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A Toast to Summer

Written by | Published July 24, 2009

My favorite seasonal flavor of Promised Land Milk, Creamy Dreamy Orange, is back on the shelves at my neighborhood H-E-B grocery and Whole Foods Market. Hooray! It's a guaranteed summer taste sensation, a Dreamsicle shake in a bottle. I'm partial to all of Promised Land's variations: Cinnamon Vanilla, Very Berry Strawberry, Peaches & Cream, Midnight Chocolate, and more, but Creamy Dreamy Orange tops my list. Cheers to this tasty Texas dairy delight, Floresville's finest.

Trip Advisors

Written by | Published July 23, 2009

Sometimes a trip out-of-state helps me appreciate what information a tourist needs and wants. I shouldn't admit this, but on a recent visit to Chicago I discovered that I barely cracked open my usual requisite guidebook, and instead relied on the Internet and an I-Phone (my two "I's") to show me the sights, book reservations and point me in the right direction. Still, I firmly believe print has a place for the tourist, if only to whet the appetite to explore. That's where I hope Texas Highways comes in handy each month, showing travelers out-of-the-way places as well as revisiting well-known areas in new ways. And offering helpful tips along the way.

That said, I hope you find our recently redesigned and streamlined Essentials sections, maps and info boxes offer a handy guide to phone numbers and web sites at a glance. And let's not forget our website, along with our Facebook and Twitter pages to help or remind you of what's in store in our current issue, or find places we've covered in previous issues. Let us know if we've made your journeys easier, or what more we can do to enhance your Texas travels. E-mail us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Out All Night

Written by | Published July 13, 2009

Be sure to check out the story on bat-watching by Nola McKey and Larry Ditto in the August issue of TH, coming this week to a newsstand near you. A side-note regarding the colony that roosts under Austin's Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge: Though not nearly as spectacular as the bats' mass exodus at sunset, another interesting sight for early risers is the creatures' return to the bridge after their nighttime banquet on pesky insects. I often catch a glimpse of the furry fliers when I drive over Ladybird Lake at daybreak, one by one, they dart from the sky, back to their bridge abode.

Evening Star

Written by | Published July 13, 2009

Enjoyed a fabulous Friday evening last week at the kick-off of the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum's annual Music Under the Star concert series. Now in its sixth season, the mid-summer series draws hundreds, blankets and camp chairs in tow, to the museum plaza (at MLK and Congress in Austin) for an evening of outdoor music and free food. all in the shadow of the plaza's signature 10-ton bronze star. We prepared for the 100-plus temperatures by bringing plenty of water, but to our pleasant surprise, the plaza proved well shaded and bearable by late afternoon. (Exploring the fascinating museum's free admission during the event from 6 to 9 p.m., provided respite, as well.) Our feast on Rudy's barbecue, Sweet Leaf Tea, and Blue Bell Ice Cream was set to the sweet sounds of Austin Blues Society blues harp players and R&B icon Miss Lavelle White. (Fun note: The show started with a harmonica workshop and free harmonicas for the kids.) The musical lineup for future Fridays includes Toni Price, Tiburon (including salsa lessons), and Doyle Bramhall.

Why is That Dog Smiling ?

Written by | Published July 3, 2009

Even though travel destinations are the focus of Texas Highways magazine, almost every traveler relies on some kind of travel service as well. I was reminded of this fact yesterday, when I received a note from Linda Lane, the owner of Almost Home Pet Retreat in Conroe. She described her operation in which the dogs roam freely in a no-cage setting and asked if Texas Highways published articles on such topics. The short answer is "No, we cover destinations only." But then, I certainly rest easier knowing our nutty little Australian cattle dog, Sara, is in the care of the friendly folks at Taurus Training while Helen and I are away from home. Should Texas Highways include coverage of travel services? 

New Orleans Saint

Written by | Published July 1, 2009

I've been most fortunate to catch a number of wonderful live Austin City Limits studio appearances during my 25 years in the Capitol City's Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Steve Earle, Los Lobos, Joan Baez, and Reba McEntire, among others. Last night might have been my favorite show of all.

Legendary New Orleans pianist, composer, singer, and record producer, the elegant, 71-year old Allen Toussaint, played a 2-hour set with a terrific 6-piece band that covered the entire scope of his colossal career. From "Workin' in a Coal Mine" to "What is Success"; "Fortune Teller" to "Yes We Can Can"; "Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky" to "Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley"; and "Southern Nights" to tracks from his current release, The Bright Mississippi, it was a revelation.

Throughout, Toussaint seamlessly dropped in clever samples of inspiration from an extraordinarily wide range of sources, the Louisiana piano tradition of Professor Longhair and James Booker to Chopin, Beethoven, Gershwin, Broadway, Tin Pan Alley, classic jazz, gospel, soul, funk, r&b, Steve Goodman, and Paul Simon. This masterfully musical keyboardist never failed to embellish it all with an eloquently grand gumbo of superb taste, sharp wit, and singular style.

Keep an eye on your TV Guide listings and the www.klru.org website during the 2009-2010 season to catch this remarkable performance. God bless New Orleans, and thank goodness for PBS and shows like Austin City Limits.

Closet Recyclers!

Written by | Published June 29, 2009

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.

Austin Chamber Music Festival

Written by | Published June 25, 2009
Thoroughly enjoyed a free Austin Chamber Music Festival event (splendid Mendelssohn Piano Trio concert) at downtown Austin's Central Presbyterian Church today. Excellent program of Ernest Bloch's Three Nocturnes and Johannes Brahms' masterwork, Piano Trio in B Major, Op. 8. The trio's talented musicians included violinist Peter Sirotin, cellist Fiona Thompson, and pianist Ya-Ting Chang. Festival dates run from June 19-July 11 at assorted venues throughout the city. Some concerts are free, while others have an admission fee. For more information, call 512/454-0026; www.austinchambermusic.org. Among the festival's featured performers are the Brasil Guitar Duo, the Eroica Trio, Michelle Schumann, the Jupiter String Quartet, the Wild Basin Winds, and the Turtle Island String Quartet.

Patagonia / Texas Travel

Written by | Published June 25, 2009
I'm a fan of Patagonia outfitters not only because the company designs and manufactures amazing gear but also because the folks at Patagonia have set a high standard for accountability and a commitment to causes they believe in. When you visit the web site (www.patagonia.com) click on the Environmentalism button to learn more about the company's projects. And if you're near a Patagonia store (in Texas, that means downtown Austin at 316 Congress Ave) enter the contest to win a birding trip to the Rio Grande Valley, a Big Bend rafting trip outfitted by Far Flung Adventures, or a fat gift certificate.

Lavender Daytrip

Written by | Published June 17, 2009

200606-365I'd wanted to go to the Blanco Lavender Festival for several years, so when my daughter-in-law, an Ohio native, said she wanted to see Texas' lavender fields, a daytrip was born: We drove from Austin to Blanco on Saturday to immerse ourselves in all things lavender. Knowing it was going to be hot-hot-hot, we packed a cooler full of bottled water and made sure to take along sunscreen. We needed both.

Aside from the heat, though, we had a great time. We started at the Lavender Market, on the grounds of the Blanco County Courthouse. Mixed in with the usual festival array of arts-and-crafts booths were vendors selling lavender-themed items from sachets to smudge sticks. Both of us like scented soaps, so we honed right in on bars labeled lavender-patchouli, lavender-lemongrass, lavender-mint, and spicy lavender.

Although many of the booths were shaded, we decided after a while to get out of the heat and check out the Redbud Cafe, across the street. We weren't ready for lunch, but in order to enjoy the A/C a little longer, we opted for two glasses of lavender lemonade and shared a lavender sugar cookie and a lavender-chocolate cupcake. Our verdict: All three had a subtle lavender flavor that we liked, but we thought the sugar cookie was best.

We drifted into Brieger Pottery next door, where we found not only Jon and Jan Brieger's wonderful pottery, but a variety of artworks and gifts, including a nice selection of lavender-themed items that the shop carries year round.

Then, we hit the food tent, which featured gourmet specialties, wine, and beer, all with Texas ties. Most of the food was available for sampling, and sample we did. We tried jellies in flavors of lavender (naturally), white zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, and peach-pecan-amaretto-jalapeno. Hey, it wasn't all about lavender. We also tasted locally produced feta cheese seasoned with roasted garlic; the cheese was preserved in olive oil, which was intriguing.

Besides sampling, we kept an eye out for a special kind of lavender tea, my daughter-in-law likes the combination of white tea leaves and lavender, and lavender-infused spices. We came up short on the tea, but we found culinary lavender, lavender-citrus sugar, and lavender-herb salt. I see some baking ahead....

From the market, we headed to the Wimberley Lavender Farm (one of the six area lavender farms on tour), where owners Neil and Karen Provost had lined up a tasting with recipes from two Terry Thompson-Anderson cookbooks, as well as miniature ponies that entertained both children and adults. Several large trees offered welcome shade. The drought has taken its toll on the farm's lavender, but we found lavender plants for sale and plenty of lavender goodies in the gift store. Best of all, we purchased a container of lavender ice cream to eat on the way home. Yum! Although the Blanco Lavender Festival is over this year, lavender usually blooms May-July, and many of the state's lavender farms welcome visitors through August.

Lavender. Good company. Daytrip. I recommend it.

Revisiting Wimberley

Written by | Published June 4, 2009

Showing a friend around sometimes results in making some discoveries yourself. Such was the case when I took my Lubbock houseguest to Wimberley recently. I had visited this artsy small town before, but it had been a few years. We wandered around the square, poking into galleries and shops and soaking up the relaxed vibe. I was surprised how easy it was to get into a vacation mode, just by getting out of the city (Austin) and going to a nearby town.

Summer Camp Blues

Written by | Published May 29, 2009

Every once in a blue moon, I lament the fact that I never went to summer camp as a kid (Vacation Bible School doesn’t count, but thank you, Jesus.). I did the outdoorsy thing for years with my Bluebird/Camp Fire Girls, but I later grew up to realize that the "big forest“ where we learned to pitch a tent, make fire and turn a coffee can into a stove was really Bay Area Park in Clear Lake area of Houston. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely, wooded park next to Armand Bayou and I’ve canoed from there as an adult, but it’s not the wilderness. Maybe Hollywood images of summer camp (Friday the 13th aside!) makes me feel like I missed out on some real fun. It’s too late for me now (or is it?), but I want to live it out vicariously through our readers. Maybe I’ll get it out of my system. What is summer camp REALLY like? What kind of summer camps have you experienced? What are some of the top choices in Texas where you might consider sending your own children? I'd love to know.

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