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Travelling to the South, Part I

In March a fortune cookie told me it was time for another road trip:

So this week I cashed in some vacation time and we headed down to Austin. The trip was part recreation, part research. Once Luke turns 18 we’ll be free to relocate to wherever we please, so we’re checking out our options. There’s a lot to like about DFW, but we had never planned to grow old and die here.

We headed out bright and early on a Monday morning…and a warning light appeared on my dash display as soon as we pulled out of our parking lot.

My gallant Saturn, may she rest in peace, died a sudden and unjust death last fall when another car ran her out of her freeway lane and into the concrete divider. My new car has more bells and whistles than I’m used to, so I didn’t recognize the ominous-looking caliper-and-exclamation-point icon. Not going to lie, I was imagining the worst. But I stopped to get ice for the cooler as planned while Elizabeth googled warning light symbols for my car. Turned out it was just a low-tire-pressure warning. Whew!

The next stop was our favorite local donut shop, The Donut Wheel in Hurst. We have become indoctrinated in the Texas way of the kolache and needed a dozen sausage for the road. I recently read that the sausage ones aren’t really kolaches at all, they are klobasniki, but I’ve never actually heard anyone call them that.

Once properly provisioned, we headed to a nearby Firestone to put air in the tires. The warning light went out, and as an added bonus I’ve noticed a big improvement in gas mileage.

Of course we stopped in West, the kolache capital of Texas, to resupply. We went to a different bakery this time, because I’d heard good things about their cinnamon rolls.

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Check out the nice scuff on my shiny new bumper. Just a few months after I replaced the Saturn, I got rear-ended by an uninsured driver. Their front end was all crumpled in, though, so I guess my little scuff could have been a lot worse.

Anyway, the cinnamon rolls turned out to be intimidatingly enormous, so we got a dozen fruit and cheese kolaches instead. They were yummy.

I was expecting traffic to start being awful somewhere around Temple and stay awful the whole time we were in Austin. Surprisingly, traffic wasn’t an issue at all, even within Austin proper, until our return drive.

When I first started planning the trip, it was all about the outdoor activities. But then the forecast showed temps above 100º both days, so we started thinking of ways to stay cool and still have fun. I asked Luke if he’d like to tour the State Capitol Building, and he gave me an enthusiastic yes. That was our first stop as soon as we rolled into the city.

It is gorgeous, every inch of it.

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I found a self-tour booklet for Luke and let him lead the way, since he’s the political/history wonk in the family.

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I loved all the little architectural details.

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Even the door hinges are lovely!

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In the early 1990s, an expansion was added beneath (or sunk into, I guess) the north plaza of the original building.

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I wanted to explore the whole grounds, but once we were outside the heat made Luke cranky. I took a quick tour while he waited on a shady bench. I mostly saw tributes to Confederate soldiers and Texas’ role in the Civil War…

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…but my favorite sculpture was a large scene honoring the pioneers that settled Texas.

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It really was too sweltering to spend much time outside. We found a nearby motel and the kids napped through the hottest hours of the afternoon. I woke them up when it was almost time for the bats to emerge from the Congress Ave Bridge.

We wanted to explore the hike-and-bike trail around Lady Bird Lake, so I parked down by the softball park near Longhorn Dam and we walked up the boardwalk side of the bank toward Congress Ave as dusk gathered.

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The unbearable crowds we’d been warned about never really materialized either. We saw people out and about, jogging or walking their dogs or just enjoying the parks and trails along the river, but we never felt crowded at all.

Luke and Elizabeth were mildly taken aback by Austin’s very casual dress code. In the Metroplex, at least in the areas we frequent, you would never see guys walking around in nothing but shorts and sneakers, or women wearing just sports bras and spandex shorts, the way you do in Austin. As Elizabeth put it, “DFW is King’s Landing and Austin is Highgarden.”

Another thing we noticed was an inexplicable absence of mosquitoes. Walking along a woodsy river at twilight in July, we should have been eaten alive. I don’t think I got a single mosquito bite the entire time we were in Austin.

I was expecting big crowds around the bat-bridge at least, but there was plenty of room for everyone. We decided to watch the show from up on the bridge itself. We got to the top just as the bats began to emerge.

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I had imagined a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it event that lasts less than a minute, but it’s nothing like that. The bats just keep on coming. Suddenly the lack of mosquitoes made sense.

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When the bat-exodus finally ended, we continued up the trail with the intention of hiking the entire loop around the lake.

We saw Stevie Ray Vaughn…

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And got some sweet views of the Austin skyline lighting up.

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Eventually we realized that we would not have time to complete the loop before the trail closed at 10pm. Since a series of bridges crosses the river/lake, we decided to cross the next bridge we came to and head back toward the car.

But somehow, even after we had crossed the next bridge and headed “back,” the city lights were still getting farther and farther away.

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Finally we decided to just stop, turn around and backtrack to the car.

If it had been daytime, we would have easily seen the problem. But it was completely dark out by then and we were unfamiliar with the area. We were about halfway back to the car before I realized that the bridge we had crossed must have been the one spanning the Barton Creek tributary rather than the river itself. That’s not a mistake we could have made in the daylight.

We didn’t make it back to the car until around 10:30, but no one bothered us. The illuminated buildings provided some nice scenery along the way.

The most noticeable change after the 10pm curfew was that the joggers and dog-walkers were replaced by homeless people settling into the corners for the night.

I had been in so much of a hurry to see the bats that I completely missed the belts the first time across the boardwalk, but I looked for them on the way back. They are all along the railings: little sculpted metal belts with bits of song lyrics engraved onto them. You can barely see the letters in the glare of my camera flash, but this one says, “In dreams I walk with you.”

Our car was right where we left it, and we were all ready for a good night’s sleep.

Thus ended our first day in Austin. Much more to follow!

Read Part II here

Read Part III here

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Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Artwork, environment, Family, food, Humor, kids, Life, Love, Road trip, Travel, Weather | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Thankful, 2016

The kids and I explored the trails at Arbor Hills Nature Preserve in Plano earlier this month when the weather cooled down for fall.

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It’s one of the nicest parks we’ve seen so far, but we caught it in the evening rush, so it was bustling with people out walking their dogs and unwinding after work. We even had to park in a shopping center up the street because the regular parking lot was full.

Arbor Hills has miles of woodsy trails and a pretty overlook with a nice view of the surrounding area.

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I am thankful to live in a place with so many beautiful spaces to explore.

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Luke’s robotic’s team took a respectable third place in a field of nine teams at a competition in Dallas.

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It was a fun experience. I am thankful that Luke and Elizabeth have so many opportunities here to develop their creativity and talents.

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Bass Hall hosted a free screening of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” to promote their stage production. Elizabeth had to work that day, but Luke and I went and had a great time. The Hall was decorated for the holidays and offered Christmas-themed gifts for sale. I was ridiculously excited to find an ornament-sized replica of the angels from the Grand Facade.

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After the show, Luke and I walked around a bit.

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I am thankful to live so close to two beautiful cities that enrich our lives in so many large and small ways.

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An unexpected car repair put my plan to buy a treeless saddle on hold and added a scary level of uncertainty to my holiday budget. Elizabeth responded to this by, quietly and with no fuss, doubling the amount of money she contributes to the household each week from her paychecks. She did this on her own initiative, without being asked – in fact, I assured her that she should not feel at all obligated to cover my debts –  for four weeks, until we knew that I would be able to pay the repair bill and still get the saddle. I am so thankful to have such a kind and gracious daughter. I am thankful for both of my children, they are the joy of my life.

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The first time I rode Mahogany in her new treeless saddle, I could feel the relief in her whole body. For that first test drive we stayed in the arena, just walking and trotting in big, easy loops while Mahogany gradually relaxed and her movements got freer and more confident. The saddle is supremely comfortable for both of us. We are still getting used to the new dynamic, and I may end up buying a different saddle pad to solve a few minor issues, but overall we both love this saddle and I wish I had bought one years ago. Yesterday we had a nice cruise out on the backroads, and Mahogany was so happy and responsive.

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I am thankful that this seems to be the answer to so many of the problems that we have been struggling with.

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Happy Thanksgiving to all!

 

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Animals, Artwork, environment, Family, Horses, kids, Life, Love, trail rides, trees, Weather | Tags: , , , , | 1 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

Spring Break, Part II

Luke, Elizabeth and I had planned out Tuesday’s itinerary long before Emma stepped off the plane. The rest of the week was left to the whims of fortune until Wednesday morning rolled around and we still had nothing planned for my Thursday off. I instructed the three of them to come up with a detailed flight plan by the time I got home from work that night. They did not disappoint.

So our first destination on Thursday morning was the Ripley’s Believe or Not Odditorium.

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The shiny silver dinosaurs outside the building are constructed entirely of chrome car bumpers. The blue dino and the adorable gorilla are made from random machine parts.

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Once inside, our first stop was Louis Tussaud’s Palace of Wax.

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Bear with me, I’m still getting the hang of my camera’s indoor settings. My last camera really struggled in low-light areas, so now I habitually overcompensate. Working on that.

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After the Palace of Wax, we braved the Enchanted Mirror Maze.

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I wouldn’t describe it as “enchanting” so much as “disorienting as fuck.”

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It was fun, but kind of short. We probably would have spent more time in there if we hadn’t used the classic “right turns only” method to prevent aimless wandering.

Next up was the Odditorium itself.

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The shadow wall is really cool. You stand against the wall, a bright light flashes and your silhouette is “saved” as a slowly-fading shadow. Unfortunately, I only got one good photo of this effect.

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After the first one I remembered to turn on my camera’s flash, and it turns out that the flash completely washes out the shadow effect, thusly:

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Bummer. But the Odditorium was full of awesome, bizarre stuff. For example, horses and cows get made into handbags all the time. But some enterprising artist decided to turn a bunch of handbags back into a horse-cow.

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Actually, “things made out of other things” describes like 80% of the Odditorium.

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Plus some cool movie props.

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We goofed around in the activity room for a while.

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The video wall was fun. We’re the four silhouettes on the left.

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Exit through the gift shop.

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By then we were pretty hungry, so we headed over to the Mellow Mushroom in Arlington. Their pizza is amazing, unlike my potato-quality iPad selfie:

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Took a better pic outside.

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On the way home we drove past River Legacy and impulsively decided to pull in.

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This is one of our favorite local parks. Entry sign photo to make it an official addition to the collection:

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River Legacy has some magnificent trails along the Trinity River, but after all of our adventuring none of us were really up for a hike. A frolic on the playground was totally doable, though.

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From there it was an easy walk next door to the Science Center.

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The warm sunshine felt like heaven to a heat-lover like me.

On Saturday morning, we begrudgingly fed Emma to the sky gods at Love Field Airport.

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It was so much fun having her out for Spring Break! Hopefully we’ll be able to do that again.

And now I need to sit down and read my camera’s user manual cover to cover, because the number of wasted shots I ended up deleting last week made me die a little inside. It’s time to learn how to use this thing.

Happy spring!

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Animals, Artwork, environment, Family, food, Friends, Holidays, kids, Life, Love | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Spring Break, Part I

My blog hibernates during DFW winters. There’s not much here that inspires me to reach for my camera during the bleak gray months, although I did get a few nice shots this year at the place where I board Mahogany.

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I’ve been less and less satisfied with the performance of my aging camera, so I finally picked up a new one earlier this month. The dreary winter landscapes didn’t offer much worth aiming it at until Elizabeth’s bff flew out from California to spend spring break with us. She arrived on a Saturday night and left a week later on a Saturday morning: a week of gorgeous spring weather bookended by chilly drizzles. I had Tuesday and Thursday off work that week, so we crammed all of the sightseeing we could manage into those two days.

Our Tuesday morning began at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens. I’m still getting the hang of my new camera; my old one excelled at outdoor shots and struggled in indoor settings, while the new one seems to do just the opposite. I do love the way the new one captures the luminous quality of sunlight.

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The weather couldn’t have been nicer. Mid-80s and sunny, with a light breeze that smelled like spring.

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Love the giant Texas bluebonnet.

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Of course the Japanese Garden was the highlight of the day.

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Hopeful koi are hopeful.

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After the Botanic Gardens, we headed downtown to the Water Gardens.

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And from there we went to the Stockyards.

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Don’t tease the mechanical horses!

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Saunders Park is still my favorite little hidden gem of the area.

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All in all, a fun day!

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Next: Thursday in Arlington.

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Birthdays, environment, Family, food, Friends, Horses, kids, Life, Love, trail rides, trees, Uncategorized, Weather, Wildlife, Winter | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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