Tag Archives: travel

Book about Texas is best appreciated for the journey, not the destination

I invested in God Save Texas: A Journey into the Soul of the Lone Star State when it came out 2018 in hardcover because I intuited that I might settle in Texas at some point. I thought I ought to learn something about the state.

undefinedLawrence Wright’s book certainly taught me something, that Texas is a state of contradictions. It’s big and it’s intimate. It’s conservative and it’s liberal. It’s rich and it’s poor. Its people value ancient natural resources and space-age technology, religion and themselves, independence but also community. Whatever you might want in lifestyle or geography, you can probably find in Texas.

According to the acknowledgments, the book came to be when Wright’s editor at The New Yorker asked him to “explain Texas,” exactly what a transplant needs. A Pulitzer Prize winner, Wright covers a lot of ground in this story, a little bit memoir and a lot of history and politics. He is clearly left-leaning, but his book paints a balanced picture of a state known for both Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush.

The writing, as you would expect from such an esteemed correspondent, is lovely, but not in love with itself. Here’s how Wright describes Willie Nelson’s guitar, Trigger:

It has a big hole near the bridge, worn through by Willie’s pinky and ring fingers. Pick marks have scored the face paper thin. The entire instrument feels sheer, the frets worn down to nearly nothing. It’s been signed many times—Leon Russell used a pocketknife—but the signatures are fading into the patina. If you saw this guitar at a garage sale, you would walk on by.

Wright is a keen observer who understands what makes Texas distinctive in so many ways. He devotes whole chapters to the state’s unique politics (“The Cradle of Presidents” and “Sausage Makers”), music (“The City of the Violet Crown”) and geography the defines it (“Borderlands”). Ever been to Buc-ee’s? “It is the largest convenience store in the world—a category of achievement that only Texas would aspire to,” he writes, and then describes in the sort of detail an extraterrestrial visitor would appreciate and understand.

If I have a problem with this book, it’s that it lacks a narrative, or at least one I could follow. This is a book about place, not person. I began reading it in late 2018 and it wasn’t absorbing enough to keep my attention. It wasn’t until I bought property in Texas that I returned to it and finally finished it. It’s good in pieces, just not compelling as a whole. But whether you aspire to be a Texan or not, it’s a good little piece about a mighty big state.

Location, location, location (and the view)

Back when COVID-19 was just an obscure outbreak in central China, my Beloved and I spent time with a real estate agent (within six feet of her!), driving around Lake Travis (when driving around was socially and medically acceptable) and looking at property (touching countertops, flipping light switches–we were gutsy back then).

Lake Travis is a reservoir lake on the western edge of Austin, Texas. After spending winters for a decade glamping in various locales in the southern United States, we had determined the Austin area to be “the one”: the one place in which we might consider spending multiple winters. Affordable, geographically and culturally interesting, not too humid or too hot (at least in the wintertime) and the people here reminded us of the good-hearted Midwesterners with whom we’d grown up and spent our summers.

Just before the pandemic was officially declared, we closed on a condo on the north side of Lake Travis. It was one of the first properties we viewed, and we kept coming back to it for its location, price and view.

Oh, the view!

View from the deck

Even on a cloudy day, the view from our deck is impressive.

We’ve now been sheltering in place here for two weeks. We’re quite content keeping ourselves busy unpacking, repairing various doodads and decorating. If we’re going to be stuck somewhere, March in central Texas is lovely. I’ll share some of our condo updates in a future post, but for now, I’m sharing a sunrise. Here’s to the sun rising tomorrow.

Sunrise over the lake

Travel Tuesday: Sculpture parks


St. Louis 003

“The Way” by Alexander Liberman at Laumeier Sculpture Park, St. Louis, Mo.

Summer is the season to visit a sculpture park wherever you may find it.

Sculpture parks, sometimes referred to as sculpture gardens, offer art fans the opportunity to interact with art and nature. For me, sculpture — found object or otherwise — is more interesting than any two-dimensional art like drawing or painting and if I can enjoy it while enjoying a stroll in the sunshine, all the better. Sculpture parks are a great destination for families because they appeal to all generations.

After writing about Nyberg Park sculpture garden in central Minnesota recently, I was reminded of a visit to the Laumeier Sculpture Park in St. Louis a decade ago.

It is an intellectually stimulating and beautiful place that you should visit if you ever get a chance. It’s an outdoor sculpture garden with all sorts of interesting sculptures made of wood, iron, steel girders and even dirt (I would have thought a sculpture made of dirt would be landscaping but apparently not).

Lots of different kinds of people were there when I was, not just art aficionados: Kids flying kites, women walking dogs, lovers enjoying the art (or each other, I’m not sure), siblings arguing about which direction to take at the fork in the road in the woods.

Like many sculpture parks, Laumeier’s was free. Can’t beat free!

If you’re interested in working a visit to a sculpture garden into your next vacation or family weekend, check out the worldwide list of sculpture parks on Wikipedia. The list is segmented by country and state. Many of the listings are hot-linked to the park’s own website so you can get all the details.

Enjoy some art and fresh air this summer.


Travel Tuesday: Crater Lake National Park

Just when you might think you’ve had enough of winter (or an interminably wet spring), you’re reminded of a place that is still measuring the snow on the ground in feet.

And it’s beautiful just the same.


The snowbanks at the visitor center towered over the cars.

Two years ago in May, we visited Crater Lake National Park in southern Oregon. The caldera in which the lake is cupped is at an elevation of 7,000 to 8,000 feet and therefore chilly, even in May; we had to climb a 20-foot snowbank in order to catch a glimpse of the lake. And that was after a 90-minute drive through winding roadsit’s as remote as it is stunning. Forty-six feet of snow—feet, not inches—fell at Crater Lake that year; in February of this year, the park experienced the second biggest monthly snowfall in nearly 70 years at 154 inches. Road crews use rotary plows equipped with fans that can shoot snow 75 to 80 feet in the air, but Rim Drive (the road circling the lake) remains blocked at this time of year.



But forget about the snow; the real show is the lake. At 1,943 feet deep, Crater Lake is the world’s deepest volcanic lake. Replenished only by rain and snow, Crater Lake is widely considered to be the cleanest, clearest large body of water in the world.

When my Beloved and I were there two years ago on a calm, sunny day, it was the bluest reflecting pool I’ve ever seen. It was so calm, it was like a mirror of the shore and the sky. Those white streaks in the water? Those are the reverse images of the wispy contrails in the sky.

Crater Lake, resting inside a caldera formed 7,700 years ago when a volcano collapsed, was established as a national park in 1902 and has been protected from lakefront developers who might sully its rugged shores. As I mentioned, it’s a remote National Park but it’s worth the trip if you find yourself in southern Oregon. As a destination, I would recommend visiting it later in the summer (when there’s less snow and easier travel).

Travel Tuesday: Labyrinths

If you’re looking for a quieter, introspective trip, seek out a labyrinth.

A labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. Labyrinths have long been used as meditation and prayer tools.

While visiting Laughlin, Nevada, a couple of years ago, my Beloved and I escaped the town’s primary entertainment—a casino—to check out Laughlin Labyrinths, a sensory oasis in the middle of the desert.

labyrinth 2

Laughlin Labyrinths were created by Wes Dufek with rocks and geometry. There are a total of eight stone labyrinths in a quarter-mile radius of each other, ranging from 25 to 55 feet. A 36-foot seven-circuit octagon and a 33-foot seven-circuit square labyrinth are the most recent additions to the collection.

Labyrinth 1

Laughlin Labyrinths can be found on the east side of Thomas Edison, between Bruce Woodbury and Casino Drive in Laughlin, Nevada, a quarter mile from each intersection. Look for three yellow posts and walk up the wash.

Walking a labyrinth represents a journey to one’s own center and back again out into the world. Doing so in the desert where almost the only sound is the breeze is an oddly calming experience. There are no bells and whistles, no long lines and no adrenaline, which is a nice alternative to some vacation destinations.

At the time, I didn’t know one ought to walk a labyrinth by following the path in and out; labyrinths, considered by many to be holy ground, are not mazes and there are no dead ends.

I am reminded of this experience because I walked a labyrinth closer to home yesterday: The Labyrinth of St. John in the Wilderness at the Episcopal Church in Elkhorn, Wisconsin.

labyrinth sign

I visited this labyrinth designed in concrete with a couple of other women in my meditation group. (I noted with interest that the labyrinth is across the street from a former church that has been converted into an accountant’s office.)

wilderness labyrinth

The Labyrinth of St. John in the Wilderness can be found at 13 S. Church St., Elkhorn, Wisconsin.

Walking this labyrinth was a different experience. Long-off sirens, passing traffic and chirping birds filled the evening air, but I got into my groove by focusing on my breath and pondering Isaiah 43:19b: “I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

My journey around the circuits took about 20 minutes, and at the end, I was struck with the thought that all I had to do was simply follow the path. It led me in and out without me having to predict the turns and circles. Step by step, I found my way without having to know my way.

You don’t have to visit Laughlin, Nevada, or Elkhorn, Wisconsin, to experience a labyrinth. Labyrinth Locator, an easy-to-use database of labyrinths around the world, offers locations, pictures and contact details for more than 5,800 labyrinths in more than 80 countries across the globe. Check one out.

Camping vs. glamping: Incident at Site 82

Throwback Thursday: I’m sharing again this post first written two years ago when my Beloved and I were living more-or-less full-time in a 355-square-foot RV. Camping season is upon us, and sometimes even the bad experiences are worth it because they make great stories. Like this one …

# # #

Interested in the differences between camping and glamping? Take this quiz, followed by a cautionary tale.

1. Your food is stored:

  • A. In a cooler on ice.
    B. In a refrigerator with an ice maker.

2. You sleep on a:

  • A. Sleeping bag on the ground.
  • B. Bed. With sheets.

3. Your entertainment includes:

  • A. A 50-inch fire pit and marshmallow sticks.
  • B. A 50-inch flat-screen TV connected to a satellite dish.

4. Your primary tool for tidying up is:

  • A. The plastic bag from Wal-Mart that originally carried your groceries.
  • B. The central vac.

5. Your plumbing system is best described thusly:

  • A. You wash your dishes in a bucket, you take a sponge bath in a bucket and you pee in a bucket.
  • B. You wash your dishes in a sink with a pull-out spray spout, you bathe in a hot-water shower and you pee in a toilet that flushes.

If you answered mostly As, you’re camping. Fun, because who doesn’t like s’mores cooked over a flaming campfire, right? If you answered mostly Bs, you’re glamping. Lucky you.

Of all these elements of a great adventure, the primary determinant that separates the campers from the glampers is the plumbing.

But when the plumbing goes bad, as illustrated by Hollywood to great comic effect by Cousin Eddie in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and Robin Williams in “RV,” a glamping trip becomes Chinese water torture in a flash. Or a flood. Depending.

Our worst problems on the road have been plumbing problems. My Beloved has replaced the toilet in our RV twice, for example, but nothing compares to the incident at Site 82.

It all began one sunny afternoon with a loud and terrible noise that could be described as a cross between a clunk and a crunch.

I was inside, my Beloved was outside. I ran to the door and leaned out, “What was that?!”

“I don’t know,” my Beloved replied, his eyes wide. “But where is that gushing sound coming from?!”

Lo and behold, a pipe beneath the camper was spurting. And the underbelly of the camper was seriously deformed.

Our first instincts were to sniff the air.

“Doesn’t smell like black water,” I said, a tiny bit relieved.

If you’re not sure what black water is, it’s the stuff in National Lampoon’s “shitter.” No further definition is necessary.

RV plumbing also includes something called “gray water.” This is the tank that contains the rinse water from the shower and sinks. In our RV, our gray water is further separated into “galley water” which comes specifically from the kitchen drain.

A lake of cold soapy water infused with food particles and coffee grounds was quickly forming beneath our camper in Site 82.

After a bit of hand-wringing (me) and crawling through the damp gravel under the camper to scope out the damage (my Beloved), we determined the galley tank had become unmoored and the exit pipe busted.

Plan A: Call a repairman.

We located a RV repairman with “trusty” in his brand name and, wonder of wonders, he answered his cell phone.

But, being the week before Memorial Day weekend, he was not only trusty but also busy. He could pencil us into his schedule in two weeks.

Two weeks?! We were scheduled to leave this campground in three days. And we have non-refundable reservations at a highly-prized campground east of here.

Not only that, the trusty repairman was well-connected, and he said knowingly that RV service centers would probably make us wait eight weeks.

Ohhhhkay, then.

Plan B: Repair it ourselves.

First, my Beloved had to take things apart, which began by eviscerating the underbelly of the camper to expose the plumbing system. After much grunting and groaning and rolling around on the damp gravel while I fetched various tools from various cubby holes (“what’s the difference between a wrench and a socket wrench again?”), he determined the parts required to fix the problem.

And then we went to bed. Exhausted.

The next day, we made not one but two visits to Home Depot. The repairs required the following tools, most we already owned (because my Beloved hoards tools the way I collect shoes) and a few we purchased:

  • Flashlight.
  • Floor jack.
  • Utility knife.
  • Screwdriver. And screws, of course.
  • Sockets and ratchet (“there is no such thing as a socket wrench”).
  • Sawzall (borrowed).
  • Hammer. But not nails.
  • PVC pipe.
  • Zip ties.
  • Ratchet straps.
  • Silicone.
  • Compression union.
  • Washers.
  • Plastic fender washers.
  • Scissors.
  • And, since no job is complete without it, duct tape of the gorilla variety. Because it’s “super strong.”

Also, cardboard. It’s amazing how much easier it is to crawl around beneath a camper when there’s a bed of unfolded cardboard boxes over the gravel.

At the end of Day 2, my Beloved left the underbelly exposed in order to let the silicon in the piping dry and so he could check for leaks.

On the morn of Day 3, no leaks could be found. Yay! So my Beloved commenced in stitching together the camper underbelly like an experienced cosmetic surgeon (and I continued my role as nurse who handed him the correct tools). He even spray-painted the white plastic fender washers black to match the belly skin. To impress the zerk greaser, I guess.

As most disaster stories are told, it’s said “it could have been worse.” This is true of this story, too.

Our gray water tank could have broken three days earlier when we were camping in a place where the ground is optimistically described as “loamy.” Negative Nellies might describe it as spongey. But in any case, when combined with rain, it was the perfect ingredient for making mud. And Mother Nature delivered rain three of the four days we were there.

But even worse, it could have been our black water tank. In telling our story to a fellow camper while cooling off in the pool at the end of Day 2, she related a story of a black water tank explosion that could only be fixed after the work of waste cleaners in haz-mat suits to the tune of $2,400.

Our repairs cost only $67.38.

# # #

Epilogue: We went on our merry glamping way as scheduled after the Incident at Site 82. Since then, we’ve experienced flat tires and broken axle connections while traveling with our trusty RV, but fortunately, the black water flows as it should: Downstream and contained in PVC.

Travel Tuesday: Nyberg Park sculpture garden

coffee cup sculpture

If ever you find yourself with a few minutes to spare in west central Minnesota on a sunny day, you must make time for a stop at Nyberg Park in Vining, Minnesota. The season is nigh!

nyberg park sign

Welcome to Nyberg Park. Please sign our guestbook.

Vining is home to 78 residents (according to the last census) and the finest sculpture garden you’ll ever see in such a small town. Nyberg Park is located unapologetically next door to the Big Foot Gas & Grocery on Highway 210 (you’ll see from where the gas station derives its name in a minute; let’s just say it’s not another Sasquatch reference).

self portrait sculpture

Artist’s self-portrait, I’m guessing. (Nyberg calls it “Shop Helper.”)

kenneth nyberg sigThe park gets its name from the sculptor who created the huge, whimsical sculptures found throughout Vining and Otter Tail County. The material of choice for Kenneth Nyberg, a welder and former construction foreman, is scrap metal that he hauls from job sites to his workshop. Some pieces are painted and some are left to rust. He enjoys playing with scale, and the results are strange and beautiful, like The Foot.

big foot sculpture

The foot is 12 feet high and weighs 1,200 pounds.

deer sculpture

You would not be surprised to find a deer in Ottertail County, though filling this one with lead won’t do a hunter any good. But how about an alien? Would that surprise you?

alien sculpture

This place is a head scratcher if ever there was one.

dad with cowboy

Both my dad and The Cowboy are friendly guys.

Nyberg Park, where everyday items become art, is a fun place to visit and collect selfies, for sure.


How about a slice of watermelon?

knife and fork

Who’s leading?

pliers sculpture

Look out, roach! You’re in for it!

Still not sure where Vining is? Nyberg helps with a map.

earth with vining

Begin on planet Earth and proceed until you see a sign.

See the signage? Here’s a closeup.

vining up close

You are here.

When my parents and I visited the park one fine June day two years ago, we stopped at the nearby Vining Grill and dined on the sort of delicacies one finds in Central Minnesota: Fried Klub (a Norwegian potato dumpling) with eggs and choice of meat and, for dessert, Rhubarb Custard Pie. Served on china.

strawberry rhubard pie

Now’s that’s a fine specimen.

Absolutely worth the stop.

Travel Tuesday: The redwood forests

We cut down three 70-year-old trees on our property last week, and it made me unreasonably sad.

The Chinese elm trees were mostly dead, and it was time for them to go, but I miss them and it made me think of a trip a couple of years ago to northern California when we drove through the Redwood forest.

You may have sung the lyrics to “This Land is Your Land” when you were a youngster, but a walk through the forest here will have them ringing in your head for days: “From the redwood forest to the Gulf Steam water, this land is made for you and me.”


Look up and behold, in a Redwood forest, you feel like you’re in a special place.

California’s coastal redwoods, which grow on the northern coast (the scientific name is sequoia sempervirens), can grow up to 377 feet tall, the tallest living things on earth. Like the related sequoia trees, redwoods are long lived, due in part to their bark, which can be up to a foot thick. That bark protects a tree from cold and from forest fire.

Our trip two years ago through California included a drive and walk through the Redwood National and State Parks, an experience I can’t recommend highly enough. Being there, breathing in the piney air and feeling the silence as much as hearing it, one is reminded of dinosaurs and is tempted to believe in dryads and wood nymphs. The trees are alive, and they might be smiling or frowning or about to reach out and touch you. No wonder one of California’s stereotypes is of tree huggers. Even a logger’s gotta love a tree like that.

Standing among those majestic trees reminds me I am nothing, and my life, however long it is, passes in a blink. The “little” trees we removed from our property are gone, but not forgotten.

If nature is a place of worship, the redwood forests are cathedrals. Worth a trip.

Exchanging gray for golden

Someone on my Facebook feed posted a bunch of sunset photos this week, and I thought, “I could use more of that.”

Everything about sunsets is good. The landscape is bathed in golden light, and time stops for a second as the sun dips over the horizon. It’s not day, it’s not night; it’s happy hour. In order to enjoy a sunset, you have to take a break for a moment.

I suppose I enjoy most sunsets when I’m on vacation, so I don’t associate them much with winter, and so pictures of the setting sun are a great escape right now when winter seems unending and the whole world is cast in various shades of gray.

fall day

Browsing through my recently organized family photos (prepare thyself for a vacation slide show, friend), I found only one picture of a sunset taken from my house. This shot was taken from the deck of my former house.

illinois sunset

I took this picture while walking my dog around my husband’s cousin’s yard, where we camped for a couple of months in 2017 when we were living in our RV. Cornfields were never so beautiful.

florida sunset

Here’s my most recent sunset shot, taken on my my recent vacation, a short business/pleasure trip to Fort Myers Beach in December. If you look closely, you can see this photo was taken through the screen on the deck.

sunet set selfie in 2015

Here’s another Florida sunset. Oh, those are some of the best, I’d say, what with all the water to reflect grandiosity. This selfie was taken in 2015 along the Florida Keys near Marathon.

croatia sunset

Getting warmer yet? This exotic sunset photo was taken off the deck of a mountaintop restaurant in Omis, Croatia.

2014 lake sunset

I don’t have to travel half way around the world to find a pretty sunset. This picture was taken off my sister’s deck at her lakeside home in central Minnesota. You can practically hear the loon calling over the water.

mom and dad at sunset

One of my favorite sunset shots doesn’t have the sun in it, but you can tell the sun was setting by the long shadow of the photographer (me) in this shot. This is an early spring picture of my parents walking hand-in-hand up the road in front of their house. That’s the Leaf River meandering by on the right, and that slough might be considered a swamp by some. But dripping in the sun’s golden rays, the whole scene gives off a warm glow.

Nonsense and honesty


Hello! My name is Felix. I’d love for you to take your picture with me, but please don’t touch my head or hands. I’m very old … and I volunteered for this.”

This is Felix. His skin is smooth for how old it is, and his hair! I only wish I could have run my fingers through it! That dreamy look makes you believe in the permanence of Constitution again. We, the people and all that. Felix even has a hashtag: #prezwax

I don’t remember the details of his resume anymore, but I met Felix a couple of years ago at the National Presidential Wax Museum in Keystone, South Dakota (just a stone’s throw from Mount Rushmore), and today, as the snow comes down everlastingly, this picture strikes me as funny. It reminds me of warmer days. And I’m using it as a segue to commemorating Presidents’ Day, which we Americans celebrated earlier this week.

Ah, yes, February’s other holiday.

Abraham Lincoln would have been 210 last week, and if he’d stuck around to see what he’d wrought, George Washington would be 287 on Friday.

Isn’t it interesting that the two presidents we celebrate on Presidents’ Day each have legends of honesty associated with them. With Washington, it’s the cherry tree myth, how he confessed to his father that “I cannot tell a lie … I cut it down with my hatchet.” And, of course with Lincoln, he was known as Honest Abe.

With these two great men on my mind, I give you two great quotes:

“A sensible woman can never be happy with a fool.”

~ George Washington

Can we assume Martha wasn’t just a pretty face then? Such handsome jowls, hers. And speaking of pretty faces, this:

“There are no bad pictures; that’s just how your face looks sometimes.”

~ Abraham Lincoln

This explains a lot about all the selfies I delete.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Mount Rushmore

This is how Mount Rushmore looks if you don’t pay $18 to park.