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.

http://www.chron.com/neighborhood/bellaire/events/article/Rothko-Chapel-hosts-post-Harvey-community-12229657.php#photo-14224178

Our Hurricane Harvey experience

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This is a long post, so readers you are warned!

Experience a hurricane – check. Okay, now that that’s done, I don’t ever want to experience one again!

The past few weeks have simultaneously felt like one long endless day, or 1,000 years. So much has happened since Friday before the hurricane hit, and I want to write everything down, all the little details, so I will not forget later.

On Thursday night, August 24, Harvey was still churning in the gulf, expecting to hit the Texas coast south of us. We knew to expect a lot of rain, but the forecast was still iffy at that point. The forecast went like this: Harvey, upon landfall, would be stuck in-between two pressure systems, and then stall for a few days, hence all the rain fall. The forecast was calling for about 10-15 inches of rain, which sounded bad. I had already asked my boss if I would be able to work from home, since I work on weekends, right when the worst would seem to happen. I was given instructions on how to connect to the work system. That lifted a load off my mind.

I suggested to Derek that we go to Target to get some non-perishable food, and fill up our tank of gas. I had gone grocery shopping on Tuesday, so we did have plenty of pantry food, but not quite a variety I’d like to have if the power went out. I have heard horror stories about the power being out for two weeks after Hurricane Ike. Thankfully, I get my meat separately, and due to the impending forecast, I had decided to hold off. So if we did lose power, we wouldn’t lose too much food.

Going to the Target was when things started feeling scary. On our way, we stopped at the Valero, the gas station we usually go to, and there were signs over all the pumps saying OUT OF GAS. Wow. Okay then. Then we stopped at a second gas station, and it was the same thing. Plastic bags covering all of the pumps. We sighed our first sigh of relief out of many for that week when there was gas at the third gas station.

Then it was on to the Target, where there was pandemonium. There was no water left, and most of the shelves were picked clean already, but we did manage to stock up on the usual stuff: chips, fruit cups, granola bars and beef jerky. I wanted pineapple cups, and there was one left, on the top shelf way in the back, too high for my small frame to reach. Derek was in another aisle, so I took matters into my hands and I climbed up the shelves.

After we got back home, we felt like we did everything we could do up until that moment, so we enjoyed the last night of what would be restful sleep for a while.

On Friday I went into work, and I asked my boss, “What happens if I lose power AND I am stranded? I can handle one or the other, but both? He calmed me down a bit, saying that there were emergency teams in place to make sure the Chronicle, a daily paper, got out every day. However, there were no measures in place for the weeklies, which I work for. He basically said that if we absolutely had to put the papers out a few days late, then so be it. He also told me that he saw no reason for me to come in on Saturday and Sunday and to work from home if the weather was bad. That put less pressure on me.

Throughout the day it was gloomy and it rained on and off all day. It didn’t seem like things were all that bad, but it was just a precursor of what was to come.

The highlight of the evening was when my birthday package from my parents came, and the labels were so water logged that you couldn’t read anything. The ink smeared right off! Luckily Derek had the tracking number.

Hurricane Harvey strengthened rapidly that evening. I had a pre-season football game on, and it was weird to have a second smaller screen on the TV showing the imminent land fall of Harvey. Harvey made landfall near Rockport, Texas, at 10 p.m.

We woke up on Saturday morning to – surprisingly – nothing. I still made the decision to stay home on Saturday, because I didn’t know how the day would unfold. Truth be told, I could have gone into work and been fine. There were even parts of the day where it didn’t rain for hours. We were starting to wonder if maybe the forecast was wrong.

Derek wanted to go out to take some photos for a school project, so I joined him. We went to Rice Village, which is a little area filed with shops. A few cafes were open, but most of the stores were closed. Some even had sand bags in front of the doors, and one boutique wrote GO AWAY HARVEY on their windows. I took photos of those stores and sent them to the Chronicle.

On Saturday night, I talked to my mom and dad who were eager for updates. I had found a website that was tracking rainfall totals in the city, and there was one rain gauge close to where we are. I told them, that up until that point, 3.52 inches of rain had fallen. My dad said, “That’s it?” And in some twisted way, I was disappointed. But I didn’t have to be disappointed for long.

Later that night, we got a thunderstorm that lasted over an hour, with heavy rain for longer than that. The lightning was endless. I was shocked we did not lose power then. Just like that, we went from 3.52 to 6.76 inches of rain. Woah. Now we’re talking. We put on our boots and walked around in the parking lot to check on our cars. The water was up over the toes of my boots!

Sleep that night was hard. We were woken up in the middle of the night more than once to flash flood alarms on our phones. The rain consistently pounded outside, all night long.

I woke up at 7:30 that morning, and looked outside the window. Whew, we weren’t under water. Then I turned on the news, and found out that just about the rest of Houston was under water. The first scene I saw on the TV was of Interstate 610, exit 4, which is about the half way point of my commute to work. That was under water. Well, I definitely was not going into work that day.

I checked the website for rainfall totals, and I couldn’t believe it. We had gotten 10 inches of rain overnight, and now the total for our area was 16.16 inches. It was already past the initial forecast, which I should mention that it had since been updated and was now calling for 30 inches.

I texted that number to mom and dad, who immediately called me. They had the news on as well. Together, we repeated the words, Oh my God, Oh my God, OH MY GOD with every broadcasted scene we saw.

This is when the days start to blur together. It was extremely hard to try to concentrate on work, when the news was a constant spew of disaster. Derek and I were constantly underfoot for each other, and tensions were running high. But that is a small price I had to pay. As I put it when I was talking to a friend, “We may have cabin fever, but at least we still have our “cabin.”

We ventured out a few times over the next two days out of curiosity, and a journalistic duty. It was eerie to walk out on an empty I-610, a six lane major highway that is normally filled with traffic. It was even scarier to see a constant stream of cars that were driving up the road, and then a few minutes later we would see them coming back with their flashers on, driving the wrong way. At least they were heeding the flashing sign, “Turn around, don’t drown.” There were cars abandoned up and down the whole street. Brays Bayou, which I normally pass over on my way to work, looked like a furious river, and it had already down quite a bit before we were able to get their safely. A few days later, we noticed that some streets, in particular the ones closest to the bayous, all looked like construction zones. Everyone’s possessions were all in giant piles on the curb.

Work was a flurry of activity. I was torn between being jealous and relieved that I was not at the flood zones to take pictures and report the news. I felt useless, and soon that turned into survivor’s guilt. I couldn’t comprehend that we were safe and dry, and houses just two miles down the road were underwater. One of my co-workers lost almost everything. Her and her husband had to evacuate from their roof into a boat. Derek also knows professors who have lost everything.

But through it all, I did manage to find my own ways to help out. I wrote a short article about a University of Houston Professor who was new to Houston, and his reaction to how UH and the city came together in times of need. I also put in a ton of over-time. I did two double shifts to help relieve people on the copy desk. I helped set out lunch one day for employees. I donated money to Mayor Turner’s Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, and shared the link for others to donate too.

Speaking about lunch, the generosity of other newspapers has been amazing. One day I had lunch courtesy of the Dallas Morning News; another day I had lunch courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle. My boss told me that he was fielding phone calls from all over the country who wanted to feed the reporters, most of whom had worked a week straight.

I was working an evening shift on Tuesday, when the storm finally decided it had enough of Houston and moved out. Five days later. I was walking past a window when I noticed the sky looked brighter than normal. The sun was out, and there was blue sky! We had not seen the sun in five days. At that point, our area had seen just over 32 inches of rain. There were other places that had seen up to 50, which broke a U.S. record.

A few weeks later, and we’re still seeing Harvey news non stop, but things are slowly returning back to normal, or at least as normal as things can get. This hurricane has changed everyone’s lives in Houston in someway. It is not something I will ever forget.

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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Rodeo concerts: Willie Nelson, Dierks Bentley and Brad Paisley

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After the rodeo events are completed, there is a concert each night. Out of three weeks, the majority of the concerts are country artists, which is great for a country music fan like me. There are other genres of music featured though, like pop artists, and there are Tejano bands on Tejano Appreciation Day, and Alicia Keys performed on Black Heritage Day. Something for everyone, really.

Months ago, when the concert lineup was announced, I went gung ho and bought tickets for three concerts: Willie Nelson, Dierks Bentley and Brad Paisley. The last two concerts were back to back on Friday and Saturday. I ALMOST dreaded going. Almost. But now that they are all done and over with, I’m glad that I did go overboard, even though I was super tired for a week!

I’m not going to claim that I am a huge Willie Nelson fan, because I am not, or at least wasn’t up until the rodeo. I am familiar with and love his more popular works like On the Road Again and Mommas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys, but besides that I didn’t really know his stuff. So I listened to a lot of his music in the weeks before the concert to become more familiar, and I gained a lot of new favorites in the process. Basically I just knew that seeing Willie Nelson was quite the opportunity because he is a legend, and let’s face it, he might not be around for a lot longer.

I went to the Dierks Bentley concert because he is an old staple favorite of mine. I have seen Dierks Bentley three times now, also in Pennsylvania and New York. However, I admit that I kind of fell off the bandwagon with his music for a big chunk in the middle of his career, so I didn’t really know about half of the songs that he played during his concert, but it was still enjoyable. My favorite songs of his are What Was I Thinkin’ (his first single) and some of his more recent stuff like Different for Girls and Drunk on a Plane.

I was so burnt out by the time the Brad Paisley concert arrived that I almost considered skipping it. I am glad I didn’t because that concert ended up being my favorite. I bought tickets to his concert because I have liked the majority of his songs over the years. I guess I am more of a Brad Paisley fan than I thought, or maybe I just lucked out because Brad Paisley played all of my favorites including: Online, I’m Gonna Miss Her, American Saturday Night, Old Alabama, Mud on the Tires, I’m Still a Guy, etc. etc.

The prices for the tickets are excellent, which is why I was able to afford three. I got nosebleed seats for Willie and Brad (which weren’t all that bad to be honest) and first tier seats for Dierks, but I only spent about $75 total.

I’m already anticipating what the lineup will be for next year! I keep telling myself that I will not do three concerts next year, or at least not two in a row, but who knows! I am so excited to be living in a place where country music is at the forefront!

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