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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Our First Months in Houston: a Reflection


Well, we’re officially settled and back at work and finally able to take stock in our new home. Our friends want to know how things are going and how the city is treating us…let’s just say it’s been an adjustment.
Change is tough. We spent the past year finding fault in Austin in the hopes that it would make the transition to a very different city a little easier. And for the most part, we kept an open mind before the big move. Now we realize how much we took our former home for granted and that all the little things that bugged us about Austin (the traffic, the high concentration of fixed-gear bikes and hipster bars, the cost of living) were blessings compared to what we’ve seen in the suburbs of West Houston. That’s not to say it’s all bad; there are definitely some perks. Maybe I should start there.

Things we’ve liked:
-Rain
It rains here. I know, right? Austinites might not even know what that word means since it happens so infrequently in Central Texas. But yes, rain is awesome. We have a yard with grass and beautiful landscaping that will not die because of that glorious liquid that falls from the heavens like the nectar of the gods. My skin is appreciative of the humidity and, despite the mugginess that can result from rain, it keeps the temperature down so it never reaches 110 degrees.
-Food
Dear god, the food here is good. I mean, really, really good. I’m used to restaurants that make fancy drinks and focus more on ambience and décor than on the food itself. Here, it’s the other way around. Sure, I’m in a strip mall (see later in section of things we don’t like), but the food is amazing. By far the best of many types of cuisine, all very close to my house. Granted, this will make me fat. At this point, I do not care. It’s one of the few things I enjoy here.
-Cost of Living
Things here are cheap. Our mortgage payment feels more like an Austin daycare payment, and our daycare costs are still less than our mortgage. On top of that, we’re both making significantly more money than we did in Austin, therefore justifying our decision to move. Our debt will be paid off in no time and we’ll actually get to open a savings account. In case you are unfamiliar with the term, it’s a place you can put extra money and allow it to accrue interest. This concept is foreign to me.
-Family
Brian gets to work with his dad everyday and I’ve been able to see my mom, sister, and niece more in the past few months than I have in the past few years. It's great being so close to the people I love and, since we really haven’t made any friends yet, they’ve been our social network.

Things we’re on the fence about:
-Our House
Our house itself is gorgeous. As I mentioned earlier, it’s extremely affordable and the landscaping is gorgeous. We have a giant oak tree in the backyard and a large deck just off the living room. While it’s small for Houston (anything less than 3,000 square feet is small for Houston), it’s the perfect size for us. We have vaulted ceilings, a fireplace, and installed kick-ass hardwood floors throughout the living areas. It really is the perfect space and feels like home.
Our reservations are about the neighborhood as a whole. We’re pretty far removed from the cool parts of town (Montrose, The Heights, West U) and our area is characterized by strip malls and box stores. Our neighbors haven’t been terribly welcoming and we were almost run down the other day because we were walking in the street. I guess people don’t walk in our neighborhood because the guy (who was an ADULT in a BMW) was clearly pissed at us for being in his way on a residential street and he sped frighteningly close to us. I’m very obviously pregnant and PUSHING A STROLLER for fuck’s sake. Such an asshole. This is the norm. On our very rare recycling days, we’re the only ones with a bin out at the curb. People insult one another openly on the message board and that sense of community I remember growing up in this same neighborhood no longer exists. It’s really, really depressing.
-My Job
The people at my new job are very friendly, and they took my pregnancy in stride. I have complete autonomy in my classroom and my administrators have made it clear that I am NOT to teach to the test. In fact, we haven’t spent one single moment looking at test scores or data of any kind. The assumption is that we are good at our jobs and know what we’re doing. This treatment is new to me and I love it. I have a cart full of laptops and iPads in my classroom and an Activboard (a really cool interactive projector that allows me to display anything off my computer with ease and then write directly on the screen). This kind of technology was typically reserved for Math and Science teachers in AISD. I also have virtually zero discipline problems…
…but that comes at a price. I’m used to dealing with Fine Arts students who have a unique and individual identity and know about the world outside their neighborhood. This makes them a little rebellious, but I like that because it meant they thought for themselves and had a creative spirit that made me excited to teach each day. So far, these students can best be described as sheep. My opening assignment is typically to have students make a soundtrack to their lives as a way of introducing themselves and their tastes to the class. It was as if I asked them to write a position paper on recent developments in global economics. They. Do. Not. Listen. To. Music. What high school students don’t listen to music?! I would have been jumping out of my skin to complete an assignment like this in my English class, but these kids would have preferred to stand in front of the class and expound on their favorite sorority at UT or the new Guy Harvey fishing t-shirts that just came out.  I will keep an open mind as the year continues, but I have a lot of work to do to get these kids to think for themselves…

Things We Don’t Like:
-Westheimer
Ugh. This road makes me sad. Anyone who’s driven on it between the Galleria and Hwy 6 knows that it’s a repetition of Target, Taco Cabana, and TGIChiliBees stretching on into infinity. There are no trees and no medians. Most of the businesses are chains and those that aren’t are places like pawn shops and nail salons. People drive like maniacs along this road with no consideration for those around them. Turning signals? They’re too busy for that! Letting someone out of a crowded parking lot when the light turns green? You’ve got to be kidding me! Me first! Me first! What’s ironic is that I’m a relatively aggressive driver, but I am not an asshole.
-Strip Malls
What is it about Houston and strip malls? What city planner said, “wouldn’t it be fun to make everything look the same?” I really don’t need to explain this any further, as I’m assuming no one likes charmless concrete.
-Lack of like-minded Friends
This is a big one and, granted, we’ve been busy. Plus, my pregnancy isn’t getting me any invitations to happy hour. Nevertheless, we feel really, really isolated. We haven’t made many friends and the people we do know in Houston are smart enough to live and work in a cooler part of town. I’m crossing my fingers that this will change soon, but for now I’m feeling pretty lonely and wondering if there are any like-minded families in our area. Most of the people I’ve met so far are middle-aged and have stickers on their Suburbans that say things like, “Freedom isn’t free” and “Somewhere in Kenya, a village is missing its idiot.” These are not our people.

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