Friday, 29 January 2010

Language Lessons from the DVLA

So, there I was, sitting on the sofa, trying to be productive by filling out the health section of the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) application.  It was going quite well.  I was denying I had all sorts of maladies and syndromes and feeling unusually healthy when question 9 stopped me and my black ink pen in its tracks:
Had I ever had, or currently suffer from, repeated attacks of sudden disabling giddiness?
This was a real question?  Using the definition my American brain had learned, the answer would have to be, unfortunately, yes.  Oh, horror.

Let's see.  There was the time when Chumley and I went wedding cake testing.  The shop was so generous, they gave us six pieces of cake, all slathered in different flavors of italian buttercream icing.  When I expressed interest in the ganache, the cake lady used a trowel to spade a massive portion of dark chocolate nirvana into a styrofoam carry-out (take away) container, and helpfully suggested we take it home.  Of course, I ate the most of the cake and the all ganache with the spork (spoon-fork) she helpfully included.  Next thing I know, Chumley claimed I was levatating off the couch.  I think I was flapping my wrists for some reason, but I really have no recollection of events before the massive sugar crash of 2008.

There was also the ugly Mountain Dew (US soft drink) incident of 2007, where I ignored my heightened sensitivity to caffeine and drank a 22-oz bottle of the high-wattage Code Red on a road trip.  Chumley insisted on listening to a CD by the Arctic Monkeys, and I apparently insisted on percussing him in time to the music with the empty soda bottle.  I am grateful he didn't screech to a halt and force me to do a ninja roll out of the vehicle.

Perhaps I was being too broad in my definition of "giddy."  I asked rational, emotionaly controlled Chumley if he thought I "suffered from repeated attacks of sudden disabling giddiness."  "Only when you come across a roadside fruit stand," he replied.  Drat.  He had not forgotten the incident shortly after our move to England where I screeched the brakes at the prospect of patronizing a massive pick your own fruit farm.  It's not as if I left skid marks on the road, for heaven's sake.  It was serious - they had loganberries. His whiplash only lasted a few hours, anyway.

This wasn't looking good.  I feared I would be barred from driving, purely on the basis of being suceptible to intense joie de vivre.  No wonder the motorways were filled with such grumps.

When in doubt, Chumley consults the atlas about all matters, regardless of their relevance to geography.  In moral quandaries, I consult the dictionary.  To my delight, Merriam-Webster has come to my rescue once again:

1a. Dizzy 1b. causing dizziness 1c.whirling rapidly.
2a. lightheartedly silly; 2b. joyfully elated.

I confess I am only familiar with two, above.  I may have whirled rapidly after the cake incident, but only verbally.  If I did dervish even a bit, it was in the living room and I posed no danger to anyone but Chumley.

Emotional motorists, unite!  I won't have to pursue my discrimination claim any further. I'm elated, but not joyfully enough to be giddy.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Confessions of a Former Duvet-theist

Being overtired and the weather so gray and rainy, I've developed a bit of a fixation on sleep lately. England loves the duvet, as does the rest of Europe.  There was a time when I did not believe in duvets.  I refer to that time as B.C (Before Chumley).  There I was, making my bed in the old fashioned, conventional way: fitted sheet, flat sheet, blanket, comforter.  The end. Goodnight.

One day, I saw Chumley with a pile of cloth on the floor and a white, cushy comforter spring into action.  He held up one end of the comforter, muttered something about corners, and he reappered 30 seconds later, ready to button the comforter into the duvet and get on with his life.  He detests flat sheets and blankets because he claims they catch on his so-called "big" feet.  (I have not heard him say, "Do these shoes make my feet look fat?" yet, but the pains he takes to wear "slimming" shoes, you'd think he was Son of Sasquatch. Hardly.)

Duvets looked like trouble.  Sure, you could whip off the cover and put it straight into the wash without the worry of dry cleaning or even washing a bulky comforter, but getting the pesky cover on was another matter.  I think that to properly case a duvet, training must begin in utero.  (The same goes for understanding the rules of cricket.)

In wintertime, Chumley would upgrade to the winter-weight duvet lining.  Mmm, cozy.  But by far the best part was making the bed.  In two shakes of a spring lamb's tail, it was done and over.  The anti-bedmaker in me rejoiced.  And duvet beds were just so darn fluffy.  I was a convert.

Now, if I could only work on my duvet skills.  My first attempts made it clear that Chumley and I were had wildly disparate bedding abilities.  I quickly was swallowed by the duvet.  It felt like pitching a highly decorative tent, and I hate camping.

At long last, I am happy to report I have managed a sub-5 minute duvet change.  I consider it a rite of passage.  I hope to improve just in time for the 2012 London Olympics.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Chickens on Ice

The most consistent theme of our great Christmas odessey was that Chumley and I seemed to be the harbinger of miserable weather wherever we went, and no more painfully so than in Cornwall.  As is Chumley, Cornwall is very mild, even milder than the rest of the island, thanks to our friend, the Gulf Stream.  Cornish palms abound, and it's extremely rare for the temperature to ever hit or, God forbid, drop below, freezing.  Intrepid travelers that we are, Chumley and I left the house around 11 a.m. in snow on the East Coast, and arrived on the West Coast at 6:30 p.m.  We covered about 270 miles.  Most of this was highway/motorway driving, which still means we averaged only 41 miles per hour.  The cause?  A little snow on British roads prevents you from going a long way.

My mother-in-law has become a chicken enthusiast in the last year.  Besides the fresh eggs, she's done chicken watercolors, there's been chicken photography, a particular chicken-tending wardrobe, and all the chickens have names.  Chumley joked that they should be Fricasee, Jalfrezi, Korma, etc., but they are much more civilized names like Bella and Bossy.  After days on end of below-freezing weather, the water feature in the back garden/yard had frozen, and the chickens decided to put on an ice show spectacular.  We knew they had not been practicing "Bolero" by Torvill and Dean when one began pecking at the ice in an effort to break through, and the rest who stupidly joined the Ice Capades could not manage to leave the ice rink, despite announcements from management.

The locals found the cold appalling, and the roads were surprisingly slick.  It's not like the US, where the salt trucks drive all night and the roads are perfectly passable the next morning.  Not only were they running short on salt all over, but we heard on the radio that the council had gritted 800 or so miles of A roads (the major ones.)  In Cornwall, that doesn't quite cut it, as 80% of the roads are not A roads.  I don't think a road in Cornwall exists that doesn't involve a hill.  So, more ice skating for the rest of us.

I managed to avert tragedy myself while crossing a street, loaded down with several glass bottles of tasty holiday beverages.  One false step on a traffic hump and I felt my shoe move beneath me to the sickening clatter of glass on pavement.  Chumley looked horrified and rushed over to help, but I quickly handed him my carrier bag while clearly compos mentis.  "Forget me, save the booze!" I whispered.  At least my priorities were right.  Chumley's sister opened the front door to find me spread eagle on a traffic hump, stunned mostly by the near loss of a bottle of Piper Heidsieck champagne, a Riesling and something French for good measure.  "What are you doing?" she yelled helpfully.  The correct answer was that I was suffering from a brutally tenderized rump roast, but I replied with what came to mind.  "I'm just sitting here in the street."  Streets are filthy, by the way.  Thankfully, I was wearing my festive black velveteen jeans.  I wouldn't have been a very popular party guest had it got out that not only was I dirty and smelled of asphalt, but I was solely responsible for killing all festive beverages like dogs in the street.  Talk about American prohibition.

From that point forward, my outdoor walking paranoia started.  I am indeed a very large chicken on ice.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Lessons Learned from a Wayfaring Christmas

Well, I'm back, possums, and I must say, I am just now getting over probably the worst case of jetlag I've ever experienced.  On reflection, this was likely caused by a number of factors:

1) An extended time separated from my Simmons Beautyrest World Class Pillowtop mattress, i.e. Westin Hotel's Heavenly Bed.  For those of you who read this blog for its essential tips on living, here's another little gem: never hessitate to spend money on a good mattress.  It was the last item we bought in a hurry before the cargo container left our driveway for England.  It's turned into one of the things I pine for when not at home.  It's just like sleeping in a giant pat of butter, and now that we have fresh sheets thanks to restorative, post-holiday housework, it's even less greasy.  Aaaahhh.

 2) Copious caloric consumption, mostly in the form of Lindor truffles and Oatmeal Carmelitas.  Not familiar with the Oatmeal Carmelita?  They only have the power to change your life (nevermind your waist size, it's too depressing.)  They're the all-time cookie favorite of the plethora my mother/frustrated caterer makes at Christmas, and I shared the joy by bringing a batch to my husband's family in Cornwall.  They call them "those oaty biscuits" but not out of disrespect.  How can the Pillsbury bakeoff winner from 1967 be wrong?  Should my fair readers find themselves with extra chocolate and caramel/toffee sauce just waiting to be properly applied, prepare to be dazzled.  The measurements are in American, but easily enough converted to metric.



2 cups Pillsbury BEST® All Purpose or Unbleached Flour
2 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups margarine or butter, softened

1 (12.5-oz.) jar (1 cup) caramel ice cream topping
3 tablespoons Pillsbury BEST® All Purpose or Unbleached Flour
1 (6-oz.) pkg. (1 cup) semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped nuts


1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease 13x9-inch pan. Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off. In large bowl, combine all crust ingredients; mix at low speed until crumbly. Reserve half of crumb mixture (about 3 cups) for topping. Press remaining crumb mixture in bottom of greased pan. Bake at 350°F. for 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in small bowl, combine caramel topping and 3 tablespoons flour; blend well.

3. Remove partially baked crust from oven; sprinkle with chocolate chips and nuts. Drizzle evenly with caramel mixture; sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture.

4. Return to oven; bake an additional 18 to 22 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 1 hour or until completely cooled. Refrigerate 1 to 2 hours or until filling is set. Cut into bars.

Finally, our flight schedule made me think we weren't circling London Heathrow, but rather Dante's Seventh Circle of Hell.  Chumley suggested monkeying around with melatonin for relief, but I just wanted a nap, and a snack at 3 a.m.  If you're flying American Airlines, indeed, this feat is possible.  We got in at 3:30 a.m. and reported to work the next morning.  I am still waiting to be contacted about our super-trooper awards ceremony.

Life lesson learned from this trip: NEVER, ever fly US to UK in the daytime again, even if it is hundreds cheaper.  The mind meddling and extended schedule screw-up are worth the difference in cost.

We did have an excellent visit and some adventures, which I shall portion out like Lindor truffles in the days to come.  To be fair, Chumley would portion.  I'm more of a snarfer/scoffer.  To me, leftover chocolate is not possible within the atmosphere of Planet Claire.