Welcome to the new year! It’s been a while since I felt so excited to see what the year brings. I guess that’s just a by-product of Covid and the myriad of other issues that have been effecting us all over the last couple of years. It’s not that things are not still dreadful on that level, it’s having things to look forward to and being more aware than ever the preciousness of life. It has caused my heart expand with so much love, compassion, and hope of filling whatever it is that I have left with joy. This trip has been a reset for me in many ways and has allowed me to look at everything very differently. It’s hard to describe, so I won’t try but maybe it will shine through enough in my words this year to come to illuminate it better.
Leaving Port Aransas was a welcome change. We loved it there, obviously and having all that time at the beach was unprecedented for us. However, as I think I already mentioned our rhythm has been moving more often and we are anxious to see new things. Especially as we move west, there is a lot of unexplored territory and bucket list items for us ahead.
The first week of Austin had us still preparing for Eddie’s visit. Grocery shopping, baking, cleaning, organizing, getting out things from underneath storage like extra bedding, etc. We did manage to make a day trip to Waco. I had hoped we would make it there as I have always wanted to visit the Magnolia Silos. I didn’t think we were going to that part of the state as I have been to Dallas several times now. I didn’t realize it was just an hour from Austin until we arrived!
I love the show Fixer Upper, and wanted to see what they have done with their grounds. There is a tour you can go on to see some of their finished projects, but we didn’t opt to do that with the time we had available. It was well curated, and the details were everything I would expect from them. They have many little shops, lots of tempting food trucks, areas for play such as the baseball field with it’s own concession stand (serving peanuts and crackerjacks of course), an open area to play near tables to sit and eat. And the BAKERY. That did not disappoint – I had the best gingerbread cookie sandwich that I saved the next morning for breakfast. It made me kick myself for not buying two!
Waco also has one of the newest National Parks – The Waco National Mammoth Monument. Absolutely amazing! Two fellas in 1978 were in a dry creek bed searching for arrowheads when they came across a huge bone. They knew they were on to something and took it to a local museum. This began an archeological dig that lasted for decades. Initially they found 16 ice age Columbian Mammoths, believed to be a nursery area as there were mostly females and babies. They also found a camel and a sabre tooth tiger tooth. Eventually they went on to find 7 more, for a total of 23. We especially appreciated they made a shelter around the site and left some of the remains where they were found – it sure stimulated the imagination! We decided after seeing the site to do a short hike they had on the premises and we were in awe knowing we were walking around in the same place as these huge animals!
After that, we headed to see the Branch-Davidian Memorial site. It was such an awful event in US history, and we didn’t know what to expect. The site is now privately owned with a visitor center, and a functioning church for 7th Day Adventists that also contains artifacts from the event like a museum. There is also a memorial monument with the names of all who died during the standoff. Mostly what remains there are some foundations of the buildings, a school bus they had buried for an emergency shelter, and their swimming pool which is now full of Koi fish.
We met the owner of the property as he was doing a talk on the steps of the church. It seems those who remain at the site have some interesting conspiracy theories about Bill Clinton. Basically, they believe that when David Koresh left from 1984 to the early 1990’s there was a different leader in place that left evidence of cells for sex trafficking and guns that were also being trafficked. Koresh had turned all the evidence in to the Sherriff, who was his friend. Clinton and Gore came to town during their election trail and was supposedly upset over the findings. So, the people at the church believe the trafficking was related to Epstein and that Bill Clinton had them executed and two feet of ground confiscated as part of the cover up. Obviously this theory is unproven and a little wild, but it was interesting that the 4 agents killed in friendly fire were actually Clinton’s body guards who were part of his inner circle during his time as Governor.
I believe it’s quite a stretch of the imagination. However it’s understandable that people close to this situation would need to have some closure on what they believed happened and collectively this settles something so tragic and senseless into something that makes sense to them. People often just need a “why”, we have all experienced that on some level. The site made me uneasy and sad and I was not unhappy that it was time to leave. However, I do believe it was worth a stop as we have watched several things on this incident and it provided some perspective on where they were living when it all happened.
Christmas eve we had wonderful weather and decided to hike to an area called Crocket Garden Falls. It was close by where we were staying. It was a fantastic 5 miles of cactus covered cliff views of Georgetown Lake. The blue sky reflecting in the water giving it a beautiful green color. At the end, you reach a small waterfall with a moss overhang. We did other hiking that week, but this one is a must if you are in the area.
After that, we spent Christmas Day relaxing and visiting with loved ones over the phone. I did feel homesick to see everyone, but had Eddie and Maddie to look forward to the following day. Their flights went pretty well with a couple hours of delay in Charlotte, and we met them at bag pickup. I hugged him so tight, it was hard to believe he was finally here! They were travel weary and tired of course and we had an hour ride home just catching up. We took them on a quick spin through downtown Georgetown, which is the suburb of Austin we were staying in. It boasts the prettiest town square of Texas based on some sort of voting they did. We went home and had a lasagna dinner I had prepared the day before, did some gift opening, and hit the hay early so they could rest up for the rest of our adventures!
On the second day, we decided we would take them to downtown Austin so they could get a feel for it. We meant to go before this and scout things out but never made it. We decided to find the highest yelp rated Texas BBQ in the area which turned out to be Terry Black’s. Normally, there would be a line out the door based on what I read, but we got there early on a weekday and we didn’t have to wait at all. It’s served cafeteria style and you can do individual or family style. We did family style – Mac n Cheese, baked beans, green beans, and I had to have an individual side of their potato salad! We tried their brisket, sausage, and ribs. I have to say the brisket was a little drier than I was expecting, but I think most brisket I have had was pork and this was beef. The flavor was still great!
Then we headed to the famous South Congress Street to peruse the shops and take pics of their iconic murals. We would have loved to have seen the bats at Congress bridge, but it’s the wrong time of year. They have one of the biggest bat colonies there in America – estimated at 1.5 MILLION bats living under that bridge. Nightly people crowd around to see them fly out at sunset. It’s just as well, our son hates bats since the day we took him on a hike in the Kanawha Forest and he leaned on a pole that one was living inside. It flew straight at him causing him to scream and run. It would have been hilarious had it not been so upsetting to him. Okay, it was still a little bit funny 🙂 We also stopped by the capital grounds and had a look around.
Knowing Eddie can only do so much city, we then headed to McKinney Falls State Park, just a few miles away. We did a long hike to the homestead. Not my favorite hike, not much to look at and it was pretty hot that day. However, we paired off and Eddie and Ed had a great long conversation as did Maddie and I so that part was worth it. The best part though if you are visiting is the rocks and falls. You can see lots of wildlife, and it was beautiful scenery!
After that, we decided it was time for Dinner and put Eddie in charge of choosing. He took us to a good Sushi and Ramen place, and we stopped in Maddie’s favorite store – TJ Maxx! It was dark by then so we headed over to Circuit of the Americas to see their Christmas light show. If you are not familiar with it, COTA is the only formula one race track in America. The show is new, only in it’s second year. They have done a great job, but it was a bit shorter than I had pictured. The finale is you drive through an area that has Rockette-style dancers. They were beneath an underpass and Ed had been fooling around with his train horn earlier in the day to the kid’s delight. Ed asked “Should I get them with my horn?” and I was telling him no. Little quite Maddie said from the back seat “Do it! Do it! Do it!” and Ed was so surprised and amused with her he did! The dancers were surprised to say the least.
In case you are wondering – the train horn is needed because when we are driving with the RV we are basically a tractor-trailer and people are always stupidly cutting us off. People do not understand how dangerous that is, we can’t stop as quickly as a regular vehicle! Give yourself some room when passing trucks, folks!
The following day I had pre-arranged to go to an Airbnb in San Antonio. We were camping two hours away that trying to visit and go back in a day would be a little too much especially for the kids who had already done so much traveling. We could have changed camps but that’s also an ordeal. We started at the Alamo. Pro-tip if you are planning to visit get your tickets online days ahead. They were sold out online for that day and the next, and if we wanted to go inside the church, we would have had to wait about 2 hours in a line. I knew the kids were not into it enough to do all that. So, we looked inside the courtyard and went in a small museum they had and called it enough. From there, we walked to Riverwalk and had some Tex-Mex for lunch. We were going to do the boat tour and even got in line but then I remembered about the Christmas lights and I suggested we come back in the evening and see it then.
We then headed over to the Japanese Tea Garden, which was free, beautiful, and very crowded. If I had to do it again, we would have gone in the morning before the crowds. Still it was a nice little walk and had great scenery. They had a few areas that if you download an app you can do an augmented reality experience. So, for example, if you put your phone camera of the dragon shaped foot-bridge it turned into a dragon that floated around in the air and you could take pics of it.
From there we decided to stop at the H-E-B (The most popular grocery chain in Texas – we love ’em!) and stock up on water and drinks and head over to the Airbnb and rest a bit before the evening festivities. Our plan was to go back to River Walk, have dinner, take the boat tour, and take the kids to the Howl at the Moon Piano bar. That is sort of what happened. We got in line for the boat tour first because none of us were hungry. The line was long, but we only waited about an hour. This was definitely one of my personal favorite things we did while they were visiting. It was absolutely breathtaking at night as we watched all the lights pass by. At one point, a lit up Cinderella-style horse-drawn carriage crossed a bridge up ahead of us and Maddie saw it and became so animated for a moment. I knew we had to track that down so they could go as I never saw her react to anything like that before.
After we got off the boat, it was too hard to find a restaurant that was still seating. After all, this was 8:30 Tuesday night for them and many still had two hour waits. Riverwalk was too packed, we finally found some fast food and headed over to Howl at the Moon. By this point, we knew the kids couldn’t go in because they had an age restriction but the carriages were right across the street! So, we sent them on a carriage ride so they could have some alone time to enjoy it. Ed and I ducked into the piano bar and enjoyed the music until they came back.
The next day, I had planned that we would go to the zoo or Sea World, whatever the kids wanted to do. After all the lines and crowds, my nature boy said let’s move on so we did. I felt a little stressed I didn’t have a back up plan. It worked out though because sometimes spontaneity is your best friend. We stopped by a roadside attraction that was a small un-crowded zoo that specialized in snakes which Eddie has always been interested in. Then Ed had picked out something and kept it a surprise, it was in a town between Austin and San Antonio called San Marcos. When we got there, it was better than I had guessed! It was a natural spring full of fish and turtles and they had a glass bottom boat tour. When we got there, it was an hour until the next tour so we hiked around and looked at it from different vantage points, Eddie would identify the fish we were seeing. It was so clear and beautiful! The tour was also very nice, the young lady who took us out was obviously a person who loved the lake and her job so her enthusiasm and knowledge made it special.
By the time we made it back to Austin it was time for dinner, knowing we had dance lessons planned at 8pm. We lucked up and found a fantastic restaurant along 6th avenue. Locals call it “Dirty Sixth” because of all the clubs. It was called Eureka. The service was fast and the food was probably the best we’ve had so far in Texas. Ed proclaimed his meal as the best burger he’s had in his life! They got us in and out and we headed over to The Broken Spoke next.
If you have not heard of The Broken Spoke, it’s a legendary dance hall/honkytonk in downtown Austin. Some of the greatest country music singers of all time have played there – Willy Nelson, Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks, George Straight, and so many more. In fact, it’s on the cover of George Straight’s new album. Also it’s known for it’s Wednesday Night dance lessons by Terri White, the daughter of the original owner. She is featured in the brand new Netlflix season of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and is on episode 1. They show a bit of her doing the lessons.
We were not sure what to expect. The only dancer in our group is Maddie 😉 and Ed and I are especially two left feet. Terri is very brassy and tough, she probably could harness that into some sort of standup routine. It was enough to ignite our interest though – Ed and I plan to continue to practice and learn more. After the lesson, they had open dancing and some of the locals filed in and showed their moves. Extraordinary! Beautiful! Graceful! Romantic! The Texas Two step is a dance that has it all! Definitely go here and have a nice evening if you are ever in Austin. Expect that you aren’t going to learn the dance that night, but I guarantee you will fall in love with it. In hindsight, we should have practiced ahead of time via YouTube and surprised the kids.
The final day of their visit we decided to take them to the hike we did on Christmas eve. I knew it would be a hit with my nature loving son and it was. The rest of us were pretty worn out by that point. During their visit we almost walked a total of 30 miles and my body could feel it! We had a quiet rest of the day, I made us a nice dinner, they got packed up and checked in for their flight. We needed to be in bed a little after 8pm because we had to wake up just after 2am to get them to the airport. The security lines had been long due to all the holiday travel and the airlines wanted them there 3 hours early.
It was wonderful having them here, and I can’t wait to see them and our other kids again soon. We are planning to come back home hopefully twice in 2022 for extended visits, and hope to get some other visits in from the road. We hope all our friends and loved ones had a wonderful holiday season, and hope to see you soon too!