I still love that Dirty Water, but now Charleston, you’re my Home

My first year in Charleston as a repatriated expat from Amsterdam has been pretty awesome. You can’t beat the weather, the people, the charm, the food and the beauty of the low country. You could say I’m enamored with my new hometown and often find myself comparing it to all the places I used to live. In many ways it’s coming out on top. Still, there’s a lingering fierce connection to another place I used to live.

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I recently returned from a quick trip up to Boston, which was my home two hometowns ago, for 17 years. After boarding the plane at the small, but amazingly swift and efficient Charleston International Airport, I heard that familiar Boston accent and smiled. Then head after head graced with Red Sox caps came onboard along with folks donning shirts boldly declaring the Patriots Super Bowl champs, and finally, my personal favorite, that shirt with a hockey puck and a B in the middle. Those are my people. You can take the girl out of New England, but you can’t take the New England out of the girl.

There’s something very special about that small New England city which boasts arguably the best sports teams in the US, if not the world, that’s different from all the places I’ve lived. The Bruins were just in the Stanley Cup Finals, the Red Sox won the World Series last year and I don’t even have to mention the success of the Patriots. That historically Irish town is known for its rebellious beginnings and I’ve always wondered if that’s helped create if not the loudest, by far the proudest, loyal sports fans. If you’ve ever lived long enough in this area, you know what I’m talking about.

 

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As my extremely turbulent flight was coming in fast over the freezing cold Atlantic, I was thinking about what I don’t miss about living that far north. There’s the freezing cold Atlantic, even in August, the grey blanket of clouds hovering overhead for nine long months, the very long lines in Logan Airport and the hideous traffic. Somehow, though, after stepping off the plane and heading into town, those thoughts seemed to fade away as my taxi zoomed me to my hotel for the next few days. I was home.

While the north can’t compare to the southerners’ famous friendly and polite hospitality, Boston rises to the top with its pride. It also happened to be Boston’s LGBTQ Pride weekend and the city was lit up with rainbows, and “ Let’s Go Bs” signs and statues sporting Bruins jerseys through the historic district. Even those famous ducklings making their way on the Common were lined up sporting Bruins’ jerseys. I felt extra special and lucky as I walked by with my BFF hearing tourists remark how cool those ducks were.

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I went to Boston to celebrate my BFF’s birthday with my other BFFs and I couldn’t help but feel I was also celebrating Boston. Her birthday dinner was scheduled before any of us could know it would be at the same time as Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Some of us are die-hard Bruins fans and others are fans by default, so, of course during dinner we’d call out to Caroline who was keeping tabs on the game to periodically, like every 5-10 minutes, get the score.

After dinner we piled into an Uber still monitoring the game and arrived in the lobby of my hotel with one minute left. It didn’t end well for the B’s. Then we all strategized on what the B’s needed to do to bring the Cup home, as if by our hoping and wishing, we could make a difference.

I was back home in Charleston on my couch screaming at my television screen for the next two games of the Stanley Cup Finals rooting for my Bruins. Luckily, for me, and all the other loyal Boston sports fans that reside here, there are no professional sports teams in South Carolina. There’s no possibility of creating a rift with my new neighbors and southern friends on this front. Just add that to the list of what I love about Charleston.

 

 

Spring Break in Art Deco Madness

“Where shall we go for Spring Break?” my husband asked me. As new transplants from Boston, and most recently Amsterdam, I kinda felt we were already living in a Spring Break destination and did we really need to go somewhere warm -er for a week? I mean full sun and temps in the 70s in Charleston feels like spring break to me. Dare I even say, a heat wave?

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With only two weeks to consider a destination, my well-meaning husband, who’s earned enough air miles and hotel points to pretty much go anywhere in the US for free (yeah, that’s not a good thing), suggested Miami Beach, specifically South Beach, where his plethora of hotel points and air miles afforded the three of us a little break from the daily grind. Since I’d never been, I thought, it’s close, sounds fun and easy to get to with beach, pool, sun, great restaurants and culture… it all sounded like a great idea.

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Unfortunately, perception and reality don’t always match. I knew the young hip lad with a full head of dark suave hair prepared himself before breaking the news to me at check-in that our South Beach hotel was having a private pool party (that this 50+ mom with 15 year-old daughter were clearly not invited to) the following day. He was somewhat sympathetic informing us that we were visiting during the Spring Break music festival and it was going to be nuts. My expression of one eyebrow raised and smirk must have revealed my true inner concern that we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. “I do have good news,” he exclaimed. We were welcome across the street at their sister hotel as a guest at their pool and private beach club.

Living in Amsterdam definitely prepared me for the onslaught of the in your face crazy that South Beach slapped us with. Still I was a little – OK – a lot, stunned. Since Amsterdam is on the cool (temperature wise) side even in the summer, people don’t walk around half naked (that’s reserved for Red Light District windows). I was overwhelmed by the amount of severely tattooed laden skin out and on ginormous full display, decorating places that perhaps should not be revealed in public. After the 50th bare ass tattoo and accompanying thong to marvel at passed by down Ocean Drive, combined with the wretched one-tone bass beat that permeated everywhere we went, including my hotel room that I desperately tried to drown out with earplugs and my handy white noise app, I realized South Beach is not my scene. And we still had three days left.

 

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Lying by the “sister-hotel” pool with the ocean breeze cooling the intense sunshine, we started to relax the next day. Then in the early afternoon the Spring Break party next door began and drowned out the peace and quiet we were reveling in. I was pretty surprised to learn that people pay up to $300 to gain entrance to these parties. I thought to myself… a couple nights entrance fees buys a girl an airline ticket to Paris. The thundering thump of the bass beat was actually making me physically dizzy. We decided to make lemonade out of lemons, and escape elsewhere to enjoy a couple margaritas and tapas after shopping on Lincoln Road.

 

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On our last full day we went on a tour with Miami Culinary Tours that introduced us to delicious authentic Cuban, Latin, Caribbean and Italian food as we meandered from restaurant to restaurant through the jammed packed insanity of Ocean Drive. The food and guide were excellent and it was the highlight of our trip. I did feel like a side-liner on the set of Miami Vice, The Birdcage or CSI Miami, while marveling at the super expensive convertibles driving by with the largest amount of historically preserved buildings in the world as a backdrop.

The strange and somewhat otherworldly Art Deco playground of the rich, famous, hook-up hopefuls, and vacationing fools such as us, is now in my rear view. That original question of where to go on Spring Break deserved a little more thought and investigation by this mom married to the weary traveler with all good intentions.

 

Yellow was never my color

It’s my first spring in Charleston and while baby birds sing sweetly and the sun shines ever so brightly, the blooming tree buds, bushes and flowers are causing me suffering like I’ve never suffered before. The yellow cake-like dusting covering my car, my house, my deck, my outside doors, my garbage can, the pavement and every single thing outside, is killing me.
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This is no regular pollen, or any pollen I’ve ever seen or sneezed from. I touch the handle to my front door and my hand turns yellow. The soles of my slippers leave yellow footprints after coming back inside from my deck. My white dog’s fur has a yellow tint to it after a walk in the neighborhood. I even have to wipe off the pollen that’s blown in from outside on my full length bedroom mirror.
This is Bird Box pollen. It’s the kind of pollen you have to shut all your windows and doors from for fear of breathing in and setting off yet another allergy attack. I am so dosed up on Flonase, allergy eye drops and Zyrtec, I feel like I’m sleep walking. Karma has come for me big time for bragging about this warm sunny weather here in Charleston.
I literally try not to breathe when outside – instead of covering my eyes like Sandra Bullock, I hold my breath, watch what I touch and quickly move from point A to point B to get inside. I don’t dare roll down my car windows to enjoy the beautiful breeze or open the bedroom windows to feel the cool air because the pollen is out there waiting to get me.
This yellow nightmare we’re living in apparently won’t be gone till mid-May. What does one do for three months while this onslaught occurs? I mean, even my dogs are sneezing!
Yellow never was my color.

Love is in the air with Tony’s Chocolonely!

I’ve been having an affair for the past year….. with Tony’s Chocolonely, possibly the most amazing chocolate I’ve ever tasted made by a Dutch company in The Netherlands in the form of a really big chocolate bar. No, really. It’s true. Tony’s Chocolonely chocolate bars have won me over heart and soul. And no, it’s not because my husband’s name is in the title.

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I first spied these bright and boldly packaged chocolate bars with “Tony’s” written in giant letters on the front at Marqt, an upscale organic grocery store when we were living in Amsterdam.  It only took one mouthwatering bite for me to become obsessed.

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Like Charlie hoping to find his golden ticket to enter Wonka’s factory, each time I buy one, I eagerly open the back paper wrapping and find the creator’s mission “Crazy about Chocoloate, Serious About People” and “100% Slave Free in Chocolate” slogan. Then after peeling away the tin foil to the actual chocolate bar, I giggle at the pieces of chocolate you’re supposed to break apart. The design is definitely unique, giving you, or better yet, someone you’re sharing with, a chance to have a large piece or a tiny piece. I’ll take a large piece, dank je vel.

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You cannot help but be wildly impressed with Tony’s Chocolonely. This chocolate company has been committed to abolishing child slave labor in the African countries of Ghana and Ivory Coast for the last 12 years and responsibly produces organic, fair trade DELICIOUS chocolate. The orange bar made with milk, caramel and sea salt is my favorite. But I will happily eat any of the bars they make, including milk chocolate, white chocolate, extra dark chocolate, dark almond sea salt, dark pecan coconut and dark coffee crunch without the guilt of knowing child slave labor helped produce it.  And if you are a chocolate milk fan, Tony’s makes that too!

If you’re in love and want to impress your love interest this Valentine’s Day, I highly recommend gifting a Tony’s Chocolonely bar!

 

Reverse Culture Shock in the Honeymoon Phase

 

IMG_E1293.JPGYesterday I was in a serious state of closet confusion. It was 80 degrees on Daniel Island – in the first week of February. Standing inside my closet for what seemed like forever, I finally found the one short-sleeved shirt hiding next to long sleeve sweaters. This northern transplant has learned a valuable lesson in closet organization. Mix seasons when living in the south!

Settling back into American life for the past seven months after repatriating from Amsterdam hasn’t been as carefree as I thought it would be. Reverse culture shock is taking its time moving through my psyche. I’ve gone through stages of excitement moving to Charleston, a bit of depression missing Europe, which then turned into a mix of boredom and restlessness. Luckily, I’ve had a new house to settle and kids and dogs to focus on. If it weren’t for the gorgeous weather and this culturally rich city and all it offers, I think I would be stuck in the depression stage.

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I can handle the closet confusion, no problem because there’s no way I’m going to complain about the weather. I know how good I have it here. Now that I’m back living on US soil, I could always just throw on some workout clothes and fit in just fine. American ladies, unlike Europeans, really adore wearing Nike, lulu lemon, Athleta and Title Nine pretty much all day long.

I was only living out of the country for two years and in that short timeframe I’ve become intolerant of things I never would have thought twice about before. For instance, driving. Everyone drives everywhere in America. Spending an hour in the car is nothing. Even in the cities, we get Ubered, Lyfted, or taxied from place to place. Gone are my days of walking the city, hopping on and off the tram or bus in the Dam, or pedaling along with the teeming masses on the expertly laid out bike paths complete with stoplights.

Since moving to the south I’ve had to get used to sharing the road with an exceedingly high number of pick-up trucks. Does everyone here own a pick-up truck? And if it isn’t a pick-up truck, it’s one of a thousand container trucks next to me on the highway coming from one of the five public port terminals. It only took me a week to realize I needed a heavier and safer vehicle to drive around here. My little VW convertible bug would shake as I crossed one of the countless bridges with either a strong wind gust or a heavy container truck thundering by me. I am lucky not to have been blown over the side.

Reverse culture shock isn’t all bad, though. I’ll admit I’m like a kid in a candy store with so many TV viewing options. I love TV. No one really likes to admit this because too much screen time rots your brain and sitting on the couch isn’t something to be proud of. This, however, doesn’t bother in me in the least. I once worked for the Discovery Channel and had a TV in my office. It’s sort of ingrained in me. Since repatriating back I’ve been reveling in watching some great movies and shows I didn’t have access to in Europe. If you haven’t discovered The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel series yet, I highly recommend it.

What I haven’t been enjoying as much though, is the flood of prescription drug commercials I’m confronted with while watching. I think I’ve become an expert at what to take to slow down the effects of some cancers, ridding the teenage population of acne, calming the symptoms of acid reflux and aiding the treatment of psoriasis. I sit and shake my head at the endless scary list of side effects to taking one of the many prescriptions to combat rheumatoid arthritis.

I also think I could name every major personal injury lawyer in the greater Charleston area. There are at least 20 different commercials alone on my morning news station. Every one of these commercials starts out with, “If you’re injured in a car wreck...” Northern transplants, like myself, say car accidents or head-on collisions or even crashes. We do not say “wreck.” Can I also point out there’s no ice and snow on the ground to contend with here while driving? How bad can these drivers be?

Speaking of driving, after living on the north shore of Boston for 17 years, I know when not to be on the road if I don’t have to be. Traffic in and out of Boston is horrendous. The morning commute will be heavily congested from 7-9 am so lots of people try to leave their house earlier or later to avoid it. Here, in Charleston, I’ve noticed that everyone seems to leave at the same time. There’s no waiting around the office for traffic to die down. It’s 5 pm and work is out and southerners expect to go home. Traffic is pretty predictable around here. It took me all of a week to figure out not to try to cross over the Ravenel or Wando bridges between 5-6 pm if I don’t have to.

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We are at the seventh month mark of living in this truly beautiful and fun city of Charleston. How long do honeymoons last? This city is like a cute new boyfriend flirting with this newcomer showing off its food and drink scene, flexing its gorgeous coastline to coax me to soak up the abundant sunshine, all the while smothering me in southern charm. I’m smitten. Someone said to me recently, “Just wait till June, when you run from your air-conditioned house to your air-conditioned car, then the honeymoon will be over.” I guess I’ve got four months left in the honeymoon phase. Perhaps then I’ll take a nice long trip back across the pond when Europe is shining.

Cannolis have vinegar in them? I learned this on a trip to Sicily

Living as a repatriated expat for the last seven months in the Holy City of food, Charleston, I’ve found myself thinking of some of the best food I’ve eaten, other than here. Last year at this time I was living with my family in Amsterdam and took a trip to Agrigento, Sicily over my daughter’s week long school break. This is where I learned to make cannolis. I can still remember how good they tasted.

While visions of Sicily may conjure up a scene from The Godfather where young Michaelhikes through the arid and barren hillsides of Corleone biding time to avenge a vendetta, or marry a beautiful Italian girl on a whim, the reality is this large Italian island hanging off the “boot” is so much more. At first impression while driving on the highways, (some that just end abruptly for a better way around), you may think it’s somewhat stuck in a fascinating time warp. And perhaps it is, lucky for us.

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The farther south you travel in Europe, the slower the passing of time, it seems. In Sicilyyou feel this everywhere. You’ll see immediate signs of modernity – the giant wind turbines scattered and turning next to olive grower’s huts that seem hundreds of years old. If you didn’t know better, you’d think you were driving through the hillsides of Ireland, with the bright beautiful lush green landscape unspoiled for miles.

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While southern Sicily is beautiful, it could really benefit from an “Adopt A Highway” program to shed a negative light on the downside of tossing large amounts of garbage on the sides of roadways. Road garbage aside, we were happy to be far enough south in Europe this time last year escaping a Siberian wind and snow ban called the “Beast from the East.”

Since we were expats living in Amsterdam, we took advantage of low airfares and our daughter’s weeklong Crocus Break and spent a week in Agrigento, Sicily. Arriving in Catania late in the dark, we wound our way in our rental car from one side of the island to the other, on highway roads with countless tunnels cut though hills and random construction alerts. One even had a stoplight leading to a few roundabouts, then an industrial park and back on the highway. At times our navigation system seemed lost as we followed the highway signs instead of the GPS’ instructions, obviously made before the new unfinished highway.

Undeterred after two hours winding and weaving along, we arrived in Agrigento and were greeted by bright lights high up in the distance shining majestically on enormous ancient temples and ruins that looked like they belonged somewhere in ancient Greece. Dating back to the 5th Century BC and built much like the Acropolis, but brown in color, sits the Valley of the Temples, an archeological Unesco World Heritage site.

 

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After a very comfortable night sleep at the Hotel Villa Athena, we were eager to see the island in the day. Our first excursion took us to a natural wonder, the Scala dei Turchi, which translates to “stairs of the Turks”. Legend says Sicily was invaded by the Turks who used these stairs to sneak in and try to take over. Very easy to find in Realmonte in quiet February, we followed signs leading us down a harrowing incline filled with giant rocks and holes to park. We enjoyed a quiet unassuming walk through little sand dunes toward the beach, and were happily surprised to find just a lone fisherman in waders standing in the warm Mediterranean Sea on one of Europe’s best beaches, according to Travelzoo. The striking contrast of white marl steps jarring out into the blue green water is a photographer’s delight. It was so peaceful I wish we had brought a picnic.

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We then set off to explore around the edge of southern Sicily and found a lovely lunch spot and the only place open at a highly rated restaurant, our first real Sicilian meal. If you are a seafood lover, you should go to Sicily. Every kind of seafood is on the menu, no matter what restaurant you go to. From mussels, clams, squid and lobster, to all kinds of fish. Sitting next to the beach on an outdoor veranda in the hot sun and smelling salt air, we ordered a sampling of pasta and seafood dishes with a nice white Italian wine. Our waiter, restaurant owner and chef, spoke hardly any English but we had no trouble ordering or enjoying very attentive service with a smile. The rest of the day was spent driving through the countryside and marveling at the sheer unspoiled beauty and bright green landscapes dotted with olive groves, vineyards and a random farmhouse here and there. IMG_E4147.JPG

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Since the Valley of the Temples is on the same property of our hotel, we awoke early the next day and purchased discount tickets and entered through the hotel’s garden to stroll through the ancient ruins. It’s small enough to be done in an hour or so and offers amazing picture ops. It’s hard not to feel that you are standing somewhere otherworldly

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While touring through southern Sicily stop in little ancient towns like seaside Sciacca boasting colorful ceramics shops. Hand painted ceramics are popular in southern Italy. Like Portugal, you’ll see ceramics everywhere. You may even see them even on stairways. Wander around off the beaten path to discover them.

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Last on our itinerary was an authentic cooking class at the home restaurant Sapori di Grigenti complete with an English translator to interpret our teacher’s Italian instruction. Here in Sicily, simplicity and traditional (think old) ways of growing ingredients makes this cuisine authentically Italian, and in Sicily, authentically Sicilian. We started with the end. In Sicily, dessert usually includes cannolis. Did you know that cannoli shells have vinegar in them? They do! Once we made the dough for the cannolis, we put it in the fridge for the next two hours and started on the rest of the menu.

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Our lunch menu included stuffed artichokes with peppered pecorino cheese, scallions and chopped artichoke stalks, then stuffed squid with chopped squid tentacles, tomatoes, breadcrumbs, basil and garlic, and for the main course homemade cavatelli pasta and sauce. Vegans would love this pasta recipe: flour, water, salt. It’s so incredibly easy. I wonder why everyone doesn’t just make homemade cavatelli.

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It’s fair to say that a trip to any part of Italy should include lots and lots of eating. I like to say tasting. It sounds less fattening. And after a week in Italy nothing tasted better than those cannolis made with vinegar. Who would have thought?

 

 

Food for Thought in the Holy City

Whenever I tell someone we moved to Charleston the first thing they say is “Oh, the food!” Charleston IS synonymous with good food. It’s actually beyond good and the abundance of choices makes this town a foodie’s delight. For those who’ve just moved here, and aren’t just visiting, like me, it’s exciting and overwhelming at the same time. There are so many restaurants, pubs, cafes and experiences to try, so many recommendations to remember. And just when you thought you’ve found your faves, another eatery pushes in. It’s all possibly too good to be true. Or is it?

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I can confidently say I’ve never tasted fried chicken like I have here, mouthwatering drool inspiring savory fried chicken that gets better with each bite  – to be found at Husk‘s, Jestine’s Kitchen and Mill Tavern, all seriously scrumptious, and the list could go on.  Who knew that cheese grits were to die for? The first time I tried grits was at brunch at SNOB, short for Slightly North of Broad, and I was hooked. Every time I took a bite of the shrimp and grits I had to comment on how insanely good they tasted. Then we found High Thyme on Sullivan’s Island and were blown away by their grits and every other thing we’ve eaten there. The fried green tomatoes at Magnolia’s are divine, brunch at Leon’s consistently delivers on taste and fun and Five Loaves Café in Mount Pleasant has the best lunch, if you can find a parking spot. We’re almost on a first name basis at Sermet’s Courtyard on Daniel Island, and every time I drive by I find myself thinking about his chicken agnolotti.

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Along with the outstanding food in the Holy City, friendly attentive hospitable service comes hand in hand with tasty dining. It’s rare to experience bad service and if you do, just move along because there’s a plethora of restaurants offering A+ dining just up the street or around the corner.

When you ask people what their favorite restaurant is here you may hear the same ones over and over, but interestingly enough, there’s always about five on their lists. Lists, plural, because they include recs for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, for a certain kind of food like Italian or southern or pizza, happyhour, cocktails, on a roof, outside, or for a special occasion. This should tell you that this town has it all.

It’s been a delicious five months in, accompanied by some unwanted pounds. Since we’re a few days into this new year, a fitness resolution is hanging over my tummy that needs to be swallowed. Luckily it’s in the 70s here which is encouraging me and all the other eager eaters to get out and walk, run or paddle those tasty calories away… to make room for more.

 

No, Ma’am!

 

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Not to sound like a bragger, cause no one likes a bragger, but…..it’s 60 degrees here today in Charleston, in mid-December. And while it seems to be the rainy season down here, not one drop of rain fell this fine day. Taking a break from work, eager to get out and enjoy this phenomenal weather, I took a really long walk with my dog around my quiet neighborhood. I could actually smell dirt in the air. You know that smell of earth that comes in spring (if you a northerner) or here I guess, always? It was heaven.

Moving from Amsterdam where the rain is too commonplace, and Boston before that where snow and frigid temps can keep you inside and feeling down, I am finding a spring in my step these days to match the smell outside. Why didn’t we move here years ago?

While the impact of bad weather can make one think and feel in negative terms the positive impact of great weather at this time of year in Charleston, I find more than surprising. Of course I knew it would be better. But there’s knowing it and then there’s living it. Living it is much better. I am converted. When can I start calling myself a southerner? I think I need to live here a tad longer.

I still haven’t gotten used to folks calling me Ma’am. Northerners teach their kids to say, “Yes, please” and “No, thank you” as respectful responses. Down here it’s “Yes, Ma’am” and “No, Sir.” To my ears this still sounds foreign and extremely formal, but I like it. I must admit when I first started hearing it I felt very old. To me, someone calling me Ma’am meant that I was a married old woman. Since this is certainly not the case, my ears must still be in training.

Noticeably different and gladly received are the smiles and friendly hellos all around. No doubt, cause the weather is having a positive impact. Not to mention how it feels to be outside smelling spring in winter. You can actually share more than just a quick hello with a neighbor or acquaintance when passing cause you’re not running somewhere to escape the wind, rain, snow or freezing temperatures. I am beginning to understand why northerners are always in such a hurry.

As a hockey mom, I adapted to the freezing cold. For years, in every season I drove around with a long down coat and UGGs in my car for the rink I would inevitably be entering to watch my son play hockey. I didn’t realize at the time what these items were doing to my psyche. My mother used to say, “It’s never bad weather, just bad clothing.” I am sure she said this to get us four kids out of the house, in all kinds of wretched weather. If my mom, who only lived in the north were alive, I would be informing her that “No, Ma’am, it IS bad weather, it’s just stuck up there.

 

Ode to the Stroopwafel

 

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The stroopwafel, pronounced stropewaffle, found me unaware and by surprise 22 years ago walking a long and lively shopping street in The Hague, Holland. While taking in all the different shops and sights of a quaint European city, and very new to town, fresh off the plane for our first expat assignment, my nose caught the warm inviting scent of something sweet and caramel-like emanating from a nearby shop. Veering ever so swiftly toward what I now know to be a little circle of heaven, I got in line behind all the other stroopwafel lovers. I watched, spellbound, as batter was poured into the circular waffle maker and then drooled as hot caramel was poured on. Like an Oreo, another freshly cooked skinny waffle was placed on top of the oozy gooey goodness. As soon as guilders were exchanged, I remember rushing to taste the mouthwatering delicious discovery and almost burned my mouth with my first anxious bite. In a few quick moments it was gone and I was hooked! After a few expat stints enjoying too may stroopwafels to count, I am delighted to find these Dutch treats every holiday season on the shelves of Trader Joe’s, Home Goods and Whole Foods.

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A true believer in sharing the wealth, those of you on this side of the pond who haven’t yet discovered the stroopwafel, go NOW to one of these stores and stockpile a few cans to enjoy with your family and friends. And maybe hide a few in your closet just for yourself. Hint – microwave for 5-10 seconds for that European market effect.

Love That Absentee Ballot

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Here in America today, deep in the South, not super deep, but deep enough, I eagerly set out to vote in the mid-term elections. As a repatriated expat I no longer have to mail in my absentee ballot from Amsterdam. With my shiny new South Carolina driver’s license and voter registration card in hand, I arrived bright and early at 7 am when the polls opened at my local elementary school. I was sure I would be in and out in 15 minutes. Silly me.

Having voted for years up North, (in just 15 minutes), I was expecting signs telling me where to park, where to enter – basically where to vote. I thought I’d see campaigners with signs standing 100 feet back waving as I pulled in. Not a one. I parked in front of the school near another newbie South Carolina voter and we searched together for the right entrance. At the third door we tried to enter at the front of the school someone came to the door to tell us we had to enter around the back. I asked why there were no signs directing people where to enter. She had no idea.

At 7:10 am when I arrived at the back entrance, and there were still no signs directing anyone anywhere, I followed people who clearly knew where they were going. And then I did see a sign: “No concealed weapons allowed.

I made my way inside to the back of a snake-like line around a corner of 200 deep in a dark hallway waiting to vote. An hour and 15 minutes later I finally checked in and cast my electronic vote on one of only eight stands with an iPad-like screen hoping no one was hacking my choices. I left happy to have done my civic duty and to be out of that ridiculously long line. On the way out passing folks coming in, the line being twice as long as when I entered, I was surprised to hear people say the line was shorter than the 2016 Presidential election.

Man I miss those speedy hacker- free paper ballots back in MA. Next time, I’m voting early or maybe I’ll be traveling on Election Day and need an absentee ballot once again.