Friday, 30 November 2007

Unique Australian goodies

What goodies would you miss from Australia if you moved away? Whilst we can readily source tim tams and vegemite there are a few lesser known items that we really would like to be able to buy here. When Andrew travelled back to Oz he picked up a number of things we've missed including: mint slices, chocolate montes, gravox, dettol, milo, violet crumbles, SM33 teething gel (no colours or flavours), nurofen gel and dunlopillo pillows. Thanks to Rhonda for the Haighs chocolate.

At www.simplyaustralian.com we can source many things of these things at a slightly higher price. But sending chocolate biscuits through the mail between June and October is not a good thing. Also the cost of the meat pies and sausage rolls is prohibitive!

Thursday, 29 November 2007

A reason to blog

"But that feeling of impatience arose because I was aware that what I didn't hear now, I never would hear, there'd be no instant replay, as there can be when you listen to a tape or watch a video and can press the rewind button, rather, any whisper not apprehended or understood there and then would be lost forever. That's the unfortunate thing about what happens to us and remains unrecorded, or worse still, unknown or unseen or unheard, for later, there's no way it can be recovered."



a heart so white by Javier Marias

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Keeping up appearances

One of the cultural differences we have encountered is that Americans seem a lot more worried about appearances than Australians. Here are some examples.

We don't have blinds on the windows in the living areas of our house. So whilst Andrew was away in Oz we put up some sheets and picnic blankets on some key windows so that it didn't feel so open whilst I was home alone. When visitors came over during the week they were shocked about the sheets. They would prefer either nothing on the windows or proper blinds. Everyone was full of suggestions for where to get cheap blinds and someone even gave me a coupon. It's not that we don't want blinds its just that we need to save up to buy them (we just got the fence installed!) But it was interesting that nothing was a better option that sub-prime. In the land of convenience you must buy buy buy.

Another example about appearances is that Southern belles can't leave the house without makeup. I never see anyone (else) just whipping out to the shops in their trackies for milk. At the supermarket everyone is nicely dressed with perfect lipstick. In fact this is an easy way to spot northerners as they aren't usually so well turned out.

When we first moved in we didn't have a lawnmower (and still don't). The grass got really long and wasn't looking too good. All the neighbours offered to lend us their lawnmowers (one person offered twice). We were just waiting to get things sorted out at home so weren't too worried about having an immaculate lawn. But clearly others do worry and they spend an inordinate amount of time keeping it looking good. Two ironic things have now happened: Wilmington is now in drought and we aren't allowed to use the watering system anymore; it's winter so the grass has gone dormant (ie brown). Our front lawn is now looking good, aparting from its winter hibernation, but it was never something we really worried about too much.

Appearances can be deceptive.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Product of the week - Golden raspberries

There's nothing wrong with the camera - the raspberries are actually yellow! They taste fairly similar to regular red raspberries. So that's it. They're just regular raspberries. End of blog.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Weekend update

Since thanksgiving on Thursday we have kept a fairly low profile just catching up on sleep. The exception being that we ventured over to Mark & Sandy's for a catch up and an aussie bbq complete with chocolate pavlova. It's good to have Aussie friends here!

On an unrelated note over the weekend we did encounter some southern racism that TOTALLY shocked us. It was said "I wouldn't allow my [white] child to marry a black person because they would have tanned babies". WHAT??? Words fail me.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Thanksgiving

We are currently in the middle of a 4 day long weekend to celebrate Thanksgiving. In fact today is Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. Yesterday we spent helping to put up Ava's Christmas present, a swing set which both Ava and Lucy loved playing on. Last night we were invited to a thanksgiving feast at Gary & Mary's and we had a fantastic time with their family and Grammy Lou & Poppy. The food was awesome so I am going to detail it out. We started with acorn pumpkin soup (butternut pumpkin) with apple and onion (Lucy devoured this), followed by spinach, cranberry and pecan salad, followed by main course - roast turkey with gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes with pecans and brown sugar, asparagus with garlic butter and slivered almonds, homemade stuffing, and cranberry jelly. Dessert followed with chocolate cream pie, pumpkin pie, ferrero rochers and gerwertztraminer (brought back from Aus). Lucy enjoyed running around in the backyard playing in the autumn leaves with Elsie and Noah. She is wearing her new dress and boots and looked very gorgeous. Of course Andrew ate too much and felt sick when we got home! Despite this we all enjoyed our second thanksgiving in the US.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Indochine

We have been lamenting the lack of authentic Chinese restauarants around here so Andrew very much enjoyed going to Lots back in Sydney. We have pretty much given up on Chinese cuisine so last night we decided to check out Indochine - a Vietnamese and Thai restuarant. And it was GREAT! It's not a chain, it charges higher prices (like all good Thai restuarants) and it has a very unique decor including an outdoor courtyard with pagoda (and wooden monkey). We very much enjoyed the chicken dumplings, moo goo gai pan and bun-thit nuong followed up with chilled lychees (on ice) and mango with sticky rice and coconut sauce. Lucy couldn't keep still but managed to enjoy herself especially as the waitress brought her a special monkey plate to eat off. Andrew doesn't like going to Thai restauarants as many menu items contain shrimp and although this was the case at Indochine there were still enough options for him to choose from. I could tell he really liked Indochine when we were ordering dessert as he ordered another lot of chicken dumplings to go. We will be returning soon.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Autumn leaves

Everyone around has been telling us that we won't experience fall here in Wilmington. Summer bumps along nicely and then suddenly its winter. But I beg to differ as we've noticed many trees that have turned yellow and red before they start to lose their leaves. We have three trees in our yard turning red (the other 35 pine trees remain their usual green selves) and they look spectacular. Lucy is a little disappointed that there are not many leaves to crunch but she is making do with the available supply.

The other exciting part of the photo is that you can see part of our new fence. On this right side of the house there is a walk gate and a car gate. I can't express in words how good it feels to have this finished so that Lucy is now safe!

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Product of the week - Easy pumpkin pie mix

Thanksgiving is nearly upon us. It is a fun holiday because it is just about getting together with family and friends and eating a lot. No presents, no trick or treating, and no stress (unless you wake up on Thanksgiving morning and the turkey is still frozen!) The supermarket is jam packed with cans of pumpkin pie mix so I thought I would whip up a pie. All I needed to do was stir the can of pumpkin pie mix with some evaporated milk and eggs. Pour the combined mixture into a pre-made pie crust and whack it in the oven for a while. So easy and surprisingly good. Andrew was really reticent to try it as he couldn't get over the thought that pumpkin is a vegetable. But eventual he tried it and liked it. Bring on Thursday...

Monday, 19 November 2007

It's been a while...

but did anyone notice I was missing in action? The truth is that I am tired of blogging. I know that when you tire of London you tire of life but what does it mean to tire of writing trivial comments on the internet? The content is out there but the time and motivation are lacking. If I'm going to blog I want to do it well. But is it better to churn out sub-prime content for the sake of being out there and keeping a record of our life in the US? Not sure the answer to this so we'll see how things pan out. I invite readers to make comments! Offers for babysitting greatly appreciated.

Andrew was back in Oz for a week and has been working hard back here so I have gone 10 days straight as a single parent. And today he can't drop Lu off at day care. So much for having a quiet day at home doing my tax return.

In Andrew's absence we had a few playdates (Rory, Ava and Julian), read many many books and spent lots of time outside playing in the sandpit. We got the fence installed (hooray!), hosted bible study, and kept the house very tidy.

On the fun side Andrew had a very nice surprise coming home to Wilmington as Lucy and I met him at the airport with a home-made sign. And when Lucy spotted him in the crowd at the airport she ignored the 'do not enter' sign and ran half way down the corridor to greet him with a big hug. I waited until he got into the foyer before giving him a big hug!

Not sure if things will get back to normal anytime soon but 'product of the week' will return tomorrow.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Asheville, North Carolina

Ok so I said I wanted some cooler weather but that did not mean I wanted to experience 29 degrees (F) at 9am! Whilst staying in Blowing Rock we were greeted in the morning with a layer of ice over everything, including the car, which gave the appearance that it had snowed overnight! That being said the weather was kind to us and was generally in the high 60’s. Let me take you through the drive, the food and the sights.







Driving

Driving with an 18 month old child that likes to run around wasn’t easy and poor Lucy had a couple of melt downs when she just couldn’t take being strapped down anymore. In between she enjoyed watching Colin Buchanan on DVD, listening to her kindermusik CD using Dad’s headphones and reading her books. We all enjoyed listening to Charlotte’s Web being read by E B White, watching the leaves change colour as we headed west and having a pit stop at the Tractor Supply Co at Monroe (stocking motorized toy horses, deer feed and tractor tyres).

We drove via Charlotte on the way to Asheville which was a slower but more scenic route. We saw trailer homes, the Pee Dee river and a beauty supply company selling ‘human hair’. We even saw a town called Shelby! There were many many traffic lights on the approach to Charlotte which made the going slow (plus it was pouring with rain). The way home was via Interstate 40 which was fast (70mph) but reasonably boring. Both sides of the road were lined with rows of trees and once we were out of the mountains it was no longer scenic.

One of the cool things we wanted to do on this trip was to drive the ‘Blue Ridge Parkway’. It is one of the top 10 scenic drives in the US so it was something we did not want to miss. We drove two separate parts of it and we were amazed at the beauty of the trees as the leaves changed colour. One of my favourite moments was when the wind was gently blowing yellow leaves out of the trees above us which then flew around in the breeze and sunlight before landing on the road in front. Spectacular! Despite the drought and the unseasonably warm weather in October it was still a site to behold.




Dining

Dining out fell into two main categories: national chain restaurants and single site operators. The chain restaurants as expected were fast, convenient, and clean with food of mediocre quality (Chili’s, Outback Steakhouse, Dairy Queen and iHop) The only exception being Waffle House which was extremely dirty and had a ‘smoking’ section which means little when patrons walk through the restaurant to the exit with lit cigarettes.

Fortunately we did a little foodie research before traveling and discovered a couple of gems including Corner Kitchen (Biltmore Village), Crippens Country Inn (Blowing Rock) and Melanie’s Fantasy Food (Boone). The highlight was the watermelon salad at Crippens that consisted of watermelon, fresh mozzarella, basil, rocket, toasted almonds and balsamic vinegar served with lavash. The single sites on the whole were excellent but we were very disappointed with Eastern Lights (Durham) which was a well recommended Chinese restaurant that was far too Americanised (though the Gwo Tieh “pot stickers” were awesome). We even got a Southern fix at the Farmers Market Restaurant (Raleigh) with biscuits and hush puppies, fried ham steak, fried green tomatoes, fried okra, grits and mashed potatoes (notice the fried theme!)

Asheville

Biltmore Estate
This estate inspired our whole vacation and it lived up to its reputation. A family owned property built by George Vanderbilt in 1895 it is the largest home in the US. With around 4 acres under roof and 5 stories tall the house is amazingly large with 61 bedrooms and 43 bathrooms. It houses an indoor pool, a gym, a bowling alley, an architectural model room, library, observatory, billiards room and tapestry gallery. The kitchen comprises of 5 refrigerated rooms, the house keepers pantry, the canning room, the vegetable pantry, the pastry room, the rotisserie kitchen, the main kitchen, the kitchen pantry, the small pantry, servants dining room etc etc! The thing that amazed us about this place was the electrical innovations for its time. The house was awesome but not as good as Windsor Castle, the gardens were pretty but not as breathtaking as Versailles but nothing we have seen compares to the amazing things done here with electricity – pool lights, refrigerated rooms, and electric dumb waiters. Unfortunately with Lucy in tow we couldn’t do the behind the scenes tour which would have revealed so much more. Instead we picked up a picnic basket at the Bake Shop and headed off into the gardens exploring the hot house and playing in the fallen leaves. We ended up at the bass pond where Lucy watched the ducks. We then headed over to River Bend Farm (still part of the Estate) where Lucy patted horses, sheep and donkeys but was mostly fascinated with the chickens and owls. We ate ice cream, watched a blacksmith in action and wandered around a corn maze.

Mast General Store
“Quality goods for the living, coffins and caskets for the dead”. A small town department store on the national register of historic places specializing in camping and hiking gear but also full of tourist knick knacks. The first store opened in 1883 but this Asheville post is the youngest branch opening in 1940.

Peanuts – Pumpkin Patch Express
We boarded the Great Smoky Mountains train in the quaint village of Dillsboro for a trip to the pumpkin patch. The train traveled alongside the river (where the train wreck in The Fugitive was filmed) to the pumpkin patch where we bobbed for apples, took photos with Lucy & Charlie Brown, had a hay ride, patted the goats, and roasted marshmallows. And we picked a pumpkin too! Lucy was dressed in her ladybug costume and she looked SO GORGEOUS!!! The photos don’t adequately capture how beautiful she looked.

Malaprops Book Store
A fun bookstore with the poetry section at the front and the fiction section at the back it was an oasis I could have hidden in all day.


Blowing Rock

Linville Caverns
Underneath Humpback Mountain runs a river that has formed a limestone cavern. Now a tourist attraction but previously a hide out for deserters from the civil war we took a guided tour inside. There are blind rainbow trout living in the 42 degree water and Lucy was quite keen to jump in to take a closer look at them. We also saw a couple of bats hiding in nooks in the ceiling. The stalactites and stalagmites were impressive and there was one particular point that a column was formed where the two met. If only the guide who had a really strong southern accent had spoken slower we could have learnt a lot more.

Chimney Rock
Chimney Rock is a huge piece of granite 26 stories above Hickory Nut Gorge displays awesome views. Although there are trails to hike up we took the easy option and caught the elevator – yes an elevator in a national park, inside the rock itself! We had to go up a staircase of about 30 steps to get right up the top and boy was it windy and cold up there! Lucy wanted to do some rock climbing herself and was unhappy when we restricted her. It is a long way down! Well worth the visit and if we ever get back here we are definitely doing some hiking.

Blowing Rock
Given that we were staying in Blowing Rock we thought we should check out the actual ‘blowing rock’. A big disappointment and in fact it is so ordinary we walked past it the first time without even realizing. Lucy slept through the whole thing and we got her back into the car asleep and kept driving without her even knowing we had stopped.

Durham & Raleigh

Duke University
Pronounced ‘dook’ by the Americans we stopped in at the chapel of this famous college. Although in the middle of the city the campus had the feeling of a country estate as there were so many trees around. The chapel impressively stood at the end of a drive lined with trees. Brick work, stained glass windows and huge wooden doors. Lucy liked the sound of her screams echoing around inside so we couldn’t stay for too long but she enjoyed running around on the grass chasing squirrels.


Raleigh Farmers Market
Compared to Wilmington these markets are large but still weren’t all that impressive. Lots of pumpkins, mums and tomatoes available. The restaurant was great and we did some caching here (1 successful and 1 yet to be found). Probably more produce available on the weekends.


Wilmington

We got back home in time for our church’s ‘Fall Festival’. Instead of celebrating Halloween we had a night full of activities based on Pilgrims Progress. Lucy was so gorgeous firstly wearing a burden, then arming herself for the journey with a sword and shield and then traveling to the celestial city. It was so cool and she got lots of prizes, petted puppies and made a puppet. It was much more fun than trick or treating and she didn’t eat any candy (though she did have pepperoni pizza for dinner).

And thus ends our mountain vacation. I’ll leave you with some awesome pictures of the fall.






Monday, 5 November 2007

Weekend update

After our week of travel it was good to spend some time at home.

Friday night saw us at the ACME Art Studio for Gail and Michelle's art exhibition premiere. It was good to see the Silex crew but what was more amazing was seeing other people I knew. We met some more Aussies who live here (including Lucy's signing teacher's husband) and it felt like a really small world! 7 degrees of separation (or only 3 in some cases) is really true.

Saturday we had a sleep in before checking out Carrabas for lunch. This Italian chain resataurant was highly recommended to us (esp. because it has a wood fired pizza oven) but sadly it was over priced and lacking in quality. The pizza base wasn't cooked all the way through, the tomatoes were flavorless and they brought out our mains about 1 minute after our appetisers were served. The service was good but its unlikely we will go back there.

With full bellies we set out into our garden for some pruning and weeding. You can see Lucy was trying to help by putting on my gardening gloves. Our rose bush continues to produce roses, on average producing 10 per week, and still has many more buds on it. It is an amazing plant and our house is constantly full of the perfume of roses. We also cleared out the canna lillies and have replanted them to make way for our fence to be put in this week!!! So exciting!!! Now Lucy can be contained in the backyard without having to worry about her running on the road. It seems a strange thing to Sydneysiders that many backyards have no fences. We have been waiting some months now for the fence and it is finally happening this week. I will post a picture on Friday when it's finished.

Stay tuned for an Asheville post tomorrow.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Sneak peak: Asheville

Lucy loves leaves! Here is one of the many videos of her playing in the crunchy leaves - this one was taken at Biltmore Estate.


video