Category Archives: Texas

Decade

Ten years ago in the last few days of August, the B and I put our four-month-old baby in the Corolla and started the drive from southmost Texas to Maryland, two years after we had first driven all the way there from Pennsylvania. In many ways, driving back north felt oddly like going home, even though Maryland is technically below the Mason-Dixon line (and therefore still in the South, unlike Yankee Pennsylvania). Texas was pretty alien. I’d only lived in Pennsylvania for 18 months before that, but B had been there a whole PhD’s worth of time. Maryland felt reassuringly familiar.

Lone palm tree by the water looking over at buildings in the distance

Buh-bye, Texas

We’d rented a place to live, sight unseen, which is always a horrible way to go about it. It was not very close to B’s new place of work, because we were assured that we didn’t want to live in that particular county. We should live one county over, where it was – I don’t know, nicer, safer, more expensive, something. In retrospect this was a bad decision because with B driving the car off to work every day I was left trapped in the apartment, in walking distance of one set of shops but nothing else. Every day I pushed the baby up to the supermarket, took a look in Sears, stopped at Starbucks if he was either cheerful or asleep, and back home. He’d fall asleep on the walk back, but often wake up when I tried to get him back inside, which involved one flight of steps up to the front door and another down to our basement-level apartment.

Baby having his toes dipped in the water on a long beach

Hello, Atlantic Ocean

I didn’t meet anyone while we lived there. I don’t know who our neighbours were. I didn’t make any friends. I tried to find a moms’ group but the only one I could find was about 30 miles away. We went once, making a game effort, but it was too far. It was lonely, but it was temporary, because we’d only rented that place for three months.

At the end of our three months we were more familiar with the area. We moved to a condo across the road from B’s place of work, in the dodgy county, where rents were lower and everything else, as far as we could see, was exactly the same. (We hadn’t encountered the school system yet. That’s where the biggest difference lies.) But for me, it was the beginning of actually making a life here rather than just pushing the baby around on my own, day after day. I had the car: I could go places. I found the library. I found the community center. I found a local group of moms and dads that met at the playground every Wednesday. I found my space.

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Baby’s first DMV historical site. (George Washington’s birthplace in Virginia, where we stopped for… lunch, or education, or something.)

But ten years. If you’d told me then, as we drove the highways north of New Orleans, along the Gulf shores of Mississippi and Alabama – communities still reeling from Hurricane Katrina the year before – through the panhandle of Florida, into Georgia and up along the coast of the Carolinas, that we’d still be in the US ten years later, I’d probably have demanded that we move home straight away. This was not the plan. (This is why nobody should know the future, even if it’s perfectly good.) The plan was another couple of years in the US and then home to Ireland to buy a house and settle down and send the baby to a nice Educate Together school if possible and be perfectly normal Irish people.

We still have the Corolla, but we have a Subaru too, because we’re true suburbanites now. We bought a house that’s still close to B’s work, but not where they’re out dealing drugs on the stoops. (Apparently that’s what went on in our second rental’s neighbourhood. I had no idea at the time.) Some of the friends I made that first year are still my friends, and their kids are my kids’ friends, and we’re all Americans now. (Even B. has a citizenship application in the works at the moment.)

Oh, we still have the baby too. Sort of.

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*****

I nearly forgot to mention my new stickers. I’m delighted to be shortlisted once again in the Personal Blog – Diaspora category of the Irish Blog Awards – but there’s a public vote element to this round. If you’d be so very kind as to click through here and take a moment to log in (sorry!) and vote for Awfully Chipper, I’d be eternally grateful.

Blog Awards Ireland 2016 Vote Now Button

Seven years

Seven years ago, I was a technical writer at a university in south Texas, trying to help department heads hash out some sort of more detailed hurricane plan in the wake of Katrina the year before.
Seven years ago, I had a salary of my very own.
Seven years ago, I saw a lot of movies in the cinema.
Seven years ago, I’d never watched an episode of Curious George.

Seven years ago, my husband was at a conference a plane ride away, and I was eight-and-a-half months pregnant.

Seven years ago, I’d never heard of Facebook.
Seven years ago, I’d already been blogging indolently for a couple of years.

Seven years ago, I knew my life was about to change utterly, and I was about as ready for it as you can be.

Seven years ago – plus a few hours – my waters broke.

Tofurkey or not tofurkey

I love the days when I have a legitimate reason to make B take the kids out for a couple of hours, turn on some music, and potter happily around the kitchen all afternoon. Even though I always say that Thanksgiving isn’t our holiday, and so we feel no compulsion to celebrate with anything special, the general widespread culinary busy-ness always infects me and it turns into one of those days after all.

A few weeks ago, as I may have mentioned, I saw a recipe for carnitas on Smitten Kitchen, and decided that maybe we should have traditional Thansksgiving tacos, just as the pilgrims did.

On Tuesday I garnered the ingredients I needed, except for the meat, which I couldn’t find in Safeway. Never mind, I thought. Fate will provide. Indeed, in spite of a day sandwiched by a dental appointment for one child in the morning and a doctor’s appointment for the other in the afternoon, fate, in the shape of the local co-op supermarket did provide: there was a large pre-packaged piece of pork shoulder in the meat fridge, and when I asked at the counter they said that the butcher would happily let me have just the three pounds of it I needed, and even cube it for me as per the recipe.

Then there was the question of dessert. Dash has been pestering me lately to make caramel, ever since he tasted some caramel dip for apple slices at a halloween party. He didn’t eat any of the apple, but he very much enjoyed licking off the caramel. I keep telling him that I’ve never made caramel, and it’s very tricky, and I don’t have any cream so I just can’t; but evidently the notion took root because as I wandered around the co-op waiting for the butcher to do his thing, I vaguely remembered that there was a recipe somewhere for caramel apple cheesecake. That sounded nice, and I had ricotta in the fridge to use up. So I bought some apples.

When I got home I found the recipe, in Nigella’s Feast, but it turned out to need apple schnapps and no actual apples at all. As well as cream and other things I still didn’t have. So that idea was shelved. This morning I made chocolate ricotta muffins with the ricotta, which was only about a cupful and not nearly enough for cheesecake anyway. But I still had all those apples.

This afternoon I looked at the clock, asked B when he wanted to eat dinner, and then informed him that they’d better scarper quickish so I could put the meat on right now – carnitas take almost as long as a small turkey after all. Once the meat was aromatically braising in its margarita bath (as Deb calls it), I thought some more about dessert and vaguely searched the Smitten Kitchen website for “apples”. Bingo. A last-minute tarte tatin.

I’ve never made tarte tatin before, and didn’t realise that the apples were actually cooked in caramel before being pastried, but once that became apparent, it was the obvious solution. I ended up using the pastry from the first recipe I found and the apple/caramel method from the second, because Deb said it was more foolproof. And I used my stainless steel pan with a plastic handle for the caramel part, transferring to a glass pie dish for the baking. As the arrangement of my apples was more rustic, shall we say, than artistically exact, it didn’t destroy anything. And the whole thing turned out most satisfactorily in the end.

The carnitas worked miraculously – one moment I was looking at all the brining liquid still in the pan and wondering whether I should cheat and take a scoopful out to help it reduce; then I did a spot of washing up to clear the decks and when I looked again, there was only a tiny puddle left in the bottom and the chunks of meat were starting to brown up amazingly and fall apart just as predicted. (So much so that I took a photo, even though Deb’s is much more appetizing, just to show you that even mere mortals can achieve this.)

We* had our carnitas on warmed corn tortillas, with jicama slaw (about two-thirds of a jicama and one carrot, grated, with three finely sliced spring onions and this dressing), queso fresco, avocado, and fresh limes for squeezing. It was just like being back in southmost Texas in the hallowed booths of Mister Taco. (And believe me, for all I malign Texas, that’s one of the things we miss.)

And now I’m just waiting, with an extra glass of wine, for B to put Dash to bed before we break out the vanilla icecream and dig in to the tarte. With great forethought, I didn’t try too hard to give Mabel a nap this afternoon, so it’s 7.15 and she’s fast asleep. For now, at least.

*The children, lest I need to comment, did not have any. Dash has had his usual peanut butter sandwiches today, and Mabel, despite being presented with various other foodstuffs, has eaten half an apple for breakfast, three cheesesticks for lunch, and no dinner all all. Oh, and two chocolate ricotta muffins for snacks. Maybe that was an error.

** Mmmm. I have a mouthful of chewy sugary appley goodness as I type. I am a total tarte-tatin convert. A tart for tarte, if you like.  I don’t think I’ll ever make a plain old apple pie again.

Good things

Back after Christmas, with a bigger tummy and lots more kicking. At my appointment on Monday I’d put on 8lbs in the whole pregnancy, which while still not a lot for this stage, does mean that in the last month I put on as much as in the previous almost-five combined. Anyway, judging by the amount of activity going on in there most of the time, everything’s just hunky dory. And I’ve officially grown out of everything but real maternity gear.

So over the holidays I let my guard slip a little. I stopped being all optimistic about where we lived and when people asked how it was, I was more inclined to say “Well, it’s a place to live, and we’ll be moving soon” or something equally unflattering. Driving back from the airport on our return, all I could think was how alien it all was, still, after 18 months, and how really the only thing making us come back was the fact that all our stuff was here. Oh, and our jobs, I suppose. But there are good things too about here: I just have to dig a little deeper to find them.

Things I do appreciate about living here, in no particular order:

Mixer taps. It’s not that they don’t exist in Dublin, just not in the houses we were staying in. It makes washing your face a pain when one side of the sink has water a degree or two away from ice and the other is boiling and never the twain shall meet unless you actually go to the trouble of putting in the plug and filling the sink.

Warmth. I know the climate is a mixed blessing and I complain about the damned heat and the stupid lack of seasons, but it is nice to be able to walk around in a towel after your shower and not have to throw on the first clothes you can see because it’s just too cold to linger in less than five layers.
Not living out of a suitcase. Having all my stuff and a place to put it. Which I suppose is how I define home these days.

Turtles. I saw one at lunchtime, in its natural habitat. Don’t get that in Dublin in December.
Plentiful and cheap maternity wear. There’s a lot more over here than there is at home, though I did well out of the sales over Christmas.

Our car. Driving my own car makes me feel like a grown up.

Better skin. I’d hardly been home a week when my cuticles were starting to shred and I was getting dry patches on my legs. I don’t know if it’s the humidity or the mildness here, but those are two things I don’t have to worry about. (Of course, I have to weigh that against the better hair I always seem to have at home, but let us not speak of that.)

Martin Luther King day. Of course, there are more public holidays at home, but there isn’t one next Monday. Nyah nyah.

Anticip-

Updating purely because I’m afraid my diary will get sidelined again if I leave it too long. Deep thoughts are not assailing me much these days, so I’ve nothing in particular to say.

The amount to which I am looking forward to our upcoming long weekend in Boston is ridiculous. It’s only four days, but we get to leave Texas, to see actual trees, to be outdoors in under-80-degree weather, and so on. And hanging out with all the in-laws, going to a big party and staying in a posh hotel are also reasons to be happy.

Pas si mal

Watch for Pelicans sign

Okay, I admit it. Just sometimes, living here isn’t the worst. Just now, the weather’s bloody gorgeous. Too hot for exerting oneself in, but for a short sit out, pretty damn nice. I just finished my sandwich and took my yogurt outside to sit in the sun, because the combination of the air conditioning in here and the coke I just drank had me a bit chilled. I walked around the back of the building and sat against the wall, facing the baseball diamond where some strapping lads were having a bit of a practice and blasting some music in a not entirely unpleasing manner. I just closed my eyes and felt the heat buzz in my veins as it sank in, replacing the cold with hot. They turned off the stereo and the soothing sounds of chirping – dare I say it? – parrots replaced it.

Sky: blue with wispy clouds.
Temperature: 85 F.
Yogurt: refreshing and creamy.
Life? Not so bad.

Pie opportunity

I don’t think I ever got around to writing about the frito pie, did I? Okay then.

Culinary delights of south Texas, part umpty. Actually, I don’t know if this is native to south Texas or Mexico, or the midwest, or where. But it seems to me like the ultimate trailer trash food. (I mean that in a totally non-insulting, Nigella Lawson way. Though I have to admit that it repulsed me, and I don’t know if Nigella would condone it. But maybe I’m just missing the greatest taste ever, like her recipe for ham cooked in Coke. I haven’t tried that either, but I totally would. Anyway.)

So there was a winter celebration or some such “it’s Christmas but we can’t call it that” event for all the staff back in December. We had fun carnival games like ring tossing and pie throwing and tins of cans knocking over, and they had burgers and hot dogs and frito pies. I joined the frito pie line because it was shortest and everyone at my table was headed that way, and as we shuffled along I asked what a frito pie was. “Chilli and cheese”, they said. Okay. We got closer and I watched what was happening at the top of the queue. First the people doling out the food would pick up a packet of Fritos. (Fritos are corn chips, very bad for you and tasty in that way where you can feel the fat slither straight from your gullet onto your hips but you Can’t Stop Eating until the bag is empty. Luckily, they make the bags fairly small. I honestly can’t think of an Irish equivalent. Let’s say it’s like a packet of Rancheros, just for comparison.)

So, they take the Fritos. They cut along the side of the pack to open it as wide as possible. Then they take a ladle of chilli and pour it STRAIGHT OVER THE CHIPS IN THE PACKET. Followed swiftly by a ladleful of cheese sauce. (I’m sure that should be cheez sauce. The really synthetic luminous sort.)

Hey presto, Frito pie! Eat it with a plastic fork.

I goggled quietly and moved to the hamburger queue instead.

For the record, I didn’t try it so all I’m saying is that it looked gross. If it tastes like ambrosia and/or is the signature dish of your region/family/tribe, well good for you and I clearly missed a treat. And I’m aware that my capitalization of Frito is erratic. I did it on purpose.

Righteous indignation

I realise that commuting by bicycle is pretty unusual in this town. I’m used to getting funny looks, especially since I do sensible things like wear a helmet and a reflective belt when I cycle home from work. I know that the notion of cycling to get somewhere you need to be when you actually own a functioning, fuel-filled car is a bit hard to process for a lot of people here. And I’m reconciled to the fact that almost the only other person over the age of ten that I’ve seen on a bike has been a small Mexican man with bananas in his front basket.

So as I wend my merry way home, musing on tonight’s dinner or how I just might do some pilates today, I expect to get a few looks of curiosity, interest, or even amuseument. I don’t, however, expect a large red SUV full of grown men to swing by, to hear shouts and laughter, and see a handful of ice fired straight at me from the passenger window.

Yes, grown men threw stuff at me for fun, because I was on a bicycle. What are you, six? I wasn’t even wearing shorts – not that that would excuse it in the least, but I suppose I might think it made me a bit more conspicuous. Oh wait, I was on a bike. There’s all the conspicuousness I needed.

Most of the ice fell short but some hit me, one piece got me on the chest hard enough to hurt a bit and leave a wet mark on my t-shirt that lasted all the way home. They could have put my eye out, you know. Once I’d recovered from the sheer amazement, I moved rapidly to fury and swore loudly at them (when I should have been looking at their licence plate). A little futher on, a man whose car was blocking my way said “Are you okay?” as I swerved around him. Still jarred, I didn’t know if he was coming on to me or what, and just said “Fine” in a high-pitched, sod-off sort of voice. I turned around to see him getting back into his car and I realised he’d actually seen what happened and stopped to make sure I was all right. Which was really decent of him. And I’d just been rude. Which made me feel worse. If you’re reading, sorry for being so snotty, and thank you. I hope you realised I thought you were just another person getting on my case for riding a bike. For heaven’s sake.

Back to the unreal life

Killiney Hill view towards Dalkey IslandChristmas was lovely. Home was lovely. It was great to be back. There were, of course, downsides, like cold Irish houses and vicious hangovers and Dublin prices, but these merely serve to remind one that this is the real world. Not this fictitious always-warm, cheap-because-it’s-the-middle-of-nowhere, temporary life we lead for the other eleven and a half months of the year. Dublin hits you with reality like a gust of rain in the face and punches you in the gut with house prices.

I had a few moments of, anxiety, let’s say, when the whole baby-job-house-future notion started to look like far more than we could chew. The trouble with trying to plan a baby is that once it’s on track you can’t stop halfway through the pregnancy and say, “Let’s just shelve this for now. We can pick it up again later when things have calmed down.” And then, feck, you’re baby-owners in Texas, with all the extra stuff that entails, not to mention the actual infant, moving to who knows where for however long it might be, and will you ever manage to live at home as you keep assuring your family that one day you will?

But I know that life goes on, and people have babies, or don’t, and move to other countries or other states, and live there for a few years or ever, and change their plans and make new ones, and I don’t actually have to have it all set in stone right now.

From. As in "from."

Went to lunch with a couple of co-workers. They’re not the most talkative and when faced with quiet people I just get quieter, so it was all a bit awkward. Anyway, one of the short bursts of conversation went like this:

Him: So, are you from Ireland?
Me: Yup.
Him: Ahh. So what’s it like there; hilly, flat?
Me: Hilly round the edges, flat in the middle.
Him: Riiight. And, have you ever actually gone there?
Me: Where? [Thinking, he probably means to the mountains, but I’m horribly afraid he doesn’t]
Him: [Confirming my worst suspicions] To Ireland.

Gahh. I’ve learnt my lesson with “Irish”, and now accept that to many Americans it means “of Irish decent”. But what part of “from Ireland” doesn’t mean “from Ireland”?

I clarified that I was not merely born there but also lived there until two years ago. Then we all went back to contemplating our tamales and the medieval recorder consort the university had laid on for our holiday pleasure.