T is for Thanksgiving

So I am a week late with this but I have been mulling over a few aspects of Thanksgiving, perhaps because of my new perspective as a US Citizen. Thanksgiving was not mentioned on the list of 100 facts about the USA that we learned off by heart (and are already sadly forgetting) in order to pass our citizenship test, but I think it really should have been. Feeling the need to fill in my knowledge gap, I found this nice little 3 minute video on Thanksgiving history…


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And here is a cute (or weird?) bobble head doll of Sarah Josepha Hale who (as outlined in the video) wrote to Abe Lincoln advocating for the need to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. She is also known for writing this…

“Mary had a little lamb, it’s fleece was white as snow and everywhere that Mary went the lamb was sure to go….”

Just the kind of unnecessary trivia I like to collect 🙂




M is for Mailbox

Cue music…

I used to say post it, now I say mail it,

I used to say postman, but now I say mailman,

I used say post office,  but now I say… um… hang on a mo. Cancel the music. What do I say nowadays?

Actually I still say post office. In one of the many quirks of transatlantic differences in English, although I can now only send and receive mail (not post – a post here is a thing sticking out of the ground) I send it using the United States Postal Service (USPS). But what I never do, is pick up my letters from the door mat because I don’t have a letterbox. I have a mailbox instead.

The best thing about having a mailbox is that it comes with a red lever on the side. If I want to post (mail!) a letter and I have the right stamp, I can pop it in my own mailbox and lift up the lever. That tells my mailman to pick up as well as drop off my… mail. The worst thing about it is going out to get the mail in the rain – a first world problem, I know. But what I love about mailboxes is the whole world of opportunity for self-expression out there – in mailbox choices. Here’s a snapshot of the range available, all spotted during our dog walk yesterday. It made me think of this guy:

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So let’s start with the GOOD ones we saw. There was this one. This was my favourite:


Now we all know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so to allow for variance in taste, I will also add this one:


I don’t love it and suspect it might be their summer mailbox. Yes. I kid you not. People have seasonal mailbox in these parts. I am not making that up. Anyway, that goes in the good category, I think, along with this one:


I have NO idea why there is a mummy mailbox and three little baby mailboxes here, but it does look cute and there are many examples of shared mailboxes (although generally they are all of a similar size). This one I thought looked good.

But what about the BAD mailboxes? Lots of them are pretty bad to be honest. Ours is just a metal can on a stick. It wobbles and is so boring I couldn’t be bothered to take a photo of it. Everyone else on our little street, however, has one like this. I don’t like ’em. Way too much function. No sign of aesthetic taste whatsoever:


This is a bad mailbox. And it is common. We even spotted one with no house anywhere in sight. What’s that all about then??


And finally I have my two offerings for UGLY. These two are on the same road, almost directly opposite each other. I wonder which came first. Is there a story here – of neighbourhood tension and one-upmanship perhaps?

The one of the left is a slab of something. Slate? I’m not sure. Anyway it’s ridiculous. And the one on the right seems to me to be taking stone-cladding to a whole new and hilarious level. Both ugly. But which is the worst? You decide.

O is for One Hundred Days

So Donald Trump may be trying to suggest that the one hundred day mark of his glorious administration is not a big thing (can’t imagine why!) but I am here to tell you that it is. My evidence? This…

This is Child 3’s creative way of marking her 100 days in first grade. Since she is in sixth grade now, it has been a while since she made it. And I know for a fact that this ‘assignment’ is common throughout schools here at some point in kid’s first or second full-time year in school. So where does the 100 day thing come from?

I’ve read a couple of different accounts – one citing the fact that it took Napoleon 100 days to return from exile, re-establish himself as the ruler of France and start the war against the Brits that would end at Waterloo – but the origin of this as a US phenomenon seems to lie firmly with FDR.

Ever since Franklin Roosevelt’s charge into office with the New Deal, among other achievements, the concept of the importance of 100 days as a marker of importance has become part of US culture. And that’s despite the fact that, “Presidents since Roosevelt have been held up to a standard that not even Roosevelt achieved,”

That said, the 100 day mark is arbitrary. It has a cultural significance but doesn’t define a school year or a presidency. It merits buttons and not much more.

But for those interested in what Trump has or has not achieved in his first 100 days (and yes, I did think about making a sheet just like Child 3’s buttons and putting a photo of Neil Gorsuch in the first box and leaving the rest blank!), here is a link to Fox News’ review. Since Fox loves Trump and Trump loves Fox, I think it makes interesting reading…

Trump’s first one hundred days in numbers


P is for Pocketbook

Here’s a funny thing about bags. In America it seems like lots of people don’t call handbags, handbags. They call them pocketbooks. Which is odd. As child 3 so beautifully put it… “I would have thought that a pocketbook was some kind of book you put in your pocket.” But no. It is a handbag. Or a purse. Recently the lady on the checkout in my local Wegman’s said pocketbook but I think most people I know call it a purse. Apart from me. Calling it a purse would not be possible because my purse is what I keep my credit cards and money in. Only here, that’s a wallet. Which is odd because to me, wallets are carried by men. And don’t have zips.

But the biggest shame of there being all these pocketbooks and purses over here is that the following clip probably means nothing. And yet it is one of the best delivered lines of a play in the history of the universe. In my opinion anyway.

H is for Hooker and S is for Sideburn

Here are two men that I just recently learned about from Child 2:

On the left is Ambrose Burnside. Burnside was a Civil War officer with a bit of a checkered career: at one point being conspired against (according to Wikipedia anyway) by the man on the right, Joseph Hooker.

But that’s not what is of interest here, nor was it particularly fascinating to my current student of Civil War history, Child 2. No, what he wanted to share with me is that sideburns are known as sideburns because of Ambrose Burnside’s fancy whiskers, and that the word hooker, meaning a prostitute, came into the language because of Joseph Hooker’s fancy for the company of ladies of the night. Always good to talk about prostitution with your fourteen year-old son, no?

But beyond that, was he right?

Hmm. Well, in the case of Hooker, maybe not. The Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary cites ‘hooker’ as first making its appearance in 1845. Although Joseph Hooker was born in 1814, he wasn’t really famous until the Civil War started in 1861. But while I was looking this up I could not help but look over the vast number of words for a prostitute listed in the dictionary.


Here are a few side notes:

The first entries (not quite in this pic) are from Old English, confirming prostitution’s claim to be the oldest profession. Here are a couple to challenge pronunciation skills:




And here are a couple that stand out from the crowd:

Winchester goose (in use 1606-1778)

marmalade-madam (in use 1674-1717)

Twopenny upright (in use 1958-1978)

I could go on…

But instead, let’s switch to whiskers. Ambrose Burnside’s facial hair definitely brought the term side-burn into both American and English languages. My big fat dictionary has a section on ‘sidewings’ which it says was first used in 1811:


Side-burns, we see, crops up in the language 1887, amidst a clear up-tick in the need for words to describe men’s facial hair. Obviously I had to google Dundreary whiskers and Piccadilly weepers and am so very happy to be able to add a couple of photographs here of Edward Askew Sothern:

Sothern, an English actor, played Lord Dundreary in a play, The American Cousin. I can’t imagine a better example of an English eccentric and it seems both terms come back to this very fetching looking gent.

As a further interesting bit of trivia, The American Cousin was the play that Abraham Lincoln was watching when he was assassinated in Ford’s Theatre in 1865. Although not with Sothern in the Lord Dundreary role.

S is for Suspenders

Only in America would you get a text like this one from a neighbour:


To be fair – it is Halloween. But this is not the kind of neighbourhood where people borrow each other’s intimate underwear (thankfully). No one wanted one of these:


What they wanted were braces. By which I do not mean these:


I mean these:


Which left me wondering what these are called over here, if not suspenders…


And they are called a garter belt.

Which made me think of this:


Now that’s a long way from those:


But the Queen here is wearing robes as a member of the Order of the Garter which is one of those British things that you grow up hearing about but really not having a clue what it is. So I have done some highly superficial research and from the Encyclopaedia Brittanica I have learned that the Order of the Garter began in the 14th when Edward III gallantly picked up and wore a garter which had fallen from his dancing partner’s leg. Here he is in his Order of the Garter get-up:


All which is a long way to go from someone wanting braces/suspenders for a Halloween costume. But I liked it.