Pumpkins and Corn and Pies…Oh My!

‘Tis the season to enjoy some outdoor fall fun!

When I’m traveling, I keep an eye out for local farmer’s markets. They’re a great resource to pick up fresh fruit and veggies for car snacks or, if wherever I’m staying has a kitchen, cook for an easy meal.

My favorite local spot to hit for this is Froberg’s Farm in Alvin.

Pie, oh my! Froberg’s has one of my family’s favorite (and most decadent) treats: fried pies! Of course they have full-sized pies too, but the smaller versions? Too tempting and good. Let’s see: peach cream, chocolate pecan, apple raisin, coconut…how’s a girl to choose? Our solution is usually to get a few different ones and cut them into “sampler plates” when we get home. But it’s fun to get one and take it outside under to the trees to enjoy while its still warm, too. Ah, decisions, decisions.  


Froberg’s also has the best variety I’ve seen of small autumn pumpkins, gourds and Indian corn. It’s a great stop to pick up an assortment to use for decor, or let the kids decorate. What is it about tiny pumpkins? They’re just so hard to resist!

The Froberg family has created a kind of fall wonderland for all ages in back of the market, too! But it’s only open through November 4, so you’ll want to get it on your calendar.

 

My girlfriend and I were eager to check out the new “Flower Picking” option, because…well.. fields of flowers! For three dollars, you get a good old fashioned red Dixie cup, and are set loose in the fields to fill it with as many flower as will fit in the cup. Want more flowers? Just buy another cup.

 It’s a great place to take families to run off some of that weekend energy, too. They have a cornfield maze, Berry Fun Land (with slides and climbing obstacles), bean bag toss, strawberry planting booth, basket toss, face painting, “Bee Coaster” ride, rubber duck races, a trailer ride farm tour, corn cannon, gemstone mining and more. Check out their website for details and prices: https://frobergsfarm.com




What fall fun have you found?

 

Cozy Cottage with a Historic View

I recently learned that the former Ranger’s Cottage at Varner-Hogg Plantation in West Columbia is now available to rent for overnight stays. I didn’t hesitate to make a reservation immediately!

The Varner Hogg Plantation is a State Historic Site featuring the original plantation home and several outbuildings. See my previous post for more about it:  https://bit.ly/2Nxki0L

Though the website had basic information about the cottage, the photos online don’t do it justice. Being a Girl Scout leader, I know that the word “cottage” sometimes means extremely rustic and bare bones. While that won’t scare me away, I was pleasantly surprised with this location.

Built in the 1920s, the Ranger’s cottage sits slightly back across the site road from the main house, beneath large pecan trees that probably predate my grandmother.

Rocking chairs and a bistro table and chair set wait on the porch, inviting guests to linger and enjoy the immense trees, heavily draped with Southern moss. I honestly wasn’t sure I’d get much further, since I have in incurable weakness for porches, but I’m glad I did.

 

 

 




The entire cottage has been updated and decorated with comfortable, modern furnishings. No detail has been overlooked in making each room a welcoming space. The living room even has a basket of monogrammed blankets so family or friends can curl up on the sofa to enjoy an evening movie.

 

To the right of the living room is a brightly colored, spacious master bedroom with space enough to do a little dancing before bedtime. The master bath has a dressing room with sink and mirror, and a separate room with shower and toilet. The amenities (towels, shampoo items, gels) are more who I would have expected from a hotel than a historic cottage on a state historic site! 

The kitchen was the next pleasant surprise (and by the time I saw it I was regretting not bringing a group of friends with me!). Stocked with serve ware and basic cookware, it features a full size refrigerator/freezer, microwave, range and coffeemaker. It would be such fun to stay here with family or friends and gather on the barstools at the counter to chat while fixing a meal! The attractive concrete counters, by the way, were made by one of the site employees (and I wonder if he would mind stopping by my house to make some for me!).
Just outside the kitchen door is a small back porch big enough for a couple of chairs. It would be a relaxing spot for a chat and cup of coffee or cocoa.

A stairway from the rear of the cottage leads to the second floor, and an additional full bath and two large bedrooms. Again, I was surprised by the size of the rooms, considering the age and original use of the cottage!

The yellow bedroom with twin beds and floral bedding seemed bright and cheery even on the dreary rainy day that I arrived. 

The second upstairs bedroom was decorated in a lovely shabby chic violet, with full beds.

The cottage was so comfy, it would have been easy to just nest inside, but of course one of the major advantages of staying on site at the plantation is being able to explore the grounds even after visiting hours. Everything on site is within easy walking distance, including the main house, the ruins of the sugar mill and slave quarters, picnic grounds, the old family cemetery and more.

It was a special treat to wander around after an evening rain taking in the beauty and history while being serenaded by the frogs in Varner Creek.

I’m already planning a girls’ trip to share this wonderful find!

For information about making a reservation for your stay at the Varner-Hogg Plantation, visit https://bit.ly/2oHdpkB

Have you ever stayed at a historic site? If so, which one and did you enjoy it?

Stepping Back in Time at Varner-Hogg Plantation

Don’t you just love visiting a place that makes history come to life?

The Varner-Hogg Plantation in West Columbia is one of those sites.

When most of us think of plantations, our thoughts go immediately to Louisiana or Mississippi. But just an hour south of downtown Houston an enchanting reminder of the past sits tucked backed on acreage covered by magnolia trees and a pecan orchard, beside a lazy, winding creek.

The Varner-Hogg Plantation Historic Site shares the story of three owners and their families.

Martin Varner came to the area in 1824 and was granted 4,428 acres by Stephen F. Austin. Along with the two male slaves they brought to the area, his family raised a small amount of livestock and established a rum distillery.

Ruins of sugar mill

Ten years later, Columbus R. Patton moved from Kentucky with a large number of slaves. He became active in politics and served in the Texan army. During the years the plantation was known as the Patton Place, between 40 and 60 slaves made bricks by hand, constructed a plantation house, smokehouse, sugar mill and their own living quarters.

Sugar mill boiling kettles

The two-story sugar mill, which sat across Varner creek within sight of the front porch (now the back) of the main house, made Patton highly successful.

View of main house from site of sugar mill.
The original front entrance now serves as a back porch.


His long-running, open relationship with a slave named Rachel was unpopular in the community. She had many of the rights a white wife would have, and was known to have ruled over the other slaves in a harsh manner.

Patton’s extended family also disapproved, and his nephew and brother were disinherited by Patton because of their actions against her. The extended family had Patton declared insane in 1854, and had him committed to an asylum in South Carolina where he died in 1856. After his death and a prolonged court battle, Rachel was granted her freedom and an annual stipend.

Between 1869 and 1901, the site changed hands several times. Many of the original buildings, including the slave quarters and sugar mill were destroyed during the 1900 hurricane.Governor Hogg purchased the plantation in 1901, convinced that there were oil reserves beneath the land. His 1906 will recommended that his children retain the mineral rights, and the discovery of oil a short time later made the family extremely wealthy.

His daughter Ima was a renowned collector of antiques and decorative arts, and furnished the main house with exquisite pieces before donating the plantation to the state of Texas in 1958.


 

 

A stairway leading from the second floor to the third floor, where the boys of families of former residents would have slept, is off limits to current visitors. Luckily, I was allowed access so that I could share these phots with my readers.

Stairway to third floor.

Though the quarter round windows would have originally allowed light into the space, it’s hard to imagine how the heat of summer would have been tolerable.

The original, covered quarter-round windows as seen on the third floor.

A much smaller set of stairs, tucked beneath what was possibly an original eave, then leads from the third floor to the glassed-in cupola atop the plantation house.

Stairs from third floor to the cupola.
View from cupola
View from cupola.

A feature of the plantation site that kids find especially fun is

“Governor Hogg’s Tub” and Swimming Hole.


Fed by a natural spring creating a small fountain from a pipe, the water is retained in a square, brick lined “tub” before continuing to a small lake. The well-maintained feature is now enjoyed by local wildlife.

One of the things this site does so well is to preserve the beauty of this time period and lifestyles, without romanticizing the sacrifices of others that made them possible. In the outbuidling known as Ima’s cottage, where she stayed on her visits in later years, a fascinating account has been gathered of what the lives of slaves on the plantation were like. Visitors can even listen to recordings of reminiscences of former slaves in their own words.


During your visit make sure you visit the barn, where you can see antique carriages. The yard to the barn is now used for special events.







The visitors center, immediately to the left as you enter the grounds, has a small exhibit room as well as a great selection of local history books and souvenirs.

In my next blog post, I’ll share a special place to stay overnight when you

visit the Varner-Hogg Plantation! 




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Start Your Own Dia de los Muertos Party Tradition

    Texas traditions can originate from almost anywhere in the world, thanks to our diverse history of immigration. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that some of Mexico’s customs have been brought north of the border. The most colorful, and thought by many to be mysterious, celebration is Dia de los Muertos.

This post contains affiliate links. Any purchases made through these links keep this blog running.

Stacy Anderson Photography

    When I first approached a group of friends about having a Dia de los Muertos party, they were a bit hesitant. “Isn’t that kind of morbid?” “Isn’t that a celebration of death?”

    The simple answer is no – it’s something much more upbeat than you may think.

    Luckily, a few of them had seen the Disney Pixar movie “Coco” that familiarized American audiences with the celebration through a powerful story about family, community, tradition and remembrance. Think about Memorial Day, and the concept doesn’t seem so strange.

Dia de los Muertos vignette at the National Museum of Funeral History

    The gist is to celebrate the lives of our ancestors, rather than mourn their passing, by incorporating food, drink and activities they enjoyed in life. Family members create “altars” in their homes with photos of loved ones surrounded by offerings of food, flowers and mementos. Others visit family cemeteries to decorate ancestors’ graves and share stories about their lives. The days of the celebration surround the Catholic “All Souls Day” on November 2. (So it isn’t really a ‘Halloween thing” like many think.)

Stacy Anderson Photography

    Many of us no longer live in the communities of our ancestors, so circles of friends tend to become our new families. That’s why I thought having our own Dia de los Muertos celebration together would be a fun chance to celebrate all of our families and have some fun and great food at the same time! (Plus, I have some talented friends, so we’re always up for a reason to celebrate together!)

    You can easily put together your own party as well.

    Be sure to incorporate photos of loved ones who’ve passed, and share their stories. It keeps their spirit and your family lore alive.

    I not only included photos of my mother, who we lost last year to Alzheimers, but also made tissue paper flowers for decorations – a craft she taught me as a child.

Stacy Anderson Photography

    Attention to the smallest details can make a theme like this really come together. The talented Evangeline Event Designs made adorable sugar skull invitations and colorful menu cards, and I found some adorable small decorative accents, as well as a beautiful embroidered skull dishcloth at Hendley Market. The bright Fiestaware plates and platters are from Yesterday’s Best.

Stacy Anderson Photography

    No Mexican theme meal is complete without tamales. We loved these from Pennie’s Tex Mex Takeout.

Stacy Anderson Photography

    Alicia from The Kitchen Chick made chorizo with apricot sauce, Bob Armstrong queso (from the “Queso!” recipe book she carries in her store), and an amazing  Blackberry Mezcal Smash Cocktail.

    Our friend Stacy, otherwise known as the Hurried Hostess, made amazing fruit tacos and a churro bar. Yum-ola!

Stacy Anderson Photography

    But the item that really  had us all gasping in disbelief were the gorgeous cookies created by Jennifer from Good Gosh GanacheI mean, really…look at these beauties!

     Our friends Hailey and Tamara used their styling talents to help our buffet look amazing. Making this event such a group effort made it even more special.

    Many communities in Texas offer the opportunity to experience Dia de los Muertos, including San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Victoria and Austin. Check your local community calendar to see if there’s one near you, and celebrate!

I Spy….Bonnie & Clyde!

Rosenberg’s historic downtown district has been undergoing a revitalization in the past few years. It’s so great to see the number of buildings that have been standing along the streets housing local businesses for generations.

Once  Again Antiques

Among the businesses now are a few impossible to resist antique and gift stores, including Once Again Antiques at the corner of Third Street and Avenue F.

The Eagle Cafe

And you won’t believe the fun connection it has to a notorious couple!

Bonnie Parker & Clyde Barrow

In 1934,  the Eagle Cafe was housed in this building, and a favorite among locals. One day, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow (yes, THAT Bonnie and Clyde!) came in and sat down. Even in the age before electronic media, their faces were easily recognizable, so it’s a bit surprising that no one confronted them or left to get the police.

The couple sat down, ordered lunch and ate it without ever looking up or making eye contact with the staff or other customers. Can you imagine how exciting, and perhaps a bit unnerving, it must have been for the locals inside?

The Eagle Cafe

It shouldn’t have been too surprising to have spotted them in town, since Bonnie was from Roweena, Texas and Clyde was from Ellis County, near Dallas.

When they finished their meal, they returned to their car, which they had left running out front, and left.

Shortly after this particular stop in Rosenberg, the couple was killed in a shootout in Louisiana.

These days the building is filled with happier reminders of the past, in the form of antiques. The charming co-owner proudly pointed out the small sections of exterior wall at the front where they uncovered “ghost signs” or remnants of original painted ads. They preserved them so that future generations could enjoy their find.

Once Again houses the booths from 18 different vendors and one of the best assortments of antiques I’ve seen in a long time. They also have a few art pieces, like these adorable “canines” made from antique toasters, cameras, spoons and other amusing parts. They’re worth the stop all by themselves, but the history of the building makes the visit pretty memorable, too!

Legends, Mystery & Romance

   I love a good mystery, and a dash of romance just makes it better, right?

Rose Window

   The iconic Rose Window at Mission San Jose in San Antonio is one of the most famous windows in the world. Along with other features of five Spanish missions in the area, it is listed as one of the details that distinguish it as the first World UNESCO World Heritage Site in Texas.

   Sculptor Pedro Huizar carved the quatrefoil shape entangled with the images of pomegranates, said to symbolize fertility, in 1775. Yet the ten foot tall, six-foot wide window sits only about four and a half feet above ground level. And its position in the sacristy wall (where windows were traditionally plain) and the purpose of steps leading up from the interior remain a mystery.

   But what intrigues most visitors who come especially to see this ornately carved window are the legends behind it.

   One version of its creation says that Huizar’s sweetheart Rosa either died or disappeared in a shipwreck on her way from Spain to be reunited with him in Texas.

   Another that he carved the window in the throws of despair after the woman who he came overseas to make a fortune to win, betrayed him.

   Yet another story relates that Huizar carved the masterpiece after falling in love with a wealthy woman whose family shunned him.

   Which version is true? Perhaps one…or none of them. The tales most likely took shape during a period of romanticism after the 1870s in order to attract tourists.

   But does it really matter? Sometimes the legends can be more intriguing than cold, hard facts.

   Whatever its origin, the Rose Window has become one of the most recognized architectural features in the Southwest. Miniature replications of the window can be seen in several buildings in downtown San Antonio, and there’s even a massive version at St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Beaumont.

   Which version of the story would you prefer to be true?

Travel Out Loud

   I’ve ALWAYS been excited about traveling. Can you guess which one is me? Yep! Even at age six I had trouble controlling my enthusiasm for exploring.

     This is a photo of me with my mother (whose red hair I inherited, but not her demure nature) and my beautiful big sister (who I’m sure more than once has wondered if we are really from the same gene pool), on a visit to the Franklin Mountains State Park in west Texas. Dad was usually the one behind the camera, as that was one of his hobbies.

     Whether it’s playing tourist in your hometown or discovering new places, travel is full of surprises. The love of these discoveries is why I’m going to be sharing more places around Texas, old and new, to give you a peek at some of the fun to be found out there . . . and hopefully inspire you to take a trip or two to see it for yourself.

     I’ll be visiting small towns and big cities, locations close to home and on the far side of the state, historic hotels and unusual B&Bs, classic soda shops and Victorian cemeteries . . . just to start things off.

     It’s a wide open state with so much to see, so let’s fill up the tank and hit the road!

     What are your favorite Texas destinations, and what do you like to do there?

Secret Compartments

     Imagine finding the original house deed of your Victorian home, or perhaps love letters from over 100 years ago. It’s possible you’ve been walking by them on a daily basis.

     Newel posts, or the large post ending a staircase, are structurally meant to keep the rest of a staircase safely anchored, but sometimes they keep secrets as well.

Newel Post at the Carr Mansion, Galveston, Texas

     In the last half of the 19th century, machinery had advanced to make the popular “new style” of broad posts on a lathe, often leaving an empty space in the middle. It’s the hollow posts that have lent themselves to the folklore of secret hiding places.

     Before the cap of a hollow newel post was attached (or removed later), some owners rolled up their house deeds, original plans or other mementos and placed them in the void before it was closed. The item most often found is a coin, placed inside for good luck.

     The lady of the house was, of course, aware of this hidden space as it was most likely one of the few places not easily accessible by her servants, children or spouse on a daily basis. There are many family stories of love letters from previous relationships or loved ones off at war, or documents that might reveal some tawdry detail from the owners past being found years later in a newel post.

     Though most of these stories are probably the stuff of family legends, enough have been true to keep the intrigue alive.

Amity Button

     Another feature of a newel post cap sharp eyes might spy is a small round “button”  carved of ivory, whale bone or mother of pearl sometimes inlaid in the newel cap. These are called mortgage buttons or amity buttons, and signified their was no lien on the property – a point of pride for the homeowners. Not as mysterious perhaps, but interesting nonetheless.

     So the next time you tour a grand home with a large newel post anchoring the staircase, ask your guide if anyone has peeked inside. There might be a story there.

Following a Galvestonian to a Fateful Act

“Jumped headlong from a window of the Confederate Home…”

The line made me gasp out loud.

  To back up a little, I was in search for background information about Christian Henry Thieme before a recent trip to Austin to locate his grave.

  The Galvestonian was born in Germany in 1827, immigrated to Texas in 1860 and was a member of th e Catholic church He enlisted in the Confederate Army at age 34, once telling an interviewer that he had been “a private in Company B, in Cook’s heavy artillery. My first captain was Coura, and first major was Cook.”

  I knew that he and his wife Elizabeth had a family of three daughters, and they all had survived the 1900 Storm. Yet at some point, Christian ended up in the Confederate Men’s Home (for disabled veterans) in Austin.

  During the 1900 Storm, Christian and Elizabeth lived with their daughter Selma Nelson and her family at 710 Church Street. Although they didn’t lose any family members in the tragedy, they were sure to have witnessed grievous sights.

  The traumatic events caused him to become mentally unbalanced, forcing his family to send him to the home in Austin the following April.

  Suffering from rheumatism and old wounds far from home, he was dealt an additional blow when his wife died in November. She is buried in Galveston’s Oleander Cemetery, but her marker has been lost to time.

  I thought I may have found all available information about him, and then came the discovery of a newspaper account of his death on June 23, 1910.

  “Christian Thieme, an aged Confederate soldier, killed himself today by jumping headlong from a window of the Confederate Home. Thieme became mentally unbalanced at the time of the Galveston storm. Melancholia caused him to talk constantly of killing himself. Formerly an express man at Galveston, he lost all his property in the tidal wave and was force to come to the Confederate Home. None of his relatives can be located.”

  

  Stunning. And infuriating…because his family still lived in Galveston and couldn’t have been too difficult to locate.

  So I went to visit him and find his marker.

   It stands in a sea of military markers in Confederate Field at the Texas State Cemetery, with his last name misspelled as “Thiemer.” Gleaming white as if wanting someone to remember his story.

  And now he has had at least one visitor from home.

Texas State Cemetery, Confederate Field, Section 1 (F), Row B, No. 18.

 

At His Wife’s Gravesite

 

Many gravestones don’t begin to tell the story of a life or death, just listing the barest of facts. But every so often I see one that illustrates a chapter of the life (or end of life in this case) that ensures the marker was created just for this specific individual. These are the type I wish every grave had, to help us appreciate the person memorialized.

This spectacular carving portrays a father holding a young child in his arms and standing at his wife’s gravesite. I’ve never seen one like it in person.

Even with over 150 years of weathering, the details are astounding. He holds a top hat in his left hand and his child in his right. The drapes of the child’s dressing gown hang down behind it’s father’s arm. Facial features of the man are still somewhat discernible, and his wife’s grave is marked with a headstone and footstone. One knows immediately that he has been left alone to care for their small child.

It marks the resting place of Clarissa Wells Collins in Austin’s historic Oakwood Cemetery.

Clarissa, a native New Yorker, married Travis County constable  and farmer Thomas C. Collins in January 1856, when she was 30 years old.

They were blessed with a daughter, who they named Clarissa Ann (“Annie”), in July 1860 but just four months later Clarissa passed away.

On Halloween 1864 Adelaide “Addie” Swisher, Clarissa’s sister who had married James Monroe Swisher at her sister’s home in 1857, died as well presumably from postpartum complications. Her name is listed on Tom’s gravestone, along with the name “Little Lillie,” their three year old daughter who died the same year.

The following year Tom enlisted in the military and was stationed in Austin.

He joined his wife in death in April 1871.

Their young child, who is referred to in documentation alternately as Annie or Clara, ended up being raised by her aunt Ann Marie Wells in Brooklyn far from where her parents were laid to rest. She lived the rest of her life on the east coast, and I wonder if she ever came to visit their graves and stood before this stone. It’s doubtful.

So much sadness in such a short time.

But Tom’s love, and grief, is immortalized here in marble and encourages those who pass by to learn their story.

I came to Oakwood specifically to look for this marker, and made an additional discovery that made my day.

As I was photographing it, I looked at the bottom right corner and found the signature of the carver… Allen & Company Marbleworks of Galveston. Especially thrilling, since Allen owned the state’s first marbleworks, founded in Galveston in 1852 on Center Street between Strand and Mechanic. His business has now been owned by the Ott family for five generations.

The gravestone had traveled a long way to come here.

I love a good connection to Galveston history, and somehow seem to find them wherever I go.