One year later – an editorial

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One year ago today, we pulled out of our driveway in Wellsboro, and started the 1,600 mile drive to Houston. I wrote an editorial for the Houston Chronicle about the last year and how Houston is different from Wellsboro.

I have included the link, and a copy/paste version of the text below.

http://www.houstonchronicle.com/local/gray-matters/article/To-Houston-from-Wellsboro-Pa-population-3-326-11526896.php

 

I’ve discovered the wonder that is Buc-ees. I’ve photographed bluebonnets in spring, and I’ve eaten my way through multiple flavors of Blue Bell.

Since moving to Houston last August, I realized that everything truly is bigger in Texas (except for our one-bedroom apartment.) I moved from Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, home of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, population 3,326.

We moved because my husband is pursuing a graduate degree at the University of Houston. Imagine my surprise when I realized that the amount of students at the university (more than 40,000) is around the same amount of people in our rural county.

Coming here has been like living in a completely different world. There are so many city-related things that are a part of anyone’s day that I would have never given a second thought before.

For one thing: Traffic reports. They’re on the news every morning! The only traffic I had to worry about was the occasional bear and deer running across the road. I would sometimes get stuck behind a truck going 40 miles per hour, but here I realize that you’re lucky to be going that fast any given day on 610.

I’d much rather stay home than try to battle other drivers if it’s more than a 10-mile drive, a far cry from being used to driving hours all over the northeast.

And the noise. Not only the noise of the 10 or so lanes of traffic right outside our door, but the sounds of planes and helicopters constantly overhead. I had not seen an airplane overhead in the 10 years I was in Pennsylvania. My husband constantly has to repeat himself if he talks to me outside our apartment, because I cannot hear him over the rows and rows of air conditioners that are consistently running.

The loudest thing I have ever heard, without a doubt, was the fighter jet flyover during the Super Bowl. We live close to NRG, and it rattled the whole place. The cats ran under the bed.

And the many options … for, well, everything. How do Houstonians even choose? Where to go, what to do, what to eat, where to shop? It’s all mind-boggling at times. We visited more stores in the first week of being in Houston than in years of living in Wellsboro. The first time I went grocery shopping, I had an anxiety attack.

It’s the worst with restaurants. There are so many options here for each cuisine, and a lot of it’s unfamiliar territory for us.

I remember trying crawfish for the first time. I am a picky eater, and I kept finding excuses not to try it.

But it was the season, and I found a restaurant hosting a crawfish special for $7 a pound on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, perfect for my work schedule — and my frugality.

My husband and I tried to prepare ourselves in advance by watching YouTube videos on how to open them, but they left us more puzzled. You really have to suck the fat out of the heads?

But we got there, and the platters were put in front of us. We asked our waiter for good measure how to open and eat them, but he just chuckled and walked away.

We eventually figured it out after consulting the internet once again on our phones. The crawfish, along with the corn on the cob and potatoes, were excellent, but my lips were burning so badly by the spices that I was crying at the table.

I do miss Pennsylvania, at least some of it. I miss homemade maple syrup, and I miss the mountains, especially in the fall with the bright foliage. I miss making trips to the Mennonite general store.

But I feel like Texas, with all of its hustle and bustle, is where I am meant to be.

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.

 

A Texas “winter”

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Here are some things I have noticed about this season, which feels more like spring or fall most of the time!

Here, when temperatures drop, everyone scrambles to cover their tropical plants. I have seen reminders on Facebook from the local meteorologists with each cold front, and I am thankful for that, because we bring in our potted cactus too! This is something new to have to think about.

Speaking of cold fronts…
Cold fronts create such a drastic temperature swing here. Last week, it was 80 degrees on a Saturday, and by 11 p.m. the front blew in and it dropped 40 degrees. It was in the low 30s by Sunday morning. It is hard to grasp that fact that one day you’re wearing shorts and the next you’re bundled up with your winter gear. Cold fronts in winter in the northeast just make a cold day even colder. Just put on an extra layer and you don’t really notice the difference!

Most people here wanted a white and cold Christmas. Newsflash, it was in the high 70s on both Christmas Eve and Day. Apparently there was an extremely rare White Christmas in 2004, and the locals look back on that fondly! A local meteorologist writes a blog, and I always read them. The most recent blog was about just this topic. Apparently the news station held a poll and 75 percent of Houstonians don’t like a warm Christmas. However, this meteorologist had a good point, and that was that over 60 percent of Christians live in the southern hemisphere and therefore associate Christmas with summer. So, basically, Houstonians would have to get used to a warm Christmas like it or not. I think that is silly that people in Houston get mad when it’s not cold. It’s like if I wished for a 60 degree Christmas day back in PA and got mad each year when it didn’t happen!

One thing that I didn’t expect that I should have expected was the apartment being so drafty. But, it’s similar to most houses in Wellsboro not having air conditioning. It’s just not needed enough. So why would an apartment in Texas be well insulated? On one of the first cold mornings, I woke up and the house was 69 degrees, which is really good all things considered. I opened up the curtains in the living room, and ten minutes later the temp dropped three degrees to 66! So now when it is a cold day we know to just keep the curtains closed to keep the heat in. I am thinking about going to Hobby Lobby and buying fabric to make door socks!

 

A Christmas tree in a small apartment

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When we first moved into this apartment, I knew right away that there would be no room for a Christmas tree anywhere. But seeing as we moved in August, I pushed that thought out of my mind for a while.

But then November rolled around, and I had to think and get creative. I knew I wanted a “tree” no ifs, ands or buts. I googled, “Christmas tree for small spaces” and my dilemma was answered.

Thankfully there were plenty of people before me who had the same problem, and came up with a wall Christmas tree. There are many different varieties, but I went with garland.

It was a little bit trial and error to get the trees (I did two!) to stay up on the wall, but I am happy with the results!

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Differences part 4

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Driving – I’m a much different driver here than I was in Pennsylvania. I am more alert, and more careful yet more aggressive at the same time. Driving around, you see SO many cars that are dented. People must get into a lot of accidents around here due to the sheer volume of cars. I now think nothing of putting my turn signal on and crossing over three lanes of traffic. If you have an opening, don’t hesitate, you just go for it. And if you don’t stick the nose of your car out in the other lane, the other cars won’t let you through. I go through a mini panic attack every time I need to get over to my exit lane. I have to pay attention at all times because there are plenty of people who cut me off without a turn signal. It is what it is here.

States around us – Even though I’ve adjusted at this point and I know we live in Houston, which is a shock in itself, sometimes I totally forget we are in the state of Texas. My whole life I lived on the east coast, so sometimes it hits me when I realize we’re on the gulf coast instead. The other day I was in a shopping plaza parking lot, and I saw some license plates for other states, like Oklahoma and New Mexico. Seeing those made me had one of those moments. I am so used to seeing plates for New York, New Jersey and Maryland instead. It is interesting to think and realize all the different things and places that we are nearby now.

Airplanes – Our closest airport was Elmira/Corning, and it was TINY. I don’t think any of the flight paths went over Tioga County, because in all my years there, I never saw airplanes. Growing up near Philadelphia, I suppose that was something I just got used to and didn’t realize that they wouldn’t always be there. Now we’re even closer to a major airport, and I’m back to seeing airplanes all the time. They are so low in the sky, being close to the airport! You can even usually tell what kind of flight it is. I always tilt my head back to get a good look at one. They are pretty cool, if you think about it.

Thermostat: In Wellsboro, we had two settings. Heat on, heat off. It was as simple as that! We didn’t have AC, and in the winter, it pretty much stayed consistent at 68 during the day, 62 at night. There were a few weeks in October where we would wake up to the house being in the 50’s but we stuck it out because we felt it was too early to turn the heat on! Here, we are finding that we have to change the thermostat every month! When we first arrived in August, we kept the thermostat to 77. Then little by little, we lowered it. 76, 75, 74, and now we’re at 73. It has still been too hot for us at night (we like sleeping colder) and we’ve only just reached the point where we can program the thermostat lower overnight. In fact, Derek shut off the air entirely, and when we woke up this morning, it was 66 degrees. Chilly, but doable. But of course in a few weeks that will probably have to change again! Too bad that you can only program a thermostat by weeks and not by months at a time!

Links to other difference posts:

https://texastalesblog.wordpress.com/2016/10/04/differences-part-3/

https://texastalesblog.wordpress.com/2016/09/08/differences-part-2/

https://texastalesblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/25/differences-between-tx-and-pa/

 

 

Differences part 3

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I thought it was about time to write another “differences” post seeing as my list of observations is getting long again. So here we go, differences between Texas and Pennsylvania, part 3:

The local wildlife:

We have lizards, cockroaches and cicadas here. The first time a lizard darted out in front of my path I freaked out. Now I think they are cute. They are tiny, maybe a few inches long. They vary from brown to green. The cicadas are SO LOUD. The first time I heard them making an awful rackett I had no clue it was a bug. My first thought was that the noise was some kind of weird sounding tool, like a buzz saw. They have quieted down now that it is fall though. Our first week here, we saw a very large cockroach walking on the sidewalk. They really are ugly bugs! We expected cockroaches in the apartment based on reviews, and we did have a few tiny ones in the first few weeks, but again, we probably aren’t seeing them now that it is “cooling down.” Which, in Texas speak, means highs in the mid 80s!

Traffic reports:

One morning while watching the news and checking Twitter, I realized how odd it is to get the traffic reports every day! Our idea of a traffic jam in Wellsboro was getting stuck behind a tractor or a gas industry truck. In Houston, you really need to pay attention though before you get ready to go somewhere. Some days it could take you 20 min to get to work, but an accident could easily double or triple that! And, even though it really is impossible if you have a typical 9-5 job, you have to try to avoid rush hour traffic like the plague. No such thing as rush hour traffic in Wellsboro.

Southern chain stores:

When we were still in Pennsylvania, I wondered what chain stores we would see in Texas. In Pennsylvania, grocery stores like TOPS and Weis were the norm. Here in Texas, it is Kroger, Fiesta Mart and HEB. Tioga County was so small that we just had national food chains, such as Taco Bell, KFC and Wendys. But here, in additional to the nation wide ones, there are chains I had never even heard of like Fuddruckers and Whataburger. (Whataburger’s rootbeer milkshakes are so good!) In the north, Dunkin Donuts reigns supreme. Down here, it is Shipley’s Donuts. Sonic is also big here. I had heard of Sonic before, but I had never been to one before now. I still think that the drive-in concept is weird, but hey, whatever works!

Central time:

It is one thing to remember the one hour time difference when calling and texting friends and family back home, but it is entirely different when all of your fall shows come back on. I watch Survivor, and for the last 15 years or so, it has been engraved in my brain that it comes on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. So the Wednesday that it premiered, I almost missed the show! It was about 6:55 p.m. when I had a light bulb go off in my head and I remembered TIME DIFFERENCE! Then a few days later, I did the exact same thing with another show. Whoops. I do like that the shows are on earlier though. This is awesome for football games. I can now make it to the end of a Monday night football game instead of going to bed at 10 p.m. during half time.

Cold water:

Who would have thought something as simple as cold water would be a luxury? Here our cold water is cool at best, and sometimes just downright warm.  We now get into the habit of using our britta filter as a pitcher to keep some drinking water cold at all times. We never used to use ice cubes, and now we always make sure the tray is full. Hot water is, of course, not a problem. The hot water is scalding, and it gets hot quickly. We have to remember to turn it down before we burn ourselves.

 

 

Differences between house and apartment complex

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Derek and I have been taking note of the differences between living in an apartment complex and living in a house.

The good: When we first moved in, we had some minor issues like a leaky dishwasher, and needing new insulation by the front door. It is so nice to let maintenance know and to have them come and fix it for you, no charge for us.

Our complex has a pool and a small exercise room. I have used the pool a few times already. Will probably go on a treadmill or bike machine soon. It is nice to have these amenities for our use.

The bad: We’re not used to having to go to the row of mail boxes by the front office to get our mail. Sometimes it’s two, three days before we remember to get the mail. Also, packages and things that need to be signed for don’t get delivered directly to our door, so if it is a heavy package, we have to carry it back, or we have to go to the post office since the item couldn’t be signed for.

We are learning to tread lightly. We aren’t sure what can and can’t be heard. When we accidentally drop something on the floor, the downstairs neighbor probably hears it. Whoops. The other night, Derek started hammering something for an art project at 10 at night. I said, “what are you doing????” It seems he had temporarily forgotten about our situation, so he got a book out to place on top of the table and muffle the sound of the hammering.  Things like the volume of the TV and our music matter now.

The ugly: Continuing what I listed in “The bad,” the walls aren’t exactly thick around here. Our next door neighbor plays music often (at least it’s not in the middle of the night so far) and you can hear the front doors slamming shut all the time. Yes, I said slamming. I’m not sure what our neighbor’s door did to her to deserve such treatment! The front doors are only a few feet away from each other, so every time someone knocks on her door, we think it is someone at our door.  However, this being the worst thing about living here isn’t too bad considering that when we owned the house, our next door neighbors then worked on demolition derby cars each summer. The clanking around in the garage and driveway was AWFUL.

We have a year lease here. When the year is almost up, we will reevaluate. We could stay here, or find some place else that may be more accommodating.

What are your experiences with apartment living? Good or bad?