Monday, February 8, 2016

Mission Accomplished (Star Wars and the Alamo Drafthouse)

When Anne was a university freshman, she made friends with a couple of other students who were from Texas. She shared that she had lived in the Austin suburbs for a number of years. Somehow the conversation came around to her having never visited the Alamo Drafthouse. She told me and I set a mental note of my new mission to take here there.

For those who don't know, the Drafthouse has nothing to do with beer. (Although I believe beer is available on the menu.) It is a cinema. But it is pretty unique because the seating is reserved (like seating on an airplane is reserved) and waitstaff serves patrons inside the movie theaters. In fact, there is not even a concession stand in the lobby and alcoholic beverages are on the menu.

The new Star Wars movie came out on December 18 so Anne and I waited for her brother to be off work so we could see the movie together. That was one of our goals for the trip. He took us to the Drafthouse, thinking we would get our tickets and then go out to eat with one of his friends while we waited for the show. It was a good idea. The execution of the idea could have been better, though. We should have bought our tickets online before we left the house.

As it turned out, we did get to see the movie (Mission half accomplished) and we did have dinner with one of my son's two best friends (which made me quite happy as I have not seen him or caught up on his news since 2008). We did not, however, see the movie at the Alamo Drafthouse. We went to the cinema in the "new" shopping center by our old home -- the same shopping center that my real-life super-villain claimed to have been perusing without me (in a thick fog) when he was really meeting with his extra-marital partner... but that is a different story. The point is that we went to a cinema near our old house rather than to the Drafthouse.

My impression of the movie? Well, I have seen the original release of every Star Wars film so far and I am sorry to say that I was not incredibly impressed. In fact, I got up during the big light saber fight, visited the bathroom and came back without feeling I had missed anything. The movie was alright, I guess and I am glad I saw it in the cinema. But it was kind of a rehash of the original movies in a lot of ways: Han Solo taking the position of Obi Wan, Luke taking the position of Yoda, a girl as the new Luke and that black guy as the new Han. (Sorry, I don't remember the new characters' names yet.)

It was nice to see the original Star Wars cast back in action, though. In fact, I really loved seeing them together. It was also kind of nice to know a little of what happened between Han and Leia, though sad to discover they did not have a lifelong marriage. I really had hope for their relationship. Ah well. At least we know they loved each other to the very end and neither one remarried. That is something.

As for visiting the Drafthouse, Anne and I went back a couple of days later and saw a different movie. We both enjoyed the experience and now she can say she has been there. Mission complete.

Friday, February 5, 2016

San Antonio Riverwalk Boat Tour

The San Antonio River Walk, photo by Beth Durkee

After our lunch at Casa Rio, Anne and I asked our waitress where we could buy tickets for a boat tour. She told us to just walk out the side door and along the river to the right until we came to a ticket booth. We walked out of the side door, as instructed and I just had to take a picture for the blog.

We walked about half a block, I guess. It is hard to judge when there are no real street intersections. But we did have to walk under a bridge, so I guess that counts as an intersection. Our tickets cost $8.25 each.

Then we had to wait in line.

Here we are waiting in line in the beautiful, warm Christmas-time weather. (I seriously need to start selling some books so that we can make this an annual tradition!)

Keep in mind how much we had been eating over the past week, and that the camera adds at least ten pounds!

Lucky for us, there were plenty of boats and boat drivers to accommodate the Christmas-time tourists. Despite that huge, long line, the wait for the half-hour boat ride was only 25 minutes.

After an enjoyable wait in the Spring-like weather, we finally made it onto the boat for our tour. The driver filled our heads with all sorts of information that I would be hard pressed to remember. What I do remember, though, is what a lovely boat ride with my daughter it was. I am just sorry my son was too ill to accompany us. Here are a few of my photos for your enjoyment.

Proof that this is Christmas!
Marriage Isle

I have included my blurry photo of Marriage Isle. I am so sorry the photo is blurry but I love the idea of eloping on this isle, even though a reservation is required to use it, because exchanging vows on this site is supposed to bring your marriage very good luck. I really love romantic myths!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Lunch at Casa Rio

Casa Rio.

The first time my once-hero now-super-villain and I visited San Antonio, believe it or not, was for some salesperson to try to sell us a timeshare. (Little did the sales person know that I am a major penny pincher.) One of the big features of the timeshare was that it looked out onto San Antonio's famous Riverwalk.

Until that time, I was never aware that there even was a "famous" Riverwalk in San Antonio or that the Riverwalk is one of the world's top vacation destinations. I grew up visiting New Orleans almost every year and am not a native Texan. I have lived near Washington D.C., Baltimore, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Chicago, traveled to Philadelphia, Boston, Orlando, etc., viewed the Smoky Mountains from the back seat of my parents' car as we drove, and even seen the Rocky Mountains hovering over Great Plains. The Alamo was certainly on my bucket list of places to see. But that San Antonio's Riverwalk is an ultra-famous vacation destination was news to me. I guess I have lived a pretty sheltered life....

The place we ate lunch after that timeshare presentation was kind of a lark. We had just fed the meter for our car (and found a ticket on the dash because our time had run out while we were there) and were looking for some food when we saw a sign on the road: Casa Rio. My then-husband asked me what it meant. Not wanting to disappoint, I dusted off the cobwebs in my brain that surround my pre-kindergarten knowledge of Spanish and made an educated guess.

"Casa" means "House" and "Rio," I thought, was probably "River." So "River House" was my answer. (Guess what? I was right!) We decided to go in and try it out. What we found inside was delicious, authentic Tex-Mex and the very first restaurant to ever to open its doors to the River Walk. They opened in 1946 shortly after the San Antonio River became controlled by flood gates. The history is kind of interesting, if you get the right tour guide. (We took a boat tour after our meal.)

The view from Casa Rio's balcony

The next time we visited downtown San Antonio was the time we performed our parental obligation to local history and took our kids to see the Alamo. They were bored; we were bored. But at least we knew where to eat!

It is now about a decade later. As you know from my other posts, Anne did not remember visiting the Alamo so I dragged her there during our visit to the area. (The "area" meaning within about a 2 hour drive.) Besides, I wanted to go to Clay World -- which is NOT where its website says it is, by the way. The store front we found is closed. (What a bummer! It is good that we looked for it before going downtown so that our trip did not end on a sour note.)

I love excuses to eat good food. Being right nearby was the only excuse I needed to take Anne to my favorite (aka only) Mexican restaurant in San Antonio, Casa Rio. Lunchtime prices are relatively reasonable for a sit-down Mexican restaurant, of course the unlimited chips and salsa is free, and the service is both friendly and attentive. (And the salsa has a good flavor, which is important to my discriminating palate because bad flavors in Mexican food is one of my biggest pet peeves.) Plus most of the servers I saw there looked to be of Hispanic origins -- which is good for anyone who wants to practice speaking Spanish with native speakers. Best of all, though... mmm... is the cooking. Take a look at the plates of food we got to eat.

I really like authentic flautas.

Note how enthused my daughter lookjs to have a photo taken of her food. LOL

This post is getting long. I guess I will show my photos of our San Antonio River tour in my next entry. See you then!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Visiting the Alamo

My daughter probably wishes she had kept her mouth shut. But she did not. When she was in high school, after we moved out of Texas, she said something to me about not remembering visiting the Alamo.

Granted, we only took her to the Alamo once. But we did take her! After one walk through the historic site, I felt I had done my duty and we were free to spend our visits to San Antonio at either Six Flags or Seaworld... or, better yet, spend them just north of San Antonio in New Braunfels at Schlitterbahn. (We loved visiting Schlitterbahn!)

Clearly, I was wrong because Anne did not remember her visit to history -- which meant I had to drag her back to the site to gather photographic proof she was there  with me. Lucky Anne! (Lucky me that she is a good sport.) Was this the reason for our trip? Nah. It was just a bonus.

Note: Anne's brother got out of this excursion through the excuse of his continued illness. Happily, his fever was broken. But he still felt awful. So he stayed in bed all day while we went out.

So here it is, the proof that I took my daughter to the Alamo. See how it says "The Alamo" on the sign beside her? (Can you tell from her rigid pose how much she wants to have her photo taken?)

I also snapped a shot of her next to a giant cactus inside the walls of the Alamo. Look at how huge that thing is! I wonder how old it is?

Here is one of me to prove I was there, also. See all the people lined up to get in? There is no gatekeeper or entrance fee. These people are just lined up to walk through a gate. That's how many people there were! Way too many for our tastes.

The good news about going during a time when tourists are swarming all over the place is that the museum has plenty of actors working exhibits to make history interesting. Here is a photo of one exhibit with an actor telling "his" story. We did not listen, though, because it was way too big of a crowd. (Even on a Tuesday! But it was Christmas week.) We were too far away from the actor to hear him and we kind of just wanted to get out of there and away from all the people, anyway.

Maybe next time we will come at a slower time and be able to poke around without people  everywhere. Maybe next time I will have grandchildren with me? Maybe not. We will have to wait and see.

After our very brief walk through the Alamo and the purchase of a souvenir from the gift shop for each of us, we left and moved our car to a parking lot instead of metered parking. (I always get nervous that the time on the meter will run out before I come back to feed it.) Then I took Anne to my favorite spot in downtown San Antonio: Casa Rio on the River Walk. More on those next time.

Friday, January 29, 2016

My Favorite Texas Barbecue, Back "Home"


My family moved to the north Austin suburbs back in 2000, well before my then-hero degenerated to villainy. He had just gotten out of the military and we decided that living in the Austin area would be much better for his career than returning home to Wisconsin. (It is very difficult to find a decent-paying technical job in Wisconsin without a degree of any kind and Austin was an easier market for him to find a job.) So he found a technician job and we found a house in the suburbs that we could afford with my income and his expected income combined, and we bought it.

It was brand new construction -- in one of those subdivisions filled with what I like to call "cookie cutter" houses. Almost finished when we bought it, the only option I chose was the color scheme of the carpet and paint. Of course, over the eight years we were there, I... eh hem... "we" changed the paint and some of the flooring was changed. But that is beside the point. The point is that it was our house, where we raised our children and brand new.

I... again I mean "we" (because a mighty man of great determination had to dig the holes in the rock-hard soil)... planted every tree and every bush. The first tree we put in was a flowering pear tree right outside the front door. I thought it would be nice to look at a pretty tree instead of the street when I opened my door. I would have been right. (See the photo.) But the tree was still small eight years later, when we had to leave our home.

That first year in the Austin suburb of Leander was also the year I got hired to work as a cashier at Taco Bell, a few miles south of my home on Highway 183 -- which is how I discovered Smokey Mo's Barbecue. The original Smokey Mo's is located in a shopping plaza just across the street from the shopping plaza where "my" Taco Bell can be found to this very day.

Back in those days, there were two men working lunch at the cramped spot in a short strip mall -- which was not a problem because the restaurant was new and the area was somewhat remote. Of course, this was well before the highways around it were broadened and people started streaming into the area. But like I was saying, those two men always worked the lunch counter. I did not know their names, so I referred to them (in my head) as Smokey and Mo.

Well, I was half right. One of them was named Mo, the owner, and he looks just like the avatar on the barbecue sauce label. (The other guy's name was Al and I became friendly with his wife after she, also, came to work at the restaurant.)

That is the story that I told the Smokey Mo's employees when Anne and I stopped by for an early dinner... and 6 big bottles of Mo's own blend of barbecue sauce. (Shipping is just way too expensive to order it from Wisconsin again. I determined I would rather spend my money on gasoline to drive down and stock up on the addictive stuff.) Of course, I only made it home with 5 bottles. One of them stayed with Anne.

And then I took a photo of their menu so I could show photographic evidence to the folks in my new hometown. Are there any hamburgers on the menu of a genuine barbecue? No! Barbecue does NOT mean "hamburger." Argh.

(Truth be told, though, there are hamburgers available at some of the other, newer, Smokey Mo's locations around Austin. Non-Texans walk in and want hamburgers. So restaurant ownership complied with customer demand. Still, hamburgers are NOT their main menu choice.)

I am thoroughly addicted to one dish in
particular. I almost always order it when I am there... although I do like the smoked sausage, too... and the brisket sandwiches... and their... OMG I need to go back! Groan. Well, back to the point. My favorite dish that I most miss is called a "chopped baker." I had one with Anne on the way down (and then went back by myself for another a few days later). It is a large baked potato piled high with toppings and chopped, barbecue brisket. That with a big cup of sweet tea? Mmmm.... Heaven. I was so stuffed when I left the building.

Well, so that is where Anne and I stopped for an early dinner on our way down to my son's house and that is why we were a little more than an hour later than he expected us to arrive. Now that I know he was sick... well, I feel kinda bad that we didn't call to let him know we would be later than we originally thought. But I am oh so glad that we got to eat genuine Texas barbecue and stock up on that yummy Mo' sauce.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Cheap Heaven on a Plate

We escaped the time vortex on Monday, December 21 and proceeded to drive south.

We were coming into Waco around lunch time and were hungry. Knowing from a past life the distance between Waco and Austin, which is to say one of my previous regenerations (either that or Awhen I was living in Texas with my personal super-villain -- before his metamorphosis to villainy, of course), I told Anne to look in the GPS for Fazoli's. We both like Fazoli's and I knew there was one in Waco right off of I-35 from when my sister attended Baylor University.

Anne picked up the GPS and, thinking quickly, asked, "Fazoli's? Not Taco Cabana?"

To which I instantly replied, "Oh, yes! Taco-bana!!" (Of course.)

She plugged it into Garmin and we proceeded directly there. Guess where it is? About two blocks beyond where Fazoli's is. Boy! Am I ever glad Anne was with me to remember in time to go there!

Let me explain. For residents of Texas, Taco Cabana is nothing special. "It's like a Taco Bell," someone told me before I ever went. I wish that person had held her tongue because her words caused me to hold off visiting for several years. (Just think of all the flauta combo's I missed out on!)

I figured, "Why try something new when I already like the original?"


First, Taco Bell carries Pepsi products. Taco Cabana: Coke. I prefer Coke. (It goes better with rum. I tried Pepsi with rum once and it was really not good. Hence, my loyalty was won for Coke products. Bonus! Coke also goes well with whiskey, though I have never tried whiskey with Pepsi.)

Second: Do you see the veranda in the picture?Here. Let me give a better view of it.

They all have these. Of course, they are also all located in Texas. So there are no worries about snow.

Third, and this is an important one, they have a fresh salsa bar. (Except the one in Houston we went to. But that is a different story.) Now, in Wisconsin, there is a little fast food restaurant called Taco John's. It has a "salsa bar." But the salsa bar at Taco John's is not at all like the one at Taco Cabana.

Fourth, I love to watch their fresh flour torillas being made on the automated tortilla press. It is cool.

Fifth... Fifth... You have to see pictures to get a full grasp of fifth. Now remember that this is a FAST FOOD restaurant and the prices are fast food prices. But, when you order, you get a number and they bring your food out to you.
Enchilada Platter
 Quesadilla (Options are cheese, chicken and steak. Cheese is cheapest at $3.99.)

Note for northern Wisconsinites (eh hem, they know who they are): See how the quesadilla comes with guacamolr, sour cream and lettuce instead of french fries. This is the way it is supposed to be.
 Inside my steak quesadilla. Note that there is also pico de gallo inside. That is a free option if you want it.
Taco Salad (Called a "bowl," if I remember correctly.)

Cheese Enchiladas with chili sauce (much better than their regular enchilada sauce if you ask me)

Of course, there is also my favorite lunch, the Flauta Combo. Somehow, though, I missed taking a picture of one. (I ate several over my two week visit.)

Yes, Taco Cabana is like Taco Bell because it is fast food Tex-Mex. But no, Taco Cabana is not like Taco Bell.

After lunch, the highlight for the day, Anne and I proceeded through Austin to arrive at my son's house. His car was in front, but there was no answer when we knocked on the door. So I turned the knob and found the house open. He was inside, in bed. He'd gotten food poisoning that day and was as sick as a dog inside. Thankfully, his mother arrived just in time to help him out with a run for medicine to the local Wal-Mart.

Guess what? On the way to Wal-Mart (about a 15 minute drive from the house), Anne and I found another Taco Cabana! (Yay!) We had, however, eaten an early dinner at a favorite bar-be-cue on our way into Austin (more on that later). So our next visit to Taco Cabana would have to be another time.

Ohhh... Taco Cabana and authentic Texas bar-be-cue. How I miss Texas all over again. Anybody want to take a short, 1500 mile trip with me for lunch tomorrow?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Time Traveling on Main Street in Grapevine, Texas

I would be remiss if I did not tell of our last evening activity when visiting Debbie.

It was dark outside and just before Christmas, so I was ready to call it a night (because I am a boring, old lady who sleeps when it is dark outside). But not Debbie. When I said, "Nah.. It's dark outside," she said, "Uh uh. Come on, let's go," and told her daughter to grab her sweater because we were going out. My daughter, Anne, heard the command and slipped her jacket on. So what else could I do but follow suit? I was trapped -- but I have to admit it was a good kind of being trapped.

We all clambered into Debbie's car and she drove us to the bustling town of Grapevine, Texas. This small dot between Dallas and Fort Worth on the Texas map is home to almost 50,000 people and I think they all may have been out with us on Main Street that evening. It was very crowded with shoppers, sight-seers, and people just enjoying the holiday atmosphere. I have no idea how Debbie managed to find a parking stall but she did. She is amazing.

We parked and began walking up the street. So close to Christmas, all the shops were open and Debbie suggested we stop for some hot chocolate. I do not remember the name of the little coffee shop where we bought it, but it was good -- the perfect thing to sip while walking outside on a brisk evening.

It did not take long for a couple of trouble-makers like Debbie and me to get in trouble with the local law. They tried to lock us up but, as you can see from this picture, their jail was padlocked. We escaped custody when the officer instructed us to wait for him to get the key from the mayor and we RAN. (Just kidding but this is a photo of us in front of Grapevine's first jail and it WAS padlocked when we were there.)

Main Street has a lot of sight seeing activities. Main Street, itself, has a small area with historic monuments. It is kind of like merging the current time with history. I would kind of like to go back when it is daytime and not crowded with Christmas shoppers. On the other hand, if it was not Christmas and dark outside, there would not be so many Christmas lights or decorations to see.

Here is one that would be there when it is not Christmas season: An old, horse-drawn carriage. (Here you see how we tried to make our getaway in this carriage. The sheriff almost caught us! But then we realized the carriage's engine was not starting because it was supposed to be powered by horses! There were no horses nearby so we got out and RAN for our freedom.)

Short story on this photo. After we had our girls take it, Debbie successfully managed the mundane task of getting out of the carriage. But I must still have been tired from the long drive from two days earlier because I did not. Do you see how there is a large "lip" at the bottom of the carriage where we are sitting? Clearly, it is there to help people stay INSIDE the vehicle. Clearly, one needs to step OVER it to get out of the vehicle. Tired me does not think clearly because tired me does not think.

I stepped out of the carriage fine with my first foot. It was the second foot that had problems. I completely blame this on the foot, mind you. IT tripped me. (Because slipping in the bowling alley on the previous day was not enough, of course.) I landed face first on the ground and people from the line came to my aid. How embarrassing!

It's okay. That foot got its just desserts. (See its big bruise?) My left knee, though? Not so much. It was still suffering from the previous day's bowling injury when it got slammed again. My poor left knee got an appointment with the chiropractor as soon as we got home. (It feels much better now.)

While fleeing the Grapevine law, we came across this lovely new family who pointed the way for us.

We then traveled through a magical tunnel of light to return to our final destination: Home.

Only... The home we left was not the home we returned to. Our old home was located in December 2015. The home we returned to was in a much earlier era.

Thankfully, Anne and I were scheduled to leave the next morning. So we we able to continue to the next stop in our trip. (Whew!)

I am sure Debbie and her daughter will figure out how to get home in due time.