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.

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.

The Royal Baby – And 4 More Reasons to Be an Anglophile Right Now

(This post originally ran on the Framingham Patch)

As many of my blog readers know, I’m a Brit living in the USA. I’ve been here 13 and a half years now, 11 of those living in Framingham.

While I am proud of my cultural assimilation into the American and, in particular, Massachusetts culture (despite our amusing language differences), I can confidently boast that now is the time for you, dear Americans, to become an Anglophile! Here’s why:

  1. The Queen has just legalized same sex marriage
  2. Kate Middleton is about to produce a new heir to the throne
  3. Britain has a maze that is Doctor Who-themed
  4. Andy Murray won Wimbledon
  5. J.K. Rowling wows us with another novel written under a pen name

Cheers to the motherland!

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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!

My Avocado Dilemma

I woke up super early this morning. Actually I was awakened by my five-year who was evidently dreaming about something that didn’t work out for her and was crying out “I want it my way,” in her sleep. Well, don’t we all, sweetheart? After that, I couldn’t get back to sleep, my mind racing through the never-ending to-do list. So up I got and went downstairs.

As my coffee was brewing, my eye was drawn to an avocado sitting alone on the windowsill, where we had placed it about five days earlier to catch the sun and ripen. I gave it a squeeze.

Tell me, what is better than a perfectly ripe avocado?

But then dilemma set in. What to do with this solo avocado in the next 24 hours before its splendid green turns to mushy brown?

I figure I have two options – one involving my stomach and one involving my face.

First, the face. Winter is a bitch to my pathetic British skin. Put simply, my face is falling off, no matter how much water I drink, moisturizer I slather or how long the humidifier runs. I’m thinking this avocado could easily be mixed with some honey, oatmeal or yogurt to make an unctuous face mask that might salvage my skin. After all, it’s Friday and I’m working from home so there’s no-one to notice how strange I might look, sitting at my desk resembling a green monster. Fortunately, no Skype meetings today and hopefully no-one will FaceTime me!

But then again, there’s my tummy. All the different, glorious ways I could eat this delightful avocado! Maybe I could just slice it in half and drizzle it with the heavenly dark chocolate balsamic vinegar I recently bought? Or maybe I could squirt some lime on it and  grill it, loaded with cheese (recipe here.) Or, or …

Choices, choices.

Happy Friday folks, hope there’s a perfectly ripe avocado in your future.

Highlights of a Trip Home to England

Count magpies
Drink tea with milk – and maybe a biscuit or two
Drive on the other side of the road – and remember how to get from here to there
Read an actual newspaper – and especially the polygon word puzzle
Reconnect with cousins, aunts, uncles
Smile and feel anchored anew after spending time with old friends
Rediscover London with fresh eyes and energy
Sleep so soundly in my childhood bed
Dry my hair with a seemingly-nuclear powered hairdrier
Gleefully wander the aisles of Waitrose & Boots
Stock up on chocolate hobnobs & Jaffa cakes

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Four Time-Savers for the Busy Mom

I am a Mom. I am a working Mom. And I’m exhausted. There is never enough time to do the things I’d really love to do. Like, you know, nap, exercise, do nothing, laze on the couch watching re-runs of Friends. Being a parent means existing in a permanent state of fast-forward in which every scene is a perpetual blur of chores, to-do lists, to and froms, shopping, errands, laundry, cleaning, organizing and so on. In fact, while I’m writing this, there’s a pile of clean clothes screaming to be folded. Can’t you hear them?

So it’s entirely natural to fall madly in love with whatever products or services save me some precious time and simplify my life. Four of these delightful things have become regular fixtures in my life and hallelujah—not that this means I’m now swanning around at the spa and meeting girlfriends for frappuccinos every day or taking pottery lessons. But they have taken the edge off the nuttiness of it all, especially since I returned to work full-time:

  • Dream Dinners: Every month I head on over to my local Dream Dinners and assemble a month’s worth of meals for my family. Knowing my freezer is stocked with a variety of interesting meals means I don’t have to fret about meal planning or recipes and ingredients. In fact, since I started with Dream Dinners over a year ago, chicken nuggets and fish sticks are a thing of the past. I am exposing my kids to a variety of new foods and tastes. Some have been winners, some have bombed. But I’m happy they are trying new dishes, new flavors and textures along the way. Plus, thanks to Dream Dinners, we are eating together as a family most nights whereas, before, there’d be one meal for the kids and my husband and I would eat later after they were in bed. So I’m grateful for less heartburn from eating late, less stress figuring out what’s for dinner every night, and more quality time together spent around the dinner table. And leftovers for lunch.
  • iRobot Roomba: Pure genius! This clever device waltzes around the rooms, sucking up dust and crumbs and legos and pet fur and then takes itself back to its dock when it’s done! Bye bye to sweeping and vacuuming (not that I really did that much of it before!) The Roomba seems to enjoy itself most under the couch, for some strange reason ….. And while I can’t say that my dog loves this bizarre creature whizzing around, she is now accustomed to it and no longer barks or tries to round it up like a sheepdog. (The cat just keeps her distance.) Given that the Roomba is so small and sleek, it does need emptying quite often but I’ll forgive it that. Now, if I could only teach it to bring me coffee in bed …..
  • TalkTo: In full transparency, TalkTo is a client of mine. But I would not write about it here, if I didn’t really find value in it. And I do, I do! This nifty, free app lets you send a text message to any business in the USA from your computer or your phone—and get a text message back. Meaning you don’t need to find a phone number and make a call, get stuck on hold, or speaking to someone snotty or who doesn’t understand my British accent. For me, it helps most when I remember that I need to get something done and if I wait, I know it’ll disappear from my brain in a nanosecond. I’ve used the app in recent weeks to make (and then change the time of) a hair appointment, book my kids into an activity, find out what time AAA is open to, book a table for lunch, ask several stores if they had Ben & Jerry’s pumpkin cheesecake ice cream in-stock, find out what’s on sale and so much more. Give it a go.
  • Peapod: Now that I’m working full-time, weekends are precious and I do not want to waste time at the grocery store, especially if I have the kids in tow. Yes, they claim to want to be helpful, to want to push the cart (trolley) and all that, but after a while they are running down old women and secretly stashing chocolate. So thank heavens for Peapod, Stop & Shop’s online grocery ordering and delivery service. I was skeptical at first but it’s working out great as long as I manage to get my order in before 3pm on a Friday to ensure Saturday delivery. If I don’t, then we are inevitably down to the last drop of milk, fighting over the last egg and rationing Cheerios. I call it “just in time” grocery shopping! The cool benefit, other than, you know, having someone else do my shopping for me and delivering it to my front door, is that I’m actually spending less money on groceries as I’m not tempted to throw the extra this or that in. Plus I reclaim an extra 90 mins for the laundry, which I love. No really, I do.

What time-savers do you rely on to save time, effort, your marbles? Please share.

P.S. Fellow PR and marketing people please note: the fact that I have “reviewed” some products does not mean I am now open to be pitched. I wrote these voluntarily and genuinely.

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.

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