Monday, May 25, 2015

Home Grown Veg

Back a few months ago, I posted that I wanted to get back into gardening, and perhaps attempt to grow some veggies in this new climate.  No telling how things would fare - would it be too hot / too cold for the veg we're used to growing?  Would our plethora of backyard critters (so far: rabbits, groundhog, possums, racoons, chipmunks, deer, squirrels, mice etc) take a liking to potatoes and herbs ('erbs)?  Nothing for it but to give it a go!

So I invested in a few large pots and lots of bags of soil, and after various visits to the local markets and garden centres, I had a bunch of seeds and seedlings ready to start a fledgling veggie garden.

The potatoes and peas / sugar snaps went in first, and they were off like a shot.  Within a few weeks, the potato plants have grown like Jack's beanstalk and are now huge and flowering, and the pea pods are plumping up nicely.

We also have a herb ('erb) tub, a once-tiny-now-huge-pot of mint, 2 tubs of strawberries (a little slow to get started but just starting to show some flowers now), some carrots (never been able to grown them in the past, so will be interested to see how they fare here), as well as onions, rocket, and lots of catmint and lemongrass (a new favourite for the cats), and some sunflowers and lavender (for cheeriness).  I'm also taking advantage of the warmer climes and trying a couple of bell pepper plants and some chillis as well.

So far, so good.  They were all planted towards the end of April (a little early, I was told, as there's still a chance of a late frost), but so far the weather has only got warmer and more humid, with temperatures in the 70s and 80s, and fairly regular thunderstorms.  And so far, no critters have taken a chomp at anything...

I'm hoping we'll be able to enjoy some home-grown veg along with our regular BBQ'd feasts during the summer months!

Monday, May 18, 2015

No Rest for the Wicked...

At the beginning of May I started work again.  My first paid employment in the USA!  I'm working part-time, a few days a week, doing web-based research.  Although it's only been a couple of weeks so far, it seems to be going well.  Each research subject is different, which keeps it interesting, and I'm enjoying the fact-finding and "digging" side of things, which seems to appeal to my natural nosiness and annoying need to find out everything possible about a subject.

The tax situation for my pay took a little figuring out - it's a good job that hubby is an accountant and has access to overseas tax advisors because it sounds really complicated.  But I'm still earning a bit of pocket money, doing something useful, and experiencing the workplace in a different culture. 

So far, so good - very relaxed and friendly, "summer casual" dress-code (although I still can't bring myself to wear shorts and flip-flops to the office yet, which is de rigeur for almost everyone else), earphones for music, and being able to go home at the end of the day with no stresses.

The only downside is being 100% deskbound, and I can already feel the tell-tale aches in my shoulders and neck, and tired eyes from the constant air-conditioning and screen-work.  Just need to take more care to take regular stretch breaks and keep up the yoga practise!

But all-in-all, I think I've found a nice gentle introduction to working life in the USA :-)

Monday, May 11, 2015

Ephrata Cloister

Last weekend we took advantage of another lovely spring day to visit Ephrata Cloister.  The sun was shining, the blossom on the trees was beautiful, the bees were buzzing, and everything seemed to be green and finally coming "alive" after a long winter.


The cloister was one of America's earliest religious communities, founded in 1732 by German settlers, led by Conrad Beissel, seeking to take advantage of the "religious freedom" that was newly available in America.  The community consisted of celibate Brothers and Sisters, and a group of married families ("householders") who helped to support the cloister life.  At its peak, the cloister was home to almost 300 members working and worshipping there.

Despite the lovely weather on the day we visited, the cloister wasn't at all busy, and we took an organised tour of the key buildings with a very knowledgeable guide who explained a little more about the life of the Brothers and Sisters.  They lived and worshipped in some of the buildings that exist today.  The largest was the Saron (Sister's House) - a half-timbered building constructed in 1743 over 4 floors. The Saal next door was the householders' worship place.  The Brothers' House unfortunately no longer exists. 

The life of the brothers and sisters was highly regimented, with only 6 hours of sleep each night, broken by midnight prayers, (and sleeping on wooden boards with a nice wooden "pillow").  They were allowed one small (vegetarian) meal per day, and long hours of physical work (farming, candle making, baking, paper making, printing etc) were combined with 5 or 6 periods of prayer as well as time for "private contemplation" which included musical composition, singing, weaving, and beautiful calligraphy work called Frakturschriften (creating hand-illuminated books and inscriptions, copies of which can be found in the Museum Store).  These past-times were considered to be a discipline for both the body and soul.

We were free to explore the large grounds of the cloister, which backed onto the Cocalico river. The river was part of the reason that Beissel settled in this area, and once the community grew, it was the location of local baptisms. Today, a mother duck and all her little ducklings (lots of them!) were going for a paddle. 

Nearby in the, as yet empty, vegetable garden, another duck was guarding her cosy looking, but well-camouflaged, nest.

We continued to explore some of the outbuildings, including the bakery, physician's house, printing office and carpenter's house. 

The cloister community eventually began to decline with the death of the founder, Conrad Beissel in 1768.  The last celibate member died in 1813, but the remaining householders formed the German Seventh Day Baptism Church and continued to live and worship at the cloister until the 1930s.  The village outside the cloister gradually grew, becoming a regional centre of commerce, until the borough of Ephrata was created in the late 1890s.  The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania acquired the cloister site in 1941 and restored and renovated some of the buildings that are seen today. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Driving Me Potty - The Test

So I finally took my Pennsylvania driving test last week.  I'd booked it online about 6 weeks ago, and then promptly tried to forget all about it until a few days beforehand.

Hubby tried to calm my nerves by telling me it was really easy (he did his before Christmas) and all I needed to worry about was the parallel parking (which was allegedly in a huge space big enough for pick-ups anyway) and stopping properly at all the stop signs...

So the night before the test, I spent half an hour with varying degrees of success trying to parallel park round his car in the driveway.  I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've actually parallel-parked a car since taking my driving test over 20 years ago.  (I prefer to drive around until I can find a space I can park in easily.)  My posh rear-view parking camera confused things, so I stopped looking at it.  Eventually I gave up trying to over-think things, and hoped that things would just go alright "on the night".

So at my allotted time I drove down to PennDot's local Driving Licence Center / Centre. I registered nervously at the front desk with all my paperwork, and was given instructions to drive myself round the back of the building and to wait in the parking bay marked for driving tests.  I'd got there early (as advised to), so I had a good 15 minutes to really wind up the nerves, particularly whilst looking at a coned off area in front of me that appeared to be set up for parallel parking...

Eventually a lady exited the building and sauntered on over to the car with her computer tablet.  She checked my paperwork again, and then asked me to demonstrate my lights, hazards, indicators, windscreen wipers and brakes...  That done, she got in the car and pointed at the coned area ahead, explaining that the parallel park would be first, and then we'd go for a little drive afterwards.  Under the terms of the test, I would have 3 attempts at the parallel park.  Close-up, the coned area looked teeny tiny, and not at all as large or as long as hubby had made out...  Nerves nearly got the better of me, but on the third attempt I parked successfully, and with a sigh of relief (me), and some jottings on the tablet (her), she asked me to drive ahead to the junction.  (Me remembering to stop properly at the stop sign).

Then to turn left. 

Then to turn right. 

Then to turn right again. 

And again.

Then left. 

Wait.  What?  We're back where we started?!  That was barely 4 minutes driving!  I think I passed one other car, and no traffic lights - just side roads in an estate of offices.

She advised me that I had passed the test (one slight caution for not using my indicators whilst parallel parking) and would I please now return to the desk for my photo licence.  And out she got and sauntered away again.

So that was my driving test in Pennsylvania.  Quite scary when you think about it - not exactly thorough, is it, especially compared to a UK driving test?  But I've passed.  Which means Hubby can stop nagging me about the insurance discounts we're missing out on, and I can stop worrying about having to take my driving test again!