Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Out and About: Zilker Park

Zilker Metropolitan Park
2100 Barton Springs Road

Zilker Park is often billed as Austin's most popular park and I can see why. It's totally awesome! We've been there twice now and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves each time. At 351 acres, there is quite a lot of park to explore.

The first time we went, the first weekend after our first full week here, we visited the Botanical Garden, which boasts a host of smaller gardens such as: the prehistoric garden, the rose garden, the Oriental garden, and much more! The Oriental garden in particular was gorgeous. Here's a picture:

We happened to be there on a gorgeous day and there was just something very magical about the botanical gardens. I'm sure we'll definitely be back. Hopefully we get to see the roses in bloom next time!

More recently, we went to the off-leash dog area near Rock Island to let our dog run around for a bit. Later, we put him back on the leash and took a stroll down part of the walking path that runs along Barton Springs and Lady Bird Lake. It was another gorgeous day. Here's a picture of downtown Austin as viewed from across Lady Bird Lake:

The one and only bad thing I have to say about this particular day is that the trail was VERY crowded. But I suppose that's to be expected at Austin's most popular park!

There's still a lot of Zilker Park that we haven't seen: the Austin Science & Nature Center, the Dino Pit, and the Umlauf Sculpture Garden, just to name a few. Nor have we completed the walk along the springs/river. And then there's the canoe rentals!

Needless to say, we'll be returning to Zilker Park again and again.

Out and About: Blanton Art Museum

Blanton Art Museum at the University of Texas
200 E MLK Blvd, Austin

Much to my delight, Blanton Museum of Art is FREE every Thursday. Come on, how awesome is that? In my experience, most museums have a free day once a month or so, but once a week? Very cool. Additionally, if you park in the garage across Brazos street and take your ticket inside to get validated, you pay only $3 for parking.

A lovely afternoon spent at the art museum for only $3? Sign me up! (As an aside, on the third Thurs. of every month, they extend their hours, so if you are a regular 9-5 working stiff, you still have the opportunity to take advantage of their free day.)

When the husband and I went last Thursday, the whole second floor was open for our enjoyment. The museum has a contemporary/modern wing and a classical wing. I must admit that neither of us are big fans of modern art. We're both of the opinion that if it looks like a 3-year-old did it, it's not really art.

However, I was very pleasantly surprised by their modern art section. While there was some of the type of art mentioned above, there was far more modern stuff that was actually very interesting. I particularly enjoyed a large, mixed-media piece that represented a small portion of the galaxy. There was also a phenomenal piece from an African artist made up of small strips of flattened beer cans. It was like a gigantic metal wave on the wall. Cool stuff.

I was sadly a touch disappointed by the classical wing. This was probably largely due to personal preference, though. Much of the art in the classical wing was portraiture from the 18th & 19th centuries, in particular with Christian religious themes. There's only so much of that I can look at without getting a trifle bored. I prefer landscapes and still-lifes.

This wing did also include several rooms of wonderful ink drawings, however. I was also delighted by a small section of Greek pottery. And I think my favorite display may have been the one of Greek coins that depicted each of their famous leaders.

Overall, we had a fantastic time. I could definitely see myself going back several times a year. I highly recommend it!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Out and About: Spider House

In a new city. I thought it might be fun to post some reflections on all the cool new places I'm checking out.

Last night I went out to a YA event hosted at my local UU church. After the event, a few of us went out for a drink at:

Spider House Patio Bar & Cafe
2908 Fruth Street

I really liked Spider House a lot. You can get a stiff drink there, in addition to coffee. They also have food (I noticed some vegan options). There is both indoor and outdoor seating. I enjoyed the overhead music - good beat, and not so loud that you couldn't talk to your table mates. The staff was very friendly and attentive.

I had their Coco Mocha, which was seriously delicious. I didn't ask if my table mates enjoyed their drinks, but I didn't see any full cups or glasses at the end of the night. The crowd was low key; most looked to be in their 20s or 30s. We stayed for 2 hours, had a fun conversation. All in all, it was a good night.

I highly recommend Spider House!

Bookstore Books: A Reflection

Now that I no longer live on Maui, it seems doubtful that I will continue to have access to a free supply of books. (There is a friends of the library here, of course, and they actually run a used bookstore. I am contemplating signing up to volunteer, but would like to go and check out the place first. Even if I do volunteer, however, there are no guarantees that free books will be a perk of the job.)

At any rate, with the free supply of books at least temporarily cut off (and most of my books returned to the bookstore), I thought now would be a good time to reflect on the free books I brought home in September & October of 2010. How many did I read? And did I like them?

Life in a Medieval Village - I read the first two chapters but never finished it. I took it back to the bookstore and didn't add it to my "to read" list.

Nathaniel's Nutmeg - Didn't read it. Returned it to the bookstore. Didn't add it to the list.

Knockdown - Read it. Didn't really like it.

Collapse - Didn't read it. Returned it to the bookstore. Didn't add it to the list.

I Was Told There'd Be Cake - Read a little bit. Didn't like it. Returned it to the bookstore.

Eccentrics - Never got around to reading it. Ultimately decided not to include it on my "to read" list because said list is so long already. Took it back to the bookstore, where it was immediately snatched up.

The Last Lecture - Didn't read it. Returned it to the bookstore. Didn't add it to the list.

House Rules - Didn't read it. Returned it to the bookstore. Didn't add it to the list.

Three Weeks with My Brother - Read it. Loved it.

The Secret Life of Bees - Read it. Loved it.

On Fortune's Wheel - Read it. Liked it.

The Serpent & the Moon - Didn't read it, but still want to. Put it on my "to read" list.

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets - Read it. Loved it.

Coroner's Journal - Haven't read it yet; brought it with me from Maui.

The Victorian Internet - Read it. Liked it.

Furies of Calderon - Read it. Loved it.

So, of the 16 books I brought home, I read 7 and still intend to read 2. So about half? Hmmm...not sure if that's good or bad.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Top Books of the Year 2010

My goal for 2010 was to read an average of 6 books per month, with a majority in the "non-fiction" category. Despite a not-entirely-anticipated end-of-the-year major move that disrupted my reading time, I still managed to achieve my goal: I read 77 books in 2010, for an average of 6.4 books per month. Of those, 43 were non-fiction and 34 were fiction.

I plan to up my goal to an average of 7 per month in 2011 and continue to try to read more non-fiction than fiction. I think this goal will be more difficult to attain now that I've returned to living in a city, where I have a larger variety of things to do.

So without further ado, here are my Top 5 Books of 2010:

5. Going Up the River by Joseph Hallinen

An investigation (and, I feel, an indictment) of the U.S. penal system. A little outdated and one-sided, but fascinating and riveting nonetheless.

4. Secrets to Happiness by Sarah Dunn

The only fiction book in my Top 5, but, hey, a fiction book makes it into my Top 5! I'm hard-pressed to tell you what this book is *really* about because there's not a strong plot per se. Suffice it to say that it's about people learning to be happy. And it's delightful.

3. The Longest Winter by Alex Kershaw

About a company of Army men who held a key hill in the Battle of the Bulge long enough allow the Allies to win the day. The men were all either killed or captured and those captured spent long months as POWs. Will make you feel like a lazy cry-baby in comparison.

2. Patriotic Treason by Evan Carton

The life and death of militant abolitionist John Brown. This book was eye-opening. Fascinating to read about a man whose religious fervor led him to help his fellow man rather than oppress him.

1. The Murder of Nikolai Vavilov by Peter Pringle

This is one of those books that I will recommend until I'm blue in the face. Vavilov was a famous Russian botanist in his day, a man who held dreams of ending famine not only in his home country, but around the world. Sadly, as Communism put a stranglehold on Russia, Vavilov ran afoul of Stalin. This book makes you fall in love with this man, only to be left haunted by his fate. A truly phenomenal read!

Blog Change

Well, "Dispatches from Hawaii" no longer calls Hawaii its home, so we're starting off the new year in a new place and with a new name. Buffy reference FTW!