Sunday, April 25, 2010

Yee-Haa! Welcome to Texas!

A couple of weeks ago, I went to visit Lauren in Dallas. After a year and a half in Amsterdam, a few months unemployment here in Maryland, she landed back on her feet, in Dallas of all places! Now, I've long had an aversion to Texas--any State that adored #43, just didn't seem like it could be my cup of tea (although I did always like #41 and Barbara). Combined with my stereotype of big blonde (or blue) haired Republicans at their country clubs or gaudy mansions [thinking oil money] (hey,we all have our stereotypes, some of which aren't so attractive) I never had a desire to visit. But, of course, one of the points of travel is to open your eyes, experience a different culture and, just maybe, change your view. This trip did change my view but also, somewhat, enforced it.

Lauren lives in an older neighborhood with lots of trees. She has a cute 2-bedroom cottage, representative of most of the houses on her street. But, in her neighborhood were also a lot of HUGE, and I mean ridiculously HUGE mansions in any style you could imagine. Thinking of a French chateau? Down the street. A Tudor-style mansion--couple blocks over. Something Frank Lloyd Wrightish? Near the Tudor. How about a mansion on a few acres with water slides in front? Yup, that too. Fortunately, because of the abundance of trees, shrubbery (and the gated home or two), even though some of these houses are WAY too big for the lots, for the most part they don;t seem to be on top of each other.

We went to a local restaurant for dinner--Suze, which is apparently owned and run by a couple who appear on Food TV (or one of those foodie shows). That was the place where I first observed LOTS of blondes (and I continued to be struck by the number of blond women throughout my 2 days there) and the elegance and polish of certain patrons that says "monied". But, it was also where I first encountered the friendliest, nicest people you could ever hope to meet.

Friday we went to the arboretum. In the rain. Lots of rain. And, it being spring, they had lots and lots and lots of tulips. It being near Easter, lots of them were pastels, to the point of being cloying sometimes. But who doesn't like tulips and other colorful flowers?
The house of the original owner of the grounds was open for visiting, so we walked thru that. My favorite room was the library which had wall to ceiling shelves (which they had filled with law books because they look elegant). The docent in the library pointed out a couple of hidden rooms in the library, the interesting vents near the bay windows, which direct the air toward the windows to dissipate the condensation. One question to the docent and she was off! She talked and talked and talked. Now, being an east coast, big-city girl for the last 30 years, I am used to asking a question, having it answered, and you're done. This woman talked to us about all sorts of things for easily half an hour, as we continued walking thru the house. She just seemed to love her job and her city so much, combined with what I am going to call Texas charm, that she wanted to share it.

From the arboretum we went to Ft Worth for the stockyards. Ate at a restaurant there that had the best BBQ brisket I think I have ever put in my mouth! We went into a building with animal stalls and encountered a number of longhorns in pens, one of which kept eyeing us and, we thought, was going to try to attack us--we were grateful for the fence separating us from him!

We went into the visitor's center while waiting for the longhorn drive/parade to start and encountered a married couple working the desk. Asked a couple of questions and they were OFF! The man spent probably half an hour talking about the history of Ft Worth, cattle-droves, Indians, you name it; when they found out Lauren had just moved to Dallas, the wife started putting together a package of materials for Lauren to have--all sorts of brochures about Texas, Dallas/Ft. Worth and other areas. Again, that Texas charm, combined with just loving their city so much they wanted to share.

Then, finally, the longhorn parade with real cowboys!

OK, there were only about 10 longhorns, but they were still cool. Next stop in Ft. Worth: a restaurant where Lauren insisted I try the local delicacy: fried pickles. Honest. Sort of like fried zucchini or mushrooms, but with dill pickles. Not bad, especially with a beer:

As it got toward evening, we had to kill a bit of time, because the rodeo didn't start until 8:00, so we just wandered the streets, noting the fashionable people. Fashion (and, I am mostly going to talk about women) requires cowboy boots. And we saw some gorgeous ones in the stores: bright colors, tooled leather, pointy toes. Which is why I won't wear them (if you already have big feet, pointy toes don't help). Most of the young women who were out for the evening and wanting to show off were what I would call "semi-slutty" dresses: really short, clingy, leaving little to the imagination; Daisy-dukes were also popular. Whichever they wore, the cowboy boots were a must. There were fewer cowboy hats on the men than I expected, until we hit the rodeo, and then they all had hats.

The highlight of the rodeo was the calf-chase and sheep-chase. They bring out the little kids, let a calf go and whichever kid gets the calf (or the sheep, for the younger kids) wins. That sheep could really run, too! Who knew?

Afterward, we went to Billy Bob's which bills itself as the largest honky-tonk (100K square feet) in the world. But, I think you have to be small and dark and smoky to be a honky tonk and this wasn't. Still, it was interesting. We started talking to some men who had worked the rodeo that night and learned that (a) you can start learning to ride bulls when you are tiny, tiny, like 5 y.o. (b) that Texas kids are as polite as can be; one of the persons was a 16 y.o. bull-rider who kept saying "Yes, ma'am" (c) Texas men may have several kinds of hats depending on if they are going to the rodeo, church, or just every-day, and they can cost A LOT!; (d) you can take bull-riding lessons at church!

Next day, we hit the farmer's market. This was a true farmer's market, with fresh fruit and vegetables shipped in from west Texas. Many of the vendors were giving samples, so we just ate out way thru: juicy, dripping, sun-warmed tomatoes, crunchy sweet cucumbers, lavender-geranium sorbet, peaches that taste like the real thing. And everything was cheap, dirt cheap: a basket of fresh tomatoes for about $5.

No trip to Dallas would be complete without a visit to that most famous of Dallas places: Southfork! On the TV show, it looked huge! In reality, it's probably a 3500 (maybe less) square foot ranch house. The pool (that JR, Pam and the rest always swam in, seeming to be Olympic sized) is a normal sized backyard pool. They explained all the tricks that were done to make it seem larger, such as the camera lenses, putting the actors in harnesses so they just swam in place, etc.

We drove to downtown Dallas, where there really isn't much (except the JFK museum, which we did not have time to visit), but I managed to make a couple friends there:

We finished our day with dinner on the patio at Lauren's. It was a totally Texas dinner, with all the stuff we had bought at the farmer's market: Texas wine (who'd a thunk! it was pretty good), organic grass-fed Texas steaks, and those lucious tomatoes!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Snow Place Like Home

It's been a while since I've blogged, so I hope I can remember how to do it!

When I signed up for this job a couple years ago, it was for assignments that would let me travel. So when my boss told me I would be working on a project locally, I said "Geez, when I signed up to travel, I didn't mean to Greenbelt!" (15 miles from home). So, trying to put my best face on it, I figured, why not try to look at Maryland as if I was new to it. And there were some advantages to being home: seeing friends, sleeping in my own bed, having Evan buy my wine at a major discount, enjoying (?) the snowmageddons in December, and the 2 in February.

Each day, I got to commute to lovely Greenbelt: along major travelled highways with lots of traffic:

(BWI Parkway on a light traffic day!)

(Powder Mill Rd @ Edmonston, before I turn left onto Edmonston)

So, while the traffic wasn't so great, there was one compensation. Every day, I got to drive thru the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, a bucolic swatch of agricultural bliss (including, as the weather got warmer, the smells associated with livestock):

These two photos don't do it justice, but it's hard to take photos from your moving vehicle! Driving thru the area is about 4 miles of serenity: rolling hills, grazing cows, the occasional hawk, deer in the evening. With a little jazz playing on the radio, it was easy to imagine (when necessary) a ride in the countryside.

And then came Snowmageddon I & II: February 5-12. Thinking we were going to get about 15-18 inches of snow that Friday, and we could dig out over the weekend, I invited a friend from work to spend the weekend. Instead of being in her lonely apt in DC, she could spend the weekend in the 'burbs, we'd drink, watch movies, dig a little snow, get her home on Sunday so she could watch the SuperBowl at her local bar. Sure, Friday night worked out that way, but I got up Sat morning and could not open the front door! The snow was drifted up against the door some 8 or 10 inches and I had to work the door open enough to get the shovel thru to push it away to actually open the door! So, we shovelled all day, in turns. Roads impassable, until, finally, Monday I could get her to the train station, but on roads that were still like country roads. On the 2 mile ride to the train station, we actually saw stranded tractor-trailers--too much snow on the roads for them!

And, then on Tuesday night, more snow! Another 18 inches or so on top of the 2 feet we had already got. While it made for pretty pictures, it was a lot of work and took 3-4 weeks for everything to melt. But, enjoy the pictures:

(night photo as Snowmageddon II begins)

(parking lot, Snowmageddon I)

(parking lot, Snowmageddon II, I think)

(back deck as Snowmageddon II begins)

(maybe Snowmageddon II?)

(tunnelled sidewalk after Snowmageddon I)