Yes, you read that right. I’m moving. Again. This is number 16. By mid-August I will no longer be a Texan but a Washingtonian, thus ending my 44-year sojourn in the Lone Star State. I apologize for the silence on this blog the past few months, but this particular life event has thrown my equilibrium into chaos. Multiple factors led to this decision, some family related, some personal, and one rather large piss-off at my current property management company.

Mostly, it is time to finally move closer to family before too much more time passes. That much I am looking forward to, but I admit to a feeling of almost panic at leaving a state that has become home to me. A feeling of throwing away that favorite sweater with all the holes in it—it’s ugly in so many ways, but it’s still so comfortable! Regardless of being a fish out of water here (especially politically), it is still “the Devil you know,” you know?

Location, location! Where to land? My siblings decided several years ago that they were sick of Seattle’s rain, so they ventured east of the Cascades, in a little high desert town called Moses Lake, which is only slightly bigger than Rockport, but it does, in fact, have a lake. The problem is, I’m assured by my niece that “there’s nothing there.” Then there is Wenatchee, 45 minutes away to the west and closer to the mountains, a much more lovely spot. But in the case of any real emergency, I’m not exactly Johnny on the spot for my family. Then there’s Spokane, a real city with a Pottery Barn 1.5 hours away to the east. I’d probably be happiest there overall because of, as one sister says, “who you are,” (and gorgeous Coeur D’Alene, Idaho just on the east side), but even further from my family. Alas, I think it has to be Moses Lake for the first year and we’ll reevaluate after that.

I found an apartment online without too much effort. Have you ever rented a place sight-unseen before? It’s pretty unnerving. I didn’t find out my apartment is on the third floor and faces the parking lot until I’d already put the deposit down. I asked one of my sisters: could you please drive by and let me know if it’s a total shithole or not? She did, and thankfully, it is not.

Speaking of renting, that brings me to the subject of leases. I read my new lease with great caution and trepidation. I’m so used to the oppressive Texas leases that I was quite surprised at how lenient the Washington lease was by comparison. I was especially interested in the clauses regarding security deposits, pet deposits, and the penalties for breaking your lease early. In my current lease, I had to put up one month’s rent for a security deposit, plus an enormous pet deposit ($1,500, some of which is nonrefundable), so my deposits amounted to $3,675. In this Washington lease, only a $600 security deposit, plus $700 for the pets, totaling $1,300. Now that’s a breath of fresh air!

Then, terminating early. On a previous blog post I related in great detail trying to break my lease early when my car was vandalized twice. In Texas it’s almost impossible to do so without incurring huge financial penalties. You must show you’ve received a military deployment, or are the victim of either domestic violence or sexual abuse in the home, and have police reports to prove it. In Washington, you have to pay 2 months’ rent—that’s it! To have a law on the books in Texas that essentially says “your life must become a living hell before we’ll allow you to break your lease without bankrupting you” is a direct result of the nonstop lobbying and enormous campaign contributions the real estate industry and, specifically, the Texas Association of Realtors have made to the Republican party, and especially Governor Abbott. (The real estate industry is third on the list of all-time contributors; second is the oil and gas industry; curiously, the top industry is listed as “uncoded/unknown.”) If you are a renter and not a homeowner in Texas, you are a second-class citizen, and no one is advocating for you. In the past 3 years I wrote multiple letters to my own state representatives, trying to get these lease provisions changed, with no response. Now someone else will have to take up the cause.

Gail’s favorite things

Oprah has her list, and I have mine too. Other than the leases, the Governor, and Senator Ted Cruz, there are many, many things I will miss about my adopted home state. And food comes to mind, first and foremost! Living on the Texas Gulf Coast turned me into a seafood lover. Grouper, red snapper, mahi mahi, red fish, Gulf Coast jumbo shrimp, scallops, and crawfish (when in season) …a trip down to the farmer’s market on Saturday morning and I could easily come back with a $200 haul of fresh seafood that would last me a couple of months. What on earth am I going to do without my fix?

At that same farmer’s market, I could find the best organic pecans from central Texas! So sweet you could eat them as candy. I’d buy them in 3-lb bags and come holiday baking time, they would just evaporate. Speaking of central Texas, how about those Fredericksburg peaches I’ve come to rely on?

Giant angel in front of a Houston mansion.
Giant Christmas angel in front of a Houston mansion.

Now for Houston-specific things—well, I shouldn’t even get started. Everyone knows how much I love our Houston Ballet and the Wortham Center, the place I consider to be the top draw in the city. Then there’s the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, showing world-class, Houston-only exhibits. Our Houston Museum of Natural Science has one of the finest Jurassic dinosaur exhibits I’ve ever seen. The Houston Symphony’s annual Christmas performance of Handel’s Messiah—really going to miss that. Last fall when my pen pal Yvonne was here from England, we made a trip down to NASA/Johnson Space Center and I was blown away by how much they’ve improved the whole visitor’s experience down there.

The Beer Can House, Houston, Texas
The Beer Can House, with every surface covered by flattened beer cans. The “curtains” hanging from the eaves are made from chains of pop-top rings.

I must mention some of the weird and quirky things that add character to our city: our Beer Can House, our drive-thru Margarita stand, our contemporary house with an incongruous gargoyle on top, 36-ft tall statues of The Beatles in the backyard of a downtown brewery, or the million-dollar River Oaks home that erects a hideous two-story angel at Christmastime. Yes, we’re the rare large city in America without zoning, so anything goes here!

I can’t forget about the wonders of nature in Houston and surrounding areas. Buffalo Bayou and the other smaller bayous that drain our city are always good for the odd alligator to come strolling out of the water and give people a start. Drive out of the city about an hour and we’ve got a whole state park devoted to them: Brazos Bend State Park, where the alligators roam free and you better be on your guard: this isn’t a zoo. They are on their home turf and you are the trespassers.

Gargoyle house.
Gargoyle perched on top of a contemporary home with corrugated steel siding, in the Montrose area of Houston.

Closer to home, one of the things I will sorely miss in the deep summer, when it’s as hot and humid and miserable as it gets, is the sound of the cicadas singing around dusk. If you take a walk in any wooded neighborhood or better yet, a trail or city park, it can get almost deafening to hear them—it’s a thing of wonder. I think the males are calling to the females. I just love that sound.

These things that mark the seasons: the first redbud trees that bloom early in the spring. Then the Texas bluebonnets and the annual treks out to the countryside to find the fields full of them. Then other wildflowers follow: Indian paintbrush, yellow coreopsis, columbine, Mexican sunflower. Then azaleas, for a few short but glorious weeks. If you’ve planted your bulbs at the right time, caladiums should follow in about April. When it gets good and hot, crape myrtles (our southern lilac) burst into bloom—and the hotter it gets, the better they bloom. Finally, my beloved plumerias, which I finally mastered after years of trying. I will miss this progression of blooms and not being able to take my tropicals with me when I go.

Concrete Beatles statues near downtown Houston.
Concrete Beatles statues near downtown.

The birds! The migratory birds that fly through Texas on their way to Mexico for the winter. We get a fantastic variety of birds here on the Gulf Coast; it was especially good when I lived in Rockport, because we had the shorebirds there as well. My interest in birds was piqued many years ago on vacations to Costa Rica and Australia, and cemented while living in Rockport. These migrations included thousands of hummingbirds every September, which would stop to fill up there before their trip across the Gulf of Mexico. What a sight that was! To be surrounded by such exotic varieties of birds on a daily basis was such a privilege and such a thrill, and it was something I never took for granted.

This list is woefully incomplete, of course. I haven’t mentioned other things that have put us on the map at one time or another: our two-time World Series champion Houston Astros, the two-time NBA champion Houston Rockets, the Houston Rodeo and Livestock Show, the largest rodeo in the world. We all plug into different things at different times in our lives. I haven’t mentioned any of our Texas beaches. I haven’t mentioned my favorite state parks, scattered all over the Texas Hill Country, or the big kahuna down on the Rio Grande: Big Bend National Park, which is spectacular. I’ve probably spent more of my vacation time in these locations than anyplace else, and I will miss them.

You might find this surprising, coming from someone who has been through a hurricane, but I do love the way it storms down here. There is nothing drizzling, or misty, or hesitant about a Texas thunderstorm—it kicks up suddenly with ferocious winds, crash-banging heart-stopping thunder, and that rain comes pelting down from jet black skies as if the world is coming to an end—and it’s the most exciting thing to watch! And hear! As long as it doesn’t tear your roof off or send a tree through your front door, I love every thrilling moment of a good storm.

People have always said to me: “I don’t know how you stand all that traffic in Houston.” There’s bad traffic in Houston? I hadn’t noticed. For almost 25 years, I’ve arranged my life so I didn’t have to be in it. When you decide to become self-employed and work from home, you are no longer a commuter, and that one little factoid adds so much positive vibe to your life, not to mention about 2 more hours to your day—it changes everything. Of course, I do have to go out onto Houston freeways, but I pick my time and it is never rush hour.

We Love Houston sign
We Love Houston sign erected near Graffiti Park

Last but not least, there is the oil and gas industry, which has its headquarters here in Houston. It is not the reason I moved to Texas when I was 21 years old, but it is certainly the reason I have stayed. We are possibly witnessing the industry’s sunset years as the world moves toward more renewable energies, but I am grateful that it provided me with a career and a livelihood. The ability to work remotely means I will continue to work part time even in Washington.

Moving on

I look forward to enjoying Washington cherries, blueberries, and apples from the source! To getting my hiking mojo back and hitting some mountain trails, and maybe kayaking on that lake. To spending my own sunset years getting to know my nieces’ and nephew’s children and grandchildren (how is that possible?!). And of course, my siblings—how is it possible we’ve all reached “that age” while we weren’t paying attention? We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

I will have to relearn how to drive on snow for spending winters in Washington, a skill that has lain dormant since I was 21. How did that go again—do you turn into the direction of the skid, or away from it? Actually, I will have to relearn how to walk on snow and ice. I no longer have a proper winter wardrobe, that being jettisoned from my closet decades ago. Down here we specialize in wearing as few clothes as possible without getting arrested, so a paradigm shift is in order. I might have a pair of Uggs around here somewhere.

So. Lots of changes in store for me. I’m nervous, panicky, also excited. About half my household goods have been sold or donated as I’m facing a huge downsizing of my living quarters. I will keep you updated as to progress, new discoveries, and my adjustments. Be patient with me, will you?

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9 Responses

  1. I wish you luck in your new home and state! Can’t believe you’re leaving Texas after living here for so long, but I know you have good reasons. I have really enjoyed reading all your blogs and looking forward to reading more from your new home. Please keep in touch!

  2. I was actually planning to write when this post arrived. What you are thinking is somewhat our thoughts when we left Houston in 2014 for Solana Beach, California. We spent about 36 years in Houston and there is much I still miss about the city. the least of which are the summer weather, roaches, and mosquitos. (This Wednesday along the Coast, the heat wave will finally hit us as the temperature will hit 79…..) Always turn into the skid and keep us posted. Oh yes, if I am not mistaken, there is one state with higher gas prices than California; I will let you guess which one it is…..

    1. “Always turn into the skid…” I’ll try to remember that! I don’t even have an ice scraper for my windshield anymore. Sorely unprepared for this, but I’ll have to get up to speed quickly. We’ve really suffered under the heat dome this year, and I will be glad to drive away from that!

      Thanks, Norm.

    1. I will do my best, Julie! Very excited to see you, and maybe get a chance to hang out with you guys, finally!

  3. Oh Gail! A chapter closing but a renewal, a future, a change to come. Change can be a challenge but often is an awakening. I hope it brings you joy! I look forward to your blogs and what the future holds for you. Please continue your journaling. You are a wonderful, honest, insightful writer and I am anticipating sharing your journey with you! Love and best wishes 😘

    1. Thank you Debbie! You’ve been through it too, so I imagine you understand some of what I’ve said. Your support means a lot.

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