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Palm Sunday Photos

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For Palm Sunday, we gathered outside to sing and wave palms as we entered the church.

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This afternoon, Reed and I walked to the Japanese Garden. We passed some giant bunnies.

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I saw some irises.

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Reed pointed out the ducklings!

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Then, he had an encounter with a squirrel. The squirrel was disappointed that Reed was teasing it.

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The azaleas in the Japanese Garden were in full bloom this week.

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We picked up some milkshakes at Little Bigs. Then we watched the people in the paddleboats and caught the train back home.

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Exploring farther afield

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These past few days have seen me out and about much farther than usual. Mama happened to fly in to Austin for work for a very brief time, so I drove out to see her and spend the night, and then I had a chance to go on a bird-related adventure as well.

It is a nice drive to Austin from here, and it certainly doesn’t feel as if it takes 3 hours. I had never been out that way, since before moving to Houston, our family vacation had taken us through Texas once, but we went through Dallas-Ft. Worth and then on through the northern part of the state to New Mexico. I had expected to get some elevation on my drive, and was anticipating it, since Houston is so flat. There were some hills, but for the most part it is very flat between here and Austin, and I would even say that Austin itself is pretty flat, compared to Pine Mountain. Or at least it feels pretty flat because there aren’t forests the way there are forests in Georgia and North Carolina.

Somehow, I had the idea in my head that Austin was like Athens, so I was in for quite a surprise. First of all, Austin has a population greater than 700,000. It’s a real city, with tall buildings and a bustling downtown, backed up rush hour traffic on the interstate, as well as the state capitol. Just a little bit different! I guess I just figured university towns with a big music scene would be all the same!

Since I got into town before Mama got out of her meeting, I headed out to explore a bit and found my way to the Zilker Botanical Gardens. Honestly, I do have other interests besides plants, but I cannot seem to pass up a visit to a botanical garden. Especially when it is free like the Zilker.

I wandered through most of the gardens there. It was very refreshing to see irises blooming, which I haven’t seem much in Houston. The azaleas were going strong, and I saw more Texas mountain laurel. This arch, the Butler Window, is overlooking the lower part of the gardens, and it has an interesting story. It used to be a window in a Victorian house that was (of course) demolished, but the window was preserved and brought to the garden. You can imagine how grand the house must have been.

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I’m glad I kept poking around, even though I was running out of time, because otherwise I would have missed the prehistoric garden! Apparently, a few years ago, some fossils were found at the garden, which inspired this portion. You can read about it at this link, if you like.

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I met up with Mama at her hotel and we went out for dinner and for her to see the downtown area. We stopped at the capitol grounds and walked around, viewing the monuments.

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We went to Freddie’s Place for dinner and listened to the band while we ate country-fried steak as big as our heads. It was a fun place, and we ate on the porch even though it was a bit chilly.

The next day, Mama and the rest of the crew flew out in the morning and I wandered over to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center which is a bit outside of town.

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Not free, but worth it! I was one of the first visitors there that morning, just a few minutes after they opened. The map for the center gives you a guide to the kinds of wildflowers that you are likely to see during the different seasons, which was very helpful. I knew what bluebonnets looked like, but on my way over I had seen many other kinds of wildflowers along the road. Now I know that these were probably Indian paintbrush and winecup. In addition to the guide, the tags on the plants are very descriptive and give more than just the name of the plant, but also where it is found, when it blooms, etc.

The gardens are filled with interesting sculptures, like this one.

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Besides the gardens, there are several trails at the center. They aren’t very long, so I wandered out and practiced looking for birds. I didn’t have my guidebook with me, so I saw plenty that I didn’t know and couldn’t id when I got back to the car. I also saw plenty of cardinals and some mockingbirds, so I wasn’t totally frustrated. I also saw three deer.

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I was glad that I had come early, because as I was leaving there were literally bus loads of children and seniors arriving! It would have been a completely different experience with so many people around, so I was glad to get there early when it was pretty quiet and nice and cool.

Today, I had an adventure that did not involve a garden! Shocking! But, it was still outside and still required a drive. I went to watch bird banding at the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory. It’s right at an hour south of here. The Gulf coast of Texas is one of the best places in the country to see migratory birds, because it is a place where many of them stop to rest on their way north from Central and South America. There is bird banding here every month.

I got there just after 8 am, and they had already set up their work table and collected some birds from the nets. Basically, they catch the birds in nets set up around the observatory, and then collect data based on what the standard is for that species. So, for hummingbirds, they checked the band, looked to see how much fat was on the bird, studied its wings, weighed it, and looked at its bill to judge its age. They would give the birds a band if they didn’t already have one, and record the band number if the bird already was banded. This information is collected and helps teach us about migration and bird population.

There were several kinds of birds that were caught this morning. Two kinds of hummingbirds–the Ruby-throated and the Black-chinned–, Swamp Sparrows, several warblers, a White-Eyed Vireo, a Tufted Titmouse, and a bunch of Cardinals, which were very unhappy. I learned that cardinals bite. Well, the other birds bite, too, but cardinals are big enough for it to matter.

Here, you can see how things were set up for banding. He is holding a Common Yellowthroat. On the table, there is the book where the records are kept, the scale (with the bag the bird is in when weighed), a box full of bands sorted by size, the lamp, a straw to fluff up the birds’ feathers when sexing the birds or checking on their fat, pliers for clamping the band on the bird’s leg, and a hummingbird feeder because they got fed while they were examined. In the back of the truck, you can see several bags that are hanging up, which have birds that haven’t been processed yet.

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Once the bird’s information had been recorded, they were set free. Some people got to let the birds go. This is a female Black-chinned hummingbird in my hand.

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I didn’t take many good pictures with my cell phone, which is just the nature of the beast. It’s good for blogging, but not perfect for pictures. I did get a good picture of this Hooded Warbler.

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Once the sun came up and it got warmer, the birds really weren’t going in the nets. That is why you have to go early! The observatory has several trails and I wandered around, looking here and there. I really enjoyed going here, and I’m looking forward to some other bird adventures soon. I did get a new bird for my life list, in any event.

This doesn’t count toward my adventure list, because I was just watching and I didn’t help any. I also can’t count the birds I saw banded on my birding list, because it is against the rules. It is a good chance to learn more about birds, so when I see them free I will have a better chance at identifying them.

Bird banding happens all over the country and spring migration is a good time to go and see what is coming through. If you want to go to a bird banding event in your area, you can google the local Audubon or state ornithological society because they may be taking a field trip or doing banding themselves. Or, if you live near a wildlife reserve, they may be banding soon. It was fun, and you really get a good chance to be up close to birds that you may not even know live near you.

When I moved to Houston, I sold my car which means that Reed and I are sharing his car. We sort of did this before when we only had one parking pass at UGA, so we’ve had some practice in coordinating our schedules. We also made sure when we researched apartments here that we had plenty of options for alternate transportation, and we pretty much hit the jackpot. Not only do we live close enough to walk to places like grocery stores and a supercenter store and a bunch of restaurants, but we can take the train or bus from nearby stops. We live near a bike path which actually goes all the way to Reed’s campus. And our apartment complex also participates in a private shuttle line that goes to a large shopping and dining area nearby. I’m in no way stuck at home unless I want to be!

Anywho, today I went shopping to buy Reed some new clothes. Without the car! I jumped on the train and headed downtown.

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Yep, to the downtown Macy’s! Riding the train to a real department store feels so Big City to me. There are five stories of shopping at this location, and after I had shopped a bit, I went down to the basement and walked around in the tunnels where the food courts are. There are other shops, too, mostly ones that business people would need during the day–drug stores, copy services, etc. I also went to the Houston Pavilions which is across the street from the Macy’s, and could use some more shops!

When I had done all the exploring I wanted, I had lunch and then came back home. One really neat part of downtown is this fountain at Main Street Square. I can’t really describe it, but it is like a dancing fountain–it does all kinds of things, including sending jets of water leaping up into the air.

You can see it a bit in my picture here.

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Or, you can watch this video someone made of it on Youtube.

More adventures later this week!

Yay!

Today was a great adventurous day! I was pretty productive here at the house, keeping things rolling along. And, I went on a bike ride and made a new recipe for dinner. Woohoo!

I love riding my bike. I think it might be my favorite outdoor activity. It was a beautiful day with the sun out and few clouds in the sky, but the wind kept it nice and cool. I hoped to make it to the bike shop three miles away on the bike path, but I decided I would just ride as far as I was comfortable and see where I went. I went riding in my everyday clothes–jeans and my sandals (they have a closed toe!)–just fine, and easily made it there. It is mostly flat, flat, flat, except for where I had to go down to the lower section because there isn’t an upper path for a short distance. I rode the upper path at street level today, because I wanted to scope the entire trail out and give myself more options. Most of the time, I was on the bike path, but there were a few places where I rode on the road to cross the street or when the path switches sides of the bayou.

At the bike shop, I bought a new headlight because my old one is broken and picked up a copy of the Houston bike map. It shows all of the bike paths and bike lanes and routes in Houston. My next trip is to the park by bike! It’s just over a mile away, so that should be fun. I realized that I missed a couple whole sections of the park when I went, plus I want to visit the Japanese garden again.

Besides that bright point, I made a new recipe for dinner tonight. I am trying to go through my recipe clipping and decide which ones are duds and which ones I should be keeping. Tonight I made pot stickers. I LOVE pot stickers! And what’s not to love–little dumplings full of tasty seasoned pork that are pan-fried and steamed.

This recipe was a hit and it was very easy. You know it has to be easy if it involves making individual anythings, and I’m still willing to eat them or think about them after I’ve made them. I’ll probably make another batch soon and stick them in the freezer so we can pull out a few for appetizers every once in a while instead of a whole batch. You really don’t need to eat a whole batch of pot stickers, even though we almost did tonight (with cucumber salad). Plus, it is more enjoyable to do the whole fry + steam once, rather than multiple times.

Here is a link to the recipe and directions for making pot stickers. Yum Yum! This one’s a keeper. Reed said they were better than the frozen ones we have bought before, but that may be because he is a wonderful husband.

Houston Adventure, No. 2.

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Although I had planned on Thursdays being my adventure day, Reed needed the car during the day yesterday. So, I went today when Reed didn’t need the car.

Last week, I planned an indoor adventure, even though I ended up walking almost two miles around in the park. This week, I planned an outdoor adventure. Both adventures, however, involve the Museum of Fine Arts. Today I went to Bayou Bend, which is part of the museum. Bayou Bend is a house museum and gardens on Buffalo Bayou. The house contains Miss Ima Hogg’s collection of American decorative items. She donated the house and gardens to the museum in 1957. You can tour both, but today I just explored the gardens (which is also only $3).

Bayou Bend starts off on the right foot, because you enter by crossing a suspension bridge over Buffalo Bayou. Buffalo Bayou is the only bayou in town, I think whose channel has not been encased in cement.

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The first thing you see is the gazebo right outside the Clio Garden, although this picture was taken looking out toward the bridge instead of in toward the garden.

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The Clio Garden is a formal garden with a statue of Clio, the muse of history in the center. The azaleas here are blooming very nicely.

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Once you walk through the Clio garden, you are on a large lawn, with the house on your right and the Diana garden on your left.

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Like the Clio garden, the Diana garden is named after the statue at its focal point.

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I took some windy trails around the outer edge of the lawn to the Carla Garden, which is a small seating area surrounded by coral and pink azaleas. I also went to the Butterfly Garden, which is not a garden for butterflies, but instead is a formal planting of azaleas in the shape of a butterfly’s wings. It was too large for me to get a picture of in my camera phone, but it was cute.

After strolling a bit, I made my way to the East Garden near the house. It is also a formal garden that is formed off the porch here.

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These tulips were planted in banks along the edge of the front lawn.

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I also walked through the informal woodland white garden of azaleas, snowdrops, camellias and other white-flowering spring plants. The informal gardens were just as nice as the formal ones, but they don’t lend themselves to pictures with my camera phone as easily.

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I also came across some pieces of petrified wood in the border.

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It was a old-fashioned Southern garden, and I liked it very much. It felt homey, although this could be the result of the notable lack of palm trees. Most of the small azaleas were in full-bloom, but the larger ones probably have another week before they are fully out.

After I left, I realized that the tree planted near the sidewalk in the parking lot was one I didn’t know. I looked it up when I came home, and it is the Texas Mountain Laurel, also known as the Mescal Bean. It is native to central Texas and smelled lovely.

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This adventure took far less time and walking than last week’s, which is nice because I had the rest of the day!

I have finally gone through and changed the formatting of my life list page. It was a mess! Now it is a little bit better.

My life list is a list of all the birds I have seen since about February 2005. One of my adventures is to reach 1,000 species on my life list. There are 957 species of birds that have been found in North America. I am almost to 100 on my list.

Eastern Texas is a great place to be birding, though, and spring is a great time to be here! Many places nearby are resting areas for migratory birds, and there are a number of National Wildlife Refuges and other nature areas that are great places to see birds. Plus, I’m in a new area of the country now, so even the more common birds here are new to me.

Unfortunately, I’m so out of practice that I will take some time to get up to speed. I have barely taken my binoculars out of their case since last May, and it takes some practice to wait and see on the birds. I’ll be updating my life list as I go, and I’ll give you a heads up if I see anything particularly interesting!

Houston Adventure, No. 1.

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Also known as the day I walked all over creation.

My adventure did not start out with this intent. Instead, I was only going to go down to the Museum of Fine Arts and wander about, because Thursday is free admission. I hopped the train at the station a block away, and moseyed on down to the Museum District.

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Once I arrived at the Museum District stop, the MFAH is only a block away. So is St. Paul’s, where I went last Sunday.

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I didn’t take any pictures inside, because I wasn’t sure where I could and where I couldn’t. I didn’t see the entire museum because it is huge, for one thing, and I was just wandering around today. They currently have some exhibits about John Singer Sargent, one on his marine paintings and one that highlights the portraits he is known for. According to the wall in the portraits exhibit, Houston has the third largest collection of Sargent’s work in the country.

The museum has a large and varied collection of art and antiquities from around the world, but I really only visited the European and American sections today. Mostly, I strolled through, only looking closely at things that were new and very interesting. The American section had a collection of Remington paintings and a sculpture, which is less common in museums back east. One new picture to me that I liked was in the European collection, The Corn Poppy. I also enjoyed the room that focused on pointillist paintings, with The Harvesters by Charles Angrand and Sunset on the Lagoon, Venice by Henri-Edmond Cross being my favorites. You can click on the links in the paragraph above and see the paintings I mention.

The museum also has a collection of art from the Middle Ages, which I enjoy. I think I’ve talked about my fondness for St. Jerome and the lion art before. I did see a St. Jerome painting today by a Follower of Joachim Patinir, c. 1480-1524. The lion in this painting approaches actual leonid characteristics, and is recognizable as a lion and not a gremlin. In the future, I will also keep my eyes open for St. Anthony and the centaur art. Another great Middle Ages painting in this collection was of Saint Clare rescuing a child mauled by a wolf. Excellent Middle Ages art.

Anywho, after I had explored all that I wanted to of the museum, I decided to wander around and take some pictures. And here is where my trek began!

It all started innocently enough. I took some pictures of live oaks and the Main Street roundabout fountains.

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(There are three fountains in the middle of the roundabout. My camera wasn’t able to get all of them from where I could stand, but there is another small fountain like the one on the right to the left of the large fountain.)

Then, I realized that I was very close to Hermann Park and I could take some pictures of the new sculptures that have sprung up and of the park itself.

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That’s Sam Houston on the horse, and in the foreground you can see one of the statues that have appeared in the park recently. It is a series of eight sculptures by Bernar Venet, and you can listen to an interview with the artist by dialing a number found on the plaques near the sculptures.

Besides the one above, here are the ones I walked by today:

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Hermann Park is a nice, large park. The zoo is here, which we visited in November. If you start at the Sam Houston statute, you can walk down the promenades on either side of the reflecting pool.

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You’ll see this obelisk and its fountains, and behind it is McGregor Lake, with its large jet fountain. obel.JPG

I got a drink at the cafe near here and then wandered around the lake, past the zoo entrance, toward the playground. There are ducks and waterbirds out on the lake, and in several places there are bubbling spots, which I’m not sure are fountains or just aerators. But they are interesting.

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After walking back up towards Sam Houston, I visited the Japanese Garden. It is a nice, peaceful spot, and there are plenty of benches around to rest. Or at least I would have rested, if a squirrel had not decided to try to make me feed it. It was an Eastern Fox Squirrel, and it was not shy–it hopped right up on the bench with me and probably would have crawled in my purse if I hadn’t kept standing up and shooing it away. I’m not afraid of squirrels, but I don’t want one crawling on me either. I plan to go back to the Japanese Gardens soon, because things might bloom out a bit more.

Finally, I was ready to come back home, so I scrunched onto the train with the beginning of the rush hour traffic and moseyed back home. It was a nice afternoon, but next time I will wear better shoes. I told you I would have some pictures!!

Things I miss

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This is only about the things I miss, and not about the people I miss. If I wrote about the people I miss from NC, it would take forever and make me too sad!

There are things you take for granted when you live in a place long enough. Then, when you move away, you realize how much you really enjoyed those things and will miss them. I still miss things from Ellerslie–the easy access to being outdoors, how you can step outside and take a walk or ride your bike or birdwatch or spend time with animals. Or Athens–how nice it is to stroll North Campus, Barberitos, the quick trip to the mountains, the way the community tends towards the Usual Suspects, as I called them.

So far, what I’m missing most are my public tv and radio stations and the abundance of local food options, specifically meat and dairy. Of course, I can get the radio shows that I miss online via podcasts, and I’ve been downloading them and listening to them while I exercise. (The Story is my favorite.) And I know I haven’t explored all my food-buying options yet, so that’s still a possibility. I miss the library in Cameron Village, because it is so nice.

Not that there aren’t great things I’m loving about Houston. Living so close to so much variety is great. The train is a big mark on the positive side. I got here just in time for spring migration, and nearly everything I read mentions how good the birding is here. The live oaks over the streets are absolutely perfect in every way.

I will be glad when I have a better grasp of the quirks in the streets. There aren’t that many, but they still throw me for a loop. I need to stop relying on the Garmin, and take a good look at a map before I go anywhere new, at least for now.

Oh, and a follow up for the butter pecan cookies. They are…a little crisp. And a little dark. I have an oven thermometer, it is IN the oven. However, that doesn’t do any good if you don’t look at it to see that the oven is off by about 25 degrees on the low side. Which might explain why it was taking so long for the tops to brown, while the bottoms got a little burnt since I kept adding yet another minute to the baking time. Better luck next time.

A better note would be that I made something new that we both liked yesterday–roasted cauliflower. Basically, I chopped up a head of cauliflower with a few cloves of garlic and tossed that with salt, pepper, and a little bit of olive oil and put it in a hot (375-400?) oven. For how long? Until it was done. Maybe 30 minutes. There are a lot of roasted cauliflower recipes on the internet, so you might want to google and find one that sounds best to you if you are going to try it. We were both surprised by how much we liked it.

Tomorrow I am planning on a real adventure, and maybe I will have some pictures. It has been a long time without pictures on my blog–that’s my favorite part of all!

Today is a gorgeous day! The sky is blue with big, fluffy clouds and the birds are out and about, chirping like mad. I have the blinds open, so I can watch the sparrows and blue jays in the tree outside. The cats and I are quite entertained by them.

In the spirit of my 10 Projects to do at home post, I am making butter pecan cookies today from my recipe stash. I have a few cookie recipes that only make a dozen cookies, which is pretty nice, since I hate making individual cookies and do not need dozens of homemade cookies in the house.

I am still unpacking a few things, and organizing a little. But I’ve moved from packing mode to everyday-at-home mode. I could get used to this!

Multimodal!

Today I visited the UMC down the road, St. Paul’s, which was nice. People weren’t unfriendly, and there was a range of ages. I’ll probably go back and check it out more. While I drove today, I am going to experiment on the most pleasant way to get there, since I could walk, ride my bike, or the train. Parking wasn’t too bad, but I can imagine that on busy days it might be an issue.

One thing that has surprised me here is the number of cyclists I see everyday. While there is a greenway trail along the bayou, many people ride on the road also. I have seen several groups of cyclists riding in the evenings, but other people just seem to be riding for fun or to run errands. When I think of Houston, I think of a very car-centric city. I don’t know where I got that idea from because we could actually be car-free here easier than perhaps any other place we’ve lived except Athens (free bus rides with a student ID are hard to beat). There are definitely more options here via transit than in Athens.

It looks like we will have things mostly set up here, so along with my chores and settling in, I can start exploring a bit next week! I’ll put pictures up when I can.

10 Projects At Home

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These are for when the house is unpacked and not before! But I want to have something to look forward to.

  1. 1. Make a worm box. 2. Set up my container garden again, hopefully to include a dwarf citrus tree. 3. Have an open house for our friends who helped us move, to prove that everything fit! 4. Try every recipe in my clippings stack. 5. Finish my mini-quilt. 6. Use the book I bought a while back to make a skirt. 7. Organize the hurricane evac kit. 8. Organize the pantry. 9. Find a rec bike group to ride with. 10. Make some freezer cookies.

I’ve updated my links page. I haven’t done any maintenance on my blog in a long while, so I will try to work on that a bit. I pruned my links so that any inactive blogs (dead links or no posts in the past 6 months) have been taken down, and there are a few people I’ve stopped following. I also took down my Raleigh links.

The ones who remain are the blogs of friends or family, as well as a few people I find inspiring. My links are to organizations and places that inspire me, and I hope I will be adding to that. Check back in the next few weeks, since I will probably be adding Houston and Texas links as I find them.

Lone Star Edition!

Well, Reed and I have made it to Texas and are in the midst of unpacking. Who knew we could cram so much into a two bedroom apartment? I am optimistic that we will be done with unpacking by Monday, though. I think we may have one extra bookshelf.

Although we de-cluttered and purged many things prior to our move, we now realize that we were not ruthless enough. So we are going to keep working on that, especially with respect to books. Books are so hard to let go, even though most of them are the easiest thing to replace or borrow.

So far, I’m enjoying being out here. The weather is nice, although we’ve had to turn the a/c on a few times because our apartment is so sunny in the morning. It is much breezier than I am used to. I’m getting my bearings, with little thanks to the [Enable javascript to see this email address.] which tries to make me drive through buildings and make turns onto roads that don’t exist. At least the streets here are laid out pretty much in grids, so it is easy to navigate.

Next week, I will start working on the everyday things that you do when you move–driver’s license, library card, voter registration, etc. I can also start adventuring a bit. When I moved to Raleigh, I tried to think of a dozen things that you could probably find anywhere you moved to that would help you explore a new place. Three things I would like to do that I haven’t already done in Houston: see the bats, go to the rodeo, go to an art museum. Maybe I’ll have some time to work on adventures, too.

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