30 June 2007


I have been trying to maintain two blogs for several months. My first blog, Culinary Cowgirl, has been loads of fun...indulging my passion of all things food. And this blog has been my release for all things non-food. But, after taking a long think about it and after noticing that my life wouldn't support the time for two blogs, I have opted to quit the first two and begin a new one.

Just This Side of Normal will still have an enormous helping of my food fanaticism, as well as my thoughts that have been a part of Notes from a Caffienated Cowgirl.

So I'm not really leaving...just changing location. See you there!

13 June 2007

Things you miss...

Expat life is so hard to explain unless you've experienced it. My best friend growing up was an expat many times over. She would tell me things about her life abroad and I always thought I knew exactly what she meant, exactly what she was feeling. But now, many years later, I realize that I only had a vague understanding of what she was going through. Living in her shoes, so to speak, has given me a whole new appreciation.

What you don't realize, or at least you think you do until it's blatantly obvious that you don't, is how much you miss completely random, silly things. Today, as I was digging through my freezer for an after dinner snack, it hit me how much I miss TCBY Yogurt. Where on earth that came from, I have no idea! It's been years (at least 10) since I've lived anywhere near a TCBY and almost as long since I've had one of their fabulous frozen delights (thank god for a job that required travel and airports with decent food vendors). But, staring into the abyss of my freezer, this strange longing hit me...and it hit me harder knowing that since I am in England, I can do absolutely nothing about it.

Then there's the music. I'm a big rock/alternative fan...but I do have my roots in country music. And the fact that I can't just turn on the radio and hear country music is so alien to me. Here it's pretty much rock and pop, with a dash of classical, lots of talk, and the occasional show that will play an eclectic mix. And that's it. Over the years, I've become used to this. It's just the norm. But when I've been back in the states for a visit, that first blast of country coming from the radio reminds me what country I'm in...and that for a long time I've been a stranger in a foreign land.

And last, certain turns of phrase. It seems such a minor and obvious point. When in a foreign country it is expected that they won't talk the same as you. But the little things that don't even register with us when uttering it, can make a girl homesick when hearing it. I was in Sainsburys a while back, going through the checkout. Normally, the moment I open my mouth, I get the typical questions - so, what part of America are you from? do you like England? California, do you know any movie stars? But this day, the checker struck up a conversation that ran near to my heart - grocery stores. Being that I worked closely with grocery chains for quite some time, I am always curious to see how non-Americans view our supermarkets. This woman had visited the US many times and said that she found our stores fascinating...big, bright, welcoming. I smiled and agreed, British supermarkets are still behind the times in many aspects. But it was as I was taking the register receipt from her that the differences struck me the most. She said it was a pleasure talking to me and then paused and smiled, "Have a nice day, "she said, gushing that she always wanted to say that since being in the US (they don't do that in the UK). I had a huge grin on my face and said, "you too"...and almost fought tears in my eyes as it hit me how common that phrase is in the States, yet so foreign here.

Anyway, at some point I will find my TCBY again and be able to tune into a country radio station, it just may take a few more years. But until then, have a nice day.

27 May 2007

The land of hope...

There is a section of my closet where clothes go to hide from the charity bags. I like to call it the "land of hope".

Because we move quite often, I am no longer the pack rat of my early years. Rather, at every given opportunity I gladly go through our belongings and give away things we just don't need. I have 5 categories in my wardrobe that I mentally run through when it comes time to purge. They are...

  1. clothes I actually wear
  2. clothes I haven't worn in ages and probably won't wear again
  3. clothes that are a bit shabby or worn out
  4. clothes that are truly out of date
  5. clothes from the land of hope
Categories 2,3 and 4 get tossed...leaving me with my true wardrobe and the one I wish I could wear. You see, clothes in the land of hope are usually a size or two too small, but are items that I absolutely love and can't bear to part with. It's that mental wrestling match of knowing that you can't fit into them, yet not giving up hope that skipping that last bite of chocolate won't magically subtract ten pounds from my posterior.

The most recent inhabitants in the land of hope are my pre-pregnancy clothes. I almost have to laugh at myself for writing that. You see, pre-pregnancy means that these clothes are at least four years old now. That old wives tale of losing your baby weight through breastfeeding and chasing a toddler...yeah, hogwash. Didn't work for me. I lost a good amount of my pregnancy weight, but not all of it. And so, many beloved skirts, trousers and suits found their way to a dark corner of the closet, clinging for dear life, hiding from the charity shop bags.

But this past Christmas, I had had enough. I told my husband that I was tired of all the methods I had tried and was going to go full-force into reshaping myself to something that resembled the me before our son. I even went so far as to opt out of Christmas gifts and ask for one item instead - an elliptical machine. And then, after the new year, I started on a real diet...and now have a smaller frame to prove it.

So today, while my son was blissfully playing, I took a very indulgent period of time and opened my closet door and pulled out the clothes from the land of hope. Tentatively, I took them off the hangers and slipped them on. And you know what? They fit! All of them! Some are a bit snug, but at least this time I can actually get them on! It was pure joy. As a woman, there are few things in life that send you into giggles more quickly than discovering your clothes fit again.

And now I am looking at a new dilemma...a stack of clothes that are becoming too loose to look right. Will I throw them out in the next charity bag? Not yet. I am too much of a realist. Weight can reappear when you are least expecting it. But if I can keep on the path I am on, I don't foresee these clothes making it into the next move boxes.

You see, there is always hope.

21 May 2007


English weather is schizophrenic. One day it is sunny, the next rainy, and then sunny again. It just can't make up it's mind. Yesterday it was beautiful. Not too warm, but sunny with a mild wind. I spent most of the day in our garden, since this past week had been less than stellar. And yet today, as if God thinks English weather is his own personal joke, it's raining again...and cold. Three years and I still haven't gotten used to it. I've decided to seek refuge in a cup of coffee and piece of chocolate. Maybe that will help.

How is it that we may move from place to place, yet our bodies seem set on staying in their original climate? I grew up in a Mediterranean climate. Winters that were cold, but not harsh. Summers that were hot, but not humid. After leaving home, I've lived in a variety of climates and no matter how hard I try, I never fully adapt. When I do get to go home for a visit, my body breathes a sigh of relief as if to say "yes, this is where I belong."

If you can never fully adapt to the weather, then can you ever fully adapt to the place? Does my lack of stripping down to a t-shirt and shorts when the weather hits 65 degrees Fahrenheit make it obvious that I'm not a native? Or that the raincoat I had when we moved here would be laughed at by locals as it was not "serious" enough for the wet weather? I'd like to think I fit in here pretty well after all this time, but I guess I still don't truly grasp the instability of English weather.

Ugh, it's still raining. Time for another cup of coffee. But, on the bright side, tomorrow it will probably be sunny again...WAIT - maybe I'm getting the hang of this after all!

14 May 2007

Cows on the wall...

In our house, my husband and I take turns on who gets to decorate what room. Some rooms are a joint venture, a little bit of both of us, and then some are either his or hers. This time (in this house), the dining room is mine.

I don't have much in there. My chinks and spurs are hanging on the wall. I have an old wooden nail box from the ranch (probably 100 years old or more) on a shelf. And then there are my pictures of the ranch. Photos of my brothers working cattle, another of our mountain cow camp, and my favorite, one of a calf nestled in the dry grass.

Now, in the States, no one ever questioned my choice of displayed photos. But here in England, I have been asked on several occasions, "why do you have a picture of a cow on your wall?" And me, thinking I am the normal one, always find myself a bit surprised. Why would it be odd to have a picture of a cow on the wall? There are numerous famous paintings out there that prominently feature the bovine animal...and many people use them as centerpiece artwork. But perhaps it's that it is not a painting, nor a piece from a famous photographer (apologies to my sister-in-law), it's simply a lone calf staring into the camera. And perhaps it is that the sense of pride and tradition that follows farmers and ranchers in the US, doesn't quite translate in Europe.

I have a cow on my wall because it is part of who I am. When I see it, it reminds me of the heritage I come from. There is more to it than just the animal itself. It is also the blood, sweat, tears, dreams, and hard work that goes along with it. It is my personal history...much like the display of family photos and memorabilia is to others.

For my non-American friends, once I tell them why their is a cow on the wall, they usually continue the conversation with comments and questions like "you mean cowboys...just like in the movies?" And the answer is yes...only better.

Am I strange? I don't really think so, there are so many like me back home who have similar decorations. But over here, I guess I am a bit of a novelty. I am, as my friends here describe me, the girl with the cow on the wall.

09 May 2007

Shades of deja black and blue...

Having two older brothers guaranteed one thing for me while growing up - various cuts, scrapes and bruises covering my arms and legs at any given time. I was their guinea pig, their crash test dummy. I would end up wounded in some way and go running for the house...and my mom would always say, "oh, you're not dead...if you had the brains God gave you, you wouldn't do what they asked."

But I wanted to fit in. I didn't want to be a girly-girl. I wanted to be one of the boys. They would talk me into playing Evil Knievel with my bike (never a wise choice), having me barrel down one of the hills attempting some sort of jump at the bottom (the bike usually ended up on top of me). They had me try to ride my pet donkey - who didn't want to be rode. They were always successful at talking me into being a passenger on one of their motorcycle rides (can't tell you how many times I fell off the back when hitting a bump in the road). They even got me to ride in makeshift wagons that were hooked up to the back of dirtbikes (you can only imagine the outcome). And I still have many of the scars to this day.

Plus, on top of what my brothers got me into, I have to admit I am a natural klutz. Grace is not my middle name. So, even when I was not being used for experiments, I was finding my own way to injuries. And it's never improved. Even now, I always have a cut, scrape or burn somewhere on my body. But I've lived through it all and actually feel that I am stronger (so to speak) because of it.

So, I guess it really shouldn't surprise me that my son is following in my footsteps...or missteps. He is always falling or banging his head on something. But it was just this past week, when he fell on the sidewalk and took a good portion of hide off his right knee, that I had that odd sense of deja vu and saw multiple visions of what his future would be like. He is currently an only child. Will he learn from his own self-inflicted wounds? Will he grow up to be the ringleader of crash test dummies? I shudder to think.

And yet, at the same time, I find myself repeating my mom's words to him - "oh, you're not dead...here's a bandaid...and just be more careful next time."

02 May 2007

What I have in common with Indiana Jones...

I hate snakes.

There is no getting around it. Those creepy, slithery beasts hold no warm fuzzy place in my heart. Growing up in rattlesnake country, having to constantly keep one eye and one ear alert for them once the weather turned warm, watching animals and people do battle with them - yeah, I've had my fill. And due to this, even the harmless ones are evil in my book. I've developed an irrational fear of them and no amount of convincing will change my mind.

When we moved to England, I was thrilled to hear that they only had one poisonous species (the adder) and the non-poisonous ones were few and far between. That suited me just fine. Being able to relax in my garden and not have to worry about the creepy crawlies made me happy. However, keep in mind that once on snake lookout, always on snake lookout. Irrational fears are just that - irrational. One day when my husband was digging through our garden shed and caused some items to shift and make a sound similar to a snake rattle, I leapt a foot or two backwards and prepared for a battle...my husband laughed so hard it brought tears to his eyes.

You may be wondering what brought this topic up today, well, I finally had a face to face encounter with a snake here in England. We were out "adventuring" in the New Forest. It's a great place. Lots of things to see and do...and lots of open area (always a plus in my book). Now, we've been out in the country a lot during our time here, so we are fairly comfortable with what we may or may not run across in our travels. However, I wasn't so lucky this time...

As we were exploring an area near a pond, I heard my husband say "hey honey, did you see that snake in the water." WHAT? Nah, that's not what I heard, surely he was just joking or perhaps he said something else entirely. Then he said it again. Oh man. My heart raced and I looked down at my apparel to assess how inadequate it was - hiking tennis shoes and cropped pants - I knew I should've worn my jeans and boots! The fun had just gone out of my funny bone. Rather than enjoying the surroundings, I began to maintain high alert mode for snakes...all the while my husband and son are blissfully walking around and chattering about things they see.

Cautiously, I continued on my path, figuring that the snake was probably near the other side of the pond where my husband originally spotted it. My mind raced, was it an adder, no couldn't be, husband said he saw it in the water...and somehow I managed to remind myself they didn't have water moccasins in this part of the world. And then, right in front of me, staring out from the water was the snake. Of all the luck. And while I took a step or two backward, the snake did the same...well, actually, it raced off along the water. Husband, hearing my movement and cursing (yes, I have less than kind things to say at moments like this) came over to where I was...with a smirk on his face...the big, tough cowgirl afraid of a little English grass snake, how amusing.

So, here I am, out in the world, away from some of the harder aspects of ranch life, and yet...well, I still hate snakes.