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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Museum of Natural Sciences

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We went to the Museum of Natural Sciences a few months ago but I’m only getting around to writing about it now.

We had been to the MoNS in Washington D.C., which is rightfully huge, so we weren’t sure what to expect here, but they had a lot of great displays.

Some of my favorite areas included the Cabinet of Curiosities, which just had a bunch of random stuff everywhere and in drawers that were free to open and look into, the ancient Egypt section, and the dinosaur bones (which I think there were actually more of than in D.C.!) There was also a Texas animals section, which was interesting, and of course I loved the gem and mineral section. No Hope Diamond here, but still all amazing to look at.

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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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Hurricane Season

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June 1st is the start of hurricane season, and I have seen an influx of different hurricane related articles and columns the past two weeks.

We went to Galveston for the day (more on that in another post) and there are reminders about hurricane season everywhere. All along the causeway bridge there were big billboards that proclaimed “HURRICANE SEASON, BE PREPARED.” And later on that morning, while we were eating a mid-morning snack at the Mosquito Cafe, there was a small plaque on the wall noting where the high water mark was during Hurricane Ike. It was taller than Derek!

We arrived here at the end of the summer last year, so while hurricane season was on our mind, it was soon over. Now, staring down a full season, it feels different.

We have a weekly little reporters meeting, and during last week’s meeting, our editor gave us advice, because none of the current reporters have been around for the last two hurricane events, which happened in 2005 and 2008.

There were lessons to be learned from both hurricanes. I have been reading up on the impacts of both, and I am glad that, if another hurricane were to come, Houston should (hopefully) be more prepared.

Hurricane Rita formed just a few weeks after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and was barreling towards Houston, which understandably caused a lot of widespread panic. A few days out, Rita was, at the time, one of the strongest hurricanes on record. It seems as if everyone in Houston tried to leave all at once, which caused major problems.

Out of everyone who died in that hurricane, the majority of the people died during the evacuations. All of the highways out turned into parking lots. The opposite sides of the road weren’t opened until it was a little too late. People ran out of gas and then that turned into having heat strokes. A bus carrying senior citizens traveling to Dallas over heated and caught fire. All this for almost nothing. Rita ended up turning east, and didn’t hit Galveston/Houston as originally thought. Most people who evacuated could have just stayed home.

Hurricane Ike, however, did hit Galveston and came onshore to Houston quite dead on. Our editor told us that it knocked out the entire power grid and some people were without power for THREE WEEKS. Now just imagine how that feels in the middle of a Texas summer, when the temperature can easily reach 100 degrees.

The advice he gave if another hurricane like that happens is, to try to stay ahead of the game. Already have batteries and candles on hand (check and check.) Make sure you have plenty of water and non perishable food. And whatever we do, try to make it out to the grocery store and a gas station ahead of everyone else.

He said that, even though we always have a few days notice ahead of time that a hurricane may hit, everyone seems to wait until the last minute, and then it is a frenzy.

I am sure that Derek and I would have this kind of common sense if a hurricane were to show up at our door step, but it is still helpful to hear it from someone else who has lived through two bad hurricanes.

We looked at evacuation routes, and we are just to the west of evacuation zones. So, if there is a mandatory evacuation, we won’t have to go, but depending on how safe we feel, we may leave anyway. The University of Houston is in an evacuation zone, which is good to know. In the event of a hurricane, UH would probably have to close down.

I read somewhere that there is a 32 percent chance of Houston being hit, and I’ve heard talk that “We’re due for a dead on hit again since it’s been a few years.” I don’t think it works that way, but who knows what will happen this summer, or the next.

 

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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Growing bucket list

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My Texas bucket list keeps growing instead of getting shorter, but I suppose that is a good thing. I was worried about running out of things to do, but I suppose that is the rural girl in me talking. Can you ever run out of things to do in a city?

Since Derek’s semester just ended, he’s looking at a nice three month break. I looked at my list and picked out a handful of things that we can do during my days off. I’m usually gung ho about making (and then crossing off) to-do lists, but I’m finding that this is one list that I want to keep adding to. I recently checked off “Go to the Houston Rodeo” and “Photograph bluebonnets” but I’ve definitely added a bit more too.

For instance, I have decided that I would like to attend a Houston Astros game. I’m not into baseball to be honest, but where else can I see a Major League Baseball game? The tickets are cheap (starting at $12) and it is something different to do.

I have some major cities on my list like Austin, Dallas and San Antonio, but what about the other smaller towns to visit? Through some research, I now want to visit places such as Gonzales (the site of the first battle for Texas Independence and the famous “Come and Take It” cannon) and Fredericksburg, a German town which looks like it has a pretty little main street filled with shops and restaurants.

One of Derek’s professors suggested that we visit the San Jacinto monument (Battle of San Jacinto was another Texas Independence battle) and the Houston Ship Channel as well. On the list they all go.

We’ve also gotten to see big production shows such as Book of Mormon and Cirque du Soleil, and I am sure there will always be another one we want to see soon enough. I would like to see The Nutcracker next Christmas.

I wonder what will be next? I am looking forward to finding out.