Friday, February 28, 2014

What Brings You to Our Store?

  We have just ordered a chair to match a sofa we bought a few years ago, which has brought back memories of the pleasures of buying furniture in America. At that time, I penned the following, from which absolutely nothing has changed...

   Last weekend, the snow was falling in flurries, the roads were wet, the skies were grey – and we were out looking for a new sofa.  Our bit of Western New York has a dearth of good furniture shops, which is frustrating to someone used to the cornucopia that is London. Here, all sofas seem to have curly-wurly arms - you can’t find one with straight arms for love or money. It’s either that, or it’s overstuffed in brocade with fringes, like a whale in a French corset.  So we set out, not with much hope of actually finding anything we liked but to get ideas. We’ve been getting ideas for some months now. “We’re just getting ideas” is the method hubby uses to fend off the sales personnel who descend like vultures whenever you enter a Western New York furniture shop.
   Our furniture shopping scenario invariably goes something like this. We stop outside yet another store, out on some billboard-infested arterial road, eye up the vast concrete building and look at each other.  “Sure you want to do this?”
“We-ell…not sure” 
“Come on, at least we’ll be out of the cold” 
    So we march inside, mentally counting the seconds we’re left on our own before the first vulture circles and dives. No matter how cavernous the store and how far away he or she is – he or she will spot us. And come striding over with the sort of gritty determination that won the West. 
   “Hi Folks, how’re you doing today?”
   “Good – and yourself”, says hubby well-trained in the drill.
   “I’m good.  And what brings you folks to our store today?”
   The first time I heard this question, I thought it was original. The fifth time I realised it wasn’t. It is a crucial part of every western New York salesman’s training course.
   It’s at this point – while I wonder idly what would happen if I answered, “Oh, just a spot of shoplifting” -  that hubby says firmly, “We’re getting ideas”.  This sometimes works; mostly not. The important thing is to keep walking. We once shook an assistant off but this is rare.  Usually, the vulture quickly metamorphoses into a  bloodhound. “Would that be ideas for anything in particular?” we hear behind us. How I sometimes miss shopping back home, where you can’t make the assistant get off the phone so much as to look at you.

 We try a spot of ducking and weaving between the curly-wurly arms, but s/he sticks to our tails, shifting to a new approach.  
  “Are you folks familiar with our store?”
     I want to say that I am familiar with their store, not because I’ve been in it before but because it’s exactly like every other furniture store I’ve ever been to in America. But I lack the vocabulary.
  “Well let me just tell you that today we have a special promotion …..
 my name is Joe/Bill/Kelly and here’s my card, so just let me know if I can help you.”

  This signals a brief respite and the trick is to use this respite to race around as quickly as possible, verifying that there is indeed no sofa in the shop that doesn’t have curly-wurly arms and then finding the most direct route to the exit. If you hesitate at any piece of furniture, your weakness will immediately be spotted. Last time, we made the mistake of halting to stare in horrified fascination at a sofa that incorporated a plush fold-down tray with his-and-hers drinks holders. In no time at all, we felt heavy breathing and Joe/Bill/Kelly was at our side. “Now that’s a beautiful piece, folks; I’m not a sharp salesman but I’ve been in this business for thirty-five years and I can tell you you won’t get a deal like that anywhere else in New York State.”
  “Thank you” said hubby. “That’s given us lots of ideas.”

Monday, February 24, 2014

Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Winter Wonderland

Or what happens in snowy Western NY in February when it rains.

Things get ugly

Yes, that's what happens to snow when the cameras aren't on it. (behind is the newly extended Credit Union building - one enterprise that seems to be doing really well.)

 Above the YMCA car park. I thought that was going to be the nastiest sight of the day.
Not so.

Tops supermarket had a veritable mountain range of grey sludge.

But rain brings one advantage. I can put my car out on the drive and get it clean (er).

Thursday, February 20, 2014


As if the weather wasn't bad enough, I have yet to assess the winter damage from our four-legged  neighbours.  

 They've blatantly left tracks all over the back garden and one of the small evergreens is showing distinct signs of emaciation.Still, they're taking care to keep out of sight. Not like the other winter, when we caught them red-hooved, loitering on the porch,

sauntering nonchalantly through the garden, as though the last thing they were thinking of doing was catching a bite from that bush..

not to mention pilfering from the bird feeder.

 Part of me rather misses seeing them....

Monday, February 17, 2014

Fun In The Snow Part 2....

.... or how an American and his ice hockey are never easily parted.

  We have had visitors from Columbus, Ohio. They had mixed feelings watching the dramatic shootout after the USA vs Russia game. The Russian goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, plays for the Columbus team, the Blue Jackets. (They call him Bob). In fact most of the Russian team play in the American National Hockey League. A far cry from the Cold War days, not to mention the fact that they wear the Imperial double-headed eagle emblazoned on their shirts. (Actually most of the players in the Winter Olympics seem to play in the American National Hockey League, including a Slovene, who plays for Los Angeles. And yes, there is a Los Angeles ice hockey team).
  After the game, the visitors, all fired up, headed for our neighbour's frozen pond with their hockey sticks and a couple of brooms and snow shovels.  "Of course it's safe", hubby said in answer to my anguished wails, "You could drive a tank over it."
"Let me take a photograph", I said, "Of my husband speaking his last words."

Friday, February 14, 2014

Fun in the Snow

 When the big snowstorm was signalled last week and everyone told to stay indoors, we had to be in Rochester, which is two hours away. We thought about it and hubby being, in my opinion, the best snow driver in the western hemisphere, we decided to chance it.
This was our lane. Believe me, there's a road under there somewhere.

And this was the motorway. Ditto.

 Someone once told me that, when you're going to drive in snow, you should have a checklist: a blanket, a shovel and a bag of cat litter. Cat litter? (Or rather kitty litter, as the Americans call it. They've now invented a lightweight kind, I notice from the TV commercials. They show someone throwing it at their next door neighbour. Not at their cat at least. Can't see the point myself.)  That's for scattering in front of the car to help get it out of a snowdrift. Oh yes and long underwear, a full tank and make sure your phone's charged up. Of course real people never remember all that.

The sign below says "Text Stop". These are new signs and the latest careful use of taxpayers' money.

We passed four cars, a pickup truck and a school bus skidded off the road. Luckily none of them looked really nasty.

The trick, hubby says,  is to find the right set of ruts to drive along. Of course there wasn't a snowplough in sight.

Until we reached the outskirts of the city which was no longer two hours away. More like four.

But we got there. It took two days for hubby's hands to unclench. If it was me, we'd have been in a ditch in the first five minutes.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A Great Bear Story


As we shiver in the vicious cold, all self-respecting bears are hibernating. But I still yearn for the day when I might see one. In the meantime, I continue to collect bear stories . And I heard a good one yesterday from a lady I met ski-ing. Always when you get a few Western New Yorkers together, the conversation turns to bear stories and this was hers.
  It was summer. Around 11.30pm and she was in her kitchen. The back door had one of those screens that keep mosquitoes out that everyone has around here. It means that, when it's warm, you can leave your door open and let the air in through the screen. It was very lucky that she hadn't done this. Extremely lucky in fact. Her back door was closed. She heard a rattling sound. She looked out through the glass panels and saw, to her horror, two giant paws up against the screen. And not just up against it. Shaking it. She screamed blue murder, her husband, aroused, grabbed his gun and the bear went lumbering off. But the next day it was back, grabbed the screen with both paws and wrenched it off the door. Point made, they didn't see it again. Never a dull moment here.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Cuba in the Snow

 Well it has been a bizarre winter....

 All right, I mean Cuba, New York, a pretty little town some 20 minutes from us along the motorway, famous for its lake and Cheese Shoppe. Above is the Church of Our Lady of the Angels, one I thoroughly recommend because, a) there's very little yacking in the pews as you come in, b) they have proper hymns with proper tunes and best of all, c) no one asks you to stand up and introduce yourself, hugs you, or tries to hold your hand. This is highly unusual in American churches and for me, pure bliss.

Cuba is full of sweet, old Western New York houses, some in better repair than others.

The beautiful place below sold last year for - guess how much?

165,000 dollars. That's a hundred grand to you and me. You couldn't get a broom cupboard in London for that. And it was in good nick too. But there's a reason. I did a little research and discovered that the property tax on it was over 12,000 dollars a year. The same goes for a big old farmhouse with a gigantic barn and a couple of hundred acres around the corner from us. It's been on the market for years. It's the ridiculously high taxes in this non-affluent area that put buyers off. Which explains why so many people and businesses want to leave New York state. And so much for trying to regenerate Western NY.

Still, in more prosperous times, Cuba, like its namesake, must have been a swanky place to live.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Life in the Freezer


Until now I never appreciated just what the term "biting cold" meant. It's so cold I don't even want to go outside. Every foray to the shops demands fur boots, a long, quilted coat (marketed for "hockey moms" forced to sit for hours in chilly arenas) and my silly hat with ears and scarf attached that hubby says makes me look like a bobcat. I bought it as a joke but it's come into its own. My car still has the layers of snow on it from days ago, even sitting in the garage, it hasn't fallen off.
  And our furnace (what Americans call the boiler) packed up this morning. I was woken by a grim-faced hubby, "I've called them out but in the meantime the oven's on and open so at least the kitchen'll be warm." He had also rigged up the old toaster oven in the sitting room but I counselled against it as I could already smell burning.  Maybe we should get a wood stove, like many of our neighbours. Though of course, these days, you have to get one to comply with all sorts of environmental regulations which make it cost a lot more. Which will be extremely bad news for people here in rural Western New York, struggling to make ends meet. But of course the ideologues sitting in their warm Manhattan pads couldn't give a monkeys.
  Anyway, I'll say one thing for this country, the repair people were out in about 20 minutes and fixed the problem. I doubt I'd get that sort of service in London.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Cookies* (Kukis) to Canada

As in coals to Newcastle. Sort of, anyway.  When I was in Jakarta last month,  I acquired a packet of coconut biscuits. "Kukis Kelapa" in the local lingo.Homely with a nice exotic twist, I thought. Maybe it's all the Dutch influence, I thought. Good pressie for hubby, I thought. So I lugged them back in my wheelie bag via Tokyo and Washington and Tampa and finally what remained of them at least, to Buffalo. And delicious they were too. Then I read the wrapper. And guess where these biscuits I got in Indonesia and dragged half way across the world originated from? Canada. More to the point, Burlington, Ontario, which is a couple of hours from us across the border. Is this what they call globalisation? I was just a mite disappointed but would have been more disappointed if they didn't taste so good. I'll have to look for them in WalMart.

*It is very rarely and with great regret that I bring myself to use the word "cookie", trying as I am to cling to the English language. However in this case it makes a catchier phrase. As, apparently, the Indonesians think too. Kukis. Huh.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

I Counted Them All Back

I must admit that, during all my travelling jaunts of the past month, part of me was worrying. I heard tell of the terrible cold blast back home in Western New York, of plunging temperatures unheard of for decades, even in that chilly corner of the world. And I thought about our bird feeder hanging sad and empty on the porch and kicked myself for not making better arrangements to keep the little guzzlers fed. Coming back late last night, I half expected arrays of tiny frozen corpses - well all right, I do have a vivid imagination.  Before I'd even started to unpack, I rushed to fill the feeder again, risking life and limb climbing on the wicker porch chair, which always reminds me that I have to find a better means of ascent before I break my neck.
  This morning, things started slowly. Just one chickadee. A lone survivor?  I waited in trepidation. Then, a sudden flash of red - the cardinal, safe and sound. Then along came the nuthatch, feeding upside down in his disconcerting way. Then the finches appeared and soon left, disgusted I'd forgotten to include the thistle seed. Then more chickadees - four, five six... and finally, with a flourish, Woody the downy woodpecker. All present and correct! That just leaves the juncos and doves but they don't use the feeder anyway. I felt like BBC correspondent Brian Hanrahan in the Falklands War, famously watching the Harriers return safely to the aircraft carrier and not being allowed to say how many there were, announced, "I counted them all out and I counted them all back."
  (And any more complaining squawks about tardy filling of the feeder will from now on fall on deaf ears.)