Reflection and worries – part 2

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A few months ago Derek started the process of applying for professor jobs. He applied to one in a semi-rural snowy mountain town, a place that I wasn’t too sure I’d be happy living in. Derek got a call back a day later, and my anxiety shot up. You can read about that here: https://texastalesblog.wordpress.com/2019/01/10/reflection-and-worries/

Well, nothing more came from that interview, but there have been other opportunities since then. Each week my anxieties change. I wish I could be in the present and not worry about the future. What is going to happen will happen. Easier said than done.

Derek applied to a few schools in December and January. Aside from that one call back, we didn’t hear anything.

There was one school and place, not in Texas, that I would have been ecstatic to move to. Derek heard back from that school, and was told “no, however…” It turns out that this school thinks Derek is a good fit for a two-year fellowship. A fellowship at a large school such as this one would really set Derek’s career off. The deadline is Monday, and Derek completed the application for that one last week. My thoughts change about this job possibility almost daily. I would love to move there, but I have reservations about it being only two years. What would happen after that? I’m ready for some long-term stability.

He also applied to a school right here in Houston. That was back in February. I have no patience. I feel like he should have heard back from now, but multiple people have told me that academia is “slow.”

We thought that the round of job openings for professorships were over after the January deadlines. So we thought, maybe a teaching job wasn’t going to happen for Derek right away. However, a few more have been opening up recently. It makes sense, schools probably know of a lot more openings now. Teachers decide to move on or retire by the end of each school year. He has a few in mind that he will apply to once he graduates, which is a week and a half way.

At least I can say that I feel better about the possibility of moving to these places instead of the snowy mountain town, but this doesn’t change the fact that I would prefer to stay in Houston. Derek will apply to some design firms right here in Houston, just in case none of the professor jobs work out.

We have no idea what will happen. I feel like when I reserve myself to thinking that we’ll leave, that’s when we’ll end up staying, and vise versa.

I have been putting a mental list together of some of the easier things we want to do in Houston this summer if we have to leave by mid-July (Most start dates for professor jobs are August 1). Go to NASA, Brazos Bend State Park, etc. Some of the bigger things won’t be plausible, like weekend trips to Dallas and Austin. I am comforting myself some by reminding myself that we could always take a week long vacation from where ever we live in the future and visit both Dallas and Austin. The two cities are not disappearing any time soon.

I am quickly losing patience. I hope we hear back from some places, even if its bad news, soon. I just want to know for sure or not what will happen to us. Stay tuned.

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The trip of a lifetime

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It’s funny how a problem can turn into the best thing that has ever happened to you.

The problem: Our experience with flights to and from Houston have been less than ideal, and are inconsistent.

For instance, my Aunt Susie has visited a few times, and she has always had trouble finding flights that worked for her schedule and price point. We never understood this. She is flying from a major airport, Newark, NJ, to Houston, which is the fourth largest city in the U.S., and not to mention that there are two airports to choose from. She has made it work, but she has had to go over budget to make the trips happen, and she has had to fly at inconvenient times.

The scenario: We were planning on going to St. Lucia at the end of May, as a celebration for Derek finishing graduate school. We booked a hotel about six months ago, and we had not gone any further in the planning. I looked at flights a few times, and found that flights from Houston to St. Lucia were averaging $1,800. What? Why?

My Uncle Paul looked and looked at flights but could not find anything cheaper. So he said, “I’m sorry, but it looks like St. Lucia will not work. Where else would you like to go?”

I have a detailed bucket list – 38 trips in all, St. Lucia included. I sent him the list. I didn’t really care where we went, so long as it was still on my list.

My dream vacation, at the top of the list, is Sicily, Italy. My family immigrated from Ragusa, Sicily in the 1800s, so it would be a trip to the motherland.

For a few days, Uncle Paul asked me questions here and there, and looked at different destinations. Hawaii, Croatia and Paris all came up, but Uncle Paul kept coming back to Sicily. They asked me, “How much money do you have saved for Sicily?” They knew I have been saving for Sicily dollar by dollar for the last six years. They also sent me some tours to look at, but I was told to “stand by.” The waiting was agony.

After three days, my Uncle Paul broke the news by texting me a picture of a piece of square Sicilian pizza. I cried. And then cried some more.

The irony was not lost on me that this trip was technically supposed to be for Derek, but I originally picked a beach vacation, and he’s not the biggest fan of the beach. He burns too easily, even with generous amounts of sun screen.  Italy, even though it is my dream trip, will be a better fit for Derek too. He will soak up the art and architecture, not to mention the wine.

I never thought I would say that I was thankful that flights from Houston to a destination were too expensive and we had to cancel a trip, but it worked out for the best. Eight days in Sicily (flights included) ended up being cheaper than a 5-day trip to St. Lucia. So, thank you Houston airports for being both too expensive and inconsistent!

Changes…

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Everything can change in an instant. A week ago, on Tuesday morning, my dad called me. He told me that the company that he works for, New England Motor Freight, is shutting down. He is, or was, a truck driver. He worked there since before I was born. By the end of this week, my dad will be out of a job.

I never thought that my parents and I would end up going through the exact same situation. It has made me think about all that has transpired in our lives the last few years.

We thought life was great in Pennsylvania. We had good jobs, and a brand new house, bought in our first year of marriage. Then I got laid off from my job. We both bounced around with other jobs after that, and nothing was ever the same. We were not happy. We decided to go back to school and get bachelor degrees in graphic design. That was when Derek knew that graphic design was what he wanted to do professionally. There was nothing holding us back in Pennsylvania, so Derek applied to graduate schools. Even though it was a three-year process, me getting laid off lead us to Houston. We had no idea what was going to happen, but we knew we could no longer stay where we were.

Now my mom and dad are facing that same dilemma. They live in New Jersey, which is one of the most expensive states to live in. Property taxes are high. Like us three years ago, they can no longer stay where they are. They are planning on putting their house up for sale next month.

They do have a plan in place. They want to move to Maryland. For the last few years they have been volunteering with the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. Through that, they have become familiar with the area. They have their favorite coffee shops and restaurants, and they have made friends with other railroad workers. This was always their retirement plan, but this was not supposed to happen for another few years yet. Dad is not quite at retirement age, but at least he is close. He has looked at all of the figures, and although the budget will be tight, early retirement is doable.

There is some comfort that they are not going to this place sight unseen, which is what happened to us when we moved to Houston. We had absolutely no idea what we were getting ourselves into. It is still going to be scary for them though.

They have a really nice home that they moved into when it was brand new, (when I was 11 years old) and it was customized for them. They might have to move into a less than ideal home in Maryland, to keep costs down. Dad is a handyman though, and he is capable of fixing a lot.

Again, this is also similar to what we went through. We loved our house in Wellsboro. It was the perfect size, actually, almost too big for just the two of us. It was pretty too. I still mourn my beautiful knotted pine kitchen cabinets. It was hard to downsize and get used to a new, cramped setting.

Since then we have worked our way up, and we are in a nicer apartment, and I know mom and dad too, will make a new house a home. Everything gets easier with a bit of time and hard work.

New apartment

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We have moved into a new apartment! Everything about it is bigger and better, which was sorely needed.

We live in the same neighborhood, but in a better, quieter spot. Previously, we were right off of the highway, but now we are on a side street. We are still walking distance to the stadium, just on the opposite side now, which is great. I foresee a lot more rodeo country concerts in my future! We are also now walking distance to the metro rail, which will be great for downtown events. Prior, we had to go to the park and ride and pay $3 in addition to our metro ticket.

Judging by some of our neighbors wearing scrubs, this complex seems to be a popular living spot for medical students and or doctors working at the Texas Medical Center, which is just a few stops away on the metro.

Our first apartment in Houston was a one bed and one bath which was a tight squeeze, especially since we were used to a three bedroom, two bath house in Pennsylvania. There was room for everything, but there was no denying that we were cramped.

The main goal was to get a second bedroom that we could turn into an office for Derek to do his school work in, and for me to do my scrapbooking! Previously, Derek’s desk was the first thing you saw when you walked through the front door, which meant you also saw his messes! I am much happier now that his mess is contained to a room that is NOT the living room. This will also help the both of us because now Derek can keep the light on at night if he needs to stay up late, and I won’t hear the click-clack of his keyboard either, so hopefully I will sleep better!

In the end we got much more than just that extra bedroom. Now we have two walk-in closets, two bathrooms, a new washer and dryer ( that we just purchased last week) and a private balcony! Something that we definitely did not need, but what made me fall in love instantly with the place was the big brick fireplace! It’s funny that it takes moving to Texas to get a fireplace.

When walking through the door, you can just FEEL that it is bigger, even with all of the boxes still laying everywhere. I can only imagine how it will feel when everything is done and put away. When we were in the process of moving in, Derek would call my name from somewhere within the apartment and I had to call back, “Where are you?” That is a good problem to have.

We thought it would be tough to find a place that we liked and we would have to see 10 different apartments and have a hard time making a decision. However, we only looked at two apartments and knew right away that the first one was the one for us.

I was initially worried because this apartment was at the top of our budget, but sometimes good things happen at just the right time: I got a raise at work! Now we are more comfortable and don’t have to worry about being stretched too thin.

Even moving a one bedroom, one bathroom apartment is tough work, and we had over a week to do it too! I hope that we stay in this new apartment for quite a few years, until, hopefully, we are ready to buy a home.

Stay tuned for pictures of the apartment, which will come once we are more settled in.

Crazy 4th of July

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I was planning on writing a post about 4th of July, but this post is not at all what I was expecting to write about.

Our original plans included the Bellaire 4th of July parade in the morning. (Bellaire is a nice small-town community that is entirely surrounded by the city of Houston.) I was planning on taking a few photos of the parade and then putting them online for our newspapers. We were also going to check out the new H-E-B grocery store, and then just relax the rest of the day.

Let’s just say that rain changed a bunch of our plans.

It was forecasted to rain for most of the day, but Bellaire administration said that the parade would go on, basically rain or shine, unless if there was a downpour or lightning and thunder.

We left at 9 a.m. for the 9:30 parade. We were barely on the road for a minute when the downpour started. We found the start line of the parade, in a shopping plaza, and everyone was soaked. It looked as if they were trying to wait out the downpour and then the parade could start. We snapped a few pictures of everyone and the floats in the rain. At about 9:25, you guessed it, lightning and thunder started. So much for the parade.

We were right in front of a little coffee shop called the Dandelion Cafe. We ducked inside because it was still pouring. It ended up being a nice little place. We will probably put this coffee shop into our rotation. We always enjoy finding new places like this.

After being there for an hour, we headed to the new H-E-B Grocery that had just opened up in Bellaire. I wasn’t originally expecting to buy a lot of things, but we did most of our bi-weekly shopping there, because prices were good. The H-E-B was cool, because it was a two story building, with a cart specific escalator. I was amused by it, and embarrassed Derek when I took video and pictures. Also, the H-E-B had its own parking garage, and there were lights at the end of each space in the ceiling which indicated if the spaces were open or not. Red for occupied, green for vacant. How handy! This is what living in the future is like.

Unbeknownst to us while we did our shopping for an hour, it was still raining heavily all this time. We left the grocery store and we were driving through pretty deep water. It was splashing up over the sides of our tires up onto the windows. But then all of a sudden it got too deep, and the water was going up over our hood. It quickly got scary. Derek said, “We have to get off of this road, NOW.” Luckily we saw a parking lot that was higher ground, and a bunch of other cars were there too waiting out the storm like us.

So we sat. And we waited. And we sat some more. I was getting worried about all of the perishables that we had just bought! Eventually, after about an hour and a half, we saw that the waters had receded a bit, so we cautiously headed out. We went a few blocks and ended up at a Walmart near my work. We couldn’t go any further, towards home, because we saw there was more high water ahead.

Walmart was good though, because we were able to buy a bag of ice to keep the perishables cold, and wandering around Walmart was better than sitting in a car.

We finally were able to get home around 3 p.m., about four hours after we originally tried to get home. It was an exhausting morning!

I now understand why some drivers accidentally end up in high waters and have to abandon their cars. It comes out of nowhere. You think you are okay, and then suddenly there is more water. We never had to be outside during Hurricane Harvey, so this was a new scary experience, one that I hope to not repeat.

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Weekend explorations

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We were pretty busy last weekend. We checked out new murals in downtown on Friday and we went to the Arboretum on Saturday.

Six new murals have been painted on McKinney street, just around the corner from Phoenicia Specialty Foods and Discovery Green, two of our usual hangouts.

A game changer for us has been discovering that Phoenicia customers can park for free in designated spots in the parking garage the building is located in. I am sure we might come here more often now knowing that.

The murals are really bright, and feature catchy, and Houston/Texas related sayings. My favorite one was “Smile, y’all are in Houston.” It was a good opportunity to get some fun photos. I think these will become popular for photos because they are on sidewalks, opposed to in a parking lot, which a lot of Houston’s murals are.

We also then took a stroll around Discovery Green and snapped some shots of all of the flowers and water lilies.

On Saturday we went to the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center. We go here often, but Derek hasn’t been since they have done the latest expansions and restorations. I have been writing articles about it for work, so I knew that their second parking area, along with new trails and ponds, had just opened the week prior.

The Arboretum is trying to restore the natural ecosystems, as well as give the visitors a more immersive experience. Before, the parking lot was just that, a parking lot. Now when you get out of your car, there are trees and plants everywhere, and the trails run right through the middle as well.

There is one new feature that I love in particular. It is a long curving boardwalk over a pond. It is peaceful.

With all of the restoration efforts, more animals have been seen at the Arboretum. We saw two different yellow-crested night herons on our walk.

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Exploring Rice University

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There are a ton of higher-ed schools around Houston. Rice University is just a stones throw away from us, right across the street from Hermann Park, which we frequent.

We have always seen the buildings from the roads as we drove past, but never stepped foot on campus until last weekend.

Rice University is a prestigious, private university. Their mascot is the owl. If you look hard enough, you can find owls all over campus.

Their campus was so peaceful, covered with large oak trees and plenty of tables and chairs for relaxing. The architecture was impressive as well. I felt as if I were at an Ivy League school in the northeast, or as someone else put it, Hogwarts.

We also stopped at Rice Coffeehouse, their cafe inside the student union, for some cold drinks. We also saw a French cafe/restaurant on campus called Flo, might have to check that out another time.

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