Old Town Spring

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On Thursday Derek and I went to Old Town Spring, which is a little shopping village in the northern suburb of Spring, TX. I had seen commercials on TV about Old Town Spring and it seemed to fulfill some of what I had been missing in Houston. I miss shopping in small mom and pop shops, the onesthat line the Main Streets of all the small towns in the rural county we lived in. Once, I Googled, “country store in Houston” and I got hits for grocery stores and a Cracker Barrel. Not exactly what I had in mind!

We probably went on one of the nastiest days weather wise, but that was okay. It was raining and in the mid 40s, which is super cold for here! But we bundled up and made the best of it. At least we were in and out of the stores, and not out in the rain so much.

There are so many different stores, I think we only saw half of them (partially the weather’s fault.) A lot of them had a mashup of things, but some of them were specific. We saw a shop called “Just For the Birds,” a “Connie’s Bath Shack” too, and of course there was a Texas themed shop, where I couldn’t resist buying a small stuffed longhorn.  A few of the stores had beautiful home decor, and I think Derek and I might be making another trip there once we have our own place again. There were a bunch of little cafes to choose from to eat lunch at. We ate at Ellen’s – the soup was delicious. A bonus was that there were railroad tracks at the edge of the village, great for someone who loves trains (me).

My favorite store was The Little Dutch Girl. Funny story –  a few months ago, I was searching everywhere for stroopwafles, a Dutch dessert that is a thin wafer like waffle, with caramel syrup in the middle. We couldn’t find them anywhere, but I saw that they were at The Little Dutch Girl. That was definitely a reason to go to Old Town Spring. But then, suddenly, I had more stroopwafles then I knew how to deal with. We ended up finding them at two stores, plus my parents sent some over in a care package. So I no longer had a need to buy them at the store, but I was sorely tempted by everything else. I ended up buying two tiny pieces of delft (a pair of clogs and a cat) and I bought spiced windmill cookies, a staple at my Gram’s house while growing up.

I think I would definitely come back again, next time when it is warmer out!

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Aunt Susie’s visit

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Aunt Susie came to visit for three days. It was a short visit, yes, but we crammed a ton of activities into those three days! We both had a lot of fun, and it came at the right time. It felt good to take a short break and forgot about other things currently going on. It was great because, while I took her to a bunch of things that I was familiar with, I also got to see and do some new things myself too.

On the first day I took Aunt Susie to Cavenders, which is a family owned boot and western wear store. She bought a shirt, and I cried over every pair of boots that I can’t afford, haha. Christmas is coming…

Then we went to the Arboretum, and I took her to the meadow trail to see the swamp sunflowers that were still in bloom.

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After the Arboretum, we went to Downtown and I showed her Discovery Green. I was excited to see The Color Condition, which is the latest art installation.

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Day two was the beach. A drive to Galveston is not complete with a stop at Buc-ees! She loved it. She bought a Buc-ee Bever keychain, a shirt and pajama shorts.

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It was great beach weather. A little chilly in the morning, so we had sweatshirts on, but the afternoon was perfect. We basically had the beach to ourselves for the first few hours, but then more people came by lunch time. We found a dead jellyfish on the beach. I had never seen one before.

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We had lunch at a place called Fish Tales, which is right across the street from the pier. The restaurant had a great outdoor patio on the second floor. I got the shrimp po boy sandwich and it was huge! Will probably eat there again.

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We checked out Murdochs, which is an old gift shop that is right over the water. They had a little bit of everything inside. Aunt Susie bought a shirt for Uncle Paul there. They also have their own bar, where you can get drinks and snacks, and a patio for you to enjoy them on. They sure do know how to bring in business!

We walked around the Hotel Galvez for a bit. It is a beautiful hotel, but supposedly haunted. Apparently it used to be an orphan’s asylum, but most of the children died in the 1900 hurricane. Spooky.

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From Hotel Galvez we took the motorized trolley to the Strand for some shopping. The island is currently working on getting the train trolleys up and running for next summer, but have the motorized ones in the mean time. It costs $1 to ride it each way, which I think is a good deal, instead of having to move the car and pay more in a lot.

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Our last day was the Houston Zoo and Hermann Park. Some of the highlights of the zoo were getting to see some of the big cats up close, and Aunt Susie feeding the giraffes. We took the train ride around Hermann park.

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The fun seemed like it ended all too soon, but she will be back, this time with my parents too, in March. She said she had a great time and a good first impression of Houston and Galveston. She said she wants to move to Galveston now… I would be okay with that!

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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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!

 

The Galleria

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The Galleria is an upscale shopping mall in Houston. Originally I had figured that I wouldn’t ever have a need to go inside. My wallet would cry just being in the vicinity!

But, when I was looking for things to do over Derek’s winter break, I saw that there was a huge Christmas tree in the middle of an ice skating rink (!!) in the Galleria. Well, if anything, it would be a good photo op.

However, the more that I looked into the Galleria, I realized that, while there are mostly high end shops, there are also plenty of stores for us poorer folks too!

We ended up going to familiar stores such as Hot Topic, Game Stop, Disney Store and Aeropostale. We also stopped at Nestle’s to get cookies to go (snickerdoodle), and a macaroon stand. I got mint chocolate and almond. Yum!

The mall is definitely huge. In fact, it is the largest mall in Texas! Although I must point out that the mall by my Grandma’s house in NJ is bigger! I guess not everything is bigger in Texas…

We kept getting lost trying to find our way to specific stores. Thank goodness for the directories! Funny, there was always a line to use them! At least we weren’t the only ones walking in circles.

I enjoyed coming here. I may come again during a day off when Derek is back in school just to kill a couple of hours and get some exercise.

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The Strand

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The Stand is a historic district in Galveston. It has lots of shops, restaurants, and gorgeous old architecture. We walked around this area for about an hour or two. One of the highlights was LaKings Confectionery. It looked like an old fashioned soda shop with a candy store inside too. There was even someone making salt water taffy in the back! I was also pleasantly surprised to see that there were gaslights in the district! It feels just like Wellsboro, PA. I am looking forward to coming back.

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Differences between TX and PA

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Derek and I have been taking note of some of the differences we have noticed between living in a city – and in Texas in general –  and living in rural Pennsylvania. Here are some of the ones we’ve come up with so far:

Roads:
A major difference is the roads. First of all, the majority of them are concrete. They are loud, and when it is raining out, they reflect in such a way that makes it hard to see the road! Not to mention the cracks in the concrete. Texas’ concrete cracks are akin to Pennsylvania potholes after a bad winter! Trying to learn the rules of the road, we quickly learned that there are no rules to the road. Some u-turns have their own lanes, some have a yield sign. Some exits are the “left two lanes” or the “right two lanes” and some are just one lane. Roads will go down from 4 to 3 lanes fairly quickly, and the same goes for 3 up to 4 lanes too. You have to pay very close attention! On the way to the University of Houston, there is one section where you literally have to keep right, then keep left, and then keep right all to get onto one road towards an exit! I am sure we will get used to it eventually, but thank goodness for GPS for now. Also, there are so many intersections that not all of them are named! When I am driving to the Target, I have to remember to “turn on the street after McNee,” because the street after McNee isn’t named!

The radio:
I thought I would be so happy having a ton of radio stations to choose from. Back in Wellsboro, there were only three to four stations to choose from, and I didn’t like the music on two of them. You were S-O-L most of the time when bouncing around from station to station. Plus, when you did find something you liked, it didn’t last very long, reception wise. Now we’ve got too many stations to choose from. Half of them aren’t in English! It took two weeks worth of driving around to find a country station that I liked, which was unexpectedly overwhelming. And to my surprise, the station lasted the entire hour drive to Galveston. We have a winner!

Stores:
We were joking around saying that we had been to more stores in two weeks than we had in the seven years that we were in Pennsylvania. Not too far from the truth! There are SO MANY stores/shopping plazas. We found one plaza about three miles from our apartment, and it is like a gold mine. So many good stores, I may not need to step foot into a mall once. Not to mention how HUGE the stores are. We had only been here about two to three days, and we went into a Kroger (the local grocery store) and the super target in one day. That was enough for us to realize that we definitely weren’t in a rural area anymore! The Kroger was at least double the size of our grocery store back in Wellsboro. We also went to a Lowes, and then it was my dad’s time to gasp at the sheer size of the store.

Grocery stores:
Diving a bit further into stores now, specifically, grocery shopping. We soon discovered that there were about five or six grocery stores to choose from. The Kroger we soon found out was a bit on the expensive side (bear in mind we are used to non-city prices) so then I started panicking over the circulars that came in the mail for the different grocery stores. Was I really going to have to shop at each one before we found a good fit???? We decided to start with the super target, since it is the closest to the apartment. That ended up being a good decision, for the most part. The craziest thing I have gotten anxiety over while being here is the meat department. Usually I buy ground beef in various sizes. Some dishes I make require a bit over a pound, and some a little under. Here in stores (both in the Kroger and the Target) they only come in one size only – one pound. Plus, the meat is just TOO EXPENSIVE overall. So then we went over to Fiesta Mart (another grocery store) which is branded as being an inexpensive option. There the meat selection was more what I was used to seeing in Wellsboro. So, I may have to go to two separate grocery stores to get what I want, but at least we got that sorted out fairly quickly. The Fiesta Mart in itself was amazing. There was a whole international foods section. Some day I just want to go and browse it all. The strangest thing we saw there was cactus pads in the produce aisle!

Weather:
The weather here is unreal. In the last three weeks, I feel like maybe only two days have gone by where there hasn’t been a thunderstorm. And the storms are BAD. Just today the lightning and thunder lasted at least an hour. When it rains, it POURS. I am glad that we live on the second floor. I am surprised we haven’t needed a boat yet. With all this moisture in the air, the humidity is unreal. Humidity doesn’t necessarily bother me, but no denying it is there when you go outside and our glasses immediately fog up!

Texas, Texas, Texas:
People in Texas are proud that they are from Texas! Texas flags everywhere, everyone wears Texas themed shirts, Texas bumper stickers, etc. Grocery store aisles have rows and rows of “made in Texas” salsa, and Texas beef (way more expensive than the already expensive meat I mentioned previously.) When we were in Galveston for the day, nearly everyone had a tent or chairs that was branded with some sort of Texas school or sport team. I just can’t recall seeing so much “Pennsylvania” branded items. Maybe the maple syrup? But I think that is less obvious.  “Made in Pennsylvania” is one thing, but having a huge Texas flag label with cowboys, horses, long horns, armadillos, etc, is another! In Buc-ees and in the campus book store, there were Texas themed cookware. I’ll admit I “oohed” at the Texas shaped cutting board, but does anyone actually buy and use these things? Maybe it is more of a novelty, for the people visiting Texas, instead of the people who live here.

That is all of the differences I can think of for now, but I am sure there will be more as time goes on!