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Polar vortex or not, this is getting ridiculous.

I was under the impression (or delusion) that Texas was a place that was swelteringly hot in the summer (perfect for burying cowboys in sand to leave for dead) and fairly consistently warm all year long.  I guess that I had just associated any movie scene with a cowboy in it to Texas, even though in my logical, rational mind I know that New Mexico, Arizona, California, and so on had cowboys as well.  Anyway, in november this dream was shattered when news reports started coming about some “freezing rain.”

Oh yes, I can assure you, I had the same reaction then as you’re having now: “Freezing rain? What, you mean snow?!”

All the radio could talk about was freezing rain and gathering enough rations to survive the storm.  I shrugged it off, said people were overreacting, and may even have laughed to myself at the ridiculousness of it all. We were let off early from work and I settled in to enjoy a few hours of unanticipated time off… then at 10pm the power went out, and I began to become very aware of the below freezing temperatures outside.  I climbed into bed and assumed some time mid-slumber the power would be restored.

The next morning I rolled over to look at my phone… 4% battery!  It had been plugged in all night!  Apparently I had no such luck.  The power was still out.  I opened the window to look outside and found that indeed, freezing rain is not snow.  It is rain that somehow remains in liquid form until hitting the ground, an object… or any solid really… and it instantly freezes.  I realized this when I couldn’t see through my window pane.

Freezing rain effect

I wandered through the house to look at the backyard.  The world had been turned into an icicle.

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ice

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ice

I came to the living room where my landlady was curled up by the fire and we began plotting how to get coffee.  Outside it was completely silent with the exception of the occasional siren going by.  We listened to the radio and heard that some car had already managed to skid off of an overpass, and fell 40 feet into traffic below.

It felt apocalyptic.

 Was anyone even alive out there?!

We decided against going out into the siberian tundra and voted to work something out indoors.  We looked around us and came to the devastating realization that everything in the house (the oven, stove, etc.) was ALL electrically powered.  It was time to get creative.  We grabbed a tea kettle and fashioned a suspension device to hold it over the flames in the gas-powered fireplace.

tea

After heating the water, crushing coffee beans in a nut chopping contraption and finding a french press, we had our coffee… and it was… disgusting.  It was barely warm and just not right.  A few hours went by and the cold finally fully crept into the house.

cold

I was not amused.

And it was time to bail on this experience of camping while surrounded by useless electronics.  I called my boyfriend, who lives about ten minutes away… in a part of the power grid still enjoying warm coffee… and the rescue mission began.

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car

The power didn’t come back on at the house for another day or so, and my landlady escaped to her kids’ house nearby.

Thus, my siberian experience ended… inside a warm home… eating delicious chili.

Coming through the holidays, I have been surprised at how much I had forgotten about since I went overseas.  Americans certainly do holidays differently than the majority of the world (if not the entirety)!  The shock wasn’t that Christmas goods and decorations flood into stores in October; after all, the rest of the world (with a few exceptions: Love you Canada!) doesn’t have Thanksgiving to stop them from jumping right into Christmas.  In fact, in France, my team and I even got to take pictures with Santa in the beginning of November, which definitely helped with getting our pictures out to friends and family in time.

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The truly strange thing about Christmas in the US is that it permeates every aspect of life.  Everything from the interior and exterior of houses to disposable coffee cups gleam with Christmas cheer.  It’s this incredible magical world that emerges after Thanksgiving turkey that we all get to wonder through as if in a fairy tale, if only for one month.  This year it was hard not to bounce around and squeal with excitement as I drove past homes perfectly decorated with Christmas lights.

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My experience in France was a bit different.  Christmas decorations were much fewer and farther in between.  The common exterior of homes would be barren or have the choice decoration of a single hanging Santa, which unfortunately often looked more like a hanging effigy of the jolly fellow than a nice holiday display.

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There would not be many Christmas cookies (as soft cookies are somehow not the norm there), but there would be amazing bûche de noels and perfectly prepared holiday pastries!

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While the experience of Christmas was much more simple and less permeating in France, there was a beauty in the simplicity; an ability to focus on family , friends and the meaning of the holiday rather than getting caught up in preparing the perfect holiday party or fighting crowds to ensure the purchase of the must-have gift.  While this year was packed with flights, family get togethers and bustling through stores to finish Christmas shopping just before going to said Christmas gatherings, I was wouldn’t have traded it for the world.  For the first time in three years, I got to enjoy Christmas with my family. Somehow, being overseas, experiencing the simplicity and passing the holiday 9,000 miles from my family, then coming back into the pandemonium of holiday cheer has allowed me to see through all of the tinsel and gift wrap to rest in the simple joy of spending time with loved ones.

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One thing did stay consistent though: I received bottles of wine from coworkers as gifts!  It’s good to know that some things are universal.

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Realization #4: “Don’t mess with Texas.”  You may not know this, but that line is the Texan motto.  Officially.  How I have seen it played out is a very strong patriotism for Texas.  I have honestly never seen so many state flags in my life as I have here.

(These guys came to an event for my work a week or so ago)

Realization #5:  There aren’t mountains in Dallas!  Growing up in California, there was always this backdrop of mountains, as if from a Hollywood production.  They could have been painted for scenery as far as I knew most of the time, since I rarely traveled into the mountains, but they were always there and helped me to figure out directions (mountains on the right, beach on the left… I’m heading north!).  Dallas is much different.  This was actually one of my first realizations when I got here.  There are buildings, and no landforms peeking out from behind them.  While I first missed the scenic backdrop, I have found myself growing attached to the rolling green pastures with white picket fences I would see daily on my way to work.

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Realization #6:  Where you went to school is a BIG deal.  Some schools have deep-seated rivalries spanning generations and they still hold true today, while others are newly formed.  I saw this wonderfully played out at a meeting with a potential partner.  One colleague and I finished our meeting and began chatting with the woman and she mentioned something about Alabama.  My colleague followed up with the question, “oh, did you go to Bama?” to which the woman replied yes.  There was a thick silence and awkward shifting.  Finally the woman said, “You went to A&M, didn’t you?”…. “yup.”

Here’s a video highlighting the Texas OU rivalry to give you a little idea of what it looks like:

Realization #7:  Everything’s bigger in Texas!  My first true experience of this was at Whataburger, when I got the small drink of 20 oz!  I could barely believe it when I found out that the “kid’s” size was 16 oz and the large was so big at 44 oz that they couldn’t even get it in the drink display. I’m sure I’ll continue to see this fact of Texas come up more as I am here longer.

All in all everyone has been so kind and hospitable here.  Above all, I have found Texas to be a place of abounding hospitality and generosity.  I am loving learning more about the place I’ve settled into and hope my silly revelations on Texan life have entertained.

 

 

Texan saying of the day: “feeling lower than a snake’s belly”: Feeling very sad.

*Correction for the last post’s phrase: “She could hunt a bear with a switch”: gnarly and ugly (so tough that she’s pretty butch)

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This upcoming Tuesday marks one month that I have lived in the Lone Star state.  I can honestly say that I never ever would have thought I would end up in Texas.  It wasn’t that I had anything against it, but the thought never crossed my mind. 

Since getting to Dallas I have done my own sort of cross-cultural study of life here.  After living overseas for a long time, I learned to approach each new place you live as a learner.  This prompted me to return to California and do EVERYTHING Californian (with the exception of surfing which is still on the to-do list).  After a majority of my life spent in California, I found myself riding a tandem bike with my sister along the beach while enjoying an ice cream cone for the first time, and I asked myself “WHY DID I WAIT SO LONG FOR THIS?!”

In this same line of reasoning, I decided to move to Texas with the mindset of entering a new culture, seeking the most stereotypically Texan things to do and learning the what stereotypes hold true.

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My first week in Texas, I visited my first honky tonk in Fort Worth.  I donned my best country-inspired garb and set out in nothing other than a black pick up truck.  I stepped inside and nearly died of giddiness, seeing nearly every stereotype I had in living color.  Men and women wore cowboy boots as everyday footwear rather than a fashion statement, and country music played as I strolled past signed pictures of country artists and a rearing stuffed bull.  I pulled up to a table and looked over the dance floor.  I could barely believe my eyes! Just beyond the neon sign of a tapping boot advertizing Budweiser I saw a saddle covered with small mirrors hanging above the dance floor, serving as a disco ball!

billy bobs

I naturally enjoyed learning two-step in such an interesting establishment, but also greatly enjoyed the commercials that came on between baseball innings.  Here’s one of my personal favorites:

This is for real people!  This commercial relates to the common Texan man by depicting a man saving a calf with his Silverado truck!

This brings me to realization #1:  There are a large number of truck commercials geared toward Texans.  I even saw one billboard for Toyota saying “made in Texas” to quell any true American’s fears of buying a Japanese brand.

Realization #2: Football is everything.  I have learned A LOT about football since I arrived here.  Fridays= high school ball, Saturdays= college ball, and Sundays= pro ball. Aaaand…

Realization #3: Tailgating is a big deal.  Coming from California, this whole concept was pretty foreign to me.  You pay money to sit in a hot parking lot and drink.  When people asked me if anyone tailgates for California teams I reflected and thought of the Chargers in San Diego.  I then told them “Well… The charger stadium is pretty close to the beach.  I think if anyone is grilling meat and drinking, they would prefer to do it on the beach down the street than in a hot parking lot.”  

(Granted there may be tailgating that I’m unaware of).

 

Realization #4: Texans LOVE idioms and nearly have a language of their own.  I’ll be including an idiom or phrase at the end of each post to let you in a little on the word pictures I enjoy at random here.

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 [Realization list and recounting of quintessential Texan experiences to be continued]

All in all, I am truly enjoying my time in the Lone Star State, and am loving my new job.  I just moved into a place near my work and have started getting involved in a nearby church.  I can’t believe how quickly time has passed and how much has already come together!

Here is a phrase to help you develop your Texan language/culture skills:

“She could hunt a bear with a switch!”= She’s real ugly

I have jumped back over the pond and begun traveling the expanses of the country of my birth.  Within the last month I have been everywhere from California to Texas to New York to New Jersey to Israel… oh wait, no, that last one was Bushwick (HUGE Hasidic Jew population).

NYC

I thought I might write a few of the feeble little lessons my sister and I learned during the week and a half I spent with her in New York while helping her settle in for grad school.  Note: This is what can be gathered from one week thus they are first impressions and are likely misguided and hopefully silly.

1. I now understand why every Law and Order SVU episode seems to begin with finding a corpse in a pile of trash.  It’s EVERYWHERE.  This picture was taken on what we pray was the day before trash day.

NYC trash pile

2. Just because a line is long doesn’t mean you will be spending your entire day willing the line to move.  I was shocked at the quickness and efficiency of markets in New York.  Trader Joe’s consistently had the most impressive lines (often circling the entirety of the store).  A line that would have taken me 2-3 hours to get through in France would only take 20 minutes, which brings me to lesson #3.

3. If you have 29 cashiers on duty at once, business gets done

4. Apartment searching in NYC is everything the TV shows make it out to be.  Remember this scenario from Friends?

One word: Accurate.

5. Moving furniture or bags into an apartment is exhausting, and I will, without fail, have the impulse to call out “pivot!” at some point or another.

6.  There is a reason that every Hasidic Jewish woman has the same haircut.  They all bought their hair in the same place.

7.  There should be a new version of The View with a panel of old New Yorker men, voicing their opinions on today’s issues.  This was realized while listening in on a nearby conversation between 7 men in their 70s-80s who I can only assume were from Long Island judging by their accents.  I mean, honestly, who wouldn’t want to see a panel of Jerry Stillers talking about the world today?

8.  You meet the most interesting people on the subways… and even if you didn’t actually meet them, you sure feel like you did.  It’s a blast making up back stories for the people you see.

Subway man

[Hat says: “World’s best husband”]

9. This restaurant is actually 10 times better than I would ever have imagined.  I love the staff there!

Note: the broadway milkshake now makes appearances in my dreams

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10. You can still see a play even if you have a limited budget.. just be prepared to stand.

How: get to the box office before opening and ask if they have rush tickets or standing room.

Broadway

11.  I wouldn’t consider myself to be someone who is afraid of heights but the fire escapes in New York have made me reassess.  I’m quite certain that it will take nothing short of a life-threatening inferno to get me to climb down those rickety ladders.

fire escapes

12.  If you aren’t careful in your apartment, an insect force might claim your living space.  While in Brooklyn my sister and I experienced some resilient cockroaches… who had absolutely no fear or qualms about strutting their stuff in broad daylight!  They were essentially sassing us.

Brooklyn

13.   Mood fabric shop is really expensive, but the ride in the elevator and adorable dog are worth the trip.

Swatch

14.  Staying a 3 days? 5 days? a week? Get a week long MTA card from the beginning.  The individual rides aren’t cheap and if you are planning on traveling throughout the city pretty consistently, it’s probably worth it.

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15.  I may not have found the true Ray’s Pizza, but this place had such good pizza that I didn’t care either way.

IMG_0384                                                                          [27 Prince street in Little Italy]

It was so much fun getting to run around with my sister for a week and a half in the city but as it would turn out, my future would take me elsewhere….

Getting Literary

A few years ago I realized that, while I wasn’t unread, I hadn’t fully experimented with the different genres of literature.  This began an extensive exploration of  a variety of genres from mystery novels to war biographies to romances and dare I say, Twilight (and many more).  Through this exploration, I came to realize several things:

  1. If you’ve read one John Grisham novel, you’ve read them all.
  2. Romance novels are SO much not my thing that I never managed to get to any sort of romance, nor did I really care to.
  3. What I read hugely impacts my mood; if the main character is stressed, so am I.
  4. Considering revelation #3, “The Associate” made me uncomfortably paranoid… I was convinced that my apartment was bugged and someone was following me… not to be read in a city at night.
  5. Twilight is even repetitive in French and will make you feel overwhelmingly like a 16 year old with very little to live for.
  6. Some books (i.e. “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “Hunger Games”) will suck you in and you wont realize it until you find yourself a hot mess sequestered in your room without sleep.
  7. All of the books about living with the French, getting on in French culture and so on become painfully repetitive and not as witty as you originally thought by the time you read a second or third book of the same theme.
  8. Ulysses is a truly long and arduous read without cliff notes… I ended up reading cliff notes at the same time and abandoning the endeavor when the books weighed too much to bring to France.
  9. Dan Brown CLEARLY writes himself as the protagonist of his novels (“The DaVinci Code”, “Angels and Demons”, etc.), which makes me very uncomfortable as he fantasizes about seducing young yoga instructors with his elbow patched tweed jacket and intellect.
  10. Nothing puts your mind more at ease, or fills it more with nonsense than mystery baking/quilting novels.

You may ask: “What are mystery baking novels?  That makes no sense.”  Well, let me tell you.  They are a fantastic genre of books where the protagonist is a humdrum middle-aged woman that does some feminine job like baking or quilting and stumbles upon a crime scene.  Somehow she becomes a renegade investigator of the crime and develops a romance with some mustachioed policeman.  I have a theory that all of the women that write these books have some unresolved fetish with mustachioed cops.  Whether this is true or not, it is quite entertaining.  On top of the cute kitschy stories, there are recipes at the end of each chapter!

books

The series that has most struck my fancy from this genre is the Hannah Swenson series.  These books have a variety of clever names ranging from “Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder” to “Cheesecake Murder” to “Blueberry Muffin Murder.” Hannah Swenson is a middle-aged woman with wild, frizzy red hair who has a tendency to wear green sweat suits.  She dodges her mother’s nagging phone calls to find a husband, and has long conversations with her cat.  Somehow she gets two men to fall for her (the way to a man’s heart if through his stomach…?”) One man is the mustachioed cops (a given for the genre) while the other is a nerdy dentist who shares Hannah’s love for cats.  One special moment occurred after their first date when the dentist came in for cookies and lemonade.  He saw Hannah’s cat and Hannah apologized saying that she hoped he wasn’t allergic.  The dentist replied, “Oh no.  Cats are some of my favorite people.”  Can anyone say true love?

Here is the synopsis of  “Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder” just to give you an idea of the magic:

No one cooks up a delectable, suspense-filled mystery quite like Hannah Swensen, Joanne Fluke’s dessert-baking, red-haired heroine whose gingersnaps are as tart as her comebacks, and whose penchant for solving crimes—one delicious clue at a time—has made her a bestselling favorite. And it all began on these pages, with a bakery, a murder, and some suddenly scandalous chocolate-chip crunchies. Featuring a bonus short story and brand new, mouthwatering recipes, this limited edition of the very first Hannah Swensen mystery is sure to have readers coming back for seconds…’

“Hannah Swenson already has her hands full trying to dodge her mother’s attempts to marry her off while running The Cookie Jar, Lake Eden, Minnesota’s most popular bakery. But once Ron LaSalle, the beloved delivery man from the Cozy Cow Dairy, is found murdered behind her bakery with Hannah’s famous Chocolate Chip Crunchies scattered around him, her life just can’t get any worse. Determined not to let her cookies get a bad reputation, she sets out to track down a killer.’

“Who would have the sheer audacity—and the motive—to kill the most punctual delivery man Hannah ever had? Topping the list is the high school football coach. What exactly was his wife doing, making the rounds with the milkman? Could Max Turner, owner of Cozy Cow Dairy, have had a secret he didn’t want to share with his top employee? The more Hannah snoops, the more suspects turn up. Why has Lake Eden’s most prominent prodigal son, Benton Woodley, just resurfaced? And what about the mysterious Mr. Harris who seemed interested in buying the property next to the dairy, but then disappeared? This is one murder that’s starting to leave a very bad taste in Hannah’s mouth. And if she doesn’t watch her back, Hannah’s sweet life may get burned to a crisp.’

“Filled with a healthy sprinkling of humor and a delightful assortment of nuts, CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE MURDER serves up a great new mystery series and introduces a delicious, down-home sleuth that mystery readers will surely savor for years to come.”

coffee and books1

I would put this story under the category of “near death experiences.”  Last year, while visiting Central Asia, we were traveling from the south of one country to the north by car.  I wasn’t so much prepped on the feat to follow but somehow managed to survive.  We set out by car and everything seemed pretty normal.  Granted, when we were picked up from the airport the two year old that accompanied our hosts no longer had a seat so he rode on top of our luggage in the trunk, which I found odd and dangerous but shrugged off.

mountain roads

The beginning of that day’s drive had a few potholes and flying dust but nothing serious.  It wasn’t until we got into the mountains that things got a bit more risky.  We started climbing the Himilayas in a rundown 4-wheel-drive jeep, swerving to avoid potholes.  Unfortunately this swerving meant getting dangerously close to the edge of the road and thus next to the sheer drop of no less than a mile to a rock-filled river.  The entire mountain was littered with cars that didn’t make the trip. Our drivers informed us that at this point we should take off our seatbelts.  We asked them why in the world we would want to do such a crazy thing. Their response:  “You must take off your seatbelt because when we fall off the cliff you will want to jump out of the windows.  If you have the belt on you will not have time to jump out and you will drown.”  Oh.  Is that all?!

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We naturally started laughing. Then as if planned for this very instance, our drivers said, “see there is a car that didn’t make it.”  At that moment we saw the remains of a car that had clearly fallen and been swept away by the river until someone retrieved it.  We swallowed hard and stopped our laughter.

herd on road

Next came the tunnel of smoke.  We were told that some parts of the tunnel were built by the Chinese, while others were built by another Central Asian country. The Chinese portions were great, but the other parts were not quite up to standard.  The tunnel was this Central Asian nation’s handywork.  There was a 5 km stretch without any ventilation and no light.  The lack of ventilation naturally created a gas chamber of exhaust.  On top of this, parts of the roof would fall from time to time and potholes (more of holes into an abyss) riddled the tunnel.  Up until year before last, there was also a river that would take up half of the tunnel which caused the local community to allow travel in one direction (switching each day).

As we drove through this tunnel we watched two cars get into an accident and the drivers jump out to yell at each other.  Our driver rolled down the window briefly to yell to them that they should get back in their cars because they risked dying of asphyxiation.  Shortly after we exited the tunnel, it got dark and we had to face the hairpin switchbacks.

landscape

As we mounted the mountains even further, we watched semitrucks try to make the turns.   At one point, two semis tried to make the turn in opposite directions at the same time.  One car got frustrated with the slowness of the procedure and cut down the steep slope beside the turn.  The entire debacle was unreal.  In the end, we made it to our destination and I was happier than ever to be alive.

Here is a video of driving in another Central Asian country that greatly resembles my experience (check out minute 10-11:15 and 13:30-15… or just enjoy the whole thing)

note: my drivers were not smoking weed or falling asleep… just wanted to let you know