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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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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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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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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Kemah Boardwalk

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Kemah Boardwalk is about 35 minutes away from us on the bay of Galveston. Kemah Boardwalk was something I knew I wanted to do over the summer. When The Bull country radio station announced a Wednesday night country concert series, I knew that would be the perfect time to go.

We arrived around dinner time and ate at Bubba Gump Shrimp, a place I have always wanted to go to. There are plenty of other restaurants there too.

In hindsight we probably should have done some of the rides or maybe gone to the onsite small aquarium attached to one of the restaurants. I am not a big ride person, but there were some small ones that would have been doable like the carousel or the train ride.  Once we ate and circled around the boardwalk twice, there wasn’t much for us to do. There were a few shops that we looked in that wasted a few minutes. It was nice to look out over the water though and see the boats coming in and out of the marina. We were lucky to see a double rainbow form after a small drizzle.

We would have left sooner if not for the concert being at a specific time. It did not help that the concert started a half hour late! The artist was Chris Lane. We were not familiar with him, but it was nice to stay and listen to a few songs before heading back home.

I think Kemah Boardwalk is a great place to go if you’re a family or if you really like rides. Most of them I wouldn’t have gone on, like the roller coasters and the rides that swing back and forth. No thank you! But it is also nice for a couple to go out to a nice dinner, walk around and get some fresh air. (Mind the mosquitoes since you’re near the water! We both got a few bites.)

Some photos:

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Houston Astros

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I won’t lie and tell you I am a baseball fan, but when in Houston, you go to a Houston Astros game.

We attended an Astros vs. Texas Rangers game a few weeks ago. We got the cheap nosebleed seats for $14 each, but we had a great view from above.

To be honest, I was there more to see the stadium’s train than to see the Astros. Minute Maid Park’s main lobby is Houston’s old Union Station. So inside, there is a small scale train that runs along side the stadium walls at the beginning of every game, plus when the Astros score home runs and at the end if they win a game.

That is not to say that the game wasn’t interesting though. It was definitely different to be at a sporting event that was NOT football.

I suppose everyone who likes baseball already knows this, but the game was SO long. The first two innings went by quickly, but then the third inning dragged on longer than the first two combined. It seemed like the players were just standing around wasting time!

We left at the beginning of the sixth inning because it was getting late, and a lot of people had left before that. At that point the Astros were winning 4-1, but of course they scored 9 points in the sixth inning!!!! Oh well. They ended up winning 13-2.

Supposedly the Astros are the best time in baseball right now. I just may have to become a “bandwagon” fan if they get into the playoffs!

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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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