Sunday, 25 November 2012

Turkey, Guns and Giant Armadillos.

The Elementary School Science Fair!
The Scout Troop cake auction.

Woops, I guess I haven't been great at keeping this blog up to date (or at least not as consistent as I hoped I would) but the past two weeks have been even busier than the last nine weeks combined (I'm incredibly prone to hyperbole, sorry readers) due to a change of plans which means I am flying to the Big Apple this coming Thursday instead of next Friday, and I will be home from America for Christmas early next week.

I cannot believe that my time has gone so quickly; as I start to pack up my suitcases with the soundtrack of 24hr Christmas radio, it feels like just yesterday that I was unpacking in my new home in Hunter's Creek. I've been tying up loose ends and preparing for a second trip some point in the near future, as there is so much I have yet to do. Places to go, people to see, restaurants the boys are so eager for me to try...I can't believe I didn't fit it all into one trip (especially one two months long...) but I can safely say that my time in America has been an experience which I have enjoyed thoroughly - I can't wait to come back, and I'm planning to investigate the West Coast too so keep your eyes peeled for forthcoming plans involving San Fransisco, fingers crossed!

The last two weeks have seen my fourth and final Houston birthday, Meg's, and we celebrated with cakes, presents, and a visit to the local Italian. The following week was filled with Kindergarten, cycling, and Starbucks (as ever) and marching on through my reading list. Meg and I went for a girl's day out in Houston last Saturday which was fantastic, and featured the relaxation that we both needed. Food, shopping, dessert bars, bookshops, cowboy boots and drinks at sunset, all in midtown Houston. It doesn't really get much better than that. Amongst this, I also attended a cake auction which was, yes, as yummy as it sounds, and an all-american Science Fair. But at the end of the week came the climax of my trip: Thanksgiving.

Drinks in the evening sun.

How is it that I just happen across beautiful book shops? It's a talent I swear.
So, I've learnt the story of the pilgrims. I got my 4 days off. I've eaten the turkey, the sweet potato salad, the dirty rice, the Gumbo, the pumpkin pie, the pancakes and the bacon. I've attended the Pilgrim Festival and bought homemade jam. I played Airsoft (which I am brilliant at, may I hasten to add). I ate marshmallows by the creek and the campfire under the crimson Fall trees. I posed for the family photo. I watched the Thanksgiving Macy's Parade and the football game.

I slept lots, walked lots, and met extended family that I didn't even know existed. And I can now say, hand on heart, that Thanksgiving is all it's cracked up to be - it's a fantastic holiday that brings people together for a wonderful time. Oops, I'm getting all sentimental. We, as a family, congregated in Mansura in Mid-East Louisiana and spent the holiday together, eating and laughing like I'd known everyone for a lifetime. It was a fantastic weekend, undoubtedly the best American holiday I've encountered. See photos below!

Thanksgiving football.
"I don't understand the obsession with shooting..." "We're from Texas!"
Autumn by the cabin in rural Louisiana.
Meg and I!

I can't believe I'm heading home so soon, but I am so excited to be hitting New York city again on Thursday, just in time for Christmas shopping, ice skating, and High Tea in the Plaza - my treat. I also worked out that I'll have touched down in six states before I head home to Old Blighty which, in my opinion, isn't half bad.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

I Will Never Be An Art Critic.

Today's city trip was a little different and while I went with good, cultural intentions, I ended up exploring the underground tunnel system, getting some breakfast, then walking around Hermann Park for the majority of the afternoon, discovering the Japanese Gardens, the Tiffany's Bridge, and the lake. In the Houstonian sunshine, it was flawless. It's hard to believe that such a beautiful place can exist in the 4th largest city in the States. I headed into a new area of Houston too, heading into Montrose to the Rothko Chapel, the Menil Collection, and an opening at the Sicardi Gallery (owned by a friend of the family).

The Rothko Chapel, whether you're religious or not, is a feature of Houston's art scene which is not to be missed. When the Menil collection was established (a gallery with art donated from a private collection owned by two philanthropists - the Menils), this particular part of the gallery was commissioned and completed by the artist Mark Rothko. It is an electronic device free zone, and is completely silent. Religious texts are provided if you feel so inclined, and the atmosphere is impenetrable and sobering in the centre of the city.

Just wandering through Montrose, I found a local record shop where I treated myself to Simon and Garfunkel's 'Wednesday Morning 3AM' vinyl for all of $3.00, and a bakery who had served George Bush, Sarah Palin, and Bill Clinton, among others. I was very impressed, especially when I bought a cookie for just $1.00. I was similarly impressed when I quite literally stumbled (damn my two left feet) upon a huge Obama Murial! Needless to say, I stopped the first unfortunate passer-by I could find to take a photo.

After navigating myself half successfully from the Muriel to West Alabama Street, I had a wander around the Menil Collection which was really great. I have seen more art in the past two months than I have maybe ever? So much art. There was a great exhibition to celebrate the gallery's 25th birthday that featured letters of gratitude from various artists (all of whom seemed farely eccentric) including Andy Warhol, which was surreal to read. To follow this, in the evening, we went to an opening of Gabriel de la Mora's work at the Sicardi Gallery in Montrose, which was lovely and I really enjoyed. Modern Art is something that I struggle to understand, and it's safe to say that I have seen enough modern art recently to help persuade me further to never, ever be an Art Critic.

Looks remarkably like Washington..
Hermann Park - stunning.

The Japanese Gardens.
Rothko Chapel - unfortunately photos are not allowed inside.
Forever stumbling across cool shops.
Who me? Politically biased? Don't be silly.
Obama needs you to fight racism, homophobia and the econmic crisis.
In the Arcadian Bakery.
Outside the Menil Collection.
In the Sicardi.
Between city visits, I've been helping lots with the kids and taking up residence in the local Starbucks, cycling the 5 miles there and back with ease. I also returned to the Elementary school to help out some more, and attended the Veteran's Day concert which was great. But, being British, you can imagine how awkward I felt when the audience were asked to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance AND the nation anthem. Safe to say I mouthed what looked like words and tried not to look to shifty.

Veteran's Day, which takes place on Sunday, is the American equivalent of Rememberance Sunday, and while we don't have poppies or wreath laying, it's still a well respecetd day on the American calender. Anyway, my cycle ride is beautiful and gives me time to appreciate where I am and how this is all really happening. I'm becoming more and more nostalgic about my time here as it progresses, as I realised that I have only three weekends or so left.

Plans have been finalised for NYC and this time next month we'll be back in Baltimore after our long weekend in the Big Apple. I am comforted by the knowledge that I will always have a home here and am welcome back, but I will miss the family so much. But hey, I'm thinking too far ahead and not focussing on the exciting things at hand, such as our weekend away next week where I am going to Austin and San Antonio, and how soon Thanksgiving and our trip to Louisiana is! I still have tons of exciting things to look forward to, including Air Soft guns and Paintballing. Yes, you did read that correctly. Me. Paintballing.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Houston. No, Not Whitney.

This week has been manic, and I think I've almost ticked everything off on my 'to-do-in-Houston' list which I compiled last night. Last weekend, with the weather being as pristine as always, I was able to go swimming in the local open-air, non-heated pool, and I couldn't believe it! Sitting on a sun lounger, at 5pm, in 28 degree heat, seemed all too good to be true and whilst I was hearing about the truly Winter weather back at home, it was a true wish-you-were-here moment.

Happy November.
Monday saw me heading to the Mall to survey the now-up Christmas decorations and head to the Three Brother's bakery where I treated myself to some pre-election baking. On both Tuesday and Friday I went into the city for a day to myself, rattling around on the MetroRail (an overground, cheap, and 10000x smaller version of the London Underground that goes back and forth on one straight line through Downtown/Midtown) and seeing all the sights I could cram in. On Tuesday I finally went up to the Sky Lobby (the 60th floor of the J P Morgan building in the midst of the Houston skyline) and sat on the floor looking at the city for an hour, becoming maybe just a little too existential but such is my style.

J P Morgan building

On a clear day, like it was, it's said that you can see 20 miles and I could see so far, both around and down. It was beautiful to watch the people and cars moving around in the blocks and avenues and it was perfect. I found Discovery Green and sat reading in the afternoon sunshine before heading back to the Museum District and Rice Village, and visiting the Holocaust museum which was sombering but a must-see in its own way. I also walked with a Doctor who gave me directions as I apparently just look lost when I walk around with my nose buried in my Texas: A Lonely Planet Guide.

I've encountered the nicest people since being here, with people who have said I look nice or help me when I am too shy to ask, Baristas who talk to me for half an hour about England, people who let me share their table at Starbucks then continue to chat to me for an entire hour, Baristas who give me sellotape to fix my poor 50c 'Farewell to Arms' copy with a broken cover - it all adds to the southern welcome.

Sky line!

Top tourist photo taken by other tourists.
Discovering Discovery Green.

The Holocaust Memorial which is well worth a visit.

Four More Years!

Tuesday night, at approximately 10.36pm Central Time, saw 9 months of campaigning, television commercials, blogging, news articles, bias reports, lies, binders of women, poor old Big Bird's welfare being threatened, both parties making ridiculous mistakes, and an enormous amount of yard signs all come to a head with the 2012 Presidential Election (finally) taking place. And to, in my opinion, a marvellous result; the re-election of President Barack Obama. It's been such a good experience to be here during a big political overhaul, especially with being in a Republican state which I haven't been in before.

I've learnt just how Democrat-biased the European news is and as a result, I was astonished by the charisma and competence of Mitt Romney. I have seen how the economy is affecting people over here first hand, and it's a concept that I wasn't fully aware of until I came here. After just two weeks of debating and talking politics over with different people (a total mix thereof), I was very much on the political fence. While Obama's social policies ticked all the boxes, he had failed to deliver on a few of his 4 year trademark promises. However, when weighing up both candidates (despite not being able to vote, I really tried to do my research so that my opinion was informed rather than blind - nothing annoys me more people with opinions on the American election who have little/no idea what they are talking about...) I decided that Obama was the lesser of two evils which led to some brilliant discussions over the dinner table here in Houston.

Today I got a chance to look at the official breakdown of the votes in each US County (our county is Harris) and turns out our county voted in Obama but scarily, he only received two votes more than Romney. Two! Admittedly, it won't have made the biggest difference in the world to the overall result but hey, as Tesco says, every little helps.

I feel that by being in the USA at this time I really started to understand their political climate more. Everyone was getting involved in the election; even the 4 boys each had an opinion on who should win! Regardless of how you feel about the outcome America, Obama received both the electoral and popular vote so clearly some of you (at least) wanted him to have another 4 years. I guess we'll see now how the next 4 years pan out - fingers crossed they can improve this economic slump!

Either way, thank you for a brilliant Tuesday night Romney* and Obama** - I had a great time during my first US election. I put together my favourite political photos below, I've been collecting them since I first arrived! The change in political climate from Maryland to Texas was brilliant too and I woke up to an email entitled, 'FOUR MORE YEARS!!!' from Baltimore on Wednesday and I couldn't help but smile in the knowledge that my preferred candidate made it! Furthermore, smaller issues were being voted for on Tuesday which has now led to Washington, Maine and Maryland legalising gay marriage! Welcome to the 21st century (but better late than never, eh).

Election themed trick-or-treating last Wednesday was the absolute best.
Political cookies purchased from Three Brother's Bakery! At $5 a time they weren't cheap but I couldn't resist a gingerbread flavoured chunk of Obama's face. Can we bake politician's faces onto almost anything? Yes we can.
(I don't approve of Romney's social policies, as depicted above)
The Election also meant a free Jobs-For-America bracelet from Starbucks that would normally have cost $5, cheers politics.

Seen in Houston. 
Election themed art in CAMH ('Your Land, My Land')

Battle of the yard signs.
Seen in Montrose, Houston

Seen in Maryland! Oh the difference.
* AKA, Mittens.
**AKA, Bronkobama rather than Barack Obama (as the youngest boy calls him).

Friday, 2 November 2012

Rep Cups, Jackolanterns and Chuck Norris.

What's a ghost's favourite dessert?

Ice Scream!

As those of you in the Western World will know, Wednesdaysaw the 3rd biggest Fall holiday fall upon us in Houston - Halloween! To avoid the pre-Halloween madness, Suzanne and I escaped 30 miles out of the city to the NASA Space Centre to get my tourist fill for the week. It's fascinating that something as big and as fundamental to human development happened right on our doorstep here. We took a tram ride around the other buildings, (most notably Mission Control!) and wandered around the theatres inside - seeing films about the Apollo programs, future was fascinating and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to go! Needless to say, I got some horrendously toursit-y photos of me in front of the various things, such is my Gap Year, including the Saturn V rocket which was huge. So much bigger than I could have imagined. It was 364ft tall/long, and just brilliant.

It's a fair drive from the city and has limited eating facilities, but it's a very interactive museum and perfect for families. Aim to go on a weekday to avoid the weekend rush or else Houston might have a problem..

Driving through Downtown - so lovely to come over the Freeway to this view.

60s Mission Control!
Me by Saturn V.
An actual Luna Capsule (ooooooh)

In a rocket (oooooh)
Houston, we have a problem.

We returned home to the boys and Halloween. The neighbourhood closes the street and hosts a huge Halloween party every year, complete with exceedingly cute children and more pizza than you can shake a plastic fairy wand at. I opted for a very basic costume to match my name - a cat, and Meg recycled an Angry Birds costume to be just that - an Angry Bird. The kids' costumes varied from a Ninja, to a Union Jack morphsuit (a tribute to me apparently!), to Chuck Norris (who I think wins the prize for most original...). The party itself gave me a great opportunity to meet more of the neighbourhood and mingle with more of Meg's friends, which I really enjoyed.

I returned home (not dragging my nice fluffy black tail behind me but swishing it with happiness) to greet trick-or-treaters with our basket of candy, and I can safely say that I was living out 18 years of not celebrating Halloween in one evening. The kids (there were so many of them) all looked so cute - with my metaphorical prizes for best costume going to a child dressed as Harry Potter, a girl dressed as a Tourist - complete with Hawaiian shirt and camera around her neck, and a boy carrying two buckets for candy - one labelled Romney and the other Obama. Needless to say that being in Texas, the Romney bucket was three times as full as the Obama one...I wonder if this'll reflect in the Election.

The Election's come around so quickly and has been dominating the news recently as much as Sandy's destruction. We were lucky enough to be tucked up safely in Texas watching as the storm hit NYC, New Jersey and the other states up North. I hope you're all safe up there, I was astonished that for once the hurricane missed the Gulf Coast completely - we were very lucky. Today I went to the school's Field Day to help with Kindergarten, and following that ended up here. I'm about to go to the Library then cycle home again - it's the little things that make this so much fun.

Oh, America.

Only on the Gulf Coast can you have Halloween in 26 degree evening heat.
Meg and I (so cringe and so unoriginal being a cat but oh well)