Destination: Friendsgiving!

Looking for a reason to travel this fall, and get together with friends spread far and wide?

Plan a Destination Friendsgiving celebration!

 

     The Thanksgiving holiday season is an ideal time to show our friends what an important role they play in our lives. A “Friendsgiving” is a gathering of those people for a feast and time spent enjoying each others company.

Photo by Tamara Underdahl

     If your friends are coming from different parts of the state – or further, it will simplify things to find a bed and breakfast or rental hall as centrally located to everyone as possible. You might even put a fun twist on things by finding a town with a name perfectly paired to a Friendsgiving feast:

Turkey Texas

Blessing, Texas

Holliday, Texas

Salty, Texas

Moore, Texas (for the group that’s sure to want seconds)

Friendship, Texas

My Texan Pumpkin Pie

     If most of the members of your group live in cities, consider a country setting where there are fall colors and outdoor trails to enjoy together.

     Small town girls might consider staying in the city to enjoy the city lights and shopping.

     For accommodations, check Airbnb, VRBO and the local Chamber of Commerce. Finding an inn with room enough for everyone to stay in one place will extend the fun.

     For our meal space, we found a local small event venue in a historic building (and you know that makes me happy!) that wasn’t booked on the weekday we were getting together, and was having some work done on the property, so gave us a terrific deal.

     The location doesn’t matter as much as the friends.

     Next, choose a date that works for everyone. This usually means it won’t actually be the official week of Thanksgiving – which is great. It takes off some of the packed-schedule pressure. The added advantage is getting everyone away from the holiday stresses that at home.

     Social media can make the planning easy, but keep things as simple as possible.  It’s about the time spent together, after all!

     Set up a Facebook event to invite friends, and have everyone add to a master list of dishes they’re bringing. Pie and cookies are the most important, of course (I’m entitled to my opinion), but you’ll want a few sides and at least one main dish too. Since everyone likely will have a traditional Thanksgiving celebration with their families soon, you may even decide to have a more non-traditional potluck meal, with Italian or Mexican food. No rules!

     Well . . . maybe ONE rule. There must be pie. (It may be MY rule, but I think everyone will benefit from taking this one to heart!)

     If you’re traveling to a destination Friendsgiving, consider picking up smaller essentials at a local grocery store to save on packing lists and ice chest space.

     To really put the focus entirely on fun and togetherness, everyone can pitch in on ordering a dinner prepared by a local restaurant and to be picked up the afternoon or evening of the event.

     Once the time and place have been decided, do a little online investigating to search for nearby holiday events that your group might enjoy attending together.

     So what’s stopping you? Get busy contacting your favorite gang, choose a merry destination and celebrate your own Friends-giving.

     I’d love to hear where you go!

     And when you’re sitting back in a Friendsgiving food coma, take the time to check out the instagram accounts of some of my talented friends who gathered for our special occasion: Kathleen (mine, of course!), Stacy, Tamara, Amanda, Hailey, Christine, Vashti, Lauren, Tia, CourtneyLaShanta, Rachel Marie, Sarah and Sammy.

Butler’s Courthyard

 

 

 

 

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! 




 

 

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.

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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!

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?

New Year’s Eve 1895

     On New Year’s Eve 1895, the Misses Caroline, Fannie and Josephine Kenison gave a cotillion for their young friends in this beautiful home at 1120 Tremont in Galveston. It was the home of their parents Alphonse and Ellen, originally from Louisiana.

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     The lower floor of the residence was prepared for the occasion by stretching canvas over the spacious double parlor floors, and then taking up the carpet in the library and waxing the floors to create a dance floor.

     One can only imagine the other preparations that took place!

     At exactly 11:59 the young celebrants gathered underneath the chandelier and gave six cheers for the parting year. When the minute had passed, six cheers welcomed the new year.

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     The house was filled even on non-social days, with a large family. Alphonse, the father; Ellen, the mother; daughterscreen-shot-2016-12-30-at-11-04-11-pms Josephine, Frances, Caroline and Lucie; son Alphonse Jr.; Lucy Sydnor, a boarder; Josephine Settle, Mrs. Kenison’s mother; and servant Belle Washington and her young daughter Hazel.

Alphonse was one of the first general insurance agents int he state of Texas. He and his wife lost two sons, Maximiliem and Wartelle, in infancy, but the rest of their children thrived.

     Josephine “Josie” (1878-1957) eventually became Mrs. Clinton G. Wells, and remained 127524196_1396805025on the island for the rest of her life, passing away in 1957. She had one son, named Clinton III, born in 1906. She is buried in Trinity Episcopal Cemetery. One wonders if she regaled her son with stories about the homes in her home when she was a young girl.

     From the 1910 census on, Josephine and her son lived with her parents. Her status on the records is listed as being a widow, her husband having passed away in 1908.

     Francis (1879-1968), known as “Fanny” to her family, married William Penn White, moving first to New York and then to New Jersey. They had three daughters.

     Caroline, called “Caro” by her family was born in 1879. She can be found listed in the society pages through the 1910s attending parties and volunteering in the community.

     Alphonse Jr. (1881-1934) married multiple times, and had two children.

     Lucie (1886-1973) married Herman Bornefeld in 1914, with whom she had a son and daughter.

     Graves of members of the family can be found in Old City, Old Catholic and Trinity Episcopal Cemeteries in Galveston.

 

Ghostly Appearance at the Pier

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Many people assume that the majority of Galveston hauntings stem from the 1900 Storm. While it’s true that the overwhelming loss of life during that hurricane contributed to the population of restless spirits of the island, entities were experienced long before the waves of 1900 washed across the city.

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Pier 33 in 1910

In January of 1894, Galvestonians were talking about the wraith of a woman seen on the West End. She was said to be the spirit of a woman who had drowned in the neighborhood years before.

Appearing at midnight and clad in a calico gown, she clutched a shawl that was drawn around her shoulders and beneath her chin. Moving slowly and deliberately she moved from the east end of Pier 33 to the west end, then going over the edge.

There were different theories at the time as to whether she had fallen or jumped, but no sounds of footsteps or a splash was ever heard. If witnesses rushed to the end of the pier to look, there was no sign of her in the water.

Was she distraught from the loss of a child during a Yellow Fever epidemic, or a husband lost at sea? Was she a victim of the harsh life experienced by many during the rough, early years of the city? It seems her identity and story will remain a mystery.
Loading_of_Steamers,_Pier_33,_Galveston,_Texas_(6506964055)

In 1894 that area, home of the newly constructed Moody Cotton Compress, was bustling with business and waterfront workers, but as 12 o’clock neared…no one ventured toward Pier 33, at one time called Western Wharf.

The sad spirit became such a regular occurrence, that even those who lived nearby avoided the area around the midnight hour.

Today grand cruise ships past the spot of the ghost’s appearance on their way to dock at the cruise terminal. I wonder if she even notices.

 

GOG-CoverRead more tales of Galveston’s spirited past in ‘Ghosts of Galveston’ from The History Press.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1467119652

 

 

Christmas Spirits…Bottled and Otherwise

     A 1904 ad for a different kind of “Christmas spirit.” Henry Toujouse ran the bar in the basement of the Tremont Opera House (where the National Artist Lofts are now).

     His beautiful mahogany bar now resides at the Tremont House. It’s seen a lot of spirits in it’s day and is still reportedly tended by Toujouse, who committed suicide in 1918.

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