Sunday, March 11, 2012

Texas! Days 7 and 8

For our last full day in Houston, we (sort of) checked off another item on my list of things to see. The Orange Show is kind of like the Beer Can House. Just one guy with an obsession. This guy was obsessed with oranges (much more healthy than an obsession with beer).

Unfortunately, The Orange Show doesn't open to the public for the season until the end of March, so we didn't get to go in, but it was still worth driving by and taking a few photos.

There's actually The Orange Show Center for Visionary Art and it owns both the Orange Show and the Beer Can House, among other things.

I think the craziest thing to remember about both The Orange Show and the Beer Can House is that they're in regular old neighborhoods, surrounded by (mostly) normal houses. I guess it gives you a little leeway to paint your house a bright color when you've got that down the street, but mostly it's just normal homes. Talk about crazy neighbors!

After the Orange Show, Mac showed me his elementary school and then we headed out to Clear Lake to see Rocket Park and the Johnson Space Center. We stopped by this plane on the way:

It's lovingly known as the Vomit Comet since they do weightlessness training and experiments on it. Mac went on a similar plane once.

Then we headed to Rocket Park to see... Rockets!

And Bluebonnets!

And one of Mac's favorite wildflowers - an Indian Paintbrush:

So this is the type of rocket that would have launched the Apollo missions. It's HUGE! You can see a teeny tiny person in the bottom right corner of the photo:

Mac is dwarfed by just one little piece of the rocket, which looks kind of like the death star, if you ask me:

And more rockets outside:

These guys are a little smaller, but still impressive:

This is the back of the building with the big rocket inside:

After Rocket Park, we headed to a liquor store to pick up something for Mac's friend Jose, who we were meeting for dinner. We walk in the door and who's there? None other than 10 time Olympic Gold Medalist Carl Lewis. He's touting Tequila these days. Who knew? We bonded over our New Jersey connection, oh, and ended up buying two bottles of tequila! So funny!

We had a great time having dinner with Jose and then drinks after that. It was a great way to spend our last night in Houston.

On Saturday morning we pretty much just packed up and said goodbye. I think it was hardest on Mac to say goodbye to his cats. Here's Cowboy hanging out in the St. Francis birdbath in his parents' backyard:

And here's Patches. He might not admit it, but Patches is clearly Mac's favorite. She's the oldest kitty in the house and the most lovable. Little Bit is the other one, but she's pretty skittish and I didn't get a photo of her.

Here's Mac giving some love to Patches before we leave.

I'm so glad we got to spend so much time in Houston and that I got to get to know Mac's family a little better. It was good to see Grandma again, and to see the different places in Houston that hosted some of Mac's formative years. I'm looking forward to going back at some point and seeing anything we missed this time around.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Texas! Days 5 and 6

After a long day at the Rodeo and Livestock Show, Mac and I took it a little easier on Wednesday. We started out the day by going to the Art Car Museum just down the street from Mac's parents' house.

Houston is known for its Art Car Parade and the museum does a great job of showcasing some of the cars from previous parades and also showing local art in its galleries. It's a small museum, but it was fun to stop by and see what they had to show.

Along the way, we stopped at a grocery store and I just had to take a photo of this display of soda saying "Let's Rodeo". Really, the whole town gets into it!

While we were out an about, we stopped at Taqueria Arandas for lunch and had some really good Mexican food. I think I'm starting to understand the subtle differences between Mexican, Tex-Mex and Cali-Mex. I'll pretty much take it any way, but Arandas featured cactus as one of its "meat" options for its burritos, so I got to try that and it was quite tasty! They also had aquas frescas and I got a cantaloupe one that was outstanding. Yum!

That evening, Mac and I headed out to Baytown to go to Cavender's Boot City to see if we could find some cowboy boots for me and a vest and bolo tie for Mac. It was a bit of a drive, but it was worth it. I got a great pair of cowboy boots (I'm amazed I don't have any photos) and Mac found a leather vest, but no bolo tie. On the way home from Baytown, Mac took a detour to show me the San Jacinto Monument. Sadly, it was closed by the time we got there (after dark), but we did see this great sign posted outside the park:

And here the barely-lit monument:

We'll have to put that on the list of things to see next time I'm in Houston, so I can get the full effect of the reflection pool, etc. And in case you were wondering, yes, it is taller than the Washington Monument and the reflecting pool is also bigger than the one in DC. This is Texas, after all.

On the way home from the monument, we got to go over the Ship Channel Bridge and really see all of the industry that's based on the access to the Ship Channel. Most of it is oil-based and it seriously looked like a city skyline, it was so bright!

When we first got to Houston Mac's dad showed us some articles he's saved talking about some new restaurants in town and one of them sounded particularly interesting. It was called Roost and Mac and I decided to stop for dinner after our little adventure. It was super tasty! We got these amazing "slow breads" that looked and tasted remarkably like huge soft pretzels. We got beet butter and blue cheese butter to go with it.

We also got a cauliflower "steak" which was just outstanding, a delicious potato soup, a jar of homemade pickles and then banana pudding for dessert. They also had a great selection of local beer, which was tasty, too! I'm so glad we tried this place.

On Thursday, March 1st, Mac and I woke up early and got out of the house by 9am to enjoy our big road trip day to Austin! It's about a three hour drive, and when we got to Austin we went straight to the Capitol area. It was a bit of an overcast day, but it's still a beautiful building:

We had lunch in the cafeteria, which is open to the public, but clearly caters to staffers in the building. Then we took a guided tour of the building. Here's a view of the dome, which, by the way, is taller than the dome of the Capitol building in DC (it's Texas, remember, everything is bigger!).

The details throughout the building were really neat. All of the hinges on the bigger doors looked like this:

And even though it was overcast, it was still quite warm and flowers were blooming around the Capitol. This was a promising sign since our next stop was at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. Here are some Texas Mountain Laurel blooms on the grounds of the Capitol:

After leaving the Capitol area, we drove a little out of town to get the Wildflower Center. Here's some of the highlights from the couple hours we spent there. Here's some wild Phlox:

And Mac taking in the amazing scent of these honeysuckle blooms:

They also had a butterfly and moth hatchery.

And BLUEBONNETS! My goal for going out to Austin was to see some Texas Bluebonnets. We were a couple weeks early to see them in their full glory, but I was so happy to see some blooming!

We also took a walk around the meadow and saw these cool heart-shaped cacti:

And MORE Bluebonnets!!

And turtles.
After the Wildflower Center, we drove back into Austin to the SoCo (South Congress Ave.) area of Austin. It's a hip little shopping district and we happen to be there for First Thursday, so there was live music and gallery openings and people all over the place. Our first stop was at Bird's Barbershop to get Mac a beard trim. Here's the before photo:

One of the perks of going to Bird's is that they give out a free beer with every service. Since we had to wait, she gave us each a beer! Score!

Beard trim in progress!

And in the end, it only cost him $3. That's right, two beers and a beard trim would have normally been $5, but since Mac is a student, he got $2 off. Quite an amazing deal! And here's the final result. Pretty snazzy, huh?

We ate at Mighty Cone, one of the mainstay food trucks of the SoCo area. It was quite tasty - we got an order of fried pickles (in a cone, of course), and then an amazing fried avocado wrap with this wonderful spicy slaw. Yum!

We also enjoyed just walking around, doing a little shopping (Mac found an awesome vintage bolo tie), getting a drink, and finally grabbing some dinner.

This is outside a little coffeeshop called Jo's where we stopped to get some iced tea and listen to live music:

And this was outside a cute little store called "Monkey See, Monkey Do". Mac took the name pretty seriously:

After hanging out in SoCo, Mac had a little adventure to take care of. Our friend Candy has a friend who lives in Austin and she gave Mac a birthday crown to give to her friend, preferably as a singing telegram. So we had an address and a phone number and drove to this woman's house. When we were outside, Mac called her to explain that he was a friend of Candy's and had a special delivery. He went up and did a whole singing telegram for her, doing a great rendition of Happy Birthday. She was thoroughly surprised, for sure! It was the perfect way to honor "Keeping Austin Weird" and a great way to end the day. Then we drove all the way back to Houston, finally getting home sometime after midnight. It was a great little roadtrip!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Texas! Days 3 and 4

When Mac's brother Sam bought his house, it already had a happy topiary elephant family living in the front yard. Mac told him if he bought that house, he would get him a monkey topiary to go along with the elephants. Well, when we were taking the train to the BBQ cook-off, I noticed a garden center with these monkey topiaries hanging outside, so on Monday of our trip, we headed over there and picked one up for Sam.

We had to call Mac's dad to get the code to get into his front gate, but it was worth it to leave this surprise for Sam. I think it works quite well to have to Monkey hanging off of the big elephant's trunk! The elephants are in a little need of trimming, but you still get the idea.

After dropping off the monkey and picking up tickets to the Rodeo for the next day, we had wonderful Greek food at NicoNico's and then went on a mission to find the two art-o-mats in Houston. The one in the Whole Foods was easy enough to find. And it had some good choices for art. I was pretty excited about it.

Unfortunately, after much struggle, we determined, with the help of some Whole Foods employees that the machine was indeed Out of Order. Boo...

Lucky for us, there's another Art-o-Mat in Houston. It's much more out of the way, but after a phone call to the gallery and a little help from my phone's GPS, we were able to track down the other machine. It, too, was jammed!

But lucky for us, the guy at the gallery was nice enough to open it up and I was able to retrieve our prize:

A nice little stenciled robot to add to my collection. If you don't know about Art-o-Mats, check out their website here.

One of my favorite parts of being on vacation is the option for taking an afternoon nap. And after running around Houston, a nap was exactly what I was looking for. I thoroughly enjoyed a nice snooze in the afternoon and woke up refreshed and ready to have dinner with Mac's whole family. We went out to a nice Italian place with his parents, grandma, sister, brother and his brother's girlfriend. It was great to have the whole family together and hear some fun stories of them growing up. After dinner we went over to Sam's place and got to hang out for a bit and show him the monkey topiary in all of its glory. It was a fun way to end the evening.

On Tuesday, we met up with my friend Lacey, who was my roommate in Chicago, for an early lunch at a Vietnamese sandwich shop. It was super-tasty and great to catch up with her after not seeing her for many years. After lunch, we were still a little early for the Rodeo, so we went to the Galleria and I got to see where Mac learned to play hockey. It's a huge mall with an ice rink in the middle. I can see how hockey and ice skating can seem appealing when it's over 100 degrees out in the summer in Houston.

After leaving the Galleria, we headed to Reliant Park to take in all that the Livestock Show and Rodeo had to offer. Having never really been to a Livestock Show, it was an eye-opening afternoon, indeed. We started out at the Birthing Center where we got to see this one-hour old calf and her mama chowing down on her own placenta. The baby calf is hard to see, but she's in the bottom right corner, curled up in the hay:

We also got to see 30 minute old goats and some very, very pregnant pigs, cows and goats that were due to give birth over the next few days. It was fascinating.

On a slightly sillier note, we got to watch some "celebrity" goat milking. These were local Houston celebrities, like local radio hosts and meteorologists from the local news. It was still fun as most of them had never milked a goat before. There were given a quick lesson from students from the local ag school and then had to milk as much as they could in a certain amount of time. It was pretty amusing to see the milk occasionally get squirted in a random direction, or the bucket knocked over by a less-than-happy goat.

We also stopped by a section of the livestock show that had examples of different breeds of cattle, goats and pigs. The longhorn was, by far, the most impressive. All I have to say is: Cows are BIG!

We then moved on to the children's section, which was actually a lot of fun. Lacey had tipped us off to Mutton Bustin' over lunch and Mac and I were excited to see this ridiculous sport. In a nutshell, small children, ages 5 or 6, volunteer to hang on as tight as they can to a slightly pissed off sheep and try to stay on as long as they can. Here's a few photos of one kid's run:

Hanging on as long as he can:

Most of the contestants slide off to one side, sometimes bringing the sheep down with them:

Then, of course, a big wave for the crowd and the camera. Look, Ma, I'm fine!

At the end, the kid who stayed on the longest got a silver belt buckle, and everyone else got a certificate for participating. One of the best parts was that they introduced each kid as they were getting ready to ride the sheep and they'd say things like "This is Maverick from right here in Houston and he wants to be a ninja when he grows up and his favorite food is nachos and hot dogs!" It was really cute.

Also in the children's section, we went to the petting zoo. We got one little cup of food to feed the animals and Mac held on to it for most of the time we were in there. The goats were especially greedy and even stood up on Mac to try and get the cup of food that he was holding up. These goats were interested in a little handful:

My favorite was this little white goat who was just super cute and decided that he was going to stand on top of this pig to get a better view. That pig has infinite patience to put up with all of these baby goats:

After doing a little window shopping at some of the booths in the convention center and picking up an official Rodeo pint glass and refrigerator magnet, it was time to head into Reliant Stadium to watch the Rodeo! We saw all the classic Rodeo events including Bull Riding, Bronco Riding and Calf Roping:

In between some of the events they had a real wagon race, which was pretty impressive. They were going really fast! It's kind of the same idea as the Pierogi Races at the baseball stadium in Pittsburgh, but much more high stakes. These guys were REALLY racing!

They also had a Calf Scramble, which was a little chaotic, but really fun to watch. Basically, they line up 30 high school kids, then let 17 calfs run into the arena, and the kids have to try to catch and halter one of the calves. If they do, the prize is an actual calf, which is a really big deal for these kids. Here's the beginning of the scramble:

And finally after some Barrel Racing and more Mutton Bustin', we got to see them set up for the concert and shoot off some indoor fireworks. We only stayed for the first song of Alabama. They played "You can't play in Texas if you don't have a Fiddle in the Band". It was fun to see one song, but we decided to head out since we aren't big Alabama fans and the people around us clearly were.

On the way out of the stadium we got a nice view of the Carnival:

After leaving the Rodeo, we stopped by Valerie's apartment and got to hang out with her and her roommate for a little bit before heading back to Mac's parents' place. It was a jam-packed day and such a great way to really see some Texas Rodeo action.