| Hiraeth (Welsh) |
(n.) a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.
(Above: Just a few of the many wonderful vacations traveled with my dad and family.)
Our first trip to England was in December 2015. Life at that moment was pretty perfect! We set off on our new adventure across the pond shopping for our new English home, evaluating neighborhoods, finding good eats, shops, and seeing Stonehenge when we were quickly called back to the States with the passing of my dad. At that moment, we went from having the world at our fingertips to instantly having the bottom dropped out from underneath us. My dad was my best friend, my mentor, my rock...to date losing my father was (and still is) the most horrific experience of my life.
December 2016 marks one year since I lost my dad and during this recent trip while visiting we were staying with my mom in my childhood home which holds so many cherished memories. Needless to say, there were a lot of emotions tied into this trip to Houston. Things weren't exactly the way we left them in Houston. The pulse of the city has somehow continued on without us. (Who would have thought?!?) That's a strange realization for an expat. When you leave your home, friends, and family behind to go on your adventure...we tend to think of our loved ones exactly how we left them. But that's just not the way life works, is it? We landed in Houston and were instantly caught up to date on recent marriages, babies born, first steps, birthdays, illness, Houston's oil and gas layoffs, new home purchases, family vacations and get togethers, weight loss and gains, and happy and sad moments that had all happened in the nine months since we have been gone. You can't help but feel a twinge of sadness to think that we weren't there for all those wonderful and difficult points in time. Of course we're just one app away (FaceTime, WhatsApp, Facebook, Snapchat, and Skype), but it's just not the same as being with the ones you love.
Living in England is honestly a dream come true!! We love it here. I'll even go as far to say that I love the ridiculous weather, but we do miss out on all the little stages of life that mean so much to our loved ones back home. Seems that this is the expat's greatest struggle.
"Time and tide wait for no man." -Geoffrey Chaucer
Going back to your birthplace, the city where you spent the last 32 years, and visiting as a tourist is a very surreal feeling. Visiting the place you lived for basically your entire life means that every one wants to show you an AMAZING time! (Even if they had ulterior motives, such as impressing us so we'd move back instantly...you know who you are. xoxo) We had a whirl wind trip full of laughter, tears, celebrations, and memories. We felt unbelievably special and loved!!!
Houston is a huge city; the fourth largest city in the United States boasting a population of around four million people. It's a city on the move! There was new construction everywhere we looked. New home developments, apartments, office buildings, shopping centers, highways, feeders (that's a frontage road for all my non-Houstonians). I've been told Houston is the second fastest growing city in the U.S. behind New York City. Good news for all my hometown friends.
(Photo courtesy of Visit Houston)
Since we are native Houstonians (which is surprisingly rare!) we got the opportunity to see our unique city from a sightseers perspective. Houston has so much to offer the vacationist. There are a thousand and one fun things to do, and we only hit the tip of the iceberg. If you are planning a trip in the near future and want to see everything Houston has to offer definitely check out Visit Houston.
(Luc and I excited to be back in our hometown. Please ignore our fancy motion sickness wrist bands. We love to travel, but sometimes travel doesn't always love us back.)
Karbach Brewing Company
The first item on our agenda was to see all of our friends and family and we found that Karbach Brewing was the perfect place to make that happen. Karbach has amazing beers brewed on site, a tasty food menu, offers brewery tours, and kids are welcome. Perfection!
(Above: Our buddy Zach and I shared a flight of beers. Karbach offers an entire list to choose from. Awesome!)
(Above: Chelsea (my fellow expat) and I in front of the fabulous draft selection...mouth watering yet?)
(Friends are good for the soul and these guys just get me!)
(Above: Where we go, the kids go! Karbach is so terrific for parents and kids...totally beats Chuck-E-Cheese any day.)
(Above: Just a few of our favorite people standing in front of a massive fermentation tank. For any brew fans...this is too cool!)
Time in the Country
We take family time seriously, so when two of my cousins called and said "GIRL'S WEEKEND!!!" you know I'd be all over it. Houston has a great big city feel, but when you need some fresh air, space, and some good conversation...you can have it in no time.
Memorial City Mall
This is more than just any mall, this place has train rides, video games for kids, an indoor play area, great shopping for those Christmas gifts we couldn't fit in the suitcase, Santa (during the Christmas season), and a Chick-Fil-A (damn I miss their spicy fried chicken and iced tea!!!!!). It was a nice afternoon out.
(Riding the train with the kiddos. We were all smiles!)
This is the perfect time of year to head to the zoo. Houston summers are brutally hot, so most of the animals usually hide in the shade to escape the sweltering sun, but in December the animals are out in full force. Winter in Houston is unpredictable. It could be snowing (rare, but it happens) or the perfect 70 degree day, well, we picked the perfect zoo day to see the lions, tigers, and bears...oh my!
(Above: Who knew that one elephant could stop four boys in their tracks and even be happy about getting their picture taken?!)
(Above: You see that cold stare? This lioness was looking at my youngest like he was the tastiest thing next to wild zebra. Thank goodness for the steel and thick glass.)
Christmas Village at Bayou Bend Collections and Gardens
This place brought the Christmas spirit to a bunch of people who can be a bit "bah hum bug" about family time. Bayou Bend was the home of Ima Hogg who was a prominent figure in the Houston social, art, and philanthropic scene in the 20th century. She's also known as "The First Lady of Texas". The home is now an extension of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and for the holidays was transformed into a live theatrical play encompassing the home's history and Christmas. This included a 3D outdoor movie, live actors, and an appearance from Santa. Outside there was a creperie and hot cocoa stand, a snowball zone (since this is southeast Texas, snowballs are large white cotton balls), acres of outdoor lights, and what I liked to call Club Christmas (Spiegeltent) where there was a live band jazzing up the Christmas classic tunes, a bar, dancing (which the kids LOVED), a huge Christmas tree surrounded by three rows electric toy trains and a little snow man spraying soap bubble snow. It was magical for the kids and grown ups!
Eureka Heights Brew Company
This place is a total hole in the wall but brings a fresh idea to the phrase "neighborhood bar". When we pulled up it essentially looked like a small warehouse with picnic tables, but we soon learned it was so much more. We were there in the evening, so the cool breeze was coming in through the huge industrial rolling door openings and we had a decent view of he neighborhood around us with the city lights dancing in the sky. There was a food truck parked outside where we grabbed fried catfish tacos which matched perfectly with the delicious beer, company, and giant Jenga. At one point, a power transformer in the neighborhood blew out and cut the power and lights for the evening, but that didn't stop Eureka or their patrons from continuing the fun. They offered every one a free round of beers and we turned on our flashlight apps and had a regular camp style party in a brewery. I seriously can't remember an evening where I laughed so hard. This place is a total gem with a very sweet staff!
(Above: Any one up for a giant game of Jenga?)
(Above: Cheers to good times!)
Texas is an insanely proud state! And why shouldn't it be? Texas has three of the top ten most populous cities in the nation (Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio). Texas is larger than many nations in the world, if it were it's own nation (which it used to be) it would be the 40th largest worldwide. Texas has had 6 flags in it's history, there are beaches, rivers, mountains, desserts, swamp, and forests. There are songs about it, drinks named after it, a wild west attitude with a flare of southern charm. People care about one another, they'll talk to you...heck, the state motto is "friendship". In Houston alone, there are over 145 languages spoken and people of every shape, size, color, and faith. These folks stick together...there is a spirit and attitude that you can just feel. Texans are loud, like to have a good time, and can win you over with a smile.
(Above: Remington the Texas Longhorn (the state mammal)...thanks for the picture and stories Suzanne Smith.)
There was a lot of hesitation and deep feelings about heading back to my hometown. After the loss of my dad, I realized I was using our English transfer as an escape. I wanted to run away from all the memories and feelings that Houston conjured and made me face. I honestly had no desire in going back, but the path I'm on has me learning that life is full of twists and turns, valleys and peaks, and no matter where I go, where I'll be, or how long I've been away...Texas is in my blood. The culture, people, and "get 'er done" attitude has shaped me and is part of my story.