Sarah J. Carlson

Contemporary Young Adult Author

Tag Archives: culture

On being the token yank: More American than apple pie



So I’ve been waiting all year for the item featured below to reappear in Cold Storage, a grocery store that carries lots of Western food. Then found out that select ones have had it all along, haha. Anyway, it FINALLY happened.

photo-15I was so, so excited. The price was a bit scary–like $6 a can. My lovely little sister just had to point out that she bought a can for $.88…. Us expats always get excited when our things randomly appear in stores. Besides canned pumpkin, my most recent happy discovery was Peanut Butter Captain Crunch.

So I’ve been baking lots of pumpkin things lol.

photo-16 (2)(Pumpkin chocolate chip muffins. The one English friend who had the privaledge of trying them was a bit surprised by the mix of ginger and chocolate but liked it with “a bit of tea.”)

Non-American friends, the traditional way my family prepares it is to buy a can of pureed pumpkin, mix in two eggs, sugar, clove, ginger, cinnamon, and condensed milk, then pour it into a pie crust. Super easy. I’ve never made the pumpkin part from an actual pumpkin, but I’ve heard it takes, um, skill. You use a pie pumpkin, which is smaller than the kind we Muricans like to carve.

969158_10100356824633105_1454008998_n(No, I did not carve this one in Singapore. Not only would it rot in like three hours, carving pumpkins cost more than $20 last year…)

(North) American friends, you may not realize this, but we are pretty much the only ones that eat pumpkin pie or pumpkin desserts really. Non-Americans have heard of pumpkin pie in relation to Thanksgiving, a few may have tried it, but it’s not really a thing outside the US. One of my American expat friends used to live in London and she had a really tough time even finding pumpkin pie mix. To get to the bottom of North America’s general ownership of all things pumpkin, I googled “why do Americans eat pumpkin pie”. Apparently pumpkin is native to North America. Obviously, they finish growing around October/harvest time, which is why we eat these pies in the fall/winter. (Perhaps while watching NFL football haha) It didn’t become associated with Thanksgiving until the 1800’s.

So yesterday I made a pumpkin pie for my British friends. I even went out and bought the canned spray whip cream stuff–“dessert topping” with Chinese writing all over it but allegedly made in the good ol’ USA. It tasted fine, despite the general sketchiness of the whole thing.

So back to my friends. Once they figured out how to operate the “dessert topping” can (which apparently has a different spraying mechanism than in the UK), the pumpkin pie was a big hit. Or at least they said it was to make me feel good, lol. One friend suggested having it with a bit of tea (again) 😛

Bonus additional “more American than apple pie” food item: S’Mores. Yup. American. Made those for a few of my friends, too. They did not approve of using Hershey’s chocolate, but really it’s the only one that works. You have to have thin chocolate! So I think the pumpkin pie was better received.

…and all my friends back home are posting pictures of their seasonal pumpkin ales and Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes. Jealous. We Americans love our pumpkin.

So pumpkin pie, more American than apple pie because apples grow e’erwhere. Pumpkins are our thang. :P.

Gettin’ all nostalgic about rural Wisconsin culture while brainsplosion-writing my new novel


644084_10100125594230685_535874386_nSo I pull up on this pick-up and there are four–FOUR–calves just hanging out back there keeping it real. I’ve lived in Wisconsin since I was three (oh, and excluding this past year). That was a first. I guess you gotta get your cows around somehow and maybe this guy didn’t have a cattle trailer thing. Oh, Wisconsin, I miss you.

So I pounded out 40,000 words on my new YA novel! Eek! Yeah, I’ve really been getting into it. I set this novel in Sparta, Wisconsin,self-proclaimed “Bicycling Capitol of America” because it’s at the junction of two big bicycling trails. Sparta’s a town of almost 10,000 tucked in Western Wisconsin’s rolling hills, ridges and coulees, created by the Mississippi River. I wanted to explore the people, the culture, the life of this area of Wisconsin. I am also exploring the mindset, which can be hard and personal at times. (side note: I drop a bunch of g’s in -ing words in this post because that’s how people talk in at least parts of Wisconsin. Heck, I have to consciously THINK about not dropping g’s).

A lot of people I knew and worked with and hung out with in Sparta had a much smaller view of the world than I had at the time and much, much smaller than I have now. But to them, their world felt big, and the little events around town felt exciting. For a lot of them, Sparta was pretty much their world. Vacation was going to the Dells, Twin Cities, Chicago, maybe Florida. But there’s a simplicity to the life that has a certain beauty, which I can now appreciate. Everyone knows everyone. You go to Wal-Mart or Piggly Wiggly and run into people you know and catch up. My favorite part of the Sparta newspaper is “Local and Society,” where you can read about who came home to visit, people’s trips to the Twin Cities to catch a show, family vacations to Orlando. Maybe goin’ fishin’ up at the cabin (if you got one) or goin’ campin’. Oh, and I also like to read the “Arrested” column and Divorce/Marriage certificates, just to see if I know anyone 😛

Butterfest and 4th of July and Homecoming parades and baseball games down at Memorial Park.Walking down to Memorial Park for the 4th of July, Weddings at the bowling alley, Club 16, or the VFW (cuz that pretty much exhausts your options for wedding venues in Sparta). The big summer concert sponsored by Fort McCoy’s MWR. Butterfest, bar-sponsored baseball games transitioning to high school football games when the leaves change.


(The flea market and craft fair at the annual Sparta Butterfest. Um… You know you live in the North, right?)

Most people from Western Wisconsin’s ancestors came from (southern?) Germany and Norway and places like that a few generations back. Wisconsin’s only been a state since 1848 and Sparta was settled later than that. Ninety-five percent of Wisconsinites have at least some German ancestory. This impacts how we talk and drink and other parts of our culture, like our general stalwartness (not a word, I know, but it fits). Wisconsinites are tough. You have to be with our crazy winters. I mean, two feet of snow and we may still have school the next day? School doesn’t get cancelled unless it drops like ten degrees below zero Fahrenheit (not including wind chill). And when you make eye contact, people smile and may throw in a “How’s it goin’?” To which you respond with ONLY “good” or “fine”, nothing more. Or maybe, “oh she’s goin’.” Or perhaps they might greet you with “How ’bout them Packers?”

Walking down Water Street in Sparta, you’ll find pretty much every other shop being a bar, alternating between second-hand stores and restaurants and other little stores that turned over pretty quickly. And then there would be the one you hoped stayed open, like Ginny’s Cupboard, a cute little coffee shop that had good mochas for Sparta.

007Goin’ out on the weekends and always seeing pretty much the same people.In high school. Stay tuned for my upcoming post on the bars of rural/semi-rural Wisconsin. In high school, it was Friday and Saturday nights at the bowling alley or the movie theater, maybe driving around in the country. Maybe going to parties or deer shining or mudding or ‘coon bashing (that means RACOON, let me be clear. Oh, and I didn’t do anything in that sentence). Future Farmers of America and Drive Your Tractor/Snowmobile to School Day.

Weekly summer concerts at Evans-Bossard featuring local acts. Christmas lights in December.


Cranfest over in Warrens that last weekend in September, a town of like 400 invaded by hundreds of thousands of people on the hunt for crafts and bargain buys from the flea markets and random things like snake oil to promote virility or something like that. Hoards of women wearing silly hats and dressing up for the occasion in matching sweatshirts they may have made special just for the weekend, arriving at the crack of dawn to get the best stuff, bringing strollers and trolleys and wagons just to haul around their treasures. Walking tacos, brats, corn on the cob, funnel cake, cheese curds, cranberry cream puffs. Carnival rides and food trucks tucked between houses. A massive parade that lasts for hours; local high school and middle school marching bands compete to win first place; Miss Cranfest, Miss Sparta, Miss every local own around sit  on own floats wearing pretty dresses with jackets over their shoulders, smiling and waving. And, without fail, the bagpipe band from La Crosse.

264289_10100111243334995_73563588_nMen (and women) vacating the town that last week of November for gun deer hunting season. A noticeable drop in attendance at school the three days before Thanksgiving. Excitement over deer carcasses hauled into town in the backs of trucks to be processed. Pride while sharing that you got a (insert number here) point buck, or disappointment if you SEEN one (“I seen”, not “I saw”) but it got away before you brought it down. Driving through the country those days, seeing blaze orange speckling the empty farm fields and bare-branch forests. Advertisements in the paper and Wal-Mart and local bars for ladies’ bar specials or shopping trips or church dinners for while their men are away huntin’.

1554632_10100402889214315_1580560717_n(Oh, the things I see in the backs of trucks while driving through Wisconsin)

Knowing when the Packers are playing because the streets and Wal-Mart and Piggly Wiggly and McDonalds and Taco Bell are empty. Ghost town. Now the bars on the other hand… 😛 Go, Pack, Go!

plates-great-LD - Copy(oh, and da Bears still suck, and don’t get me started on da Vi-queens)

Once winter rolls in, obviously more Packers, but also and shovlin’ and snow blowin’ all that snow (and helping the neighbors), doing donuts in the parking lot and goin’ ice fishin’ and snowmobilin,’ sometimes up to the Kwik Trip…or the bar, lol. Then when it finally gets about 40 degrees Fahrenheit in, I don’t know, maybe March…shorts! That snow won’t be all gone until April anyway. And there could always be that freak snowstorm in May. Cookouts featuring beer-boiled brats with sauerkraut, washing it down with Spotted Cow or a Leinie’s Summer Shandy while playin’ yard games like Cornhole, testicle toss, and washers.

251698_10100104861883475_1794185342_nRiding a bar-sponsored school bus down to the big city of Milwaukee, drinkin’ beer all the way, tailgatin’ before the Brewers games. Cuz, you know, driving in Milwaukee tends to be terrifying for small-town folk (and I can say that officially because I was a small-town folk who moved to the MKE), and then you couldn’t drink…as much.

311692_979156056985_1692694693_n(The racing sausages, my favorite part of Brewer’s games besides tailgating because I know pretty much nothing about baseball. All my sports-understanding-capacity is taken up by football)

When I finally got out of Sparta, it felt like I’d escaped a prison. Since then I can say with all humility that I’ve seen quite a lot of the world compared to your average American. I can think of maybe one person I went to high school with that has traveled more than me. Now that I’ve been living in the concrete and glass jungle of Singapore for a year, I can say in all honesty that I really do miss he smalless and simplicity, the sense of community. The beauty of the bluffs and leaves changing and winter and watching a hometown parade. Hearing the Wisconsin accent while people talk about the Packers.

Wow, so that was a deep post, Sarah! 😛 And it started off so funny. This novel’s really dredging up a lot of stuff for me, good and bad, but mostly good. I guess that’s a sign that it’s important for me to write, if not just for myself.

On being the token Yank: I’m baaaaaaack!!!


photo (5)….So this happened today. Yup, my first ever official beans on toast experience. I was at a “proper Sunday roast” complete with Yorkshire pudding and my friends were talking about beans on toast. Yes, I’ve definitely heard of it before and I’ve definitely mopped up some Bush’s baked beans with bread, but I’ve never actually tried it.

I’m a bit overdue on my grocery shopping, so today I was scrounging through our cupboards looking for something, anything, to eat for dinner and discovered we had a can of sketchy-looking Halal beans with no hunk of meat. So then it happened. Beans on toast.

It was…interesting, which is what we Midwesterners say instead of saying we don’t particularly care for something 😛

I’m blaming the beans. Totally the crappy beans. Next time I promise I’ll use Heinz baked beans.

Backstory for “On being the token Yank”:

Over here in Singapore I just don’t know many Americans, even though I’m sure there are plenty. I hang out mostly with English, Scottish, Australians and a few locals who also speak the British variety of English. Weird, right? Travel to the other side of the world to hang out with people from a different side of the world. It’s amazing how similar we seem when surrounded by Asians.

If anyone has any beans on toast preparation advice, please share!

Portaits of Southeast Asia–The Ladyboys of Thailand



ladyboyglamSo in case you haven’t seen Hangover 2, one of the unique things about Thailand (besides the beautiful beaches and spectacular jungles and thousands of amazing temples) are the ladyboys. Ladyboys are men who dress as women and often undergo plastic surgery to become more womanly, including breast implants, shrinking Adam’s Apples, and perhaps even vaginal reconstruction (though some of the limited googling I did suggested this was rare). Anyway, they’re apparently like a third gender category in Thailand and make pretty good money. It sounds like it’s something people are more comfortable with in Thailand. I’ve posted a few pictures from our ladyboy cabaret experiences, which was fascinating and a lot of fun. The one we went to was by no means extravagant. Some of them were obviously men, but others it was pretty hard to tell. By the way there was NO nudity at this show.

lbb lbhappyhour lbfeathers  lbgroup lb sheman lb feather portrait

lbstripIn the picture above, one of the ladyboys was transforming back into a man.


On being the token Yank: Gun rights (oh, crap, am I really going to put that out there?)



So gun rights…. American friends, I’m sure you realize it’s a hotly debated topic that starkly divides the nation. Non-American friends, in case you DIDN’T know, it’s a hotly debated topic that starkly divides the nation. So if you ask about it, you are likely opening, let’s say, a can of worms. I’m on a vacation with two of my best friends in Thailand and Cambodia right now, and let’s just say the topic was brought up by a bar tender from south of London and things got more than a bit heated between my friend and me. My poor third friend was just like screw you guys, I’m walking on the beach lol.

Not surprising that it came up really. I get asked about the United States and our guns, and our perceived love of them, all the time. Our mass shootings of generally innocent people routinely make international headlines…again and again. Our country is unique in the freedom people have to buy and own guns when compared to a lot of the rest of the world, particularly European countries. Our British friend today said that police in mainland United Kingdom don’t even carry guns. They do in Northern Ireland due to continued threats by dissident republicans, but that’s a different story. Farmers are allowed to own a gun for hunting, but that’s it. Anyway, I’ve been in several situations with other Americans on the opposite side of the fence where it’s clear that the Brit who started it is enjoying their s**t stirring. Generally though, people really don’t understand why our government doesn’t do more to limit the kind of guns and numbers of guns available or who can buy them. A lot don’t even understand why we have them at all because other places don’t feel they need them for protection and the fact that we have so many legally-owned guns means that there’s just more guns out there to be illegally obtained.

I’ve explained (very poorly I’m sure) the Second Amendment: The Second Amendment (Amendment II) to the United States Constitution protects the right of individuals to keep and bear arms. The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that the right vests in individuals, not merely collective militias, while also ruling that the right is not unlimited and does not prohibit all regulation of either firearms or similar devices State and local governments are limited to the same extent as the federal government from infringing this right per the incorporation of the Bill of Rights. The Second Amendment was adopted on December 15, 1791, as part of the first ten amendments comprising the Bill of Rights.

The Second Amendment was based partially on the right to keep and bear arms in English common-law and was influenced by the English Bill of Rights of 1689. Sir William Blackstone described this right as an auxiliary right, supporting the natural rights of self-defense, resistance to oppression, and the civic duty to act in concert in defense of the state.[8]

(; yes I was kind of lazy)

I will say there is great variety in gun laws state to state. My state only recently allowed conceal and carry, which allows people to carry guns on their person as long as they’re not seen, except in establishments that specify you can’t with a sign, like schools and churches. Some states don’t allow this at all. Some have longer waiting periods. I hear some you can walk into a gun show and leave with guns.

Here’s a few quick facts:

18 percentage points: Amount the share of households who own guns decreased from 1973 to 2010. Three decades ago, 50 percent of households owned guns, in 2010, just 32 percent do,, according to University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center.

65 percent: The portion of guns in America owned by just 20 percent of gun owners. When we debate gun control, there is the inevitable claim that gun ownership is a cherished tradition held by a vast portion of the country. For an example of this, here’s a National Review editorial making that case Monday. But the portion of Americans who own a whole bunch of guns is actually pretty small.

60 percent to 39 percent: Americans in living in the West who support more gun control versus those in the West who do not. Support for more gun control has a pretty clear regional divide, with the South, as you might expect, being most hostile to new gun laws. Southerners opposed gun control by 50 percent to 46 percent. Midwesterners are split, with 49 percent wanting more gun control and 48 percent opposed to it. And in the Northeast, 67 percent want more gun control, while 31 percent don’t. The South is by far the most violent part of the country, Kieran Healy points out at right.

52 percent: Americans who support a national ban on semi-automatic weapons.

62: Number of mass murders in America since 1982.

Three-quarters: Portion of guns involved in mass murders that were obtained legally, Mother Jones reports. Semi-automatic handguns were by far the weapon of choice, followed by assault rifles.

(Retrieved from

For the record….my family has never owned a gun and the first and only gun I’ve ever fired was in Viet Nam haha. Go figure. Some of my friends own guns for hunting or protection, some don’t.

Then people will ask about our love of our Constitution and why we can’t just change that part. I don’t even want to imagine what would happen, but then there’s this….


Haha let’s hope for this instead:


I’m not here to give my opinion on guns rights and what the United States should do about the mass shootings, it’s just one of my observations as the token Yank.

Do you find you get asked repeatedly about something by people from other countries? If so, what?