8 reasons why America is good (or isn’t as bad as it sometimes feels), one year on.

I wrote this a while back, and it still holds true for me. The only thing I would add, is no.9, it’s not a dirty word to say you’re a Christian here. 

Thursday 1st December 2011

It’s been a tough year since arriving in the States. One year on and it’s still easier to see the negatives about my ‘new’ home, rather than look to all the great things I have discovered, seen or experienced. I thought it would be a good idea to recap 8 good things about the great U S of A, and Dallas in particular, in no particular order. Well apart from maybe the first two. And in honor of America, I will colorfully spell their way.

1. The people. Hands down, top of the list.

I didn’t doubt it, having met some good types home and away, but you never know, often countries seem to send their good ones out to show good face and leave the duds at home (I don’t believe Sarah Palin has travelled extensively outside of America?). But, the folks I have lived with, played with, worked with, met in the stores (although not on the roads), had chance encounters with and been doing life with over the last year have not put out the light of best America hope – it’s good people. And Texas, well, it might not have been that way. You have a certain reputation you know. I know George Bush really isn’t one of you but that’s all the rest of us have to go on. But for every George Bush, there is an interesting and articulate James Faust. And for every Sarah Palin, there is a smart Sarah Harris, or Alex Mena. Or a wonderfully kind Catherine Stansberry. Or generous friends, Katie Worley and Amy Oswalt. A woman beautiful inside and out – Alex Pursglove or Savannah Helm. Amongst many others, the people I have been with over the last year have shown that friendship can blossom anywhere, even when life is tough, and that people are without a doubt the best reason to be anywhere.

2.       Weather. Toes uncurled, a close second.

Last night J and I went through a list of countries that we would be happy to send our children to for a good education. There were a few that came up, but the clincher in most cases for me was, “yeah, but it’s cold there right?” Yes, I know the summers are unbearable. It is a dangerous and genuinely life-threatening climate. There are things completely out of our control that can actually kill us here. BUT, for most of the time, ie right now, tonight, it is BEAUTIFUL. It’s Dec 1st and it’s 64° (18°). Of course, Dallas does get cold, and I know the cold can be good sometimes, but I have never been that person who relishes putting on all of my clothes (Joey style) – and now having to do that to a stubborn two year old as well – hunching up my shoulders and bracing against the icy wind or freezing fog. In the dark. For at least 5 months of the year. As MrE says when we run the bath, ‘mummy likes the hot’. Or more like, the warm. And the sun. Did I mention it is gloriously sunny 90% of the time? Walking through the arboretum at 4pm on a stunning sunny November day when it is still warm enough for the wee man to play in the fountains and dry off without shivering uncontrollably? That is worth the summer furnace I think. And if not, I can always come back to Scotland for the summer rain.

3.       KXT (and KERA) Public radio at its best

Listening to a great band from Fort Worth today (soulful, U2ish but folksy, didn’t catch their name), followed by The Lighting Seeds and an unknown oldie, I love KXT. It is more than just a station that plays really good music from Texas and everywhere, including lots of great British music you don’t hear much on British radio like The Smiths and The Pixies. It is also a reminder that America is creative and cool and picks the best from everywhere and makes something really good and new from it all. And Kera, (say it with a NI accent),  well that just panders to my middle class indulgence for Radio 4. We have it on through most nights, listening to the World Service. It is a reminder to me that we are part of a bigger world, and that at 4am, is bigger than my problems, and that America can be very intelligent, knowledgeable and thoughtful.

 4. Celebration A decoration for everyday of the year.

A dear friend and former flatmate, and proud American, Sarah Day, introduced me to the concept of celebrating well, whilst we were living together many year ago in Glasgow. Her parties were wonderfully decorated and always enthusiastically put together. Even all of us holiday cynics can’t help but get a bit interested when so much effort is put into celebrating so much. It is over the top, it is too much, it is a commercial exercise in how much shit people will buy (and at the back of my mind I can’t help but think the money spent on decorating and lighting your house with literally thousands of lights, could be better spent on your neighbors a mile away who can’t afford to see a doctor), BUT, the principle is that you should celebrate milestones. And do it as a community, and do it BIG, like you mean it, and that every day is a gift. ‘This is the day the Lord has made’.

5. Food It’s odd, but good.

I got here and the first meal I made was something I’ve made for nearly 20 years, a Shepherd’s pie. But it wasn’t, it was evil ‘ground beef’ and other stuff that I randomly found and I nearly killed my father in law by putting tons of pepper and mayonnaise (?) in it, trying to make it edible. One year on, and I cook and bake more here than I ever did at home. I love cooking. In my darkest moments (or shortly after), my way of getting my head around stuff is putting on a apron, finding a recipe, finding my ingredients, realising I only have half, substituting for something that might work, ignoring the recipe and making some food. Sometimes it works – a great Chicken Pot Pie, or Angel Food Cake (which isn’t the same as our angel cake, much to my surprise half way through making it), and quite a lot of the time it doesn’t work. Don’t put apples in a potato gratin if you don’t have enough potatoes or no leeks (it goes soggy) and I am intimidated by pulled pork and overwhelmed by the amount of meat in Texas cooking. BUT, you can get lots of good, new and fascinating ingredients here. I didn’t know what Masa was, always wanted to use buttermilk more, there’s more shrimp than even I can eat (and its cheap) and there are countless Mexican spices and foods that I haven’t even began to get to grips with. My love of all things Japanese has never abated and I have tried to make sushi and udon here. I bake muffins (can every mother in America bake great muffins? I think so), I try ol’ American recipes and almost every day am in ‘The Joy of Cooking’.

It annoyed me at first when people said, when we first arrived, where do you go out to eat, or what do you like to eat? Well I don’t eat out much, and when I do it is with a playful, impatient and quite frankly annoying two year old. But I do appreciate that Dallas has pretty much every food imaginable, and some of it even tastes very good, and it is on every corner, just like churches in Northern Ireland.

I look forward to more food. And learning more about food. Always a good thing.

6.       Going to the wrong side of the car – I’ve not turned yet

We’re going to a party this Saturday. This is the same party we went to after being here only 4 days last year. But on that occasion, I had never driven in America. And certainly not in the dark. Half an hour before the party I climb (up) into my wonderful almost mother-in-law’s car, and ask if she will take me round the block. I nervously go to the left side, put it into drive (that was easy?) and take 10 minutes to go round the tiny block. I then drive 30mins on the wrong side of the road (ie the right), in the dark, to a place I’ve never been (now known to be Plano), to meet a bunch of people I’ve never met, and drive back. Glorious. It took another 4 months to get a car of our own, and I still enjoy driving, though not Dallas drivers (I think they are the most impatient, rude drivers I’ve ever had to drive in). The point is, however, that, even after a year of driving, because that is all you can do in Dallas (have any of my Dallas friends been on a bus or the DART?), I still sometimes go to the wrong side of the car to get in. And the reason that I like that is because, therefore, I still haven’t turned into a fully fledged American yet. Which means that despite doing all the things done in normal American life for one year, I am still a very British me. Which means that although I’ve been engrossed in this life and culture, I obviously still have the freedom to be me, a GeordieNorthernIrishScot, who loves her country, which is a good thing.

7.       Art It’s everywhere

I didn’t expect to find it in so many places in Dallas. It’s in parks, on the freeways, in the malls, even in the galleries. I find things to do for free for a little person who, since birth, has imputed everything. (As we drove down 75 yesterday, trying to get him to sleep by going on a boring road without lights, ‘bong bongs’ or trains, I rued that we had made him so observant about everything – ‘look mummy, stars’, about the markings on the side 635, when I wanted him to be asleep). We have seen wonderful sculpture at the Nasher, Jackson Pollock at the DMA, and watched moving statues at North Park. All for free. And when you look closely at all those (boring) buildings in downtown, there is interesting, quirky, fascinating architecture. It’s not the underground in Moscow, or the breathtaking skyscape of Edinburgh but it is inspiring and encouraging.

8. Space It, also, is everywhere

Space and light. They were in my top two reasons that we came here. Our flat in Edinburgh is wonderful – a home. But we had no garden and no real space. Here, we have space. Space for my boy to run and jump and play basketball all year round. And there’s loads more of it. On our one roadtrip so far, to lovely Colorado, I discovered what everyone here knows about Texas – it’s really flippin’ big. And that is just one state. There are oceans over there to the east and west, there’s great big mountains, there’s gigantic forests and lakes and lots more space, all over this place. And lots of it is beautiful.

How ironic, then, that my lack of personal space almost drove me over the edge, in this land of 3,536,294 square miles. But, I guess  like America, I’m growing, I’m learning, I’m dealing with it and making my own mark, making it through, and will get there in the end.