I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!










A weekend in July




The weekend of Stroud Show, where I had work to do.  Thank goodness the rain held off this year.




I rather liked the unconventional planting in the park this year.




I couldn’t understand why so many of my pictures had a white blob in them until I looked more closely and discovered a grain of sand in the lens.  Boracay beach is still with me.  Thankfully, I managed to dislodge the teeny tiny speck during the afternoon.




It was still there when we went for lunch at Jolly Nice though.  Kentucky Fried Pheasant anyone?




The yurt was pleasantly cool.




I have renewed interest in barbed wire these days.




Tea in a favourite place is always fun, though we missed Mary’s company.




What’s that?




We did.




What a fun exhibition to round off the weekend, too!


Home again, home again, jiggety jog


After three weeks travelling, we are at home.  It’s good to sit in my familiar chair, to type on a proper keyboard and view things on my full size screen rather than my little laptop.  But getting back into the routine will be a challenge, I know!




It’s been a grand trip.  One of the best, we think, with hardly a dud in our busy schedule.  So it was a bit unfair that on our last morning in Austin, we felt short changed.




Our experience tells us we need to save something for our last morning, for having packed up and feeling ready for home, we don’t want to waste those precious last hours.  My hero had spent much of the previous evening looking for a suitable distraction and came up with the Blanton Art Gallery – perfect.




So, all set and checked out of the hotel, we were there at opening time and paid our admission, noting that one exhibition had closed on Sunday evening.  Shame.

“But there is still the Goya” said the young woman on the desk, “and the Xu Bing”.




The entrance hall to the museum is decorated in a swimming pool blue tile, which had been a temporary exhibit but is now permanent.  It’s very effective and the perfect welcome when one steps in from the oppressive 100+F outside.




Our first stop was the Xu Bing exhibit, Book from the Sky which takes up the whole of this space.




On the walls and overhead are large sheets of printed “Chinese characters” – except they’re not.  The artist devised these nonsense letters and words to look real, but actually, they say nothing and cannot be read.




They are in book form too.




Once they got the video working for us, we gained a better understanding of what it was all about, but I’m still none too sure.




OK.  Done with that one.  Loved the lettering and the hand made books and admire the principle.  But did I need to see it such quantity?  I don’t think so.

Next was the Goya exhibition.  Well, the prints were incredibly detailed and beautifully created, but oh my, the subject matter?  Bull fighting?  War?  Brutal scenes from life?  Not really my cup of tea (dear) , thank you.

Let’s go up to the permanent exhibition.

Oh.  What do you mean that’s it?

I had heard the conversation about the temporary exhibit coming to an end, but had totally missed the bit about the other gallery being closed too.




So yes, we were indeed looking for the art – but sadly, it wasn’t there.  Shame someone didn’t think we needed to know that before we paid our $9 each entry fee, when there was time to reconsider and maybe go somewhere else.


It wasn’t long till Mary’s check in time anyway so we drove her to the airport, said our fond farewells (See you in September!) and went our separate ways – Mary home to California, the two of us back into Austin for a couple of hours, since our flight wasn’t till gone 6.  As we mooched around a bookshop, I received a txt from Mary: There’s a Salt Lick outlet in the terminal building!  Sure enough there was, and the people in front of me in the queue bought a whole brisket to take with them on the plane.  Now, there’s a popular passenger, I’ll bet!


Happy Fourth, Y’all




We thought it better to start slowly this morning, since it’s a holiday here.  But we didn’t want the heat to build up too much before we went out, planning to make the most of the cooler hours of the day to be outdoors.




There were already quite a few people out on the water before 10am and crossing the “bat bridge” I was on the lookout for the bat sculpture.  My fear of birds extends to “bird-like flying things”, so there was no way I was going to view the nightly flight, however spectacular it might be.  I suggested to Mary and my Hero that they might like to go and take a look, but from the looks on their faces, I don’t think they were that enthusiastic either!




We were heading for SoCo, a lively neighbourhood to explore.  First job, park the car following instructions – not easy reversing into a space on a busy road.




Actually, we didn’t walk very far but there was a disproportionate amount of entertainment to be had in that short stretch!




It was still quiet, even though it was gone ten and most shops were already open.  So it didn’t matter too much that we lingered and took photos.




The sign in the first window seemed an apt description of the two characters in the reflection.




But Allens Boots was calling.  We’d read of this institution and just had to step inside and see what was on offer.




What do you reckon to these little beauties?




Yes, of course I had to try them on!




They were perfect to strut about in too Winking smile  But at $595 (plus tax) I really couldn’t justify the purchase.  I mean, can you imagine the reaction in Waitrose?




So instead, I dreamed…of rhinestones.




Of gorgeous shiny black




Of pale green with lilac flowers




and of embroidered teal.

Beautiful, but not for me.




But Allens is a great store and there were some really lovely things.




And a very apt birthday present for my hero, too!




A little further, we spotted this cushion in the shop window.  Love it!




Inside was quite a collection.




Some very amusing devotional candles too!




But passing the open door to the next store, I smiled and had to go right in and take a photograph.




It was just the start of a series of amusing signs, though.




You can imagine, we weren’t getting very far.




But the next stop came highly recommended, by Jordi and by Jenny.  We’d marked it on our map and crossed our fingers that it would be open.




We went up to the door and sure enough, it opened – hooray!  Hill Country Weavers is the most magnificent collection of interesting yarns, many of which are new to me.  Some beautiful samples were there too, to inspire and motivate a purchase or two.

So how come I left empty handed?

Well, perhaps it was a feature of “weird Austin”, maybe something or someone had made a mistake and forgotten to lock the door last night, but the shop was totally unattended.  Mary went into the back of the store and called…but there was no response.  Only one light was switched on and it didn’t feel quite right either.

Guess what we did?  We filled every pocket and bag of beautiful yarn No, of course we didn’t!




We tiptoed out, closed the door tightly behind us and felt very awkward indeed.  My hero now tells me we need to keep an eye on the news for a report of some crime or other in there, early this morning!  (please, no!)




One last SoCo snapshot of Willie Nelson for President and we were ready to move on.  It was starting to get really hot (108F was forecast for today), so we visited the next landmark by car.




This mural is so well known around here, there was a queue of people waiting to take their photographs by it.  Not us…we adopted the drive by method!




We had another neighbourhood to explore, which happily included the original WholeFoods market mothership where we could buy a couple of drinks for this evening’s BYO location.  Sadly, the Paper Source opposite was closed today.




I couldn’t resist taking a picture of the colourful lady waiting to cross the road in front of me though.  You wouldn’t lose her in the dark, would you?




This afternoon’s stop was the Bullock Museum of Texas.  Difficult to miss it!




Now, were we ready to get a flavour of the Texan mindset?




The floor in the lobby has a map of Texas on it – no, it’s not a puddle!




The first section was an interesting exhibit about La Belle, a 17th century wooden ship which was wrecked in a storm off the coast of Texas. 




It’s been lifted from the seabed, freeze dried and displayed with some of the artefacts which were on board.




In the next exhibit, about food, I was pleased to see a familiar character!  We had first “met” Ötzi in Bolzano some years ago and here he featured, on the other side of the world.




Amongst the other exhibits, we found the answer to a question we’ve puzzled over since we’ve been in Texas.  We’ve seen T shirts and other souvenirs with the “Come and Take It” tag on them and wondered about the origin – here it was, on a flag flown during the Texan Revolution, to taunt the Mexican forces.  I think only a Texan would wear it.




This delightful character loomed over us as we entered the museum but it was only on the 3rd floor that we learned that it used to stand on top of the Capitol.  It’s been replaced by an all-weather copy now, so this original stands tall in the museum.




Yes, there was a replica of The Alamo there too, but of course I’d remembered it from our San Antonio trip a few years ago.




Finally, there was possibly the one thing we all associate most with Houston. 

What a great way to spend the afternoon, in the cool, cool air.  The underground parking lot meant we didn’t return to a searing hot car, too.




We had decided to spend this last night of our trip at the Salt Lick BBQ and since they didn’t take reservations, we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.  As we turned into the place though, it was another Magnolia moment: there were cars as far as the eye could see.  Oh no.




But all was not lost!  An efficient system for seating people and a pleasant place to wait until our table was ready meant that the half hour wait was no bother at all.




Inside, we had plenty of room and excellent service too.




We each ordered brisket and ribs and had brought our own beer, juice and wine from Wholefoods in a cold bag.  In typical Wholefoods style, the checkout guy went to fetch a bag of ice to put inside our bag to keep the drinks cold, but now, of course, all that was left was a bag of water.  As I pulled it out of the bag and held it up to show my hero and Mary, the woman next to us giggled.  “I thought you’d brought your goldfish” she said!!




When our food came, it was as good as we’d hoped – better, even.  Oh my goodness, these Texans can barbecue!




When we ordered, we could specify how we wanted our brisket.  I chose namby pamby “lean”, whereas my hero and Mary both went for the connoisseur’s “burnt end”.  You can see what I mean here and I can tell you, my hero’s reaction was much the same!




So, feeling utterly stuffed, did we have room for pecan pie dessert?  Of course we did – but with three spoons!




As we left, we offered our compliments to the BBQ master!  What a great place to spend the last night of the trip.


Are we hot or are we cool?


We woke to overcast skies and what looked like a breeze outside, but when we stepped out, in that short time between the hotel door and the open door of the car we realised that it was just as hot and twice as humid.




As we set out, we passed the legions of youngsters we’ve been mingling with since we arrived.  They wear lanyards with RTX on them and Mary learned this evening that the convention has attracted 60 000 this year.  No wonder we feel outnumbered!




We could see the Capitol building as soon as we turned onto Congress Avenue.  That was to be the first on our list today.




It’s a fine building and we looked forward to seeing inside, happy to find that it’s open on Sunday morning of a holiday weekend.




We passed through security and walked down a quiet corridor past Senators’ offices, stopping for a minute outside Kelly Hancock’s door to admire the family photo and small succulent arrangement; a small personal touch in an otherwise bland interior.




We came across a staff member sitting working behind bars in the former Treasury.  I asked him if he felt secure in there and he smiled, saying that sadly, there was no longer any money there to ensure his security!  He was actually a staff member of the visitor service and suggested that if we had any questions, we should return and he’d do his best to answer them for us.




What came as the biggest surprise for us was the sheer number of visitors.  The place was really crowded and extraordinarily noisy.  We, who have normally had these places, if not to ourselves, very nearly so, were confounded.  Apparently this state Capitol receives the highest number of visitors after the Federal Capitol in Washington DC.




And yet, beyond the usual dome, there really wasn’t that much to see.




The star in the dome has “TEXAS” in there too, by the way…not that I’d have noticed that if the enlarged photograph wasn’t hanging on our hotel room wall!




Only a couple of rooms were open for viewing.  Here, the State Supreme Court held our interest for a few minutes, mostly whilst I imagined why people might choose to sit behind that pillar!




Lingering in the doorway, I spotted the decorative hinges, pretty similar to those we’d seen earlier in our trip.




I was amused to think that everyone who sat for any length of time in one of those seats would find themselves embossed with the star motif in one or both places.




The House of Representatives was undergoing renovation, so only the Senate was open today.  We snapped our pictures before the two or three coach parties arrived, so it looks deserted (but wasn’t!)




The portraits of recent Senate members were interesting, because of those small portraits which were included.




Since 1919, children and grandchildren of Senators have been included there as mascots and an ongoing reminder of who will benefit from state legislature – or not.




Before stepping out of the Senate, I looked up.  Sure enough, there were TEXAS stars overhead.




A star on the doormat.




And yes, stars on the fence.




Before we left, though, we took a few photographs of the Tejano monument, which was set in the grounds with a rather busy backdrop.  I was reminded of the Lewis and Clark bronzes outside the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City but felt that this one was more five separate vignettes and didn’t gel quite so successfully as a group.




I liked the detail though.

But that was it for the Capitol.  We reflected on our disappointment and thought it strange that what we felt was one of the least impressive interiors attracted the greatest number of visitors.  Who knows?  Anyway, it was time for us to move right along to #2 on our list today.




This rather brutal building belied the fascinating contents within. 




The Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum was the third Presidential Library of our trip and we hoped for a more enriching experience than we’d had in Dallas the other day.




We needn’t have worried.  From the moment we stepped inside we were able to get a grasp of the man and his presidency and I found the whole place very impressive indeed.




I knew very little about the man or his achievements, being the non-historian in our family and having been too young to remember events of that time period in detail.  Of course, I knew how he became President so suddenly, even if I don’t remember what I was doing on that day.




I enjoyed reading the annotated speeches, particularly this one, which must have been the speech he least wanted to make.  I also enjoyed listening to the man himself, mostly on the telephone, for his conversations were all recorded and now released for the museum.  How fascinating to hear the voices of such notable figures and how surprised I was to hear Jacquie Kennedy’s tiny little voice when I’d expected her to speak more confidently.




Whilst reading the Civil Rights story there, I was pleased to catch sight – and hear – John Lewis once more.  He seems to have followed us along our Road Trip and it was good to tie up so many threads here as the Civil Rights Legislation was passed by LBJ’s government.




I learned a great deal as I followed the story of LBJ’s presidency.  I had no idea how young men were drafted to serve in Vietnam or that a lottery was introduced.  (Sorry for the glare in the photograph but I wanted to remember that detail).  What a cruel means of selection.

The sombre story of the Vietnam conflict was the last chapter of the exhibit, and it stayed with me  as we moved fairly quickly through the “fun bits”; the gifts, the snippets about family life in the White House and so on.




The last corner was Lady Bird’s office.  We were told that after LBJ’s death, she continued to come to her office and work here, so her office was staged too, including the “can do” desk motto.  More than anywhere else in the museum, the decor said “1970s”.  (We’d actually found it hard to believe that the museum was around 45 years old till then)

The one thing I’ll take away with me is the wealth of legislation passed during those six years.  Very impressive.




Now, after such a thought provoking few hours, what might we do next?  My hero had identified an upscale shopping mall where he thought we might spend an hour, so for our #3 adventure of the day, we went shopping.  Or rather, we went looking.




Now, it’s someone’s birthday in a few day’s time and as we got out of the car, I said that if he saw anything he liked, then I’d be glad to have an idea for a birthday present.

So we stopped in the Tesla shop!   We oohed and aaahed for some time, had demonstrations of various features, marvelled at the technology and not once was a birthday mentioned.  I think I got away with that one Winking smile




We might have stopped for a little light refreshment.




We certainly noted that in this uber-cool neighbourhood, there are not only food carts but there are pop-up clothes stores in carts too.  Buy a suit from the back of a lorry?  Not long ago, that would have had an altogether different connotation!




But following a couple of enthusiastic shoppers, we realised that The Domain was not really aimed at the likes of us and heading for the car (a Chrysler, sadly, not a Tesla) we returned to the hotel and cooled down.

We are told by the concierge that it’s forecast to be 108F tomorrow, our last full day here.  We’d better make the most of it.


On our way to Austin



We’ve had fun in Fort Worth but oh my, the driving!  We were glad to leave the bridges and overpasses of urban driving behind and set out on the country roads on the last stretch of our journey, to Austin.




It’s a strange landscape though.  Green, for sure, but with industrial bits here and there,




We passed through a town called “Railroad town” or something, where we drove alongside a train for a while.




As you know, someone enjoys this kind of thing but has to keep his eyes on the road, so I take pictures.




But of course, I have no idea what of!




It was an interesting drive.  There were not many occasions when it was a purely rural scene for more often than not there was a power plant or cement works there in the view.




Sometimes, there were more brown housing developments too.




But soon, the urban sprawl ended and we found ourselves driving through old, Western towns where a horse or two tied up to the rail would look perfectly in place.




We smiled as we passed by the Cowboy Bank.




Do they have a ride up service, do you think?




Then there was the Cowboy Church.  I’m sure Cowgirls are welcome too.




We’d passed by several of these ranch signs before I was ready with my camera to snap one as we passed.  What’s the odds of catching one with fish on it in cowboy country!?  Bleh.  Try as I might, I didn’t see another one this side of Waco, either.




By now, we really were out in the country proper.  The long straight road stretched out in front of us and rather than grumble at the lack of interest, we thanked our stars for no urban driving!




Eventually, we crossed the river and into Waco, where we had two things on our list.




My hero spotted we’d arrived at the first when he saw the crowds.




Whilst we are here with Mary, our usual evening viewing is HGTV and particular favourites are Chip and Joanna; a couple who present a programme called Fixer Upper, where they buy a wreck and do it up.




In an idle moment, my hero had googled their business and when we found they were based in Waco, TX, we looked a little closer.




Sure enough, Magnolia Market was there and open today, so we thought we’d stop by.  The thing is, so did half the population of Texas, I think.




We recognised many things from the show, since we’ve seen quite a few in the last couple of weeks.




People were clearly familiar with the programmes and most were carrying armfuls of goods.




In this quiet corner, I overheard a young man telling his wife that he thought he could make something nearly like that.  I smiled to myself…I’ll bet those words were spoken quite a few times!




This couple were trying to decide if their wall was large enough for this sign, whilst the young woman staff member was filling up shelves with goods as quickly as they were emptying.




A license to print money?  you bet. 




The queue to pay was nearly as long as the queue for the loos!




Of course, the use of social media was encouraged and young families seemed to be having a great time here. 




Well, they had thought of everything, including the garden and it was all really well done.




But of course we were not here to shop, so arming ourselves with a refreshing ice lolly from one of the food carts in the yard (they really had thought of everything…), we made our escape and headed a block or two to the other destination on our list.




Bye bye Magnolia Silos!




Hello Dr Pepper Museum.




Dr Pepper is another Waco product and having a fan travelling with us, we were interested to find out more.




But this was a poor relation to the Coca Cola experience in so many ways – not that we’d expected anything quite so commercial. 




But if a manufacturer of soft drinks creates a visitor centre, for which there is a charge, wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect a taste?  Not necessarily a whole bottle, not even a whole glass…but maybe just a small, tiny taste?   Not a bit of it! 




So on this hot hot hot day, we didn’t spend long looking at strange and unexplained machines.  We didn’t linger by the old displays with no background.  We did purchase drinks at the soda fountain (but only one of us chose Dr Pepper!) because the queues were nothing like those at Magnolia.  But as a memorable experience, sorry, Dr Pepper, you fell short of expectations.




Back to the car then, parked in the Baptist Church car park next door to Magnolia, where crowds were still streaming in and police patrols were controlling traffic and parking.




We were on the last lap to Austin now.




And look what I spotted!




Of course, this water tower made us smile too.




Austin is the capital of Texas, so the Capitol is there, awaiting our visit.




But first things first.  Dinner at Coopers BBQ.  “It’s all about the meat” as they say here…