Tag Archives: Houston

Fall in Houston 

I make no secret of the fact that I hate Houston. But last Saturday there was a detente in our relationship as Autumn hit. The cooler, dry air may be playing havoc with Sam’s eczema but teamed with Houston’s bright blue skies it’s glorious for being out in. An ideal afternoon is now spent playing with the children in front of the house, biking and walking to the park, Ellie around our feet. It’s almost idyllic and helps me wrap up in my family and shut out the ugliness of the world. 


It’s the best bits of England made better – hardly any rain and it’s not cold but fresh. The dark nights roll in and it’s still nice to have a drink on the porch (or in the garage if, like us, you don’t have a porch. 


So why does it make me so homesick? It makes me crave those parts of England I thought I would be glad to leave behind: walking with the damp permeating your clothes, dying for that cup of tea and Tunnocks tea cake, hiding under blankets inside… I miss the too cold, the too wet, the too dark. Even in its perfection, Houston is not my home.

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Perfect weekend

Noah's Ark Houston

Quality Mummy-son time

2 1/2 years in, and I am definitely still adjusting to motherhood. 3 years in, and I am still adjusting to Houston. I have written before that I was unhappy for much of 2014, and 2015 was looking to possibly shape up in a similar way (albeit a little better). And honestly, partially because I don’t really recognize myself as unhappy (maybe a bit ‘flat’ or a bit ‘whiney’) until I get it right. Until I realize that I have made myself happy. That happened this weekend.

Saturday morning I took Sam to a kids’ swimming pool (Noah’s Ark) and we just had a blast. It was lovely to focus totally on him, and to be a big kid myself – yes, I climbed through all the water tunnels (so elegantly with my whopping bump), went down all the kiddos’ slides and picked Sam up and threw him in the water fountain (much to his delight). It was delightful, silly, exhausting fun.

I definitely did not look this cute on the slide

I definitely did not look this cute on the slide

Cue a stupidly large Mickey D’s, and then an unplanned nap on the sofa. Although I was woken by Sam waking from his nap (after only 2 hours! 3 hours at the pool is supposed to buy me more than 2 hours!)  he then played happily for several hours while I made a new card for my Etsy shop (<— still a work in progress) and updated my Stampin’ Up! blog. Pizza dinner, easy night down for the dwarf and then movie night with the Husband – we watched St. Vincent which was pretty good.

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Baby shower card

Today I played hard with the kiddo in the morning and then went and helped a friend set up her Stampin’ Up! website. She fed me lunch and I got a delicious frozen StarBucks on the way home. Sam woke the second I got home (again, after only 1.5 hours! What is up with this kiddo?) so we tidied the house together and then hit the garden.

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One of the best things Wes & I did was fence off a small area of our garden for Sam. We put in his sandbox, my hammock, and small IKEA table and chairs, a bench, a slide and a paddling pool. If Sam and I go out there I can get snatches of anywhere between 15 and 90 minutes to myself blogging, surfing the internet or reading. And when he does want to play, it’s easy for me to engage in water fights and sandcastles and chalk pictures on the wall. We usually have a blast and today was no exception.

Tea, Emma Bridgewater cup, biscuits for dunking, blogging and the boy playing happily - what more could I want?

Tea, Emma Bridgewater cup, biscuits for dunking, blogging and the boy playing happily – what more could I want?

 

We finished up with snuggles in the hammock – occasionally Sam will take his sippy cup and drink it like he would drink from a bottle as an infant, seeking out things to play with with his hands, his eyes going heavy and going into the ultimate snuggle mode – it’s BLISS.

Snuggles beats all else

Snuggles beats all else

Now the little one is in bed, I am finishing my blog post while eating delicious pecan toffee, and somewhere in there I even managed a face and a hair masque.

So – why was this such a blissful weekend? What made it feel perfect? It wasn’t tantrum free (you try telling a hungry 2-year old that is 1.5 hours past his nap time that he has to leave the swimming pool of awesomeness). I bought a new nail polish and don’t like it (damn you Essie). I didn’t get time to blow dry my hair and it looks a mess. I did, however, have time to really play with and engage with Sam – both at home and out and about. There was time for my hobbies, and some friend time. But what is most surprising, is that there was no work. Not a single email, nor a review. I didn’t open anything I am working on to poke at it, and yes, I let a few overdue things just sit in my inbox (I am certainly not luxuriating for time at work right now).

It’s odd. It’s uncomfortable if I think about it, and yet it seems like the most natural thing in the world. I realize that even 2.5 years in, I am definitely struggling to adapt to (working) motherhood. When I became a mum, I tried to carry on just like before – keeping work the same and fitting the kiddo in around that. When I couldn’t fit everything in, I dropped the ‘me’ things – make-up, skin care, crafting, blogging. I squeezed Sam in when I could (after a whopping great 3 weeks of maternity leave), and I did whatever it took to keep work going.

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My world

It’s not working for me anymore (sorry for the pun). Academia is hard – the way funding is (pretty nonexistent) it seems like a lot of input for not a lot of payback. At the end of the road, when I have focussed so much mental energy on work, and I have nothing to show for it it is hard to look at my beautiful son and think “I am glad I put you second” and “I’m glad I don’t know you as well as I could” and “Sure, I read you stories, and tuck you in, and I’m the one you run to when hurt – but I don’t mind having missed out on those little interactions that are your whole world right now”. It’s hard to look in the mirror at an uncared for reflection and say “I am glad I look a mess”. It’s hard to look around the house and say “I don’t mind that this doesn’t reflect my personality”.

I don’t have the answer. Academia seems to get harder and harder, and survival seems to depend on more and more publications and collaborations and grant submissions. And truly, I love what I do! When I can focus on my real work (not work I have foolishly agreed to do for others, so I am working on reducing that), I truly am fascinated by behavioral genetic questions and I love answering them and writing on them. But kiddos don’t wait, and papers don’t hold me at night. It feels like the wonder in Science is getting less and less, while the wonder in my son grows daily.

Yet, I still hugely look up to so many great Scientists. I cannot let the dream of being like them go. It’s clear that I need to reduce work. I also need to streamline what I do (focussing on behavior almost exclusively) and be much more efficient when I am working (less Facebook, more papers…). Yet, I am scared I cannot be successful like that. It’s hard to let go of the 24/7 work mindset. But I am also scared that I won’t be be successful continuing like I am, and I will have sacrificed everything anyway and be left with nothing. Perhaps these are the ramblings of the third trimester, but  I am scared of not having more papers than most people at my stage, of not having more grant submissions, of not having funding. I am terrified of saying no. Yet, I feel I have to take the plunge. I need to turn work off sometimes, and reprioritize when I am at work. I’ve never been like this! I have always been able to do anything and take on any task. I could work my way out of mediocrity. Perhaps this was the fearless I needed to be when I wrote back in January 2014. Anyway, I have to give it go. I have to make some changes.

Hammock snuggles are the best!! If not the most flattering angle ;-)

Hammock snuggles are the best!! If not the most flattering angle 😉

I have no idea if anyone else struggles like this – I see so many people having careers and personal lives seamlessly, but I am happy to go out on a limb for a minute and say: I am struggling. I am not getting it right. I am changing. I don’t recognize myself and I am worried that the ‘old me’ would have negatively judged the ‘new me’ (what a bloody awful confession).

I am optimistic, I am scared, I am excited, I am terrified. I have no idea how this will play out.

 

A year in Houston

Houston sunrise skyline

Sunrise over Houston

We have a bunch of anniversaries that come one-after-another in June / July (what? It is a long time since June / July? Hush now and keep reading). Our first anniversary occurs on June 1st and marks our move to Houston and into our new (our first!) house.

Hated saying goodbye to these guys (and their brother)

Hated saying goodbye to these guys (and their brother)

I remember the move so clearly. It my friend Rachel’s 6th birthday and the day of her birthday party, and I was miserable to be missing it. I had spent the previous evening with her and her siblings, saying goodbye. On the way home I had to pull over and get out of the car to collapse in hysterical sobs – I was so sad to be leaving my friends in Birmingham behind.

All packed up and ready to go

All packed up and ready to go

I felt better the next morning. We packed up the final parts of our grotty old apartment, wrangled several plants (one of whom got lost), 2 cats, a skittish and terrified Italian Greyhound (RIP little Walter), a 70lb Bernese / Mountain dog cross and a pregnant wife with her enormous pregnancy pillow into a cramped 2-seat Ford Ranger. And off we went.

To the OB.

baby scan 18 weeks

Looking good

Yup, making the most of our health insurance (which, due to Texas state law would have a 1 month gap)  we dropped in to Sabrina Wyatt at UAB to have our ‘is everything OK with the baby?’ anatomy scan. It was early at just shy of 17 weeks, but due to ‘staying remarkably slim’ (the doctor’s words, not mine, although I used them liberally for a long time afterwards) we could get clear pictures of our little Firework. It was nerve wracking as they counted veins and arteries, organs and heart chambers. But Firework was just perfect and wriggling happily away, so off to Houston (for real) we commenced.

It took 13 hours with stops (including a few vomit stops) but we drove up and although we arrived after 1 am, somehow the house did feel like home. The majority of our belongings were arriving my truck in a few days, but pleading pregnancy discomfort, Wes had bought a mattress decent blow-up mattress which we slept on. And so (being fridge- and utensil- less) began our almost 2 week take-out binge. I can barely eat at many of the restaurants we tapped during that time.

Downtown Houston

Downtown Houston

Houston has taken some getting used to. Instantly, I liked the anonymity and diversity of Houston. There was definitely a ‘look’ for women in Alabama – think manicured nails and colored styled hair, attractive, but fairly conservative clothes (no high fashion or sports gear), and always make-up. And it was definitely noticed on and commented on (both to your face, and behind you back) if you did not conform to this. I know it sounds crazy, but I was not the only woman I knew who felt pressure to conform to the ‘made-up’ look. It was immediately refreshing to have no ‘look’ to Houston, and for there to be a distinct air of ‘as long as you are not in my business, I will not be in yours’. I initially thrived a lot more, and relaxed and felt better about myself. I felt more confident, and I felt that my friends were truly my friends. Everything was more up front, and less judgmental. I maintain that I prefer this bigger-city attitude, but when I visited Birmingham recently I missed the smiles, and friendliness, and help everyone offers you.

Ecclesia smilebooth

Photo from church

But the diversity is good – Wes and I have been able to find more of what we like. Church was a big thing – I grew up with the “staid and stuffy” [not to me – I loved it!] Catholicism-lite that is Church of England / Episcopalian; think hymns, reciting lots of rote and staid sermons followed by long prayers. Wes grew up with the evangelical passion that is Assemblies of God. I felt uncomfortable with the huge displays of emotion in Wes’ churches (think breaking down and weeping on stage); Wes was bored by reciting the same thing endlessly at mine. I felt I was sometimes watching ‘The Jesus Show’ with no spiritual participation asked of the congregation, Wes felt the robes and rituals we sometimes encountered were ridiculous and against the word of God. A difficult problem to overcome, but with a lot of prayer we did – finding our home with Ecclesia. It is a good mix of interesting but thoughtful speakers, uplifting music combined with weekly sacrament. However, they have adapted the words before collection and communion to be shorter. I feel like we really think about being a Christian, and the church has a lovely focus on charity and giving (you know… actually being Christ-like). Most impressively, their stance on abortion is “As a church, we should focus on telling people what to do [be Christ-like], not what not to do”. And Sam loves the daycare. It really works.

Daycare extrodinaire

Daycare extrodinaire

With our limited budget and different tastes (think like the church problem) Wes and I found it hard to find places to eat in Birmingham – there are many more cheaper eateries here, where I can get salads and he can get pasta or something more hearty. We’ve enjoyed very authentic dim sum and good quality sushi (with raw fish) is never far away. Houston: I approve.

Something delicious for all

Something delicious for all

And a kebab better than London!

And a kebab better than in London!

My one beef with Houston is the huge urban sprawl of it. Look, big is not a problem for me. I lived in London. In fact, I like big (stop sniggering in the back). But I do not like everything being at least a 20 minute drive away. And if you want to go to three or four shops? They are all – yup, 20 minutes drive away. And 20 minutes’ long drive away. You want to go for a walk? Drive 30-40 minutes. For real. Wes doesn’t mind it at all – it drives me up the bleeding wall. I miss the UK way of driving to a shopping center, parking, and being able to shop, eat, have coffee and visit a bar – all without going back to your car. Really not an option in Houston (except a little bit in the very downtown… which is 45 minutes drive away, or in Rice Village which is hellaciously expensive, and still amazingly unwalkable). I like that the Bayou has a running track by it and is 5 minutes from my office. But apart from that – I hate driving to, from and between everywhere.

Nice little urban walk... 45 minutes away.

Nice little urban walk… 45 minutes away.

And the urban sprawl is such that if you want something less urban, a good hike or a good bike ride – you’re looking at 45 minutes or, more likely, a 2 hour drive. I miss being able to just jump to Oak or Ruffner Mountain as I could in Birmingham. And I am having to put my fingers in ears and sing ‘lalalalalalalala’ at Rick Perry (Go Wendy Davis!).

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All in all, Houston has a lot, but has taken a lot of adjusting to. I think it was harder to adjust to arriving pregnant and then having a newborn (kinda cramps the partying style). It also didn’t help that my new school does not have many postdocs, or students / faculty my age – UAB came with a built in social life. It has – and still can be – a lonely city. I don’t know if that is a feature of the coldness and sprawl of Houston, or a reflection of where we are in life (I say ‘we’: I am lonely and miss a big social group, Wes is in his element!). Wes and I are not wedded to staying here, but not devastated that we need to make it at least another 3-5 years to make financial sense. It’s no Colorado but it is no Baton Rouge. It will be interesting to see how I find it in another year’s time.

Brazos Bend State Park

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Houston made Time magazine’s list of 46 places to go in 2013, and made number 7 no less. Which reminds me that I really should get out and explore this city even more. I’ve done the Weistheimer area of downtown, and Galveston, checked out the Orange Show and visited the zoo and Hermann Memorial Park, but that paltry list is it.

Now we have visited Brazos Bend Park. Just 30 minutes away from our home it was a beautiful wetlands area, filled with wildlife. There were several flat and easy walks, many of which were interconnected. We would have done many of them had 1.5 miles into our first walk (a nature trail) I had not withdrawn my hands from around Sam in the sling and gone ‘Oh God… they are wet… and don’t smell good’. A quick dash back to the car and an exploded diaper later, we discovered we didn’t have spare trousers for Sam – so home it was.

Brazos Bend was so beautiful we will definitely go back. In the meantime: enjoy my pictures.

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Spot the little man..

Spot the little man..

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Lumberjack shirt, perfect for 'hiking'.

Lumberjack shirt, perfect for ‘hiking’.

And please share any Houston tips…

Two weekends of hometown touristin’ (pic spam time)

Sunrise over Houston

After really enjoying looking a little around my new hometown of Houston a few weeks back, I gave it another go for two weekends… but for different reasons.

Reunited… if only for a weekend

2 weeks ago my bestie Clio came all the way to Houston to see the bump (and me, I hope). We spent a lot of time discussing the serious issue of what R-Patz was going to do now, and whether K-Stew had done it for publicity and what the heck was going to go down with TomKat (you know, the important stuff). We also shopped until we dropped (hello Nars Orgasm, OPI blue me away and some cunning black tie-up wedges), visited the Cheesecake Factory and watched an appalling amount of trash: basically, did everything I have been missing since moving here and getting me back on track to feeling human.

However, I did feel that Clio should not be held captive and forced to give me the social interaction I have been craving. So we took a quick jaunt down to our local seaside town of Galveston and its ‘pleasure pier’. It was fun, although honestly? British peeps should think an over priced Brighton without all the yummy food stops or the impressive shopping lanes… yeah, a little limiting. As if to prove my point, the weather was also terrible British-esque, which led to a disastrous hat decision by me. Anyway, looking quite a lot like our honeymoon Brighton photos (but with the tremendous addition of young Clio) this is our Galveston pic-spam:

Clio declined joining in on one of these pics… wonder why?

I don’t know WHY I put this hat on

It was fun… and when we got home poor Walter got to be ridiculous and have a much hated bath:

Very unflattering whale-like photo of me… but Walter looks cute

All over now with a consolatory cuddle

This weekend, hmmm… well I don’t know if I was scammed. I signed up to a cake pop class on Groupon. The company *looks* legit on their website… and when I emailed them, they were responsive and booked me in for this weekend. Now, weirdly, the website does not have an address, but the Groupon coupon did. So along I went this Saturday morning. The address listed: 907 Franklin Street was an abandoned (and locked) office. But at 909 (an apartment complex) the concierge told me that Tastee Tees was 2 doors down – 917, next to a restaurant. Indeed, 917 was next to a restaurant. But, it was locked and I could only see a hallway with lots of doors coming off. So I called Tastee Tees… no answer (but I did get a professional sounding answer phone). I didn’t find this that odd, as I didn’t expect them to be answering if the business does not open on a Saturday, but they were teaching a class. Left a message… nothing… left another… nothing. Rang incessantly (thinking that if I uninterrupted the class enough they might answer). Eventually a woman answered with just as single “Hello”. “Hi,” I said, “Is this Tia [the owner of Tastee Tees]?”. “Yes”. “Hi, I am trying to find my way to your cake pop class and was wondering if you could tell me where it was, please?” *cue lots background noise…* “Hello… hello? Hello?”. Nothing. No call back. And they didn’t answer when I, and subsequently Wes, phoned back several times.

So… really weird. I was seriously excited to go cake pop making (I actually woke up on Friday with the words “Do you know what tomorrow is? Cake Pop Day!!”), so was seriously disappointed, and I will be seriously ticked off if I was scammed. What do you think? Is it a scam? Is that plausible? I’ll keep you updated. In the meantime, not to have the whole day ruined, I explored the ‘Historic’ ‘Theater’ and ‘Skyline’ districts of downtown Houston. It was awesome: very different to the rest of Houston (and much more Southern looking). Beautiful parks, and quite a bit going on:

When I got back, this time, Robert was being ridiculous:

Tourist-time in Houston and New York

I have been being a tourist. First up, in my new hometown of Houston. Last Saturday I was at somewhat of a loose end, so decided to explore my local ‘hood a little. Houston is huge and so I quite cherry picked a few smaller things to do. First up, antique shopping in Midtown. Midtown has a toad with a lot of antique shops along, each with quite a different flavour and I had fun perusing all the nik-naks. I photogrpahed this for Wes who loves antique highchairs, but as I am not a fan per se, he decided not to get it.

Then I went onto ‘The Orange Show’; quite a unique little place. And very hard to describe: just a $1 to see, it is basically an old, but very very small, theatre build by an eccentric who after writing a book on health and longevity wanted to encourage people to eat oranges. Throughout his life, he collected lots of ‘scrap’: pipes, wheels, seats and so on, and build a tiny theatre / maze in bright colours for people to watch his show. The show is no longer running, but the theatre is restored and you can wander around and just ‘play’. It’s kooky, fun and quite engaging.

Next up: Hermann Park and its Museum of Natural History, including their incredible butterly garden. The onto B&N for a coffee, a cookie, and a curl up with a new book on their big sofas 🙂 I had forgotten how much I like just going out and exploring.

The next day I flew to NYC for a training conference. I go to the hotel at 3, and knew I only had one afternoon to ‘see’ New York so I forwent the usual tourist options (which I would love to see sometime) for a 4-mile stroll (trying to get the exercise in). I walked from my hotel in Harlem (Harlem in itself is quite a fascinating site) down to Central Park, and was shocked at how beautiful and large Central Park was. It was nice to see so many people out and about being active, and how diverse the groups of people were: in their ages, their dress, their race, their activities.

I explored the park for a while and was ejected out – oh how convenient, on 5th Avenue. I meandered the shops, and admired the architecture

Learned there is a place called ‘Trump Tower’ the contents of which intrigued me, but turned out to be quite predictable:

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I went to the Lindt store… But really, where I wanted to go was:

[caption id="attachment_1333" align="aligncenter" width="535"] Tiffany & Co

Yes, with my new brown hair I totally put on large sunglasses and pretended to be Audrey Hepburn.

I am not the most conventional person in many ways, and rarely ‘fit in’, but I can also be very conventional in others, and sometimes… it is nice to be a cliche. I love Audrey Hepburn, I love her style, and by proxy, I love Tiffany. My parents (rightly) did not shower me with the 17th birthday VW Polo, and the endless parade of Ralph Lauren and Kickers shoes many of my peers got (I was not deprived in any way… I went on up to 4 holidays a year for freaks sake.. they just didn’t see the point or value in filling my life with those sorts of luxuries). But, on my 16th birthday: ta dah! A Tiffany necklace. Someone once said to me, “I don’t know why you wanted the necklace EVERYONE had”, but that was why I wanted it! It was sort of like a rite of passage (it wasn’t even an expensive one, just the Elsa Perretti small open heart in silver) and I got to do it, and got the magic blue box with the white ribbon (yes, I am a sucker for advertising). I loved it! And since then… I loved Tiffany & Co jewellery. Sure much of it is very affordable now – and T&Co made a decision to make it so – but heck, I can still choose to feel like a Princess. I think the jewellery is pretty, and extremely well made, and why not decide it is special? I am easily pleased 🙂 So, I went and wondered around THE 5th Avenue store and enjoyed it.

After that all sorts of pregnancy aches and pains were kicking in, and I was limping, so I got a cab back to the hotel, and ate take out pizza with netflix, surrounded by my goodies. Who says the life of an academic is hard?

What a haul 🙂

Happy 4th July!!

Time to appease the American right and wish y’all a happy American Independence Day! Some people are thoughtful and ask if I ‘mind’ being invited to a July 4th party. Not at all! To be honest, America is such a powerful nation, which Brits think of as quite advanced, that the English can quite easily forget the fact that America was ever a colony of England. Plus, our attitude towards the colonial past is generally one of awkwardness and embarrassment, and the modern take on our overseas territories is “take a vote… if you want independence… it is yours!” so there is no worries about those who defeated us in the past and separated off, as we tend to think “Yeah.. probably shouldn’t have fought that anyway…”. BNP withstanding. Plus, ya know, aside of worrying about their poor human rights record, it did Britain pretty well that America gained freedom; German doesn’t suit us 😉

Terrible pre-4th July decision to cut my own bangs 😦

That being said: I have not celebrated July 4th before. It is the day before my birthday; on my first year in the US I went camping for a long weekend, for said birthday, and forgot about it. For my second year, I was deep in grant writing mode – trying to catch up from the wedding – and similarly forgot (I think I only realised when I rocked up to an empty office). For this, my third, year I am a PERMANENT RESIDENT (which is about as close to a citizen as I will ever chose to get myself) and I was going to celebrate. We didn’t have any invites in Houston (sob) so no parties… so I insisted on a parade. Wes was wary about the quality of a small-town parade, but I explained that we don’t really have parades at all in England, so it would all be new an exciting to me.

Fire trucks!

Apparently I got the true experience: the mayor in a posh car, marching bands, annoyed looking children failing to complete some focused activity adequately enough for the parents (this time: skipping), mediocre fire trucks, stacks of cars of varying interest (CHECK OUT THE LINE OF DELOREANS IN THE GALLERY), political parties handing out propaganda and some poorly decorated floats. Oh! And stacks and stacks of candy which parade participants lob at the crowd. I think this is the main point of parades actually… so much candy.

The main problem was that the candy and beads were mostly aimed at children… and I didn’t have a child (apparently it is bad form to knock children out of the way for candy). Next year my pretty…. next year.

Oh, but next year I want to be IN the parade. I am serious. It is a new goal. And I also want to wave a Union Jack for a joke… but Texans have too many guns 😦

Tonight: Fireworks. Whoop!
Tomorrow: My last birthday without a stinkin’ child getting all the limelight: double whoop!