Wednesday, 30 May 2007


We had a fab long weekend in Charleston. We ate well, learnt a little US civil war history and enjoyed walking around the city. Here are the particulars...


Charleston is about a 3.5 hour drive from Wilmington that is not particularly scenic but very straight. The speed limit was mostly 55mph but on a newer stretch of road near Myrtle Beach it was 65mph. We used 0.5 tank of petrol each way (filling the tank for US$45) We saw lots of trees, some massive factories at Georgetown and lots of tacky signage. One highlight was driving over the Arthur Ravenel bridge into Charleston. Similar to the Anzac Bridge with the large steel cables, these are painted white and seemed to luminesce in the sunlight. Built in 2005 it is the longest cable-stayed bridge in the US and it ws good fun to drive across.


Charleston Cooks! I headed off to a cooking class whilst Andrew and Lucy wandered the streets (literally). It was a very cool kitchen setup with video cameras located at various points to enable us to directly see the kitchen bench and the stovetop. The class was called "lowcountry cooking" and we were taught how to make gumbo and blueberry pies. Learnt lots of new techniques as well as discovering many new gadgets to get my hands on. And we will be having the gumbo and pies for dinner tomorrow! It was great fun to learn about okra, carolina gold rice as well as very cutting and cooking styles.

White Point Gardens at the Battery. Located on the tip of the Charleston peninsula is White Point Gardens. Great views of the harbour and various surrounding islands. The guide book says that "children love to climb on the old cannons and stacked cannonballs" and naturally Lucy was very obliging in having her photo taken whilst sitting on the cannonballs. We wandered along the waterfront looking at the colourfully painted mansions along the Battery. At one point we found a pier with swinging seats that allowed us to chill out for while in the sea breezes before heading back into the town.

Middleton Place A rice plantation on the Ashley river that is famous for having the oldest landscaped gardens in the US. The gardens were begun in 1741 and follow the principles of André Le Nôtre (designer of the gardens of Versailles). Although a far cry from those amazing gardens at Versailles it was very pleasant to wander around the secret gardens, 1000 year old oak tree and butterfly lakes. Unfortunately the main house was burnt down by union troops in 1865. The Middleton family boasts a number of famous sons including Henry Middleton, President of the First Continental Congress, Arthur Middleton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Henry Middleton, who was Governor of South Carolina and U.S. Minister to Russia, and Williams Middleton, who signed the Ordinance of Secession (which is why the troops burnt the house down). It was a beautiful place to visit with sweeping views of the river, lots of farm animals including peacocks and on site blacksmiths and coopers. Check out the restaurant entry below.

Folly Beach - On a whim we decided to stop off at Folly Beach on the way back from Middleton. Not a good move as everyone else had the same idea as well and the traffic was horrendous. Lucy got down to her nappy and had a swim in the Atlantic which was surprisingly warm (according to Andrew). Obviously the summer holiday season has begun but I would venture a guess that it would be reasonably unpleasant to stay there due to overcrowding and lack of parking. We had trouble finding a spot on the sand to sit and it was body to body.

Fort Sumter This was probably the highlight of our tour. We cruised across the harbour past the Battery out to the Fort having been farewelled by a couple of dolphins. The cruise was just a short one and we arrived at the Fort with Lucy asleep in the pram (she woke up when we got back to Charleston). Originally a sandbar, bolstered with Maine granite to create an impressive fort in its time. Not much is left after the civil war bombardment and it is ironic that the island was made with Yankee granite. As it was Memorial Day the US flag (massive) was at half mast. We toured the museum and learnt a lot about the civil war.

SC Aquarium We were expecting great things from this "number 1 attraction in Charleston". Whilst it was very good it was not especially different from the NC Aquarium we visited a few weeks ago. We saw an Amazon exhibit, lots of river/marshlands fish and some turtles. What can I say? The alligators at the NC exhibit were a lot bigger, scarier and more exciting! However Lucy did get to touch a crab's underbelly here.


When you go travelling it seems that you spend most of the time either eating or looking for somewhere to eat. We used the guidebook to determine where to eat before we left but we did find a diamond in the rough. Here's the lowdown...

East Bay Deli - French onion soup and broccoli & cheese soup (a standard combo in US cafes that is surprisingly good)

Blossom - The little sister to the famous Magnolias we decided to dine here because 1. Lucy likes to throw food on the floor and 2. They have a wood fired pizza oven that the chef from the cooking class used to run. The pizza was awesome (almost as good as Andrew's Pizza) and the rest of the meal (duck and beef) was excellent as well.

Middleton Place - The three course meal here was divine. I had Charleston she-crab soup (so buttery but light - it was the best ever!), shrimp and grits followed by Carolina Gold rice pudding. Andrew had okra soup, pork bbq and hugenot tart. You can't get much more Southern than those menus! Lucy had a grilled cheese sandwich with chips and fruit. She loved the fresh biscuits (scones).

Boccis - An Italian place close to our hotel that kindly did take away for us. Arancini balls, pasta marinara (simply a tomato sauce and not seafood) and veal saltimbocca.

Jestines - Here is the diamond - every time we drove past there were queues out the door. We were told that a visit to Charleston wasn't complete without trying Jestines home-made coconut cream pie. So we did just that. Andrew dashed down there after the hotel pre-ordered some slices for us. And yes it was very good!

Gaulart & Maliclet (or French and French to the locals) - A little Parisian cafe we breakfasted at. Staff were suitably surly and the chocolate croissant very pleasant. The iced coffee was served in a wine glass with ice cubes. Unusual but ok.

Holden Brother farm - a quick stop here for fresh fruit and vegies including strawberries, blueberries, okra and peppers.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Summer begins

We're back from our long weekend and summer has officially started! (32 degrees celsius today) Even though Lucy and I are still getting over our colds we had a great time away and even learnt a little about US Civil war history. Look out for a Charleston blog in the next few days. So much to tell you about so please be patient as I take a few days to get my thoughts and photos together.

In fact I have soooo many ideas and blogs to post about life over here but no time to type them! We are hopefully moving into our new house next week so will be busy moving boxes and unpacking. Hopefully then we will have some time to get 'back to normal' whatever that may be. I am starting to think that 'normal' for us is that every day is a new day full of adventures that we did not expect. Which doesn't leave much time for blogging. So please be kind about any interruption to the american correspondence and use this time wisely to write your own blogs!

A big thanks to everyone who has emailed me over the past week. I am slowly going through each email and personally replying!

Thursday, 24 May 2007


For the Memorial Day long weekend we are visiting the great city of Charleston, famous for its Southern mansions, single houses and slow pace of life. It was here that the Civil War began when troops fired on Fort Sumter.

Here is our itinerary but note it is only a guide. As all good travellers know anything can happen when you are adventuring (or travelling with small children)!

Saturday 26 May

8am - Leave Wilmington

11am - Arrive Charleston

2pm - Cooking class / Children’s Museum

Evening - Walk along the Battery (White Point Gardens)

Sunday 27 May

9am - Boone Hall Plantation

Lunch - Farmers Market

Arvo - Charleston Museum

Monday 28 May

9:30am - Fort Sumter Cruise

Arvo - Aquarium

Mid arvo - Leave Charleston

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Product of the week - Butter mints

This seems like a strange combination - butter and peppermint. So with a few giggles we tried this "perfect ending" to our dinner. To our surprise they were very good. And very morish. Soon the whole box had been eaten. The mints themselves are made in "ribbons" which melt apart in your mouth whilst being eaten. Notice that they are "low fat"!

We will definitely be buying some again. We even tracked down gourmet butter mints at the Farmers Market.

Very scary owners photo on the back of the packet though!

Tuesday, 22 May 2007


I was waiting in line at the post office for a while (as you do) and then finally it was my turn to be served. I wanted to send a parcel so I had to fill in a customs form so I was sent away to do that before waiting again to get served. The postal worker (Gene) weighed the parcel and asked me to pay. I looked in my handbag and discovered that my purse was not there! I had left it at home.

Fiona: I've left my purse at home
Gene: (laughing) Well what's that in your hand? (pointing at my handbag)
Fiona: That's my handbag!
Gene: No that's your purse
Fiona: No its my handbag...Anyway I forgot my money I'll have to come back another day
Gene: Ok! Bye!

In other amlish news, baking paper = parchment paper

Monday, 21 May 2007

All quiet...

The lack of posting is due to illness. Lucy came down with gastro and a head cold on Wednesday (from daycare!), Andrew caught the gastro bug on Friday and I came down with gastro and a head cold on Saturday. Needless to say we are feeling a bit miserable. Lucy and I are still fighting our colds. But it didn't stop us exploring on the weekend. On Saturday we visited the Farmers Markets downtown, the Cotton Exchange and enjoyed lunch at the German Cafe. The German Cafe was in the old Cotton Exchange which means the walls are rustic brick (much like the restaurants in the Rocks in Sydney are housed in old wool exhanges) The food was pretty good with a few Americanisms thrown in like iced tea and salad with blue cheese dressing. The schnitzels were excellent but sadly the struedels were covered in sugar glaze (ala Krispy Kreme). On Sunday we went to church and then headed out to Rocky Point for the church monthly pot-luck lunch. Fabulous weather!! We sat outside under some shady trees whilst the kids ran around and looked at horses and chickens. Lucy had a ball and we got to meet lots of people.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

The other left

Driving on the other side of the road has not been a difficult transition. We got a few hundred miles practice driving from Las Vegas to San Francisco via Death Valley and Yosemite a couple of years ago. However there are a couple of things that are difficult that you probably wouldn't have picked.

1. When you get to a four way stop sign (yes, they are slow in getting roundabouts here) you have to giveway to the right. Easy in theory but when you get to a stop sign at the same time as the person on your left, you have the right to go first. My brain has trouble with this! I automatically give them right of way.

2. The windscreen wipers are on the right and the indicators on the left. No problem though it took a lot of concentration when it was raining and I needed to put on the wipers and indicate at the same time. The thing that threw me was that the wipers move from right to left rather than left to right.

3. Having looked at 30 houses, been shopping and gone adventuring on weekends we have driven around ALOT! As time goes by my left and right have gotten more and more confused. I see we have to turn right and I say left. Both Andrew and I have gotten left and right confused and even our real estate agent starting saying the wrong way - pointing left and saying right. We got to the point of say left and the other left.

In any case we went for our driving tests today. After 2 hours, an eyesight test, a signs test, a rules test and a practical test we both walked out with our licences. And we got to choose the background of the licence! (choice of aeroplane, lighthouse, state map or state seal)

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Ruby Tuesday

We've eaten food from this place twice - dined in once and picked up the other time. The dine in experience was far superior as the food did not come in black polystrene containers where the cheese had congealed into a yellow playdoughish substance. They have a fresh salad bar, soups and burgers (of course!) We asked our waitress why the place was called Ruby Tuesday and she said she couldn't remember but she was sure it was in the training video. 5 minutes later she hurries back to tell us she has remembered! It is named after a Rolling Stones song. It is an ok place to eat - quite a step up from Arbys but still a long way from a 'pick up' place that we want to eat from regularly. On a side note, no one does home delivery around here. Pretty much you have to dine in or pick up, which seems a little strange given where we are!

Monday, 14 May 2007


I haven't posted anything about my lunch experiences yet, and I think it is about time I do.

For the first week and a half, we just ate at the GE cafe, this as it turns out was a very bad move.The predominant food in the cafe was a "freshly" cooked burger, fries and a coke. Not surprisingly, one of my colleagues (who has a set of scales) put on about a kilo in the first week of eating there. Putting that fact together with the food tasting just like a McDonald's burger, we have vowed not to eat on site again.

This has lead us to a search for good food in the vicinity of work. Like my work place in Sydney, there isn't much in the immediate area in the way of food shops so it means a minimum 10min drive. We have headed south, north and even into town to find something worth going back to on a regular basis...

There have been sandwich places where your hands are covered in butter that the bread absorbed from the grill, The drive up window called "Jung's egg roll express" (not quite as bad as first impressions would lead you to think, though we haven't returned yet...), Andy's hamburgers where the challenge to eat a 50 oz (of meat) burger worth $22 in half an hour and it's free (and you get your photo on the wall) appears to as yet have gone unanswered. i.e. there were no photos on the wall... To the Mexican place where English was by far the second language,the food wasn't quite what we interpreted the names to mean and the coke is "Mexican coke" which strangely enough tasted just like American coke except the bottle was a bit fancier... Arthur's burgers is probably the best place yet, it didn't taste like McDonald's and the food actually took some time to come out, which even though the locals get impatient is a very good sign that it is freshly cooked.

Then there was buffalo wild wings, where you have 12 choices of spiciness, from Sweet BBQ to Blazin' I ordered the fifth hottest "Hot BBQ", and thought it was a nice balance between fire in your mouth and still being able to taste the chicken. But we couldn't leave the question unanswered "How hot is Blazin'?" the waitress made a few comments that made us a bit worried what we were about to get ourselves into, but we pressed on. It turns out that the locals are a bit weak, the Blazin' wasn't that hot, definitely not a linear progression from the fifth hottest... and the waitresses were amazed at how easily we ate them and that we didn't run screaming for water afterwards...

and that leaves today's installment "Paul's Place" a small hotdog joint thats been there since the late 1800's. they claim to have sold more than 50 million hotdogs in that time, and the speed with which they serve them makes that altogether possible. They put the big fast food guys to shame. Before we had paid for the order, it was right there on a tray ready to go... the speed may be helped somewhat by the menu choices, you can have 1, 3 or 12 hotdogs, the only other choice you have to make is mustard, onions or Paul's famous relish... I chose 1 hotdog hold the onions... the relish was pretty good, but the hotdog wasn't anything to rave about, although it did beat the one we had in Wrigley field a few years ago. For a couple of the guys from work this was the second visit, and one of the local guys even knew it was the waitresses birthday, but I am not so sure I will be returning...

Unfortunately due to restrictions at work I can't take a camera to lunch, so you will just have to imagine what some of these places look like...


Sunday, 13 May 2007

North Grove

We have been going to a new church for the past couple of weeks called Northgrove Evangelical Presbyterian church. We really like it and will probably stay here. Much smaller congregation than Myrtle Grove but extremely friendly and helpful about practical stuff. They have even invited us to the church lunch next week (in US culture it seems unusual to have people over for a meal) They have adult Sunday school classes before church and we have already been invited to a weekly small group. It is not far from our new house.

Friday, 11 May 2007

Mall cruisin'

Lucy and I went to the mall today. There is only one mall in Wilmington and it is a Westfields! All on the one level it is very good for prams as there are no escalators to manoeuver but makes for a lot of walking. The shops are mainly clothing and jewelry shops. There are 4 big department stores. We went into JC Penney and got some great half priced clothes for Lucy for daycare. It is somewhere good to go for clothes shopping. Katrina would go crazy here! (Yes there is American Eagle, GAP, Abercrombie and Fitch, Loft etc) There is a Lindt shop but alas not a cafe! The Crabtree and Evelyn shop is sadly closing down. The food court options are extremely poor and there is no supermarket. However it's nice to be able to wander around undercover without having to drive between stores.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Southern mansion

We bought a house today! Not quite a mansion but it is a good size for us and has an amazingly large backyard (0.5 acre block). We even have a FROG (finished room over garage) for guests. On the northern side of town, it's in a sub division called Middle Point that does not allow clothes lines, boat parking, or poultry. Garden statues, mass plantings and tree houses must gain permission. We thought we had escaped the evils of pine trees but alas there are heaps of them in the backyard! It will probably be a month or so before we can move in but in the meantime we have a lot of furniture to buy.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

this and that

Living over here has given us the chance to observe some differences between Australia and America. Here is a summary to date:

Cool stuff:
  • Sprinklers are allowed! So are slip 'n slides! Lucy is going to have a great summer
  • You can post your letters directly from your house by putting them in your mailbox and putting up the little red flag for the mailman to collect
  • U-turns at traffic lights are legal and acceptable and encouraged
  • Right turn on red
  • Free shipping from most companies


  • Tipping. At the Westin in LA the following tipping scheme was enforced for room service: 15% tip + 8.25% tax + $4 delivery. It makes it very difficult to calculate how much things cost
  • Adding tax to the 'final' price
  • Minimal recycling. Plastic bags are the norm at supermarkets and often there is only one or two items per bag! This makes for a lot of bags. Paper is an option, however the packing girl advised us to use plastic as paper cuts down trees!!! Also outside of the defined city limits (central Wilmington) there is no pick up of recycling - you have to drop it off.


  • Our kitchen has no vegetable peeler but it does have a pizza cutter and an electric can opener
  • Kettles are not popular but coffee machines are
  • Cribs come with bumpers
  • Diapers are not boy/girl differentiated
  • Lots of cars don't have separate indicator lights - the brake light flashes instead

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Lucy's birthday party

Lucy's party was great fun and we had a lovely afternoon tea at Airlie Gardens. Although we had to move the picnic part way through from the Spring Garden to another garden, we had a great time and even had a view of the intracoastal waterway. I cooked up a storm of magnolia chocolate cupcakes (awesome with american butter and valrhona cocoa - the icing was perfect!), hundreds of scones, and icecream sandwiches (kept cold by dry ice bought from the supermarket at 11pm!) Plenty of strawberries (North Carolina is famous for them and there are heaps of farms that allow you to pick your own) and whipped cream as well as sandwiches, cheeses and dips. Lucy had a very pretty dress on (from her Aunties Julie and Lynda) and sat in the centre of the picnic playing with her toys. It was sad not to have all our family around but it was very good to have our new extended Silex/GE family to help us celebrate. The birthday cake as seen above was a ladybird!

The most amazing part of the day was that it rained from around 11am until 2:20pm and looked extremely bleak with black skies. We were worried about what to do if it kept raining as there is no shelter in the gardens. At 2:20pm the rain stopped, the sun came out and it was very warm and humid. The weather stayed perfect until around 6:30pm when it started pouring with rain again. So Lucy's party from 3-5pm was in perfect conditions!

On a side note we did encounter an annoying little problem at the Gardens. Nosee'ems. That's right - tiny tiny biting bugs/gnats/sandflies that appear in the summertime. Called no-see-ems because you can't see them. Well you can see them but they are very small and you only notice them when they bite. Now we know why everyone has screened porches around here.

By 5:30pm Lucy was exhausted and just wanted to cuddle up and go to sleep. She had such a big day of playing and smiling that she was worn out and wouldn't smile for any more photos. She got lots of beautiful presents from everyone and went to bed a very happy girl.

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Royalty (sort of)

Those of you who followed my previous blog will remember the many instances where I was 'discovered' to look like Princess Mary of Denmark. It's been relatively quiet on that front lately but I did have the following conversation with the lady sitting next to me on the plane over to LA.

lady: has anybody told you that you look like...
f: yes they have
lady: you look just like her, especially when you were looking down ...blah blah blah

Given American ignorance of all things outside of the US there should be no more look-alike sightings. But I am encountering lots of problems with the name Fiona. I spelled it out over the phone to someone the other day and they came up with Siona. Must be the accent!

I have resorted to another princess in trying to describe my name. Conversations go like this.
American: Hi my name is (Hank)
f: Hi I'm Fiona
A: Ona? (or variations Iona? Siona? etc)
f: Have you seen the movie Shrek?
A: yes
f: Do you remember the princess Fiona
A: Aaaaahhhh! Fiona!

Fiona is pretty average compared to some of the names over here. My real estate agent asked her doctor if any of the babies he had delivered lately had been given strange names. He said that it was funny that she had asked as he had delivered a baby girl that morning and she had a very strange name. The mother, after giving birth looked around the room and saw a box of Kleenex (pronouned klen-ex). She then proceeded to dub her child Kleenexia. And they think Fiona is weird!

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Product of the Week - Jet Puffed Marshmallow Creme

This is the start of a series of posts on strange products we discover over here in the US. We'll start with the weird stuff first.

This week we're previewing Jet Puffed Marshmallow Creme. According to the official taster it is "not bad" and then he proceeded to demolish the first jar. Another jar was purchased and eaten within 2 days. The third jar (upgraded to the 13oz size) is being finished as this is being typed. Like the majority of items over here, corn syrup is the main ingredient followed by sugar, water, egg whites, and artificial flavours and colours. The label also states that this product contains no calories from fat.. The benefit however is far outweighed by the calories gained from the sugars...
When mixed with pistacios and cranberries it is somewhat reminiscent of nougat.
So although this item was purchased in jest to begin with it has now become a staple grocery item. Gross!