Waco, Texas

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When my parents and my Aunt were visiting, we took a day trip to Waco. The trip was mostly for my mom, who loves Chip and Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper fame. I have seen a few episodes myself too, and I can understand where the hype comes from.

We had good timing, because their new restaurant, Magnolia Table, just opened up the week before. We left at the crack of dawn to get there at 8 a.m. We had about a 15 minute wait for a table, which was not bad at all. The food was great. We shared lemon lavender doughnuts as an appetizer. I got the farm breakfast, and the bacon and the biscuit that were included were great.

Then it was off to the Silos. Even though it had only opened at 9 a.m. and we got there just shortly after that, it was already packed. There was a line to get into the store, and a line to get into the bakery. The line to the store did not take long. As groups left they let more people in for crowd control.

Inside the store I bought a mug and a t-shirt. (Kid’s size for the win, saved two dollars.) My mom and dad got the mug, two kitchen towels, and a glass vase/jar with two springs of cotton and a magnolia.

It was a nice store, but not really any of my style per se. Most of it was out of my price range. I just wanted the items for the novelty of it. From what I saw, it looked like the mugs and the towels were the most popular items. You would really have to go with a lot of money in your pockets if you wanted some bigger items.

Magnolia at the Silos as a whole was nice. There were lots of photo opportunities and a lot to look at, including a whole lawn for people to hang out and play games on. There were food trucks that opened around lunch time. If you wanted, you could make a day out of it.

After the Silos, we explored downtown a bit. Our first stop was the suspension bridge, built in 1870, for the cattle drives to cross the Brazos River. Then we checked out this huge shopping boutique, called Spice Village. We would have probably spent more time there if we had the time, plus we were already overwhelmed a bit by the morning’s shopping.

Then we checked out Common Grounds, a coffee shop near Baylor University. The owners of the shop were featured in a season one episode of Fixer Upper. Then we walked around Baylor University, which is a really pretty campus. The highlight was checking out a collection of stained glass windows inside the Browning Armstrong library.

Then it was back to the Silos to get in line for the bakery. My mom and dad ended up waiting almost an hour and a half for cupcakes. They give you order forms to fill out while in line to speed up the process a bit. I did not handle the wait well, but this is because I was just starting to get a cold and I was pretty miserable all day! I probably would have been a bit more tolerable of it all had I been able to breathe. My parents said that they talked to someone who said that one random day in May he was able able to walk right in because there were no lines. I wish I could have judged that better myself. We did go on a Monday, but a lot of schools were on spring break, so that may have been an issue. I ordered a lemon lavender cupcake for myself. They were reasonably priced. I THINK it tasted good, but my taste buds were gone with the cold, so I can’t know for sure!

It was a good day over all, and it was neat to see the hub bub surrounding Chip and Joanna. I enjoyed the opportunity to get to see a new area of Texas.

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Family visits Texas

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My family (my parents and my Aunt) were here for a week. My dad had moved us to Houston, and my Aunt visited last October for a long weekend, so they already knew what to expect somewhat, but this was my mom’s first time to the Lone Star State.

We had a full itinerary with multiple things to do every day. I did NOT bring my camera, which was refreshing, since I had already done everything before, and did not need photos of the same things. So, this post will be photo free, and more of a review of what we did. Many of the activities that we did are featured in previous blog posts.

The first thing that we did that ended up being a hit with everyone was dinner at the Gorgeous Gael, an Irish Pub in Rice Village. We ended up doing this the last night too.

We went to Old Town Spring, where mom and dad loved The Little Dutch Girl shop and we also went to Hermann Park and rode the train.

Thursday was a full day at the Rodeo. That was the one thing everyone was looking forward to the most. The highlight was seeing sixteen piglets that were born just 12 hours before! Everyone was amazed at the size of everything. My Aunt expressed concern when we entered the grounds at 10:30 a.m. and the rodeo/concert wasn’t until 6:45 p.m., but we kept busy all day. None of my family had ever seen anything like a rodeo. Luke Bryan was the performer, and he was excellent. (Stay tuned for a separate post on the rodeo.)

On Friday we checked out the University of Houston, with Derek as the tour guide. Everyone was really impressed with the student union center, which is about 10 times the size as the one in Mansfield University. Then we headed to the zoo. The highlights, at least for me, are always the big cats. Mom was excited to see Shasta, the UH cougar mascot. Both times we visited the cougar enclosure, she was sleeping. All cats are the same, right?

On Saturday we walked around downtown. We checked out Discovery Green, and wandered the streets for mom and dad to get a feel of the city. They were shocked that there was hardly anyone around compared to New York City. We went to Allen’s Landing, the birth place of Houston, and caught the end of the Buffalo Bayou Regatta, (canoe and kayak race) so a free party was included. We also took them to the pop up location of Niko Nikos in Market Square Park, and introduced them to some Greek food. It was funny when my dad made me order, because he could not pronounce anything.

Sunday was a day in Galveston. We stopped at the Ashton Villa, a house where General Gordon Granger announced the end of the Civil War to the people of Texas on June 19, 1865. We also went to the Moody Aquarium, at my mom’s request, because she loves penguins. We caught the penguin feeding in the morning, which was cool to see. To be honest though, it was a small aquarium, so I do not think the money was worth it. At any rate though, I was glad to get to do something new. We also wandered the beach, drove around the historic east end district to ogle at all of the large houses, and shopped on the Strand.

Monday was a day trip to Waco. I will post about that separately. We went to Magonlia at the Silos for my mom, who is a Fixer Upper fan. We also went sightseeing here and there in downtown Waco.

Tuesday we stayed close to home, because we were all so exhausted from the day before. We went to La Madeline’s for breakfast and then we headed to the Galleria for some shopping. My mom and dad got a kick out of a revolving sushi bar in the food court! We dropped off my Aunt at the airport in the afternoon.

Wednesday was my parent’s last day. We hiked around the Arboretum and then we went back to downtown to check out the underground tunnels since they were closed when we went before on the weekend. We went right during lunch break rush, and my parents were amazed. We also stopped back at Rice Village, and walked around a couple of shops.

All in all it was a good trip, and I think my family had a good first impression of Houston, and the state of Texas. It might be a few years until they visit again, but I am sure I can easily come up with a whole new itinerary since there is never a shortage of things to do.

 

 

 

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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Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens

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We spent a day in Dallas at the end of October. We were there because Derek was a speaker at the National College Media Convention. I went with him, partly because he wanted me there for support, and partly because I found online, and fell in love with, the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens,

For some background context, I have been missing fall. It’s not like it was some elaborate season that we celebrated back in Pennsylvania, but I was still craving fall, and everything that came with it.

So, a few months ago, I stumbled upon the Arboretum and Botanical Gardens when searching for things to do in Dallas, for a weekend trip next summer. Turns out that they do this amazing themed pumpkin village every fall, (this year’s theme was Wizard of Oz) and damn, now I wanted to go. But a trip in the fall would never be possible, due to my working weekends, and Derek’s school schedule.

But then Derek was chosen as a speaker, and his session was first thing on a Friday morning. My work week starts on a Friday, so it would have worked out for us to drive up to Dallas on Thursday night. I had personal days that I needed to use anyway, so I said, why not?

Derek’s session went well, and the gardens exceeded my expectations. It was great to get away for the day, see something new and spend the day together, which is rare now! Here are some photos.

We will go back to Dallas, probably sometime this summer, and we will probably go back again, because I imagine it looks different each season.

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Aunt Susie’s visit

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Aunt Susie came to visit for three days. It was a short visit, yes, but we crammed a ton of activities into those three days! We both had a lot of fun, and it came at the right time. It felt good to take a short break and forgot about other things currently going on. It was great because, while I took her to a bunch of things that I was familiar with, I also got to see and do some new things myself too.

On the first day I took Aunt Susie to Cavenders, which is a family owned boot and western wear store. She bought a shirt, and I cried over every pair of boots that I can’t afford, haha. Christmas is coming…

Then we went to the Arboretum, and I took her to the meadow trail to see the swamp sunflowers that were still in bloom.

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After the Arboretum, we went to Downtown and I showed her Discovery Green. I was excited to see The Color Condition, which is the latest art installation.

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Day two was the beach. A drive to Galveston is not complete with a stop at Buc-ees! She loved it. She bought a Buc-ee Bever keychain, a shirt and pajama shorts.

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It was great beach weather. A little chilly in the morning, so we had sweatshirts on, but the afternoon was perfect. We basically had the beach to ourselves for the first few hours, but then more people came by lunch time. We found a dead jellyfish on the beach. I had never seen one before.

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We had lunch at a place called Fish Tales, which is right across the street from the pier. The restaurant had a great outdoor patio on the second floor. I got the shrimp po boy sandwich and it was huge! Will probably eat there again.

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We checked out Murdochs, which is an old gift shop that is right over the water. They had a little bit of everything inside. Aunt Susie bought a shirt for Uncle Paul there. They also have their own bar, where you can get drinks and snacks, and a patio for you to enjoy them on. They sure do know how to bring in business!

We walked around the Hotel Galvez for a bit. It is a beautiful hotel, but supposedly haunted. Apparently it used to be an orphan’s asylum, but most of the children died in the 1900 hurricane. Spooky.

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From Hotel Galvez we took the motorized trolley to the Strand for some shopping. The island is currently working on getting the train trolleys up and running for next summer, but have the motorized ones in the mean time. It costs $1 to ride it each way, which I think is a good deal, instead of having to move the car and pay more in a lot.

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Our last day was the Houston Zoo and Hermann Park. Some of the highlights of the zoo were getting to see some of the big cats up close, and Aunt Susie feeding the giraffes. We took the train ride around Hermann park.

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The fun seemed like it ended all too soon, but she will be back, this time with my parents too, in March. She said she had a great time and a good first impression of Houston and Galveston. She said she wants to move to Galveston now… I would be okay with that!

Hurricane Season

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June 1st is the start of hurricane season, and I have seen an influx of different hurricane related articles and columns the past two weeks.

We went to Galveston for the day (more on that in another post) and there are reminders about hurricane season everywhere. All along the causeway bridge there were big billboards that proclaimed “HURRICANE SEASON, BE PREPARED.” And later on that morning, while we were eating a mid-morning snack at the Mosquito Cafe, there was a small plaque on the wall noting where the high water mark was during Hurricane Ike. It was taller than Derek!

We arrived here at the end of the summer last year, so while hurricane season was on our mind, it was soon over. Now, staring down a full season, it feels different.

We have a weekly little reporters meeting, and during last week’s meeting, our editor gave us advice, because none of the current reporters have been around for the last two hurricane events, which happened in 2005 and 2008.

There were lessons to be learned from both hurricanes. I have been reading up on the impacts of both, and I am glad that, if another hurricane were to come, Houston should (hopefully) be more prepared.

Hurricane Rita formed just a few weeks after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and was barreling towards Houston, which understandably caused a lot of widespread panic. A few days out, Rita was, at the time, one of the strongest hurricanes on record. It seems as if everyone in Houston tried to leave all at once, which caused major problems.

Out of everyone who died in that hurricane, the majority of the people died during the evacuations. All of the highways out turned into parking lots. The opposite sides of the road weren’t opened until it was a little too late. People ran out of gas and then that turned into having heat strokes. A bus carrying senior citizens traveling to Dallas over heated and caught fire. All this for almost nothing. Rita ended up turning east, and didn’t hit Galveston/Houston as originally thought. Most people who evacuated could have just stayed home.

Hurricane Ike, however, did hit Galveston and came onshore to Houston quite dead on. Our editor told us that it knocked out the entire power grid and some people were without power for THREE WEEKS. Now just imagine how that feels in the middle of a Texas summer, when the temperature can easily reach 100 degrees.

The advice he gave if another hurricane like that happens is, to try to stay ahead of the game. Already have batteries and candles on hand (check and check.) Make sure you have plenty of water and non perishable food. And whatever we do, try to make it out to the grocery store and a gas station ahead of everyone else.

He said that, even though we always have a few days notice ahead of time that a hurricane may hit, everyone seems to wait until the last minute, and then it is a frenzy.

I am sure that Derek and I would have this kind of common sense if a hurricane were to show up at our door step, but it is still helpful to hear it from someone else who has lived through two bad hurricanes.

We looked at evacuation routes, and we are just to the west of evacuation zones. So, if there is a mandatory evacuation, we won’t have to go, but depending on how safe we feel, we may leave anyway. The University of Houston is in an evacuation zone, which is good to know. In the event of a hurricane, UH would probably have to close down.

I read somewhere that there is a 32 percent chance of Houston being hit, and I’ve heard talk that “We’re due for a dead on hit again since it’s been a few years.” I don’t think it works that way, but who knows what will happen this summer, or the next.

 

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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