Thursday, 22 June 2017

Third generation Texans

My parents have arrived!  Which means that, for a short while, chocolate Hobnobs exist in eastern Texas.  My Mum and Dad decided that the heat in Britain had got a bit much so needed to get away for some respite and time with the grandchild.

Texas is, in many ways, a lot like Somerset.  We have cows here too!  And there's a suspicion from the rest of the country that we're not quite as bright as them, due to speaking more slowly and with a funny accent.  Yep, my parents will fit in fine.  Now let me turn on the air conditioning and make a cup of tea.

Grandpa on holiday (and most other days).

Mum arrived with these.  What, you don't know about the insanity sweeping the UK?  Many thanks to Janet and Mandy for being willing enablers in Mum's quest...but we still need 009, 021, etc.

The Petes enjoy watching some of the America's Cup from Bermuda.  If Britain and Sir Ben Ainslie had got into the final Dad promised me a trip out to watch.  Sadly we didn't (again).

Mum's here, better open the rosé.

Saturday, 10 June 2017


When you move around a lot you have to stay flexible, and nowhere is this truer than in the sporting arena.  In Berkeley we attended many tailgates for the Golden Bears.  Moving to San Francisco we became avid Giants watchers and celebrated with the millions when they won the World Series, and even attended an Oakland A's game or two.  Up in Vancouver you couldn't find more dedicated followers of the Canucks, and in DC the Nationals enjoyed our full support.

So now we're in Houston, and Hannah in her Chevron way managed to pick up free tickets to the baseball.  The team here are the Astros (going back to that Houston-first-word-from-the-moon thing) and they play in Minute Maid Park.  Pete seems to be very into baseball at the moment - I'm hoping it's a gateway sport for cricket - so a Saturday afternoon game was perfect.

It's hard to be a fan when you lack any outward signs of your dedication but a quick trip to our local T.K.Maxx remedied that for bargain-basement prices.  "The family that Astros together stays together," commented a lady we passed on our way to the stadium.  We felt good.

Given it's always too hot to play sport around here, the Park is completely enclosed and fully air conditioned.  They pay for their extortionate energy bill by charging even more for beer than other baseball venues; when you're in the free seats you don't mind splashing out a little.

The Astros are the winningest team in the league this year, and duly crushed the visiting Angels of Anaheim 3-1.  We left before the end because we may be superfans but we didn't want to have to queue for the bus home.  On the way we stopped to try our local Mexican restaurant where we discovered they serve avocado stuffed with cheese and barbecued meat...which is then breaded and deep fried.  It's called "el canonball".  Will wonders never cease?

We will now be wearing our Astros gear proudly around Houston and cheering for all local teams and, indeed, Team USA, until we move to the next city when we will flexibly shift our lifelong allegiance to them.  Unless we move to Australia, because when it comes to real sport there's only one team that should ever win The Ashes.

Look!  Look!  We're dressed like you!  We are friends!

On the ball.

Go out to the game, stay inside!

Fully representative.

Let's go Astros!

Dinner on the way home.  It was a lot more appetizing than I managed to photograph, honest!

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Under the bonnet

In this country you usually have to get out into the empty spaces to find the really odd stuff, like the pyramid at the center of the world, or the Miracle of America Museum, but thankfully Houston has its own share of weird and wonderful well within the city limits.  Is this because we're in Texas?  I couldn't possibly comment.

Every year there's a grand procession of automobiles through the centre of town: The Houston Art Car Parade!  It's an opportunity for people to do anything they can think of with/to/for cars then drive them around, and it's not even sponsored by Chevron.  Sadly we have to wait until April 2018 for the next one, but a tiny Art Car Museum exists to keep the motor running in between.

"Car" might be a loose way to describe what was in here.  I mean, there was one made of spoons.  There were also more traditional, hand-painted and hand-welded examples, with bat wings and monster heads, and a video about someone's wrought iron VW Beetle.

I've been amazed by what Houston drivers consider to be legal manoeuvers when out on the roads but even the most Texan traffic cop might raise an eye (or maybe just a gun) if one of these drove by.  Best stick with the Ford Fiesta for now.

Pete decides to check under the bonnet of "Spoonozoid".

Reflecting on it all.

Look out behind you.

Still a bit fancy for my liking.  I think I'm happy with our coat of "Magnetic Grey".

Saturday, 3 June 2017


At this fractious time on our planet it's good to remember what binds us together as a species, and that is meat wrapped in dough.  From the Cornish pasty to the Chilean empanada, the Chinese xioa long bao to the New Zealand meat pie, we humans love nothing better than pastry or bread wrapped around parts of an animal.

So it was with joy and a healthy international spirit that we embraced Houston's own bread-and-meat combo: the kolache.  Of course, like virtually everything in America, this is an import, all the way from the Czech bit of Eastern Europe and now available throughout the south, although fittingly it is only in Texas that meat is the main filling.

It was hard to choose where to buy our first kolache.  The Kolache Factory?  Olde Towne Kolaches?  Mornings Kolaches?  All only open until noon - the kolache is a morning ritual.  We settled on the Kolache Shoppe, despite the dubious (and fake British) way of spelling.

I can report that the merchandise was every bit as yummy as every other worldwide version of this treat, innards dripping with scrambled egg and bacon, sausage, cream name it.  We ate a lot, and celebrated our proficiency in finding carnivorous bakery goodies anywhere on the planet.  What the world needs now is love, sweet love, and kolaches.

Give me the kolaches!

Round one: meat.


And for desert?  Kolaches!

Thursday, 18 May 2017

First Brits on the Moon

It was time to take a break from unpacking and have a look at what Houston has to offer.  I'd also managed to slice the top off my finger while trying to remove some staples with a kitchen knife.  "I ain't got time to bleed," I declared, and then decided to take a break to recover from my severe man-injury.

But what to do?  "Hmm...what was the first word spoken from the Moon?" I thought.  And then I remembered!  It was "Houston"! (Although probably not).  My mind was made up: let's go to NASA.

NASA is big around here, with the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center being the 1,600 acre hub of all the US manned space flight that has gone on for half a century.  The land was kindly donated by an oil company (of course) and today you can visit it and take a tram ride around, waving at real scientists and engineers, who presumably love tourists rolling by their windows while they're trying to do...whatever it is scientists do.

There's a fantastic visitors' centre, with all the interactive treats that Pete could imagine, and out the front sits a space shuttle on the back of a jumbo jet!  The tram tour takes you across the massive campus to the very room where they commanded all the space missions and heard the word "Houston", from the Moon and famously followed by "we have a problem".  The modern command room for the International Space Station is downstairs so this one has been restored to its former 1960s glory, and visitors sit in the actual seats the dignitaries sat in all those years ago (although thankfully with less cigarette smoke).

Unfortunately, as with our visit to the Kennedy Space Center, there are several mentions of the lack of an active manned space program; all the shuttles are now only tourist attractions.  Surely breaching the final frontier is the noblest, most evolutionary, most imaginatively successful thing we could do, soaring from our planet and guaranteeing the continuation of our species!  But no, it seems this country (and most others) would rather increase spending on ways to kill people.  Oh well, so much for my 50th anniversary trip to Mars.

Thankfully Pete and the myriad other children there were utterly entranced by all the ideas, and though like every parent I sometimes wish I could shoot him into space, this time I meant it in a loving, human progress kind of way.  I guess I'll settle for a postcard from Mars when I'm in my nursing home.

Anyone want to help me steal a space shuttle and see if we can get it flying again?

A faked Moon landing.

Touching some Moon rock.

Ready to fly.

My main wish to be an astronaut stems from all the buttons I could press!  Woo!

Sadly, Daddy failed.

A little short to be a space man.

In training.

One step from greatness.

Welcome to the futuristic 60s.

You need a big rocket to get into orbit.  If scientists could hurry up inventing teleporters, things would be more efficient.

The pizza slices in the cafe were of galactic proportions too.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Down in the big country

I woke up and I was in Texas.  I knew it was Texas because when I lifted the top of the hotel waffle machine my waffle was in the shape of Texas.  I told the hotel clerk we were moving here from Maryland.  "Maryland?" she asked.  "Where's that?  Is it in Texas?"

Fortunately our delivery driver knew the way and arrived outside our house in an 18-wheeled juggernaut.  Having done this moving thing a few times I have to say that this was the best yet - no breakages, fewer scratches and dents than usual, and only a teapot lid and some reusable shopping bags missing.

The movers unpacked as well, although this just means that things get taken out of boxes and piled up rather than being left in said boxes.  It's a race against time putting things away so as not to suffocate under your own junk; a karmic experiment in materialism.

Hannah, who doesn't like tidying and isn't stupid, starts work tomorrow, and me and Pete...well, we're gonna start hard on becoming Texans!  Y'all.

A waffle the size of Texas.

Are you sure you brought a big enough truck?

After seeing all our stuff we're going for the minimalist approach from now on.

Phew - they remembered to deliver the child.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Paradise regained

We finished off our beach holiday and drove back to DC, on our way to Houston.  Not the most direct route but there was some complication with getting our car picked up here so we could then fly down.  It all uses oil, so Hannah's happy.  

Far more importantly, our circuitous route allowed us to go to Claire's first communion!  As we'd been at her birth in Berkeley (almost) and her christening in Texas it seemed only right, as good brother and sister Anglicans, to make sure her Roman Catholic progress continues.

This was my first first communion, and it might have been because it was American but it was large!  In numbers and also in outfits - dozens of eight- and nine-year-old princesses in snow white dresses, most with tiaras and veils, some with gloves, at least one with an ermine shawl.  Only the priests were dressed more fancily!  The poor boys looked smart in their mini suits but couldn't compete.

Claire, of course, outshone them all, opting for a simple laced dress with floral detailing that would have made Audrey Hepburn proud.  She was focusing on spiritual matters; her namesake St Claire of Assisi would approve (patron saint of eye disease and laundry, among other things).

Afterwards there was a lot of cake and then present opening back at the Mucker house.  Claire got some wonderful jewelry and a version of the Bible in comic form (who could have given her that fantastic gift?)  Now we're looking forward to the next life event of Claire's we'll attend.  Confirmation?  Graduation?  Inauguration?

Getting ready for the big occasion.

 A vision of heaven.

A vision of hell...?

A flock (?) of first communicants.

Claire, standing out from the crowd, as ever.


Processing in.

After party.

VIP guests got to the buffet first.

Lining up in ascending height/holiness.

Many blessings!

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

See you later

After the madness of moving house, all this relaxing-on-holiday stuff has left me feeling a little unstressed.  With nothing exciting to do like dusting or cleaning my heart rate hasn't been elevated in days!  It was time to put that right.  It was time to go alligator hunting.

Of course, you don't hunt the alligator, the alligator hunts you, especially when you choose to go with a kayaking company called Gator Bait Adventure Tours.  We rolled up to their jetty in Waccamaw River Wildlife Refuge with high hopes of some reptilian action.

The area is certainly swampy, with all the houses built on stilts and the sound of banjo music drifting softly through the air.  The safety talk was, however, slightly underwhelming, as we were repeatedly told not to scare the alligators.  It seems South Carolina gators are not as forward as their Florida kin, and they'll scarper even if you just bang the side of your kayak.  Given I was sharing mine with Pete, the most fidgety four-year-old in the world, chances of a close encounter were not good.

But the waterways were calm, the sky clear and sunny, and messing about in boats is always a superb holiday activity so off we went.  If judged as a safari, things were...underwhelming.  We saw three turtles, two storks and a squirrel, but the excellent guides kindly emailed me a picture of an alligator that I could copy below and pretend that we saw.  I guess I'd better get back to cleaning and dusting for my excitement, although my sister did send me an article about some large fish they've just spotted off the coast here...

The bait.

The beautiful Waccamaw (which means "happy") river.

Happy on the happy river.

A turtle.  Look closely.

Off into the narrow channels of the swamp!

Lots of teeth, no gators.

The one we didn't see.

Shhh, Pete!  Stop scaring the locals!

We didn't see this either - a brown water snake,

The scariest moment: letting Pete paddle.

Back to some livelier lakes at the hotel.

The majestic sight of a Hannah effortlessly entering the water.

Babies stay with their mothers until they mature (at least 30).

On holiday we like to do crazy exciting things.  And by crazy exciting things I mean read books.