Wildflowers of the north of England

A summertime meadow near my uncle’s farm.

One of the very nicest things about England is all the flowers.  The gardens (sometimes it feels as if everyone here is a gardener) and the meadows and hedgerows are filled with flowers.

I’ve noticed that there are fewer wildflowers than when I spent my summers here as a child. Probably part of the reason is the increased use of fertilizers by farmers for their crops of wheat, barley, potatoes, and hay/silage.

Another reason for the decline of wildflowers might be due to the profusion of nettles, goose grass (also called cleaver), and other invasive plants that smother anything in its path. I’ve been taking photos of wildflowers in the spring and summer, and here they are.

Please let me know if you know the name of a flower I haven’t been able to identify, or if I’ve got something wrong. This is my favorite wildflower, a bluebell.


Here’s a wood filled with bluebells near my uncle’s farm.

Bluebell wood

Bluebell wood


Foxgloves on my cousins’ farm.

A wild orchid--increasingly rare.

A wild orchid–increasingly rare.

The wonderfully named rosebay willowherb.

Rosebay willowherb.

Rosebay willowherb.

hardy geraniumhardy geranium along the banks of the canal.







Eggs and Bacon

Eggs and Bacon or bird’s foot trefoil



Cow parsley

wild pea





Bird’s eye or speedwell (thanks to Iota Manhattan).







Wild angelica

Wild angelica

Ragged robin.


Wild rose.

Wild rose.


Hardhead or knapweed.

Please let me know if you have any additions or information!

The Crazy Nettle Lady



IMG_7509 nettles on the laneRecently a man and woman came down to the farmhouse to tell my cousin’s wife that a woman was on the farm lane pulling up nettles.  They’d seen her up there for the past several days.  The tone in their voices was, “Who is this crazy nettle lady?”

IMG_7921 a nettleThat would be, er, me.

I hate nettles.  With a passion.

Not only are they a blight upon the landscape, but anyone who has been stung by a nettle will avoid the experience in the future.  It is like being stuck by hundreds of hypodermic needles at the same time.  Here’s a look at an arm that has been stung:

Version 2

That arm is mine.  Despite wearing rubber gloves halfway up my forearms, I got stung.  Nettles are vicious, unless nicely tucked up out of the way where no one will be hurt.  Even cattle avoid them.

But the worst part of nettles is that where they grow, nothing else can, because they completely take over with their awful sting-y selves and their miles and miles of roots.

IMG_7506 nettle root

When I was a child, there was hardly a single nettle on the lane and on the farm because my grandfather pulled up every one he saw.  Now, without his singlemindedness, nettles have a field day (bad joke).

Here’s a look at some nettles near a stone shed:

IMG_7451farmyard pre nettles

And without nettles:

IMG_7454 farmyard post nettles

Better, yes?

Last summer, I rid the lane of over 6,500 nettles (and yes, I did count).  I found it very relaxing and satisfying. I don’t know of anyone else who shares my obsession passion, though please be in touch if you do!

Here’s one of the piles of nettles I amassed, with a six-year-old next to them to give a sense of scale.IMG_7988 nettles and 6-year-oldTo give nettles their due, they are useful to a number of butterflies and moths, and have medicinal value, and so are fine in moderation.  But when they take over, they squeeze out all the wildflowers, and they must be eradicated.

I hope to help the lane return to its former diversity so that it’s not mostly nettles, goose grass (also called sticky weed) and bracken.  Where I clear out the nettles, I’ll be scattering seeds for  more local wildflowers which will provide an ecosystem for more bees and insects.

I think I’ll be at it for years.

US vs UK: random differences


My mother and I flew over to England several days ago.

Here’s what happened when I asked the English gate agents if my mother, who is a senior, could board early.  “No,” they both said in unison.  And then laughed.  “Of course she can,” they said.  This is British humo(u)r.IMG_0754

At Boston’s Logan Airport, as I was about to move a lovely big rocking chair to the window for my mother, an Italian man grabbed it out of my hands and took it away.  An Englishwoman in a nearby chair immediately got up and gave me her chair.  These are (old-style) British manners.

Pubs and other places in England don’t mind if you are wet when you arrive.IMG_0800


A saleswoman in a clothes shop said to me this afternoon, “I don’t understand Obama. One minute he’s telling the world to conserve, and the next minute he’s opening up the Arctic for oil exploration.”  I like Obama immensely and voted for him twice, but I didn’t have an answer for this excellent question.

searchAt a restaurant today, when I ordered a pot of tea, the English server asked me if I meant “normal tea.” Presumably Americans like abnormal tea?

Whatever.  It’s good to be home.

The Boston Marathon Bombing, two years later: “the difference between us and them.”


Church bells in Boston began tolling at exactly 2:49 p.m. today, the time that the first bomb went off near the Finish Line of the Boston Marathon two years ago.

It was a day similar to today, sunny, and relatively warm. On that day, I watched the Marathon on Beacon Street at mile 24, two miles from the Finish Line, for about three hours.  I sat in the sun with the MBTA trains running ten feet behind me, surrounded by a festive crowd cheering on the runners.

Around 2 o’clock, I walked the half mile to my home, and turned on the TV to keep watching.  And then the bombs went off and nothing was ever the same in this city.

Three people, two women and an 8-year-old boy, died that day, and 264 people were injured, many who lost legs or were harmed by shrapnel placed inside the bombs for maximum damage.

Two days later, I went down to Boylston Street to see the memorial that had risen up, just in time to help move all the flowers, notes, tennis shoes, crosses, shirts, hats, and other items from one location to another as Boylston Street was being opened up to traffic.

Last Friday, the surviving Tsarnaev brother was judged guilty on all 30 counts by a jury, and now we are awaiting the sentencing phase.

If the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had been allowed to try the case, Tsarnaev would be facing life in prison, because Massachusetts outlawed the death penalty in 1984.  But because the federal government took over the case, presumably so that he could be sentenced to death, people who were referred to as “death-qualified” were the only ones allowed on the jury, so we may very well end up with a death sentence for a state that has outlawed it. However, it will only take one lone person on the jury to vacate the death sentence.

I am very proud to live in a city, and a state, that provided such first-rate medical care to the victims and saved so many of their lives.  I am also very proud of Boston which, even in the face of this extreme crime, maintained its belief that it is wrong for the state to murder a murderer.

As Kevin Cullen, a prominent columnist at the Boston Globe wrote,

“For all the horrific suffering that was on display in Courtroom 9 over the last month, revealing the darkest impulses of some, there was also a remarkable amount of testimony about many extraordinary acts of bravery, of humanity, of selflessness, of kindness.

If the Tsarnaev brothers represented the worst of the human condition, those who ran to help their victims represented the best.

Karen McWatters, who lost a leg to the bomb that Tamerlan Tsarnaev placed outside Marathon Sports, told of how she pressed her head against that of her friend Krystle Campbell and slid her hand into Krystle’s as they both lay on the sidewalk. The last thing Krystle Campbell felt, beyond the searing pain in her shredded legs, was Karen’s warm face and comforting hand.

After the bomb that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev left outside the Forum restaurant exploded, Lauren Woods, a Boston police officer, refused a superior officer’s order to leave Lingzi Lu’s side, even after it was obvious the 23-year-old Chinese grad student was dead.

“I didn’t want her to be alone,” Woods said. . . .

Their actions, all of their actions, were an affirmation of the sanctity of life, even for a murderer like Tamerlan Tsarnaev. It was the ultimate repudiation of what the Tsarnaev brothers did. It showed, like nothing else, the difference between us and them.”

And that is why I hope that this jury, handpicked because they said they could hand down the death penalty, remembers that they are living in a state where most people oppose it, and make a stand for the “difference between us and them.”

The 119th Boston Marathon will take place next Monday. We will never forget what happened, but we are betterboston-marathon-memorila-675 than these murderers, and I hope that the people on the jury remember that.

Snow’d Rage: “Space-savers” and the Boston Blizzard of 2015

IMG_9792We’re still digging out in Boston after 100 inches of snow, and it’s not always pretty.

The paths are, well, impassable (here’s my dog in a maze-like tunnel that a neighbor carved out to the street). . . get-attachment

. . . and the snow has turned to ice.  Two-way streets have become (at most) one-lane, cars have remained under snow since the blizzard first hit on January 29th, and there’s nowhere to park.

Tempers are increasingly short.  So I’ve coined a new term:  “snow’d rage,” which is what happens when your road rage is snow-related.

Perhaps the worst snow’d rage happens when you’ve been circling for an hour through the streets of Boston looking for a parking spot and you find only piles of snow-covered cars that haven’t moved since the start of the blizzard:IMG_9834

Or when you find a perfectly good, shoveled out spot that has a space-saver in the middle of it.

What is a “space-saver”? I hear you ask.

A space-saver is something that I’ve only seen in Boston.  You use it to “claim” a parking spot that you’ve shoveled out on the street so that no one else can park there.

A “space-saver” takes many forms:  it can be a lawn chair, step stool, box of Pampers, plank of wood, ironing board, vacuum cleaner, carpet, laundry basket, open umbrella, a recycling bin or a garbage can.  Anything and everything that says: “This spot is mine because I dug it out, and if you dare even think about parking in it, your tires will be slashed before you can say “space saver.”

Here are some space-savers.  The more typical:

A casual grouping of lawn chairs:IMG_9832

Traffic cones:IMG_9746

And the more unusual:

A mannequin:

Courtesy, AP photo by Elise Amendola

Courtesy, AP photo by Elise Amendola

A box of diapers and cat litter:17snowmess05-7511

And my favorite, a large Pooh:poohspot

And then, of course, there are those who took revenge on the spot-stealers:


The former mayor, Thomas Menino, tried to restore some semblance of order by allowing people to reserve their parking spaces for 48 hours after the start of the blizzard, but after that, he’d have the garbage trucks ply the streets, throwing all the space-savers into the truck.

That hasn’t happened with this blizzard. Space savers have been out since it started.

The new mayor, Marty Walsh, ordered the garbage trucks to be out in force starting yesterday, collecting all the space-savers.  But until then, watch out.  Move them at your peril. And, as we’ve heard, people are simply moving in new space-savers.  Plus, there’s more snow on the way.

New England blizzard of 2015


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The view out my second-floor window.

The view out my second-floor window.

All night and all day there’s been the sound of metal scraping against asphalt as snow plows ply our streets.  For the past 48 hours, there’s been a blizzard here in New England.

As the world’s weather is becoming more extreme, the traditionally moderate climate of England where my family lives is experiencing more pelting rainstorms, snow, and hot temperatures.  And on the opposite side of the Atlantic Ocean where I, my kids, and my mother live, New England is also getting more windstorms, nor’easters, snow, and blazing summer heat. For the past two days, we’ve been having the sixth worst blizzard in Massachusetts’ history.

No one wanted to underestimate or be unprepared for the blizzard, so for the two previous days, the news channels have been full of information about its predicted 24-36 inches of snow and gusts of 70 miles per hour.Screen shot 2015-01-27 at 2.45.49 PMThe mayor of Boston shut down the public transportation system when the storm began, and ordered all cars off the road. It hasn’t been so quiet here in the Boston region since that day after the Boston Marathon bombing when we were told to stay inside while the police searched for the bombers. See my post about this here.

For the blizzard, we were told to have enough provisions on hand to last at least several days.  When I went to get food, eggs were almost gone . . .

IMG_9635. . . as was the bread:IMG_9636

I grabbed three loaves of bread, a jar of peanut butter, containers of juice, bottled water, and canned goods, in case the gas and electric went out, and pasta, flour, sugar, and chocolate chips, in case the utilities stayed on.

The grocery store was very busy, but as one shop assistant told me, it was nowhere near as bad as last night when the queues stretched to the very back of the store.IMG_9638

The storm began in the early morning hours of yesterday, Tuesday, dropping 4 inches of snow per hour, with gusts of 70 mph. Luckily, our boiler, which is on its last legs, and the gas and electric, held up, so it was a day of watching Netflix and baking chocolate chip cookies. Boston and other towns declared snow emergencies, with two days off school for the kids.

Today, Wednesday, was quite pleasant–cold, around 19 degrees, but no wind.

Snow from the street had been piled into huge mounds:


Everywhere people, including my neighbors, were out shoveling.  That white mound behind the man is his car covered by snow.IMG_9676

Snowplows are everywhere:Snowplow during the blizzard of 2015

Signs had been posted telling people to not park on the major roads:IMG_9668

And police were out ticketing people who chose to ignore the signs:IMG_9700

Children, of course, had the best time, making snow angels and igloos, and sledding.IMG_9685

After an hour of shoveling out the sidewalk and the car, we took ourselves off to Starbucks for a well-deserved treat, looking out at the mounds of snow while sipping our hot chocolate.


We fared pretty well, but New England towns along the coast caught the brunt of it.  Marshfield, Mass., had extensive flooding.

A view of Marshfield, Mass., courtesy, Eric

Courtesy, Eric Murphy

As did Scituate, Massachusetts.

Courtesy, Boston Globe

Courtesy, Boston Globe

We in and near Boston got through pretty much unscathed, except for huge bills for our cities and towns for snow clearance, but there were people on the coast who lost their homes.  A blizzard is a force of nature not to be ignored.

What each US state is worst at



In my quest to help explain the UK to non-Brits and the US to non-Americans, I am presenting this list of what each US state is worst at, from the website Thrillist.

In understanding America, you need to realize that the US is an uneasy and disjointed collection of 50 states, all different in terms of their laws, culture, and heritage.

Screen shot 2015-01-10 at 12.07.16 PM

This is a very quirky list, but there is truth to be found.  For instance, New York State, the big red blob in the upper right, is the “Worst to be a taxpayer.”  For once, I was glad to see that my own state, Massachusetts (the purple blob to New York’s right), was spared this description.  For decades, Massachusetts’ nickname has been “Taxachusetts,” which, as well as being known as the most liberal state, has helped doom the chances of every Massachusetts politician trying to win national office.

West Virginia, the hot pink blob in the lower middle, has the “Fewest College Graduates per Capita.”  This makes sense;  it’s an extremely poor state, with lots of money made from coal, but since the money goes to the mine-owners rather than the miners, few people from the “hollers” of Appalachia have been able to pull themselves out of poverty and into college.

Illinois, the light blue blog to the left, has the “Most Rail Accidents.”

I don’t know if this has to do with carelessness that inflicts train conductors as soon as they hit the Illinois state line, but what is true is that Chicago has historically been a hub of rail traffic.

Chicago benefitted greatly from the railroads that were built across the US in the 1830s to the 1860s and brought grain, corn, and animals to the factories and slaughterhouses of Chicago.  The railroads also helped a substantial number of African-Americans from the South raise themselves out of poverty after the Civil War, by finding employment on the railroads, with Chicago as the hub.  This influx of African-American trainmen from the South brought the “Blues” to the city of “Sweet Home Chicago.”

In 1865, a man called George Pullman became well-known for luxury sleeping cars, called “Pullman cars” in his honor, after he loaned one of his cars to carry the coffin of President Abraham Lincoln after Lincoln’s assassination.

Regarding Chicago and its railroads, take a look at Carl Sandburg’s poem, “Chicago,” which says:

“proud to be Hog
Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with
Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.”

It only stands to reason that the state that is the “freight handler to the nation” has the most rail accidents!

Follow this link to learn what the rest of the US states are worst at, to perhaps gain more of an understanding of this complicated, interesting country.

Memorial Day, 2014, in a New England town



Memorial Day, armed forces veterans

For Memorial Day last weekend, I am posting a video of a small parade in my New England town.

There were the usual representatives of the Armed Forces without whom no Memorial Day parade would be complete, accompanied, as always, by bagpipes, a tribute to the many people of Irish descent who have historically lived in the Boston area.

If you read through a list of names of police officers and fire fighters in Boston and the surrounding towns, you will still see a goodly number of Irish names–whole families, with grandfathers, fathers, uncles, cousins, from the same families–though there have been some small recent attempts at diversity.

Rag-tag colonials with a fife and drumNo New England parade is ever complete without a motley crowd of “colonials” with their fifes and drums, and indeed, we had a few of them, playing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and other Revolutionary War-era songs.

“Yankee Doodle” was the name that the British mockingly called the colonials during the French and Indian War (the song dates from around 1755), but instead, the colonials adopted it for themselves and mockingly sang it back at them.

The first four verses of Yankee Doodle Dandy goes,

Yankee Doodle went to town,
A-riding on a pony
Stuck a feather in his hat,
And called it macaroni.

Yankee Doodle, keep it up,
Yankee Doodle dandy
Mind the music and the step,
And with the girls be handy!

Father and I went down to camp,
Along with Captain Gooding
And there we saw the men and boys,
As thick as hasty pudding.

Yankee Doodle, keep it up,
Yankee Doodle dandy
Mind the music and the step,
And with the girls be handy!

And there we see a swamping gun,
Large as a log of maple
Upon a duced little cart,
A load for father’s cattle.

Yankee Doodle, keep it up,
Yankee Doodle dandy
Mind the music and the step,
And with the girls be handy!

And every time they shoot it off,
It takes a horn of powder
It makes a noise like father’s gun,
Only a nation louder.

Yankee Doodle, keep it up,
Yankee Doodle dandy
Mind the music and the step,
And with the girls be handy!

As the Library of Congress says, “The British sang Yankee Doodle to berate the Americans during the Revolutionary War. A dandy is a vain gentleman. Macaroni was a fancy style of dress. Hence, a common soldier putting a feather in his cap would not make him a distinguished gentleman, nor a dandy.”

And again, only in New England, is a banner for the “Daughters of the American Revolution” followed by women of this heritage (see the video).  Being a member of the “Founding Families,” such as a Daughter of the American Revolution, used to be a very prestigious thing, but now it’s mostly forgotten, except by themselves.

World War II "ammo truck"

The rear of the parade was brought up by a World War II “ammo truck,” followed by our Town Selectmen and various people.

On Memorial Day, a three-day weekend, many people leave town to go to visit their families or stay in their country homes on Cape Cod and in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, or other nearby states.  The large town celebration is several weeks later, on Flag Day, which includes the colonials with their fifes and drums, and also a wide assortment of Town officials and groups.

On this Memorial Day I am remembering my grandfathers and great-uncles who fought in World War I and II, and all of the millions of others who have given their lives for their countries.

In Massachusetts, “Use yah blinkah!”


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Don’t get me started on Massachusetts drivers.  Really.  Do not.

But I saw this sign last weekend while driving to New Hampshire, and it’s given me a scintilla of hope that something might improve.

The state of Massachusetts wants you to use your blinker (turn signal).  Badly.  And they are trying to capture your attention by making fun of the Massachusetts accent, where any word ending in an “R” loses it, and any word ending in a vowel, gets an “R.” Get the idear?

Use yah blinkah!

In Massachusetts, and even more so in Boston, no one EVER uses their blinker.

Here in MA, it’s a sign of weakness to use your turn signal.  Actually tell someone what your driving plans are, even at the next corner? Give someone a glimpse of your future plans in the next 2-10 seconds although it could mean that your two tons of steel might be grievously damaged by someone else’s two tons of steel, and vice versa?  Let another driver have a chance to avoid your stupid maneuvers?  Unthinkable.  Not to mention unblinkable.

I learned to drive in England, and I have to tell you, almost everyone signals their turns. You’re moving from one lane to another?  Signal.  You’re on a roundabout (rotary) and want the inside lane because you’re going most of the way around?  Signal.  You’re getting off a roundabout?  Signal.  You’re turning right and want to let the person behind you know so he/she can slow down and/or plan to go around you?  Signal.

In Boston, we have what I call the “mind-reading” school of driving. Why signal what you’re doing so that nearby drivers can anticipate your moves and if necessary take evasive action?  Just do it!  Signalling would spoil the fun.

There’s a reason that drivers from Massachusetts are called a term that is short for Massachusetts (hint: “Mass”) followed immediately by the word “holes.”

My biggest pet peeve of driving in Boston?  I’m properly and safely signalling my lane change, and some Massachusetts-hole A LONG WAY behind me SPEEDS UP to cut me off.

And please don’t think that they are kindly trying to get out of my way so I can move over safely.  My signal that I want to change lanes is a cue for them to hit the gas.

And then they give me a blast on their horn because they almost caused an accident.

When my nearest and dearest come to visit me in Massachusetts, I always tell them not to hire a car.  I will drive them wherever they want to go.  First rule of driving in Massachusetts, If you ever have an inclination to drive, Don’t.

And after that, please, everyone, Use yah blinkah!