31 December 2003

Brasstown Bald from our deck Dec 2003. (Brrr!)


Clare ready to experience her first snow.

Remember the woolly caterpillars from the last month? The colours represent the winter temperatures, with Black being Cold and Red being nice. So far, they are accurate. With a sudden start to cold weather in late November (see the snow on Brasstown Bald!), we quickly organized warmer bedding and clothes. The wind whooshed around and thoughtfully cleared up most of the leaves I had painstakingly raked to one side, whilst showing us all the air gaps around the house. There was just enough snow to make a snowball or two, but the children enjoyed getting dressed up in snow clothes with hats and gloves anyway.

The current weather (consistent with the Woolly Caterpillar forecast) is unseasonably mild. No jumpers/pullovers/ sweaters/jackets required. We have been warned this will soon change.

Medical System

We did say that we looked forward to experiencing the US medical system, but did not expect it so soon. David picked up a cold on one of his trips to Denver and shared it (lovingly) with Lana. Combining morning sickness, coughing from the cold, and general tiredness, Lana was exhausted one night with a pain in her lower back coming round to the front. The pain was such that from the time of going to bed at 6:00pm until 2:00am Lana still had no sleep and the pain had not abated. We then did some phone calls, which ended up with the advice, “Go to the hospital and let them have a look.”
Off we went, waking all the children and went to the local Hospital. After pressing the emergency bell a few times, waiting in the cold night air, a nurse finally opened the door and ushered us in. Lana was given a chair, gave David a plethora of forms to fill out, and then ignored us for about an hour. They had another patient to deal with. We were glad they did not have a major emergency – like 3 patients – to deal with or we may have been in trouble. A nurse asked Lana lots of questions that we answered and we were moved into an emergency room, which based on the temperature, must have been a part time refrigerator. During the next hour, a different nurse, then a doctor, referring to a clipboard with the answers we had given, asked us all the same questions and wrote the answers on another bit of paper. But still no pain relief - despite having mentioned in the first lot of answers that the pain, on a scale of 1 to 10, was about a “9”. Luckily, they did tell us where the blankets were and so we wrapped each of the children up, as the temperature must have been around 3C.
Finally, they administered some pain relief, and about 1.5 hours later, another dose, and Lana’s pain finally began to subside.

Baby at 13 weeks - looking well.
We had an ultrasound due to the location of the pain, and the baby was fine. It even hiccoughed whilst we were watching. The only issue was a blood clot on the placenta. This was not considered a major concern, but Lana was to get rest. With a prescription for pain relief, we all finally left 6 hours after our arrival and went home. For the Australians reading, the cost of this without insurance would have been $774 (US). With insurance, the cost was $127 (US).
Lana then proceeded to rest. She slept the next 30 hours straight, followed by lots of rest for the following week or so. With the cold going away and the morning sickness past all was well again.

Medical System Part 2

On David’s most recent trip to Denver, he picked up the flu. We all got it. Being a typical bloke, David figured he would just get better, until he finally had enough, saw the doctor, and found he had two infected ears, congested lungs and all the rest of the flu/cold symptoms. Then Lana went, and we decided to take the rest of the family. This really panicked the doctor’s surgery. “All five at once! But the paperwork isn’t completed. It will take at least two hours to do all that paperwork before we can see them.” We had them fax the forms, we filled them out (3 pages each), and then faxed them back and saw them next day. The result – a spreadsheet detailing everyone’s medicines due once, twice or four times a day.
Now all are improved. Once more, for the Australian readers, the doctor’s visits are $25 US each and the various antibiotics were $251 US. Without insurance, these costs would have been substantially higher. Australians complaining about an increase in prescription costs to $6 AUD, need to look around and compare!


Thanksgiving is huge in the US. It is the start of the Christmas shopping season and it is a more important family reunion day than Christmas. We had two Thanksgivings. One on Thanksgiving day with friends, who brought over a humongous turkey and all the trimmings to our place and we had a great day. On the Saturday, we went to spend a second Thanksgiving with the Floyd family. We had more turkey and different trimmings. So two lazy days spent chatting and playing games resulted in a very memorable first Thanksgiving.
The day after Thanksgiving is the biggest shopping day of the year. A tale of shopping exuberance occurred at Walmart where a lady had waited for some time to be one of the first to get in and get her heavily discounted appliance. She succeeded and got her appliance, but was knocked over in the rush and bumped her head on a display. Whilst her friend was trying to keep people from stepping on her, all she could do was push her a bit out of the way. Everyone was too busy going for bargains. Finally the paramedics got through, rescued her and took her to hospital to recover. In a later interview, the staff at Walmart expressed their sympathy by saying they would hold the appliance for the lady for when she recovered – at the same special price.

Cars and guns

We have solved the mystery! A recent statistic revealed that car ownership in the US is currently GREATER than 1 per person of driving age. We now know why. Most places have at least two cars, so that when one breaks down, the other can be used. In order to comply with local conditions, we also have two cars. We have named them B1 and B2 (bomb one and bomb two). Despite the disparaging naming, both cars are mostly reliable. One doesn’t always go into gear in cold weather, and the other tends to pop and shudder whilst driving and overheats in slow peak hour traffic in hot weather. So when one is less reliable, we can use the other.
Also, guns are much more prevalent than in Australia. At Walmart, you can go to the gun counter and buy a rifle or pistol, ammunition and whatever else you need. This is quite a surprise for an Australian where guns are rarely seen at all. So, to comply with local conditions, we have purchased a “Red Ryder Model 1938 BB air rifle.” The BB stands for Ball Bearings. You fill the ammunition area with up to 650 ball bearings, cock the gun by pulling the trigger guard and off you go. The gun was in the general area of Walmart for $25 and 6000 BBs were $5. In this way the children are learning about gun safety with a less powerful gun. This gun will NOT help when the Rattlesnake returns other than perhaps irritate it.
So, we now have the spare cars and a gun. When necessary, David can put on a pretty authentic Southern accent in order to be understood occasionally, so we are getting localized.

B1 and B2 - enjoying the chill.

Local News - November and December

Short bits of interest from the local area:
New Years Eve – whilst New York may drop a big apple at midnight, and Atlanta may drop a big peach, Brasstown in nearby North Carolina has the Possum Drop. (It is not a real possum)

Library – The local library is a treasure. It has a huge range of books, especially older ones in the children’s area. We will need some time to go through the collection of living history books that abound. These are books that provide a first person narrative in various historical times, such as “We were there with Christopher Columbus”, or “We were there with Julius Caesar” and lots of tales told about famous historical people. The library is also linked to all the other Georgia libraries, and the inter library transfer system is very impressive. We were able to borrow the book “Who gets the Drumstick” by Helen Beardsley, which is what the movie “Yours, Mine and Ours” was “based” on. Read the book.

Home Depot
– On the first Saturday of each month, the local branch of the Hardwarehouse equivalent has a Kids Craft time. It is Free and the staff provide a choice of simple woodworking kits for the children to make with all the tools provided. They get down and help bang the nails, assemble the bits and apply the glue. Depending on the child’s age, they will give advice, or hands on help. They provide a great apron on which they write the child’s name which we bring each month, a certificate with their name and completed project (homeschoolers – “tick” craft done), a badge or pin they can put on their apron, and the thing they made to take home. The children have made a box, fire truck, bird-house, helicopter, sled, Mickey Mouse bookends and snowman napkin holder.

Local Wildlife
– At the Local Post Office in town, you must be careful to avoid wandering chickens. We also saw Emus whilst driving out of Hiawassee. These are the Australian flightless birds. That surprised us.

Christmas and all that

Christmas season brought many different events, including the local Christmas Parade, St Nicholas day at the parish, Parish Christmas dinner, Advent Wreath activity night, and Children’s Christmas party among others. The majority of these involved candy being thrown to (or at) the children. We had a sizable box full of varying US lollies. After we filtered out the ones no one liked, we still had a huge stash of sugar based items.
Also at the Christmas Parade were lots of floats put on by local businesses, churches and community groups. One of the clever floats was a collection of tricycles joined together, with all the riders wearing check shirts and baseball caps, titled, “Hillbilly Carpool”. There were ten bikes in all with the Grinch and a toy monkey bringing up the rear.

Hillbilly Car Pool - the front

Christmas and all that - cont.

Hillbilly Car Pool - the tail end.

US Knowledge for Australians

Cake Walk – you may have heard the phrase, “It’ll be a cake walk” to indicate that the task will be very easy. We actually experienced one at a Church day organized at the Ogburn’s church. Basically, you have all the participants wander around a circle marked with numbered circles. When the music stops, the organizer picks a number out of a hat. If that number is yours, you get to win the prize – a cake! Easy peasy and very tasty.

Parish Directory – Our local church has a “Parish Directory”. We did not know what it was, but now we know. It contains a brief history of the parish in words and photographs of the previous year, followed by a photo of every family that makes up the parish with their names. Then there is a list of everyone’s address and contact details. Basically, it is the parish spotter’s guide. We are now able to rush to our book and answer the question, “Who was that person we were talking to?” After all, everyone knows who we are. We are “The Australians”.

Pizza – Pizzas vary depending on where you are in the US, but locally, they are quite different to Australia. The two most common varieties are Cheese and Pepperoni. That is, the base, tomato paste and then just cheese, or cheese and pepperoni (salami). A “specialty” pizza is Hawaiian (Ham and Pineapple). The typical Australian Pizza with LOTS of toppings is a rarity. We had a Hawaiian pizza the other day. Our friends commented, “That’s a lot of toppings!” whilst we looked at each other and said, “Is that all they put on?”
An interesting, yet tasty, pizza is the BLT pizza. Basically, you have the base, tomato paste, cheese and bacon pieces cooked. Once out of the oven, you add the tomato and lettuce. Sounds odd, but is very tasty.

Boiled Peanuts
– A local delicacy is boiled peanuts. Signs abound on roadsides advertising “Boiled P-nuts”. We finally thought we would stop and try some. In an old drum, over a wood fire, are peanuts boiling away in salty water. The peanuts, through their shells, absorb the salt and they turn soft. The local rule is that whenever you eat a boiled peanut, you open the shell, suck out the nut with a big slurp and drop the shells onto the ground, saying, “It’s all natural”. I think we are too used to peanuts being crunchy to appreciate the softer texture of the boiled peanuts.

Sorghum Syrup – In the early days of this area, sweeteners were derived from the Sorghum cane. It is similar in consistency to Golden Syrup, but is darker and has a more molasses/malty taste. This is very tasty on hot buttered toast. When we couldn’t find Golden Syrup, we substituted Sorghum syrup in ANZAC biscuits (cookies). They tasted quite good, just a bit different.

Vidalia Onions – These are grown locally and are peculiar to the specific soil found in Southern Georgia. They are sweet and do not make your eyes cry when they are peeled. One of the local restaurants has an Onion Ring loaf made using fried crumbed Vidalia onion rings shoved into a loaf tin. Normally David avoids Onion Rings because of their bitter taste, but the Vidalia onion rings are very tasty. But the rule is you must pronounce their name properly – Vie-Dayy-Lya in a Southern accent. Unfortunately, they are only around in summer. Next year we will stock up.

Butter – In Australia margarine is a viable alternative to butter. It tastes similar and can be used the same as butter. Here the margarine tastes completely different. We tried many and can’t recommend any. The butter comes in a box with four sticks, each equaling 8 tablespoons. Many US recipes actually suggest using 1 stick or half a stick, rather than using ounces or spoon measures. We now just use butter for everything.

Chocolate - In general, Australian chocolate (i.e. basic Cadbury Milk chocolate) is far superior to any of the standard fare here. We have performed taste tests with locals both here and in other states, and the results still come back the same. “Let me try some more of that Cadbury’s.” Some of the US chocolate bars are very nice, including “Zero”, “100 Grand”, “Baby Ruth”, “Poppers”. The last are small balls of larger chocolate bars, such as Kit Kats, Snickers, Three Musketeers (Aust. Milky Way), Milky Way (Aust Mars Bar) among others. It is not very easy to say no to just one.

Food overall – As part of our service to all you strangers to the US, we are constantly trying different foods with varying degrees of success. Vegemite is known due to the song by “Men at Work” with the phrase “Vegemite Sandwich”. Very few actually knew what it was, but they know the term. If we are allowed to apply it correctly – that is not like peanut butter – on hot buttered toast, the reaction is favourable. Unfortunately, it is just one of those things that is unavailable here.


These are a deep fried cornmeal/flour based balls. Our first experience was at a fast food restaurant and we decided they were tasteless horrible deep fried balls of dough and couldn’t see what the big deal was about. But then we had some at the Floyds. We have included the recipe here, because they were actually quite nice.

The Recipe:
1 cup Self Raising corn meal
1 cup Self Raising flour
1 small diced onion
1 tin sweet corn
1 tin creamed corn
seasoned salt

Throw all the ingredients together in a bowl. Add milk until you achieve a doughy consistency. Drop Teaspoon size balls in hot oil.
Warning: Don't lick your fingers – the raw mixture tastes horrible.
From the Floyd Family recipes