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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Snow in Houston

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It has snowed 35 times in Houston since 1895, the last time in 2009. That number seems like a lot, but I have to remind myself that in Wellsboro, it could easily flurry every other day all winter long. So 35 times in 122 years is rare. And we were here to experience the 35th time.

On Thursday, it was forecasted that there could be a 5 percent chance for it to snow overnight. Well the forecasters had a field day with that. I like all of the local news channels pages on Facebook, Twitter, etc, and it was all anyone could talk about. The chances got greater – up to 20 percent! The excitement was growing. You think I’m kidding.

I woke up the next morning and opened up the blinds, and was initially disappointed when I looked below and saw only wet sidewalks, but then I noticed that the tops of the bushes were white. Yes, we did get snow! And pandemonium ensued. I thought just the anticipation was crazy.

I’ve seen enough snowfall to last a lifetime, but throughout the day I probably looked through hundreds of snow photos and videos, feeling just as happy as everyone else. I even made my own mini snowman. I saw a post that circulated around the internet that said: “Hosted the Superbowl. Survived Hurricane Harvey. Won the World Series. Played in the snow. What a year, Houston!” It made me laugh, but I can understand how Houstonians are feeling. I had a friend tell me, “Perhaps this happy weather event can provide some healing from the bad weather event.” Seeing grown adults excited on Friday morning, I think she is right.

I said when we moved here that I wanted to experience snow here just once, to see how everyone else reacted, and I was not disappointed. Now that we’ve had a few days of cold and snow, I’m reminded of one of the major reasons why I wanted to move here in the first place. It went back up to 60 degrees a few days later, and I am totally okay with that.

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Old Town Spring

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On Thursday Derek and I went to Old Town Spring, which is a little shopping village in the northern suburb of Spring, TX. I had seen commercials on TV about Old Town Spring and it seemed to fulfill some of what I had been missing in Houston. I miss shopping in small mom and pop shops, the onesthat line the Main Streets of all the small towns in the rural county we lived in. Once, I Googled, “country store in Houston” and I got hits for grocery stores and a Cracker Barrel. Not exactly what I had in mind!

We probably went on one of the nastiest days weather wise, but that was okay. It was raining and in the mid 40s, which is super cold for here! But we bundled up and made the best of it. At least we were in and out of the stores, and not out in the rain so much.

There are so many different stores, I think we only saw half of them (partially the weather’s fault.) A lot of them had a mashup of things, but some of them were specific. We saw a shop called “Just For the Birds,” a “Connie’s Bath Shack” too, and of course there was a Texas themed shop, where I couldn’t resist buying a small stuffed longhorn.  A few of the stores had beautiful home decor, and I think Derek and I might be making another trip there once we have our own place again. There were a bunch of little cafes to choose from to eat lunch at. We ate at Ellen’s – the soup was delicious. A bonus was that there were railroad tracks at the edge of the village, great for someone who loves trains (me).

My favorite store was The Little Dutch Girl. Funny story –  a few months ago, I was searching everywhere for stroopwafles, a Dutch dessert that is a thin wafer like waffle, with caramel syrup in the middle. We couldn’t find them anywhere, but I saw that they were at The Little Dutch Girl. That was definitely a reason to go to Old Town Spring. But then, suddenly, I had more stroopwafles then I knew how to deal with. We ended up finding them at two stores, plus my parents sent some over in a care package. So I no longer had a need to buy them at the store, but I was sorely tempted by everything else. I ended up buying two tiny pieces of delft (a pair of clogs and a cat) and I bought spiced windmill cookies, a staple at my Gram’s house while growing up.

I think I would definitely come back again, next time when it is warmer out!

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Christmas lights in River Oaks

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A few days ago I saw a short 20 second video on Facebook of a drive through of Houston’s River Oaks neighborhood covered in Christmas lights. I immediately sent the video to Derek and said, “let’s go.”

River Oaks is one of the more affluent neighborhoods in the city, and it backs up against the Memorial Park golf course. I don’t think that really has much to do with the fact that their Christmas light displays are spectacular, but it helps that all of the houses are grandiose.

I did some research online, and it was all the same: Start at River Oaks Blvd, and from there turn on all of the side streets. Easy enough, but Derek and I were still skeptical because we’ve never done this before. However, it was clear that we were in the right place when we turned onto the Blvd. Wow.

Lots of people were driving around slowly with their flashers on like us, and I can only imagine it would be crowded on the weekends and as it gets closer to Christmas. It was a great night out  – for free – that helped get us in the Christmas spirit.

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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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