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Hotel pet peeves

Written by | Published October 12, 2009
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 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.

Texarkana: Twice as Nice (CMigrator copy 1)

Written by | Published October 12, 2009
Long a fun, famous gateway to the Lone Star State, Texarkana USA is a twin cities with lots of history combined with multiple modern attractions that makes for a delightful destination. Plenty to go, see, and do. Recently spent several entertaining days here researching a future feature for the magazine. Stay tuned. Thoroughly enjoyed my stay at the Mansion on Main, an historic B&B. Discovered a couple barbecue masters—Smokey Joe's Barbeque and Big Jake's Bar-B-Q, and 2 exceptional upscale dining options—The IronWood Grill and Timothy's. Don't miss 'em. My fascinating whirlwind trip included stops at Lake Wright Patman, the Regional Art Center, an interesting local piano restoration studio, old Union Station, the famous State Line Courthouse/Post Office, Bryce's Cafeteria, remodeled Tiger Stadium at Grim Park, the Ace of Clubs House, an antique auto museum, Sue & Carol's Restaurant (for breakfast & lunch), Arkansas' largest magnolia tree, the Perot Theatre, the Scott Joplin mural, and a whole lot more. Look for details in the January 2010 issue of Texas Highways. For additional information on Texarkana, check out www.texarkana.org; 903/792-7191.

Power to the People

Written by | Published October 1, 2009

Our friends at Lubbock’s American Wind Power Center have sent an update to E. Dan Klepper’s windmills story in the September special issue. On October 17, the center plans to unveil a 5,500-square-foot mural created by artist La Gina Fairbetter, an instructor in the Department of Architectural Art at Texas Tech University. The two-year project illustrates American windmill history, from 1700s Dutch-style windmills to today’s massive wind turbines. All of the whirring wonders depicted are represented in the center’s collection. Another good reason to make the AWPC part of your next High Plains adventure!

What is that sticky goo?

Written by | Published September 30, 2009

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. 

Ever since Austin's incredibly hot summer has ended–suddenly, it seems, with temperatures in the pleasant range and enough rainfall to coax long-dormant flowers to bloom and grasses to green up—I've noticed that in the mornings, when I'm getting ready to drive to work, my car is covered with an irksome sticky substance that appears to have rained from the sky. I assumed this goo-sprinkling was the work of my pecan trees, grateful for the rain and spitting out pollen or sap or something, aspiring to procreate. 

But when I spoke with Sharon Truett, the general manager  The Natural Gardener in Austin, she told me I was wrong. Though she couldn't make a diagnosis without looking at a few leaves under a microscope, she told me that the sticky goo was likely the "honeydew" (excrement) of aphids, which were attacking my tree. Stressed from the drought, pecan trees all across Austin were easy  pickings for hungry aphids. There's not a lot I can do, she said, except to pray for ladybugs and other beneficial insects, which devour aphids, critters Sharon described as "the cows of the insect world--succulent, slow-moving, and full of tenderness." 

Come on, ladybugs! Supper is ON!

Church in the Wildwood

Written by | Published September 29, 2009

stainedglassWorking for Texas Highways has many rewards, but seeing an idea morph into print that is read around the world has to be one of the greatest. It was especially gratifying to see the Speaking of Texas article I wrote about Texana, the first town in Jackson County, in the July issue since my mother lives near the former town site. She had sparked my interest by telling me about attending a wedding at the 150-year-old Historic Texana Church, one of the few remnants of Texana’s existence.

Of course, the magazine business involves collaboration on many fronts, so “my idea” was enhanced by the efforts of others—other editors, the art designer, and, of course, the photographer. In fact, it’s thanks to photographer (and TH photo editor) Griff Smith that the print version of this idea morphed into a second reincarnation: a stained-glass depiction of the quaint antebellum church.

My friend Kathleen Martin, who also lives near the old town site, sent me this photo of a stained-glass piece made for her by her 86-year-old father, Ralph Shanafelt, a self-taught stained-glass artist in Seguin. (In addition to creating original works, he stays busy restoring broken stained-glass windows for area antiques stores.) He said he was inspired by the TH article, which I think is pretty cool. I also love the stained glass, which Kathleen now has hanging in her dining room.

We didn’t have room in the story to describe the church in detail, but it’s beautifully restored, and in its woodsy setting (only a few miles north of its original location), looks like the proverbial Church in the Wildwood. To see the July article, go to http://www.texashighways.com/departments/speaking-of-texas. To tour the church, call 361/782-5456: www.brackenridgepark.com.

 

 

Now's a great time to be at the beach

Written by | Published September 29, 2009

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. Not only is it "off" season right now (meaning that hotel rates are low--my room at the Palms Hotel--a place right on the beach, with a restaurant & bar, plus a fridge in the room--ran around 75 bucks a night), but you won't have to wrestle for space on the beach, in restaurants, on snorkeling boats, or dolphin-watching tours. Vacationing families leave in August, and the Winter Texans typically start arriving in November, so during September and October, island merchants are extra-glad to see us. 

Same is true for other Texas coastal destinations, like Port Aransas--one of my favorite spots in Texas. In fact, a group of friends and I have rented a large house in Port A for a Thanksgiving celebration this year. We found a 5-bedroom place with multiple porches, a full cook's kitchen--just a few blocks from the ocean--that will cost us each about 70 bucks a night. Even accepts pets! I found the listing on a link from the Port Aransas Convention and Visitors Bureau Web site--just google Port Aransas, and you're golden. 

We're talking about abandoning the turkey tradition this year and going for paella instead.

An offal experience

Written by | Published September 25, 2009
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.

Coming to America Through Galveston

Written by | Published September 22, 2009

I took advantage of Austin’s Free Museum Day to catch up on a few exhibits I’ve been meaning to see. One of them, Forgotten Gateway: Coming to America Through Galveston Island at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, documents early 20th Century immigration through Galveston Island. Most of us are familiar with Ellis Island as a port of entry. However, lesser-known ports such as Galveston served as gateways for millions of immigrants; in Galveston, many were of southern and eastern European descent, including Italians, Greeks and Polish Jews. Packed with artifacts and documents of the time, interactive dioramas, and videos, Forgotten Gateway illustrates the sacrifices and severe hardships these immigrants endured, including interrogation, detention, and quarantine in their quest for a better life. The exhibit runs through October 11. It has been designated a We the People project by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and will travel to other institutions, including Ellis Island Museum and Moody Gardens in Galveston (Opens Nov. 21). One curious aside: One of the displays prefacing the Galveston saga of Forgotten Gateways features a Christmas ornament and figurines of the holiday scene created by the Timmermann sisters were on view (see Happy 100th, Wanda Timmermann blog), with a brief description of the German family’s ill-fated journey through Texas in 1849.

Timmermann sisters display at "Forgotten Gateway" exhibit.

Breakfast at Spoons in McKinney

Written by | Published September 3, 2009
I have driven by Spoons many times on my visits to McKinney’s historic square, and, judging from the cutesy name and restored historic building, had the impression that it was ‘another quaint, antiques-filled café that serves soups and sandwiches. Boy, was I pleasantly wrong. For starters, Spoons serves breakfast—all day—and is the place for breakfast, as most restaurants in the square begin serving at lunch. You’ll find several varieties of waffles, pancakes, eggs (from basic to omelets), even oatmeal, and yogurt parfait. Cottage potatoes, deftly seasoned, and coated with cheddar and pepper jack cheese, seem to be Spoons’ specialty side dish, and can also be ordered as an entrée with apple-smoked bacon. As for beverages, in addition to the usual coffee and orange juice, specialty juice-blends and caffeine-infused drinks are also available, courtesy of the recently opened Spoons Garage, a coffee house adjacent to the restaurant. The drinks have auto-themed names like Brake Job and Fuel Injection, which my daughter ordered (a cool and energetic blend of fresh-squeezed orange juice, chocolate syrup and coffee). Can someone identify the mystery game-piece shown here? The interior is a thoroughly modern contrast to the vintage-cute storefront, with counters lining the exposed brick walls to provide extra seating for tables in the center, an Italian-soda bar in the back with diner seating, a bakery case filled with luscious cakes and pies, and a small, open kitchen. Two interesting things I noticed about my table: the rolled napkins contain a fork and a knife—no spoons! The other thing was an large board game card, which was used as a centerpiece. Can someone tell me in what game this was used?

Accidental Education

Written by | Published September 2, 2009

Visits with my 13-year-old niece, Kaitie, tend to be enlightening, and not just about what’s going on with teenagers these days. When she comes to Austin, I always try to plan some new experiences for her and often wind up learning something new myself.

On one of her recent visits, I took Kaitie, who’s a budding artist, to a small gallery on West Sixth called Haven, which offers a wonderful selection of artworks, from sculpture to jewelry. (The Haven’s self-description on its Web site is “an eclectic mix of two- and three-dimensional fine art and fine craft.”) We were both entranced with the array of large, colorful, freeform glass pieces and some amazing “woven glass,” gently curving sculptures that look like pieces of fabric, with irregular strips of glass forming the warp and weft.  I fell in love with a periwinkle-blue glass bust that featured a silhouette of a face inside. Kaitie’s favorites were a group of bird sculptures, made of antique odds and ends, brass, and other metals (not surprising, since she was sketching birds a lot at the time). Some of the items here are costly, but many others are surprisingly affordable considering the excellent quality—as low as $25. And we’re talking handmade, one-of-a-kind pieces of art. Something to keep in mind for holiday shopping.

 The owner of the shop, Mindi Partee, answered our questions, gave us a minitour, and told us about some of the artists, many of whom are from Texas, which I always find appealing. I don’t know if Kaitie was inspired, but I certainly was, if only to add a few special things to my wish list. Haven Gallery & Gifts is at 1122 W. Sixth St.; 512/477-2700; www,havengalleryaustin.com.

Happy 100th, Wanda Timmermann!

Written by | Published August 25, 2009
Thomas Haberle wrote us recently to let us know that longtime TH friend Wanda Timmermann celebrates her 100th birthday August 25th. Wanda, along with her six sisters, were the focus of two TH features covering their family holiday traditions in Geronimo, near Seguin. The Christmas gatherings (TH Dec. 1981) centered around events in 1849, when their great-grandparents took in 19 children whose parents died on their journey to Texas from Germany. Detailed displays in the family home, which was open to groups, were made by the Timmermanns and recreated scenarios of the period, and Wanda would read journals from the era. Displays could also be seen during Wurstfest in New Braunfels every November. In addition to TH, the festivities were featured in Life and Better Homes & Gardens. The Timmermanns were longstanding members of the community and also cooked Thanksgiving dinners at their church (which we covered in Nov. 1994). Of the seven sisters, Wanda and her 97-year-old sister Meta survive. According to Mr. Haberle, Wanda spends her time caring for her sister and is writing a book about her heritage, which will soon be published. The TH staff sends heartfelt birthday wishes to Wanda on this momentous occasion.

In the photo: From Texas Highways, Dec. 1981: As she often does for Christmas visitors, Wanda Timmermann stands on the stairs to read reminiscences of Christmas 1849 while her sisters listen. Standing, from left, are Hulda, Willie Mae, and Melitta behind Tekla and Stella. Meta sits in front.

Take a seat, enjoy the show

Written by | Published August 18, 2009

Since I moved from Houston – and an office smack dab in the middle of the city’s incredible Theater District – I have to admit that I’ve been woefully neglectful of taking in as much live theater. I mean to, and I do miss going as often as I did. Lately, I’ve been getting back into the swing of things. I’ve seen a couple of touring musicals (“Wicked” and “Mama Mia”), enjoyed readings by the legendary Maya Angelou and the hilarious writer David Sedaris, as well as some local performances.

I forget, until I’m there, how important and good it feels to witness the art of live performance … of people entertaining people … sharing and communicating in music, dance, words, comedy and movement. This kind of creative expression, I believe, is inherent to our humanity. There’s nothing like it. The best thing is, no matter where you are –– big city or small town –– there are plenty of opportunities to take in a show.

It would do us good to get back to being better audiences –– in major performance halls, restored historic theaters, community halls and in wide open spaces under the great Texas sky.

So when you travel, or stay home, consider live performances as one of the options when asking, “So, what should we do today?”

What performance/venue would you suggest for your neck of the woods?

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