Thursday, August 18, 2016

An Outsider Adjusting

To recap: Back in March, Sam was hired on as a SpEd teacher at a charter school up in Bluffdale (Utah).  He was supposed to start in August, and was still working at Heritage.  In April, we started looking in earnest at buying a house up in that area.  We looked and looked and made an offer on two different places, and though we had loads of help from my aunt (a stellar realtor) and my old boss (the best loan guy), things just kept on not working out.  I started to worry (ok actually no, I've been worrying about this for eons) that even though we had trimmed our budget and reworked and reallocated over and over we would never truly be comfortable because we simply did not make enough money.  Sam's salary at the job he was starting in the fall was only a weensy bit more than his salary at Heritage, and I was working part time again for my old boss as a property manager for his rentals.  It felt a whole heck of a lot like "What more can we do??" It was quite frustrating.  Anyway, in the midst of all this turmoil, we had to prepare for the family wedding in Houston. 

Something happened on that trip that softened me to the idea that we could possibly live in Houston if we had to.  And then the idea of getting a job here NOW was planted.
Back in Utah, we still couldn't find a place to live.  Renting was looking impossible too.  Desperation.

And then, lo, one afternoon Sam got an email inviting him to the HISD job fair, and I knew it was his golden ticket.  So we slapped that puppy on a credit card and he flew down for the fair. 

Days of being so anxious we were all sick to our stomachs. Yay, life.  The second the job fair was over, Sam called me and announced he had a soft offer.

A few days later, it hardened like a Metapod and we were, in total disbelief, planning our move to Houston.  And as soon as we did that, EVERYTHING fell into place. Housing? Perfect. Salary? Way more. Moving truck? A miraculous deal.  Honestly, it could not have been more clear we were on the right path.  

So, here we are, in our (spacious!) 3 bedroom apartment.  We have floor-to-ceiling windows and a pool out our front door.  I'm sitting on our bed and I can hear the wind blowing our neighbor's wind chimes and the rain on the banana trees and palms.  But.  The whole time, up until this storm started a few days ago, it's been a heat index of 111 and it is intensely humid and I hate it.  The cicadas are a little creepy.  But we saw fireflies and a gecko and maybe an armadillo. This feels like an adventure...but is it sustainable for a new life?  This area is a totally new climate and a totally new culture for me.  I lived in Fallbrook for 18 years, Long Beach for 2 years, and Utah for 7 years. I've never known anything like Houston.  I never even visited until the wedding in May.  We came all of a sudden, and though I know we're supposed to be here, I'm still kind of in shock.

I am still a little heartsick and homesick for Southern California.  I know we will never live there (mostly because it's expensive and Sam dislikes California unnecessarily).  But in some ways, Houston seems like it might be a decent replacement. I just need time.

Here are some things I'm noticing:

 -Houston is not at all the stereotype of Texas, but that stereotype is hiding in there and resurfaces sometimes (Sam says it will get worse in February with the Rodeo).  Like the boots and cowboy hats thing.  Kind of sparse.  Houston is very ethnically diverse and seems a bit "young" demographically.

-The roads are a bit confusing.  We live in sort of a suburb but it's still the city, so you get everywhere by frontage roads mostly.  I'm learning it though, especially our neighborhood.

-There are some different street signs.  The "Hurricane Evacuation Route" one and the Flood Gauge ones freak me out a little.  Drowning is kind of my nightmare so all related natural disasters are also.

-People are friendly and welcoming and I like them, but there seems to be this underlying pride (I'm not talking about the freaky weird Texas pride everyone knows about) that it's kind of assumed that if you live here you love it.  It seems like you are required to forsake your past and your identity and become a Texan.  You guys, I will always feel more like a Californian.  I'm sorry.  It's my home and my dream to return.  But when I talk to people here they make it sound like now I need to forget that and be a Texan, and I just can't do that.  I don't want my kids growing up saying "y'all" and it feels so unnatural in my own mouth.  I am so so very glad to finally be out of Utah (7 years was longer than I intended), but I'm feeling a bit displaced.  Like an imposter.  Like I'm on vacation.  Like everyone else is a Texan but I'm just a homeless ex-Californian being carried around in my husband's suitcase.  I don't know, it's hard to describe.  I feel even more homeless because we came from Utah, but I'm not from there, and people assume I am, which is a little frustrating.  I usually try to word it so that they know we were only living there for a time.

-I can grow palm trees here!!  In fact I went out and bought three the first week we were here in the clearance plant section at Lowe's.  Let's see if I have the knack like my dear old dad.  Probably not, since I've always been better with animals than plants.

I feel bad trying to explain my situation to people. I like Houston, I really do. There are so many things I get excited about doing and trying and seeing and eating and sharing with my kids. I'm so happy we don't have to deal with winters of negative temperatures and ice buildup on our house windows and two feet of snow and everything else.  But it's going to take me time to adjust.  Like I said before, the culture and the climate and the weather are all completely new to me.  There is new terminology, new laws, new businesses, new brands in the store (they don't have C&H sugar here, but then, why would they?).  Everything is new.  The only people I know from before are Rachel and Josh and we don't see them much because we all have busy lives.  We have one car that Sam and I share during the week, so I don't get out much.  And when I want to do things that were routine before (going for walks, etc), we can't really because it's either too hot or too wet.  I'm greatly looking forward to when things become more normal for me and I stop feeling sad.  I know I'll get there. I already feel a bit better than I did a few weeks ago.  It helps to talk about it.  It helps to have alone time without the kids.  It helps to do normal things.  It helps to find ways to make me feel peaceful and normal and happy.  So I'm getting there.  And Sam is really loving his new job, and that makes me very happy.  So.  Welcome to Houston, Shannon.

PS Now taking bets on how long it will be before I say "y'all" without realizing it-- as long as I get to keep all the winnings.

Oh, and here are a bunch of pictures of new to me/funny Texas/Houston things I've been collecting for fun:
Marked evacuation routes.  Ah!
This is a sign outside the door to Sam's school.  Mostly I thought it was interesting to see the demographic of the area.
When we went to visit Sam's school
Our anole!  This guy actually hangs out on our balcony a lot.  He makes it feel very tropical
Texas-shaped everything

We should get these for our car so we don't blister on the steering wheel
This is why we blister on the steering wheel and can never go anywhere outside ever
I saw one as high as thirteen feet once.  Augh.
Just diversity things
"Bridge may ice in cold weather" Cute.
Road humps??!


We started our move on Friday July 15, when we picked up and packed up our moving truck. We had help from Peter and Cami, who were in town briefly. It was very helpful to have them because literally everyone else was unavailable. That evening we got the car installed on the car transport and the next morning we set out!

We drove all the way to Cortez, CO, with a rest stop break outside of Moab, UT. We planned to eat at Pepperhead (which is delicious and awesome and you should eat there any time you're in Cortez), but apparently they have bizarre business hours in small podunk towns, so they weren't open. We drove on to some place somewhere in New Mexico and ate at a diner there because we couldn't wait any longer. Then we continued on to Albuquerque, where we spent the night.

The next day, we had a shorter day. We drove to Carlsbad via Roswell. We had dinner at an amazing Texas BBQ place in Carlsbad called Danny's. It was so yummy and kind of the first complete meal we'd had the whole trip so it was very much appreciated.  We had originally planned to take it easy and see the Caverns the following day, but we (mostly me) were anxious about making the truck deadline, so we decided to hike the caves that evening instead. It meant we had to miss seeing the bats leaving the cave, which Sam dearly wanted to see, but I think the barbecue dinner was worth it. Sam really loved the caverns. He was very impressed and I am glad we made the detour.
To the bat cave!
None of these are Rock of Ages, but they're still cleft for me.

The following morning, we took a guided tour of the King's Palace at the caverns. It was very cool. It's kind of funny because neither of us figured out how to take a picture in a cave that actually looked good until the end of the tour, right before we left for good. Ha!
Speleothems hither and thither
It's called Green Lake because Mr Greenlake found it first

After that, we drove straight through to San Antonio. We had dinner at BJ's (might be a new favorite with us), and then pressed on. Sam made it a point to stop at Buccee's so I could experience it, but I didn't see what the big deal was. It was pretty normal except that everything was branded with that joyful beaver. The bathrooms still had scraps of toilet paper on the floor and half-broken soap dispensers just like everywhere else. I will admit that it was a bit unusual that there was a deli counter of sorts there (at which people didn't seem to be wary of eating), but other than that, I was not impressed. I have been to way cooler truck stops. Sorry, Texas.
It's a beaver.  So they say.
Beavers are apparently the logo I think maybe?

We finally rolled into Houston around 2am. Rachel and Josh were kind enough to let us crash at their new house, even though I'm pretty sure they'd moved in like the day before. We had a very early day the next day, so we got like no sleep and then headed over to our new apartment complex to get checked in!

Utah Bucket List

There were several things we wanted to do before we left Utah. We've known a long time we'd be leaving eventually, since neither of us loved it there. So we had compiled a list of things we wanted to do and see before we left. Once we knew we were leaving, we started knocking a few things off the list right away. We still have a bunch of stuff we still need to do in the future, but here's what we were able to do:

1. Fairly Land of the Uintas
This was about half an hour into the mountains from Sam's parents' house in Midway. We met up with Caity and her kids, painted a bunch of rocks we found, and carted them into the Uintas to find them a new home at the Fairy Land. It was so cool. There were all kinds of painted rocks, houses, decorations, etc. Some were really old, but most were recent, since someone blogged about it and it made it on Pinterest. It was pretty neat to wander around in the forest with the kids and look at all the fairy houses. We made our little fairy setup with the painted rocks (with "Wasden" in runes because fairies) and built a little teepee out of sticks and called it good. It was pretty fun.
Caity and her kidlets
Searching the forest
Somebody else's house

2. Camping at Bryce Canyon
Sam and I never had the chance to camp by ourselves while we were living there, so we left the kids with my mom overnight and made the trip down to Bryce Canyon. We hiked around in the canyons and had a great time. It was wonderful to recharge with each other. We stopped at Cove Fort on the way home since Sam had never seen it and I was sick when I went as a kid and couldn't enjoy it.
I forgot the name of this river, but here you go
Hoodoos?  You do.
These are the only slot canyons in Utah not carved by flash flooding

3. Timpanogos Caves
Sam had never been up here, so we made a quick hike of it one evening when it was a little cooler in the day. We enjoyed the caves. We had a very small tour group with no kids and the ranger was very funny. Actually I feel like you have to be able to make all kinds of puns and lame jokes if you want to be a successful park ranger ;)
I really hate this picture because it's making our heads look like they're being pulled into a black hole
The Heart of Timpanogos weighs as much as a baby elephant

4. Bridal Veil Falls
I had never hiked up to the base of the falls. It was a quick hike but very steep and parts of the trail were eroding and it totally did not feel safe. But again, my anxiety is through the roof at the mo, so of course I felt like we were all going to die. But nobody did!
Hiking pals

5. The Cake I Promised Ian
Ian missed our wedding, so I always promised him I would remake our wedding cake (on a smaller scale of course) so he could have some. I made it for a family dinner and there were at least 17 things to celebrate at the time, so it was everybody's cake. It was rich chocolate cake with chocolate mousse & chopped (garden fresh!) strawberries for the filling, and a rich chocolate ganache for the frosting. So very yum. I will miss making desserts for our monthly family dinners.
Happy* cake
All things to celebrate

6. Prince Family Reunion
This wasn't really a bucket list item, but we did need to do it before we left. Adrien & I had volunteered to plan and carry it out this year. Overall it went pretty well, and as long as people had fun, it was a success!
Everybody loves Grandpa Prince
Enjoying the obstacle course


After the wedding in Houston, it was back to the grind.  My sister Adrien and I were trying to finish up everything for the Prince Family Reunion we were in charge of this year, Sam and I were still house hunting, everybody was sick, we were restocking the Twaddle and Bleat shop, things were getting progressively more frustrating for Sam at Heritage, my mom and brother Ian came back from their 6-week trip to Spain, and our two very very old kitties had to be put to sleep. Needless to say, it was an incredibly stressful time.
Sylvester & Skipper

A word on the kitties, since I can't just dismiss it in passing-- Sylvester was 19 I think. When I was 8, our previous cat Midnight had run away and probably been eaten by a coyote. I was incredibly upset. I kept praying she would come back, but honestly, when you're subjected to "kitty cat diaper" by 4 obnoxious children, why would you come back?  I remember crying again on the way to school one morning and my mom told me if I didn't stop crying about the cat we wouldn't get another one.  So I tried to move on.  Shortly thereafter, Sylvester showed up on our doorstep, a kitten probably tossed out of a car window and abandoned on our street.  He was so young he was barely weaned.  He used to suck on our earlobes.  He immediately stole our hearts and we kept him.  And no more kitty cat diapers...

When Sylvester was about 3, we got two other kittens, Piper and Skipper.  Piper was rehomed with another family a few years ago, where I like to imagine he still lives a fat, happy life with his new kitty friend.  Skipper lately had been getting thinner and thinner and showed signs of being ill.  Sylvester had serious anxiety, was going blind, and could barely walk at times from arthritis in his hips.

Since they were best friends, we decided the kitties had to go together if they were going to be put down.  I decided I wanted to go with my mom to do it.  Also, since they were going to be buried in the yard, we decided we needed to plant something with them.  I went to the nursery and bought a honeysuckle plant before the appointment with the vet that afternoon.  Then we headed out.

The vet did a checkup on both cats, and we discovered that Skipper's liver and/or kidneys were failing, and for all the discomfort Sylvester obviously was in, he was in better shape than Skipper.  She just had a much better attitude I guess?  Haha.  Anyway, we asked to be present when they went to sleep, so we were able to do that.  It was very solemn and my mom and I were both crying pretty hard.  It was easier to see Skipper go than Sylvester, since she already looked like a skeleton.  Sylvester has been a very dear friend and companion to us all over the years.  He's truly one of the best pets I've ever known.

We placed them with their arms around each other, because they always used to sleep together like that, and buried them beneath the honeysuckle.
The kitties' honeysuckle

...Well, that was more than I intended to write about the cats, but I guess I needed to. It's hard to lose pets.

Anyway, so during this time, Sam was, going off of the recommendation from the lady in Houston, applying at every Houston-area school district for any and all open SpEd positions. He didn't get any bites on any of them.  And then, halfway through June, he got an email inviting him to the HISD job fair!  Since they'd be conducting interviews there and Sam always does much better in person than over email or just as a resume, we sent him down to Houston again.

While he was there, he interviewed with a couple schools, and while he was in line for another, one of the principals he'd just met pulled him out of line and offered him a job on the spot, so he took it!

She then told him he needed to be in training by the 26th of July.  So, we started planning our move just three weeks out!  It was truly a whirlwind of an event.  We were overjoyed, giddy, terrified, nervous, scared, excited, everything!  
How we announced the move on Instagram

The fact that people were friendly when we visited, that there was good Tex Mex (my fav), that it smelled like Fallbrook at night, that it was nearer the ocean (such as it is), that it didn't snow in winter, that it was diverse, they paid teachers more, and there were a lot of things within driving distance that would be fun to check out-- all these things convinced me we could give Houston a shot. And so we went for it.

The Wedding

The last few months have been a bit of a whirlwind!  I want to recap a bit in separate posts though.

At the beginning of May, we went to Houston for Rachel & Josh's wedding.  Aside from the fun parts, it was quite the stressful trip, unfortunately.  On the way to the airport, early in the morning, through windy roads in Sam's parents' suburban (which is about as smooth a ride as a Conastoga wagon on a good day), Rosalind got really car sick.  Huzzah.  It was so much fun to clean up on the side of the freeway.  We also got stopped at security in the airport because we were smuggling cocaine in Remy's tub of formula (wait, did I say that out loud?).  There were a few other snafus that didn't set up the day to be a great one, but the actual plane ride went very well.  Sam sat with Ros and Remy sat with Sam's mom, so I was able to "relax" for the duration of the flight.  Of course, my anxiety has gone through the roof lately, so every bump of turbulence I found myself planning how to save my children from a fiery death.  Please note I never came up with a good plan, and we all died in every scenario.
Happy to be here
Very happy to be here

Regardless, we got to Houston just fine, and after picking up the rental cars, booked it over to Pappasito's for a quick (late) lunch of amazing fajitas, then half of us went to the wedding rehearsal and the rest of us checked into our hotel.

Later that evening, we took the kids to a friend of the Wasden's who had agreed to watch the kids for a bit while the adults went to the rehearsal dinner. I don't remember the name of the restaurant, but it had funky eyeball mirrors in the bathrooms and AMAZING salads!! Thanks, Rachel and Josh. Excellent choice :)
I see what you did there

Late late that night we went back to pick up the kids. It was dark and I could hear crickets and strangely it smelled almost exactly like Fallbrook does at night (this is relevant for the future).

Surprisingly, the kids slept really well in the hotel room with us that night, though the fact that they were already asleep when they got there probably has something to do with it.

The next day was wedding prep with henna, but since most of us weren't involved in that, we decided to head to NASA to check it out.  It was very, very cool.  I loved the Saturn V rocket and seeing the model of the International Space Station where they were testing things.  It was just like in The Martian.  I wish we'd had time to see CapCom, but I suppose there's always a next time.
This is space!
A cool thingy.  I am not a space race history pro.
The gang.  Everyone else was doing henna or other important things.

That night Sam went to a wedding reception for a different wedding and I stayed at the hotel trying to get the kids to sleep.  Sam didn't get home til 11pm and I hadn't eaten and everyone was on edge and that was not a fun part.  Sam and I were able to go and grab me a late meal at IHOP (what else is open that late?) and we had a very friendly and very Southern waiter.  It was kind of fun to interact with someone like that (this is also relevant).  Anyway, Sam told me that at the reception he had talked to a lady he knew growing up who encouraged him to apply for a position as a Special Ed Teacher at the high school where Sam graduated in Sugar Land, so we talked about that possibility.  I honestly thought it didn't sound very likely that he had that great of a chance at that school, but I figured it wouldn't hurt.

The next day was the wedding and it was SO MUCH FUN. Huge kudos to Rachel and Josh for planning such an amazing day! The food was delicious (they even had options for the kids!), the venue was gorgeous, and everyone's clothing was so beautiful. We had so much fun dancing and chatting and everything.
Waiting for the ceremony to start
The flower girls talking to Aunt Cami
Rachel's hands.  All the heart eyes.
My cool garb
Us with Rachel & Josh
The girls (minus Ros) after the wedding
The whole fam!

After the wedding, we changed out of our wedding clothes and went to dinner at Lupe Tortilla in Sugar Land for more amazing fajitas. There was an incredibly long wait, and a bit of ensuing frustration we will skip over, but it was very tasty.

Early the next morning, we headed back to the airport and made our way back to Utah (nobody got carsick this time, thank goodness). I was relieved to be home, the weekend had its ups and downs. But there were those moments that enticed me that Houston was not as mysterious and unknowable as I once thought it was. And that was the beginning...