This Labour Day weekend, my four boys got to experience an American tradition: running a lemonade stand. They suggested the idea and we supported it. This was not something they would have experienced back home in Scotland so we were keen to let them do something that their born-and-bred American peers have probably done.
They made a gallon of lemonade from scratch, all taking turns at squeezing the juice from the lemons using the citrus reamer. I think they liked how aggressive they were getting to be with a kitchen utensil. I am given to understand now that actually the American tradition for lemonade stands is to use a powder mix as the base of the drink but never mind. They had never made lemonade from scratch before so that just added to the joy of it all being a new experience. I also baked chocolate brownies for them to sell.
We left them to come up with the promotional posters and to decide on things like the price points. We provided them with a float and showed them how to set out their income and expenditure accounts, a basic version of course, and then it was time for them to set up their stall. A Saturday of a holiday weekend and with a storm predicted was always going to be slow going so I used the modern grapevine – Facebook – to send a message around the neighbourhood that they had set up stall and were selling freshly squeezed lemonade and brownies. What was lovely was that so many neighbours stopped by to give them some support and encouragement, financial and verbal, but they also got some passing trade from cars driving through the neighbourhood and from our mail man.
It was, however, still pretty slow going and so they learned something about the boredom involved in certain retail ventures, about handling a rush period alongside stretches of inactivity, and finally about the math of determining profit. They actually made a surprising amount for a couple of hours of work and were quite pleased with their earnings. I think they had hoped to rake in much more, however, so it will be interesting to see if they wish to repeat the exercise next summer and – if so – what they might do differently. It was fun to see them experiencing something new about America, something that is a tradition for many American families, but I mostly enjoyed seeing them work cooperatively as a team and having to interact with other people without having we adults hovering as a crutch. I like to think they have learned some life skills from the whole experience. They also got to eat lots of leftover brownies.
Perhaps all of America is but I feel confident in stating that pretzels are a big thing here in PA. A really very big thing. A cornerstone of Pennsylvanian culture indeed. Pretzels originated in Europe, probably in Medieval monasteries, and according to good old wikipedia the distinctive form of the pretzel has often been used as a symbol of a bakery in Germany. Nevertheless, despite their Old World origins, pretzels were not a big deal in Scotland. We had ready access to the tiny hard ones that come in a bag but the baked soft pretzels were hard to come by. Mr Pict would arrive home triumphant with pretzels in hand for the kids, as proud as any neanderthal father dragging home a side of mammoth from the hunt. The Pict menfolk love pretzels. I loathe the hard ones and feel very meh about the soft ones.
Pretzels emigrated to America with the Amish and Mennonites fleeing Switzerland and Germany so I guess it is the whole Pennsylvania Dutch thing that contributes to pretzels being so special here in PA. Mr Pict is descended from a family of Mennonites who first settled in Pennsylvania so perhaps he and the boys are genetically predisposed to love them. According to Wikipedia (again, because I cannot be bothered conducting in-depth research) “[t]he average Philadelphian today consumes about twelve times as many pretzels as the national average”. They really are massively popular here, even statistically it seems.
My kids, who have always liked pretzels well enough, have been indoctrinated into loving pretzels. They are not quite at fanatical levels of adoration yet but they love that the school has pretzel days every few weeks where they each get a soft pretzel to snack on, they love that bakeries sell varieties of pretzels they had never even imagined before we emigrated here and they love that pretzels are sold as street food here or at events in the way burgers and chips (as in fries) would have been in Britain.
Today I was on a field trip with my preschooler. The kids were instructed to “sit like pretzels”. Six months ago that would have meant nothing to my 4 year old. No reference point. Zero understanding. Blank. But today he tucked his legs under him into the lotus position without even pondering it. Back in Scotland we used to instruct the boys to adopt lotus position by instructing them to put their “legs in a basket”. I guess it is pretzel position from now on. Indoctrination. My kids are now officially part of the Pretzel Cult.
When I encounter people and they hear my accent, one of the most frequent questions they ask as a complete stranger to me is what foods I miss from Scotland. The fact is, however, that most of the foods I might miss I can actually obtain here in America. The difference is that here I would have to sell at least one of my kidneys and perhaps another organ or two on the black market in order to fund having those foods stocked permanently in my larder cupboard.
I have stated before on this blog that I am a cheeseaholic and that extra mature cheddar and European cheese varieties are something I, therefore, miss. I have found sources of at least the latter camp of cheeses but the price for just a small chunk means they never make it into my trolley. Another thing I had been missing, however, was a really good curry. Brits generally are pretty dedicated curry munchers and I am no exception. I adore Indian food. I enjoy making curry and the rest of the Pict family enjoys eating my curries. The time had come to make a curry in Pennsylvania. However, when I went to the supermarket I could not find all of the spices I needed. Desperate for a good curry, however, and knowing that I will need to continue eating curry, I decided to buy certain spices – ones I use frequently – in bulk online. So last week my parcel of spices turned up and I could embark on making curry.
I did though return to the supermarket to buy some things to accompany the curry which is when I discovered that they don’t stock naan breads or poppadoms. I am not a gifted baker. I am a reasonably good cook but I don’t have the precision required to be a good baker. Naan breads, especially the ones that at least seem like they have been cooked in a searing hot tandoor, are very much beyond my capabilities. In future, therefore, I might make some chapatis and get the kids to accept those as a naan substitute.
But then I saw the price of mango chutney and I was staggered. A tiny jar cost the same amount as I would have paid for at least three jars back in Scotland. Leprechauns should be giving away chutney at the end of the rainbow. I love chutney but confess to being a mango chutney addict in particular. I actually cannot countenance living without it. So, until I find a dependable and affordable supply of mango chutney, it looks as if I might have to make my own.
Just as my children are picking up the denominations of coins quicker than I am, they are also adapting their vocabulary in a way that I am not. My youngest two are now referring to their trousers as pants whereas to me pants are and probably always will be underwear, Pudding is another one the kids keep correcting me on.
When I say to them that there is a dessert to follow the main course I refer to it as pudding whether it’s cake, ice cream or yogurt. If it is a sweet treat that follows a main course then to me it is a pudding. Pudding in Scotland can also, of course, refer to a very specific type of dessert – a cake full of dried fruit or baked bread and milk or rice cooked in cream would all qualify as puddings. Here in America, however, pudding is a very specific type of sweet confection, a sort of milk-based gloop a bit like a less-set blancmange. I can’t stand it because too me textureless food is invalid food so it instantly makes me feel queasy. Mr Pict and the kids all love it.
For the sake of clarity, therefore, I am going to strive to teach myself to say “dessert” instead of pudding.
Today I received an email from the Township informing me that a local skunk was found to have rabies. Yes, as if a skunk being near you wasn’t bad news enough, this particular offender was rabid. I picked up this email on my phone while eating lunch. Such appetising news. But I’ve never had to really think about rabies before so this is an interesting development for me.
Great Britain, by virtue of being an island nation, is rabies free. Well, technically it is. Sometimes an occasional international flying bat makes its way to Britain carrying the rabies virus and I remember tales of rabid foxes hiking through the Channel Tunnel, though how true that is I don’t know. Generally, however, in Britain we don’t have to fret about rabies. It is something that I have been peripherally aware of because of travelling but I’ve never really, properly had to think about it.
Now that I live in America, I am going to have to get used to all sorts of new “rules” about bugs and beasties. In 2000 I was on a road trip in the South West of the US and was scooping lizards up into my hands in the desert. My brother-in-law thought I was nuts and dragged me to look at a book at the Ranger Station that was about identifying venomous and poisonous creatures, his point being that I was picking them up willy nilly not knowing which critters were friendly and which would have me writhing in agony, flicking through a book desperately attempting to identify the culprit in order to determine which anti-venom serum I needed. In the UK we have one “dangerous” critter, a snake called an adder. That’s it. Everything else is harmless. That said, I did once still try to pick up an adder but it got away from me. I don’t think adders are too aggressive though as, when I was a wee lassie, I was walking on Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh and jumped into some gorse that, it transpired, was an adder’s nest. All the snakes did was quickly slither off while I was a bit startled.
Here in the US, however, there are a bunch of things that could inflict hurt and harm on me, from tiny spiders to angry snakes to cougars and bears. I think even I would know not to try and interact with a mountain lion or grizzly, of course. I can be a bit daft but I’m not that stupid. But I do, for instance, need to get a clue about which spiders are OK and which are not. And, lest we forget, I need to remember not to go near any critter that looks a bit crazy, twitchy or is foaming at the mouth. I need to just stop picking up wild animals.
I am being scuppered by denominations here. Not religious ones, you understand: coins. Seriously, my kids can make change here better than I can. Obviously they had only just embarked on having to use coins in Scotland so it has not been such a big deal to toss that little slither of learning out of the window and start from scratch with American coins. For me, however, I am having to undo a few decades’ worth of knowledge, something that had become reflex, and learn something new. Apparently my brain is not coping very well with that. It’s all about the denominations. In Britain we have 1 pence, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p and £1 coins; in America those denominations are 1 cent, 5 cents (nickel), 10 cents (dime) and 25 cents (quarter). There are also half and whole dollar coins but those are rare so I am discounting them. Clearly, therefore, I am used to adding and multiplying using different bases than are available here so all my maths (or math, as it is here) has to alter. I am not innumerate so that it is not that I can’t do it but I am very conscious that it takes me more time to rake around in my purse (wallet, as it is here) to find the coins I need and tot them up to the amount I need. And I have to keep reminding myself that the five cent coin is larger than the ten cent coin because they are the shape and size of UK five and ten pence coins but with the scale inverted. Two university degrees mean nothing when you are at the head of a queue of people who are all aware that you are taking an awkward amount of time to fumblingly make 68 cents.
Moving to another country involves a lot of realizing there are things you didn’t know you didn’t know until you need to know it.
I have written Thanksgiving cards for the neighbours and now need to deliver them. I was about to pop them in their mailboxes when something in a dusty nook in my brain bright itself to my attention. Something about mailboxes, tampering with mail and federal laws. So I didn’t “post” the cards and instead researched the issue as modern people do by asking the question on Facebook.
It transpires there was something worth noting in that musty corner of my memory because there is indeed a law prohibiting anything other than officially posted mail going in mailboxes.
In Scotland, houses had letterboxes, a rectangular hole with a flap cut into an exterior door. Thus post was ostensibly secure as soon as it had been shoved through the flap and it was possible, therefore, to deliver post by hand in the same way the postman delivered stamped and franked post. Here such an action could get me in trouble.
It appears what I have to do is sandwich the cards between the house door and storm door, which is a challenge of speed and dexterity but is at least definitely legal.
The title of this blog entry is not about me donning spandex to fight injustice superhero like nor is it about vigilante justice – as much as there are some companies and organisations who are driving me spare right now. No, nothing as exciting or creative as that. This blog is literally about taking out the trash.
Trash collection is quite different here in the Pennsylvanian town we have landed up in compared to in the remote, rural community we left in Scotland. In Scotland, regular household waste was picked up weekly and paper recycling was picked up fortnightly. We had to take responsibility for all other recycling so our back garden contained three different boxes – for metal, plastic and glass – which we had to transport to the dump every time they filled up. We are not eco-warriors by any stretch but we are eco-conscious so we did not object to the hassle or effort involved but I am pretty confident that more people there would have recycled had there been kerb side collection of such materials. Here, not only does the township collect all of the recycling but it can all be put in one bin. No sorting of materials required. It is also collected weekly. I cannot be bothered to track down the evidence but I would guess that more households recycle here as a result.
Another difference is that the whole bin collection process is automated. Back in Scotland, the bin men would walk alongside the lorry to hoik the bins onto the back of the lorry and have them flip their contents inside the lorry. Here, a solo driver scoots the lorry alongside the kerb and a mechanical arm comes out to grab the bin, toss its contents inside, and then deposit the bin back on the roadside. I have no preference because, frankly, I don’t really care how my rubbish is collected as long as it is. I am merely noting the difference.
The third thing is that here, in the appropriate season at least, the township comes to collect leaves. This is a great thing because our back garden is absolutely littered with leaves. Every three weeks we can gather them up into a large pile on the roadside and then a truck visits with a man operating a giant vacuum that sucks all the leaves up. My 4 year old finds it quite fascinating.
One area of rubbish collection is definitely better in Scotland, however, is access to dumps and recycling centres. In Scotland we could take any surplus rubbish, recycling, old electrical items and such like to the town dump where it would then be processed. Here we appear not to have any access. As a result, since we just moved here and have had to buy new things, we have a load of flattened cardboard boxes stored in the basement which we are gradually getting rid of by shoving them in the recycling bin so long as it is not already full. It’s weird that they don’t seem to permit householders to dispose of that stuff in any direct way. Apparently we can contact the township if we have any bulky items to dispose of – old furniture, for instance – and they come and collect it but I can’t help thinking they have missed an efficiency trick there by not just allowing people to go along and deposit their own waste.
Bin bags (garbage sacks?) here smell faintly spicy. Maybe it is just the brand my husband bought but they have a definite whiff of 1970s Dad Aftershave about them. That type of spicy. Not delicious curry spicy. This is not an aroma I have come across when dealing with British bin bags. There they either smell of nasty plastic or else they smell of nasty plastic and pesticide.
In one of the schools I worked in as a High School English Teacher, there was an annual competition between form classes to decorate their classroom for Christmas. The themes were quite elaborate because the students were very competitive. My form class decorated our room as “Christmas in the Trenches” which meant a couple of weeks of teaching in a room filled with soil and splintery duck boards and the occasional bloodied bandage dangling from a book shelf. It cast a sombre pall over every lesson. However, in the other classroom I taught in, the form class based there had decided on a horror house theme which apparently necessitated them lining the walls and even most of the windows with black bin bags. For weeks I had to teach in a room that reeked of pesticide. It was Winter, of course, so the radiators were on full blast which generated what amounted to toxic fumes. It was ghastly.
So spicy bin bags are definitely an improvement. US bin bags win the international war on refuse sacks.