Friday, December 30, 2016

The Best of What We Ate in 2016

Angora sheep
It’s been fun running around the planet this year staying in interesting places, doing exciting things and eating marvelous food! This blog is concerned with the best of the best; in this case, anything with a rating of four carrots, unless otherwise labeled, from my evaluation scheme (see Reading the Reviews). The review blog is actually divided into two parts. The first is about the places we stayed and our activities (The Best of What We Did and Where We Stayed in 2016), with the second having to do with food (The Best of What We Ate in 2016). Within each blog there are also two sections: International and US.

The Best of What We Did and Where We Stayed in 2016

It’s been fun running around the planet this year staying in interesting places, doing exciting
Canada Geese in Texas
things and eating marvelous food! This blog is concerned with the best of the best; in this case, anything with a rating of four carrots, unless otherwise labeled, from my evaluation scheme (see Reading the Reviews). The review blog is actually divided into two parts. The first is about the places we stayed and our activities (The Best of What We Did and Where We Stayed in 2016), with the second having to do with food (The Best of What We Ate in 2016). Within each blog there are also two sections: International and US.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Holiday Feasts

Solar reindeer and trees
It seems as if we haven’t been out of Texas in months but that doesn’t mean that we’ve stayed strictly at home. As is usual during the holidays between Thanksgiving and the New Year, we’re prowling the area shopping, visiting with friends and family and for the most part eating at places we’ve patronized previously. However, since restaurants tend to come and go rather frequently we have found a place or two that are new to us. For information about my rating system, see Reading the Reviews.  

Friday, December 16, 2016

Going to Grapevine

Statue chatting with Cynthia
The little town of Grapevine has been one of the places I’ve visited many times without stopping to think about its origins much. There are lots of places to eat, both chains and those owned by individuals, lots of places to shop, and a few places to explore just because they are there. It’s also the home of Grape Fest in the fall and Christmas grandeur during the holidays. Now Grapevine is most dependent on the tourist trade, but that hasn’t always been the basis of their economics.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Taking it to Taos

Overlooking the Rio Grande River
From Albuquerque you can run up the highway to Taos and go through some of the interesting desert countryside or you can take the Turquoise Trail up through Santa Fe. Since we’re more enamored of back roads than of freeways when we’re just out to explore, we chose the Trail. Along the Turquoise Trail are some interesting small towns that caught our attention and put us in mind of the old song, Old Hippie.

Friday, December 2, 2016

All the way to Albuquerque

The fact that the Angel Glamp Retreat was held at the Enchanted Trails RV Park in
Top L to R: Sunrise bracelet, Tessellation Lariat
Bottom: Crystal Fidget pendent
Albuquerque was quirky enough to tempt me, and when my friend, Teri, said she was going, I packed my bags and jumped on a plane. I was also attracted to this retreat because of the instructors. While bead embroidery isn’t difficult, it takes a special vision to design these pieces and a lot of patience to complete the work. Having taken a class previously from Kinga Nichols, I knew that we’d get to make something that was unusual and reflective of her artistic insight; I wasn’t disappointed with the Sunrise and Sunset Shores bracelets (I chose Sunrise). Nikia Angel, our other instructor, has been one of my inspirations for quite a while and I was delighted to finally get to spend some time with this creative lady. She gave us a choice of constructing either her Crystal Fidget or the Tessellation Lariat. Of course, I chose both and they are both wonderful! She introduced us to her Sparkly Wheel component and invited us to use it in our own designs. A lovely bonus came from Judith Bertoglio-Giffin; she volunteered to teach a group of us bead crochet. That was exciting to learn, too! These three ladies are exceptionally generous with their talents, helping beaders take what they learned and incorporate it into their own designs. This retreat was fun and I’m glad that I made the journey to Albuquerque! And although I’d been here twice before for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, I’d never really taken the time to explore the old section of the city, nor had I realized that one of my cousins lives in the area. Besides the hot air balloons, the city has a rich cultural history, extensive petroglyphs from the Ancestral Pueblo peoples, and an interesting geologic landscape.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Saluting in San Diego...and Reviews

Part of the San Diego Bay from the flight deck of the USS Midway
Once again this year I traveled to San Diego to learn from an exceptional group of beaders. There are women here from all walks of life who get together to take lessons from three outstanding people in the field and to share knowledge, techniques, and laughs with each other. This time Heather Kingsley-Heath, Virginia Blaklock, and Beki Haley were our fearless leaders – but more about Beader’s Dream Retreat later.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Heading to Hendersonville, NC

Autumn is one of my favorite seasons because I get to see beading buddies who I’ve
Red seed pods
missed for an entire year in one of my favorite places, western North Carolina. Our annual get-together was once again in Black Mountain, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway and a few miles from Asheville (see Mountains of Art and Back to the Smokeys for a lot more information about this area of North Carolina). I landed at Asheville’s tiny airport and was met by Linnea, a Near-Normal Traveler in her own right. As soon as we’d hugged, talked excitedly, and dragged the bags into her car, we headed for our first adventure, Hendersonville. This cute little place is the county seat of Henderson County, North Carolina. Being just 22 miles south of Asheville, it’s an easy jaunt to check out the local arts and crafts. Traditionally known as ‘The City of Four Seasons’, it has a well-preserved Main Street and adjoining downtown areas.

Friday, November 11, 2016

On the Sea, on the Sea, on the Beautiful Sea…and Cruise Review

Since this cruise crossed the North Atlantic, there were several days that we were out of
Top: Three egg omelet
Bottom: Waffles
sight of land. This pleased Dave because he enjoys sailing in rather turbulent waters, fondly remembering his time in the Navy. I’m fine with a rocking boat, but there were folks aboard who were seasick before we pulled away from the dock. Generally on ‘sea days’ we slept in then ate breakfast in one of the dining rooms sharing a table with whomever appeared at the maître d’ station at the same time we did. This is much preferable than eating on the Lido deck where your only choice is to hunt a table then go through a buffet line. There are a variety of breakfast foods available and they can be prepared to your specifications; in almost all of the cases, there is a substantial amount of food – possibly preparing you to go out and haul fishing nets by hand.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Back in the Big Apple

Dawn over New York City
The first time I actually went to New York, other than to work from morning to night, or to buzz through the airport, was in 2012. Dave took me to upstate New York for our
Entrance to AMNH
anniversary and then down into Manhattan. I loved it all and was anxious to see everything. We had planned to visit the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). I completely underestimated the size of these two treasure troves thinking we could see them both in one day. So since outrunning the hurricane gave us an extra day to explore New York City, we decided to spend it at the AMNH; I was delighted. The American Museum of Natural History is one of the largest museums in the world. It is just across the street from Central Park and has 27 interconnected buildings with 45 permanent exhibition halls, in addition to a planetarium and a library. Given that we had an entire day, we still couldn’t see even the small portion of the 32 million specimens of plants, humans, animals, fossils, minerals, rocks, meteorites, and cultural artifacts that are on exhibit. We did see one of the founders, however; Teddy Roosevelt not only sits astride his horse to welcome guests as you enter, but there is a statue of him on a bench in one of the rotundas. I was also glad to see the T. rex and the cheeky monkey from Night at the Museum were still in residence, as well. Housed in the oldest part of the museum was a collection of Northwest Coast Indians artifacts; this portion of the museum was begun in 1874, with the Victorian Gothic building opening in 1877. Most of the rest of the museum exterior is in rusticated brownstone neo-Romanesque, except for the entry which is an over-the-top Beaux-Arts monument. The entry hall is a vast Roman basilica design that echoes with the excited voices of children and adults.

Friday, October 28, 2016

St John’s, eh

Entering St John's harbor
We didn’t arrive in this pretty city until noon, but we stayed until 8:00PM. Getting into the harbor is fun in that we came through the narrows where you could see the eyes of the birds nesting on the banks. St. John's is an interesting town with most everything built up the hills from the harbor, which is quite small; it is the capital and largest city in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. St. John's is also one of North America's oldest settlements. However, people didn’t begin living here year-round until sometime after 1630 but seasonal habitation can be traced back to between 1494 and 1545 (depending on whose records you read). The English fishermen who had seasonal camps in Newfoundland in the 16th Century were forbidden by the British government from creating permanent homes along the English controlled coast, which is the reason that St. John's was late in becoming a town.

Friday, October 21, 2016

At gå ind I Greenland

Sunrise on the North Atlantic Ocean, looking astern
Without a doubt my favorite day on board was when we cruised through Prins Christian Sund. The Sund is a 60 mile (100 km) long, sometimes only 1,600 foot (500 m) wide passage that connects the Irminger Sea with the Labrador Sea. This shortcut through the tip of Greenland is one of the most scenic places I’ve been. We awoke to a beautiful sunrise at about 5:30AM; at 6:30 the first foghorn sounded. I hoped that the fog would be gone by the time we got into the fjord at about 7:30 – 8:00. Sigh…supposedly there were whales we should be able to see at the mouth of the fjord. The fog in this area is fairly common because we have moved from over the relatively warm Gulf Stream to over the cold arctic current. At just about 7:30 the fog lifted and we had a gorgeous day of cruising. What greeted us were sheer cliffs of rocks that had been deformed by volcanic activity, erosion and intense metamorphism, during and after which they had been unceremoniously pushed down by the weight of a huge ice sheet that covers most of Greenland. The land is slowly rising because the ice sheet is shrinking due to global climate change. This long fjord system is mostly surrounded by steep

Friday, October 14, 2016

Finna leið okkar í Iceland

Coming into Iceland
The Republic of Iceland is a sparsely settled (about 9 people per square mile) island that just touches the Arctic Circle and it was one of the places I always wanted to visit. If you put Hawaii and Yellowstone in a sack, shook them up and dumped them out, you’d have the countryside of Iceland (without the palm trees). There are volcanoes, black beaches, geysers and other geothermal features. Differing from these two places are the glaciers that formed valleys and that persist over 5,000 square miles of the island’s interior.  Because of all of the geothermal energy almost all of the energy used is from this renewable resource; it also allows production gardening in greenhouses. Within these greenhouses are enough banana trees to make Iceland the largest supplier of bananas to Europe. However, since its founding in 874 by Ingólfr Arnarson, most of the economy was based on fishing and agriculture; now one of the biggest money-makers is tourism, even though this is an expensive place to visit. Islandic culture has its roots in Scandinavian and Germanic heritage, which isn’t surprising since most Icelanders are descendants from these groups. What’s interesting is how people are named: usually a person’s last name signifies the first name of the father or in some cases the mother. This is a hereditary tradition that is distinctly different from that of Europe. If a man is named John Smith and has a son named George and a daughter named Mary, their last names will not be Smith. They will be George Johnson for the boy and Mary Johndaughter for the girl. It works in the same manner if the children are given the mother’s name. So Sally Jones’s children would be George Sallyson and Mary Sallydaughter. Iceland became a sovereign country under the Crown of Denmark, the Kingdom of Iceland on December 1, 1918; in 1944 Iceland became a republic with a president as the head of government. Chilly and windy, all three towns we visited in Iceland reminded us a great deal of Tasmania and of Scotland.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Se seg omkring Bergen

Town on a fjord
When you last saw the Near-Normal travelers, we’d been lost in Denmark. We left Copenhagen on the cruise ship MS Zuiderdam – another adventure in transportation that I’ll have more to say about as this saga continues. Our cruise took us to Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, and back to the US. Our first stop was in Norway.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Går rundt Copenhagen del to

Our second day in Copenhagen found us on our way to the National Museum of Denmark
A tight fit!
and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptoteket. If we hadn’t run out of time and energy, we’d have visited the Royal Stables. These have been turned into little museums and there is always a chance of seeing the royal horses. Since we missed these, as well as a plethora of other sites, we’ll have to go back! We only visited two museums this day, but they were good ones.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Går rundt Copenhagen del en

We left Dallas at about 5:00 PM and arrived in Copenhagen at about 1:00 PM the next day.
Absalon on horseback
Since we’d spent 13+ hours traveling, the first thing we did after getting settled in our hotel was to go exploring. And we found that Copenhagen is the most confusing city to get around in. Dave is usually really good about map-reading and finding what we're looking for, but we were lost more than we were found. This is because the streets start and stop, then begin again in unrelated places – or at least that was our reasoning for our confusion. We did finally find the Tourist Information center and got our Copenhagen Card (museum passes), along with a better map; it was more detailed and prettier (okay, maybe not actually a better map). Thank goodness there were lots of folks around who spoke English and didn’t mind tourists asking for directions, or at least to point out our current location on our map.

Friday, September 16, 2016


There are some times that, even though I am addicted to traveling, I just can’t get out of
Flowering Shrub
town. This is one of those times. What follows are a group of restaurants that I’ve been to recently in cities that I’ve written about previously. There are links to you can find those previous blogs if you’ve a mind to. Enjoy these reviews of a variety of places to eat. For information about my rating system, see Reading the Reviews.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Argyle but Not Socks

Every time I drive to Denton I pass through Argyle. It’s a little tiny town with a variety of
Tree-lined road in Argyle
housing types – farms, ranches, small bungalows, and mansions. Europeans first settled in the Argyle area (formerly known as Pilot Knob or Waintown) on vacant or unclaimed land in the 1850s under the auspices of the Peters colony; they raised cattle on nearby open ranges. The settlement slowly grew with the first school actually being established in nearby Graham in 1875. A year later the Graham Baptist church was organized in the school, and by 1878 a post office had been created in a log cabin.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Where, oh where is Birdville?

Almost every Saturday morning, a group of the Near-Normal Travelers meets for breakfast.
One of the oldest stores in Haltom City
Most of the time we go back to our one or two favorite places; these places are not over-crowded, particularly expensive, noisy, or gifted with surly waitresses. This weekend, however, we wanted to explore a place that has a rather intriguing reputation, so off we went to Haltom City. There’s not much information easily accessible about the history of Haltom City. Evidently it came into existence sometime around World War II when the war industry plants were built near Fort Worth. It was incorporated in 1950 and now has not only residences, but light industry and manufacturing. Interestingly, Haltom City is home to one of the oldest cemeteries in the area.

We did find information about two historical markers in Haltom City and they led us to New Trinity Cemetery. This cemetery began in 1886 when former slave, Reverend Greene
Top L to R: WWII Veteran, WWI Veteran
Bottom L to R: Stone from 1914, Historical Marker
Fretwell, died. There was no cemetery for African Americans in that part of Tarrant County so Mrs. Frances Fretwell, the Reverend’s widow, raised enough money to purchase two acres of land. It is here that Fretwell Cemetery and a small church were established. The original cemetery needed to be expanded, so in the 1920s adjacent land was purchased; this was referred to as the New Trinity Cemetery.  In 1931 more property was acquired and that section was named the People’s Burial Park. Currently these three cemeteries are called New Trinity Cemetery. There are several hundred souls laid to rest here, many of whom are veterans of World Wars I and II, and Masons. Also interred here is the founder of the first hospital for African Americans in Fort Worth, Dr. Riley Andrew Ransom. Next to his marker is the second Texas Historical Marker; it commemorates Dr. Ransom’s life. We were sad to see that there were lots of unmarked and damaged tombs; it was also obvious that while general mowing takes place occasionally, this graveyard need more complete care.

Children in Haltom City attend Birdville Independent School District. And this raises the
question, just where is the town of Birdville and why does it have such a large school district? Unlike Haltom City, Birdville does have a written history. The first recorded settlement was in 1840 and was actually the predecessor to the establishment of a fort to protect the frontier from Indians. General Sam Houston sent Captain Jonathan Bird and 20 inexperienced Texas Rangers to build Bird's Fort on the north bank of the Trinity River. On September 29, 1843, some two years after the establishment of Bird’s Fort and several encounters with hostile tribes, General Houston along with Indian Commissioners, some early settlers, and a few trappers met with the Chiefs of Nine Tribes to sign a peace treaty. The troops at Bird’s Fort got added help in patrolling the area some six years later in the form of the establishment of Camp Worth. Troops remained there, eventually creating Fort Worth, until 1853 when they were sent to yet another dangerous outpost, Fort Belknap.

By 1850 the settlement had about 100 residents. These folks petitioned the state to create a new county which they named in honor of General E. H. Tarrant. The county boundaries at
Site of first Tarrant Count Courthouse
this time encompassed some 877 square miles. Birdville won the election and was named the county seat. A temporary court house was built while the city fathers obtained land, re-drew a map of the town and raised money to construct a brick court building. However, a permanent building was never erected because a special election in 1856, orchestrated by folks living in Fort Worth, over turned the previous decision (perhaps by as little as three votes) and the county seat was moved to its present location. All the records, equipment, and furniture were moved into a temporary building in Fort Worth. This election was contested over the next four years, costing several lives and about $30,000 in court costs. Ironically, all of these early records were lost in a fire that destroyed the courthouse building in 1876. Without the attraction of the county seat, businesses started to move out of the area and eventually the population fell to such a low level that other towns simply took over Birdville’s land area. By 1906 the Birdville Post Office had been discontinued with Fort Worth picking up the rural service. However, the Birdville School District was founded in 1896 and it has continued through today. Now the district covers 40 square miles, serving students from Haltom City, Hurst, North Richland Hills, Richland Hills, and Watauga. At the Birdville ISD administration complex is a small museum that tells the story of Birdville and has pictures from the early days.

Three and one-half carrots
Bluebonnet Café (2223 Haltom Rd, Haltom City, TX 76117, 817-834-4988) is a quirky place
Left T to B: Menu, Chicken fried steak and eggs, Bacon, eggs, grits
and biscuit
Center T to B: Coca-Cola Christmas, Coca-Cola wall
Right: Eggs, pork chop and grits
that, according to the regulars there, has been on that site forever. We got there around 9:30AM and were one of the last groups to be seated that didn’t have to wait. And speaking of places to sit, evidently there are some folks who will only sit in a particular server’s section so we got to watch a lot of jockeying for prime positions. Not only does this restaurant serve a broad cross-section of the Texas population, it also serves a lot of antique folks, as well. I hadn’t seen women with their hair in braided coronets in probably 20 years, but they were at this café. The rooms are also a step back in time; we were in the Coca Cola room, but behind us was the Elvis room and there were more rooms literally filled with memorabilia celebrating actors and singers of the 1950s. Our waitress was well equipped to deal with our nonsense and seemed to enjoy our sense of humor – always a good thing. The food was in much larger portions than I expected when I looked at the prices. Dave and I had large cups of very good, hot coffee. Dave and Andi had two eggs, pork chops and grits. Steve had a chicken fried steak and eggs. I had bacon, eggs and grits. These meals came with huge, fluffy, light biscuits and bowls of gravy. Although the place was jumping, our meal came out in a timely manner and it was correct. Everything was tasty, although both Andi and Dave said that while the pork chop was okay, they will try something different the next time we come. Steve and I were entirely satisfied with our meals. We all agreed that the biscuits were wonderful and that the gravy was good. While I was watching what other folks were eating, I spied the sticky bun; it came out steaming and would have fed at least two people. The order of biscuits and gravy came with three biscuits and a soup bowl of gravy; the woman at the next table looked at me and said, ‘I think I miscalculated the amount I can eat.’ We’ll be going back to this unique restaurant.

For information about my rating system, see Reading the Reviews.
Old tree
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Friday, August 26, 2016

A Colony Called Dalworthington

On our way to Pantego we briefly passed through Dalworthington Gardens. This pretty little 
Dalworthington Gardens City Hall
community was a surprise, because I had thought it disappeared years ago with the growth of Arlington. There are no restaurants in this community, but it’s so near Arlington that this creates no issue if you get a bit peckish when you’re out exploring. The name, Dalworthington came from conjoining parts of the names of Dallas, Fort Worth, and Arlington. The lot sizes in this suburb are quite large and harken back to the Great Depression. At that time people were being encouraged to supplement their food supply and increase their standard of living by combining part-time industrial employment with nearby subsistence farming.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Playing in Pantego

Driving through Arlington, Texas not too long ago we spotted a once-favorite restaurant that
Pantego water tower
we thought had gone out of business. A bit of internet research led to the happy discovery that the restaurant was, indeed, one we had previously frequented but it wasn’t really in Arlington; it is located in Pantego. This tiny town is completely surrounded by other cities, with Arlington being the largest. We planned a trip back to enjoy lunch and I began doing some research about Pantego.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Blending into Bedford

We drive through Bedford fairly frequently running errands, seeing family, and avoiding the
traffic on Texas Highway 183. On several of those occasions I’d noticed a cute little sign for Bizzi’s Bistro; we always said we’d stop for lunch ‘next time’. Well, ‘next time’ finally came. But before I tell you about our lunch, I have to tell you about the city of Bedford. This town is part of the Hurst-Euless-Bedford ‘metro-mess’ and is generally referred to in the context of H-E-B. One of my favorite stories about this area comes from a teacher friend. She had just graduated from a large university in central Texas and was looking for a job. Of course she went to a placement councilor who helped her in that search. This was at a time when teaching positions, even those for science, were few and far between; so her councilor was elated when a position opened in the North Texas area. However, my friend was a bit dumbfounded when presented with an interview that sent her to HEB; she thought she was interviewing with a food store. And although HEB may, indeed, remind you of grocery shopping, it is actually a rather attractive place to work.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Running a Bluff in Bluff Dale

Parties are even more fun at a winery, and the Bluff Dale Vineyards is just were we went to
View from the patio of Bluff Dale Vineyards
celebrate the birthday of a dear friend.  The vineyards were opened in 2004 by David and Teresa Hays. This is a lovely setting to taste their unique blending of Texas-raised grapes that are used in their award willing wines. Although the temperature threatened to reach the century mark, we were comfortably cool sitting on the patio listening to a band and sipping wine. The little town of Bluff Dale, just down the road, sits very near the North Paluxy River in northeastern Erath County. Originally known as Bluff Springs by pioneers who settled here, Bluff Dale became the town name with the establishment of a post office in 1877. In the late 1880s two events occurred that spurred the growth of the tiny town, and both had to do with the railroad.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Denver Doings

The Denver area, part of the Territory of Kansas, was settled by Cheyenne and Arapaho
Stream with waterfall in a meadow
Indians and a few Anglos until the late 1850s. However, in 1858 Green Russell and Sam Bates found a small placer deposit that produced about 20 troy ounces (620g) of gold, and the Pike's Peak Gold Rush was on; the population bloomed to about  100,000 gold seekers in just two years. The same year that Russell and Bates found their gold, Denver City was established through rather under-handed means. This rather lawless city prospered as a mining town for a few years, but once the gold played out the population dropped. Denver eventually became a supply hub for mining in the area, cementing its place in history. It was named the seat of Arapahoe County, then six years later the Territorial Capital. By 1881, Denver had become the permanent state capital, having survived the fire of 1863 that destroyed most of downtown, the flood a year later that devastated cattle and crops, and a final attack by swarms of grasshoppers that stripped away the remaining vegetation.

Friday, July 22, 2016

A Castle in the Hills

It wouldn’t be summer without my semi-annual trip to Colorado. Once again I spent a
Top L to R: Ice Falls,
Cynthia and Twister at Pikes Peak Lookout
Bottom L to R: Hummingbird at feeders,
Pink Shooting Stars
substantial amount of time at Sunkist Cabin staring at the beautiful mountains, and listening to the chattering creek and the songs of the myriad of birds that make this place home. You’d think that I’d seen and written about it all, but of course I haven’t and I doubt that I ever will. The summer scenery is wonderful, with the rich greens and the colorful wildflowers. Of course, America’s mountain, Pikes Peak, looks a bit different in the summer; there’s not as much snow and the red rock stands out in contrast to the evergreens that dot its lower slopes. Hiking is a bit easier, too, since we could actually see the trails rather than stomp through snow. On our visit to Ice Falls we got to play in the water and see some Shooting Stars; we miss both when the snow is deep on the ground.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Running around in Rendon

The community of Rendon is located on Farm to Market Road 1187 just about twelve miles
Pond on a farm in Rendon

southeast of downtown Fort Worth. The unincorporated town was named for Joaquin Rendon, the original land grant holder in the region. I can’t find any information about this man, and I’d like to know where he came from and what drew him to the area.  Originally known as Cross Roads, settlement began in the area with the arrival of the Hopper family. Evidently they farmed and raised cattle. That still occurs in this rural area, but on a much more limited basis. Where once there were cattle, there are now horses, donkeys, goats, llamas, and at one time commercially raised pigs and chickens. Until the late 1960s you could go down to the ‘chicken farms’ to get freshly slaughtered chickens or fresh eggs. Llama and horse ranches are also a latter addition to the Rendon area and smell a lot better than did the chickens and pigs. Back in the 1880s, the Norwood family also came to the area, helping to organize churches as well as bringing a general store and a post office. It was with the establishment of the post office that the name of the community was changed to Rendon. The Haddocks also arrived about this same time. By about 1895 Rendon boasted a flour mill, two gins, and a blacksmith, to serve a population of twenty-five. Norwood sold some acreage to the founders of the school and the cemetery about two years later. The Rendon School and the Rendon Cemetery were founded at that time. On the site of the original school house is a modern school that vacillates from housing alternative classes, to overflow elementary classes, to administrative offices; it’s now part of the Mansfield School District. By 1954 a volunteer fire department had been organized; the ‘new’ fire hall is on the site of the original. There are still fund raisers for this group that carry on the tradition of holding pancake breakfasts, and a Thanksgiving dinner; these activities pay for the fire and ambulance service that now takes care of more than 10,000 residents. At one time Near-Normal Traveler, Vince, was a member of the volunteer fire department as an EMT.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Wandering in Waco

So off we went to Waco on one of the hottest days of the season - 108oF including the heat
McLennan County Courthouse
index. After all of the rains in Texas, the Brazos River was full and running swiftly. We thought about taking a dip to cool off, but decided that this wasn't the best idea. Waco  is the county seat of McLennan County, located along the river, halfway between Fort Worth and Austin. The courthouse was designed by James Riley Gordon, who also created the façade for the Ellis County Courthouse in Waxahachie and the Arizona State Capital building. The exterior of the McLennan County Courthouse is neoclassical, but the pilasters and columns are Corinthian. It also has three justice-themed statues:  Themis on top of the central dome with Justitia on one side and Lady Liberty on the other. All around are the square are typical government offices, but there really aren't any restaurants. So much for a ‘square meal’…

Friday, July 1, 2016

Saginaw, not Michigan

Saginaw Chamber sign
Sometimes running errands leads you to unusual places. There’s a small town near us that had the only birdfeeder that was acceptable for Dave to install in the backyard, so off we went to Saginaw, Texas. This little town is an inner suburb of Fort Worth with a several businesses and no small number of fast food joints.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Benbrook Bound

View of Fort Worth from a hill in Benbrook
Ah, Benbrook, the mystique, the allure, the romance; where you might meet a handsome stranger and have all of your dreams come true. Particularly in the summer and particularly if you’re a young teenager just entering the age for dating – or at least that’s how it seemed way back then. Lake Benbrook was where all the ‘with-it’ teens went to watch the submarine races; it was every parent’s nightmare. Throughout the years the lake has been low enough that the boat ramps were closed because they didn’t reach the water; that’s not true this year

Friday, June 17, 2016

Gallivanting through Grandview

Top: Rain on the road
Bottom: Field corn
Springtime in Texas means that it can be raining buckets one minute and bright sunshine the next. It was just that sort of day when we drove about 10 miles south of Alvarado (see Off to Alvarado) to visit the small town of Grandview.   Governor Elisha M. Pease provided a land grant in 1850 to a group of settlers, one of whom was F. L. Kirtley. Some stories say that it was his son-in-law, John Whitmire, who upon arrival to the area said, ‘What a grand view!’, and that’s how the area was named. Not many years later, a church had been organized and a post office opened. However, as with many small towns in Texas, the coming of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas rail line, in 1883 meant that almost everyone moved closer to the train station. And that’s where Grandview was finally incorporated in 1891. What appears to be a school of higher education was briefly in business: Grand View Collegiate Institute 1897-1907. There do not seem to be any records about this institution available, which makes me wonder if it wasn’t a preparatory school that got swallowed up by a more traditional school district. There is also a record of the Emory House, a Queen Anne/classical style two-story residence built in 1907, by farmer and stockman, John Avery. It escaped the fire of 1920 that destroyed many businesses, churches, homes, and schools. Our brief wander through Grandville failed to turn up this historic home.

However, we did go out to the original Grand View town site that is now the Grandview
Grandview Cemetery
Cemetery. The cemetery was established at the same time as the Baptist church, in about 1856. Four years later, the town had launched several general stores, a blacksmith shop, a church building and a Masonic Lodge. These businesses were followed by several more stores, more churches and a saloon. Once the railroad came through, the main section of town moved to it and the cemetery gradually took over the entire town site. There are many historic graves in this cemetery, including one with a tombstone simply marked ‘Annie’. Evidently this unknown woman was murdered and her companion never found; mystery still surrounds this event.

Masonic Lodge
The Grandview Masonic Lodge was chartered on June 14, 1861. It is the oldest lodge in Johnson County’s oldest lodge that has been in continuous operation. Initially it shared a building with the Methodist Church on the original town site, but was later moved to where it stands today in downtown Grandview. The 1893 building was destroyed by the 1920 fire, but another was soon constructed. Although the building we saw isn’t pictorially historical, it is on the original site.

Surprisingly, there are several places to eat in Grandview, so we tried one of them. For information about my rating system, see Reading the Reviews.

Three carrots

The R & K Café (101 S First St, Grandview, TX 76050, 817-866-3969) is actually one of
Top L to R: Menu, bread
Bottom L to R: Chicken fried steak, Grilled cheese
three, with branches in Cleburne and Weatherford. It’s next to the railroad tracks and about a block from downtown. The building has a tin ceiling, so expect it to be noisy if the place is busy at all. The day we visited, there was a table of high school senior girls who were excited about it being the last few days of school; yep, they were a bit loud. Vince had a grilled cheese sandwich that he said was pretty good. The chips that accompanied it were probably Lays. Dave and I had the chicken-fried steak lunch special that came with three sides; we chose only two. This smaller steak was hand battered and very good. The green beans were tasty, as were the mashed potatoes. The cream gravy was very good with a bit of a bite, unusual for this sauce. The bread reminded me of Hawaiian rolls and was a good accompaniment to our meal. Lunch was quite reasonably priced and service was pretty good, particularly since this place was hopping.

Railroad crossing
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Friday, June 10, 2016

Flitting around Fort Worth

Fort Worth Botanic Garden Center and Conservatory
In the early part of the spring, when we had a break from the nearly daily rain that has fallen in North Texas this year, Dave and I decided that we wanted to see the newly re-opened Conservatory at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. This 110 acre garden located is in a pretty part of the city, near the Trinity River, the Fort Worth Zoo, and the Will Rogers Complex. The oldest botanic garden in Texas, it was established in 1934 and has about 2,500 species of native and exotic plants in its 22 specialty gardens. The Conservatory houses the ‘tropical plants’ that can’t stand the vagaries of Texas weather.

Application was made to the National Register of Historic Places and can be viewed online. It is an interesting, if extensive document, in that it gives the history and physical structure of
Red veined bracts
all the small gardens within the Botanic Garden. I actually downloaded this document and have read much of it for background for this blog. The Garden was entered into the National Register on January 29, 2009. The rose garden, constructed in 1933, is cited as ‘one of four excellent examples of the classic period of the municipal rose garden, an era from 1927 to 1937’. Its formal style was influenced by Italian and French formal gardens of the 16th through the 18th centuries. The other historic parts of the garden are the Rock Springs area, the vistas and adjacent woods, the horseshoe and the original Garden Center building and greenhouse. Construction of the public rose garden and other parts of the garden was unusual because approximately 750 artisans and laborers were hired through relief programs of Herbert Hoover's administration and Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. Construction was expected to take years. With the Reconstruction Finance Corp. labor force, the garden was finished in nine months. The Botanic Garden is a great place to wander around in a fairly natural setting – they have omitted the poison ivy and undergrowth of a completely natural Texas woodland. We’re looking forward to going back to visit the Japanese Garden and to see some of the other smaller gardens.

There are plenty of things to see and do in Fort Worth, as well as lots of places to grab a snack! For information about my rating system, see Reading the Reviews.

What we did:

Four carrots
Fort Worth Botanic Garden (3220 Botanic Garden Boulevard, Fort Worth, Texas, 817-392-
White flowering plant
5510) is open daily. An admission fee is charged for the Conservatory and Japanese Garden; the other gardens are free. There is plenty of free parking.

What we ate:
Three and one-half carrots
The Gardens Restaurant (3220 Rock Springs Road, Fort Worth, TX 76107, 817-731 – 2547) is a pretty little place with seating both indoors and out. The day we were there, it was full outside but seating was available inside. They were also hosting a luncheon of some 
Left T to B: Gardens menu, Reuben sandwich
Right: Apricot chicken sandwicn 
sort in one of the private rooms. This made service horribly slow; apparently there were only two waitresses. It was also irritating to see the chef sitting at a table next to us talking at length with a colleague when the servers were so obviously rushed off their feet; adding insult to injury was another person who seemed to be drifting around aimlessly, neither cleaning tables nor taking orders. We were finally told by the hostess that even she had been called in to help with seating, since they had not expected such a rush. We were still irritated by the time our food arrived, which made it difficult to enjoy the meal. Why didn’t we walk out? I had heard good things about the food and really wanted to taste it. Dave had the Classic Reuben; it came with corned beef, melted Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing on rye bread. I had Apricot Chicken Salad on Toasted Ciabatta; this was homemade apricot chicken salad, with mixed field greens and tomatoes. The sandwiches were very good, as were the fries. The food almost made up for the long wait. We both enjoyed our lunches and would go back, again. Prices were reasonable.

The City of Fort Worth has sprawled in all directions, having a rather lace-like quality to its
Fort Worth skyline
eastern boundary. Although you may believe that you are in Keller, Watauga, Haslet, Saginaw or some other small town, you’re actually in Fort Worth. And that’s why this entry is included in this blog: we were in Fort Worth and didn’t know it.

Four carrots, but only for the food!
Tom + Chee (#137, 8901 Tehama Ridge Pkwy, Fort Worth, TX 76177, 817-847-7635) is all the things I don’t like in an eatery. The menu is on the wall, you order at the counter, you 
Top L to R: Menu, Crunchy BBQ sandwich
Bottom L to R: Drink, Build Your Own sandwich
have to seat yourself, it’s loud, and it’s a chain. So why did I actively go looking for this place to introduce it to Dave? Because the food is very good. You can Build Your Own Grilled Cheese sandwich (or half sandwich) and that’s just what I did. Mine was gouda and goat cheese on wheatberry bread with sautéed mushrooms and basil pesto. The bread was buttery and toasty, the cheeses nicely melted, there were plenty of mushrooms, and the pesto was just the tang it all needed. I asked for a fork to scoop up the melted cheese and mushrooms that dripped out. The half-sandwich is plenty, but you can also get tomato soup and/or dessert. Dave had the BBQ + Bacon Crunchy Grilled Cheese. It had barbecue potato chips, bacon, and American cheese on white bread. We both got soft drinks and were able to refill them a couple of times before we left. We spent about $15. This group prepares amazingly good sandwiches. Happily, you can order online and pick up in the store – I wish it was closer to my house!

Spores on the underside of a leaf

©2016 NearNormal Design and Production Studio - All rights including copyright of photographs and designs, as well as intellectual rights are reserved.