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Not good-bye

I'll miss you, Americana!

I’ll miss you, Americana!

I am so sad to tell my readers that I need to take a hiatus from my Home Strange Home blog. For the very good reason that I am… going abroad again. Yes, really. After just under one year in the US (I started this blog at the end of January 2014), I am once again leaving (those who know anything about me are probably not surprised).

I have accepted a promotion at work to take an eight-month assignment in South Africa and Botswana. So, I will be back! And, I will surely have even more reverse culture shock to freshly blog about upon my return. In the meantime, enjoy America for me.

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My 2014 Year in Blogging

My blog was viewed about 8,300 times in 2014! Not too shabby.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for Home Strange Home, which you can view by clicking below.

Click here to see the complete report.

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One coffee with milk (and waste)

K-CupI drink a lot of coffee at work. (Actually, the words “at work” could be removed from that sentence.) But, sadly, the office doesn’t have a coffee maker with a pot full of warm brewed coffee, or a waitress that comes around and refills my mug.

Instead, the coffee comes from a Keurig machine that makes individual cups of coffee, brewed one cup at a time. You place a “K-cup” (filled with coffee of a flavor of your choice) into the brewer, which punctures the foil lid and the bottom of the cup and forces hot water through the coffee inside, immediately brewing you a single serving of coffee.

What is the obsession with individual servings in America? I feel guilty every time I make myself a coffee, because I know that plastic cup is going into a landfill somewhere afterward, along with all those napkins and plastic utensils.

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A jug of coke

I was looking to slake, not drown, my thirst.

I was looking to slake, not drown, my thirst.

DC is baking hot in the summer. I love it. But sometimes I get a little thirsty as I beat the hot pavement blocks. So I stop into the 7-11 or corner shop to buy myself a can of diet coke and quench my thirst.

The thing is, there never is just a can of diet coke for sale. Inevitably, the fridge is stacked full of those large 20 ounce bottles of soda. Why does everything have to be so BIG?

Who drinks that much soda? Even if you wanted to drink 20 ounces of soda, it would likely go flat before you reached the bottom. You’d have to chug it. And it is so unpleasant – for the drinker and for the environment – to drink from plastic. Eww.

I really miss drinking soft drinks from the reusable glass bottles that are commonplace in Africa. I swear the coke tastes and feels better in a bottle. Given the choice, I’d choose in this order: (a) bottle, (b) can, (c) plastic.

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Every home needs a kettle

The most magical appliance I ever met.

The most magical appliance I ever met.

I just made myself a cup of tea. I did so by boiling water in a metal kettle on the stove top (or on the “hob,” as the Brits would say). While I enjoy the old-fashioned nature of this exercise, every time I do it, I miss the white plastic electric kettle I had in London.

The electric kettle is the most useful, practical, and efficient kitchen device that every single British home has by default and uses on a daily basis and that no American home seems to know exists and lives perfectly happily without. Ignorance is bliss.

But, once you’ve had an electric kettle, you can’t go back.  It is a life changer. I don’t understand how most American homes survive without it. When my parents made tea, they would put a tea bag in a mug, fill the mug with cold water, and stick the mug in the microwave. If a British person saw that, they would cringe.

After I had been living in the UK for a few years, I tried to persuade my mother of the value of an electric kettle. She was not getting it. So I decided to buy her one as a gift. I made the mistake of purchasing it in the UK and shipping it to the US. Because of the different voltages in the two countries (the US is 110 volts and the UK is 220 volts), the kettle wouldn’t even bring the water to a boil.

“It doesn’t work!” she said. I swear, Mom, it is a very useful device, it just isn’t the right voltage. My attempts at persuading my mother were clearly not working. It’s like when you take a group of friends to your favorite restaurant and that ends up being the one night you get bad service/food. I swear guys, this restaurant is normally excellent, I don’t know what is going on tonight.

One explanation I’ve heard for why American households aren’t as likely to have electric kettles is that Americans drink more coffee than tea. So, while for the Brits an electric kettle is an indispensable device for their ritualistic tea consumption, for Americans, an electric coffee maker makes more sense as a staple household appliance. And indeed, most American homes do have a coffee machine;  I use one every morning to make my coffee. In British homes, on the other hand, I infrequently saw coffee makers (at least not electric ones; some people would have manual French coffee presses).

My counter-argument to all this is that electric kettles aren’t just for making tea. They are designed for quickly and easily boiling water, for all its myriad purposes. It’s so much faster to boil water in the electric kettle and dump it into a pot (to make spaghetti, for example) than it is to slowly wait for water to boil in a pot on the stove. I’m telling you, American readers, just get an electric kettle. You will never look back.

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More napkins, please

Shhh. I think I can hear the environment dying.

Shhh. I think I can hear the environment dying.

One major peeve of mine which has gotten pet a lot since I returned to the US is gratuitous wastefulness.  I’ve already written about excess packaging, the proliferation of disposable utensils, and individually wrapped products.

Well, I feel like paper napkins deserve their own post. It seems I can’t go to any lunch place without ending up with ten more napkins than I ever needed or wanted. Unless if I spill something, I don’t see why I would need more than one napkin per meal. Maybe two at most.

And yet the default allocation seems to be at least five napkins per customer per meal. Your bagel sandwich comes in a paper bag stuffed full of paper napkins; your salad is served to you on a tray with a pile of napkins on the side; and even if you order just a drink it is sometimes given to you with a napkin (?).

And the saddest thing is, once these napkins have been given to you, it is as though they have been “used,” even if you never touch them. You can’t shove them back into the napkin dispenser. So what do most people do? Throw them away. What a waste, all the more terrible for its sheer pointlessness.

Whenever possible, I try to stop people from giving me napkins in the first place. But many times, it’s unavoidable. In that case, I keep the napkins and bring them home to use at the house in lieu of purchasing, say, paper towels. Or, you could do like people in the developing world do, where they can’t afford wastefulness – not use any paper products at all, and simply wash your hands before and after the meal.

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Basket of fried fun

Fried = fun.

Fried = fun.

One evening I went with a group of friends to a local dive bar, the sort of place where pitchers of beer are cheap and college students are abundant. We were all a bit hungry, so we had a look at the “menu,” which consisted of about five items: fried chicken, fried fish, french fries, onion rings, and mozzarella sticks. (Notice the common theme: FRIED.)

And there was one mysterious item on the menu: “Basket of Fried Fun.” Of course I had to order this. It turns out all of their menu items are served in a plastic basket lined with grease-blotting paper and no utensils (your hands are your utensils). The “Basket of Fried Fun” is simply such a basket containing a (delightful) combination of all of their fried food offerings, piled into heart-attack inducing bundle of joy. Yes, it was fried, and yes, it was fun. Only in America.

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