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.

Downtown underground tunnels

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Did you know that Houston has underground tunnels connecting all of the major buildings downtown? We didn’t know until recently, when I came across it online.

If you ever think that downtown is a bit empty during lunch time, there is a reason for that. Everyone is just below you! I expect a lot of people use the tunnels for relief from the summer heat.

It is like a little city underneath the city with multiple entrance points. There are over six miles of tunnels. We entered through one of the towers; there was an escalator going down right in the main lobby.

The tunnels are a large maze of sorts, with lots of long twisting and turning hallways, but there are maps every so often so you know where you are.

The tunnels are a mixture of shops, restaurants and food courts. Derek commented that it almost had an airport terminal feel. Most of the shops were errand related, like dry cleaners, banks and pharmacies. A one stop shop for workers on their lunch break. In fact, Derek’s bank had an office down there, so we stopped in and we were able to get a card for me for his account. It was something we had been meaning to do.

We had really good Chinese food at Dumpling House in one of the food courts. It was cheap too, can’t beat that. Funny because the Chinese food restaurant back in Wellsboro is called Dumpling House too.

It was interesting to explore a whole new level of the city. We will probably venture down there again, because there were a lot of good looking places to eat.

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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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Crawfish season

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Crawfish season runs March through May. I happened to look at a post on the Houston Chronicle’s website for the best places to eat crawfish, and one of the places, Hungry’s had a midweek special Crawfish on the Patio special, which is perfect because my days off are midweek, plus the restaurant was nearby.

We went one night a few weeks ago, and it turned out to be quite the experience. We got a pound of crawfish for $7, which was a great deal. A pound seems like a lot, but the amount of meat inside each crawfish is small, so you have to eat a lot of them to get your filling. The meal is also served with corn on the cob and potatoes.

The crawfish are served whole, legs, head, eyes and all. It was a little weird and took some getting used to!

There is a technique to getting the meat out. I actually looked up YouTube videos on it in advance! You have to put two fingers on the head, and two fingers from another hand on the tail and you twist and pull apart. The meat is in the tail.

We found out that some people suck the head to get the fat and the juices out, but that seemed a bit to much for us, so we skipped that part. If you feel we’re truly missing out, please let us know!

The meal was seasoned with cajun spices, which, while they were good, was a bit too much for me. I wasn’t feeling the spices inside my mouth, but rather on the outside of my lips, which started to burn after a while! At one point I was close to crying.

Apparently crawfish, also known as crayfish, crawdaddies, mudbugs, can be found just about anywhere near a body of fresh water, but Louisiana supplies 95 percent of the crawfish harvested in the U.S. Being so close to Louisiana, Houston gets to reap the benefits. I’m glad we went. It’s good to try something new, and we’ll probably go back for more each season.

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Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

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The three-week Houston rodeo is underway. I went last week and ended up being on the grounds for seven hours! And I was never bored; there was always something to do or look at. And I’ve only experienced the grounds so far. The real fun starts this weekend, when I have the first of three concerts/rodeos to attend.

Here are some highlights from my day:

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The shopping was amazing. Thank goodness I didn’t have much money to spend otherwise I could have easily bought myself a whole new wardrobe. I did buy one shirt though, which I plan to wear to the Willie Nelson concert this weekend!

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Lots of animals on display of course. My favorites were the baby chickens and the longhorn!

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This was a part of a neat exhibit called The Tour of Texas. There were sections dedicated to each area of Texas, and you got to learn about their native plants, animals, etc.

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The mascot of Houston Rodeo!

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The carnival area of the Rodeo was huge! There was a kids carnival and one for older people. I definitely wouldn’t go near most of the rides. I did however go on the nice, slow sky ride.

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Some type of herding event for riders. I had no idea what the premise was, but it was still interesting to watch!

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Pig racing is always a highlight!

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I also got to see an animal show. This is a bear cat. I’ve never seen one before. Apparently they smell like popcorn!

It was overall a great day. I’m glad I went on a Wednesday because it was value day because you get in for $5 instead of $10. It was so overrun with school kids though! One would have to have a lot of patience when going through the exhibits. (I usually do not.) But had I gone this week, during Houston School District’s spring break, I’m sure it would be much worse. The amounts of food were ridiculous. It took me forever to decide what I wanted to eat. First I had to sort out the crazy food from the normal food. (Alligator on a stick, anyone?) I ended up getting a bowl of chili and later had a cinnamon bun as a snack. Also, it was so neat seeing just about everyone in cowboy boots. I kept thinking to myself, “These are my people! I belong here!”

Stay tuned for more rodeo and concert pictures!

 

Breakfast at Hotel Derek

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We pass Hotel Derek every once in a while on the 610 inner loop, depending on where we are headed.

It cracks us up, because obviously, my husband’s name is Derek. He thinks it is cool because growing up he always knew Derricks, and had assumed that his spelling was the odd ball spelling.

We started talking about checking the hotel out just for the fun of it. I looked it up online, and discovered that there was a restaurant inside. Lunch and dinner prices are out of our budget, but breakfast was doable.

We went yesterday morning, and it was a good breakfast. I had a waffle with fruit, and Derek had a broken yoke sandwich.

Friends and family joked that Derek should get a discount, and we did, sort of. Tea was listed on the menu for $5, and but we were only charged $3! Perhaps it was because Derek ordered a certain flavor that was only available in the Starbucks variety, because it came in a Starbucks to go cup.

The hotel looked nice itself, and there were lots of cool decorations.

It was something different to do for the day. I enjoy coming up with little things like this, and I am sure there will be plenty more.

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Siphon Coffee

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One of our top places to find in Texas was a good coffee shop. Derek and I practically live in coffee shops. (And I don’t even like coffee, haha!) No, I was in search of the perfect chai tea latte.

The Starbucks ones are too sweet, and you need to put a pump of flavoring in them to make them taste any good. The best chai I ever had was at the Wired Rooster back in Wellsboro, but that place ended up closing down. I’ve been trying to find a replacement ever since. Siphon Coffee comes pretty close! The key to a good chai is that it is equal parts sweet and spicy. Siphon sprinkles cinnamon on top, which does the trick.

I discovered Siphon Coffee when it was suggested to me by a person I was interviewing for an article in OutSmart Magazine. (More on that soon…)

We like Siphon because of the atmosphere. It’s rustic meets industrial. Wooden countertops and tables, leather seats, and exposed pipes in the ceiling. Plus there are some cool knicknacks around and artwork. There is also a great seating area outside.

The menu is large and diverse. Some of their staples include lemon tarts, (I have yet to try it and lemon desserts are my favorite!) hobnobs, (oatmeal cookie covered in chocolate) and sweet and savory scones. The last time we went over lunch, and I tried a warm cheddar and green onion scone.

I am so happy that we found a coffee shop that we both like, and so quickly too!

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