If you had asked me, any year at all before 2015, if I would move to Texas – the answer would have been an immediate no.
Firstly, because (since I was 8) there has only been one particular area I have really longed to live: the Black Mountains in Wales. Though I was born and brought up in London, my happiest times were on our annual camping trips to a diary farm near Skenfrith. The lung filling walks on top of the mountains, the beautiful tucked away valleys, the clear rivers and streams, the star studded night sky and the wonderful small scale compared to London. All of this made me feel peaceful and whole and fulfilled.
And in 2015, just before we moved to Texas that magical part of Wales was exactly where my husband, I and our two kids were living. It wasn’t easy getting to live there either. I spent many years teaching in London, before I escaped to Wales as a single adult. Then I ended up in Australia. When I married my husband we moved back to Wales and both my kids were born in the shadow of the Blorenge Mountain with an obstetric doctor who used sheep as a reference point for inducing labour!
But when my daughter was 4 years old and my son was just turning 3 my husband’s work pulled us away. It took us 7 years to come back. Though I had never lost faith that my kids would attend the Welsh high school that I used to walk by with them in the buggy. A beautiful school of just 700 pupils nestled between the Usk river and the Breacon Beacons.
So I was thrilled that, just before my daughter moved up to high school, my husband got a job in Wales. With great joy we moved back there in 2014. We bought (not quite our dream home built by ourselves) but close to that – a hi-spec home built by someone else for themselves with all the extra finishes people only do on a self build: solid wood floors, underfloor heating, designer kitchen and solar panals. I managed to get a senior job as Head of Education and Therapy in a Special School and was finally able to put some of my educational ideas into practice.
Then in April 2015, with everything fallen into place my husband was promoted to Senior Vice President in a technology company based in Austin Texas. When he came to me and said they would like him to move there, but he could stay in Wales, anxiety followed by relief flashed across my face. ‘We can’t move’ I said. ‘I know, I told them that’ he said. So he settled into a routine of late night conference calls and weeks away in Texas.
It wasn’t that I was completely opposed to the idea of living abroad for a while. It actually appealed as a way of broadening the kids experience and introducing them to the wider world. But what I thought of as ‘the far south reactionary dust bowl of Texas’ was as far from my perfect environment as I could imagine. I had been to America before but only the East Coast. All I knew of Texas was that there were oil wells and people in Cowboy hats. The main video images I had of Texas were from the TV show Dallas which gave an impression of a place full of conspicuous wealth, large ranches and skyscrapers. It was also a southern state which conjured images of slavery, Klu-Klux Clan and ladies in large hats in rich plantation houses drinking iced tea and speaking in that painfully slow Southern drawl.
So how on March 5th 2016 did we find ourselves opening the door of a balconied colonial house next to a park and canyon in North West Austin?
Well, to cut a long story short the perfect job, perfect house and perfect school turned out to be not so perfect. Though I really loved working with the kids and staff at the special school it was a long hours and commute and kept me away from my kids more than I liked. I also could never get used to working for a charity that wanted to be like a business and called our students ‘customers’! The house was lovely but wasn’t rural enough for me I would rather have been up a mountain! Also it became clear that my kids school was perhaps better on the outside than the inside. There are definite disadvantages to being in a small (720 in total from 11-18 years) rural school, especially if you are at all different, as my son found out.
But even then I doubt we would have moved if it had not been for our fabulous 2 week California road trip in the summer of 2015. Under the redwoods, in a San Fransisco Cable car, in the wine valleys, in the jaw dropping beauty of Yosemite, in the expensive luxury of Santa Barbara beach, in San Diego Zoo and the Hollywood glamour of LA: the kids fell in love with America. Even my daughter, who was thriving at the school in Wales with a wide group of friends, said she wanted to move to the States.
To top it all my view of Austin had begun to change. Austin everyone told me was not like the rest of Texas. People described it as the Silicon Hills, because so many Tech companies (like my husband’s) had moved there. Or the Live music capital of the world with concerts everyday and the massive ACL music festival. My husband even said they had bands playing in the airport. But perhaps what appealed most of all was Austin’s slogan ‘keep Austin weird’. I have always felt a little weird and cherished the weirdness in those around me. So Austin began to sound like a place I would fit in and could call home.
So in October I said to my husband “well lets at least go and see”. So the kids and I flew out with him for a week. We rented a house and did the touristy things. I was pleasantly surprised to have rainy and cold days- I thought Texas was always hot- and with the local alternative independent shop vibe. Austin was actually more like how I imagined San Fransisco would be than San Fransisco itself!
But I still wasn’t sure. What about my job? Could we really move the kids again? How could I bear leaving my beloved Welsh mountains behind again or being so far from my family and friends.
So on our last day, when we went into SoCo (the alternative high street) again, my mind was full of doubts and worries, positives and negatives flying round in a confusing jumble. It was a glorious day the weather had done (what I know now is a typically Texas thing) and gone from Arctic (raining, grey and windy) to blissful early summer, bask-outside-in-the-sunshine overnight: climbing almost 25 degrees. As we walked I turned my face to the sun relishing in the unfamiliar warmth and light.
The heat drew us back to Amy’s Ice Cream, a uniquely Austin Phenomena we had tried three days earlier. Before Amy’s I had never seen ice creams tossed and pounded with stainless steel paddles as items were ‘crushed in’. Amy’s ice creams
We sat outside on tables in the street, with all the cool weird shops around us, kids chatted happily remarkably relaxed and I ate Mexican Vanilla with a fresh strawberry crush in. As I let the cool luxurious ice-cream slip down my throat – I thought to myself ‘yes I could do this!’
So, in the end, that’s why I moved from Abergavenny to Austin, for the cold vanilla silky creaminess against the fresh sweet bite of crushed in Strawberries from Amy’s Ice Cream which you just can’t get in Wales.