Eight things you need to do in Central Texas before summer gets here

Spring has sprung. This is old news, of course. Winter — what there was of it — has been in Austin’s rear view mirror for weeks. But don’t get too comfortable.

Summer is looming. In Central Texas, it’s that 5-6 month season when you can’t walk out barefoot to get something from the car. When you can’t check out a new park without setting your alarm clock. When you can work up a sweat just watering your grass.

It will be here before you know it. Here are 8 things you need to do in Central Texas before summer gets here …

1. TAKE THE KIDS TO THE PLAYGROUND

Children take a break from the Mighty Kite Flight Sunday on the playground in the in Bee Cave Central Park in April last year. Photo by Sue Knolle for Lake Travis View

There’s nothing like the sound of a screaming child who has discovered for you that the playground equipment is way too hot. Better find an overcast day and take them now. Repeat until the sizzle makes you stop.

2. GO TO A SHOW AT A CLASSIC HONKY-TONK

Sure Gruene Hall has air conditioning … they open up the windows!

Sure, I’m from here. I know full well that there’s something great about a hot summer night at a historic venue. But you just can’t hear Ray Wylie tell his stories when you’re surrounded by people whining about how stuffy and sticky it is.

3. GO FOR A NATURE HIKE

Patty Wilson surveys the water of Barton Creek on May 26, 2016 at Gus Fruh park. Photo by Laura Skelding, American-Statesman

If you think water obstacles are part of the fun while hiking through the Barton Creek greenbelt, you probably don’t want to wait until July.

4. SEE THE WILDFLOWERS

The Kelly family of south Austin have fun in a beautiful field of bluebonnets near the Point Community Church off of FM 1626 east of Manchaca despite an easy drizzle. Photo by Ralph Barrera, American-Statesman

Duh. They got an early start this year. It’ll be crispy grass and cracked earth soon.

5. GET A GOOD JUMP ON THE YARDWORK

Katherine Weil mows a lawn with an environmentally friendly mower in north Austin on Saturday, August 18, 2007. Photo by Ricardo B. Brazziell, American-Statesman

If oak pollen allergies allow it, best to get out there now and fight the bugs and the humidity.

6. GO CAMPING AT ENCHANTED ROCK

Leilani Perry sits by Moss Lake, a small lake on the back side of the huge granite hill at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. Photo by Pam LeBlanc, Oct 2015

It takes a certain type of person to lie in a puddle of sweat in a tent at Enchanted Rock in July. If you don’t think you are that person, trust me, you are not.

7. GO EAT CHILI AT THE TEXAS CHILI PARLOR

The Texas Chili Parlor on Lavaca Street in Austin. Photo by Mike Sutter

Traditionally, Texas is still at risk for a cold snap until Easter. That might be optimistic thinking this year. Better get that bowl of XXX chili before the XXX weather hits.

8. BREAK OUT THE BUG ZAPPER

A well-worked bug zapper. Photo by Dave Thomas

Seriously. A friend gave me a bug zapper and two lawn chairs as a wedding gift. (A good friend who could get away with such a thing.) He said it was a “redneck entertainment center.” And so it has been. The zapping is good now. When it’s 110 degrees in July, the flying bugs will be dead. The bugs will be dead. They’ll all be dead.

Annie Nelson introduces chocolates infused with ‘Willie’s Reserve’ marijuana

Once marijuana legalization started to take hold in places such as Colorado and Washington State (don’t hold your breath, Texas), it was only a matter of time before noted connoisseur Willie Nelson launched his own brand: “Willie’s Reserve.” Roll ’em up and smoke ’em before you die, right?

But now you can enjoy Willie’s stash in a more delectable fashion — at least if you are in Washington. Annie Nelson, Willie’s wife of more than 25 years, has launched “Annie’s Edibles.” Her first product, a marijuana-infused artisan dark chocolate (with Himalayan salt, no less), is available “at select retailers in Washington.”

Willie Nelson and his wife Annie Nelson listen at the unveiling of the Willie Nelson statue at the corner of West 2nd Street (Willie Nelson Boulevard) and Lavaca Street on Friday April 20, 2012. Photo by Jay Janner

The chocolate comes from Fine & Raw Chocolate — described as the “Willy Wonka of Brooklyn.” Except if Willy Wonka was making treats for very hip grown-ups instead of kids.

RELATED: Luck Reunion serves up Willie and a whole lot more

“I make my infused chocolates for people who want to enjoy gourmet cannabis chocolate in a controllable way,”Annie Nelson said in a press release this week. “It’s important that my chocolates are suitable for those with diet restrictions … or if they have a low tolerance to cannabis they can still enjoy the benefits of my infused chocolates.”

The press release brags that a “Zero Crap Policy” is followed in the Nelson kitchen and that the gluten-free and vegan chocolates use coconut palm sugar instead of table sugar. For those of you familiar with the numbers, each piece of chocolate is infused with “5mg of THC.”

“Those who regularly enjoy cannabis may choose to indulge in two chocolate squares, while those new to cannabis are encouraged to start with one square or half of one square,” the press release says. There is no mention of how many squares someone like, say, Willie, might enjoy.

RELATED: Willie Nelson brings it home to San Antone at the rodeo

Texas legislators have made efforts to reduce criminal penalties for marijuana possession and introduce medical marijuana use. Legal marijuana use, edible or otherwise, is not on the Lone Star horizon. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, however, will have daily nonstop flights to Seattle in June.

Willie Nelson, who had three prior marriages, met Annie D’Angelo when filming the 1986 remake of the John Wayne classic western “Stagecoach.”

The film, which co-starred “Highwaymen” friends Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings (in descending order of acting chops), didn’t exactly eclipse the original, but turned out pretty well for Willie. D’Angelo was a makeup artist on the set and the pair hit it off. They were married in 1991.

Remember Rosillo! Texas won its (very brief) independence 204 years ago today

How well do you know your Texas history? You celebrate San Jacinto, of course. Certainly, you remember the Alamo. Perhaps even Goliad. But do you know the Battle of Rosillo?

At a confluence of creeks 9 miles southeast of present-day San Antonio — 204 years ago today, and some two decades before those major events of the Texas Revolution — the Republican Army of the North fought Spanish royalist forces and defeated them soundly.

A week later, on April 6, 1813, there was a declaration of independence. Yes, even before Mexico secured its freedom from Spain, there was freedom for Texas. Sort of. For a bit.

The adventure began when Mexican revolutionary José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara went to the United States and sought an army to fight against the Spanish and free Texas. Under the command of Augustus Magee, the Republican Army of the North entered Texas at Nacogdoches, then marched to Goliad.

After skirting Spanish royalist troops led by Texas Governor Manuel Maria de Salcedo, the Army of the North seized the La Bahía presidio, laughed off a siege and easily repulsed an attack. Emboldened by reinforcements, the Army of the North (now led by Samuel Kemper after Magee died during the siege) pursued the Spanish troops toward San Antonio.

The forces met at Rosillo Creek on March 29. Much like the Battle of San Jacinto, the Army of the North routed a superior force while suffering only minimal casualties. In this case, as many as 330 royalists killed in contrast to fewer than 10 dead on the Republican side.

After the Republican forces captured horses, cannon, ammunition and arms, they followed the retreating royalist forces to San Antonio, where they accepted the surrender of Salcedo and Nuevo León governor Simón de Herrera on April 1.

Things went downhill for the pro-Texas supporters from there. In his book, “Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans,” T.R. Fehrenbach wrote that Gutiérrez seized control once the military action was over and drew up a Texas constitution that made it clear the new State of Texas “forms a part of the Mexican Republic,” to which it would remain bound.

When Gutiérrez followed that by allowing Salcedo and Herrera to be grimly executed, it was too much for Kemper and the most “idealistic” Americans in his army — they quit and returned to the United States. It was a good move on their part.

Fast-forward four months and Spanish soldiers who had marched north under the command of Joaquin de Arredondo crushed the disorganized Republican forces at the Battle of Medina. It is known as the bloodiest fight on Texas soil — fewer than 100 fighting for the “Texas” army of 1,400 escaped death.

Among the Spanish soldiers was Lt. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. He’d be back two decades later when Texas freedom fighters rose up again.

This Texas Hill Country getaway was named one of the South’s best small towns

One of Central Texans’ favorite weekend getaways has been named one of the best small towns in the South by Southern Living magazine.

RELATED: Call yourself a Texan? Make sure these spots are on your Texas travel bucket list

“What is it about a small town that hooks us? Whether they’re waterfront or mountaintop, the great ones all have a few things in common: a thriving downtown with locally owned restaurants, shops, and galleries; a touch of the artsy; loads of character; friendly locals; and, of course, a beautiful location,” the magazine wrote.

That’s why Fredericksburg is No. 2 on the magazine’s list of the best small towns in the South.

RELATED: 5 Texas trips to take right now

Peach season typically runs from mid-May through the first week of August. Kids will love picking their own at several orchards in and around Fredericksburg. credit: Mauri Elbel

It’s easy to see why: The Hill Country town is full of beautiful scenery, and thanks to its ever-growing number of wineries, great food and plenty of bed and breakfasts and guest houses with character (like Starry’s Studio), it’s great for a day trip or a weekend getaway. Visitors can hike Enchanted Rock, enjoy authentic German food and check out the shops in the historic downtown district.

RELATED: Hand-pick your adventure in Fredericksburg

How much to ‘go Rambo’ with an M60 at a Texas ranch? We break it down

No, you cannot cradle an M60 machine gun in your arms and blow away everything in sight like Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo. But for $700 you can feel like you did.

Wednesday afternoon, we posted a story from the Cox Media Group National Content Desk about a ranch in Uvalde that allows visitors to pay to drive a tank, fire artillery or shoot a machine gun.

A portion of the 18,000-acre OX Hunting Ranch, west of San Antonio, lets you do things you’d otherwise have to enlist in the military to do, all under the watchful eye of a former Houston Police officer and Green Beret.

The story pointed out “prices range from $40 to fire a machine gun; $125 to fire a mortar to nearly $3,000 to operate a World War II-era Sherman tank, and fire its 76 mm main gun.”

The business is called DriveTanks and the story gave pretty good detail on the tank experience, but it glossed over the part about shooting machine guns — which is something a lot of red-blooded American men raised on action movies secretly (or not secretly) wish they could do.

Well, we are asking the hard questions. And doing the math — based on rate of fire numbers on the DriveTanks website. And it turns out $40 isn’t going to buy you a lot of machine gunning, at least by action movie standards. Here are the hypothetical costs to recreate a few famous cinematic machine gun scenes.

HOW MUCH TO RE-ENACT THE ‘PREDATOR’ MINIGUN SCENE?

The minigun (which actor Bill Duke picks up at the 21-second mark in the video) can fire up to 6,000 rounds a minute and costs $625 for 250 rounds (or about 2.5 seconds) at DriveTanks. You can’t pick it up and fire it, that’s movie magic. But if you could fire it for 44 seconds, you’d be out $11,000.

HOW MUCH FOR THE ‘TERMINATOR 2’ MINIGUN SCENE?

Arnold Schwarzenegger actually fires for 2 seconds longer than our “Predator” soldier, but not at the maximum rate of fire, and with pauses, so it’s difficult to calculate. But it would still be in the thousands of dollars.

HOW MUCH FOR THE ‘RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II’ M60 SCENE?

Sylvester Stallone fires the M60 machine gun for 28 seconds. At 600 rounds per minute and $50 for 20 rounds, that works out to $700.

WHAT ABOUT THE QUAD 50-CAL SCENE IN ‘WATERWORLD’?

The 4 50-caliber guns (they start firing here at the 17 second mark in the video) are equivalent to DriveTank’s M2 machine gun. They have a firing rate of 700 rounds a minute. The four fire for 17 seconds at 11.6 rounds a second. 788 rounds at $100 per 20 rounds works out to $3,940.


Keep in mind, everyone, that these are all fictional movie scenes and that DriveTanks will not let you shoot wildly or shoot four 50-cal machine guns at once, even if you’re very careful.

Willie Nelson, Farm Aid seek help for farmers, ranchers hit hard by recent wildfires

A black Angus cow walks amid charred grass on Garth Gardiner’s ranch outside Ashland, Kan., March 17, 2017. Nick Oxford/The New York Times

More than 750 square miles of the Texas Panhandle — as well as wide swaths of Oklahoma, Colorado and Kansas — were burned by wildfires earlier this month. The blazes killed at least a half-dozen people and injured firefighters near Amarillo.

But the wildfires also were devastating to the livelihoods of many in the farming and ranching communities that populate the region. In Texas, officials are citing at least $21 million in agricultural damages, including lost pastureland and fencing and livestock losses in the thousands.

Now Willie Nelson and Farm Aid — the charitable organization he helped create — are stepping forward to help.

Farm Aid is providing financial assistance to these farmers and ranchers through its Family Farm Disaster Fund. “Prior to the fires, these farmers and ranchers were hard at work growing food and fiber for our country,” Farm Aid says. “Their recovery is essential for the health and vitality of America’s rural communities.”

On Twitter, and on his website, Willie has asked his fans to donate to help support farmers and ranchers.

David Crockett rides the scorched prairie of Franklin Ranch searching for injured cattle after wildfires raced across Gray County, Texas driven by 50 mph winds. Michael Schumacher/The Amarillo Globe News

SXSW posts signs in bathrooms opposing controversial Texas ‘bathroom bill’

Days after a Texas Senate panel approved Texas’ controversial “bathroom bill,” South by Southwest organizers are speaking out against the bill, which prohibits transgender-friendly bathrooms in schools, universities and government buildings.

PHOTOS: Bathroom bill protest at the Capitol on March 7, 2017

SXSW organizers placed signs in bathrooms at the festival, including in the Austin Convention Center. The signs read, in part, “We oppose discriminatory legislation such as the Texas SB6 ‘bathroom bill’ and support civil rights for all persons everywhere.”

These signs were placed in bathrooms at the Austin Convention Center. Phil Jankowski/AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The Senate committee approved Senate Bill 6 early Wednesday morning, nearly 21 hours after a public hearing that drew hundreds to the Capitol to testify on the bill. Read more coverage of the bathroom bill here.

 

Seven Chuck Norris facts that are true (really) for his 77th birthday

Chuck Norris accepts an award from Mayor Will Wynn in front of City Hall in 2007, where the mayor presented him with an Honorary Austin Citizen Award and declared Friday, September 22 as Chuck Norris Day. Photo by Kelly West / American-Statesman

On this day in 1940, Carlos Ray Norris was born into a world that did not yet have M&Ms or Cheerios or color television. In fact, it would be another decade before that world would see an Uzi submachine gun*.

And just in case your brain is quicker with “The Octagon” quotes** than math, I’ll help you out: Chuck Norris is 77 years old today.

That’s right. He’s within a half-decade of Woody Allen. Though his body count is probably a good deal higher.***

Chuck Norris stars as ‘Booker’ in ‘The Expendables 2.’ Photo by Frank Masi

In those 77 years, Norris has been: an unathletic and introverted child, an Air Force air policeman, a martial arts student, a martial arts instructor, a martial arts competitor, a martial arts champion, a bad-movie actor, a legitimate film opponent for Bruce Lee, a movie star, a product pitchman, a television star, a Christian author, a philanthropist, an outspoken Republican and … of course … an Internet meme.****

But don’t worry. I’m going to skip the worn-out Chuck Norris Facts cliché***** (what is this? 2005?) and celebrate Mr. Norris’ 77th birthday with these seven Chuck Norris … uh … true things:

1. Though he lives on a sprawling ranch near College Station, Chuck Norris is only a naturalized Texan. He was born in Oklahoma and raised there and in Kansas and California. However,  his tricked-out website points out he did acquire his nickname “Chuck” during Air Force basic training in San Antonio. And in 2010, Norris was named an honorary Texas Ranger by then-Gov. Rick Perry.

2. Chuck Norris is not an unstoppable force — at least early on. On his website, he tells the story of visiting the Helio Gracie School of Ju-Jitsu in Brazil. When the elderly instructor told Norris to punch him in the face, he argued before meekly starting to comply … “and that’s the last thing I remember,” he writes. “Respect your elders,” he says. “Or they’ll choke you out.”

3. Chuck Norris has his own brand of water: CForce. Its website boasts “CFORCE doesn’t flow from the ground; it bursts from an artesian spring with the same unharnessed power and intensity you’d expect from Chuck Norris’ roundhouse kick.” The water comes from a well discovered on Norris’ ranch.

4. Chuck Norris’ store on his website is as colorful as you’d expect. Among the items available are a 2-foot-by-3-foot “Ethics” poster and a $6 license plate frame that reads “Fact: Chuck Norris doesn’t race cars. Cars race Chuck Norris.” It also points out that any item can be autographed for $100 extra — though the extra money goes to Norris’ Kickstart Kids charity.

In 2008, Chuck Norris was an outspoken supporter of presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. Photo by Alex Brandon / Associated Press

5. Chuck Norris, who warned in a 2012 Youtube video that our country “may be lost forever” if President Obama was re-elected, used his WorldNetDaily.com column to fuel the conspiracy fires regarding the 2015 Jade Helm 15 operation. Later that month, he backed down a little.

6. Here’s one from IMDB.com: His voice and drama coach was Jonathan Harris, of Lost in Space (1965) fame. Harris “taught him how to speak,” by putting his fingers in Norris’s mouth, and stretching the mouth wide open. Chuck names Jonathan as the only man in the world who could get away with doing that to him… which Harris was always proud of.

7. The first Westerner to ever be awarded the rank of 8th Degree Black Belt Grand Master in Tae Kwon Do, Chuck Norris is known for his own martial art: Chun Kuk Do. Among his famous students are Donny and Marie Osmond, Steve McQueen and Bob Barker.

* Sorry, “Invasion U.S.A” fans, Chuck Norris was not born with an Uzi in each hand.
** “Oh my God, Ninjaaaaaa …. it has to be … but they don’t exist anymore …”
*** This website has his kill count at 458, right between Jean Claude Van Damme and Nicolas Cage
**** Chuck Norris can hit you so hard that he can actually alter your DNA. Decades from now your descendants will occasionally clutch their heads and yell “What the hell was that?”
****** Chuck Norris can pick oranges from an apple tree and make the best lemonade you’ve ever tasted. Chuck Norris’ blood type is AK-47. The best part of waking up is not Folgers in your cup, but knowing that Chuck Norris didn’t kill you in your sleep.

Texas sheriff resigns after New Year’s Day Whataburger fight

 

A New Year’s Day fistfight at a Midlothian Whataburger involving Ellis County Sheriff Johnny Brown, two college-aged men and Brown’s brother Bobby resulted in Sheriff Brown’s resignation Wednesday morning.

Texas Restaurants Guns

He pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor assault shortly thereafter.

More: Hot fries and misdemeanors: Police warn against swiping Whataburger table tents

According to reports from FOX 4 DFW and the Midlothian Mirror, two 21-year-olds from Killeen, Matthew Longoria and  Caleb Tomgenovich, told police that Bobby Brown started the Jan. 1 fight after an altercation in the Whataburger parking lot. Video of the incident exists, but has not been released, according to FOX 4.

Brown, who served two terms as sheriff and was recently re-elected, admitted to assaulting Longoria early that morning.

A statement from Brown’s lawyer about the fight reads:

“Sheriff Brown walked into Whataburger in Midlothian where a fight was already in progress. His initial observation was a large white male assaulting Sheriff Brown’s 59-year-old brother and knocking him to the floor. As a sworn law enforcement officer, he is obligated to preserve the peace. He used the force and language necessary to end the violence, prevent further assaults, and protect others from being harmed.”

More: North Texas pastor soulfully serenades a Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit from Whataburger

However, Brown was not wearing his badge (having just come from a Republican Women fundraiser) and acted as a civilian. At one point, according to FOX 4, Longoria said that when witnesses threatened to call the cops, Brown yelled, “We ARE the cops!”

On Wednesday morning, a post on Brown’s Facebook page read, “Good morning y’all. I need extra prayers today please. Y’all get your coffee and read Isaiah 41 verses 10-13. Have a great day.”

Brown later surrendered his peace officer license, was booked into the Wayne McCollum Detention Center and is now required to pay a $500 fine and about $272 in court costs.

More: BuzzFeed article deems Whataburger better than In-N-Out and Shake Shack

Brown released a statement Wednesday stating that it “has been my honor to serve as the Sheriff of Ellis County, Texas for two terms and to have been re-elected by its citizens in the most recent election. I was involved in an unfortunate incident earlier this year which has reflected unfavorably upon me, and I do not want it to adversely impact the good men and women of the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office or the citizens we serve.

“I have accepted the judgment and sentencing of the court and will not file for new trial [sic] or an appeal. Additionally, I have decided to end my long career in law enforcement by permanently surrendering my Texas Peace Officer License and all certificates issued to me by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.”

This vintage map shows how Texans see America (probably)

 

You don’t have to ask anybody from Texas where they’re from— they’ll tell you right away. (If they don’t tell you within a few minutes of meeting that they’re from Texas, then are they really Texan?) State pride is infectious and unapologetic. But if you needed any more proof of how much Texans love their state, you need to check out “The Texan’s Map of the United States (of Texas).”

From Raremaps.com.

The map, which one antique map website traces back to 1949, imagines a United States where Texas takes up most of the country, stretching from the Mexican border all the way to the Pacific coastline and up to the Canadian border and the Appalachian region. According to Raremaps.com, it was designed by Texas sketch artist Frank Oliver as a way to advertise the Texoak Flooring Company in Crockett.

“Everything depicted hereon is the gospel truth!” a disclaimer on the map reads. “Attested to by a group of impartial Texans! All skeptics may appeal to his eminence, the king of Texas.”

Oh, and the scale? “One Texas inch = 1,000 miles.”

Some highlights from the map:

  • Austin is only known as the capital city, but San Antonio is home to “the world’s largest Army aviation center” and The Alamo, “where history began.” (Due to the map’s insane amount of scale, San Antonio is also located in West Texas right next to Big Bend National Park, for some reason.)
  • Fort Worth is known as “where men are men and the West begins,” while neighboring city Dallas is home to “the world’s best-dressed and most beautiful women.”
  • Crockett, home of the Texoak Flooring Company, is highlighted in the map as “the heart of the world’s largest pine and oak timberland.”

And as for the rest of the country? Anything north of Texas is an “Indian reservation, consisting mostly of land called ‘Oklahoma.'” The Great Lakes are merely “duck ponds” and”Texas reservoirs.” And that big patch of land northeast of the Appalachians and above the Mason-Dixon Line? All “Damnyankeeland.”

More: Here’s 181 things we love about Texas

And here I was thinking that Texas’ geography could be boiled down to this map from Richard Linklater’s “Bernie”:

 

Take a look at the map below.

From Raremaps.com.