Archive for November, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving from the UK

I am spending Thanksgiving in the UK, which feels odd, because Brits do not celebrate the holiday. My in-laws, who are our hosts, served up some turkey, but otherwise, it feels somewhat unthankful to be here.

Luckily, we have some American expat friends who are having us over for the big day. And we were excited to be here for the debut of the new Susan Boyle album. At the HMV in Solihull, West Midlands, 70 copies had been sold by 2 PM — I believe we bought the 71st. My only fear is that my sister in law had the same idea, and my mother in law will end up with two copies of I Dreamed a Dream.

If that doesn’t spawn feelings of Thanksgiving, I don’t know what will….

Maclaren recall – success!

I was worried that I would not be eligible for a Maclaren repair kit, because the recent recall applied to strollers purchased in the US.

While we bought ours during the recall period (1999-2009), it came from a store in the UK. Also, I couldn’t find the serial number under the stroller, which Maclaren’s website said one needed to get a repair kit. If I had found it, I was worried that it would give me away as a non-US stroller user.

And even though European strollers seemed to carry the same risk of finger amputation as their US counterparts, repair kits were only available in the US.

But after about 10 minutes on hold with Maclaren’s repair helpline (877-688-2326), I spoke to a helpful gentleman who explained that he would send me a repair kit without knowing my stroller’s serial number — no questions asked!

That said, we spoke about a week ago, and I haven’t received the kit yet….

Self bagging

Trader Joe's
One luxury I have missed about the US is the grocery store bag help. In the UK, shoppers have to put their own groceries into bags.

I discovered this fact during an embarrassing incident in Tesco, Britain’s largest retailer. The cashier and I smiled politely at each other, staring at the products I had just paid for, wondering why no one was putting them into bags.

For months, I struggled to empty the cart, take out my wallet, pay, then pile it all into bags — often while the shopper behind me was pushing their things onto the scanner.

After a few years, though, I became adept enough at shopping multi-tasking that I started texting while emptying, packing and paying.

This once led to the smashing of a jar of salsa on the tile floor of a Tesco Metro. The store employees were incredibly efficient in cleaning it. I was incredibly apologetic.

In our local grocery stores here in the US, like Trader Joe’s, I stand and watch while cheery workers whisk our goods into bags. I feel silly, standing there, while they work so hard, and I try to help — but they shoo me away.

I want to explain that in my grocery glory days, I was able to unpack, pay, and bag, while texting — (sometimes) without dropping anything.

But they don’t need my help. Often, there are two folks at check-out, making me feel even more like a spare part – a drone that simply pushes a cart.

Veterans Day

This is a poignant look at Veterans Day, and remembering the survivors. I used to buy the Big Issue — London’s newspaper sold by homeless vendors — from the man profiled in this article, so I’m glad to know his story.

I Dreamed a Dream

I’ll bet Susan Boyle was impressed by the weather in Hollywood, as she told People in this article. The grim rain that November in Scotland brings must feel a world away from Hollywood.

I’m glad that Susan is back on track after her stay in the Priory earlier this year. She looks great after her Harper’s makeover.

I will be in the UK for the November 23rd release of her new album (coincidentally — I’m not such a huge fan that I planned it that way). So I will be one of the first in the queue to buy the silver-haired Scottish songstress’s CD.

In fact, I will buy two. One for me, and one for my mother in law. I dreamed a dream that Christmas shopping would be complete in November…

Maclaren recall

Maclaren strollerWe bought our Maclaren Twin Techno within the recalled period (1999-present), but I don’t think we’re eligible for the repair kit.

The recall only seems to cover strollers purchased in the US. Because we bought ours in the UK, it seems that the potential amputation of our children’s fingers isn’t worth correcting on the company’s dime.

I’m having trouble understanding why the Maclarens meet British and European safety standards, but not American.

Maybe I will try to fill out the recall form, and see what the company says. Let’s hope the serial numbers are the same in the US and UK….

Parking hospitality

Expired metersWhile meeting a friend for a coffee at the hipster Buckhead spot Sip, I realized that the 45 minutes I had paid for on the parking meter had expired. I hustled over to my car, ready with an explanation about why I was late, expecting to find the traffic cop with a ticket at the ready.

But I returned to find an expired meter, with a ticketless car. My time was up, but nobody cared.

I never owned a car in London, in part because I was intimidated by the parking police. They circled parked cars like sharks, with tickets at the ready, so as soon as the meter time was up, they pounced.

I saw drivers sprinting towards them, begging, sometimes weeping, with the cop, but almost never succeeding in avoiding the ticket.

And that ticket generally cost more than 50 pounds. My coffee friend told me that if I had gotten a ticket, I could expect to pay about twelve dollars.

In terms of parking, Atlanta really is the land of the free.


A beautiful November day
Here we are, in early November, and it’s a day more beautiful than any I can remember in London. It’s sunny, warm, but not too hot, with a light, crisp breeze.

During a trip to Trader Joe’s, I ran into a fellow preschool mom wearing shorts. While living in London, I only wore shorts to the gym. The weather was rarely good enough to expose legs.

Atlantans don’t know how good they have it.

Election Day Gratitude

I'm a Georgia VoterI took my toddler to vote for the first time today. But that wasn’t the only novelty of our trip to the polls today — it was the first time in nearly a decade that I’ve come face to face with an American ballot box.

For the past eight years, I have been voting by absentee ballot from London, so I had forgotten just how grateful campaign volunteers are for voters.

A truck covered with campaign signs and bumper stickers drove by as we left the polling station. People leaned out and shouted, “Thanks for voting!” even though they had no idea whether or not I had voted for their candidate — or even if I had voted at all.

I could have just been loitering with my kid outside the polling station, which was also a school, so that would not have been unusual.

The poll volunteers handed out free “Georgia Voter” stickers to adults and children. And they all smiled and told me how wise I was to introduce a little one to the practice of voting.

Of course, who enjoys pushing buttons more than a toddler? Choosing city councillors, judges and a mayor by touching a computer screen provided us with several minutes of entertainment, if not a lifelong commitment to civic duty.

As dual British/American citizens, my kids will be able to vote in not one, but two national elections. Last year, I was in awe of my newfound ability to cast ballots in London’s mayoral race, the US primaries and of course, the all-important presidential election, all in 2008.

Before I became a British citizen, I couldn’t vote in local elections — but of course, I was required to pay taxes (I learned why taxation without representation was so very irritating to the colonial settlers).

Now my British husband has to bear the burden of paying taxes to a local government he can’t elect. He will have to walk by the polling station, his shirt empty of the “Georgia Voter” sticker, without a single “thank you for voting” shout out ringing in his ears.

But when the UK elections roll round, I’m sure he’ll be pleased for an opportunity to cast a ballot in a hotly contested race for Prime Minister, long after the local election hoopla in Atlanta has died down.

Vestiges of Halloween Hoopla

Trick or treatingAfter spending more than $100 on candy and costumes, hiking up steep wet driveways to procure treats and watching the kids eat way too many lollipops, I can safely say that Halloween ’09 was a success.

It was the first official Halloween for the kids, and for my British husband, and it came with a reminder of home — the drizzly rain that fell through most of last night’s festivities was just like London’s autumn weather (and actually, spring, summer and winter weather, too).

We were mildly alarmed when the double buggy slipped on wet leaves while heading down our neighbors’ driveways, but that added to the spookiness.

Our house was by far the least decorated on the block, but the locals patronized it anyway. When I saw how much trouble our neighbors had gone to in stringing lights and cobwebs around their yard, I resolved to be better prepared next year.

We left a big bowl of unattended candy outside our front door while we took our kids trick or treating, and it was empty when we returned at 8:30.

So was one of the three mini pumpkins I had put out in a last ditch attempt to look festive. I hope the thief found a good use for it — I am stumped about what to do with mini pumpkins post Halloween.