Signs of the Times (& VW Vans)

These landmarks, signs and vans caught my eye on a recent trip to Austin.  My husband says that if I had my way I’d live in a VW van.  He may be right.

Johnny's Bike Shop.  Classic.

Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop. Classic.

What's Your Favorite?

What’s your favorite?

Hut's Hamburgers

Totally Austin

Totally Austin

Lucy's Retired Surfers Bar & Restaurant

Where retired surfers go to eat

Sowing Beauty: The Unofficial Story of Lady Bird and the Texas Wildflowers

LBJ_convertible

This time of the year, when wildflowers are in their prime along the Texas highways, I think of Lady Bird Johnson.  Now my version of the story bears no resemblance to the truth, but I’m sure it’s a much livelier picture than the weeks of debate in Congress, the budgeting and resulting projects.

I imagine the First Lady getting up one fine morning late in September and saying, “Lyndon, I can’t stand it.  The Highway Beautification Act was passed by the Senate weeks ago, but y’all are still talking.”

“You know I’m pushing as hard as I can – these things take time…”

“Well, my dear, I got tired of waiting.  I figure if you want something done, best do it yourself.  Keys to the Caddy?’

“Oh Lord, what now?”

“If you can help me move that big bag from the trunk, I’ll get someone to drive.  Here’s a cup.”

“What the hell for?”

“I’ll leave getting rid of those ugly billboards and junkyards up to you.  I’ve got a project of my own and I’m using my own special blend.”

“Of what?”

“Seeds, Lyndon.  Seeds!  This is exactly the right time to sow wildflowers in Texas, and I’m going to do some beautification of my own.  No public works projects or construction crews needed.  You’ll see it – about March or April.  Hop in.”

I imagine Lady Bird and LBJ riding along the highways of Texas for a few days in September, laughing and talking and sowing beauty from their Cadillac convertible.

Now for a little of the real story.

Before signing the Highway Beautification Act on October 22, 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson made some remarks that are still relevant today.  “In our eagerness to expand and improve, we have relegated nature to a weekend role, banishing it from our daily lives. I think we are a poorer nation as a result.”  After signing the bill, he planted a kiss on Lady Bird’s cheek.

Lady Bird Johnson made it clear that “beautification” was the wrong word and not the “cosmetic” solution she had in mind.  She pushed for “clean water, clean air, clean roadsides, safe waste disposal and preservation of valued old landmarks as well as great parks and wilderness areas.”  She succeeded in making this country a more beautiful place and was known as The Environmental First Lady.  Her legacy lives on in the bluebonnets, scarlet Indian Paintbrush and pink primroses that bloom each year along the roadside.  You can also get a glimpse of the flowers she loved so much and feel her spirit at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in south Austin, Texas. 

Thank you, Lady Bird.  Earth Day should be dedicated to you.

Austin Food Trucks: On the Road and À la Mode

Food Truck Austin

Food trucks are just one of many things to love about Austin (more about my love affair with the city in a separate post…).  We’re not talking “roach coaches” or the standard taco trucks that cruise construction sites – although I hear you can get some pretty mean Tex Mex.  I’m talking about the early-morning, late-night, humble, vegan, kitschy, original, ethnic, delicious cafes, barbecues, dessert wagons and more.  No matter your taste, they’re a culinary adventure on wheels.  It turns out that, in addition to being the Live Music Capital of the world, home of the UT Austin, Whole Foods and the hipper-every-year South by Southwest festival (SXSW), Austin is a street food lover’s paradise.  Appearances range from unassuming to artistic, clever and sometimes downright odd.  Some go it alone, rolling with abandon from one spot to the next and you have to track the location via Twitter.  Others cluster together in cozy two’s or three’s and feature shaded tables by day and a festive, sparkling ambiance at night.  One establishment – Torchy’s Tacos –  even grew from one trailer to 14 locations in 4 cities, and others have been featured on The Food Network and Cooking Channel.  These aren’t dives or greasy spoons – often food trucks offer some of the best and freshest food served by some of Austin’s most talented chefs.  There are several websites such as Austin Food Carts, Best Austin Food Trucks, Food Trailers Austin and Roaming Hunger that feature maps, menus, reviews and more.

Although the Gypsy Picnic Trailer Food Festival is taking a sabbatical, that combination of words stirs the imagination and makes me want to pack a basket and hit the road.  The good news is that every day is a festival and you can have the pleasure of sampling good food at decent prices when you visit these local eateries on wheels.

Gordoughs_Roaming Hunger

Gordoughs (Roaming Hunger)

Korean Truck

Korean BBQ Tacos

Words Escape Me

laundry line

Sometimes,

I feel like working in silence.

Kneading bread dough,

painting walls,

pulling weeds with the sunshine on my back.

fence

Here are some images from a walk around the block in historic Richmond on a quiet afternoon.

 

wringer

Richmond oaks

Saturday Morning Nostalgia

It’s a gray and damp Saturday morning and I felt like exploring a nearby historic district.  What I was looking for, I’m not exactly sure.  Beautiful imperfection.  Years of use and loving memories.  I’ll just show you.

Welcome to Rosenberg

Bike

CocaCola

Elevator

Fan

kitchenware

Mexican Pottery

Victrola

Pots

No Plain Jane – She’s the Mother of Texas

Jane Long Morton Cemetery

Maybe it was the rainy weather, or it might have been the recent events in the news, but I was in a somber mood.  You’d think that a walk in a cemetery on a dreary day would just add to the sense of gloom, but I found inspiration in this resting place of many early Texas pioneers.

Next to the monument for Mirabeau Lamar, second President of the Republic of Texas, I found a gravestone inscribed, “Mrs. Jane H. Long, The Mother of Texas.”  It’s not often that you find tributes to women, or mothers in particular, so I wanted to learn more.

I returned home and did some research about this remarkable woman who was orphaned at 14, married at 16, a mother at 18 and widowed by the time she was 23.  When her husband James left on an expedition and her neighbors fled because of diminishing supplies, Long braved bitter cold and near-starvation while pregnant and accompanied by only her maid and her daughter at Bolivar Point.  She also kept tribal neighbors away by hoisting her petticoat as a makeshift flag and firing a cannon on occasion to make it seem that the fort was still fully occupied and well-defended.  Before her death in 1880, Jane went on to become a successful business woman and plantation manager and a central figure in this new frontier that became its own republic.  As I read about the pioneering woman who would earn the title “Mother of Texas” through her courage, tenacity and independent spirit, I wondered what she would think about the issues that face us today.

So I decided to ask.

Interviewer:  Mrs. Long, how do you feel about the Internet?

Jane:  To be honest, Facebook or Skype would have been handy when I was pregnant and literally holding down the fort on my own.  And GPS would have helped – but I’m not sure I would trust Apple maps.

I:  I hear you’ve had quite a few famous “leading men.”  Pray tell.

J:  It’s true – Ben Milam, Sam Houston, and Mirabeau Lamar have all tried to court me without success.  Sometimes I feel like Diane Keaton.

I:  Are you concerned about the fiscal cliff?

J:  I came all the way to Texas from Maryland – I’m sure one more cliff won’t be the end of the world.  As for the fiscal part – no one, including the government, should spend more than they bring in.

I:  Speaking of the end of the world – did you stock up?

J:  I wish I had.  James went off on one of his expeditions and my neighbors all left when the supplies ran out.  I was left pregnant and alone, save my young maid and small daughter, and we were desperate for food.  We were even hacking frozen fish and ducks out of the bay.  Talk about inconvenient.  Now I say, “be prepared.”

I:  Do you feel that women can be as successful as men in the business world?

J:  After I was widowed, I owned and operated two inns, bought and sold land, managed a staff and more than 2000 acres, raised cattle and sheep and grown cotton.  So what was the question again?

I:  Ok, point taken.  What management philosophy do you follow?

J:  It’s simple.  If you don’t work, you don’t eat.

I:  What do you think about the women’s healthcare issue in Texas?

J:  I think all women should have access to good healthcare.  I gave birth to one daughter in an ice-covered tent in the dead of winter and lost two children when they were small.  No one should have to go through what I have endured.  We’ve got to take care of each other.

I:  How do you feel about the “buy local” movement?

J:  I wholeheartedly agree – in fact, I take it a step further.  I refuse to buy anything that the Yankees up north have for sale and will only wear clothes made from cotton grown on my plantation.  And it’s organic cotton as well.

I:  About the recent election – would you have voted for President Obama?

J:  As I am a dyed-in-the-wool Confederate, I believe you know the answer to that question.

I:  How do you feel about pirating?

J:  I dined with that smuggler Jean Lafitte in Galveston and my husband tried to gain his cooperation, but I don’t trust the man.

Jane Long

While Jane and I wouldn’t see eye to eye about the Confederacy and slavery, I do admire her determination and think she earned the right to be called the Mother of Texas even if she wasn’t really the first Anglo woman to give birth in the state.  And as I look around and see all of us floundering through difficult times, I think the world could use a few more Janes.  And I wonder what she would think of us.

Winter in Texas

It’s December in Texas and you’d never know that the end of the world and fiscal cliffs were looming just ahead.  No dark days or doom and gloom here – it’s actually pretty bearable.  However, if you haven’t experienced winter in Texas, be prepared for hardship. Tea is good for those days when the temps plunge below 70 and always be ready to dig out the long pants.  Brrrrr….

Cup of tea?

winter footwear

changing leaves