Category Archives: Austin Adventures

Oh the drama: “As You Like It” at Texas State

One of the ironies of my life is that I am not much of a theater-goer and one of my dearest friends in the world is a professor of dramatic studies and writes and directs theater productions.

But when she asked if someone would like to see William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, presented by the Texas State University Department of Theater and Dance, I offered to go because a) she’s my friend, b) I like Shakespeare and c) I need to get out more and find culture.

Really, I do.

We went to a Sunday performance, and Jenny set me up for it by telling me that the Texas State productions have been really good this season.

Because I am absolutely terrible at trying to encapsulate the main points of any Shakespeare play, if you want to know more about what As You Like It is about, read this.

This production, directed by Chuck Ney, had some unexpected elements for me.  It was set in contemporary times, so the costumes weren’t your typical Shakespearean garb, but the players actually said what Shakespeare wrote.  So it wasn’t trying to be campy by modernizing the play completely, yet the setting and costumes helped me connect with the characters because I feel like I understood them better.

Also, one of the players also composed music that was played by the characters and served as a transitional element.  The director said music was common in Shakespeare’s plays (which I didn’t know), and As You Like It is among the works that uses it the most.  Many directors cut it, but they didn’t in this one.  In fact, it was modern and upbeat, and it blended beautifully into the production.

Admittedly, I spent the first 30 minutes trying desperately to listen and figure out what was going on.  I was trying to figure out who everyone was and what they were saying, but eventually I got in the groove and it was easier to understand.

What helped me the most was the players’ use of what Jenny called “the business.”  It’s the stuff that isn’t said — the looks, the gestures — and it made the play freakin’ HILARIOUS.  The actress who played Celia was particularly gifted with her looks and gestures, and there is an entire scene with a scarf that made me laugh out loud.

On the whole, I really enjoyed this play.

You still have a chance to check it out.  As You Like It is at the Mainstage Theatre Center April 13-16 at 7:30pm and April 17 at 2pm.  Tickets are $10 ($7 for students). Call the box office at 512-245-2204.


What I’m listening to: The Head and the Heart

Cindy and Andy on the balcony at the Moody TheaterI’ll admit it right now — I don’t get out much.

Kinda hard when you’ve got little kids and piles of projects in your lap.

But when I do, I try to make the most of it — by eating at the restaurants I read about on all of those foodie blogs I love and seeing live music.  Austin is such an awesome place to see live music, especially by bands you’ve never heard of before but are fantastic.  It goes without saying that South by Southwest is a prime time to check out some new bands, and Andy and I had a chance to do just that.

Moody Theater stage all lit up for IE9 launch partyWe lucked out in scoring fast-passes to the IE9 Launch Party, which was held at the Moody Theater — the new home of Austin City Limits Live at the new W in Downtown Austin.  (Fabulous venue, by the way).

Microsoft pulled out all of the stops for this party.  I wasn’t much interested in the free alcohol, but the theater itself was amazing.  The stage was all lit up with amazing graphics, and the screens were showing projected 3D.  It’s so hard to describe.

One of the opening bands was Fences, who are pretty good.  I really enjoyed them.

They must have hired a really good DJ, because even the house music in between sets was good.

At 11pm, the theater darkened and the background lit up with all of these colors as an announcer said IE9 was being launched at that moment all over the world.  It was such an event, even I (a devoted Firefox fan) wanted to download it.

But what really got my attention was the next band: The Head and the Heart.

Head and the Heart perform in the ACL Moody TheaterTalk about energy!  The harmony of rock and folk sounds caught me, and I never lost interest.

Very few bands have instantly appealed to me.  Usually it takes a few listens to get into them — but this band was different.  They’re from Seattle.  NPR did a story on them here.  And they reviewed their SXSW set here.

I was exhausted, but we stayed longer than we originally planned just to hear as much of them as possible.  The next day, I downloaded their album, and I’m loving it.  To be honest, it doesn’t have the same level of energy as what we say live, but it doesn’t detract a bit.

If you get the chance to see them, I highly recommend going.  They won’t disappoint.

Filling my brain: Study group and required reading

I know and use XHTML and CSS really well.  I’m using Javascript pretty well with the help of jQuery.  What I don’t know very well is PHP.

Why should this matter?  Well, for one, I’m the type of person that needs constant challenge, both mentally and physically, and learning new stuff falls right into that.  Secondly, I’m starting to develop a site that will be served by Joomla!

The open-source content management system is really not that hard to use, but I want to develop a custom template for this client, and I see myself doing so down the line for future clients, and I’m not satisfied with taking a read-made template and hacking at it.  The templates use PHP, and I want to understand what I’m doing.

That’s why I signed up for a PHP study group through geekAustin.  It’s geared for beginners, and I could really use some peer motivation.  I mean, I could read a book, but this way I can meet some new people and get out of the house.  The first meeting is Monday evening.

I’ve been doing some Joomla tutorials online, but I really like having books I can pull off the shelf anytime and read anywhere.  I picked up Joomla! 1.5: A User’s Guide by Barrie M. North.  So far, so good.  I’ll keep you up-to-date on my progress.  So far, everything makes sense.  It’s just putting these new ideas into practice — that will be the hard part.

Blackberry jam

Luke and I returned to Sweetberry Farms in early June to pick blackberries.  We were joined by some friends, and I forgot my camera, so there are no pictures of the picking.

Needless to day, picking blackberries is significantly tougher than strawberries.  In case you have no idea how they grow, blackberries grow on canes, covered in thorns.  While you don’t necessarily have to stoop down as much to pick them, you do have to contend with the relentless thorns, big and small, that never fail to prick you.

I brought home four large boxes of blackberries, and I was covered in cuts, scratches and a sunburn.  I paid dearly for those blackberries!  But friend, it was well worth the effort.

The day after picking, Andy, Luke and I spent the bulk of the afternoon preparing, washing, and prepping the blackberries so they could be frozen, eaten raw, and turned into various concoctions, including frozen yogurt, sorbet and salad toppings.

There was one box left when we were done.  The next day, I turned it into JAM.  No, it’s not paleo in the least, but it’s sometimes nice to reach into the past and borrow a few tricks from our grandmothers’ cupboards.

The recipe was really easy to throw together — it was the actual cooking that was hard!

9 cups blackberries
6 cups sugar

I didn’t realize you shouldn’t double batches.  It took FOREVER to cook and set.  I think I sat next to that stove, stirring frequently for over an HOUR.  The boys left and came back from the pool, and I was only just beginning to ladle it into the jars for processing.

Despite the hard work to prepare the food, I’m getting faster at it, and it’s really cool to know exactly what the ingredients are in a jar on the pantry shelf — because I created it!!

Visiting the San Antonio Zoo

Luke and Andy in front of elephant

Elephants, giraffes, kangaroos… all of these animals are missing from Austin’s Zoo.

Don’t get me wrong — I love the Austin Zoo and admire what it stands for (taking in exotic animals that were once kept as pets or abandoned).  But it’s not a REAL zoo — not like what most people think of when you say “zoo.”

San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston all have larger zoos, and Andy and I figured it was time to take Luke to one.  San Antonio is the closest and we have never been there, so we looked up directions and headed out on a hazy Memorial Day morning.

We made the mistake of printing out directions from Google instead of from the zoo itself, and Google took us to the wrong part of town.  We circled around looking for the zoo and/or visitor’s center so we could actually find it.  While we were there, we stopped and took our picture in front of the Alamo, just to prove we saw it.  We didn’t linger — it was all about the zoo, dang it!

The San Antonio Zoo is really nice.  I’ve been to large zoos, and this one, even though it’s not huge, has some really nice areas. I figured it would get really crowded, and it did — but not overwhelmingly so.  There was still room to maneuver the stroller and plenty of shady areas to stay out of the blazing Texas sun.

We didn’ t even make it everywhere, there was so much to see.

Luke had a BLAST.  We liked it so much, we bought a membership while we were there, figuring we would be back enough over the next year to make it pay for itself. Now that’s what I call family fun.

San Antonio Zoo, May 2010

Luke, Andy and Cindy visited the San Antonio Zoo on Memorial Day, 2010.

Look at me! I’m making jam!

Whenever we picked strawberries as a kid, my mom always made jam within a few days.  I’m not sure I appreciated her hard work at the time.

I used to think that the store bought stuff was fancier, and I wished we could get it – that is, until mom’s jam ran out.

I remember opening a jar of Smuckers for the first time in years and being very disappointed.  Mom’s jam was AWESOME.

I wanted to do the same with the berries we brought home from Sweetberry Farm.

I’m sure Mom told me exactly what she was doing while I sat in the kitchen and watched her all those years ago — but to tell the truth, none of it sank in.  In fact, I actively rebelled against anything that smelled remotely like being a homemaker for years and years.  So when I decided to make jam, I bought a book on home preservation and followed the instructions.

Home canning is a science, and it’s true that you do have to follow the “rules” so to speak.  But it’s not all that hard once you get the hang of it.  The most time consuming part was preparing the berries.  I had to wash and hull 8 cups worth — crushed.  Then I mixed the berries with 6 cups of sugar (so not Paleo) and stirred constantly over medium heat until they came to a boil — 25 minutes later.  I opted for the old-fashioned recipe because — believe it or not — it called for less sugar.

But the results were amazing.  It was the most delicious taste of heaven — just like I was a kid.

Jar of jam with funnelLuke woke up from his nap in time to watch me fill each of the 12 jars I had warming in the pot on the stove.  Once each one was filled, closed and put back in the pot, I brought the whole thing for  a boil, and let them process for 10 minutes.

The sealing process actually takes place once you take them out of the pot and let them sit on the counter to cool.  24 hours later, we tested, and the jars were perfectly sealed.  The jam didn’t really set, but it’s still delicious.  And my son loves me for making it.

What more could a girl want?

Bring on the berries

Andy and Luke start filling their box with fresh strawberries at Sweetberry Farm near Marble Falls, Texas.
(Andy and Luke start filling their box with fresh strawberries at Sweetberry Farm near Marble Falls, Texas.)

I used to pick strawberries with my family as a kid.  We always had a great time.

Mom and Dad would drive out to some “pick-your-own-strawberries” farm in Virginia where we would spend hours getting sunburned and stuff our containers and ourselves with ripe red strawberries.

I want my kids to have the same experience.  That’s why the three of us hit the road Saturday morning for a farm just outside of Marble Falls, Texas — Sweetberry Farm.

If you’re not familiar with Central Texas, Marble Falls is about an hour west of Austin in the Texas Hill Country.

We met our friends Jenny and Eric and their son Ollie, picked up our strawberry boxes and got to picking.

Luke plays with a mud cake in the strawberry field.
Luke plays with a mud cake in the strawberry field.

Luke helped for a little while, but he was so excited, he and Ollie spent the rest of our picking time running through the aisles, which were muddy, pretending the mud was chocolate.

It was very muddy, but we were prepared with extra clothes and shoes, so I wasn’t worried about anyone getting caked with mud.  And thank goodness they had several hoses available for us to wash up with.

It didn't take long to fill our boxes with juicy strawberries!

After picking three boxes of strawberries, we paid and headed off to the picnic tables for lunch.  They have a nice shady area for people to relax in — right near the animals, so the kids were excited.

We followed up with some delicious ice cream — STRAWBERRY, of course!

Luke was exhausted by the time we left Sweetberry Farm three hours later, but it was well worth the trip.  I had big plans for those berries!  And I do plan to return in early June for blackberries!

Want wildflowers? A visit to St. Edward's Park

If you’re looking for a place to see wildflowers, you don’t have to leave Austin.

Today, Luke and I visited St. Edwards Park in Northwest Austin with some friends, and I can honestly say I’ve never seen so many bluebonnets. It was amazing.

I haven’t been to that park, which is off Spicewood Springs Road, west of Loop 360, in years.  We may have taken Luke as a baby.  Today we went to explore and find the creek.  The bluebonnets were a nice extra.

The creek was flowing really well from all of the recent rain, and the boys had fun throwing rocks in the water and scooping up the dirt and mud — basically, being boys.  Another nice extra — we saw a group of horses walking through on our way out — always a surefire way to please kids.

St/ Edward’s is not the largest park in Austin, but it’s definitely worth the trip if you have the time.