Monthly Archives: April 2009

Ice, ice, baby!

My new fridge came today! It is still an under-the-counter ‘dorm’ fridge (I tried, I really did, but could not convince the landlord to knock out the counter for a full sized one) but at least it has a freezer that works, so this happy woman can have beverages with ice. The thing came with a single ice tray, the cutest little ice tray I’ve ever seen:


Eight tiny ice cubes can be mine any time I wish! Actually, I ran out to the store tonight and bought a full-sized ice tray–which just about takes up the whole freezer–although I also managed to squeeze in some frozen baby peas (my favorite!) and a box of fish fingers. I know. It’s crazy. I just never ate fish sticks as a child and now I love them! Off to enjoy a cold beverage…

A preemptive strike

O to be in England now that April’s (t)here… I had heard that poem for many years but only on this, my third April in the UK, do I see that it might just be the best month. The sun is out. The flowers are blooming and the gardens are fabulous. The days are long and light, and recently, mostly sunny. April really has been the loveliest month in each of the years I’ve lived here.

That said, there’s a dark side to the loveliness. You’ve got it, the windows are open and that means flying insects in my living room, and me missing American windows with bug screens. However, after my ode to a favorite American baked good went horribly awry in the last few days, I’m not feeling much like saying anything more that could result in my being on the end of comments that are really at times outside the spirit of community that one would hope to have in the world of expat blogs. So I thought maybe I should try to guess and say these things myself, rather than wait for the comments, thus acting in the manner of a preemptive strike. Here we go.

  • I’m a spoiled American prissy for expecting to live free of insects buzzing around my living room, and I should buck up and learn to live with nature.
  • I must have poor hygiene and/or live in a hovel, or there wouldn’t be flies in my flat.
  • I’m clearly not appreciating the historic British architecture and thus I don’t respect how the visual appeal of the listed buildings would be damaged by fly screens on the window.
  • [I should] Go home. (ed. That’s always my absolute favorite, really.)
  • How dare I be complaining about the flies in my comfortable Western flat when there are children in the third world with more serious problems.

Now here’s where we get serious. World malaria day was only a few days ago, and a net to put over a child’s bed is effective in preventing this deadly infection. So, enough about me and my whinges about flying insects and my dreams of fly screens, how about you all join me in doing something much more useful, and make a donation to Nothing But Nets. From their website:

In the poorest parts of the world, where effective window screens are lacking, insecticide-treated bed nets are arguably the most cost-effective way to prevent malaria transmission. One bed net costs just $10 to buy and deliver to individuals in need. One bed net can safely last a family for about four years, thanks to a long-lasting insecticide woven into the net fabric.

And don’t bother to make any derogatory comments about me and the flies. Believe me, I’ve heard it all already.

Biscuits, American Style

There are three things I love to make on the weekend, for which I am almost guaranteed to have the ingredients on hand. The first is pancakes, the second is popovers (lately made in my Yorkshire pud’ tin). The third is cheese biscuits, a variant of a southern-style drop biscuit with a bit of the American heartland thrown in, in the form of large quantities of cheese. I’ve discovered that red Leicester is as close as I can get to American cheddar cheese, as this recipe simply does not work with what they call cheddar cheese here (or in Australia for that matter, I made these while down under and it was a massive fail!) But it’s because of these tasty treats that I have such a hard time with the use of the word “biscuit” in Britain. These biscuits are flakey and tender, light as a feather.


Things that call themselves biscuits here are either sweet (cookies) or cardboard-ish and tasteless cheese transporting devices (crackers). I’ll stick with my southern biscuits, while fully acknowledging that they are not exactly diet food. If making them in the US, the recipe is here (the recipe relies on the magical US pantry staple “Bisquick“–I swear I’m in Pillsbury and Betty Crocker withdrawl right now…) while for those of us suffering without Bisquick in the UK, the “from scratch” version is roughly this (sans the garlic topping that I don’t normally do anyways, as I make them for brunch).


It has been a full two years since the first post on this site, “Introduction: I moved to England.” And a full two and a half years since I actually moved to England and started writing down my observations of life here, which were originally recorded in a text document that formed the basis of early blog posts. 57,000+ views later, I’m still here, still sometimes confused or bemused by life as an American in the UK, and still writing about expat life.


In the last few days, I’ve spelled things in British English instead of American while iChatting with my sister (repeatedly, even though she kept calling me on it) and used “Cheers” to end a phone call with another UK-based American colleague. I’m so confused!

April 21, 1939

On the 21st of April, 1939, seventy years ago today, my grandparents were married. They were married out in the homestead prairie regions of southwestern Minnesota. The wedding photographs prominently featured a baby goat and mostly took place in the bride’s family home. This was small town/farm country America. My immigrant great-grandparents (grandmother’s parents) moved to the area from the Netherlands in the early 20th century. They initially lived in a sod house with dirt floors; they had 15 children, my grandmother included, of which 14 lived to adulthood. They were so stuck for names that there is a series of pairs, with the first and middle name switched, for most of the older children.

My grandparents fell in love and got married in a scandalous cross-culture experiment: she was Dutch! But he was Norwegian! Tongues were wagging across southwestern Minnesota, although they both came from “highly respected families” in the area. They took up more than a few column inches in the local newspaper with the wedding announcement (I have a scan, hoorah!) My grandfather’s sister was the bridesmaid and my grandmother’s brother was the groomsman–thank goodness these details were preserved in the local paper for posterity! We even know what song was played for the wedding processional. If we didn’t have the photos to sustain us, we could be assured that the bride “was beautifully attired in a floor length white satin dress, trimmed at the shoulders and sleeves and with stand-up collar. An ankle-length veil completed her attire. She carried a bouquet of Easter Lilies and white Sweet Peas.” If we had any doubts, we could know that “A bountiful lunch concluded the reception…” and that the honeymoon took them “for an extended wedding trip, which will take them to the Twin Cities and other points.”

They managed more than 60 years of married life before they left the earth at the same time, after a car accident some years ago. This is admittedly more personal than my usual post, but… Have you ever seen two people so happy in a wedding photo?


News Headlines and Punctuation

I would love it if someone could explain British punctuation to me; emails, which I have written about before in noting that they contain hardly any punctuation where I expect there to be some:

Dear Martha

Happy New Year

(content of the note) blah blah blah

Best wishes


My response would look likely look more like this:

Dear Roger,

Happy New Year to you too!

(content of the response) blah blah blah.

Best wishes,


Although it’s perhaps not a fair comparison, as my American email would more likely read

Roger–Happy new year! blah, blah, blah, Best regards, Martha

thus saving space in cyberspace and doing away with letter-style formality for a quick note.

In contrast to emails, British headlines seem to me to have waaaaaay too much punctuation. Example headlines from the BBC today:

  • Sea rescue beacons ‘a priority’
  • China ‘to act over jail deaths’
  • Economy ‘no longer in free fall’
  • Cancer brake ‘could halt disease’
  • Teachers ‘script GCSE oral exams’
  • ‘Green Nobel’ for forest champion

The only top stories headline on Yahoo! news that used quotes was referring to a movie, otherwise the headlines were quote-free:

  • Efron turns ’17 Again’ into No. 1 hit with $24M
  • Police plan to charge driver in fatal accident
  • Diabetes? Some beat it, but are they cured?
  • US boycotting, Iran starring, at UN racism meeting
  • Exxon Mobil overtakes Wal-Mart to top Fortune 500
  • Chavez’s gift to Obama swiftly becomes best-seller
  • Yao has 24 points, Rockets beat Blazers 108-81

Now I buy books in both countries and have learned to read them without noticing the single-versus-double quote anomaly, but this one has me perplexed. Lots of quotes in headlines, no punctuation in emails… anyone???

The Daily Show on British Tyrrany

See the British Daily show correspondent explain British Tyrrany to the American teabag protesters on Tax Day this week.

A 21st century girl in a 19th century world

This week I had some frustrating adventures when I had to:

  • Visit the bank in person to deposit money
  • Stand in a 10-deep queue at the post office to mail 2 letters
  • Log the need for my radiators to stop leaking on a piece of paper in a 3-ring binder two blocks from where I live
  • Obtain a pin-pad for my computer to be able to make online payments

Instead of:

  • Depositing a check at the ATM
  • Using a vending machine to buy stamps
  • Filling in a web-form or sending a text to request maintenance
  • Using PayPal to authorize web-transactions of all magnitudes

For anyone considering a move to the UK from the US let me just say, yes you may have more vacation time, but you’ll need it after spending so much time doing things that would have taken no time at all in the US. Although I admit my local drugstore and grocery store have both added self-checkout, merely 4 years after they became standard in the states.

Death and Taxes

As one certain B. Franklin said, “Certainty? In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” Today was tax day for many of us Americans including those of us who are expats and subject to the rules of foreign living. Slate covered this issue as though we expats were all living a cushy life abroad; after paying British tax all year, the fact that I manage a zero balance in the US is only due to the fact that I am a scientist (and thus not a banker earning real money) and so my US tax return falls under the level of the not-quite-poverty-stricken. Of course, it took 30 pages (prepared at a cost in pounds that I don’t want to admit, due to my lack of understanding of legal- and tax-speak) to demonstrate my lack of taxable US income this year, as opposed to 23 last year, and I’m mystified by this in light of the fact that the fall in the pound against the dollar means that I’m earning about 1/2 of what my compatriots in the US are earning for my same job (when the pound was worth something my salary was not embarrassing in dollars). What can I say, it’s the hard-knock life for us American expats in the UK. Perhaps I’m lucky to still be under the US tax limit and not starving to death in England.