Happy Day After Thanksgiving!

We are visiting Bill’s family in England for Thanksgiving -- five short days. There was no turkey dinner or Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. However, the English have chosen to celebrate another more modern American tradition: Black Friday. Yes, we Americans eat the turkey and celebrate the voyage that originated in Plymouth, England; then we wake up Friday morning to mania in the stores and in our email boxes. And English retailers have latched onto this day-after tradition. Bizarre.

Bill’s mum gave us our Christmas present early: evening tickets to a musical, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, in London on Thanksgiving night. Waking up at 11 a.m., we had a bit of a late start and found ourselves at Buckingham Palace to watch the guards march around 4:00; then we strolled around Green Park near the Canada Gate -- a memorial area dedicated to Canadian forces killed in the First and Second World Wars.

From there, Will wanted to check out the famous London toy shop: Hamley's. The five floors of toys was filled with a festive buzz and lots of smiles. Each floor had employees playing with toys, so we could see how much fun they were. It worked. Bill explored with Will, and I went with Liam. In a half hour we met and compared what the boys wanted. Bill and I each had a remote-controlled clone in our hands. They were very cool little gizmos. The man flying it around the shop landed it on his nose; his expertise showed he had been doing this a while. The drones took the air with lights flashing and four little helicopter blades spinning. The flying toy easily fit in the palm of my hand.

For Thanksgiving supper, we had delicious baguette sandwiches from a coffee shop then walked around the corner to the theater. The magic of live theater, while eating a Wonka chocolate bar, kept the smiles and awe on our faces, just as the drones had done.

From the theater, we hopped aboard a double-decker bus. The the best seats were available – upper deck front row! We imagined we were on the Knight Bus from Harry Potter, white-knuckled as the driver wheeled around some of the tight corners.

When we opened the door to the house around midnight, we were all wired. “Can we try the drones?” Sure, but don’t fly them where there are glass ornaments; don’t fly them in the kitchen. No sooner said did Liam’s drone mistakenly take off from the kitchen table and zip straight up to the ceiling and drop straight back down. Into my hair.

I cringe when I see bats flying around. It probably isn’t a logical fear that they would get caught in my hair. It’s never happened to anyone I know. I also know no one who’d had a drone get caught in their hair. We all laughed. Then Bill had the brilliant thought that perhaps Liam should turn the thing off. So the blades would stop spinning. In my hair. And I noticed that when I turned my head, it hurt. Right in the front at the hairline, one blade was wrapped so tightly it was pulling my scalp.

Serious de-tangling ensued with Bill working as gently as he could to get the four blades out of my hair. “Mom, I’m so, so sorry!” Liam kept saying. “Get the scissors!” Bill directed. “No, you can’t do that!” Liam exclaimed. “I won’t cut much out,” Bill assured.

As for me, I was caught between a grimace and a chortle. Will sat stiffly and watched my face, trying to judge how painful it was. After 15 minutes, I was free of the drone. “Mom, I’m so sorry!” said Liam again. No more drones were flown in the house last night.

Today, we took them to a park. Liam’s wasn’t working very well. Up close, I saw the problem. Hair wrapped around the blades. Black hair. Had I been seconds away from my hair catching light? Or, had another mother with black hair been ensnared before me? Had they then returned it to Hamley’s in the original package to be resold to us?

All in all, Thanksgiving in London was a wonderful time with my family… and as exciting as Thanksgiving 2009... when we set the oven on fire.

Hoping you had a wonderful, relatively uneventful Thanksgiving Day!

(Do you remember the other Reel Hairy Tale?)

June Numbers

It has been a week of more numbers than words. On a rainy afternoon, two boys... saved one worm.

One little, untouched Christmas fruit cake from England --  red ribbon removed -- was converted to an Englishman's birthday cake.  The one green tree and one blue candle represented the golf course.

Only one person ate the fruit cake.

Here are the Squirrel Numbers -- also concise.

The Farmer in the Family

I had a minor surgery last Hump Day. As it was late in the day, I stayed overnight in the hospital. Bill came to get me in the morning. With the general anesthesia still clouding my brain, this is the first story I recall from Bill that morning. Bill woke up at 5 a.m. to go to the bathroom, and he saw a tarantula. I don't have all the details etched in my smoky mind, but both times he saw it -- at 5 and a bit later when he woke up -- it was tucked into a tight corner and he couldn't get it with a fly swatter or a glass , so he pulled shut the bathroom door. It was a bee that had bumbled its way into our house. I told Bill I would take care of it when I got home. "No, I can do it."

This happens every year. The first year, after finding three or four bees upstairs, I had a pest control guy come out. He assured us that the bees we found were simply hitchhikers that hopped a ride on someone's clothing. I don't buy it for a minute. Here is the problem:

With the plunging cold temperatures gone, rhododendron droop has subsided, and this is the view from outside our dining room window.  The rhododendron is below a second floor spare bedroom window.  This giant beauty is nestled outside the portion of our house that was built in 1880.  Big bumble bees love these blossoms.  They roll in the blossoms like pigs in shit.

And I'm convinced that in a pollen-drunken state they meander into a little hole in the old wooden window frame upstairs, get dazed and confused in the thin walls, and of all that enter, perhaps four a season end up inside the house. Then, far away from that sweet nectar and after the treacherous journey to the inside, the biggest one will meet an Englishman in a bathroom at 5 a.m.

When I got home from the hospital, I walked upstairs right by the bumble bee -- he had made his way to the stairs. "Oh, there's your bee," I stated as I walked by him. "OK, I'll get it... How many times do you think I'll need to hit it?" "Well, I don't know, Bill. It's a pretty big bug. What do you think?" No answer. Bill reappeared with a fly swatter and gave the bee a big thud on the head. And the bee bounced toward Bill. "It came after me!" "It didn't -- it bounced off the stairs from the impact of the fly swatter." Basketball is not a popular sport in England, so I didn't bother to use the term "rebound."

At the top of the stairs, the bathroom door was still shut tight with no apparent crack from which the bee could have escaped. Bill approached the door armed with the fly swatter in ready position. As he touched the doorknob, I stung him in the back with my finger. Oh my goodness, the poor Englishman hit the ceiling! And I found the sore spots from a belly laugh so soon after surgery.

Yesterday morning, the story came full circle. In our barn loft, we are experiencing squirrel hell. I fully anticipate writing the Squirrel Saga, but often times I can't write until the trauma subsides a bit, and we've been at it for weeks now. In the here and now, we have live squirrel traps on the roof of the barn and upstairs in the barn loft. They need to be checked daily. We can see the one on the roof, but we need to go up to the loft -- into the corner farthest from the stairs --and check the other one.

So here's yesterday's deal from Bill: "One of my colleagues at work had a bat in her bedroom. As she put it, there are girl jobs and there are boy jobs. And the bat was a boy job. As I see it, going up to the loft to check that squirrel trap is neither a boy job or a girl job. It's a farmer's job."

As Grandma Murphy would've concisely put it, with a sharp sting in the words:

Damn it.

An English Slug

Jet lag. Lying in bed mouthing, “I must sleep.” And the mind is no where near contemplating this possibility. That is the back drop for the most recent philosophical chat with 8-yr-old Liam. In the dark at 2 a.m. in England over Christmas. The last big question he put out there was: “Are slugs nocturnal?” The question may have been cows in Iowa or the squirrels at home. But in England: slugs.

Honestly, I didn’t know, but it was a thought-provoking question. As Liam drifted off, my mind latched onto the question. I think slugs just move as they can where they can. Certainly they can’t think, “Ahhh, dusk is approaching! I must hurry to shelter!” No, I think they just sleep where they get tired, be it day or night.

We gave up trying to get the boys adjusted to English time; they slept until very late morning and went to bed no earlier than midnight. A week later, again another philosophical discussion in bed, in the wee English hours. “Mom,” Liam started hotly, “Slugs ARE nocturnal! I stepped on one tonight walking back to Grandma’s from Auntie’s! My socks got all sluggy!”

I nearly gagged. English slugs are big. This is a healthy English slug, next to my sister-in-law's finger:

Ooo-ga. I really felt for the kid! That was not worm squishin’ that was creature squishin.’ With only socks on to boot. I had forgotten our conversation the following morning; otherwise, I would have thrown that pair of socks away along with the ones caked in mud.

And now I'm wondering, in my cold-induced jet-lagged state, how big does a spider, worm, bug, or rodent need to be to elevate it to an unsquishable creature? Of course, there is no generic answer for that, for we all have different tolerance levels. From English to Iowan standards, I'm somewhere in between.

(These tolerance levels between Bill's family and my family are best portrayed, respectively, in Uncovering the Real England: Spiders and Dancing with a Foreign City Slicker.)

Book Draggin'

Before I joined Bill and the boys in England for Christmas,  I elected to do a private bag drag to Paris, on my own for 36 hours. Yes, I elected myself -- because who else would elect me to go to Paris by myself?  I spent a little more to get there rather than go straight to England, but… no regrets. Well, perhaps, one.  I packed a small roll-aboard to be checked at Logan.  After packing what I would need for 36 hours in Paris, my little bag was only half full.  Elation!  That left plenty of room to pack what I love best to drag with me: books.

I knew I would be taking a commuter train from Charles de Gaulle airport to the Paris Nu Gord station and then getting on the Metra once in the city.  What I hadn’t anticipated was emerging from the underground train station via three long flights of stairs to the surface of Paris.  Facing those stairs, I decided to just drag the stacked bags up them, rather than separately holding my carry-on bag, which also contained books, and the roll-aboard bag.

The first French words I heard directed toward me came from behind, “Madame! Madame!”  The tone packed a double meaning: ‘you ding-a-ling’ and ‘let me help you’ as this woman graciously picked up the back end of my bag combo and helped me lug it up two sets of stairs.  “Merci, Madame!  Merci!” is all I could reply because I don’t know how to say, “Yes, I am a ding-a-ling, and I can’t believe I tried to do that.  Could I look any more like an American tourist if I tried? Thank you so very much for helping me!” in French.

After that whirlwind visit, I packed my books and took a taxi back to the Charles de Gaulle airport.


Packing to leave England, I put most of the books in the suitcases that would be checked, including the children’s books I had bought while in England.  I volunteered to do all the packing of the four big suitcases.  Although unspoken, I'm pretty sure Bill and I both know that’s best.  He only needs to physically haul these bags that always get a big orange “HEAVY” label on them.  It would be more emotionally painful for both of us for Bill to actually see how many books were in the cases.  Particularly, since his travel reading material consists of just one Kindle in his backpack.


On the plane coming home from England, a silver-haired gentleman heaved a carry-on into the bin above me.  I flinched.  After take-off, he brought it down and took it back to his seat.  I didn’t see what he took out, but in just moments he re-stashed the bag above my head.  When we landed, he approached me with many books in his hand.  I looked away, giggled, then looked back and smiled as he was about to lay his stack of books on the aisle floor.  Yuck!  “Sir!  Excuse me!  I’ll put my tray down for your books while you get your bag out.”  In an accent unidentifiable to my ear – Queen’s English? Australian? American? – he perfectly enunciated, “Why, thank you. That’s so kind.”  I tried not to look at the titles.  That felt like an invasion of privacy, but I couldn’t help see ‘Virginia Wolf’ on one of the bindings.  Serious reading.

My generosity sparked conversation.  “What do you do?” he asked.  “I’m a writer.”  “Really?  What do you write?” “I write 1st-person humor and nostalgia essays, and I publish them on my blog, lindamalcolm.com.”  “Ahh, do you have a card?” “Yes, but they are packed away in my checked luggage.”  With all those books.  I asked, “What do you do? I see you are a reader!” “Yes, I’m also a writer… of books.”

Then, through the shuffling of passengers, he disembarked. Leaving a hole of information that I want filled: Reader and author of books who flew from London to Newark, what do you write?  And… thank you for carrying eight to ten paperback novels with you on-board.  It was comforting to meet another serious book dragger.

A friend once told me, "Books are like money: I just need them to live."

(Have you ever smelled Norton's Anthology of Poetry?  That's how poems are meant to be smelled, ... er... read.  Like Wordsworth's "Daffodils.")

English garden inspiration

With the house addition/renovation finished, it's time to fix up the flower beds outside. For inspiration, I've looked back through pictures I took  in England. Some of these were growing in lanes and some in various gardens. Some may be weeds rather than flowers, but if it's a pretty weed, it gets a good solid chance in my garden. Happy Hump Day...

(Here's a close-up of An English Field of Flowers.)

Live from Gloucester, MA!

I have a new computer, and all of my old stuff is on it!  Even those 30 shots of an English rose -- clear, blurry, and/or questionable.  Love digital, but I don't sort out the good from the bad.  I just dump them on the computer to store.  You know... so they're safe. Bill's hand is recovering nicely.  As of Friday, no more twice daily hydrogen peroxide baths.  We've passed the two-week mark on daily antibiotic infusions.  Two to four weeks remaining.  Unfortunately, with the pick-line in, that means Bill can't get wet.  (In case you missed the beginning of this story, here it is -- in a round-about way...) In February, we planned the summer with water in mind.  Since the 24th of June, we've been waking up to kayaks, fishing boats, lobster boats, and motor boats on the Annisquam River.

With construction progressing on our addition, we moved out of our house as we flew to England on May 26th.  Literally.  We threw wet towels and toothbrushes on top of a 2-foot high pile of stuff on the dining room table as we scrambled out the door at 6 a.m. to catch a plane.  Everything from the kitchen and living room, which are being renovated, has been shoved into the dining room and toy room, which will remain unchanged.

We came back from England and checked into a hotel for two weeks, including the last week of school.  While in England, the builders took over the house, gutted some of the rooms, and put up framing that now marks the new rooms inside.  Now, it looks more like the architectural drawings than it looks like our old house.

In the three houses we have owned, we have had add-on plans for "some day."  Twenty years later, this is some day.  With the scope of work, we couldn’t try to live in the house.

We decided to rent a house for the summer on Cape Ann in Gloucester, a town about 40 minutes or so from our house.  It feels like it’s a flight away: watching lobster boats with seagulls chasing them early in the morning, seeing the Annisquam lighthouse flashing at night, structuring our days around high and low tide.  It has a bit of an island feel to it.  Really, we are living unstructured days around the tides.

We could have chosen to rent an apartment inland, but we chose something different.  A summer adventure.  After all, today is some day.



Uncovering the Real England: Cream

Hello from Salad-Land… North Shore, Massachusetts. I wrote the following a couple weeks ago while I was in the land of English Cream. Oh, the decadence of it. On vacation in England, sitting in the sun in Bill’s mum’s English garden, drinking a cup of coffee with a big glug of English double cream in it. Double cream pours out of the tub like a thick crepe batter.

In England, cigarette wrappers are prominently marked, “SMOKING KILLS.” I wonder how many more decades will pass before double cream, clotted cream, single cream, and any other full-fat cousins, will have a similar warning.

Still, in the Malcolm house in England, a lighter version of cream is now in the fridge: Elmlea. Elmlea can be purchased as a single cream or a double cream, but the dead giveaway that it’s a fraud: it doesn’t float to the top of the coffee when poured – at least the single version didn’t when I poured it into my coffee. I read the ingredients to see how Elmlea is lightened: Added vegetable oil. Processed. I can’t remember the exact grams and what the serving size was, but this is an exaggerated, approximated ratio: 3,000 to 2,500. To which I ask, why bother? So, the last half of the trip, I used the real thing.

Double cream has multiple purposes, in addition to floating on coffee.  When eating trifle, Yule log, and most other spoon-eaten desserts, cream is slathered over the top. Nowadays, I try to get to the distribution point to stop this pour – with the exception of the Yule log.

On one of these pourings, which initially felt over-the-top, I had a couple déjà vu moments. Growing up, Dad poured milk over every cake dessert, and as kids, we used to break up graham crackers, sprinkle sugar on them, and reduce them to mush with milk. Then there is the famous cookie that loves milk: Oreos. This smothering of milk products over food was not as foreign to me as I initially thought.

But back to cream.

For the first 18 years of my life, I drank raw, whole, straight-from-the-cow milk. I remember pulling 2-quart pitchers from the fridge in the morning and being disgusted by 1 ½ inches of cream on the top. We would ladle it off and dump it down the drain. Every single chunky bit needed to be gone before we would pour it on our cereal.

Fast forward 23 years to cream tea.  It's up for discussion which is spread first on the scone: jam or clotted cream, but either way, the combination of sweet and rich atop a fresh scone and accompanied by English tea... mmmm.  That's a "cream tea."

Clotted cream originates from Devonshire in England and it spreads like butter. The most memorable cream tea I’ve had was next to a clapper bridge on the Dartmoor in Devon. Scones & jam served on paper plates with tubs of clotted cream: ¼ pound per person.  Fortunately, as I sat down on a rock next to a clapper bridge, my tub rolled into the stream, so Bill and I shared one.

Since first having clotted cream in 1989, I’ve browsed recipes trying to work out how it’s made. One specified, “First, go to a local farm for fresh milk, preferably from Jersey cows.” I love it when a recipe is an adventure.  Some day.  Probably not in Iowa.  Most dairy cows I see there are Holsteins. Probably not in England. I don’t know any farmers. Perhaps Vermont, known for its small dairies and friendly community. And, home of Ben & Jerry’s: the frozen American cousin of clotted cream.


The rest of the summer I write about salads and fish. However, I still sip coffee with half & half every morning and think back to that double cream rich coffee morning in an English garden.

P.S. This recipe for clotted cream looks pretty simple and true to recipes I found in English cookbooks, but I haven’t tried it myself. I’m afraid to. Honestly, it’s in my best interest to let clotted cream remain on English soil... with goose fat.

Jubilee Sunday

Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee, celebrating 60 years on the throne, is Tuesday, June 5th.  We are visiting Bill’s home isle during a very patriotic time. On Sunday the 3rd, Queen Elizabeth kicked off festivities in a pageant down the Thames: a parade of 1,000 boats.  It was pouring with rain, which the commentators explained “couldn’t dampen this day – typical British weather!”  The Queen looked royal and happy when we saw her lead off the parade.

Just after the Queen boarded the Royal Barge beginning her historical journey down the Thames, another group – Bill’s mum and sister, friend Jane, and I – embarked on a journey toward afternoon cream tea at Hanbury Manor, a stately hotel in the countryside near Ware, Hertfordshire, England. Not only is June 5th the Queen’s Jubilee, it is also Bill’s mum’s 80th birthday.  Jane was treating Bill’s mum to afternoon cream tea for her birthday, and Ann was treating me as an early birthday present.  In America I would say, “Wonderful!”  On the Island, I say, “Lovely!”

Tea commenced in the Oak Hall…

… and it really was lovely.

Dark wooden walls ensconced small conversation areas of big royal chairs circling tables of white linen set with fine English china.  Each of us had a pot of tea.  (Mine was decaf as the night before my heart nearly thumped out of my body after the rations of caffeine during the day… multiple cups of coffee and tea, dotted with a couple Diet Cokes at the pub the night before.)

I wondered about the tea strainer on the table.  Alas, this was real tea – with tea leaves floating inside each of our pots!  Soon the centerpieces were delivered: tiered trays of afternoon delights.  On the bottom plate were finger sandwiches of smoked salmon, beef, egg salad, and cucumber.  The middle plate – to my heart’s delight – scones, clotted cream, and strawberry jam.  And finally on top, was dessert.  Tiny pastries of chocolate, fruit, custard, and walnut bread.  Two hours later,  we drove home in the rain.

And as for the Queen?  The river parade had ended by the time we returned home.  I think the Queen’s – and her court’s – enthusiasm waned a bit during the water parade.

On the far left, Princess Kate, holding up that new-princess smile.  Next to her, Prince Philip consulting Prince Charles over… the weather?  Between the two of them, Camilla.  To the far right, big brother Prince William consoling little brother Prince Harry over… the weather?  And, finally, Queen Elizabeth between the sets of Princes.  Personally, I think she would have enjoyed an afternoon cream tea.  (Double-click the picture to enlarge the story.)

Despite the rain, both were historical events.

By the way, great pictures from the royal parade on the Thames are on the Daily Mail’s site.

Canal Transport

I’m game to try all modes of transport – or most anyway.  If it’s a one person doo-dad, I do best on my own.  Not as a passenger.  Ski-doos, bikes, and mopeds fall into this category.  As with ballroom dancing, I like to lead. Our journey to Bath landed us on the River Avon, one of four such named in England.  Long skinny barges were parked along the river’s edge.  The definition of barge and lock widened -- or narrowed -- in my mind when I first saw these in England. Until then, my point of reference was barges and locks on the Mississippi River.  Barges in England carry charm and quaintness, unlike their floating counterparts on the Mississippi.  I have always thought this would be a lovely way to see the English countryside, to find small out-of-the-way pubs… to relax.

Barges first sailed canals and rivers via horse power – the four-legged kind.  A tow rope would run between barge and horse; then the horse would walk along the canal slowly dragging the barge with it.  Today, canals have towpaths next to them which were worn by horses' hooves years ago.

Lock systems are in place to move boats through varying depths/heights of water.  This engineering feat still amazes me; however, I had never seen anything like this which is outside Bath.

A series of 14 locks built in the 1800’s.  Under the bridge we were on and farther downstream was another series of 13 locks.  These are all manual locks.  It takes 7 hours to move through them.  Ahhh.  Seven hours of solitude.  Perhaps writing or reading.  Similar to walking 26 miles or stirring a pot of risotto for a half hour.  That’s it.  That’s all you could do: focus on one thing.

Would there be enough books, drawing paper, origami paper, LEGOS to manage a creeping voyage for 6-, 8- and 50-something year-olds?  For the Malcolms, this vehicle might work best if I flew solo, like the moped, because this looks incredibly boring in the best possible way.

(When Bill thinks about traveling with me, the word vacation isn't what comes to mind... Book Draggin'.)

A Picture Worth 2,000 Years

The four of us had a 3-day excursion to Bath this week.  While the 80-degree weather brought on a drought of bottled water, it did make for great blue English skies and dry sight-seeing. We spent most of one day at the Roman Baths.  We each had handheld audio-guide sets with separate recordings for adults and kids.  Bill Bryson occasionally provided narration about areas within the baths, including one from the vantage point of this picture.  In this one picture is a short story covering the years AD 43 through 2012.

The Romans landed in England in AD 43 and eventually built baths around the hot springs and named this small town Aqua Sulis: today’s city of Bath.  In the picture, the lowest floor level is from Roman times.  The pool and the broken pillars to the left are original.   Zooming in on the picture, the dark bottom portion of the walls is also from that period.  As the Romans lost power, they vacated these baths in the 300’s, and four feet of mud and land filled in the site, preserving the lower part of the Roman construction for hundreds of years.

Since 757, three different churches have stood next to the ruins of the Roman baths.  The third, founded in 1499, was the last medieval cathedral built in England: the Bath Abbey in the center of the picture.  It was in ruins for 70 years beginning in 1539 and gradually brought back to her current state with additions and repairs beginning in 1616 continuing through the 1800’s.

In 1880 – just yards away from the abbey – the Roman Baths were discovered and excavated from their cushion of earth.  By the end of the 1800’s, the colonnades & statues were added to the bath ruins.

Finally, to the right in the picture, is a “modern day” building that houses 21st century shops with blue awnings.

Love this.  Nearly 2,000 years of history in one single picture.

Small things

Today, I can only manage small pieces of thoughts on paper. Fire in the hole.  The orange glow of my hair dryer frying in England and the orange glow of the afterburners on jets at the air show six hours later: identical.  By smell, the jets were powerful and the hair dryer… well, just that yucky "shouldn’t-have-done-that" smell.

Before having kids, I didn’t know that you could go to bed six times in one night.

Dreaming the impossible.  Liam, “Mom, could we just move our whole house next door to Grandma’s so I can cuddle with her whenever I want?”

Air shows and walking:  a juxtaposition.  This weekend’s sport was very sedentary compared to last weekend’s.  Air show observation: Many male spectators in the same age bracket… about the same age as Tom Cruise was when he filmed “Top Gun.”

Getting paid as a mom.  I paid to ride the bird to England and to hear a flight attendant say, “Your boys are so polite and well-mannered.  You wouldn’t believe what we have to put up with sometimes.”  My voice: “Thank you!”  My silent voice: “Oh my gosh, thank you, thank you, thank you.”  Followed by my thought: “You mean like when 2-year-old Will had pneumonia and screamed all the way home from England – in the row right behind 1st class?”  We have all had our moments, but as related to flying – sometimes thankfully – we will never see those people again.

The English population doubles when the sun comes out and it’s 80 degrees.  Petrol stations run out of water, “Well, the sun is shining you see!”  Hoards of delicately colored English dash outside without sunscreen, only to see who looks more like a lobster Monday morning at work.  Screaming red is a painful color.

Liam, observing Grandma’s iron goose door holder that had fallen over.  “It’s dead right, Mom?  It’s RIP.  It’s with God.  Right, Mom?”

“I can’t do this!!!” Will, facing the line of at least a couple hundred people ahead of us at immigration.  Thank you, Steph, for the year of ancient civilizations.  A game of “What Greed god starts with the letter “X”?” got us through, dare I say, happily?  Then those Greek gods smiled down upon us as a woman opened the cordoned path and said, “You have small children.  Go to the front of the line.”

Uncovering the Real England: Spiders

A wolf spider sat quietly just inside Mom's back door tonight in an old Country Crock margine bowl.  Motionless.  But he was only playing possum.  He moved when I picked up the bowl and gently set it outside on the cement bench.  It reminded me of a brief spider encounter I had in England a few years ago.

... from a 2009 journal entry...

Hertfordshire Horror.  A large spider found in the county of Hertfordshire, England.  I've heard they can be as big as the palm of your hand.  Finding one in your house: the dread of that puts Horror in its nickname.  However, with no screens on the windows and the windows flying open to catch a breeze, the invitation is open for the Horrors and their smaller cousins to gravitate inward.

On the night we arrived in England, Bill’s mum announced from the upstairs bathroom, “There’s a spider in the bathroom!”  That set the next 15-minute scene into action.  My 40-something husband (despite being married to an Iowa farm girl for 18 years) and sister-in-law went into English spider-removal mode.  Fortunately, it was a smaller spider, not a Horror.  “Stay here, Anne, I’ll take care of it!”  I imagine an anti-spider cape springing from Bill’s shoulders as he ascended the stairs.  “OK, it’s under a glass... we need something to slide under the glass.  A lid.”  Finding this amusing, I simply stood back and watched. 

Anne came up to help, bringing some kind of a lid with her.  Then came the logistical challenge: how do you get the lid under the glass without the spider escaping?  With a loud combined effort, the three eventually worked it out.  Anne zoomed down the stairs, “OK, Bill, I’ve got the door open!”  Bill flew out of the bathroom and down the stairs.  They both went out the door… and disappeared.  I went out to see where they were: two blocks down the street they released the spider.  Probably after spinning in a circle three times to confuse it so it wouldn’t make its way back to the house.  Reminiscent of two teenagers, they walked back giggling with relief.  I met them at the door, amazed that getting rid of a spider could take that long.  “You make life so difficult!”

The next day, I saw a spider – not a Horror –  in June’s kitchen.  It was tightly tucked into the back corner.  I couldn’t get it without moving the table and chairs.  As the week went on, it gradually journeyed closer to the back door.  On day 7, and in the house by myself, I was able to reach it by standing on a kitchen chair.  Squish, wipe, flush.  Five seconds, job done.

I know spiders are good: they eat other bugs.  But there are hundreds of thousands of them out there.  I’m writing this secretly on English soil.  It feels like a confession of guilt.  I’ve broken an assumed spider-protection law. 

...end of journal entry... 

(More Dancing with a Foreign City Slicker...)

Uncovering the Real England: Roasted Potatoes

(Written February 2010) Regularly a part of an English dinner, roasted potatoes are crackly and perfectly browned on the outside and soft on the inside. I make roasted vegetables at home. I collect a variety of hardy root vegetables: potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips. Then I cube them into my big 60’s barely-yellow mixing bowl, drizzle enough olive oil on to cover them, add salt and pepper – and maybe a little fresh chopped rosemary – and roast them in a 400+ degree oven. After fifteen minutes, I flip them so they roast evenly. They are OK, but they never come out with that great English crunch covering.

Last night I was keeping Anne company in the kitchen while she was making dinner. Steak and kidney pie (steak and mushroom for me), roasted potatoes and parsnips, carrots, green beans, and gravy. We were just waiting on the roasted potatoes. I hadn’t seen the beginning of the process, so I asked Anne exactly what she had done. Anne explained that she had peeled the potatoes, cut them in half, and parboiled them for five minutes. Then she put them in the roasting pan with fat. I hovered to watch the roasting process, looking for the secret of why mine weren’t English. After several minutes in the oven, Anne checked on them. She pulled the pan out, tilted it to one side, and spooned fat from the gully at the bottom of the pan over the potatoes.

Stateside Problem #1: I never use that much oil.

We had a brief chat about the difficulty of really getting them roasted properly because there is usually something else in the oven that can’t take the temperature that proper roasted vegetables need. (My thought: make pot roast in the crock pot and roast veggies in the oven – that would work.) I glanced at the counter and saw an open empty can. Anne followed my eyes. “Ahhh, and that is supposed to be the very best for roasted veg. Goose fat.” A whole can of goose fat was crisping up those spuds in the oven.

Stateside Problem #2: No cans of goose fat at my grocery store.

I had an extra helping of Anne’s English roasted potatoes last night, knowing I won’t – and probably shouldn’t – replicate them at home.

(State-side, Thanksgiving is all about the food.  In London, Willy Wonka Chocolate and baguettes were not the main buzz of this Thanksgiving... Happy Day After Thanksgiving.)