Fredericksburg: Wildflowers, Wine and B&Bs

Red poppy fields stretch to our right and bluebonnet fields merge into the sky on our left. Like children, adults run from one flower patch to another. Some sit surrounded by colors and take selfies, others kneel to smell the sweet aromas. Like arching rainbows, corridors of color wind through the Technicolor meadows of Wildseed Farms near Fredericksburg, Texas. 
“We always set aside some areas for people to pose with the flowers,” John Thomas, founder of the garden center and seed nursery says. “Sure, they trample a few but everyone gets pictures of a lifetime. Each and every spring, we plant 1,500 acres of flowers and ship seeds and regional mixes to all 50 states.” 
The spring wildflowers that emblazon the fields and roadsides around the historic town of Fredericksburg greet visitors like a giant welcome mat. However, when the first German immigrants arrived in 1846, the rugged hills, ancestral home of the Comanches, were more hostile than hospitable. The Germans signed a peace treaty with the Indians, considered the only one never broken, and peacefully farmed and raised cattle and goats in the rolling hills and valleys. 
A distinctively German heritage still defines this country town of 10,000 with a relaxed ranching-farming atmosphere, the perfect combination for a weekend or week-long getaway. Original hand-hewn stone storefronts line the broad main street, but now house chic to western clothing boutiques, jewelry stores, art and sculpture galleries, house goods and souvenirs stores, mom-and-pop restaurants, and being German, brewpubs and biergartens. 
In the past decade, a new attraction, second only in popularity to shopping, has sprung up alongside the roadside wildflowers. Now, lush vineyards cover the rolling hills. 
“The wine industry in Fredericksburg has really exploded,” Maureen O’Hara at Grape Creek Winery said. “The Texas Wine Trail along Hwy 290 has more than 40 vineyards and wineries, and most have tasting rooms.”
The architecture of the newly established wineries reflect the classic Hill Country limestone construction with Italian and French motifs surrounded by vineyards and flowering landscapes. It’s a far step from the barbecue and beer scene once synonymous with the Texas Hill Country.
After visiting Grape Creek, Torre di Pietra and Becker wineries, we stop at Four Point Cellars. Each winery produces its own distinct style and taste of wine. Four Point goes one step further and offers a pairing of selections from the three Texas wineries it represents with local raw-milk artisan cheeses. 
Carl Hudson, director of wine education, explains the pairing and tells us more about the developing wine scene. 
“Fredericksburg is the Number Two wine destination in the nation and in the Top 10 in the world,” he bragged. “The modern growth of the wine industry in Texas is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. We’re watching an industry come to age.”
A majority of the 1.5 million annual visitors to Fredericksburg agree, and all need a place to stay. The first German immigrants received a town plot as well as their farmstead. They build a “Sunday house” to stay in when they came to town for supplies and church. Today, many have been preserved and converted into guest houses and B&Bs, a popular way to avoid the generic motels and experience an authentic slice of the area’s history. 
In recent years a number of modern cottages have opened to met the demand for quaint lodging. But, none are as unique as Baron’s Creekside Cottages, a reconstructed Swiss village on the edge of town.
Nine years ago, Daniel Mayer was touring the U. S. in a rented RV. He had recently sold his food business in Switzerland and was touring the world with an eye for a place to start a new life. 
“A lot of places are perfect vacation destinations but would suck as a place to live,” he said  with his Swiss-German accent.
For him, Texas definitely was the latter. He was assured he could get out of the state in one day from Fredericksburg.
“I saw a sign that said ‘Log Cabin for Rent’ and below it ‘For Sale,’ so I decided to take a break from the highway and spend the night in the log cabin,” he said.
He woke up the next morning and looked through the window. He saw rocky hills covered with scrubby mesquite and withered grass and a steep ravine clogged with litter. It was love at first sight. 
“I bought the land and had my family log house in Switzerl and disassembled and then shipped here in two containers,” he said.
With the lumber and parts, he built 16 chalets scattered around a flowing creek and waterfall that he also added to the property. 
“Each cabin is named after a city in Switzerland and decorated to represent the style and history of the town. Everything in the cabins comes from Switzerland, most from my family,” Mayer added.
The romantic chalets originally were for couples only, no children allowed.
“But, honeymooners wanted to come back and celebrate their anniversaries, and many already had kids,” he said. “So, now we also have family accommodations.”
Like Mayer, who felt right at home in the German culture of Fredericksburg, the enterprising town continually reinvents itself. The road from hard-scrabble farming to cultured rows of grape vines may be long, but it’s lined with wildflowers and a friendly “Welkommen y’all.” 
If you go
For more information aboutaccommodations and special events, contact the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau at 888-997-3600 or go online and check out
George Oxford Miller is an award-winning travel writer and photographer and frequent contributor to Houston Woman Magazine.

Destin: Fantastic and Fun for Families

Destin, Florida, with its white sandy beaches and emerald green waters, became a  favorite getaway spot for me many years ago. Often, I have gone there with other adults and stayed in one of the area’s many luxury hotels or resorts. And, always, I have had a fabulous time! 

But, last summer, was different. My assignment, you might say, was to plan a multi-generation trip to Destin that would include my son, my daughter and her husband, and my two adorable grandchildren (girl six, boy four). Clearly, I had to look at Destin differently, taking into account the interests of the others in my family.
The first priority was to find a wonderful place to stay. And, for my group, nothing would do but a beautiful condo on the beach — one with plenty of space, great views of the water, an updated and well-equipped kitchen, etc., and a price that wouldn’t break the bank. 
A tall order for me, but not for Newman-Dailey Resort Properties, Inc., which has been warmly welcoming families like ours to Destin since 1985, thanks to Jeanne Dailey, co-founder and current sole owner.
After considering several options, Newman-Dailey helped me select a great property — the Jade East Condominiums — and in it, the perfect three-bedroom, three-bath unit.  The minute we arrived on site, we knew we were going to have a wonderful and memorable vacation. Newman-Dailey had turned our dream into a reality! 
At check-in on Friday afternoon, we received a welcome basket that included a Newman-Dailey Gift Card for area activities. It was a nice add-on, but also the perfect “tool” for scheduling fun. 
We took the kids to Fudpucker’s the first evening. As advertised, it was a blast. The little ones loved the large playgrounds, sprawling buildings and Gator Beach. We all loved the food on the menus (both the one for grown-ups and the one for kids).
Afterwards, we drove one mile west, over to The Track Recreation and Fun Center to take advantage of our newly acquired Newman-Dailey Gift Card. There, we all enjoyed the Surf’ in Safari miniature golf and its featured jungle animals and waterfalls, as well as the Wild Woody, a three-tiered go-cart/roller coaster track. 
Next morning, as you might expect, we were eager to hit the beach. As it was just steps away from the back door of the Jade East, the walk was short and sweet! Good thing, as our arms were loaded down with beach bags full of food and drink and enough sun-protecting paraphernalia and beach toys to outfit a childcare center. But, for this reporter, that was okay!
For dinner that night, we drove over to Dewey Destin  Harborside Restaurant, voted the best outdoor restaurant on the Emerald Coast. We loved the relaxed, open-air environment (so kid-friendly) and the vast offerings of the seafood menu (though it did make decision making difficult). Finally, I opted for the Grouper Destin, which came smothered with lump crab, lemon juice and a special seasoning. In a word, it was awesome! 
You’ve got to be careful when you visit Destin, it’s easy for a trip there to become all about the food. We were reminded of that on Sunday. Twice! First, when we stopped off at Another Broken Egg for breakfast and  that night when we dined at Harbor Docks. Both (for very different reasons, of course) are considered “must-trys” here. 
Jade East is situated right across the road from the Big Kahuna’s Water Park, so a stop there to watch the kids slip and slide and swim was a must. So, of course, we made the stop!
With more than 40 attractions the water park was, without a doubt, the kids favorite “non-beach” activity. And, admittedly, watching them have so much fun there, was mine. 
For more information about renting a vacation home or condo along the Emerald Coast, please visit or call  Newman-Dailey at 800-225-7652 .
Beverly Denver is the editor and publisher of Houston Woman Magazine. 

Omaha Art Deco heritage highlights modern-day city

Standing at the foot of the marble staircase leading to the entrance of the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, I’m tempted to charge up two at a time, Rocky Balboa style. I’m no Rocky, but it’s easy to see how a building with such majesty and grandeur can inspire heroic acts. Covered with pink marble from Georgia, the museum stands as a celebration to the grand era of Art Deco and monumental architectural expression.

Omaha came of age in the 1920s as the center of newspaper, meat packing and railroad empires. Today, the faded glory of those days has been re-imaged and is more glorious than ever, both for residents and visitors alike.

With a history of wealthy contributors and the current headquarters of four Fortune 500 companies, the city of 415,000 shines with the benefits of philanthropy, civic-minded foundations, and visionary city planning. The Joslyn Art Museum, Durham Museum and historic Old Market district prove the past can hold the key to the future.

The art museum was a gift from Sarah Joslyn to the citizens of Omaha in 1931 in memory of her late husband, George, the richest man in Nebraska. George made his wealth as founder of the Western Newspaper Union, which supplied copy to 12,000 newspapers across the nation. Both aspired to share their passion for music and art with others. After George died, Sarah commissioned a 1,000-seat concert hall surrounded by art galleries.

The team of architects infused the Art Deco design with Native American motifs and pioneer themes from the Great Plains. When completed, it was considered one of the finest 100 buildings in the nation.

At the top of the stairs, I swing open the massive door and step into a towering foyer with black marble columns and an enclosed courtyard with a tile fountain. Art galleries open to the sides with the concert hall at the end.

“The museum received a number of important collections of classic European and Western United States art,” Judy Schafer, our docent guide, told us. She explained important paintings from the Renaissance masters through French studio art of the 18th and 19th centuries to the development of 19th century impressionism.

“The museum has about 12,000 works in its permanent collection,” she said.

An addition built in 1994 doubled the size of the museum and houses the Western and Indian art collections, contemporary art and traveling exhibits. “The Great Illustrated West,” a special exhibit through 2012, displayed photographic prints that Andrew Russell took in 1868 during the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad from Omaha to Utah, where the Golden Spike connected the transcontinental railroad.

At the confluence of rivers and railroads, Omaha became the fourth largest railroad and commerce center in the nation. In its heyday, 13 sets of tracks separated the grand depots of Union Pacific and Burlington railways. In 1971, the last train departed Union Station and the Burlington depot closed in 1974. The Burlington terminal, built in 1898 in Italianate style, was gutted and remains boarded up.

Fortunately for Omaha, generous benefactors saved and renovated Union Station to its original splendor and opened it to the public as the Dunham Museum. Rows of ceiling-high cathedral windows with glazed pink glass and massive one-ton, brass chandeliers illuminate the cavernous, 160- foot-long Great Hall. Art Deco designs decorate the 60-foot-tall ceiling and walls and a checkered terrazzo floor with sunburst patterns complements the dark oak woodwork.

“This is one of the finest examples of Art Deco in the Midwest,” Swawna Forsberg, the museum marketing director tells us. “In 1995, Chuck and Margre Durham raised $25 million for renovation. All the furnishings are original. You’re stepping into what the station looked like when it opened in 1931. Just imagine 64 steam engines pulling in and 10,000 people rushing through here every day.”

The awe-inspiring building is only half the attraction of the museum, called the Western Heritage Museum before the renovation. It now qualifies as an affiliate of the Smithsonian Museum, which provides world-class exhibits.

Downstairs at track level, a row of passenger cars stands ready for boarding, or exploring, and a stage coach, steam engine, and Ford Model A illustrate changes in transportation. The museum galleries trace the development of the Great Plains and changing lifestyles from Lewis and Clark through the Railroad era. One exhibit displays a typical household in the 1950s complete with a Formica kitchen table and black and white TV.

“The Swanson TV dinner was invented in Omaha in 1953,” Forsberg tells us.

The Durham Museum sits at the edge of Omaha’s historic Old Market. Once the heart of downtown and center of commerce and manufacturing, the district of red-brick warehouses fell into disrepair. But instead of blight, city planners saw opportunity. Now the four-by-five block area thrives as a vibrant entertainment district. The 100-year-old buildings house restaurants and brewpubs, art studios and galleries, antique and boutique shops, clubs and coffee houses.

“After downtown Omaha burned down twice, the city mandated that buildings had to be brick,” Brian Magee, owner of Upstream Brewing Company told us.

“Our building was built in 1904 as a fire station. The size is perfect for a microbrewery.” The popular two-story eatery blends burgers with an upscale menu, flat screen TVs, pool tables, and of course a thirst-quenching selection of beers.

After exploring the Old Market shops and galleries, I discover an unexpected treasure, Ted and Wally’s homemade ice cream.

Two churns, powered by electricity and cooled the old-fashioned way with ice and rock salt crank the daily choices from a repertoire of 450 flavors. Each day features 10 new flavors, such as Salty Seahorse, Cosmic Coffee Crunch and Sweet Potato Pie, so you never know what delights await.

After sampling several offbeat flavors, I choose a scoop of “Quit Yer Job and Eat Chocolate.”

Luckily, Omaha’s planners, philanthropists and businesses don’t take Ted and Wally’s advice literally. Omaha has turned its rich heritage into a vibrant present and promising future.

George Oxford Miller is a free-lance travel writer and photographer and long-time contributor to Houston Woman Magazine.

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