Moving to Texas

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My husband Derek and I have moved to Houston, Texas. This blog will be a way for friends and family to see what we are up to.

Derek  is pursuing MFA in Studio Art – with a concentration of graphic design at the  University of Houston. It is a three year program. While he is in school, I am working as a Publication Editor for Houston Community Newspapers, a division of the Houston Chronicle.

It has been an adventure, and a culture shock for sure. We have moved from Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, which has a population of about 3,300, to Houston, the fourth largest city in the U.S., population 2.1 million.

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The trip of a lifetime

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It’s funny how a problem can turn into the best thing that has ever happened to you.

The problem: Our experience with flights to and from Houston have been less than ideal, and are inconsistent.

For instance, my Aunt Susie has visited a few times, and she has always had trouble finding flights that worked for her schedule and price point. We never understood this. She is flying from a major airport, Newark, NJ, to Houston, which is the fourth largest city in the U.S., and not to mention that there are two airports to choose from. She has made it work, but she has had to go over budget to make the trips happen, and she has had to fly at inconvenient times.

The scenario: We were planning on going to St. Lucia at the end of May, as a celebration for Derek finishing graduate school. We booked a hotel about six months ago, and we had not gone any further in the planning. I looked at flights a few times, and found that flights from Houston to St. Lucia were averaging $1,800. What? Why?

My Uncle Paul looked and looked at flights but could not find anything cheaper. So he said, “I’m sorry, but it looks like St. Lucia will not work. Where else would you like to go?”

I have a detailed bucket list – 38 trips in all, St. Lucia included. I sent him the list. I didn’t really care where we went, so long as it was still on my list.

My dream vacation, at the top of the list, is Sicily, Italy. My family immigrated from Ragusa, Sicily in the 1800s, so it would be a trip to the motherland.

For a few days, Uncle Paul asked me questions here and there, and looked at different destinations. Hawaii, Croatia and Paris all came up, but Uncle Paul kept coming back to Sicily. They asked me, “How much money do you have saved for Sicily?” They knew I have been saving for Sicily dollar by dollar for the last six years. They also sent me some tours to look at, but I was told to “stand by.” The waiting was agony.

After three days, my Uncle Paul broke the news by texting me a picture of a piece of square Sicilian pizza. I cried. And then cried some more.

The irony was not lost on me that this trip was technically supposed to be for Derek, but I originally picked a beach vacation, and he’s not the biggest fan of the beach. He burns too easily, even with generous amounts of sun screen.  Italy, even though it is my dream trip, will be a better fit for Derek too. He will soak up the art and architecture, not to mention the wine.

I never thought I would say that I was thankful that flights from Houston to a destination were too expensive and we had to cancel a trip, but it worked out for the best. Eight days in Sicily (flights included) ended up being cheaper than a 5-day trip to St. Lucia. So, thank you Houston airports for being both too expensive and inconsistent!

Changes…

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Everything can change in an instant. A week ago, on Tuesday morning, my dad called me. He told me that the company that he works for, New England Motor Freight, is shutting down. He is, or was, a truck driver. He worked there since before I was born. By the end of this week, my dad will be out of a job.

I never thought that my parents and I would end up going through the exact same situation. It has made me think about all that has transpired in our lives the last few years.

We thought life was great in Pennsylvania. We had good jobs, and a brand new house, bought in our first year of marriage. Then I got laid off from my job. We both bounced around with other jobs after that, and nothing was ever the same. We were not happy. We decided to go back to school and get bachelor degrees in graphic design. That was when Derek knew that graphic design was what he wanted to do professionally. There was nothing holding us back in Pennsylvania, so Derek applied to graduate schools. Even though it was a three-year process, me getting laid off lead us to Houston. We had no idea what was going to happen, but we knew we could no longer stay where we were.

Now my mom and dad are facing that same dilemma. They live in New Jersey, which is one of the most expensive states to live in. Property taxes are high. Like us three years ago, they can no longer stay where they are. They are planning on putting their house up for sale next month.

They do have a plan in place. They want to move to Maryland. For the last few years they have been volunteering with the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. Through that, they have become familiar with the area. They have their favorite coffee shops and restaurants, and they have made friends with other railroad workers. This was always their retirement plan, but this was not supposed to happen for another few years yet. Dad is not quite at retirement age, but at least he is close. He has looked at all of the figures, and although the budget will be tight, early retirement is doable.

There is some comfort that they are not going to this place sight unseen, which is what happened to us when we moved to Houston. We had absolutely no idea what we were getting ourselves into. It is still going to be scary for them though.

They have a really nice home that they moved into when it was brand new, (when I was 11 years old) and it was customized for them. They might have to move into a less than ideal home in Maryland, to keep costs down. Dad is a handyman though, and he is capable of fixing a lot.

Again, this is also similar to what we went through. We loved our house in Wellsboro. It was the perfect size, actually, almost too big for just the two of us. It was pretty too. I still mourn my beautiful knotted pine kitchen cabinets. It was hard to downsize and get used to a new, cramped setting.

Since then we have worked our way up, and we are in a nicer apartment, and I know mom and dad too, will make a new house a home. Everything gets easier with a bit of time and hard work.

Reflection and worries

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Do you ever find yourself needlessly worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet, and it might not happen at all?

This is the story of my life. Worry is a family trait that has been passed down through the female generations. I feel like I have been trying to talk myself out of going over an anxiety cliff the past two days.

Derek starts his last semester of school next week. We are 120 days away from graduation. He has started to apply to professor jobs.

We both have said all along that we wanted to stay in Houston, but we will move if he gets a good offer. Therefore he is applying to schools elsewhere in the country. If anything, he said, it would be good interview experience.

On Sunday night he finished up an application to (school name withheld) in a semi-rural snowy mountain town. The deadline was Monday. I had no idea that he had intended on applying there until he was in the process.

All Sunday night I tossed and turned dreaming about what life would be like in “snowy mountain town.” I’m not entirely convinced that I could be happy there.

On Monday morning, I convinced myself to calm down, and that this was only the first step in a long process. We probably wouldn’t hear anything back for a few months yet. But then Derek texted me and told me that the school had contacted him, and they wanted to do a Skype interview. I felt like a weight suddenly came down on my chest, and I had trouble breathing. The anxiety was back. I never thought anything would happen so soon. Am I really going to have to move to “snowy mountain town?”

I’m trying to talk myself off that ledge again. He says he thinks it went well, but it was only one interview.  Maybe he will go through a second round of interviews, maybe not. Maybe he won’t get any offers, and he will have to work at a Houston area design firm for a while while being an adjunct professor (meaning contracted for one class at a time), and then try again in a few years.

He still has to apply to the other positions, including one at the University of Houston. I think I would have less anxiety over the prospect of moving to the other discussed locations, but I still have to face the thought of moving at all.

Plan A was to stay in Houston for at least another three to five years. Packing up in July would come too quickly. I am in a really good place myself career wise, and I have gotten a group of good friends. I would feel uprooted at the wrong time. There are still things that I want to do in Houston and in Texas that we haven’t done yet. I do not want to leave anything unfinished.

I’m concerned about putting ourselves (and our cats!) though another cross country move and the stress that comes along with it.

But on the other hand I love the sense of adventure. I feel like I was always meant to move around.

What to do? I do not like feeling not in control. I was not meant to take it one day at a time but that is my only option for now. I am hoping that Derek gets a great offer and that we feel comfortable in making a decision!

Christmas time

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It is now the crazy “what time is it, what day is it, and what should I be doing” part of the year in between Christmas and New Years.

I did not have any expectations because Christmas has been a rough time for me the past few years, but now that I can look back on the whole month, we really did have a nice holiday season.

We fully decorated the apartment for the first time in two years, tree and all. We did decorate the first year we lived in Texas, but without a Christmas tree, it did not feel complete. This lead me to not want to decorate at all the second year. This year, with a bigger apartment, with a fireplace mantel and room for a tree, we went all out.

We have always had a mismatched assortment of decorations, but I am slowly gathering up things that have a similar theme. We both like the country old fashioned Christmas theme, which was most apparent if you looked at our fireplace the last six weeks.

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And for good measure, here is another picture of our one cat enjoying the fire. We have had plenty of fires this season so far. This winter has been chilly for Houston’s standards. There have been lots of cloudy and rainy days that have been made brighter and happier with a fire.

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Here is a picture of our tree. We were used to buying grand nine or ten foot tall trees that would take up a lot of space in our empty dining room. I was concerned that buying a five footer would look puny, but it really was a nice tree!

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Here are pictures of some of our other decor.

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There was also a lot of nice times with my coworkers. December 4th is National Cookie Day, and someone generously baked a batch of sugar cookies and brought in lots of icing and sprinkles. Anyone who wanted to could decorate their own cookies.

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I also baked my own sugar cookies and brought them in to work to share. It seemed like for two weeks straight, someone was bringing in some sort of sweets to share. Candy, cookies, etc. I am now trying to eat more vegetables!

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The Chronicle’s holiday party was also fun too. It was casino themed, which I was originally not thrilled about, but we did have fun. Derek got lucky playing roulette. Too bad it wasn’t real money! Here is a photo of us at the photo booth.

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All of the workers on the third floor also coordinated a holiday lunch. Everyone brought something. It was delicious. There were so many leftovers that we were able to eat it all a second time too.

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Merry Christmas! Happy holidays!

Day at Galveston and Moody Gardens activities

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Even though we had just been at Galveston last weekend for Dickens, we went back again for more Christmas activities.

We arrived at lunch time and tried a new restaurant called Shrimp and Stuff. Their website says that the restaurant is named the best seafood place in all of Galveston County, so it couldn’t be bad! The food was delicious. I got a shrimp po boy and a cup of gumbo and Derek got a bowl of gumbo.

The gumbo was not spicy (not a bad thing) but Derek and I have gotten accustomed to spicy Cajun food so we found a bottle of Cajun hot sauce and added that to our dishes! If you told me 3 years ago that I would love spicy gumbo and jambalaya, I would have said you were crazy. I am very picky and tend to eat bland foods.

The parking lot had some cool murals, so I snapped a few photos before we headed to the seawall. Once there, we headed to Hotel Galvez, to check out their Christmas decorations. They had some nice Christmas trees, and a gingerbread house.

After a short walk on the beach, we headed to the Strand. It was so quiet compared to Saturday’s Dickens event, but it was nice. We enjoyed coffee and chai tea at another new favorite place, MOD Coffeehouse. We browsed in a few stores and got more candy at La King’s Confectionery.

We headed to Moody Gardens around 4 p.m. to buy our holiday combo tickets. Moody Gardens is a large resort type area with lots of activities. They have a bunch of special holiday activities. We picked the holiday combo ticket, which got us access to Ice Land: Pole to Pole, Festival of Lights, and one other attraction of our choosing, all after 4 p.m. We went on a Thursday, which is considered a value day, and saved $5 each on our tickets.

The attraction we chose was the Rainforest Pyramid. The main attractions of Moody Gardens are the three pyramids, each with a theme: Rainforest, Aquarium and Discovery. (I had been to the Aquarium Pyramid with mom, dad and Aunt Susie earlier this year.)

The Rainforest Pyramid was neat. You walk through the different levels of the rainforest, the top, the middle and then the understory. And as you walk through the paths, there are animals to look at, such as birds and reptiles.

The second thing we did was Ice Land: Pole to Pole, which is a big enclosed tent kept at 9 degrees, and filled with ice sculptures and scenes. This year’s theme is North Pole and the South Pole.

They were handing out parkas to everyone, but Derek and I had dressed up as we would normally do if we were still in Pennsylvania, so we skipped this line and headed in. When we first opened the door, we looked at each other and said, “This isn’t bad! It feels like Wellsboro.” The group of older ladies that entered behind us were exclaiming, “It feels like the North Pole in here!” Perspective.

We were both impressed with the ice sculptures. They had one for just about every animal. There was also an ice slide (apparently you need the parkas for this because I got stuck half way down!) and an Ice Bar, which Derek bought drink tickets for.

After leaving the ice tent, the 66 degree temperature outside felt quite comfortable. Then it was off to the Festival of Lights, which is a one-mile walking trail with light displays. They did a great job, with lots of different things and scenes to look at.

If you’re in the Galveston area, I recommend the holiday combo ticket. We paid about $25 each (remember, for a value night) but even with the regular $30 price, you’re still getting three attractions for the price of one. A regular ticket to just the Rainforest Pyramid is $25!

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Dickens on the Strand

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Derek and I went to the Dickens on the Strand event in Galveston last weekend. This is the one event that I have been looking forward to the most, for the last two and a half years. My previous work schedule, having mid-week days off, prevented me from being able to go. Things timed up nicely this year though, because Derek’s last day of school and his semester review was the day before, so we were both “home free.”

This event was important to us because it would be like getting a piece of “home.”  Each December, our hometown of Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, puts on its own Dickens of a Christmas event. Both Dickens events happened the same day too, which made it seem more special.

I am not quite sure how to convey this, but the event simultaneously exceeded my expectations and disappointed me. I think we set ourselves up for failure because we tried to compare and contrast every aspect, which may have taken some of the joy out of the event.

For starters, Wellsboro’s Dickens is free to attend. If you want to park up close, you may be paying $10, but if you want to forgo that, there is a shuttle that can take you to Main Street. So let’s just say it costs nothing if you want to be cost conscious. Tickets to Dickens on the Strand were $30 total for the two of us, and then $20 parking on top of that. We were already $50 in the hole before we even stepped through the gates, which was frustrating.

Dickens on the Strand is bigger overall, spanning quite a few blocks, but because of that it also seemed a bit thinned out. The Galveston event comes out on top with entertainment though. There were six entertainment stages with rotating events every half hour. We kept walking and doing loops of the festival area, and saw something different each time. We saw a magic show, a Cirque show, a high school bagpipe band, carolers and musicians.

The best part of the day was the Queen’s parade. The parade featured a woman who portrays Queen Victoria with her guards, and different groups in Galveston, such as the Elissa ship.

There were so many people dressed up Victorian style, more than in Wellsboro. It was fun to people watch. There were also a lot of people dressed like pirates, and like steampunk.

The thing that we were both the most disappointed about was the type of vendors. In Wellsboro, it is all handmade crafts. For instance, Wellsboro has the infamous Bucky Green, who carves pine trees. On the morning of Dickens, people line up by his booth starting at sunrise to get a tree. There is another man who I have seen at the event most years who carves wooden ducks to sell. These types of crafts and woodwork have become almost synonymous with the Dickens event itself.

None of that was to be found at Dickens on the Strand. We think maybe the vendor fee for such a big event in Galveston is probably too steep for small self-business crafters?

Another big difference was the weather, but a good difference. There was a heat wave, and it was 75 degrees! I prefer that to freezing each year. I attended my first Dickens quite a few years back with a friend and her boyfriend, and my hands got so cold that I was crying. They bought me one of those disposable hand warmers. Nothing to worry about in Galveston though!

I am glad that we went. I always enjoy a day in Galveston. Even after all the build up though, I don’t think I would need to go again. I have realized the importance of keeping Wellsboro’s memories where they belong, and not try to mash them together with something that wouldn’t exactly fit.

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Native American Pow Wow Championship

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Last weekend I attended the Native American Pow Wow Championship at Traders Village.

Traders Village is a large flea market that is open only on the weekends. It also has some small pop up food shacks if you wanted to grab lunch there, and carnival style rides for kids. Derek and I used to enjoy going to Columbus Market, which was a flea market back by my parent’s in New Jersey. I came alone this particular day, but I think some time in the future Derek and I will check out Traders Village together.

Traders Village, in honor of the event, had a special section of vendors that were selling all types of Native American items. There were quite a few things I would have liked to buy (I love the Kokopelli deity) but I had spent too much money the day prior at the Nutcracker Market!

There were also some teepees set up on display, but I found these to be a let down. Other than the teepee itself, I thought there should have been some set up of items outside or inside the teepees, but there was not. I also did not want to take photos of the teepees with the parking lots and the grandstands in the background.

The Native American Pow Wow Championship was essentially a dance contest. There were different categories competing within the large event. Dancers competed in different groups for women, men, juniors, and different types of outfits such as jingle dress and buckskin. The men tended to dance around more wildly, making larger steps and spinning around, probably quite effective at tiring them out! The women (with the exception of the jingle dress category) were more quiet footed, but beautiful to watch nonetheless.

The details on their outfits were amazing. I loved looking at all of the bead work, the bells around their ankles and legs, and their feather head dresses.

Unfortunately I only stayed for about half of the competition, because it was cold and damp that day. There was even a rain delay for about 20 minutes. But I still felt like I saw plenty.

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