Written by Lori Moffatt
A few years ago, when economy woes hit the headlines and everybody reined in their vacation spending, travel-biz folks started talking up the concept of the "Staycation" (whooping it up close to home) and its related concept, the "Daycation." But I just now received the strangest email, from a company promoting what it calls a "Haycation” aimed at city dwellers who want to explore the country, assuming, I guess, that all country adventures include a hayride.
I just received word that Texas A&M University recently dedicated its first two architect-designed buildings, physics buildings named for university benefactors George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell. Both structures were designed by architect Michael Graves and boast numerous "green" features, including heating & AC systems that use natural convection currents and a rainfall collection cistern.
I just returned from an out-of-state vacation, and while I had a fantastic time, I was glad to get back to Texas. A sign of a good trip, I think, and perhaps a certain level of satisfaction with my day-to-day routine. In general, I like hotel rooms, the mini-soaps and cute little packets of cotton balls, the comically out-of-proportion flat-screen TVs, the color-coordinated pillow shams, the wake-up calls, the luxury of room service.... But please, WHO thought it was a good idea to invent a single-cup coffeemaker? You've seen them, probably, they're ubiquitous. I'll concede that the concept SEEMS reasonable, pop a little coffee "pod" into the machine, along with six ounces of water (no more or the machine will shut off!), and several minutes later, you have a single cup of coffee. But I'd argue that these devices are not practical AT ALL for two people traveling together. What's with the pouring and the podding and the parceling, we wasted a colossal amount of time getting out the door in the morning. Oh, good grief I sound like Andy Rooney. Write me to share YOUR hotel pet peeves and maybe I won't feel so ridiculous.
Long ago, I blogged about watching a troop of paper wasps attack a nasty web of webworms in one of my pecan trees, and now those same trees are providing the setting for yet another insect drama.
I just returned from an action-packed, three-day trip to South Padre Island, and wow--the beginning of fall is a fantastic time to be at the beach.
What's up with offal? Seems as though every menu I see these days has some form of offal on it, whether it's sweetbreads or lamb's hearts or some delicacy long treasured in Europe or Mexico, but only now (at least that I'm aware) earning praise in America. At Austin's East Side Showroom (a new, noisy restaurant in the freshly hip section of East 6th Street), I enjoyed a truly delicious salad of local field greens with cornmeal-crusted sweetbreads (that's pancreas and thymus glands, y'all), then another night at Vino Vino, a wine bar on Guadalupe, I tried its version of sweetbreads on the appetizer menu. (Love Vino Vino for the topnotch wine selection and cozy, clubby ambiance.) At then at Olivia, the South Lamar restaurant, recently lauded by Bon Appetit as one of American's top ten new restaurants, the chef served an intriguing appetizer of bacon-wrapped jalapeno stuffed with lamb's heart. The owner told me he takes pride in serving the whole animal, "from the rooter to the pooter." Anthony Bourdain, eat your heart out. Ahem.
If I ever had any doubt that the foodie culture has become firmly established in Texas, now I'm fully convinced otherwise.
Last week I attended a reunion of high-school chums in Oklahoma City, a seven-hour drive from Austin (though my lead-footed mother claims to do it in five). Instead of gunning it straight through, I stopped this time in Dallas to pursue one of the city's most refined competitive sports: Shopping. Thankfully (for my bank account's sake), I've discovered the cheap thrills of thrift and consignment stores.
The Vernal Equinox and the first official day of spring—March 20—is so close we can taste it. Well, FEEL it (in the sun's warm rays on our skin), SEE it (in the leaves budding out on even the pecans, which somehow know when the chance of frost has passed), and SMELL it (in the fragrance of all those flowers). It's tough to be inside in weather this glorious. So get on out there. We just received word that the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's "Texas Outdoor Family" program, which kicked off a few years ago to encourage people to enjoy the great outdoors, has expanded this year to include themed weekends organized around such topics as learning to mountain bike. On March 23-24, at Stephen F. Austin State Park, groups of up to six participants ($65 for all!) can learn basic camping skills (such as how to pitch a tent, build a campfire, and go geocaching) along with mountain biking safety, etiquette, and rules of the (off)road. Amazingly, most equipmentâ€”including tents, handheld GPS untis, cookware, lanterns, and bikesâ€”are provided. You're on your own for food, clothing, and sleeping bag. Sign up for this program or others by calling 512/389-8903; www.tpwd.state.txus/calendar/texas-outdoor-family-stephen-f.-austin-state-park-houston-1.
In Houston this Saturday, March 23, from 11-2, the always zany and creative Orange Show Foundation hosts its annual Easter Orange Hunt, when kids of all ages can tour the Orange Show siteâ€”a veritable playground of whirligigs, moats, and brightly tiled and painted structuresâ€”and collect eggs, candy, and (of course) oranges. Also on March 23, the Orange Show will also host its first annual PEEPS Art Contest. Using Peeps marshmallow treats, contestants will make sculptures, costumes, and other works of art, following the lead of similar contests in Washington, D.C., Denver, and Westminster, Maryland. If youâ€™d like to submit an entry, bring it to the Orange Show for judging by noon on Saturday. Winners will receive Peeps prizes, gift cards, and recognition on the Orange Show website, www.orangeshow.org.
a Peeps creation from the Westminster competition
A few days ago, I made the one-hour trek up I-35 from Austin to check out the old Santa Fe depot and train museum, and also to revisit the Czech Heritage Museum & Genealogy Center, the latter a repository of fascinating and strange stuff (everything from century-old marionettes to stamp collections) donated to the museum by Texans with Czech heritage.