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.

Sculptures and houses

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We went to Galveston for the day last week. In the morning we did a walking tour of tree sculptures in the East End Historic District

In 2008, Hurricane Ike made landfall at Galveston, and caused a lot of damage. Many trees were uprooted due to the tidal surge, but may more died later on due to being in salty water.

Instead of removing these salt-damaged trees completely, three artists, Earl Jones, Dale Lewis and Jim Phillips turned many of these into sculptures. The carvings are in people’s front yards, but anyone is welcome to stop on by and have a look.

We used a map that was in a brochure for the sculptures. We both severely underestimated how hot it would be at 9 a.m., and how long the walk would take. It took about two and a half hours. I would recommend it to anyone, but perhaps do it in a car, a bike, or walk it during a cooler time. We did come across the Mosquito Cafe about halfway through our walk, which was a nice little break.

A bonus from the sculpture walking tour is that you pass many beautiful, historic homes.

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Hurricane Season

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June 1st is the start of hurricane season, and I have seen an influx of different hurricane related articles and columns the past two weeks.

We went to Galveston for the day (more on that in another post) and there are reminders about hurricane season everywhere. All along the causeway bridge there were big billboards that proclaimed “HURRICANE SEASON, BE PREPARED.” And later on that morning, while we were eating a mid-morning snack at the Mosquito Cafe, there was a small plaque on the wall noting where the high water mark was during Hurricane Ike. It was taller than Derek!

We arrived here at the end of the summer last year, so while hurricane season was on our mind, it was soon over. Now, staring down a full season, it feels different.

We have a weekly little reporters meeting, and during last week’s meeting, our editor gave us advice, because none of the current reporters have been around for the last two hurricane events, which happened in 2005 and 2008.

There were lessons to be learned from both hurricanes. I have been reading up on the impacts of both, and I am glad that, if another hurricane were to come, Houston should (hopefully) be more prepared.

Hurricane Rita formed just a few weeks after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and was barreling towards Houston, which understandably caused a lot of widespread panic. A few days out, Rita was, at the time, one of the strongest hurricanes on record. It seems as if everyone in Houston tried to leave all at once, which caused major problems.

Out of everyone who died in that hurricane, the majority of the people died during the evacuations. All of the highways out turned into parking lots. The opposite sides of the road weren’t opened until it was a little too late. People ran out of gas and then that turned into having heat strokes. A bus carrying senior citizens traveling to Dallas over heated and caught fire. All this for almost nothing. Rita ended up turning east, and didn’t hit Galveston/Houston as originally thought. Most people who evacuated could have just stayed home.

Hurricane Ike, however, did hit Galveston and came onshore to Houston quite dead on. Our editor told us that it knocked out the entire power grid and some people were without power for THREE WEEKS. Now just imagine how that feels in the middle of a Texas summer, when the temperature can easily reach 100 degrees.

The advice he gave if another hurricane like that happens is, to try to stay ahead of the game. Already have batteries and candles on hand (check and check.) Make sure you have plenty of water and non perishable food. And whatever we do, try to make it out to the grocery store and a gas station ahead of everyone else.

He said that, even though we always have a few days notice ahead of time that a hurricane may hit, everyone seems to wait until the last minute, and then it is a frenzy.

I am sure that Derek and I would have this kind of common sense if a hurricane were to show up at our door step, but it is still helpful to hear it from someone else who has lived through two bad hurricanes.

We looked at evacuation routes, and we are just to the west of evacuation zones. So, if there is a mandatory evacuation, we won’t have to go, but depending on how safe we feel, we may leave anyway. The University of Houston is in an evacuation zone, which is good to know. In the event of a hurricane, UH would probably have to close down.

I read somewhere that there is a 32 percent chance of Houston being hit, and I’ve heard talk that “We’re due for a dead on hit again since it’s been a few years.” I don’t think it works that way, but who knows what will happen this summer, or the next.

 

Phoenicia

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I didn’t expect to write about a grocery store, but Phoenicia is so much more than just a grocery store. It is a destination in its own right.

Derek first discovered Phoenicia back in the fall, and he suggested that we check it out together. The first time we were there we only did a quick look through and got drinks to go from the cafe inside, but we both knew we had to come back and thoroughly look around.

So, Phoenicia, located in downtown, is first and foremost a grocery store, but there is only the basics like meats, fruits and vegetables. Don’t come here looking to get everything on your shopping list like toilet paper and cat food. Their website describes themselves as “Houston’s one-stop gourmet, international food experience with more than 10,000 products from more than 50 countries.” It is most definitely an international food experience, but also an international people experience too! I think I must have heard four or five different languages spoken there.

Today we decided to go have lunch there. They have a bakery and cafe inside, as well as multiple deli sections. I decided to go Greek, and I got spanakopita and stuffed grape leaves. I also got a honey and lavender scone to go. Derek got a turkey, bacon and swiss sandwich with a brownie. The meal selection is expansive. It is hard to decide what to want because it all looks so good!

There is a section to eat inside, but there are also tables outside so we ate our food outside. There were tons of people there, most looked like they were with colleagues on lunch break from work.

After we were done with lunch, we decided to peruse the aisles. I was really impressed with all the selection, and happy to see tons of Kinder chocolate and Walker shortbread cookies. (Yum!) I was intrigued by the middle eastern section, and they had a ton of loose leaf teas that I will definitely have to purchase in the future. They have a upstairs section that has some more food, a bunch of kitchen gadgets and cookware, and a huge wine selection.

My recommendation is that if you know someone who is a food connoisseur, you could do some gift shopping for them at Phoenicia!

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Day Trip to San Antonio

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Last week we went to San Antonio for the day. We met up with my friend from high school that lives in Austin, which was a nice bonus. I can honestly say we had the perfect day. We did everything we wanted to do, and some more. The weather was amazing too.

Even the drive out there was great. It took three hours and it was on a two lane highway at 75 mph. I haven’t seen a two lane highway since Pennsylvania! We passed fields and fields of wildflowers, farms, and even some patches of cactus! It was peaceful.

Our first stop was the Alamo. I wanted to get there right when it opened. I had heard  that supposedly a lot of people are disappointed when they see the Alamo because it is so small. So knowing this information, the Alamo seemed like the perfect size to us! You cannot take pictures inside the main church building, which I had already known about, but still disappointed me. The expansive courtyards, with the mini museums in the barracks and the living history set ups, more than made up for it though. We spent over an hour here taking everything in. I really consider it a privilege that there are places of history that are preserved and we are able to still see them today.

Our second stop was the River Walk. It really is a beautiful area of the city. We walked around the main loop of the River Walk, but it goes out a few miles in both directions. We had thought about taking a river cruise, but we didn’t, and it honestly wasn’t needed. We saw everything just fine by foot. We were slightly disappointed because we had expected shops along the River Walk, but it was only restaurants and hotels. If we had known that, I probably would have eaten lunch on the River Walk.

We ate lunch at Mi Terra in El Mercado, (The Market Square) which was a street lined with Mexican shops and restaurants. Mi Terra was highly recommended online in different discussion forums. After lunch we took some time to browse around the craft vendors. So much cool stuff!

After lunch we headed back to the Alamo a second time. This was actually a good call because it had been overrun with school kids earlier in the morning, so now it was more quiet.

The last two things we did, Mission Espada and Mission San Jose, wasn’t even a definite thing on our to do list. I figured if we had the time in the afternoon, we’d go, but no big deal if we didn’t. These two missions ended up being my favorite part of the day. The architecture was amazing!

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Growing bucket list

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My Texas bucket list keeps growing instead of getting shorter, but I suppose that is a good thing. I was worried about running out of things to do, but I suppose that is the rural girl in me talking. Can you ever run out of things to do in a city?

Since Derek’s semester just ended, he’s looking at a nice three month break. I looked at my list and picked out a handful of things that we can do during my days off. I’m usually gung ho about making (and then crossing off) to-do lists, but I’m finding that this is one list that I want to keep adding to. I recently checked off “Go to the Houston Rodeo” and “Photograph bluebonnets” but I’ve definitely added a bit more too.

For instance, I have decided that I would like to attend a Houston Astros game. I’m not into baseball to be honest, but where else can I see a Major League Baseball game? The tickets are cheap (starting at $12) and it is something different to do.

I have some major cities on my list like Austin, Dallas and San Antonio, but what about the other smaller towns to visit? Through some research, I now want to visit places such as Gonzales (the site of the first battle for Texas Independence and the famous “Come and Take It” cannon) and Fredericksburg, a German town which looks like it has a pretty little main street filled with shops and restaurants.

One of Derek’s professors suggested that we visit the San Jacinto monument (Battle of San Jacinto was another Texas Independence battle) and the Houston Ship Channel as well. On the list they all go.

We’ve also gotten to see big production shows such as Book of Mormon and Cirque du Soleil, and I am sure there will always be another one we want to see soon enough. I would like to see The Nutcracker next Christmas.

I wonder what will be next? I am looking forward to finding out.

Mapping Texas

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A few weeks ago I wrote an article for the paper about an exhibit at the Museum of Natural Science. The exhibit is called Mapping Texas: From Frontier to Lone Star State.

I got to go see the exhibit for free, instead of paying for a ticket, which was really cool.

There was a collection of about 50 maps, most of them on loan from the Texas General Land Office. The maps range from the year 1513 to the 1900s.

One of the highlights in the exhibit is the huge 7 feet by 7 feet Stephen F. Austin “connected map” of Austin’s Colony, drawn by Austin himself.

The oldest map, from 1513, is by German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller. It is supposedly one of the first maps to show the gulf coast. The countries are all disproportionate, and it took me a few minutes of studying it to figure out what I was actually looking at!

I enjoyed looking at the older maps when Texas wasn’t Texas; when it was still a part of Spain or Mexico. It was interesting to see the 13 colonies on some maps, and then out west was wide and open. Sometimes I still forget that I am “out west.”

There were also some maps that showed the early grids of Houston. I wonder if the men who founded it ever realized that it would become such a larger city!

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Stephen F. Austin’s map.

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The 1513 Waldseemüller map.

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Art Car Parade preview

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The Art Car Parade is an annual event in Houston, and I’ve been told by many people that it is quite the quirky thing to attend.

Unfortunately the parade is on a Saturday, (like most events) and I work weekends. However, I lucked out this time because there was a special preview of about half the cars at the Discovery Green park on Thursday night.

It was really neat to see so many different cars. The collection of “junk” on some of them was just amazing! The owners of the cars really get to show off their artistic abilities and their creativity. My favorite car was  one with singing fish and lobsters. The lobsters and the fish would move in sync with songs! It was hilarious!

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