Five Genius Inventions That Could Save The World

My brain is a crazy place filled, at any given moment, with hundreds of swirling thoughts competing for the shrinking available capacity within my cranial region. I read somewhere that if you think too hard, your brain juice will come out of your ears. (Note to self: buy ear plugs to ensure that my precious brain juice remains within. Or maybe I should let it out, bottle it and sell it for some outrageous price. Any takers? Sam’s Special Brain Juice.) But I digress ….

Anyway, what I was wanting to write about here was some of the brilliant ideas I’ve had of late. Why no-one has already conceived these innovations and made millions amazes me. These are simple yet genius inventions that could improve our very existence, save the icebergs, bring about peace for all mankind, and so on.

My first amazing invention is all about solar energy. Enough with fixed solar panels. Surely it would make more sense if the roof of every car was made of collectors which gather up rays, whether the car is stationary in the drive or out and about? If there was a way to immediately funnel those rays directly into the engine, the car could even be self-propelling, using solar energy in real-time.Brilliant, no? I must tell Google and quick! Not only would they have self-driving cars but also self-energizing cars.

Second, also renewable energy-themed. It’s the fart detector/recycler. After all, everyone emits methane (some more than others, naturally.) To make this feasible, first we’d need to be able to see these smelly wafts (which could be extremely useful for identifying whodunnit scenarios.) So we’d need some natural chemical that, when encountering methane vapors, turned them brown. Or maybe neon pink just for fun. Then we need some kind of device for sucking all that neon pink gas out of the atmosphere and into some lab environment which would then process the methane into something way more useful and sweet-smelling.

Next up for the Samantha treatment: feet. In case you weren’t aware of my feelings, I profoundly believe that feet are overrated and, in fact, utterly useless. I think it would make so much more sense – in addition to reducing ugliness, stinkiness, bunions, scratchy toenails and blisters – if we didn’t have feet at all! Instead, we should all be able to buy a variety of filled, weighted shoes that would simply slot onto our ankles. Admittedly, this would put pedicurists and podiatrists out of business but I do think the world would be a far better place without feet. Just sayin’

I was delighted when I found Aqua Notes – waterproof post-it notes – because I do all my best thinking and writing in the shower. But you can bet your bottom dollar that the second I step out, they evaporate, never to be recaptured. At least now I can write them down but wouldn’t it be even “awesomer ” (to quote my son), if it were possible to digitally transfer those scribbles directly to my email, to list, calendar – or to WordPress (I come up with a lot of my blog content in the shower) or into Word (for press releases.) Now that would be incredibly productive. I could even start billing clients for time spent in the shower.

Lastly, I think you’ll all agree that our brains need some kind of USB port. That way, not only could we plug ourselves in for some much-needed recharging but we could also capture short-term content and transfer it to a far more stable environment for storage and access on-demand.

If any of you feel inspired and entrepreneurial enough to run with my ideas and generate billions, let it be known that now that they are out of my head and into my blog, their source is now documented, on this day Sunday September 30, 2012. I’m too busy being a working Mom to do anything other than dream up such geniosity.

I know that is not a real word but it really feels like it should be.

You’re welcome.

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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.

Wordless Wednesday: Nature Edition

The Hug

You hug me. I hug you.

Muscles tense, squeeze, contract. Then release, exhale, relax. Serotonin flows.

Skin against skin. Smooth. Heat transfers from your pores to mine and back again, a circular flow of kinetic energy that unites us.

For you, it’s a welcome, a rescue, a farewell, a possession. For me, it’s completion, it’s defining, it’s deeply metaphysical.

I inhale you. In the morning, stale and salty; in the evening, sweet and moist. You smell like bubbles. I wonder how motherhood smells to you.

As you sit in my lap, our limbs entwined, I marvel at the space you now occupy outside of my womb; how once you fit in there.

Thank you for this hug.

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.]

The Crazy Things My Kids Say

My husband and I are both silly people so it stands to reason that our kids are silly too. Nature and nurture at work, I suspect. My son is an entertainer, a crowd-pleaser, a goof ball. The next Conan O’Brien, in my opinion. My daughter is quirky, very much her own person, and frequently in her own little universe.

I’ve never really taken the time to formally journal their development or write down the funny things they say (after all, isn’t that what Facebook is for?!) But I thought it was high time to publish a best-of-the-best of the crazy things my kids have said so far this year (while they were aged 4-5 and 7.) So without further ado, here goes. Hope you find them as entertaining as this doting Mom does.

Me: “You know today is the Jewish New Year and that you both are half Jewish.”
T: “Yes, and I am half English too.”
Me: “That’s right, you’re also half American and half Catholic.”
T: “Huh?”
G: “What, I thought I was Chinese.”

Me to G: “So do you know what Rosh Hashana is about?”
G: “Yes, Columbus!”

T: “I have lots of big nuts in my hair”

G “It’s almost Fall; I need to start getting ready to hibernate.”

T: “Mama, I just found Papa’s screw …..”

T: (watching men’s Olympic diving) “it’s underpants diving”

T: “Whoa I just saw some humans parking a car””

Me to T: “What are you going to dream about tonight?”
T: “I have to finish last night’s dream.”
Me: “Ok what was last night’s dream about?”
T: “I don’t remember.”

Me: “So T, you see, in Germany, they speak German. In Italy, they speak Italian”
T: “And in France, they speak fries.”

G (imitating a circus ring master:) “Ladies & genitals (at least that’s what it sounded like) – the clown with no balls will now juggle.”

T to G: “You be Optimus and I’ll be the green guy with one eye.”

Me to T: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
T: “A painter.”
Me: “That’s cool, why do you want to be a painter?”
T: “So I can paint rainbows.”

Me to G: “How was school today?”
G: “Delicious!”

G: “Help, the decepticons are about to evade our earth”
T: “Taking evasive action”

T: “I can’t close my eyes & go to sleep because my eyeballs still have eyes in them.”

T: “I have an office with lots of computers where I play ‘Mad Birds.’ It’s called the Apple Store.”

Me to T: “What did you dream about last night?”
T: “Flowers on a mountain that smelled like dried apples.”

Honey Cake & Hypocrisy

As I write this, a honey cake bakes in the oven. The air is sweet, fragrant with notes of syrup, spice and ginger.

This cake is more than just the do-over of my last, rather  disastrous and entertaining, attempt at baking a honey cake a few years back (fondly known by friends and family as the “Hippo Cake” or the “Georgia O’Keefe cake – see picture below.)

This cake is my tenuous, perhaps feeble, nod to my heritage. Traditionally baked by Jewish mothers around the world at Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year – the honey cake represents the sweetness that we wish for one another for the new year ahead.

I do not celebrate Rosh Hashanah in any other way; I have not attended High Holiday services at shul (temple) for almost 20 years now, a personal choice I made with conviction and a heavy dose of guilt. Ah yes, the guilt. At this very moment, my far-flung family is together, with their loved ones, marking this special day. They are not a particularly religious bunch – in London, in Philadelphia, in Australia – but they take the time to be together to celebrate the New Year. For them, I think it’s less about the prescribed prayers and more about stepping out of the routine and business of the every day, to embrace being together, to recognize the passing of a year and to welcome in the next with optimism and honey cake.

If I was with them at this time of year, as maybe I should be, I’d also be celebrating.

But I am not with them. So instead, I bake honey cake – my mother’s recipe – and say hello again to feelings of hypocrisy and homesickness.

The Infamous Hippo Cake

Honey Cake 2012 – better, right?

Wordless Wednesday: New Husband Edition

For the Love of …. Laundry

This is going to sound warped and you are probably going to think I’m nuts or completely abandoning the mothership and womanhood and all that. But here goes:

I love doing the laundry.

Yup, you read that right. I love doing the laundry.

Sure, I complain about it like everyone else, but that’s just to give off the appearance of being harried and frustrated by the regularity and dullness and domesticity of those large, often pungent, sometimes sticky piles of clothing that are either strewn about or heaped up in dank corners. (Why do they never all make it into the hamper?)

The reality is that I actually relish – yes, that’s right – relish the process of converting the mess, wrinkles and smell into fragrant, smooth and orderly piles.

There’s also a certain OCD element in me that appreciates the anticipation of timing the laundry just right so that I can be one step ahead of someone being out of clean underpants. If I time it right, we can (hopefully) avoid the meltdowns when the batman jammies are not available or someone’s favorite T-shirt can’t be found. Or, heaven forbid, when there are only clean skirts or skorts instead of shorts or pants (guranteed to incite whines and tears from my 5-year old tom boy.) Plus, during the summer months, there’s the extra thrill of ensuring that there’s always a regular supply of clean towels, swim suits and changes of clothes for two kids for camp.

I’ll often secretly inhale from a big of clean clothes, fresh from the drier. That smell, to me, is almost as pleasurable as the buzz I get from that first sip of coffee in the morning.

Next, I’ll turn on the TV and methodically take each laundered item and create piles. Socks, underpants, facecloths in one pile, everything else in the other. And then I’ll fastidiously fold each item and create more piles sorted by kid, by item (shorts in one pile, T-shirts in another). I often finger each item as I handle it, smoothing out the wrinkles and fondly remembering something entertaining or interesting about my son or daughter when last they wore it. As I inspect each item, I muse over how much they’ve grown, calculating how many more wears these pants might get before the eventual holes at the knees , or how many more Marmite/sardine stains her tops can withstand before they must be forced out of commission. I recall the source of each piece of clothing, which store or from whom it was handed down (thank heavens for hand-me-downs!) I think about the upcoming season and whether last Spring’s clothes will fit them come Fall. I hope so, because the hand-me-downs are running low….

Finally, in front of me, roughly eight orderly, uniform towers of neatly folded and sorted clean clothes. Then begins the process of putting them away, closet by closet, drawer by drawer, making sure that the rotation of yet-to-be-worn clothes takes place.

This complete, detailed and yes, maniacal, process happens at least once a week. It’s fantastic!

Woe betide he who messes with the process.

Actually, the truth is my husband willingly folds laundry. Except he folds it differently from me. Which causes this whole internal battle in me in which I have to talk myself into accepting that the folding is not being done my way. Gratefully accept the assistance. Get over myself, in general. It works most of the time, though I do admit to often checking in the kids’ closets and drawers after he’s done putting their clothes away and reorganizing stuff.

Any men reading this probably think I am a lunatic. Or maybe they recognize this behavior and witness it in their own homes. But, my fellow Moms, I bet I am not alone here. Maybe you are not as controlling as me about the laundry. Maybe you are. Maybe it’s some other aspect of household management?

Tell me …. do you enjoy doing the laundry as much as me?

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Six Reasons Why I Like Working from Home on Fridays

As my readers may know, I have just resumed working a full-time schedule which means that Fridays are no longer spent at my daughter’s dance class, running errands and hanging with other Mom friends. Fortunately my company InkHouse has a “work from home Fridays” policy which makes this transition to full-time less challenging. In fact, the truth is, I’ve really enjoyed working these last two Fridays! Here’s why:

  1. Fewer meetings and impromptu conversations means I can focus – as well as plow through my to-do list
  2. Getting dressed and showered is optional
  3. Alone-time (a rare treat for this working Mom)
  4. I can lunch peacefully on the deck, looking out at our beautiful back yard
  5. The fridge is full (today with leftover birthday cake – oh well!)
  6. I can play whatever music I like (and am not forced to listen to country music which often happens at the office.

Hope your Friday was great too. Have a fun weekend, folks!

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