Hot enough for ya?

UGHHHHHHH.

I did not know that I lived in the desert, but it’s day 234862124 with no rain here in Austin and I have decided that it will never, never, never rain again. Despite our best efforts of regular evening watering, our plants and gardens are determined to stop living. But who can blame them? It. Is. Mis-er-a-ble.

The only plants that look to be somewhat, maybe coping with the recent break up between Austin and rain are the succulents. I was never crazy about the whole desert look. I opt more for the green-luscious-tropical vibe, but succulents have won me over and I have began brainstorming my next garden project–SUCCULENT CITY.


fiestas and food

Last weekend was our first back in Austin after our globe trotting adventures. The return to our state’s capitol had to be epic. Enter weekend extravaganza of fun times (working title).

Fortunately there was plenty of fun to be had. In 1 weekend, over 2 days, there were 3 parties—all with a common theme: food and fun.

Party 1
Host: Mark and Ranjana
Summary: In honor of a very special occasion–Friday–Mark and Ranjana, or Maranjanark, hosted a pizza-filled fiesta that included a pie made with a bacon crust  (courtesy Epic Meal Time), bacon-wrapped and cheese-stuffed jalapenos and “the salad bowl game” which is essentially the love child of Taboo and charades on steroids. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but had we won tickets for performing well in the game (circa the days of Chuck E. Cheese or Fun Time Pizza) I’d have walked out of there with an awesome water gun or magic kit. In layman’s terms…I did good.

Party 2
Host: Avee and Rajia
Summary: The Saturday day party (that inevitably went into the night) celebrated Rajia’s birthday with yard games like badminton and ping pong. And of course, there was beer, queso and party snacks to boot.

Party 3
Host: Candace and Chris
Summary: The party celebrated both a birthday and the couple’s recent decision to c0habitate.  Playing starring roles at the love fest was an abundance of hip home decor, homemade edible goodies, keg beer, hipster music and a 90-pound doodle-like dog that fell too much in love with one of the party guests.

Party on.


jet setters

Yesterday, after more than 12 hours traveling via plane, train and automobile, we arrived in Austin, joints sore from long walks, hair windblown from the coastal breeze and thoughts of San Francisco still bouncing about our cerebral cortex

The trip was short, less than 100 hours, but in the name of a one-year wedding anniversary, we crammed as much sight seeing, street walking, photo taking and wine drinking in as possible. Observe, below, our 4-day itinerary.

Thursday: We arrived at the Hotel Mayflower (a delightfully charming, nearly 100-year-old  hotel in Nob Hill complete with manually operated doors) around 2:30 (yes, just in time for our dentist appointment) and immediately set out about town.  I’ve always believed that the best way to get your bearings about a new place is to explore, get lost, and explore some more. So we set afoot through San Fran’s most notable neighborhoods: Chinatown, North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square, Downtown and Market Street. The trek was long, but indeed the best way to get our wits about the city.

Friday: After a restful sleep we awoke at the crack of early to get to Muir Woods National Monument just as the park was opening. For nearly 2 hours we had the park and its thousand-year-old trees to ourselves. The serenity of the forest combined with the gargantuan trees and perception that you were walking through a piece of American history provided Heath with what he dubbed a “top 10 life moment.” From there we put the pedal to the metal and headed north to Sonoma to add some wine to our woods. A luxurious lunch at a curbside cafe, wine aplenty and hills upon rolling hills of vineyards made the trip to the home of California’s bear flag truly memorable. The day ended with a tour of UC Berkeley where we walked the campus and envisioned scenarios where treks to class required a light jacket rather than a light layer of salty sweat as is customary with campus romps at UT. Oh to live in a place where the average annual temperature is 60 degrees…

From there we headed to what would be our home for the next three nights, a delightful bed and breakfast we discovered through airbnb (an awesome service that hooks travelers up with rooms in the homes of locals at a fraction of the cost of hotels) located in the mission neighborhood. The space was great and proved to be a much-needed getaway at the end of our fun-filled but exhausting days in San Fran.

Saturday: We began the official celebration of our anniversary with a walk to Golden Gate park which afforded us terrific views of some of San Francisco’s best residences, gardens, parks and neighborhoods. Once in the main park we toured the botanical gardens, the DeYoung museum, and the California Academy of Sciences which boasts a living rain forest, planetarium and aquarium. Heath’s science-oriented brain had a literal field day. Once his inner lusts were satisfied, we walked down Haight Street to Ashbury to indulge my cravings for an experience that’s equal parts funky and shop girl.  The vintage record stores, locally owned boutiques and funky clientele reminded me of Austin’s South Congress Avenue. (At one point during our tenure down Haight, a local hooked his iPod up to speakers on a rooftop and performed a little jig to 2Pac’s “California Love.”)  Exhausted after hours of walking, we celebrated the evening with wine we purchased from the previous day’s vineyard and takeout from a Chinatown eatery.

Sunday: El fin, if you will. With one day left to go, we went to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to take in works by Picasso and Matisse as well as other quirky pieces of modern art and photography. From there we traveled to the beach for the obligatory and romantic barefoot walk in the sand along the sea shore, then to the Golden Gate Bridge to finish the trip off right.

Fare thee well, San Fran. We shall return.


July 4

When fireworks are banned across Central Texas, the only logical substitue for outdoor explosions is to watch Independence Day projected onto a sheet in your backyard while enjoying sliders, potato salad and watermelon. That’s what we decided to do, anyway. What’s more American than mini sandwiches, and excessively large TV screens? Nothing, that’s what.


A peek at our makeshift movie theater.

The Menu: Chips and salsa, watermelon and peaches, turkey sliders, BLT dip, curried potato salad and lots of beer.

Friends–also an important July 4 ingredient.

 

Happy b-day, America.

 


Mason

What’s a Mason? A type of brick layer, certainly. A trendy boy’s name, yes. And, most importantly, it’s a tiny town halfway between Austin and San Angelo whose total population could easily fit into my high school. So how is it that I wound up  neck deep in Puncher (Mason’s awesome high school mascot) territory?

I was commissioned by a local magazine to write a travel piece on the little gem I had previously only seen on the corner of the weather man’s forecast map. I knew little about the county seat of Mason County, but I did know it was the birthplace of my friend Mixon who generously offered to be tour guide during my Westward excursion.

Here’s what you need to know about Mason:

•Its main exports are Topaz (the state gem of Texas, which is particularly ironic because Mason County is the only place my birthstone has ever been discovered within Texas borders) and sand.
•Besides being the hometown of my award-winning writer friend Mixon, Mason is also home to another popular writer: Fred Gipson, author of the heart wrenching story of Old Yeller.
• Until recently, prisoners of the Mason County Jail were forced to wear bright pink jumpsuits in an effort to encourage delinquents to reform their law-breaking ways.
• The recreational activity of choice for the locals is driving “the loop,” a dirt road which loops around the town and across the hill country landscape. Poor conditions of the road limit drivers to a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour, which is probably best since drinking and driving on the excursion is par for the course.

But Mason is more than Jeopardian tidbits and factoids. After driving two hours west on Highway 29, Mason is the first town along the highway that actually compels travelers to stop and stay awhile.  Old stone houses, chock-full or character, welcome visitors from either side of the road, and unlike most of the drive to that point, Mason is hilly and lush with mature trees. But what really makes Mason noteworthy are the people. As is typical with small towns, everyone knows everyone. Grab lunch with a local in one of Mason’s cafes and they can tell you a story about any other Mason native that passes by the storefront; that guy drove his truck into a telephone pole last week, those folks own the movie theatre. But it’s not the trivial, gossip-ridden stories that might circulate in a high school of the same size. When you live and work with the same folks for 10,  20 and 50 years, the stories become part of the town’s history and are told with a sense of ownership and pride, like an author writing down a chapter of a novel. Mason’s 2,000 residents know how to live next to each other, but also how to appreciate one another at the same time. The waitress in the cafe always knows who at the table is going to take care of the check, and the storekeeper on the square knows all about the back up quarterback’s knee injury. It’s smal town living at its finest.


Blues on the Green

For 21 years now Austin’s most rad radio station, 93.3 KGSR, has been putting on a great little diddy called Blues on the Green. It’s a super cool, super free, super Austin concert taking place every Wednesday night during the summer months. It sounds too good to be true and embarrassingly, I had never made it out to the free, fun-filled music fest till yesterday.

I picked the right time to go. A rare summertime rain visited Austin the day before the concert and painted Zilker Park with vibrant shades of green–without which it would have been “Blues on the Brown.” But what’s even better is that the rain cooled the park down to a chilly 80 degrees. The weather was great and people across the city showed up by the hundreds to lounge on the lawn and jam along with  The Bright Light Social Hour.

Other things to know about Blues on the Green if, like me, you are a festival novice:

*Bring your own beer. A newbie to B on the G, I didn’t know how strict the rule-making people would be when it came to things like bringing in your own coolers of adult beverages. Officially you’re allowed to bring a cooler to the park, but in compliance with city codes, alcoholic beverages are banned. No one seemed to be following the latter part of that rule and enjoyed their koozie clad beers with no fear being “busted.” Do the right thing, though, and leave the glass bottles at home. Lots of tots run around the park barefoot during the performances and cutting up their innocent feet with the glass of poisonous alcoholic beverages is a bit grinch-like.
 *Bring your own kids.
Despite aforementioned bullet point, this is definitely a kid-friendly event and will be one of those things that childhood memories are made of. So pack the stroller and the diaper bag and take the kiddos some place where they can run around wild outside and you can take a much needed break on the lawn.
 *Bring your dog. The dog watching at Zilker is top notch. Officially the rules are “on leash only” but quite a few folk will unhitch their well-behaved canines during the show.

Don’t be like me, make Blues on the Green part of your summertime routine.*

 

*Rhyme not intended, but still awesome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Hill Country Saturday

A pilgrimage to the Texas Hill Country can take on many forms. For some, the visit to one of the most beautiful regions in Texas means miles of tubing, beer in hand, down cold, rapid-filled rivers. Others ponder hikes through thickets swarmed with wildlife and wildflowers, but on this particular Saturday a trip to the Texas Hill Country meant lots of peach ice cream, local wine, and a farm-developed seed vacuum cleaner.

The first stop on our hill country hangout was in Blanco to visit the popular lavender fields which have made Blanco the self-proclaimed Lavender Capital of the World and host of the area’s Lavender festival. Unfortunately the summer’s drought made hills of purple pollen scarce, but droves of arts and crafts vendors and sellers of lavender-themed knick knacks still came to profit from the Lavender craze in Blanco’s historic square. While the flowers were scarce, the local charm wasn’t and Blanco made a great stop for a light lunch. Check out Zocalo Electric Cafe for a menu that’s small but is customized daily to reflect the freshest ingredients available at the cafe. The food is light and wholesome and the atmosphere of the  converted bungalow adequately reflects the small-town charm that brings visitors to Blanco in the first place.

From Blanco it’s about a 20-minute drive to Fredericksburg, a city I’ve grown up knowing for its German heritage, wineries, and most-importantly…its peaches.

We arrived at a long-time family favorite pit stop for peaches, Burg’s Corner. The roadside stop for all things peaches hasn’t changed since the 1970s and offers hungry Hill Country visitors loads of peach paraphernalia, produce, picturesque picnic areas and peach ice cream. Licking up scoops of the Blue Bell peach ice cream at Burg’s Corner is a memory from my youth I’ve carried into adulthood and will hopefully one day emerge itself in the memories of my future offspring. The stop is humble but it’s one of those places that for some reason nests itself in your subconscious and begs to be revisited over and over again.

This view from a picnic area around the corner overlooks the Pedernales River. This beautiful and serene piece of scenery is not only the setting of dozens of family picnics, it’s where we go to remember my Oma who considered this picnic stop a Texas treasure. Her ashes are scattered here.

Down the road from Burg’s is Becker Vineyards.  A road surrounded by orchards and vineyards on either side leads guests up to the limestone headquarters of this local winery. Ten dollars gets you in for tastings of sublimely delicious Texas wines, but part of what you pay for is not only the rich and delightfully cared-for beverage but also recommendations from the vineyard’s staff of the best wines and nearby sight-seeing opportunities and the spectacular view of the Fredericksburg countryside.

Further on down the same road that hosts both Burg’s and Becker is Wildseed Farms. The massive wildflower mecca is the proverbial candy store to many a Texas Gardener. Their covet-worthy seed selection fills an entire room and acres and acres of innovative irrigation systems water not rows of corn or tomatoes but instead fields of flowers. The grounds are certainly a site to behold.

There’s no limit to the combinations of experiences the Texas Hill Country can afford, but on this Saturday the combinations of flowers and ice cream and peaches and wine couldn’t be rivaled.


Take time to lake time

Favorite images from a Memorial Day weekend at Moss Lake.

Soap on a rope, or in a sock. Whatever works.


California Bound

Well, we did it! After a long time of being all talk and no action, Heath and I finally settled on our summer vacation spot…San Francisco!

The dates have been set and the plane tickets purchased. Now all that’s left to do is decide on exactly which activities will be filling our days between July 7-11 (with a little one-year anniversary celebration slipped in the middle). Perhaps we will visit the Golden Gate Bridge, sample the flavors of wine country, indulge in Chinatown‘s finest cuisine, hike beneath the Redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument, do some shopping in Sausalito, or all of the above.

I’m ashamed to say I’ve never been to California, or to the West Coast at all, and am looking forward to this trip with anticipation similar to that of a toddler on Christmas Eve. With so much opportunity in the horizon, the most difficult part of the trip will be determine exactly where we go, what we do and who we see. Got suggestions? Send them our way. No plan is too grand or too meager to be left undiscussed.

California, here we come!


A Road Trip Wonder

So much to say about this weekend, and I’m not sure where to start. So I suppose I will do the sensible thing and begin at the beginning…riveting.

It started with a road trip. Heath and I needed to head Texarkana way for Heath’s cousin’s wedding. We shipped off after work, grabbing coworker Tiffany in the process. Tiffany has family in Texarkana, and now seemed as good-a-time as ever for her to give them a visit.

The trip to Texarkana isn’t a short one, about 7 1/2 hours. And it was one to be taken after a long, LONG day of work. Nevertheless, away we went. The trip composed of several hours of good conversation, a stop at Whataburger, and many restroom breaks. Speaking of which, should you ever be passing through Mount Pleasant be sure to stop at this gem of a destination. Mount Pleasant may not have mountains, and it may not be pleasant, but they do have one of the most awesome bathrooms ever seen. So awesome, in fact, that it had to be documented on film.

“Oh hey, Tiffany. Look at this rustic little gas station. It’s so sweet with its country western knick-knacks and paraphernalia. Even the bathroom looks like it follows the theme!”

Right? Wrong?

Hold on to your seats, fellas. You’re about to get a glance inside one of the most ELEGANT (is elegant the right word?) women’s restrooms in Texas. You’re welcome. Here is some of what we found inside.

What’s a bathroom without an elegant (again, right word?) painting of a scantily clad, busty woman caressing her Pegasus? Not satisfied? It gets better.

Each stall was painted with bright pastel images of fairies engaging in various activities with winged creatures. Tiffany was kind enough to reenact the image on one.

I used props to try and copy my favorite image. Good times. Tiff and I consider ourselves lucky to have stumbled upon the world’s most ironically fabulous bathroom. Sorry fellas. Heath reports the men’s room was “nothing special.”

Other highlights of the trip included:
• seeing a motorcycle accident (don’t worry no one was hurt),
• driving past an inflamed Volkswagen bus seconds before it exploded,
• eying a van with a family of beagles painted on the side, and
• stopping to get some Big League chew.

The trip was long but not without its charm. If you liked this, stay tuned for deets about the rest of our fun-filled weekend.

Happy Trails!