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Heading out to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in southwest Austin this morning, where fine-art  photographer Rick Tolar is busily setting up his Flowers of Observation exhibit, which opens tomorrow in the Center’s Visitors Gallery. Cosponsored by the Wildflower Center and Texas Highways, the exhibit features 20-plus of Tolar’s eye-popping wildflower close-ups on canvas, and coincides with the Center’s celebration of National Wildflower Week (May 4-10). Rick will be in the Gallery from 9 to 4 on Saturday, May 9th, to sign copies of April TH, which features seven of his stunning images.  He’ll also have signed 5x7 prints of his work for sale ($20 each) that day. The exhibit stays up through Mother’s Day (May 10th), so treat mom to a day at the Center—enjoy a relaxing stroll through the glorious gardens and see the vibrant Tolar show. Better than a bouquet!

Spring is in the air, and so are pop flies and home runs at Round Rock's Dell Diamond ballpark, home of the Triple-A Round Rock Express. The Express' pre-season kicks off this weekend with an exhibition game against the Corpus Christi Hooks on April 5. The fabulous ballpark, included in ESPN's Great Baseball Destinations, features seating options that range from rows closer to home plate than the pitcher's mound, to big, comfy rocking chairs, to the Luxury Skybox Suite. And yes, you can even watch the ballgame from the pool beyond right field (I envy those pool people on hot summer evenings). My kid is too young to sit still through multiple innings, so we usually opt for general admission/berm seating ($6 adults, $5 kids under 12, free 2 and younger; remember the $5 parking fee), which allows us to roam carefree from the playscape to the Moon Jump to the snowcone machine. And there's plenty of room on the berm for the occasional Chicken Dance and for kids to roll down the grassy hill. This year, we bought the Spike's Kids Club package, which includes 20 tickets (pre-selected games) and a t-shirt, mesh bag, and other goodies.  

For a schedule, tickets, and more on special promotions and events (like giveaways and Friday-night fireworks), go to the Express Web site. And baseball buffs, be sure to check out Sheryl Smith-Rodgers' Q&A with pitching legend Nolan Ryan in April TH.

When we're hungry, but not in the mood for 'cue in our favorite Hill Country town, we find a booth at Stonewall's Pizza, Wings and Things on Llano's courthouse square (101 W. Main). While there this past weekend, our group indulged in the fried-chicken salad (with honey-mustard dressing), cheeseburgers (delicious, doughy buns; served with battered fries), and a sausage-and-pepperoni pizza (wonderful crispy-but-chewy crust). We topped it off with Blue Bell Cotton Candy milkshakes! Yes, there are healthier items on the menu, including a turkey sandwich that my cousin swears by. By the way: On the edge of town on Texas 29, I noticed what must be a new place that sells bottle trees (anyone been there?). The shop was closed when we passed by, but the displays of colorful glass radiating in the late-day sun had me rethinking my backyard landscape on the drive home.

Spent a delightful evening last Friday at the Trail of Lights in Austin's Zilker Park. Our group (which ranged in age from five to 75) wandered mesmerized through the extravaganza of illuminated holiday displays (think canopies of radiating trees, character scenes from Snoopy to SpongeBob, and a gleaming Nativity). The brilliant scene could beam the Bah! Humbug! from old Ebenezer himself.

I finally checked off a longstanding item on my Texas travel to-do list. I'd been wanting to visit the Dallas World Aquarium since Senior Editor Lori Moffatt first covered it for TH in August 2000. She vividly described the hundreds of creatures and hundreds of plant species that flourish here—in habitats that range from rainforest treetops to coral reefs—all on a city block in Dallas' West End. And after reading Kitty Crider's TH coverage of the DWA in last June's story on Dallas family fun, I changed my sloth ways and darted to Big D like a giant river otter.

I'm always looking for roadside surprises on our frequent trips from Austin to visit family and friends in Hico and Llano. When Hico bound, we often stop to fill up at the H-E-B in Lampasas, renowned for its cheap (if that's what you can call it these days) gas. We then guzzle milkshakes and cheeseburgers alfresco a few blocks ahead at Storm's Drive-In (Elvis ate here). Down the road, on US 281 north of Hamilton, we've been known to pick up a weekend's worth of comestibles at Dutchman's Hidden Valley Country Store: smoked meats and cheeses from the deli, cinnamon rolls and other treats from the bakery, and sweets at the old-fashioned candy counter. Don't forget Dutchman's own dressings and other Texas food products—and the antiques and knickknacks for sale.

I have visited the Glen Rose area dozens of times over the years, but had never stopped at Dinosaur Valley State Park. But with a five-year-old rock hound/fossil fan in the family, we just couldn't pass up the park last weekend.

I recently enjoyed a fabulous weekend eat-athon in historic downtown Marble Falls—from tasty tapas and vino (and fun people-watching in a window seat) at The Falls Bistro & Wine Cellar, to the Shrimp and Grits at Patton's on Main, to the lip-smackin' (four-napkin) Big Chief Burger on a kaiser roll at the R Bar & Grill. (The grill is great for lunch and dinner, but it's also a fine alternative for an inexpensive breakfast if the lines are long at the town's justly popular Blue Bonnet Cafe.) Between meals, I indulged in browsing the galleries and shops along downtown's six-block stretch, including the toy and kitchen boutiques at Old Oak Square, and the home furnishings at Canyon Trails and Attitudes With Style. In nearby Buchanan Dam, I made my usual stop at Sam's Dam Ranch—at the intersection of FM 1431 and Texas 29—for plants, pottery, and the painted metal pigs and roosters from Mexico that have begun to take over my kitchen.

For the sheer joy of blissful relaxation, I award the Peace Prize to Port Aransas. As much as the town has grown in recent years, there's still plenty of nothing to do. Our annual family trips (often during the uncrowded month of October) consist of delightfully dull Gulfside activities: beachcombing at sunrise, fishing near the ferry landing, devouring palm-sized fried shrimp (The Wharf gets my vote for the Island's best), and watching my kid dig at ocean's edge in the biggest sandbox ever. We always make a point to stop at the Art Center for the Island's gallery (how are we going to squeeze that painting and the boogie boards in the back of the car?). And we somehow never tire of browsing those surf shops fronted by giant shark heads.

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