On Citizenship and Gun Reform

I know this is a departure from my usual posts about kids, parenting and domestic dramas. But this is a topic that’s been burning in my head for a long time and I have to get it out, put words to “paper”, have my say. Bear with me, please. Or don’t – as this is about to get political and if you don’t want to get into this here on my blog, then I understand.

This week marks my 14th year living in America. This still amazes me as I really only intended to stay one year. But here I am, happily married, two beautiful kids, lovely home, great job … All the goodness of life in the US of A. I do not take any of this for granted, not for a nanosecond.

It often surprises people when they discover I’m not actually a US citizen: I’m still a legal alien. I have long qualified for citizenship and, in doing so, would not have to give up my British citizenship. I’ve been advised by attorneys that I should get my citizenship, if only to make things easier on my husband, should I pop my clogs before him. It’s always been there, hanging on my life to-do list, along with other things like getting my kids their British passports, which I really must do one of these days.

But something has always stopped me from applying for US citizenship. At first it was something intangible. Like, it would seal my fate, trap me here forever. Which I know is ridiculous but I like to keep my options open. The world is a big place. I long to live again in France. Maybe elsewhere, who knows? Also, there was the reality of becoming a citizen of a country led by George W Bush. I didn’t like his politics and couldn’t bring myself to do it.

And then Obama came along full of promise. I felt optimistic. Maybe, with him running the show, I would feel more at ease with – even proud – to become a US citizen. I firmly put it on my 2013 new year’s resolutions.

But then Sandy Hook happened. And my world was forever changed. How could such a thing be allowed to happen in this civilized society? How? I watched with hope and admiration as President Obama passionately put preventing gun violence at the top of his agenda:

While no law or set of laws will end gun violence, it is clear that the American people want action. If even one child’s life can be saved, then we need to act. Now is the time to do the right thing for our children, our communities, and the country we love,” he said.

I followed closely as Senators Manchin and  Toomey spearheaded the first concrete bill to enforce criminal and mental health background checks for guns purchased at gun shows and online. This is commonsense, no? And then, my heart sunk as the bill failed in the Senate, to the cries of “shame on you”  in their chambers. This, despite that fact that almost 90% of Americans supported it.

And what has happened since? School shooting after school shooting. Mall shooting after mall shooting. Accidental deaths of children who somehow get their hands on ill-stored or illegally acquired guns. And all because of the power and money and influence of the NRA-led gun lobby? Tell me, our politicians, how can you sleep at night while all around the country, parents weep?

It’s appalling. I cannot wrap my head around this. Sadly, my faith in Obama ‘s ability to achieve even the smallest step towards gun reform during his final term is waning. Still, I actively support the groups that lobby and advocate for reform and gun sense, such as Moms Demand Action which provides great tools for contacting your local government representatives. Day in day out they use their voices to bring attention to the issues and lobby so that we don’t become desensitized as a nation to these seemingly-daily tragedies.

To those who own guns legally and responsibly, that’s cool with me, if it makes you feel safe and satisfied with your constitutional rights. Just please – please – keep them properly locked up so your kids – and their friends – don’t find and “play” with them or they find their way into the hands of those with mental health issues or criminal intentions.

I know, if I were a US citizen, that my voice, my vote would contribute. After all, they say one vote makes a difference. Oh how I wish that were true. But sadly, I think this is not the case. I love this country. This is my home. It is also the homeland of my children, their heritage, their identity. But, until the safety of all of our kids becomes a higher priority than the interests of the gun lobby, I just can’t fully adopt it as my own.

5 Things I’d Never Encountered Till I Moved to Massachusetts

It’s been almost 14 years since I moved to America and all 14 of those years have been spent living in, and loving, Massachusetts. Before I moved here, my only point of reference for all-things-Boston was watching episodes of Ally McBeal. Little did I know that Boston does not really have magical street lamps and gently powdery snow falling on twinkly streets, everywhere. Damn you Ally McBeal. However, there’s plenty about life in Massachusetts which has been eye-opening to me in many ways.

1. Let’s take the weather:

I arrived here in February and was promptly told about an impending Nor’Easter threatening to dump a foot of snow. On the morning of this supposed event, the sky was white and cloudy, not a flake in sight. “So where’s this snowmageddon-like storm that everyone’s predicting,” I wondered. “Seriously, a foot of snow – not possible, surely?”

Boom. I was wrong. The heavens opened and promptly dumped sizeable proportions of white stuff in what felt like a few short minutes. OK maybe it took an hour or two. But never had this Londoner ever seen so much snow fall.

And here’s the thing.

It’s not a one-time event. The sky can dump anywhere from 8″ to a foot multiple times! Snow upon snow upon snow until there are humongous industrial-sized mountains of shoveled snow amassed in parking lots and other unsuspecting places. And there they stay, growing icier and generally more mucky, every day. Until, like, July.

Before moving here, I’d never encountered snow blowers, snow ploughs and shovels. (Not that I use them, I am a grateful observer.) And, thundersnow?!

Did I mention the cold? As in the bone-chilling, nostril-hair-freezing, finger-removal-threatening cold that is otherwise known here as February. Sub-freezing temperatures like I didn’t think was possible, and this after three years of jaunts in the Alps! The communal relief when the high for the day is actually above-freezing is palpable. The river here actually freezes solid. I’d never seen such a thing before.

Then there’s the humidity otherwise known as July and August. The air is so wet and heavy that it fairly slaps your face as you step outdoors, sucking out any oxygen you may have selfishly thought you needed to actually breathe. Hair becomes wild, curly, affro-esque. Makeup melts. Mosquitoes chase with vampire, blood-sucking intentions. It’s generally disgusting. Which is why air-conditioners are essentially the best invention ever in the entire universe (please take note, Europe.)

However, to balance out the horrors of winter and summer in Massachusetts, there is spring and fall – both of which are so divine, they can turn an atheist into a believer. Unbelievably beautiful blossoms. Freshly cut verdant lawns. The air sweet and light, outdoors welcoming. Butterflies, dragon flies, hummingbirds.

And fall. There are not enough adjectives to describe the colors and smells of fall in Massachusetts. Seriously. It’s staggeringly beautiful, converting all that is wrong and dark, to right and rich. Check out some fall photos here.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the sunrises and sunsets of Massachusetts, equally breathtaking with ripples of flaming colors that take your breath away.

2. But let’s get to the traffic:

First things first: two words. Big Dig. I often tell people the only reason I have stayed is to see how this grandiose experiment actually turned out. Actually, it’s pretty impressive.

However, it took several months of living and driving here until, one day, it dawned on me with a resounding D’UH that routes 128 and 95 can be one and the same. It’s some kind of local inside joke, inflicted on anyone from out of town who has the gall to drive in Massachusetts.

And then there’s the whole overtaking on the inside thing. Now, I grew up driving in England where everyone is generally civilized and polite on the roads (OK, that may be a stretch.) And driving on the highways in France, I was always impressed with the methodical way that you overtook on the left and then moved back into the slower lane until you needed to overtake again.

Not so in Massachusetts where it’s fair game and acceptable to overtake any which way. And then stay in whichever lane you end up in. Admittedly, I rather like it – but always have to remind myself when returning to England that overtaking on the inside is just not cricket.

Note: if you are new to Massachusetts, you need to understand the term ‘masshole,’ defined by the Urban Dictionary as:

1. For residents of Massachusetts, it is an achieved title for drving faster, being wreckless, cutting other drivers off often, and having no patience for other drivers on the road. 

2. For non-residents of Massachusetts, it is a term of dislike for the people of Massachusetts that drive like an asshole.

3. Funny talk

I’ve blogged about a fair amount about the differences between American English and British English, especially about silly American words. But different words aside, there are accents and very local pronunciations that were new to me.

The Boston accent is well-known. Paark your caar in Haarvaard Yaard and all that. But there are several towns whose names are pronounced much differently from their phonetic spelling. Peabody. Woburn. Worcester. Quincy, to name a few.

In Massachusetts, wicked is a complementary adjective. All set means good-to-go, one of my favorite adopted local phrases. If you are visiting here for the first time and you want to fit in, check out UniversalHub’s Wicked Good Guide to Boston English – and you’ll be wickedly all-set.

4. Pride

The passion that Massachusetts natives display for their region, town, community and sports teams is crazy and wonderful and contagious. Since I’ve lived here, the Red Sox have won the World Series three times and each time, it’s greeted with glee, pride, tears and cheers. To an outsider, it’s almost ridiculous but when you live with it and among it, it’s a beautiful thing.

But the peak of my admiration came in April of this year when this city rallied following the bombings at the Boston Marathon and the bewildering, frightening few days that followed as we were locked down and under threat. Boston Strong is real and poignant and amazing.

5. Last but not least ….

Pumpkin. My love for pumpkin is well-known and documented. But please, let’s be clear. I like to eat my pumpkin not drink it. Pumpkin, to me, has no place in my beer or my coffee. Blech.

photo

(Confession: I spelled Massachusetts wrong every time I typed it in the post. Thank heavens for spell check!)

American/British Language Differences: Automotive Edition

It has always struck me as bizarre that, when it comes to cars, there’s an especially-wide swathe of vocabulary differences between British English and American English. After almost thirteen years here in the USA, I feel like I have mastered most of these except for those that are spelled the same but pronounced differently over here, like the brand Jaguar. To me, it will always be Jag-you-are. Never Jag-war.

For those of you intrigued to learn more transatlantic automotive vernacular, here’s a quick checklist:

  • Bonnet: not decorative headwear but rather the British word for ‘hood.’
  • Boot: not footwear, but how we Brits say ‘trunk.’
  • Windscreen: yes, we call it a windscreen not a windshield.
  • Number plate: that’s English for license plate.
  • Manual: you call it ‘stick.’ You’ll find a whole lot more of these in the UK and Europe. In fact, most of us learn to drive manual. This makes us better multi-taskers, IMHO.
  • Hatchback: a three-door car. Again, many more of these across the pond. After all, British streets and parking spots are narrower, so it makes sense.
  • Saloon: not as glamorous as in the wild west, this is what we call a regular four-door car.
  • Estate: Personally I think station wagon cars are all ugly. Also it’s such a silly word.
  • Lorry = Truck
  • Caravan = RV
  • People Mover = Minivan
  • 4×4 = SUV

Things you may have in your car:

  • Anorak: in case it rains. Y’all call it a windbreaker.
  • Wellies: ditto, in case it’s rainy or muddy out. You’d call them rubber boots.
  • Torch: A.K.A a flashlight.

I’ve also discovered some words here in America for which I don’t think there’s a direct British equivalent:

  • Way back: fortunately it means what it says, as in “tell the kids in the way back of the car to stop throwing legos at each other.”
  • Tailgating: Grilling in car parks before sports events is not something Brits really know how to do. Or why.

On the flip side, we Brits do like a good car boot sale. No, this doesn’t mean selling our trunks. It’s like a big old market where everyone parks their car and sets up a booth to sell off second-hand stuff. Like lots of yard sales in a parking lot or a big field.

For the Love of …. Dish Towels

Husbands and wives argue over many things: money, schedules, kids, cleaning up, folding laundry the right way, loading the dishwasher, other women, other men, clothes, music, TV, sports and so on. If you’re married, you know how it goes.

Fortunately, me and my hubby, we really don’t argue. Sure we nit-pick from time to time: it’s healthy. We are also incredibly silly, which is even healthier. But one of my pet peeves that really gets me going in the spousal bickering department is our opposing views on  … dish towels.

Me: Dish towels — or tea towels, as we call them in England — are intended, as their American name suggests, for drying dishes. Drying dishes that have been cleaned. Therefore, said dish towel should also be clean prior to their drying function or else the dishes would become dirty again. Ammiright or ammiright?

As a secondary function, dish towels can be used to dry one’s hands, after one has washed said dishes. Again, this calls for use of a clean dish towel, or else said hands will be rendered unclean once again and the whole thing is “moo” (to quote Joey.)

Him: Dish towels are rags with wide-ranging functions from wiping down messy counters, to cleaning the inside door of the wood-burning stove, to handling sticky, hot pots and pans.

We’ve had several run-ins on this delicate topic. We’ve called each other names. We’ve thrown our hands up in the air. We’ve laughed and snickered at each other’s weaknesses on the topic. We’re both right and we’re both wrong. It’s a hoot.

The good news is we found a solution. We’ve established hooks by the sink, designated for the clean dish towels to be used only for drying dishes. And another spot where we hang a towel, designated only for the drying of clean hands. This makes me happy. All other dish towels, tea towels, rags or whatever you wish to call them are his to use however he sees fit, as long as they eventually find their way into the washing machine and never, never, put on the hooks with the clean towels.

Yes, I am a control freak and he is a professionally-trained chef. It’s a beautiful thing.

The other funny footnote to add to this seemingly pointless post is that, when towels are not hung back up or put in the washer, but are left in random places within the dog’s reach …. well then, off they disappear to be buried outside in the mud somewhere, as our dog likes to do. Often.

So there you have it. Happy weekend, folks!

Coffee or Wine?

Your dental hygienist knows a lot about you, I’ve discovered. During my first few years here in the US, when I was either single and partying, or dating my soon-to-be-fiance, or enjoying the life-before-kids times, my dental hygenist would often remark about the red wine stains on my teeth. “Hey, I’m young (ish) and having fun,” I’d retort. And yes, I’ll brush more thoroughly, I’d promise as she hacked away at the stains with her evil implements.

(On a side note, may I just say that dental hygiene here in the US has been a real revelation to me. Y’all are way more serious about having sparkly whites that we were/are back home in the UK. I now feel it a necessary part of my acceptance into American society to have remarkably white teeth. But I digress.)

Dental visits over the last eight years have painted a different story. In large part, because the red wine stains on my teeth have mostly been replaced with coffee stains. Strong, black coffee stains. My dental hygienist always points this out and then, with an almost nonchalant non-sequitur, asks “So, how old are the kids now?” She knows, she gets it.

The thing is, my relationship with red wine has changed. Flash back to 1997-2000, three glorious years living in France when the wine was abundant, cheap and good. I became more knowledgable about wine regions and my preferences but, quite frankly, if it was red and in my glass, I’d drink it. Lots of it. No matter how much it cost or where it came from. And then I went and married someone in the wine industry. My supply of good wine became perpetual! Hoorah! And I became better educated and much more picky and wines I like and wines I don’t.

And then I had kids.

Child birth will do strange things to your palette (among other things.) After kid #1 was born, I went off red wine altogether, much to the chagrin of the husband. Fortunately, after kid #2 “popped out” (hahahaha) my desire for wine slowly returned and, in the almost six consequential years, has remained. But with new terms and conditions, namely:

  • I only drink the wines I like
  • I can only drink when eating
  • No more than a glass and a half or I get heartburn and/or an upset stomach
  • There will be wine on Friday evenings when I crave it most—or else
  • Cheese = wine

On the flip side, my relationship with coffee has remained consistent. While red wine is a select pleasure, enhancing specific moments, coffee is my lifeline. I cannot start the day without coffee. It is the very first thing I think of the moment I awake. I cannot exist without a large steaming cup of strong black coffee within approx 10 mins of my neurones firing up.

I was pondering my absolute and profound need for coffee the other morning and comparing it to my relationship with red wine. If I had to, I wondered, which would I give up? The answer was quite simple. But, just to be sure, I thought I’d conduct a brief poll with a few of my Twitter and Facebook pals. So I lobbed the seemingly innocuous question out there. Within nanoseconds—maybe even less—I was met with a barrage of visceral reactions! Before I share them, here was the final count:

  • Votes to keep coffee: 5
  • Votes to keep wine: 7
  • Undecided: 4

But it was the comments that cracked me up the most, including:

Are you kidding?

Is nothing sacred?

What am I being threatened with?

If my world no longer included those things, it wouldn’t be much of a world ;)

I feel like this is a trick question somehow.

I don’t know this Samantha but I don’t trust her ;)

I plan on giving up both…shortly after I give up oxygen.

So, you, yes you over there sipping your Sunday morning coffee – which would you give up, if you had to: coffee or wine?

P.S. Get your teeth cleaned.

So I Have This Problem with Halloween

October 31 is 13 days away. A date that fills me with dread, consternation and cultural awkwardness. 2012 will be my twelfth Halloween in the USA and the fifth or sixth “celebrated” since having kids. You’d think by now I’d be cool with it but every September, just as soon as the kids go back to school, it’s all about Halloween every which way you turn and I just don’t dig it. Here’s why:

Costume Craziness

Halloween, otherwise known as All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day or Toussaint, has many origins but it’s mostly about getting spooked out by ghosts, ghouls and witches. So I can understand dressing up in white sheets, pointy hats and broomsticks, and skeletons but I do not get costumes that have nothing to do with Halloween. Cowboys, princesses, ninjas, Batman, Darth Vader, Minnie Mouse, Thomas the Tank – none of these are appropriately themed in my book. Any why are we OK with spending $25 or more every year purchasing brand new costumes for each kid from the growing numbers of retailers willing to take our money? Not being crafty myself, making or sewing a costume for my kids is rarely an option. So, the weeks running up to October 31 are usually spent trying to gently persuade my kids to either re-wear the costumes bought last year (which have not been worn since) or convincing them to make their own designs.

And while we are on the topic, I have never and will never understand adults dressing up at Halloween. Especially at the office! I do not want to be in meetings with a French Maid, Spider Man, a fireman, Cinderella  Frankenstein or any other caped crusaders. I do not want to sit in a cube across from these characters, bump into them in the corridors, kitchen or bathrooms. I’m all for fun at work but grown-ups in costumes, I just don’t get.

Candy Craziness

I have always been a candy nazi, strictly limiting the volume and kinds of candy my kids consume. In the days prior to Halloween, I totally have to psyche myself into being cool with the fact that they will be consuming huge piles of the nasty sugary stuff. I’m not a total spoil-sport, I let them go to town on Halloween. But it makes my skin crawl and sets off every parenting alert signal. And after the sugar high, the inevitable crash, followed by the awesome moods the following morning. Ugh! What I don’t understand is why does there have to be so much candy? And not just on October 31 but in the days and weeks either side?

Extended Celebrations

Halloween is technically just one evening, so why the parties 7-14 days before? Why decorate houses as soon as October hits? Why is there so much Halloween themed junk on the shelves of stores? Halloween cookies, recipes, crafts? Why are there Halloween Hallmark cards? Who sends these things? Happy Day of the Dead? Gee, thanks for thinking of me. It’s all overkill.

There are many American celebrations and seasons  that this Brit wholeheartedly embraces, particularly in the fall when pumpkins are plentiful and the foliage breath-taking. And, of course, I want my kids to experience all that is fun and cultural and seasonal. But, when it comes to Halloween, I admit I am a Grinch. So bah humbug.

And pass the candy.

My Pumpkin Obsession

I am obsessed with pumpkins. Not the whole orange ones that people here in New England decorate their porches with come October, but pretty much any food item that is made with pumpkin. This will not be a big surprise to my family and friends. In fact, to quote a friend:

There is probably not a Brit alive who likes pumpkin as much as you do!

Fall is the favo(u)rite season of many a folk and especially here in New England when the leaves turn incredible shades of orange and red, the sun glows a little stronger in the sky, and the temperature starts to dip as the air turns crisp. The humidity in which we’ve drowned all summer disappears and with it, the challenges of frizzy hair. I too appreciate these things but for me fall promises one thing – PUMPKIN! – and I am always ridiculously thrilled when this time of year comes around again.

It’s rather ironic that my first encounter with anything pumpkin happened half a lifetime ago in 1986 when I was an au pair in Paris. Now, France is not the typical place for anyone to find pumpkin pie, I know. But I was actually working for an American family at the time and they were celebrating Thanksgiving. And so began my pumpkin love affair.

Fast forward to 2000 and the opportunity that I had to move stateside with my job. There were positions for me either in San Francisco or Boston. I had already been to, and very much liked, San Francisco but Boston – and the whole East Coast thing – beckoned. There were many reasons why I decided on Boston – a shorter flight back to London, proximity to my brother’s family in Pennsylvania. Not to mention Ally McBeal, because she was the only real reference point I had for how life in Boston would truly be and look like. Reeses Peanut Butter Cups were another very persuasive reason for moving here. But what won out was the knowledge that, come November, there would be pumpkin pie. And pumpkin bread. And pumpkin muffins.

Yum.

Then one bright and sunny late September day about eight years later, while the hubby and I were enjoying a rare weekend away from the kids in Newport, Rhode Island, we treated ourselves to a scoop or two of some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Pumpkin cheesecake ice cream, to be precise. HOLY COW! Now, I’d always loved cheesecake. I’m ok with ice cream, not a huge fan. But, the trifecta of cheesecake, ice cream and pumpkin together and boy oh boy, sparks flew! Cupid had struck.

This experience kindled what has become a seasonal quest to taste as many different varieties of pumpkin ice cream in order to verify that Ben & Jerry’s flavo(u)r is, indeed, nirvana. I’ve tried several varieties that have come close, like Edy’s and a homegrown version which was totally delish from the Milky Way Farm somewhere in PA but alas too far away for regular consumption. Trade Joe’s brand disappointed, as did the pumpkin ice cream made by a local purveyor. I’ve yet to try Toscanini’s so have to take @eric_andersen‘s word that it’s good.

I also have to totally give kudos to Ben & Jerry’s social media responsiveness as I’ve been haranguing them regularly for updates as to when this season’s limited batch will be distributed and in stores. I may have to bulk purchase this year. Hey, if you can buy a case of wine, why not a case of ice cream?

Anyhoo, in the meantime, I’m making do with this.

And this.

Until I can get this!

Inspiring Innovations in Education

Today I had the unexpected good fortune to attend a TedX event focused on Education Innovation and, while in theory I was only there to support my cousin Jake who was speaking (and had flown in from the UK), in reality I found it incredibly inspiring. And intriguing because here were these people with fantastic ideas for challenging the status quo, advancing education and creating new generations of globally-minded, community-focused and technology-leveraged children and future leaders. Who wouldn’t be inspired?

Three talks stood out for me.

The first was by Julia de la Torre of Primary Source and focused on introducing global education into the curriculum as early as K-12. Empowering young, eager minds with a meaningful understanding of different cultures, not just through one-off International Days when they learn about one country’s food and history, but through new types of curricula, new models for learning, collaborations across classrooms, even countries. This really resonated for me: I’ve been fortunate enough to travel far and wide, to have lived in different countries, to speak different languages. As a European, this is not so unusual. I desperately want for my kids to have the same exposure, appreciation, challenges. I’m only just starting to experience the American Public School system and I sincerely hope my kids’ education and mindset are able to expand beyond Massachusetts. I know my husband and I play a large role in opening their eyes to the world beyond Framingham but I would love for their school to also forge a large part of this global education.

The second talk was by my cousin Jake Hayman of Future First. Jake created this organization to tackle the issue of social mobility and the reality that your family’s wealth – or not – foretells your future. Jake talked about how hard it is for lower-class kids to break out; that the cycle of poor education and poor jobs and poor prospects repeats itself. But that a solution lies in bringing these kids, hope, mentoring and financial support via their school’s alumni. Future First’s mission is to help schools make the most of their communities using the enthusiasm, experience, skills and talents of former students. To quote Jake, “We can flood schools with army of alumni ready to give back.” In the UK, more than 500 high schools have bought into this concept and have instituted powerful alumni networks. Now, Jake is bringing this to the US; and I wish him so much luck. This is not about innovating in education, but about creating meaningful bridges between classrooms and communities that can effect change and progression. I respect that.

The last talk that inspired me was by Eileen Rudden, who recently served as Chief Officer, College and Career Preparation at Chicago Public Schools. She presented some shocking facts about how US students might be making it to college but are increasingly dropping out; the root cause being that their high school education has not fully prepared them for college success. Eileen is creating a Massachusetts-based cluster of ed tech startups to challenge this, bringing together startup companies that are innovating across aspects of education. After all, Eileen said, “How come teachers do not have software solutions at their disposal, like almost any other profession?” Innovation in ed tech can not only improve kids’ ability to learn but also substantially improve teacher efficiencies.

Each of these topics hit home to me, as a parent, an expat, and a passionate follower of technology and innovation. I’m inspired. But I’m just not sure what to do with this inspiration, how to channel it. Still processing it all. There’s change needed. Ideas are a good start. But action is required.

7 British Products This Expat Can’t Live Without

You can take a Brit out of Britain but you can’t take the Britain out of the Brit.

Or something like that.

In any case, after twelve and half years in the US, there are still several items that I either stock up on when visiting the folks back home, or which I ask family, friends or colleagues to bring me when they travel from the UK to the US. And while I know that several of these items can be purchased here on the “international” aisles of local grocery stores or in speciality shops, it feels so much more authentic when you know they’ve come from Sainsbury, Tesco’s, Boots, or Marks and Spencer.

First and foremost is Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut. Ensuring a plentiful supply is critical. For all my US friends who say they see it on the shelves at their local Stop & Shop, let me tell you this: US-manufactured Cadbury’s is not the same. And it’s definitely not as good. For ultimate satisfaction, it must be British-manufactured (in Birmingham, right?) Rips offs and knock offs do not come close, trust me and my highly-honed Fruit & Nut palette.

Next up: Marmite, a product few Americans have heard of or like. Largely because most Americans are weaned from the breast or bottle onto peanut butter and jelly or, lord help me, fluff. So it’s completely understandable that Marmite’s deeply concentrated salty taste and dark brown presentation would not appeal to those unfamiliar with it. More for me, say I! Freshly toasted bread, a smidge of butter and Marmite is heavenly for breakfast or a snack. And it’s supposed to be packed with vitamin B too (take that Fluffernutter!)

Think you are “man” enough for Coleman’s English Mustard? It puts the standard yellow mustard you find at diners and burger joints here to shame. The trick is to use just enough to add a fantastic kick to your ham and cheese sandwich, burger or steak. But too much, and your sinuses react like a rocket has exploded and your brain fries like a sparkler. Just for a few seconds then it passes. And you want another bite.

We move on from food to trusted health and beauty products from my motherland. Actually the first item is from French brand Garnier and I’ve never found it among the other Garnier products on the shelves in stores over here. It’s not some fancy schmancy product either, just their Gentle Eye Makeup Remover. I’ve tried other brands and nothing is quite as pleasant and effective for removing mascara and eye shadow.

When it comes to first aid and antibiotic creams, most Americans default to Neosporin or Bacitracin. But I grew up with Savlon cream and TCP liquid. Savlon will gently heal any cut or graze. And if harsher is your thing, TCP will zap any zit or nuke germs into oblivion.

Finally, no proud British gal wouldn’t be seen without her Marks & Spencer knickers. Wait, that came out all kinds of wrong! What I meant to say is Marks & Spencer’s underwear is like bread and butter to British bums. Wait, that doesn’t sound right either! OK, Marks & Spencer makes the best quality cotton underpants and we’ve always bought and worn them.

[Insert underpants humo(u)r here.]

What If?

What if I hadn’t been applied to a job posting for an au pair in Paris when I was 19?

What if my host family there didn’t have a friend from the USA who was visiting London?

What if I had never introduced that friend to my brother?

What if they hadn’t got along?

What if they didn’t move to the USA several years later with their kids?

What if I had stayed in France?

What if my brother hadn’t worked with someone who’s cousin lived in Boston?

What if I hadn’t bothered to contact him?

What if I’d hadn’t dared to meet him on a blind date?

What if I didn’t say yes to his marriage proposal?

What if we had decided to live somewhere other than our town?

What if it hadn’t been a struggle to have kids?

What if …….?

Life is so full of what ifs. They blow my mind, quite literally. If any of these questions had a different answer, I would be living a different life altogether. But I believe in serendipity as well as in creating your own destiny. Every decision we make shapes the next. We make things happen, they don’t happen to us. This is my credo. What ifs are about looking over to your shoulder and marveling at the path that has brought you to today. I march forward, savoring one moment at a time.

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