Moving to Texas

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

Derek will pursue a 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 will work. I do not have a job yet, but time will tell. (Update: I am a paginator (page design) and reporter for Houston Community Newspapers.)

It will be an adventure, and culture shock for sure. We are moving from Wellsboro, 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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Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens

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We spent a day in Dallas at the end of October. We were there because Derek was a speaker at the National College Media Convention. I went with him, partly because he wanted me there for support, and partly because I found online, and fell in love with, the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens,

For some background context, I have been missing fall. It’s not like it was some elaborate season that we celebrated back in Pennsylvania, but I was still craving fall, and everything that came with it.

So, a few months ago, I stumbled upon the Arboretum and Botanical Gardens when searching for things to do in Dallas, for a weekend trip next summer. Turns out that they do this amazing themed pumpkin village every fall, (this year’s theme was Wizard of Oz) and damn, now I wanted to go. But a trip in the fall would never be possible, due to my working weekends, and Derek’s school schedule.

But then Derek was chosen as a speaker, and his session was first thing on a Friday morning. My work week starts on a Friday, so it would have worked out for us to drive up to Dallas on Thursday night. I had personal days that I needed to use anyway, so I said, why not?

Derek’s session went well, and the gardens exceeded my expectations. It was great to get away for the day, see something new and spend the day together, which is rare now! Here are some photos.

We will go back to Dallas, probably sometime this summer, and we will probably go back again, because I imagine it looks different each season.

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Alabama

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Note: I wrote this personal essay this summer.

“When I was a kid, (and still now) my favorite Christmas song was Alabama’s “Christmas in Dixie.” It was one of the songs on the The Time-Life Treasury for Christmas 2-CD collection that my parents owned. The collection played on repeat every Christmas season.

I can’t explain why I liked the song so much. I didn’t know who Alabama was, nor the scope of their popularity, and I certainly had never spent a Christmas, let alone any season, in “Dixie.” Nope. My Christmases were in good ol’ New Jersey.

Regardless, I can remember belting out the words every December. By now in New York City, there’s snow on the ground. And out in California, the sunshine’s falling down. And, maybe down in Memphis, Graceland’s all in lights. And in Atlanta, Georgia, there’s peace on earth tonight. Christmas in Dixie, it’s snowin’ in the pines. Merry Christmas from Dixie, to everyone tonight.”

Fast forward about 20 years. We’re in the middle of our 1,600 mile road trip to move from Pennsylvania to Houston. We passed a highway sign for Fort Payne, Alabama. I didn’t give the town name a second thought, (the road was all looking the same at that point) until my dad radioed through the walkie talkies we were using to communicate on the road. He was driving the UHaul with us following behind. “What is the name of the town that Alabama is from that they sing in Christmas in Dixie?” It only took me about two seconds remember the words and sing back “And from Fort Payne, Alabama, God bless y’all. Happy New Year. Goodnight. Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas tonight.”

Well, I looked a little closer at those exit signs and got a thrill to pass by the town where the band was founded.

Later on that night, still in Alabama, and then crossing through northern Mississippi, I noted that there were tons of the same kinds of trees all along the roads. My dad said, “Those are all pine trees. When they sing in the song, ‘It’s snowin’ in the pines,’ this is what they are talking about.” It was neat to experience some of these places in the song and feel like I could claim a connection now.

After a few weeks of settling in to Houston, I started heavily listening to the oldies station, Country Legends 97.1. My dad and I always had country music in common. But then he splurged on himself and bought a Sirius Satellite Radio. He started listening to Willie’s Roadhouse, which is an oldies country station. We didn’t listen to the same country songs anymore, so we had less to talk about in that aspect.

Country Legends was changing that. I was discovering so many new (to me) songs that I loved, and I noticed a lot of them all had something in common. They were all sung by Alabama. Their songs about the good old days reminded me of the home I had just left in Pennsylvania, and helped to integrate me with my new way of living in the south.

For instance, I discovered that I love sweet potato pie, and I read Gone with the Wind for the first time. It is now my new favorite book. “Song, song of the south. Sweet potato pie and I shut my mouth. Gone, gone with the wind. Aint nobody looking back again.”

I video chat with my parents every Sunday night. And it seems like I was always asking him, “Have you heard of this song?” Of course he had heard it, and he would often suggest another song to check out.

At my dad’s suggestion, I looked up their song “Roll On” and added it my growing playlist. “Roll on highway, roll on along. Roll on daddy till you get back home. Roll on family, roll on crew. Roll on momma like I asked you to do. And roll on eighteen-wheeler roll on.” Did I mention my dad is a truck driver?

I feel like I have been missing out on Alabama my whole life. They are the quintessential country band I have always been looking for. But I am happy to have discovered them now, and enjoying playing catch up. I am thankful that, even though my dad is on the east coast, and I’m here, we have this great genre of music in common again.

And it all started with a road trip and a Christmas song.”

 

Okay, so I wrote the following essay this past summer after becoming a new fan of Alabama. Little did I know that, just a few weeks later, I found out that Alabama was coming to perform at Sugar Land Financial Centre as a part of their Southern Drawl tour. Needless to say, I freaked out. Country Legends was running a pre-sale, and you betcha that I bought a ticket the exact minute they went on sale.

The concert was last week, and I am still amazed that I got to see them live. I was worried that I had become a fan too little too late. I suppose that cannot be helped though, after all, when Alabama was in the middle of their 21 consecutive number 1 country billboard hits in the 1980s, I was, to borrow the phrase, just a twinkle in my parents eyes.

Randy Owen and Teddy Gentry have great stage presence, after all, they’ve been doing it for over 40 years. They sounded just as good as if I were listening to them on the radio. It is a shame that Jeff Cook was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and he isn’t touring as much with the band anymore, but I was still happy to see the other two.

Some little moments from the concert:

Randy said that he was rooting for the Astros in the World Series! Go Astros!

Randy also said that it had been a while since they had played in Houston, and maybe they might play at Rodeo? Please? Pretty please!?!?

Multiple people gave Randy dollar bills during the song Angels Among Us, for him to give to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in TN. That was emotional to watch!

Speaking of emotions, I cried four times during the concert, in a good way of course.

I am looking forward to becoming more and more of a fan of them in the future! This is only the start!

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Aunt Susie’s visit

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Aunt Susie came to visit for three days. It was a short visit, yes, but we crammed a ton of activities into those three days! We both had a lot of fun, and it came at the right time. It felt good to take a short break and forgot about other things currently going on. It was great because, while I took her to a bunch of things that I was familiar with, I also got to see and do some new things myself too.

On the first day I took Aunt Susie to Cavenders, which is a family owned boot and western wear store. She bought a shirt, and I cried over every pair of boots that I can’t afford, haha. Christmas is coming…

Then we went to the Arboretum, and I took her to the meadow trail to see the swamp sunflowers that were still in bloom.

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After the Arboretum, we went to Downtown and I showed her Discovery Green. I was excited to see The Color Condition, which is the latest art installation.

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Day two was the beach. A drive to Galveston is not complete with a stop at Buc-ees! She loved it. She bought a Buc-ee Bever keychain, a shirt and pajama shorts.

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It was great beach weather. A little chilly in the morning, so we had sweatshirts on, but the afternoon was perfect. We basically had the beach to ourselves for the first few hours, but then more people came by lunch time. We found a dead jellyfish on the beach. I had never seen one before.

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We had lunch at a place called Fish Tales, which is right across the street from the pier. The restaurant had a great outdoor patio on the second floor. I got the shrimp po boy sandwich and it was huge! Will probably eat there again.

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We checked out Murdochs, which is an old gift shop that is right over the water. They had a little bit of everything inside. Aunt Susie bought a shirt for Uncle Paul there. They also have their own bar, where you can get drinks and snacks, and a patio for you to enjoy them on. They sure do know how to bring in business!

We walked around the Hotel Galvez for a bit. It is a beautiful hotel, but supposedly haunted. Apparently it used to be an orphan’s asylum, but most of the children died in the 1900 hurricane. Spooky.

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From Hotel Galvez we took the motorized trolley to the Strand for some shopping. The island is currently working on getting the train trolleys up and running for next summer, but have the motorized ones in the mean time. It costs $1 to ride it each way, which I think is a good deal, instead of having to move the car and pay more in a lot.

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Our last day was the Houston Zoo and Hermann Park. Some of the highlights of the zoo were getting to see some of the big cats up close, and Aunt Susie feeding the giraffes. We took the train ride around Hermann park.

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The fun seemed like it ended all too soon, but she will be back, this time with my parents too, in March. She said she had a great time and a good first impression of Houston and Galveston. She said she wants to move to Galveston now… I would be okay with that!

Greek Festival

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I usually miss out on any type of festival because I work weekends. Therefore, I am extra vigilant when it comes to finding things to do. Imagine my surprise when I found a a Greek Festival, which started on a Thursday night! I perused the festival’s website, and I knew I had to go.

It is clearly a popular festival; it is the 51st year, and the grounds were packed for a Thursday. Silly me, I thought it would be empty. The festival is hosted by the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral.

The biggest draw was the food. I got my staple spanakopita, which is a spinach and cheese-filled pastry and Derek tried a tiropita, which is a cheese-filled puff pastry. We shared a Greek salad as well (one can never have too much feta cheese!) Round two for food included Souvlaki, which is beef cubs with onions on a skewers (it was so tender!)  and Koulourakia, which are butter cookies that are popular during the Easter holiday.

In-between filling our stomachs, we caught the Greek dance program which was all traditional dances and costumes. There was also live music on the grounds as well. There was a huge marketplace, with all kinds of vendors.

We both had a good time; it was nice to get a glimpse into a different culture.

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Swamp Sunflowers

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Every October the meadow trail at the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center blooms with swamp sunflowers. Last October, I visited the Arboretum for the first time, and coincidentally it was during the blooming period. This October I went purposely to get  photos of the meadow (and some photos of me!)

Swamp sunflowers are a variation of the sunflower, and they grow in all coastal, wet areas, from the gulf to the eastern coast. This makes sense, because this meadow is right next to a pond.

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Events at Rothko Chapel

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Rothko Chapel is a place in Houston that is meant to be for everyone. It has “chapel” in its name, but it is non denominational, and can be a place where people come and sit and meditate and enjoy the quiet. It also serves as an art instillation, with large canvases all painted different shades of black by Mark Rothko.

Derek and I came here once a few months ago, and I had to leave after a minute because the silence unnerved me!

But with that said, there are also lots of community events that are held at the Chapel.

The chapel started a series of “Healing in Community After Hurricane Harvey” events. I went to one last week, for the purpose of writing an article for work (see link below) but I enjoyed it so I came back yesterday just for myself.

Last week’s event was more religious based. A local reverend led the attendees through prayer, but also meditation and discussion. Her overall message was about purgation and catharsis, and how that can lead us to feel free.

Yesterday’s event was titled “We Are All Folkloric.” The leaders of the event, lead everyone in finding words to help us create a four word poem.

We first all came up with words to describe the emotional residue that we perceived in the city. Then we came up with  words to describe the good we saw. Some of my words were guilt, anxiety, strength, comfort and friendship.

Then we had to use these words and discussion to help us come up with the poem describing what we re-imagine for the city. It had to be a verb, noun, preposition and then noun. Mine was “Growing ourselves through trials.”

After both of these events, everyone stuck around to chat, give hugs and ask, “How are you doing?” It can be, and was, helpful to move forward.

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Birthday dinner

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I’ve celebrated two birthdays now in Houston. Can’t believe how fast time flies!

This year, we decided to go to The Gorgeous Gael, an Irish pub in Rice Village. We had only just noticed it a few weeks prior, and decided that we wanted to try it.

The food was delicious! I had Irish beef stew with mashed potatoes and Irish brown bread. It was thick and hearty, a good comfort meal. I had leftovers for lunch the next day and it tasted even better then!

Derek had the deluxe grilled chicken mac and cheese. We tried each other’s food and we both liked the other dishes as well.  We also had mozzarella bites as an appetizer, which in hindsight probably wasn’t such a good idea because our dinner portions were so filling!

I love trying new restaurants. The only problem is that we have liked everywhere we have gone, and our list of favorites keeps growing!

We walked around Rice Village afterwards to digest a bit, but a lot of the stores were closed already. But we did get to see a beautiful cat named Misty in one of the store windows!

 

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