Ten days ago, we moved into a pretty four-bedroom house in west Houston, near the Energy Corridor. At least I think that is how you would describe the area. It’s a “gated” community which means that you need a special key to enter the estate and all visitors have to enter via a security check point. This estate is dotted with pretty lakes and fountains. The reason for the lakes is that Houston, as I mentioned before, is very flat and built on a swamp so there is a lot of standing water. In the lake estates the run off is funneled into the lakes and the fountains keep the water aerated so it does not stagnate. The upside is that there are heaps of water birds and turtles in the lakes and pretty walking paths around them.
We took one of these paths for a short walk with Ben and Maddy last Saturday. It was a warm day. As we passed over a small bridge we looked down and noticed a large snake on a rock at the creek edge. It was brown and black striped and, if we were in Australia, I might have thought it was a tiger snake. As we watched it, we saw that there were in fact three snakes in that little part of the creek. Of course, I checked on line, and they are diamond backed water snakes (I think) which are not venomous. It reminded me that this is an environment where I do not really know the rules of thumb that we follow “downunder” to stay safe in the great outdoors. New learning!
The estate is just lovely, and we have been thoroughly welcomed. Our next-door neighbors introduced themselves on the first day and welcomed us. The estate social committee run a social evening on the first Friday in the month, which just happened to be our first Friday in the house. We went along armed with wine and food (it was Friday so there was cheese involved). When we arrived at the clubhouse there were only about four people sitting in a huge room on lovely overstuffed lounge chairs. Anyway, we went in and introduced ourselves. Fairly soon more people started to arrive and by the end there might have been 20 or so. The food was on a huge dining table but well away from where everyone was sitting. I had brought a baked Camembert and it was still hot in the lovely baking dish that Cathy Back gave me a few years ago, so I moved the food to the big padded foot stool in the middle of the chairs. In no time the food and drinks were being suitably consumed and I was being asked if I wanted to join the social committee(!) All of those years of Friday night drinks with the BFFs has paid off by the looks of it. Cheese boards have just become THE Thing here as far as entertaining goes. The pre-super bowl discussions around food on the TV often involved the how to put together a good cheese board. Again, I feel like I have had some good training in this area, so feeling quite comfortable.
However, today a lovely neighbor from over the road popped in to introduce herself and she turned up with a packet of cakes. She is from Belgium and said that in the US, when people are going to visit their neighbors, they usually bake homemade cookies. She apologized for bringing a packet! We sat down for a cup of tea, but I realized later that I had not offered her anything to eat, including the yummy cakes she had bought. It looks like I need to relearn some baking skills. The trouble is we do not really eat much of that sort of thing, and with only the two of us, it might prove detrimental to our waste lines.
The Texans are very polite. With tradies coming and going and having to deal with utilities agents over the phone, I have really noticed how helpful and courteous they are. I haven’t been called Ma’am this much since I took the Knox boys to Cambodia. The other thing I get is Miss Melinda. When people ask my name, I say Melinda Wilson; from there it becomes Miss Melinda, not Mrs. Wilson. It feels a lot like “Driving Miss Daisy”-southern drawl and all, y’all.
Our yard has some well established trees and outside area. We have the cutest little family of squirrels in our backyard. I asked the neighbors at the social evening about them. They were not too complimentary about squirrels. I’m not sure why? We think that they are really cute. They run along the fence every morning and up and down the two big oak trees in the backyard. I’m pretty sure squirrels communicate through tail gestures and they wriggle their tails at each other up and down the tree. Then at about 10am they are gone. They are not nocturnal but I guess tall that wriggling makes you tired and they need to stay out of sight of the big black hawks roaming around.
We have four bedrooms (lots of room for visitors) and we bought another bed before Ben and Maddy arrived. I will make one room a study and the others will just be vacant. Despite the number of bedrooms, the living spaces are not too big, so we don’t feel too much like we are rattling around in a huge house without any furniture. The kitchen is a nice size, but it has one of those glass cook tops which I’m a bit paranoid about scratching. There are quite a lot of cupboards, but without stuff to put on the shelves there are lots of voids. The major appliances (fridge, washer and dryer) are all part of the house. It actually says in the lease that you will NOT hang clothes inside to dry them. There is no outside clothes line. I think they worry that hang drying clothes rather than putting them in the dryer might cause mold.
It was so fun having Ben and Maddy here. It was a great excuse to try out some of the local specialty food restaurants. In Houston, it’s Mexican, BBQ and steak. Fried chicken and seafood are also popular. The first night the kids were here we went to a Mexican place called Guadalajara. You cannot book so we just rocked up having phoned ahead to put our name on the waiting list. When we arrived, the place was packed and lots of people waiting in the reception area. Anyway, we confirmed we were there and asked how long the wait was. The waitress said about 40 minutes, so we made our way to the bar for Margaritas. The drinks always come with corn chips (real ones) and guacamole so we settled in. We had barely been served our drinks when they called our names. It must have been 10 minutes at most. As Ben said, better to tell you the worst then deliver better, than the other way around. The food was really great but looking around we figured we were not likely to actually eat the portion size being presented to other guests ordering a’la carte. We decided to share some lime beef fajitas- we ordered the amount to share between 2-3 people. Our waitress said that we could order more if we needed- we could not even finish what we ordered. It was really delicious but so filling. There was no way 2 people could have eaten all of that food. Fortunately, most places are happy to wrap it up for take away.
Our BBQ experience was lunch at a terrific BBQ place called The Pit. We sort of judged how good it would be by the size of the pickups in the car park. Yummy, melt in the mouth food but I couldn’t eat Texas BBQ every week. It is quite fatty (I think). The steaks, however, are excellent. Rob and I have been to steak restaurants twice already and have not been disappointed.
On Wednesday Ben, Maddy and I went to Galveston. I made them listen to the Glen Campbell Galveston song on the way down. Unfortunately, it was so foggy we could not see anything. We had lunch in a seafood restaurant across the road from the beach and could not actually see the water. The people I have met here from other sates say that the beach is nothing to write home about; muddy colored water and dirty sand. I couldn’t tell you because I really could not see it. It would have been 20 meters away at the most. It was fun to go there though, and I am sure we will give it another go when the weather improves.
We also have been to Brenham in the next county over. It is known for Blue Bell ice cream. Texas’ favorite apparently. It is excellent. even though it was a very cold day we went to the ice cream factory and ate lots of yummy Blue bell ice cream.
We are starting our weekend trips this weekend. Austin should be the first stop we think. Looking forward to it. I’ll let you know how it all goes next time.
PS I’ll be back in Australia in April.