Sunday, July 26, 2009

Houston July 2009

We drove to Houston on a sunny hot July day. I’ve been to Houston twice before and each time had a great time with my Houston friends. This time I have Lee with me. He has only heard the usual negativities about Houston – giant spread-out city, terrible traffic, glass skyscrapers downtown, big money, impersonal. He doesn’t believe me when I tell him that Houston is a cool place, with beautiful old neighborhoods and great restaurants. Yes, he saw Terms of Endearment, but that Houston is long gone. Right?

As we drove into Mel and Stan’s quiet neighborhood I was ready to prove to Lee that the standard impression of Houston is very wrong. Yes it’s a huge city and very spread-out, but Houston has a lot of character.

Mel welcomed us into her home and her three sweet golden retrievers greeted us politely. For three young rescue dogs they were extremely well-behaved! Our first excursion was to try Houstonian Dim Sum. Houston has a very large Asian population and we were not disappointed. The place we went (Ocean Palace) was authentic and delicious! Our friend Vickie met us there and tried dim sum for the first time. I THINK she enjoyed it…but she was at least polite about it! I was very happy trying all the standard dim sum specialties, from chicken feet to pork buns to egg tarts.

After lunch Vickie went off in search of door knobs for her house (still recovering from damage due to hurricane Ike) and we returned to Mel’s house, where we spent the afternoon visiting with Mel, her children Brett and Lindsay, and our friend Mary. Lee endured the girl-talk very well I think!

That evening it was time for Tex-Mex. We went to a place called Sylvia’s where the margaritas were really great, as was the food.

Vickie met us there as well. Vickie is on the opposite side of the political spectrum from me, but she’s a lot of fun to talk to and I admire her immensely. She does all kinds of things for other people without thinking about herself at all. She works, restores her house, takes care of others and is just pretty amazing. And we can discuss our differences in a cordial manner, without getting all upset. She’s a lot of fun and I’m glad she, Mary and Mel are my friends.

In the morning I got up, had some coffee and a banana and headed out the door for a run. I had directions to the nearby bayou from Mel and managed to find it easily without getting lost. Mel and Stan live in a beautiful neighborhood. It DOES look a little bit like Terms of Endearment, even though it’s nowhere near Rice! Running along the bayou was fun. It’s like a long skinny park. I didn’t see any alligators, but I did see lots of friendly Houstonians along the way, jogging, walking, and biking. People said good morning, made friendly comments, nodded in greeting. Texans are just friendly, there’s no two ways about it!

At around noon we headed south to Galveston. Now for me this was really a treat. I’ve never been there and I had all sorts of fantasies about what it was like. Now I have a reality too! Reality turned out to be a charming old town that is busily being restored after Ike. We ate lunch at Rick and Pacos and then headed to the Strand where we window-shopped and admired the old buildings. The Strand was completely under water from Ike so the extent of the restoration is really impressive. Many businesses are open and the others are hard at work getting ready to reopen.

We got back in the car and headed for the beach. I’ve never been to the Texas shoreline. This is actually something I want to do, maybe later this fall if we’re still here. I’d like to rent a condo with some friends and hang out on the water. All we did in Galveston is drive along the shore, but I really thought it was pretty. Because of the closeness to the Mississippi river delta and other rivers that empty into the Gulf the water is kind of brown and muddy, but the sand is pretty. There was still a lot of damage along the ocean, but there was also a lot of new development. I just LOVED the retro-old/new beach houses. They were new, but built to look as if they were one hundred years old. I just loved those houses!

It was getting late and it was time to head to Vickie and Mike’s house in LaPorte, Texas. Their neighborhood, Shoreacres, was badly damaged by Ike. Many of the houses in their neighborhood were destroyed and have been leveled, waiting for their owners or someone else to rebuild. Some houses (like theirs) are being restored, and for some the access to the money and time to rebuild is lacking, so the houses still stand, boarded up and abandoned, waiting for someone with the time and inclination to restore them.

Shoreacres is just a little slice of heaven. A tiny neighborhood almost completely surrounded by water, I can just imagine what it must have been like to be a kid growing up there, with the beach just a block away. Vickie and Mike drove us around their neighborhood and in some ways it was really sad to see all the damage. But I’m sure their neighborhood will come back and prosper. It’s just such an amazing little place…

It was time to head to what for me was the culmination of a perfect mini-vacation. We drove to Minute Maid Stadium to watch the Astros play the Cardinals. Minute Maid is a beautiful indoor stadium. Unlike the Twin’s stadium in Minneapolis, Minute Maid is light and colorful, and has a roof that can be retracted when the weather is good. Vickie and Mike have “connections” and were able to get us tickets on the club level, right behind home plate. I’ve NEVER sat in seats like that for a game before! It was just amazing. We could see the pitchers pitch…

the first basemen guard the runners,

Tony LaRusso in a bit of a spat with an umpire. And we could watch Pujols bat too!

For most of the game the Cardinals were easily in the lead and I’m afraid I became a bit complacent. “Ah, it’s my birthday – they’re going to win!” But I forgot, it’s me, it’s a team I root for, and the baseball gods don’t like complacency. In the 8th inning Houston scored and tied it up, and in the 9th inning they won. I’ll admit that when the game turned I lost my composure for a minute or two. I’m not sure that anyone else knew, but Lee certainly did, since he tried to give me a consolation kiss and I practically slugged him! But my chagrin was temporary…I even felt happy for the Houston fans…sort of.

The next day we bade goodbye to Mel and Stan, thanked them for their generosity in opening their home to us and headed back to Austin. I still really like Houston and intend to return. I still need to go back to Ousie’s and have some Tres Leche cake!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Road Trip!

Our garage was full to the brim when we first moved back into the house in Austin. Everywhere were items for the attic, items to get rid of, items to give to family. There was no room for cars; there was no room for anything! Slowly we made progress. Stuff was sorted. Some of it went in the attic, some of it was sold on Craigslist, some of it was given to charity. We could get our cars in the garage, but barely. There was still hardly room to move. The remaining items were family heirlooms or things that Sarah could use in her new house, or things that Joanne or my mother could use. All we had to do was get everything up to Missouri and Minnesota. Hey, no problem!

We decided to rent a 16 foot Budget truck.  We really only needed a 10 foot, but apparently the 10 foot trucks are very popular and there weren’t any available. The truck was very basic, no frills at all. It had a radio and air conditioning, but not much else. When we put everything in the truck it was only 1/3 full. As we left Austin the truck contained a walnut dresser, a weed-wacker, a coffee table for Daniel to use one day, tables and a coffee table for Sarah’s living room, an oak wash stand for Joanne, and an old bookcase for Joanne to use in her garage.

The first day we drove to Durant, Oklahome on the border between OK and TX. We stopped at the IKEA in Round Rock to pick up a kitchen table for my mom. We thought that because we knew exactly what we wanted we could take the shortcuts through IKEA and save a lot of time. This MIGHT have been a great idea, but we got so lost trying to do this that it probably took us twice as long. IKEA has rules that are not to be broken.

Finally we continued on our journey. Its not a lot of fun driving a huge truck. I’m very careful, especially when turning corners or changing lanes. We have to trade off driving every hour or so because its very tiring. How do those truckers do it?

The second day we drive the rest of the way to Columbia, just in time for the 4th of July in Missouri. I’m not sure which one I enjoyed more – the fireworks at Mark and Mary’s or the fireflies dancing across their lawn. Or, maybe the fact that it was so cool we actually needed sweaters. Heavenly.

We spent enough time in Columbia this time that I had a chance to see a few old friends – had lunch with Lee and coffee with Lisa. It had been quite a while in both cases but we had a good time catching up on each other’s lives.

Then it was on to St. Louis, and after a few days, Minneapolis. St. Louis to Minneapolis was a long (8-9 hour) day of driving. We had decided that even though it was late and Sarah had to work we would go ahead and use the truck to move her into her new house. We arrived at Sarah’s apartment around 6 pm and started to carry down what we could. Not long after us Erik and Eddie arrived and between the four of us we managed to stuff our truck with almost every single possession she owned. Finally we were actually glad we had a 16 foot truck! Sarah showed up and we drove to her new house.

We knew that her street was on the edge of the ‘hood. Two blocks before we arrived on her street things changed dramatically. Her street has well-kept houses and her neighbors are great. Her house is small, stucco, with a pitched roof and a red door.

As the light started to fade we quickly unloaded the truck and toured her house. Finally we said goodbye and staggered off to our hotel.

The next day (Friday) we returned the truck. We were happy to be rid of that monstrous vehicle. We met Sarah and got a tour of her new workplace (Olson). Nicole met us at Joe’s Garage for lunch. Sadly, my aging brain has no idea what we did that afternoon…

But I DO remember the next day! Our first stop was Home Depot where Sarah’s major purchase was a lawn mower. Lee thought she should consider a push mower, but I called my mother to make sure Sarah didn’t take that option! She was the only person I knew that really had experience using a push mower. Sarah ended up with an electric mower. Lee mowed the yard the first time. I wonder who will mow it next?

Our next stop was IKEA. This time we took no chances and slogged determinedly through the entire store. Sarah had a long list to fulfill here - bookcases,yard furniture, rugs…lunchtime came and went. We were getting very hungry, but IKEA would not be denied! Finally it was time to head to Matt’s Bar and our first taste of a Juicy Lucy hamburgers.

Maybe it was due to the fact that we were starving to death, but those hamburgers tasted heavenly. They’re basically a burger stuffed with cheddar cheese, with some excellent french fries on the side. Satisified, we were ready to tackle the next project.

On Sunday we went to Target for some final purchases, and the grocery store to get supplies for the barbeque we had planned. This was a both a way to thank people that had helped Sarah with her house and let family and friends see it for the first time.

The next morning we flew back to Austin and took a deep breath. It had been a tiring but really fun trip. I’m very proud of my daughter, and happy for her too. We only had a week to catch our breath and then it was off to Houston!

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Dead PC and a Happy Ending in Computerland

Before we left on our road trip to Missouri and Minnesota I made one of my weekly backups of my pc. Ever since my pc was stolen several years ago I have been religious about creating backups. I use the Windows File and Settings Transfer Wizard, so that if my pc dies I can easily use the backup to transfer everything to my new computer. Or so I thought.

Part of the way into our trip I wrote a blog post, but didn’t actually post it, since I wanted to use some pictures I had taken during the trip. I figured I would post it as soon as we got back.

The day after we returned my pc died. The video driver had been failing for some time, but I could always get it to boot up after a failure. I figured that I would live with the inconvienience until it was completely dead. I didn’t want to spend the money on a new pc before I absolutely had to.

But now it had really bit the dust. It wouldn’t boot and Sony couldn’t help me. There were both good and bad things about the timing. Since my last backup had been before the trip I would lose everything I had done since then. That meant that one blog post was gone, plus a couple of other miscellanious items that were only important to my compulsiveness (I lost some entries in the running log, ha). Almost everything was SOMEWHERE though, and with a little effort could be restored. Most of the running entries were still in my GPS watch. The pictures that weren’t already backed up were still on my camera. All I had really lost was that blog entry.

The next step was to figure out what kind of pc to buy. Daniel adores his Lenovo, so I thought, why not? They had a little one (3.5 pounds) with a long-lasting battery and lots of storage and power for less than a $1000 so I ordered it online and proceeded to wait patiently the 5 business days that it would take for it to ship.

After a pc-less weekend (I can read my email on my phone, but its NOT the same!) I woke Monday morning to a message from Lenovo – my order had been cancelled due to “fraud” on my credit card! I called Lenovo, but couldn’t get them to resubmit the order until the fraud flag was removed. I called Citicard and they said there was no record of any fraud AND no record of a charge to Lenovo either! Hmmm. I called Lenovo back and told them basically to stuff it. But I still needed a new computer – asap. What to do?

This is where this story gets JUST a little twisted. I have been drawn to Macs for years. I like Sarah’s; I like our Mac mini that we use with the TV. Why not get a Mac? I took myself down to the Apple Store and met with one of their sales guys. First disapointment was that they don’t really have standard power and storage-capable Macs that are lightweight. Oh well; the basic Macbook would meet my needs, and cost just about the same as the Lenovo pc. However, I had to spring for the Mac version of Office. No biggie. The other problem was that my file and transfer settings backup wouldn’t work if my new computer was a Mac. But I called a couple of computer professionals and found someone that thought he could get the data off of my hard-drive for me.

I brought the Mac home and booted it up. You know…its one thing to use someone’s Mac on a vacation to read your email, its very different to start using it as your main computer, trying to figure out how to reinstall all your software, etc. I was proceeding slowly, but I was proceeding. Then Lee came home. And tried to get on the internet. And tried to print something. My Mac had knocked everything else off of our wireless router.

Long story short…a Linksys wireless router has problems coordinating between pcs and Macs. We could probably have solved the problem by getting another type of router (apparently Netgear routers don’t have this problem). But instead I decided to admit defeat and returned the Mac.

Now what? I was definitely ready to own a computer again. It was getting late, but we decided to go to Best Buy and hopefully end this saga. Which we did. What did I buy? No surprise really – another Sony Vaio. This one is white and really sleek and nice-looking. Lots of hard-drive, memory and speed – your standard pc has become ridiculously powerful. No, its not lightweight and the battery isn’t long-life, alas. But it is quiet, and doesn’t heat up like my old Vaio did.
The biggest drawback is that the operating system is the 64-bit version of Vista. This means that almost none of the drivers for my devices worked. My phone now only syncs to my computer via Bluetooth (which is actually very slick). Garmin (my watch) found the correct driver for me, as did the printer, and itunes. The camera editing software doesn’t seem to care – we’ll see what happens when I plug in the camera and try to upload my pictures. I apparently I have a free upgrade to Windows 7 when it comes out in October.

As for my backup, well it worked, sort of. It was able to transfer my files, but the settings were lost going from XP to Vista. I’ll live.

Well, I owe this blog a bunch of posts – our road trip, Sarah’s house, Houston. This will all get accomplished eventually, I promise! I’m downloading the latest version of the photo editing software right now and will try to upload the pictures from my camera as soon as I can. I better get caught up before we leave for New York!


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