Washington D.C. – Austin’s favorites

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Spirit of St. Louis
Spirit of St. Louis, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
Satellite, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
Satellite, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
Troop casting, World War II Memorial
3D Troop casting, World War II Memorial
Birds of the World War II Memorial Towers
Looking up, World War II Memorial Towers
Texas, World War II Memorial
Texas, World War II Memorial
American Red Cross National Headquarters
American National Red Cross Headquarters
Lincoln Memorial
Lincoln Memorial
White House ready for Easter
White House ready for Easter
So close and yet so far away!
So close and yet so far away!

Gator Country

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Last weekend while leaving our home state of Texas, Austin and I made one last had-to stop in Beaumont.  Owned by conservationist Gary Saurage, Gator Country is an alligator rescue facility in the East Texas bayou country.  With over 300 live alligators, plus many other reptiles and animals, the facility is touted as the “premier alligator wildlife park in Texas.”  Saurage has been featured on CMT, Animal Planet, Bravo and A&E, as well as international documentaries.  Currently he can be seen guest starring with Billy the Exterminator on A&E.

While there we enjoyed the ability to touch and pet alligators, tortoises, a raccoon, and a large albino boa named Banana.  And although the facility is on winter schedule, Gary himself joined in our group and made sure our experience was both exciting and educational.

This is a great stop for kids of all ages.  There is a full playground for the children to let loose, and activities for adults and children including fun interactive educational shows.

For more information on visiting Gator Country: http://gatorrescue.com/

The Lone Star State

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Texas!   Back to my home state but still so far from home!  Today Austin and I attended the First Unitarian Church of Dallas in none other than the Lone Star State.  Although the church community began there over 100 years ago, the current Frank Lloyd Wright-esque sanctuary is an homage to fluid space and shared community.  The architect, Harwell Hamilton Harris, truly designed what he described as “a clearing in the forest,” all completed with a dominant burning chalice guiding attendees to the peace within the space.

Led by Senior Minister, Rev. Dr. Daniel Kanter, today’s service was one honoring the church’s “UU of the Year” for service and deeds completed within the church community (and in the greater Dallas community at-large), followed by a sermon titled, “Too Christian, Not Christian Enough.”  Dr. Kanter well expressed the historical ties to Unitarianism, but also to those that led to the path of his suggested true labeling as a “Free Church.”  One that is neither too Christian, nor Christian enough, in that so it is perfectly balanced without confines to secular and non-secular labeling alike.  A place where Christians and Atheists commingle in celebration of diversity and compassion.  A place where all whom support and commit to the seven UU Principles can live, learn, and love without judgment or inequity.

First Unitarian Church of Dallas Sanctuary(Photo from www.dallasuu.org)
First Unitarian Church of Dallas Sanctuary
(Photo from http://www.dallasuu.org)

Stirring the passion was music provided by “emma’s revolution,” a fun and modernly folksy duo of Sandy O. and Pat Humphries.  Austin and I both especially loved their song, “Peace, Salaam, Shalom,” written in response to reactions to the attacks on 9/11.

If you live in the Dallas area and would like to attend First Unitarian, you can find information about their services and events at www.dallasuu.org.  Be sure to take time to explore the campus and have coffee with the UUs attending there.  They will be glad to welcome you!

From the First Unitarian website, “As the largest liberal religious congregation in Dallas and one of the largest Unitarian Universalist congregations in the country, our history lives on today. We remain a progressive oasis in Dallas; a harbor for lost and wandering people without a compass for their religious natures; a place to read, discuss and move against tyrannies of the mind, heart and body; a treasure of wisdom and strength for our children; a community within which to weather the difficult times and celebrate the joyous times of life; and a voice of reason and challenge in an increasingly conservative religious landscape.”

Homeland cuisine

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Although Texas is known for its steaks and chili, here in the borderland we have the ultimate in border Mexican cuisine.  Anything from the simple to the gourmet, the chiles and the tortillas never tasted better than those from the heart of El Paso.

Chicos TacosWhile some El Pasoans will argue the worth of some of the foods I love, it’s like a calling when coming back home.  Australians have their vegemite, Scots have their haggis, and El Pasoans have our own Chico’s Tacos made infamous by “Fluffy” (comedian Gabriel Iglesias), and all of us who grew up with late night visits after Friday high school football and crashing quinceaneras.  Chico’s Tacos are the tacos that are really flautas drowned in tomato water, drenched in a hot green chile salsa, and covered in an un-meltable shredded cheese.  And did I say nearly impossible to eat?  While some use the fork-tong method to temporarily hold them above the paper tray and attempt neatness while eating, many of us just grab the thing and damn with the mess.  Honestly, aren’t some of the best tasting foods the messiest to eat?  (Ever had a Whopper that didn’t drip?  What a disappointment!)

My other favorite El Paso landmark restaurant is Kiki’s, made famous by locals and multiple Kikisawards and appearances on the Food Network channel.  Every Sunday afternoon following church you will find my son Austin and me enjoying a perfect specimen of borderland food there.  Known for it’s machacas, which are amazing, this restaurant doesn’t fail on any of it’s menu.  When not splurging, I enjoy just a simple green cheese enchilada, my favorite of all foods.  Enchiladas are also my test food anytime I try a new restaurant.  Hell, if they can’t get the basics in tortillas with chiles, sauces, and cheeses, then you won’t find me returning for a second go.

I love my border Mexican so much that I took it with me on my last trip.  Loaded up on frozen tacos and enchiladas, I pulled them out and shared them with friends and family unfortunate enough to live back East, far away from our desert paradise.

And now I face their dilemma, a full-year without my favorites.  Dry ice and FedEx anyone?

If you ever have the fortune of visiting El Paso, use the links below to find my favorites:

Kiki’s Restaurant http://www.kikisrestaurant.com/

Chico’s Tacos locations http://www.yellowpages.com/el-paso-tx/chicos-tacos (Bring cash, Chico’s does not accept credit cards)