Steel City Stories


My business is ministry and that ministry targets Central Asia and the Middle East, so I can’t always be an open book about where I go and why.  However, I can tell you I made a visit to Birmingham, Alabama for business at an unspecified time for an unspecified reason.  While I can’t give you those details, I can tell you some of the stories related to the trip.

The Crack of Dawn

In the DFW Terminal

In the DFW Terminal

My traveling companion for this particular trip was my work buddy and good friend, Hannah Beth.  I’m old enough to be her mother and she’s gracious enough to treat me as if I’m her age, and I love it.  Our flight to Birmingham was ridiculously early and we had to bring along some signage, so both of us were concerned about getting there, getting checked in and getting on the flight.  In our eagerness we got to the airport hours before we needed to.  We were there so early I had plenty of time to walk around and take pictures of the mosaics on the floor.

over-easyAn Over Easy Arrival

We arrived in Birmingham in time for breakfast.  While I’m used to being the tour guide pretty much anywhere I go, I was happy to turn the reins over to Hannah Beth on this trip.  Her sister goes to school there, so she has the inside track.  She proved that when she took us to Over Easy.  She had a breakfast-something and I had lunch-something.  Both were delicious.

The decor and atmosphere was very California:  modernesque  furniture and semi-hippie waitstaff.  Because it was a late morning on a weekday, most of the clientele were students who didn’t have early classes and a few moms who’d dropped the older kids off at school.

We arrived at the restaurant via her sister’s campus.  We Uber-ed there from the airport.  I’m not a natural Uber-er, but Hannah Beth treats it like it’s her second car.  We may work together like two peas in a pod, but we do come from opposite sides of the generation gap.  At the campus, we picked up her sister’s car – another evidence of working in ministry.  No rental cars or swanky hotels.

Speaking of the lack of swanky hotels, we stayed in a La Quinta.  Don’t get me wrong.  There was nothing wrong with the place.  It was clean and convenient.  The breakfast was good.  It was a fine place to stay, but let’s face it two stars is not exactly plush.

So that’s the basics – an early morning flight, a little transportational shuffle, a hearty breakfast and an economy hotel.  The rest of the meals were either breakfast at the hotel or something served to us at the thing I can’t tell you about.  However, this was me and I had Hannah Beth with me.  Adventures are in store.  By the way, Birmingham is called the Steel City, because it used to be the home of most of the world’s steel mills.  More about that next week, so please come back to visit.

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Huiscaho Grill & Wine Bar, New Brunsfels


Since this was Shana’s retreat, she was in charge of making all the decisions.  That in itself was a real treat.  I like it when I’m not in charge of anything except myself, but there’s still people around to enjoy.  I have a tendency to start herding any group I’m a part of, even when I don’t mean to.  I didn’t know most of the people in this herd and I wasn’t in familiar surroundings, so I just sat back and went along for the ride.  On this particular evening we headed into New Brunsfel to have dinner at the Huiscaho Grill.

The Huiscaho Grill and Wine Bar

If you’re looking for a great place to eat, you’re gonna wanna know about this place, but if you’re in a hurry, don’t stop here.  This is what you call an experience.  On Friday and Saturday nights, they don’t take reservations, but if you have 12 or more you can call the same day to give them a “head’s up.”  I’m not sure exactly what that means, but here’s how it went for us.

For some reason we were in a mad dash to get to the restaurant.  However, when we got there everything was in slow motion.  This was not a problem.  The restaurant, which seems to be in an augmented residential site, has a lovely lawn with eclectic furnishings scattered around for the enjoyment of adult beverages.  It’s also adjacent to a darling little lane of boutiques.

There were several car loads of girls on this adventure.  One carload seemed to be lost, in spite of frequent texting and conversations.  The balance of us divided out time between the shopping opportunity and adult beverage drinking.  Deb and I had been shopping for hours, so we sort of did our thing by anchoring the lawn table, irrespective of the rest of the ladies.  The restaurant had one hard and fast rule.  You could not be seated until your entire party has arrived.  I’m not sure we ever actually fulfilled that rule, but eventually they did give us a table.

See there were the lost girls and the shopping girls and the girls who walked around the building to see if they could find the lost girls and then the lost girls showed up, but the ones that walked around the building disappeared and we never knew whether someone was shopping, lost or making a love connection, but it was all fun.

When we finally all sat down in the restaurant with enough light to see one another, the shoppers started comparing their purchases.  If we’d ever had everyone sitting at the table at once, that ended the moment the shopping revelations began, because ladies started popping up to buy one of the whatever someone else had purchased.

20160917_200840Let’s Get Serious About the Food

For starters, Deb and I began with Fried Brie.  We pretty much love Brie anyway it comes to us, but this was a particularly delicious rendition of an old favorite.  When it comes to calorie counting and numbers of carbs, we probably should have stopped right there, but as I’ve said before, this was a retreat and indulgence is the name of the game.  So we ordered dinner.

20160917_210232I chose the Basil Grilled Chicken Breast.  Sounds healthy, right?  I mean brunch had been a fritatta, so I was being somewhat good.  When the plate arrived it looked so good that I dove into it with relish, but stopped myself after a few bites, because I realized that you would want to see what it looked like.  It was enough to feed an army.  Count them, not one, but two chicken breasts.  If Deb and I would have known, we would have just shared.  I’m pretty sure I managed to clean my plate.

So for food, I gave it an A+.  For entertainment, I would give this group of girls an A+, five stars and tiara.  I’m pretty sure everyone in the place thought we were the floor show.  I had a blast and wouldn’t trade the evening for anything.  But wait, we’re not through!

20160917_220123The Pour Haus

So, here we are, a large group of ladies, all gussied up for a night on the town.  We decide to stroll across the street to a beer garden called the Pour Haus.  In my memory, this sort of thing used to be so much fun.  Beer, people, live music – what’s not to love?  Well, nothing against the Pour Haus, but beer, people and live music just aren’t what they used to be.  It’s not their fault, it’s mine.

As the group entered the establishment and tried to figure out the lay of the land, we became a very large hindrance to foot traffic.  This place was all about cute young things in sundresses and cowboy boots.  We didn’t exactly melt into the crowd.  Some folks sidled up to the bar, but between the champagne cocktails at lunch and a few hours of wine, beer wasn’t even tempting.

Finally, we wandered around until we found a circle of Adirondack chairs and I would have been content to spend the evening there.  However, the single ones in the crowd realized we were out of the flow of traffic and that wasn’t what they were looking for.  There was a quick negotiation by those in charge.  Some were going back to the house and others were going to stay out.  While I could have happily sat there and listened to the music and people-watched for a while, I got the distinct impression that those who wanted to stay out weren’t exactly interested in the same thing I was.  So Deb and I opted for heading back.

It was a fun night I will cherish for a long time and I easily recommend both venues to you.




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San Marcos Premium Outlets

A Sampling of my Souvenirs

A Sampling of my Souvenirs


I love shopping.  Actually, it would be more correct to say I love buying.  I’m perfectly capable of wandering through a bazaar or market in a faraway place, just to get a feel for the place, but for me, it’s a lot more fun if there’s buying involved.

My husband has finally cured me of that – at least when he’s around.  I used to come home from trips with a souvenir from every stop.  I collected trinket boxes and Christmas ornaments.  I loved to find handmade clothing and jewelry.  I gathered up souvenir booklets like some people collect baseball cards.  In the early years of our marriage, this practice created great discomfort for Bill.  He followed me around  with his eyes full of pain and flinched at every purchase.  I didn’t pay close enough attention, so he started helping me understand his point of view.

Collecting just doesn’t make any sense to him.  To Bill, all my gorgeous trinket boxes seemed like clutter.  He’s suggested I store most of them and only put out a few at a time.  What once held pride of place, on the fireplace mantle of my apartment, is now hidden away upstairs on a shelf in my office – along with all my framed family photos, my large collection of books and … well you get the picture.  I don’t have to allow much room for souvenirs in my return luggage, anymore.

From time to time, I’ll have a lapse of judgement.  We’ll be traveling and I’ll pick up an item with that look in my eye.  Bill goes into panic mode.  Trinket boxes and Christmas ornaments are strictly taboo.  If I’ve picked up an item for the house, Bill wants to know exactly where I plan to display it and of course, he really loves what’s there and doesn’t want to replace it.  Whatever it is, it won’t be coming home with me.  Clothing and jewelry?  Forget about it.  He asks what I’m going to throw away or donate to make space for the new item.  My only hope of making a purchase is when I find a gift for someone else.  It takes some of the fun out of it.

The Exceptions to the Rule

While he can’t see the value in that cute straw purse on the beach or an embroidered sweater in the Alps, Bill does understand I know my way around an outlet mall.  He fully endorses my outlet shopping.  Mind you, he rarely goes with me, but he also doesn’t need resuscitation when I come home with armloads of shopping bags.  See, he knows that cute straw purse on the beach has a mark-up somewhere in the range of 100%, but if I buy a top at an outlet mall, they’ve almost had to pay me to get me to carry it out.

I’m also allowed to buy shoes at DSW.  I never look at anything unless it’s on the clearance rack and even then, I’ll only look at things that are 50% or more off.  What I love is the yellow stickers, because that means they are marked down 80% or more.

San Marcos Premium Outlet

20170112_075950For some reason I cannot fathom, I never shopped at the San Marcos Premium Outlet – at least not in the last 20-30 years.  It seems as if long ago I might have gone with Mom and Aunt Edie, but I think the stores may have been on the other side of the road – and none of the stores I loved this time were there.

You know I love San Antonio and get there every time I can, but for some reason, we’d just drive right past this outlet mall or stop in Salado.  It pains me to think of all the bargains I’ve missed.

Deb and I started at Off 5th, the Saks outlet.  I’d been looking at white pique dresses all summer long, but could not tolerate spending $150-200 for one dress.  At Saks, I took several reasonably priced options to the dressing room and found one for about$20 that I loved.  (I didn’t even know I was headed to Egypt on my next trip.  Imagine how cute I will be, going out to dinner in Sharm!)  Then off to the shoe department.  Score!!  Ellen Tracy brown crocodile pumps with a leather stack heel for $16.99!   $16.99!!

20170112_080244After that auspicious beginning, my purchasing slowed down, but I did pick up a few items here and there.  Then we wandered in to Dream Land.  I pride myself on looking designer without paying designer prices, but I confess, there are designers I love and if money were no object, as my spouse if fond of saying, I’d load my closet up with them.  My new favorite is Carolina Herrera.  To my utter delight, she has an outlet store in San Marcos.  The prices are still a little out of my reach, but they are closer than the ones at Northpark.  Armani, Brahmin, Coach, Ferragamo – all these and more grace the sidewalks of the San Marcos outlet mall.

But let me tell you my favorite.  I love St. John.  I can pick out someone wearing it a mile away.  There’s a sleek elegance I aspire to that exudes from each St. John creation.  Their store is not exactly on the main drag, so we had to wander a bit to find it, but I adored the few moments I spent there.  No reason to spend any more, because nothing was in my price range.

At a final stop, we found a handbag for my bestie.  She’d been willing to pay $100 for something adequate at the Saks outlet, but we agreed to keep looking.  She got a Brahmin for about $120.  I was giddy.  She hoped I was spending her money wisely and now I think she agrees I did.

Then it was time to head back to join the women who had spend the day in Gruene, because we were headed out to dinner.  See you next week!

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Palmer’s is Perfect – Almost!


Armed with a recommendation and an address, Deb and I headed towards San Marcos.  We wanted to grab a bite before we headed to the outlet mall.  We found a lot more than a bite at Palmer’s!

An Awkward Beginning

From the street Palmer’s doesn’t look like much.  In fact, coming from Gruene, the first thing you see is a wall with a large mural.  Nothing about the mural let us know we’d made a good decision, but when we found the parking lot we realized we’d found the nirvana which had evaded me during an earlier yoga session.

A large shaded patio with a splashing fountain promised we were about to have a good time, but we had to work for it.  As we passed the patio entering the restaurant there were scads of empty tables, but when we asked to sit out there, the hostess hesitated.  She had to go check something and she asked us to sit down.  When she came back she said we’d need to wait a little and that sounded OK, until a little turned into a lot.

There was a time in my life when I would have meekly sat there until called, but that time has passed.  The hostess busied herself sorting through menus and made a career of ignoring us.  Since the patio was virtually empty, we wondered what was up.  Finally, I asked exactly what we were waiting on since there were so many tables available.  She stammered around about the wait staff having just taken orders and not being quite ready to serve us.  I didn’t stammer when I said we’d rather do our waiting outside.

She reluctantly seated us on the patio and soon we’d made our drink orders.  It was never quite clear why the hostess expected us to wait docilely in the slightly dank and very dark vestibule, but with the breeze blowing, a jazz trio playing and the water playing in the fountain, we didn’t care for very long.

Sour cream? REALLY?

Sour cream? REALLY?

A Little Bit of Heaven

So, the service was lacking before we ever got a chance to sit down, but I didn’t really care.  The food took forever to get there and when I got it, I didn’t like it very much.  (Nothing on the menu suggested the fritatta came heavily drizzled with sour cream.  There are only three things in the whole world that I won’t eat and sour cream is one of them.)  But that’s alright.  I was happy and didn’t want to get unhappy!

Sitting on the patio at Palmer’s is the closest thing I’ve found to sitting on the patio at Joe T’s; and sitting on the patio at Joe T’s is the closest thing I’ve found to heaven – only the food at Joe T’s is good, really good.

The food might have been mediocre, but they had something called a Poinsettia to drink.  For the uninitiated, a Poinsettia is the same thing as a Mimosa, except that you use cranberry juice instead of orange juice.  Orange juice is not one of the three things I refuse to partake of, but I do avoid it if I can.  Now that I know about Poinsettias, I will never have to regret that I don’t particularly like Mimosas, ever again in my life.

Here’s what’s funny.  A Poinsettia was $5, but according to the waitress, “for $8 you can get twice as much.”  I planned to be there for a while so I went for the large.  Forget twice as much!  I could have gotten everyone on the patio severely drunk with the huge bottle of Poinsettias I was served.  Deb had started with a make-your-own Bloody Mary Bar, with which she had been underwhelmed, but if we would have known, we would have just ordered the large Poinsettia and two glasses.  We both drank as much as we dared over several hours and still couldn’t make a dent.  See why the fritatta didn’t matter!!

I could go on, but the bottom line is this, the shady patio, the jazz band and the Poinsettias were so good, nothing else mattered – not the lousy service, not the mediocre food, nothing.  I will return to Palmer’s but it was time to head to the outlet mall.  Look out credit cards!!

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Going Gruene!

Along the Guadelupe

Along the Guadelupe


With the Magnolia Silos in our rear view mirror, Deb and I put the pedal to the medal.  The Gaines DIY magic hadn’t charmed us, but we’d been through the New Braunfels area before and knew things were looking up.

It’s Pronounced “Green” Like the Color

My friend Shana said the retreat would be in New Braunfels, but Deb and I were looking forward to Gruene.  We’d been through about a year before and knew it warranted further investigation.  Gruene is a cute little historical district inside the city of New Braunfels.  While New Braunfels is famous for Oktoberfest, Gruene offers other opportunities.

The name of the little enclave of funk maybe pronounced the same way as good environmental choices, but there’s a lot of bad choices you can make in Gruene.  For instance, at Gruene Hall you can drink too many beers and end up starting a bad relationship.  Or you can clean out your pocketbook and overload your credit card in the charming boutiques.  And of course, there’s tubing, which means sunburn, puckered finger tips and probably too much beer.  I’m teasing, but only a little bit.  Most folks go to Gruene to unwind and a large number manage to become unwound.

We’d looked at the map and decided we’d be really close to Gruene, we just hadn’t understood how close and while the pictures of the accommodations looked good, we hadn’t anticipated how good!

dsc_0237Welcome to the Retreat!

Yup, that’s our retreat.  It was just around the corner from Gruene’s main drag and in the middle of heaven.  We were among the first to arrive and had to wander a bit before we figured out that we had, in fact, arrived at the right place.  Soon we were moving in and sampling the goodies Shana had whipped up for us.

Next stop was a large flagstone patio with a circle of brightly-hued Adirondack chairs.  We found a seat and got to know our fellow retreat mates.  What an amazing group of women.  I figured they’d have to be pretty special to count among Shana’s friends.

dsc_0262We spent the evening hanging out around the campfire, swapping stories and laughing – a lot.  Shana let us know this was a do-it-yourself retreat.  She had plenty of food in the frig and yoga sessions were available, but there were no planned coaching sessions.  That was OK with Deb and I.  In spite of one too many margaritas, I managed to find my bed and get a good night’s sleep.

In the morning, I pulled on my exercise togs and headed to the patio for some yoga, but it had been a while since I’d yoga’d and the humidity made it a little much for me.  I got busy hydrating and dressing for a day of shopping.  A good number of the girls were going to tie rafts up to the trees in the river and another bunch were going tubing, but the San Marcos Outlet Malls were calling.

I asked Shana where we should go to lunch and she recommended a place called Palmer’s.  WOW, was she spot on!  I’ll tell you about it next week.



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Road Trip Time!

Gardening Magnolia Style

Gardening Magnolia Style


Last summer, my friend Shana announced she’d gotten her life coach certification and extended an invitation to her first retreat.  I didn’t hesitate.  Of course I was going to attend and I figured my bestie would go, too.  The trip also proved to be the perfect opportunity to stop in Waco at the famous Magnolia Silos.

The Magnolia

Deb and I aren’t exactly DIY enthusiasts, but we’re all about shopping opportunities.  In Dallas, the buzz about The Magnolia was so loud we figured it had to be wonderful.  As it turned out, we’re just not the Fixer Upper types.  I’m sure that’s not hurting Chip and Joanna Gaines at all, but it did increase my growing sense of disconnect with the modern world.

We took a few wrong turns, but found the famous silos in spite of ourselves.  I’d heard on the weekends you couldn’t get near the place.  This particular Friday morning it was quiet, which may, in part, explain some of our lack of enthusiasm.

Lunch Time

The “restaurant” at The Magnolia is a group of food trucks with picnic-table seating.   On the surface that seemed like my cup of tea and it could have been, if the sun hadn’t turned the gravel covered area into an Easy Bake Oven.  We strolled up and down the row of food trucks and quickly understood why everyone was standing in line at the Cheddar Box.

The other choices available didn’t resonate with us.  We should have wanted to eat at the healthy place, but this was a road trip after all and indulgence is the name of the game.  There were some unhealthy choices, but the heat made those unappealing.  The crepes sounded good, but I didn’t want to start with dessert.  That left the Cheddar Box.  While my Guac This Way sammie was good, I can’t give the Cheddar Box any points for efficiency.

After waiting in line we were given a number and sent to find a table.  They said they’d call us when our sammies were ready.  While there were plenty of tables, only a few were covered, so everyone who was visiting The Magnolia, on this particular day, was huddled together out of the sun.  We made nice with the strangers at our tables and found they’d been waiting quite a while for their grilled cheese sandwiches, long before we arrived to huddle with them.  Then we waited together for another while.  By the time we got our sammies, the heat had drained us of our enthusiasm for them.

The Shopping Opportunity

The Magnolia Market was at the front of the property on the way to the car, so Deb and I hit the new garden center next to the food trucks.  While charming, the gardening style was a little un-manicured for our tastes and the goodies in the shed a little steep for our pocketbooks.  We figured we hadn’t yet happened upon the Magnolia Magic, so we headed for the main store.

I’d only watched one episode of Fixer Upper, so I didn’t know the style used in that episode was the sum total of the Magnolia look.  To me, something named after one of my favorite types of foliage, should be as elegant as the aroma of the namesakes blossoms.  Instead it was sort of log cabin meets minimalist porcelain.  Everybody else walked out with bags of goodies.  Deb and I just shrugged our shoulders and went back to the car.

While it was not exactly the break we’d hoped for, we’d managed to get lunch and mark something off our to-do list.  On to New Braunfels!


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Coming Attractions

happy-new-year-sms-message-card_nyztjrgTRAVEL THERE: WHAT’S NEXT!

Just about the time I start to fret and wonder if I’m about to become the unwilling hostage of my pond, the travel gods smile on me and give me a peek into my travel future.  Here’s what 2017 holds for me – so far.

Wichita Falls, Here I Come!

OK, so Wichita Falls in March isn’t all that exciting, but Beth Moore is.  I’ve been enjoying her Bible Studies for almost as long as they’ve been available on video.  Confession, I watched the first one, A Woman’s Heart – God’s Dwelling Place, on VHS.

Perhaps you remember I finally saw the Bible Study Superstar in person in Wichita, Kansas in 2015, on a little road trip with my bestie.  Beth is compelling on video.  In person she’s riveting.  Her road show is called Living Proof Live and this time around I’m upping the ante and will also attend her You Lead training.  I’m about to get Beth-inized!

Bestie is coming along this time too, but I’ll also have a number of my Buffalo Gals Bible Study girls with me.  Road Trip!  Girl’s Trip!  Look out Wichita Falls!

My first visit to the Pyramids

My first visit to the Pyramids

The Big Trip

So, a few months back our nephew, Bassem, proposed to a lovely girl in Egypt.  Hubby made it very clear from the moment the engagement was announced that we would NOT be attending the wedding.  I complied obediently, because I knew the secret weapon was coming to visit in December.  Who could resist Bassem?  He’s as subtle as a freight train and as relentless as a Doberman Pincer, but also completely earnest.

Within 24 hours of his arrival, Bassem had Bill doing a 180 and I’m now researching round-trip airfare to Cairo in April.  I’ll see my first Coptic wedding and attend the reception at one of the famed Fairmonts in Cairo.  The schedule is still being hammered out, but a celebratory family trip to beautiful Sharm El Shiek is on the must-do list, while we juggle other possibilities like a short cruise on the Nile, a day trip to Alexandria and maybe a night at the luxurious Mena House Hotel in the shadow of the Pyramids.

I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am about this trip.  I was in love with Egypt long before I fell in love with my Egyptian.  I’ve only been there one time before, but it was marvelous.  To return is a dream come true that I never dared to dream.

The Crazy Possibility

That should be enough excitement for anyone, but there is one more little possibility on the horizon.  I may actually have an opportunity to go to the Holy Land in the coming year.  It’s related to the ministry I volunteer with and a zillion things would have to fall into place for it to happen, but it is being discussed and I am keeping my calendar open.  Cross your fingers for me.

So that’s what’s up for 2017.  I have a couple of small trips from 2016 to cover in the next few weeks, but get ready to strap on your seat belt, because this plane is about to take off!

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