When we adopted Peanut in February, we were told he was three months old. This gave him a November birthday. The boys – particularly my youngest two – were very keen to celebrate Peanut’s very first birthday so they organised a little celebration party for him. Peanut and Satchi shared a can of tuna, a special treat for them, and the humans got to eat some carrot cake. It was sweet to see the kids making such a fuss for their cat’s birthday. I cannot believe how much Peanut has grown in the nine months since we adopted him. He is almost big enough to fit his ears now.
I have lived in Pennsylvania for just over two and a half years now and in that time I have sampled a few state foods.
Despite the fact that Mr Pict and the Pictlings love them and I go into school every two weeks to deliver them to the kids, I do not like pretzels. I know I should be drummed out of the state for such an admission but I just don’t like them. I can eat one if I have to but it is not something that I enjoy. I did like Tomato Pie but I prefer more traditional Italian pizza than this twist on the theme. I tried Tastykakes and was disappointed – as I had been by my first ever Girl Scout Cookie. I do like Rita’s Water Ice and frozen custard and like that I can deploy it as a bribe / reward for my kids ever so often in the summer months. I have mentioned several times on the blog now that I do not like American chocolate, despite visiting Hershey twice now. The Pictlings have had no such difficulties adjusting their palates to American chocolate but the taste and especially the texture remains alien to my Scottish mouth. In addition to visiting Hershey, we also did the Turkey Hill Experience to learn how this local ice cream is manufactured. Ice cream I love; it just doesn’t love me as I am lactose intolerant.
Recently I tried a new local food in the form of some sweet treats from Shane’s Confectionary. Having started operations in 1863, Shane’s claims to be America’s oldest continuously running candy shop. It’s store on Market Street, Philadelphia, opened in 1911, when the business moved into retail from wholesale. Having fallen on hard times in the post-war period, the candy shop was recently lovingly restored. We will have to take a trip there with the kids some time.
We actually received some Shane’s candies as a New Year gift and, knowing they were special, I saved them for a rainy day. We had some cherries that had been soaked in brandy and covered in chocolate. These tasted divine and the crunch through the chocolate into the chewy, fruity centre was pleasing. They also had a lilac metallic lustre to the chocolate coating which made them extra magical. There were also some chocolate caramels. The kids all loved those but, given American chocolate does nothing for me, I was not bowled over by those.
The boys also had a moulded sugar steam locomotive. Apparently these clear candy toys – brought to PA by the Amish – are a holiday tradition at Shane’s, with parents buying them up for their children’s Easter and Christmas gifts. I have happy memories of going to an Edwardian style sweet shop with my Gran and picking out a variety of boilings which were plopped into a paper poke and treasured and savoured during shopping expeditions. I completely understand the tradition and the element of nostalgia. The train was literally just boiled sugar though and, therefore, would have been too bland for my liking. Give me Kola Kubes and Soor Plooms any day. There were no complaints from the younger sweet-toothed Picts, however.
So that is Shane’s Confectionery ticked off the list. I wonder what my next experience of edible Pennsylvania will be.
My second son turned nine today. As we approach the first anniversary of our arrival in America, this means that his was the last in the family sequence of first American birthdays. He had a strange birthday last year: his daddy was on the other side of the ocean, we were living with his grandparents and he was being homeschooled since we were between countries and curricula. It was fun, as childhood birthdays are and being homeschooled he at least secured a day off school, but it was nevertheless a strange one. This year, he has been bubbling with anticipation and excitement for months in the run up to the day itself. Thankfully it appears to have lived up to expectations. He loved all of his gifts, many of them geeky such as a crocheted Death Star and a gift card for our local comic book store. He requested my homemade Kashmiri chicken curry for dinner and then dessert was an ice cream cake. He has birthday plans for the weekend too as he wants to go on his shopping spree at the comic book store tomorrow and on Sunday we are taking him, along with his brothers and two of his friends to the cinema and a restaurant for dinner.
So that’s it: every member of the Pict family has had a birthday in America now; we have all had that milestone “first”. That means, of course, that the next anniversary is imminent now. In a few short weeks it will be a year since the children and I arrived in the USA.
Friday was only my second ever Independence Day spent in America and was the first for the children. We have celebrated Independence Day in Britain because Mr Pict is half-American and frankly because it is a good excuse to barbecue and feast. However, without the festival atmosphere, the red, white and blue everywhere and the fireworks, it could never be quite the same.
This Independence Day, therefore, was special because it was our first one spent in America as a family and also because my parents are here visiting. The fact that three of us are fully non-American did not deter us. We might be British but we all believe in a nation’s right to self-determination anyway so even politically we would have supported the Revolution. And, of course, we get to barbecue and feast. All celebrations end up revolving around food so this was no exception. Mr Pict grilled up everything from hot dogs and sausages to pork chops, steak and chicken and I made up salads and potato salads. Because we were not quite bloated enough, we then had chocolate cream pie or a patriotically decorated sponge cake.
The only other time I have been in America for Independence Day was 19 years ago. Mr Pict and I sat on the hard, cold, bum-numbing steps of the Lincoln Memorial for hours to snag a prime spot for viewing the fireworks over the National Mall. That was a pretty spectacular experience but our rumps did pay the price. This time we decided to keep it simple by staying locally so we headed out to one of the local High Schools to view their fireworks display. Woefully ill-prepared, we had entirely failed to move our new lawn chairs into the boot (trunk) of the bigger car and we didn’t even have a blanket to sit on. We were going to plonk ourselves on the grass when we spotted a long bench tipped over so we were able to right it and perch on it. A chap running for Congress was offering people free water ice (which is a bit like a UK slushy) so the boys even got to have a snack despite having parents who had not adequately forward-planned.
Daylight swiftly became dusk and settled into darkness and the sense of anticipation and expectation was palpable as the sky darkened to an inky blue. Finally the fireworks started. My kids are used to fireworks being in November (for Guy Fawkes night) and have usually watched displays while standing on the side of a loch, freezing cold and with their welly boots sinking further into sodden grass. The only exception was watching fireworks during the last Summer Olympics. It was, therefore, a welcome and lovely experience to be sitting on a balmy night watching the sky lit up with colourful, sparkling gunpowder. It was a really good fireworks display with a fantastic finale. We would definitely go to the same event in future years.
Overall it was a very successful Independence Day.
Sunday was my first ever Mother’s Day in America. Mothering Sunday in the UK falls in March so the weather is often too cold and miserable to plan any sort of excursion. We knew, however, that Sunday was predicted to be a corker of a day so Mr Pict asked me where I would like to go as a day trip. Normally I would always plan a trip around the kids’ interests and needs and, indeed, my first thought was to take them into Philadelphia to explore a museum or gallery. But then I decided to be selfish and decreed that we would take a trip to the picturesque town of New Hope.
New Hope sits on the Delaware River where it meets the Aquetong Creek, right on the border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and just north of where George Washington famously crossed. Before moving to Pennsylvania, I must admit the only thing I knew about New Hope was that it was where Abbie Hoffman had commmitted suicide. Now I also know that Broadway shows are often first show in New Hope as a way of giving them a dry run and tweaking them and that the town’s main industry is tourism. This latter fact was evident upon our arrival. The place was packed. Thankfully we set of reasonably early in the day and had an easy, scenic and straightforward journey into the town and found a place to park with ease. As we were departing in late afternoon, there was a tailback stretching for miles in the incoming direction so it is definitely advantageous to be an early bird. That said, while the town was absolutely heaving with people, it was happy and relaxed hustle and bustle that generated a positive buzz.
I managed to convince the kids to have their photo taken with me to commemorate our Mother’s Day trip. You can see they look thrilled. Their facial expressions and poses are almost identical to last year’s Mother’s Day group photo except we are not standing in front of a ruined medieval castle and we are wearing significantly fewer layers.
The boys soon found a sculpture of a lounge chair which they loved.
Mr Pict took the youngest two to the Children’s Museum – which they enjoyed but which he reported was definitely pitched at the lower end of the age spectrum – while the older two came to poke around in arts, crafts and antiques shops with me. My 8 year old loves shopping and likes all things glittery and shiny which means he is quite happy to browse in shops selling creative things and unusual items. My 11 year old was in a tweenage sulk so spent most of the shopping element of the trip sitting on the steps outside each stop while his brother and I were inside. Because, when you are a teenager, you would rather develop haemorrhoids from sitting on bricks than mollify your parent by being co-operative. It was sunny and hot and there were plenty of people milling around so I left him to it.
My 8 year old and I decided to set ourselves a few missions to give our perusing a bit more focus. We wanted to find some octopus items because we have a family tradition of locating and photographing octopus themed items and then tagging them as my youngest brother (there really is no point in explaining why), we wanted to find a penguin to cheer the 11 year old up and I wanted to find something to do with cardinals since I have been enjoying seeing them in the garden. It was not that we planned on buying these items, of course. It was a scavenger hunt rather than a shopping list.
It turned out that ornamental octopi were breeding like crazy in New Hope. We spotted our first one within milliseconds of being in the first shop we visited and then we kept on finding more and more of them. They must be a popular creature. We hit the jackpot, however, in one particular store where an entire shelf was dedicated to glass octopi.
We also had success with the penguin mission as we found some glass penguins in an art shop and we completed our hunt with a pair of cardinal salt and pepper shakers in an antique shop. We did not buy any of the scavenger hunt items but I did, however, find a few items of affordable jewellery on sale so treated myself to those and my 8 year old bought a small leather panda. I also bought two little metal sparrows just because I liked them and they cost tuppence ha’penny. We also managed to find some fun teacher presents which was a great result.
As much as I love to rummage among interesting items and look at what creative people have produced in various media, it is still shopping and I am not someone who can shop until I drop. I have a lower than average threshold for shopping probably because my Gran was an absolute shopaholic who frequently pushed my tolerance levels too far on shopping expeditions. Indeed, my sister and I used to talk about our Gran having a “purse attack” which was a sure sign we were going to be dragged from one end of a city centre to another with our feet pulsing at an increasing tempo. Despite this shopping experience being far more absorbing than visiting a mall, therefore, after traipsing around shops for a while, the two oldest and I headed to the bridge to meet up with Mr Pict and the two youngest boys. We parked our derrières on the wall and people-watched in the sunshine while we waited for the other half of the family to arrive.
Once we had all gathered back together we decided to cross the bridge across the Delaware and thus walk into another state. We thought this would be a novel experience for the kids plus there was the lure of ice cream on the other side to motivate them.
The crossing brought us into Lambertville, New Jersey’s equivalent to New Hope since it was filled with the same type of shops and eateries and the architectural styles matched too. Both towns really are wonderfully picturesque.
It was time for refreshments. I am lactose intolerant and really cannot cope with ice cream so I used that time to nose around in a few more art shops. I find that shops selling works of art tend to fall into one of two categories: they are either relaxed places where you can wander around studying paintings and sculptures without anyone even giving you a second glance or else they are the type of place where the person on the sales desk watches you like a hawk and appears to be monitoring and judging what you do or do not find diverting. I experienced both types of shopping experience in Lambertville. I returned to the rendezvous spot to find that Mr Pict and the kids had devoured their ice creams . Ice cream beards were earned. The littlest Pict refused to “shave” his. We pick our battles as parents so we just let him.
It was soon time to cross back over into Pennsylvania again and indeed time to leave New Hope. As I had curtailed our shopping wanderings, there were streets I had not even wandered along. However, it is somewhere I know my parents will like to explore and meander around so we will definitely come back over the summer when they are visiting.
New Hope was filling up with people in gladrags ready to dine and celebrate Mother’s Day with their nearest and dearest. There were queues forming outside every single eatery – including the Dairy Queen, would you believe – and the prices and logistics of the dining spaces did not really work for the dynamic of our family anyway. We, therefore, drove for a short while and went to a Chilli’s (a favourite of the boys which means no whining from anyone – a Mother’s Day treat for me) where we all overate and I had a large blueberry margarita while the sun was still up. Because it was Mother’s Day.
As for my Mother’s Day gifts, the kids did a wonderful job this year as they do every year. I received handmade, personalised cards from each of them – including one depicting a zombie bloodbath – and my 7 year old painted me a picture of a bouquet of flowers. The littlest Pict had made an oven glove at preschool which had his name and handprints on it and the kids also gifted me a book of drawings entitled ‘Unicorn Executions’ which seemed to perfectly encapsulate their relationship to my creativity. I also got to order my gelli plate so that I can have fun learning how to monoprint again after all these years.
It really was a lovely day.
Last night our township organised a free drive-in movie event. I have only ever been to a drive-in cinema once. That was in Vermont in the Summer of 2001 and I saw a Jackie Chan movie. The film was actually just a sideshow to the whole experience of being at a drive-in movie theatre, one of those iconic American things to do. It was a very fun experience. We were keen to have the boys experience that so, although it was not actually a designated drive-in cinema, we all went along for the evening.
The movie was being shown in the car park of the university campus. The car park was on a slight gradient though it could not compare to the proper ramped parking at a permanent drive-in. The screen (which was inflatable) was also a quarter of the size of a usual drive-in cinema. We did not care a jot for either of these technicalities. It was all about the experience. Heck, even the movie we were going to see was one we had all seen umpteen times before (the excellent ‘Monsters University’). We had a bit of a worry about visibility of the screen. This was because some people were sitting in the boots (trunks) of their cars but that meant the boot doors were raised and limiting our ability to see the screen. Thankfully a quiet word later the boot doors were lowered and we could see again. As well as people sitting in their boots, there were also people sitting out in front of their cars in deckchairs and even people sitting on top of the roofs of their vehicles. We opened the sun roof to reduce fogging of the windscreen and the children all demonstrated signs of being tempted to clamber out of it but Mr Pict and I soon put the kibosh on any such plans.
We had a great time watching the movie. The screen was a bit murky at first until we were plunged into proper darkness and the colours become more vivid but, as we had seen the film before, that was not a problem for us. The sound quality coming through the car radio was great. The boys chewed and chomped their way through a packet of gummi bears each and were engrossed in the film. Even when it started to rain, we just closed the sun roof, switched on the windscreen wipers and kept watching.
It was a fun first experience of drive-in cinema and now we cannot wait to take the boys to a proper drive-in. Roll on Summer.
Yesterday was Free Comic Book Day. This was an exciting day for my boys because they had never been able to participate when we lived in Scotland. Annually, on the first Saturday in May, comic book stores give away comic books for free as a promotional tool. It is a way of introducing new people to comic books or to get existing comic book fans to try a new comic for the first time and it also engenders loyalty and support for independent comic book stores. One cannot, of course, go into a store and demand that your free comic be a first edition Superman #1. The choice is limited to specially selected editions of comics. The selection was still large, however, and diverse too.
When we lived in Scotland, our nearest purveyor of proper comic books was in Glasgow, 86 miles away. It was, therefore, a treat the boys could have every few months but certainly no more frequently than that. My husband and I are both proud geeks but neither of us has ever been geeky in the direction of comic books or superheroes. The boys have created and cultivated that interest all on their own (unlike the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings obsessions that Mr Pict encouraged in them from the womb) so it is interesting as their parent to sit back and watch them interact with a whole culture I know nothing about. The apples have not fallen far from the tree, of course, so we are proud that our kids are developing geeky obsessions and turning out to be little nerds. It is our hope that this will make them more interesting people.
It was an absolute pleasure, therefore, to see eight eyes light up when they entered our local comic book store yesterday. They still marvel at living just ten minutes from such a store, which sells other cult items in addition to comic books. I had never, ever seen the store anywhere as near as busy as it was yesterday. The place was thronging (hoaching as we say in Scotland) with people. The staff were dressed in costumes so we were greeted by a man wearing a Green Lantern lycra unitard and directed to the area of the store where the free comic books were arranged on tables. That area of the store was absolutely teeming. Each person was allowed to select any three comic books. The boys were spoiled for choice and took quite some time to make their final selections, editing as they went and checking to make sure they were not duplicating another brother’s choice.
The comic book store has always had a warm and welcoming atmosphere but yesterday it had a wonderful buzz to it. We enjoyed seeing so many customers also turn up in costume or at least comic book themed apparel. It was also the first time we had seen customers ranging from tots to geriatrics in age all gathered together. In addition to the haul of free comic books, my three oldest boys also decided to club together to buy an omnibus book which was reduced by 50% – which still makes it the most expensive book in our household – which led to them getting to select another book for free. They left the store feeling like pirates who had just opened a treasure chest.
It was a wonderful event and we will be sure to participate again next year.
PS Having checked the content of each comic once home, please be assured that our children are not being permitted to read anything with mature content.
Yesterday my six year old became seven, the first of our children to have a birthday in America. It was actually a birthday of other firsts too since it was also his first ever birthday on a school day (as spring break is a fortnight long in Scotland) and it was also his first ever birthday celebrated without his Daddy since Mr Pict is in San Francisco for work this week. Sucky timing. We did, however, have takeaway pizza on Sunday before he left since pizza is the birthday boy’s favourite dinner.
Since it was a school day birthday, we were up with the larks in order to ensure that all gifts and cards were opened before it was time to trail out the door to school. Despite being bleary-eyed everyone bounced out of bed to watch their brother unwrap his gifts and read his cards. The gifts were a Batman Lego set, two Iron Man figures, horse and shark modelling kits, a cuddly King Kong, a glow pet unicorn and a voucher to go for a horse riding lesson.
Ultimately he didn’t mind going to school on his birthday for the first time as the class had a little celebration (a classmate was sharing his birthday) and the janitor gave him a bounce balloon as a gift.
Birthday dinner was quesadillas followed by the Richest Cake In The Universe. This was a sticky confection of chocolate cake, chocolate ganache, chocolate frosting, Kit Kats and M&Ms.
For many years I have heard tell of a selection of cookies that are like crack to sweet-toothed plumpies like myself: Girl Scout cookies. They are the stuff of legend. Therefore, a couple of months ago when some sweet smiled little neighbour girls with sugary voices and twinkling eyes stopped by the house dealing their cookie wares, Mr Pict ordered four boxes. He and the boys ate the peanut butter ones but I don’t care for peanut butter so left them to it.
This afternoon my kids came home hungry for snack. In the case of the 8 year old that is because he did not eat a single morsel of his packed lunch. I really don’t enjoy the packed lunch ordeal so I especially don’t appreciate having taken the time and effort to make it just to scrape a proportion of it into the bin at the end of each school day. Most days he has at least eaten a little of it but today the entire packed lunch was untouched. Thank goodness my packed lunches are just basic affairs and not those elaborate works of art that some Pinterest parents make otherwise I would be filled with volcanic rage at having to scrape that into the bin.
But I digress…My point is that the children were hungry and hungry children means crabbit children who squabble with each other and cannot concentrate on their homework – especially the 8 year old who must have been digesting himself from the insides out. So I raked through the cupboards to see what might fulfil the role of snack and spotted the boxes of Girl Scout cookies.
I have been told that the most addictive and sublime Girl Scout cookies are thin mints so that was the box I reached for. I doled one strip of them out between the kids but there were a couple left over. It was my opportunity to try Girl Scout cookies for the first time. My head trilled with a drum roll in anticipation of my first bite…
I was underwhelmed.
It was tasty enough. It was nice. It filled a space.
It was not the cookie of mythological proportions that I was expecting. It was a chocolate mint cookie. No secret ingredient. Nothing amazing that made me want to break open the other strip and devour them.
Helps the diet though.
My kids have just tried Twinkies for the first time.
Had it been up to me they would not have been trying them at all but Mr Pict is a sucker for the kids’ “take me home from the pound’ eyes so when the 4 year old wanted to put a box of Twinkies in the shopping trolley (because minions were promoting them) he succumbed. The box then sat on the shelf for over a month, which isn’t a problem because I’m pretty sure Twinkies are one of the things that will survive nuclear annihilation.
I had my first Twinkie in the summer of 1995. I had never been to America before so my husband and his friends were eager to introduce me to all sorts of new things. One friend decided to pick out a whole cornucopia of “treats” for me to try at a 7/11. We then went to a park where, as dusk turned to dark, I also watched my first fireflies sparkle among the trees. That was magical. What came next was not. The Twinkie was proffered, I took a large bite and almost gagged.
I’m Scottish so I have a sweet tooth. Loving sugary things is part of my cultural inheritance. But the Twinkie was artificially sweet and cloyingly so. I don’t think I have tasted anything as dreadfully chemical as that before of since (though my first-and-last sip of Mountain Dew comes close). It was just vile. And it squeezed and squelched down my gullet like shaving foam. My gag reflex was activated. Biting into the sponge was also not a pleasing sensation either as it felt like I was sinking my teeth into rubber foam or carpet. Or both. If sponge cakes grew on trees, the Twinkie tree would only be found growing in Chernobyl. Grotesque.
Yet here I am now allowing my kids to try a Twinkie each. The edible sins of the mother are visited on her sons.
They loved them.
I so wanted them to agree with me that they were vile. Instead they used adjectives like “creamy” and didn’t mean “as in shaving”. All four said they were “awesome”. I wasn’t mishearing the word awful. They actually meant awesome. And not in the way that the power of the atomic bomb is awesome. To them awesome is a superlative positive.
So to mitigate against my failure as a mother – the fact that my kids have, at best, questionable palates – I am going to ensure that no Twinkies every darken my doorstep again. Not even ones with cute characters on the packaging.