literally off the back of his lorry. This is what's happening in the photo above. This is a refrigerated lorry which visits Chippenham town centre once a week. The prices are low because you're buying directly from the farmer. The farmer sees a higher profit because he's selling directly to the public. And by all accounts the meat is excellent.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Fabulous Things About England # 18: Drying, Drying, Drying

This is my dryer.

This is my full dryer.

I live in a masonette. By definition it's part of a larger building. There are two bedrooms upstairs, and a kitchen and lounge (den, family room, living room) downstairs. We have no garden (back or front yard)  access, so hanging clothes to dry outside isn't an option. In high summer when the humidity is low, clothes generally take 18 hours to dry. If they were hung outside, they'd take a third of that time. If there were a breeze, they'd take an hour.

In the winter, clothes take a bit less time to dry inside because the humidity is usually down. Clothes left on radiators dry in an hour or so for light t-shirts. The English generally only keep their heating on when they are at home. So, radiator drying has to take place when we're at home. If we've both put off laundry for too long, the house becomes one giant drying rack. Sheets get hung on doors. Jeans get hung on kitchen chairs, towels are hung across radiators and so on. It's not a good plan since it raises the humidity in the house; therefore, it slows the drying process.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Fabulous Things About England #17: Washing Machines and How to get the Mold Out

This is my washing machine.

Like most English washing machines it lives in my kitchen.

I hear that many Americans are moving toward front loading machines. As usual the newfangled in America has long been the old school in Europe. If it's space saving, you can practically guarantee it has been used for eons on this side of the pond. See also dorm fridges, drawer freezers, and most of your flat-pack furniture. Ditto for energy saving. But that is tomorrow's post on dryers.

Back in my days at Indiana University, the powers of the universe replaced all of the top loading machines with front loaders. We were annoyed. At first, this was because the machines also came with higher prices. And with much grumbling and insisting the things were energy saving (really should have been more on board with that but this was before the tech crash of 2000), the powers that be agreed that once the new machines were paid for the extra money would go to some student service or another. I wonder if that actually happened.

My later complaint was that I couldn't open the machines and pull out garments I didn't want to go through the spin cycle or garments that I hadn't meant to put in on a hot wash. When I made those very frequent mistakes, I also couldn't change the temperature of the water by flipping a switch. I shrunk almost all of my jumpers (sweaters) that year. I still think the trustees owe me several woolens.I'm fairly certain the one I suggested that to would be gleeful to know that I now have one of those front loaders in my kitchen.

The problem with front loaders is of course mold. And the problem with front loaders in the land of hard water is limescale. And the problem with front loaders in the land of limescale and mold is the movement toward highly concentrated liquid soap use on thirty degree cycles (86 F, a cool wash). Add an American without a clue to that, and you get some pretty nasty stuff.

How to Avoid Giant Mold Growing Appliance (Or I am not an expert. Call your machine's maker for advice)

  • If you wash your clothing using a liquid detergent at any temperature, you really need to use a water softening tablet as well. And you guessed it, that just ups the miles your detergent travels and the weight of that detergent. Powder and powder tablets already have the the water softener added. Lack of softener in most of England will lead to limescale buildup which will eventually lead to your machine dying. It is more ecologically sound to use an old energy guzzling machine than to buy a new one. And like all machines, machines without buildup are much more energy efficient.
  • Detergents build up. If you don't believe me, run your machine on empty  without adding detergent (on a hot wash because that's the solution to the problem anyway) and watch all of those soap suds in your handy window. See the above problems with limescale, and add to that new detergent not getting through to your clothes and old detergent molding. The solution is to do at least one hot wash a week. Sheets, pants (underwear) and towels should be done on a hot wash anyway. So you don't have to add an extra load every week. And pour a kettle of hot water down the drain pipe now and then. This last isn't a bad idea for all of your drain pipes.
  • Your detergent drawer is made to come out of the machine and be thoroughly scrubbed on a regular basis. I do ours once a month, and it's not enough. It's a good idea to place your detergent directly into the tub rather than into your drawer as this avoids the problem all together. Read your washing detergent instructions and your machine instructions as all of these things are variable. I know you'll do this anyway because as I mentioned at the top, I'm not an expert.
  • When you open the door to your machine, you'll note the rubber seal has many puckers. After each wash, dry the entirety of that seal with a towel. You'll be amazed at how much water gets trapped in there. It will grow mold, impossible to remove mold, if left to its own devices.
  • Leave the door open whenever you're not using the machine. It'll dry it out and keep down the mold and damp (mildew) in the machine. If you have a tendency to close things without noticing, you'll want to place a tea towel (kitchen towel) in between the door and the seal. It'll stop the door from actually shutting.
  • Your machine also has a filter. Clean it once a week. Make sure you have a towel handy when you pull it out of the machine. It's meant to keep your drains from blocking, but it has to be cleaned for that to work. If it hasn't been cleaned you will end up with a bunch of mold inside it.
Once the mold is in, it is a complete nightmare to get out. Because of how the machines are made and the amount of plastic and rubber in them, straight bleach is NOT an option. Read your machine instructions for helpful hints. I'm not going to tell you how to handle the situation because most of the solutions on offer can also lead to the death of your machine. I will tell you that I spent two days one sunny day in May with a tooth brush and two litters of vinegar. My housemate being English knew none of this. So, it falls to me to make these things happen because she doesn't really believe me. Next week is going to involve another toothbrush a ton of elbow grease. It's tempting to start doing the whole household's laundry.

Tomorrow, I'll introduce you to my dryer. Right now I have an appointment with my kettle.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Brolly Damp: The Secret Life of Mold Revisited

This is my brolly.
You'll notice it is open in the house. I'm trying to dry it properly.


Failure to dry one's brolly properly leads to small white deposits known in England as damp. Damp is mildew. Damp stinks. Damp sets off my asthma. Damp, if left to its own devices, will disintegrate brolly fabric. And a tattered brolly does very little good. I know this because I am very good at forgetting the wet brollies I've left in my handbag. A toothbrush, a bit of vinegar, and good drying out will fix this one. I hope. 

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Pickled What? Part II

The grocery store aisles are too narrow for me to get the whole shelf. But that's two rows of beetroot and three rows of onions, all pickled. The yellow jars to the left are Piccalilli. It's apparently widely consumed in the states as well, but I had never seen it before moving to England. Just below that is Pickle. That's relish in American. To the right are bottles of malted vinegar which is proof that the universe loves me. There is nothing better to put on chips (fries), as a flavoring for crisps (chips), or as a replacement for ranch dressing. Ranch dressing is very hard to come by in England.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Fabulous Things about England # 16: Cylinder Hoovers

This is Henry

He's known here affectionately as Henry Hoover; though, he has never been a product of the Hoover vacuum company. The English don't vacuum they hoover. I was raised to love upright vacuums. My mother had a Hoover upright from the time she married my father until we moved to Indiana. That twenty-year-old machine still worked fine. It just wouldn't fit in the truck. When Mom went to buy a new machine she insisted that she wouldn't have a canister vacuum. I don't know why not. Canisters are much more common than uprights in England. I suspect this is to do with tight corners, tiny rooms, ceiling cornicing, and narrow staircases. People here invest in Henry vacuums because they go on and on and on. I've had to settle for my desktop version; he lives next to the penguin on the bookshelf.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Fabulous Things about England # 15: Electrical Socket Switches

Electrical sockets which can be individually turned on and off please me no end. I don't have to go digging under the shade to turn off a lamp. I can glance at the wall to make sure the kettle and toaster are off. And I don't have to unplug the television after every use. I can just flip a switch.

The left hand side is on.

Stoves (hobs) and ovens (cookers) tend to not only have on/off switches on the sockets they're plugged into, but they are also individually fused. This is also the case for refrigerators, freezers, washing machines and dryers. The large red switch here is the fuse to the mircorwave. The smaller red switch is the on/off switch for the outlet. And the microwave can (and should) be turned on and off on its own.
If you've known me for any length of time, you're aware that I am a magnet for unintentional fires. I'm a bit obsessive now about making sure appliances are turned off before I leave the flat. I say this is because I don't want to waste energy, but it's really about not coming home to a burned out flat. I really like being able to tell at a glance that everything is safely off. I did once flip the switch for the fridge by mistake. Oops! But no fire.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Fabulous Things about England # 14

Occasionally, I come across a sign that isn't necessarily there for my safety. The sinks in this seaside public toilet were far too small for my hands never mind my feet.
Since the sign was put up by the local council, it is safe to assume it was placed because people were washing their children in and breaking the sinks.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Susie Sells Seashells by the Seashore

It's difficult for me to explain why I dislike spending the day on Florida's Gulf Coast, the only seashore I've spent any time on in the States. I love playing in the water, but the sun and the heat get to me. I enjoy playing in the sand, but I am completely disgusted by the trash that washes up on the beaches. I haven't seen the gulf coast in at least seven years despite a three month stay a few years ago. It wasn't that I was opposed to walking the beach. I just knew that I'd get bored. I find sitting on a beach alone mind-numbing. I have the same problem in airport lounges.

A dear friend's youngest turned one this past week. We went to the seaside to celebrate. I love the English seaside. The difference has everything to do with boredom. I suppose towns in the North East of the US probably would equally keep me entertained. In addition to the steam fair, crazy golf (miniature golf), arcades, and a view of Wales, a visit to the English seaside town of Weston-super-Mare includes:

Donkey Rides for Children

The donkeys walk down the beach and trot back.

A family game of cricket. Boy could she throw.

Weston-s-Mare is notoriously stingy with its water. We were lucky to see the actual sea at all.

The sea rolled out within an hour of our arrival. 

That's all right though. These concrete paddling pools hold some of the water on the beach. It's tempting to try to walk out towards the disappearing sea. Of course, that's exactly what the quicksand wants you to think.

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