Deeper into the Woods

Ready to keep riding?

My faithful steed waits patiently while I get off to snap photos pick up the brightest, most freshly fallen leaves for pressing

My faithful steed waits patiently while I get off to snap photos pick up the brightest, most freshly fallen leaves for pressing

The deeper I go into the woods, the brighter the leaves become. They are not only gold, but crimson and burgundy, lemon and ochre.

Infinite variety

Infinite variety

In some places they are still green and in others already brown, crunching under my wheels and carpeting the gravel path so thickly that sometimes I’m not sure where the trail for people ends and where the deer path begins.

A carpet of leaves blankets the path ahead

A carpet of leaves blankets the path ahead

Someone has put up a birdhouse. I see bright red cardinals flying around it, blending in with the colors of their surroundings, for once.

Someone has put up a birdhouse. Bright red cardinals fly around it, blending in with the colors of their surroundings at this one time of year .
They wouldn’t stay still for a picture, though.

Trendsetter

Trendsetter

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Trees of all sorts compete for attention on the banks of the stream

First golden...

All dressed in shades of gold and green

Don't forget to look down

Don’t forget to look down

Don't forget to look up

Don’t forget to look up

Thanks for coming along yet again! Keep your bicycles well-oiled and ready to go, because we’re not done just yet. Until the autumn’s over, we’ve still got riding to do.

Until next time…

– Jennifer

 

The Woods Are Lovely, Golden and Deep

IMG_7378The woods are lovely, dark golden and deep.

Those words kept running through my head as I watched the leaves beginning to turn in the woods behind my house. Only last week they were at the peak of their colorful glory, and shortly before that it seemed that they had just begun to lose their green.

Why does this qualify as a post for the Adventures of an Expat Returned? How is this a specifically newly-returned-to-America topic? Well, let’s begin with the fact that, while abroad, I nearly always lived in big cities. This means that I had very little access to nature except on weekend excursions, which were few and far between (that’s what happens when you work weekends). It is therefore relevant to my experience of returning to America, which has meant returning to live in a semi-rural area for the first time since I was a kid.

Umbrella pines on the Palatine Hill

Umbrella pines on the Palatine Hill

Rome’s beauties tend to be of the architectural as opposed to the naturalistic variety. Of course, they do have some lovely public parks in Rome, my favorite of which was the Villa Borghese park (where you can find the famous Pincio Belvedere that is featured in pretty much any movie filmed in the Eternal City).

Your faithful writer sits atop a fallen umbrella pine near the outdoor hippodrome in Villa Borghese park

Your faithful writer sits atop a fallen umbrella pine near the outdoor hippodrome in Villa Borghese park

The umbrella pine is one of the symbols of Rome. It’s everywhere (although, having been brought over from North Africa during the time of the Ancient Roman Empire, it’s not truly native), it’s beautiful and it’s a conifer.

The steep, cypress-lined road that climbs to the Church of Santa Margherita above the famous little hill town of Cortona

The steep, cypress-lined road that climbs to the Church of Santa Margherita above the famous little hill town of Cortona

If you think about it, Italy is famous for its conifers. Just think of Tuscany and what comes to mind? An avenue leading to a villa in the hills above Florence, perhaps, and it is lined with… cypresses, another gorgeous tree and, again, not deciduous.

Cypresses rise from behind every garden wall in here in the hills above Florence

Cypresses rise from behind every garden wall in here in the hills above Florence

Olive groves and cypresses are an integral part of the Tuscan hills' distinctive beauty - and neither tree changes its colors in autumn

Olive groves and cypresses are an integral part of the Tuscan hills’ distinctive beauty – and neither tree changes its colors in autumn

Despite having had access to places world-renowned for their beauty for many years, it had been a very long time since I’d seen the brilliant reds and yellows of a North American fall, the bright fiery shades of autumn I remember from my childhood.

And this is just my back yard. Imagine what it's like down in the woods...

And this is just my back yard. Imagine what it’s like down in the woods…

Lucky for me, I have my faithful steed...

Lucky for me, I have my faithful steed…

...and a long and winding, well-kept trail...

…and a long and winding, well-kept trail…

...and woods wild and golden enough to satisfy your average hobbit's sense of adventure

…and woods wild and golden enough to satisfy your average hobbit’s sense of adventure

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Further on, the golds begin to give way to a little more red

Further on, the golds begin to give way to a little more red

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See the deer behind me? That’s how close (and tame) they were

I get off my bike to take a picture of those red leaves, and what should I see, not so very far off the trail?

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Can you see mother doe in the background?

Can you see Mom in the background?

This is about as wild as it gets in the woods behind my house, but for someone who’s spent most of their life in the city, it qualifies as an adventure. And a little further along the trail…

And the path continues...

A nice place to pause for awhile before our adventure continues

Thanks for coming along. Come back and visit soon for more rides through the autumn woods, as long as the leaves last.

– Jennifer

And by the way, a big thank you to all of you who have followed and liked my blog lately. It’s great to have you here, and I hope you’ll keep on visiting!

A Monster Bridges the Gap to Help Save a Local Business

Shopzilla!

Salezilla does his part to bridge the gap in sales while the new bridge leading to McCoy’s Furniture is under construction

Driving back from a weekend trip this summer, we passed through the town of Waynesboro, Virginia, and I snapped this photo of a sales ploy that tickled my funny bone. Now that I’ve been back from the Italy – a.k.a. the land where advertising has to be soberly refined and sexy – for a good four months, I am still not tired of the unabashedly (and proudly) silly advertising ploys I often see here. Considering the post-Halloween atmosphere that still persists during this first week of November, it seemed like a good time to use this monstrous photo (ba-dum-bum-ching).

It’s been more than a couple of months since I took this photo so, before posting, I began to wonder if this monster sales ploy had done its job to keep the business in the picture afloat. A couple clicks took me to the McCoy’s Furniture Co. website. It turns out they’re a family-owned store and they’ve been around since 1946. Since their website said the sale was still ongoing, I wondered if perhaps they hadn’t made it through the hard times, after all. So, I went ahead and called them. It turns out the problem was that the Broad Street Bridge, which led to their store, had been closed for construction since last February. However, that bridge has just recently reopened, one month ahead of schedule, and McCoy’s made it through to the other side of the hard times. Did Salezilla threaten to eat a few of the construction workers if they didn’t speed things up? I don’t speak monster, so we will probably never know.

Speaking of which, I enquired about our friend, wondering if he’d been put out to pasture (although I can’t imagine any local sheep wanting to share with him) now that the monster sale was done. Happily, it turns out he’s still waiting at the front of the store, sale or no sale.

So, if any of my faithful readers live near Waynesboro or elsewhere in the Shenandoah Valley and want to support a local family business (or just want to pay a visit to Salezilla), now you know where to go. You could even buy an armchair from Salezilla to watch Godzilla (ba-dum-bum-ching).

Ok, I’m going to stop now, before this gets any sillier.

Thanks for stopping by and I look forward to seeing you again next time!

Jennifer

Trick or Treating Is Not Like in the Movies, and I Mean That in the Very Best Way

IMG_7306As I mentioned in my Happy Halloween post, the holidays you miss most when living overseas are the ones that don’t even exist in the place where you’re living. Italians, after sufficient exposure to American scary movies, have recently adopted Halloween, but there is no door-to-door trick or treating and children certainly don’t put on costumes. If anything, adults use it as an excuse for a rather silly night out and nightclub owners use it as a way to get more people in the door for a theme night.

I was therefore really looking forward to seeing what the kids in my neighborhood (or their parents, in the case of the youngest ones) would put together.

Your faithful writer at age 3. I thank  J. M. Barrie for the idea and my wonderful mom for making such a brilliant costume with hardly any advance notice (three-year-olds are notoriously fickle) and on shoestring budget.

Your faithful writer at age 3. I thank J. M. Barrie for the idea and my wonderful mom for making such a brilliant costume with hardly any advance notice (three-year-olds are notoriously fickle) and on a shoestring budget.

I, for example, on the first Halloween when I was old enough to choose my costume, opted to be the crocodile that ate Captain Hook’s hand. Go figure. My mom did a brilliant job of putting that costume together from scratch. She always did.
This year my pseudo-pirate costume got a few compliments from the kids, but they were mostly interested in the candy basket. (I know, I know. From crocodile to pirate. Analyze that.)

Jack-o'lantern, check. Candy basket, check. Now all we need are the trick-or-treaters.

Jack-o’lantern, check. Candy basket, check. Now all we need are the trick-or-treaters.

So, I may have had a sword and everything, but the peanut butter M&Ms were the big hit of the night, along with the little bags of candy corn my mom had made up after dinner the night before. She knew the kids would start arriving as soon as darkness fell (cue spooky music) and so she left me in charge of getting the Halloween meet and greet rolling.

Here are some of my favorite moments of the evening…

Darth Vader was one of the very first to ring my bell, before dusk had even properly fallen. He knows that the early Sith Lord gets  first pick of the Halloween spoils. Actually, this kid was out with his friends and their parents collecting donations of canned food for a local charity. Well, we all knew he came back from the Dark Side in the end.

Darth Vader was one of the very first to ring my bell, before dusk had even properly fallen. He knows that the early Sith Lord gets first pick of the Halloween spoils. Actually, this kid was out with his friends and their parents collecting donations of canned food for a local charity. Well, we all know he came back from the Dark Side in the end.

When asked, the introduced themselves as, "the Three Musketeers and a homeless guy"... or wait, could it be that d'Artagnan has fallen on harder times than we knew? I hope the chocolate helped.

When asked, they introduced themselves as, “the Three Musketeers and a homeless guy”… or wait, could it be that d’Artagnan has fallen on harder times than we knew? I hope the chocolate helped.

This little blue monster was more interested in the jack-o'-lantern than the candy. This little blue monster was more interested in the jack-o’-lantern than the candy.

A motley assortment of heroes, superheroes and anti-heroes.

A motley assortment of heroes, superheroes and anti-heroes.

My favorite of the evening. It doesn't get much more American than bacon and eggs. These brothers get kudos for originality.

My favorite of the evening. It doesn’t get much more American than bacon and eggs. These brothers get kudos for originality.

Uh-oh, running low.

Uh-oh, running low. Good thing Darth and company are heading home for dinner soon.

I think she was probably texting...

I think she was probably texting…

"Is anybody watching or should I make a play for the chocolate?"

“Is anybody watching or should I make a play for the chocolate?”

All in all, the trick-or-treating experience definitely lived up to my expat returned expectations, and better still, there were no tricks, only treats. I guess I may have seen too many of those scary American movies myself.

Pirate me, sword and all.

Pirate me, sword and all.

Until next time, ciao and thanks for reading!

Jennifer

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

My very own Jack-o’-lantern, courtesy of Dad, expert pumpkin carver with many years of experience.

After years of living in a land with no Halloween, how could I not be excited about this? I am living in a neighborhood where kids actually go from house to house trick-or-treating, and I’m all ready with a basket of goodies by the door. Are they going to have some creative costumes or will it all be straight out of a package? I’m hoping for some good fun. Happy Halloween to all!

Squash Season

Squash season has arrived. That doesn’t just mean it’s time for a Pumpkin Spice Latte. It means that, here in America, the displays of every supermarket and decorations at the front of every store – as well as the pastry cases in all the cafés – are suddenly, from one day to the next, filled with rows upon rows, mountains upon mountains of all things having to do with squash.

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Display cases in front of my local Whole Foods Market at the beginning of squash season

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Whole Foods Market presents arriving shoppers with a veritable mountain of gourds.

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Living in Europe, this amazing variety of squash was one of the things that I missed most right around this time of year, because it never felt like the arrival of fall (sorry, my British friends, autumn) got the fanfare it deserved without these bright orange and green displays, evoking the color of the changing leaves on the trees.

My autumn table center piece, four fall gourds, complete with matching candle.

My autumn table center piece, four fall gourds, complete with matching candle.

For the duration of my stay in Italy, the only members of the squash family I ever saw in supermarkets were green (and the occasional yellow) zucchini squash and the Italian zucca, which, when you see it on sale in a supermarket, is similar to a pumpkin, but not quite. In truth, the Italian word zucca translates as our term squash, and not just pumpkin. Indeed, even a search for the Italian word for gourd will return the same word, zucca, again. I assume that this is one of those cases where the lack of a thing made it unnecessary to have a name for it. (By the way, this is also the case with squirrels and chipmunks. Having no chipmunks, in Italy the word scoiattolo – literally, squirrel – is used to refer to both. Italian zooligists know that the Italian word for chipmunk is tamia, but the layman has never heard that term in his life. Ask any Italian what kind of animal Alvin and his friends are, and they will blithely tell you that they’re squirrels. No joke.)

How many times I wished I could roast a nice butternut squash for my Italian friends! Alas, living in Italy, such a thing was not to be. Acorn squash, spaghetti squash and all the other lovely varieties that we take for granted (butternut is my personal favorite), in Italy no one has ever heard of, unless they’ve spent some time over here in the States.

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A pumpkin spice latte cupcake my sister bought for me. She knows me well.

A pumpkin spice latte cupcake my sister bought for me. She knows me well.

The other thing that shocks most Italians is the use of pumpkin or zucchini in anything sweet. Mention zucchini or pumpkin bread or muffins, pumpkin cookies, cakes or pie and they look at you as though you have gone insane. In Italian cuisine, squash stays firmly ensconced in the land of the savory. As with most Italian food, the recipes are wonderful, as those who have tried ravioli di zucca can attest. Put it in front of them, however, and even Italians will go ga-ga over a good pumpkin muffin (as my former roommates in Rome might confirm).

On the sweeter side, the pumpkin spice latte cupcake you see in the photo here is from Sweet Therapy bakery (their tag line: baked intervention – another example of American advertising with a sense of humor).

Another thing we like to do in America is drink our pumpkin-related beverages. We break them out the first time we wake up to find a chill in the air. I’m not talking just about the by-now-famous Pumpkin Spice Latte, which, thanks to Starbucks, is fairly well known even abroad. I’m talking about the kind you have to be legal age to drink. Now, my Italian friends might cite Rabarbaro Zucca (a rhubarb-squash digestif) as an example of the fact that they do this too. It’s true. But one bitter after-dinner concoction cannot compete with entire shelves in supermarkets stocked overnight with dozens of varieties of pumpkin ales and ciders. There isn’t a self-respecting brewery in the country that can get away with not making some pumpkin offering come fall.

Pumpkin cider, pumpkin ale and - for you teetotalers out there - a pumpkin pie soda. These are just a few of the pumpkin-themed beverages available in America this time of year, and it just wouldn't feel like autumn without them.

Pumpkin cider, pumpkin ale and – for you teetotalers out there – a pumpkin pie soda. These are just a few of the pumpkin-themed beverages available in America this time of year, and it just wouldn’t feel like autumn without them.

Now, we started out this post with a mention of Pumpkin Spice Latte (for my Italian friends out there, latte, in American café parlance, does not mean plain milk, but caffè latte. We abbreviate. I know, it’s confusing.). We have continued to mention it throughout the post, so I think that you foreigners out there deserve an explanation. Starbucks made the pumpkin-spice flavored coffee beverage famous, but now even McDonalds has one on sale (I have not dared to try it, and I probably never will). You non-Americans out there might be confused by the term “pumpkin spice” . Well, what we mean is  generally not that that these beverages are somehow made from actual pumpkin, but that they are flavored with all of the same spices that go into a pumpkin pie: cinnamon (most importantly) followed by nutmeg, ginger and clove  (that’s my grandma’s famous blend, although I’m sure different families have different recipes).

When I lived in Italy, there would always come a morning in early October when I would wake up pining for pumpkin spice latte. My mom sent me along this recipe:

Spices in the pot, ready to be whisked.

Spices in the pot, ready to be whisked.

Pumpkin Spice Latte

Ingredients:
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. allspice
Enough milk to fill your mug (any kind will do, even soy or almond if you are so inclined)
1 shot of espresso coffee (I make mine in a moka stovetop coffee machine, like the one you see in the picture on the left)

Prepare your espresso coffee. When it is ready, measure out your milk and pour it into a small pot. Add spices while milk is heating and whisk until they are no longer clumped together. Heat until milk is steaming but do not boil. Pour the mixture into your mug and add the coffee. Sweeten to taste (I find honey, agave or brown sugar all complement the spices nicely).

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Ready to drink!

So, wherever you are, here’s wishing you a fragrant and warming cup of pumpkin spice and a wonderful beginning to your autumn.

Enjoy!

Until next time,
Jennifer

Outside our front door, fall has come

Even our front door knows fall is here. See you all next time!

Face-off

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Hirsute history!

Have you ever seen pictures of the truly original, often luxuriant, occasionally ridiculous but always flamboyant beards that many men sported during the American Civil War? It was one thing North and South had in common, and I never thought I’d be able to see such monuments of facial hair in real life, not without a time machine. Well, I had a chance on August 10th, but I missed it. I really, really, really hope they do it again next year. I sincerely believe that something this silly could probably only happen in America (ok, I guess maybe in England; they invented Monty Python after all). The Love For the Beard – North vs South Beard and Moustache Competition was held for the first time this year, and all the proceeds went to charity. Bravo, Beardimus Maximus!

I get corny over Halloween

Alright, I know. I kind of went over the top. It’s a Halloween overdose. And there’s still over a month to go before October 31st. But after all those years in a country where Halloween doesn’t even exist, well, I had to do it. Plus, they were on sale at 2/$4 at the grocery store… What can I say? Halloween makes me (candy) corny.  Oh, agh. Still, wearing socks like that, I can be as lame as I want whenever I want.

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Before Billboards

Not only were there no billboards yet, but tobacco advertising was still alive and well when barns were used in place of billboards in the country

“Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco – Treat Yourself to the Best”
Not only were there no billboards yet, but tobacco advertising was still alive and well when barns were used in place of billboards

Today some people allow advertisers to emblazon the outside of their cars with photos and logos, for a fee. In the first half of the last century, however, farmers would allow companies to paint their advertisements on the sides of their barns. Without billboards, it was the best and most high-visibility method to make their products known in rural areas.

Mail Pouch Chewing Tobacco advertisements have adorned the sides of a number of barns along the road I have been taking to my grandparents’ house since I was a kid, but not this is the only one I have seen which is still visible from the road that isn’t falling down or completely hidden by new-growth trees. A little piece of Americana, and when the last of these disused barns falls in, it, too, will disappear.

Antique Tables?

Coming down off of Skyline Drive in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Coming down off of Skyline Drive in the Blue Ridge Mountains,
just outside the Thornton Gap entrance to Shenandoah National Park, heading east

Want a brand-new antique table of your very own? Apparently, that’s not an oxymoron. If you’re interested, you can visit their website.

One thing that has always struck me about American advertising and, in this case, the choice of a company name, is the fact that it relies so heavily on tickling the customer’s sense of humor.  Years in Italy, including 3 years of Italian commercial arts school, accustomed me to the idea that an advertisement has to be beautiful, sexy, aesthetically perfect… but hardly ever funny.  Of course, Antonio Banderas wearing his most seductive Zorro face to sell breakfast cookies might be unintentionally funny (I think the mothers were the target of that commercial), but in the U.S., humor is usually the main marketing device of ads and commercials that are meant to be memorable because they made you laugh. Some are ludicrous, some are wacky, some indulge in darker humor and some appeal to the more childish side of our funny-bone, but even the bad ones stick more in my mind, at least, than the up-teenth lingerie-clad beauty selling the latest sports car or heart-throb pushing coffee (here’s lookin’ at you, George Clooney).

Anyway, this collection will be the first of a collection where you’ll find some of the  business and advertising ploys in the comic vein that have caught my eye.