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We’ve Relocated!

Hello friends and family!

We have officially moved from Texas to California.

The last week of November Cameron received a job offer that would allow us to move closer to his home, in Orange County, and by the last week of December, we were here! It has been a whirlwind and I’m sure my first-trimester pregnancy hormones made everything SO much easier for everyone. But we made it!

I have relocated my former blog location to Word Press because of some of the easier functionality. I moved a couple of the old posts here, but for the most part, I want our California experiences to be new and unique.

I will also be adding videos and an education tips page, which are some suggestions I received from friends.

Top Five things to know for moving to California from Texas!

  1. Pack and organize efficiently!
    1. We have things in two locations of storage, plus what we have in the house. Sometimes we know where things are, sometimes we don’t. While it was fun to go “shopping” for maternity clothes in storage because it didn’t cost me anything, I also spent 2 hours trying to find the power cord to my Cricut, which was packed in a different box. I definitely wish I had been more focused the week we packed.
    2. Label, Label, Label. Nothing is worse than opening 10 boxes labeled Kitchen when you’re trying to find ONE stock pot. Label the room, then a summary of the contents. Kitchen- Pots and Pans or Master Bedroom – Office Supplies
    3. You have to pack differently if you’re moving directly to your forever home versus storing temporarily. Also, watch that Marie Kondo documentary before you start packing. There is nothing worse than the feeling of, “Why did I move this crap?”
  2. Driver’s licenses are not treated the same
    1. California has different laws when it comes to getting a driver’s license. In order to get a REAL ID, yes that’s what it’s called, you will need your social security card, birth certificate or passport, and proof of residency.
    2. In Texas, there are two forms of your birth certificate, a long form, and a short form. California won’t accept the short form. So I ordered a long form of my birth certificate and my passport at the same time. Strangely, the passport office accepted my short form birth certificate. My passport arrived first and I was able to get my driver’s license!
    3. I missed two questions on the test: One about the speed limit you drive in the rain (drive the speed limit safest for the conditions) and the other about legal u-turns (You can only make a legal U-turn in a residential area). In California, you also have to pull into the bike lane in order to make a right turn, which is not something I’m used to. You can also have your license suspended for using your phone while driving! So if you come to visit, connect to Bluetooth!
  3. If you’re a teacher, submit documentation early
    1. The California Teacher Credentialing website clearly states it can take up to 50 business days to process a credential. In Texas, we call it our certification. My biggest hiccup was because once I moved, they required I re-do my fingerprinting in California, rather than accepting the fingerprint cards I had done in Houston. So far I’ve invested $130 into making sure the Department of Justice has my fingerprints.
    2. Do not expect to have the same certificate/credential transfer. In Texas, I am certified for English Language Arts and Reading grades 7-12 with my ESL supplemental. In California, I hold a Single Subject English credential which allows me to teach Pre-K through 12th grade, but no EL accommodation. Insanity! But considering how much of the Texas ESL test was just Texas law, I’m not surprised it didn’t transfer. Also, I have no intentions of going elementary. That’s a different breed of educator.
  4. Healthcare is subsidized, yay! It’s also a hot mess of bureaucracy
    1. Cameron has healthcare through his new company, but it was way too pricy to add me and Colbito. Through Covered California, the government assesses your income and needs and subsidizes your healthcare costs accordingly.
    2. If you are expecting, they automatically make you sign up for MediCal, the California healthcare for all. We applied really early in Texas, so we have BlueShield California for cheaper than my health care through the Texas Teacher Retirement System.
    3. I spent 4 hours on the phone with 3 different insurance organizations on Monday. Our personal insurance agent said, “This is the idiotic bureaucracy you can expect if Healthcare for all really passes.” Not sure if I agree, but it was an intriguing perspective.
  5. People might be genuinely more friendly here, but don’t expect any southern or Mexican food to be the same.
    1. The food isn’t bad, but don’t go into a restaurant expecting it to taste like Tex-Mex or your neighborhood southern fried chicken and barbeque, goods are not as advertised.
    2. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good! There are some awesome locals making really good food. We tried a Mexican restaurant called Descando with an hibachi style grill but it was repurposed as a taco bar. It was so cool to watch my chile relleno grilled with melted cheese before me, rather than fried or baked behind the scenes.
    3. I’m most curious about Harper Barbeque, one because it shares a family name, and two because they are promising central Texas-style barbeque, and I happen to be an expert. They can be followed at @harperbarbeque on Instagram. Anything else I’ve tried wasn’t even close to home but the promise of a piece of the Hill Country might make me a happier Californian.
    4. There isn’t a grocery store remotely similar to HEB. You have to make multiple stops for different items depending on price/availability/brand. The only thing familiar is that Ralph’s is basically Randall’s and they carry similar products to Kroger. I did research and they’re all owned by Safeway.

https://www.instagram.com/harperbarbecue

Just an amazing souvenir from my Harper family reunion.

Five more tips for not murdering everyone around you during the process of moving… and finding a job.

  1. Make a to-do list every day
    1. Even if it is just to do laundry, wash your face, and go on a walk. Give yourself a daily purpose.
  2. Have goals for the day, week, and month
    1. Being able to see something outside the moment you’re in will make a huge difference in your perspective
  3. Take time to center
    1. Things can, and will, get overwhelming. Take moments to breathe and absorb the moment you’re in rather than be overwhelmed by the situation as a whole
  4. Do things that bring you happiness
    1. Have I been playing pop-punk covers in my car? Yes, I have. Fall Out Boy’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody is GOLD. Ok, maybe bronze, but I love it. Unapologetically choose to be happy and do happy things.
  5. Contact your village often
    1. Sorry not sorry to my Texas girls I’ve been texting all day every day. But you know what? I feel like your village keeps you centered.

Choosing Childcare

Moving to a new city is scary enough, but moving with your child or children is even more terrifying. All of a sudden the decisions you make suddenly feel ten times more important and the fear of the consequences feel equally daunting. So one of our first chores in moving to California was finding childcare for our son. He’d spent about a month out of preschool jumping between different relatives’ homes for the holidays and NEEDED STRUCTURE. To anyone who compliments me on my son’s behavior, I credit it to routine, routine, routine. Threenagers (or really anyone, ever) need expectations. Our son, more than I think some other children, craves and enjoys structure. So for us, Montessori school was the way to go. Luckily, after some interesting school tours around the area, we found one that was walking distance around the corner and our son seems to be thriving.

Below are a couple of the basics of Montessori that are reasons I LOVE it. (For those of you who aren’t educators or well versed in the psychology of child development.)

  1. It is based on the studies of Maria Montessori. Different schools with the name “Montessori” interpret her studies in different ways. ALWAYS do a tour and ask lots of questions. The name is not a brand, but rather an ideology.
  2. My favorite elements are that work and learning are play, toys are ‘materials’, and the environment is shaped for the needs of the child. Wouldn’t it be nice if secondary education adopted some of those ideals?
  3. Children are responsible for themselves. This includes responsibility for cleaning up messes, potty accidents, or behavior. YES, even for 2 and 3-year-olds. Self-reflection is reinforced very early and this is something I felt my child needed.
  4. Children are often in cooperative learning environments not structured by age. This will look different based on how the school decides to structure it, but I feel that having exposure to learners outside of your age bracket is great for development. How many parents can say their second child learned to speak, walk, or read faster than their first? Why not allow young children that exposure during preschool outside the home!? In many cases, it will be a child in the next developmental stage up from the first assisting with a puzzle, painting, or outdoor activity. For example, a five-year-old showing a three-year-old how to use a material.
  5. Social-emotional awareness is taught to both teacher and student. Remember watching Mr. Rogers growing up? How slow and methodical he spoke and how he asked us to breathe and think about how to control what we’re feeling? Montessori does that too.

My method for choosing childcare

Back in college I always, always shared relationship advice but never took my own. (Didn’t we all?) The one activity that actually worked for dating, or really any difficult decision making, and still works now that I am married with a little one is THE T CHART.

On a sheet of paper make a T chart. It is best to do this with your partner. On the left list all of the positive values you have for childcare. Clean facilities, kind staff, locking gate… etc. Then on the right make a list of the negative values that are “deal breakers” that would prevent you from choosing that location. Children in duct tape, lack of curriculum, run down facilities, etc… Try to come up with 10 values for each column. Mine is below as an example! Ok, I only did 9, but you get the idea.

While it is the age of technology, and you’ll probably start with Google like the rest of us millennials, don’t be afraid to just drive around and look at properties. Many older or faith-based child care centers may not be online. Shocker. I know. Make a list from the Google of places to call and schedule a tour.

ALWAYS TOUR A DAYCARE or PRESCHOOL. If they don’t allow a tour or observation, you probably don’t want to attend there. Once you’ve done the tour and met with the teachers, review your list and see how many values it filled, or left empty.

Again, also works great if you’re dating! Just ask my former roommates.

No daycare is the best fit for every child, because every one has different needs, values, and priorities. Maybe you want one that is faith based, or nature based, or does interpretive dance yoga, COOL! You do you!

So our step one with settling in California is complete! I hope you found our insight useful and you can use the chart soon.

I’ll be writing again soon to talk about my QUITE emotional adventure in transferring my teaching license (credential) and sharing some shrimp and crawfish boil advice.

Chili

I love Texas, which has made this move to California a little rough. In the first grade, we did an “I Love NY” shirt project. We had to decorate a t-shirt with something we really loved. Other children decorated shirts with their dogs, or their parents, or a favorite color. Mine said, “I LOVE TEXAS”. It had armadillos, cacti, cowboys boots, and hats.

Chili is Texan. In a previous draft of this post I started out discussing how my inflated Texan ego believed it was Texan, but I wasn’t sure, so I did some research. IT IS in fact Texan and specifically originates from the San Antonio region. There are different stories of its creation with connections to cattle ranching and Catholic missions. However, the most common story of the introduction of chili to the world was the San Antonio chili booth at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. 

Chili and cornbread are my favorite comfort foods. We have three chili ideas for you, plus my jalapeño cornbread recipe. Chilis include my Deep Roots traditional Texan chili, Newett family chili, and white chicken chili, which is my favorite. Sorry, Texas. 

Deep Roots Chili

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6 Gun chili mix -This can actually be purchased on Amazon, or larger HEB stores if you’re in Texas. It includes masa, chili powder, cumin, salt, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and oregano.
  • 2 lbs of ground beef or chili meat (My mom buys shoulder roast and then chops it into cubes)
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 cans of seasoned diced tomatoes (Rotel, or plain if you prefer your chili less spicy)

1. In a large pot heat your oil and add the onion and garlic. Sauté until the onions and garlic are translucent. 

2. Add the chili mix, leaving out the masa. The masa is a thickening agent, so you can leave it in if you like heartier chili, we prefer ours a little thinner so it gets soaked into the cornbread. It is entirely up to you! Stir the mix into the onion and garlic mix until absorbed.

3. Add your meat and brown. 

4. Add the two cans of seasoned tomatoes, do not drain them! Then add one can of water. Yes, cans are units of measurement. Add one of them. 

5. Let sit on the stove until your house smells good, stirring occasionally. While you’re waiting, make your cornbread. 

Cheddar Jalapeno Cornbread 

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3 large lightly beaten eggs
  • 2 sticks of butter, melted
  • 1 cup of grated cheddar cheese (Half of a 16-ounce bag)
  • 3 tablespoons of chopped jalapeños

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Take a large (about 9-10″) cast iron skillet and coat with butter. Place the skillet in the oven while its preheating. 

2. Fork together your dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a separate bowl combine the eggs, butter, and milk together. Then add the jalapeños and cheese and let sit for about 15 minutes. 

3. Combine wet and dry ingredients and mix until all dry ingredients are evenly moist. 

4. Pull your skillet out of the oven, pour your cornbread mixture into the hot skillet. 

5. Cook cornbread 30-35 minutes. If you put a toothpick or butter knife into the cornbread, it should come out clean. 

White Chicken Chili

  • 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • cilantro
  • paprika
  • cayenne pepper
  • 3-4 jalapeños
  • 3 chicken breasts
  • 2 chicken thighs
  • 1 onion
  • 1/4 cup minced garlic
  • 3 cartons of organic chicken stock
  • 1 can diced green chilis
  • 1 can organic sweet corn
  • 1 can organic kidney beans
  • 1 can organic butter beans
  • 1 bag frozen hatch chilis
    • For Garnish
      • queso fresco
      • 1 tomato
      • 1 avocado

1. Pre heat your oven to 425. In a large stock pot heat oil and cook garlic about 5 minutes until browned. Add chicken stock, corn, beans, and bag of diced chilis. Add one jalapeño and a handful of chopped cilantro. 

2. Season the chicken with salt, pepper, paprika, and cayenne pepper. Bake in the oven at 425 for 20-25 minutes. Set aside to cool. 

3. Chop chicken into bite sized pieces and add to stock pot. Let the soup simmer and sample until you’re too hungry to keep waiting. 

4. Serve and garnish with fresh tomato, cilantro, avocado, sliced jalapeño, sour cream, and cotija cheese. 

Newett Chili 

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 stick of butter
  • 1 onion
  • 1/4 cup copped garlic
  • 1 pound steak meat
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • small handful of dried chilis
  • cumin
  • crushed red pepper
  • cayenne pepper
  • smoked ancho pepper seasoning
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 can kidney beans
  • 1 can pinto beans
  • 1 can northern beans
  • 2- 32 ounce cans of whole tomatoes

1. Heat oil in a stockpot. Add onion and garlic and sauté until translucent. Set aside a tablespoon of onion for garnish. 

2. Add spices to preferable taste, Cameron doesn’t measure anything but I suggest about a tablespoon of each. 

3. Add ground beef to the stock pot and brown. 

4. In a separate pan, add 1/4 stick of butter and coat pan. Brown steaks on both sides (about 6 minutes each) until cooked medium-rare. 

5. Cut steak meat into cubes and add to stock pot. 

6. Add beans and tomato and simmer until tomatoes begin to fall apart. 

7. Garnish with sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, and onions. 

Gumbo

Gumbo is about as American as America gets. Gumbo does not have one recipe. Gumbo in its backbone has a few of the same ingredients, but very few. A protein: chicken, crab, sausage, shrimp, duck, crawfish, oysters, etc. Vegetables: celery, onion, and bell peppers. The spices aren’t consistent, the proteins aren’t consistent, heck, even the use of okra isn’t.

I love okra. When I was very young, four or five, we lived in Winters, Texas. It is so flat it feels like you can see for miles and there my mother had a garden. It was filled with okra, squash, jalapeños and Lincoln roses. I recall taking the tiny spuds of fluffy okra and gently rubbing them between my fingers with warnings whispered in the background not to pick them. I believe it is absolutely necessary to good gumbo. 

I found in my research that okra is a hot button topic. Most of my fellow Texans I polled agreed it was best deep fried. Texas is on a line of being south and southwest, hence the name of the enormous music/tech/art fiasco that happens during spring break every year, so the use of okra in gumbo is up for debate around here. I was raised understanding that you used it in conjunction with your roux as a thickener.

Cameron however, does NOT share my affinity for okra. One morning during one of our early dates as a couple, we ordered brunch bloody marys. As garnish, the bartender used celery of course, but also had an impressive skewer of olives, pickles, pepperoncini, and spicy pickled okra. Cameron, being from the West Coast, had never seen pickled okra, and didn’t know how to eat it. I explained that you just bite it, but don’t eat the stem. He somehow couldn’t bite through the okra, but instead skinned all of the fuzzy hairs off. I still wish I had recorded this hilarious event. However, I haven’t been able to get him to try another since. 

Until (drum roll please)

Duck and Oyster Gumbo

  • 1 whole duck (You can buy them frozen, they come with an orange glaze packet typically, just throw it away)
  • 2 smoked turkey wings (You can find these in the supermarket with the odds and ends of the meat department.
  • 1 cup rendered duck fat (If your duck doesn’t render enough fat, sub vegetable oil to make your roux)
  • Smoked pork feet
  • 2 cups chopped celery
  • about 6 cloves chopped garlic (or use pre-chopped and add 1 teaspoon at a time)
  • 1 diced onion
  • 1 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 2 cups chopped okra
  • 1 bag (3 cups/24 ounces ish) frozen crawfish (If it is crawfish season you could use fresh. These are next to the seafood counter
  • 2 lbs of shrimp (Cameron suggests U-12)
  • 1 cup ISH all-purpose flour
  • 3-4 links andouille sausage
  • 2-4 cups white wine -Use a chardonnay you don’t mind drinking with while you’re waiting for things to cook. I was also taught to never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink
  • 1 pint shucked oysters

If you have the time, cook your duck, remove the meat, then use the carcass for your stock. 

Preheat your oven to 400 F 

Remove the giblets poke holes and score the top layer of the skin not the meat so the fat can release into the pan. Place duck in a roasting pan elevated from sitting it its fat and cover with salt, pepper, and Herbs de Provence. Roast the duck approximately 2 hours until the internal temperature reaches 165 F. 

While the duck is roasting, prepare a stock pot of smoked turkey wings, smoked pork, the ends of celery, onion, garlic, and carrots.

Chop vegetables and thaw any frozen shrimp and crawfish. 

When duck is finished, pour fat rendered into a heat resistant container and set aside.  You wont be able to separate the fat from the juices, chill all of the liquid together 

Start your roux. This is an ART FORM. Cookbooks will very simply say “Brown flour in animal fat or lard”. It is not that simple. Go watch someone’s great-grandma do it. Place 1 cup of reserved duck fat (or vegetable oil)  into a dutch oven and let it get shimmering hot. Adding 1 tablespoon at a time, brown the flour into your OIL This takes focus and a second sense of timing. Turn the heat down if you get nervous. You will need to use your sense of sight, smell, and feel to know when your roux is ready. It should smell almost like roasting peanuts, with an earthy smell. It should have a dark reddish brown, but not burned, color. When I asked Cameron how it would describe it, he replied, “Warm Nuts.” 

Let the duck cool and shred the meat for gumbo. Some like to carve and cube the meat, we prefer our gumbo more primal in texture.

Separate the solids from the stock with a strainer.  Fill your stockpot half full with stock. If you have leftover, save it. 

On the highest heat you can muster, toss the shredded duck, a fathand’s pinch of Cajun seasoning, and a gulp of wine.  If you’re a risk taker, add some crystal hot sauce.  When the liquid is gone, add to the pot.

Place back half the pot full of stock, adding duck meat, cajun seasoning, and white wine.   

In a sauté pan toss together sausage, 1 tsp cajun seasoning, and 1/4 cup white wine. Simmer together until wine is reduced and sausage is cooked through. Add to stockpot. 

Throw in shrimp, cajun seasoning, garlic, and 1/2 stick of butter to the sauté pan. Simmer together until shrimp are pink. Add to stock pot. Next in the sauté pan, throw in okra with cajun seasoning and the other 1/4 cup white wine. Sauté okra until it just starts to get slimy. Add to stock pot. 

Cook the crawfish the same as above. Add cooked crawfish and stir until well blended. Add contents of pan to stock pot.

Take your roux and add one heaping spoonful at a time and blend into the contents of your stock pot. Add a bit, drink some wine, re-visit. You want always add more roux later, but you can’t un roux the pot. Allow to simmer long and slow until your house smells amazing. Add the oysters 20 minutes before serving. 

This dish has lots of components, phases, ingredients. Mise en place is critical to this working successfully.  You need to have a plan.  You need to be thinking 2-3 steps ahead or you will 1) screw it up 2) make a mess in your kitchen 3) not have fun.

There is no one way to make gumbo. Our gumbo is a representation of our, The Newett Home’s, tastes and culture. I know a LOT of duck hunters who could easily use this recipe to make use of the duck they’ve shot. The oysters are reflective of our proximity to the gulf. You don’t want to eat Texas gulf oysters raw, you fry them or you put them in gumbo. If you’re creole, you’re more likely to use butter in your roux. If you’re cajun, you use lard or animal fat. Move father east, you may be serving your gumbo on grits or even potato salad rather than rice. The use of okra as a thickener comes from western African cooking, so if your heritage reflects that a little brighter, you might find your grandmother putting eggplant in your gumbo. As you move west, your gumbo gets spicier depending on the influences from Cajun or Mexican culture. 

My frustration with calling any country where Americans have immigrated from a “sh*thole” is that we wouldn’t have some of our most beautiful, flavorful staples of American culture if it hadn’t have been for those immigrants. The gulf is one of the greatest melting pots of culture because it attracts so many people from different parts of the world. We have almost every continent represented in the school where I served outside of Houston, Texas. There is a restaurant around the corner from my school where I can order my gumbo on pho noodles. What matters, however you throw together your gumbo, it that should reflect you