20–Year Love Affair

I realized the other day that I was wrapping up my semester abroad in England 20 years ago this month. I chose to study in England because I didn’t have proficiency in another language…and I’m convinced that I was destined to start a love affair with England.

I went from studying at a small state college a 30-minute drive from my family to studying at a large research university with tens of thousands of international students thousands of miles from my family. It was the opportunity of a lifetime and I’m eternally grateful for it. I studied at the University of Leeds with my two friends, Sam and Ellen, which eased the homesickness.

Many of my experiences were those of a typical college student. I remember that the coursework was tough and I was glad that my grades didn’t factor into my GPA at home. I joined the chorus and sang Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols in the city streets in December. Ellen and I joined a musical theater club and performed in the musical Chess. I subsisted on jacket potatoes with shredded cheese at the refectory (dining hall) and spent hours at a time doing this new thing called emailing in the computer lab. I lived in Clarence Dock, a dorm that was far from campus, so I spent many nights taking the “women’s minibus,” a shuttle that departed from campus and dropped people off at their dorms/apartments.

Not-so typical experiences included weekend trips to Liverpool, where we consumed everything Beatles; Dublin, where we drank Guinness in pubs and saw The Book of Kells at Trinity College; and London, where my wallet was stolen (I don’t remember anything else from that trip).

I consider that I started on the path to adulthood during my semester in England. Even though I had traveled abroad in high school, it was here that I really grasped that there was a whole world outside of the United States. I gained a newfound appreciation for my family and friends. I learned from people of other cultures and they learned from me.

Another opportunity of a lifetime tied to my semester abroad was the three-week trip around Western Europe that I took after the semester ended with Ellen and my friend Daisy. Twenty years ago at this very moment, Ellen and I were sitting in a bohemian bed and breakfast in a frigid Corfu, Greece, watching American movies with Greek subtitles and listening to Radiohead’s The Bends album with a small group of new friends.

We had just come from Rome, where we were blessed by the Pope on Christmas Day. We would be meeting our friend Daisy in Milan next and heading to Venice for New Year’s. And then back to Rome and on to Spain and France. Armed with Eurail passes, a thirst for adventure, and not enough clothing for one of Europe’s coldest winters, we visited countless museums, ate delicious and sometimes strange food, and made friends of fellow travelers along the way. If I could turn back the clock and do it again, I wouldn’t change anything.

As I sit with my Twinings tea and McVittie’s Ginger Nut cookies, I insist that if you are thinking about studying abroad or know someone who is thinking about it, you/he/she/they DO IT. It’s worth every penny of the extra student loans.

England now feels like a second home to me—and my mother! She visited me when I worked in London for six months after graduation (that 20th anniversary is next December). And the rest is history, as they say. We’ve visited England five or six times since and have many wonderful and funny memories. I feel lucky that we fell in love with the same place.



A Souvenir from “Mad Men”

Mad Men is one of my all-time fave shows. I signed up for its email list so I would be in the know. So that’s how I found out about the website Screenbid.com, a platform for auctioning/selling props from popular TV shows and movies. A couple of summers ago, items from Mad Men appeared on the auction block. Needless to say, I was outbid on everything. I love the show but didn’t care to spend $50 on an empty can of corn circa the 1950s.

Since then, a new lot has come up a few times per year. I received the latest email from Screenbid a few weeks ago. This time the items weren’t on auction; you could flat-out buy them. Many of the items were still cost-prohibitive, but I did see a china set that I liked for $50. Hence a birthday list item was born.

I clicked on the “Buy” button with glee. The next screen came up: “Thanks for your purchase. You’ll be invoiced for $102.”


The shipping cost had not been discussed…and it turned out to be $48. OK, I thought, it is china, so it needs to be wrapped carefully. But $48???

C’est la vie. The package arrived and everything had been packed really well. So well that I am going to wait until after the holidays to unpack everything because it took me 5 minutes to unpack one dish.

I’m excited to own something that was on the set of one of my favorite shows. Do you own anything from a TV or movie set?

Mad Men, china
The one unpacked dish



The time has come to commence my 13th annual birthday list. My friend Daisy helped me kick it off last weekend.

First, she helped me make a paper circuit (which I had never heard of before) at a great family makerspace called Parts and Crafts. We visited on a Saturday afternoon and it was buzzing with kids working on sewing projects, building vehicles with plastic wheels, and soldering who knows what.

Butterfly paper circuit: LED light, battery, and copper tape
Butterfly paper circuit: LED light, battery, and copper tape








Next, we went to Winter Hill Brewing for lunch, where I drank a “Somerville Specific,” a very interesting IPA, and ate a lovely chickpea burger with rosemary fries. I love beer and all, but give me rosemary on anything and I’m a patron for life.










My third and last item that weekend is something that I’m still coming to terms with…

I tried bone marrow. And oxtail for that matter.

We went to Toro, a Spanish tapas restaurant, for lunch. Daisy gently encouraged me to try the bone marrow, since a recurring item on my birthday lists is to try a food I haven’t eaten before.

There was a lot of oxtail on top of the bone marrow, which was probably a good thing. I kind of sort of tasted the bone marrow. I don’t think it tasted like much, but I was too overwhelmed by the idea of eating bone marrow to really pay attention.







Six months and 39 more items to go! Have any ideas for my list?