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IMG_2246IMG_2274Austin & San Antonio vacation 2013 154Austin & San Antonio vacation 2013 091

Off the main thoroughfare of the major Texas artery of I-35, off to the West is a wonderful adventure.  A collection of fantastic African animals roam on the Wildlife Ranch.  It is like a Safari but doing it Texas style.

With tickets in hand, our car entered the Ranch.  The giraffe compound was on the left.  Several of these unique animals posed for photographers.  Most were cooing  over the twin calves that were recently born.  We admire these statuesque creatures of the Dark Continent but we passed them, more interested in the animals that we could get up close and personal through our drive in their natural habitat.

Our car rumbled over the animal grate, designed to keep hooved animals in a designated area while allowing vehicle traffic constant passage.  It is a clever invention.

Barbary Sheep were the first to greet us.  A flock of these majestic creatures met us.  The Ewes were proud to show off their newborn lambs.  Standing watch by himself was a  ram with his massive horns curled over his head.

Wildebeest roamed ahead.  A herd of cows with their wobbly kneed calves entertained us.  This animal has a face that God must  have chuckled a little when He created them.

Along the way was enjoyed Springbok, Fallow Deer, Axis Deer, Watusis, Elk and Black bucks.  Then, there were Ostricks, Emu,  Camels, Bongos, Rhinos and Gemsbok.  The variety was amazing.

Can the human mind really trick itself into believing that such stunning and intricate variety happened by chance?  The nature of variety and variation is far more consistent with a Creator who demonstrated His detail for differences than an accidental bang of repeated lifeform strains.

Donkeys, Zebra, Llama and Alpacas were in the mix.  Massive Elands, Oryx and Kudu draw your eyes to feast on their massive size, shape and strength.  My camera shutter snapped over 500 times during our tour.

We laughed when the cars ahead of us stopped.  One of the visitors had their windows rolled down.  The ostrich was bold and brazen.  It stuck its head into the car and came out with the bag of food that is provided to each visitor when they enter the park.  Squeals and screams made the rest of us laugh.

Close behind were the Emus to pick up the leftovers that the giant walking birds left for other creatures to enjoy.  Shy Water bucks stayed in the shadows of the woods, more interested in their privacy than any human treats.

photo credit: brucefong photography

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Austin 2013 167I was young when that picture was world news.  Jackie was stunned.  The world was in shock.  Oswald pulled the trigger and assassinated the President of the United States of America.

My life as a young adolescent could not comprehend the events of that day. Everyone was glued to their black and white televisions.  We mourned together.

The short pause for our grieving was short-lived.  Lyndon Johnson was immediately sworn in as the President.  His wife was there.  Jackie Kennedy, now a widow was a witness to the swearing-in ceremony, hastily done on an airplane.  All LBJ could say was that he would do his best to lead our great country.  That is all anyone could do.

It was a task so great that the nation and the world would not know until later how much he had accomplished.  Vietnam was a scourge.  Civil rights was a powder keg.  The nation was in political turmoil.  Yet, this one man could keep his family life intact and some measure of normalcy for the  many Americans groping for peace.

Austin 2013 170Politicians surrounded him.  Each one wanted what was best for his constituency and his own reelection efforts.  Nevertheless, LBJ tirelessly learned about each necessary vote for key initiatives.  He wielded influence on those politicians with a determination to do what was best for the country, to do what was right.

The racial conflict in the nation was reaching historic and epic proportions.  Hatred from prejudiced people threw all reason out and pressured their politicians to act in accordance with racist legislation and legal pressure.  LBJ would stand against this powerful mood of bigotry.  As President, he direct Federal resources and authorities to bring steady pressure against the injustices of racism.  He personally strove to right the problems of racism in the country.

IMG_2221His words spoken at Gettysburg are moving.  LBJ wanted Emancipation to be a reality in America, not just a Declaration.  Freedom, education and opportunity should be equal to all Americans.

The sadness in his eyes when Martin Luther King was assassinated told the story of his passion for equality among all Americans.  His resolve to stand on King’s shoulders to advance measures that would make a difference in America were historic.  The innocent testimony of his daughters spoke of the true honesty of  their fathers value of all citizens of this great country made great strides against the unfounded hatred imbedded in the lives the few.  LBJ was a remarkable president during an extremely difficulty time in history.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Austin 2013 117I did not choose our Texas vacation dates, they chose me.  We have to use up our vacation time within a certain schedule on the calendar.  If we do not, then we are limited in carrying over our time to the next year.  Before I lost any time, I just bit the bullet and scheduled our time away from work.

June is the warm up month in Texas.  July and August are brutally hot and humid in Houston.  Air conditioning is a 24/7 phenomenon in the most-air-conditioned-city-in-the-world.  Who can actually verify this moniker is anyone’s guess, but we who live here will not argue the point.  We just smile as we tip our cowboy hats and wipe a bead of sweat from our brow.

Miles from home, we have discovered what many Houstonians have told us is true.  The Texas Hill Country is an Austin 2013 122amazing place to visit.  It is still sizzling hot here but the humidity is very much under control.

During our tour of Austin, we drove to the Botanical Gardens.  It is listed by many as a good stop.  There is plenty of shade and interesting sights to see.

The path of our walk led us down several gravel trails with surprises around every corner.  Bright colors of flowers that seem to thrive in the bright Texas sun abounded.  Under the shade of large cypress trees, diffused light fed the constant appetite of the chlorophyll in each family of flora.

Variety is the best description of these plant displays.  Leaf shapes covered every combination.  They were big, medium and small.  Several were even diminutive.

Austin 2013 134Their flowers were just as unique and distinct.  Colors were always bright.  Flower shapes were evidence of a Designer who brought wonder into His creation that calls for all humans to marvel at Him.

Fragrance filled the garden.  It was relaxing, awe-inspiring and personally therapeutic.  With so many variations for the human senses it was not chaotic but symbiotic.  That alone was stunning.

Water features added to the garden experience.  Benches invited us to rest and take it all in when we would accept those

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free invitations.  Life here was at its best: varied, alive and bearing fruit.

One other feature helped me remember this visit too.  Long after we left, my mind was often reflecting on our tour as I scratched insect bites that covered ankles.  I am not the only life-form that enjoys a good stroll through the gardens.

photo credits: brucefong photography

Austin 2013 239The outside temperatures are warm, uncomfortably warm.  It is summer in Texas.  This is the season for bats under the Congress River Bridge.

Scores of people line the bridge as the sun closes in on the horizon.  Daylight disappears.  Bright colors of yellow and orange fill up the sky.

From south of the border Mexican Free-tail bats have mated.  Close to a million pregnant female bats migrate to Austin, Texas for an annual migration.  The male bats are not welcome.  They head to a Texas cave to take in the Texas summer.

A bridge in Austin that spans Lake Lady Bird Johnson is the site for this phenomenon.  When the bridge was retrofitted with expansion joints few had any idea that it would be the perfect setting for these mammals of the night air.  But, these creatures discovered this ideal habitat by the hundreds of thousands.

During the day, they cloister themselves in these dark recesses through narrow slits in the concrete.  There they rest, chirp and wait until feeding time.  That is when life becomes exciting.

Just after dusk, the Creator has programmed into these curious creatures a signal.  First, a few scout bats fly out and test the temperature, weather conditions and other key data entry points.  Then, a massive and steady stream of fast flying bats pour out from beneath the bridge.

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Like a swarm of streaking river in the sky, this black horde traces the bridges’ edge, turns sharply to follow the tree line and scatter into the Texas country side.  They are on a mission.  Each bat shares a common appetite.  They are hungry and ready for a 30 mile radius to consume every mosquito or flying insect that their radar can trap in their flight pattern.

Initially, they stick together for safety.  Birds of prey are waiting for their emergence.  These feathered flyers are hungry too.  They dive and duck through the stream of tasty morsels.  However, the Creator has made the numbers of the bats lend to their survival.

It takes nearly two hours for the bats to leave the bridge.  The explosion captivates tourists and locals alike.  Our senses of what we see is etched in our memories.  Then, the aroma a lot like corn chips fills the river surface from the diet of these little mammals.  A slight mist showers our tour boat guests with the obvious scattering of flying animals.  The touch of the Master’s creation has entertained us all.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Austin 2013 020In my past I have the thrill of  living in five different states in the Union.  Each one had its unique and special features.  However, only one had a magical aura about it.  You could not ignore it.

Usually, folks quickly ask, “What’s it like to live in Texas?  Isn’t it hot down there?”
My standard response is, “It’s really hot and humid during July and August.  But, during the rest of the year it is amazing!”
So often people then add, “Oh, I can’t stand the heat!”
Anticipating their reply, “That’s what A/C is for.  Besides it is great for the complexion.  Your skin is naturally moisturized.”

They usually laugh.  I grin.  Then, I fill in the rest of the story.  Texas is an amazing place to live.  It is the people.  There is an welcoming spirit there in Houston that I have thoroughly enjoyed.

Hospitality and and general friendliness are pervasive around our neighborhood, new acquaintances and even the

Austin 2013 023Patriotism is alive and well in Texas.  For any national holidays Old Glory is flying in front of so many homes that it looks like there is going to be a parade down our street.

Freedom is an openly treasured and appreciated value by Texans.  businesses where we pay our patronage.  In the short time that we have been here we have had more interaction with our neighbors than we have in all of the combined locations that we have lived in the last 20 years.

Diversity is huge in Houston.  In 2012 our city became the most diverse city in the USA.  It surpassed New York City for that distinction.  Houston is actively resettling refugees and attracted large numbers of ethnic groups to our city.

Austin 2013 025Foreign languages are commonly heard whether we are shopping, walking or waiting in lines.  While our languages are different, our customs are distinct and our ancestries are from different parts of the globe, we all quickly adopt our Texas spirit of unity and pride.  “Remember the Alamo” is not just a piece of history, it is a hunger of the soul that all Texans enjoy together.

The state seal, the State Senate Chamber and the House Chamber are decorated with paintings and artifacts of history that makes the heart beat stronger.  While I was not born here in Texas, I can say that I am glad that I got here as soon as I could.  The Spirit of Texas has captured me.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Austin 2013 056The thunder rolled out of Austin, our Texas state capital by Sunday afternoon.  Thousands of bikers roared their way home in different parts of the state.  We who were left were residents working or the many of us tourists who were ready to take in the sights and sounds of this special city.  High on our list was a visit to the State Capitol.  It was easy to find and parking was super convenient.

On our walk to our destination this magnificent domed seat of Texas government stood proudly above the trees.  It seemed so massive, because it is the largest domed capitol building in the USA.  This domed skyscraper is even taller than the national domed capitol.

Our guide told us that this  dominating height was deliberate.  When the construction of this building was nearing completion, it was discovered that a mere matter of a few separated the Texas dome from the national dome.  To Austin 2013 087exceed the height, Texas builders added the statue to the top of the dome to surpass the height of D.C.  Everything, after all, is bigger in Texas.

Everything on the inside and outside of the building is magnificent.  We toured both the Senate and House chambers.  Paintings of heroes and history filled the eyes with action, dignity and prowess.  Names of past heroes still reverberate in the historic halls of this great building: Travis, Houston, Austin, Crockett, Murphy and many more.

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Outside there were historic cannon, memorial parks, monuments to special moments in Texas history.  Prominently placed in the entry are the six flags over Texas.  Six countries lay a historic claim over this land.  The USA, Mexico, Spain, France, the Confederacy and the Republic of Texas.

The monument on the grounds shocked me also pleased me.  I approached it from the back.  Curiosity filled my mind.  I wondered what this monument would commemorate.

It was a tall marble structure.  The height was over twice the width.  It appeared to have two parts.  It was divided down the vertical middle.  Each half had a curved  top.

Naturally, I mused.  Could it really be?  Here on secular ground, on the yard of a non-religious body, could the presence of spiritual identity actually be present?  When so many states have to have a debate on whether a nativity scene is legally displayed, could the State Capital of Texas actually promote a visual of faith?

I peered around to the front of the marble piece.  “Wow! How exciting is this?  The Ten Commandments.”

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_2198There are different juices that flow in the veins of different people.  Some have more than simply blood that pours through their bodies and energizes the soul that their body houses.  Others have  an additive in their blood vessels.

I join the many who feel the thrill of thunder.  No, it is not the kind that follows lightning and rumbles through the skies.  Rather, it is the roar that travels through the ground, caused by the horsepower of two-wheel machines known as motorcycles.  I feed on the spirit captured on the open road.

When I don my gear, then climb aboard my ride and turn on my ignition, the thrill never leaves.  It is always there.  Something in the heart and soul of a rider is ignited with the firing of plugs in the internal combustion engine of my V-twin.

The joy of  a ride is magnified when fellow bikers enjoy their freedom together.  We are brothers from different mothers.  There is a connection that can be seen when total strangers on bikes pass each other on the road.  They wave at each other in acknowledgement of what we share in common.

On this vacation trip we headed to experience the city of  Austin together.  Little did we know that our path would crossIMG_2195 the path with thousands of others whose blood flows with the same spirit of motorcycling.  We were met with the vision of a hotel lot filled with sparkling, customized and roaring motorcycles.  Instantaneously, it was exuberating.

Something special was happening in Austin that we did not know about in advance.  I did recall a number of biker groups and solo riders on our journey to our state’s capital.  The enjoyable journey was filled with many other sights, so I was not suspicious .  Now, it all made sense: Republic of Texas Rally, ROT13.

Like the tradition is, has been and always will be, I paid out a lot of compliments on custom rides.  Pride broke out on a number faces when they realized that someone was speaking with admiration of their personalized machine.  It is a way of life.

In town the famed Sixth St. was lined with motor magnificence.  No two bikes were alike.  Each one was like the people who ride them: unique, filled with pride and sharing in common the thunder of the open road.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_2212Who doesn’t like the acting prowess of Jimmy Stewart.  From the early days of black and white film, this legendary actor brought us to tears, laughter, thoughtfulness and patriotism.  His winsome way has never stopped winning loyal fans from decade to decade.

Stewart starred is many major films.  He is included in the lists of iconic actors who have shaped the notoriety of Hollywood.  His talent is legendary.

Yet, his role in the film Harvey is eventually mentioned in the words of those film historians and fans of the silver screen.  That is the role that has defined this often repeated story.  A man with many talents and opportunities has an invisible six-foot three-point five-inch tall rabbit as a constant companion.

His family is quirky.  A niece and sister carry on a plot to have him committed to a sanitarium.  They are embarrassed and uncomfortable with what they perceive as odd behavior.  Of course they interpret what they do not like to who they are not liking.

Zach’s in Austin has a showing for this charming stage performance.  We loved it.  Elwood P. Dowd is played by a wonderful talent, Martin Burke.  From the moment Burke enters the stage, his countenance, laughter and conversation win your funny bone and endears him to your entertainment tastes.

He is perfectly believable and whoever can convince an audience that he is in fact having a conversation and relationship with a 6’3.5″ invisible rabbit has to have some talent.  Before long you are convinced that people whose lives are run by self-centered prejudices are all too common.

This play is entertaining.  Then, the themes linger long.  Can pleasantness ever be valued as much more desirable than “normalcy?”  Does not the cheer and encouragement that a pleasant brings much more beneficial than the judgmental imposition of the narrow prejudices of the socially acceptable?

Veta played by Laura Lane is a versatile talent.  Her initial limitations and comic skills and of course her role as the one who believes but plays a traditional part is outstanding.  Do people really hide what they experience in life because of the mores of societal acceptance?

This performance at Zach’s is amazing.  It is well worth seeing, experiencing and contemplating.  Bravo!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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After the six days of creation God finished the work.  He saw all that He had done and it was good.  On the seventh day He rested.

He rested.  Nowhere does the Bible imply that God was exhausted from the work.  It does not suggest that He was even tired from the work.

However, it is clear that He set up a pattern for all of Creation to rest.  Our activity is draining.  Humans have limits.  Our batteries need to be recharged.

It is not the need to lay around.  Sleeping late is fine.  Doing nothing is therapeutic.  A vacation is not about a period of inactivity.  Rather it is a broader category of  breaking off from our normal pattern of busy activity.  Do something different.

The pattern set up for us in Creation is work for six days and then change it up on the  seventh.  This is a great pattern for our normal work week.  It can also give us an objective for our annual vacation.

My normal work week is high paced.  It starts early, before the sun rises.  I am at my writing disciplines and welcome the dawning of each new day.  It is inspiring to see the pattern of creation emerge.

Then, if my body cooperates I’ll hit the pool or pedal my way through my prayer list.  Lives of special people race through my mind as I converse with the Almighty.  I petition for these whom God has put into my routine.

Then, it is off to the office.  There I put in a day with planning, strategizing, tactical implementation of vision, meetings, relationship building with key people and cheering on the team.  Long ago I learned to shape my leadership around the simple plan of “Chart the course, set the pace and cheer the spirit.”

My evenings are filled with errands, chores and snatches of hobbies.  Weekends are lined up with ministry preparation and service.  If I ever lose my calendar I am sunk.  Working ahead, studying in advance, writing long before deadlines get close my days are packed full of activity.

When I return to work, my goal is to insure that I do not need to return to relax from a harrowing vacation trip jammed with stuff that I had planned to do.  Getting recharged to return to work with enthusiasm is my goal.  Now, it is time to get back to relaxing.

photo credit: brucefong photography

DSC_0150My mornings usually start in time to welcome the rising of the sun.  When the rays of the new day dawn, it is time for my first break.  In the past I had been accused of laying skid marks by the side of the bed.  I smile and do not feel like denying the truth.

Now, however, I am on vacation.  We have structured our time so that we spend a week just to decompress, knock off neglected errands and put ourselves in a mode to relax.  For example, we let the sun wake us up.  The alarm clocks remain silent.  We chat before we even climb out of bed.  It is an amazing experience.

Then we continue chatting in our breakfast nook.  We take in the view of our backyard and agree that we are blessed to enjoy the scenery.  Birds are soaring overhead and squirrels are dancing through the trees.

That is when our attention drawn in closer.  Just outside of our window, on the leaves of our garden plants we notice thatDSC_0174 we are locked into the vision of another life form.  It is a lizard.

At first he is just keeping a wary eye on us.  Afterall, it is Spring.  He is pumping up his colorful throat sack.  It is reddish in color and makes his head look twice a big.  He must be out courting his hopeful bride.  We humans distracting him from his Springtime Twitterpation.

We both grabbed our cameras and carefully approached our subject.  He was curious but not afraid.  Slowly we raised our instruments of digital recording and snapped away.  Like a world-class model, he would occasionally shift his head, DSC_0184alter his posture and change his position.  It was a fun photo shoot.

No nuptials took place.  He had lost his concentration.  The calls for a female reptile turned to silence.  Our little buddy even climbed over a few large leaves to get closer to us.

While neither my bride nor I are reptilian aficionados, we were so relaxed on our vacation that we took the time to enjoy this episode.  This little critter is also in our yard helping keep the insect population under control.  If he is helping keep the roach population down, he is more than welcomed to make our yard his home.   Should he successfully woo a mate and have many babies, they too are welcome to make their home in our yard.  We are cool with that.

photo credit: brucefong photography

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