Summer’s End

I got a whiff of fall in the air on this morning’s ride. Little signs are everywhere: ripe berries along the roadside, leaves starting to turn. Mahogany is darkening as her winter coat begins to replace the sunburned summer coat.

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I’m ready!

 

Categories: Animals, environment, Horses, Life, trail rides, trees, Weather | Leave a comment

The Perot Museum

I got a rare Saturday off last week. Elizabeth already had plans to go to Six Flags with a friend that day, so I asked Luke if there was anything he would like to do. He immediately suggested the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, which has been on his to-do list pretty much since we first moved here.

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The museum is architecturally striking.

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Its visible components are mainly glass and unpainted concrete inside and out, which sounds like it should be ugly but is surprisingly attractive. It gave me the sense of being at an archeological site in progress, which may have been what they were going for.

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The best way to experience the Perot is to start at the fourth floor and work your way down. There are stairs and elevators, but a glass-walled escalator near the museum entrance will take you directly to the top and provide some nice views on the way up.

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Obligatory logo shot:

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A window near a fourth-floor bench offers this view:

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The fourth floor features exhibits focusing on the beginning of the universe, the basics of physics and prehistoric fossil records. And also this guy:

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Lots of hands-on exhibits throughout the museum.

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This one is fun. You control red, green and blue RGB outputs to change the color of the big column. It all looks white in the photos, but in person there were actual colors. Luke and I were trying hard to make the column turn brown, but we never succeeded. Orange was as close as we got.

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Dinosaur bones! Love this hall. There are two levels here, so you can get a good look at the larger/higher skeletons.

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The turtle skeleton is very cool.

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This might be the most metal-looking skull I have ever seen:

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T Rex!

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Obligatory selfie with the T Rex

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We had bought our museum tickets in advance, including special tickets for a 3D film about America’s national park system. When we finished up on the fourth floor, it was time to head back down to the first floor for the movie. That was 45 minutes well spent; the film was awesome. It reinspired my resolution to visit at least half of the national parks at some point.

After the movie, we got a surprisingly tasty lunch at the museum cafe, and then we picked up the exhibits where we had left off.

The third floor houses, among other things, the energy exhibits. The energy hall sings the praises of fracking with a bizarre level of enthusiasm.

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There’s even a flight-simulator-type ride that “shrinks” you and takes you underground into the fracking process. I suppose the message is supposed to be “fracking is fun!” but I got off the ride even more horrified by the entire concept than when I got on. I’m probably not the target audience, though.

On the second floor, we found some more modern fauna…

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…including these “slices” of humans captured by MRI technology.

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The second floor also houses the “engineering and innovation” hall, which was far and away Luke’s favorite.

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On the basement level there is a children’s museum with an adorable walkable model of Dallas.

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The Perot is a pretty awesome museum, I’m glad Luke finally talked me into taking him. It’s a nice way to escape the Texas summer heat, too.

As a side note, there is another “branch” of the Perot Museum in Fair Park, but it is currently closed for refurbishment. It’s on our list, though.

Categories: Animals, Family, food, kids, Life, Love | Tags: | Leave a comment

In the Hall of the Mountain King (Road Trip, Part II)

We woke to heavy rain the next morning. Elizabeth was worried that we would not be able to do the Zip Lines or the Canopy Explorer at Natural Bridge like we’d planned. But by the time we pulled into the park, the rain had all but stopped.

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We went straight to the outdoor attractions, in case the weather turned wet again later. It’s hard to describe the Canopy, but it’s a lot of fun and looks like this:

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You’re buckled into a harness the whole time, so you can’t fall while you practice your balance beam and tightrope skills.

I actually balked when we did the zip line thing and I saw the view from the top platform. I thought I had outgrown my fear of heights, but apparently not. Once I was off the edge and sailing through the sky, though, it was all good.

Here’s the Natural Bridge that inspired the park’s name:

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We did two separate cavern tours, the Hidden Passages Tour and the Discovery Tour. The first, Hidden Passages, is smallish but has some striking formations.

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AND I GOT PHOTOGRAPHIC PROOF OF LUKE HAVING FUN!

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The second tour, Discovery, was my favorite cave tour of the trip. This runs through a string of amazing caverns with names like “Castle of the White Giants,” “Hall of the Mountain King” and “Sherwood Forest.”

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It was raining hard again when the Discovery Tour ended, and this time it didn’t let up. Alas, Austin remains unexplored. Our next stop was in Bedford, to grab some cake for Luke, and then home.

The plan has always been to travel after the kids are grown. Little “test runs” like this are a good way to experiment with what kinds of things we enjoy and want to do more of, and which things we can leave off the list without losing anything of value. They’re also useful for stepping away from the everyday routine and getting a better sense of perspective on the small struggles that we get bogged down in. Sometimes the solutions look obvious from a distance.

I’d like to say it’s good to be home, but if I’m honest, really all I want to do right now is go climb a mountain or explore the black depths of an untended cave, or maybe camp on a clifftop with giant redwoods on one side and the wild sea on the other. There’s a whole world out there, and the harness of civilization seems even less appealing now than it did when I took it off four days ago. I guess it’s time to start saving up for the next trip.

Categories: Birthdays, Celebrations, Family, kids, Life, Road trip, Travel, Weather | Leave a comment

Deep in the Heart of Texas (Road Trip, Part I)

I like my job, but retail is a harsh mistress. When my supervisor mentioned that I should use my accrued personal time soon, before things started picking up for the holidays, I did not argue. Luke had a birthday coming up on the 16th, and school doesn’t start here until the 22nd. Clearly it was time for a large-scale outing.

At the planning stage, we were in the middle of a brutal heatwave that had been dragging mercilessly on for weeks. Where, I pondered, can one escape both heat and the galling harness of civilization? In a cave, naturally. The cool, sprawling caverns of south Texas. Luke was immediately on board with this.

The original plan was pretty simple. Drive down to Natural Bridge Caverns, check out the famed San Antonio Riverwalk while we were down there, maybe poke around in Austin on our way through. Nearly everyone I mentioned this plan to told me about something they particularly enjoyed in that neck of the woods, and said I should check it out. In the spirit of exploration and adventure, I wrote down all of these suggestions and added them to our itinerary. Some of them ended up being highlights of the trip.

We rolled out of DFW via Fort Worth a little after 8 am on Monday morning, with a light rain adding to the sense of adventure and some heavy commuter traffic whetting our appetite for freedom on the open road. Around 10 am we pulled into the small town of West and made our first stop of the day.

So, kolaches. I’d never even heard of them before we moved out here, but Texans freaking love them. The fruit version is basically what Californians call “Danish pastry” or just “Danish.” Texans like them with sausage instead of fruit. My impression of West, TX, is that it was originally settled by Czechs who took their native love of kolaches to a new level and created a whole local industry around them. We were barely on the outskirts when the billboards started advertising about kolaches at this or that bakery. I’d say we drove past at least four Czech-style bakeries with the word KOLACHES emblazoned on their exteriors just in the half-mile between our exit and the particular bakery that had been suggested to us.

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To be fair, kolaches are pretty tasty. We bought an assorted dozen of link sausage, ground sausage, fruit and even mocha-espresso-and-cream-cheese kolaches, and the nice lady even added three chocolate chip cookies for free and wished us happy and safe travels. Texans are a lovely people.

Another friend had said that the Inner Space caverns in Georgetown are a must-see, so that was our next stop. By then the sprinkles had become a downpour, and we were feeling grateful that our travel plans hadn’t relied on sunny weather.

Luke is going through a phase where he does not smile in photographs. Apparently he agrees with Mark Twain’s philosophy that “a photograph is a most important document, and there is nothing more damning to go down to posterity than a silly, foolish smile caught and fixed forever.” He enjoyed the road trip as much as Elizabeth and I did, but you would never know it to look at the photos. All of his “foolish smiles” vanished as soon as the camera came out.

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The Inner Space caverns were pretty spectacular. This formation looks to me like an ancient throne room where everyone was turned to stone by some evil curse:

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As beautiful as the caverns are, the guided-tour format felt a bit too much like civilization. The faux cave-paintings at the bottom are a good example of this. I enjoyed them, but they added to the impression that we were at some sort of “Prehistoric Land” theme park instead of exploring a cave. And the pathways were all very Structured and Safe.

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We decided that someday soon, maybe over spring break, we will seek out some untamed caves in the wild. They won’t be as fancy as the “show caverns,” but I think we’ll have more fun exploring them.

The rain was coming down in sheets by the time we got to Austin, so our plans to check out the trails around Lady Bird Lake were rescheduled for the return trip. The San Antonio Riverwalk wasn’t looking too promising at that point either. Around 4:30 pm we checked into a hotel in San Marcos to wait out the worst of the rain and see if the weather would clear.

The kids fell asleep pretty much the instant we got into the hotel room. I walked to a nearby McDonalds to score some free wifi and check the weather reports. (I had originally planned to pay for motel wifi, but I was so astonished by the fact that they wanted to charge me per device that I just told them never mind.) Anyway, according to San Antonio’s weather forecast, the downpour was expected to lighten to scattered showers that evening, and then more thunderstorms would roll in the next day. I let the kids nap for about two hours, and then we got back on the road.

By the time we got to New Braunfels, I was realizing the folly of getting a hotel in San Marcos instead of closer to San Antonio. We did a lot of unnecessary backtracking over the next 18 hours. What can I say, the distances looked a lot shorter on the map.

The rain petered out to on-and-off sprinkles just as we found a place to park near the Riverwalk. Sweet!

The San Antonio Riverwalk was easily my favorite part of the whole trip. It looks like what would happen if Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise ride were relocated to Riverside’s Mission District. But even cooler than that. It’s actually built a full story below street level; here’s the view from where we parked just above it.

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Sorry about the weird filter, I wasn’t paying attention to my camera settings. Anyway, you access the Riverwalk via staircases at every street crossing. Once you’re down there, everything is magical.

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When the sun set, we headed over to get a look at the Alamo, which is within easy walking distance of the Riverwalk. Just based on what people had told us, we were pretty much expecting to see a crumbling ruin huddled in between a 7-11 and a Denny’s. Our expectations were wildly exceeded. The whole downtown area is completely gorgeous.

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We had one more stop to make before we left San Antonio. I had lamented in the past that I miss California-style Mexican food, and that Tex Mex is much too spicy-hot for the kids and I to endure, much less enjoy. So a friend told me to check out Mi Tierra Cafe y Panaderia, which she thought we would like.

My method of navigation in unfamiliar places is to drive toward the nearest freeway (never far away in Texas cities), pull into the first McDonald’s or Starbucks I see (also never far away), and use their wifi to chart a course on my iPad. When I did this to search for Mi Tierra, I realized that we could have walked from downtown to the restaurant, if it weren’t after dark in a strange city. We could have walked there from the McDonald’s, for that matter, but the rain was starting to pick up again.

We cruised around the restaurant looking for a parking spot, and found a line of parking meters near this pretty mural:

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I was just about to drop some money when I noticed that the operating hours ended at 6pm. Just to be on the safe side, I walked over to a police car parked nearby and asked one of the officers if I needed to feed the meter.

“It’s free,” she said cheerfully.”Catch all the Pokemon you can!”

Mi Tierra is located within a “Little Mexico” type mercado, a festive marketplace. Disappointingly, the shops were closed by the time we got there. But the restaurant itself is open 24/7, and it is wonderful.

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My friend was right about the food. It tasted like home.

I don’t have words for how much I loved the visit to San Antonio. It made my artist’s soul happy in a way that nothing else has since my last Christmas in California. I am thinking about moving down there after Luke graduates. Not even joking. I want to be a part of that city.

We drove back to the hotel in a happy haze, and passed out as soon as we got to our beds.

Day 2 in the next post!

Categories: Birthdays, Celebrations, Family, food, Friends, kids, Life, Road trip, Travel, Weather | 1 Comment

Eventful Times

Social and political tensions are running high, even for an election year. More than once over the past year I have commented to Luke and Elizabeth that I am grateful to be living where I am. It’s hard to picture riots breaking out in the well-groomed streets of DFW.

The shootings in Dallas felt unreal. I followed the incident online as it unfolded, saw familiar buildings lit up with police lights, heard sniper fire rattle down familiar streets, saw a police officer die on live video, watched the death count rise to five. It felt like a sinister presence had invaded my adopted home.

Since then, I’ve noticed that most of the people I’ve interacted with seem to be making an effort to be extra friendly and kind. I work in customer service, so I come into contact with a lot of people every day, and this has been a definite trend since the shootings. I can’t think of a better response to such a horrible and hate-fueled tragedy. It has made me glad all over again to be living where I am.

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Elizabeth’s post-graduation plans are fairly straightforward: get a job, save up for a car and then relocate to the “left coast.” Texas is a bit too conservative for someone of her youth and temperament. She found a local job pretty quickly, and is now in the saving phase.

Luke left for his summer stint in Anza, and Elizabeth and I soon discovered that he was apparently the only one cooking meals anymore. With him gone we live like slovenly bachelors, scrounging up meals that require minimal preparation and letting the dishes pile up in the sink. It’s been eye-opening.

Elizabeth and I both had Monday off, the first time we’ve shared a day off since she started working. She wanted to check out an art supply place in Fort Worth, and I wanted to check out a Fort Worth deli that I’d heard serves a good pastrami sandwich, so we decided to make a day of it.

The pastrami on rye at Carshon’s Deli turned out to be everything I was hoping for. I will be going back for sure.

While we ate, I realized that Trinity Park lay directly between the deli and the art store, and that Elizabeth had never been there. So we made an impromptu addition to our itinerary and stopped at the park.

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My favorite part of the visit to the park was all of the couples and families and groups of friends we saw out playing Pokemon Go. I’ve never played it myself and probably won’t, just because there’s a limit to my spare time, but anything that gets people out spending time together in the fresh air and sunshine is a good thing in my book.

Speaking of sunshine, it was a hot day and we were catastrophically thirsty by the time we got back to the car. Elizabeth had brought a bottle of acai-pomegranate juice for hydration on our adventures, but we sucked that down in like ten seconds as soon as we got back to the car, and we were still as thirsty as before. We drove over to Asel Art supply, and by lucky coincidence there was a smoothie place a few shops down. I plunked down an impressive $16 for a bottle of orange juice and a green smoothie, and we headed over to the art supply place.

Picking out art supplies cannot be rushed. I found a stool near the register and got comfortable eavesdropping on the pleasant chatter of the two shopkeepers while Elizabeth spent like half an hour comparing the delicate fruity notes and woody undertones or whatever of various shades of colored pencils. When I finished my smoothie I was STILL thirsty, so I asked one of the shopkeepers if there was a drinking fountain or sink in the store where I could refill my cup. He said there wasn’t, but he went into a back room and got me a bottle of water. When I tried to pay for it, he laughed and said it wasn’t for sale. “I mean, it’s not like we’re going to refuse you water,” he said, as if this were a basic tenet of human courtesy. I absolutely love Texans.

Elizabeth finally made her selections and paid for them with her own paycheck money. We did a bit of grocery shopping in Hurst and then called it a day.

These are eventful times we live in, but there is no place I’d rather spend them. Texas suits me just fine.

 

 

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Artwork, environment, Family, food, kids, Life, Weather | Tags: , | 2 Comments

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