Archive for July, 2014

House Hunting
July 21, 2014

herrin

A-hunting we will go, a-hunting we will go Heigh-ho, the derry-o, a-hunting we will go! ~ Thomas Arne “The Beggar’s Opera” 1777

It’s been a long time since I have had to look for a new place to live. Things went at a much slower pace back in the last century, and the methods of searching have changed a great deal.

For instance, when we last moved, if the internet existed back then, it was very rudimentary, and we didn’t have access to it. So to look for a place to live without the assistance of a real estate professional, we would have had to look in the local classified ads, the Greensheet, drive about looking for “For Rent” signs or depend on references from others.

During periods in which the real estate market was slow, one could spend quite a bit of time looking around, and then leisurely make an offer (usually for lower than the listed amount). If the landlord liked you, he or she would rent the place to you with few questions asked.

Now, even though the internet makes things “easier”, it’s a lot more complicated and difficult to find decent places to rent. Because if you live in Houston, TX, when you look online for available rentals, there are LOTS of other people looking at those same places. If you don’t move quickly, you lose out on prime properties. So you jump when you find the perfect place!

But that’s just the beginning. Application forms must be filled out and fees must be paid (by cashier’s check). The landlord will check your credit and quite possibly your criminal record. Likely there will be others who have also applied for your perfect place, and whomever the landlord likes best wins.

It’s not until you hear you’ve been accepted that you can finally breathe a sigh of relief! And then you must quickly send in your deposit to your new landlord (also via cashier’s check).

Shannon and I recently experienced a Houston house hunt, while searching for a new place for her and Kat (plus the giant grand-dog and the small grand-cat) to live. They had a budget and some criteria, mostly that the place be close to downtown, so commuting would be at a minimum. We opted to use a professional realtor, who is an old friend, and honestly, we could not have done it without her.

After looking at a variety of available spaces (freestanding houses, duplexes, condos, apartments) over the course of two days, we were getting a little discouraged, because it just seemed like nothing was quite right. Some would do, but others were totally unacceptable. One that we both like a lot had been snatched up before we even saw it in person.

herrin-bed[1]

However, at the end of the second day, we looked at a loft space, created in an old 1929 warehouse, very close to Kat’s office in an up and coming part of Houston (east side of downtown). It is small, but it has character, with all the charm of an old building, plus the benefit of new appliances and fixtures, brick walls, stained cement floors, tall ceilings and generous windows on two sides (it’s a corner unit that overlooks downtown; a great view!).

herrin12[1]

The building is directly across the street from the BBVA soccer stadium, home of the Dynamo and the Dash. One block north is the new metro rail line which they can jump on and enjoy all the benefits of the downtown night life without driving or worrying about parking. Kat can walk to work if he wants to, and Discovery Green is also within walking distance, for the benefit of my sweet, giant grand-dog.

Bike trails are nearby, and clubs and other interesting spots are popping up as the area becomes less of a warehouse wasteland and more of a community of people who enjoy urban living. I hope Shannon and Kat will fit right in with this community, and I know that I’ll enjoy experiencing it vicariously through them.

 

Note: Pewperson will return in September.

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Date Nights All Year Long
July 11, 2014

bistro-le-cep[1] There is nothing that makes me happier than sitting around the dinner table and talking until the candles are burned down. ~ Madeleine L’Engle

A few years back, we bought a $100 raffle ticket at a fund raiser. There were several prizes available, none of which we were really hoping to win. Honestly, we just bought the ticket for the cause.

But we won one! Our prize was the “Casual Dining Package” which was a collection of gift cards from various restaurants around Houston, from $20 at James Coney Island to $400 at Truluck’s, and even a dinner for 20 at Armando’s! And there were many, many more, all for $100.

So last Christmas, I had the idea to re-create it for one of Joel’s Christmas gifts. I picked 12 restaurants, thinking that we could have a once a month date night. My selections included old favorites, both casual and upscale, but mostly focused on our usual “go to” spots out on the west side.

brenners

Brenner’s

I bought $100 gift cards at the following restaurants: Russo’s, Los Tios, Brenner’s, Piatto’s, Union Kitchen, Jonathan’s The Rub, Damian’s, Danton’s, Kam’s, Bird and Bear, Lupe Tortilla and Bistro Le Cep. 

He loved it! We have both loved it. Just last weekend, we drove in to have a seafood feast at Danton’s. While we ended up having to detour around a local parade, we discovered some parts of town that have been so re-developed, we barely recognized them. Thank goodness we knew how to get around the parade gridlock!

Once we got there, we both had the seafood gumbo, then I had soft shell crab and red beans and rice. Joel opted for the crawfish platter, which he said was the best Gulf Coast seafood he’d had in a long time.

danton's

 

When we got the bill, it was for $105. Of course, he added a tip for the entire amount, but still, our total credit card charge was only $27. Not bad for a most excellent date night!

Alas, my vision of going out once a month has gone by the wayside, and here at midyear, we’ve only got two restaurants left to go. But there are other a number of others where we didn’t spend the entire $100, so we have balances yet to use. Guess we’ll have to go back and finish them off!

Note to self: do this again next year. Pick 12 different places. Maybe this Christmas, I’ll let Joel pick them. Yes. That’s what I’ll do… then it will be my turn the year following. And so on.

Thank you, Santa!

Sentimental Journeys
July 6, 2014

dingle

The cars we drive say a lot about us. ~ Alexandra Paul

So we bought a new car this week. It’s another Ford Explorer, our third over the span of 19 years. For the most part, we have had a great track record with Explorers. There’s good old Bert (19 years old), then Donnie Ray (12) and now along comes Dingle, who is a pristine silver, beautiful, sleek and fancy vehicle. Here’s to another great car!

I’m almost afraid of him, because of all the technological advances that new cars have; it’s been 12 years since we bought Donnie Ray, and he seems almost primitive compared to the new Dingle.

donnie ray

While DR’s front seats can be automatically adjusted, the rear ones do not, and to access the “way back” seats, one must manually lift them, and move the middle one aside to make way. The back lift gate needs to be opened and closed manually. With Dingle, you just push a button, and all the rear seats fold and unfold as desired, and of course the lift gate also magically rises and shuts at the touch of a button. Cool!

DR’s dashboard displays can be hard to read in bright light, and now seem so quaint compared to Dingle’s fancy computer generated displays, all of which are voice activated. ACK! I’ve got to do some practicing before I can drive this guy! It’s going to take me awhile to learn how everything works.

bert

Bert? Bert was Shannon’s first car, given to her when he was 7 years old. Previously, in addition to many a Texas road trip, we’d driven him up to Wyoming via S. Dakota, then down into Utah and Arizona for a National Parks tour. Then there were all the “learning to drive” moments that Bert provided, bless his automotive heart!

It makes me laugh to think that he still has a cassette player (and a CD player, which was pretty fancy back in 1996!). He’s also got a cigarette lighter and an ash tray, which you never see anymore. His displays are not digital at all. As a matter of fact, his odometer is the kind in which the mile numbers roll over, except that his stopped working at 138,500, about 8 years ago. Since then, he has gone to NY and back, CO and back, VA and back (several times), along with the everyday driving wherever he has been. I’ll bet he has gone at least 250,000 in his 19 years.

(Note: if you want to turn on Bert’s windshield washers, you must turn on the right turn signal to make them work)

So now we have Dingle! While it may seem kind of exciting to have a new car, it doesn’t hold the charm that it once did for me. There’s a certain nobility that a good old car has, and I still think they are the best. Once you get used to them, they are comfortable, maybe slightly worn and damaged, but who cares? You know how all the buttons work, and can adjust things without even looking.

I don’t know why I am so sentimental about our cars, but I just am. Yes, I know naming them gives them a personality which only exists in my mind. But gosh, what fond memories I have of these fine old cars. And they’re PAID FOR. Yes, I do still love them, dings, quirks and all.

As for Dingle, I’ll worry about every scratch and bump that are inevitable, every spill and stain that are bound to happen. Tucker will not be allowed to drool on the back seat, and there will be no bird doot allowed! Yeah, right.

So if I keep Dingle for 19 years, then I’ll be pushing 80. I can only imagine what cars will look like then. Something tells me I would be happier with a car that is less fancy…

Maybe I’ll just keep Bert around? He should qualify for antique status by then!