Monday, 28 November 2016

You say you want a revolution

There's a lot of talk in this country about a historic so-called "revolution", when a group of illegal combatants mounted an insurgence against the fair-handed rule of a benevolent King and his trustworthy officials.  And that's why, to this day, baddies in Hollywood movies have British accents.

The unfair stereotype also persists in the museums around Williamsburg, just a little south of us, where we've come for a swift post-Thanksgiving holiday.  Williamsburg's centre is a huge recreation of a 17th-Century colonial town, complete with governor's mansion, church, and capitol building.  The seasonal ice rink may not be historically accurate.

But that's not all, as most of America's short history happened in a very small area!  Nearby Jamestown is the first permanent settlement in the USA, the first colony of the British Empire, founded in 1607.  The fabulous museum here includes ships, forts, actors in period dress, and an ongoing feud with Massachusetts about where the first Thanksgiving took place.

The final corner of the "historic triangle" is Yorktown, where the insurgents may have managed a somewhat significant victory against the superior British army.  Yes, here was the practical end for the King's rule, allowing the liberated Americans to eventually elect a narcissistic billionaire reality TV star as president (who would have won by way more if it wasn't for all those fraudulent votes).  Democracy is a beautiful thing.

In the middle of all this liberty, freedom, blah blah, it was my sister's birthday.  What other way to celebrate than barbecue and cupcakes?  But unlike America, Emily has realised that it's better to remain in the shadow of a superior, compassionate and wise power.

Virginia is also famous for peanuts!  Here we are at Whitley's Peanut Factory.  Less of a factory, more of a tourist-trap gift shop, but hey - free peanuts!

Wandering into historic Williamsburg.

Look!  Historical things!

Around town.

Petting the main form of transport.

By the (non-historic) ice rink.

Next day at Jamestown, pounding corn.

Up the creek.

On board the slightly larger Susan Constant.

Looking out at the Godspeed.


Not the most luxurious accommodation for the 71 colonists Susan brought across.

Roll out the barrel.

Pete takes after his maternal grandfather.

Hard hat area.

A diner lunch, unchanged since the 1600s.

Finally, at Yorktown.  What colour did the goodies wear again?

Pete finds the touchscreen, of course.


Having a chat with a Yorktown tobacco farmer in his kitchen.  The kitchen and the family accommodation were two completely separate wooden buildings, to try to make living through the Virginia heat tolerable.

The real boss.

Emily plots her next move.

A (loud) musket demonstration.

Now here's some proper history.  Despite being under fire from land and sea, the Welsh were the only part of the British forces that never surrendered, despite the inevitable.  Like in most international rugby matches.

Barbecue lunch.

Should you be eating so much red meat at your age?

Back home with a birthday cupcake.

And one for someone else.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Annual pilgrimage

Turkey, corn, football, rampant consumerism...of course, our Thanksgiving list also includes the Muckers.  Since time immemorial (that is, 2008) they have been the beneficent Americans to us poor pilgrims, providing sustenance and shelter.

This year the menu included a spicy side-dish of politics, as Christine and her Dad are not on the same page, shall we say, when it comes to Presidential candidates (that's right - Christine is a "yuge" Trump fan).  But around a table of British, Polish and Georgian immigrants, and at least one dual citizen, the spirit of Thanksgiving was only as far away as the next cocktail.  In the Mucker house, that's always true.

Ah yes, the biggest question was whether I could outdo my beer cooler pumpkin of last year.

The answer was: of course!  With several trips to Home Depot, and a few milk cartons.

And the help of my sister.

Behold!  The triple-cocktail-serving pumpkin!!  Patent pending.

Other awesome things were being created too, like Emily's hedgehog cake (imported giant chocolate buttons for prickles).

But the main event was in the Mucker's oven when we arrived.

There was just enough cooking time for some fun and games before dinner.

Pete enjoyed himself.

So did his Mum.

Fall fun.

And then it was time to eat.  And eat.

JJ selfie.

The next day we skipped the Black Friday fun for a calorie-burning walk in Wheaton park.  Although you can burn a lot of calories fighting for a TV at 5am.

Three gruff goats seek troll.

A few more autumn colours.

Luckily there's a hothouse here as well, complete with camouflaged monkeys.

I am thankful for: time to smell the flowers.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Where there's muck there's money

"Thrifty" would be a good word to describe our family.  My Grandpa Brinson used to say that if you had sixpence and only spent five you'd never get into trouble (although Charles Dickens might have said that first).  His wise words have obviously stayed with us - of his ten grandchildren, none of us has ever gone bankrupt.  While this precludes any of us from ever becoming President of the USA it has kept us out of debtors' prison, and Grandpa would be proud of that.

Of course, a large part of my own financial success is thanks to thrift stores.  Why pay full price for something when you can get it for a fraction of that, with the added bonus of the previous owner's fingerprints/hair/smell still attached?  My sister has taken this a step further and volunteers in a UK charity shop, where she not only sorts the incoming merchandise but decides on it's price and gets first chance to buy it!  "Corrupt" might also be a good family adjective.

So with her visit I had to give Em a tour of the local thrift stores, or "pre-enjoyed economy" as I call it.  Unfortunately, US secondhand vendibles are extremely low quality when compared with British, charities being a dumping ground for anything broken or worn out that you can't sell for 50 cents at a garage sale.  On the other hand, there are none of those pesky health and safety laws.  Here you can buy anything!  Electricals, furniture, cars, name it.

So here's your guide to the thrift stores of southern Maryland.  I know you've been waiting.

Unique Thrift Store, Silver Spring

Location: On a nice main road, big car park, near a Burger King.

Product:  Varied, questionable.

Atmosphere/odour: Reminiscent of a large, non-luxurious rest home.

It's unique!  Like all the others.

Find of the day:

When is it pizza time?  It's always pizza time!

Goodwill, Rockville

Location: Small suburban shopping mall.  No good coffee nearby.

Product:  Well curated and ordered.  Discrete enclosed kids area where Pete has spent many happy hours.

Atmosphere/odour: Classy.  For a thrift store.

There's a sign on the door saying employees are not allowed to purchase the goods, which outraged Em.

Find of the day:

Three kings, two heads.  A Nativity/Halloween mash-up.

Honourable mention:

A personalised thrift store item?  That never happens!  And she didn't buy it.

Urban Thrift, Kensington

Location: On a side street in a difficult-to-navigate one-way system.  Custom suffers as a result!

Product:  Not choosy, but not too many broken things.  They once had a grand piano on a 50%-off-all-furniture-day, but my marriage was worth more than the savings.

Atmosphere/odour: Not very urban.

It was 25% off for seniors.  Where are Mum and Dad when you need them?

Find of the day:

Remember that comforting time when George W. Bush was the worst president ever?

Honourable mention:

Looking good, Jesus.

Guess where I'll be lining up at 5am on Friday!

Salvation Army, Takoma Park

Location: Upstairs in a mall, by an IHOP.

Product:  A very fine choice of well-looked-after goods.

Atmosphere/odour: Could almost be a real shop.  Nice religious theme - Christmas carols were being piped throughout.

Ah, the Sally Army.

Find of the day:

Only the addition of John Denver can improve on the Muppets/Christmas formula.

Good sense of Biblical humour.


Break for lunch:

Never thrift on an empty stomach.


Value Village, Silver Spring

Location: Just off the Beltway, quite near Ikea.

Product:  Ugh.  Quantity rather than quality is the order of the day here.  It seems to be two thrift stores combined into one, hangar-sized chaotic charity warehouse.

Atmosphere/odour: I'm still trying to scrub it from my pores.

Find of the day:

Whoever strips the dolls naked and bags them up like some deranged psycho killer!

In conclusion:

That's all my Christmas presents bought in a single day!  Thanks again Grandpa.