Confused? 10 British/American Words That Are Spelled the Same But Pronounced Differently

As my readers know, I’ve been living in the US for 12 years now and love observing the differences between British English and American English (see posts 10 Silly American Words and  10 British Expressions that Americans Find Amusing.) While there are many words and expressions that differ between our two lovely languages, what actually confuses me the most are the words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently. Here are my top ten:

  • Vitamin – I have to admit that I no longer know which pronunciation is the “correct” one; a long ‘i’ or a short one? Which usually means I’ll say it wrong.
  • Privacy – Ditto. No clue.
  • Garage – I’m sticking to my guns on this one. Emphasis is on the first, short “a” – not a long, drawn-out “age.”
  • Water – People of the US, that’s a “t” not a “d” in the middle!
  • Herb – Yup, pretty sure the first letter here is an “h” so that’s how I pronounce it.
  • Oregano – While we’re on the topic, I say it the Brit way, with a long “ano.”
  • Peugeot – I know there aren’t many, if any, of these lovely French cars here in the US but I’d like to advise you that there is no “poo” in its pronunciation.
  • Woburn – I have learnt this well; when in Massachusetts, say “Wooburn” (when in England, it’s W-oh-burn.)
  • Tomato – You say “tom-ay-to” – “I say tom-ah-to.” Not budging on this one, folks.
  • Colin – If this is your name, you should know that in the UK, we don’t pronounce it C-oh-lin.

So now that I’ve thoroughly confused you, happy travels. Good luck with “the look!”

The Shocking Cost of Being a Working Parent

(This post first appeared on the Framingham Patch.)

There’s a lot about parenthood that I was not at all prepared for (see my earlier post 25 Unexpected Realities of Parenthood.) One of these things was just how crazy expensive it is caring for these little people.

I’m not talking diapers, food (gosh, I have to feed them over and over and over) and clothes (they just keep on growing) but the shocking cost of daycare, after school care and camps.

I’m fully aware that I could have chosen to be a stay-at-home mom. There are days when staying home with my kids sounds like nirvana. But I am a working mom, a career woman; its part of who I am. I found my niche, I’m good at what I do and I’m passionate about it. And, lucky for me and my family, it pays well too.

But like many other working parents, I’m forever assessing whether the delta between what my husband and I bring home, and what’s left in our bank accounts after paying for preschool, full day kindergarten, afterschool program, early release cover and camps, is really worth it.

This summer is the first that we’ve put both kids into camp (previously my daughter’s preschool continued through the summer months.) First off, selecting from the variety of programs offered was incredibly overwhelming. But then, oh my, the costs! And to think, we have to fill nine weeks of school vacation. Plus extended day. Plus busing. The whole process gives me severe heartburn. Surely all that diligent financial planning before and ever since the kids came out of the womb would have readied us for this? But no.

I think back to the summers of my own childhood and wonder about the fiscal choices my parents made. My mother did not work so we kids were home. I remember going away to the occasional two-week camp – probably a welcome very break for my Mom. Maybe she was going stir crazy the whole time we were home but there was never the need to pack us off for the full nine weeks so that she could pursue a career.

There are days that I wonder whether working parents are being ripped off. Is someone making a profit out of working parents like me who pay other people or institutions to take care of our kids so we can put in an eight-hour day at the office? Is this some kind of penalty we must accept for the fact that we have chosen the professional route? Academically, I understand why child care costs so much. But surely there has to be a more cost-effective way to do this?

For me, working is a choice I make. There are many for whom it is a necessity. I cannot imagine the financial strain they must face finding the balance between making enough money to pay the bills, put food on the table, clothe and equip their families and finding affordable childcare so they can do their jobs.

Maybe it’s our culture that needs fixing?

He Slips His Hand Into Mine

He slips his hand into mine. His fingers are long, grubby: his nails a little scraggy. But his skin is smooth and soft, the pudginess long gone. He grasps my hand tight, claiming his ownership.

He slips his hand into mine. With purpose but without. Not to pull me somewhere. Not to cross the street or jump a puddle. Not to shy away from someone else. Just because. He is happy and carefree. The day is beautiful. He wants to share this with me.

He slips his hand into mine. Our chromosomes touch and connect. My womb contracts. It recognizes this skinny creature that it created, once balls of cells, now growing tall, handsome, sucking in food and knowledge and the thrills of boyhood with equal measure and hunger.

He slips his hand into mine and I hold on tight. One day, this may be an anathema to him; totally uncool.

He slips his hand into mine and my brain inflates, grasping to capture the sensation and retain the memory of every time he has held my hand in his seven and a quarter years.

He slips his hand into mine. My heart swells and gushes. This moment completes me.

I’m Just Not as Young As I Used to Be

Stamina has always been my Achilles heel. As a school child, staying awake to complete hours of homework was a challenge; I usually had to wake up early to finish it and to study for tests and exams. As college approached, I embarked upon the opposite of sleep training so that I could stay up late and party.

This morning, as I was awoken by noisy, happy kids (is that better or worse than the alarm clock, I’m not sure?) I felt like I had been hit by a truck. The day prior was spent flying to Atlanta and back for a three-hour business meeting – my day started at 4am and ended at 10pm. It occurred to me, as I groggily  got up and meandered through my work day feeling spacey, wan and unproductive, that I just don’t bounce back like I used to. That I used to be able to withstand stressful, long hours at the office, then go out to drink and party – and still wake up the next day bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, able to operate like the PR ninja that I am.

Not so much today.

The sad reality is that I’m just not as young as I used to be. And when I think more about this, the signs are clear and staring right at my ever-so-slightly wrinkly (those are laugh lines) face. Because:

  • Wearing heels more than 2″ high doesn’t just make my feet sore – it makes my hips and back ache.
  • A stressful day or a late night makes me feel hung over – without any of the fun.
  • More than two glasses of wine gives me heartburn.
  • I can barely see straight when I drive at night.
  • To put mascara on, I have to get really, really close to the mirror.
  • Thoughts come into my mind and then ….. oh wow, I have no clue what I was going to write ….
  • I get into the car bum first, then swing my feet in. And in reverse to get out.
  • Songs I love are now referred to as “oldies.”
  • Fashions I used to wear are now either retro – or making a comeback.
  • The belly pooch is here to stay, no matter what.
  • Several of my work colleagues are technically young enough to be my offspring.
  • Policemen are getting younger and younger (that’s a British expression, I think.)

The good news however, because I like to keep the glass half full is that, despite my age, I am still silly and I don’t take myself too seriously. I can hang with the young’uns at the office and hold my own. I’m down with at least 30 percent of what’s hip music-wise. I will see The Hunger Games and be culturally relevant. I still get checked out from time to time. I’m on Facebook lots (that’s still cool, right?)

And so, despite my advancing years, I guess it’s better to adopt a Mark Twain attitude than complain.

A Love Letter to My Mother

Today, March 18th is Mother’s Day in the UK. It’s always struck me as weird that Mother’s Day is on a different date in the UK from the US – and it’s taken me by surprise often, finding me scrambling to get a card or flowers to my Mum in time. This year, I’m ahead of the game. Thanks to the wonders of the web, her flower were delivered in time.

Bouquets aside, I felt a blog post in honour of my Mother was well overdue. If you have the good fortune to know her, you’ll agree she is one-of-a-kind. If you haven’t, then this post describes why I think there’s no-one quite as wonderful as my Mum.

  • Family and friends are everything: Despite the miles between her and her offspring and grandchildren, the ties between us are deep and fierce. And her own siblings and their children are equally important. I know few families where the connections between close and extended family matter so much. What’s more, my Mother’s friends have been in her life for decades and decades and decades – in fact, since me and my brother and sister were kids. She’s the best friend you could have. She sticks with you through thick and thin.
  • No-one tells a joke like my Mum: With a sparkle in her eye, she spins a tale and you just know that the punchline is going to be a humdinger. Her jokes are not quick one-liners, they draw you in, take you on a journey, and then cause a mighty belly laugh.
  • She has style: Unlike me, my Mum is always presentable, always coordinated, always beautiful. Whether going to Marks & Spencers, to a friend’s house for a game of bridge, on the tennis court, at a fine restaurant, or simply sipping a cuppa at home, my Mum exudes style. It’s always classy, always true to herself, never over the top.
  • She stands by her man: This year, Mum and Dad will celebrate 48 years of marriage. As a kid, I always viewed them as a team. I loved how they laughed together. I rarely witnessed any discord. They truly enjoy being a couple, they take the time to be together, to travel together. They’ve been an inspiration to me.
  • Quiet ambition: My Mother has a law degree. She was a magistrate in the UK courts for a long time. She participated in community programs. She gives back. She always continually educates herself: computer classes, after Dad surprised her with a laptop; most recently, creative writing classes.
  • She is wicked good at table tennis: if you play her, you’ll see a different side to her – fiercely competitive complete with colourful language!
  • Her cooking is legendary: chicken soup, apricot chicken, yellow mush, chopped & fried, bakewell tart, cheesecake. And don’t forget the trifle.

So Mum, here’s to you. From me. Via my blog.

10 Memories of Life Before Kids

Remember when ….

  • There was enough time.
  • You spent money mostly on you.
  • You had a waist.
  • Weekends were lazy.
  • The pre-party was a critical part of going out.
  • It was possible to drink more than two glasses of wine without embarrassing yourself.
  • You could stay awake later than 9pm.
  • You danced around your handbag.
  • 6am was sometimes the end of a great night.
  • Going to McDonalds was a hangover cure.

There’s so much stuff to be nostalgic about. But that was then and this is now.

Now is so much richer.

Pushing Buttons

Many years ago, in the Time Before Kids, I witnessed an argument between my husband and his mother. As they were just getting warmed up with the objections and counterpoints, my husband said something to my mother-in-law that I knew would send her off the charts. Which it did. They went at it with gusto. Went to bed furious with each other.

The next morning, it was as if nothing had happened.

Coming from a family where verbal fights very rarely happened, I found this very strange. I’ve since learned that, for many families, bickering and quarrelling is the norm. It’s just the way they converse, debate, process and eventually resolve things. Tempers may fly, accusations may be made but, in the end, everyone still loves each other. Sometimes all the more for the spa-ing.

That night, after he and his Mom went at each other, I asked my husband why on earth he said the very thing that propelled the argument into the stratosphere.

He replied, “Because I love her and I like pushing her buttons.”

Go figure. He was actually egging her on, seeking out a grand old fight. Because that’s how he and she got it done.

I was thinking about this incident today because my kids were pushing my buttons big time. Bickering with each other over everything and anything. Assuming I would schlep their multiple bags, coats and random art projects from school to car to house. Telling me they don’t like pasta today when they loved it yesterday. Demanding “I want this, I need that, I don’t like this, don’t give me that.” (Insert grating, whiny voice.) Objecting to my every request. Being. Generally. Annoying.

“Why do they push my buttons?!” I despaired to myself.

I’m sure all those child psychologists have a lot of theories on the subject. Stuff to do with boundaries, working through conflict, touch points and all that. However those same psychologists might not be taking into account the long day I just spent at work, the fact that I need a glass of wine (stat) or just that my threshold for kiddo nonsense is running low today.

But I’m choosing to go with my husband’s rationale. Evidently it’s because they love me. And just like my hubs and his mother, I may well yell at them when they push my buttons and they will probably yell back – but tomorrow is another day. It’s all good.

Life Before Kids & the Thrill of Getting “Checked Out”

Once upon a time, in the days before kids, I used to get checked out. At a bar. In a club. On the train.

I’m not talking about being chatted up or lusted after. I’m not talking about boyfriends or hook ups. What I am referring to is that moment when you notice a complete stranger noticing you with, let’s say, appreciation. Could be the mailman. Someone in the grocery store, the doctor’s office. A waiter at a restaurant. Somebody driving down the street. Usually no-one you know.

And it makes you feel good. It puts a swing in your hips, some pep in your step. Makes you toss your shiny hair over your shoulder and suck your tummy in. Blush a little. And then carry on your day, grateful for the reminder that you are a woman.

I’m sure at this point the feminists are aghast. We girls don’t need men to help us achieve self-worth and to feel actualized. Looks do not matter. It’s what’s inside that counts. Yes, yes I know.

But I’m not going to deny it – it feels damn good when you get checked out. I miss it.

I’m not at all surprised though, that in the first five or so years since having kids, it barely happened at all. I often went out without having looked in the mirror or put a comb through my hair. Clothes were baggy, at best. Unstained, if I was lucky. Makeup non-existent. My shiny nose was a beacon. (I did always brush my teeth, though.)

In time, however, the urge to put some effort back into my appearance and self-pride resurfaced. The urge to wear clothes that fit, even flatter, came back. Certainly, watching “What Not to Wear” helped. I saw myself in too many of those sorry souls that Stacy and Clint helped! I set my sights on becoming a yummy mummy.

And then it happened. Not once, but twice. Three times I got checked out. Woohoo, I’m back!!

Before we all get carried away, I have to set the record straight. There’s was something fishy going on. It soon dawned on me that each time it happened, I was driving my car. Huh?

Turns out, the men who I thought were checking *me* out, were actually checking out my new Ford Explorer, lusting after its new pay load, chassis, trim.

Hey, what about my chassis? My trim?

Oh how times have changed! But I’ll take it. Might as well enjoy the attention while I can get it.

Three Reasons Why I Really Don’t Like Country Music

I consider myself a tolerant person, open-minded, moderate, appreciative and welcoming of all points of view, opinions and tastes.

Except, that is, when it comes to country music.

With apologies to the hoards of avid fans of country music across the US – and to my colleague and friend Steve who posted about why he loves country music -  these are three reasons why country music makes every fiber in my body scream “nnnooooooo!!”

  1. It has no soul. I find country music so one-dimensional. Me, I need music that literally moves me. Rhythm. Depth. I want to shake my groove thang and get down. Foot thumping or thigh slapping ain’t going to cut it. Never mind the two-step; I want to bump and grind.
  2. It’s too twangy. To my uneducated, British ears, I hear the same strummed notes in every, single country track making it difficult to distinguish one singer or song from another. And each twang grates a little more than the one before it.
  3. It’s all one big sob story. And why does it have to be so literal? “Get your tongue out of my mouth cause I’m kissing you goodbye.” “I spent a lifetime lookin’ for you. Single bars and good time lovers were never true. Playing a fools game, hopin’ to win. Tellin’ those sweet lies and losin’ again.” “Sometimes its hard to be a woman. Giving all your love to just one man.” And so on.

Admittedly, it’s not all bad. I actually enjoy listening to some Lady Antebellum, Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood. And I love my cowboy boots. But please, for the sake of my sanity – and yes my productivity when at work – don’t inflict hours of country music on me!

Manners, Please

You know what bugs me? Rude, selfish, thoughtless people.

I was recently aghast and disturbed when I read this post about an incident in which two teens showed utter insolence to a woman. No only did they not open the door for her, even though she was just steps behind them, but when she said “thank you very much” with a dose of sarcasm, they turned around and said “whatever, bitch.” O.M.G!

The mere thought of my kids – let alone anyone’s kids – behaving this way makes my nerves bristle.

But this is not just about kids, it’s about all of us.

Have you ever tried parking at the grocery store, only to find the spot you’d selected littered with an abandoned shopping cart/trolley? While at the supermarket yesterday, I looked and counted 17 carts slung around. Willfully. Selfishly.

It’s very easy to feel impervious to the outside world when we are driving in our cars. It’s almost as if, simply by being behind the wheel, we are excused from exhibiting basic manners like acknowledging with a “thank you” when someone lets you out, or saying “please, after you” to let someone go ahead of you.

Or how about taking a few seconds to RSVP to that invitation to a kid’s birthday party, rather than just turning up and assuming that the host can accommodate the unaccounted-for child or pay the excess fee for being one kid over the 15 limit?

I know we are all busy. I understand that things easily slip our minds. I know it’s natural to focus on me and mine, rather than you and yours.

But people, I’m trying to teach my kids to be polite and respectful and, frankly, you are not helping much.

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