Art at the Cistern

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Two weeks ago I wrote an article for the paper about a new art installation at the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern.

The Cistern is Houston’s old underground water reservoir. It opened up in 1926, and was in use for decades until it sprung an irreplaceable leak. It was going to be demolished, but then Buffalo Bayou Partnership found out about it and decided to turn it into a space where art could be shared. There are also guided tours to learn about the historical aspect of the space.

The Cistern is a spot that has been on our radar. The media preview of the installation was in the morning, and it timed up nicely that Derek was able to tag along. I am glad I asked if he wanted to go. I figured he would enjoy it even more than me, being an art student and all.

The interesting part about the installation is that the artist, Carlos Cruz-Diez, is three years older than the Cistern itself, born in 1923. Wow! The installation is called Spatial Chromointerference, and it features many light projectors. One way to describe it was psychedelic. We were given white lab coats so that our bodies could interact with the light too.

Here are some pictures, and here is the article I wrote about it for the paper:

https://www.chron.com/neighborhood/bellaire/news/article/Buffalo-Bayou-Cistern-hosts-second-art-12913297.php

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Rodeo Parade

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Recently my schedule changed at work. Originally my weekend was a Wednesday-Thursday, which had its pros, but mostly cons. I hating missing out on weekend events, and there are a lot of them in a city! But, at the beginning of the year, my generous boss said that it wasn’t really fair that I had to work weekends, so my days off are now Friday-Saturday.

The first big event that came up since the schedule switch was the Rodeo parade, which is probably one of the events that I was the most disappointed about missing last year.

The rodeo parade features all of the trail riders, who had been on the “trail” for the week prior. The trail rides started as a way to honor the cattle rancher legacy, and to drum up publicity for the rodeo. I wrote an article about it, which you can read here: https://www.chron.com/neighborhood/bellaire/news/article/Houston-Livestock-Show-Rodeo-trail-rides-raise-12627384.php#photo-7567488.

The parade was in downtown, on a Saturday morning. It was a LARGE parade. To be honest, after two hours, and the wagons and horses kept on coming, we left. Derek had to get home to work on homework.

It ended up being a much larger parade than I anticipated. The trail riders were the main focus I think, but there were also other groups in the parade, floats and school bands.

I absolutely love rodeo time in Houston. It makes me feel proud to be a Texan, even though I am just a transplant. Plus, it’s an excellent excuse to wear cowboy boots!

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New Orleans vacation

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I have a rather large travel bucket list. I have some favorites, but most are in no particular order, we’ll get there when we get there. When we made the announcement in March of 2016 that we were moving to Houston because Derek got accepted into UH, I immediately knew that New Orleans would be our next trip because it is a five and a half hours drive from Houston.

We went the week after New Years and my Aunt Susie came along. All in all we had an amazing time. We did everything we wanted to do, plus some extras that we were not expecting. The only thing that I could have dealt without was the cold. A cold front came through and temperatures were in the lower 40s, when it is usually lower 60s. We bundled up in may layers though and we ended up being fine.

We stayed at the JW Marriot on Canal Street, which was one block away from the French Quarter. There were a ton of shops and restaurants along Canal Street, including the street car line, so it was a great hub of activity.

We had three main attractions planned out: A river cruise on the Creole Queen, a cooking demonstration at the New Orleans School of Cooking, and a swamp boat tour through Cajun pride.

The Creole Queen was great. The guide was very informative and pointed out interesting things along the way. We had a short shore excursion at the Chalmette National Battlefield, which was the last battle of the War of 1812. It was windy up on the open deck, but there was a lower inside deck that was kept warm, with a optional lunch buffet.

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The New Orleans School of Cooking was probably my favorite thing we did on the trip, because it was so different. We watched Pat cook gumbo, jumbalaya, bread pudding and pralines. We got to eat everything, which was great because it served as our lunch, and got the recipes to take home. We also learned a lot of cuisine history. I love gumbo and jumbalaya but was always too nervous to try to attempt it myself. Seeing how it all goes together, it is fairly easy.

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The swamp tour was also informative. We learned a lot about the Cajun lifestyle, and all about the different types of animals and plants that call the swamps home. Unfortunately, because it was too cold, we didn’t not see any alligators, but the scenery made up for it. It helped that our tour guide pulled out a surprise baby alligator for everyone to hold!

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When we arrived in New Orleans, we quickly found out that Mardi Gras season was starting soon, on the night of Epiphany. We had no idea, and we did not plan it that way. The events started with a Joan of Arc parade, for her 606th birthday. Joan of Arc was known as the Maid of Orleans (France.)

We got good spots for the parade right in front of the St. Louis Cathedral, where we watched the blessing of Joan’s sword. The parade ended at the other end of Jackson Square, where everyone took part in eating the first King Cake of Mardi Gras. We of course had to join in on the revelry. Later that night, we saw fireworks on the river front.

We also found out that New Orleans was founded in 1718, so the city was celebrating their tricentennial. Good timing, right?

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Other highlights consisted of wandering around the French Quarter daily, the Louisiana History museum, and the aquarium. We listened to jazz music almost every night, and of course we stopped for beignets at Cafe Du Monde. We also checked out the garden district and walked around Lafayette Cemetery.

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On our way home, we visited Oak Alley Plantation. It is about an hour west of New Orleans. It was a good way to break up the drive home. Unfortunately, the big house exhibit was closed when we went, but they lowered the admission price which was good of them, and there was still so much to see. (We did peek through the windows and took some photos that way.)

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San Jacinto Monument and Battlefield

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San Jacinto Battlefield, about 20 miles from where we live, on the outskirts of the city, is the site where Texans won their independence from Mexico on April 21, 1836.

Any time someone found out I was into history, they recommended coming to the site.

The highlight of the battlefield is a large monument, larger than Washington monument in D.C. I guess everything really is BIGGER in Texas.

Driving up to the battlefield, we could see the monument from a few miles away. Derek commented that it was awful that there was so much built up right around it (it is right on the bustling ship channel) but that’s really no different than what you would see at Gettyburg. Once we were on the battlefield inside the park, the ship channel seemed further away.

The battle was a surprise attack and lasted 18 minutes.  The General of the Mexican Army, Santa Anna, was captured. In exchange for his freedom, he signed a treaty recognizing Texas’ independence.

There is a small museum in the base of the monument. Admission is free, but you can pay for extra exhibits and a 20 minute film. We paid to go to the observation level.

Afterwards, we took one of the few trails through the battlefields and found some monuments. The walk would have lasted longer, but being near the ship channel, the mosquitoes were out and we got bitten a lot! After that we stuck to driving around in the car.

It was a good day trip and we learned some more Texas history. It was great that it was so close to the city. After the battlefield we headed on over to the USS Texas, which was right across from the monument. Stay tuned for a post about that.

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This iron spike, found in the ground where Santa Anna camped, may have been used to secure his tent.

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Personal items belonging to Stephen Austin (whom the capitol of Austin, Texas is named after.)

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Personal items belonging to Sam Houston. Houston fought in the battle, and later became the president of the Republic of Texas. When Texas became a state, he served as governor.

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View from the observation floor.

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National Museum of Funeral History

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Yes, you read the title right. There is a National Museum of Funeral History in Houston. I visited there yesterday to write an article for work. The museum is celebrating its 25th anniversary this fall.

The museum truly lives up to the “history” part of the title. I interviewed the president of the museum, and I told her that there were similar items in the Smithsonian museums in Washington D.C.

Someone might say, who the heck wants to go to a funeral museum, but it really was fascinating. There are many different exhibits, all focusing on a different aspect.

For instance, there was an extensive collection of hearses and coffins, and some of them were really ornate like a white children’s hearse from the 1800s.

There was also a section dedicated to famous people who have passed on, a Day of the Dead altar and a section about presidential funerals. I loved seeing more artifacts from Abraham Lincoln’s funeral! They even have the hearse that carried Presidents Regan and Ford!

Visitors to the museum can also learn about the history of embalming, starting with the Egyptians and then during the Civil War.

The biggest area of the museum was an exhibit on the death and funeral of Pope John Paul II, and a look at Popes in general. This was a collaboration with the Vatican itself, so a lot of the items were authentic.

I was surprised in a good way by what I found, and learned, at the museum. If you are looking for something to do in Houston that is different, look no further.

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Day Trip to San Antonio

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Last week we went to San Antonio for the day. We met up with my friend from high school that lives in Austin, which was a nice bonus. I can honestly say we had the perfect day. We did everything we wanted to do, and some more. The weather was amazing too.

Even the drive out there was great. It took three hours and it was on a two lane highway at 75 mph. I haven’t seen a two lane highway since Pennsylvania! We passed fields and fields of wildflowers, farms, and even some patches of cactus! It was peaceful.

Our first stop was the Alamo. I wanted to get there right when it opened. I had heard  that supposedly a lot of people are disappointed when they see the Alamo because it is so small. So knowing this information, the Alamo seemed like the perfect size to us! You cannot take pictures inside the main church building, which I had already known about, but still disappointed me. The expansive courtyards, with the mini museums in the barracks and the living history set ups, more than made up for it though. We spent over an hour here taking everything in. I really consider it a privilege that there are places of history that are preserved and we are able to still see them today.

Our second stop was the River Walk. It really is a beautiful area of the city. We walked around the main loop of the River Walk, but it goes out a few miles in both directions. We had thought about taking a river cruise, but we didn’t, and it honestly wasn’t needed. We saw everything just fine by foot. We were slightly disappointed because we had expected shops along the River Walk, but it was only restaurants and hotels. If we had known that, I probably would have eaten lunch on the River Walk.

We ate lunch at Mi Terra in El Mercado, (The Market Square) which was a street lined with Mexican shops and restaurants. Mi Terra was highly recommended online in different discussion forums. After lunch we took some time to browse around the craft vendors. So much cool stuff!

After lunch we headed back to the Alamo a second time. This was actually a good call because it had been overrun with school kids earlier in the morning, so now it was more quiet.

The last two things we did, Mission Espada and Mission San Jose, wasn’t even a definite thing on our to do list. I figured if we had the time in the afternoon, we’d go, but no big deal if we didn’t. These two missions ended up being my favorite part of the day. The architecture was amazing!

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Mapping Texas

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A few weeks ago I wrote an article for the paper about an exhibit at the Museum of Natural Science. The exhibit is called Mapping Texas: From Frontier to Lone Star State.

I got to go see the exhibit for free, instead of paying for a ticket, which was really cool.

There was a collection of about 50 maps, most of them on loan from the Texas General Land Office. The maps range from the year 1513 to the 1900s.

One of the highlights in the exhibit is the huge 7 feet by 7 feet Stephen F. Austin “connected map” of Austin’s Colony, drawn by Austin himself.

The oldest map, from 1513, is by German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller. It is supposedly one of the first maps to show the gulf coast. The countries are all disproportionate, and it took me a few minutes of studying it to figure out what I was actually looking at!

I enjoyed looking at the older maps when Texas wasn’t Texas; when it was still a part of Spain or Mexico. It was interesting to see the 13 colonies on some maps, and then out west was wide and open. Sometimes I still forget that I am “out west.”

There were also some maps that showed the early grids of Houston. I wonder if the men who founded it ever realized that it would become such a larger city!

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Stephen F. Austin’s map.

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The 1513 Waldseemüller map.

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