My Hindu Wedding Adventure

Photo Hindu Wedding

My henna dried to a rich reddish brown color; beautiful!

Take my advice: If you are ever invited to a Hindu wedding, accept the invitation immediately. And if it’s in Portland, Oregon, plan to spend a week there.

My sister-in-law and brother-in-law are famous for their event planning, which usually includes a weeklong celebration for a family event. Lucky for us, it’s been in cities that we’ve yet to visit. Our latest family adventure was in Portland, Oregon for my niece’s wedding to a lovely young man of Sri Lankan descent.

The Haldi Ceremony

We are honored to be invited to the lovely home of the groom’s parents and observe this important pre-wedding event. On arrival, we remove our shoes and place them with the more than 50 other pairs on the floor of their grand entrance. The living room furniture has been removed and the wood floor is covered with colorful quilts. The parents and siblings of the bride and groom all take part in an elaborate ceremony conducted by a Hindu priest.

We learn that “haldi” is the Hindi word for turmeric. The women of the family had prepared a special paste of turmeric and herbs. The groom is led to a chair in the middle of the room and one by one, family and friends apply the paste to the groom’s skin. The older relatives lovingly pat on the cream while the younger family members jokingly smear it all over him. Its purpose is to cleanse body and soul. I am also told that because of its antibacterial properties, the groom has just received the equivalent of a $200 facial.

A delicious catered lunch follows and though I am usually a fussy eater, I enjoy every bite of the Indian specialties, along with the interesting conversations with friends and family from as far away as Sri Lanka and England. We thank our hosts and bid our new friends goodbye until the evening’s festivities.

The Sangeet Ceremony

I am here early in order to be first in line to receive a henna application from one of the two artists in attendance. The 300 plus guests have not yet arrived, so Carmen and I have time to chat. She tells me how she became a henna artist and that she mixes her own paste using lavender, known for its calming scent.

The DJ quickly gets the crowd on its feet by handing out colorful sticks and lining us up in a series of long lines facing each other. The Bollywood music starts and we learn a dance, tapping sticks with the person across from us before we move to the left, skip one person and continue.

The “Sangeet” is a celebration of the wedding to come in order to relish in the happiness and joy surrounding the bride and groom and join the two families together. We delight in watching the dance routines performed by family and friends in honor of the special couple and tasting the Indian street food that is served.

The Baraat

We are up early, standing outside the hotel where today’s festivities will take place. In a few minutes, the groom will arrive on a white horse. In times gone by, the groom’s wedding procession would travel to the bride’s village accompanied by friends and family. Today, led by a drummer and taped music, we all dance and sing as we escort him around the block. The look on the faces of the people in the coffee shop as we pass is priceless.

The Hindu Wedding

In the ballroom, a canopy of flowing sheer fabric and pastel flowers sits above elaborate gold gilded chairs. In the center are the items that the two Hindu priests will utilize for the ceremony. On each guest’s chair, is a detailed explanation of what will take place (which we are very grateful for), along with a small, brightly wrapped package containing a homemade cake. It will go well with the hot and cold beverages served. The event is a fusion of colorful saris worn by many of the guests.

The groom looks resplendent in his turban and matching gold and ruby red embroidered sherwani, a long, fitted coat. Only the bride can top this and she does. Her regal lehenga, an elaborately embroidered red and gold, two-piece skirt and top with a sheer sash is magnificent. The intricate henna designs on her feet and hands, the red “bindi” (a dot on her forehead), and the many bracelets that dangle up her arms have transformed my niece into a Hindu princess.

I am transfixed by the many lovely rituals that are performed; the look on the groom’s face when he sees his bride for the first time, hidden at first behind a white cloth; the flower garlands the bride and groom place on each other to proclaim acceptance of each other; the tying together of their scarves to signify their unity; the seven steps that they take together around the sacred fire, each representing marriage promises to each other.

As sacred fires sometimes do, its smoke triggers the hotel smoke alarm. The shrieking sound does nothing to deter the ceremony and the happy couple are gifted with photos of the firemen as part of their wedding album. A lovely lunch of Indian delights follows in a number of beautifully appointed rooms. We make our way back to our hotel and rest up for the next event.

The Western Wedding.

We’ve all changed into yet another outfit and we now congregate in a flower festooned room complete with soft music serenading us. The bridesmaids have changed from their saris to cocktail dresses and the groomsmen are now in suits and ties, rather than their sherwanis. The groom is dashing in his suit and bow tie and, once again, the bride steals the show in her elegant lace, blush colored gown and simple flower holding up her long hair on one side.

The Maid of Honor acts as the celebrant and enhances the ceremony with personal tidbits about the bride and groom, as only a friend can do. At one point, she catches us off guard by reminding us that this year marked the 50thanniversary of the landmark civil rights decision by the Supreme Court to invalidate laws prohibiting interracial marriage; a reminder that sparks emotion on this special day. The bride and groom’s vows give us a peek into their relationship, their promises to each other sweetly declared for all to hear.

We are ushered downstairs to another beautiful room for cocktails and hors d’ oeuvres, then later, we travel upstairs to a spectacular ballroom for dinner and dancing. In between, family and friends of the bride and groom welcome us, toast and even sing to the bride and groom. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law are tonight’s hosts. They were an integral part of every event and I marvel at how they both glowed, maneuvering through fabulous wardrobe changes and protocols as if they were experts. We dance the night away and make sure we hug all our new friends as the evening comes to a close.

The henna has since faded, but the coming together of two families and two cultures in the spirit of love will long be remembered.

 

 

 

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Thanks Austin, for Inviting me to South by Southwest

Photo SXSW

I still can’t believe that NASA forgot to mention to me that this space telescope would be at the 2017 SXSW.

How can we live in Austin and not experience South by Southwest? I fall asleep doing some positive thinking as to how that might happen. The very next morning, a new pal texts me with a link to free events and says to be sure not to miss them!

South by Southwest (SXSW) is a yearly event held every March in Austin, Texas. It is known for its music and film festivals and conferences that focus on what’s next in music, film, culture and technology. People travel here from all-around the world and proudly wear the badges around their neck that they have paid anywhere from $825 to $1250 for.

As if the city isn’t already alive on any given day, during SXSW the excitement elevates. Pop-up events are held all over the city, then gone the next day, only to appear at a new location. Music is playing everywhere, there is a great vibe on the streets and you never know what experience awaits you around each corner.

JC* is always up for an adventure, so Mr. Wiz* and I invite her along. We are glad we get an early start because there is a lot out there for us to explore:

  • A young man dressed in an authentic sailing outfit from 1845 invites us to view a premiere of the new AMC show The Terror. As we enter the shipping container and seat ourselves in a boat, I am wondering what good could come from a ship called the HMS Terror.
    All of a sudden, it’s dark and the screens all-around us feature excerpts of the thrilling story of a British Royal Naval expedition in search of the Northwest Passage. If the sounds and sights don’t make us feel as if we are really there, the cold air blowing and the snow falling down on us really does!
  • Feeling like we are in need of a respite, we opt to visit the Yonomi Townhouse next. There is nothing like touring a smart home and learning about all the gadgets that can make our lives easier or just more bizarre (a light show in your living room?!) after visiting their complimentary open bar.
  • The sounds of a DJ lead us to our next stop. We are invited to have a MAC makeup artist touch us up, then head onto lavish photo sets decorated like a private jet and a yacht and told to pose as if we are high-rolling imposters, just like the new Bravo show The Imposters.

We can’t stop now; we’re feeling very trendy, so we’re off to the Wellness Expo:

  • I won’t lie to you, I am very fussy about food and politely decline anything that is being offered. Touted as scientifically modulated, energy healing, fueling body, mind and spirit and clean eating, I wonder why the samples are all mostly khaki green in color.
  • Though we could not convince Mr. Wiz* to enter the PeaceBox with us, JC and I did share the experience. We first choose from one of eight temporary tattoos called “Mindful Marks.” These are placed on us (arm or hand) as a reminder of our meditation intention. I must say, it really brought out the latent rebellious streak in me. I wore it proudly, missed it when it washed away a few days later and wondered deep down inside if I actually might be a candidate for a tattoo.
    Oy vey, not another shipping container! This time though, we are promised that this one is actually a studio that teaches meditation and mindfulness techniques. Once the headphones are placed on our ears, we close our eyes and relax. After 15 minutes, we rejoin the world feeling totally renewed.
  • We finish the day with a visit to Bulletproof, a cutting-edge food and beverage company. The oxygen bar is a new experience. It is said to remove toxins from the body and strengthen the immune system. If nothing else, it makes me feel energized and invigorated, which I now blame for my decision to try the Vibe Plate.
    Signing the release should have been the hint that I needed that this was not your grandmother’s way to increase blood flow. The last thing I hear as I step on to a large square of metal is “…If you experience dizziness, just bend your knees…” The on button is triggered and it activates “my natural reflexive response to vibrations 25 to 50 times per second.” Knees bent, I signal for an immediate stop to “the engagement of my muscles in a consistent and controlled manner.”

I can only attribute my heightened state of light headedness for accepting the sample of coffee with butter that is handed to me next. I don’t even drink coffee and am not sure that anyone has the right to drink butter, so I’m still perplexed as to how it all happened.

Deciding it best to call it a day and end our SXSW adventure, I stroll away with visions of the new edgier version of myself dancing in my still woozy head. It is the shouts from Mr. Wiz and JC that bring me back to reality. And remind me that I am walking the wrong way home.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

They Don’t Supersize in Spain (And Other Extra-Large Observations)

Photo Spain

I am a Hispanophile. I have a strong affinity for Spain and all things Spanish. It is not only part of my heritage, but it’s also become my fascination.

When I visit, it always takes me a few days to fall back into the rhythm of the culture. There is a lovely, peaceful feeling there of having all the time in the world. Life has an elegance to it.

Food is considered something to be savored, rather than supersized. Meals are served in small courses, always with dessert. “Tapas” (Spanish for “hors d’ oeuvres”) are typically not large servings either. This offers a way to taste, but not to overdue (unlike the U.S., obesity is not a national problem there).

Nothing is ever eaten on the run. I’ve been mesmerized watching just how slowly a Spaniard can actually sip an espresso style coffee, making it last while reading an entire newspaper. You never see anyone running down the street with a to-go container in hand (are they even an option)?

Each meal is a gastronomic experience and if it seems as if Spaniards are eating and drinking all day and all night, that’s because they are. Here is a typical daily meal schedule:

Breakfast: Coffee and bread or pastry
Midmorning: Coffee and a quick bite.
2-3:30 p.m.:  Lunch is the main meal of the day. Most head home to eat during the
workweek; a nap (siesta) is optional.
Early Evening: A drink and/or tapas.
9:30-10 p.m.: Dinner is served (begins even later on weekends).
After Dinner: Nightcap anyone?

One evening, while enjoying cocktails at an outside cafe, I noticed a large family congregating. As each new member joined the group and received a kiss on each cheek, the circle was made larger to accommodate the newest arrival and the conversation didn’t miss a beat. The children played quietly next to the circle. You could sense the level of respect shown to the older family members, as everyone leaned over to hear what those wise sages were speaking about. When we passed by after dinner at midnight, the group was still there, now inside at a table, and did not look like they were heading home any time soon. This all took place on a weeknight, which made me wonder: doesn’t anyone around here have to go to work tomorrow?

I was told by a Spanish friend that what I had viewed was called a “sobremesa” (Spanish for “chatting over the remains of the meal”) and can sometimes last for hours. Spaniards tend to work to live (rather than live to work) and are very respectful of both their work time and their leisure time. Vacations are taken and time off is enjoyed.

In times past, townspeople would ride their horse and carriages up and down the main thoroughfare to see and be seen. The tradition continues today with the “paseo” (Spanish for “a leisurely stroll on a public walkway or boulevard”). It’s a lovely ritual, as people of all ages promenade and meet up with friends and family, stop for a drink, tapas or a sweet and chat. The plaza in each town’s center also brings people together and the impromptu live music creates a celebratory feeling.

There is an unspoken dress code that does not include sweatsuits or sneakers. You can’t help but notice that every man, woman and child is smartly dressed, donning a stylishly tied scarf (very European chic). Even the style of the baby carriages are impressive, as they chauffeur their well-dressed passengers around, all decked out in their little leather shoes that match their outfits and hats.

It was while walking the Camino that I had the chance to glimpse into the daily rhythm of Spain’s smaller towns (the tiniest with a population of 18). The contentment shared by the townspeople made me question if maybe less is more. I began to learn to appreciate the abundance of simplicity, a concept that I hope to never forget.

Each time I say goodbye to Spain, I promise myself that I will try to incorporate another part of their lifestyle into my own and create my own version of the best of my both worlds.

 

 

 

 

 

Hawaii: Party Like a Millennial

Photo Hawaii

You’ve got to love those millennials. They work hard and they play hard. They are fiercely loyal to family and friends. I’m not sure when they actually sleep, but they always look as if they have just walked out of the pages of a trendy fashion magazine, with not a hair out of place. They have an air of confidence about them and are sometimes blamed for being a bit too self-absorbed. Given the fact that they are the first generation to have so much technology at their fingertips, they are not entirely to blame.

According to Forbes Magazine “…No generation has been as publicly reviled, praised, misunderstood and analyzed as the millennials. And, with good reason. By 2025, millennials (also known as Gen Y or those born in the 80s and 90s), will make up the majority of the workforce…”

Having a millennial for a son and getting to know his wonderful group of friends so well, I feel as if I can speak with knowledge and can safely say that they are a powerful force to reckon with and that I would like to be a millennial when I grow up.

So, it was with much excitement and delight that we (Mr. Wiz*, JC* and I) accepted the invitation to join Big A*, his best friend, Casey and his wife, Hannah, on a trip to Hawaii. The trip would coincide with the Maui Invitational, a basketball tournament in which their alma mater, Marquette University, would be participating. As luck would have it, Casey had lived in Hawaii for a time while growing up, so he would be our official tour guide.

I have to say that I felt flattered that they would want to include us on their adventure. But, then again, JC (aka Nanny and affectionately renamed Nene during this trip after the state bird, the Hawaiian goose) was the titleholder at the beer pong championships held during Marquette’s Family Weekend, back in 2011. Mr. Wiz and I were just riding along on her coattails.

Never having traveled together, we soon found that we were all on the same wave length and really enjoyed each other’s company. The six of us were a well-oiled machine, flying from island to island, making our daily plans and then heading out each day.

In Oahu (Honolulu), we strolled Kalakaua Avenue (Hawaii’s answer to New York’s upper Fifth Avenue) and stopped for a drink at the Moana Surfrider, the island’s elegant, historic hotel. As we listened to the live Hawaiian music, we watched the lovely dancer and the palm trees sway in unison. We toured Pearl Harbor and shed a tear for the lives lost that day. We left our hotel at 6 a.m. to hike Diamond Head and watch the sun rise. Nene opted to explore around the hotel instead and we teased her that she missed all of her favorite things: uneven terrain, plenty of steps and drizzle once we reached the top. Big A did all the driving in our rental car, Casey was the navigator and Hannah was the culinary consultant, making sure we did not miss any of her favorites. We shared in Casey’s excitement as he made sure we saw all the sites, including where he had lived and where he went to school. We jumped in the waves at his preferred beaches, ate at his favorite restaurants and gasped at the amazing views from the lookout points he liked the best.

Kauai is known as “the garden isle” and our hotel, the Kauai Marriott Resort, lived up to its expectations. The exquisite art and sculptures shared the peaceful harmony with the lush grounds and gardens. We fed the koi fish at their early morning feeding in the hotel’s pond. We toured the island by car and agreed with Casey that the charbroiled burgers at Dwayne’s were the best we’d ever had. After visiting the lighthouse and another of his favorite beaches, we strolled through the little town of Kapa’a. We snorkeled off a catamaran and were surprised to hear Capt. Jim thank Hannah over the loud speaker for reminding him to play the theme from Jurassic Park when we passed by its filming locations. There was not a peep from our fellow passengers when the captain asked if anyone could name the state fish of Hawaii. Big A enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame and won a T shirt when he was able to answer the question correctly and respond with humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa.

In Maui, while Nene and I stayed poolside (I actually broke my own record, making 12 consecutive trips down the big slide), the others were up early to attend the Marquette basketball games. Fortified with a breakfast of champions, POG Mimosas (passion fruit, orange and guava juices with Champagne), they cheered for their team, who ultimately came in third. We met more of their friends later at the Marquette luau.

On our last day, back in Oahu (Honolulu), we started our turkey less Thanksgiving with a bloody mary brunch, one last swim at the beautiful Lanakai Beach and a short drive to some last spots on Casey’s list.

I’m still not sure how we were able to keep up with the younger three of the group as they ate and imbibed their way through each day. Casey made sure that we tried all of his favorite Hawaiian specialties. I may have shied away from the Musubi (Spam sushi), but I eagerly ate the poke (seasoned raw ahi tuna), edamame (seasoned soybean pods), purple sweet potatoes, butter fish and pork. Casey made a special stop to make sure that we all tried one of Hannah’s favorites, Meat Jun, a thin, batter fried steak. At breakfast, I tasted the Loco Moco (rice, beef patty, eggs over easy, brown gravy and avocado) and feasted on macadamia nut pancakes and fried rice with eggs and Portuguese sausage.

Sometimes forgetting that lunch had already presented itself with a mai tai opportunity, it was Nene that would remind us each day that cocktail hour was approaching. Our biggest dilemma was where and when. We finally realized that we should be buying some wine in order to save on expenses, especially when most of the group were gathering around the fire pit for nightcaps each evening after dinner.

A group meeting was called one late morning before a flight to discuss what was to become of the two bottles of wine somehow leftover. While ideas ranged from pouring the contents into plastic water bottles, drawing straws and having the loser pack the wine and check their bag to just giving it away, Casey came up with a simple solution: let’s just drink it. We all stepped into action as Hannah, who, after asking for plastic cups each evening had a special relationship with the bar staff, ran for cups, Nene and I secured a lovely table with a view, Big A found us six chairs and Mr. Wiz retrieved the ever-present corkscrew from his shave kit. As luck would have it, we were three white wine and three red wine drinkers. We toasted to Casey and the fact that his MBA was important, not only to his career, but to his cognitive decision-making skills in the cocktail category. Nene slept all the way and said it was the fastest 45-minute flight she had ever experienced.

During this trip, we were introduced to some interesting millennial rituals. One night at dinner, we shared a novel experience called credit card roulette, whereby everyone at the table throws their credit cards into a bowl. Then, with lots of fanfare, the waitress picks out the cards one by one. The last one left pays for dinner.

Based on my personal observations, these bon vivants live fast and get all they can out of each day, only slowing down for social media updates. They are hard wired for this life and consider its pace natural. And while I need complete silence in order to concentrate, I know that we all share that same joie de vivre.

While we all wished we could just keep island hopping until our credit cards exploded, all good things must come to an end and our airline tickets dictated that it was back to reality for us all. As we said our goodbyes, I couldn’t help but smile to think that the only Gap that existed between our generations was that we would choose to shop in-store, while our three millennials would always purchase online.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Girls Only: Nashville

Photo Nashville

It was actually JC’s* Idea. Since Mr. Wiz* and Big A* would be totally absorbed in the Formula One Races in Austin for the weekend, she thought it would be a great idea to introduce my sister, Maria, and me to the Nashville she had fallen in love with on her first visit.

The capital of Tennessee, Nashville, seems to be changing its tune. Still known as the Country Music Capital and as Dolly Parton’s stomping ground, there’s now an energetic hum to the city.

It was one of seven U.S. cities to be chosen to begin a Google for Entrepreneurs Tech Hub Network. Innovative companies are finding its environs a less expensive, friendlier alternative. Foodies flock there in search of the next great new restaurant. New luxury hotels are springing up while historic buildings and neighborhoods are being revitalized. The city’s new slick sophistication remains in harmony with its long-standing southern charm and welcomes you with open arms.

We can’t wait to put on our cowboy boots and see the town, but it’s too early to check in to our hotel. We leave our luggage at the front desk and decide to reconnoiter in the lobby and plan our day. As we are chatting, we notice a well-dressed woman walk toward two of our suitcases, grab their handles and start walking out the front door of the hotel.

JC and Maria sprang to action! They jumped up and ran after the woman, who halted immediately when she heard Maria yell “…Hold it right there! …” There is something about a New York accent that means business. As little girls growing up in a suburb of New York City, we were trained to always be attentive to what was going on around us and to take care of ourselves. On our 18th birthday, our dad gave each of us Mace spray in the size of a lipstick container to carry in our handbags; an emotional right of passage that gave my dad great comfort in knowing that messing with his daughters would result in stinging eyes and being splashed with blue dye.

Apparently, I was the only one that noticed the well-dressed woman’s name tag. So, as the third member of this Keystone Cops comedy, I began running behind them to make sure that they did not tackle the hotel’s manager.

While it took us two days to be able to make eye contact with the hotel staff, our convulsive laughter set the tone for a great time together. Surprised, yet undaunted to find out that neither Maria nor I had any sense of direction (what other sisterly secrets would be revealed?)  JC took over the navigating and we were off.

We enjoyed a free outdoor big band concert at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. We were startled by the sweet-faced youth of Johnny Cash while he was stationed in Europe during World War II in a special exhibit of private photos shared by his family at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Germantown, originally established by European immigrants, has the same vibe as New York’s Greenwich Village and we still cannot decide which entrée was our favorite at Henrietta Red: the braised lamb with pole beans and polenta, the scallops with pistachios, beets, Granny Smith apples, kale and couscous or the cauliflower steak smothered with hazelnut, scallions, shitake mushrooms and nicoise olives.

According to JC, there were two things not to be missed while in Nashville: a mansion tour and an evening at the Grand Ole Opry and she surprised us by planning both. How President Andrew Jackson progressed from a 14-year old orphan to a man of so many accomplishments made his mansion, Hermitage, even more impressive. Though built around the same time, its décor was so much more modern than the Victorian design of the Belle Meade plantation. Known for its horse breeding, racing and deer farm, the original 5400-acre estate became a tourist attraction. So much so that on occasional Sunday mornings, the lady of the house would sneak out and post a hand written closed sign on the front gates for some needed peace and quiet. Touring the homes, then having the time to walk the grounds made the docents’ stories come alive.

It was a Tuesday night and there wasn’t an empty seat in the house at the Grand Ole Opry. A new band, Lanco, was introduced and we wondered how they felt playing for the first time on that famous stage. We tapped our feet and sang along with Trisha Yearwood and Kelsea Ballerini and were surprised to see all 4 foot 6 inches of special guest, Brenda Lee “strut her stuff” around the stage.

One of Nashville’s biggest draws are the country music honky-tonks on Broadway. While many cities have an area where bars and restaurants line the streets and the musicians play loudly on a stage, open to their patrons inside and to the street, Nashville does it with a style all their own. It’s more fun than seedy and everyone from families to seniors to bachelorette parties and every age group in between share in the revelry.

We seemed to be drawn to Nudie’s Honky Tonk daily. Named after Nudie Cohn, a famous clothing designer (think Elvis’ gold lame suit), the historic building houses many of the costumes Nudie designed, rare music memorabilia and Nudie’s $400,000 Cadillac El Dorado hanging from the wall. But, it was the music and the great bands that transfixed us. We danced and sang at night and then found ourselves back during the day. By the way, each time we’d arrive, JC was quickly led to the dance floor by another admirer!

Only in Nashville can you be sitting on a park bench one minute and then see Kenny Rogers ride right by you in a golf cart the next. We agreed that was a great way to end our visit. We chalked up our newfound feeling of relaxation and our mother/daughter/sister bonding to all that dancing and to singing “Sweet Home Alabama” multiple times together at the top of our lungs. Those southerners really know how to have a good time.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

Visiting Bryan/College Station: Trendy with a Texas Twang

Photo Bryan Coll Sta

I’m feeling a bit confused. I’m still not sure how I went from wishing for a place the four of us (Mr. Wiz*, Big A*, JC*and I) could go over the July Fourth holiday that was not in the $500 – $700 per night price range and landing at The Stella Hotel, a five star, Preferred Hotel with Frette sheets for a little over $100 a night. I think it was a combination of my positive thinking and JC’s suggestion that we take the lead from a recent Austin Monthly article and visit Bryan/College Station.

The home of Texas A&M University, over 66,000 students swell the city’s population during the school year. We wondered why these two neighboring cities were all of a sudden exploding with all types of development; why now? Apparently, social media had opened the doors to all of the campus sporting events and the general public accepted its invitation. Lucky for us, we were visiting offseason.

The Stella Hotel just opened in April and still smells new. The décor has that wow factor. The mixed use of materials, the textures and the interesting touches (saddle bags and iron I-beams mounted on the walls) all send out a sophisticated, yet edgy vibe. We were greeted by the sports jacket and jean clad staff who all had names like Parker and Morgan (no need to apply here if your name is Joe or Sue), who worked from their iPads, rather than standing behind the usual counter; very cool.

Outside was a man-made lake, two swimming pools, a golf course and a series of paths that led to a residential development of mega homes. The sprawling lawn was so welcoming, set up with assorted games, a fire pit, chairs and tables. Complimentary bicycles and paddle boards awaited our use at the front entrance.

JC acted as the official judge, as we filled our afternoons with pool races and seeing who could do the best hand stand in the water (some things never change). In preparation for the Scrabble championship (with a money prize to make it more interesting) and paddle board competition that I had planned, I tried to psych out Big A by boasting that I had trained on a paddle board while reading a dictionary. It didn’t work; he was the big winner of both contests.

In between, we visited the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and the Messina Hof Winery. Though the Campfire Restaurant at the hotel was in the running, we all agreed that our favorite dinner was at Christopher’s World Grille. The renovated historic home was rated one of the top 100 romantic restaurants in the U. S. by Trip Advisor. The next day, the fans and misters kept us cool as we listened to live music on the porch of the Hullabaloo Diner, a transplanted 1940s New York diner. As we waited for our table, we agreed that this was what Sundays were made for.

I’m not sure what Texas’ secret is; it could be the warm weather or everyone’s laid back style, but it has a way of reminding you to slow down. It gave our little family the chance to enjoy each others company and regroup. We all left feeling relaxed and pampered. I felt a bit more hip and happy to have another family adventure to tuck into my memory belt.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

Helping to Keep Austin Weird  

Photo Weird

I’m too excited to sleep. I blame you for this, Austin; you overstimulate me. You work hard to maintain your city’s official slogan “Keep Austin Weird” by tantalizing me with the bizarre, the off-beat, and you keep peaking my curiosity. And now that you have recently been named the best place to live in America by U.S. News and World Report, there will be no stopping you.

As I reflect on my first year of living here, it’s been a great ride, made up of interesting experiences that I am not sure could or would have happened anywhere else:

Central Market

On arrival, we need to get our bearings and Mr. Wiz* has a plan. Having visited a Central Market in Houston (shop at this gourmet marketplace on steroids, then dance to live music at night), he logically reasons that locating the Austin store will lead us to a great neighborhood, so he’ll ask at their information desk. Pointing out that the staff may be more prepared to locate a product by aisle than to relocate us, I decide to wait in the car. A few minutes later, I am surprised to see a woman in a cowboy hat and boots walk out of the store with Mr. Wiz and shake his hand. He had seen her on line at the information desk and perused her shopping cart. Noticing an excellent wine selection, he decided to ask her where we should live. He was not surprised at all that she enthusiastically lauded her neighborhood and pointed him in the direction of a new building. We signed a lease there two days later.

Pints and Poses

The Hyatt Hotel and I have accomplished the impossible; we got Mr. Wiz* to attend a monthly yoga class. Studies have proven that if you offer a guy a free beer, he will happily execute a downward dog pose, no questions asked. In the spirit of community (turns out that yoga and beer are great conversation starters), the hotel offers complimentary parking, a yoga class and a glass of craft beer.

Chicken S**t Bingo

The unassuming Little Longhorn Saloon is a tiny place that looks more like a church with a steeple than a bar. The band is loud, the beer is cold and the place is packed, both inside and out. It’s a Sunday afternoon and my family is still shocked that this was my birthday destination of choice. I explain to them that this is a famous venue and we’re going to be experiencing a bit of the original Austin. While we visit the chickens and chat with Ginny, “the chicken whisperer,” we learn that the afternoon will include “chickens, chicken feed and what happens after chickens eat.” The $2 ticket has a number on it and will get you one chance on the giant plywood bingo table. I’m sure that these chickens have their SAG cards; they are real professionals. They strut around the table, working the room into a cheering frenzy. As luck would have it, the chicken leaves her “mark” on my number and I am the winner of $115 in cash!

Keep Austin Weird Festival

We had so much fun last year volunteering to assist with the 5K check in that we decide to do it again. Known as the “Slowest 5K Race on the Planet,” everyone is welcome to participate and a bizarre costume will win you a prize. Young, old, babies in strollers and dogs all strut their stuff and stop along the way at different stations for beverages (alcoholic and nonalcoholic), ice cream and activities. At the festival, I cheered on aardvarks as they raced and chatted with a woman in a mermaid costume, who explained the story of her tattoos to me.

Weird Homes Tour

I am very excited for tour day to come and even more so now, since I am the winner of 2 VIP tickets that include the tour and the after-party. By the end of the day, we will have driven 90 miles all over Austin, investigating homes that range from a bucolic wonderland in a nature preserve, with quotes from Emily Dickinson poems written over the doorways and pastoral views out every French door to a series of domes lovingly pieced together into an artist’s retreat, rumored to have special healing powers to a traditional home on the outside and a Feng Shui inspired home on the inside with a red velvet lounge room and a royal blue cosmic room featuring a 100” flat-screen TV (most guys did not get past this point and just stood, gaping at the TV).

The owners of the next group of homes, self-confessed pack rats, delighted in the fact that they were living in a never to be completed work of art. Whether it was a police car hood with working sirens on the ceiling, doll heads under glass, a wall of salt and pepper shakers, a lamp made from a 1950s salon hair dryer or a hollowed-out armadillo containing guest washcloths, each treasure had a story. Chatting with the enthusiastic homeowners, who were so warm and welcoming, I left the day wondering if there was any room in my perfectionist personality for a little eccentricity. Sensing Mr. Wiz’s concern over the souvenirs I collect during the day, I ease his worries and announce that I am not adopting hoarding tendencies any time soon.

We arrive at Indra’s Awarehouse for the after-party. It’s a large metal roofed warehouse, filled to the brim with the owner’s art and collections of oddities. The surreal setting is right out of a Fellini film: a barefooted band plays on a carpeted stage; as if on cue, a dog drops a deflated ball at the feet of guests, prompting them to throw it on to the stage for him to chase; scantily dressed acro-yoginis glide up yards of silk fabric and perform above our heads. A cocktail seems in order, even though the professionally dressed bar staff looks out of place. We laughingly imagine that this is probably just another day for the owner; waking up to coffee in the morning and greeting some hangers-on at the bar (with bar staff still in uniform) and waving to the overhead performers that continue all day long. Hungry, we peruse the snacks. While, protein is always welcome, tonight it is in the form of bags of flavored crickets and mealy worms. We grab some regular popcorn and eagerly await some daring guests to taste them and offer a critique. We learn from the more adventurous that anything crunchy with a barbecue flavor is edible after some of Austin’s handmade Tito’s Vodka.

Austin, you give me the same feeling that I experienced whenever my grandmother would open her coat and let me snuggle in with her. You opened up your big, warm, wonderful, weird arms to me. Your people are so friendly and so welcoming. Sure, the temperature heats up, but living here makes me feel so cool. You have that big city vibe with the twang of Texas mixed in. You seem to bring out the best in me and I feel like this is where I am supposed to be. I only hope I can continue to do my civic duty and generate an accepted level of weirdness.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.