Sunday, 28 October 2012

Culture Divine Darling.

After a quiet week or two, the past two days have been a total contrast. Friday saw the long awaited Farm Concert for which the youngest wore his home-made owl costume. Every child had dressed up, be it as a cow, a sheep (there were lots of cotton wool sheep...), a cat, there was even a lion. And yes, there are obviously lions on farms.

The Kindergarten classes came together and sung farm-related songs for half an hour, before returning to class for an early dismissal. Amongst verses of, 'Take Me Out to The Barnyard' and 'Old Macdonald', the children acted, danced and had a brilliant time. It was a great experience, and very, very cute. Plus the owl costume went down a treat! Hopefully it will be used for years to come....if the paper bag survives it.

The weather has taken a turn for the chillier here, can you believe it? Only on Tuesday was I nursing a slight sunburn after the standard 28 degree heat. I have heard that it's chilly at home too (snow in October?) but here we are, in Houston, wearing jackets, sweaters and tights! I only packed for summer temperatures! I'm doomed! The cool has been a welcome change though I have been told that it normally heats up around Halloween so we're expecting a warm patch. Maybe it's the Hurricane's influence (oh Sandy) but for once it seems to have bypassed the Gulf Coast and headed straight for the North - I hope it doesn't cause too much disruption in NYC.

With the cold weather came another welcome surprise - courtesy of a friend, Dave took me to the opening night of, 'An Italian Girl in Algeris' at Houston Grand Opera on Friday night. I donned my best dress, shoes and jacket and headed Downtown to the Theater District, and it was just the most amazing experience. I have nothing to compare it to, having not been to the Opera in England, but it was brilliant. We were incredibly fortunate and had fantastic seats, 'Founders seats' in a box!! In my $24 dress, I didn't feel like I fitted in well with the lawyers and bankers donned in ball gowns, diamonds and fur, but I was able to talk to new people about travelling, the oil business in Houston, other important was an incredibly experience to say the least! I'll be gracing the Opera when I go home, if I save my pennies. Below are some photos from the Opera itself.

Inside the Opera.
Dave and I in the box!
Inside the Foyer.

And the exterior! Putting the 'grand' in Houston Grand Opera.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Making My Way Downtown.

Yesterday saw me going Downtown again (when you're alone and life is getting you down then you can always gooooo, Downtown!) but as a girl on a mission: to find Houston Public Library and attend the long-awaited Jonathan Safran Foer signing.

For those of you who don't know, Foer is the best-selling author of 'Everything is Illuminated' and 'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close' which I read at the start of the year. I found the Library to be very big and welcoming, and I went up to the top floor for the talk. First welcomed by the Major, then by Foer himself and his talk was fascinating. Given his own personal history which comes out in the books, he talked of his Jewish faith and an encounter with poet Yehuda Amichai for when he was my age, and how change affected him when going to College and it was great to relate to.

Next came a Q&A session (obviously I was too nervous to ask a question...) then the signing when I finally met him! We talked about England and how I also make a fool of myself in front of important people to which he replied, 'how about you don't think of me as an important person, but as a writer?' and we both smiled.

Cue me almost collapsing. The city was gorgeous as ever, and if you can spare an hour or so next time you're in Houston then do pop into the Public Library; it's so extensive  and a total heaven for any Bibliophile such as me.

My gap year is just me standing in front of/by stuff - today's highlight is by one of the Houston Publioc Library buildings which was very, very beautiful.
Houston Library
Inside the talk.
Jonathan Safran Foer!
Signed book!

Walking around the city.
Houston - we have no problems.
We rounded off the evening with a sunny drive home and Ferris Bueller's Day Off and soup made by Suzanne and I. Perfect. Meg comes home from the UK tomorrow and then it's Halloween - the decorations have tripled in the neighbourhood and are looking fabulous! Hope you're all staying out of the cold, I know I am.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

All Roads Lead to Home. Or Houston.

Today I was finally able to see Downtown Houston for the first time since arriving here. I am failing to find the words to describe Houston but it's not at all like London or any other city I've experienced: Hong Kong, New York, Boston. It's so different. The Business District is strictly business, a distinct lack of cafes, shops, etc, and lots of mismatched skyscrapers. It's quiet, or at least in the morning it felt it, and has a lack of public transport, but it's oddly charming. It has a lack of history too, but driving through some of the outer neighbourhoods (Montrosse, Rice Village) it feels different still. It's incredibly diverse but small, or at least it felt it. I'm sure it'll be different next week.

The buildings are so interesting, as Houston has no building laws - you can legally build a skyscraper anywhere. No two buildings are the same, and the blue sky reflected off of each pane of glass creating a mirrored sky. Awesome. The blue sky and sunshine made the whole experience all the dreamier and I fell in love with the city as I'm sure I will every time I go in. I love everything about being in Houston: the family, the neighbourhood, the people I've met, it's all been fantastic. While I was homesick for the first two days, I can't imagine being anywhere else now. Maybe it's the fact that I've settled into life here so much, or the fact that I'm halfway (I know, can you believe it? And yet the best, Halloween, the Election, and Thanksgiving, is yet to come...) through my trip, but I've had several moments of clarity where I realise that I could spend the whole year here. Reading, cycling, nanny-ing, doing what I want to do and all whilst soaking up a totally brand new culture and country.

Enough existentialism.

After our visit to Downtown, we headed to Rice Village where I was a few weeks ago and was very kindly treated to lunch in Ruggles cafe where I had my first American burger experience! I think the photos below sum up my experience pretty well, but it was fantastic. The food here has been an experience, be it Mexican, Texan, Southern Fried Everything, French.....none of it has failed to disappoint! Even the Starbucks is brilliant here.

After lunch, we found a pure British shop (I know, a whole British shop!) run by an English man and his American wife and I spent a good 20 minutes just swooning about all the biscuits and all the tea! Plus Emma Bridgewater mugs! Port Merion China! Guiness merchandise!

I couldn't help but laugh at the sheer British-ness of it and it was good to treat myself to some teacakes before we came home. Now, on with the nanny-ing this evening as the boys are about to arrive home from school via bus, bike, and on foot. This weekend I have my Jonathan Safran Foer book signing and a manic week next week, with the youngest's birthday AND party, Halloween and Field Day at school. All very exciting, and all very busy. Not to mention a British Fair next Saturday which I must go along to. Amongst the hectic life at home here, and the time to spend in the sun reading George Eliot and time spent exploring Houston, I'm having the most fantastic time. I am struggling to put it into words how happy I am here in the Houstonian sunshine.

My city!

Ruggles. The had fresh pots of tea on offer too; something I hadn't found here before!
A big plate for a little person...
...but no challenge is too much for my stomach, right.
4860 miles away and I can't escape him. 

Oh America, you do love our royals.
Oh and on a final note, the election is less than two weeks ago and it's all getting very exciting over here! The debates were a hit (with me at least) and we passed a wine store today that had, "We have binders full of wine!" on a sign outside, mocking Mitt Romney's comment on, "I have binders full of women!" which I couldn't help but smile at. This time in two weeks we'll have a new/old president! Exciting!

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Twit-Twoo, No Guesses Who...

Hello loyal readers, I am alive I can assure you! With the past two weeks flying by, I dissolved my 'blog once a week' estimate and threw myself into Houstonian life once again.

We've had another birthday marking the arrival of Meg's Mother (my Great Aunt) and her dogs, to stay with us while Meg heads to the UK to see my family across the pond. For this birthday I decided to dive back into baking and made, from hand, a traditional Victoria Sponge with jam and buttercream which surprisingly went down a treat, even with the boys!

The past two weeks have been debates/school projects/sports/nanny-ing/family life galore, with little time to go out other than cycling to and from the Library as usual, which I've found is a 4.2 mile all round cycle. Pah. And we all laughed at the idea of me doing exercise when coming to America.

I've done a fair bit of shopping and exploring the local area, and have big plans for the next few days (NASA next week, a Downtown breakfast at the Breakfast Klub  as I may go into the city early one morning with Dave then treat myself to a crazy amount of waffles and bacon.) Suzanne and I have also been putting our hands to cooking, making pizza and Butterscotch ice cream with help of a new blender which, sadly, I got very excited about. I've also taken up knitting again and in two days have already knitted myself a scarf which is oh-so-useful considering it's still 28+ degrees. But hey, it will be useful in NYC (in just over a month, ah!)

Said Victoria Sponge (before it was demolished)

One of the boys' school projects - a home based invention and prototype which we worked on. Flipper Slippers (copyright) which flip pancakes as you walk. Not bad for an 11 year old (and an 18 year old but we'll ignore my input)
Being put on dog walking duty is a new experience for me, as is dragging two lovely terriers around the neighbourhood in the heat and sunshine, whilst trying to remain cool. It's impossible.
Halloween fever.

 Halloween is now fast approaching, and the decorations are in full flow with cobwebs and inflatables galore – I cannot believe how extravagant the holiday is already. I have yet to sort my costume as I have a sneaking suspicion that I'll be trick-or-treating in the neighbourhood with the boys. Pumpkins have been on sale for the past month and pumpkin flavour everything is coming out. I couldn’t resist buying a Pumpkin Pie flavoured Yankee Candle (they have SHOPS here! Ah!).

This week, Suzanne and I have been running errands and keeping chaos to a minimum, as well as preparing for the youngest’s annual ‘Farm Concert’ at his Elementary School on Friday where a costume is to be warn (preferably some sort of farm animal). We got out the glue gun, which I consequentially burnt myself on, the felt, the feathers, the craft scissors, and got to work on his Barn Owl costume. The costume has to be made from predominantly a paper grocery bag (which we’ve done) and we popped to Michael’s, the local craft shop, and below is the finished product. Plus wings and talons, naturally, but with only a GCSE in Art and a burnt finger, I’m pretty chuffed with the final result! Hopefully it’ll go down well on Friday.

In addition to this, I have recently started volunteering at the local Elementary school in the youngest’s Kindergarten class, and I’ve already fallen in love with it. The class is small, and I volunteer for two hours or so a few mornings a week, aiding literacy and maths work, and generally interacting with the children. Already they’ve noticed that, ‘I speak funny’ – to quote one of the girls – and have welcomed me into their class. One girl approached me on my first morning, threw her arms around my waist and asked me to play with her. Now, if you know me in person you’ll be nodding and smiling; you'll know how much I loved this. Working with the kids is very rewarding (especially as there’s a child called Thor) and gives a good structure to my week.

Work in progress and....
The finished project! (front)

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Autumn? Is That You?

Finished cake went down a treat! Before the family got a taste...
This week has been a very home-based week, and much cooler too (a little bit like a fake Autumn...) with me being put to the test as a nanny, giving my cousin and cousin-in-law time to enjoy themselves on a well earned holiday. With the grandparents here at the beginning of the week, we celebrated the eldest's birthday as family (see photos of the finished cake, two gallons of ice cream and his awesome ‘OPEN’ neon sign which Meg and I brought back from the Antiques fair for him) and decided to take the two youngest boys to the Museum of Natural Science in Houston’s Downtown Museum District on Monday as school was shut for Columbus Day (happy you-were-discovered-day America!)

...and after.

Such an antiques find! He loved it.
The museum itself has a huge planetarium, museum halls and a butterfly centre – all of which were brilliant, though I am a sucker for museums anyway. The butterfly centre was absolutely beautiful especially in the morning sunshine, and the butterflies themselves were so docile and precious. The Palaeontology hall was very impressive, even more so than the Natural History Museum in New York which has a huge collection of dinosaurs – this one was definitely a highlight for me.

The exhibitions on science in action, the Incas and Aztecs, and getting lost on a non-existent floor were very interesting too, even if science isn’t really my thing. However, the science really interested the boys. Through looking after them, I’ve now learnt the difficult art of taking young children to museums; never take them to one that you wish to look around yourself as you do, inevitably, end up chasing them around the exhibitions instead of enjoying them yourself. But hey, I had a great time with the boys and was very kindly taken out to lunch afterwards so had a wonderful family day out.

Outside the butterfly centre.

Doing Science.

Pretending to be intellectual.

Outside - it was cool enough over the weekend for me to wear tights as it got down to about 18 degrees? Unseasonal for Texas. But, not to fear, it's gone back up to 28/29 now.

The rest of the week saw me reading at home, cycling to the Library a few times which, in 30+ degree heat and sunshine, and measuring 3 miles in distance, is no mean feat. With Meg I experienced the wonder that is Costco; a personification of the large, kind of outrageous nature of America, which is a warehouse turned huge supermarket, which to enter it you have to have a membership card. Everything was sold in bulk and we found a pile of pop-tarts (horrific) as tall as me, if not taller! Being 5”3 that’s not really a challenge. We bumped into a few people we knew and I made awkward conversation whilst holding a frozen chicken.

On Tuesday evening I went to the local book group to discuss, 'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close' with several older women, the youngest of whom was English and was running the session! It was incredibly fun and having a natter, or good old fashioned mother's-meeting as we Brits would call it, was lovely especially as we were talking about one of my favourite books.

Anyway, with the adults out of town I have had plenty of time to read, experience American TV which is awful, and gather myself after having been here over two weeks, almost three – can you believe it? So much has happened to me, and I’m ready to face anything and everything over the next few weeks. I’ve made a list of things to do before I leave, including the Ben and Jerry’s cafe I spied downtown, and the other museums, art galleries and shopping – I have yet to experience one of the largest malls in the US which is right here in Houston! Hopefully I’ll be cleared by the security system too and I’ll be able to begin volunteering at the local Elementary school to further my experiences here. 

Who needs this many pop-tarts?!
Summary of my week; getting the boys off the school bus/home alive and reading on the front porch.
Ps, today there’s a severe weather warning over our county with warnings of thunderstorms, torrential rain and tornados. Welcome to the Gulf Coast! And, I had doughnuts for Breakfast which were a massive treat. I know, I couldn't believe it either. This week has been a great week for food, with me trying (and adoring) pumpkin pancakes and maple syrup for the first time, a recipe which I am definitely taking home, and Cavatelli. Beautiful.

The boys said that these were, and I quote, "the best doughnuts in the world!" and they were not wrong.