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.

Our apartment

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In Wellsboro we had a three bedroom, two bathroom house. Just for sake of affordability, we knew that we would have to downsize to a one bedroom, one bathroom apartment, at least for the first year that we are here.

So, officially, we downsized from 1,836 square feet to 602 square feet. It’s really not that bad when you think about it, because our house had a large dining room that was empty, and the kitchen and the living room were over sized. Plus there was that extra bedroom that was never used except for when someone spent the night.

Our apartment makes efficient use of what little space it has. The rooms that don’t really matter, like the dining nook, the kitchen, and the bathroom, are tiny, so the livable spaces like the living room and bedroom are larger.

I can handle only having one bathroom, but in the future I definitely want to have two bedrooms, just for the sake of having an extra closet and a place to shove all your extra stuff!

It is tough having so much stuff and not very many places to put it. Sure, our walk-in closet is huge, but when you put your clothes in, that fills up most of the space. So we’ve gotten clever, and we’ve hidden things behind doors and behind and underneath the bed. So that second bedroom would be helpful.

If there is one thing I could change right now about the apartment, it would be the cabinet space in the kitchen. There wasn’t a drawer wide enough to put our silverware in, so we had to buy a holder to put on the counter top. All of the dishes are stacked up on top of one another, so just one more cabinet or drawer would help.

But we’ll survive. We got everything we wanted to reasonably fit inside, and nothing important was left behind in Pennsylvania.

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Buc-ee’s convenience store

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When we were still in Pennsylvania, I was wondering what type of gas station/convenience store chains there would be in Texas. Growing up in the northeast, I was fiercely loyal to Wawa and Sheetz, and would miss them terribly after the move.

I starting searching online for what kinds of stores we would encounter down in Houston, and Buc-ee’s was the top hit. I was reading the website and newspaper articles about this chain, and there was a lot of hype about the beaver.

During the planning of the trip, I told my dad that we had to make a stop at a Buc-ees. Once we had crossed over the Texas state line, Derek and I went ahead at the 75 mph limit (woah!) to get to our apartment early. Dad, pulling the trailer, had to stay at about 60 mph. He decided to stop for lunch at a Buc-ee’s. I got a call from dad after he left, and he said, “Holy smokes.”

I have to admit, I am glad that the hype was warranted. Dad said that it was unbelievable inside. The floors were clean enough to eat off of (it was voted #1 cleanest restroom in America) and there were 96, count ’em, 96 gas pumps.

So now Derek and I were even more excited to experience Buc-ee’s during our day trip to Galveston. (There is a Buc-ee’s on the way to the beach.)

When we got there, we were not disappointed, but dad was. This station had only 56 pumps! Ha!

We entered the store and there was so much to look at and purchase! You could do your Christmas shopping there for the whole family!

After leaving the store, I have come to the conclusion that things really are bigger in Texas!

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The road trip

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Well, we made it! 1600 miles spread out over three days. Here are some photos of the highlights:

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My favorite parts of the trip were:

Crossing into Tennessee: The whole first day through Virginia were all roads that I was familiar with. Tennessee was new and exciting to me.

Lookout Mountain, Tennessee: We passed a gorgeous mountain range in lower Tennessee. One of these mountains, Lookout Mountain, was the site of a Civil War battle. It was called the battle in the clouds.

Fort Payne, Alabama: My favorite oldies Christmas song is “Christmas in Dixie,” by the band Alabama. They were formed in Fort Payne. The last line of the song is, “And from Fort Payne, Alabama, God bless you all, We love ya, Happy New Year, Good night, Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas tonight”

Crossing over the Mississippi: Doing this just made me FEEL different. Like we were truly on our way. It also made me feel like a modern pioneer, and I remembered the multiple times that Laura Ingalls Wilder (my favorite author) had crossed the river in her lifetime.

And: crossing into the Texas state line of course!

 

1600 miles

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The trip from Wellsboro to Houston will take 1600 miles, give or take a few.

This is the route we are taking:

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The route shows our planned stopovers each night in Harrisonburg, Virginia and Picayune, Mississippi.

We are leaving Wellsboro on Friday, but at what time remains to be unseen. My dad will arrive early on Friday morning with the UHaul trailer, and we will leave whenever everything is loaded.

We will try to get a decent night’s sleep on Friday night in Harrisonburg, because Saturday is going to be one heck of a long drive – about 900 miles total. Once we’re in Picayune, it’s only five and a half hours left for Sunday morning.

Stay tuned for pictures along the drive!

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.