Wednesday, November 17, 2010

3 weeks in Houston

Today marks 3 weeks since our arrival in Houston.  Time has seemed to fly as we continue to check items off our "to-do" list.  As previously posted, the first items attended to were the physicals for renewal of our USCG Merchant Mariners licenses (captains licenses) and obtaining the visas for India.   The renewal applications were submitted first thing Monday morning, Nov 3; then we drove straight to our appointments at the TWIC office in La Porte to start that renewal process.  A valid Transportation Workers Identity Card is mandatory in order to have a captains license.  At the TWIC office we learned that we were the first people to renew.  Our experience with the renewal process has helped the powers that be to re-think the process as currently written.  Firstly, nowhere on either website are card/license holders instructed that they should renew the TWIC prior to applying for renewal of the license.  This turned out to not be a big deal for us because both our current license and TWIC expire May 2011.  Secondly, they had the wrong prices posted and no longer offer the discounted price to captains.  The TWIC renewal sailed through the bureaucracy and we picked up our new TWICs last Friday.  Less than 2 weeks processing time.  Not bad.

The captains licenses, however, are turning into a bit of a problem.  As of today it appears that Bill's new license might be ready to be picked up before our flight departure back to Malaysia.  But my renewal application is being held up in medical review, and that department is backlogged right now with  processing time being delayed by weeks.  We have the last appointment on Friday Nov 26 (the day after Thanksgiving---very surprised they will be open that day).  Hopefully, we will at least be able to pick up Bill's new license.  I don't know what they will do with mine -- because I very definitely will not be back in the USA for at least a full year.  I doubt the local office will hold my license for pick-up for a full year, yet they refuse to mail these licenses.  Sort of a Catch-22 in my case.  One thing for certain, I am not spending many thousands of dollars (again) and fly half-way around the world (again) just to pick up my captains license.  As long as Bill has his license, that should be sufficient to meet the requirements of proof of competency for Greece.  I think thus far Greece is the only EU country enforcing this proof of competency requirement.  Assuming both of us receive our captains license renewals, I think this might be the last time we renew them.  The licenses are good for 5 years.  The renewals cost us around $600 for physicals and fees, and I am not sure they are worth the cost and the hassle.

We visited the periodontist one morning.  Bill got a clean bill of health but they discovered a crack in one of my molars.  So next week a general dentist will fix that before it causes any problems.  That to-do list just keeps getting shorter.  One day we had nothing scheduled so we spent the entire day driving along the Texas Gulf coast.  We drove down to Surfside near Freeport, then headed east to Galveston, took the ferry across to Bolivar, through Crystal Beach, then north through High Island to Winnie, then west back to Houston.  We wanted to check out how re-construction was progressing after Hurricane Ike 2 years ago.  West Galveston is covered is overly-expensive huge beach homes.  We would want nothing to do with that area during our retirement years.  The entire Bolivar peninsula was extremely heavily damaged during Hurricane Ike; it looked like it had been bombed when we drove through there in December 2008.  Today it looks much, much better.  Construction is on-going everywhere.  Maybe there is still hope for us to find a small retirement beach house one day when the sailing gets boring or too much work as our health fails with old age.  One thing we noticed on this little road trip was the complete absence of dead armadillos on the highways.  We did not see one single armadillo.  Saw several dead raccoons and one dead wild boar on the side of the road, but no armadillos.  So where have all the armadillos gone?  And what has caused the proliferation of wild boars? 

It has been great visiting with family and long-time friends.  My elderly cousin Cora was in Houston one weekend and we met her for breakfast.   Enjoyed catching up after several years.  We have been hosted to dinners at homes of several friends in the Houston area.  Our friends Donna and Bruce have a beautiful new country home.  Tomorrow I am meeting another old friend for a ladies-only lunch where we will gab to our hearts' content while enjoying Greek salad, gyros and those fabulous lemon potatoes for which Nikos Nikos is so well-known.  One evening Bill's brother John treated us to a wonderful dinner at Ruggles, our favorite restaurant, to celebrate his starting a new job.  We have enjoyed all the foods that one craves when out of our home country -- seafood gumbo, shrimp and oyster po-boys, Mexican foods of all sorts, real Texas barbeque, prime steaks, Whataburgers with jalapenos and plain old country southwestern cooking.  Nikos Nikos will complete the food craving "must have" list for this home trip.

My brother John wanted me to come to visit him.  But he resides in a northern part of Texas and that won't be possible this trip.  We will be going to College Station for Thanksgiving with Bill's youngest brother's family.  His sister Helene and her children and grandson will drive down from north of Dallas; and our whole brood will drive up from Houston.  College Station seemed like a central meeting point for all of us.  We planned to visit the next day with another friend at their newest ranch  but the captains license snafu probably has nixed that trip.

This weekend we will be staying with our younger son Aaron and helping him with some swimming pool equipment repairs.  I will be taking our 17-month-old grandson to his gym class Saturday morning.  Why a very active 17-month-old needs a gym class, I do not know.  This might be a trying experience for both of us because he doesn't know me and does not appear to like me very much.  He has seen me several times each week for the past 3 weeks but still is not sure who I am.  To him, I am just a stranger that the rest of his family seem to know.  In his little mind, the rest of his family might know me; but he doesn't know me.  Who is this old lady with lots of curly hair who bosses everyone around?  My sister from Michigan also is in Texas and hopefully will visit us this weekend.   She and her husband have moved back to Texas in search of employment.  She isn't the only one from Michigan who is in Texas these days.  

It is like shades of the early 1980s as one drives around Houston these days.  There are so many out-of-state license plates!!  As most everyone knows, unemployment rates are very high in some states; however, Texas has done better economically than most states.  Might have something to do with the fact that Texas does not provide a lot of assistance and benefits.  Back in the early 1980's there was a large migration of folks from Michigan to Texas in search of employment.  Looks like that is happening again.  Only this time in addition to Michigan there are also lots of folks moving here from California, Florida, Louisiana and Alabama.  Those are the license plates we have noticed most often, although other states are also represented.  As much as people from other states like to criticize Texas, they don't seem too darn reluctant to move here to work.


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