Janice Williams Loves Austin And sometimes I write about it.

April 27, 2015

Massive Bluebonnets

Filed under: Austin,Bluebonnets — Janice @ 12:25 am

I had a wonderful wedding anniversary on Friday. When we married in 1993, we planned the time of the wedding to be bluebonnet season so we could spend our honeymoon driving down country roads full of bluebonnets. Many years since then we have had an annual bluebonnet trip to celebrate our anniversary. When we moved to Austin and lived right among the bluebonnets, we began slacking a little on getting out for a real trip. We still tried to make a day trip of it, but we even missed out on that from time to time. This year, I really thought that the bluebonnets would all be gone by our anniversary. In town on the banks of MoPac and I –35 they have already gone to seed and gotten weedy.

But my sweet husband found a great mass of bluebonnets for us to visit on our little one-day road trip on Friday. I had never heard of the place he took me and he said he only heard of it within the last couple of weeks. It is Mule Shoe Bend, a recreational area from the Lower Colorado River Authority. It is somewhere north of Spicewood. I have looked at a map since we’ve been home, but I’d still need a guide to get me back out there again. Mark as going to surprise me so we headed out highway 71. I thought we were going for barbecue, and I was right but it wasn’t the first stop. Along about Spicewood he turned north and went through the country a long long way. The bluebonnets alongside the road were beautiful through here and that was a good dose of flowers already. I didn’t know we were heading for more.

When we got to the gate of the LCRA recreational area for Muleshoe Bend, the park ranger said “Are you here for the bluebonnets?” That was my first indication that there was something  GOOD up ahead! She let us in 2 for 1 since the bluebonnets were beginning to get a bit weedy and go to seed, but  they were still fabulous! Roadsides are great, pastures of bluebonnets are great, but to see rolling hills  just covered in bluebonnets and to also be on the shores of Lake Travis… it was amazing. And so many sweet birds and butterflies and bees. That was the only wildlife we saw, but I expect if you were there in the evening you’d  spot some deer and more down that way. I am not a camper (but I sometimes think I would like it), but there were primitive campsites all through the park. I can imagine it would be awesome to wake up to fields of bluebonnets and the rising sun over the lake.

Mark is the best photographer ever. Here are a few of his shots from our Friday trip.

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March 17, 2015

A Fresh New Start

Filed under: At home,Austin,Bluebonnets,Cemeteries,Family,Food — Janice @ 11:29 pm

I guess the best way to return to a habit and get the ball rolling on this blog again is just to start.

And keep going. We’ll see if I can manage that.

I truly don’t know why I don’t. I write all the time, all over the place. This blog doesn’t have to be any more polished than the emails I write (since the same people will read it). So I will try.

I just had a beautiful fresh start to a New Year for myself with the big celebration for my 56th birthday (oops, I had a typo and put 65 first, can 65 ONLY be 9 years away?). It was a GREAT birthday. I have probably complained here in past years about how my birthday falls during Spring Break and, worse, during South By Southwest. South by Southwest is the Austin music conference/festival that is a fine event, but it keeps my husband, Mark, away from me much too much. But, every 6 years my birthday falls on the Sunday BEFORE SXSW and Mark can free up some time to celebrate my day.

It’s hard to believe it has been 6 years since we had a great lunch at El Chile on the east side and drove around observing the blooming mountain laurel and fruit trees and then visited the Texas State Cemetery. That was my first visit to the cemetery, even though we had lived here almost a decade by then. It was amazing and I’ve visited it many times since then. I am happily married to the only man in the world that would understand that a trip to a cemetery for a 50th birthday would be the best present.

This year Mark offered me a road trip to a Hill Country town or anything I wanted. I thought long and hard and decided a brunch at the 1886 Café in the Driskill Hotel and a trip to the Ransom Center would be my choice. Mark had some concerns about being downtown during SXSW, but we forged ahead and talked the café into letting us have a reservation even though they don’t take reservations  during SXSW or for brunch.

The Driskill is a beautiful hotel. It is Austin’s oldest and most opulent hotel, built in 1886. The lobby is big and marble with pillars and grand staircases and dark wood paneling.  We hadn’t  been there 3 minutes when I spotted Billy Crystal coming down the staircase. That’s the kind of magic that happens there.

With the ColonelHere we pose with Colonel Driskill. I was hoping for some orbs in the picture since he haunts the place, but no such luck. I was sniffing, trying to smell his cigar, but I didn’t get that either.

We enjoyed the cheese soup (amazing!) and I had quiche while Mark had steak and eggs. I also indulged in a bloody Mary.  It was fun to people watch, wondering if we looked like out-of-towners to them.

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We took a walk around the Driskill and then walked down 6th Street a little. I honestly don’t know  if Mark and I have EVER walked down 6th Street together. It is Austin’s Bourbon Street…something the city is known for, but nasty, dangerous, and a place the locals don’t go. In the daytime it is not so dirty or scary. There were lots of people out and the streets were closed so there was lots of room. We had fun pointing to buildings and remembering…. “This WAS Joe’s Generic Bar. This was Steamboat. This was where I played for this…. This is where I used to go ….” It has changed tremendously since I worked down the street when we moved here 16 years ago.

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There was no shortage of people watching on 6th Street. With St. Patrick’s Day coming up, we even saw leprechauns. We steered clear so I don’t know what they were soliciting. I have a feeling they weren’t going to lead us to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

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On to the Harry Ransom Center. It is a museum where my cousin works, yet I have never been to it. I wanted to go just to see where it was and what it was like. I didn’t need to spend hours there. It is a very nice small museum, known for its traveling exhibits, I suppose. But it does have a Gutenberg Bible on display, which is AWE-some in the truest sense of the word. And the first photograph ever made, in 1824, I think. Mark looked at the piece of metal with dark shapes on it, hardly distinguishable as a landscape outside a window at all. Mark commented, “Well, it isn’t even a very good photograph…. kind of grainy.” We laughed. It was the kind of exhibit that makes me want to go read more about the invention of photography.

There was also a big exhibit going on about Alice in Wonderland. A lot of people were there to see it and it was a beautiful display with LOTS about the book and the whole history of Alice. Somehow, I grew up without ever knowing much about Alice in Wonderland. I knew about her, but I don’t know if I actually ever read the book. I think I saw a cartoon. I think I once had a ceramic figurine of her. But since Mark and I didn’t have a real connection with Alice in Wonderland, we took the quick view through that exhibit.

I was happy and satisfied and content to go home to open birthday cards that had come through the week (I always save them until the day) and maybe get in a good nap. Before we got all the way home, Mark took a swing through a rehab facility by our house. Each spring there are fields of bluebonnets around the center so he wanted to check to see if any were blooming. Neither one of us have seen a bluebonnet by the highways yet. Lo and behold, they were beginning to bloom. There is no piece of nature that makes me as happy as the bluebonnet does. We stopped to do the Texas thing and take pictures in the bluebonnets. We will be back when they are more abundant.

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Now Mark is deep into his long days/nights of working during South By Southwest and I am a SXSW widow, home alone overnight. But the birthday is over and I don’t have to think about it falling during SXSW when I don’t get any attention. It was a happy and fun birthday and I’m grateful to my sweet husband and to all who sent the cards and presents and called and texted and Facebooked and emailed. There was no shortage of love.

December 7, 2014

December in Austin

Filed under: At home,Austin,Bluebonnets,Garden — Janice @ 8:58 pm

We have had a couple of really cold spells already this winter, which is early and unusual. Our typical first freeze is mid-December and we’ve had several minor freezes. I say minor because, so far, not all of my plants that die back have died back. Some of them are in a very protected spot and they are still happily living, oblivious to their future destruction.

I was out today appreciating my garden. I needs a lot of cleaning. I even had a landscape guy give me an estimate this morning, but I haven’t decided if it is fair or if I trust him to not destroy my baby bluebonnets.

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I always forget the name of this plant/wildflower, but I know it is a Texas native and doesn’t mind a little drought. It is a huge bush of bright flowers and, in person, you hardly notice all the dead things or overgrown grass.

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I always forget the name of this plant, too. I have taken a picture of the tag at the garden centers over and over, but never put it somewhere where I’ll remember where it is. But this is a nice happy plant, too, that looks good all year round and just put up these beautiful winter blooms.

I have bulbs to put into the ground and a dozen bluebonnets that need to go in, too. I have this idea of myself as an avid gardener. That image only shows up when I’m buying plants or accepting bulbs from generous people. When the weekend of opportunity is here, Gardener Janice tends to vanish.

March 31, 2014

Getting There

Filed under: Bluebonnets,Cemeteries,Writing — Janice @ 9:57 pm

Well, I keep saying I have everything set up on my new computer in order to do my jobs and my fun stuff and then I think of something else I need. I just installed the Windows Live Writer. It does make it a little easier to get the blogs written and sent to the site and it makes the pictures a lot prettier, so I am glad to have it up and running again.

I did have dinner tonight with my “muse” Diana. We talked about writing and children and money and life and it was really great to see her one-on-one again. I think we talked on the phone last summer and were going to get together on my porch when the fall weather cooled things down and here we are having already made it through winter and it will be too hot on the porch before we know it.

Diana is about to finish her master’s degree in a specialized study of Texas music history and Texas writers. It’s a one-of-a-kind degree and she’s the perfect person to blaze the trail. It’s the kind of degree I would love to HAVE, but I’ve seen all the work she’s put into it and I don’t think it’s the kind of degree I want to work toward. I think my school days are over. I admire her for taking it on.

I am not a photographer, but I feel like I need to insert a photo for interest. This was taken about a week ago in LaGrange. I love their old city cemetery and the bluebonnets there are incredible. This doesn’t come close to doing it justice or really showing you how thick they are. I will have to purloin Mark’s good pictures one of these days.

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December 15, 2013

December Gardening

Filed under: Bluebonnets,Garden — Janice @ 12:24 am

I am very grateful to live in Austin, Texas (as evidenced by the title of this blog, I suppose). This past week has had us scrambling to protect the tender vegetation when we had some hard freezes, but still, all in all, Decembers can be so nice. We still have green grass and plenty of green plants after several nights of freezes. I liked this picture I took this week:

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That is a pot on the fence between our house and the neighbor’s. It is the 3 kinds of plants we have in the garden. There’s a resurrection plant that is frozen. Dead. Gone. Except, it is a resurrection plant so it may come back, but if it doesn’t, there’s enough babies all over the garden to keep the plant going. Also there is a cactus that is not thrilled with the cold weather, but can tolerate it. There’s some sort of superdead branch and I don’t even know what that is. Then there is the bluebonnets! I just love the bluebonnets and I love when they plant themselves in our flowerpots as well as in the garden. As you can see, cold doesn’t bother the bluebonnet and it is happy, green, and just itching to start blooming come March. It won’t be long.

In the background on the right are my dead firebushes. They will come back in the spring and get tall again by August, depending on how much rain we get. But they are always my gauge of whether we have had a hard freeze or not. We had a couple already this year that froze the tips, but this last bunch froze the whole plant. Now I wait for a nice winter day and I will cut all those dead branches down. Meanwhile, on the left is a beautiful green blooming plant. I’ve forgotten what it is, but it is a Texas native I planted in the not too distant past. This year, I am pretty sure.

And in the middle, be sure and notice our unique snowman. He has gone viral again this year and pictures of him are on the internet and all over the world. One drum site has it on its Facebook page and it has over 5000 likes. That is a lot of people. This is his third winter to grace our yard.

May 5, 2013

Too Many Stories

Filed under: Bluebonnets,Cemeteries,Family,Taphophilia,Travel — Janice @ 9:43 pm

I have too many stories rattling around in my head. Every time I think about putting one down, another crowds in and says, “What about me???? You were going to tell about me a year ago. Surely my story is of more import to your thousands of readers and the generations to come than THAT one.” And as soon as I start to consider that and move my thoughts that direction, another demanding, irritating story comes begging in an even more sniveling whiney tone and before long I shut the whole process down and eat chocolate.

I call it my “artistic process.”

Trouble is, time passes and the weight increases, but there are no blogs in the pipeline, no pages piled by the typewriter, no checks in the mail from New York publishers.

So let me tell a story. ANY story. The first story that comes to mind, the closest at hand, the freshest. All those stories of my ancestors can wait a day or 10. Or until I run out of chocolate.

Mark and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary on April 24th. We are both a little bit gobsmacked (I am not certain that is the word, but it feels right) that we have achieved such a momentous occasion. Him more so than me because I always believed I would get to a 20th anniversary. Since he had had some rough starts and do-overs, he is especially pleased to prove that he could do it. Do it he did. The 20 years flew by and we are still happily doing lots of the things we were doing when we fell in love and started this adventure.

On the weekend after our anniversary we did some of those fun things. On our honeymoon trip we went in search of antiques and bluebonnets and small towns and cemeteries. We did that again.

Our main goal on the first trip was to go to Pontotoc and see the Union Band Cemetery. Mark had discovered it online somehow and had seen a beautiful picture of it in the bluebonnets.  Last year we stopped in Pontotoc on our way to Santa Fe and Taos. It is an interesting small Texas town because it has ruins like few towns have. There are walls and window sills of an abandoned academy that operated there in the 1870s and 1880s. Across the road is another brick building, empty and abandoned. The academy stopped operating in the 1880s when a typhoid fever epidemic wiped out lots of people in the town. In the 1940s, a fire destroyed most of the buildings in the town. The town never recovered and the ruins are still there and are incredibly picturesque.

Sadly, a little abandoned cemetery lies just north of the town. And when I say abandoned, I really mean abandoned. There is no sign or indication that it is a cemetery, only the fact that you can see some graves there. It did look like someone had cleared some mesquite and prickly pear at one time, but they are really fighting a losing battle.

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Most of the graves were like this… rock enclosures with no markings or identification. Some were upright and in place like the one on the left, but most were tumbledown. Mark noticed that the death dates all seemed to be about 1888. When I got home I looked up the cemetery and read that the typhoid epidemic was about that time and a local doctor was worried that the cemetery was too close to the water supply and the city established a new cemetery on the other side of town. Another account said that the first cemetery got full and they had to start the second. We went to it, too, and it is the “new” cemetery and was founded in 1885. So I don’t know the full story of the change in cemeteries. The new one was very nice and grass and a few bluebonnets. It was a mix of old graves and new.

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I always feel sorry for gravestones that are totally crowded out by trees.

And we did make it to the Union Band Cemetery, which had more bluebonnets than any, but they were going to seed. Notice that this grave has a Texas Ranger marker to the right. Ranger Miller would have been a ranger in the early part of the 20th Century. I’ll have to look him up. He may have been on the border watching out for Pancho Villa.

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We didn’t JUST visit cemeteries with strangers in them. We went through Llano on the way out (and, yes, ate at Cooper’s Barbecue) and I had Mark swing through the huge Llano City Cemetery. I had looked up the location of an aunt and uncle, but didn’t know if I would be able to locate them. Having a location and looking at it on Google or a map is a whole different experience than finding it on the ground, I have discovered. But we got to the area and Mark spotted the Hallford grave right off the bat. He has the pictures with that grave so I can’t post it yet. It is the grave of my great-grandfather’s brother Johnny. I have a transcript of a diary or a life story that his wife, Mattie Phillips Hallford wrote about her young life and their courtship and marriage. It is the sweetest document. I was glad to get to see her grave.

So that was just a small portion of one day of our long weekend celebrating our 20th year of marriage.  I guess I’ll steal Mark’s Facebook photo he took of us in Pontotoc. This is the ruins of the Academy that we’ve watched deteriorate over the years. I guess it could same the same about us.

 

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September 27, 2012

Bluebonnets!

Filed under: Austin,Bluebonnets — Janice @ 9:36 pm

Everyone in my family and my circle of friends knows how I feel about bluebonnets. I go a little bit crazy when it comes to our state flower. That’s why I did my little happy dance this morning when I walked outside and found this in our little garden:

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We have a garden by the front walk and it has flagstone in the middle so you can walk out into the middle of the garden. Most mornings I do walk out into the garden and check out “how my garden grows.” Right now things are healthy because the temperatures have come down and we had a good soaking 3-inch rain about 10 days ago and it is happy. I just didn’t realize how happy until this morning. First I saw spiderworts. That two-bladed plant close to the bottom of the picture is a spiderwort. There were several big ones growing in the flagstones. I stepped in to inspect them and see if that was what they were and then I saw the bluebonnets. Usually I catch them before they start putting out the second set of leaves. Actually (and I had to go look this up, but I used to know it), the first “leaves” aren’t really leaves, they are called cotyledons and they are part of the embryo of the seed and that is why they look completely different. In the case of the bluebonnet, they are rounded and there are two of them. Then the true leave form with their characteristic points and creases and they are easy to spot. These have all obviously sprung up from the rains last weekend.

I have explained the way bluebonnets work to a lot of people who try to plant them in the spring because they bloom in the spring. That doesn’t work though. You have to plant the bluebonnets, like, right now! Or even a month ago so that they are in the ground when these first fall rains come down and they have time to get established and put out some roots and this greenery. People ask if they will freeze in the winter. Maybe they do. I don’t know. But if they do, it doesn’t seem to hurt them, they bounce right back and can still have a beautiful spring. Obviously, I’m no expert and I haven’t studied them in great detail over hard winters. It seems like hard winters are often very dry winters, too, so it might be hard to tell if it was the freezing or the dryness that kept the bluebonnets from blooming.

Bluebonnets are very smart, though. If the conditions are not right for them to bloom and produce and make seed, they won’t. They will stay underground and wait. We had planted bluebonnets and put out bluebonnet plants down here several times with no luck. A few years back Mark bought some seeds at the Wildflower Center of the Wildflower Farm of Fredericksburg and was determined to get some going. He planted them in the fall, but nothing came up in the spring. But it was also a lousy year for bluebonnets every where. But that fall, the bluebonnets began peeking out and we have a great crop the next spring and each year they have been coming back, over and over. We are very careful to let them go completely to seed and let them fling that seed wherever they may go. They can throw their seed up to 50 feet, they say. Fortunately, lots of it still lands right where we had them before, as the picture is shows. I think the bluebonnets like these flagstones because they aren’t going to have a hoe disturb them. Not that hoes often get used in my garden, sadly. In the garden beds themselves, there were plenty of bluebonnets coming up, but there are also lots of grasses that need to be pulled, but now I’m leery of messing with the roots of the bluebonnets.

Mark it down, we are less than 3 months this side of Christmas and the bluebonnets have appeared. Within 3 months the OTHER side of Christmas, we’ll have blooms and springtime in Central Texas.

April 7, 2012

Easter is Here

Filed under: At home,Bluebonnets,Childhood Memories — Janice @ 11:22 pm

I truly don’t know why I’ve been on such a long writer’s block. Whatever.

Easter is here tomorrow and that makes me think of many good Easters I’ve had in my life. In Amarillo, Easter was like Halloween in that, as likely as not, it was too cold to do what you planned to do… hunt Easter eggs. We would wear our light spring dresses and white shoes, but freeze all the way too and from church.

As an adult, a favorite Easter memory was when I lived in Dallas and went home to Canyon for Easter. My best friend Beth joined our family for the day and my sister and her family were there. The boys were about 3 and 2 and were adorable in their little matching clothes hunting Easter eggs. We would hide Easter eggs in plain sight and when I “couldn’t find” an egg laying right in front of me Brandt was a good helper by pointing and saying “Aunt Zan, it’s RIGHT THERE.” Connor mostly sucked on his pacifier and had no idea what the fuss was about.

In Austin, our Easters are often bluebonnet trips into the country. We’ve had plenty of those this year and seen so many beautiful bluebonnet patches. And Mark is off on a trip of his own this weekend so I am home taking care of things that have been shoved aside for the last few weeks while I entertained others, did taxes, did work, or felt crappy. I’ve had a highly successful day and if tomorrow is just as successful, there may be light at the end of the tunnel.

March 27, 2011

Our First Bluebonnet Trip of 2011

Filed under: Bluebonnets,Cemeteries — Janice @ 10:40 pm

I stress that this was our FIRST bluebonnet trip this year because I am bound and determined to get more than one.

Mark and I got married in bluebonnet season on purpose in 1993 and took a fabulous honeymoon with bluebonnets along the roadways everywhere from Dallas to Austin to Fredericksburg to Bastrop to Jefferson to Mount Pleasant and back home to Dallas. After that, we took a “bluebonnet trip” each year in the spring to celebrate our anniversary and to see bluebonnets. We had some great trips.

Then we moved to Austin in 1999 and suddenly we were surrounded by bluebonnets on every trip to the grocery and downtown and to work and back. We quit taking bluebonnet trips! Oh, we still occasionally made some trips out to the Hill Country, but we kind of lost some of the specialness of a specified bluebonnet trip.

We started back on that bluebonnet trip path last year with a great Sunday outing on Easter Sunday and we went to LaGrange. We stumbled upon a beautiful cemetery just overgrown with bluebonnets and I discovered that combining three of my favorite things:  Mark, cemeteries, and bluebonnets, into one day is a wonderful thing!

This weekend was Mark’s first days off in 3 weeks. SXSW is just a nightmare in his job and the work didn’t end when the people went home. He had worked all day and into the night every day this week so we planned on running away on Saturday and not answering a phone.

We started the day in the barbecue capitol of Texas: Lockhart! We stood in line a while at Smitty’s, our favorite place, and decided we were too hungry to stand in line, so we moved on to Black’s Barbecue. I’ve always liked Black’s because they have real side dishes and real silverware and they even offer barbecue sauce. I find them much more accommodating than the other 2 barbecue joints in town. (oh, btw, I know there is another one, but that place is the WORST and I don’t even count it when I’m thinking about Lockhart and bbq).

After we ate a LOT of brisket, sausage, ribs, and great side dishes, I chatted with Mr. Black a little bit. He’s 85 now and as sweet as can be. I met him when I did a radio lunch down there in 2007. He’s a very outgoing, friendly man. He said he’s turning the business over to his sons and grandsons most of the time now. He was visiting with a grandson that was about to begin working in the business on Monday.

After lunch we made our way toward Smithville and then LaGrange. We stopped by Plum, Texas, where we found the spectacular Indian paintbrushes last year, but there was no field of them, just a few. It might still be a bit early or it might just be a bad year. In LaGrange we went back to the cemetery where we found so many last year and found the same thing there. The best plot still had a lot on it, but they were sparse through most of the cemetery.

So on to Independence, Texas, which was our destination all along. We barely got there with enough daylight in the day. There were lots of people around the pillars that mark the beginnings of Baylor University in Independence. Many were taking pictures in the bluebonnets, including a couple of brides having professional shots done. We bypassed the people when we saw the sign that said “historic cemetery” and an arrow and we drove north until we found a beautiful cemetery and a nice mound of bluebonnets!

We parked and had a great time admiring the stones and mostly the bluebonnets. I always try to take a picture of Mark taking pictures:

We read all the stones and were surprised (spooked?) to discover that two of the graves that were covered in bluebonnets had died on March 26… the day we were visiting. Each in different years. Kind of an odd coincidence.

Mark has the best pictures from our trip, I hope, but I haven’t seen them yet. These are all from my phone (which gave me a heck of a time getting them! I ended up having to email each one to myself.).

Here is one picture of us, bluebonnets, and graves in the heart of Texas Independence on the eve of the 175th anniversary of the Massacre at Goliad. History, bluebonnets, cemeteries, and time alone with my best friend and sweetheart. It was a fabulous day.

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