Sunday, March 31, 2013

More Easter Scenes

Believe it or not, this is something called a Resurrection Roll.

You bake it with a marshmallow inside - the marshmallow melts and hey presto, it's empty. Therefore it symbolises Christ's empty tomb.

And in an old downtown church, a rather more aesthetic - and beautifully fragrant - empty tomb display...

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Happy Easter

From a Western New York bunny.

An Egghunt in the Park

  Well not so much a hunt as a mad free-for-all scramble after 1500 coloured plastic eggs stuffed with jelly beans scattered in plain view over the park. It was over in two minutes. Talk about survival of the fittest. As an observer, I felt it could have done with a little finessing and the young family members I was escorting pronounced it, with airs of authority, "boring". Perhaps it would help actually to hide the eggs and make it more of a challenge but that might have been considered a little politically incorrect.

Ohio Good Friday

Dateline Columbus, Ohio

Looking for a coffee in the shopping Mall near where we were staying, I espied a lengthy queue of mothers and children. "I hope", I muttered to myself, "they're not all queueing for coffee.  

Scrutinising them a little more closely, I realised that they were not. They were queuing for something else, namely....

Who was posing for photographs, presumably for a small fee. I think this was Mrs Bunny,

possibly on the same lines as  Mrs Claus 
   The children were all dolled up like the Painted Babies, in frilly tutus, pastel party dresses, fairy wings, net and sequins and even the babies had elaborate glittery hairbands. Call me old-fashioned but it was a rather surreal sight for Good Friday.

Elsewhere, also perhaps surprisingly, rather more people - possibly a couple of thousand - queued up to kiss the Cross at the Good Friday liturgy at St Patrick's Church and the neo-Gothic Cathedral (below) held a rather splendid night-time "Tenebrae" service with fabulous Gregorian Chant and the "Miserere" by Allegri, hitting such spectacularly high notes that I almost got vertigo. As the last candle was extinguished and the Cathedral plunged into spooky darkness, everyone in the packed building was told to bang their fists on the pews to symbolise the earthquake at the death of Christ. The kids with us simply loved it.   Yup, America is a land of contrasts....

Friday, March 29, 2013

Great American Mysteries

There are many. The one taxing me at the moment is why people in Ohio drive on the left. Before you get too alarmed, I mean that they drive in the left lane of the motorway, even if they are going fairly slowly. Of course this can happen everywhere but it seems especially prevalent in Ohio. You can be driving along through Pennsylvania and suddenly see a slow driver in the fast lane. "What does that chap think he is about?" you might muse to yourself. But then you have a eureka moment. You realise that you passed the state line a few minutes ago. "Ah, I see, I am now in Ohio!" you exclaim. This leftish habit means a lot of irate out-of-state drivers getting stuck behind the miscreants. People from Ohio, who know the form, just pass on the inside. Coming from Britain, seeing people driving on the left does make me feel at home but it's also a puzzle to which I would like to find the answer. As we are currently visiting family in Ohio, I will do my best to get one.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Dawn Over Chapel Hill

It's all go here - we're off to Ohio for Easter where it promises to be just a few degrees warmer - well every little helps....

Meanwhile, there is beauty in Western New York in the snow - beauty of all sorts, like this...

And this, the sun coming up over Chapel Hill, our local highest point and one which we have to negotiate every time we drive to Buffalo. It's a frequent topic of winter conversation, as in  "D'you think the car'll make it over Chapel Hill?"  If it's not a four wheel drive and they've been remiss in gritting the road, it most probably won't. I speak from experience.   Another topic of conversation is exactly how Chapel Hill should be pronounced. We and Samantha, the SatNav robot, call it Chapel. Longstanding locals call it Chay-pel. Perhaps someone of that name lived there.

Though, on the other side, there is indeed a chapel - or a small church, one of the prettiest in the county and its oldest Catholic place of worship. St Pacificus was sadly closed a few years ago despite a thriving congregation. I used to see the Franciscan priest, Father Greg, energetically shovelling snow off the steps before Sunday Mass in his long, brown habit. A great outdoorsman and volunteer fireman, big-hearted and beloved by many, he was a man in a million. Sadly, he lost his life in a boating accident at a nearby reservoir a few years ago.  The local fire brigade turned out for his funeral resplendent in dress uniform and white gloves and carried him to his rest on a vintage fire engine.   He is still sorely missed.

I've been told that the church can't be sold because it stands in a cemetery. Occasional services are still held there and people keep it looking good, perhaps in the hope that it might open again one day.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Bird Feeder Cabaret: Chickadee Angels


Courtesy of guest paparazzo Tom.

They are so cheeky, so ubiquitous, that I forget just how beautiful they are,

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Perhaps this year they'll take their time. Last year they all sprang up, long and lanky in the unseasonal March warmth, only to be zapped by the heavy April frosts. It was all against the natural scheme of things. Daffodils had kinks in them and bent double and the frost hit the early-blossoming apple trees so hard that we didn't get a single apple. Perhaps that's why hubby's favourite New York apples, Cortlands, have already disappeared from the supermarket shelves, presumably not to return until autumn. So have the Mackintoshes, practically and he has to make do with Empires. (I've learned the New York apple names and they've been a pleasant surprise. Unlike the propaganda I heard in Britain, they don't just have Red Delicious here.) I expect the crop was decimated.  So a cold March is probably a good thing. Well you have to look on the bright side.
  Meanwhile Harley, our friends' dog from the farm around the corner,  is finding something else to laugh about....

Friday, March 22, 2013


It was a pretty good day to ski though!

The Aspen of the East was in good form and looking almost Alp-like...

With no competition for the runs aka "trails" (which never sounds right to me)

The sun flitting in and out of light bursts of snow

 And not a lift queue in sight

 Though my fingers froze and the warming hut had a few takers...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

..And the Second

It's still snowing!  here follow some local scenes:

White fields behind the Baptist Church car park. There's a lot more snow in that sky.

The lane in winter with one of the original white clapboard houses, the maple syrup hill behind..

Frosted trees along the lane

And frosted flowers in the garden

Winter Wonderland, Frosty Fairyland...
Hang on a minute, it's meant to be spring!
But then, this is Western New York and not London SW19. I should be used to it by now.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The First Day of Spring

With last year's leaves still on the the baby oak. No sign of sprouting yet. Those groundhogs  were just plain wrong.

And a white knuckle drive to Hamburg - Hamburg, New York, that is, an hour up country lanes and the famously unfinished Route 219, aka the "Highway of Tears", with snow blowing across the road, interspersed with sleet, just enough to smear up the windscreen, wet roads, snowy roads, giant trucks spewing out slush, the occasional peek of sunlight from a blue sky with scudding clouds, then grey again and a mini-blizzard. I did not follow local advice and put a shovel and a bag of cat litter in the car. It wasn't that bad but bad enough to feel rather pleased with myself at getting back in one piece. So much for the first day of spring.
  But meanwhile, back at the woodpile, all is not well......

Just who is the culprit?

Surely not. Consensus is it was someone bigger and heavier. We've rigged up the spy camera but so far are none the wiser.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Snow, Snow, Snow

 Where's the justice? By rights, after shivering for two weeks in an unusually cold British March, I should be able to come back to an unusually warm Western New York one. No such luck. Currently there's a "Lake Effect" snow warning for Cattaraugus County until thursday morning. (Lake effect snow being caused by cold air blowing across the warmer waters of the Great Lakes). It's been coming down thickly all day but not settling as much as it would have done last month.  Still, it's snow boots and slush and filthy, salt-encrusted cars for the foreseeable future at least.
  The sunset over snowy fields on the drive back from Buffalo airport was beautiful though:

Monday, March 18, 2013

The St Patrick's Day Hound

  I left London yesterday with Irish music ringing out from the Heathrow Duty Free, which was a nice touch. When I got back to Western New York yesterday evening, there was a card waiting from my sister-in-law:

A very American Irish Dalmatian. And here he is again, all lit up...

They just love St Patrick's Day here and it doesn't matter if you haven't got a drop of Irish blood. I expect you've heard of the green beer, the green-ringletted wigs, the St Patrick's Day parade which the politicians just love. That of course is in New York City, 300 miles away. We have to make do with the card section in the supermarket, which, once, St Valentine's Day is over, turns from red to a vivid green.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Something You Won't Find in Western NY

As my visit to London draws to a close, I wonder what I'll miss .....
The Thames, British bangers, sausage rolls, pub lunches and the smell of the Tube ...
The Today Programme, chip-and-pin credit cards and overhearing someone say, "Cheers Mate!"
Proper blackbirds, proper robins - and - I never thought I'd say it - this chap..

I've never seen a wood pigeon in America, or, more to the point, heard one.  Only, tantalisingly, mourning doves..
 Tantalising, as their coo sounds like an honest British wood pigeon's, but with the end alarmingly left off, as though they're being throttled. They always make me feel a little homesick.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Small London Pleasures: Invisible Waitresses

  Dream on. Things aren't what they used to be. It seems that London waitresses have caught  American waitress disease . In other words never leaving you alone. "How is everything?" from one, then,  five minutes later, "How's your meal?" even, heaven forbid, a "How are you guys doing?" from a third.  And so on and so forth. I almost miss the days when you had to dance on the table to get their attention.
  In fact I've come to the conclusion over the past week that the Atlantic really is shrinking and faster than ever. Two days ago I was driving up the A3 when I suddenly saw something disturbingly familiar. For a moment I struggled to recognise it. It seemed to be in the wrong place, like spotting a palm tree at the North pole. I looked again. It couldn't be.. but no, it was. A snowplough. A brand new, giant, shiny snowplough, flashing lights and chugging along at five miles an hour. Before I knew what I was doing, I was overtaking it. And before I knew what was happening, my car was drenched in salt. (I should add there was no snow anywhere in sight). Back at base, I struggled with the hose, which was frozen solid.
  Hubby called later, wondering why he was seeing pictures on the internet of British cars stuck in two inches of snow. And added that, in Western NY, it was still warm and sunny.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Pleasures of Global Warming

In London SW19. No snowflakes spotted yet but give it time. Temperatures may just creep up above freezing today and the wind is brutal. Meanwhile, hubby reports warm sunshine in Western New York. This will of course change by this time next week, when I'll be back.
A reminder, if you needed it, that I am visiting London, which is currently entering a new ice age. Normal blogging service will resume in a week, with the occasional observation in between. Watch this space....

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Tale of Two Weathers (continued)

Cattaraugus County, Western New York 58 degrees F (14.4C) and sunny
London 2 degrees C (35F) and murky.
Where's the justice?
So much for a spring visit to the UK. I can count the daffodils in bloom on one hand.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Small London Pleasures: The Electric Kettle

  British people, you don't know how lucky you are. Not only do you have electric kettles in Britain but they are fast.  Yes, here on my visit to London, I can switch on a kettle and it will boil in just a few seconds! Imagine that! I spend the whole flight over anticipating the joy.
  Such a thing is, for Western New Yorkers, an impossible dream.  We do have an electric kettle but it wasn't purchased from the local Walmart, where such things are scarce, Americans still preferring the sort that sit on the stovetop and whistle frantically, necessitating a mad scramble to rescue them before it's too late. (Remember those, you elderly Brits?) Our electric kettle had to be brought in from Canada. But, goodness, is it slow! You can safely go out and do the shopping and still come back before it's boiled. Presumably this has something to do with the low voltage in America. But at least, unlike the whistling kind, it does switch itself off.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Very Local Gift

  In America it's what you put on pancakes. In Britain it's what we bring over as presents for our friends: maple syrup.
Walking through the snowy woods up our Western New York lane, you can see the sugar maples – so vividly red in the autumn - looking rather uncomfortable with plastic tubes plugged into their trunks.

 In the old days they used to collect the sap in buckets every day but now a network of the tubes feeds the syrup to tanks and thence to pans where the sap is boiled and reduced to make the syrup. It needs something like forty litres of sap to make just one litre of maple syrup.
  Our neighbour down the road, whose great-grandfather  bought the farm in 1890 and who owns the wooded hill above our house, makes his own maple syrup. During late February and March you can see the wooden “sugar shack” behind the house puffing smoke like a demented steam engine.  The conditions aren't always ideal. As Mark points out,   “ You need freezing nights and warm, sunny says – warm weather, preferably sunshine, makes the sap rise into the branches and the cold nights send it back down to the trunk, where you can collect it.” 
   It also depends on whether the trees are facing south or north, the type of soil, the height above sea-level.. It is not an exact science, more an exciting mix of skill and chance.  “Just when you’ve got it figured out, it goes the other way!”
   Mark doesn't make syrup on a grand commercial scale – just for the family - but that doesn’t make him any less enthusiastic – probably more.  “First, It’s the best sugar you can get – and during the Depression it was our main source of sugar - second it’s such a unique product – you can’t just make it any old time. You only have that little window every year.”   
  He boils the sap over a wood fire “It gives it a better taste –more mapley you know”.  But the most important thing, he says, is that it’s “about family – family camaraderie. I would spend more time with my father during those two months of sugaring than at any other time of year and now it’s the same with my own children.”  
  There was another maple syrup farm up the road - you could buy the stuff in bottles from the local Park and Shop and it actually had the name of our road on it - which made it a pretty good present. But sadly, like many Western New Yorkers, those people have retired to warmer climes. Though we still have one bottle with the label, which we're keeping selfishly, rather like a vintage wine that collectors can't bring themselves to drink. 
  Several places lay claim to the best maple syrup in the world - Canada and Vermont, for example. But there's nothing like knowing the actual trees it came from.     

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A Tale of Two Weathers

The weather I left..

Our picturesque route - or at least the first part..

To Buffalo airport, which copes OK in the snow

And the next day on Wimbledon Common, some think  it's spring already ....

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Bird Feeder Thieves

  The blog is taking a rest for a couple of days as I'll be in the air on my way back to Blighty for a short visit. Meanwhile, a diverting little episode from a couple of winters back..

  Around our way, you never know who'll be scrounging from the bird feeder...

For a bit of hors d'oeuvres before tackling the evergreens....

Ooh! That was spiky!

Nice porch you've got....

But I don't think much of the catering...

Hey, Fred! Over here!

That's it. If you can't do better than birdseed, I'm outa here...