Mothers Day

I have always been in awe of my Mum. She was deserted by her philanderer of a husband in the 60s with two kids under five to raise on her own. Her parents had both passed before I was born and therefore she was basically on her own. As I have told before she rented a small two up and two down house (with an outside toilet) until she saved up the princely sum of 5 pounds as a down payment on a house. She was on the Brit equivalent of welfare but still worked 40 hours a week as a cook at the local university cafeteria to be allowed to earn a pittance above her welfare check. (Whatever she was given in welfare was deducted from her paycheck per week, whatever was left she was allowed to keep). Her mortgage was 4 pounds 18 pence a month. She paid 5 pounds in order to get it paid off quicker. We were clothed from thrift stores, I earned money sweeping the front of the local store, we picked left over veggies from the weekend market, and collected left over coal from the trucks turning at the top of the hill.

And you know what? I never went hungry. I never felt that I was not dressed appropriately because Mum had a sewing machine and if hot pants were in fashion then she could make them for me. I remember when crocheted ponchos were in fashion my mum got out her needle and all her bits of spare wool and made me one. It was my own “coat of many colors” that I was so proud of.

Several years ago she sold the house that she put a 5 pounds down payment on for one hundred and sixty five thousand pounds. I’d say she did well for a mill girl from Carnforth.  My Mum rocks!

The Odds

I had to take my bosses car to the shop today due to an oil leak.  Stevenson Toyota in Jacksonville has possibly the nicest waiting area on the planet.  It has all of the beverages you can ever imagine including hot tea, it has a tv, it has newspapers, it has computers with access to the internet, I mean it is a pleasure to sit and wait for a car to be serviced.

As I sat there and drank my hot tea, and read the newspaper, a young black man with twin 19 month old boys came into the waiting area.  Their names were Abraham and Aaron.  They were dressed identically except for their shoes, Daddy admitted that he cheated with their shoes, Aaron’s had black soles, Abraham’s had white soles.  At one point they both took off at the same time in the opposite directions and immediately “having ones hands full” came to mind.  Daddy knew to chase Abraham first cause he was the trouble maker, Aaron he caught up with afterwards.

Daddy bundled them up into an oversized chair and pulled up some game on his smart phone and the boys giggled with him as they played the game.  Two perfect boys enjoying a precious moment with their Daddy.

At that point my heart broke.  I could not even imagine the fear of Daddy, the absolute terror that his two precious boys were going to either be shot by some asshole with a gun and a superiority complex or they were going to end up in jail for something as simple as pot possession.  I know that he has going to have “the talk” with his precious 19 month old boys about how to react when they are pulled over by the police, I know he is going to have to have the talk about how to react when they are accused of a crime that they did not commit.

I sat there and watched, as a white woman, a joyous daddy and his sons, and my heart broke.  I cannot even imagine how it feels to be the parent of a black son in this country in these current times.  I know for a fact that a white parent does not wake up every day worrying about that.  Something has got to give, and give soon.

The Dead Plant Section

I have mentioned the “dead plant” section at Lowes several times but it is time that I elaborate on this.  At my local Lowes there is a section at the very back of the Garden Center to the left which contains plants that the local nurseries have determined to be lost hopes.  These for the most part are perennials that have already bloomed and are therefore no longer attractive, or annuals that are looking a bit tired and therefore unsellable.  For the most part they are discounted to 50 cents or less.

This is an absolute gold mine for the dedicated gardener, especially when it comes to the perennials that have already bloomed.  Sure they have done their stuff for the year, but that doesn’t mean they are done for their life.  It is also a gold mine for things that are sold as annuals but actually perennialize in your area.  Here in my area Dianthus is a reliable perennial, five out of ten plants come back year after year, even in baskets and containers.  So true with Lantanta, particularly the Ms. Huff (I cannot describe it better than it being a confetti looking flower with pink, yellow, red, and orange petals all on the same flower).   I bought a Ms. Huff lantana about ten years ago, it was a four inch pot, and it cost me 25 cents.  I stuck it in the ground in the circular bed by the side of my patio and it has just exploded into the most magnificent plant I have ever known.

Every year it comes back larger and larger, to the extent that it is now six feet tall and at least six feet wide.  I have to admit that this year, due to our extreme ice storms I thought I had lost it, but sure enough, when I checked the base of the dead stalks there were the shoots, coming up from the frozen earth.  She is again going to be magnificent, feeding every butterfly and humming bird within miles.  All for 25 cents and a tiny bit of work.

I cannot express to you how much I recommend the dead plant section at Lowes.

 

 

 

Girly Gardening

Today we went to the garden center (Lowes) and picked up some plants so that I could indulge in some girly gardening.  Of course I headed back to the “dead plant section” of Lowes which I love, some of my greatest finds have been found there, and I picked up lots of flowers to fill my containers which edge my driveway.  I also found citrus trees, loaded with fruit at half price, from $29.99 to $15.00.  I got a lemon, a grapefruit, a mandarin and an orange.  I know I am going to have to crowd them into the greenhouse for the winter but just the idea of a fresh grapefruit in the morning it was worth it.

So when I got home I did my girly gardening.   For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, girly gardening involves container planting, while wearing pink gloves, and a jaunty pink hat, and, depending on the time of day (late in the afternoon) sipping a glass of cold white wine while gardening.   I got all my containers sorted out, with my usual color schemes, red, white and blue, and purple and gold.  The Red and White Dianthus in the containers from last year have returned and are currently in full bloom, I only had to add some blue lobelia to complete the color scheme.

I replaced the weeds and grass that had taken over the other containers with purple Angelonia, gold Marigolds, and gold Portucalaca.   The large containers were planted with purple Angelonia, purple Pentas, and gold marigolds and portucalaca.

I love girly gardening, it gives me to the opportunity to be the uber gentile English woman.  Yes the backbreaking work of planting the vegetable garden begins next week but for this week, I can wear pink gloves, and a pink hat, and drink a glass of wine while I sort out my containers.  It was a good day.

The Four Yorkshiremen

When I was a kid we lived in a two up, two down house on Westam Street.  It was basically a living room and kitchen on the ground flood and two bedrooms upstairs.  It had no bathroom.  There was an outside toilet, totally separate from the house, and all body washing action was conducted in the kitchen.   The only hot water in the house was from the small hot water boiler in the kitchen which was basically a hot water on demand type of deal which is so popular today once people realized that boiling a whole tank of water a day is a total waste of money.

Like I said we had no bathroom.  Bathing then was an issue.  Mostly Mum would fill a metal bathtub for us and my sister and I would share a bath.  Occasionally we would take a bus to my Auntie Dot’s house, get off at the stop at the bottom of the hill and then trudge up the hill and we would all take a bath, in glorious hot water, in a proper bathtub.

I am relating this information because my water heater quit on me.  Luckily the weather is warm enough that taking cold showers every day is not a problem, however I hate washing my hair in cold water,  the short term fix then is boiling water and washing my hair in the kitchen sink.  I remember how to do it, you place a face cloth over your eyes and pour a container of hot water over your head and get your hair wet enough to lather.  You then wash your hair and then using the same face cloth over your eyes, pour enough water over your head to rinse off the suds.  As I said this is a short term solution until I can either get the water heater fixed or figure out an alternative for hot water.

It occurred to me how easily I can default to my earlier life and figure out how to cope without what is commonly thought of a basic necessity, on demand hot water.  I was also able to do this after numerous hurricanes here in North Carolina, I had a set up on the barbecue where I had a constant supply of charcoal (no electricity) on the grill and two or three huge pots of water boiling at all times, both for bathing and for dishes, it kept us going for at least a couple of weeks.

Yes I know my childhood story sounds like the Four Yorkshiremen but in my case it is true.

 

So this happened

We had another winter storm in Eastern NC last night, and it was a bad one.  At first glance it was kind of wimpy, but this morning when I went out to warm up my car I could not open up the driver’s side door.  It was frozen shut.  I managed to get the passenger side door open and eventually shoved the driver’s side door open.  I turned on the engine and started up the heater and went back inside to finish getting ready for work.

When I eventually went out to the car my driver’s side door while open refused to close, the closing mechanism was frozen.  In order to drive to work without the doors flying open when I went around a corner, I had to pull the door shut and then lock it.  I have a central locking system so when I locked the driver’s side door it locked every door in the car.  When I arrived at work I parked and tried to unlock the door.  Nothing.  The lock was frozen.  I opened the window and tried to use my key to open the door, nothing.  So I was basically trapped in my car, outside the office.

Luckily for me the waitress from the Courthouse Caffee next door drove up and parked a few spaces from me.  I waved her over.  “Hi, can you help I am trapped in my car”  I explained the situation to her and said that basically I needed her to help me climb out of the window of the car.  She was a trooper and manhandled me out of the car through the driver’s side window.  Then the window would not close, so I had to leave my car with the driver’s side window open when we were expecting more freezing rain.

I went out to the car at about 10am and thankfully not only did my car unlock but the electric window closed.    I have to admit that in all my years of being stuck in cold weather, I spent four years in Scotland for goodness sake, I never thought that I would have to climb out of my car using my window.

This Winter has been insane.

H (not so much) GTV

Myself and the other denizens of the HGTV message boards back in the day would frequently complain that the G designation in the title had basically gone away.  It used to be that there were lots of wonderful gardening shows on the network whereas today you can occasionally see an episode of Yard Crashers, which is not so much about gardening, but more about a person coming in, bulldozing everything in someone’s yard, chain sawing down all of the existing plants and trees and basically turning it into a concrete slab.  So much for that.  These days the line up consists of house based shows.  House Hunters, My First Place, Love it or List It, Property Brothers.  Through all of these shows run many familiar phrases and memes that I feel compelled to address because to be honest they annoy me.

Open Concept.  What is this?  The first thing couples say when they walk into a home is “I love the open concept”, well you know what that means, cleaning, constantly, because if your guests can see your kitchen from the living and the dining room, then it means that before they arrive you have to have done all the dishes that were used in the creation of their dinner, and that the roast that you overcooked to a small piece of charcoal and which resulted in you hastily throwing it into the trash and ordering from Boston Market also means that you have to hide all the evidence.  I am a cook, I would happily admit that I am a messy cook, when I have finished cooking dinner it usually results in a sink teetering with pots and pans and spoons and spatulas and I really would prefer that my guests don’t see that.  I much prefer the concept of a “back kitchen” one that is tucked away at the back of the house and out of the sight of my guests.   Your mileage may vary of course but if you want to spend your life keeping your kitchen spotlessly clean because someone might drop by and because of your “open concept” they can see all the way through to your kitchen when the results of your latest attempt at some dinner are on full view go ahead, personally I have got better things to do.

On the same topic the couples always say that “we love to entertain”.  No you don’t.  You may have a bunch of friends over and break out the chips, dips and beer occasionally but you aren’t cooking pheasant under glass, or even mac and cheese and hot dogs.  You probably order Pizza, in large amounts when your friends are over to watch the game.  You don’t love to “entertain” don’t lie.  The majority of people don’t “entertain” any more because it means drinking and driving and we all know that isn’t happening.

The people who do not cook who insist on a gourmet kitchen with stainless steel appliances and granite countertops.  Why?  I mean what is the purpose of that sort of psychosis?  The amount of times I have heard “I don’t cook but I want an upgraded kitchen” on House Hunters would result in alcohol poisoning were I to turn it into a drinking game.

“Master Retreat”, when talking about the master bedroom.  What is a Master Retreat?  You may have the idea that you are going to retreat to the master bedroom while your husband is watching the game and snuggle into your reading nook with a cup of Earl Grey and settle down to a really good book.  Seriously?  You honestly think that that is going to happen?   You want the bathroom to be “like a spa” why?  Listen, 95% of the time you are going to spend in your “Master Retreat” are going to be spent with your eyes closed, asleep.  It is the same way I feel about Motel Rooms, I tend to go with the cheapest option possible, providing there isn’t an active and obvious rodent or roach infestation, a bed is a bed, you are not going to be admiring the décor, the reason you booked the room is so that you can sleep in it, I don’t care if the draperies match the bed linens.  So long as the room is clean and functional it works for me.

Continuing with the master bedroom theme I often hear “our king sized bed won’t fit in here”.  I know that people are bigger and more overweight these days, but the majority of people I see on HGTV are normal sized people.  Were people in the 30s half the size of people today?  No, and yet they managed with a full sized bed.  I guess back in the day the idea of sleeping with one’s spouse meant closeness, actually being close to your spouse.  I have a Queen sized bed and more often than not I will reach out for my husband in the night to reassure myself that he is still there.  I cannot imagine why anyone would need a king sized bed, why do you people hate your significant other so much that you can’t stand sleeping near them?

Lets not get started on the walk in closets.  When a female walks into a closet the size of most people’s master bedrooms and giggles and says “but where are you going to put your stuff honey?” it is all I can do not to throw a brick through the TV.   Here’s a clue, if you have so much stuff that you can’t fit it into a regular sized closet, YOU HAVE TOO MUCH STUFF.  Use the hangar trick.  At the beginning of the year hang all your clothes on hangers facing toward the back of the closet.  When you wear something and wash it, replace the hanger with it facing away from the back of the closet.  At the end of the year go through the closet and take out everything with a backward facing hangar because you haven’t worn it for a year, if you haven’t worn it for year then chances are you are never going to wear it.  Box it up, put it in storage or donate it.  This isn’t rocket science.    In my case I have several suits that I only need for court during a Jury Trial.   They are stored in a guest room closet because they don’t fit the one year rule.  My day-to-day clothes however, are strictly subject to the reverse hangar rule.

Granite Counter Tops and Hardwood Floors.  Read “enormous amounts of work to maintain”.  While I understand the disgust for carpeting (anyone with a pet knows that carpets are just a disaster, not only for accidents but they are a flea breeding haven), but when I replaced my carpets after the flood of Hurricane Floyd I replaced them with vinyl tile.  They are cheap, easy to keep clean, easy to replace if one gets damaged and basically impervious to any amount of abuse.  Granite countertops are a nightmare to maintain and it would appear that they have already become passé.  On a recent episode of house hunters a couple opined “oh there are granite countertops I was really hoping for (insert latest product that the home building industry is trying to push here, soapstone, quartz).  Just as De Beers convinced every man that if you didn’t give her a diamond ring when you asked her to marry you, you were a bum, then the home improvement industry has convinced every home owner that they should have granite countertops.

Appliances.  Do you all remember the days when “Avocado” was a color?  From Bathroom fixtures to appliances the ad agencies convinced us that we had to have the latest color of whatever.  Which of course means when the ad agencies moved on to the next best thing our Avocado bathroom was outdated and had to be replaced by either you or the people who bought your home.  It might be pertinent to point out to NEVER follow ad agencies advice when it comes to anything because they are trying to sell you something.  When it comes to bathrooms or appliances go with white.  White never goes out of fashion, despite what the ad agencies tell you.  Again, I watched a House Hunters episode recently where someone was complaining that there were “stainless steel appliances” which apparently are really hard to keep clean for a family with kids and the couple were wishing that the range and fridge were white.  Who’d a thunk it.

The basic fact is that the advertising industry are trying to sell you something.  They are trying to convince you that unless you have granite countertops or hardwood floors you are a loser.  Fact is, a home that is practical, comfortable, and suits your needs is fine for you, despite what the style experts say.

I don’t need an “open concept” living and dining area, it just results in more work for me, I don’t need a “master suite” the square footage of which would equal a single family home in some cases, I need somewhere I can sleep.  I don’t need a “home theater” which will be used once, perhaps during the super bowl.  Really people.  Get real.  Think small.  Your wallet and the environment will thank you for it.

Cold

This weekend Saturday was a frigid day for us in Eastern North Carolina.  As I shuffled out of the bedroom and into the living room I was literally shivering until I could get the heaters turned on.  My DH went out into the yard and turned the downed trees we had into firewood and in no time the house was toasty and warm.

This evening the temperature is supposed to go down to 18, which is the coldest I can remember around here.  Not surprisingly I have a roaring fire going in the fireplace, thanks to the said firewood that we have.  The great thing about having a fireplace is that there is no such thing as trash or junk mail, EVERYTHING is fuel, unless it is a can, in which case it actually gets thrown away.

I would encourage anyone who has a fireplace in their house to use it, whenever you are able.  Sure they are decorative, and most House Hunters people rave about the fireplace and yet will never have any intention of using it, but they are extremely useful, not only for cutting down on heating costs but psychologically they are invaluable.  It doesn’t matter a whit if the roaring wood fire in the fireplace is actually heating your great room, but just looking at it makes you feel warmer.  Right now it is 40 degrees outside and falling, inside my house it is a toasty 70.  All of the animals are indoors and basking in the heat.  My plan is to stack the fire with lots of wood before I go to bed to make sure that Harmony the Cockatiel stays warm overnight and the animals all have a warm place to sleep (other than, you know, as usual, on or in our bed).

Not only are fireplaces a nice feature in a home but in some cases they can become a lifesaver.  Years ago when an Ice Storm swept through Raleigh and the surrounding areas 100s of thousands were out of power.  I remember talking to my bosses Son and asking him how he was coping.  “We are at the in-laws house, they have a fireplace”  he told me.

While it is going to be cold tonight I do not think it is time to camp out in the library and start burning the tax code but it is certainly a night for a roaring fire in the fireplace.  It is what they are for.  Use them.

Food Waste

I recently read an article which explained that up to 40% of food in the US is wasted.

http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/pireland/40_percent_of_food_in_the_us_n.html?utm_source=tw&utm_medium=tweet&utm_campaign=blog

This occurs for many reasons, particularly the antiquated “sell by” dating system which not only varies from State to State but also confuses consumers into thinking that once something has passed its “sell by” date that it is unsafe to eat.  This is not only wrong, but it causes people to throw out perfectly edible and safe food.  As the article explains the “sell by” system is put in place to allow grocery stores to rotate their food stocks, it has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not something is still fit to eat.

It also got me thinking about how people treat food once they have eaten a portion of it.  There are huge excesses of food cooked during the Holiday season and much of it will go to waste after the main meal because most people do not have the know-how to take care of the leftovers.  To be sure there are many savvy cooks out there who know how to create tasty turkey sandwiches and soups out of a turkey, but  I would guess that for every one of them there are five who have no clue what to do with a turkey the day after Christmas or Thanksgiving (there are even some who don’t know what to do with it the day of Christmas or Thanksgiving but that is another story) and simply throw it away, it is a shocking waste of food when you think about it.

DH and I had Rotisserie Chicken for Christmas day, with all the trimmings of course (a Turkey seemed a little excessive for just the two of us).  The next day (Boxing Day for all us Brits) I dismantled the chicken and made cold chicken sandwiches.  The day after that I dismantled the chicken again and used it to make a Chicken Pot Pie which I put in the fridge and we are having for dinner tonight (chicken three nights in a row seeming to be a little excessive).  Had I been as dedicated as my Mother usually is, I would have then boiled the carcass to extract every last scrap of the meat and either turned it into soup or, more likely as my Mother would do, into curry,  as it was I gave it to the possums outside.

The problem is that people are not taught to cook and are therefore ill equipped to handle leftovers, which I think is a tragedy.    Personally I think cooking (not just Home Economics or whatever else it is they call it), should be mandatory in schools.  Reading, Writing and ‘Rithmatic are essential of course but will not equip you with basic skills to keep you fed and alive.  As we used to say about the “egg heads” “they can tell you the square-root of a can of beans but couldn’t open one”.  It not only means that people spend far more on food than they need to (because they buy take-out or eat out at restaurants) but it means that people make poor food choices on a budget (for the price of a couple of PB&J you could make a decent family meal).

I have spoken on this blog many times about my Mother’s ability to take one pound of minced beef (ground beef) and turn it into a week of meals for us.  It would begin with Mince and Tatties (ground beef in gravy with boiled potatoes and a vegetable), the next day the leftovers (the ground beef, potatoes and vegetables with some additions) would become a stew, the following day (the leftover stew) would become Cornish pasties with some leftovers to turn into a curry (just add some curry powder and make rice) the next day,  the final day the curry leftovers would become a soup with perhaps just a few pieces of ground beef floating around in it.

Teach that in your schools.  Not only would it go a long way to solving the poverty problem in this country but it would also go a long way to solving the childhood obesity problem.  Filling your child up with rubbish to assuage hunger is not only bad for your child it is bad for your budget.   Teach people how to cook.  It is an essential life skill that should not be overlooked by any education system.    Just my two cents.

Green and Pleasant Land

One of the things that struck me as we left Manchester Airport and headed up the M6 Motorway to Lancaster was how many sheep there were in the fields beside the motorway.  It occurred to me that I had not noticed them before as I was generally driving and would have my eyes on the road.  This time however, I was in the passenger seat and could take the time to look out of the windows.  There were sheep everywhere!  White sheep

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Black Sheep

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Field upon field of them.   I am sure it also has something to do with the Mad Cow outbreak years ago that farmers decided that sheep farming was a safer bet than cattle,  but the whole thing fascinated me.

I was also delighted to discover that the hedgerows and dry stone walls had not been removed to create massive fields but the traditional green patchwork quilt effect was still in play.

Dry stone walls are a work of art in an of themselves, especially when they have aged nicely and are home to mosses and ferns.

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It was of some concern that the art of building dry stone walls was dying out but from what I understand there is a healthy apprenticeship program underway to keep it alive.

When people abroad think of England they tend to believe that the entire country is like London, or indeed that the rest of England is just an extension of London.  That is a little like thinking if you have seen New York you have seen America, which my American readers will know is far from the truth.

England is a jewel of an Island, and I was glad to see that while it may have the same problems as many other countries in the world, some things are constant.  It always has been and always will be a green and pleasant land.  SONY DSC