Have We Reached Peak Pumpkin?

Friends: I’m very scared that, if we don’t all chill out, pumpkin will jump the shark.

Because the brands have figured us out. Those clever marketers have skillfully tuned into our collective pumpkin adoration and now Pumpkin Everything is Everywhere.

Not only everywhere, but everywhere TOO SOON.

Read my lips: It is still summer.

Let’s say that again, all together now. IT IS STILL SUMMER!

Now, I’m the first to admit that I may have single-handedly fanned the flames of society’s Pumpkin Obsession. Knowing my proclivity for pumpkin, friends hastily alerted me when Starbucks announced the arrival of its fall staple, the Pumpkin Spice Latte – ON AUGUST 25TH. Dear Starbucks, I have one word for you: SERIOUSLY? (Ironic, thereafter, that FoodBabe revealed that not only does the revered PSL feature no pumpkin whatsoever but its ingredients are potentially carcinogenic.)

(At this point, I’d like also to make it very very clear to my readers that, in my humble opinion, pumpkin should be eaten, not drunk.)

Let’s examine other evidence of peak pumpkin:

  • Pumpkin recipes and crafts all over Pinterest – in August and early September
  • Ben & Jerry’s proclaims its limited batch Pumpkin Cheesecake ice cream is here – a fact that drives me fairly hysterical with excitement but my gut tells me this announcement is about 3-4 weeks earlier than in past years. And I’m pretty sure last year they weren’t even sure they were going to make it. I’m betting that this year, B&J has seriously upped its production schedule and quantities.
  • Everybody sends me everything pumpkin on Facebook
  • There are just too many pumpkin-flavored things – edible and non-edible – in the stores. I agree wholeheartedly with this USA Today article.

If we can all agree to cool our engines a little, maybe we’ll avoid pumpkin saturation/desensitization.

So friends, join me in a pledge to put pumpkin back where it belongs:

In the fall (ie. late Sept-late Nov).

In pie.

Oh OK, in cheesecake and ice cream too.

In my belly.

 

 

 

 

5 Things I’d Never Encountered Till I Moved to Massachusetts

It’s been almost 14 years since I moved to America and all 14 of those years have been spent living in, and loving, Massachusetts. Before I moved here, my only point of reference for all-things-Boston was watching episodes of Ally McBeal. Little did I know that Boston does not really have magical street lamps and gently powdery snow falling on twinkly streets, everywhere. Damn you Ally McBeal. However, there’s plenty about life in Massachusetts which has been eye-opening to me in many ways.

1. Let’s take the weather:

I arrived here in February and was promptly told about an impending Nor’Easter threatening to dump a foot of snow. On the morning of this supposed event, the sky was white and cloudy, not a flake in sight. “So where’s this snowmageddon-like storm that everyone’s predicting,” I wondered. “Seriously, a foot of snow – not possible, surely?”

Boom. I was wrong. The heavens opened and promptly dumped sizeable proportions of white stuff in what felt like a few short minutes. OK maybe it took an hour or two. But never had this Londoner ever seen so much snow fall.

And here’s the thing.

It’s not a one-time event. The sky can dump anywhere from 8″ to a foot multiple times! Snow upon snow upon snow until there are humongous industrial-sized mountains of shoveled snow amassed in parking lots and other unsuspecting places. And there they stay, growing icier and generally more mucky, every day. Until, like, July.

Before moving here, I’d never encountered snow blowers, snow ploughs and shovels. (Not that I use them, I am a grateful observer.) And, thundersnow?!

Did I mention the cold? As in the bone-chilling, nostril-hair-freezing, finger-removal-threatening cold that is otherwise known here as February. Sub-freezing temperatures like I didn’t think was possible, and this after three years of jaunts in the Alps! The communal relief when the high for the day is actually above-freezing is palpable. The river here actually freezes solid. I’d never seen such a thing before.

Then there’s the humidity otherwise known as July and August. The air is so wet and heavy that it fairly slaps your face as you step outdoors, sucking out any oxygen you may have selfishly thought you needed to actually breathe. Hair becomes wild, curly, affro-esque. Makeup melts. Mosquitoes chase with vampire, blood-sucking intentions. It’s generally disgusting. Which is why air-conditioners are essentially the best invention ever in the entire universe (please take note, Europe.)

However, to balance out the horrors of winter and summer in Massachusetts, there is spring and fall – both of which are so divine, they can turn an atheist into a believer. Unbelievably beautiful blossoms. Freshly cut verdant lawns. The air sweet and light, outdoors welcoming. Butterflies, dragon flies, hummingbirds.

And fall. There are not enough adjectives to describe the colors and smells of fall in Massachusetts. Seriously. It’s staggeringly beautiful, converting all that is wrong and dark, to right and rich. Check out some fall photos here.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the sunrises and sunsets of Massachusetts, equally breathtaking with ripples of flaming colors that take your breath away.

2. But let’s get to the traffic:

First things first: two words. Big Dig. I often tell people the only reason I have stayed is to see how this grandiose experiment actually turned out. Actually, it’s pretty impressive.

However, it took several months of living and driving here until, one day, it dawned on me with a resounding D’UH that routes 128 and 95 can be one and the same. It’s some kind of local inside joke, inflicted on anyone from out of town who has the gall to drive in Massachusetts.

And then there’s the whole overtaking on the inside thing. Now, I grew up driving in England where everyone is generally civilized and polite on the roads (OK, that may be a stretch.) And driving on the highways in France, I was always impressed with the methodical way that you overtook on the left and then moved back into the slower lane until you needed to overtake again.

Not so in Massachusetts where it’s fair game and acceptable to overtake any which way. And then stay in whichever lane you end up in. Admittedly, I rather like it – but always have to remind myself when returning to England that overtaking on the inside is just not cricket.

Note: if you are new to Massachusetts, you need to understand the term ‘masshole,’ defined by the Urban Dictionary as:

1. For residents of Massachusetts, it is an achieved title for drving faster, being wreckless, cutting other drivers off often, and having no patience for other drivers on the road. 

2. For non-residents of Massachusetts, it is a term of dislike for the people of Massachusetts that drive like an asshole.

3. Funny talk

I’ve blogged about a fair amount about the differences between American English and British English, especially about silly American words. But different words aside, there are accents and very local pronunciations that were new to me.

The Boston accent is well-known. Paark your caar in Haarvaard Yaard and all that. But there are several towns whose names are pronounced much differently from their phonetic spelling. Peabody. Woburn. Worcester. Quincy, to name a few.

In Massachusetts, wicked is a complementary adjective. All set means good-to-go, one of my favorite adopted local phrases. If you are visiting here for the first time and you want to fit in, check out UniversalHub’s Wicked Good Guide to Boston English – and you’ll be wickedly all-set.

4. Pride

The passion that Massachusetts natives display for their region, town, community and sports teams is crazy and wonderful and contagious. Since I’ve lived here, the Red Sox have won the World Series three times and each time, it’s greeted with glee, pride, tears and cheers. To an outsider, it’s almost ridiculous but when you live with it and among it, it’s a beautiful thing.

But the peak of my admiration came in April of this year when this city rallied following the bombings at the Boston Marathon and the bewildering, frightening few days that followed as we were locked down and under threat. Boston Strong is real and poignant and amazing.

5. Last but not least ….

Pumpkin. My love for pumpkin is well-known and documented. But please, let’s be clear. I like to eat my pumpkin not drink it. Pumpkin, to me, has no place in my beer or my coffee. Blech.

photo

(Confession: I spelled Massachusetts wrong every time I typed it in the post. Thank heavens for spell check!)

Four Time-Savers for the Busy Mom

I am a Mom. I am a working Mom. And I’m exhausted. There is never enough time to do the things I’d really love to do. Like, you know, nap, exercise, do nothing, laze on the couch watching re-runs of Friends. Being a parent means existing in a permanent state of fast-forward in which every scene is a perpetual blur of chores, to-do lists, to and froms, shopping, errands, laundry, cleaning, organizing and so on. In fact, while I’m writing this, there’s a pile of clean clothes screaming to be folded. Can’t you hear them?

So it’s entirely natural to fall madly in love with whatever products or services save me some precious time and simplify my life. Four of these delightful things have become regular fixtures in my life and hallelujah—not that this means I’m now swanning around at the spa and meeting girlfriends for frappuccinos every day or taking pottery lessons. But they have taken the edge off the nuttiness of it all, especially since I returned to work full-time:

  • Dream Dinners: Every month I head on over to my local Dream Dinners and assemble a month’s worth of meals for my family. Knowing my freezer is stocked with a variety of interesting meals means I don’t have to fret about meal planning or recipes and ingredients. In fact, since I started with Dream Dinners over a year ago, chicken nuggets and fish sticks are a thing of the past. I am exposing my kids to a variety of new foods and tastes. Some have been winners, some have bombed. But I’m happy they are trying new dishes, new flavors and textures along the way. Plus, thanks to Dream Dinners, we are eating together as a family most nights whereas, before, there’d be one meal for the kids and my husband and I would eat later after they were in bed. So I’m grateful for less heartburn from eating late, less stress figuring out what’s for dinner every night, and more quality time together spent around the dinner table. And leftovers for lunch.
  • iRobot Roomba: Pure genius! This clever device waltzes around the rooms, sucking up dust and crumbs and legos and pet fur and then takes itself back to its dock when it’s done! Bye bye to sweeping and vacuuming (not that I really did that much of it before!) The Roomba seems to enjoy itself most under the couch, for some strange reason ….. And while I can’t say that my dog loves this bizarre creature whizzing around, she is now accustomed to it and no longer barks or tries to round it up like a sheepdog. (The cat just keeps her distance.) Given that the Roomba is so small and sleek, it does need emptying quite often but I’ll forgive it that. Now, if I could only teach it to bring me coffee in bed …..
  • TalkTo: In full transparency, TalkTo is a client of mine. But I would not write about it here, if I didn’t really find value in it. And I do, I do! This nifty, free app lets you send a text message to any business in the USA from your computer or your phone—and get a text message back. Meaning you don’t need to find a phone number and make a call, get stuck on hold, or speaking to someone snotty or who doesn’t understand my British accent. For me, it helps most when I remember that I need to get something done and if I wait, I know it’ll disappear from my brain in a nanosecond. I’ve used the app in recent weeks to make (and then change the time of) a hair appointment, book my kids into an activity, find out what time AAA is open to, book a table for lunch, ask several stores if they had Ben & Jerry’s pumpkin cheesecake ice cream in-stock, find out what’s on sale and so much more. Give it a go.
  • Peapod: Now that I’m working full-time, weekends are precious and I do not want to waste time at the grocery store, especially if I have the kids in tow. Yes, they claim to want to be helpful, to want to push the cart (trolley) and all that, but after a while they are running down old women and secretly stashing chocolate. So thank heavens for Peapod, Stop & Shop’s online grocery ordering and delivery service. I was skeptical at first but it’s working out great as long as I manage to get my order in before 3pm on a Friday to ensure Saturday delivery. If I don’t, then we are inevitably down to the last drop of milk, fighting over the last egg and rationing Cheerios. I call it “just in time” grocery shopping! The cool benefit, other than, you know, having someone else do my shopping for me and delivering it to my front door, is that I’m actually spending less money on groceries as I’m not tempted to throw the extra this or that in. Plus I reclaim an extra 90 mins for the laundry, which I love. No really, I do.

What time-savers do you rely on to save time, effort, your marbles? Please share.

P.S. Fellow PR and marketing people please note: the fact that I have “reviewed” some products does not mean I am now open to be pitched. I wrote these voluntarily and genuinely.

There are Two Kinds of People …

Those that like anchovies and those that don’t. Which are you?

And while we are talking anchovies, I have to tell you that they are on my top ten of foods I love. What are the other nine, I hear you clamor? Well OK then, I’ll tell you.

  1. Anchovies
  2. Bacon
  3. Cheese (any cheese, I mean it…. well, actually maybe not smoked cheeses.)
  4. Avocado
  5. Olives
  6. Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut
  7. Pumpkin anything
  8. Cheesecake
  9. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
  10. My Mum’s trifle

Truth is, though, I’ll eat pretty much anything. I love to eat. I cannot understand those people who don’t enjoy their food, who think of eating as a necessary duty. In fact, there are only 5 foods I won’t eat. What are they, you ask? A rather strange and eclectic list that includes:

  1. Licorice
  2. Watermelon
  3. Borscht
  4. Aubergine (that’s eggplant for you American folks)
  5. Goulash

Bon appetit!

A Month of Gratitude: Part 1

November is here and with it, Thanksgiving, my very favorite US holiday. And not just because of the ample pumpkin pie to be enjoyed, but because it shines a spotlight on gratitude, a sentiment we rarely get the opportunity to dwell on, during the crazy pace of the every day. Last year, someone I know posted a daily gratitude post on her Facebook wall and she has inspired me to stop and spend some time every day during the month of November to consider how very fortunate I am and to catalog all for which I am grateful.

So here we go:

Thursday November 1: Today marks my second anniversary working with InkHouse. When I took the position, I knew I was going to be in a for a wild ride of deadlines, creativity, challenges and successes. Naturally, there are days that are better than others but overall, I am intensely grateful for 1) having a job, 2) being able to practice my passion – communicating, 3) having a job that pays well, 4) working with a group of talented, entertaining, creative and warm people.

Friday November 2: Grateful today for a job that allows me to work from home on Fridays. Grateful that, unlike the poor souls in New York and New Jersey suffering from the impact of Hurricane Sandy, I have a roof over my head, heat and power, food and gas. This could have been a very different story.

Saturday November 3: I’m grateful today for music and dancing. On Saturdays, I try and get to a Zumba class and, once I drag myself there, I emerge energized and invigorated. Today I’m also in awe of, and thankful for, the amazing people and organizations that have come together to help Sandy’s victims. Everyone talks, these people actually do. I should do more.

Sunday November 4: Today, I’m grateful for a day to spend with my family. A walk in the park where the colors are still breathtaking, watching my kids skip and play, my dog delirious with the thrill of running free. My husband at my side. I’m also grateful for great screenwriting, random I know, but have been enjoying watching Homeland and tonight, concluded season 1, complete with nail-biting and racing adrenalin.

Monday November 5: For almost 13 years, I’ve been living in the US but have not yet taken the steps to become a citizen so that I can vote. Today I realized that’s it’s time. I’m grateful that I live in a country where democracy  is the norm and aware that, compared to the  many frightful situations in so many other parts of the world, this is not something I should take for granted. Also, I’m grateful for leftover Halloween candy. And pumpkin cheesecake. Both of which I have consumed today! I’m also grateful for hot water because I am cold at night now and sleep better clutching my hot water bottle. Yes I am an old lady already.

Tuesday November 6: My day started with my almost 8-year old climbing into bed for a snuggle. I cherish every single  snuggle and hug with my kids, the chance to both physically and emotional connect, if only for a few minutes. Today I’m also thankful for Twitter. Strange though it make seem, Twitter augments my world, connecting with me valuable new resources and some of the cleverest, nicest people.

Wednesday November 7: So grateful to be waking up to the news that Obama remains President for another four years. For many, many reasons but, mostly, to quote his acceptance speech:  “… if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.”

Check back next week for another week of gratitude.

So I Have This Problem with Halloween

October 31 is 13 days away. A date that fills me with dread, consternation and cultural awkwardness. 2012 will be my twelfth Halloween in the USA and the fifth or sixth “celebrated” since having kids. You’d think by now I’d be cool with it but every September, just as soon as the kids go back to school, it’s all about Halloween every which way you turn and I just don’t dig it. Here’s why:

Costume Craziness

Halloween, otherwise known as All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day or Toussaint, has many origins but it’s mostly about getting spooked out by ghosts, ghouls and witches. So I can understand dressing up in white sheets, pointy hats and broomsticks, and skeletons but I do not get costumes that have nothing to do with Halloween. Cowboys, princesses, ninjas, Batman, Darth Vader, Minnie Mouse, Thomas the Tank – none of these are appropriately themed in my book. Any why are we OK with spending $25 or more every year purchasing brand new costumes for each kid from the growing numbers of retailers willing to take our money? Not being crafty myself, making or sewing a costume for my kids is rarely an option. So, the weeks running up to October 31 are usually spent trying to gently persuade my kids to either re-wear the costumes bought last year (which have not been worn since) or convincing them to make their own designs.

And while we are on the topic, I have never and will never understand adults dressing up at Halloween. Especially at the office! I do not want to be in meetings with a French Maid, Spider Man, a fireman, Cinderella  Frankenstein or any other caped crusaders. I do not want to sit in a cube across from these characters, bump into them in the corridors, kitchen or bathrooms. I’m all for fun at work but grown-ups in costumes, I just don’t get.

Candy Craziness

I have always been a candy nazi, strictly limiting the volume and kinds of candy my kids consume. In the days prior to Halloween, I totally have to psyche myself into being cool with the fact that they will be consuming huge piles of the nasty sugary stuff. I’m not a total spoil-sport, I let them go to town on Halloween. But it makes my skin crawl and sets off every parenting alert signal. And after the sugar high, the inevitable crash, followed by the awesome moods the following morning. Ugh! What I don’t understand is why does there have to be so much candy? And not just on October 31 but in the days and weeks either side?

Extended Celebrations

Halloween is technically just one evening, so why the parties 7-14 days before? Why decorate houses as soon as October hits? Why is there so much Halloween themed junk on the shelves of stores? Halloween cookies, recipes, crafts? Why are there Halloween Hallmark cards? Who sends these things? Happy Day of the Dead? Gee, thanks for thinking of me. It’s all overkill.

There are many American celebrations and seasons  that this Brit wholeheartedly embraces, particularly in the fall when pumpkins are plentiful and the foliage breath-taking. And, of course, I want my kids to experience all that is fun and cultural and seasonal. But, when it comes to Halloween, I admit I am a Grinch. So bah humbug.

And pass the candy.

My Pumpkin Obsession

I am obsessed with pumpkins. Not the whole orange ones that people here in New England decorate their porches with come October, but pretty much any food item that is made with pumpkin. This will not be a big surprise to my family and friends. In fact, to quote a friend:

There is probably not a Brit alive who likes pumpkin as much as you do!

Fall is the favo(u)rite season of many a folk and especially here in New England when the leaves turn incredible shades of orange and red, the sun glows a little stronger in the sky, and the temperature starts to dip as the air turns crisp. The humidity in which we’ve drowned all summer disappears and with it, the challenges of frizzy hair. I too appreciate these things but for me fall promises one thing – PUMPKIN! – and I am always ridiculously thrilled when this time of year comes around again.

It’s rather ironic that my first encounter with anything pumpkin happened half a lifetime ago in 1986 when I was an au pair in Paris. Now, France is not the typical place for anyone to find pumpkin pie, I know. But I was actually working for an American family at the time and they were celebrating Thanksgiving. And so began my pumpkin love affair.

Fast forward to 2000 and the opportunity that I had to move stateside with my job. There were positions for me either in San Francisco or Boston. I had already been to, and very much liked, San Francisco but Boston – and the whole East Coast thing – beckoned. There were many reasons why I decided on Boston – a shorter flight back to London, proximity to my brother’s family in Pennsylvania. Not to mention Ally McBeal, because she was the only real reference point I had for how life in Boston would truly be and look like. Reeses Peanut Butter Cups were another very persuasive reason for moving here. But what won out was the knowledge that, come November, there would be pumpkin pie. And pumpkin bread. And pumpkin muffins.

Yum.

Then one bright and sunny late September day about eight years later, while the hubby and I were enjoying a rare weekend away from the kids in Newport, Rhode Island, we treated ourselves to a scoop or two of some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Pumpkin cheesecake ice cream, to be precise. HOLY COW! Now, I’d always loved cheesecake. I’m ok with ice cream, not a huge fan. But, the trifecta of cheesecake, ice cream and pumpkin together and boy oh boy, sparks flew! Cupid had struck.

This experience kindled what has become a seasonal quest to taste as many different varieties of pumpkin ice cream in order to verify that Ben & Jerry’s flavo(u)r is, indeed, nirvana. I’ve tried several varieties that have come close, like Edy’s and a homegrown version which was totally delish from the Milky Way Farm somewhere in PA but alas too far away for regular consumption. Trade Joe’s brand disappointed, as did the pumpkin ice cream made by a local purveyor. I’ve yet to try Toscanini’s so have to take @eric_andersen‘s word that it’s good.

I also have to totally give kudos to Ben & Jerry’s social media responsiveness as I’ve been haranguing them regularly for updates as to when this season’s limited batch will be distributed and in stores. I may have to bulk purchase this year. Hey, if you can buy a case of wine, why not a case of ice cream?

Anyhoo, in the meantime, I’m making do with this.

And this.

Until I can get this!

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