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Written by Lori Moffatt

Upon its debut in 1965 as host to an exhibition game between the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees, Houston’s Astrodome—lauded by fans as the “Eighth Wonder in the World”—nabbed a spot in the record books as the world’s first multi-purpose domed stadium (not to mention the birthplace of AstroTurf). Alas, the once-regal Dome now rests in the shadow of the much-larger Reliant Stadium at Reliant Park; the Astros left the Dome for Minute Maid Park more than a decade ago.

But city leaders are debating the Astrodome’s future, and the options are numerous: Demolish it and install a green-space plaza? Keep the shell and convert it to a multi-use venue, perhaps with an attached hotel? Create a mega-venue with a planetarium and an institute devoted to engineering and mathematics? What do you think should happen with the Astrodome? We’d love to hear your thoughts and memories. (You can see the current options being considered, complete with artists’ renditions of how redevelopment might look, at http://www.reliantpark.com/feedback.)

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It would be poetic, I think, if I were to effuse that I’ve been fascinated with mobiles since I was an infant gazing at one dangling above my crib. But in reality, my introduction to mobiles came in grade school, thanks to a hippie art teacher who smelled of patchouli and patiently taught her ham-handed students how to make dancing (if lopsided) sculptures from twigs, painted acorns, and twine. I thought of her this morning when I read about the Nasher Sculpture Center’s exhibition of the works of Alexander Calder (1898-1976), whose first kinetic sculptures were dubbed “mobiles” by colleague and friend Marcel Duchamp. (Interestingly, fellow experimental artist Jean Arp called Calder’s stationary artworks “stabiles.”)

The Nasher’s show, Alexander Calder and Contemporary Art: Form, Balance, Joy, runs through March 6. Along with more than 30 of Calder’s works, the exhibition also highlights seven contemporary artists who were influenced by Calder’s creative reuse of materials, hands-on production methods, and explorations of form, balance, color, and movement.

I can’t think of a more pleasant place to experience Calder’s graceful sculptures. With its spare and light-filled interior galleries and al fresco sculpture garden filled with beautiful and thought-provoking installations, the Nasher makes artworks accessible and relevant to life’s experiences. So I know that when I next make it to Dallas, and when I walk amongst the mobiles as they rotate on gossamer threads, I’ll be back in art class, surrounded by classmates with braces and awkward hairdos, assembling sculptures from garden flotsam. The weight of one acorn could throw the whole thing off-balance. Alter one variable, and the whole project shifts. Could I have known back then that a mobile could be a metaphor for life itself? For more on the Nasher, see www.nashersculpturecenter.org.

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I’m not really a football fan. Those are fighting words, I realize, in some parts of Texas, where pigskin rivalries divide families, coworkers, and even strangers in line at the grocery store. I do look forward to the Super Bowl every year (so I’ve marked my calendar for this year’s 45th anniversary game up in Arlington on February 6), but that’s mostly because it’s my annual excuse to eat lots of Velveeta-and-Rotel queso.

So for those who know me well, it’s always a surprise that I adore the television show Friday Night Lights, that sleeper quasi-hit show that won raves from the critics but never really took off with television audiences. My non-expert opinion is that it suffers an identity crisis: Most people think of it as a sports drama, whereas truly it’s a story about relationships, and it’s perhaps one of the of the most authentic depictions of small-town Texas since Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show.

It doesn’t hurt that the show is set in Austin and surrounding areas. There’s the Continental Club! Fran’s Hamburgers! The Landing Strip of all places! That megalachurch near my house! It’s fun to try to figure out where each shot was filmed.

Location-spotting: This, along with the curious charms of actor Bradley Whitford (you know, the guy who played Josh Lyman on The West Wing, and Danny Tripp on the rollicking Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) is what drew me to the new Fox buddy-police-comedy The Good Guys, which is set in Dallas and filmed in Dallas. The plots are gossamer-thin, but Whitford plays a pratfalling rogue Texas cop with gum-smacking panache (with Tom Hanks’ son Colin as the straight-guy sidekick). Never mind; the true star of the show is Dallas—sleek office buildings and tony downtown restaurants, Fair Park in all its Art-Deco glory, rough-around-the-edges barbecue joints along Riverside (formerly Industrial)…. I wonder if Dallasites have the same fun trying to identify filming locations for The Good Guys as I do for Friday Night Lights.

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A few years ago, as I swam laps at the YMCA in Austin, I came up for air to find a sickly beagle circling the pool, watching me. Somehow he had wriggled between a break in the fence and—I like to think—decided I’d make a fine new owner. First, though, I had to nurse him back to health, and for that, I have Animal Trustees of Austin (ATA) to thank.

Along with other symptoms of neglect, my rescued beagle—whom my husband and I named Oscar—had an advanced case of heartworm disease, a dangerous disease that left untreated, leads to death. Treatment is expensive and grueling, but since I eventually adopted Oscar through a rescue organization called Austin Hound Rescue, I was able to take advantage of the mightily reduced treatment cost offered by ATA.

So I’m pleased to hear that “Celebrating Paws,” a new program offered by Lake Austin Spa Resort, not only benefits spa visitors who bring their canine friends but also donates 100% of pet guest fees collected throughout 2011 to ATA.

As part of the program, animal behaviorist Dr. Patricia McConnell will speak about the documented health benefits of pet ownership—including lower blood pressure and reduced stress levels—during spa stays February 2-6 and November 2-11, 2011.

McConnell’s topics will include “The Power of Pets: What Science Has to Tell Us about Our Love for Animals,” “Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking? What’s Really Going on in a Dog’s Brain,” and “The Other End of the Leash: Understanding How to Communicate with Your Best Friend.”

Other pet experts participating in the program include dog trainer Cara Shannon, who will lead classes in manners training and etiquette and author Susannah Charleson and her dog Puzzle (both members of the Metro Area K9 Rescue in Dallas), as well as canine photographers, massage therapists, and professional dog-walkers.

I’ll be honest: Oscar wouldn’t stand for one moment for a pedicure, but a massage is another matter.

For details about canine programs at Lake Austin Spa Resort, call 800/847-5637; www.lakeaustin.com.

And now I’m curious: what’s the most indulgent thing you’ve ever done for your dog?

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thanksgiving-mealWith the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, I’m wrapping up loose ends at the office while occasionally daydreaming about tomorrow’s feast. I’m particularly excited about Brussels sprouts, of all things.

I had dinner last week with Dallas friends who had read about Austin’s ever-burgeoning trailer-food trend. “Was this going on elsewhere?’ they wondered. And had I explored many of the trailers’ offerings? From what I understand, I told them, it’s primarily an Austin thing–at least in the sense that no where else has such numbers or diversity. Take your pick around town—we have everything from chocolate-covered bananas and cherry-stuffed donuts to Cuban sandwiches and vegan chili.

And while I’ve enjoyed samplings from a handful of Austin’s trailers, I’ve barely made a dent. Just this past week, though, I met friends on the outside patio of Shangri-La, an unassuming cocktail bar on East Sixth Street, a few blocks east of I-35. After a drink, our group cruised across the street for takeout dinner from a group of trailer-restaurants that have joined together as “The East Side Drive-In.” (We could have dined on picnic tables scattered across the property, but instead we brought our dinner back to Shangri-La.) A few of us savored burgers and cheesesteaks; my husband had a BLT dressed up with basil from a trailer called “Pig Vicious,” and I made a culinary score with a walnut-and-cranberry-studded tuna melt, made all the more unusual with a fried egg. Delicious all around.

Coming up on November 6 from 11 to 8, many of Austin’s trailers (and there are at least 50 around town these days) will participate in the first annual Gypsy Picnic Trailer Food Festival, held on Auditorium Shores. Admission is free. Live music by Junior Brown, Guy Clark, Jr., and others will set the mood, and you can sample portions of various trailer treats for $3 or less. Check out the Web site at www.gypsypicnic.com, and if you go, tell us which tasty bits you like best.

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Every year around mid-October, when I receive that much-anticipated invitation to my friends’ annual Halloween costume party, I scramble around to various Austin thrift stores (and then dig through my costume bin) to see what sort of ridiculous outfit I can come up with. The stars must be in alignment this year, because I just got word that Cirque du Soleil—that Canadian-based, all-human theatrical circus that highlights grace and strength, with elaborate costumes, music, and sets–is bringing its new insect-themed touring show, Ovo, to Frisco and Houston in 2011. (“Ovo” means egg in Portuguese.) I can’t wait! Not only do I have inspiration for an over-the-top costume (though I’ll admit execution may be tricky), but I’m firming up plans to be amazed in 2011. I’m envisioning acrobats on giant spiderwebs, suspended over the stage. I can’t help it, I’m a Cirque nerd.

And speaking of Halloween, El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the traditional celebration of life & death embraced by many Latin American cultures, follows a few days later, on November 2. You’ll find celebrations in San Antonio and other Texas cities with prominent Hispanic populations, so seek them out if you’re of the mind to embrace the cycle of life and remember loved ones who have left this mortal coil.

In Houston, Lawndale Art Center (www.lawndaleartenter.org) celebrates El Dia de los Muertos beginning this Friday, October 22, with its 23rd annual Dia de los Muertos Gala and Retablo Silent Auction. One of Lawndale’s biggest fundraisers, the gala ($45) offers attendees the opportunity to bid on small artworks (retablos) created by well-known Houston and internationally known artists. The works—both reverent and irreverent— will be on display through November 6 in the Lawndale galleries. Other Lawndale events in conjunction with El Dia de los Muertos include a community ofrenda (offering), during which guests are encouraged to bring a personal item to the community altar to honor departed loved ones (October 18 through November 6); a papel picado workshop on October 28, during which guests can learn the traditional art of Mexican paper-cutting; and a Family Day Fiesta on November 6, featuring performances by Mixteco Ballet Folklorico and the Houston Grand Opera.

How will you celebrate the season?

A few years ago, after writing a story on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, I got the gardening bug, big-time. And since the only lawnmower I owned (and still own) was a rusty push-mower, I decided to till up my water-greedy Saint Augustine grass and turn my lawn into a giant native-plant garden. And now that the plants have matured, it’s a jungle of Lindheimer senna, agaves, Texas sage, butterfly bush, and dozens of other plants whose names I promised I’d never forget… but did. I’m not the most organized landscaper, it’s true.

But in honor of the second annual Texas Native Plant Week (October 18-24), a commemoration sponsored by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, the National Wildlife Federation, and the City of Austin, I’m going to spend some time in the garden this weekend, trying to re-identify the plants that make me smile so often. They require very little care, and their blooms and foliage bring interest year-round. But what I most love about my little jungle is that it provides homes for all manner of bees, butterflies, praying mantises, toads, birds, anoles, and other interesting creatures. Never a dull moment out there.

Poke around the dedicated Web site, www.txnativeplantweek.org, to learn more about which plants and trees will do well in your part of Texas. You’ll find lists of native plant & seed providers, as well as recommended plants for any of the six regions of Texas, along with loads of other information.

In our November issue, we delve into the joys of traditional (and not-so-traditional) hot dogs, with a sidebar on New Braunfels' upcoming sausage celebration–Wurstfest-which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.The fest, which takes place October 29 through November 7, features live music and dancing fueled by lots of German sausage and beer.

And I just got word that the Wurstfest Association, the dedicated team of enthusiasts who have organized this popular event for the past half-century, will debut a 17 X 75-foot Wurstfest-themed mural on Monday, October 18, at noon. The mural, painted by local artist Brent McCarthy, is at 124 Elizabeth Street in New Braunfels, next door to the Circle Arts Theater. The unveiling party will offer a preview of the big Wurstfest bash, with live music and refreshments.

Hey, those Wurstfest folks know how to throw a party! (Practice your chicken dance now.) See www.wurstfest.com.

Hello, there! It has been awhile since my last blog, and it's good to be back!

It's Texas Wine Month, and I know what I'll be doing this evening--cracking open a bottle of vino to celebrate this and other recent toast-worthy events. In my cabinet at the moment are several new-to-me bottles from East Texas' Los Pinos Vineyard, as well as a few tried-and-true wines from Central Texas' Alamosa Cellars, so I'll have to see what sounds best when I get home.

The Texas wine biz has grown tremendously in recent years, and now contributes more than $1.3 billion to the state's economy. We're the 5th-largest producer in the United States, bested only by California, Washington, Oregon, and New York. (That last one is a surprise to me.) Currently, Texas boasts some 200 wineries, and most offer tasting rooms and tours.

I spent some time exploring the Texas Department of Agriculture's website, and I found a lengthy (and inspiring) list of upcoming wine-focused events, including the upcoming La Dolce Vita Food and Wine Festival in Austin (Oct. 14), the Fredericksburg Food and Wine Fest (Oct. 23), the Grapevine Hallowine Trail (Oct. 30), and Addison's WineFest 2010 (Nov. 6), and that's just for starters.

Cheers to autumn!

Now that Texas Highways' July story on Austin has hit the stands, I'm reminded that one of my favorite ‘restaurant rows’ in town is an admittedly unattractive stretch of Lamar Boulevard north of 183, where you can find dozens of interesting restaurants serving Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Pakistani, and Indian fare.

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