Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Hole, Part II

I'd advise against reading this before bed.

No?  Still here?  Okay, fine.  But don't say you weren't warned.

So the hole. It has recently been vacated thanks to the efforts of two young boys armed with nothing but poison and a rock.  And when I say "poison" I mean the stuff upon which I used to place Mr. Yuk stickers.  I'm glad to know, based upon the concoction they devised, that I adequately frightened them of toxic products as toddlers.  It would be nice if the rest of the world operated on such a level: "Never mind dirty bombs, we have soap!"

The boys took it upon themselves to rid the yard of whatever menace lurked beneath the surface one day while I was not home, and Husband thought they were out there weeding (as directed.)  Instead they mixed, in a large cup, the following ingredients that, when combined, apparently make a lethal concoction.  Because I am concerned about this recipe getting into the wrong hands (I'm looking at you, Al Quaeda) I will not include the measurements of each component, although I am sure it was carefully measured down to the gram.  Here it is: bleach, Lysol, soap, hydrogen peroxide, and the pièce de résistance: Coca Cola. My love of Coke is unquestionable; I'm not sure if I've frightened them from drinking it or just drinking mine - nevertheless, they included it in their batch of all things deadly. They poured the toxin down into the hole and covered it with a large rock. And waited.

So early one morning over the weekend I went outside and noticed a large rock on top of the hole.

Not knowing the poison plan, I assumed Son 1 and Son 2 had placed the rock in an attempt to block the creature from escaping out its front my mind the lair had numerous doors and their efforts were futile, but I had no better strategy, so who am I to judge?  Curiosity got the best of me (read: it was early and my judgment was impaired due to lack of coffee) and with the tip of my shoe (running shoes...close-toed) I nudged the rock over.  

You know that shrieking sound you hear in movies and on TV that's like high-pitched violins?  Like "shriek! shriek!  shriek!"  I literally heard that in my head.  At the entrance to the hole was the creature, bottom side up, as if he (yes, it has a gender now) was going to press the rock off the top of the hole with his legs, like a big hunk of gym equipment.  His mouth was wide open - and like his strength, disproportionately large compared to his size.  Here's what I saw:
I can't make it larger because it gets grainy, so for some clarity as to what I looked at, here is another photo, bottom-side up, which clearly shows the mouth-fang horror. 

It's mouth is like HALF of its underside...its fangs (yes, FANGS) are as big as its feet.  And before you get the idea that I took these pictures within less than ten minutes of flipping the rock over, let me tell you that I jumped backward, did a jog-in-place, hands-to-my-face, squealing-like-a-two-year-old dance for about 30 seconds.  Then I ran inside and got my camera - can I tell you I was sweating and shaking?  I found a long stick and gently nudged the spider (from a safe distance) to see if he was really actually dead. He was.  So I took the first picture.  Then I went into the garage and got a pair of work gloves - you know, the heavy leather ones - and a shovel.  High on adrenaline and eager to get rid of the body (before his buddies showed up to avenge him) I scooped up the body and took the picture above. Then I walked over to the edge of the woods/creek and LAUNCHED him to his final resting place. 

Because I've seen Bugs Bunny, I know that flooding is an effective way to ruin a creature's hole, so I put the hose to it.  I imagined his sofa and kitchen table coming out of another hole somewhere else - and that was fine with me.  And because I've seen the Road Runner, I know that holes can be portable, so I used the shovel to ruin the hole and prevent another spider from coming along and moving the hole to my backyard.  Safety first. 

So, who wants to come visit?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Holey week

This hole is in my front yard.  The round thing next to it is one of those giant jawbreakers - about the size of a golf ball.  For the past week, Son 2 has been dropping this ball onto the hole every day and then finding the ball next to the hole (like in this picture) the next morning. The hole is just a smidge smaller, so the ball sits on top, with just a bit of it IN the hole. 

Notice how dry the ground is and the sparse grass - thank you, City of Austin water restrictions. (More on that in another post)  My point is, the ground here is HARD. The hole is creepily small, yet big... so whatever lives in it must be exceptionally strong (proportionately speaking) to have made the hole, maintained the hole, and roll away the ball every 24 hours. 

With the crazed speculation that only a ten-year-old boy's mind can embrace, he asks me, "Mom, what do suppose lives in there that is strong enough to push this ball off and get out every night?" And with all the crazed paranoia that only a girl from the midwest can contain, I reply, "I don't know, but stay the hell away from it."

So yesterday Son 2 and I decide that we needed to add another obstacle to this creature's exit.  With my foot, I pushed the ball INTO the hole.  My intention was to block the hole and (hopefully) encourage it to burrow out the other direction - namely, the creek and woods adjacent to my house.  To my horror, the ball dropped in and rolled to the side, mostly out of my view.  This has now changed from just a hole to an evil underground lair.  I imagined myself standing over the creature's diabolical gimp closet, where he holds prisoners for torture and potential meals.  I backed up (because I am SO not turning my back on this thing) to get my feet on the pavement.  And then I left for work, where my interaction with creatures is minimal.

Like something from a horror movie, when the main character keeps finding his/her stuff rearranged by some ghost overnight, the ball somehow found its way OUT of the hole this morning.  As I passed it, I did a quick Sign of the Cross. If Steve Irwin were still alive, I'd give him a call. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Texas Our Texas

Quick!  Tell me what your state flag looks like.  Don't know?  Then sing me your state anthem.  We have an anthem???  As a Missouri girl, I cannot tell you either of those things. I asked the boys if they knew that about Oregon - they did not.  But here in Texas EVERY child can answer both of those questions for you. Proudly.  

The first time I heard the Texas state anthem I was visiting Son 2's school in the morning.  During assembly they did the Pledge of Allegiance (to the United States flag)  - then they launched into the Texas Pledge of Allegiance....and then they sang a song.  I've looked online for a version where it is being sung, but can only find you can play Texas Our Texas karaoke at home.  (You're welcome.)

I'm pretty sure that I know nothing about Missouri history aside from Lewis and Clark. Ironically, the boys learned about Lewis and Clark as well while we were in Oregon - we had moved to the other end of their route. I can only speculate what they learned in England...probably something along the lines of "We used to run the world, now not so much; however, we do have a Commonwealth and no one else we've got that going for us."   Anyway, I digress. My point is that in Texas, kids learn Texas history...Son 1 spent all of sixth grade learning it; Son 2 did it in fourth grade (so far). I've tried to find the actual curriculum standards for Texas elementary schools, but true to Texas, the sites are huge and full of more information than I care to sift through.  Bottom line is that children here know more about Texas by middle school than I knew about the United States until high school, and it's one class you never hear them complain about.  I think the passion for the subject here is contagious - and how cool is it to be able to drive to a place like the Alamo and actually SEE what you are learning about?  It perpetuates the overall love of the state, generation after generation. I get it. 

Since Texas was once a country, it has some incredibly rich history. I'm not going to detail it here...similar to Texas economics, that would be more substance than I'm capable of producing (and that you are interested in reading.) But a there are good places here to learn about some of it.  If you want to know about bloody battles and war, you just need to take a drive...go south and west for sites where Texas won its independence from Mexico; go south and east for American Civil War battle sites. My choice? The Mexico ones...amazing stories, and there's much more than just the Alamo. 

To learn more about the government of Texas, one must visit the Texas Capitol. On any given school day there are at least five groups of children there on a field trip - they'll come from all over the state to see this.  The building is's actually taller than the United States Capitol.  It sits on one of the highest points in Austin, so you have to look up at it from most other spots.  The architecture is impressive, and everything down to the interior details just screams Texas.  Here's what the door hinges look like: 
Yes, I said hinges.  I was passing through an open door and noticed this - and then realized it was on all the doors.  I'm not positive all 400-ish rooms have these hinges on their doors, but every one I saw did. 

So is this turning into a Gosh I Sure Love Texas post yet?  It's getting close, so let me bring it back to reality - or Renee reality, at least.  The Capitol building's floors are ornate...the Rotunda is the centerpiece of the's the view from above:

If you Google Texas Capitol Rotunda you can also see images with people standing there, which will give you perspective on just how incredibly big it is - this is Texas, remember? But what you won't see when you Google anything about the floors in the Texas Capitol are the designs on the floors in the hallways.  If you ask anyone about it, they won't have much to say...there's no historical significance, no impressive architecture. But I find them to be so over-the-top hilarious that I was compelled to take pictures.  Want to see what I'm talking about?  

I know, right??? That really is the detail on the floors of the Capitol, and it was just me and some adolescent boys cracking up over it.  We also belched, said "dude" and high-fived each other.  (Okay, there were no boys around, but that was my level of humor at the moment I took the picture. I guess it still is because I am laughing as I type this.) 

If there is a Texas Degradation Coalition, I will most certainly be getting a citation from them any day now.  

Danger abounds

This was in my driveway recently.  After I screamed and nearly wet myself, I took a picture.  I dropped a nickel next to this creature to give you some perspective.
I know what you're thinking.  OH. MY. GOD.  And you are completely correct in trying to connect to a higher being at this moment...happens at times of great fear.  This spider wasn't in a was just chillin' in my yard.  It turns out that he was dying - thanks to some spraying from the day before.  Yes, Oregon friends, I use pesticide now.  Don't judge me...just take a look at that monster and tell me you wouldn't do the same. 

Here's the kicker - he's the least of my worries, and not because he's dead.  What happens to him next is horror movie fodder.  And it justifies my new fondness for pesticide.  What's worse than a fat hairy spider 12 inches from your sandal-wearing foot?  I'll tell you  - FIRE ANTS. 

No, fire ants are not just creatures from Land of the Lost, and they don't live exclusively on far away continents.  There are here in Texas.  Don't believe me?  Google it.  Or check this out:  They are aggressive flesh-eating beasts for which we have to look constantly, as they'll come at you within seconds.  No one told me about them prior to moving here. I was already scared of the snakes and scorpions - fire ants could have been a deal breaker.  

I didn't take a picture of what was left, but within an hour of seeing that spider, his remains were pretty much gone as the fire ants sniffed him out and ate him up.  It was then I discovered that the pesticide that killed that spider does nothing to fire ants - they require a separate poison all together. 

I've been bit by them a couple of times...they can find their way into your shoes within a minute of you stopping and standing in the grass - and I'm not talking about being near their mound....they are everywhere. It hurts SO much, and they are tiny and fast and travel in packs, so there's never just one bit on your foot.  The resulting welts itch, burn and hurt, and some children are dangerously allergic to the bites.  

So while I was looking for snakes and scorpions, I ignored the ants to my peril.  But let's get back to the snakes.  I've been told that there are "only" four types of poisonous snakes in Texas - but there are several sub-species of those snakes (ten kinds of rattlesnakes and three kinds of coral snakes, to be exact.) There are certain times of the year where the snakes are molting, including their eyes, so for a few days they are blind.  It's never good to come across a venomous snake, but even worse to come across a blind one.  They strike out aggressively at any noise or movement.  I was told by a veterinarian that they see a lot of dogs with snake bites during that time of year. Not good. 

And if that isn't bad enough for you, then I'll tell you about the scorpions. (Not the 80's rock band.)  They aren't deadly like snakes, but they are quick and their sting is painful and they can be anywhere. I've seen scorpions IN the light fixtures (like a dome light) on the ceiling - so they aren't limited to the ground.  In fact, a friend was stung in her hand, in her room, and then later found the scorpion running down the wall to the floor below her room.  They drop from trees and get you on the head and neck. Typing that just gave me goosebumps.  Scorpions are always looking for water and shelter, so while you are obviously not safe from them outside, you aren't safe from them inside, either - which ruins my plan to hide indoors. 

Texas is a dangerous place and I should be lauded for the bravery I display every day.  I can see now why some people wear boots and carry guns.  I'm considering doing both of those things myself...I'll be sure to post pictures.  

Texas: where it's at

If Texas is a country, then certain cities and regions are states.  I live in Austin, which (if I can just beat this metaphor to death here) is like the Texas of Texas. 

What I mean when I say that is not that Austin the quintessentially Texas - it's not. It's quite the exception, in fact.  

Think about it as one of those analogy questions you see on a if you've read the assignment (a previous post) it will make sense and you'll get an A.  Texas is to the United States as Austin is to Texas.  Get it?  Austin doesn't follow the rules of the rest of Texas. It's its own kind of place. Austin is the state capital, and has an enormous capitol building to prove it.   (A post on the capitol is forthcoming...and believe me when I say it is NOT what you are expecting. You will not learn anything about the capitol and you WILL laugh and possibly blush at the photos I show you.)

Not only is it the capital of the state, but Austin is also the Live Music Capital of the World.  (I'd get in trouble with the locals if I didn't capitalize that.) It has a tremendous music scene downtown and it's WAY cooler than I will ever be, therefore, I can't tell you much more about it than that. It's not my scene.  What I can tell you is Austin is full of unique people... they can be earthy and hippie-cool, or they colorful and expressive with their hair color, body art/tattoos, piercings and wardrobe choices - did you know skinny jeans can be cut-offs?  It's true. They pair particularly nice with a shock of hot pink hair and Converse.  Part of this element of the culture can be attributed to University of Texas at Austin, with over 48,000 students.  The other part is "just Austin" - and like the outsider in school, don't ask them why they are so different - they might not tell you to go to hell, but they will slap you with a Keep Austin Weird sticker.  

A mere three hours east (and a little south) you'll find Houston.  The first thing you'll notice about Houston is the traffic; second thing will be the humidity. You know how it feels when you walk into a bathroom where someone is taking a really long, hot shower, and you say, "Hey...turn on the exhaust fan in here!"?  There's no exhaust fan in Houston.  It's just that steamy.  The upside is that they actually get rain and so it's green there.  Houston is a big, real city.  It has sports teams - one of which is so mighty they just call themselves the need for a moniker like Astros or Dynamo - they are just the Texans - which if you think about it, is SO very Texas-ish.  What other state has a professional sports team named after them?  Exactly.  

Three or four hours north (and a bit east) is Dallas.  Dallas is incredibly flat and spread you never know when you've left Dallas, except that maybe people are slightly less dressed-up once you aren't as close to the city.  The stereotype about Dallas women, in my experience, is true. They do dress up. Dallas is incredibly proud of itself and they are glad you've come to visit.  Like most places in Texas, people are pretty nice - Dallas folk are just a little nicer.

My drive across Texas when I first moved here gave me a glimpse of West Texas, and subsequent conversations with actual Texans have confirmed what I concluded in less than a day - you don't want to go there.  My theory is that there's too much space between cities, none of which are significant in size, so there's an overall sense of seclusion and isolation. That's accented by proximity to the border, which adds an completely different it isn't a destination for anyone east of there.  In fact, the people I know who live there (from my work) never even try to get anyone to come visit.  You'll never hear someone from El Paso complain that you haven't come out to see her.  She gets it. Anyone east of there prefers to remain east of there.

Speaking of other part of Texas takes a bashing like East Texas. Ask anyone in my office - when we have to travel to the area offices throughout Texas, no one wants to go east.  I've been there and I can't fact, it's safe to say that I really like East Texas. My drive there took me through Davy Crockett National Forest - and I haven't been in an national forest since I left Oregon.  (With good reason...according to the USDA Forest Service website, there are 13 National Forests in Oregon, and three in Texas.)  The people there were very nice...even nicer than in Dallas.  And their accents are the best in Texas - think Matthew McConaughey - so it's easy to see how one could fall for East Texas.  Yes, I did see a very large man in very large overalls hanging out at a gas station just outside of the town I visited.  Yes, there was a ceiling fan in my hotel room, and yes, there was only one Starbucks within a three hour range.  But still.  Something about East Texas stole my heart and makes me smile.

The funny thing about each of these places is that they all consider themselves "Texas" despite the differences between each one. That leads me to my next observation of Texas as a place.  The highway system that connects all of these places has some serious Texas Pride going on. Here are two examples of what I'm talking about: 

Look closely at the tops of the's the Texas Star.
So really, at no time while you are in Texas will you forget where you are. But just in case you do, there will always be someone like this next to you on the highway to remind you:

Can you see the back windows on the car?  They have big Texas map outline on them. I know what you're thinking...and no, it's not an official car. It's a suburban mom's SUV. I've seen her a few times on the road.  She just really loves Texas. 

I can't mention Texas roads without the notorious armadillo.  You are probably saying to yourself, "No, Wait, Renee.  Armadillos are animals and you should include them in your post about wildlife."  Well, I wish I could, but the fact of the matter is that I've NEVER seen a live armadillo.  They have always been dead on the side of the road.  I considered including that picture, but here's a better one instead.  I stole it off the internet, so props to Google Images and whoever took this picture.  To me it's a mystery as to HOW they saw one upright and alive.

This concludes your lesson on Texas as a place, or at least until I see more. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Texas Way

Can you see that?  (I'm working on the picture-taking with my patient with me, please.)  It's the sign that greeted us when we got to Texas.  I took a photo to capture the moment, unaware of how prolific it would prove to be. "The Texas Way" isn't just some catchphrase a marketing person came up with for the Texas Tourism Commission. (That catchphrase is actually "It's Like a Whole Other Country," which is truer than you know and will be the theme of all upcoming posts...but I'm getting ahead of myself.)  Anyway, there really is a Texas Way and I'm starting to get it.  

But first things first. I quit posting after we moved here for a number of reasons, one of which being that I assumed there would be nothing interesting to talk about - after all, the impetus of this blog was to share with my American friends and family the details of how I was getting acclimated to living in a foreign country... to share all the idiosyncrasies unique to life in a foreign culture. (Are you seeing where I'm going with this yet????)  Well, after some time on the ground I've discovered that I need to tell you about this country as well.   

As I mentioned already, Texas IS a whole other country.  Shamelessly, Texans will admit to that.  If the United States was a high school, there would be cliques for each region (Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, Southwest and Midwest) and then there would be Texas.  He's the guy who refused to join a clique, who wouldn't wear the required shirt in PE, and who would tell you to go to hell if you asked him why he won't comply with the same rules as everyone else.   But just like you see at a high school reunion when the outsider ends up being the most successful person there, Texas enjoys a comparatively lower unemployment rate and high job maybe there's something to be said for doing it the Texas Way. 

Don't worry...I'm not going to discuss Texas economics in this blog.  I think we all know that's way more substance than the things about which I typically write.  But I will tell you things that you'd never know without someone here on the ground with keen insight, an inquisitive nature, and awesome picture-taking skills (as long as it's not on my phone.)  And since all of my readers have historically been in places like St. Louis, Portland, Chicago and Harrisburg, I'm the only way you'll know the truth about this place.  

The one thing I will say straight away is that your impressions are wrong - and that's not to say mine weren't.  For example, there are music stations here that aren't country.  Now I'm not ready to say that I like country music; however, thanks to a friend who continually shows me the light, I'm no longer describing it with terms like "ear rupturing" and "heinous."

If one of your assumptions is that everyone drives a truck and has a gun rack, you'd only be half right.  I've seen very few gun racks, but there are an excessive amount of trucks here...and you aren't necessarily going to see a cowboy step out of it.  There's no demographic for who drives a truck - it can be a dude in boots or a woman in sandals; a guy in a suit or fresh off the tractor.  Apparently trucks here are not just for function (and they are much easier to drive than you'd think.) 

And the last thing I'll say for now regarding what you've heard about Texas?  Everything IS bigger here.  Trust me. 

So stay tuned for the scoop on the food. It's me, remember?  I'm all about the food.  Some of you have known me my entire life and know that I've never changed who I am - not even Texas can do that to me.  So make sure you don't come to read this when you are hungry, because after I fill you in, you'll be bummed that your next meal isn't here.