Pinterest (and other worthless, fun, addictive, beautiful time-wasters)

A gf convinced me to join Pinterest awhile back, and I've got to confess that's where a lot of my time goes lately. That's why I'm not blogging! I'm not sure what the purpose of Pinterest is, or how to describe it to the uninitiated. It's a website where you create a page for yourself, and customize it like facebook, link to your friends, and then you look at stuff other folks post, and share and trade- pictures, mostly. It seems to be 95% pictures, and less than 5% comments or text about the pictures. It is soothing after a stressful day to look at beautiful things, and one can accumulate files, called boards, of stuff you like to look at. It's like an online scrapbook. Pinterest seems to have about 99% female users, and the pictures that people swap around are infrequently personal pix (family, vacations) and mostly just images of pretty things, exotic locales, artsy crafts, cute animals or babies, funny sassy sayings, home decor, clothes, fashion, gardens, flowers, art, shopping, etc.  Most of the pictures people swap are of the wish-fulfillment variety: dream houses, vacations, idealized babies, fashion. A little DIY, recipes, and crafts. Very little reality going on here. Just in case you are interested, I'm on there, as I am on facebook, under my maiden name. If you know it, you can link to me.Or look for "GirlFromTexas".

What Have I Been Doing Lately?

I know the blog has dried up like a creek in a ten year drought lately, but I am slowly starting to get my life back lately and now have some time to write. The past several years I 've been taking graduate classes in English, as an add-on to the master's I already have in education, so I could qualify to teach dual credit classes at the local high school where I teach. Dual credit classes are a new fangled initiative by the state ledge, where high school juniors and seniors who sign up for an AP class can also earn college credit for that same class (provided, of course, that the same material is taught as in the regular college course). The AP scores required by colleges and universities to earn any college credit have been going up, with fewer and fewer kids earning the requisite scores. (I could posit my theories as to why, but that's another posting....) Gone are the days when folk could go off to college as a second semester junior from all the AP credit previously earned. No one takes scores of 2 or 3 anymore, it's 4 or 5 only.

Think about it: if you are in high school and are taking AP Calculus or AP British Lit, and working at a college level anyway, why not earn college credit while you are doing it? The advantage to students (and parents) is numerous: these classes cost a fraction (about 10%) of what they cost if you are enrolled solely in college (it's an initiative sponsored and underwritten by the state, so costs are subsidized, and free to students who meet criteria of being first generation, on free and reduced lunch, low income, etc), the credits transfer freely (at least to in-state public colleges and universities), you are in a smaller section with a teacher you know who is in the business of helping students - as opposed to the near universal freshman college experience of sitting in a class of hundreds of students, often in a course taught by a grad student, and the instructor has office hours once a week - if you can get in- and expects you to already know how to write an essay and isn't about to re-teach the skill if you don't.

I'm just about to wind up my first year of teaching these courses, and have (so far) enjoyed the situation immensely. Good students, easy to work with, fun to teach. I get a second paycheck from the university that sponsors the classes (and I earn every penny of it, as I now have dual sets of bosses: double the pleasure, double the fun ! twice as many meetings, grades to turn in , paperwork to fill out, emails to answer, requirements of all sorts.) and I need, it, as I am putting two of my own through college at once. I'm hoping to ride this situation till I retire...and thus avoid much of the misery currently tormenting my teaching comrades (gigantic classes, no textbooks, more and more state mandated testing that takes up half the school year....but I digress. That's another topic altogether.)

Texas Roadtrips-San Antonio

While you are in central Texas, it 's easy and makes sense to do as many things as possible because (it's all relative-by Texas distances) nothing is very far from anything else. So a trip to Austin can be combined into a trip to San Antonio, only an hour away. I took the opportunity of tagging along on hubster's springtime business trip to pop in and visit Number One son, off on his grand college adventure. San Antonio is an old and historic city that has morphed recently into the seventh largest city in the USA ( Dallas is 9th and Houston is 4th, currently). Lots to see and do in this fun town. Just don't go in summer, it's too hot !
Non-locals will want to go to Sea World and Six Flags and all that. You can't make a visit to this town without a pilgrimage to the Alamo, an old fort and one of Texas' most sacred historical sites. The fun thing to do next is head a few blocks from the Alamo to the Riverwalk, and enjoy the many fine bars and restaurants located along this pleasant waterway. It's kind of like a Tex-Mex version of the French Quarter in New Orleans. Word of advice: I made a mistake of staying in a very luxurious hotel along the Riverwalk, once, thinking I wanted to be able to get drunk on margaritas and walk (not drive) back to my hotel. Big mistake! The mariachi music played all night long - until the wee hours -and I got no sleep at all ! While festive when you are awake, mariachi music will drive you insane if you are hung over. If you insist on staying in the area, be sure to book a room on the far side of the hotel, not overlooking the water. I promise you will regret it, however picturesque, if you do.
Locals know there are plenty of great restaurants, shopping, a beautiful garden/historic home district, a zoo, and lovely things to see and do that are away from the crowded touristy Riverwalk and downtown area. I personally favor a restaurant and shopping area a few blocks from downtown, home of the fabulous Mi Tierra bakery, bar, and cafe.I've been eating there since the 70's when I first discovered this spot on a high school field trip, and later became reaquainted with it on business trips to S.A. when I worked at P&G. It's full of locals and a destination spot for celebs - when I ate there in March, a famous football team was having some sort of recruiting dinner at the table next to us, and there were dozens of well known millionaire coaches and players chowing down not 2 feet from us.
My purpose in visiting S.A. this time was not to take in the touristy sights, but to visit Son Number One and all his college friends, his gf and roommates, and take them all out to dinner. Son No One got extremely lucky and randomly drew a great bunch of guys for his roomies, they all get along pretty well (they are living in a 4 bedroom 2 bath, on campus, apt style dorm, with its own kitchen and living room) and lord knows they have saved him from some serious scrapes his first year in college. It was so cute- when I arrived at their apt, they were hurriedly cleaning, putting things away, and one was mopping as I walked in - trying to make the place presentable for me to see.  I know they live like slobs most of the time, but I was touched that they made an effort to be presentable. We had a nice little visit, I took them all to Wal-Mart and let them load up a grocery cart full of stuff, we dropped it all off at the apt, and then went out to eat . Then I left. (This type of ideal parental behavior I learned from parents of friends of mine in college. Lord knows, not my own parents.) I did not inquire too closely nor query them too ardently. I'll save that for Son No One, later. :o)

Texas Roadtrips- Austin

Spring is the time of year when folk start thinking "roadtrips" - and of course, spring comes early in Texas. This past year, due to La Nina, we had no winter to speak of as it was. When I lived in Houston, we thought of February as spring, and started cutting class to go to the beach in Galveston, coming into the dorm cafeteria for dinner with patchy first sunburns, hungover, and full of that secret naughty joy at having skipped school. March and April are fickle in north Texas- hot and windy one moment, raining and cold the next. Just as soon as you put away your winter clothes, it'll drop down into the 40's to spite you. Just as soon as you plant your garden, we'll have one more frost. Yet everyone is in a rush to get their roadtrip underway before it gets too hot...it's a very narrow window of pleasant weather in spring and fall....and if you wait until late April, you'll miss all the wild flowers that bloom in central Texas near the hill country. While all the college kids head out for spring break to beaches in the Caribbean and Mexico, everyone else heads to central Texas for all the joyous things to see and do.

Non-locals will want to see the city of Austin and the State capitol building (proudly taller than our nation's capitol in Washington D.C.) Locals have seen it all before. Don't miss the Texas History Museum and all that stuff. It's fun if you like western things. In the 60's and 70's Austin was like Berkeley, full of hippies and eccentrics whose legacy lives on the popular "Keep Austin Weird" t-shirts that are now ubiquitous. However, something happened in the 80's that made the folk in Austin turn yuppie-fied and less interesting to look at. Maybe it was all the technology businesses that grew up there, turning the area into a Texas version of Silicon Valley. It's still a city of great clubs, music venues (the popular SXSW, i.e. "South by Southwest" music festival was in full throttle when we went, in mid-March, but tickets had long been previously sold out. I desperately wanted to catch Springsteen at a small venue this year, but it was impossible to get in to that show. If you want to go, buy your tickets early!), great shopping and restaurants- but the real lure nearly all year round is the outdoors.

Austin and surrounding towns are full of clear, spring fed rivers and lakes that stay 68 degrees year- round. People commence water activities- canoeing, kayaking, tubing, and swimming - just as soon as it is hot enough to tolerate the chilly water. Some great spots to get started are San Marcos, Gruene, and all the little towns in between  Austin and San Antonio, and places due west- just driving down the road one can follow the signs for "put ins" (where local entrepreneurs will drive you to a spot to enter the Guadalupe River in the flotation device of your choice, then meet you at a "take out" location, several hours and miles down river, and haul you back to your car, often in a dilapidated old school bus or pickup truck.I've done this 1000's of times - it's safe. Bring a picnic and its a wonderfully fun day.)
The annual event of millions of bluebonnets blooming across the state is not to be missed. Like the cherry tree festival in Washington, it is difficult to describe how magnificent the flowers are, and mere photos don't do it justice. Something magical just happens. Bluebonnets are wild flowers, meaning they don't do well in gardens but prefer dry, scraggly hills out in open fields with plenty of sun.The start blooming in late Feb-early March in south Texas, and through early April in north Texas. The highway dept seeds roadsides each fall, so there are plenty to view as your race by at 80 mph on the interstate, but it's much more pleasant to hit some of the back roads through Meridien, Blanco, Johson City, Brenham, Gonzales and Goliad, to see them. Another great daytime picnic event. It's a rite of passage that locals have to get their child's picture taken in the bluebonnets each year. You can flip through your family photo albums and watch your kids grow up on the pages, in front of bluebonnets as time marches on.

Hubster had a conference this year at The Domain, a high-end luxury mall (I know that sounds redundant, but the way the word "luxury" is banded about lately, just wanted to clarify) on the north side of Austin. I tagged along, making ample use of his swanky hotel with fabulous room service. Had a spa day at Spa Reveil, shopped, swam, ate out, toured the sites. Yes, its a rough life. We joined up with some Rice friends for dinner at a local brewpub.....nice little roadtrip, all in all. Rice University Trivia: The University of Texas tower, pictured above, was actually designed by an architect from Rice. When viewed from an angle, the top portion of the tower looks ever so faintly like an owl, with the clocks on each side forming the eyes, the corner architectural features forming the owl's beak. Can you see it ?  Hahahahahaha!

Denton Arts and Jazzfest

The University of North Texas is home to a mighty fine music school that specializes in Jazz, so it is no wonder that the hometown of UNT would host a local Arts and Jazz Festival. Spring is the time of year for festivals all over the place, and this one features a typical collection of arts and crafts vendors, typical summer fair type food vendors, kiddie activities, "green" vendors, and of course, multiple music venues large and small. There are geriatric cloggers, local school bands and choirs, big name groups from far and wide that span the genres from conjunto to swing to blues to techno jazz.. A few years back I heard Wynton Marsalis play at this festival (for free I might add) and it was awesome. Brave Combo, the grammy award winning polka band, nearly always closes out the weekend. This fest is always the last weekend in April ; come on by if you can ! It's free !