July 24, 2011

Reaching out

Somehow, in looking for neighborhood resources (vet/hairdresser/pediatrician, etc), I stumbled across Mercy Street. It's a ministry founded by a downwardly mobile couple from one of Dallas' wealthiest, whitest areas. They moved into one of Dallas poorest communities and are running a mentoring and sports ministry. They link volunteer mentors with 4th grade kids and ask for a commitment from the mentor until the kid graduates from high school.

In the midst of all of that, the wife is raising their four biological kids as well as two brothers from the neighborhood. Her blog is here. Maybe it's the late hour, but when I read about her and her family, I had to respond.

I just emailed this to her:

I hope this email doesn't seem bizarre, but I just stumbled across Mercy Street and your blog and had to reach out.

I'm the grown up version of your kids. My parents raised us in inner-city Cincinnati where my Dad ran a non-profit housing ministry. My Dad had a Harvard Law degree, my Mom had a Masters in Theology. White, charismatic Lutherans committed to neighborhood transformation and trusting that God was big enough to protect their three kids as they raised them in the 'hood. When I was two weeks old, Mom was bringing me to the women's prison when she went there to lead Bible studies. We went to public schools (Cincinnati has amazing alternative/magnet public schools), played in the neighborhood steel drum band, mentored neighborhood kids, invited illegal immigrants to dinner and loved the city.

Long story short: I'm now married to a Korean-American and we just moved here from the Bay Area in California. We fell in love with the funkiness of Oak Cliff as well as the economic and racial mix. We bought a house near Bishop Arts and are settling in. My husband will be starting a job at UT Southwestern doing lung cancer research and treatment. I'm working from home as a graphic designer for my company in California. In addition to all those changes, we're expecting our first kid in October.

I'm writing because I'd love a chance to meet you, or at least chat on the phone. Given the neighborhood I grew up in, I'm bi-cultural in terms of black/white culture, but I don't know Hispanic culture at all! You'd think I'd have no apprehensions about raising our kid in a non-Anglo environment, but I'm realizing I don't know how to raise a mixed-race kid in a mixed-race neighborhood. I don't know how far West Dallas is from Oak Cliff, but we're looking for a church and trying to connect to people who really live out their faith. I thought you'd be an amazing resource for connecting with what God's doing south of the Trinity river.

Like I said, I hope this email doesn't seem too weird, but I was excited to hear that there are still Christians choosing to be downwardly mobile and doing the kinds of adventures my parents' did in the '70's.

Guessing from your blog, you're likely a very busy woman. Until October, my schedule is fairly flexible. If you're up for chatting, I'd love to do that at some point.
Does it make me sound like a freak? My job has been super busy for the last couple weeks, so I haven't had much of a chance to do the networking I need to do. I've got a couple friends of friends I need to call and neighbors still to meet. I'm nervous that I got a little over-excited!

July 19, 2011

The downside of friendly

Sunday morning I wanted to visit a church I'd driven by, but didn't know what time it started. I figured the earliest would be 10 AM, so I headed over. The service was at 11:15, so I ran to Lowe's to try to get the day's buying done.

Walking in, the woman passing out coupons at the door looked a little tired. "You doin' ok?" I asked. "Oh," she slumped, "I ran out the house without breakfast. I'm draggin', but I'll be ok." We end up chatting about grits and other breakfast topics for five minutes.

The woman at the return counter asked me, "When are you due? You're having a boy, right? I can tell by looking." Another three minute chat.

Getting back to the bath department, there was a woman sitting at the counter just in front of all the shower heads. "When are you due? What are you having? Mmm... a boy, huh? I don't know which is worse, boys or girls. My daughter had two boys and a girl and then decided she didn't want to deal with it, so I been raisin' them kids ever since. I'm telling you, you can't go to sleep when you have kids! First day they came over, I went shopping. Got toilet paper, washing soap, flour and a bunch of other stuff. Then I fell asleep. When I woke up, the whole bed was covered with toilet paper. All 36 rolls, girl! I'm tellin' you. Them kids was just giggling sittin' around the bed. And BOYS. Well. They break bones and your stuff ALL the time. But girls, not much better..."

Twenty minutes later I just grabbed any old shower head since I certainly didn't have brain capacity to absorb which one was better or worse than the others.

I arrived at church 10 minutes late.

This morning, Aunt Ruby and I went outside to walk the dog. My next door neighbor came out of her house at the same time. I hadn't had the chance to meet her, so I went over to introduce myself. Her recumbent bike was on the porch and she was ready for her morning ride. We bonded over bikes. She warned me about the Bubba Truck culture here that's a bit anti-bike. Since her bike looks so different than a normal bike, she says people actually give her lots of room and friendly waves, "I think they all see the bike and think I'm some sweet little handicapped lady, but if that means they don't try to push me off the road, I'll take it!"

Poor Aunt Ruby was stuck holding the dog's leash and waiting 15 minutes for me. Looks like my expectations for how much I can get done in any given block of time will need to be adjusted for the friendly factor!

July 15, 2011


I'd already planned to hit the consignment stores and antique shops to try to find some of the remaining puzzle pieces for the house. Plus I have a bunch of odds and ends that need to be done:
  • sand and hang the shelves in my office
  • hang the shelves that function as night stands in the guest room
  • organize all the books that my wonderful husband insisted on unpacking and ended up just shoving onto any shelf
  • figure out places to stash all our weird bits and pieces
  • set up the art studio/workshop in the room next to the garage
However, I figured I had a while before Jrex was back and it was hard to find my motivation. Then my Aunt Ruby called me and asked when I want a house guest. She has time next week (as in THIS Monday). She's going to come down from Oklahoma with a friend of hers and they'll be with me through late Monday evening through Thursday. I'm excited to see her and have her help and advice, but it sure makes the to-do list feel imperative!

One of the big reasons I'm a designer rather than a fine artist is that I need a deadline. Thanks for giving me a good one, Aunt Ruby.

July 13, 2011

Alone with the critters

Jrex is back in the Bay Area for the next six weeks. Fortunately, my work life is fairly busy, so the days aren't completely dragging. Plus, I still have a plate to return to a neighbor (she brought cookies) and a stranger to meet (a house a block away has an "It's a Boy" banner strung across the porch. Seems worth a knock to see if our kids can grow up playing together).

On the home front, the first floor air conditioner is fixed. Unfortunately, they put the furnace (drives both the heat and the air) in the crawl space under the house. It's mounted to a joist under the dining room, so if the system is on, the dining room vibrates enough to cause mild nausea. NOT a great solution when wanting to host a dinner party. The AC guy says there's no fix that he knows of given the location. Sigh.

When we moved here, I knew the weather would be different and would be hot. I hadn't realized the impact that would have on what animals and insects we'd encounter.

Two nights after we arrived, Jrex was downstairs in the living room as I put clothes away upstairs in the master closet (Walk-in. HUGE. LOVE.). Now, our mutt actually eats bugs. She hunts down flies when they get inside and eats them: spiders, beetles, mosquitoes, she doesn't discriminate. As I folded some clothes I noticed the mutt, just outside the closet, staring at the floor in confusion. I looked down and saw a 2-inch cockroach scurrying towards me. I screamed for Jrex, "Honey, I need you upstairs NOW!" I didn't hear any movement from him so I yelled again, "Jrex, come up here now! Now, NOW!" Nothing.

I gathered my courage (not to kill the beast, but to run past it--hey, it's no fun to be married if I can't abdicate all bug/slug/beast duties!) and go grab him. He'd fallen into an exhausted slumber. I shook him awake insisting, "Jrex, wake up, you have to come kill it!" While understandably very confused, he stumbled upstairs. I gave him a pile of packing paper as a weapon and then we realized the demon roach wasn't there. I saw movement and turned, it was crawling up the wall in the bedroom. I pointed and Jrex scooted over and tried to smash it. Five tries. It took three-times the normal roach-killing force AND it was fast.

The next morning, Jrex was in the kitchen and saw movement on the floor next to him. Instinctively he stomped HARD. When he lifted his slipper, he saw that it had been a tiny lizard. Oops. We both felt bad about that one.

I told various Dallas friends about the roach and they told me it was actually a 'palmetto bug' or a 'water bug'. Nothing to do with a dirty house, just something that occurs here in this foreign country.

In fact, while chatting with our contractor about bugs and snakes (roof has to get redone and potential deck if we can afford it), he told me rattlesnakes are the least of our worries. "At least they tell you where they are, it's the copperheads that'll get you. Or the water moccasins in the lakes; they like the water lilies so you want to be careful when you go water skiing." When?! There's no "when" after you tell me to watch out for water moccasins!

The day before Jrex was supposed to leave, I looked out our back door and hollered, "You can't leave me here with bugs, lizards and dead animals!" Here's a picture of the view (no animal):

Spreadeagled flat on the sidewalk was a squirrel. Unblinking eyes staring straight at the back door. No movement. Ugh.

Jrex called animal control and they promised to come by within 24-hours. "Call us if anything changes" they added. It's dead! What's going to change? A little while after that, Jrex had to go out to the garage, when he opened the door, the squirrel jumped up, ran up a tree and then draped itself over a branch in the same position. We thought it's back was broken or that it had fallen and stunned itself.

That night we met friends at a local restaurant and told them our critter stories. "Yeah those roaches are scary. The lizards are 'friendlies' though; they eat the other bugs. Well, probably not the palmetto bugs, but all the other ones. As for the squirrel, that's what they do when it's hot. It's the only way they can get cooler. Have you noticed that all the birds keep their mouths open most of the time? Same deal."

Now that's a new definition of hot for me: cool-bathing squirrels and panting birds.

July 7, 2011

Treat people right

As a thank you for our realtor, we invited him and his wife to join us for dinner. They picked a lovely restaurant in our neighborhood and we all met up last night.

During the afternoon before, while on the phone, I'd mentioned to a friend that we were having dinner with our realtor and she exclaimed, "You always find the best realtors!" It's true. Our Baltimore realtor became a friend and we're still in touch. Last night our realtor, Nice Guy promised to invite us to the tailgate he hosts for the first home game at SMU. (He and his wife are alumni and boosters of the football team--which seems to involve traveling to EVERY game! Yikes.)

They are a very dynamic couple. Nice Guy is an older gentleman with a quiet, calm demeanor and his wife is a high-intensity whirlwind. She's also a realtor as well as a wedding coord1nator for one of the big Presbyterian (social club?) churches in Dallas. Then in her copious free time she does fundraising benefit events for local children's charities.

Here's a sample of her conversation, "Oh, Jrex, we are so excited you chose Dallas! We're very supportive of our medical community here. And you chose the BEST house! Oh my God, I just love that house. When we saw that darling kitchen nook and that amazing master suite, I fell in love. You're going to love it. And you're having a baby! That's fantastic. You'll be amazing parents. OTRgirl, you're just adorable. You're obviously going to be a wonderful mother."

Being with her was a little bit like plunging my finger into a wall socket, I think I'm still recovering!

As we said farewell at the end of the evening, Nice Guy repeated, "While Jrex is out of town, call us for anything you need, OTRgirl. Recommendations, help in the house. Don't let yourself feel alone, ok?"

I'd heard from a few people that we'd have no trouble making friends here since people are so friendly. So far, it's seemed to be true.

July 5, 2011

Home sweet home

We're here!

After I process the photos from the trip, I'm hoping to give you a travel post, but overall the trip was fun. Highlights include: three nights in Kings Canyon (where I managed a five-mile hike with a 1200 foot elevation gain and a nine-mile level hike, both gorgeous. Walking up switchbacks was challenging, but worth it!), Grand Canyon (did a short two mile hike below the rim), and a drive through the Petrified Forest (VERY hot, but compelling geology/scenery).

We arrived Friday morning after waking up at 6 AM to drive from our friend's house in Oklahoma. Met the realtor then waited around for the movers who finally showed up at 11 AM. The driver was our same guy from Menlo Park, so he'd waited around Dallas for three days to make sure our stuff was OK. He'd hired two local guys to unload. One was a Peruvian gentleman who was 58 years old. In two and a half hours those guys had brought in everything and set up the bed in the guest room. That even included a fifteen minute lunch break where we bought them pizza and soda! Really great guys. Fifteen minutes after they left, the doorbell rang for the washer and dryer installers. Talk about a tight production schedule!

Since then, we've raided IKEA for some of our missing furniture, then entered that special purgatory that is IKEA furniture assembly. On Sunday we had dinner with friends who live 10-minutes away, let's call them Enthusiast and Indian Gourmet. We've hung out with them on each of our Dallas visits and really enjoy them. They share our love of hiking, art and food (as well as our snarky sense of humor). Enthusiast actually offered to come over on July 4th and help assemble furniture! Now that's a friend to keep, huh? With his help, most of the office furniture is done and the living room pieces are in place. We're waiting for our bed delivery (hopefully today or tomorrow) and then we'll have most of the big pieces we need. Still more shopping to do, but none of it essential or urgent.

I'm hoping to head up to "H-mart" (the new name for the Korean grocery chain, Han Ah Reum) and see if they have any Korean tables to use for a coffee table. It would be great to have some Korean decor in the house.

The poor baby is totally neglected. I keep trying to do what I'd normally do in terms of furniture-building and unpacking and then I'll try to crunch up or bend over and get reminded by the impossibility of the proposition that there's a person in there getting squished. Oops! He's moving around a lot. In fact, last night I was looking down and saw my stomach move, which was highly disorienting. I found an OB online and we have an appointment this Friday. Hopefully I like him so I don't have to hunt around. I've got a couple recommendations if he doesn't work out.

We did get some time on the drive to talk through baby expectations. I was surprised to find out that Jrex wants to call him by his Korean name at home. It makes sense since otherwise he'll have very little Korean influence in his environment. What's weird for me is that his Mom picked that name and some part of me feels like that will give her ownership over the kid. It's not a huge deal, and I'm sure I'll get over it, but it was a definite adjustment for me to think about having that for his 'default' name.

In neighborhood news, one of our neighbors introduced herself while I was walking the dog this morning. Forty minutes later, the doorbell rang and she'd brought cookies and recommendations for a local plumber and AC guy (our first floor AC isn't working). I also found this video by the Oak Cliff chamber of commerce that gives a (slightly gilded) overview. (Click here to view.)

I'm back at work today, but sitting around waiting for the guys in the design department on the west coast to wander into work after the holiday weekend. We're having a meeting at 11 to figure out who is doing what (1 PM my time). Nothing like starting the work day at 1 pm? Yikes. We'll see how this goes.