One Tank Trips

One Tank Trips

So, where do you like to travel for a day trip that takes less than a tank of gas to get there and back from Fort Worth?  I call that a one tank trip. I have a few suggestions to share in this blog but I am really interested to learn from you some unique, out of the ordinary, places to go in the north Texas region on one tank of gas.  Please share in the comments below.

So, my short list,  in no particular order:

Drive out to Eagle Mountain Lake and hike in the newly developed Eagle Mountain Park.  Pack a lunch as they have picnic tables, benches and clean, modern amenities.  Great views of the lake, deer crossings, birding and great trails. The park is located just north of the fort. It is free and open 7 days a week.

This summer, I explored  Cedar Hill State Park. The park has lots to offer including hiking, boating, fishing and picnic grounds but I enjoyed floating in the cool water of the lake in an area dedicated to swimming. There is no sandy beach so bring some shoes you don’t mind getting wet.  To get there from Fort Worth, head east on I-20 and follow your GPS to the front entrance to the park.  There is a nominal fee but Texas state parks need our support now more than ever. Take your floaties when the weather warms up or go now and enjoy the trails without sweating to death.  You can also visit Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center just down the road from the state park.  They offer hiking trails and a nice visitor’s center for learning more about native grasses and plants of our region.

Cruise to Denton, Texas, up north near the Oklahoma border, and shop in their vintage stores in the vibrant downtown and be sure to stop by their farmer’s market on Saturday morning just a couple blocks off the square. Check out the booth that offers a wide-variety of agua fresca and salsa. There is live music by local artists to entertain you while you shop and nosh.  Opening day for the market this year is April 6th from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.  Follow them on Facebook

McKinney is an enjoyable, revitalized community with lots of great shopping, restaurants and they have a great butcher shop named Local Yocal Farm to Market just one block off the old-time town square. It’s less than an hour drive. We missed it on our visit, but there is a Saturday Farmer’s Market if you get there in the morning.

Check out Booked Up located in the Texas panhandle, just two hours northwest of Fort Worth in Larry McMurtry’s hometown of Archer City, Texas.  Booked Up carries between 150,000 and 200,000 books on any subject imaginable.  Wear good shoes as this day is full of standing as you pour over the shelves of books. All stock has been purchased over the last four decades by writer Larry McMurtry.  Remember the book, Lonesome Dove?  He wrote it.  There is a cafe on the square where you can rest your sore feet, grab lunch or stop by the DQ on the highway out of town.  There is almost, always, a DQ in small town America especially in Texas.

Are you a foodie like me?  Drive to Carrollton to the best Korean market in the metroplex.  It is called H Mart and is located about 40 minutes from the fort if you can skip peak traffic times.  Plan on getting there early to avoid the crowds.  Be sure to take your shopping list as this store is overwhelming with asian product lines.  They have at least 80 varieties of kimchi alone.  Plan to revive yourself at the french bakery inside the store.  Lovely pastries and the latte is the drug you need to keep going through all the stuffed aisles of eye-popping merchandise.  This place smells good too.

Take a short road trip to tiny Venus, Texas, south of Fort Worth on highway 67 for brunch at Casa Jacaranda on the square.  Everything in this mexican restaurant is house-made and prepared with so much love.  Alert.  There is a bakery inside — you won’t be able to pass up a sweet treat no matter the new year’s resolution.  Walk around the square to burn some calories and admire the architecture and imagine what it was like back in the outlaw days of the Great Depression.  Several of the scenes from movie, Bonnie and Clyde, were shot on the Venus square. These buildings still stand. Unfortunately, most of them are vacant now.

Of course, there is always Waco so you too can join in on the Magnolia craze by shopping at the Silos, taking the self-guided tour of the fixer uppers or eating at the Gaines family’s new restaurant.

And Fort Worthians, we could go to Dallas.  Currently, at the Dallas Museum of Art, there is an exhibition by Ida O’Keefe I plan to take in this week-end.  It will be interesting  to compare and most likely contrast Ida’s work to her more famous older sister, Georgia.  The Klyde Warren Park is just across the street from the museum so you can grab lunch from a food truck and relax on a bench soaking up a little Texas sunshine before or after touring the museum.  The Nasher Sculpture Center is just next door and it is always a treat with its outdoor sculpture garden and small galleries. Both museums have cafes offering wine by the glass, coffee or a just a place to rest a while. I can’t walk by a museum gift shop without buying at least a little memento of my visit.

Where do you go when you have a free day on the calendar?  My resolution is to find more of those kind of days in 2019. So help me out, by sharing some suggestions.  Why not fill up the tank and take to the country roads, y’all?

 

 

 

 

 

Share the Love

Share the Love

If you live to travel and love to walk the streets of the places you go especially in cities with cobblestone thoroughfares, you need a great shoe.  I recommend Adidas Shadow for comfort, traction and support.  They are lightweight with a hard sole and come in monochromatic colors.  I picked grey for my most recent pair and can’t wait to test them out on the hills of Scotland in September. “Lang may yer lum reek” with these on your feet.

RM stumbled on the best knife sharpener ever and for less than six bucks.  It’s called the Kitchen IQ 50009 Knife Sharpener and it really works. Goofy name but I like the product. So many sharpeners claim they do the job but leave us dissatisfied.   RM is picky about a sharp knife in the kitchen and this little tool keeps all our knives on point for chopping, dicing and mincing and its compact for storage too. Because as the saying goes, ” you gotta stay sharp when you’re cutting through the bullshit.”

Looking for the perfect dipping sauce for just about any morsel especially with snacks likes tempura and spring rolls?  Try the Thai Chili Roasted Garlic Dipping Sauce by Wild Thymes. Just the right balance of heat to sweet.  Everything is better with a tasty little sauce.

We have family members who can’t tolerate dairy in any form including chocolate.  So, so sad but thankfully there are many options now. Some better than others.  We found Enjoy Life chocolate and used it in several baking recipes with success.  It tastes great too.  Chocolate chunks is my favorite for using in brownies.  I used it in my recipe for Best Brownie, hands down

I am an avid gardener but I live in a little, urban cottage in Fort Worth with a small backyard for growing vegetables and herbs.  I use lots of containers to stretch my gardening space and love the Grow Bags for growing peppers, beans, tomatoes and eggplant.  The bags come in a variety of sizes and are designed with handles for moving around the garden if you are looking for that perfect spot.  I’ve used mine for two summer seasons and they are holding up great.  I like the black color best because they don’t show any stains from the dirt.

grow bags

Red Dirt Girl Goes to Bastrop

Red Dirt Girl Goes to Bastrop

Bastrop State Park that is. Just on the outskirts of Bastrop, Texas, near a busy crossroads with a Buc-ee’s located just outside the park entrance.  It is about 3.5 hours by car from Fort Worth,  It wasn’t exactly like living the country life but we did stay in a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) cabin situated in a cluster of old cabins inside the park built back in 1934.  Most recently these cabins survived fire and flood so expect they will be around for another eighty years or more. The loblolly pines or what Texans call the lost pines didn’t fare so well but they are slowly coming back after seven years of steady growth.

Our cabin was originally built of reddish colored boulders and the inside surprised us with a wood-burning fireplace with a hand carved mantel.  The rest of the cabin was sparse but we were able to cook several meals and there was a bed with linens along with fresh towels and an indoor bathroom so we didn’t rough it much.  There is a photograph of the men who built the cabins hanging on the wall inside the cabin.  RM said the crew looked hungry as all of them in the photograph were pencil thin by today’s standards. We really need to do something about this high fructose corn syrup diet that is literally killing us.

We explored the town of Bastrop before checking into the cabin and enjoyed walking the downtown street full of tiny shops and cafes as well as a leisurely stroll along the Colorado River.  We stopped for a craft beer and free popcorn at the Bastrop Beer Company grand opening.  That night, back at the ol’ campgrounds,  we built a fire outside in the pit as well as inside in the CCC built fireplace.   RM likes to burn crap, a lot of crap.  It was a bit smokey in the cabin but the ambiance was nice and my leather purse still carries that aroma one week after the trip.

The next morning we headed into Bastrop for their regular Saturday morning farmer’s market.  It is held next to the town’s art center so after buying up some fresh fennel, spring onions and greens, we checked out the local art gallery.  We noticed lots of scenes of the area including a painting of the cool bridge that crosses over the Colorado River in Bastrop.  There is a walking path on the bridge so you can walk over if you have time.

After that, we were hungry so we headed to Smithville to check out the town where Hope Floats was filmed.  We ate at the Comfort Cafe,a donation based restaurant, that supports people who are recovering from addiction.  Whoever runs the kitchen knows how to cook high quality locally sourced food and their coffee is better than any Starbucks.  Don’t miss looking into the dessert case.

We walked around Smithville but it started to rain.  We did discover many of the buildings and the gazebo from the film but then headed back to the park for a nap and couple of hours of reading.  The weather cleared a bit so we drove inside the park to find the trail head that leads to the CCC built outlook over the park, about a 2-mile-trek up and back.

The humidity was high so it was a little sweaty but nothing like how that hike would be in the middle of summer.  Don’t do the trail when the sun is out as there is not a lot of shade but in April there were so many wildflowers everywhere we walked and nice cloud cover.  Thank you Lady Bird Johnson for the gift of wildflowers in Texas.  We made it to the top of the outlook for a pretty view out over the park and then quickly we trekked back down as a thunderstorm was headed our way.  We returned  back to the car just in time to not get drenched.  We thought about going out to dinner but the sound of the rain on the roof of the old cabin was so peaceful and we had plenty of food on hand to prepare dinner so we just stayed in by the fire.  Nice.

Just the kind of birthday week-end a Red Dirt Girl likes.

Red Dirt Girl Goes to Antwerp

Red Dirt Girl Goes to Antwerp

On holiday recently, while based in Amsterdam, we took a day trip by high-speed train, via the Thalys route, to Antwerp, Belgium.  It’s a little over a 100 miles distance between the two cities.  We purchased 8 tickets in advance of leaving the states to be sure we had seats on the train during the busy Christmas season.  We were a group of 8 which required we have advanced reservations to nearly all of our activities including dining out. Yes, you must plan ahead.

The best cities in the world are founded with a myth, and Antwerp is no exception. The legend has it that, to cross the river Scheldt, you first had to pay a toll to a fearsome giant Statue of Brabo — Antigoon by name – or risk invoking his wrath and losing your hand. Of course a hero was needed, and he arrived in the form of a Roman soldier named Silvius Brabo. Brabo slayed the giant, cut off its hand, and tossed it into the River Scheldt. And given that the Dutch for ‘hand thrown’ is ‘hand werpen’, a city’s name was born. The story has led to a white hand becoming a symbol to be found on many a crest in the city.

The day trip worked out well as we departed on time from Amsterdam Centraal a couple of days past Christmas, around 8:30 a.m., and arrived in a little over an hour at the venerable Antwerp Station. We had the whole day ahead of us to explore the city.  But first, we took time to admire the architectural wonder of the Antwerp train station itself. The Antwerp Central Station, also known as Middenstatie (Middle station), was first used in 1905. The structure is made from a steel platform covering and a stone station building in an eclectic style. In 2009, the American magazine Newsweek chose the Antwerp Central Station as the fourth most beautiful train station in the world.

cathedral
Our Lady’s Cathedral

After arriving and getting our bearings, we walked toward the central plaza of the city but first stopped off for a visit to the artist’s Ruben’s home who painted around the same time as Rembrandt.  The house contains many of his masterpieces along with artwork from artists that he trained in his studio also located here.  Ruben favored religious figures, some landscapes, a few self portraits, as well as hunting scenes and animals.  Lots of grays, blues and greens — too dark for my taste.  You could still smell the oil paint in the house or at least I imagined I smelled it — the paint was so thick on the paintings and so many oil paintings in such a small space.  Many famous artists passed within these old walls over the years.  If walls could talk, eh?

ruben
Ruben’s Home

Afterwards, we devoured Belgium waffles from a local street vendor (if you could only smell the warm waffles, sweet chocolate and winter air) and then, partially sated, we traveled on toward the popular plaza area where the Christmas market is located at the base of Our Lady’s Cathedral of Antwerp.  The north church spire towers into the blue sky above us and we put on our sunglasses for the first time since arriving in the Netherlands.  We welcomed the sun.  Inside the cathedral, the spiritual space is impressive with its grizzly crypt, artwork by Rubin and other baroque masterpieces and architecture.

waffles
Waffles!

Outside the cathedral there are ample chocolate, diamonds and lace shops surrounding us on all sides just enough to satisfy the tourist shopper in all of us.  Needing a break, we found an old tavern, squeezed up a narrow, spiraling staircase to a small second floor overhang to sample some of the famous Belgium beers with the locals.  Our favorite was De Koninck bolleke.  We even found the local brewery later in the afternoon, took an interactive, quirky tour and sampled even more of their beer offerings.  The tour ended with purchases from their gift shop for friends back home.

antwerp
Let’s go home, Brr

The day was so full of festivities for locals as well as tourists.  The trains and sidewalks were packed with families enjoying a day off, eating and drinking samples from the Christmas market stalls and enjoying carnival rides.  Many in our gang, bravely went up on an old Ferris wheel to get a better view of Antwerp even in the cold and windy, late afternoon winter weather.  I tried the famous Belgium fries with curry catsup and mayo dipping sauce and found them top-notch especially eating them from the classic paper cone.

old bar
Antwerp Tavern

After walking miles on cobblestones exploring the city, we headed back to the station for the last train back to Amsterdam.  Sore feet and tired legs but a great day exploring a little bit of Flanders with my sweet family.

beer
De Koninck Blond Beer

 

 

 

Red Dirt Girl Goes to Amsterdam

Red Dirt Girl Goes to Amsterdam

We arrived at the Schiphol Airport at two on a cold afternoon, Christmas Eve Day,  after traveling for at least twelve hours before arriving at our final destination –  a modern, light and festively appointed international hub for both air and train travel in the Netherlands. We were officially on holiday with our family including our three daughters, our new son-in-law, our daughter’s partner, and a long-standing family friend making us a party of eight.  We were a mixed bag but all comfortably over the age of twenty-one and ready for some debauchery in the Venice of the North.

all together

Having never been to Venice, I don’t know how Amsterdam compares but I found this city more akin to New Orleans than any other metropolis in the states.  Although, Amsterdam built its city on the water, New Orleans strives, unsuccessfully to keep the water out. Both cities embrace all comers and offer up the arts in all forms.

canal rides

First, the canal houses with gabled facades line the waterways providing you, through unshuttered windows, an intimate peek into the daily lives of the Dutch.  Amsterdamers evidently like living a curtain-less existence, thereby showing the world they have nothing to hide. Take a leisurely stroll down any street and you are sure to notice one startling similarity: a persistent lack of curtains, and hence personal privacy.

bikes

Second observation is that bike riders rule in Amsterdam.  Pedestrians are measly targets for sadistic riders either on scooter, bicycle or tram.  Watch the f— out for them, all the time. Seriously or better yet, rent a bike and join them at their own game.  They ride in the wind, the rain, the dark and the snow. We saw them do it with our own eyes as we dashed out of their way. There are nearly 900,000 bikes in the city, four times the number of cars.  This city even has a huge bike parking area in the center of the city.  I have no idea how the owners even find their solitary bike in the vast sea of spokes and fenders.

melina

Check out the city art scene.  Our pick was the Van Gogh Museum.  We felt like we knew Vincent and his family after spending several hours learning about his life, his short but prolific painting period of only ten years, and how the demands he made of his self, his  mental illness all become too much. Vincent felt he had failed as both an artist and a human being. It didn’t help that he sipped on turpentine and was known to eat paint.  Vincent shot himself in the chest, which I found an odd attempt, and he died of his wounds in 1890 at the age of only 37.  Sadly, his art work got better, the more he struggled with mental illness as you could see from the progression of his first great piece, “The Potato Eaters”, to the “Bedroom” and “Sunflowers”.

with jessica

We did take a peek at the infamous red light district one evening after dining at a nearby Indian restaurant, Ashoka. Highly recommend the restaurant for the friendly service, accommodating chef, and fine cuisine but based on my stance on feminism, should I applaud or be appalled by the legalization of prostitution? The women are running their own businesses, so they are entrepreneurs, of a sort. I think they have union. But, on the other hand, they are promoting a trade that is degrading to women and perpetuating a culture in which women are treated as objects.

We drank a fair amount of beer along with other types of spirits during our stay.  The local beer is found at Brouwerig’ Tij a brewery under a windmill to boot.  So crowded but the beer soothed sore feet and we loved their logo. Yes, we bought the souvenir shirt.

2brouwerijhetij_SidebarLogo-150x150

We also bought Delft dishes (how can you resist the blue and white patterns?), some cool prints from Gallery Varekamp, featuring scenes from around Amsterdam to remind us of our journey, along with packages of stroopwaffles, two thin waffles stuck together with caramel, and salty Dutch liquorice.

Beyond what I have already shared, it was the simple moments that I will remember best.

  • Tram rides and getting lost and found again
  • The issue of no ice, at all, in our Air BnB — why?
  • Watching Dutch cooking shows on television – they seem to love to cook outside in the snow on an open fire
  • Skip-Bo, lots of Skip-Bo
  • Daily postings to social media
  • Sunrise at 8:30 a.m., sunset at 4:30 p.m.
  • Learning about Banksy, the street artist
  • Listening to the sing-song sounds of the Dutch language
  • Family meals together. Ok, just being together.
  • Our daily uniform of parka, hat, gloves and boots
  • Opening simple stocking stuffers on Christmas morning
  • Walking, lots of walking
  • Having Melina join us from Germany for a couple of days – miss you!
  • Christmas Markets — as many as we could find in a week!
  • Ferris Wheel rides
  • Grocery shopping
  • That time all of us in the our group went right, but one went straight…

 

 

 

Totality

Totality

Over several months, RM planned our five hundred mile road trip to northeast Kansas to view the recent solar eclipse in the so-called totality zone. He plotted and printed maps, researched websites, purchased the necessary protective eye glasses and not-so-necessary commemorative t-shirts, and timed our journey to coincide with the solar eclipse on Monday, August 21st. We stayed with some dear friends on their picturesque farm near Holton, Kansas.

farm

We were one of many visitors to the zone last Monday — stretching across a width of 70 miles from Oregon to South Carolina  — who made it a point to travel to a place where the moon’s shadow will touch the earth.  We were not disappointed in the experience even after dodging traffic, rain clouds and showers to get to our destination.  For us, we ended up on an isolated, dirt road that straddled the Nebraska/Kansas border not too far from Du Bois, NE., surrounded by miles of ripening corn and soybean fields.

While RM was the champion of this excursion, the rest of us in our small party were willing but uninformed, highly supportive accompaniments.  We agreed to stock up the SUV with a picnic lunch and celebratory spirits, keep the phones and iPad charged for tracking and other necessary communication updates from NASA, and drive Ruby (yes, the SUV has a name), over and across this nation’s bread basket back roads to get us in line for the perfect viewing of the total eclipse, weather conditions be damned. While we didn’t fully understand RM’s fixation with getting the perfect spot, we knew it was important to him so we followed our leader’s direction to head up Highway 75 from Holton, over to Sabetha and then north and west to his predetermined, viewing point.

eclipse tracy

Through our safety glasses, we saw early glimpses of the partial eclipse but the clouds were thickening and the viewing was sporadic so under RM’s worried brow, we packed up and moved about 10 miles to an area on the radar that looked clear.  We were not disappointed with the audible as we pulled off the road into a pasture, the sky cleared and we could see the eclipse as it moved from partial to total at 1:04 p.m. central Kansas time. At full eclipse, the sky darkened and a 360 degree sunset magically appeared all around us as we admired Bailey’s beads — pearls of sunlight shining through the valleys and mountains of the moon. We saw the beads around the edges of the moon as it passed over the sun.  We took many pictures but mostly we stood and stared up at the eclipse in awe.

cornfield

I  first noticed the immense quiet and the surrealism of the space with light reflecting oddly over the fields around us, no sounds of animals or man except for us hooting and comparing comments of what each of us saw and felt.  It was truly an  ‘awe’ moment — one that reached, for me, the upper levels of pleasure but also on the boundary of fear or perhaps better described as the feeling of the unknown.  After the experience, I felt rich in time, somehow better connected to nature with a renewed boost of hope for our future.  We are already plotting for the next eclipse in 2024.  Come join us in Texas, in the the totality zone, and experience the awe.

 

Dave

 

 

Urban Walks in NYC

Urban Walks in NYC

When RM and I visit a city, we like to walk the streets, feel the pavement under our feet, and begin to understand what makes this unique urban space tick.  When we walk, there is time to appreciate the architecture, to observe the river, to revel in the nooks and crannies and hidden sight lines. A peek-a-boo into the city soul.

hello chelsea
Our tour guide, C1

The traffic stops and starts, sidewalk cafes beckon us over as we look for the past in the shuttered windows and trellised ledges.  The smell of spices and exhaust fumes mix along with the potent piles of rubbish oozing the remains of the day. We wince and turn away but continue our journey across Midtown streets in the light rain.  51st to 49th to catch a risqué Broadway musical or down to lower Manhattan to pose with the Fearless Girl facing down the Wall Street Bull, stepping carefully around and over obstacles, avoiding the flagpole banner-bearing pied pipers.

trash
City trash, everywhere

A good wander unveils many truths and unexpected gems of discovery some painful to observe like the crack zombies stumbling beside us on our way to Red Rooster brunch or the morning after remnants from a night too hard on Times Square. Getting lost is part and parcel to the urban walking experience.  Getting found again with someone you love is like renewing your vows all over again.

Nowhere is walking more surreally varied and trance-inducing than in New York City. We boomerang from Harlem to Greenpoint to Lower Manhattan to the Upper East Side and back down again to the Brooklyn Bridge. We cross the East River by ferry to Smorgasburg, an open-air food mecca held every Saturday in an empty lot on the Williamsburg waterfront.  It is like a summer rock festival for foodies both alluring and sweaty.  We balance small plates on a rock ledge abandoned from a Domino sugar refinery while sipping fresh coconut water directly out of it’s cracked, greenish hull.  The whole place smells like Marrakesh, I imagine. We trek on through the heat to the cool insides of the Artists and Fleas to find a treasure or two.

bridge
RM & I on the Brooklyn Bridge

We shuffle slowly through the Guggenheim, spiraling down beside masterpieces by Klee and Pollack inspired to try a sketch or two.  We look up at the Freedom Tower and down into the reflecting pools and worry when will it happen again, and where, and how many. We rest in Central Park until the algal bloom drives us up and out for gasps of fresher air and back to our pod for the night.

Reinvigorated in the morning after a good night’s sleep, clean socks, and a NY bagel, we complete one of the most popular walks in NYC.  We cross over the Brooklyn Bridge on foot, feed our pizza pie-hole at the popular Juliana’s, located next to the more famous Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, and then journey back over in the moonlight with a throng of tourists snapping selfies from every angle while strolling the crowded boardwalk straddling this proud American architectural feat. Back to the pod by Metro this time, too tired for another trek uptown by foot.

C1 joins us on our walking itinerary as she is living in the Big Apple this summer and is excited to see all that NYC offers in two short months.  We took the Metro when prudent but enjoyed strolls along High Line Park one late afternoon before the summer heat wave necessitated a call for Uber. Too hot to walk even to the nearest Metro station.

Whether seeing the city on foot, by subway, taxi or ferry, the important part is to experience travel with the ones you love, even if it is only you. So, find yourself a path to follow and learn to walk again. You’ve waited too long. Happy Independence Day, sweet travelers.

red rooster
My niece joins us for bruch at the Red Rooster