Back to the Land of Big Hair & Boxed Wine…

Yup.  I’m back in Texas for a visit and it has not changed a bit – Thank the Lord!  Standing in line at the grocery store behind two middle-aged women dripping in diamonds, leather, and hairspray, my heart swelled with pride. I am home. After seeing these two, I was overcome with the desire to rush home, tease up my hair and put on more mascara – and my cowboy boots, of course.  Texas to the bone, they looked like models in a Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo catalog – albeit one for the more “mature” and plus-sized Texas gals.  Wide leather belts encrusted with chunky turquoise and rhinestones wrapped around their overflowing bellies and the latest Lucchese boots were worn proudly on their feet – and it is nowhere near rodeo season!  Both sported bleached-blond hair, piled up high and sprayed into submission, and more makeup than I had worn in the past two months – all at once.  Pushing two carts filled to the top with boxed wine and Sara Lee coffee cakes, I overheard them coo to the check out clerk, while addressing him as ‘darlin’ and ‘sugar’, that all of these goodies were for their office Thanskgiving party. I have no idea what kind of business they were in, but I would have given my eye teeth to go to that party!

There was a time when I would have rolled my eyes at such a display of ostentatiousness, but no more.  After traveling the world, I have come to appreciate how unique and wonderful Texas is, and view this ‘Texas-ness’ as legitimate culture, not merely an oddity of geography.  I’ve found It is even harder to shake the pull of Texas than it is to get rid of my accent, try as I have to do both.

Yes, Texas is a very special place. What we lack in refinement, we more than make up for in live-out-loud enthusiasm and genuine friendliness.  I dare anyone to move here and keep to themselves.  Within an hour of your arrival, someone will show up on your doorstep with a pound cake and a long list of questions.  The typical Texas woman will know your life story in about ten minutes.  In contrast, after living on London for three years, I could not pick my neighbors out of a line-up!  We lived in two different apartments during our time there, both were five story buildings with three or four apartments per floor.  In both cases, I actually laid eyes on only one of my neighbors, and only one time in each building.  The apartments were occupied, as evidenced by the trash in the hallway and noise from within each flat, but the only time I saw an actual human being was when I was moving out.  The British are the most polite people you will ever meet, and funny as hell, but not the ‘let’s have lunch’ kind of friendly that you find in Texas.  The friends I made in London were overwhelmingly American and predominantly Texan – and what a fun group of ladies they were!  We met every Wednesday for “Wine Time” at a different pub each week.  Our hen party could be heard long before we were seen, and so we naturally cleared more than one pub with our cackling – but that is a another blog…

Being back in Texas for the holidays means taking in all of those things that make this place so unique: small town antique stores and barbecue joints, holiday markets filled with more rhinestone-covered clothing than should be legal, and country music on nearly every radio channel.  Heck, stopping at Buc-ees on a road trip through the Texas Hill Country is something everyone should experience at least once in their life.  Sure, there are wonderful road-side convenience stops in many places.  The UK has huge, clean, service stops along the highways, complete with mini versions of my favorites, like Starbucks and Marks & Spencer.  But only at Buc-ees can you pull up to no less than forty gas pumps and even more toilet stalls – plus they have Beaver Nuggets!  And Buc-ees has an entire department-store-sized section of merchandise featuring that crazy little beaver on their logo saying things like:

“Eat here, get gas.”

“My overbite is sexy”

And my personal favorite, “Restrooms you gotta pee to believe.”

There is just something about the wide open spaces here in Texas that makes me smile, and every place takes credit cards – a huge plus after my all-cash dealings in Luanda.  Unfortunately, the convenience of ready credit and merchandise-a-plenty, means I’ve been shopping like it’s 1999.  So sorry, hubby!  Can’t help muh-self…

Of course, more than anything being back in Texas means the chance to reconnect with treasured family and friends.  Our Thanksgiving pies will taste extra sweet this year, after being so far away.  We may have traveled the world, but Texas has always been in our hearts.  So let’s break open an extra-special box of wine while we give thanks for our many blessings, and fry up our Texas-sized turkeys to golden deliciousness!

Happy Thanksgiving, Y’all!!

© 2014 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved

London calling…

Just as I was finally settling into Luanda and getting used to the pace of life there, it was time for me to leave. Hubby has business back in London and I have come along with him.  Even though I was really enjoying the sights and sounds – but not necessarily the smells – of Luanda, it was impossible to pass up ten days of shows, shopping and no cooking!  My mama didn’t raise a fool, y’all!

The only wrinkle in my little plan is the unfathomably complicated visa process for Angola.  Because I do not have my work visa yet, I cannot go back to Luanda when our London trip is done.  I will have to go back to the states until my visa is ready – whenever that is.  After almost three months of waiting, my husband’s visa is still not back, and his has to be returned before mine can even be submitted.  Clearly, this could take awhile.  The visa office is in no hurry to let us pesky foreigners into the country and no amount of fussing and hollering will make one iota of difference.  As I have said in previous blogs, life in Luanda is all about waiting – for absolutely everything.  So, here I am in London making the best of things. Sigh.

One can never count on the weather in London, but one can always count on plenty to see and do.  Within hours of landing, Hubby headed to the office and I headed to a huge annual holiday market, the Spirit of Christmas Fair, with some friends. Don’t judge – we all have our roles!  This market is enormous – every bit as big as the Nutcracker Market in Houston, for those of you who are familiar with that behemoth.  Set in a large two-story exhibit hall, one can literally shop-till-you-drop for every conceivable gift or specialty food item.  For someone who was operating on only three hours sleep, I managed to cover the entire building and find a few treasures.  Yep, I’m pretty tough when properly motivated.

Luckily for my husband, London has so much more to offer than just shopping.  On Saturday, we were fortunate enough to catch the ‘Poppies at the Tower’ display on its crowning weekend (see This is a commemoration of the nearly 900,000 fallen British soldiers of WWI.  Each soldier is represented by a red ceramic poppy placed one-by-one in the moat of the Tower of London.  Volunteers have been placing the poppies throughout the summer and the final effect is truly breathtaking.  After a wonderful steak dinner at Hawksmoor and the thought-provoking King Charles III play on Saturday night, we wandered over to the Tower to see the poppies all lit up at night.

A view of the moat of The Tower of London, with the Shard visible in the background
Poppies at the Tower – Night view of the moat of The Tower of London, with the Shard visible in the background
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A side view of the Tower of London moat and the Tower Bridge

The next morning, Remembrance Sunday, we braved the masses again and managed to arrive just in time for a moment of silence beside the moat.  The huge, bustling crowd remained respectfully silent and still for a full two minutes.  The only sounds we heard were birds chirping as they circled overhead and a band playing faintly in the distance.  It was very moving and a lovely tribute to those brave soldiers.  I had hoped to purchase a poppy as a remembrance of the event, but all 888,246 poppies have been sold!  At 25 GBP each, this means a whopping sum raised for veterans causes.  It was a very successful event in so many ways!

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iPhones up! I dare say that at least 900,000 photos have been taken of these famous poppies!
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A view of the entrance to the tower, with ‘The Gherkin’ and The Cheese Grater’ buildings visible in the background. The Brits love to name their buildings after food items, apparently…
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Poppies at the Tower – A waterfall of poppies coming from a Tower window.
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Volunteers have been placing these poppies all summer. Quite an undertaking!
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A fitting tribute to the fallen of an often forgotten war.

Never ones to waste a sunny London day, we decided to take in a few more sights and then enjoy another great London tradition, a Sunday Roast at a busy pub.

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We wandered along both sides of the Thames, enjoying the sunshine and great people watching. The Tower Bridge is always a favorite sight.
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The Tower from across the Thames.
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Sunday Roast on St. Katherine’s Docks. Here you see the Britannia, the Queen’s Royal Barge, and a very odd companion, Hippopo Thames. Here is the story of Hippopo:

It has been wonderful taking in the buzz of this fabulous city and catching up with friends. My time here will go quickly as it always does.  Even after living here for over three years, I have yet to scratch the surface.  Better get cracking, time’s a wasting!

© 2014 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved