24 posts categorized "Travel"

12/17/2010

Finally Making It To Downtown Philadelphia

A few weeks ago I was in Philadelphia and I made it to a recommended suburban sushi restaurant, which was great and really hit my recent cravings for (cooked) sushi. But . . . I really wanted to check out some of what the downtown area had to offer. With all that American history around, I couldn't pass it up.

I was in Pennsylvania almost all of this past work week, and knew we had to make time to enjoy at least one evening downtown.

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On Wednesday my coworker and I managed to get out of the office by 5ish and make the commute into the city. A little bit of online research brought us to chose City Tavern, a restaurant that has been around since 1773.

John Adams called it, "The most genteel tavern in America" and Paul Revere had rode up to the Tavern with the news of the closing of the port of Boston by the British Government. So cool! A ton of history, and a great place to pick when we only had one evening in the city.

Besides the fact that it was SO cold there in Philadelphia (I'm too spoiled by these Texas winters!) the building was as amazing as we thought it would be. The food, although pricey, was great. Three different 18th century breads to start off the meal and I ordered the homemade chicken pot pie--it definitely hit the spot.

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We were only a few blocks from Independence Hall so after dinner we found an open loading zone, threw on the hazard lights, and ran across the street to take a peek, even though the tower is under construction.

For whatever reason you can't walk in front of it without gaining access to the park (which was closed) but we could grab a couple pictures from across the street.

Loved that I finally made it to downtown Philadelphia and that I got to catch a glimpse of some American history!

11/20/2010

Sushi Lover

I'm going to be honest with you. I think pregnancy food cravings are for the birds.

Not to make any woman mad that has ever insisted that her husband drive to a store or restaurant for a specific food, but I'm just not a believer. I got food cravings before I was pregnant, so I'm not so sure it makes sense to say that a food craving I get now is directly tied to being pregnant.

But, with that said, I have discovered a new love over the past few months. Could it be the pregnancy? Probably not, but either way, I'm sure loving the taste of sushi right now.

I had sushi once, when living in Illinois, because a client wanted to eat at a sushi restaurant. I didn't leave with the best impression. (What? Is the Illinois/Wisconsin state border not know for good sushi?)

But, I was at the grocery store a few weeks ago when the sushi man that was passing out free samples made his way over to me. "They" say you can't have sushi when you're pregnant, but I read that you just have to have cooked sushi, so I gave it a try. It was good!

I paid the $6.99 for a roll and ate it the next day for lunch.

Last week when I was in Philadelphia for a last-minute work trip I took the opportunity to hit a really nice sushi place, Nectar, which is in Berwyn, PA. (My coworker and I were considering trying out downtown Philly, but with traffic + me being lazy, we stuck to a place a bit closer to where we were.)

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Dang. It was good. For an appetizer we got the Crunchy Vegetable Spring Roll, which was in a mango sauce. For dinner I got the California Jumbo Lump Crab and Shrimp Tempura Roll. I then forced myself to try the Pumpkin Bread Pudding for desert.

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We left stuffed, but it really was great food and I ate everything I ordered.

I got home from Philadelphia on Wednesday night and my sister Steph came over Friday for a planned cooking weekend (she knows that if she can get me to cook some food in advance, I'm going to be really thankful those first couple weeks after having the baby).

Cody took the opportunity to go duck hunting (poor Spangler, he's not quite mature enough to hang with his Dad hunting, so he had to stay with the girls) and took off Friday after work, leaving Steph and I with an open evening. She mentioned she was craving sushi. So I let her know that I was JUST the person to fulfill her request!

Steph, the coupon-money-saving queen, had a Restaurant.com coupon for $25 of food at Sushi Zone in North Arlington (she bought it for only $2!) so we made the drive over and enjoyed a HUGE selection of sushi that we ordered.

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So, it may be the pregnancy, but I've eaten more sushi in the past few weeks than I've ever ate in my whole life. We'll see if I still enjoy it this much after the hormones go back to normal, but I'm just enjoying it for now.

11/04/2010

A Texas Homecoming Tradition: Bonfire

As I mentioned before, we head to our alma mater's homecoming every year and one of the huge traditions we never try to miss is bonfire.

(For those of you that don't know what this is all about, "homecoming" is an annual fall tradition that occurs at high schools, colleges and universities where the school hosts their alumni and former students. It usually is a week-long series of events that culminates with a American football game at the end of the week.)

Although homecoming happens across the US, I think bonfires are more of a Texas/South/Southwest thing because out of all the places I've lived, I don't remember anyone having a bonfire for homecoming week.

Bonfire is kind of what it sounds like, which is a huge pile of wood that is lit on fire. Probably the most famous bonfire was the Texas A&M Univeristy Bonfire in 1999 that collapsed and killed 11 students and one former student. So now, instead of the bonfires being just a huge stack of wood piled by students, there are usually engineered, complete with blueprints. A lot goes into making sure that it's structurely sound, which is good considering the accident at A&M.

My first bonfire I went to was in the fall of my freshman year of college. It was held right next to our university campus and unfortunately, I was a bit inebriated so I don't remember much of it. (Sorry Mom--Steph and her influences on me my freshman year! Which is probably why I almost failed out of college my first semester . . . another story for another day). The following year it was moved outside of town on some property owned by our school. You can see why it needed to be moved--the thing is huge.

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It's one of those things you have to see to believe. The heat it puts out is amamzing.

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Shortly after it's lit (usually by the university president and other dignitaries) it doesn't take long to really catch on.

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And if you're wondering, standing around watching this thing burn really is fun.

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And, if you're pregnant like me, you get to hang out, watch it burn, while comparing your stomach size to that of your father-in-laws.

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Standing in a field, watching wood burn--Texas Style: BIG!

10/18/2010

Brennan Vineyards in Comanche, TX

We spent the weekend at my in-laws a few weeks ago and my parents came down to join us (yes, so very nice that our parents get along and actually choose to spend time together!).

North Central Texas really isn't known for its wine (or maybe it's just me and my lack of wine knowledge . . . so I'll say that I really didn't know that North Central Texas had any wineries) but there is a small winery in one of the towns not too far from Cody's parents, Brennan Vineyards.

My parents are definitely wine drinkers, so it was a natural fit to go check it out while we were in town. I had been there 2-3 years ago, on one of our trips home for Christmas from Chicago, and had forgotten how beautiful the location was.

Just down the street from the Comanche, TX square, the tasting room was built in 1879 and it's one of the oldest remaining homesteads in Texas. It's also a designated landmark by the Texas Historical Commission.

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This place is gorgeous on the inside and out.

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The windows are one of my favorite parts. I know the picture below doesn't do it justice, but they are floor-to-ceiling with beautiful woodwork. The shutters are amazing as well--and these are in every room.

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My Dad had to get a picture of me showing off my tummy. 20 weeks along.

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The wine list.

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The seating room decor.

My whole house could look just like it and I would love it. Rustic and beautiful.

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My father-in-law, chillin' in the seating room.

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This is the tasting room, with the original fireplace.

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You can't visit a winery without actually trying the wine. I, of course, couldn't, but I usually keep myself busy taking pictures of random stuff.

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The woman in the purple is the owner. My Dad is the kind of person that can carry on a conversation with anyone, and he didn't disappoint. He was able to get the history of the winery and the building itself while doing his tasting.

This was her and her husbands dream--to own their own winery. How awesome that they followed through with it?

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During the conversation between the owner and my Dad, the owner pulled out a magazine to show us what the homestead looked like when they bought it. This is just a crazy story, but they actually purchased it from a Ralph Lauren designer who had it as his vacation home.

This magazine (I didn't catch which magazine it was) featured his home as he was the one the restored it. Since they bought it fully furnished/decorated, most of the furniture pieces we saw in the magazine were still there.

You can see the fireplace there on the right. The tasting room was changed the most since they added a counter, etc.

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If you're in the area, definitely stop by, even if you're not into wine tasting (although they've won a ton of awards). Appreciating the history of the homestead, and how beautiful it's been kept up, is worth the trip itself.

10/13/2010

I'm Like A Baseball Good Luck Charm

The end of September was a bit rough for work travel. I was gone two weeks in a row, which is always a drain, especially when you have to leave on Sunday night to make it to a Monday morning meeting. It just kills your weekend.

But, it's fall, which is a good thing . . . and it also means that it's baseball playoff time. I'll admit, I'm not a huge baseball fan. I don't sit in front of the TV and watch every Ranger's game, but I do enjoy having it on in the background or even better, going to a game in-person.

I was in Minneapolis for an internal work meeting and we had a "Team Building Exercise" at the Twins game (always makes me think of "Team Building Exercise 1999"--right?). It just so happens that the game we got tickets for ended up being the game in which the Twins clenched the AL Central (after the White Sox lost later that evening, but there was plenty of celebration!). I'm not a Twins fan, but I have to admit, the stadium was packed and it was fun, especially at the bottom of the 6th when the Twins finally made their move.

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It was a beautiful evening, although a bit cold by Texas standards. I'm glad I brought my fleece jacket.

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There were these weird cockroach-looking-flying-bug-things that kept freaking us all out (yes, even my manly co-workers, but they'll probably blame it on the beer). We did get charmed by the sweet woman who plays the baseball jingles during the game. We had grabbed nachos at the concession stand (bad choice, by the way, if you're pregnant . . . I'm just saying that I recreated it that night come 2am) and happened to end up in the enclosure that she was in. She happily posed for pictures.

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The crowd stayed to the end and didn't sit down the entire 9th inning.

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But, if we were all honest, it wasn't the crowd, sweet music lady, or even the weird Minnesota bugs that led the Twins to win . . . It was my presence. Really.

Because . . . just the next week I was in Philadelphia for work and that Monday night the Phillies clenched the NL East title. No, I wasn't at the game, but I was in town.

(Am I stretching this a bit? Maybe? Well, let me continue . . .)

We made it to the Ranger's game this past weekend. Our friends had bought tickets (they are hard-core Ranger's fans) when they made it to the playoffs and we tagged along. We weren't even sure if Sunday's game was going to happens since it was game four of the series (there are five total games, so if the Ranger's had won the first three games, the other two games wouldn't have been played), but fortunately/unfortunately they lost on Saturday at home which forced the fourth game.

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Unlike the previously mentioned Minnesota game (which was three weeks ago), in Texas, it's still pretty hot for mid-October. Sunday's high was in the mid-80's and with no clouds in the sky; we were expecting a hot and sweaty game.

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We totally lucked out and got the small part of the stadium that has a bit of an overhang and were in the shade the entire time. It's like God was taking care of me and my little girl.

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So, we didn't win the game that we were physically at, (actually, it was a pretty frustrating game to watch because the Ranger's just looked messy) but last night was a little bit different. I met Cody at a bar in Fort Worth to watch the game with some of his coworkers and it was awesome. We totally dominated game 5 and took the the AL Division Series.

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Now, I know what you're thinking. The Ranger's didn't win and clench the series while I was at the game. Details . . . Details . . .

You're missing the point.

I still totally believe that I'm some kind of good luck charm. Was it coincidence that every city I was in ended up winning their series? Maybe. But, maybe not.

But just in case, I won't be going to New York City anytime soon. The Ranger's play them Friday night and I don't want to take any chances.

08/29/2010

LBJ's Texas White House

As part of our long weekend to San Antonio, we stopped by the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park outside of Johnson City, TX.

I'll be honest, it took us 20 minutes and about two lovers spats (we only argue when it comes to directions) to find the place. It totally threw us off that you have to go to the state park to get the pass for the national park--although we probably made it more complicated than it needed to be.

Good news is that we made it, put our CD in the car for the audio tour, and we were on our way.

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The ranch is still a working ranch, so they work cattle, grow and bale their own hay, etc. They are wanting to keep it as similar to it was during LBJ's 1960's presidency as they can.

We saw a ton of deer.

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The cows were fat! Well, a lot of them were pregnant, but this calf below seemed a bit big to still be feeding off his mom.

(Sorry Momma Cow, just my opinion, but do you think he may be getting too old?)

I don't think she liked us looking at her.

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Man, it was beautiful. The huge open Texas sky dotted by the clouds.

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I could live here.

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I had visited here back in 1997 with my parents, but since "Lady Bird" (as LBJ's wife was called) was still living here, we could only walk next to her home. She passed away in 2007 and the National Park Service took over her house. We got to go inside, but no photography was allowed. They are restoring it to the 1960's "look" as well.

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You could really see why LBJ wanted to come here as much as he did. The tranquility he must have felt over living in Washington D.C. . . especially since he was dealing with the Vietnam War. They had a lot of pictures of his cabinet and other important people that would come here for meetings. LBJ even had a phone wired to his pool so he could take calls wherever he was.

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A bit off the beaten path since it's about an hours drive from San Antonio, but beautiful country and a good way to see the other side of a presidency. Sometimes I forget they are people too. I get so caught up in policies and what I agree or disagree with.

Glad we have preserved it.

08/18/2010

A Food Tour of The San Antonio Area

I'm always up for a good meal.

When Cody gifted me a weekend trip to San Antonio for my birthday, we spent a good amount of time researching some places to eat. Our research did not disappoint as eating, as usual, was one of the highlights of our trip.

Rio Rio Cantina on the Riverwalk

We stayed on the Riverwalk in downtown San Antonio and arrived late on Thursday night. We grabbed dinner at Rio Rio Cantina, a short 5 minute walk from our hotel. 

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The Riverwalk was hopping for a weeknight! Lots of good people watching and since we were seating right on the Riverwalk, we had a great view.

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The service and food wasn't spectacular (although we could have had just a bad waitress). We live in Texas so we have Tex-Mex food everywhere. Definitely not the best I've ever had, but I think the location made up for a lot of it.

And did I mention people watching? Definitely some interesting folks.

Silver K Cafe in Johnson City

After hitting the Alamo on Friday morning we headed out to Johnson City to check out LBJ's "Texas White House." We had seen the recommendation for the Silver K Cafe in Texas Highways magazine and we were not disappointed.

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The restaurant is located in the same place as the antique shop we bought our table at. Right in the heart of Johnson City, it offered home cooking with a certain elegance to it.

A good mix of people were there as well. Everyone from tourists (like ahem, us) to the Sheriff's department to business meetings and local retirees.

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We both got the prickly pear tea (not too different than regular tea, it just had a dash of flavor to it).

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At the last minute we ordered their Soup of the Day, broccoli and cheese. It was the best I've ever had, although I don't think I've ever had homemade. It makes a huge difference as it's not the plastic-taste stuff that you get at your average American chain restaurant.

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Cody ordered the Honey Pecan Fried Chicken and I opted for their special of the day, Watermelon Salad. 

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I had never in a million years thought to put watermelon on a salad. I would have liked it if the watermelon was a bit sweeter, but the combination of the red onion, cheese and salad dressing offered up just enough flavor.

The best part of the whole meal is pecan sauce that was on Cody's fried chicken. He gave me a little dollop and adding that to the salad REALLY made it good. 

The Dodging Duck Brewhaus & Restaurant in Boerne

Ah, does Google come in handy on road trips or what? We were headed back to San Antonio Friday night and were passing through some towns so I did a quick Google search on my iPhone for "best restaurant to eat in Boerne, TX" and the The Dodging Duck Brewhaus & Restaurant kept coming up in the search results. We exited off the interstate, drove through the cutest downtown area, and were sat immediately.

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Cody got one of their house beers (brewed right there at the restaurant) and we ordered fried green tomatoes for an appetizer. The sauce, creamy jalapeno cilantro lime, made the dish. I could have ate this as my meal.

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We opted to split the "Hill Country Sausage" four link plate (the Texas Hill Country, the area that we were in, is known for the early German settlements . . . there is a lot of German heritage in these small towns). We got one of each, including:

  • Knackwurst (veal and beef)
  • Bratwurst (spicy mix of veal and pork)
  • Jalapeno Cheese (beef and pork with jalapeno and cheddar cheese)
  • Country Style (German style pork and beef)

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Oh. My. Goodness. I would highly recommend this restaurant and this plate. They had more "regular" American type food, but a forkful of bratwurst, sauerkraut, cheddar cheese and their tangy raspberry sauce--all together--was amazing.

The Salt Lick in Driftwood

This place almost deserves its own post. Seriously. This is a really well known local BBQ joint that we saw on The Food Network a few times. We hit up Gurene, TX in the morning for some shopping and took the 45 minute drive over to The Salt Lick in Driftwood, TX for lunch. We had to wait 45 minutes, outside, but they did a good job of making it a comfortable wait by providing lemonade, popcorn and cooling fans (lemonade and popcorn for a small price, of course!).

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Driftwood is an unassuming town. Not a whole lot there but a handful of houses. The Salt Lick is definitely why people head out this way. I'd say there were at least 75 people waiting for seating.

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Once you get in you will see that it is a meat lovers paradise. I ordered the chopped beef sandwich thinking that it would be a small plate to tackle, and about fell out of my chair when my order came. The sandwich is twice as large as I would have expected it to be. There was no way I was going to get even close to finishing the thing.

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I also got a side of their potatoes and loved that it was not the classic mayonnaise-based potato salad found at most BBQ joints. It definitely tasted as though it had a more German flare to it, similar to the German Potato Salad I ate growing up. Really good stuff.

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On our way out we were able to get some good pictures of the cooking process.

Just stop for a second and imagine how it smelled . . .

Iron Cactus on the Riverwalk

Even though we were pretty darn full from The Salt Lick, we still needed dinner.

Back in San Antonio, right across the Riverwalk from our hotel, we tried the Iron Cactus to finish off our weekend. (Okay, we technically ate McDonald's on Sunday morning for breakfast but we won't count that as the last restaurant on our trip. Although you're hard pressed to find better hashbrowns.)

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The Iron Cactus has flowerbeds to block off the outside seating from the business of the Riverwalk. We initially thought this would be better, but we found that it was just too hot since we were getting no air movement. (Word to the wise on these 105 degree Texas days.) Don't worry, we survived.

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The food was amazing. We got table side guacamole, which we never order but we figured we'd eat like kings this one meal. Cody got the salmon and I got the Chipotle Pesto Lobster Ravioli. Both were delicious.

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Maybe the best part was the 2 minute walk from the restaurant to our hotel? Nice!

08/17/2010

Remembering The Alamo, As Any Good Texan Does

I have to admit I'm pretty uneducated when it comes to Texas history. I first came here for college in 2000 and at our freshman orientation camp I met a girl whose last name was Austin. She was talking about how she was a decedent of Stephen F. Austin and everyone thought it was the coolest thing. I had no idea who Stephen F. Austin was and just didn't get it.

Then, I married a Texan. And not just any Texan, but a sixth generation Texan-to-the-core guy. He takes his Texas history very seriously, as do most Texans, and so when in San Antonio this weekend, we had to stop by the Alamo (and we were only a few blocks from the Alamo--I've been here a couple times, but as a kid, so seeing it as an adult was going to be good).

We got to the Alamo when it opened, around 9am, not just to beat the crowds but the heat as well. It was going to be in the triple digits all weekend (both in Dallas and San Antonio, which are about a 4.5 hour drive apart) and even at 9am it was 85 degrees.

There are a ton of details I won't bore you with, but I'll hit you with some highlights.

First, the grounds were amazing. I'm a sucker for old trees and there were some old trees here.

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I had to pose next the biggest pecan tree I've ever seen. Native pecans usually grow in riverbed areas and the big ones are hundreds of years old. This one was just amazing.

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We also saw a HUGE live oak. I wasn't too familar with the live oak until I moved to Texas and they stay green year-round. This one was transplanted when it was 40 years old and now has to be held up by a series of poles and cables. It just makes you want to climb it.

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The old structure around the Alamo. In front is a paddle cactus. That is just ONE plant, not a bunch of them together.

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So, without any further delay . . .

The highlight of the morning was seeing the Alamo itself. The church (which is the most famous part of the Alamo) wasn't complete during the 13 day battle between Santa Anna's Mexican army and the Texas Revolution fighters. It had no roof and was just a small part of the complex that surrounded it.

The famous top you see below was actually added years later by the U.S. Army. 

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All the men fighting for the Texan Revolution died during the battle, including the famous Davy Crockett. What amazed me the most was how diverse the men that fought and died were. They came from various countries and various states, and there were even a couple freedman that fought, i.e. slaves that were free but chose to fight.

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We got to stand in front of the same rocks that witnessed a huge part of Texan and American history.

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After the fall of the Alamo, Texas was able to regroup for the Battle of San Jacinto. The Mexican army was taken by surprise, and the battle was essentially over after 18 minutes, with Texas coming out on top. During the fighting, many of the Texan soldiers repeatedly cried "Remember the Alamo!" I'm glad we're able to preserve and remember it too.

And, as any good Texan, I now have the pictures to prove it.

07/21/2010

A Drive-By Tourist in Philly

Last week I was back in Philadelphia for work meetings. Internal meetings . . .Which usually aren't as exciting as client meetings.

We stayed in a suburban Marriott and had our meetings at the same hotel, so my time outside enjoying what Philadelphia had to offer was VERY limited.

This is when I rely on my drive-by tourist experience. The Goal: Take in as much as you can at every opportunity. So, since I was stuck on the interstate driving from the airport to the hotel (because of construction and a pretty bad automobile accident), I whipped out my BlackBerry and took some pictures of things that would have been cool to stop at.

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I went on the east side of downtown Philadelphia. I was able to see the skyline with Citizens Bank Park, home of the Phillies. Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Eagles(even though I'm a Cowboy fan . . .). I also drove right by the Wachovia Center, where the Flyers and 76ers play.

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(Taken in between the construction and accident . . . Of course, the more interesting parts of the commute had open interstate!)

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Philly is a great location . . . just to my right was New Jersey and the train ride from Philly to New York City is only an hour+. You're close to everything, even rural American and Amish country.

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We had a "team building dinner" on Tuesday night. These are always interesting since you can get to know your coworkers as people, not just the voice on the other end of your conference call. The only problem is that we went to Dave & Buster's for dinner. It was fun, but if I'm in a new city, I want to enjoy a bit of the local flavor. I can head over to Dave & Buster's here in Dallas anytime and get the exact same food---you know?

(A side note: I dominated in pool. Okay, not really. I did not dominate. But, I had a handful of shots that were pretty cool. As I told my coworkers, "You don't become 7th grade pool champion without having some mad skills.")

Wednesday night was a better choice for food as we went to Toscana 52. It's a local place in the suburb of Feasterville. Great atmosphere and although busy, it was a good place to hold a big group. I got a fantastic pasta dish, called "Champagne Pear Sacchetti," or a fancy pasta with pears and walnuts. Loved that my post-dinner coffee came with its own individual coffee pot.

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I'm still itching to get into downtown Philly to experience some of the amazing historical places. I'm, of course, always up for some good food too.

07/09/2010

As Close To A Real Tattoo As I'll Ever Get

I'm deathly afraid of needles. No, I mean DEATHLY afraid.

People don't understand. They say things like, "Just don't look." I want to tell them, "Oh, thank you SO much for that advice. It COMPLETELY changes my outlook on needles. Man, this whole time (my entire life) if I had just not looked, all would have been better!"

For example, last year we had to get shots for our trip to Africa. It was kind of ridiculous how many shots we had to get: Yellow Fever, Hepatitis A, Tetanus and Meningitis (along with Malaria pills, which I was fine with). It was a big deal for me. I hadn't had a shot since I was 17 years old (my mom conspired against me with my 3rd period teacher to come and surprise me and take me to the doctor--it was literally the last day I could get a shot before I was banned from school and it was very traumatic).

We had to go over to the City of Dallas health place to get the Yellow Fever shot because it the shot has such a short shelf life, so not very many places carry it. We went with our friends Dace and Jacque, which I thought would help me. I thought if they were there, I wouldn't be such a baby. I still cried and freaked out and said, "I can't do this" while flapping my arms, shaking, sweating, etc.

Poor Cody.

The next three were done in my doctors office. I always try to warn the nurse that I'm terrified of shots but I don't think they really understand my warning until they bring in the needles. I start to freak out.

It was as horrible as I thought it would be. Tetanus was SO painful and not only did I feel like crap the rest of the day, but my left arm was so sore for 3-4 days after that.

Okay, now that I've laid the ground work here, I'd like to follow up and say that I'd love to get a half-sleeve tattoo. Not that I would ever get one (hence my fear of needles) but anytime I see a woman with a half-sleeve I'm just so jealous. In another life, I'd totally get one and it would be way cool.

While in Mexico I decided to fulfill my dream, if not just temporarily, and get a big fat tattoo on my right shoulder. And get this . . . no needles were necessary.

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I was cool, for like, four days before it started to fade.

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Four days of pretending that my fear of needles didn't really exist.

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