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Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Our first full day in Texas has Rob and me heading from Killeen to Austin, Texas' capital and a city with a reputation for great music, a swinging, modern culture, and an acceptance of individuality. A lot of its fame began when PBS channels began broadcasting Austin City Limits, and the music explosion began. Today it is a busy metropolis--somewhat high-tech and yuppie--causing complaints by artists forced to vacate their neighborhoods because of burgeoning rents.

We won't have time to plumb the music depths of the city this visit, but we'll be back. We are in Austin to learn about Texas.

In less than an hour's drive from Killeen we're in Austin at the State Capitol. This building is designated a National Historic Landmark, and it is an impressive example of Renaissance Revival style. Its Visitor Center was built in 1856 as the General Land Office, the oldest state office building in Texas. Unlike most Visitor Centers, this is also a wonderful museum--very hands on and diverse enough to offer an excellent and interesting history of Texas and some of its famous people.

Rob and I begin with a video about the 3 million acre XIT Ranch up in the Texas Panhandle, land sold by Texas’ government to finance the building of the Capitol. It says much about Texas evolution. In the screening room, we sit in rockers. The walls are lined with quilts, and it's a thoroughly relaxing and interesting atmosphere. The video runs 15 minutes, but there isn't anything that doesn't spark the imagination which is just the way it is in Texas—people with imagination doing remarkably big things. We immediately get the feeling that Texas sees itself as unique, and we're not sure Texans (born or adopted) aren’t right!

You can’t make this up: The Capital Lands that became the XIT Ranch were bought sight unseen by two brothers from Chicago. They developed it into a major cattle ranch, made money, paid back Texas, thereby financing the building of the Capitol building, and the XIT eventually was sold piecemeal to developers for homes, smaller farms and ranches, etc. The brothers, motivated by their imaginations, made great things happen. Leaving the screening room we've been drawn into the world of Texas possibilities.

Much of Texas’ land was distributed in huge grants to reward service during the war for Texas Independence. In one section of the museum are plats of these grants given to famous Texans--like Sam Houston, Juan Seguin, and William B. Travis. In a hands-on exhibit, we choose the name of one of these men and find and measure the tremendous acreage he received--many square miles of land. We take our visitor's certificate and imprint Texas' seal on it. Looking closely at the evolution of the state is very informative. It doesn’t take much to see where power lay.

Another exhibit—The O. Henry room--examines O. Henry, or William Sydney Porter, the short story writer famous for the classic Christmas tale of giving with love, The Gift of the Magi. O. Henry spent some time in prison for embezzlement. Working here in the Capitol, he committed his crime. He spent five years in prison and never returned to Texas! He ended up in NYC. Rob and I used to go to Pete's Tavern and sit in the very booth where he wrote “The Gift of the Magi.” In addition to this room, there is an O. Henry Museum in Austin, one in San Antonio where he also lived, and in New York you can visit the mews where he lived and had a view of the wall that inspired his story, “The Last Leaf.” Great short story writer was he, and a good traveler too.

Not part of the permanent exhibit was a display of the Texas-inspired water colors of painter Frank Reaugh. These beautiful pastels, pencils and paintings record hues and views uniquely Texas--the pinks of sunset on stone, the canyons and rivers, the majesty of the longhorn cattle at their watering holes. Very different from the boldness of Remington and other Western painters, these watercolors have a gentleness that exude the love Reaugh felt for his Texas Hill country, a subject he felt was ignored by other artists. Reaugh was also a diarist, writing about the source of his inspiration. He was a talented writer, and his reasons for choosing particular scenes to memorialize are beautiful to read. I was moved enough by his art and his writing to purchase some reproductions of his work for our home.

The State Flower is the Texas Bluebonnet. Of course we remember Lady Bird Johnson's movement to spread wildflowers across the country, but believe me, the Texas Bluebonnet is spread across Texas, and serendipitously, they are in bloom during our visit. Gorgeous. In the Visitor Center is a display of the Wildflower Movement, and there, as everywhere else we visit during our stay, envelopes of wildflowers are for sale. Leslie has spread them in her garden; down near Fredericksburg, TX, there is a Wildflower Festival the first weekend in May, and on RT 281 we pass a huge Wildflower Garden Center. We drive along roads rimmed by banks of color--not only the bluebonnets but also flowers in yellows, vibrant reds and maroons. Colors poking up through the green grass just put smiles on our faces. We’ll also see them in front of Lady Bird Johnson’s house—the Texas White House.

Finally we leave the Visitor Center and head up to the Capitol past the ancient cypress trees with their beautiful vertical bark and spreading branches. Because the number of people waiting for the tour inside the Capitol, we use the self-guided brochure we picked up in the Visitor Center. (BTW, there are self-guided tours of the areas around the spacious Capitol grounds but as it turns out, we run out of time to fully explore because we think visiting the LBJ Presidential Library on the University of Texas campus is an absolute must).

The Texas State Capitol is second only in size to the United States Capitol. But the most impressive part of the Capitol Building is the dome which is seven feet higher than the U.S. Capitol’s. The distance from point to point between the stars at the apex of the dome is eight feet. Texas big. On the floor directly beneath the dome is the seal, and if you stand in the center of the seal, your voice produces an echo. If you and another person stand on opposite sides of the seal, one can whisper or speak in a low voice, and the other person hears it clearly. It's pretty amazing. One of the guards comes over to demonstrate both feats. Very cool. On the walls are impressive paintings of former Texas governors, many of whom are very recognizable by name or reputation. Government is in session, and the atmosphere is bustling.

We decide to hurry on so we can take our time through the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum, but we are really glad we spent as much time as we had in the Capitol Building. BTW, parking if free in a visitor's lot less than a block away and everything is handicap accessible.

It's probably safe to say that Capitol buildings should always be on a visitor's hit list as a way of getting a good feel for a place, but in keeping with Texas pride, this Capitol and its Visitor Center is one where the wealth of information gleaned makes it a definite stop as a destination.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


James Madison
Garry Wills

In choosing books, I like to jump from fiction to non-fiction, and since reading David McCullough’s John Adams, I’ve gotten into in our early history. Brilliant men came together at the perfect time to fashion a country with high ideals as well as the practical structure to withstand serious challenges to its existence. Were these early leaders statesmen with our country’s best interests at heart, or were they motivated by self-interest and party loyalties as we often accuse today’s politicians?

Garry Wills’ James Madison is an interesting look at our fourth president, a man dwarfed by his predecessors but had much more to do with the founding of our country than most of us learn in school.

Wills, whose politics unfortunately is evident through the comparisons he makes throughout the book, traces Madison as an early legislator, one who helped write our Constitution, Bill of Rights, and many of our early laws. Reading the “behind the scenes” maneuvering, it is evident that he had a clear grasp of how legislative power is levied. He was one of the men, for instance, who worked to develop our Constitution, which, according to Wills was actually not as depicted in Howard Chandler Christy’s famous painting, Scene at the Signing of the Constitution on September 17, 1787. Rather, the Constitution that we recognize today was actually created in a back room on a second floor by men taking tremendous risk, a treasonous overthrow of the Articles of Confederation adopted on November 15, 1777. How’s that for an interesting take on our history?

After George Washington left office, there was a tremendous struggle between the states’ rights Republicans and the central government Federalists. The different viewpoints impacted on every aspect of early American life. Should there be a national bank, a standing army (as contrasted to militias) etc.? These questions came to a head in Madison’s two-term administration during which time we fought the War of 1812. The war was a disaster, but Madison, sticking steadfastly to the Constitution, left Americans more freedoms than did his war president successors Lincoln, Wilson, and Roosevelt. He left office more popular than he had been through most of his presidency because at war’s end, America saw the need for a central government (Madison, by the way, was a Republican who initially opposed power by the Federalists)—an army, a navy, a bank, federal jurisdictions over many aspects of life—bankruptcy laws, land laws, etc. The war caused many of these changes to occur of necessity. The end result was a strong government that could withstand traumatic shock.

Another point intrigued me. In reading early American history, I so often come across the seeds of the Civil War, not only in attitudes toward slavery (during Madison’s administration there arose the question of counting the population and how slaves should or should not be counted, for instance) but also in attitudes toward states’ rights. It is not difficult to see the inevitability of the Civil War and the initial differences of opinion even in the early years of our country.

If you enjoy reading history, this intense 168 page book is a good traveling companion. Just read with a jaundiced eye; Mr. Wills has very strong political views. Google him if you would like to know them first.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


This looked like such fun, I thought I'd try it! PLEASE comment and tell me what you think and how it worked for you. Make sure your sound is on. When you move your mouse, the captions appear.

We're always looking at amazing natural things living here in Warwick. I didn't even know these garter snakes could swim! This time they don't seem to be going after our fish!

Living in the Country
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I never expected the response to this that I got. I will excerpt some of them for you.

"If I dreamof snakes tonight you are in trouble...I hate them... could have hit the computer with a shovel. must be because when I was 8 months pregnant I was picking up drops in the orchard and I picked up an apple with a big snake on it who wrapped around my arm and I stood there screaming...almost had the baby in the orchard... No more snakes. please.... thanks..."

"what a kick! i gather they were not poisonous??? did you get rid of them or are they still living with you?"

My reply: "Last year we found they ate our baby fish. Rob mothballed them, got snake repellent, and has been hacking them into bits (he hates snakes), but on the day we found these three, he had already killed four and I ran at least 2 more over with the tractor when I mowed. But these guys apparently had something else in mind as the fish did not seem disturbed by their presence--maybe the fish had gotten too big. But some little frogs in the pond left those lily pads for the depths very quickly. Hmmmmm"

"Are these your photos?" YUP


Monday, September 10, 2007


Here’s a good travel tip. Don’t wait until the last minute to go over your travel documents.

We’re heading to Ireland and Scotland soon. Our travel documents came and I probably would have looked at the tickets to check the dates and times and then ignored everything else. And then there’s Rob…

There is the limit to the suitcase size and weight, but I knew that.
There’s a limit to the carryon size because of the motorcoach on the tour. That was news to me, and the tour company sent along a carryon for each of us at the size they allow. There would have been no room for my wheeled carryon. Then what?
There’s also info on phone cards and/or global cell phones. Better to pick these up in advance.
There’s info on early check-ins and other ways to make the trip easier.
There’s info and vouchers for transportation from the airport to our hotel.
There’s the travel protection plan we purchased. It’s good to review what that covers as well. By the way, travel insurance is a very important part of your travel planning. For more info go to my TATravel Agency.

We also received a travel guide with info about the countries we will see. Checklists. Temperatures, clothing suggestions, money information, postal information, etc. All of these things will help us pack more efficiently—a good way to avoid aggravation later.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Hope everyone is getting used to the new format and taking advantage of the side bars. The archives still work, but if you're looking for something in particular, scroll down to LABELS and pick the label that works for you. It's just too bad that I couldn't go back to my original webpage and label those articles.

One other thing. Rob and I are headed back to Singer Island and the Palm Beach Shores and Resort. It was such a great vacation, and you've been reading since the winter about some of the things we did there. We didn't come close to doing everything I had on my "list."
Don't forget the link column. Use the link to TATravel Agency. It's a great place to look and book your travel arrangements.

Hope everyone had a great summer!