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Hometown Is Where the Heart Is

When we have guests stay with us, one thing we strive to provide is a feeling that they are at home while away. We can offer lots of little ...

Monday, April 23, 2018

Hometown Is Where the Heart Is

When we have guests stay with us, one thing we strive to provide is a feeling that they are at home while away. We can offer lots of little homely touches, and be as welcoming as possible, but one thing that really draws you in is where we are.  It occurred to me that I should share a bit of what our home is like for us. So much of why we love it here, as much as the beautiful surroundings, is in the community we are a part of.  I want to take a moment to five you a taste of what our town is like from the inside looking out.

People always talk about living in a small town with similar cliches.  You could rob the whole town blind during a football, basketball, or baseball game, and if someone goes to state, you may not even find the town.They say if you sneeze at the post office, someone will say gesundheit at the bank, and it is true.  In such a small community, everyone knows pretty much everything about everyone, but they also care about everyone, and everyone has an opinion on everything.  It's nice, though, whenever something great is going on in your life, everyone congratulates you, and when there is tragedy, everyone is there to make sure you are doing alright. 

So many times I have found myself in some small need and not even had to ask for a hand because someone was already there to help.  That's just the nature of people here in Muenster, they have big hearts and are always ready to give. 
We have a lot of groups like the Jaycees, school alumni associations, Knights of Columbus, etc... that are always throwing a fish fry or a crawfish boil to raise funds for a charity, and these people love to give.  Heck, even our fire department is volunteer!  It is not at all uncommon for an item like a jar of grandma's pickles to go for thousands of dollars at a charity silent auction at the community Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.  Though in all fairness, homemade pickles are pretty dang good.

Guests often ask what we do, living in Muenster.  For such a small town, there are a lot of things going on around here, and most of it is to raise money.  People here are really athletic, so the fun runs are really popular as well as the bike race at Germanfest.  It seems like every other week has some sort of event from concerts to alumni/student games to festivals like Germanfest and Oktoberfest that all the nonprofits in the area throw, so life here is a little more exciting than you'd think!

People here won't give each other directions with road names or numbers, but more commonly things like "It's north of town, take the turnoff about 4 telephone poles past Mike's house".  This sounds crazy, but it works well here.  Everyone knows Mike, and where he lives.  When we lived in Houston, years ago, I didn't know my neighbors, let alone the whole town.

When we first moved here, my son had parked his truck at the bottom of a hill down by the creek. A rainstorm came through and he couldn't get it up the hill because of the mud.  Our new neighbor saw what was going on and came right over with his tractor and pulled him up to the road.  Nobody really thinks about it, that's just the way its always been.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Sound of Summer

As things are starting to even out to a warm temperature and soon escalating to a hot one, I can feel my soul longing for one of my favorite Summertime things, outdoor live music.  Having children who lived in Austin and San Antonio over the years, I have had the chance to enjoy shows all over the state, and been blown away, but what we have to offer locally can definitely hold it's own.  Of these, Gainesville has one of my favorite offerings with Gainesville Summer Sounds (http://www.gainesvillesummersounds.com/). 
One of the more underrated towns in Texas has to be Gainesville.  Most just drive past on Hwy 82 or I-35 which both cut through the town, and along both lie most of the same things you see as you pull through most small Texas towns.  Some fast food, gas stations, grocery stores, etc... would belie what is just off the beaten path.  Downtown Gainesville is easily one of the more charming civic centers you can come across in this state full of hidden gems. 
With such a beautiful soul to showoff, Gainesville has a short 3 set series of monthly concerts in the Summer situated right on town square, next to the courthouse.  They pair well known and surprisingly popular acts with some of our amazing local talent for family friendly shows that are just perfect. 
These shows are no small affair, with the local people coming out early to set up camping chairs in the blocked off streets and blankets in the lawns of the square.  It feels electric even before the musicians start playing as the warm day winds down and starts to cool while the event just warms up.  Families are settling in and starting to have fun, and the whole place is so vibrant with joies de vivre!
Before the bands even kick off, the vendors are up and running so people can "pregame" and get food and drinks.  There are a lot of options with restaurants around and vendor tents set up to serve the crowd.  Even though we tend to go and grab snacks here an there, I always pack a basket with some treats.  It has become a bit of a tradition to pick up some brisket from our secret place, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jazs-Bbq/407975039215484, on the way to town, and Big Red.  It should be noted that I cannot stand Big Red, but my son insists is Texas BBQ tradition, which he takes very seriously... I usually just take a sip of his to honor tradition.  Just like his single black eyed pea on new years day, to honor tradition.
With our bellies lined and a cold one in our hands just in time, we are ready for the music to kick off.  When it does, the place goes crazy.  Kids are running around like it's the 50's, chasing fireflies as the sun starts to set, and everyone is dancing or swaying to the songs. As the first evening breeze starts to blow, I think "This is what I love about Summer"!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

We're Nocona Take It!

Spring time in Texas is when the fun starts.  All the dance halls and outdoor stages shake the dust off and start cracking.  With the weather warming up and a perfectly timed day off between spring showers, I found myself on another fun excursion.  This time, my husband and I were off to Nocona, TX.

Nocona is known for many things varying from fame (Nocona Boots) to infamy (the Black Widow serial killing nurse), but we are only interested in the fun times today.  Nocona is following suit with so much of north Texas in a vibrant explosion of culture.  From revitalization of old buildings to new tastes popping up in fun places, they are on top of their game in this little slice of the lone star.

For the start of our day, we go to what was once the fabled Nocona Boot factory.  The headquarters of this old boot maker has long since moved to El Paso, but in it's stead, has popped up a classic car museum.  My husband being a lover of all things four wheeled, or two, and old insisted we start there.  I like shiny things, so I was happy to oblige.

The museum oozes with charm from the get go with old gas pumps outside next to benches that welcome passers by to take a break and peer into the past.  On the inside we peruse tons of classic cars and trucks that I thought were cute, but the hubby was drooling over.  When he caught my interest drawn to one particular car, he got excited and started spouting off facts and figures about it that made little difference to me.  I bet if he knew that the little red Camaro I was looking at caught my eye because it was the same kind driven by a high school crush of mine, he would have been a little less excited.

As the warm day pressed on, we were both pretty thirsty and ready for a change of gears (pun intended).  We made our way to a really cool newcomer to the north Texas scene, Nocona Brewery.  This place is amazing.  The architecture and design are not what you would expect from a small town Texas brewery.  Touches of glass and shiny metal accents in juxtaposition to vintage touches like refurbished fifties style rocket pedal car make for a perfect ambiance for cold beer consumption.  They have some really great options, and while the stout is very good, I was so thankful for the cold lager to quench my thirst!  They offer live music and often have BBQ on site for a full night without going anywhere else.  However, we had plans made already for that evening, so on we went.

From here, we went on to Daddy Sam's Saloon and Gertie's Dance Hall on the town square.  This is a really neat project come to fruition.  What was a grocery store once, was recreated by the original owner's grandson into something entirely new, a saloon and dance hall.  Daddy Sam's oozes old time feel in every direction from the ceiling covered in antique pressed tin tiles to the black an white photos and sassy bar signs in every direction.  The music here is great with touring acts that are hard to beat or even find in such an intimate setting. 

Nocona is such a special place, that I always find myself entertaining the idea of moving here for at least a moment whenever I come for a visit.  Fortunately, it's close enough

to make visits a common thing!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Land of Goat Milk and Honey Bees

One thing people notice when they come up the drive to the main house is a little sign that says "Goat Milking 10 AM".  When they often ask about it, the explanation is that we get all the milk we use in our goats milk cheeses from Skittles and Clover, our mama goats.  We started to get a lot of guests who would then ask if they could join us in the morning as the goats got milked.  Too often, people don't know the extent to which we source our food from our own land. Most places that refer to themselves as "farm to table" mean that they know the farm that brought the food to the kitchen that goes to their table.  Here, we do, too, this one!

I thought that I'd take you with me through the routine since there seems to be some interest in it.  Each morning, we start by sanitizing the bottles that will hold the milk.  I like to use quart sized milk jars so that it is easier to fill each and pour precise measures with when needed, and also more wieldy between the goats legs.  After they are clean, we load them up into the milking basket with cleaning supplies and head to the goat barn below the Provence and Alsace suites.

Brennan, our dog, thinks he is a shepherd.  He is a Yorkie, not a Collie, as he would have you think, and as such, his herding instincts are... lacking.  Still, it is the highlight of his day, so we let him tag along.  He's at least learned he has to wait until we have a lady in the stall until he gets to "herd" the rest.

Most people don't realize how smart goats really are.  They know us as we approach, like our dogs.  They are surprisingly good at problem solving, as well.  They can tackle such complicated problems as "the latch on the gate between us and the rose bushes" quite easily, so we have to be creative with them to keep them in the enclosure.

As we approach, the goats come running.  They know what time it is!  The ladies are ready to be milked, and the ram and the two kids are ready for breakfast.  Skittles gives more milk than Clover and she is always first in line at the milking stall when I open the gate to let her in.  She then hops up on the milking platform and pushes her head into the security lock where her personal bucket of feed goes.  The latch goes up, the pin goes in and we are ready to rumble.

First step is to clean the udders and nipples to make sure they don't develop any infections and to ensure the milk is clean as we take it.  Once that is done, I place a bottle below the tip of the teet and clamp my fingers at the base of the nipple, then squeeze towards the tip like a ziplock bag full of water with a hole in the corner.  This technique seems simple to master, but can take a bit of practice to get it just right.  My husband is twice as fast as I am at knocking out the process, but I like to think I have more finesse.  It's one of those better because it was milked with love situations for me.

We go until the udder is emptied, usually around a gallon per goat per morning.  Once the girl is finished giving, we do another cleaning to make sure she is good to go and then let the clamp loose.  The happy goat bounds off to find more hay or greens to nibble on and the kids chase after.

After gathering up the supplies, we return to the kitchen and strain, and separate the milk for it's intended uses and store them in refrigeration if the milk is not immediately being used.  And that's a wrap, ladies and Gentlement!

If you are going to be staying with us and would like to watch the milking or even help, feel free to let us know at any time.  We love the company.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Dr. Golflove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Ball

So I broke out of my already flimsy box a couple of weeks ago, I tried golfing!  I had been excited because one of my oldest friends was coming to visit.  Her younger son graduates high school this year, and was on a trip to visit colleges with his father, so she found herself free for a few days for the first time in a while.  When she let me know about her availability, I immediately invited her up for a girls' retreat.  I suggested that my husband take a camping trip for a couple of days and he leapt on it.  Given he saw the other option being a likely longer "honey do" list, it didn't take much convincing. 

I didn't make a lot of plans as I figured a laissez faire approach would be more relaxing, but assumed a trip to a vineyard and some cocktails and spa time was in order.  I booked a massage for the two of us here at Elm Creek, and asked her what she wanted to do after.  She told me that when she was in college, at Southern Methodist in Dallas, she and her friends used to come to Muenster often.  That blew my mind, picturing some SMU sorority girls rolling in to tiny Muenster for a good time, like something from a movie. 

It turned out one of her sisters was from Muenster and they went to visit her family one weekend and checked out the newly opened (in the early nineties) golf course.  In this town, anything new is big news, so I can imagine the buzz around town for that lil gem.  Turns out they had a blast and kept coming back with their friends throughout her time there.  So she was very insistent on making a tee time for the two of us.  I was hesitant as i am not a golfer, at all, but she was dead set and insisted I could "take it at my own pace".  I finally agreed, she appealed to my chardonnay side by telling me we'd essentially be riding around a giant park in an electric cart with a glass of wine on a beautifulday.  How could I say no?!

I let her handle the heavy lifting on getting us set up at the course.  We got lucky and they had a tee time available in perfect time for us.  We got a little cooler together (it's BYOB) with some wine and mixed a couple of summery cocktails and hit the road.  When I loaded up the cooler, I saw she had brought her clubs that we would share, as I had none, and she had clearly planned ahead!  They don't offer rentals at the course, so this was a smart move on her part.

When we got there, we got some snacks, and some locally made sausages at the shop.  The cart boy brought us up a cart and we went to drive a couple of balls so she could teach me how it's done.  Well... show me how it's done, not too much was retained on my part at first. after a little while, our tee time came up, so we made our way to the first hole and she tee'd off a really nice shot.  After a couple of tries we decided I would just go from her tee shot as there were some people that looked like they were getting ready to head to our tee box. 

The course is set on a beautiful piece of north Texas hill country with rolling hills, old oak trees and lots of wildflowers blooming.  I heard some of the golfers talking and they pointed out that the way the course was set on rolling hills was not as common and made for a fun challenging course.  I loved the views and honestly spent more time "sitting this one out" and "caddying" for her.  This meant I was the bartender and drink holder most of the time.  I was fine with that, and her promise of a day of riding around a gorgeous park and sipping cocktails in the sun was as advertised, and well worth it.  I also now know why my sons enjoy it so much, it is incredibly peaceful out there!

She was a really good golfer as I learned from the impressed look on a few guys we spoke to after the round when they asked what she shot.  Before that day, most of my golf knowledge came from Caddyshack and Happy Gilmore, but after the 18 hole immersion course, I learned a lot and have been since thinking I may take up a new hobby!

For information on setting up a round at Turtle Hill Golf Course, here is the link to their website: http://www.playtheturtle.com/index.htm

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Germanfest, Pride of Muenster

One of my favorite times of year, here in Muenster is Germanfest.  With it's rich German heritage, all of Texas is familiar with its influence on our culture.  People usually think of the Latin influence in our heritage, but it is as richly peppered with bavarian as well.  Sausage, meat market style BBQ, most of the early settlements, and even Tejano music all come from or have roots in the German influx of early Texas settlement.  Muenster is one of these gifts brought by Germans to Texas.  Officially founded in 1889, in the early statehood, this german-Catholic town loves to showcase its history at Germanfest.  People here are friendly and have a very familial attitude that is seen in every aspect of the place.  This is evident from the moment you get into town and pass the big "Wilkomen!" sign on your way to the fair grounds.  Most people are familiar with Oktoberfest or Wurstfest, and Germanfest is very similar to that, but held in April.  Muenster actually does celebrate an Oktoberfest, but in this case, it is the lil brother to the big party in the Spring.

As you would expect, the Beirgarten (a giant refrigerated semi trailer with taps down the side) and German food are the main event at this spectacle, but don't think the rest of the party gets completely outshined.  Music, crafts, and games all share the spotlight here as well, though the people watching here is pretty spectacular.  You never know who or what you are going to see here.  There are 2 stages with one featuring traditional german style polkas and dancing and the other with more modern style bands and a big haybale made set of bleachers to watch from.  My son actually convinced one of the bands to let him get on stage years ago to propose to his girlfriend!

Both big individual events and ones that go on throughout the weekend are exciting to watch or compete in.  Featured games like Nagelschlagen and arm wrestling are staples here.  Nagelschlagen is a traditional game where one has a pin nosed hammer and has to drive a spike into a tree stump like block in the fewest strikes necessary into the wood.  The contest starts Friday and goes on til Sunday with prizes and a trophy at stake, but along the way, it's not uncommon to hear the audience placing side bets each round.  There is also a BBQ Contest, bike race, and 2 fun runs over the fest. 

Each day of the three day festival has its own draw. Friday is all about the wind up, and the opening ceremonies and the first bands take the stages.  There is a palpable excitement as the carnival starts up and the kids just getting out of school come out in droves to ride the rides and gorge on festival delights like cotton candy, funnel cake, and local treats like fresh made real kettle corn!  The BBQ contest starts Friday when the smokers fire up and the onsite prep starts up.  This one is my son's favorite things about the weekend.  He says that the best part for him is hanging out overnight with his buddies in the camping area where the contestants give out samples as the smoking and cooking goes on.

Saturday starts with the bike races at 10am with 35k, 65k, and 100k rides.  Riders line up and take off for the long race early in the festival day.  Sometimes we go out to a friend's house outside of town.  They live on the racecourse about 12 miles in, and have lunch on the lawn and let the kids cheer on the racers as they pass, which they love.  It's a lot like a poor man's Tour de France... a really poor man.  The BBQ contest finishes up cooking on Saturday and judging begins.  This is when you want to be in the right place at the right time, that being around the BBQ tents when judging is finishing up, because that is when you get to partake in some killer Q.

Sunday is the weekend wrap up and the main event, the 42nd annual fun run.  There are 5k & 15k runs that start at noon.  I have come to the conclusion that even though both the bike race and run come with free beer/soda tickets, competing in the pair is the only way to not put on weight over the weekend.  If not, just resign yourself to the idea that you need to dust off that leftover gym membership from January's New Year's resolution.  By this point you will have familiarized yourself with all the food vendors and the massive tent full of brats and kraut, so take this last chance to try the things you were saving for last or get a little more of something you loved along the way.  I always go back for brats until I physically can't anymore; I've found that personally the stick approach works best for me!  No matter what your weakness is, be it German sausage, schnitzels, German potato salad or anything else you only find at these kind of celebrations, they have it here.

Every year, as the last band wraps up Sunday evening, as full as I am, and tired from the long weekend of fun, I always feel sad that I have to wait another year for all of this to come around again... or at least until October.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

A Surprise Stroll Through North Texas' Wine Country

Often times when we are enjoying hors d'oeuvres with our guests during social hour, people ask what we do for fun around the town when we are not consumed with work.  After the initial laughter at the prospect of free time, I tend to name the usual suspects, like going to the lake, the golf course, dinner with friends, etc... but recently my husband and I spent a day in a way that I think rather succinctly answers that question with the information they are looking for.

We have many friends that live in the area and own businesses like vineyards and restaurants and they are always asking us to come for a visit.  We always say we will, but the timing never works out.  That was until last week when we had a surprise afternoon and evening off.  My husband decided to surprise me with a bit of fun, and after a few calls he had something cooked up I didn't see coming!  He told me to get dressed so we could go out to a movie, and when I was ready, I was blown away when I saw a car out front to drive us around.  He had a fun day all planned out that we sorely needed. 

Our first stop was in Valley View, just to the southeast of us, at Firelight Vineyards.  This was my first time here, and Brad's as well.  We had heard about it and wanted to visit for a while!  The owner is also a fireworks pyrotechnician, so we were curious to see how that played into the concept.  When we got there, I was sold.  The tasting room is set in a classic Texas town square storefront with a charming patio on the side.  We did a sampling of their wines and found a few real gems in the mix. They do live music, and you can order pizza from the neighboring restaurant, but we were a bit early for the music and not yet hungry enough for a meal, so I settled for a sangria... it's fresh fruit.  In my opinion, that's practically a healthy smoothie.  After enjoying the fresh air for a bit, we rejoined our driver to make our way to the next destination.

Our next stop was about 30 minutes away so we had time to enjoy a charcuterie that my husband brought along, packed with different cheeses and artisan meats from home.  This was nice because we were headed to the next winery and I was definitely ready for a snack before we tasted more wines. 

As we pulled up to our next stop on the tour, Blue Ostrich Winery, we were greeted by the rolling hills that surround the great white building housing the tasting room.  We have been here before, and I always love coming back.  This place is a prime example of Texan ingenuity, in that if there is a chance it can make money, you can bet a Texan has tried it.  The name of the vineyard comes from its history as a real ostrich farm.  There are still plenty of them running around if you don't believe me.  We settled in at the tasting room and were walked through a selection of their wines; they have a sangiovese that I have a soft spot for.  After the tasting, we found a shady spot under the arbor covered patio area outside and enjoyed a glass before moving on.

Our final wine stop was at Arche just down the road, which we have also been to before.  This is another gorgeous spot in the north Texas hill country.  The architecture and layout here reminds me so much of a spot that I love on the (current, but not for long, I'm sure) outskirts of Austin, the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center.  Here we had our third and final wine flight in their tasting room, though I already knew what I was going to have a glass of, I selected 4 other wines to remind me why it is always a hard choice.  After the staff waltzed with us through our tasting, I ordered a glass of the intended Texas Rose.  I'm not always in the mood for a rose, but on a beautiful day like this, I felt it was the perfect fit to enjoy as the afternoon burned down.  Not overly sweet as most expect from roses past, but more the modern iteration that is becoming so wildly popular.  This fruit forward yet still cool and crisp wine is a great choice when the day has a warmth to it. We found a cozy spot

On our way out and on to our last stop, for dinner, we grabbed a bottle of the Syrah to take with us.  Right between the two last wineries is a place called Ancient Ovens.  The location is convenient because they don't sell alcohol, so you are close to some options on the approach!  I have recommended this place so many times to people that they really need to start paying for the advertising.   They only seat by reservation, so call ahead if you want to try it out.  One of my favorite things about this place is that the do one service per evening  when everyone comes and has a saved seat (I always request a spot by the fire pit).  We sat and opened our bottle next to the fire, while watching the sun set on a cliff overlooking the valley below and miles of rolling hill country.  I don't care if it is your first date, or you've been married for decades, a kiss is coming your way, that's just going to happen.  They start with some fresh from the stone oven appetizers for the first course served on hot stones next to the wood burning "ancient oven" that is the place's namesake.  This was an amazing fresh baked rustic sourdough bread from a 90 year old starter that is served with a homemade spinach garlic artichoke dip.  After we enjoy this, we chat for a short time while they prepare the next course, a vast selection of hand tossed artisan pizzas on scratch made dough, which they have to serve en masse because they are so delicious that they don't stay around long.  Finally, after the sun has fully set, they serve the last course, a crispy dough with melted dark chocolate and hazelnut on top.

After we finished eating, we sat lazily by the fire a bit longer and finished our bottle of red.  The city light was far away and we could see so many stars, we sat like a couple of kids picking out constellations we could remember, arguing playfully about a couple of them along the way.  For a little bit, I forgot that I had a job and a life back home, which is exactly what I needed.  Eventually we got up and met our driver again for our ride back to the house, and we enjoyed a couple of cold Heffes that we had stashed in the ice.

That is what we do for fun when we have time off, apparently.  I highly recommend any of these places if you are in the area, and especially if you are staying with us at the inn!  Here are links to all of the places we stopped and the company that handled the heavy lifting behind the wheel.  Also, feel free to ask us for this information and more if you are interested in putting a tour like this in your itinerary while you stay at Elm Creek Manor!

Our driver: Big Hat Transportation https://newtonsbighatlimousines.com/limousine-services/
Our first wine stop: Firelight Vineyards Tasting Room https://www.firelightvineyards.com/
Our second wine stop: Blue Ostrich Winery http://www.blueostrich.net/
Our third wine stop: Arche Tasting Room  http://www.archewines.com/
Dinner: Ancient Ovens http://www.ancientovens.com/

Note: I forgot to take pictures, so I added some from the hosts' social media that best illustrated our experience.