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.

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

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Entering the 3DS Zone

After much indecision and comparing notes with other families, we finally caved and bought our son a 3DS for his 9th birthday. I had been against this for a long time. Mostly because both my husband and I really don’t like computer/video games: we don’t play them and didn’t want to encourage our kids to spend even more time in front of screens. After all, when they go to friend’s houses, they get ample opportunity to play. Also the sheer cost: even the 3DS was a lot more money than we usually spend on any one kid’s item.

But he wanted one really, really badly. He wanted something electronic he could call his own. Also he’s very cute and persuasive. However, I also saw this gift as a huge opportunity to reinforce a few rules and for added oomph on the bribery and punishment front. After all, I can give but I can also take away (or at least threaten it.) Does this make me a mean Mom? Probably but too bad.

So the following rules have been drawn up and drilled in. In fact, he’s even signed them. It’s a contract now. We’ll see how it goes!

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In Loving Memory: Angel McGarry

October 24, 2002 – December 1, 2013

Buried in the mud somewhere in either our front or back yard is an expensive universal TV remote. It’s not the first remote that was buried. The first one we found and was able to resuscitate, in addition to the two more recent attempts made at burying the Roku remote. But no such luck for the universal remote.

It’s surely not alone. The reality is that our 1.2 acre plot is fairly littered with items stolen and buried by Angel the Kleptomanic golden retriever. It if was left within reach, it was fair game. Hundreds of socks and dish towels have met with a muddy grave. Lego mini-figures. Too many stuffed animals to disclose. Sippy cups. Toys. Pens. Gloves. Hats. Blankies. Underwear (I’m still missing a sports bra from 7 years ago.) Even diapers (used.) Shoes, naturally, but just one at a time.

But we knew she had upped her game to consumer electronics when she, at first, buried a white cordless phone in the snow – and then the remotes started going missing. It’s a minor miracle she never took my iPhone. In her defense, she frequently dug things up and brought them back into the house, returning the muddy, sometime mouldy or frozen item to us with a hint of pride and anticipation of the reward of a treat.

We got Angel just before New Year’s Eve on 2002 – she was just 10 weeks old and as cute as a button. She was our first child. She provided us with two years of practice – remembering to feed and care for her, house train her, walk her, teach her basic commands – all great preparation for the future trials and joys of parenthood. In return, she adored us, nibbled us, was mischievous and adorable.

She didn’t start her thievery until child number one came along. Was she jealous or seeking attention? Probably. But this was the only form of punishment she exacted upon us: in all other respects she was entirely gentle and loving with our babies, demonstrated by what we fondly called the “fly by” – when, as mooching past a baby/toddler on the floor, in a chair or crawling, she’d suddenly whip out her long drooly tongue and take a long hearty lick of whichever part of the kid’s anatomy was within reach. And, as any dog-owning parent knows, during the high chair years, dogs prove their worth over and over again, happily licking up spills and catching projectile food items.

Angel was not your typical retriever. Yes, she would retrieve, but only sticks and only in water. Go figure. She loved sticks. She also loved to chew on rocks and pebbles. Maybe it was her way of flossing her teeth. Also, she had an uncanny ability to roll in something that had either died or defecated seconds before guests arrived. She was a very vocal dog: she’d express her indignation if a plate of leftovers was nearby and not offered to her. The only time I ever saw her bare her teeth would be when some randy dog tried to mount her. After all, no means no.

But mostly, I’ll remember her for being sweet and kind and gentle. As we all said our goodbyes to her that unexpected and fateful recent Sunday afternoon, her milky eyes took in our love for her and returned it. Eleven years of unconditional love is quite a thing to behold. And there’s so much we humans can learn from dogs, especially golden retrievers – enthusiasm, forgiveness, the art of laziness and more (all of which I blogged about last year, you can read it here.)

My grief aside, it’s been fascinating and heartbreaking observing my family deal with this. My husband mourns quite privately: he feels Angel’s absence most because, in reality, he actually spent more time with her over the last 11 years than with me, his wife. As for our kids, well this is their first tangible experience with death.

My 6 year-old daughter seemed to deal with it at first by just facing the facts. “Now we only have a cat,” and “We’ll never go to the doggy park again,” she exclaimed that evening. Two days later, upon observing Angel’s grave, she asked: “I wonder what she’s doing down there?” The next day she inquired as to when Angel was “coming out of her hole?” We did our best to explain again that death meant Angel’s body had stopped working and that when animals and people die, we usually bury their bodies in the ground. She thought about this, then countered with some muddled explanation about the messiah and Jesus’ birthday and everything and everyone rising up again. (Oy, can you tell she’s a tad confused on the religious front having a Jewish Mom and a Catholic Dad?!) I’m seriously concerned that she actually expects Angel to suddenly re-appear on Christmas Day.

For my 9 year-old son, it has been much more visceral and heart-wrenching. The evening that followed Angel’s death, he didn’t cry. He was very quiet, processing. That night was filled with bad dreams. He did not want to go to school the next day. Each day has been better though. He draws her a lot but doesn’t like to talk about her. One moment, he’s his happy, carefree self and then all of a sudden he remembers and is somber. He explained to me the other day, after a particularly tough evening when he and his sister were in bickering/whiny overdrive, that he was grumpy on the outside because he was sad on the inside, which made my heart hurt. But I do see progress in his journey of grief. This morning, he woke up with a big smile announcing he’d had the best dream ever. “Angel was young and fluffy and happy,” he explained!

Already people have asked us if we’ll get another dog. I guess that’s a natural question. Personally, I’m not ready to even go there yet. It’s not even been two weeks. Every day, when I come downstairs in the morning, I’m jolted by the realization she’s not here. Coming home is hard too, when she’s not there and so incredibly pleased to see us. I’m haunted by the absence of her: last night I was sure I heard the jingle of her collar. I feel the fictitious brush of her fur against my leg. I sense the gentle breeze and the glimpse of a shadow of a wagging tail. I’ve heard similar stories from other families who have lost their pets.

I’m not quite sure how to bring this post to its conclusion. The cat rejoices in her new domination of the homestead. There are more crumbs on the kitchen floor than before. There’s no barking when Fedex delivers. Angel’s life force is missing from this house and the absence is deep. But she had a great life. She had regular meals, treats, walks, belly rubs, ear scratches. And, most of all, she was loved.

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20 Signs That You Have an Elementary School Kid

(This post originally ran on Huffington Post Parents)

The days of bottles, potty training, snotty noses and sippy cups are far behind me. I now have two kids in elementary school and, like so many parents of similar-aged kids, find myself pondering about how much my life has altered as I cruise around the grocery store at 9 p.m. on a Saturday evening. One on the one hand, my kids are more independent: they can read, they can write, they can tie their shoelaces (well, almost) and I’ve even been paying them to sort, fold and put away their laundry! But on the other hand, the sheer volume of school/PTO requests, homework and social activities threaten to overwhelm and quite frankly, erode any chance of quality me-time (other than grocery shopping late at night). Does any of this sound familiar?

Here are many ways to know when you, too, are the parent of elementary school kids:

  1. You find out about a school project/permission slip/photo day at 8 a.m. the day they are due.
  2. Play dates and parties are drop off… and you are thrilled.
  3. You proudly wear rainbow loom bracelets (while muttering under your breath about the chaos of rubber bands littering your house).
  4. Math homework makes you quake with fear.
  5. You manage to squeeze your lower half into those tiny seats during parent-teacher conferences.
  6. The days of the week take on new meaning: Monday is “you have PE, don’t forget your sneakers day!”, Thursday is “return library book day”, Friday is “pizza day!”
  7. Minecraft.
  8. You are scared to put your hand inside their backpacks.
  9. Your second job is peddling wrapping paper, raffle tickets and other fundraisers (and your friends and family deftly avoid you).
  10. Ninety percent of the morning mayhem in your house is created in the last 10 minutes before school drop off.
  11. Your iPad/laptop is no longer your own.
  12. You have to explain why Miley Cyrus is really not that cool.
  13. You are adept at stealthily throwing away the latest ‘art project’ in the trash can outside, making sure to hide it underneath other stuff.
  14. You find yourself singing along to Kidz Bop (even when there are no kids around…).
  15. Gloves and hats and socks get lost with uncanny frequency.
  16. Pokemon.
  17. Your toddler knows to yell “BUS” as it approaches the end of your driveway.
  18. Your weekends are a complex logistical challenge — full of parties, play dates, sports and errands.
  19. You are not beneath drying papier maché volcanoes in the microwave.
  20. You know that the day when you’ll have to explain the birds and the bees is inching closer and it terrifies you.

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