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.

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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.

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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

Shopping

Other than spending time with my family, one of the main things I was looking forward to while in Lancaster was shopping.  Lancaster is a very walking friendly city, couple that with the fact that my Mum’s house, where we were staying, is no more than a ten minute walk to the City center and it makes for wonderful shopping opportunities.  SAMSUNG

To begin with we still have local shops, and while the market is closed down we still have local butcher’s shops and fish mongers.  SAMSUNG

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In addition the grocery stores are different.  While we certainly have our big box stores, such as Asda (now owned by Wal Mart) on the outskirts of town, in the City we have a very quaint Sainsbury’s which is located in an old fruit and vegetable warehouse down by the river.

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Inside of course is a sight to behold (for someone like me who has not seen it for a long time.  At the deli of the grocery stores I am now used to in the US the cheese counter consists of five varieties, well six if you count take it or leave it.  In England you get five different varieties of one type of cheese mild, sharp, strong,  mature, for the usual suspects of Cheddar, Double Gloustershire, Stilton, Chesire, etc.    In the case of Lancashire and Wenslydale Cheeses you also get the option of creamy or crumbly.  A cursory count of the labels shows that Sainsbury’s sells at least 70 different types of cheese.  You have to admit that is quite impressive.

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The most wonderful sight to behold though was the bacon section. SAMSUNG

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Yes that is three cases full of bacon.  I do not have to explain this to my English readers but perhaps a primer on British bacon v. US bacon is in order here (strangely enough they were having the same discussion over at the Guardian EnglishtoEnglish site recently).  In Europe when a pig is slaughtered it is handled in one of two ways.  Either the whole pig is cured and turned into bacon or the whole pig is used as pork.  In the US only the pork bellies are cured and turned into bacon (which we call streaky in the UK).  As the whole pig is cured into bacon in Europe it means that every cut of pork that you can get in the US can be had as bacon in Europe.  Therefore as you can see in the above photographs you can get bacon joints, bacon chops, bacon steaks (known as Gammon),  back bacon (the most common bacon served in the UK which looks like a very thinly sliced pork chop) , neck bacon, etc .  In addition to that once the pig has been turned into bacon it is then smoked or not.  So in addition to all of the cuts of bacon that are available they are also available in a smoked or un-smoked version.  (See versions of cheese above).  Ham is a large bacon leg joint that will be slow roasted and turned into Home Roasted Ham.

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As you can imagine it all results in an absolutely dizzying array of options when it comes to bacon.  Truth be told not many people buy streaky bacon because it has so much fat in it, and we all know how the world feels about fat.

It occurs to me, Americans are all about choice, they have an abiding desire to be able to choose what to eat, what to buy etc., and yet for some reason they are entirely happy for American food producers restricting their ability to experience anything other than “the norm” i.e., streaky bacon.  By steadfastly refusing to turn any part of the pig other than the bellies into bacon they are limiting American’s ability to enjoy one of the best meals on the planet, Gammon steak, chips (fries) and peas.   By steadfastly refusing to make any cheese other than Cheddar they are restricting Americans ability to experience what is the truly the caviar of cheeses, Lancashire, when it comes to toasted cheese sandwiches.

When I visit a UK supermarket I am truly dazzled by the choices that are given the UK consumer compared to those given the US consumer.  As a resident of the US for 20+ years isn’t that really un American?

A Total Surprise

Last week I mailed the applications for myself and my husband’s passport renewals as they had both expired.  I sent his priority mail to the State Department here in the US with a guaranteed delivery date of September 19, I sent mine to the UK Passport office express overseas with a guaranteed delivery date of September 23.  Today I arrived home and there were two DHL packages at my door, one contained my cancelled passport from the UK and the other contained my new passport from the UK.   Providing that the delivery date from the post office was correct that is a turnaround time of two, or even three days depending on how you calculate it.

That is some serious kick butt service from the UK passport office.   Still waiting for the husband’s passport from the State Department.   I have found that the bureaucracy in the UK is far more efficient than that of the US.  When my dad was diagnosed with cancer in 1996 and I was summoned home with an expired passport I had no way to get there.  I called the British Embassy here in the US and they immediately went into crisis mode and faxed every airport that I would be traveling through and smoothed my way into the UK with not a hitch.  I didn’t even get a glance from the Immigration  Officers at Manchester Airport because they had all the information they needed at their desk the moment I arrived.

When it came to going home after my dad’s death and funeral however it was an absolute nightmare.  My green card had expired, and the US  flight officials at Manchester Airport wouldn’t even let me on the plane without paying a heavy fine despite the fact that I was married to an American Citizen.  Money which I did not have.   My mother ended up having to pay it.  Then there was the taking away to a padded room once I landed in the US with another fine to pay before I was allowed back into the country.

My passport and my green card are now both current so hopefully I will have no problem going home and then returning.  With the US Immigration Officials however I am not so sure.

I’m Going Home

It has been twelve long years but at last I am going home.  To walk the streets of my childhood and notice the changes.  To sit in a market cafe and eat my fill of meat and potato pies and chips.  To go to a pub and have a real Ploughman’s lunch or even better a Lancashire Hot Pot.  To go to Asda and fill my cart with all of the things I have been missing for the last twelve years.  To stand on the banks of the River Lune and just watch as she rolls by.  To go to my mum’s and Norman’s 80th birthday party and just dance and be silly with my family.  To meet my great niece Nancy Olivia for the first time.  To sit and have a moment of quiet reflection and a million giggles with my sister whom I miss so much.  To hug once again my best friend Lynne who I have not seen for years and yet who has been a constant at my side since I was 14.

To just be.  Just be.  In Lancaster, in Market Square, in my mum’s house, in my home town.  Just be.  Just be me.    Who knows at what time I will ever get to go back, but just this once I get to go home.  Home and all of its blanket of familiarity will envelope me, and all of its meness will enfold me, and all of its core of my very being will infuse me, and all of its building blocks of the very person I am today will click into place and be there, where they aught to be.  Lancaster is where I grew up, where my personality developed, where everything I am and everything I do was born.  Where I was born.

I’m going home and it never felt so good.  It never felt so right.  It never felt better.  I have lived in the United States for over twenty years now, and I consider my little acre of North Carolina to be home, but there is always that little part of me that longs for the Pads (a walking path in my area) that longs for the Canals, their serenity and beauty being hard to compare, that longs for the Bluebell Woods, that longs for the late night run to the Off License to grab a six pack of beer, that longs for the walk from my house to town, to the market, to the butchers, to the cheese shop.  My heart aches some times for those things, and my heart aches for the sheer closeness of my family, if only I could run around the corner and visit with my Mum, if only I could get in the car and invade my sister’s house and bug her all day, if only I could go to Amy’s and spoil my great niece all day and then hand her off, for her to deal with.  If only.

I’m going home.