Archive for the ‘Piney Woods’ Category

So this was my real reason for heading to Tyler.  Olympia Dukakis was starring in a concert reading of Martin Sherman’s ROSE. 


I had originally struggled with this decision.  I absolutely love Olympia Dukakis.  She is great actress and is known for many roles such as Moonstruck, Steel Magnolias, Mr. Holland’s Opus, and Mighty Aphrodite to name a few.  But for me she brought to life Armistead Maupin’s Mrs. Madrigal.  Tales of the City is my favorite book and movie (even though it’s really a mini-series.)  I want to be Mrs. Madrigal – well at least in the super cool old lady part – and hopefully some day I will be.  But, do I drive all the way to Tyler to see her?  And, do I splurge on the more expensive front row seat?  Clearly the answer is yes, yes, yes!


So I arrive at the UT Tyler Cowan Center at 7:00 p.m.  I have 30 minutes to discreetly change attire, refresh my make-up, put on jewelry.  I park Peaches in a dark corner of the parking lot and begin my Superman transformation praying that no one will see me, particularly the Tyler police officer directing traffic a short distance away. 


Transformed I head to my front row seat and settle into a conversation with the folks from Tyler who are interested to know if I have purchased the seat for the “season.”  Until last week I didn’t even know Tyler had a season.  However, after reviewing the Cowan Center’s 2009 line-up I wished that I had.  As the women next to me said, they get talent in Tyler.


The play started and Olympia Dukakis walks out on stage.  It’s a one woman show.  She sits down on a bench directly in front of me less than 6 feet away and begins her performance as Rose.  This is a story of a Jewish woman who eventually finds herself having the time of her life in Warsaw, only to find a short time later it was one of the worst places to be, the Warsaw ghetto.  After many plot twists and turns she comes to the United States and makes a life first in Atlantic City and then Miami catering to the large Jewish summer set.  The story was interesting and sometimes funny with plenty of self deprecating Jewish humor and words like schlep.  I was happy to have had my time in New York to have a little extra insight. 


However, somewhere along the way things got more serious.  Yes, more serious than the Warsaw ghetto.  Rose began to explain how her son had decided to live in Israel and how she felt she was finally at home in a land during her visits to him.   But, after time and more visits things were changing in Israel.  There was once again a war, but this time not only were Jewish people dying, this time they were also killing.  This was a moral dilemma because in Rose’s old world upbringing being Jewish was to point to the moral North under all circumstances.  And, how could killing others be justifiable. 


It was a very powerful play with number very difficult religious, moral, and social dilemmas addressed.   I found myself swept away in the power of the story.  I was in tears.  Not just one tear but many crept down my face as I watched the agony and the angst of Rose coming to grips with the changes that occurred in her lifetime and the differences between the old world viewpoint and the future sought by today’s Jewish culture.  And, then it was over.


Olympia Dukakis was no longer Rose, just Olympia Dukakis.  As I stood crying, wiping away my tears and applauding she looked down at me.  Wait.  Check, check. I am awake, this is real, and Olympia Dukakis is looking directly at me, if only for a split second.  She knows she has moved me, and I begin to cry all over again.


As I walk to my car, on air, I know that the reason for my final set of tears was because I am truly blessed in this world.  Not because I have never experienced the difficulties of others like Rose, although that is a blessing.  But, because I was raised by a grandfather who loved adventure, a father who loves Texas, and by many in my family who genuinely believe that life is about the stories that you can tell. 


UT Tyler Cowan Center

3900 University Boulevard

Tyler, TX 75799



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I had no intention of eating at this point since I had pretty much just had lunch.  However, when I passed Bodacious Bar-B-Q I thought I remembered reading that they were on the Texas Monthly Top 50 list and so had to give in.


I ordered a combination plate with sliced beef, sausage, pinto beans, and potato salad.  And, as an after thought, a slice of chocolate pie.


Now, you have to temper all of this with the fact that I was served a ton of food and wasn’t hungry at all.  However, honestly I am not sure that I would travel to Tyler just for this Bar-B-Q.  Don’t get me wrong, it was good just not crazy good.  On the other hand the pie was awesome.  Homemade crust, at least four inches of chocolate topped with whipped cream, and little pieces of shaved chocolate to top it all off.  And I ate it all with no remorse!


The décor was country.  Mismatched chairs, Formica tables, antique knick knacks, and a massive salt and pepper shaker collection.  This was the small town sensibility I had been seeking.


Monday – Sunday 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Mighty Aphrodite

Bodacious Bar-B-Q

Northwest Corner of I-20 & Hwy 14, Exit 562

Tyler, TX


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I am going to let the pictures do the talking on this one since this side trip was a quick drive-by just to see if it was worth putting on the Texas State Parks to camp in list.  And, yes it definitely was!


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When I was researching this trip I found out that Tyler was the home of the Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge.  I don’t think I have ever been to a wildlife refuge before, unless you count the place in Aransas Pass where a herd of javelinas chased me onto a picnic bench while I was screaming bloody murder.  I was like five so give me a break!


Tiger Creek was entirely different, thank goodness. Their mission is to provide rescue and rehabilitation of big cats that have been abused, neglected or displaced. 


With only 45 minutes to closing I rushed into the office gasping for air hoping that I wasn’t too late.  The very sweet intern assured me that I still had plenty of time and that she would lead me on a tour showing me each of the cats and providing information of each of their backgrounds. 


As we entered the refuge I realized that each of the cats were inside cages.  I don’t know what I expected, perhaps something more zoo like so I was a little concerned by how small their environment was.  However, my guide assured me that each cat had plenty of space given that they spent approximately 20 hours a day sleeping.  As I looked around I realized that she was right they were all sleeping, which anyone who has ever owned a cat of any size can attest to the fact that this is their primary activity.


She continued my tour explaining where each cat had come from: Michael Jackson’s Neverland, drive thru safari parks, and surprisingly Texan’s who had originally thought that they would make good pets and then decided it was far to big of a commitment.  Ya think! 


Anyway, the tour continued past Bengal tigers, lions, bobcats and a puma.  Sometimes she would play games with the cats like hiding behind objects and popping up to get them to jump about.  Let me be very clear, she loved these cats and was very, very concerned about them being comfortable about every move she made.  At one point she blew on one of the cats to attempt to make him turn around so I could have a better view.  The cat quickly turned his head and growled at her.  For me, this was a great experience – big cat, growling, showing big teeth while I was in complete safety although only feet away.  Wow!  This very large cat was seriously grumpy and I was getting see it first hand.  For her it was devastating to think that she had elicited this negative reaction instead of the sign of affection she was hoping for.  As I said, she cared greatly.


She explained how they rotated the cats into larger play cages to allow them to have greater activity on occasion.  Finally, she showed me the first habitat that they had built with the hope of gaining funding for 20 more to allow each cat alternate space eliminating the rotation process.


Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge can be seen on Animal Planets “Growing Up Tiger” and A&E’s “Pet or Predator.”  Or, you can head out to Tyler and see them for yourself.


Admission: $10


Monday – Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.


Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge

17552 FM 14

Tyler, TX 75706



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It was already 2:30 and I was running out of time with a still full agenda.  So, I high-tailed it to Tyler to see the nation’s largest municipal rose garden.  I soon found out that over half of all commercial rose bushes marketed in the United States are packaged and shipped from Smith County. 


The Garden has over 35,000 rose bushes with approximately 500 varieties of roses.  It’s the Bubba Gump of rose gardens.  There are red roses, yellow roses, purple roses, pink roses, small roses, tall roses.  Gorgeous rose after rose with their intoxicating smell following you throughout the garden.  It’s not a site to miss no matter how “touristy” it is.  There are other sections of the 14-acre park that showcase other types of plants, water features and sculptures which are a nice compliment to the experience.


Inside the adjacent Rose Garden Center is the Tyler Rose Museum.  I was so disappointed not to have more time to spend in the museum which would have given me a better understanding of the history of the Rose Festival and the industry so important to this town.  The few interactive exhibits that I did experience were quite interesting and left me wanting more.  But I could not resist spending what time I did have seeing the gorgeous dresses on display of former Rose Queens and Duchess of the Growers.  There are photographs, tiaras and gowns dating as far back as 1935. It’s a real life Barbie fantasy land!



Rose Garden: Free

Tyler Rose Museum: Adults $3; Children $2


Museum and Gift Shop Hours

Monday – Friday 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Sunday 1:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.


Tyler Rose Garden & Museum

420 Rose Park Drive

Tyler, TX 75702


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From the outside Legends Old-Time Burger Café seemed like exactly the kind of place that you would find in a small town.   It’s all wood Texas style red, white and blue décor was homey and just what I was hoping for.  What I had driven two hours for – a small town experience. 


I placed my order for a jalapeno stuffed burger, fries and root beer, which by the way was very good. 


As I was waiting for my food I focused the details of the restaurant.  Each table had a photo filled theme of Legends, ranging from race car drivers, football players, actors and such.  I got music and a big picture of Elvis.  However, I had to force myself to notice these details.  I was completely distracted by the people in the restaurant.  This is when I began to realize that my whole trip was based on an inaccurate expectation of what the Tyler area was going to be like. 


I expected small town personalities and sensibilities.  What I got was kids wearing Japanimation t-shirts, glitter headbands, and trendy sunglasses.  Seriously, mini Olsen twins lived in Bullard. 


I began to pay even more attention and realized from the adult East Texas accented conversations about the horrors of Dallas traffic and their kids jumping up and down for the hand-dipped Bluebell ice cream that all was not totally abnormal. But, that my trip to the Tyler area was in fact going to be an eye-opening adventure.


Legends Old-Time Burger Café

117 N. Phillips

Bullard, TX


Monday – Saturday 11a.m. – 8 p.m.

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I haven’t been to very many vineyards so I really didn’t know what to expect.  The experience was even more daunting as I walked into an empty tasting room with just two staff members of the vineyard present.  However, they were incredibly friendly and put me at ease pretty quickly.  Or, was that the seven 1 oz. samples that I had?  I tried the Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, and Merlot first.  After that they provided me with samples of the 2006 Syrah and Merlot which I really liked and ultimately ended up purchasing.  Finally, I tried a sample of a special wine called Barrel 33, I believe. 


Throughout the tasting I was given a brief history of the owners who moved here from South Africa 20 years ago.  The oldest daughter in the family is typically in charge of the wine.  However, Barrel 33 is special project that father and daughter embark on every year.  Frankly, it was too complex for me.  I couldn’t really appreciate all the different flavors that were incorporated into this particular wine, but I love the story of father and daughter working together to bring something special to the winery every year.


After the tasting, I was taken on a tour of the property and shown the places where the wines are developed. In addition to the winery, there is also a restaurant and bed & breakfast on the 33-acre property.


Kiepersol Estates Vineyards

3933 FM 344

Tyler, TX 75703



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