environment

Reflections in Water

Luke is in California for his final court-ordered summer visit. He’s a little too close to the wildfires for my comfort, but it looks like Anza is in no real danger.

A few days ago Elizabeth and I decided to cool off after a hike with a swim in our apartment pool. The water was perfect, just cool enough to be refreshing.

After maybe five minutes, Elizabeth said, “Now I’m cold.”

Me: “How can you be cold? The water’s barely lukewarm!”

Elizabeth: “You’re fat.”

Me: “….”

Elizabeth: “You have a protective layer of blubber protecting you from the cold.”

I burst into laughter so hard I might have sunk if the pool were deeper. Partly at the absurdity of her statement (I could probably stand to lose five or ten pounds, but I’m hardly into manatee territory), but mostly because she sparked a flashback to the years of my life when no one – and this is literal fact, not hyperbole – no one was allowed to utter the words “old” or “fat” in any context within earshot of my mother. The farther I get from that madness, the more bizarre it all seems in retrospect. Most of my response to Elizabeth’s comment was just relief at how far we’ve come.

While I’m here, I guess I’ll share some pics that don’t really need whole posts of their own. Here are some from the Fourth of July, when a storm almost rained out the fireworks…

…some local flora and fauna…

…and Elizabeth crossing creeks on logs. No log is too low or high or long or narrow or wobbly for her, she’s drawn to them like a cat to cardboard boxes.

I think that’s everything in my random-pic pile. I’ll get back to writing real posts eventually.

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Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Animals, environment, Family, kids, Life, Weather, Wildlife | Tags: , | Leave a comment

New Stomping Grounds

Luke graduated!

And then we packed up and moved to Austin.

And moving is expensive, yo. So while we get our finances restabilized, most of our recreation has consisted of exploring Austin’s many free local parks and trails. Our favorites so far have been the Pennybacker Bridge clifftop trail…

 

…Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park…

…Bull Creek District Park…

…and Shoal Creek Greenbelt Trail in the heart of downtown.

There’s so much life in and near the creeks.

Along the limestone banks of Walnut Creek there were these clumps of what we thought were some kind of moss, until we got up close to one and realized that each one was a colony of harvestman spiders!

Elizabeth’s hand for scale:

How cool is that?

We moved down from DFW in the first week of June, and just today we finally got our tv set up and plugged in. I guess that’s a testament to Austin’s ability to lure us out of the apartment and keep us entertained outdoors. We’re still kinda in the habit of comparing everything to San Antonio, but Austin’s parks and trails get three solid thumbs up.

My next post will probably be all about the new Central Library, because that shit is amazing.

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, environment, Family, kids, Life, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Decision Time, Part II

Read Part I here

One of the biggest advantages San Antonio has over DFW is public transit. It’s crazy that most of the Metroplex has no public bus system at all. The bike-share programs that are taking hold in Fort Worth, Dallas and parts of Arlington have not yet spread to the smaller mid-city suburbs. This has been incredibly limiting for Luke and Elizabeth, and inconvenient for me since I have to drive them everywhere. So on Day Two we tried out San Antonio’s B-Cycle system and its public VIA transit.

We parked at the Blue Star Arts Complex just south of downtown. I had already downloaded the B-Cycle app and prepaid a 24-hour pass for myself. We bought 24-hour passes for Luke and Elizabeth directly from the kiosk at the Blue Star’s B-Cycle station. The system is simple: each pass buys unlimited use of all B-Cycle bikes and stations for 24 hours, one bike at a time per pass. Each bike has to be docked at a station at least once per hour to avoid extra fees. You can also purchase monthly or yearly passes.

Elizabeth carried that huge backpack around all day, I have no idea why. I don’t even know what was in it.

We rode the Hike-and-Bike trail along the river to visit four historic missions. The weather was glorious.

Mission Concepción, founded by Franciscan friars in 1731, is first on the trail. One of the first major battles of the Texas Revolution took place here in 1835.

We found a shrine on the mission grounds and I thought, “That’s a weird place to put a shoeshine stand,” and then I realized that I’m an idiot.

Mass is still held in the mission on Sundays. I didn’t take any photos inside the church itself because I didn’t want to seem disrespectful.

Luke’s philosophy is “Why walk when you can run?” It’s like there’s too much world he wants to see to waste time getting there slowly.

We had docked our bikes at the B-Cycle station in Mission Concepción Park, not realizing that it was a 15-minute walk from the park to the mission itself. Luckily there is another station just outside the mission, so we didn’t have to walk back to get our bikes.

We took the bike lane on Mission Rd until it reconnected with the river trail, then followed the signs to Mission San José.

This is my favorite of the four missions. It was founded in 1720 and is still an active parish with a beautiful little church.

The church entrance:

 

We hit our first snag with the B-Cycle system when we were ready to leave Mission San José. Only four bikes were docked at the Mission station and two had flat tires. Not a catastrophe: it was an easy 15-minute walk to another B-Cycle station at Padre Park. But that station was having some sort of connectivity issues; we spent close to half an hour coaxing three bikes out of it.

At least the view was nice. We got to watch kayaks going down a river chute from the shady comfort of our pavilion.

Once we all finally had our bikes, we continued on to Mission San Juan. This is a pretty stretch of trail, with woods and bridges.

Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded in 1731. It was heavily restored in 2015, including the addition of a coat of white plaster on the main structure. It was small to begin with and there wasn’t a lot left of it.

Like the other missions, it still has a nice church.

Our last stop, Mission San Francisco de la Espada, was originally founded in 1690 in northeast Texas, or what was then northern New Spain. It was relocated to San Antonio in 1731. Like Mission San Juan, it has lost some of its historic charm due to extensive restoration.

This is the ground that we covered on the Mission Trail, including the walk back to Padre Park:

It took a lot longer than an hour, though, with all the time we spent exploring the missions. We rolled out of the Blue Star at about 10:45am and finished up at Mission Espada a little after 5pm, sunburned and ready for supper. I have just now realized that we went about eight hours without eating anything that day and didn’t even feel hungry until we were headed back to the Blue Star. The missions and the bike trail kept us completely captivated.

We left our bikes docked at the Mission Espada station and walked to the nearest bus stop. Here we got lucky: there’s a bus route that just goes back and forth between the missions and downtown. It took us about six hours to cover that distance by bicycle and maybe 35 minutes to get back by bus. Then another 10 or 15 minutes to walk from where we got off the bus back to the Blue Star. We could have waited for a connecting bus, but that would have taken longer.

The bus was clean and pleasant, and the driver and passengers were very friendly. Three thumbs up for public transit.

The original plan was to see the missions, have lunch at Alamode Panini and Gelato in the Blue Star Complex, go tour some local neighborhoods and then have supper at Mi Tierra. But it was so late by the time we got back to the Blue Star, we only had time for one of the restaurants. I was leaning toward panini and gelato, but the kids had their hearts set on Mi Tierra. I bowed to the majority, and we had a nice Mexican dinner.

For some reason – probably hunger – I forgot how expensive parking is downtown and just drove to the public lot closest to the restaurant. We did get some nice views of the skyline.

Not sure the views were worth the $10, though.

Mi Tierra was packed with tourists. We basically inhaled our meal and then spent the next twenty minutes trying to get our waiter’s attention for the check. To be fair, he had a large party keeping him running.

The mercado is pretty at night.

This spot reminded us of Disneyland. New Orleans Square on the right with the Matterhorn in the background:

The last landmark on our Day Two checklist was the Hays St Bridge. It’s a pedestrian-only bridge, so we headed back to the Pearl Brewery to trade our car for some bikes. I love that they repurposed the old buildings without changing their names.

There’s no hike-and-bike trail between the Pearl and the bridge, but there are mostly continuous bike lanes on the streets. We got there with no problems.

We got a nice view of downtown.

That was a fun ride. We like the B-Cycles.

We got back to the hotel around 10 or 10:30 and had no trouble falling asleep.

Read Part III here

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, environment, Family, Holidays, kids, Life, maps, Road trip, Travel, Weather | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Secret Garden

Cooler temps and falling leaves have come to the Metroplex. The kids and I all had the same day free, so we decided to check out a new park and put a few miles on our hiking shoes.

This post technically falls into the “Plethora of Parks” category, but I’m not going to name the park this time. We wandered off the beaten path and discovered something sorta cool and eerie, and I’m not sure if it’s something that everyone knows about or if it’s meant to be a secret. I’d rather err on the side of caution. If you recognize the scenes in the photos, could you leave a comment letting me know what it was we found?

A narrow trail on the park’s edge lured us away from the main path and toward a steep hill that was almost a cliff. Of course we had to climb it.

A depression has been worn into this stone from so many people stepping on the same exact spot to climb up.

At the top, some of the rocks and trees are painted in bright colors and psychedelic-ish patterns. There are several circles like this one:

The Puerto Rican flag is the only one I feel comfortable posting, because the others have arcane-looking symbols that I didn’t recognize and I feel like maybe they aren’t intended for public view. No idea what they are.

The graffiti on this rock says, “Not all who wander are lost.”

Once the sun set we headed back to familiar ground, but that brief, strange detour was definitely the highlight of our hike.

In other news, Black Friday is almost upon us. Christmas used to be my favorite thing ever before I worked in retail; now I just try to survive it.

See you on the other side!

 

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, environment, Family, kids, Life, trees, Weather | Leave a comment

Travelling to the South, Part III

Read Part I here

Read Part II here

When you love to see new places but work in retail, you get pretty good at traveling on a shoestring budget. Most of what we eat and drink on our road trips is brought with us in a big cooler. But if someone recommends a particular shop or restaurant, we’ll usually include it as part of the general experience. A friend recommended a place in Austin called “Juan in a Million” for breakfast tacos.

Tangent: on last year’s road trip we fell head over heels in love with San Antonio. It’s still at the top of our list of potential places to move to after Luke turns 18. Shortly after we returned home from that trip, I went to r/SanAntonio and asked the locals what they loved or hated about living there. The responses immediately degenerated into a heated argument about where to get the best breakfast tacos. I’ve since learned that there’s a semi-friendly rivalry between Austin and San Antonio regarding which city has the best breakfast tacos. Breakfast tacos are apparently Serious Business in south Texas.

Driving from our hotel to Juan in a Million brought us through parts of the city that took some of the shine off of Luke’s wide-eyed wonder. They looked fine to me, but I spent a lot of my childhood and teenage years in downtown Riverside CA in the 1980s, which people tell me was a rough and dangerous time and place to be. To Luke’s eyes, the urban outskirts of downtown Austin looked slummy and unattractive. When we reached the charming Hispanic neighborhood where Juan in a Million is located and Luke said it looked “low-income and run-down,” I realized that my next duty as a parent is to broaden my kids’ horizons in a new direction. I’ve been so focused on trying to show them the shining best of what humanity can accomplish, I’ve neglected to teach them about the pleasures and realities of average inner-city life.

Juan in a Million is great. We were seated in a breezy screened patio that had been built onto the surrounding structures in a way that retained the outdoor vibe. Food and service were wonderful.

After breakfast we drove back to Zilker Park to pick up the trail loop where we had left off on Monday night. The drive took us through more areas of the city that Luke found lacking. I guess the “weird” aspects of Austin aren’t for everyone.

We parked near Barton Springs and walked downstream to connect with the hike-and-bike trail loop where Barton Creek flows into Lady Bird Lake.

Before long we came to Lou Neff Point with its pretty stone overlook.

We continued up the hike-and-bike trail, which gets less parky and more woodsy as you go.

You know those old prison movies where the rebellious hero inevitably ends up roasting in a metal box out in the hot sun? That’s what these metal restrooms reminded me of:

The trail crosses the river/lake at MoPac Expwy and circles back along the other bank.

We had planned to follow the trail at least back to Congress Ave before looping back to the car, but we got as far as the pedestrian bridge next to Lamar and kind of all decided at once that we had walked enough. It was getting hot again.

On the city side, the pedestrian bridge offers stairs for pedestrians and a spiral ramp for bicyclers. Of course we walked up the spiral.

The “power plant” fascinated Luke. He could tell at a glance that it didn’t seem to be in operation, and he wondered what sort of power it was generating and how.

As I write this blog post, I have googled info on the building and found that it is in fact no longer in operation as a power plant, that it is now a historical site and a multi-use structure. There you go, Luke.

The pedestrian bridge is lovely. The view from the top:

We crossed back over and returned to the car.

At that point we had to make a decision about whether to start the journey home ahead of commuter traffic, or commit to remaining in Austin until after the rush. We decided to stay.

Luke “collects” libraries, and the biggest one in Austin is at the University of Texas, so that was our next stop. Views of the University from the top of the parking garage…

…and the infamous clock tower viewed from near the library.

We were stopped at the entrance of the LBJ Presidential Library and told that it is only accessible by appointment and costs $10 per adult. Wtf? We asked if there were other, more visitor-friendly locations on campus and were directed to a small Texas history museum next door. If I had done more research before the trip, I would have learned that there are like a hundred libraries on that campus and almost all are free and open to the public. Thanks, unhelpful door guy! I’m going to be honest here, the few people we interacted with in Austin did not make a good first impression. The exception to that was some workers at Zilker Park who cheerfully called out to us as we were about to put money in the parking meters and told us that parking there is free on weekdays. I paid the good deed forward by stopping three other people from putting money in the park meters over the course of our three-day stay. In general, though, Austin seemed to be seriously lacking in the Texas friendliness that I’ve always liked so much.

Anyway, we wandered through the tiny museum and then gave up on the University and headed over to the flagship Whole Foods on Lamar. This is the original Whole Foods location, with corporate headquarters occupying the upper floors, a full-service restaurant inside the store and lots of special extras. I liked the living tapestry:

We wanted to explore the rooftop patio area, but the day was getting oppressively hot. It seemed like a good time to try that mochi stuff we’ve been seeing around lately. If you haven’t seen it, mochi is a Japanese dessert, basically balls of ice cream wrapped in a sweet rice dough. We picked out a bunch of different flavors and took them up to the roof.

My verdict: the ice cream is delicious, but I’m not a fan of the rice dough. It tastes raw and gluey to me. Loved the patio, though.

We still wanted to add an Austin library to Luke’s collection, so we googled “best library in Austin” and drove to the branch that was highest on most of the lists without being prohibitively far away.

All I can say is that this branch either paid to top those lists, or it offers services that go far beyond what is visible to the eye, or the reviewers are trolling en masse. It is a tiny, dreary, uninspiring library. Elizabeth found a place to sit with her laptop in the children’s section while Luke explored what little there was to see. She was immediately asked to leave the children’t section for being “too old to be in there.” Seriously, wtf?

No longer trusting reviews, we decided that the main central branch might be a safer bet. By then the commuter traffic was starting to get problematic, so we got to the central library as quickly as we could and settled in for the duration.

The central branch was…better, but that’s a low bar. Luke liked it because it’s four stories high and the third story is full of the informative non-fiction that he’s into. I found the decor (or lack thereof) to be depressingly drab and industrial. We all agreed that for whatever reason, Austinites do not love their public libraries and put no effort into making them cheerful or inviting.

We started the trek home when the library closed at 8pm. Getting home took over an hour longer than the drive down, because all of the traffic horror stories we had heard were rolled into one long stop-and-slow clusterfuck on I35 N.

We loved our visit to Austin, but ultimately decided that San Antonio is probably a better fit for us. Deciding factors include cost of living, traffic issues, a rather unfriendly social vibe and a straight up depressing library system.

Awesome breakfast tacos, though.

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Animals, environment, Family, food, frugality, Humor, kids, Life, Road trip, Travel, Weather | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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