Group Experiences Mix It Up at Hotel Valencia

Do you chimichurri?

     I recently had the opportunity to visit with Executive Chef David Rapozo at Hotel Valencia Riverwalk in San Antonio about activities and unique group experiences for groups traveling together.

     

     In response, he treated our group to a chimichurri making competition. Chimichurri is an uncooked sauce (like a pesto in Italy or salsa in Mexico) that originated in Argentina, which was particularly appropriate as this beautiful hotel is designed with a stunning Argentinian theme and restaurant menus.

     Chef Rapozo demonstrated how he uses a variety of ingredients to make a chimichurri similar to ones that he personally found in Argentina, and then let us sample it. Once we saw that it wasn’t as intimidating as we might have thought, he presented us with a table filled with portioned seasonings and oils to try making our own. We were split into teams of two, and got busy mixing.

     Though some of the participants were a bit hesitant at the start of the event, we were all quickly caught up in the fun, while getting to know each other better. The light-hearted approach encouraged everyone to experiment and laugh at any mishaps along the way.

     Much to our surprise, even though we were all working with the same variety of ingredients, each team’s efforts had very different results . . . even different colors.

     To our delight, a variety of grilled meats arrived from the kitchen to try the sauces on. Chef Rapozo went first with tasting all the “entries” of course, to act as our judge. And although he did declare a winning team (which just might have been mine!) he gave nice feedback to everyone.

   Now, truth be told, I thought they were all really tasty and it was fun (and delicious) trying all of the varieties. We all went away anxious to try it again once we returned home.

VIDEO OF INGREDIENTS TABLE

     Activities like this would be a great addition for a group girlfriends getaway or used as a corporate team building event during business travel. Be sure to contact the hotel several weeks ahead of your arrival to allow the staff to present possible ideas (maybe a guacamole making competition?) and allow you time to choose and them to prepare for the experience.

     Try it the next time you travel in a group!

Galveston’s Coastal Grill – Tasty & Priced Right

     There is no shortage of great places to eat on Galveston Island, but if you’re looking for a fresh catch on the seafood scene add Coastal Grill to your list.

     Open just four months, this restaurant already has it figured out.

     Don’t let the unassuming exterior fool you. The interior is bright and clean with plenty of seating.

     Sitting at the west end of the Strand just a block or two beyond where most tourists wander (1827 Strand), it would be a nice spot for a date night, family dinner or girls’ night out with a varied menu to satisfy everyone in your group.

     We were pleasantly greeted as soon as we entered the restaurant. The gentleman then invited us to sit wherever we wanted (it was just before 6 p.m. on a Saturday night, so the dinner crowd hadn’t arrived yet) and look over our menus.

     Guests then go to the counter to order (take a peek at the dessert case while you’re there!), and the food is brought to the table when ready.

     Looking over the menu, I wasn’t sure which direction to go in since the dozens of choices all sounded so good.

     I always look over menus for items that might intrigue family and friends with different tastes, and I can honestly say that there was something for everyone … seafood, steak, burgers, loaded baked potatoes, tacos, tortilla soup, shrimp or beef kabobs and more. And everything was reasonably priced.

     My husband and I finally decided to stick to our original thought of seafood as a type of ultimate “test” of a Galveston restaurant. We weren’t disappointed!

     The stuffed mushroom appetizer was a bit surprising in presentation, using a large amount of stuffing with button mushrooms beneath. Both the stuffing and mushrooms were perfectly prepared and tasty.

Stuffed Mushrooms

     For the main course I ordered grilled shrimp and my husband had the grill red snapper. The “Mmmmm-ing” fest immediately began ( as in “mmmm that’s so good).

Grilled Red Snapper, Grilled Shrimp & Cole Slaw

     It was immediately obvious how fresh the seafood was, and we expected nothing less being just blocks from the docks. The seasoning was the perfect level to enhance the dishes without masking the natural flavor of the items, as well.

     And let me add here that my husband is a lifelong recreational fisherman, so when his picky seafood palate is impressed it’s a very good sign.

     I recommend the slaw as a side, as their version is just as fresh as the entrees and not the “soupy” type I so often unfortunately encounter.

     Everything was attractively plated, and the friendly staff kept our glasses filled and checked on us often.

     We were discussing which dishes we would try on our next visit before we even left the restaurant.

     And…yes. We “had” to try a dessert, too. We split a piece of key lime pie which was made in-house. Just the right amount of sweet and tangy, in a thin-but-perfect graham cracker crust, it was the wrap-up for our meal.

Key Lime Pie

     Coastal Grill also has a newly constructed back patio and performance stage ready for some summer music and gatherings. I can’t wait to try that out!

     There’s parking in the front as well as a bit in the back. If you’re in a hurry, grab a to-go menu from the display by the front door.

 

     I can imagine visitors wanting to get back to their beach houses to enjoy a sunset, while enjoying delicious food they’ve picked up at the end of a busy day on the Strand.

     I’m looking forward to a return visit. Who wants to meet me there?

COASTAL GRILL

1827 Strand, Galveston

409-765-5386

www.coastalgrillgalveston.com

THE SAGA – LIGHTING UP THE NIGHT

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Absolutely stunning!

     I have been looking forward to seeing this since I first heard about it several months ago, but I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful and emotional it would be.

     “The Saga” is a video art installation in San Antonio created by French artist Xavier de Richemont. Projected on the facade of the imposing San Fernando Cathedral, the oldest operating sanctuary in North America, in the heart of downtown it definitely makes my “must see” list for the city.

     In the minutes before the show our trio slowly wandered into the plaza to join others who were deciding on their ideal viewing spot in anticipation of the show. A few brought folding chairs, children made their way to the front of the gathering to sit cross-legged on the pavers, but most just stood.

     A rumble of rain followed by crashes of thunder surged through the speakers to start the show, and all eyes were on the cathedral.

 

Click here to watch the first moments of “The Saga”

 

   Light, color and a collage of images burst onto the 7,000 square foot projection choreographed to music provided in surround sound speakers.

     The progression of images- drawings, photos and maps – took us on a historical journey through the discovery, early settlement, and development from this 300-year-old city.

     Pictures of landscapes, Native Americans, famous battles and finally skyscrapers filled the space, surrounded by wavy blue lines signifying the San Antonio River. A progression of timely music from Native American songs, German polkas, fiddle solos, and more kept our hearts pumping with excitement to see what would come next.

     Richemont worked with local scholars in the creation of the monumental show. He has produced similar projections on famous architecture throughout the world, including Chartres Cathedral in France.

     Totally mesmerized by the breathtaking display, I didn’t have any problem standing for its 24-minute length, even after walking all day…and I bet you won’t either.

   And one of the best parts about this $1 million monumental attraction? It’s absolutely free to the public! I guarantee that if I my schedule had allowed, I would have attended more than once.

     The multimedia work will be projected on the facade of the cathedral three times a night each Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 9:00 p.m., 9:30 p.m., and 10:00 p.m. through 2024.





What a Blessing! Hotel Blessing Serves Up Tradition

Who could resist pulling over to see this amazing hotel?

Danish-born Jules Leffland, the most famous architect in Victoria during the Victorian era, designed the the historic Hotel Blessing in Blessing, Texas.  He adapted his take on Mission Revival style into wood construction instead of the traditional adobe or plater over brick.

Amazingly, the original blueprints drawn and signed by Leffland were discovered in the attic of the historic Abel Pierce home in Blessing in 2005.

The town of Blessing was established on property belonging to Jonathan Edwards Pierce, who granted a right-of-way to the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railroad to increase commerce.

So why isn’t the town named Pierce?

The businessman was so relieved to get a town to ship his cattle that he had suggested the name “Thank God,” but postal authorities considered that somewhat blasphemous. Blessing was suggested and the post office opened in 1903.
Between 1903 and 1905 a library building was attached to the train station, and in 1905 the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railway also built through Blessing.

One of the oldest remaining buildings in town, Hotel Blessing has served as a community gathering place since it opened in 1907 when G. H. Crandall from Wisconsin was the manager.

Pierce and his son Abel built the hotel to provide lodging for new settlers, traveling salesmen and as a home for himself. The elder Pierce resided on site until his death in 1915.

The hotel was refinished and painted in the 1930s. During World War II wives and girlfriends of soldiers at Camp Hulen in Palacios would often stay at the inn. After the war ended the camp closed, freight train service stopped and eventually the hotel stopped renting rooms in 1972.

In 1977, Able Pierce, Jonathan Pierce’s grandson, and his wife Ruth renovated and reopened the hotel. The hotel was deeded to the Blessing Historical Society, which currently takes care of its operation. The hotel has 25 rooms, most which have a semiprivate or shared bathroom in a hall.

These days Hotel Blessing is widely known for food rather than overnight stays. Walk past the original registration desk, down a hall lined with screen-doored rooms and across the creaky floors, and enter the dining room You can count on bountiful breakfasts and a famous $10 lunch buffet with immense trays and pots of chicken fried steak, chicken, green beans, corn, breads, and more. Going away hungry just isn’t an option!

Generations of visitors and locals have spent countless hours in the dining room/coffee shop enjoying tasty, home-cooked meals and discussing local events.

The hotel is rightly proud to be the first building in Matagorda County ever listed on the National Register of Historic Places, earning that honor in 1979.

If you’re within a couple of hours of Blessing treat yourself to a leisurely lunch and then go down to the nearby shore to sit back and let your meal settle. It makes a great daytrip for family or friends.

Back to School – Airbnb Style!

     Many people spend a big part of their lives trying to get OUT of school, but there’s one schoolhouse in Texas you’ll want to make a special trip to get INTO.

     The Martindale Schoolhouse may say “time for class” on the outside, but don’t let that fool you. The minute you walk in the door it invites you to relax, and that gets an A+ in my book!

     Nestled across the road from the San Marcos River in the quaint town of Martindale, this 1921 Mission Revival style building has been turned into a five-bedroom, four-bath vacation rental.

     If you’re looking to de-stress or spend some quality time with your “people,” this place is ideal. Follow the road down to the river, across the street to a historic cemetery or walk into town to take in a few historic buildings. Think long talks and long walks, with only the birds and rushing water for background noise. Ahhhh…

     The Martindale School Campus operated from 1921-1968, initially serving grades 1-12 until the late 1940’s when the high school split off and the school became a primary and junior high school serving grades 1-8.

     Those were the days when the tiny town supplied over 65% of hybrid seed corn and a large percentage of the cottonseed supplied to the world. Pretty hefty bragging rights for a community of that size. The mill still sits right down the road from the school.

     Since the school closed over 50 years ago, the building has housed an antique mall, an auto repair shop and a private residence before falling into disrepair in the 1980s and 90s.

     The basic structure of the schoolhouse remains intact, but the spaces have been renovated into cozy living spaces and decorated largely with the owner’s collection of mid-century modern furniture. It will inspire you to pull a Dean Martin LP from the large album collection on the living room shelves and pop it onto the turntable.

     The main building is over 4,700 square feet, with high ceilings and large windows, and classroom spaces have mostly been changed into bedrooms and bathrooms, providing room to accommodate up to 14 guests. You can even stay in the old principal’s office! Others have been used for the living and dining rooms and kitchen.

     The kitchen is large enough for a houseful of cooks to prepare party fare, but my sister and I chose not to cook during this particular stay. There were just too many tasty temptations in the area calling our names!

     The schoolhouse is right down the road from El Taco Feliz, a taco truck with cheap, yummy breakfast tacos.

     Just around the corner from that is the Highway 80 Feed Barn. Yep, it’s actually in an old cottonseed building (super clean and cute) and the décor echoes its past in an only-in-Texas way. The burgers were so good – don’t expect for there to be room for dessert! (But you better believe they have Blue Bell ice cream, just in case.)

     But let’s get real, here. Martindale is also just 11 miles away from Lockhart, the BBQ Capital of Texas! We’ll leave that tasty discussion for another time.

     My sister and I stayed in the “Harper Hall” room, courtesy of our hosts. It’s the bedroom that most still resembles an original 1921 classroom, complete with blackboard. The long-leaf pine floors creaked in friendly reply to our footsteps. Two queen cast iron beds are tucked beneath the chalkboard, and two twin sofa/daybeds sit to the side.

     The “Ellison Suite” with its four-poster king bed and sitting area boasts the largest of the private bathrooms, with two sinks and a double head shower.

     Looking for a room to meet your instagram feed needs? Say “Ole” to the “Lady Martindale” with 12-foot high, arched windows, king bed, wet bar and separate entrance from the front patio. It even has its own turntable (the other turntable and records collection is in the common room).

     I especially liked one of the side table lamps in this room that’s made from an old band instrument. It might be a nod to Miss Louise Lawson, the school’s music teacher between 1931 and 1958. She was instrumental (if you’ll pardon the pun) in keeping the love of music alive in the community. She would have surely appreciated the piano and guitar in the living room for guests’ use, too!

     “The Bagley” is the smallest of the rooms, but has it’s own 12-foot, arched window behind the queen bed.

     And last but not least, if you get sent to the “Principal’s Office,” it’ll be a reward rather than a punishment. The office itself now serves as a large, brightly tiled bathroom to a southwest-vibe bedroom, with a kind bed and separate entrance from the back veranda.

    Oh, and the school colors? Blue and gold. I don’t know whether or not it was planned (I think it was just kismet), but those colors live again throughout the schoolhouse’s mid-century modern furnishings that the owners collected over a number of years before even purchasing the property.

    The long hallway leading to three of the bedrooms is lined with photos of students of the school and some of their sports teams, including the Wildcats girls’ basketball team of 1935. It was fun to try to match up the locations in the backgrounds of the photos with present day features of the schoolhouse.

     Being located so close to the river, you can enjoy a little tubing without fighting the crowds around San Marcos. But…shhhhhh! That’ll just be our little secret.

      And when you get back and dried off, the back porch fireplace or fire pit and back yard make great gathering spaces with plenty of room for younger ones to run off any excess energy.

     Just behind the schoolhouse sits the Martindale Gymnasium, built in 1939 as one of the last projects constructed by the Public Works Administration. Over the years it hosted countless sporting events, dances, concerts, plays and community events.

     Luckily it has returned to serve as a gathering place under the name of the Martindale Social Hall, available to rent for special events. Now open air (the roof is long gone) the space is ideal for a party or concert beneath the stars, with 4,200 square feet to spread out in.

     A little side note for you trivia fans…

     In 1938, Martindale High School played Prairie Lea High in one of the first six-man football games ever played in Texas. It was a demonstration games for the UIL to determine whether to officially sanction it as an alternative for small high schooled to field a football team during the Great Depression. Within a year, over a hundred schools in the state were playing six-man. Pretty cool, huh?

     Martindale, Texas is centrally located between the cities of Austin and San Antonio. If some of the buildings look vaguely familiar, it’s possible you’ve seen them in a movie or two, like “The Newton Boys” with Matthew McConaughey or Clint Eastwood’s “A Perfect World.” One of the buildings even served as a courtroom in the TV miniseries “Blood Will Tell,” about the Cullen Davis murder. Wouldn’t it be fun to watch one of the movies while staying right down the street from where they were shot? Next time, I’ll be prepared for a movie night!

     To see a “video tour” of the Martindale Schoolhouse, visit my YouTube channel at Martindale Schoolhouse.

     And to book your own stay, visit www.martindaleschoolhouse.com




Texas Proud on President’s Day

     Both U.S. presidents most associated with Texas in recent years weren’t actually born here. Former President George H. W. Bush was born in Massachusetts, and his son was born in Connecticutt.

     The two actually born in Texas? Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lyndon B. Johnson.

     You can visit the Eisenhower Birthplace State Historic Site in Denison.

Eisenhower birthplace

     The Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park is in Stonewall, Texas. The “Texas White House” is temporarily closed, but other park facilities are open.

President Lyndon B. Johnson and Ladybird

     Now just for fun, how many Texas places can you think of that share a name with a former President? Try your hand, and then see below for a list, in order of the presidential office year. (Not all of these places were named for the President whose name they share.)

Washington

Adams

Jefferson

Madison County

Madisonville

Monroe City

Lake Jackson

Harrison County

Tyler

Polk County

Taylor

Pierce

Buchanan Lake

Lincoln

Johnson City

Hays County (O.K., well  – the prez spelled it Hayes so this one’s a stretch)

Garfield

Port Arthur

Cleveland

Harrison County

Roosevelt

Taft

Wilson

Coolidge

Hoover

Kenedy (again..spelled slightly different than Kennedy)

Nixon

Carter

Reagan

Clinton

How many were you able to name without peeking? It’s O.K. if you did peek…no judgment here.

Happy President’s Day!

A Library Born From Unrequited Love

     Not many would imagine that the legacy of unrequited love would result in the oldest continuously operating library and the first city library in Texas…but it actually did. So it’s only appropriate that we stop in for a visit just in time for Valentine’s Day.

     The Dr. Eugene Clark Library in Lockhart was built in 1899, and dedicated on July 6, 1900. It’s the oldest library continually operated in the same building in the state of Texas. (There are other libraries in the state who claim the “oldest” title with other criteria, of course.)

     The beautiful two-story red brick Classical Revival dome-topped, original building was designed in an ingenious Greek cross plan with a corner entrance. It was built by local contractor T. S. Hodges, who was also known for his work on other projects such as the Tyler County Courthouse, Luling’s Walker Brothers Building, Lockhart’s First Christian Church and the castle-like Caldwell County Jail.

     The pressed-tin ceiling, woodwork, lighting fixtures and perimeter shelving you’ll see on your visit here are all original. The eastern arm is accented with a stained-glass window above a stage.  

President Wm Howard Taft

     Until 1956 when the seats were removed, the building also served as an auditorium. Local productions and traveling shows performed in the room now filled book shelves and reading tables. President William Howard Taft gave a speech from the stage, which still exists beneath the striking window.

1952

     When actress Dorothy Sarnoff performed there, she told the audience, “If you’re bored with my performance tonight, you can just reach over and grab a good book to read.”

     To the rear of the main room are two iron, spiral staircases that lead to a narrow upstairs gallery. Though this area is not open to the public, I was given access so that I could share these photos with my readers. Now mind you, it was a bit unnerving since the unstable brass railing barely reached the height of my knees…but those are the lengths I’ll go to in order to experience history!

     The room behind this gallery is the home of the second oldest chapter of the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs. The organization began as a lyceum club, which was a club for women interested in the arts, professions, science, contemporary issues and lifelong learning. The space still has many of the original furnishings, including Dr. Clark’s collection of medical books and a photograph of him.

     It’s this room dedicated specifically for use by women that leads us back to our love story and why Dr. Eugene Clark founded the library that bears his name.

     Clark was born in New Orleans, but was orphaned by the age of six – his father dying on a Civil War battlefield, and his mother passing away three years later. He was raised by friends of his parents, eventually attending Tulane Medical School.

     Upon his graduation in 1883 he moved to Lockhart to practice medicine with the local physician, Dr. Lancaster. The elder doctor soon left his practice though, leaving the 21-year-old Clark to handle the practice alone which he did for 13 years.

     During those years he met a young lady named Mamie Steele, a member of the local lyceum club, and fell in love with her. Unfortunately Mamie’s heart belonged to another man.

     The heartbroken doctor went to Vienna, Austria in 1896 to study the specialities of ear, nose and throat, and chose San Antonio as his new home when he returned.

     Dr. Clark became seriously ill soon afterward and stopped in Lockhart to visit friends on his way to New York to have surgery. While he was on the east coast it was determined that his condition was terminal, so he returned to his native New Orleans to spend his remaining days. During that time he dictated his will, leaving $10,000 to build a library for Lockhart. He specified that it should always include a meeting room for the local women’s lyceum.

     He died in 1898, leaving a last token of his affection in honor of his feelings for Mamie. One wonders what Mamie’s reaction was to the tribute, as she still lived in Lockhart with her husband John Jarratt at the time.

     The story of the library is even more interesting since it expanded in 1996 to include the 1850 Masonic Temple next door. The refurbished temple houses a second-floor technology room providing internet access and educational courses.

     The only visible clues that it was once a Masonic Temple are a tile inlay on the ground floor, and an unadorned stage on the third.

 

 

 

 

 

You can visit the Dr. Eugene Clark library  at 217 South Main Street in Lockhart.

 

Texican Court – A Nod to Nostalgia

     Roadside motels in the 1950s and 60s lured travelers in from the road with their distinct architecture, flashy neon signs, clever names and often the promise of a cool dip in the courtyard pool.

     My father was definitely more of a “chain hotel” kinda guy on our family trips, so I just watched as we drove past these intriguing pieces of nostalgia every summer.

     But now…ta-da! They’re making a comeback. (Who would’ve thought?)

     So obviously, when one of the newest ones in Texas invited me to stay and check it out, the answer was “Absolutely!”

     The Texican Court boutique hotel opened its doors in Irving in November, and just one look lets you know it isn’t a “cookie cutter” experience. Arriving guests are greeted by a beautiful neon sign of a lasso wielding cowboy on horseback that would make Roy Rogers grin.

     The facade of the hotel is highly reminiscent (intentionally or not…but I’m convinced it is) of the Alamo Plaza Motor Courts – America’s very first motor court hotel which, it happens, was just a few miles away in Waco. But that’s a topic for another time.

 

     It’s immediately obvious that every detail of the hotel was carefully curated to bring to mind the nostalgia of old fashioned motor courts while providing the utmost comfort to today’s travelers.

     Merging Southwest and mid-century style, everything from the custom furnishings to the mid-size bright orange fridges in every room (fully stocked enough to have a party on the patio!) made me want to settle in and ‘stay a spell.’

     If it had just been a bit warmer (darn that norther that blew through town), you would have found me in one of the poolside chaises with a margarita in my hand.

     My sister and I agreed that the shower was hands-down THE nicest shower we’ve ever experienced at a hotel (and we’ve been in a few).

How much do I love this version of “Do Not Disturb?” Sooo much!

     Half of the rooms open into hallways and the other half open onto balconies facing the pool area. each evening fire pits are lit around the property to provide gathering points for guests (not that that’s a challenge, with two separate bars).

     For a short video “tour” of our room, visit Texican Court

Hop on a bike and ride around the property.

 

 

Friendly and polite staff who were ready and willing to answer questions and do anything they could to make our stay more comfortable.

Two Mules Cantina Restaurant

     The complimentary European style breakfast was surprisingly varied, and included fresh fruits, pastries, yogurt, oatmeal and plenty of other options to start our day off right. And since our stay was during a cold snap we were especially happy to see a wide assortment of teas and coffees available.

     The Texican is right across the street from the Toyota Music Factory and Irving Convention Center, and would make a terrific place to stay if you were in town for a concert or business. It’s easy to find, positioned right off the freeway and close to public transportation access, as well.

Tequila Bar

     One of my favorite features was the presence of outdoor fire pits – one by the pool and one in a large open courtyard outside of the restaurant and bar. Both great spots for gathering with family and friends.

Great place to sit and relax in the evening.

     If you love the look of the Texican (I know I do!), you’ll love staying there even more.

     DISCLOSURE: I received a complimentary stay at this hotel, but that in no way effects my opinion or review of the property.

Good Eats in Irving & Grapevine

   One of the most challenging – and fun – parts of travel is finding truly good places to eat. I love somewhere with fun atmosphere, but tasty affordable food is definitely more of a priority. And because I’m usually more about experiencing the sights and experiences of the place I’m visiting, I’d rather not have to set aside half of a day or night to dedicate to one meal.

   When I visited the Irving and Grapevine area recently, I found a few spots that fit the bill. If you’re heading in that direction any time soon, you’ll want to check them out.

 

Texican Courts, 501 West Las Colinas Blvd., Irving

   Yes, a hotel! So often the restaurants at hotels are cookie-cutter decor, bland food options. Not here!

   The unique updated, motor court decor with a nod to Texas charm travels from the exterior to the interior spaces. If you’re lucky enough to be staying at the hotel, you’ll be treated to a wonderful complimentary breakfast, including pastries, fresh fruit, yogurt, oatmeals and plenty of other options to start your day off right. Our stay was during a cold snap, so we were especially happy to find a wide assortment of teas and coffees available, too.

   But even if you’re staying elsewhere or passing through, you can enjoy the ambience of this new property at lunch and dinner. I tried the barbecued beef tostado with black bean puree, caramelized onion and tomato. Yeah…your mouth is starting to water just thinking about it, isn’t it? It was so good! After the main course (which was portioned just enough to be filling without being ridiculous), my sister and I split a deliciously moist piece of Tres Leches cake. Now that’s how you wrap up a day of tourist ramblings!

   The hotel also has a separate tequila bar with a cozy fireplace that would make a great meet-up location with friends (especially if you have tickets to an event at the Toyota Music Factory right across the street).

 

Willhoite’s Restaurant, 432 South Main Street, Grapevine

   Grapevine is such a charming town, we wanted to be sure to find a restaurant that reflected the history and tastes of the area. Boy, did we find it!

   Willhoite’s is one of the most unique restaurants I’ve been in, but it is also one of the oldest and most historical buildings in town! And you KNOW I love historic buildings.

   The 1914 structure was first used as a dry good store, and then a theater. But in 1919 it was transformed into the first automotive garage in Grapevine. Pretty darn cool.

   In 1975, the Willhouites closed the garage, and six years later it was purchased by local Phil Parker and turned into one of the most atmospheric hamburger joints in the state. Lucky for us he worked to keep as many pieces of automotive history as possible. So many that sometimes it’s hard to concentrate on whether to eat or wander around!

   Where diners eat now may have been the wash rack, oil storage area, or beside the indoor kerosene pump.

   The centerpiece of the restaurant is a Texas-sized buffet with a beautiful, vintage auto perched right on top! The menu offers all sorts of comfort food in addition to sandwiches and hamburgers, all at prices that won’t use up all of your gas money.

      Have a burger for lunch here, and you probably won’t need dinner.

 

Salsa’s Mexican Grill , 3601 Regent Blvd #140, Irving

   Yes, I know…Salsa’s is a chain. But I’ve never eaten at one and had anything but a good experience, so on those evenings when I’m really tired and ready to call it a day, a familiar name can be welcome. This particular location was easy to access, clean and had a very friendly, easy-going staff. And the food…mmmmm. We had to order combination platters so we could enjoy a sampling of enchiladas, tacos, tostadas, tamales, rice and beans. They also had a salsa bar, which is something I haven’t seen at other locations. It was fun to sample a few different salsas that we may not have otherwise tried.

   This one may not have had the ambiance of the other two restaurants mentioned, but the food and prices make it a good option to keep on your list!

 

   So there are three options to consider while you’re in the Irving area. I’d love to hear your thoughts if you give any of them a try … or if you have other suggestions! Bon appetit!

Giving Back…Wherever You Are

   Have you ever thought about volunteering during your holiday (or other) travel? It can be easier than you might think, and is a great way to take the focus off of busy schedules and squeezing in more shopping.

   These ideas work if you are staying home for the holidays as well of course, but giving back in a place you are visiting can give you a special feeling of connection with the community.

   Here are some ideas to start you off:

Ronald McDonald House

   RMH supports children and families undergoing medical treatment, typically long-term treatment, and who have often traveled to a RMH from their homes. They have locations around U.S. and the world and volunteers are needed to prepare meals, greet visitors, interact with guests, and much more.

A group of friends and I put up and decorated the Houston RMH Christmas tree at the beginning of the holidays. It was especially fun when some of the young residents wanted to help!

   A couple of weeks before that, another group of friends and I got together to make lunch for 50 residents at the Galveston house. Besides doing something that we knew was truly helping out, it was a fun excuse to get together in the kitchen with friends and enjoy each other’s company. It wasn’t a fancy or expensive meal, so with each of us bringing a few ingredients it came together quickly. I even approached a local restaurant about supplying a couple of side dishes, which they graciously did! And a lovely local nursery gave us a few potted flowers to decorate the buffet.

  Organizations like this are always looking for people, families and groups to help out with activities, like crafts, playing bingo with residents, and other simple activities.

  To find a RMH near your destination, visit:

Ronald McDonald House

 

Meals on Wheels

   Meals on Wheels programs provide meals to homebound seniors. Different communities have different rules about how the public can volunteer. Some need people to deliver the meals, and possibly help setting up, checking in delivery drivers and assisting with clean-up.

   If you have little ones, you can call ahead to a local chapter to ask how many meals they deliver daily. Then while your kids are trapped in the car in route, they can make small cards to decorate the recipient trays with crayons, colored pencils, stickers and construction paper. Once you can arrive at your destination you can simply drop off the tray decorations knowing you’re your family has brightened peoples’ day! I sued to do this with my Girl Scouts when they were little and they loved being artsy and helping out.

Meals on Wheels

 

   Each December on National Wreaths Across America Day, our mission to Remember, Honor and Teach is carried out by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as at more than 1,400 additional locations in all 50 U.S. states, at sea and abroad.

Wreaths Across America

 

   A trip to the dollar star before your trip, and an evening of prep in from of the TV or at the table after dinner can make a big difference to local homeless shelters. Just stuff new, warm socks with water bottles and granola bars to be taken to a shelter in any city. Another big need is gently used books

   Food Banks are always in search of help sorting canned items. This can be a one hour volunteer effort, or all day…but every little bit helps!

   Local children’s hospitals will usually gladly accept gently used books and DVDs, coloring books and crayons. Another neat idea is to sort the materials for a small craft project (beaded bracelet, Christmas ornament, etc.) into individual baggies that the kids can get from the nurses station to keep their minds off of being stuck in a hospital.

   But you get the idea, and it doesn’t have to be during the holidays. Whether you decide to pull together something to donate when you reach your destination or to dedicate a couple of hours once you arrive, there are so many ways to spread the love!