Category Archives: Blethers

Welcome To America

Welcome to America

I have a question for everyone on my list who is not American but has traveled here (or lived here).

Imagine you have a friend who is traveling to the US for the first time. Previously they’ve only ever taken package holidays to beach resorts but now they’re branching out to a couple of weeks somewhere in the US and planning it all themselves.

What piece of advice would you give them to help them navigate this deceptively foreign country?

It could be something as simple as  how to order breakfast in a diner (or as complicated as how to get a decent cup of tea). It could be to remind them that almost all the shops are shut on Thanksgiving Day (Nov) or that most shops don’t shut at any other time; or that nobody ever buys anything at full price. It could be as specific as “When you’re in New Orleans you must get coffee and beignets at Cafe Du Monde and sit and watch the world walk by.”

Or you could simply tell me a story of an experience you’ve had as a visitor (or with visitors).

Beware: your tips could end up  (in modified form) in my creative writing ;)

I’m looking forward to some eye-opening comments :) Thanks!

Hot Now, Hot Then

“Healthfully Air-Conditioned!”

healthfullyWhen they filmed “The Blob” at our local movie theater in the 1950s, there was a banner on the cinema proclaiming it to be “Healthfully Air-Conditioned”.

Every year for Blobfest they put up a replica banner (among other things. You really ought to come for Blobfest some year) and it takes me right back to our days in Boston where we lived without air-conditioning (and were too poor & stupid to buy more than one fan). I used to go and see movies on my day off, or go to the mall, just to get out of the heat. Today I walked back into the house after being outside and the lovely air-conditioned 77°F (25°C) felt positively chilly.

Life Without AC

I once asked my 82-year old friend Emily what they did about the heat in her childhood when cooling-off options weren’t as easy to come by.

“Well,” she said thoughtfully. “We sat really still.”

She laughed at the memory and continued.

“You did any baking that needed done, early in the morning. Then my mother would draw the curtains and tell us to be quiet. We played a lot of board games and did a lot of puzzles!”

We are so soft. Can you imagine being imprisoned in your oven-like house with several small children for a couple of months in the summer, telling them to be quiet and not move?

I know folks now who live in older houses and only have an a/c window unit in one room. They spend a lot of time at the pool. (Our local YMCA pool stays open an extra hour, until 9 pm, on days when the temperature gets above 90). Everyone camps out in the air-conditioned room on really hot days. Down south, those big verandas you see on old houses used to be known as ‘sleeping porches’, because that’s where everyone ended up, to survive.


My friends laugh at my tales of headlines in The Sun proclaiming “Phew! What a scorcher!” when temperatures in the UK reached 80°F. But then I explain that no-one has fans, or air-conditioning, or the clothes for that weather, or bug screens or outdoor pools to cool off in.

I’m sure people from the deep south 150 years ago, who worked all day in woollen clothes, would be disgusted by our dying fly act in the summer vacation with abundant air-conditioning and near-nudity perfectly acceptable.

It’s all about norms, what we’re used to, and what we expect.

98 Degrees

It’s 98 degrees out there, and humid.

I tell this to people who have never experienced this kind of heat and they say things like,

“Well, that certainly sounds hot.”


“What’s that in Centigrade?”


“I have no idea what that feels like.”

To address these points, allow me to take them in reverse.

I Have No Idea What 98 Degrees Feels Like

Yes, you have, but probably not on the outside of your body. So here’s what I propose:

Close your mouth for a minute or so. Then stick your fingers down your throat. (Try not to gag)

That? That’s body temperature which is around 98.2 (±1.3) °F.

That’s what the air feels like.

And the gag reflex? That kicks in after about 30 minutes outside.

Also if you could put your oven on for me, until it gets up to a decent temperature, then open the door and stick your head right in front of the rush of hot air that happens as you open it? That would be what it’s like when the wind blows.

And for the humidity (which isn’t as bad yet as it can get), if you could please go and boil the kettle. I’ll wait.

OK, done? Good. Now, pour some of the boiled water into a bowl. Place your face over the bowl and take a big breath.

That horrible wet choking sensation where it feels hotter than the air really is, and where you feel like your struggling for breath and where your hair sticks to your face making you feel even worse than before? That’s “humid”.

What’s That In Centigrade?

I don’t know because not only does the US eschew the eminently sensible metric system, they don’t even do that thing that Britain did when I was growing up, of showing everything on two scales, so everyone learned to sort-of-semi-convert-things in their heads.

But, because I love you, I’ve Googled it. It’s 36.66666etc°C.

Which actually doesn’t sound that terrible. I’ll get back to you in August when it hits 104 (40C).

Also, 98°F is 306.9 Kelvins. That sounds much more like how it feels.

Well, That Certainly Sounds Hot

Yup. There was a heat advisory on the radio this morning that said things like,

“If you must be outside, drink four cups of water every hour.”


“If you start to get a headache and feel nauseous, get into the shade, try to get cool and, if it doesn’t get better within 20 minutes, seek medical help.”


“Don’t leave anyone inside a closed car, even for a few minutes. It could be fatal!”

Which is why I’m inside, playing on the computer on “such a beautiful day”…

All You Need Is Rov(ing)

I can be a bit reserved.

I can see someone who looks really interesting and unless I’ve got a good excuse (like when I worked for newspapers, or in bars and shops) I tend not to wander up, introduce myself and ask all the questions I want to ask.

Last week, however, my love of wool overcame my fear of foolishness.

When you are sitting down in the dentist’s waiting room and the only other person there is not only wearing hand-knitted socks in jewel colours, but stabbing away at some raw, unspun wool (roving) with a needle in full view of everyone, you know right there and then whether or not they’re the sort of person you want to be talking to.

I’m so uncool that she was exactly the kind of person I wanted to be talking to.

“OK,” I said, smiling and sitting down beside the bespectacled crafter who sported long, greying hair and a serene expression. “I have to ask what you’re doing with that wool…”

Soon I had found out about needle-felted dolls (tiny) and that , Kristina, was originally from somewhere not far from Strasburg (the on in Germany, not the one in Lancaster County) and had arrived in Pennsylvania with her husband and two teenage children, after five years in Hawaii. We discussed the challenges of settling in to a new place, of leaving family behind and of raising families in new places. And of course she had a connection to the local Waldorf school, which shouldn’t surprise me at all.

Her family does not even own a television, and we were able to rave on together about the wonders of the (almost) tv-free life. She was wary of computers too, though, so my suspicions that our interests only overlapped, rather than completely coinciding, were confirmed.

Still, it was so nice to sit down next to a complete stranger and, because we had one thing in common, find we could have such a great and far-ranging conversation.

I really do enjoy chatting to new and random people, even if I do seem to need a prop to get started!

Health Care Reform for US – Why We Must Have It

I’m taking on one of the many, many myths about what will happen in the US if we have health care reform. Just one, but I think it’s one of the two or three most powerful and it says:

“If we change the system we’ll end up having to pay more.”

But how much do you know about how things work today?

Last month I had a sore throat. I went to my doctor. I paid my $25 co-pay. She swabbed my throat to check for strep, put the cotton swab into a little plastic dish, checked the reaction and said, nope, not strep. The sample did not go to a lab, no-one pored over it for hours analyzing it, and she told me that it often misses strep anyway, if it hasn’t developed sufficiently.

Three week later I got a notification that my insurance company was being billed over $70 for that test 1.

Luckily I have extremely generous health coverage courtesy of the Evil Big Pharma company that pays the bills around here.

But What If I Didn’t Have Good Coverage?

Back when I was first in the US, I went to a new doctor who recommended a series of tests “to establish a baseline” or something like that. I’m a good, obedient girl who assumed that doctors do what’s best for their patients, so I held out my arm and let him drain some of my blood.

Then my insurance company declined to cover the costs.

I freaked out and called the doctor’s office in a panic 2. They made sympathetic noises and sent me a revised bill for a token amount that was likely much closer to the true value of the doctor’s time and efforts. It was still an unwanted dent in the budget, but more than that, I was disturbed by the casual dishonesty of it.

If the test costs $30, why are you billing my insurance company $140?

As it turns out, this is standard practice.

The whole medical community (hospitals, specialists, general practitioners) understands that you have to get what you can out of the insurance companies when you can…and when you can’t, well, you still treat the patients who can’t afford you, using the cushion of money you built up by treating the ones who can.

You see what we’ve done here?

We’ve created a system where the only humane thing to do is commit insurance fraud.

Let’s be clear: I don’t mind subsidizing the less fortunate. I really, really don’t. I think it’s my duty and makes me more human, humane and decent. But I hate that it’s done dishonestly.

So what, if the insurance companies are getting scammed?

1, And I know I might sound hopelessly old-fashioned for saying this, but I believe this institutionalized fraud is bad for the soul, or, if you prefer, bad for the moral character of the people involved and the society as a whole. If you are training people to ignore the Jimminy Cricket voice that is chirping in their heads “You’re using someone else’s money to pay for this”, then you are training people to squash that voice in less altruistic moments too. Maybe I only use my cell phone for two business calls a month, but what the heck it’s easier just to claim the whole bill as a business expense on my taxes. It’s not that much money when you look at how much the government collects… Or, even worse: meh, everyone’s doing it.

2,  Less importantly but still significant: current practices drive up costs for everyone, making insurance more expensive for people who can afford it and inaccessible to people who don’t have a few hundred to spare for the premiums every month. Five years ago, my co-pay at the doctor’s office was $10. Last year it was $15. This year it’s $25. And my insurance company covers fewer services today than it did ten years ago.

And that’s without any reforms.

I can afford it now, but there was a time when that large a fee for every doctor’s visit (with a family of four it adds up) would have been a serious hardship.

If health care reform makes things ‘more expensive’, I say so what? It’s going to happen either way.

I’d rather it happen in a way that made health care more accessible to everyone.

I’d rather have less money to spend on plastic cr*p for my kids, and know that someone with a pre-existing condition who works two 30hr a week jobs 3 can actually go to their doctor when their condition flares up, and they won’t have to spend their off-hours researching the cheapest treatment options or the ways they can get into debt to cover the costs.

There’s a world of difference between ‘not being able to afford to go to Aspen twice this year because the government increased taxes on the fabulously wealthy to cover the health care costs of the stinkin’ poor4‘ and ‘not being able to sleep because I don’t know how I’m going to pay my child’s medical bills’.


  1. $70+ I kid you not. And it looked like one of those pee-on-a-stick pregnancy tests you can buy online for $1 a pop. I guarantee you my doctor did not pay even 50% of the bill for that test when she ordered them in bulk
  2. Being from the UK I wasn’t familiar with medical billing and the numbers boggled my mind
  3. because certain employers like to keep you below a certain number of hours so that they’re not legally obliged to pay health insurance benefits to you — ask me how I know…
  4. No-one except movie stars and sports gods will admit that they are wealthy, but I say if you’re earning over half a million a year, you’re wealthy. Get used to it!

Time Enough At Last

I’ve been sending Gregor to Lunch Bunch a lot recently a, because he likes it and b, because the difference between picking him up at 11.15 (stop what I’m doing at 10.45, probably get dressed, and make sure I’m ready to leave just after 11) is hugely different from picking him up at 1.

Every time I pick him up he complains and wants to stay with the afternoon kids, because they seem to be doing something interesting. (Not that he’s not perfectly happy to be at home once we get here, mind you).

So today, I tucked a little note and an extra ‘ticket’ in his bag and he’s staying until 3.



heh heh


So I have all this time to myself.

In the past couple of days I’ve been working on some website projects and some other things that have had me ‘running’ all day.

Today, with the luxury of enough time to get my teeth into something? I made the mistake of checking twitter, and reading a long interview with someone, and that lead me to a couple of blogs. And now it’s 10 AM.

[smacks self on forehead]

Right, to work!

Global Silliness

So, my friend Carol went to Thailand and Cambodia for Christmas and New Year (as you do).

We’ve been keeping in touch by email, but this morning she caught me  on GoogleTalk and we’re chatting in real time. She sent me a link to the guest house she is typing from, so that I could ‘visit’.


Other fun moments in the conversation:

  • when she angsted about visiting a touristy place where a ceremonially-long-necked woman wove scarves, and wondered whether she was a horrible person because she was kind of hoping that spend a lot of money and talking to the woman balanced out the karma of exploiting the natives. “I didn’t once ask her about her neck attire,” she added, virtuously ;)
  • when she used the phrase “I have to find a liquor store for gifts”. Always a good phrase,  in my book.


Ooo, I have a pullover and a sock on the go, neither of them small projects, really, but neither of them in the first flush, either. Both are about 3/4s finished, so naturally I’m looking around for a sexy new love.

And I think I’ve found it.

I’m sitting here trying to resist winding into balls the two skeins of Knitpicks Alpaca Cloud I have burning a hole in my psyche, and casting on. It’s not like I have any uninterrupted-knitting-time for doing knitting-that-requires-paying-attention-to-the-knitting-and-the-chart.

I just want to have that kind of time and somehow casting on something complicated seems like an optimistic statement about life. Or “unrealistic wishful thinking”, as some might call it.

But I firmly believe that it’s optimism (however misplaced) that keeps us sane!


I’m going through a trying time. In short, I’m having my second miscarriage in five months. But I have two lovely children, I have faith, I have friends and I have people who love me, so it’s all better than it could be.

But the other weapon in my arsenal, against the monsters lurking in the dark pools of my psyche waiting for an opportune moment to leap out and drag me under, is my knitting.

Stephanie has a theory that knitters are not patient people, but that while knitting, we exist in a bubble of artificially-induced calm. I am using my bubble as needed.

After I lost my first baby, unexpectedly, at 12 weeks two days before Christmas, I cast on a lovely, complicated, decadent, and beaded lacy cowl. I worked on it and made it as beautiful as I could. It was a challenge and it was delicate and beautiful and comforting. And I finished it, which felt like quite an achievement, in the circumstances.

On Monday as I sat in the waiting room, wondering if we were going to see a heartbeat or not, I couldn’t take out my current project in case the news was bad and the project was soured by association.

But after I heard the bad news and was dispatched to another waiting room, I pulled out my sock and looked at it. The yarn, TOFUtsies, is supposed to have antibacterial properties.

“Oh well,” I thought. “You can be my healing socks.”

(Then I immediately thought, gack, you can be disgustingly perky sometimes!)

But don’t worry, the wallowing in self-pity comes later with me. When it tempts me (when I get a chance, with two small children running around) I pick up my healing sock and it makes me happy. I love the colours, the delicacy, the way the yarn-overs spiral one way and the colours of the sock spiral the other. I love the feel of the yarn, and I love the stitch-after-stitch repetitiveness and the knowledge that if I get it wrong, I can rip back and fix it.

TOFUtsies Tidal Wave

I love that it keeps me focussed on the moment, on the present. And none of those moments are awful. I read about an author who lost her (eight year old?) daughter and turned to knitting to help her get through. How could she live through that, I wondered. That must be so much worse than my troubles. She must have had days when she needed the knitting to make her want to move at all. I’m guessing got through it stitch by stitch.

And that’s what I shall do.

Now On WordPress

This poor homeless little blog has been wandering around for years now, from Livejournal to Blogger and back to LJ, for want of anything better.

But in a fit of widget-envy, I have moved to WordPress and will be trying it out for a while. I never could find the comments people left on Blogger (among other problems) and I’m a bit bored with Livejournal. Hopefully people will find me again, through Ravelry and invites, and that I can amuse and entertain. With added widgetty goodness.