Weekend Adventures: Pedernales Falls State Park

I haven’t gone on a photography walk since Christmas. But last weekend, I had the entirety of Saturday unscheduled and a desire to be out and about. So I texted my friend Savanni (whose photography skills are excellent) about going somewhere nearby for a good, long walk, accompanied by cameras. I has a specific itch to go somewhere with water, so we headed out to Johnson City, home to Pedernales Falls State Park.

We met up midmorning, and headed out on 290. Despite some traffic in Dripping Springs, we made it out unscathed, and spent nearly three hours climbing rocks and taking pictures. The water levels were low, of course, but that made for lots of good exploring. (Pedernales Falls is known for flash floods, and while Savanni and I would both like to see that one day, we would also like to observe it from a safe distance.)

While we were walking, I realized how long it had been since I’d spent extended time exploring the outdoors. I was at the beach in July, and since then I’ve pretty much been city-bound. And while I adore Austin, I didn’t realize just how much I’d been missing nature until I was immersed in it.

We had a perfect afternoon: climbing, walking, photographing, conversing. I ended up with a bit of sunburn (it’s autumn, but the sun here hasn’t lost intensity yet), and my calves are still sore, but it was all worth it to get outside, walk around, and enjoy Texas.

I like lens flares. So sue me.

We finished off our afternoon with a late lunch at Torchy’s, which officially solidified the day’s greatness.

Somebody snarked at us for taking photos of this rusted-out plumbing accessory. Haters gonna hate.

I’m also seriously considering investing in a Texas State Parks Pass. I would need to make one solo state park visit a month for it to pay for itself, and since I usually go to parks with at least one person, it would get cost-effective pretty quickly. Especially with the camping fee discount.

Weekend Adventures Part 2: Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival

Printed on the side of the tortilla chip boxes. I don’t know. I just liked it.

Last year, it was 112 degrees on the day of the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival; on top of that, there was still one more day for ArmadilloCon. While the festival has been a must-attend for Jon and me ever since we lived here, between the weather and the conflict, we decided to skip out. This year, the con and the festival were on separate weekends, and the weather was much more temperate (it even rained a little bit!). And I’m glad we went, because there were some delicious new things.


We started out in the tasting lines for the sauces entered in the competition. We hit the specialty sauces first, and tasted some amazing creations, from great habanero sauces, to those made with citrus or curry or cucumber, to one that included shrimp!

Shrimp salsa! Who would have thought?

But our favorite by far was from a newcomer to the festival this year: the Cajun Garlic Essence sauce from Jac’s Tailgaters, based out of Louisiana.


After tasting all the specialty sauces, we moved on to the green sauce section. Halfway through, we decided we were done with the long, slow lines, so decided to hit up the hot sauce vendors who were offering samples. And, of course, let people take our money in exchange for delicious hot sauce.

We ended up buying condiments from five different companies (in order of appearance on our festival meanderings):

High Octane Sauce Company

  • Rice Burner Sweet and Spicy Asian Sauce (I didn’t sample this, but Jon assures me that I’m going to love it)

Cin Chili

  • Cindy’s Cin-namon Apple BBQ Sauce (delightfully sweet and savory)
  • Hell’s Passion Hot Sauce (reminds me of my former favorite, Scorned Woman, before they changed their recipe for the worse)
  • Triple-C Steak Sauce (I don’t remember the last time I bought steak sauce, as I don’t really eat steak, but this was too delicious to pass up)

Austin Slow Burn

  • Habanero-Rosemary Jelly (I’m a big fan of their Habanero-Cranberry Jelly as well, but we decided to purchase the new flavor this year)

Jac’s Tailgaters 

  • Cajun Garlic Essence (I will reiterate: the best sauce entered in the competition)
  • Bayou Gold Chipotle Mustard Sauce (because I am a mustard addict)
  • Cajun Lightning Hot Sauce (I think it’s new, because it’s not on their website; it cost $3 more than the rest of the sauces, but was well worth the price)

Thai Gourmet

  • Thai Cumber Salsa, medium heat, with Thai peppers (Our first choice was the high heat with habaneros, but they were sold out; this was the next best thing, and still very delicious)
  • Massamun Curry Sauce (I can’t wait to cook with this!)

After over three hours of standing in the sun and sampling sauce, we came away with enough to last us at least six months (probably; we’re hot sauce addicts). And, at the end of all that, what was the natural choice? A trip to Amy’s Ice Cream, to chill out. The perfect ending to a perfect afternoon.

Guinness ice cream with Heath bar crumbles mixed in. Delicious.

Weekend Adventures, Part 1: Blue Willow Books

On Saturday, my friend Shubh and I drove to Houston to attend the kickoff Texas Poetry Calendar reading at Blue Willow Books. I had even more fun this year than I did last year, primarily because I knew so many people this year; in fact, last year’s Blue Willow reading was my major initiation into the Texas poetry community, and was the catalyst for many new friendships, with poets both in Austin and in other cities.

It’s fun to be one of the guests of honor.

Dos Gatos press editor Scott Wiggerman served as your emcee, and he ran a smooth event. There were twenty-one poets, and he still managed to keep the reading within the scheduled timeframe (this, I have noticed, is harder than it looks). Because we had so many poets in attendance, we only got to read two pieces: the poem we had in the calendar, and one other piece. Even though each poet only had a few minutes of time, it still gave me the chance to appreciate everyone there.

Of course, the real fun came when we arrived in Houston and I realized I’d forgotten the folio where I keep all of my poems. It was still sitting on my bed,  back in Austin. Of course, I had easy access to my calendar poem, so that wasn’t an issue. But, of course, there was still the issue of my second poem.

Now, while I don’t hold it against anyone who reads a poem off of their smartphone (folders get forgotten, notebooks get lost, things happen), I personally don’t care for the aesthetic of reading directly off of a small screen like that. Of course, my phone was pretty much the only access I had to my poems, otherwise situated 200 miles away. But thanks to the power of Dropbox, I managed to pull up a shorter poem that I had mostly memorized, get the middle portion square in my mind, and perform without the assistance of my device. Crisis averted!

After a wonderful 90 minutes of poetry, we had time to browse the shop, and then a group of us went to dinner at Carmelo’s, which I contend is the only worthwhile Italian restaurant in the entire state of Texas (there are many things I love about living here; the Italian cuisine leaves something to be desired). Dinner lasted even longer than the reading did, as we shared wonderful discussions about poetry, along with great food.

As much as I love the ravioli at Carmelo’s, the black truffle cream sauce on the capellini was calling to me.
Possibly the best salad ever.

As with any other poetry reading, when Shubh and I headed back to Austin, I was feeling inspired (this time even more so because of the great dinner and conversation afterward). I have ideas for new poems, and am returning to the idea I had earlier this summer, to create a feminist poetry festival in Austin (the amount of work is intimidating, but this idea can’t be shaken). We had a lovely drive home, and I couldn’t wait to get to work on Sunday.

Now I need to prepare to be the featured poet at the Kick Butt Coffee Poetry Open Mic in September (more on that later). My goal is to have the poems in my 30-minute set memorized….so I’d better get to work!

Weekend Adventures: Galveston Island

This is what convertibles were made for: waking up early and heading out with a friend to get possibly the best bagels in the entire state of Texas from Hot Bagels in Houston. And then putting the top town, heading out on I-45 South, and driving to Galveston. And as you’re heading down the highway, knowing you’re probably already getting too much sun even though it’s only 8:30 a.m., but accepting that this is a fact of living in Texas, and deciding it’s worth it to drive down with the wind blowing all around you.

I spent most of the morning fiddling around with the different settings on my camera, which is why this is overexposed. However, I like it anyway.

Sunday was my first time in Galveston, and also my first time on a Texas beach. I’d seen the Gulf of Mexico from Florida, but was looking forward to see some of my state’s coast for once.

We hung around the seawall and spent the morning relaxing, alternating between the water and the sand. The waves were small at first,  but they started to pick up, and I had a ton of fun playing in them. There were also schools of fish that kept swimming by and jumping out of the water, as though just daring the gulls to try to eat them.

When the sun started getting intense, we headed out to get some food. Being on the coast made me want oysters, so we ended up at The Spot, where I indulged my whim and ate a full dozen oysters. Which I realize is not the most well-balance meal ever, but it was delicious, and exactly what I wanted.

The perfect lunch

Finally, it was time to head on back. Meaning more time driving my wonderful car, listening to good music, and enjoying the wind. And winding up with quite the sunburn, despite liberal applications of sunscreen. Welcome to summer in Texas.

Weekend Adventures: Deep Eddy

(Note: In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve changed the focus of my Weekend Adventures posts. Rather than giving a rundown of everything I did, I’m focusing on one or two specific places I visited. They might be new, or they might be a revisit to somewhere I love, but right now I’m more interested in exploration and travel, even if I’m staying local.)

This past Saturday, my friend Carly and I went swimming at Deep Eddy. Carly is leaving Texas soon to take an amazing teaching job at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and while I’m thrilled for her, I’m going to miss her so much. She was one of my first enduring Texas friendships. So any time I get to spend with her this summer is especially important.

While I’ve been to Barton Springs fairly often (last year, when I worked in the ’04, I even had a season pass), and have been swimming at Lake Travis several times as well, I’d never been to Deep Eddy. But I’m glad we chose to swim there. Although the parking is just as frustrating as any other Austin hot spot, it was otherwise a smaller, more laid-back vibe than Barton Springs. As much as I enjoy Barton, it gets incredibly crowded on summer weekends, and Deep Eddy drew a smaller crowd. Plus, it’s exciting to say that I got to swim in one of the oldest (if not the oldest) public pool in Texas.

We sat under this tree. The sun shining through the branches was pretty much the photogenic highlight of my day.

Carly and I spent the afternoon just hanging out and talking. The sun was out, the water was cool, and the air wasn’t even all that hot. Though you can tell I’ve gotten very used to Texas when I describe mid-90s as “not that hot.” I don’t know what my Ohio self would make of me.

Deep Eddy is definitely a place I plan to visit again. It’s charming, laid-back, and relaxing. I need more summer afternoons like this one.

Weekend Adventures: McKinney Falls

A long weekend is perfect for exploring. This past Friday, I celebrated four whole years of living in Austin. On Sunday, I realized that, despite having lived here for four years, I have not once spent time at McKinney Falls, which is a lovely hiking/camping/swimming destination just a few miles away from the airport. So armed with a camera, a traveling companion, and a bottle of water, the adventure commenced!

When I say that I don’t like flowers, I mean that I don’t like flowers slowly dying in vases while attempting to symbolize affection. I very much enjoy wildflowers growing in their natural environment.

Most of the trip was spent on a hiking trail, trying to avoid poison ivy (I was not 100% successful in this endeavor). I also fell in the river, which was nice for the heat, but not so nice because I reeked of algae all afternoon. Also, thank goodness for waterproof camera bags!

There are turtles in this photograph! I swear! *sigh* I need a better lens…

After dealing with the chronic dryness of last summer, it was refreshing just to sit and listen to the water. We’ve had some decent rain in Austin this spring, and I wouldn’t mind a little more before summer hits us hard, but the chances for that are quickly passing us by. Let’s just hope this summer isn’t quite as intense as the last one. As much as I adore living in hot, dry climates, I do have an affection for water.

Weekend Adventures: Photos from Enchanted Rock

This Saturday, a friend and I headed out on 290-W for a sojourn to Enchanted Rock. The last time I went out there was in August of 2010, and I ended up with heat exhaustion, so it was nice to be able to get out in cooler weather and see more of the park. We climbed the rock, wandered through a gully, got lost, and then found ourselves again. It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon, and I got some great pictures.

Weekend Adventures: Round Top Edition

My birthday was in April, but I got to enjoy the last of my gifts this past weekend. My gift from Jon this year was a trip to Poetry at Round Top, spending three days in rural Texas with people who are in love with poetry.

I left work on Friday afternoon, and thankfully, it was a beautiful afternoon. I drove with the top down on my car, while playing All Hail West Texas on repeat. (Yes, I was actually traveling east, but I still find it essential listening whenever I’m spending a considerable amount of time on 290, no matter what direction.) I arrived with some time to spare before the evening readings, so I took half an hour to wander around the campus and take pictures.

When I walked into the concert hall for the readings, I was blown away by the presence of Pattiann Rogers and Ed Madden, who were featured that night. From that point on, I spent the weekend constantly in awe of the amazing writers attending the festival with me. And because nothing inspires me more than attending readings, I was drafting new pieces whenever I got a spare moment. As soon as the Friday night readings let out, I dashed to my room and jotted down a rough draft before heading out to the late night Round Top Scholars reading. The whole weekend cycled between listening and writing; it was non-stop creativity.

All of the readings were amazing. All of the presentations were enlightening. It’s hard to pick a favorite moment. Cyrus Cassells’s reading brought me to tears. Reginald Gibbons gave me a lot to think about during the poet-to-poet interview. Naomi Shihab Nye stole the show with the amazing musical accompaniment to her piece. There wasn’t a moment where I wasn’t being inspired.

One of my favorite moments was crossing paths with Joseph Campana, who taught in the English department at Kenyon College when I was a student there (he’s now at Rice University in Houston). I never had a class with him, but being a small school, Kenyon students and faculty had plenty of occasions to interact outside of the classroom, and we remembered each other. His new collection, Natural Selections, is based on his experiences in Gambier, and as I flip through it, I’m filled with memories.

On Sunday morning, Walt Whitman interpreter Bruce Noll hosted the Remembrance & Celebration for writers who have died in the last year. It was very moving for all involved to come together as a community to share our love for those of us who have passed on.

When the Sunday open mic ended in the early afternoon, I was loathe to leave. I’d made new friends (both from Austin and other cities), I was brimming with new ideas and constantly drafting lines in my notebook and in my brain, and didn’t want to leave such a beautiful place with so many wonderful people. But I have photographs, new books, new poems, and new friends. Plus, I have next year to look forward to, and I can’t wait until 2013. I’ll definitely be there. And with the event falling so close to my birthday, Jon is lucky, because he never has to come up with an original birthday gift for me again.

Weekend Adventures

Another weekend of rest and relaxation — and a little gluttony on the side. Jon got a nice bonus at work on Friday, so we were rather indulgent, food-wise.

On Friday night, after errands, we went to Threadgill’s. It’s the ultimate place for heavy, fried Southern food. I don’t think there’s a healthy thing on the menu. We started with an order of fried green tomatoes (my all-time favorite Southern food), and then I followed up with chicken fried steak, macaroni and cheese, and cole slaw.

There were leftovers for lunch on Monday.

After dinner, we stopped at Half Price Books, and then went home and had a chill evening. Jon was starting the first Saturday shift of his new schedule and had to get up at 5:45 in the morning, so we turned in a little early.

While Jon was at work on Saturday, I got up and went to Torchy’s. I don’t usually go without Jon, but it was my last chance to get the Ace of Spades taco until 2013, and I couldn’t miss out. While there, I finished Sandra Cisneros’s Loose Woman, which is one of the best poetry collections I have read this year. With the rest of the morning to myself, I mostly worked on poetry, and resumed work on my math lessons after slacking for a solid month.

In the afternoon, I went to a dance lesson, and then Taletha and I worked on some planning for Austin Rocks, the swing dance event she’s putting on in October. Then at 4, I was off to Round Rock for Iliana’s birthday. I can’t believe how fast the year has gone by! I know everyone says that about babies, but seriously. I swear it was like two months ago that I was holding her, and she weighed 5 pounds. Now she’s walking. There was some sadness, of course. I can’t stop thinking about how unfair it was that Reesa didn’t even get to see her daughter celebrate her first birthday. But all in all, it was a happy day.

The birthday girl enjoys her cake!

After getting back from the party, we took Maxwell for a late walk and hung around the house for a bit until it was time to go to the Geeks Who Drink pub quiz at Opal Divine’s Marina. This week, we dared to sit out on the patio so Maxwell could tag along. He was mostly well-behaved, and generated quite a fan club among the other patrons, but he’s a high-energy dog, and keeping him calm was a little exhausting. We’ll probably bring him again, but not every single week. Maybe after a little more training.

Best mascot ever!!

Our team took fourth place. Not too shabby! Not good enough to get a discount on our bar tab, but also nothing to sneeze at. I’m pretty much always content with placing in the top ten. Also, everyone on our team except for Jon was from Ohio. And Jon sort of counts because he went to college in Ohio. How cool is that? Go Bucks!

Team So's Your Face, in shadow.

On Sunday, I slept late. Really late. I mean, I needed it, and I felt great, but I so rarely sleep in that it’s always a weird experience. After Maxwell got his morning constitutional, Jon and I were off to Perla’s to have our real celebration of his bonus. It’s definitely not an everyday restaurant for us, and therefore it was perfect for celebrating our windfall.

Oysters on the half shell.

And we were indulgent, indeed. We ordered oyster shooters, followed by the best Bloody Marys in town (Perla’s is the only place where I will choose a vodka-based drink over a mimosa or something made with gin). And of course, there were oysters on the half shell. And after our entrees, there were more oysters for dessert.

Jon, with the spoils of victory (a.k.a crab cakes).

After the best brunch ever, we got home just in time for me to chill out for a bit before heading out to the Kin Cities literary reading at BookWoman. The Kin Cities series is a joint venture between Austin and San Antonio. The readings, held three times a year, are hosting in alternating cities, with poets from both in attendance. I had a great time listening to everyone, and, as I always do, came away inspired.

Once the reading was over, I was pretty much done being social for the weekend. Jon and I made a grocery run, and then hung out for the rest of the night. And watched Mad Men, of course. The perfect ending to a perfect weekend…well, at least until Breaking Bad comes back on the air.

Weekend Adventures

The past four weekends were intense. I had Reesa’s memorial service the last weekend of February. The weekend after that was my friend Amanda’s bachelorette party. The weekend after that was Amanda and John’s wedding. And finally, I rounded off four weeks of business with a dance competition in Houston.

Throw in a sick dog last week (he’s doing much better now, thankfully), and by last Friday, I was exhausted. I didn’t want to do anything but relax. I was determined not to do anything all weekend. And I didn’t. Well, at least not by my standards.

By the time Friday evening rolled around, Jon and I were both completely sleep deprived. I had a dance lesson, and then after that, we just hung around the house. I made macaroni and cheese, and then we pretty much just relaxed. We watched Fringe, I worked on poetry, and we went to bed fairly early for once.

On Saturday, I got up and drove to South Austin to go hiking with my friend Melanie and her pug, Lux. Maxwell was supposed to join us, but he still wasn’t 100%. Since he already has social anxiety around other dogs thanks to whatever abuses he faced in his puppyhood, I decided it was best if he stayed home. But I still had fun with Lux, and Melanie and I had a good, long chat. I even remembered my good camera…except discovered too late that I had forgotten to put my memory card in it.

Sculpture Falls, with my cell phone camera. Sorry
Lux is my favorite pug.

After getting back from my hike, I worked on poetry for a bit, and then Jon and I went to Torchy’s. Because it’s not the weekend without tacos. After a grocery run, we spent the rest of the day just chilling out. I worked on poetry and some short stories. Jon worked on music. After dinner, we watched season two of Daria pretty much in one sitting, with a quick break to feed my friend Jerry’s dog. It was the most boring Saturday night I’ve had in a while, and I very much enjoyed it.

On Sunday, I walked Max, and Jon made sweet potato hash for breakfast. After some lazing around the house, we got up, put on some classy clothes, and went to the park. The photos on Jon’s website are from when we first moved to Austin, and his look has changed a bit since then. And I could always use more nice photos of myself. First, we visited the park in our neighborhood, and then we drove down to the creek. To our surprise, Max actually seemed to enjoy the water. Considering his aversion to baths, this was a pleasant surprise.

Jon and Maxwell, looking sharp!
Maxwell getting his bark on.
Jon wanted to know how I managed to hold this pose the entire way down the slide.

After our jaunt, we headed home, where I got even more writing done. (All in all, it was a very creative weekend.) Finally, we topped it off with a visit from our friend Terri, who joined us for the season premiere of Mad Men. I thought it was an excellent episode, and I’m looking forward to seeing what unfolds.

It was nice to spend a weekend mostly at home for once, getting to recharge my batteries. I woke up this morning feeling energized and ready to start my week. I’ve already kicked it off with a poetry acceptance, so it’s definitely off to a good beginning!