Sunday, May 30, 2010

A New Spirit on the West Side

Mrs. Doohickie and I have a friend who is a Presbyterian minister. She has gravitated in her short career toward church redevelopment- transforming congregations that have hit a static spot in the life of the church. She is now pastor of a Presbyterian church on the west side of Fort Worth. When she got there it was called St. Giles Presbyterian. The sanctuary was a longish room with traditional pew seating facing the chancel one end of the room.

We visited there a few times and, while the people there were nice, they were generally older and you got the sense the church was dwindling toward oblivion. It seemed that on a typical Sunday, fewer than 30 people would be there to hear Betsy's sermon (which is a shame, incidentally, because she's an excellent preacher).

Betsy spent several months being their pastor, but then started to consider what changes were needed to stop the downward spiral of the congregation. She formed a committee of people from the church and from surrounding Presbyterian churches (including us) and started to look at what the strengths were that could be leveraged to revitalize the church.

Anyway.... that's all background.

We went there today and... wow, what a difference a few weeks can make. The church is now called Westside Presbyterian. They've rearranged the sanctuary to a more welcoming arrangement where everyone is closer to the pultpit, which, rather than being at the end of the room, is now in the middle of one of the longer walls.

Several of the old pews have been rearranged to provide traditional seating, but also tables and chairs have been brought into the sanctuary to give a more welcoming seating option. They moved their coffee cart and snacks into the sanctuary so that gathering time is right there instead of out in the hall.

A combination of pews and tables & chairs provides a comfortable setting to hear the Word

The result is a more open feeling. Rather than being individuals seated in pews focused on the preacher, we are now a community in faith. The arrangement, almost paradoxically, lends itself to a better focus on the lessons, music and sermon because people are more comfortable in their seats. There were a few small children in the service, and they were well-behaved, mostly because they were allowed to be kids: Each table has a bucket with crayons and paper, and the kids can quietly and non-disruptively work on their masterpieces while their parents can pay attention to the service.

It was church like I've never experienced it before. And it was pretty cool.

At the end of the room where the pulpit used to be there is now the "choir loft"

But here's the kicker: You know how I said the church felt like it was dwindling into oblivion? Well now there is a spirit of excitement, of life, of, well, the Spirit. There were almost 50 people in church, nearly twice what they used to have.

And they have identified a mission that will make the congregation a useful part of the community: the are working with the elementary school across the street, and several organizations, to start a community garden for the school.

After the service was over, people stayed and chatted for several minutes about the sermon, prayer requests, etc.

If you want to keep tabs on their progress, check out their blog: Westside Gatherings.

They have a long way to go before their long-term viability as a congregation is assured, but I really feel they've turned the corner. There's a new spirit on the west side... it's Westside Presbyterian Church.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Los Vaqueros in the Stockyards

There are a lot of good Mexican restaurants in Fort Worth. It's hard to pick the best one, though, because they are all so excellent in different ways. Los Vaqueros at 2629 North Main is on the short list for sure. It is, in my opinion, the best in the Stockyards area.

From Main Street, it looks like an old warehouse.

Even from the parking lot, you might not be too sure about the place.

The restaurant has an odd balance of formality and familiarity. I get the feeling of an honored guest being received in someone's home, but after being seated, I feel like I'm being treated like long, lost family.

We enjoyed our drinks over complimentary chips & salsa. My margarita was excellent. I ordered the special- brisket tacos, and Mrs. Doohickie ordered her favorite- veggie enchiladas.

Although this is clearly a Mexican restaurant, there is an old Texas feel to it. This particular Friday, a three-piece combo was playing. At first I thought it was a mariachi combo, but this evening Texas swing ruled.

They played acoustic guitar, fiddle & bass, wandering from table to table. The table next to us had a young couple, a set of grandparents, and a baby boy. They sang (what else) "Mommas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys." For us, they sang the Bob Wills standard "New San Antonio Rose."

Every restaurant has its downside, and for Los Vaqueros, it's that the food takes a little longer than you think it should. We know this, and when we go there it always seems like we have time to burn. This particular evening we were both dealing with tough weeks at work, and the time spent hanging out, chatting, listening to the music and just people watching, was just what we needed to relax. Then our food arrived.

Mrs. Doohickie is a vegetarian, so she is picky about her veggie enchiladas. The enchiladas at Los Vaqueros are perfect; they are not an afterthought but rather a feast of squash, zucchini, onion, red peppers and mushrooms wrapped in fresh tortillas and topped with a sour cream sauce with a citrus twang.

There is a lot of good stuff on the menu at Los Vaqueros, but lately I tend to opt for the special if it sounds at all good. The brisket tacos were a good move. There were two big tacos with all the fixins, and where most brisket tacos have chopped or shredded meat, these tacos had cubes of brisket about 3/4" on a side, tender chunks of succulent meat (okay, that sounds like an exaggeration, but if it's true, it's true!) The meat was complemented by feta cheese for a great flavor.

One thing I needed to add to this post.... many dinner entrees are under $10, and the most expensive item on the menu is under $15. This place is affordable.

In short, yeah, it takes a while for the food to get there, but trust me, it's worth the wait. And if you are out on a date or socializing with a large group, having to wait a bit for your food isn't necessarily a bad thing.

After dinner we wandered back to our car which was parked at the other end of the Stockyards. To end the post I'll just share a few views on our way back to through the Stockyards.

The back side of the Cowtown Colliseum

The "green room" for the rodeo

"You ready for the rodeo tonight, Henry?" "Yep."

Front view of the Cowtown Colliseum

Looking down Exchange Street toward Main

Stockyards Station... the old pig and sheep pens converted to shops for the tourists. Yes, a train still comes in there; it runs from the Stockyards up to Grapevine

Thursday, May 27, 2010

My Other Ride

Usually I talk about my bikes on my blogs. For the first time in quite a while, I washed, waxed & detailed my car, a 2005 Hyundai Elantra. Looks pretty good for goin' on five years old, don't you agree?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Ah, Springtime in Texas!

Today was Ride Your Bike to Work Day. If you want to see a post about that, click some of the links in the sidebar, because this isn't one. Instead I'm getting caught up on my commutes from earlier in the week. (You see, I did nothing special for Bike to Work Day, other than ride my bike to work like I've done lots of other times.)

Monday I decided to ride my bike to work. There was a chance of afternoon thunderstorms, but we've heard that before and not gotten any bad weather. So I went for it.

You guessed it, a front rolled through Monday afternoon. I checked the weather radar and tried to beat the storm. As I left work, there as a pretty strong wind at my back and black clouds were boiling overhead. Then the angry drops started spattering. I rode on, trying to stay ahead of the worst of it. I wasn't exactly successful.

When the lightning started I bailed out and went to a shelter in a park. I thought about calling for a ride home but actually once the leading edge of the front blew through, the winds died down, the lightning subsided and I was left with a steady rain.

The rain eased up. I think at this point I was following the first wave of the storm, and the storm was moving faster than I was. At least the Trinity Trail MUP was empty so I didn't have to worry about traffic.

At this point, even though it was still raining, I was having a pretty good commute after my close call with the storm.

Before I got home, the rain picked up again and I was a wet noodle when I walked in the door.

But the weather is volatile in Texas during the spring, and when it's that bad one day, it could be perfect the next. In fact, it was. There was a great sunrise Tuesday morning. Here's a view over the Trinity River, the same MUP that looked so nasty the day before.

A pic of the bike on the trailhead.

Sunrise over the train tracks. (You're never far from train tracks in Fort Worth.)

After the rainy weather the afternoon before, this was great riding. And it would only get better. Other North Texas bloggers have posted their wildflower pics, now it's my turn. These pictures are actually quite close to my office. Most traffic goes north and east out of the office park, but I ride south along a country two-lane with fairly light traffic.

The MUP had more traffic Tuesday.

But of course there were more people out and about; it was beautiful.

I got off the main river trail at Overton Creek.

And headed south toward home on Overton Park West

Ah.... what a perfect commute! Right, Shadow?

This is how...

...human trafficking is prevented.

If you have about a half hour, read the whole linked thread from top to bottom. It is an amazing story, better than anything you will see on a detective show. Because it really happened today.

The link goes to a thread on a web forum called MetaFilter, specifically the AskMetaFilter section, where someone asks how to help Russian friends that are in danger of falling victim to a human trafficking scam on the East Coast of the U.S., while the person trying to help them is in the Rocky Mountains.

It's amazing what can happen when people reach out to help.

This is perhaps the best use of the web. Ever.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Food Reviews on Doohickie

Pork Torta at Mijo's Fusion

So you live in Fort Worth and don't know what you want to eat? I can help! I've been compiling posts that contain food reviews (sometimes the reviews are buried in stories about bicycle rides). I've tagged all these posts with the food tag and broke them down into breakfast and dinner (which includes both lunch & dinner actually). Oh, and there's beer, too!

All food reviews
...All breakfast reviews
......Rosebud Cafe June 25, 2010
......Our Place Restaurant June 5, 2010
......Ol' South Pancake House May 14, 2010
......Dixie House Cafe Apr 16, 2010
......Montgomery St. Cafe Feb 5, 2010
......Paco & John's Mexican Diner Jan 27, 2010
......Galligaskin' Submarines Nov 25, 2009
......Paris Coffee Shop Nov 16, 2009
......Esperanza's Sep 22, 2009
...All lunch and dinner reviews
......Mijo's Fusion April 27, 2012
......Bailey's Bar-B-Que March 2, 2012
......Shaw's Burgers & Shakes Jan 7, 2011
......City Pig BBQ Oct 29, 2010
......Magnolia Motor Lounge Oct 1, 2010
......The Spiral Diner and Bakery June 4, 2010
......Pak-A-Pocket June 2, 2010
......Los Vaqueros in the Stockyards May 28, 2010 & December 30, 2011
......Yucatan Taco Stand Feb 27, 2010
......Momma Mia's Jan 22, 2010
......Cousin's Barbecue Jan 8, 2010
......Benito's Jan 2, 2010
......La Familia Oct 18, 2009
......Buffalo Bros. Mar 22, 2009
...All beer reviews
......Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout June 4, 2010
......Shiner Smokehaus Sep 2, 2009

Friday, May 14, 2010

Ol' South Pancake House

When it comes to breakfast in Fort Worth, the elephant in the room is Ol' South Pancake House at 1509 S. University. It is a place to see and be seen, a place to finish out a night of revelry, and oh, yeah, a lot of people just have breakfast there. They are in a prime location, just off the Trinity Trail bike path at the south end of Trinity Park, but also close to the Cultural District, the Zoo, TCU, the new West 7th developments and a short ride from downtown. Location, location, location, location. So this morning, I made that my destination.

So I got on the The Old Gentleman (my Raleigh DL-1 Tourist) and started touring through Fort Worth. I followed a route north along Trail Lake, cutting through my favorite "wormhole" in Fort Worth, Foster Park, which has a path that takes you from Trail Lake & South Drive to Overton Park East without having to climb the big ol' hill between if you stick to the roads. And it's scenic.

Then a nice mellow ride through Tanglewood on the way to the Colonial Country Club area

...and out to the Trinity Trail. The section under University Drive was rebuilt and opened this spring. In this shot, the University bridge in the background. This picture really brings it to light, but May is the most verdant month in North Texas. I think the fact that it was mostly cloudy only enhanced the green tones of the pics I took on this ride.

After crossing under University the trail swings north toward Trinity Park. Just before entering the park, there is a spot to get off on Old University which takes you right to Ol' South Pancake House.

Give points for being so easy to get to by bike, but subtract points for bike parking; the best I could do was lock my bike to a handicap sign.

If you've never been to Ol' South, the deal is this: They do all the standard breakfast fare well. Waffles? You bet. French toast? Yum. But they have something I haven't seen anywhere else. It's called a German Pancake, which seems to be made from half egg and half pancake batter, producing something like either a very thin, fluffy omelet or an eggy pancake. They finish it off at your table by squeezing the juice of a lemon on it, sprinkling powder sugar on it and mixing it in to make a kind of sauce, then folding the pancake over on itself so the lemon-sugar mixture is contained inside like a filling. One pancake is too much for a lot of people, but they sell a smaller portion called a Dutch Baby. Another favorite of mine is the Greek Omelet.

This time, though, I went for the Dutch Baby with a side of sausage. After mixing in the powder sugar and lemon and folding it all up it looks like this-

It was, as always, delicious. Then I hopped on the trail,

And headed into Trinity Park

I got on the western part of the Loop Trail and enjoyed one of my favorite parks. (Click below to see my first EVAR bike film.)

At the north end of Trinity Park I got on West 7th Street and headed downtown. That route goes right by Burnett Park which is called downtown Fort Worth's backyard.

The park features a sculpture called Man With Briefcase

See that little thing on the lower left of the sculpture? That's my bike! I put that in there to give a sense of the scale of this sculpture.

It wasn't particularly warm but it was humid. Time for one more stop, this time at one of the downtown Starbucks. A bottle of water was all I needed though.

Then it was time to high-tail it home, since the rain was coming. After I got home, this swept over the area (I live near FWS+).

I got home with about 20 minutes to spare.