Perfect October Weather Calls for a Day Trip

A Texas longhorn grazes on the dam of a pond

After the long, hot Texas gulf coast summer, one almost feels that these near perfect days and nights are something deserved.  The low humidity and temperatures in just the 80s in the days and into the low 60s or even 50s at night bring smiles to faces, and more than just the dogs seem to be frisky.

It’s the time to get out and enjoy the refreshing Texas countryside.  This week is the fall version of the Round Top Antiques Fair, a twice annual affair that over the years has spread itself out further and further.  There are vendors of many types housed in tents, sheds, old houses for miles around the little hill country town.  Sitting about half-way between Houston and Austin, Round Top makes a good destination for a day trip.

Going early in the day, the attendance seemed somewhat sparse, but the incoming bumper-to-bumper traffic later indicated that business was going to pick up for the vendors.

For sure, neither the sellers, buyers, nor those just going to have a great day could be disappointed by the weather.

A tranquil setting greets visitors at Marburger Farm Antiques

Bright Texas sun creates shadows from sale items on the walkway

Not the Big Kahuna, but the Big Banana

Colorful lampshades among the great variety of items for sale

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A Glimpse of Galveston Almost Two Years after Hurricane Ike

Balveston Seawall and beach after a shower on a Thursday afternoon.

An old post indicates that it had been more than a year since the last time I went to Galveston.  Today I took another road trip, heading down to the coast, just to enjoy the day.  On the drive down, the skies were mostly cloudy with enough of a shower here and there to get the wipers going.

Just when I got to the causeway (the bridge that connects Galveston Island with the Texas mainland), it really started to pour, and I thought I might just have to turn around and head back home.  However, when I got to 61st St. and turned to go over to the seawall, the rain gave up, and it was just overcast the rest of the time.

If you’re really looking, there’s still some evidence of the havoc Ike wreaked upon Galveston.  There are still a few restaurants and shops at the far end of Seawall Blvd. that never re-opened and look rough on the outside.  The Flagship Hotel, which sits on piers out over the water, has the same gaping hole and looks much the same as the last time I was there.  However, for the most part, the businesses appear to be back to about the same as in the pre-Ike days.  In fact, there are a few new hotels and shops, and a lot of the old ones have spruced up.

There were a lot of people enjoying the beaches near the San Luis Hotel, but the numbers began to dwindle very quickly not far down.  It was, however, a Thursday, and had just rained.

Murdoch's, restaurant and souvenir shop, rebuilt after Hurricane Ike.

Four-wheeling alongside the waves.

Nobody to save on this lazy afternoon

Flagship Hotel, a bit desolate and glum.

A new hotel nearing completion, just about one block from the Flagship.

Some new construction mixed in with the older houses just a block or so in from the beach.

Taking a Drive Out 529: Leaving Suburbia for the Open Road, a Bit of History, and Adam Lambert

F.M. 529 in Waller County, the cars are far and few between.

When I was a kid, sometimes on a Sunday afternoon, my dad would say,  “Do you want to go for a drive?”  We’d all pile into the car (the “we” that I recall most was just Dad, Mom, and me, because I was the youngest and the last one left at home) and head in some direction from the farm.  I suppose there were times when Dad had a particular destination in mind, but often we’d just take out and go wherever the car, and our whims, decided, driving for a couple of hours, looking at the  “sights”.  On some drives, we’d drop by a relative’s house or get an ice cream cone, but usually, we just drove, finally arriving back home.

I still like taking drives.  Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve often gotten into the car and just headed out without a clear destination, just enjoying the countryside and small towns I pass through.  Even though I now live in the suburbs, I still enjoy driving where the houses disappear and in their place are lines of trees, open pastures full of grass, and cool streams snaking through the countryside.

Since I’m on vacation right now, but still enthralled with having my own house and not wanting to take a real vacation, today I headed west on S.H. 529, the highway that is about a half mile from my home.

From Highway 290 to near where I live, F.M. 529 (F.M. = Farm to Market.  F.M. highways in Texas are usually shorter than S.H. roads (S.H. = State Highway) is 3 lanes each way, but as I drove west a few miles, it became 2 lanes each way, and once out of suburbia, it’s only a 2-lane road.

When you reach Stockdick School Road, you've definitely left suburbia. I took a detour down that road just because of the sort of provocative name. I didn't find any school, or anything else either.

In Bellville, you find one of the strangest courthouse-highway arrangements; Highway 36 divides to go on either side of the courthouse. There is a quaint shopping area on the courthouse square, but maneuvering this "roundabout" might prove difficult for a driver passing through this town for the first time.

I took some detours here and there, just to check out the “sights”, but finally ended up in Bellville, a cute county seat town about 30-35 miles from my house.  (Bellville is the county seat of Austin County, named for Stephen F. Austin and is steeped in Texas history.)

Despite the heat, the drive was just what I needed to get a taste of the country air and do some thinking.

The bridge passing over the Brazos River between Hockley and Bellville. This spot doesn't make the river look very impressive, but it does appear that this dead end river road is a favorite place for making out and drinking beer.

With the radio playing the whole drive, I  started  remembering about when driving between cities, the only stations that you could tune in were local AM stations playing country western music or the drone of fire and brimstone preaching.  As I was on a stretch of road between Hockley and Bellville (not on 529 then), Mix 96.5 started playing Adam Lambert’s new song, “If I Had You.”  I thought how much things have changed; even a gay kid stuck out in the middle of nowhere at least can listen to Adam Lambert and know somebody gay who is successful.  And that’s a good thing.

This little road trip today was also a good thing.  I didn’t or couldn’t stop every place that I wanted to take a photo; some places there just wasn’t anywhere to pull over and as it got after noontime, the heat made me just want to stay in with the cool AC.

Off of 529 east of Bellville, after driving through a tree-covered country lane, you'll find Pilgrims Rest Cemetery. Many of the stones in this cemetery, which is marked as a Texas historical site, have German and Czech names, some of the inscriptions in the original language. Down 529, there's a smaller, older-looking cemetery of the same name.

A stop to take a look at a historical marker proved to be the discovery of a Texan I had never heard about. Norris Wright Cuney was the son of a plantation owner and one of his slaves. He later became important in Republican politics in the latter part of the 19th Century.

You can read the inscription on this historical marker here.  This certainly gives a glimpse into what was once part of Texas history and politics, and perhaps the remnants still exist.

This old country church in Austin County doesn't appear to have services anymore, but its condition shows that its still being taken care of. You'll also find for-sale mega-mansions located on ranchettes as well as a couple of rural meat markets along this quiet strip of road.

Scattered alongside 529 in western Harris and eastern Waller Counties are any number of small- and medium-sized plants.

A Big-dicked Flower May Get You to the Museum, But Don’t Miss the Hubble Movie While You’re There

Finally, a glipse of the giant flower after wending your way through the exhibit area.

Live in or visiting the Houston area?  Now is a good time to get over to the Museum District.  After all these rains, Herman Park is green and fresh.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the Houston Museum of Natural Science, which I’ve done many times, but right now the museum has some exhibits that are even better than usual.  All the city is abuzz about Lois, the corpse flower.  There were so many people going through that I didn’t really notice how smelly she is supposed to be.  The lines are long, but for what may be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see what is supposed to be the world’s largest flower bloom, it’s worth it.

OK, your call now. Does this huge flower look more like a Lois or a Louis?

If you’re not in Houston, you can check out a live link to see Houston’s corpse flower here.

I didn’t do my research before going to the museum, but now I’ve found that Lois’s scientific name is titan arum or Amorphophallus titanum, which means “giant misshapen penis”, which makes you wonder why the museum decided to name the plant Lois.   Maybe Louis would have been a better moniker for this big-dicked plant.

Long after Lois has become flaccid and withered, you’ll be able to see the IMAX feature, Hubble 3D.  Out of the many IMAX movies I’ve seen, this is one of the best, no, it is the best.   Narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, this is the story of the giant telescope and the painstaking work done by the NASA astronauts to get it into space and keep it working.  The movie is riveting and the 3D effects enhance the story, rather than seeming forced and kitschy, as in some 3D movies.

Take a peek at the trailer for  Hubble 3D below.   (Sorry, no 3D effects.)  Check out the schedule for IMAX films and other events at the Houston Museum of Natural Science here.

11 and a Half Inches, Right There in Front of My Face

Yes! Eleven and a half inches! along with rest of this evening's takings from the garden.

Bending over, pulling back the leaves on the bean plants to see if there were enough for a mess, I turned my head , and saw hanging from the trellis, among the thick foliage a huge cucumber (11 1/2 inches–I measured it!).  I was surprised not only by the size, but that there would be even one cucumber mature enough to pick.  Only a couple of days ago, I had pulled up the only other cucumber plant because it was yellowing and drying up.  I had rescued just one small, somewhat shriveled cucumber from that plant before its demise.  This other plant has been blooming for quite some time, and its vines have begun to trail down from the trellis and all over the rest of the garden, but only in the last few days have I been able to spy a couple of small inch-long cukes.

It took me just seconds to grab the big cucumber, pull up a couple of green onions, and pluck a ripening tomato from its vine.  I knew what I was going to do with it!

Make a Greek salad!

This salad made with fresh tomato, cucumber, some onion, feta cheese, a shake or two of pepper, with oil and vinegar splashed on has been my favorite since my Air Force days in Greece (see more here).  A neighborhood pizza place just around the corner from my apartment in Glyfada was almost my home away from home and where I often had a big Greek salad, and a delicious pizza, something that ruined me on American pizza for a number years after I got back to the U.S.

My salad tonight tasted almost as delicious as the Greek salad that lives in my memory.  There were already a couple of tomatoes I had picked earlier in the week waiting to be cut up, added to the rough chucks of cucumber, bits of onion, and the feta cheese that had been waiting in the fridge for this occasion.  I have to admit that instead of vinegar and oil, I use Kroger’s Greek dressing, which I like even better.

Oh, and I don’t care what you’ve been served in restaurants; I never had one Greek salad in Greece with lettuce in it.

Memorial Day: Enjoy It But Don’t Forget What It Means

Memorial Day falls at a time when I can never get more than just the three days off from work, so although I’d like to go back to Kansas and my little hometown of Dorrance every year, the short time and the chunk of change I have to cough up for the airfare just doesn’t make that feasible.  (I’ve written about why Memorial Day is important to me before.)  This year I’m going to enjoy the still-newness of living in my house, putter in my yard and garden, and take advantage of some discount coupons to do some shopping.  I hope whatever you’re doing this weekend that you’ll take a few moments to remember those who have passed on, whether Veterans or not.

It’s still early on this Saturday morning, but though I was sure I would want to climb back into bed after taking Annie out even before six, I I was lured by the garden and other things I can do, having the luxury of three days before me.

With the sun a bit more up, I checked out the garden more closely and see that I will be able to pick my first beans in just a couple of days.  Altough all the plants in the garden look lush and full, I’m afraid that the poor soil keeps them from producing as many and as big of vegetables as they might if the soil were better.  This first year is a learning experience, and with the compost and more good soil, I’m sure next year’s crop will be better, but I don’t know if it can be any more fun!

This little garden seems to grow and change week by week. (5-29-10)

There are lots of blossoms. How many will become beans is a question.

This ruellia (ruellia elegans) was given to me by a friend and just keeps blooming and blooming. (And, yes, the grass will get mowed this weekend.)

Saturday Morning Musings: Earthquakes and Kidney Stones

I’ve just taken Annie out for her early morning break and cranked up the computer to see what’s going on.

It seems like this earth has an earthquake season, when one hits in one part of the world, we soon hear about another somewhere else.  In January it was Haiti; now the morning news says there was an 8.8 earthquake in the early morning hours that hit the central part of  Chile.  According to Chilean sources, the center was some 70 miles northeast of Concepcion, which is the second largest city in Chile and is on the coast about 200 miles south of Santiago, the capital.

I visited Chile twice, after meeting some great people from there online.  It’s a beautiful country because of its location, lying along the Andes Mountains on the east and the Pacific Ocean on the west.  The landscape is amazing everywhere, and the people are very hospitable and decent.  I hope everyone that I met down there is OK.

Here is a link to a video of a fallen bridge (which I believe is in the Santiago area) that I scooped up from latercera.cl (an online newspaper out of Santiago, which I read).  There are also quite a number of images here.  Live broadcast from TVChile here.

Now for the kidney stones:  Overall, I’m pretty healthy and have very few health issues in my life.  Probably, the worst thing has been getting a finger broken by pulling a garage door down the wrong way.  But Thursday morning I was at work and started to have the worst pains in my lower stomach area.  They became so severe, I just could do nothing.  To make a long story short (if I ever can do that), an ambulance was called and I was taken to the emergency room and after several more hours more of miserable pain and several tests, it was discovered that I had a kidney stone that was working it’s way through.  After about 8 hours in the emergency room, I was released with prescriptions for pain and nausea.  I’ve mostly rested since then, but yesterday I started to feel better, but worn out.  This morning, I feel fine.  I know that I will have to change my eating, especially drinking more water and juices, instead of the 4 or 5 Coke Zeroes that I have been accustomed to.