Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas in Texas

Back to Grand Prairie for Christmas.  In case you don't know Grand Prairie was named by a lady who stepped off the train many moons ago in this sleepy burg and exclaimed, "my, what a grand prairie".  Obviously things have changed a bit since then but it is, none-the-less, a true story - supposedly.

First order of business is a magnificent feed at Max and Jackie's.  Most of the usual suspects showed up as well as a few extras.  This is the core of my old church youth group and we are still tight 40 years on.  I know, you're thinking "church"?  Yea well, it's a long story.  Suffice to say - great food, great people.

Monday brings Max's Christmas Eve church service.  Max gets more entertaining as each year rolls by.  Lots of music, a herd of McCaslands and lots of candles make for a nice evening.  I am proud of Max.  He dedicated this service to the Connecticut school shooting victims and called for action on gun control from the pulpit.  This being a church in Ft Worth Texas the message had to have made some of his congregation uneasy but it damn sure needed to be said.  Good work Max!

I spent 30 years in Texas and never once remember a white Christmas.  This year we got it.  Christmas day was a winter wonderland with big fluffy flakes falling till there was actually a couple of inches on the ground.  Enough to make it official.  Of course no one knows how to drive in the stuff because most have never seen it before which made the auto body repair guys happy with all the extra business.  We all go over to Betty and Wally's for a little Christmas tree and cheer where we all take pictures of each other and then to Jeannie and Ray's for dindin.  

Even made a run to the barn to feed the horses who were as confused as the humans about the white stuff falling from the sky.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Still ramblin'

From Austin we head back out to the hill country to Fredericksburg - now home of JoAnn's sister Sandi and her husband Gary (the parents of the bride from an earlier post if you are keeping up).  More Mexican food and BBQ in an alternating pattern.  Lots of great limestone and log buildings from the Germans who settled this area in the 1800s.  Good chance to visit and catch up that we didn't have at the wedding. Plus that fact that it  is in the seventies and sunny in December doesn't hurt.

Fredericksburg is nice but there is more Mexican food calling so it is off to Weatherford to visit my old racing buddy Ol Weird Harold.  I would never have expected truly gourmet Mexican food in Texas but it does exist in the little town of Godley.  Tacos del Norte is a revamped gas station at the highway crossroads that doles out the best.  Below is definitely one of the best chile rellenos I have ever had.  If you find yourself south of Ft Worth, check it out.

Ol Weird is an interesting fellow.  Like many guys, he likes to keep a project going in the garage.  Unlike many guys his latest project is a Bonneville speed car - a 1927 model T with a model A body and a blown straight six GMC truck motor under the hood.  It makes a wonderful noise.  Harold has forgotten more about cars than most people will ever know.

His last project is still taking up space in the garage as well - a Devin SS, one of the last kits from Bill Devin. It is a 1950s sport racer that Harold has finished beautifully.

Now if he would just race the damn thing . . .

Monday, December 17, 2012

. . . on to Austin

On the way into Austin the truck rolls over . . . to 200K miles that is.  And the DUBY keeps on crusin'.

We journey into Austin and land at an AirBnB spot that is perfect.  A mid-century modern house in northeast Austin with an attached 1 bedroom apartment.  One of the owners is a mid-century furniture dealer and has furnished the place in period.  At about 650 sqft (1 1/2 times the size of our first NY apartment) it does the job admirably.  If we were here in the warmer weather there is even a pool.  When we lived in Austin this would have been WAY out of town.  Now it is VERY convenient to everything.  Go figure.

We take in the Blanton museum on the UT campus for a Buddhist Thangka exhibit from Theos Bernard's collection from 1937.  Interesting museum and a nice addition to campus art but the architecture leaves a bit to be desired.  This was the museum that had initially been designed by the international architecture firm of Herzog and de Meuron but was deemed too modern by one of our esteemed Board of Regent's members.  Herzog and de Meuron declined the commission and one of our local Texas architects completed the building.  It is a typical red tile roof and limestone edifice that fits right in with the Paul Cret campus design.  The only problem is the scale.  It simply looks like a typical campus building on steroids.  Way too big.  What a shame.  UT lost an opportunity for a world-class building.

First night in Austin we meet up with our Buddhist friends for a meditation at their center.  Good friends, many of whom we saw in New York at the Phowa.  They have a live-in center with six residents.  several more make up the sangha.  Great folks all.

The next night is dinner with old friends Jerry and Amy.  We go back WAY too far and it is always nice to catch up.  They take us to a wonderful spot on 6th Street where we eat too much and marvel at the circus that 6th Street has become.  What used to be the heart of Texas rock and roll has now become our very own Bourbon Street.  Kind of unfortunate actually.  There is however some interesting art on the street . . .

 On Friday I drive up to Center City with my friend Dale to the funeral for Virginia.  Virginia was a friend and mother to dear friends from high school and the years in between.   Hard to believe it has been 40+ years of knowing them.  It was just by chance that things worked out that I could go.  A familiar reunion for a sad occasion in a wonderful small country Texas church.  A chance to see friends after many years.  

Saturday is simply a day of doing nothing - or very little.  Just catching up with all those things we must do to exist in the world (insurance, bills, etc...) and taking a day to be easy.  Then we end the weekend with a trip to the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar.  We meet up with Debbie and Pat again and have a chance to see the Lounge Lizards performing wonderfully politically incorrect music.  Long live the Lizards!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

. . . and (some of) December

Cowboy dreams aside, we head back to Denver to a plane ride back to Dallas. Safely ensconced at Pat's once again, we contemplate the end of 2012.
Took in the new Perot Science Museum in big D - definitely worth checking out.  Glad to see he is putting his money toward something useful like education instead of wasting it running for president.
More eating and visiting.  While JoAnn and Pat made Christmas cookies (and sampled wine) with Wally and Betty I ventured down to Kaufman for a good visit with Thomas.

Everyone will be happy to hear that we did actually solve all the world's problems with a long conversation deep into the night. Next day brought breakfast with Alfred and Caroline, an exhaustive 15 minute tour of beautiful Kaufman and finally BBQ and the Kaufman Christmas Tree lighting parade. Kaufman wheeled out all three of their emergency vehicles and a couple of tractors and hay trailers with local partiers. Kaufman - always a hopping spot. (Sorry no photos)

 The weekend brings breakfast with Dawn and dinner with Ken and Susan and the girls. Dallas/Ft Worth is always such a pleasure to visit. You can see anyone and anything easily. After only a 45 minute drive at 80 or 90 mph you can be anywhere in the metroplex. Unless of course you actually take the freeway which is constantly under construction or you happen to be killed in a massive traffic accident. I'm not sure where they got all of this concrete but I suspect there is a big-ass hole in the ground somewhere.

Never ones to stay anyplace too long, we are back on the road headed to the hill country.  First, a couple of nights with Debbie and Pat in Dripping Springs.   Good visit as we played pool and Mahjong and enjoyed their fabulous new kitchen.  Tried to take a hike at Pedernales Falls State Park but it was closed to people without guns.  Seems Bambi needed killing and God forbid any of us unarmed taxpayers get in the way.  So we decided to head to Blanco State Park instead and had a nice afternoon hike complete with pockets full of pecans.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

What a long strange November . . .

Harrisonburg is wonderfully hospitable as Doug and Nancy showed us the sites.  Who knew the theater was alive and well and western Virginia?  We managed to attend three plays in two weeks.  First a modern play in Harrisonburg - Love Song - was a treat and a glimpse of what we were in for in Virginia.  Next we venture down to Staunton,VA (pronounced Stanton for all you non-locals) to the Blackfriars theater and two  Shakespeare plays - Two Gentlemen of Verona and King John.  Both excellent and presented in Globe Theater style with no theatrical lighting.  An unexpected high point was the cast doing an acoustical version of the Rolling Stones classic Gimme Shelter.  Life is full of surprises.
An extra pleasure was a visit from Matt, a graduate school friend I have not seen is 20 years or so, who came up from Richmond.  Amazing how you can pick up a 20 year old conversation as if no time had passed.
Finally, after ten days or so of great political discussion, walks through the countryside, and almost constant munching, we are off for the drive up to Basking Ridge, New Jersey and our Diamond Way Buddhist Retreat.

550 people showed up from all over the world to participate in the Phowa course. I can't begin to describe the length and breadth of this here, but if you are interested check out Diamond Way.
I'm not sure how sitting on a cushion for eight hours a day can make one so hungry, but it does.  Fortunately there was ample fabulous food and an endless stream of wonderful friends to share an amazing five days of teaching and meditation.

After the course in New Jersey we make our way to Boston to visit another long time friend which I have also not seen in 20 years (is there a theme developing here?).  Dave, my old business partner from Massachusetts lives in Boston and has recently restored the 1955 GMC pickup we used in our building business 30 years ago.  (Ouch, that sounds really old)  Anyway, more late nights of catching up over bottles of old scotch made for a great visit.  Boston is really an interesting place if you ignore the traffic.  Spent a day at the Public Library - a magnificent building built in 1895.  Sad that we don't put this kind of attention and spirit into our modern public buildings anymore.

And now for something completely different . . .

After an all to short visit we are on a plane to Denver - then a car into the mountains for Jo Ann's niece's wedding.  The C Lazy U ranch outside Granby, CO is the setting for a marvelous time and a special occasion for Alyssa and Drew.  I must admit, when I heard we were going to an OUTSIDE wedding in the mountains in December in Colorado I was a bit suspect, but all turned out beautifully.  Once again in a short two weeks we were forced to consume too much delicious food and drink.  I'm not sure how we managed it  but we persevered.  Life can be challenging at times - fortunately, we are up to the task.

I also had a chance to get back to my non-existent cowboy roots.  One of the benefits of going to a wedding at a  ranch in Colorado is that they have horses - lots of horses.  And, you can actually ride them.  Well, you can sit on their backs while they move.  That's pretty close to riding but I won't flatter myself to say that I pulled off any Roy Rogers moves here.  I was especially pleased when the wrangler took one look at me and decided that I should ride "Mungo".  Mungo is part draft horse and at least a foot taller than every other horse in the herd.  Needless to say, my mount and I cut a striking figure against the Colorado landscape.

Of course Jo Ann actually did look like a total natural astride "Molly" and she galloped off into the sunset.

More about the month of December soon . . .

Sunday, November 11, 2012

How did we get to Virginia?

Pretty quickly it turns out.

 After leaving Tucumcari, we blast straight to big D (actually to Grand Prairie) where we rely upon Particia's boundless hospitality for a couple of days of repacking.  It is amazing just how much time one can spend taking things out of one bag and putting them in another in slightly different arrangements.  But, such is life traveling - I can't complain.
It was quite wonderful to spend Tuesday night watching our country's return to sanity as Mitt and the republicans got, as Rachel Maddow put it, "shellacked".  Actually, if you have not seen the video of her November 7 show it is worth a watch here:  Rachel Maddow
What starts out as a good face slapping ends up as a coherent plea for national cooperation.  Let's hope the right hears it.
Then on Thursday, two short, uneventful flights and we are in Washington DC.  We spend a long day touring the White House and the Capitol with a little time to eat and drink with friends.  Friday night it is off to Harrisonburg Virginia to other sangha friends Doug and Nancy.  More absurdly wonderful hospitality.  I'm beginning to think I could get used to this.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Zuni Pueblo and across New Mexico

After driving the reservation (Navajo and Hopi) on Arizona 264 we cross into New Mexico and land in Zuni Pueblo.  It is the largest of the 18 or so settlements of the Pueblo peoples that inhabited this area from at least 2000 BC.  Most of the different pueblos have separate languages and customs.  Stayed at the La Halona Inn run by a Dutch couple and seems to be one of the few if not the only non-tribal presence in the pueblo.

Took a tour of the Mission Church of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe which the Spanish had the Zunis build in 1629 and was restored in 1966.  Starting in 1970, a Zuni, Alex Seowtewa painted fantastic murals of Zuni Katchina dancers on the upper walls of the nave.  These tell the stories of the different important Zuni religious characters throughout the seasons of the year.  Probably the most important of these, Shalako, is celebrated on December 1st – sorry we can’t stick around to see it.  

The Zuni don’t have much for use for Catholicism so they mainly just give tours of the cathedral and the murals.  There appeared to be many similarities between the Zunis and the Tibetians in way of life, religion and even appearance.  Definitely a connection there.

Next it is on to Albuquerque for a night at the Monterey “Non-smoking Motel”.  I guess everyone wants to be known for something.  Mexican food for dinner and a little Day of the Dead party in Old Town for a good southwest fix.  Sunday morning we meet up with Diamond Way friends Kathleen, Shawn, John and Patricia for a great meditation and lunch.  Turns out that Kathleen is a good friend from architecture school of my ex co-worker Jen in Portland.  Small world.  Back on the road again for an evening drive with a marvelous sky heading for Tucumcari.

Tucumcari Tonight!  Great advertising campaign.  We stay in The Blue Swallow Motel.  Classic Route 66 spot built in 1939 and run by a recent transplant couple from Michigan – Nancy and Kevin Mueller.  Why anyone would stay at a Motel 6, Super 8, Hampton Inn, etc… when there are places like this available is beyond me.  Great attention to detail and customer service.  They really care if you have a good experience and want you to come back.  If there is hope for this country it is in people and places like this.

Late evening treat of a 1934 Ford hot rod on its way to Las Vegas for a car show.  The owner/builder stayed at the Blue Swallow and brought the car out for some photos in the neon.  Alas, I don't have the camera to do it justice in the dim light.  Really didn’t anticipate this trip would be so Route 66 focused but it has been fun.  People do seem very interested in the ethos of an earlier time.  It isn’t hard to imagine Tucumcari in its heyday lit with neon and the sound of heavy American iron cruising main street and the Mother Road.

Friday, November 2, 2012

On the Road to Texas

All usually works out for the best if you give it a chance.  Realized it would be good to have the truck in Texas to get around and the hurricane provided the opportunity to rethink plans.  Left Carmel Valley and headed east across California into the Mojave desert.  First night camping at Red Rocks Canyon.  Perfect night with a moon so bright you could see color.  Surreal landscape - I kept waiting for the UFOs to land.  Signaled the mothership but they must have had other plans as they never showed up.  Oh well, maybe next time.

Next was something equally as surreal as the rocks in the desert - Route 66, Barstow, CA to Williams, AZ. A living tourist trap.  Vintage motels, gift shops, photo opportunities with Elvis and, of course, lots of 50's autos (in various states of repair).  America can make a tourist attraction from pretty much anything.  Interesting to realize that almost none of the folks "reliving" the heyday of Route 66 actually lived the heyday of Route 66.  Only those pushing 80 would be old enough to really remember cruising along in their '56 Chevy reading the Bruma-Shave signs.  Still, it is an amazing landscape and an interesting history about how the southwest developed.  Spent a very pleasant night in Williams and enjoyed people watching.  Some things have definitely changed for the better - saw an interracial couple in the cafe at breakfast and no one batted an eye.  That would not have happened in 1956.

Then, straight up highway 64 to the Grand Canyon.  Great time to be here as the weather is fine and the crowds are nonexistent.  Absolutely splendid hole in the ground.  Nothing like looking a 600 million years of geologic history to completely mess with your sense of time.  Americans are definitely outnumbered here.  Many Europeans, Asians, etc... but not so may Americans.  Definitely heard some interesting languages being spoken.  Still, the park is beautiful - our tax dollars have made for a nice experience.  Very different than the last time I was there in 1967.  Definitely need to return to spend a week or so hiking the canyon.

Spent all day today driving across the reservation toward New Mexico.  It is mind boggling how many juniper trees there are in this country.  Hundreds of miles of nothing but juniper and sage.  Beautiful and staggeringly empty.  I love the west.  Zuni Pueblo next . . .