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.

 

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Day Trip to San Antonio

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Last week we went to San Antonio for the day. We met up with my friend from high school that lives in Austin, which was a nice bonus. I can honestly say we had the perfect day. We did everything we wanted to do, and some more. The weather was amazing too.

Even the drive out there was great. It took three hours and it was on a two lane highway at 75 mph. I haven’t seen a two lane highway since Pennsylvania! We passed fields and fields of wildflowers, farms, and even some patches of cactus! It was peaceful.

Our first stop was the Alamo. I wanted to get there right when it opened. I had heard  that supposedly a lot of people are disappointed when they see the Alamo because it is so small. So knowing this information, the Alamo seemed like the perfect size to us! You cannot take pictures inside the main church building, which I had already known about, but still disappointed me. The expansive courtyards, with the mini museums in the barracks and the living history set ups, more than made up for it though. We spent over an hour here taking everything in. I really consider it a privilege that there are places of history that are preserved and we are able to still see them today.

Our second stop was the River Walk. It really is a beautiful area of the city. We walked around the main loop of the River Walk, but it goes out a few miles in both directions. We had thought about taking a river cruise, but we didn’t, and it honestly wasn’t needed. We saw everything just fine by foot. We were slightly disappointed because we had expected shops along the River Walk, but it was only restaurants and hotels. If we had known that, I probably would have eaten lunch on the River Walk.

We ate lunch at Mi Terra in El Mercado, (The Market Square) which was a street lined with Mexican shops and restaurants. Mi Terra was highly recommended online in different discussion forums. After lunch we took some time to browse around the craft vendors. So much cool stuff!

After lunch we headed back to the Alamo a second time. This was actually a good call because it had been overrun with school kids earlier in the morning, so now it was more quiet.

The last two things we did, Mission Espada and Mission San Jose, wasn’t even a definite thing on our to do list. I figured if we had the time in the afternoon, we’d go, but no big deal if we didn’t. These two missions ended up being my favorite part of the day. The architecture was amazing!

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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.

Mapping Texas

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A few weeks ago I wrote an article for the paper about an exhibit at the Museum of Natural Science. The exhibit is called Mapping Texas: From Frontier to Lone Star State.

I got to go see the exhibit for free, instead of paying for a ticket, which was really cool.

There was a collection of about 50 maps, most of them on loan from the Texas General Land Office. The maps range from the year 1513 to the 1900s.

One of the highlights in the exhibit is the huge 7 feet by 7 feet Stephen F. Austin “connected map” of Austin’s Colony, drawn by Austin himself.

The oldest map, from 1513, is by German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller. It is supposedly one of the first maps to show the gulf coast. The countries are all disproportionate, and it took me a few minutes of studying it to figure out what I was actually looking at!

I enjoyed looking at the older maps when Texas wasn’t Texas; when it was still a part of Spain or Mexico. It was interesting to see the 13 colonies on some maps, and then out west was wide and open. Sometimes I still forget that I am “out west.”

There were also some maps that showed the early grids of Houston. I wonder if the men who founded it ever realized that it would become such a larger city!

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Stephen F. Austin’s map.

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The 1513 Waldseemüller map.

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Bluebonnets

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The state flower of Texas is the bluebonnet, named so because the petals look like the shape of a women’s bonnet. Photographing bluebonnets was high on my Texas bucket list.

You can find bluebonnets just about anywhere in the state, but they are more prevalent the more west you go. I was figuring that I would have to take a road trip quite a distance out of Houston in order to find some. But then as bluebonnet season approached, I saw some pictures on Facebook of bluebonnets in Houston. Every time I came across a photo, I would comment, “Where was this picture taken?” But still being fairly new to the area, the vague answers I got did not help. I kept searching though. Eventually I found a picture of bluebonnets that said it was taken in Hermann Park. Ah hah! I know where Hermann Park was. That narrowed it down a bit. Then I saw in more pictures that the field of bluebonnets in question was by the Bill Coats Bridge. Google maps is my friend. The map showed me right where it was, on the southern end of the park.

That Wednesday I set out to find and photograph them. I was nervous though. Just because I had seen a picture of the bluebonnets weeks ago, would they still be there? I knew it was about a six week growing season, but had it just started, or was it ending? Well I had no worries because I walked from the parking lot smack into a huge field of them. They were beautiful, and I was not disappointed!

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Houston Zoo Lights

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We visited the Houston Zoo last week to see their Christmas light display. This event made me feel like I was “back home” because we’re so used to going to Hershey Park almost every Christmas to see their lights.

A major difference between here and there was that it was 60 degrees! I commented that the zoo was crowded, and Hershey never seemed this crowded. Derek replied that it was probably because it’s cold in Hershey!

We didn’t see any animals, except for a giraffe, a few flamingos, and the aquarium. It was too dark to see anything else, so don’t go to the Zoo Lights expecting to get the full zoo experience. But the theme of Zoo Lights is obviously animals, so you don’t feel like you’re losing out on anything. Overall it was very beautiful!

One thing I found interesting was that there was a section of Texas themed lights. There were lines to take pictures in front of each one! Of course, Derek and I took pictures with some of these lights, but we’re technically still tourists. People in Texas really do love that they are from Texas! I told Derek that it would have been strange if there was a Pennsylvania section of lights in Hershey Park!

Some pictures:

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Differences part 3

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I thought it was about time to write another “differences” post seeing as my list of observations is getting long again. So here we go, differences between Texas and Pennsylvania, part 3:

The local wildlife:

We have lizards, cockroaches and cicadas here. The first time a lizard darted out in front of my path I freaked out. Now I think they are cute. They are tiny, maybe a few inches long. They vary from brown to green. The cicadas are SO LOUD. The first time I heard them making an awful rackett I had no clue it was a bug. My first thought was that the noise was some kind of weird sounding tool, like a buzz saw. They have quieted down now that it is fall though. Our first week here, we saw a very large cockroach walking on the sidewalk. They really are ugly bugs! We expected cockroaches in the apartment based on reviews, and we did have a few tiny ones in the first few weeks, but again, we probably aren’t seeing them now that it is “cooling down.” Which, in Texas speak, means highs in the mid 80s!

Traffic reports:

One morning while watching the news and checking Twitter, I realized how odd it is to get the traffic reports every day! Our idea of a traffic jam in Wellsboro was getting stuck behind a tractor or a gas industry truck. In Houston, you really need to pay attention though before you get ready to go somewhere. Some days it could take you 20 min to get to work, but an accident could easily double or triple that! And, even though it really is impossible if you have a typical 9-5 job, you have to try to avoid rush hour traffic like the plague. No such thing as rush hour traffic in Wellsboro.

Southern chain stores:

When we were still in Pennsylvania, I wondered what chain stores we would see in Texas. In Pennsylvania, grocery stores like TOPS and Weis were the norm. Here in Texas, it is Kroger, Fiesta Mart and HEB. Tioga County was so small that we just had national food chains, such as Taco Bell, KFC and Wendys. But here, in additional to the nation wide ones, there are chains I had never even heard of like Fuddruckers and Whataburger. (Whataburger’s rootbeer milkshakes are so good!) In the north, Dunkin Donuts reigns supreme. Down here, it is Shipley’s Donuts. Sonic is also big here. I had heard of Sonic before, but I had never been to one before now. I still think that the drive-in concept is weird, but hey, whatever works!

Central time:

It is one thing to remember the one hour time difference when calling and texting friends and family back home, but it is entirely different when all of your fall shows come back on. I watch Survivor, and for the last 15 years or so, it has been engraved in my brain that it comes on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. So the Wednesday that it premiered, I almost missed the show! It was about 6:55 p.m. when I had a light bulb go off in my head and I remembered TIME DIFFERENCE! Then a few days later, I did the exact same thing with another show. Whoops. I do like that the shows are on earlier though. This is awesome for football games. I can now make it to the end of a Monday night football game instead of going to bed at 10 p.m. during half time.

Cold water:

Who would have thought something as simple as cold water would be a luxury? Here our cold water is cool at best, and sometimes just downright warm.  We now get into the habit of using our britta filter as a pitcher to keep some drinking water cold at all times. We never used to use ice cubes, and now we always make sure the tray is full. Hot water is, of course, not a problem. The hot water is scalding, and it gets hot quickly. We have to remember to turn it down before we burn ourselves.