Peddler’s Village

We had other plans for this weekend but between the murk and cold and my aches and pains, we decided at last minute to jettison them for something else.  We decided to go and explore Peddler’s Village because it afforded us a comfortable balance between fresh air and bursts of time spent indoors.

Peddler’s Village is essentially a shopping centre but one laid out like a small village rather than a strip mall.  The architecture is interesting and harks back to a bygone era and rural idyll but is, of course, completely faux.  I found it to be quaint and quiet and certainly preferable to the atmosphere of the average shopping mall.  It also presented us with the opportunity to pootle around in some independent retail stores as opposed to the same old chains.

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The first of these we visited was a cheese shop which tells you a lot about our family’s priorities.  I may be lactose intolerant but I am also an unrepentant cheesaholic.  I have given up all other forms of dairy except for cheese and clotted cream.  I take the hit of physical pain over the emotional pain of a life without cheese.  The cheese shop offered a wonderful array of delicious cheeses.  We all nibbled on samples and pressed our noses against the glass of the display case.  Imported and artisan cheeses aren’t cheap here in the US so we had to exercise self-restraint and limit ourselves to two wedges of cheese.  In the end we chose some Port Salut for reasons of nostalgia and a wonderfully tangy, mature cheddar that had been marinated and aged in balsamic vinegar.  On the subject of vinegars, the shop also sold bottles of infused olive oils and balsamic vinegars.  I absolutely adored an orange and cranberry vinegar and even more so an amazing pomegranate infused one but I managed to leave the store without making a further purchase.

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The boys particularly enjoyed a store filled with geeky t-shirts and accessories and a toy store.  They spent ages in the toy store because it contained lots of items they had never seen in a chain toy store, despite the fact that most of those items were for a younger age group than them.  We also took them into an arcade where they enjoyed clambering on pieces of equipment and watching graphics.  Two of them decided to spend some money on playing a game but otherwise they weren’t really into it.  I have always hated arcades but Mr Pict has many happy childhood memories of playing in them.  Our sons seem to fall somewhere between our attitudes.

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There were lots of stores selling ceramics, housewares, a very tempting glassware shop, purveyors of jewellery and clothes.  I am not much of a shopper but I probably would have had more of a nose around in more stores had I not had the boys in tow.  Since there was nothing I needed or was looking for, I opted out of the stress and worry of taking kids into stores or listening to their whines as they were forced to wait outside for me, especially since by this juncture the boys were growing “hangry”.

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We left Peddler’s Village and crossed the river into New Jersey.  It had been ages since we had visited New Hope and Lambertville and we had never eaten there – discounting doughnuts and ice cream.  We choose to eat in the Lambertville Station and happily, despite being a party of six, there was only a brief wait for a table despite the place being very busy.  As its name suggests, the restaurant is a converted train station.  It’s interior was lovely with lots of wood and brass.  The Maitre’ d’s desk was what looked to be the old ticket booth.  We were seated in the area that had once been the platform which gave us a view over the canal and the streets outside.  The atmosphere was lovely, the staff were attentive, and the food was delicious.

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Since we were all stuffed full, we decided to get a spot of fresh air before getting back into the car and heading home.  We thought the boys would just have a bit of a wander on the shore line, watching the ducks and geese, but in the end they were there for ages, making up some game to entertain themselves, and we had to drag them into the car.  So the day might not have been remotely what we had planned but it was still a success.

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Small Differences: Back to School Supplies

Goodness it has been a while since I wrote a “Small Differences” post!  I wonder if that is a sign that I am pretty well acclimatised and assimilated into everyday American life.

This morning my children all returned to school after the looooooong summer break.  We have had a lovely summer between our travel back to Britain, having guests, our History of Art project and having fun in our home environs.  However, the four boys and I have been together 24/7 for 10 weeks now.  As much as getting back into the routine will be a shock to the system, we all really need to get back into our own grooves.  My treat for my first child-free day in ages is to sit down with a hot cup of tea before running errands and doing the household chores.  Gosh, the lavishness.  As I waited for the kettle to boil, I thought about the way in which the preparations for the return to school differ on both sides of the Atlantic.  It involves a small but significant difference: school supply shopping.

In Scotland, the shopping preparation ahead of the new school year was clothes based. My kids would need outfitting in new uniforms, thankfully standard polo shirts and trousers that could be bought very affordably. The only items requiring much investment of thought and planning were the jumpers and the shoes – the former because they needed an embroidered logo so had to be ordered in advance and the latter because I had to buy them in time for school but not so soon that they were outgrown before they were required. Plus we lived 86 miles from the nearest big shops so the shopping trip was a bit of an expedition. But that was it. Just the uniform. Maybe a new backpack if the old one had been wrecked. Maybe some optional colored pencils in a pencil case.

Here in America, however, purchasing the supplies for the following year is a major endeavor and not too little an expense either.

Each year, the teachers issue a list of items that parents are expected – required – to supply. And it’s not a short list. Half a side of A4 is size 12 font for my Elementary aged kids and at least three quarters of a page for my Middle Schooler. With four kids to buy for, that’s a whole load of supplies. The items run from stationery – pencils, glue sticks, lined paper – to cleaning supplies – disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizing gel – to memory sticks and, this year, a chrome book for my oldest son, purchased through a school scheme.

What’s additionally annoying is that brand name items are requested – pretty much demanded. There’s no just doing a trolley dash around Walmart or Target and bunging in the cheapest items. No, no, no. Generic will not pass muster. For some items it makes sense: Crayola crayons lay down better pigment; anyone whose had to keep sharpening the same pencil because it’s lead constantly snaps appreciates the value of Ticinderoga pencils. But won’t store brand disinfectant wipes clean just as effectively as Clorox? Kids always leave lids off glue sticks so they dry out just as quickly if they are generic as they do if they are Elmer’s. But I submit and conform and fall in line as I don’t want my kids to be the one in the class handing in boxes of no brand tissues. Except my 7th grader can have reinforced cardboard folders with envelope pockets because the plastic ones are double the price. That’s my rebellion.

With four kids, the price of this stuff soon stacks up too. Last year I actually went to the bother of doing price comparisons. This year I decided that my time has a value too so no price comparisons and no visiting multiple shops. Instead I ordered the required box of goodies from the Elementary for the three younger kids. It might cost me a few dollars more but it saves me time, effort and not having to carry all that stuff to school on the first day.

The reason why I have to provide all of these items is the real bug bear though: schools are too underfunded to provide the necessary items from their own budgets. They, therefore, rely on parents to provide essential items of stationery. Ours is a good school district that’s funded better than many in the area but still I’m providing basic items like lined paper so my oldest can do written work and whiteboard markers for the teacher to actually write with.  If parents didn’t provide these items, likely the teachers would dip into their own salaries to purchase them. That’s something I did in my own teaching career but for items over and above the essentials. I would buy prizes for my students or extra little bits and bobs to make a wall display more visually appealing. At no point was I having to reach into my own purse for pens or pencils or paper for my students.

Chronic underfunding of education here, however, means that special, “treat” items come from fund raising – which is so near constant that I wish I could just hand over a lump some up front to not be perpetually hassled for money – and many essential items are donated by parents. And if it’s like this in our school district then materials must be thin on the ground in school districts working with very Spartan budgets, such as in Philly itself.

So it was a bit of a culture shock to be faced with shopping lists for school each year and I do feel hassled and peeved by it to an extent but I would rather the money be spent on teaching than on pencils. It’s just shocking to me that such decisions should even have to be made.

Camera Hopelessness in New Hope

When we Picts first visited New Hope on Mother’s Day, we immediately knew that it was somewhere we should bring my parents to when they visited.  So today, therefore, I packed my kids and parents in the car and chauffered them to the edge of Pennsylvania to see this quaint and picturesque town for themselves.  I parked up and started handing out backpacks to the kids and that was when I realised my terrible mistake: in all the hubbub and commotion to remove the kids from the house and get them into the car, I had left my camera behind.  It’s a DSLR so not easily overlooked yet somehow I had managed to set off on a day trip  – to somewhere scenic no less – without my camera.  I started to freak out a little bit.  I think in all of my many years of taking photographs of our life events, trips and travels, I have come to think that if I cannot document it visually then it is as if it never happened.  I rely on my photographs as aide memoires and I feel just plain weird without a camera.  I momentarily  – just for a mere fraction of a second – considered going home for my camera but it was a long trip so that was out of the question.  Ultimately the only thing that prevented hyperventilation was the fact that my Dad was with me and he had his compact camera with him.  Furthermore, I remembered that my iphone can take photos.  I am not very good at taking phone photos.  Not very good at all.  I would have to make do with sub-standard photographs but at least I would have a record that we were all there together.

After a quick doughnut (the elevenses of champions) we crossed the bridge from New Hope to Lambertville largely so that my parents could hereafter say that they had walked from Pennsylvania to New Jersey.  Strolling across the bridge that straddles the Delaware, my 8 year old noticed that there was a cluster of turtles below.  We were all very excited.  These were the first turtles my boys have ever seen in the wild and they loved them, especially when they saw them swimming, or the baby ones in particular.  After a sojourn in Lambertville, we strolled across the bridge again to have a poke about the shops in New Hope.  Last time I was in New Hope, I only had my 8 year old noseying around the shops with me so it was lovely to have other adults with me to discuss things with.  Not that we bought anything for ourselves, of course, but it is still fun to discuss the things that you might buy if you could.  My 8 year old did buy some things for his little brothers, however: a small Playmobil set for the 5 year old and a commemorative cuddly turtle for the 7 year old.  Sweet, thoughtful and cute.  Just as last time, the 11 year old was sullen and tweenagery.  My parents seemed to enjoy the trip and my Mum liked seeing all the interesting arts and crafts items on sale in the various boutiques – though she was less keen on being around expensive items with four kids in tow – and we even managed to end the trip by seeing the tourist train pull out from the station.

So I survived a day trip without a camera.  But I am not doing that again.

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Mother’s Day in New Hope

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.

Couponing Versus Bargain-Sniffing

As I have confided in my blog before, I suck at couponing.  I have never been one to shy away from using vouchers for this, that and the other so in Scotland I was considered pretty thrifty with the way I could save money using vouchers and deals.  Here in the US, however, so many people have managed to make couponing a hobby / talent / extreme sport that I am very much in the dunce corner of the remedial group when it comes to saving money using vouchers.  This annoys me because I absolutely love being thrifty.  I am no Ebenezer Scrooge but I definitely experience a thrill knowing I have saved money.

My difficulty here is that the vast majority of coupons – and I am referring to the thick wodge of paper that is deposited in my mailbox once a week – are completely irrelevant to me as they are for products I would just never purchase.  It seems to be that the companies who run these promotions are the ones who sell junk, snacks or processed foods.  I, therefore, use the few coupons that are for food products I use or for household cleaning products and then I shop the in-store deals to drive my grocery bill down.  I do pretty well despite the pile of coupons that just go in the recycling bins each week.  In an average week I can shave almost a quarter off my week’s grocery bill.  Not bad.  Certainly better than I could achieve back in Scotland.

However, I am then reminded what a “loser” couponer I am when I am behind someone in the checkout queue who has managed to reduce their bill from $83 to $32.  My jaw was literally agape last week when that exact thing happened.  Sure I had the supercilious glow of knowing my trolley was a whopping deal healthier and more nutritious than the shopper in front of me but my goodness the thrifty side of me felt like such an also ran.

So here’s the thing that prompted today’s blog entry.  My husband is used to wearing business smart for work.  Back when he worked in London and then when he worked in Scotland, his uniform was a suit, shirt and tie.  Sometimes the shirt was so formal it required cufflinks.  Here in the US he is working somewhere that requires smart casual attire.  In his suits, he feels too formal.  He, therefore, needs a whole new wardrobe of work clothes that fall somewhere between his two usual modes of business smart and at home casual (which sometimes veers on the slobby but hey ho).  That is a whole load of clothes to buy in one go so, of course, it was the perfect challenge for Little Miss Thrifty.

I found the website of a store that sells brand name clothes at reduced prices.  I headed to the clearance section for men’s clothes and I scoured each page weighing up the options, adding things to the virtual basket, occasionally editing the basket as I went on and found a similar item for even less.  Some of the items were as much as 75% off the original price so I was picking up some really good deals, the type that make me feel accomplished.  One jumper (here they are sweaters) was reduced from $45 to $9 so I decided to go into futures at that point and buy several of them.  Once I had created a virtual wardrobe of shirts, jumpers and trousers I set about reducing the total even further by inputting the perfect combination of voucher codes and I had a code for free shipping to boot.  In the end, once I divided the total up, the average came out to $13 per garment.  That is eight pounds sterling, people.  For brand name clothes.

I felt so super-thrifty I had to do a little happy dance and then text my husband to show off.

So I do absolutely bite at couponing but I am still an ace at bargain-sniffing.

Christmas Shopping

This is less a blog entry about the differences between America and Scotland and is more about the differences in experiences between living in a rural town in Scotland and living in the suburbs of a city that has a population as large as the whole of Scotland. Life can be lived quite differently as a result.

This year I did not even start Christmas shopping until late November.  We obviously could not import any new items with us, either in person or in our shipping, which meant my usual habit of starting to buy Christmas gifts in the summer – if not earlier – was not feasible.  Then we had a “bedding in” period during which time I almost forgot that Christmas was just a few weeks away.  It was a trip around Toys R Us – just for browsing purposes – that snapped me back into present buying mode as my kids mentioned a few things they would like to pop on their Santa lists.

Living where I used to, leaving it so late to embark on buying gifts for four children would have had me hyperventilating.  We had a few really lovely gift shops in town but none of them really stocked much in the way of toys, certainly not many for kids above preschool age.  It was, therefore, necessary to travel to the nearest large town – which was over an hour away on boke-inducing roads and still a bit limited – or the nearest city – which was a five hour round trip.  As both excursions required me to take my children with me, it was all a bit stressful, not least because of having to somehow make secretive purchases with them by my side.  In recent years, therefore, I had resorted to using the internet to buy gifts.  However, the internet only really works effectively and efficiently if you know what it is you are buying. If the children had asked Santa for a specific toy or book then the internet worked like a charm for price comparisons and ordering and delivering, all without me having to venture outside the house.  Doing it that way also made it very easy to keep on track of the budget and number of gifts being bought as all the “receipts” filed into my email inbox.  Of course, the downside of all this delivery of packages was that some companies liked to charge additional shipping costs because of our postcode.  Sometimes the premium was pretty steep.  We might have been just over two hours from Scotland’s largest city but those companies would make  it seem as if their parcels were having to go through acts of derring do and explore the hinterland of civilization just to make it to us.  More than once I had to have an argument with someone on the phone who claimed they were going to place an additional charge on our delivery fee because we “lived on an island”.  That was news to me.  Also more than once I would suggest they look at a map, follow the route and tell me when it was they thought the delivery was going to cross a large body of water.  Ridiculousness.  In any case, the internet could indeed work like a charm for Christmas shopping unless the children were not asking for anything specific or had only asked for one thing when more than one gift was required.  The need for search terms to input into the websites means that browsing in search of inspiration can be a long, wasteful and frustrating enterprise.  I estimate that last year I accomplished as much as 90% of my gift shopping online but that was only possible because I started in May.

So this year was very different.  The advantage of not making a start until late November was that it coincided with the Black Friday sales.  My boys happened to be asking for a fair few new and popular toys and, by jings, they turned up thick and fast in the online sales which made life easier and cheaper for me.  Everything I bought them during the sales period was 50% or more reduced.  Kerching!  Once that period was over, I still needed a few odds and ends for them, stocking stuffers and the like.  In previous years, I would have cruised sites like ebay to find some funny wee bargain items.  This year, however, I could mooch around the local malls and find lots of cool bits and bobs for them.  And, what’s more, I could do all of that completely child-free since – living a few minutes away from stores – I could fit it all in while the biggest three boys were in school and the little one was in preschool.

There is a downside to this ability to shop locally, however, and that was that the novelty of it may have got the better of me.  In an effort to make their first Christmas in America really memorable and special, I may just have gone a teensy wee bit overboard on the present buying front.  It was all a very good price so I’ve not burst my budget but my understairs cupboard does look a bit like Aladdin’s cave.  And I had to wrap it all.  I.  Loathe.  Wrapping.  Nothing sucks the Christmas spirit out of me faster than having to sit on the floor for hours cutting patterned paper, getting trapped by unruly sticky tape and trying to figure out the engineering required to neatly wrap all those bizarrely shaped boxes.  Which is one of the reasons I love buying lego for the kids.  Nice rectangular boxes.  It took me several nights and a bottle of wine to get it done, but as of last night all of my gift wrapping is also at an end.

Now I can sit back and let the festive mirth and holiday fun begin.  Except I can’t because my house still looks like a warehouse and I still have a third of the shipping boxes to empty once I can figure out where on earth I am going to place their contents.

At least I don’t have to gift wrap those boxes!

Field Trip

Today I went on my first field trip as a parent helper since we relocated to America.  The preschool class from my 4 year old’s nursery were being taken on a guided tour of a local independent grocery store.  I not only transported my own child there but was also asked to take another child in my car since I already have a bunch of child car seats.  I was not 100% sure where I was going and have only been driving in the US for a few short weeks so that felt like a heap of responsibility but, of course, everything was just tickety-boo.

The store manager took the kids on a tour of the store, the shop floor and the back rooms.  It was cute seeing the wonder in all of their little eyes as they learned new things.  They got to see someone making sushi and were allowed to sample a California roll, they saw the machine in the store room that compacts cardboard boxes, they had a geography lesson about locations for obtaining fruit and vegetables throughout the seasons, they saw meat being shrink wrapped and they got to see a checkout in operation.  My 4 year old’s favourite part was getting to stroke a lobster.  All the kids lined up to pat it’s shell.  So much affection before it is boiled to death.

After the tour, the kids each had a shopping list to use as a treasure hunt around the store and they were each sent back to nursery with a paper sack filled with a pretzel, carton of juice and piece of fruit.


It was fun to accompany the trip and I got to meet a few more of the parents which was nice.  Best of all though was the fact that on the tour I spotted a display full of imported European cheeses.  I may have found a source of decent cheese!


I am by nature a very thrifty person.  I know how to spin out a budget so I have always used vouchers and coupons when they are available to me.  I feel like an utter amateur here though.  

Twice now I have been in the checkout line at the supermarket behind someone who has saved a King’s ransom by using coupons.  I have to admit that last time was a bit tedious.  The woman in front of me handed over a fistful of coupons, a bundle of small papers the thickness of a decent novel, and each coupon was then laboriously scanned or, worse, typed into the till.  A few would not process so a supervisor had to be called to override the system and permit the discounts.  It took an age.  However frustrating it was, I was still massively impressed that the woman was walking out of the shop with her trolley bulging having handed over relatively little cash for it all.  She was a couponing pro.  When it came to my turn, I was almost sneered at for handing over just one measly coupon.  Amateur.

I have good intentions.  I have a little coupon wallet where I can file all my clipped coupons until it is time to use them. I’m a control freak who loves nothing more than making lists and organising things so this is right up my street.  The trouble is, every time I go through the coupon books, I find that probably 5% of coupons are for things I would buy.  The rest are either not relevant or are too expensive even with the discount or are simply things I would not choose to buy.  I have, however, been clipping those coupons anyway and have been leaving them on the relevant shelves at the supermarket so that someone else can benefit from them.  It adds to the time it takes me to go around the supermarket but helping the Coupon Fairy makes me feel a bit warmer and fuzzier inside so I will keep clipping.  Suffice to say, I am never going to be a coupon pro.

What is great, however, is that discounts on groceries in the UK are proper discounts.  In the UK, discounts and deals often smacked of tokenism or required the purchase of three weeks’ worth of seedless grapes in one transaction.  Lame.  And loyalty cards meant racking up points that were worth a sliver of a pence each.  Here’s a measly few quid to thank you for shopping with us all year.  Oh and by the way you need to spend that few quid in our shop like a throwback to the truck system.  Thanks again.  Here I have a loyalty card for my local supermarket, a national chain, that saves me money with regular everyday purchases, sometimes knocking things down as far as half price, while also still racking up points for special coupons and vouchers.  That’s a much better way to reward customers.  I can easily save a quarter of my bill each time I shop there with money off for this, that and the other.

I still aspire to get better at couponing though.


Clearly I’ve shopped in US supermarkets before but doing so as a resident trying to feed, clean and clean up after a family of six is a whole different experience than being a casual shopper or supermarket tourist.

I always like to visit supermarkets, markets and grocery stores whenever I visit a new place. The geography of the store and the products can provide an insight into everyday life in a location that just don’t all the tourist stuff would not provide. I still have fond memories of the pastries counter in a store in Crete and of seeing a special on hog jowls in a Piggly Wiggly somewhere in Mississippi. My husband and I still laugh about us seeing a freezer full of stuffed “pasta” in Greece and me boiling them just to discover they were pastry and should have been baked. The problem of not being able to read Cyrillic.

So wandering around a new supermarket can be fun. But trying to navigate your way around a supermarket in order to buy a week’s worth of groceries becomes very time consuming in those same circumstances.

Let’s start with the basics: it’s back to front. Because driving happens on the other side of the road here, so does everything else: escalators go up and down on the opposite sides and entrances and exits are the other way around. It’s so ingrained in me that I actually have to make a conscious effort to remember to steer my trolley (cart) at the other door. Sad but true. Once in, the layout is also different from a typical UK supermarket and, because I’m institutionalized, I’ve taken to shopping back to front, against the tide of most customers – though I’ve noticed I’m not the only person who does so. I like to start with fresh produce and end with the bakery, what can I say. Then there is locating all the items in store. Every single trip I take, I have to ask a shelf attacker to guide me somewhere, sometimes three or four of them in one shopping trip. Sour cream isn’t with the cream or even the milk; it’s over by the cheese in a different aisle from all other dairy products. Cans of green chillis are clumped with other Mexican cuisine ingredients, not with other canned goods. Today I was looking for frozen savoury pastry (because I feel like cheating) and there was none to be had but I went in a tour with one employee who took me to all the places in the store where I could buy numerous pre-made sweet pastries or bread doughs. It’s not that it’s wrong; it’s just very different and, consequently, it takes me ages to find everything I’m looking for.

Today’s treasure hunt item was turkey gravy. In a jar. Jar. Yes, jar. The kids’ school is doing a Thanksgiving food drive and each class is donating specific items. My 6 year old has to bring in turkey gravy of a non-perishable kind. I hoped I would spot it in passing but I gave up and asked a young man who was stacking tuna and he guided me to where there were several varieties of turkey gravy in a jar. I have never seen such a thing.

Bag packing is different here too. Here there is an employee who packs for you. That happens from time to time in the UK but does not happen as standard. I’m pretty fastidious when it comes to bag packing. I might even be a tad OCD about it. I, therefore, load my trolley and thus the conveyer belt in a very particular way so that I can load up my bags the way I want them. That process becomes a bit haphazard when someone else is handling the final step. At times the bag packing is nothing less than lamentable with a bag of frozen veg squashed in with a loaf of bread and some avocados. That sort of makes me judder. I’m grateful for the help, of course, especially when I’m also running a three ring circus with my accompanying kids but it is going to take some getting used to. The bags themselves are terrible. You could spit peas through the plastic, they are so thin. Carrying umpteen cans in one of those bags without it splitting is a massive challenge. I’m looking forward to my shipping arriving so I can get my hands on my jute shopping bags again because all of those thin bags are such a waste. That’s the one great thing about them: if they are so awful that it encourages people to use reusable bags then that is great for the environment.

I could segue into discussing vouchers and coupons as part of this entry but I think I will save that for another day. There is only so much excitement one can handle in a piece of writing about supermarkets after all.


Having reported in a previous post that my driving in America is going a lot more smoothly than I anticipated, in that it has been uneventful, I now feel duty bound to report that I caused carnage with my steering today.  Not in the car though.  On a visit to the supermarket, the smallest Pict decided he wanted a shopping trolley (grocery cart?) that was attached to a sit-in car at the front.  The length and weight of this thing proved a challenge.  I was doing three point turns in the aisles.  I was banging into displays (thankfully not knocking any over entirely), clipping other people’s trolleys, and I even clipped someone’s ankles.  It was atrocious.  Mini-Pict is now banned from car-trolleys and will have to put up with a regular sit-in trolley from now on.