Monday, February 10, 2014

Driving me to change

I'm forced to be nice here every day.  It's not always my natural state of being.  And not only does it happen daily, it happens first thing every day. That's like double whammy for me....having to be nice AND early in the morning. But it has to do with driving, so I'm already at a deficit, as you know.  

Here's what happens.  The secondary roads here aren't very wide, and turn lanes are not very common, so most of the time when you are driving, the person coming from the other direction is just a dotted line away. It's not too close, but it is definitely not American-sized, American-spaced.  Then again, the cars are so much smaller, so it's probably more proportionate than it feels to me and my American-ness. 

Coupled with narrow roads is the limited sized driveways, or, in some places, the absence of a driveway all together. Parking lots (or car parks, as they say here) are also small. So, it is the norm to have cars parked on the street. Unlike the US, it's not a city thing, either.  It's everywhere. Our house sits back from the street with a long driveway, so we park there, but once I leave our driveway, on the next block, some of the neighbors who have more than one car must park on the street.

So when a narrow road has a car parked on it, the drivable lanes along small stretches of the road are reduced to just one.  Therefore, one car must stop and allow the other to pass.  The rule (or tradition, or habit - not sure what it is, it just happens) is that if the cars are parked on your side, you must stop so the oncoming traffic can come through. It's always one or two cars at most.  In the case of a wider, more "main" road, there can be cars parked on either side, so then it becomes a situation in which you gauge how far up you can go before needing to pop over so the oncoming car can get by...so you look ahead to see where their gaps are, and it all works out perfectly well.  And since no one here is ever in a hurry (something I'm learning - slowly - to embrace) there's hardly ever an issue of another driver not waiting his/her turn. In fact, with the exception of the crotchety old woman I see in the mornings, (more on her later) I never have a problem with getting my turn. It's always easy and pleasant and adds no more than about nine seconds to my drive.

The best part in all of this? People wave to each other to say thanks/you're welcome as they pass one another.  Every time.  As I sit and wait for the oncoming car to go, as he/she approaches, they lift their right hand in a quick movement - thanks, they say.  I reciprocate with the same motion - you're welcome, I say. Often it's just the lifting of your fingers from gripping the top of the wheel....not even the full hand lift.  In any case, it's consistent and incredibly polite.  Furthermore, sometimes the oncoming person who actually has the right of way, will stop and flash their lights at you to indicate that THEY will wait and you can go forward. And then you exchange waves.  That's like a freebie of kindness.  

I should quickly explain here that this applies to roads in neighborhoods and suburb-like areas.  Obviously the big main roads look and run similar to an American road.  There are multiple lanes, dividers, etc.  I also need to add that this is the way they are built...I'm not necessarily describing really old roads that were just recently paved.  (I know that's what some of you think about places that aren't in the United States.  And no, there aren't horses and carriages here, either. In case you wondered.)  

So back to the mornings. I drive the boys to school, and I have to maneuver my way through a couple of parked car stretches. There are maybe six parked cars on the longest stretch.  Going one direction, I have the right of way - the cars aren't parked on my side of the road.  Returning, it's my responsibility to stop. Admittedly, it's frustrating when I have to stop because at this particular time of day it is busier on this stretch of road as people are leaving for work and driving kids to school, and also the people who've parked there have not left for school and work.  I can sometimes wait for four or five cars to go, which is the longest I ever have to wait, anywhere. But that's my morning. And this return trip is just me going home, so really, there's nothing I'm hurrying toward. So I wait my turn, as all the other drivers that morning have done before me, and the others will do after me. 

Well, all the others except for the scowling old lady I see a few times a week. She has no regard for anyone. She will take the chance of a head-on collision (at 20 mph, granted) every single day rather than wait her turn.  I don't know why, at this stage (four months into it) it still shocks me, but it does. She just drives forward with the assumption that you will wait, or you will move - and - to add insult to injury - she doesn't even wave.  So when she comes gunning past me I've taken to throwing my arms up in an exaggerated, "Oh, by all means, BE MY GUEST!"-sort of gesture.  And if that doesn't give away my American-ness, I don't know what does. Because there's no one else here who practices road rage except for me and my Missouri-trained driving self. (I'm also the only person who consistently drives the wrong way in parking lots and on empty streets...but that's another post for another time.  Let's just say that old habits die hard and without another car demonstrating where you should be, it's easy to be where you shouldn't.)


Husband will tell me that I shouldn't make it my responsibility to try and teach her how it all works. He'd be right.  She's at least 60-something, and she's presumably lived here all her life.  But anyone who knows me knows that I will either take a "you can't fix stupid" approach to people like her or a "you're wrong and I'm gonna show you exactly how wrong" approach. There's not a lot in between.  I'll own that, and I'm working on it.  But I'm only 43 so I'm still learning. 

It's funny, because later in the day, it's not a big deal at all.  If I had to deal with her at 11:30 or 1:30  instead of 8:30, it wouldn't be a big deal.  I'd probably be writing about the hilarious, self-entitled old woman who has a literal "my way or the highway" approach to driving. I might even try to sneak a picture of her.  And later in the day I'm always happy to wait my turn and even happier to thank people for giving my turn.  I enjoy it, these exchanges of anonymous pleasantries, the random act of kindness and manners.  In fact, I've written cheery blog posts in my head as I drive...they begin something like this:
How many times have you waved at someone today?  What? You haven't exchanged a wave with anyone at all today? Or yesterday?  Or this week? Well I have...it's been at least five times already, and it's not even noon. And I need to tell you, it's not quite as nice as a hug, but it definitely is a mood lifter.  It might be one of those serotonin- releasing acts you hear about.

Then I'd go on to cheerfully describe the parked cars-wait-and-wave scenario as described above. That I'm happy to do. After about 10:00 am. The 'being altruistic first thing in the morning' part is still a work in progress. 


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Where recipes go to die

What do you call the tall plastic container in your kitchen into which you throw waste?  In the US it is a trash can.  In the UK it is a rubbish bin.  Well, everywhere in the UK except my house.  At my house it's called The Food Graveyard.  Most recently buried (in the past 24 hours) there's been meatloaf, blueberry muffins, Yorkshire puddings, and toffee cake.  I wish I was exaggerating.

How. Can. This. Be. So. Damn. Difficult.  Seriously.  On paper, as I write it, I look and feel like a total idiot. I can't explain it.

First, the meatloaf.  I was following a recipe from that dandy new cookbook I mentioned earlier...to look at the ingredients you'd be really excited to try this dish....ground beef, onions, fresh herbs, balsamic glaze.  But once you got past the outer part, the inside was gross.  Perhaps I mis-measured some of it - I had to use the scale (things were in grams) and use the metric system (millilitres).  Or maybe it's just best to always grill (BBQ) or fry ground beef. Who knows.

This morning, in an attempt to give the boys a nice breakfast surprise, I decided to make blueberry muffins.  What ruined them was actually just an oversight...not a measuring error or mystery reason. Tell me what's wrong in this picture:

I completely forgot to add the blueberries.  I noticed the can AFTER I put the muffins in the oven.  So then I thought then that perhaps it would be just a muffin - not a blueberry one, but still the tasty cakey part.  However, apparently there's something to adding the berries, and despite being completely baked, the muffin tasted like raw batter.  And I mean it - the first bite went straight from the mouth to the trash can. Son 1 tried it first and gagged - so why I decided to try it as well was pretty dumb - except that I wanted to say,"No, Son 1, you're crazy. These muffins are great!  I should skip the blueberries more often!"

Tonight I was going to redeem myself with a roast and Yorkshire puddings. For Americans, I'll explain what that is.  The Yorkshire pudding is sort of like bread.  It's made primarily of flour, milk, and eggs.  It isn't particularly overly flavorful - not salty or sweet. It is individual servings made in muffin cups...similar to a mini bread cup that would presumably hold gravy.  Mine, however, were more like a gelatinous, bread-ish, tasteless substance for which there wasn't enough gravy in all of Europe.

I followed the recipe to the exact gram....12 Yorkshire puddings in muffin cups. And now 11 Yorkshire puddings are resting on top of the blueberry muffins, which are on top of the meatloaf.  Unfortunately there's no cork from the bottle of wine I should have drank after the night I had in the kitchen.  I somehow miraculously resisted the urge to open a bottle and drink it all after the next debacle I will now share.

So one of my favorite things to eat here is anything that is toffee flavored.  I spent three weeks straight eating sticky toffee pudding at least once a day. Sticky toffee pudding is a warm mini cake with melted toffee sauce on it. Divine. I wasn't actually tired of eating it, even after three weeks, but I was pretty disgusted with myself so I put a stop to the practice.  

Anyway, I found a recipe for toffee cookie bars - it was in Food Network magazine, in fact, my last real paper issue, as I've had to switch to digital since moving.  The measurements were American; for example, it called for two sticks of butter. Butter here is in squares and is measured in grams...looks nothing like a stick of butter in the US. So I had to go online to figure out how many tablespoons are in a stick of American butter, and then how many grams are in a tablespoon, and then figure how much British butter I needed for the recipe. It was like a story problem from math class in sixth grade. 

I followed the recipe....butter, brown sugar, vanilla, eggs, flour - I didn't miss a single ingredient. I lined the pan with parchment paper - which yes, constitutes a lot of work, as I mentioned in my last post - but that was how committed I was to this dessert.  I put it in the oven, set the timer, and at the right time, I stuck the knife in the middle, as the recipe called for, to see if it came out clean.  Not yet - so I added a few more minutes to the timer. When that went off, I tried another knife test.  Still gooey.  I added more time. At the prompting of the timer, I tried again with another knife - STILL soupy. Are you seeing a pattern here?  Yeah.  Let's just say that the sink had a lot of knives with squishy toffee cake on them before I threw in the towel. The cake wasn't going to bake any more than it already had, and I was on the third food failure of the day - the fourth in 24 hours. 

Despite the fact that it was a nasty mess in the middle, the cake had been "baking" for an hour and smelled fabulous.  So when Husband asked, "When's that cake going to be ready?  It smells delicious," I started crying and said it wasn't ready, and it wasn't going to be ready, and that I had ruined yet another meal.  He laughed, in an attempt to lighten my mood and to show me that it wasn't a big deal - which made me shriek, "It's not funny!" which, of course, made him laugh harder because, really, it was hilarious. Ten minutes later Son 2 came down and asked, "Can I cut this cake?" and five minutes after that, Son 1 asked if he could have some of that cake in the kitchen. (It was too hot to throw away just yet.)  I won't tell you how I responded to their questions and subsequent disappointment at my answer. I know they've filed it away in their heads to be used as fuel for their skepticism toward all future dishes I prepare. 

A tiny light of hope comes from the fact that the roast was pretty good.  It could have been a bit more tender, but it was pink and juicy and flavorful. So I've got that going for me.  If we can salvage one bit of a meal every 24 hours around here, we might be okay.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A post about food (no, really!)

If you've thought that the absence of my posts meant that I was getting by just fine here in my new home, you're wrong.  I am most definitely doing better than I did back in England - I'm seasoned now, after all - but I'm still struggling with something random every day. 

Take today, for example.  I have a great new cookbook that is full of simple recipes...it's perfect for me right now because it doesn't have too many ingredients and it refers to the ingredient by its local name, which is key. Just to give you an example (and there are many more to come in future posts), do you know what a courgette is?  How about a sultana? A courgette is a zucchini, and a sultana is a golden raisin. You're welcome. 

Back to today.  I was in the grocery store with my crazy cart (the wheels...remember the wheel problem?) and I was looking for tomato sauce. Easy, right?  It's in with the diced, stewed, and puréed tomatoes, of course. Oh, wait...that's only if you are shopping at HEB (Texas) or Dierbergs (St. Louis) or Safeway (Portland).  Or anywhere in the US, I'm sure.  But not here. The closest thing to tomato sauce (by looks alone) is passata, which looks to be tomato sauce - it even comes with Italian herbs (say the H here, by the way). However, since I was using a local cookbook/recipe, I assumed that if the recipe called for passata, it would say passata.  So I had to ask.  

But before I tell you about that, let me tell you the other thing I was looking for that was not necessarily called something else, but was not in the spot where it should be.  Or at least by my standards where it should be.  It was chutney...the recipe said I could use any fruit chutney.  So I looked in the section titled "Jams and Marmalades."  Not there. (Neither is grape jam, but I digress.) 

So I reluctantly go ask one of the nice Sainsbury's girls (who have helped me at least a dozen times already in the past four months.)   I approach her and she says, "Hiya...yullright?" (Translated: Hello. How are you?)  I reply something along the lines of needing help finding two things.  I start with the tomato sauce...which is the required ingredient for two meals I'm preparing - and neither recipe helps me figure out what tomato sauce actually is.  The first is for a "gourmet" meatloaf...the tomato sauce goes in the meat mixture (among other things) and on top of it to bake.  The second is for a pizza-like dish that's veggies, balsamic glaze, goat cheese on a crunchy crust/tortilla. These descriptions will come in handy as you read the next paragraph and the Sainsbury's girl's answer. 

I asked her where to find the tomato sauce...is it the same thing as passata, I wonder?  She tells me that it can be that OR pasta sauce (like Ragu) OR ketchup.  Then she asks what I need it for...to which my answer of meatloaf and pizza does nothing to clarify.  Finding her answer to be completely useless, I decide to table that one and move on to the chutney.  I can ask a friend for help with the tomato sauce issue later.  Chutney, apparently, is not shelved with the jams and marmalades and other fruit-in-a-jar-like substances.  It's with the condiments.  Go figure.  

So after reconfiguring dinner for tonight (it was going to be the meatloaf - now it's tacos with a side of regret) I decide to make a nice dessert.  I was already committed to spending a teeny bit of time in the kitchen making meatloaf and a side dish, which was considerably reduced by defaulting to the taco scenario. I pick up a cake mix for a lemon cake with glaze.  A quick glance at the back of the box tells me that it needs just milk and eggs. Convenient - my kind of dessert. 

Fast forward through unpacking groceries and the 17  minutes it took to make tacos - which includes offering soft AND crunchy wraps/shells - and it's time to stir the mix, milk and eggs. I get out the glass bread loaf dish and start reading the box.  Apparently, what is needed is a metal bread loaf pan AND it needs to be lined with something or another.  The directions for that can only be found, however, on the mix's website.  So much for convenient.  Not only do I need to do some extra work on the pan, I need to get online to read about said extra work.  No thanks.  So I take a gamble and put it in a 9x9 glass baking dish and hope for the best.  But here's what the directions said:
The part about instructions to line a 2 lb loaf tin....if I'm lining anything, presumably with parchment paper, I've gone past "convenient" and ventured into complicated.  Parchment paper is for Christmas baking.  Or when I don't feel like washing a baking sheet.  Lining a narrow metal breadpan with it is not my idea of quick, easy or convenient. 

The good news is that the lemon cake turned out just fine.  I didn't need to go to auntbessies.co.uk for any help.  The tacos were good too, although I'd cut off my thumb for some authentic Mexican food right about now.  But that's another post for another time.  

Monday, September 30, 2013

Local scenery

Have you seen a castle today?  No?  Well I have...when I went to the dry cleaners. It's just right there, amidst all the shops and regular, everyday life. Here's what it looked like.  Enjoy.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

First things first....

Did you get the flag? Did you know it was Scotland? I thought I was being all like, "Take a guess on this, people!" but then realized a day later that I actually said "...back to the UK" in the description of the title.  So you had one of four choices: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I hope you chose wisely. I know I did. Scotland is amazing, and I'm here to tell you all about it. Of course I know it won't always be great - and that will be shared as well.  But right now Scotland and I are enjoying our honeymoon, thank you very much.  And just like the friend you are, you're stuck hearing all about my new relationship.

You'll notice some change in my spelling, as some posts will be written from a computer purchased in the UK.  So, for example, I type "favourite" without the 'u' and spellcheck automatically changes it for me.  Look...here's another: colour. I didn't type the 'u' in that either. I think there will be some funny business with the letter 'z' as well.  So it's not me posing as a Scot.  It's my computer, and I'll alternate between this one and my US one. 

So you want to know all about it, right?  Where should I begin?  Well, you should know that Scotland isn't a huge place.  It is 30,414 square miles, which is about 2,000 square miles smaller than South Carolina, or about 6,000 square miles larger than West Virginia. And since Americans are so adept at geography, let me put it another way: South Carolina and West Virginia are number 40 and 41 in the ranking of states by area - and as most Americans know, there are 50 states.  So there are only 10 states smaller than Scotland. Does that put it into perspective?

There are about 5,314,000 people in Scotland. If you look at that ranking of states again - this time by population - then Scotland compares to Minnesota, which is 21st on the list of 50. 

There's not a blog big enough to describe the history of Scotland - it's beyond anything I'll ever be able to cover.  It's certainly nothing I can summarise, and definitely nothing for me to compare to the United States to provide some perspective.  The only commonality America shares with Scotland in regard to history is past 'issues' with England. Otherwise they're vastly different by virtue of age alone.

Everyone always thinks of Scotland as cold and rainy.  So far, that's not been the case.  I've been warned over and over about the winter coming (it's like Game of Thrones without the three-eyed ravens and the carnage) but I can't see how it could be much different than winter in Missouri or Oregon, so I'm okay with winter coming.  Because of the location being so far north, I'm told there's about a month of extremely short days in the winter.  Conversely, the summers here have incredibly short nights.  As it is now, I'm seeing daylight by 6:15 am and it's staying light out until after 7:00 pm. If I head up to the northern part of the country (a short drive - about 60-90 minutes) I can see the aurora borealis.  Not too shabby.

You're probably wondering about the castles.  Everyone thinks there are castles all over the place here.  There actually are a lot of castles - like right in the middle of contemporary life there can be a castle, just there like any other building.  Some are museums, some are converted to be used for other functions, and some are preserved and/or restored.  Many are just ruins and are open for exploration. Obviously there are huge ones - estates with acres and acres of land and giant, storybook-like castles.  But there are also many smaller ones - small in terms of what we think of when we consider a castle, that is.  The smaller ones are the ones that pop up and they're randomly about, wherever you go.

Another stereotype is that there are men in kilts with bagpipes on every corner.  The kilt part is kind of true - men wear them here as formalwear, such as to a wedding or other formal event - think 'tuxedo'. But there are also casual kilts...there are ones to wear to sporting events, for example.  And there are ones that are in-between formal and casual - I saw a man in one at the antique mall on Sunday, presumably coming from church. I don't see them every day, though. I'll tell you more about kilts in a future post, because there's so much more to them than the average American realizes.  As for bagpipes - I've heard them coming from the weddings that were held at the resort we stayed at when we first arrived, but those are the only times. They do offer it as an instrument to learn at Son 2's school, but he's not planning on taking that up anytime soon.

There's much more to come, so stay tuned.  And if you think I haven't messed up with the language here, you're so very wrong - I totally have and will share it with you in future posts. I'll give you a sneak peek:  One incident involves me telling someone that I've only got one pair of underwear and have worn them four times in a row. Another includes giving a baby the finger, and yet another has me using two words in a sentence that implied I have a porn career. So yeah. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Where in the world IS she????


Can you guess where I am?  I'll give you a hint:



There's more to come.....




Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Daily Show, Texas, and a breakfast taco walk in to a bar.......

Anyone who knows me will also know that I’m a huge fan of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  I admit to watching it daily – or should I say Daily? – therefore you can imagine my joy when, this week,  he spoke specifically about Austin, Texas – and it was in context and actually correct.

So you may have heard that Kim Jong-un is targeting a few select spots in the US for his nuclear hits, one of which is Austin.  How is this good?  It’s fodder for my blog – how can it not be good?  Anyway, there was a story on a major news network about it, which is included in this clip.  If you are impatient, skip to 1:48 in the four minute clip. Go ahead…I’ll wait here.  http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-april-2-2013/nuke-kid-on-the-block

What Jon Stewart says about Austin is so true – and I’ve addressed it in a previous post.  Austin is very un-Texas when considered in the context of the rest of the state.   Now that I’ve been here for a couple of years, I “get” Austin.  I like it and embrace it. (Probably because it’s like a warm and sunny Portland.)   So it cracks me up that Comedy Central and the writers at The Daily Show “get” it too.  I recently hosted friends from St. Louis here for a week (it’s great to be the destination for spring break – to have spring break-like weather) and I loved being able to show off Austin as well as Texas.  It occurred to me that I’m beginning to acclimate…it feels like home here. 

My home is really “in” to itself.  For example, here’s an actual menu item at a restaurant.  You’ll notice that this restaurant is a large national chain.  (Please, if you live anywhere else and you notice a customized menu item from this chain, make sure you tell me.  I’m not writing this to make sh*t up.  If this happens elsewhere, I need to know.)  That being said…the last two places I have lived (in the US) have not had so many state-specific references.  I’ve never had a Missouri Burger or an Oregon Wrap. 




Once again, it’s a uniquely Texas thing.  As far as I can tell, there’s nothing different about this taco – look at the picture.  But Texas DQ restaurants are calling it a Texas T-Brand Taco.  You can bet that it’s selling more than the regular taco (despite probably having the exact same ingredients.)  But that’s the thing…once you’re here, you want to be a part of it – you want to immerse yourself in Texas.  And unlike the way so many other places treat newbies, Texans actually want you to enjoy it as well. 

And while we are talking about food in Texas, can we discuss breakfast tacos? Oh. My. God.   Such a wonderful, tasty treat to begin your day.  Don't get me wrong - I love donuts as much as the next gal.  But about 30 minutes post-donut is not the best feeling.  However, 30 minutes post-breakfast taco will find you aching for more. 

I did a bit of amateur research on breakfast tacos – I’m not going to blindly pretend that Texas has the market on this concept.  But based on what I’ve found, it looks like we just might actually have the market on it after all.  And if I base this on what the New York Times had to say in May of 2010, I actually live in the city that “owns” it.  (That, and if you go by what my fabulous niece Sarah and her equally fabulous husband Zach have to say.)  But since you can’t contact Sarah, here is what NYT had to say: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/10/dining/10united.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Depending on where you go, there are a couple of variations on what to have on your breakfast taco.  For me, it always contains a minimum of bacon, egg and cheese.  If the restaurant offers refried beans, there’s no better way to hold your inner taco business together than a slap of refried beans in your burrito.  Since I’m not a spicy food kind of gal, I’ll always pass on the salsa…but there are plenty of folks who swear by a dollop of salsa on your breakfast taco at 7:30 am as the very best way to start your day.  No matter what you order, you’ll always get it wrapped in foil and you’ll always pay under $2.00 for it.  




So now that I’ve touched on one meal, stay tuned for my thoughts on the others.  It involves meat, barbeque sauce, meat, cole slaw, meat, bread, and more meat.  Oh, and some meat, too.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Hole, Part II

I'd advise against reading this before bed.

No?  Still here?  Okay, fine.  But don't say you weren't warned.

So the hole. It has recently been vacated thanks to the efforts of two young boys armed with nothing but poison and a rock.  And when I say "poison" I mean the stuff upon which I used to place Mr. Yuk stickers.  I'm glad to know, based upon the concoction they devised, that I adequately frightened them of toxic products as toddlers.  It would be nice if the rest of the world operated on such a level: "Never mind dirty bombs, we have soap!"

The boys took it upon themselves to rid the yard of whatever menace lurked beneath the surface one day while I was not home, and Husband thought they were out there weeding (as directed.)  Instead they mixed, in a large cup, the following ingredients that, when combined, apparently make a lethal concoction.  Because I am concerned about this recipe getting into the wrong hands (I'm looking at you, Al Quaeda) I will not include the measurements of each component, although I am sure it was carefully measured down to the gram.  Here it is: bleach, Lysol, soap, hydrogen peroxide, and the pièce de résistance: Coca Cola. My love of Coke is unquestionable; I'm not sure if I've frightened them from drinking it or just drinking mine - nevertheless, they included it in their batch of all things deadly. They poured the toxin down into the hole and covered it with a large rock. And waited.

So early one morning over the weekend I went outside and noticed a large rock on top of the hole.


Not knowing the poison plan, I assumed Son 1 and Son 2 had placed the rock in an attempt to block the creature from escaping out its front door...in my mind the lair had numerous doors and their efforts were futile, but I had no better strategy, so who am I to judge?  Curiosity got the best of me (read: it was early and my judgment was impaired due to lack of coffee) and with the tip of my shoe (running shoes...close-toed) I nudged the rock over.  

You know that shrieking sound you hear in movies and on TV that's like high-pitched violins?  Like "shriek! shriek!  shriek!"  I literally heard that in my head.  At the entrance to the hole was the creature, bottom side up, as if he (yes, it has a gender now) was going to press the rock off the top of the hole with his legs, like a big hunk of gym equipment.  His mouth was wide open - and like his strength, disproportionately large compared to his size.  Here's what I saw:
I can't make it larger because it gets grainy, so for some clarity as to what I looked at, here is another photo, bottom-side up, which clearly shows the mouth-fang horror. 

It's mouth is like HALF of its underside...its fangs (yes, FANGS) are as big as its feet.  And before you get the idea that I took these pictures within less than ten minutes of flipping the rock over, let me tell you that I jumped backward, did a jog-in-place, hands-to-my-face, squealing-like-a-two-year-old dance for about 30 seconds.  Then I ran inside and got my camera - can I tell you I was sweating and shaking?  I found a long stick and gently nudged the spider (from a safe distance) to see if he was really actually dead. He was.  So I took the first picture.  Then I went into the garage and got a pair of work gloves - you know, the heavy leather ones - and a shovel.  High on adrenaline and eager to get rid of the body (before his buddies showed up to avenge him) I scooped up the body and took the picture above. Then I walked over to the edge of the woods/creek and LAUNCHED him to his final resting place. 

Because I've seen Bugs Bunny, I know that flooding is an effective way to ruin a creature's hole, so I put the hose to it.  I imagined his sofa and kitchen table coming out of another hole somewhere else - and that was fine with me.  And because I've seen the Road Runner, I know that holes can be portable, so I used the shovel to ruin the hole and prevent another spider from coming along and moving the hole to my backyard.  Safety first. 

So, who wants to come visit?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Holey week

This hole is in my front yard.  The round thing next to it is one of those giant jawbreakers - about the size of a golf ball.  For the past week, Son 2 has been dropping this ball onto the hole every day and then finding the ball next to the hole (like in this picture) the next morning. The hole is just a smidge smaller, so the ball sits on top, with just a bit of it IN the hole. 


Notice how dry the ground is and the sparse grass - thank you, City of Austin water restrictions. (More on that in another post)  My point is, the ground here is HARD. The hole is creepily small, yet big... so whatever lives in it must be exceptionally strong (proportionately speaking) to have made the hole, maintained the hole, and roll away the ball every 24 hours. 

With the crazed speculation that only a ten-year-old boy's mind can embrace, he asks me, "Mom, what do suppose lives in there that is strong enough to push this ball off and get out every night?" And with all the crazed paranoia that only a girl from the midwest can contain, I reply, "I don't know, but stay the hell away from it."

So yesterday Son 2 and I decide that we needed to add another obstacle to this creature's exit.  With my foot, I pushed the ball INTO the hole.  My intention was to block the hole and (hopefully) encourage it to burrow out the other direction - namely, the creek and woods adjacent to my house.  To my horror, the ball dropped in and rolled to the side, mostly out of my view.  This has now changed from just a hole to an evil underground lair.  I imagined myself standing over the creature's diabolical gimp closet, where he holds prisoners for torture and potential meals.  I backed up (because I am SO not turning my back on this thing) to get my feet on the pavement.  And then I left for work, where my interaction with creatures is minimal.

Like something from a horror movie, when the main character keeps finding his/her stuff rearranged by some ghost overnight, the ball somehow found its way OUT of the hole this morning.  As I passed it, I did a quick Sign of the Cross. If Steve Irwin were still alive, I'd give him a call. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Texas Our Texas

Quick!  Tell me what your state flag looks like.  Don't know?  Then sing me your state anthem.  We have an anthem???  As a Missouri girl, I cannot tell you either of those things. I asked the boys if they knew that about Oregon - they did not.  But here in Texas EVERY child can answer both of those questions for you. Proudly.  

The first time I heard the Texas state anthem I was visiting Son 2's school in the morning.  During assembly they did the Pledge of Allegiance (to the United States flag)  - then they launched into the Texas Pledge of Allegiance....and then they sang a song.  I've looked online for a version where it is being sung, but can only find this...so you can play Texas Our Texas karaoke at home.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbJC6recwOQ&feature=related  (You're welcome.)

I'm pretty sure that I know nothing about Missouri history aside from Lewis and Clark. Ironically, the boys learned about Lewis and Clark as well while we were in Oregon - we had moved to the other end of their route. I can only speculate what they learned in England...probably something along the lines of "We used to run the world, now not so much; however, we do have a Commonwealth and no one else does...so we've got that going for us."   Anyway, I digress. My point is that in Texas, kids learn Texas history...Son 1 spent all of sixth grade learning it; Son 2 did it in fourth grade (so far). I've tried to find the actual curriculum standards for Texas elementary schools, but true to Texas, the sites are huge and full of more information than I care to sift through.  Bottom line is that children here know more about Texas by middle school than I knew about the United States until high school, and it's one class you never hear them complain about.  I think the passion for the subject here is contagious - and how cool is it to be able to drive to a place like the Alamo and actually SEE what you are learning about?  It perpetuates the overall love of the state, generation after generation. I get it. 

Since Texas was once a country, it has some incredibly rich history. I'm not going to detail it here...similar to Texas economics, that would be more substance than I'm capable of producing (and that you are interested in reading.) But a there are good places here to learn about some of it.  If you want to know about bloody battles and war, you just need to take a drive...go south and west for sites where Texas won its independence from Mexico; go south and east for American Civil War battle sites. My choice? The Mexico ones...amazing stories, and there's much more than just the Alamo. 

To learn more about the government of Texas, one must visit the Texas Capitol. On any given school day there are at least five groups of children there on a field trip - they'll come from all over the state to see this.  The building is spectacular...it's actually taller than the United States Capitol.  It sits on one of the highest points in Austin, so you have to look up at it from most other spots.  The architecture is impressive, and everything down to the interior details just screams Texas.  Here's what the door hinges look like: 
Yes, I said hinges.  I was passing through an open door and noticed this - and then realized it was on all the doors.  I'm not positive all 400-ish rooms have these hinges on their doors, but every one I saw did. 

So is this turning into a Gosh I Sure Love Texas post yet?  It's getting close, so let me bring it back to reality - or Renee reality, at least.  The Capitol building's floors are ornate...the Rotunda is the centerpiece of the building...here's the view from above:

If you Google Texas Capitol Rotunda you can also see images with people standing there, which will give you perspective on just how incredibly big it is - this is Texas, remember? But what you won't see when you Google anything about the floors in the Texas Capitol are the designs on the floors in the hallways.  If you ask anyone about it, they won't have much to say...there's no historical significance, no impressive architecture. But I find them to be so over-the-top hilarious that I was compelled to take pictures.  Want to see what I'm talking about?  



 
I know, right??? That really is the detail on the floors of the Capitol, and it was just me and some adolescent boys cracking up over it.  We also belched, said "dude" and high-fived each other.  (Okay, there were no boys around, but that was my level of humor at the moment I took the picture. I guess it still is because I am laughing as I type this.) 

If there is a Texas Degradation Coalition, I will most certainly be getting a citation from them any day now.  

Danger abounds

This was in my driveway recently.  After I screamed and nearly wet myself, I took a picture.  I dropped a nickel next to this creature to give you some perspective.
I know what you're thinking.  OH. MY. GOD.  And you are completely correct in trying to connect to a higher being at this moment...happens at times of great fear.  This spider wasn't in a cage...it was just chillin' in my yard.  It turns out that he was dying - thanks to some spraying from the day before.  Yes, Oregon friends, I use pesticide now.  Don't judge me...just take a look at that monster and tell me you wouldn't do the same. 

Here's the kicker - he's the least of my worries, and not because he's dead.  What happens to him next is horror movie fodder.  And it justifies my new fondness for pesticide.  What's worse than a fat hairy spider 12 inches from your sandal-wearing foot?  I'll tell you  - FIRE ANTS. 

No, fire ants are not just creatures from Land of the Lost, and they don't live exclusively on far away continents.  There are here in Texas.  Don't believe me?  Google it.  Or check this out: http://www.natgeoeducationvideo.com/film/136/fire-ants-texas-border-massacre  They are aggressive flesh-eating beasts for which we have to look constantly, as they'll come at you within seconds.  No one told me about them prior to moving here. I was already scared of the snakes and scorpions - fire ants could have been a deal breaker.  

I didn't take a picture of what was left, but within an hour of seeing that spider, his remains were pretty much gone as the fire ants sniffed him out and ate him up.  It was then I discovered that the pesticide that killed that spider does nothing to fire ants - they require a separate poison all together. 

I've been bit by them a couple of times...they can find their way into your shoes within a minute of you stopping and standing in the grass - and I'm not talking about being near their mound....they are everywhere. It hurts SO much, and they are tiny and fast and travel in packs, so there's never just one bit on your foot.  The resulting welts itch, burn and hurt, and some children are dangerously allergic to the bites.  

So while I was looking for snakes and scorpions, I ignored the ants to my peril.  But let's get back to the snakes.  I've been told that there are "only" four types of poisonous snakes in Texas - but there are several sub-species of those snakes (ten kinds of rattlesnakes and three kinds of coral snakes, to be exact.) There are certain times of the year where the snakes are molting, including their eyes, so for a few days they are blind.  It's never good to come across a venomous snake, but even worse to come across a blind one.  They strike out aggressively at any noise or movement.  I was told by a veterinarian that they see a lot of dogs with snake bites during that time of year. Not good. 

And if that isn't bad enough for you, then I'll tell you about the scorpions. (Not the 80's rock band.)  They aren't deadly like snakes, but they are quick and their sting is painful and they can be anywhere. I've seen scorpions IN the light fixtures (like a dome light) on the ceiling - so they aren't limited to the ground.  In fact, a friend was stung in her hand, in her room, and then later found the scorpion running down the wall to the floor below her room.  They drop from trees and get you on the head and neck. Typing that just gave me goosebumps.  Scorpions are always looking for water and shelter, so while you are obviously not safe from them outside, you aren't safe from them inside, either - which ruins my plan to hide indoors. 

Texas is a dangerous place and I should be lauded for the bravery I display every day.  I can see now why some people wear boots and carry guns.  I'm considering doing both of those things myself...I'll be sure to post pictures.  

Texas: where it's at


If Texas is a country, then certain cities and regions are states.  I live in Austin, which (if I can just beat this metaphor to death here) is like the Texas of Texas. 

What I mean when I say that is not that Austin the quintessentially Texas - it's not. It's quite the exception, in fact.  

Think about it as one of those analogy questions you see on a test...so if you've read the assignment (a previous post) it will make sense and you'll get an A.  Texas is to the United States as Austin is to Texas.  Get it?  Austin doesn't follow the rules of the rest of Texas. It's its own kind of place. Austin is the state capital, and has an enormous capitol building to prove it.   (A post on the capitol is forthcoming...and believe me when I say it is NOT what you are expecting. You will not learn anything about the capitol and you WILL laugh and possibly blush at the photos I show you.)

Not only is it the capital of the state, but Austin is also the Live Music Capital of the World.  (I'd get in trouble with the locals if I didn't capitalize that.) It has a tremendous music scene downtown and it's WAY cooler than I will ever be, therefore, I can't tell you much more about it than that. It's not my scene.  What I can tell you is Austin is full of unique people... they can be earthy and hippie-cool, or they colorful and expressive with their hair color, body art/tattoos, piercings and wardrobe choices - did you know skinny jeans can be cut-offs?  It's true. They pair particularly nice with a shock of hot pink hair and Converse.  Part of this element of the culture can be attributed to University of Texas at Austin, with over 48,000 students.  The other part is "just Austin" - and like the outsider in school, don't ask them why they are so different - they might not tell you to go to hell, but they will slap you with a Keep Austin Weird sticker.  
 

A mere three hours east (and a little south) you'll find Houston.  The first thing you'll notice about Houston is the traffic; second thing will be the humidity. You know how it feels when you walk into a bathroom where someone is taking a really long, hot shower, and you say, "Hey...turn on the exhaust fan in here!"?  There's no exhaust fan in Houston.  It's just that steamy.  The upside is that they actually get rain and so it's green there.  Houston is a big, real city.  It has sports teams - one of which is so mighty they just call themselves the Texans...no need for a moniker like Astros or Dynamo - they are just the Texans - which if you think about it, is SO very Texas-ish.  What other state has a professional sports team named after them?  Exactly.  

Three or four hours north (and a bit east) is Dallas.  Dallas is incredibly flat and spread out...so you never know when you've left Dallas, except that maybe people are slightly less dressed-up once you aren't as close to the city.  The stereotype about Dallas women, in my experience, is true. They do dress up. Dallas is incredibly proud of itself and they are glad you've come to visit.  Like most places in Texas, people are pretty nice - Dallas folk are just a little nicer.

My drive across Texas when I first moved here gave me a glimpse of West Texas, and subsequent conversations with actual Texans have confirmed what I concluded in less than a day - you don't want to go there.  My theory is that there's too much space between cities, none of which are significant in size, so there's an overall sense of seclusion and isolation. That's accented by proximity to the border, which adds an completely different element...so it isn't a destination for anyone east of there.  In fact, the people I know who live there (from my work) never even try to get anyone to come visit.  You'll never hear someone from El Paso complain that you haven't come out to see her.  She gets it. Anyone east of there prefers to remain east of there.

Speaking of east....no other part of Texas takes a bashing like East Texas. Ask anyone in my office - when we have to travel to the area offices throughout Texas, no one wants to go east.  I've been there and I can't complain...in fact, it's safe to say that I really like East Texas. My drive there took me through Davy Crockett National Forest - and I haven't been in an national forest since I left Oregon.  (With good reason...according to the USDA Forest Service website, there are 13 National Forests in Oregon, and three in Texas.)  The people there were very nice...even nicer than in Dallas.  And their accents are the best in Texas - think Matthew McConaughey - so it's easy to see how one could fall for East Texas.  Yes, I did see a very large man in very large overalls hanging out at a gas station just outside of the town I visited.  Yes, there was a ceiling fan in my hotel room, and yes, there was only one Starbucks within a three hour range.  But still.  Something about East Texas stole my heart and makes me smile.

The funny thing about each of these places is that they all consider themselves "Texas" despite the differences between each one. That leads me to my next observation of Texas as a place.  The highway system that connects all of these places has some serious Texas Pride going on. Here are two examples of what I'm talking about: 




Look closely at the tops of the columns...it's the Texas Star.
So really, at no time while you are in Texas will you forget where you are. But just in case you do, there will always be someone like this next to you on the highway to remind you:

Can you see the back windows on the car?  They have big Texas map outline on them. I know what you're thinking...and no, it's not an official car. It's a suburban mom's SUV. I've seen her a few times on the road.  She just really loves Texas. 

I can't mention Texas roads without the notorious armadillo.  You are probably saying to yourself, "No, Wait, Renee.  Armadillos are animals and you should include them in your post about wildlife."  Well, I wish I could, but the fact of the matter is that I've NEVER seen a live armadillo.  They have always been dead on the side of the road.  I considered including that picture, but here's a better one instead.  I stole it off the internet, so props to Google Images and whoever took this picture.  To me it's a mystery as to HOW they saw one upright and alive.


This concludes your lesson on Texas as a place, or at least until I see more. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Texas Way



Can you see that?  (I'm working on the picture-taking with my phone...be patient with me, please.)  It's the sign that greeted us when we got to Texas.  I took a photo to capture the moment, unaware of how prolific it would prove to be. "The Texas Way" isn't just some catchphrase a marketing person came up with for the Texas Tourism Commission. (That catchphrase is actually "It's Like a Whole Other Country," which is truer than you know and will be the theme of all upcoming posts...but I'm getting ahead of myself.)  Anyway, there really is a Texas Way and I'm starting to get it.  

But first things first. I quit posting after we moved here for a number of reasons, one of which being that I assumed there would be nothing interesting to talk about - after all, the impetus of this blog was to share with my American friends and family the details of how I was getting acclimated to living in a foreign country... to share all the idiosyncrasies unique to life in a foreign culture. (Are you seeing where I'm going with this yet????)  Well, after some time on the ground I've discovered that I need to tell you about this country as well.   

As I mentioned already, Texas IS a whole other country.  Shamelessly, Texans will admit to that.  If the United States was a high school, there would be cliques for each region (Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, Southwest and Midwest) and then there would be Texas.  He's the guy who refused to join a clique, who wouldn't wear the required shirt in PE, and who would tell you to go to hell if you asked him why he won't comply with the same rules as everyone else.   But just like you see at a high school reunion when the outsider ends up being the most successful person there, Texas enjoys a comparatively lower unemployment rate and high job growth...so maybe there's something to be said for doing it the Texas Way. 

Don't worry...I'm not going to discuss Texas economics in this blog.  I think we all know that's way more substance than the things about which I typically write.  But I will tell you things that you'd never know without someone here on the ground with keen insight, an inquisitive nature, and awesome picture-taking skills (as long as it's not on my phone.)  And since all of my readers have historically been in places like St. Louis, Portland, Chicago and Harrisburg, I'm the only way you'll know the truth about this place.  

The one thing I will say straight away is that your impressions are wrong - and that's not to say mine weren't.  For example, there are music stations here that aren't country.  Now I'm not ready to say that I like country music; however, thanks to a friend who continually shows me the light, I'm no longer describing it with terms like "ear rupturing" and "heinous."  http://www.reneespassport.blogspot.com/2009/06/i-just-realized-what-it-is-that-i-didnt.html

If one of your assumptions is that everyone drives a truck and has a gun rack, you'd only be half right.  I've seen very few gun racks, but there are an excessive amount of trucks here...and you aren't necessarily going to see a cowboy step out of it.  There's no demographic for who drives a truck - it can be a dude in boots or a woman in sandals; a guy in a suit or fresh off the tractor.  Apparently trucks here are not just for function (and they are much easier to drive than you'd think.) 

And the last thing I'll say for now regarding what you've heard about Texas?  Everything IS bigger here.  Trust me. 

So stay tuned for more...like the scoop on the food. It's me, remember?  I'm all about the food.  Some of you have known me my entire life and know that I've never changed who I am - not even Texas can do that to me.  So make sure you don't come to read this when you are hungry, because after I fill you in, you'll be bummed that your next meal isn't here. 













Sunday, October 25, 2009

It's a mad, mad world

I've started a handful of posts with the words, "If you ever want to get a really good look at yourself..." Some of the posts I've published. Others are dangling in my 'draft' file, waiting for wit and substance to arrive. A few examples of endings to this sentence include: "pack up your entire life and move out of the country," "set-up residence in a foreign country," or "live with another family in their home." Well, I'd like to add another predicate to that subject. Add, "take a 36-hour road trip with your family across five states while hauling all of your worldly possessions in a trailer behind you."

Last week we drove from Portland, Oregon, to Austin, Texas. The good news is, it's over. We are here. We have new jobs, new home, a new start. The bad news is, last week we drove from Portland, Oregon, to Austin, Texas.

Remember when I mentioned two paragraphs ago that there are posts in my 'draft' folder just waiting for wit and substance to arrive? Well, I'm putting this post out there sans wit and substance. To be honest, it's probably missing a whole lot more than just those two elements, but I'm doing it anyway. Why? It's all still fresh in my mind. And before I try to lock it away in that closet in my mind where I keep WAY too much baggage, I'm setting it free for the world to see. (Okay, not the world. Just the 14 people who have signed on to be Followers of my blog.)

I kept a notebook next to me in the front seat so I could jot down bits of fascinating insight as they occurred. I never quite accomplished fascinating insight...the closest that I came to that was when I realized that all public radio stations have their fundraising drive at the same time - which really, really bummed me out as I scoured the dial for some sort of information source. But I digress. What ended up first in my notes was the situation with the Mad Libs.

Our wonderful friends, Tom and Casey, prepared a treasure trove of activities for the boys to do on the road. Let me tell you, that bag of goodies was my god for four days. One of the items inside was Mad Libs...remember those fill-in-the-blank stories? You have a story written with key words missing, and you have to fill-in key words without knowing the context in which they will be used. You only know the part of speech that belongs there...verb, noun, adjective...or it says you need to fill it in with a girl's name, or body part, for example. Yep. Tell a seven year old boy to name a body part. Better yet, tell him to name a PLURAL body part. You're seeing where this is going, aren't ya?

But wait - there's more. Like the offer on TV where they'll double the fun for the same low, low price, I also have additional fodder within one story. It's not all about bodily functions and inappropriate body parts that come in pairs. No, it's also about the tunnel-vision of a seven year old boy who cannot seem to get a concept out of his mind. Kids do it all the time...they get obsessed with something and talk about it non-stop. They pretend around it, they draw pictures of it, they ask about it. See if you can guess what Son 2 was fixated on in this sampling of our conversation. We were about three libs in at this point.

Me: Okay, I need a noun.
Him: Godzilla.
Me: How about something that Godzilla is? Like "lizard" or "creature."
Him: Godzilla wasn't just a lizard.
Me: Yes, but using his name isn't going to work in the story. His name is a proper noun, remember? We need just a noun.
Him: F i i i i i i i i n n n ne. Morphed crocodile-lizard.
Me: (writing down 'lizard' and hoping he won't remember.)
Me: Now a plural noun.
Him: Plural means more than one, right?
Me: Yep.
Him: Two-headed Godzilla.
Me: Well, that's not quite what it means by plural.
Him: Four-headed Godzilla.
Me: What I mean is, the creature needs to be plural...like dogS, catS.
Him: Four headed tyrannosaurus.
Me: (sigh)
Him: You can just write "four-headed T-Rex" if you can't spell it.
Me: I can spell it...I don't think you are listening...you know, like I said about dogSSS or catSSS. (emphasis on the 's')
Him: Dogs and cats are lame, though. How about just a four-headed Godzilla with a buncha two-headed baby Godzillas?
Me: No multiple heads. Just multiple CREATURES. No more heads, just one head per creature, okay?
Him: (sighs) Jeez.

Are you feeling it?

Just to make it clear that not all Mad Libs ended in a communication breakdown, I'll tell you about one that was particularly funny. Now it's my chance to be inappropriate and juvenile, because the boys didn't even "get" it when John and I were cracking up over the way this one turned out. I'll transcribe the end of it here, verbatim. The words in italics are Son 2's words. Note the coordination of the part of speech, despite the complete absurdity of the sentence. That is, until the last sentence. The last sentence is could stand on its own. And remember, this is ME reading the whole thing aloud after it was complete.

"The other day I had to ask my two giant gnomes, Sleeping Tootie and Bella for help. They're both on the varsity cyclops team. It was a grueling thousand million months before my smelly sisters deemed me ready for the poopy moment. I had to do deep toe bends and skyscrapers to improve my truck capacity. As for me, I didn't have the slightest crab with three eyeballs what to do about sports. It's embarrassing that in a family of supersonic athletes, I'm the only one without any hand-groin coordination."

Perhaps it was funnier when we were slap-happy in the middle of New Mexico. Needless to say, Husband and I have made a couple of hand-groin coordination jokes since. Go ahead...try it at home. Funny, no?

Here's a picture of one of the worksheets in a second grade Brain Quest book. It was another one of the gems in the Tom and Casey Bag-o-Tricks. Son 2 was doing some worksheets, Son 1 was reading a book, Husband was driving, and I was acting like I didn't want to take a nap and wake up in Austin. It didn't take long for something to end the silence. The boys caught this little mishap in editing at Brain Quest, Inc. and were giggling and laughing about it from the backseat. I had to ask what was so funny. Look closely and tell me which one of these pictures doesn't quite belong:
I've probably given you the impression that our road trip was nothing but bad words, potty talk and multi-headed creatures. Au contraire, mon frere. There's much more to come!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

It's like riding a bike...you never forget how to do it

Hey! Do ya remember me??

I remember you. It's been a while, I know. Wanna know what' s happened? Where I've been? Well, the long and the short of it goes like this: I've been to England. I've been back.

I enjoyed a WONDERFUL summer in Portland, Oregon, and I got out within moments of the winter settling in. Hmmmm...what's that like? Winter in the Pacific Northwest? I'll tell you: Wet newspaper. Yep.... that's how I'd describe it. Look up to the sky and see a giant, wet newspaper hanging over you. A giant wet newspaper that's not to be removed for the following nine months. That's the Pacific Northwest. Summer ROCKS. Winter...not so much.

Have I made any major semantic faux pas in Texas? Not yet. Will I? Damn straight. Stay tuned.....

Monday, August 24, 2009

What I miss about the UK.....(seriously!)

When I look back on my previous posts, I often wonder if I gave the impression that I didn't like living in England. I don't think it looks that way...but I'm the one who can't ever tell if what I'm writing is even interesting to the reader, so what do I know? Apparently it isn't interesting to agents or publishing houses, for instance. (Yes, that was bitter. I'll own it.)

Anyway, I've been back in the States for 15 weeks now. I've eaten my way across the city of Portland. I've used every convenience item available to me. I've made pancakes weekly. I've used inches, feet, and every other non-metric measure. I've pushed a grocery cart with one hand while drinking coffee. I've driven with reckless abandon. (Okay, that's an exaggeration. I've driven without sweating and stressing while I fight off carsickness and the impulse to put a big sign on the top of my car that reads, "Forgive my motoring transgressions. I'm a yankee!")

Now that my American mojo is intact, I'm noticing that I am missing things about the UK. (Will I ever be satisfied???) Of course what I miss most aren't things, but rather people. I miss Simon, Claire and Liv. I miss all the fun we had together, and the great times we shared with their other friends.... who soon became our friends as well.

As for the things I miss, I'll begin with the food. It's always about the food with me, isn't it? I miss the endless supply of Cadbury chocolate, the delightful "crisps" in their teeeny little bags, the pizza at The Faulkner, and the pasties at the The Pasty Place on Bridge Street. I miss daytrips to castles, afternoons in the park in Shrewsbury, and strolls around the city walls of Chester. The greetings from all the shopkeepers on Hoole Street as I made my daily visits for fresh bread, meat, produce and other necessities...the way they all called me "luv" is something I'd love to hear again. I miss the TV shows we grew to love, and the ones we loved already and got to see more of once we were in country. I really miss the boys' school uniforms...it made that part of our day so much easier! I miss being able to walk to just about anywhere. I miss that feeling I had (which was happening more and more often) that I had "mastered" the new life...and by that I mean that I FINALLY knew where I was, what to do, what was going on, and that I had figured it out on my own. I miss being special because I was from "somewhere else" and all the nice conversations that ensued from that fact.

Where did this come from? I don't know, exactly. I was re-reading my past posts, trying to assemble them in some order to submit them as part of a manuscript. (A publisher I contacted told me what she'd like to see and I'm trying to format it for her. No big book deal or anything....this publisher is part of a self-publishing company, so we'll see where it goes.) But it made me miss the UK. Who knows - maybe I'll get published and then I'll get to go back to England as part of a book signing tour. Like I said in my first post: A girl can dream, right?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Chill Out

Just recently I wrote on my friend's Facebook page, "You can take the girl out of the hood, but you can't take the hood out of the girl." I've often said something similar about myself, except saying that you can take me out of the Midwest, but you can't take the Midwest out of me. I'd like to amend that and add, "...except in matters related to weather and temperature tolerance." The Midwest has left me, no doubt about it.

Again you find yourself asking, "Renee, what the hell are you talking about?" Let me tell you. It has been over 100 degrees here for almost a week and I have been DYING whenever I have to leave to comfort of air conditioning. Yes, me. The girl who used to spend June, July and August's hot and steamy days outside, laying in the sun, wearing oil all over my body, getting up only to hose off, dip in the pool, and get more lemonade. (Or California Cooler, depending on what year it was.) The girl who went to high school wearing no coat, a short uniform skirt, and slip-on shoes in six inches of snow and single-digit temperatures. Yes, that hardy girl who is now, apparently, a climatic weenie.

For my dear readers in St. Louis who only leave the AC to go to and from their cars and who may be wondering why I'd even be exposed to such heat while indoors, here's a teensy bit of insight about the Pacific Northwest. Until recent years, most homes were not built with air conditioning. It wasn't necessary because this kind of heat was extremely rare. However, things have changed, as we all know...call it climate change, call it global warming...whatever you choose to call it, all it really means is that I am sweating my you-know-what off and it makes me cranky.

Yes, there are window units. Yes, there are fans. But the problem with those is that they effect only the immediate area around them. For example, the window units in the upstairs bedrooms crank out cold air all night long, but the fact of the matter is that the house - the structure itself, its contents - are already hot and cannot be cooled down with zonal cooling. So the floor is still warm, as the heat from the levels below rises. The levels below are warm and won't cool off until there are several days of cool temperatures. And right now, things have "cooled down" to the 90's. Yes, that is what they say on the weather reports, "Expect a gradual cooling to the mid-90's by Sunday." Since when is that cool?

For almost a year now I've observed a lot of disparity between the areas of my life that are best served by cold temperatures and those that are not. The airport in Manchester? (http://reneespassport.blogspot.com/2009/03/hindsight-is-2020if-you-open-your-eyes.html) WAY too cold. Beverages in England? Not cold enough. July in Portland, Oregon? WAY too hot. It seems that I'm like Goldilocks, searching for the place that is not too hot, not too cold, but just right for me. And that's rather telling, considering the up-in-the-air nature of our life right now.