My life has always revolved around a Ford Mustang.

Ford’s original Pony car was first introduced as one of the biggest new car projects in history as a 1964 1/2 model. I was introduced as a 1965… born in October. Now, over the last 45 years I am willing to concede the Mustang has had a much greater impact on the world than I have, but it seems like I have never been more than two steps away from one.

My earliest memories revolve around a hunter green Mustang my mom had as her car. My dad was the General Manager at a big Ford store and she always claimed a personal vehicle out of the inventory. Thankfully, her choice was always a Mustang. To this day, she still remembers her cars fondly.

The Sixties were good to the Mustang; the early Seventies were as well, but with the Arab oil embargo of 1973, EPA emissions, changes in safety standards and a general malaise at Ford, a neutered Mustang Cobra II, the Mustang II and other forgettable and anonymous renditions were the result. In 1979 the third generation plopped down on the scene, in our driveway and into the hands of my older sister.

It was the first new car she had ever bought and I remember it fondly, even though it was underpowered and a quality control problem poster-child. At this time, I was just coming of age and into my own automotive desires. A few years later I found myself selling cars at the local Ford dealership where my father had worked decades before, and I managed to get a 5.0 GT as a demo. This was the early 90’s and Ford had just backed away from replacing the Mustang’s Fox chassis with the front wheel drive, Mazda-originated car that eventually reached the market as the Ford Probe.

At the time Robert Van Winkle, a.k.a. Vanilla Ice, had emerged from “the hood” in Carrollton, TX and was “rapping” about cruzin’ in his Five Point-O. In fact, I know there is at least one picture of me with one company car, skinny tie, and a hair cut close to what we would call a mullet. Still, I thought I was pretty cool.

By the time the mid 90’s came around I was back in school and a guy at Ford called Alexander Trotman had risen to the big chair and he was being hailed as the savior of the Mustang, as low sales and build-quality issues had threatened to swallow up the entire rear wheel drive sports car market. The cross-town GM products, Camaro and Firebird, were about to end their production and Dodge had gotten out of the rear wheel drive world completely. While in college Ford recruited a bunch of us as part of a focus group on the then NEW Mustang, so again the car cut a swath through my life.

Years later, after moving to Dallas and being one of the founders of Texas Driver Magazine, there was yet another Mustang being introduced and I got the chance to ride it pretty rough while covering the Great Carrera Pan-American Road Race in Mexico where the newest mustang was the pace car. I wrote an article about the experience racing across Mexico in this newest stallion riding shotgun in the pace car through the mountains.

To be certain: The entire event is still something I consider a high water mark in my Auto-journalistic life.

Arriving back in Dallas I was pulled into the world of Carroll Shelby and the Mustang via some articles of many mutual friends who helped me write articles for TDM, Automobile Quarterly and other publications.

It has been a while since one made its way into my stable, but the original pony car looks pretty good after 45 years. In fact, Ford sent over a 2011 Mustang 5.0 GT,recently and yup, the Five OH is back. When the old 5.0 was replaced, it really was a 4.8l v8 and Ford put its corporate-wide modular 4.6 under the hood of the late 90’s early 00’s.

The newest Mustang continues with the formula of the relatively small car with the pretty big motor, as pioneered back in the 60’s. It’s a well sorted-out rear wheel drive whose evolutionary chassis upgrades and Big Brembo brake package makes for a car with plenty of go and stop.

19-inch, optional tire package brings both the right look and considerable grip to the short wheel base. Also, 412 horsepower and 390 foot pounds of torque make this pony get up and go in a hurry with considerable growl from the free flowing exhaust. It sounds WONDERFUL when you mash down on the go stick.

The interior is pretty much flawless as long as you take into consideration that the back seats are more ornamental than functional, and realize that the car is really intended for a maximum capacity of two. With subtle tweaks and a proper 6-speed MANUAL transmission, the Mustang is one of the most satisfying go-fast coupes on the market. But, keep in mind, the ads that claim 30+ mpg are based on the 6-cyl driven by the hypothetical little old lady.

Each time you make the ‘Stang growl, and your fuel gets sucked down into the 5.0., the result is grin-inducing but thirsty. Really, complaining about fuel economy in a car like this is kind of silly as there is an expectation of such. If you want mileage out of a gallon of gas, go buy something else.

With the history I’ve had with multiple Mustangs over the years, I would be hard pressed to find one that was better “out of the box.” And knowing how many modifications there are available, you can begin with a really well-handling, fast car like this and start screwing on bit and pieces using the Mustang as a platform for virtually limitless numbers of enhancements.

The Modern 5.0 Mustang GT comes across the checkout at $38,000.00 as tested. For most of the last 15 years there has been no real competition, but recently Chevy brought back the Camaro, and Mopar has stoked up the Challenger. The Challenger is really not direct competition as it is much bulkier and just not the same type of car. The Camaro is really the only natural rival, with Nissan’s 370z being the closest non-domestic option.

If I were in the market for a car like this, I might be tempted to stick with the clean, understated look of the GT, rather than the more attention grabbing Shelby that basically screams at you of its intent. I have always appreciated the “sleepers” that surprise you.

After 45 years in the market the Mustang is still young and vibrant - me not so much. But I did call my mom and tell her I was driving down the road in a new Mustang and at the age of 83, with a brand new aftermarket knee, she told me she still wants her old Mustang back.

Me too, Mom.

Jim Muise is a regular contributor to The Squawker. His Any Driven Sunday column appears regularly here, so keep checking back.

Earlier this year as the first 2011 Chevy Suburban’s started rolling down the Arlington, Texas’ General Motors Assembly line, Any Driven Sunday had the chance to sit down with one of the big kahuna’s at the helm of “The New GM” to talk about the longest lasting line of vehicles in the market and the future of GM.

As Global Vice President responsible for Chevrolet’s Domestic Sales and Service in the United States, Allan Batey has quite a daunting task most brave souls would run from as GM has gone through government supervised bankruptcy and Batey is partially responsible for billions of dollars of public bailout money. He and the company are also under the magnifying glass of the press and every politician trying to make a brownie point with frustrated voters.

“Really, it is a great time to have this job,” Batey says with his working class English roots showing in his accent and scrappy attitude, “We have a product line that is better than it has ever been in the history of this company. The reality is, it is a far better product than most people think it is. That is a great thing, now we have to get some seats in our seats to prove it.”

Batey started in the Global GM world with England’s Vauxhall, then. as one of many executives being groomed for higher places, he was sent in to Germany’s Opel operations eventually living and working in seven countries and earning a reputation as a man who can handle complex problems.

Bringing a company through restructuring and out of bankruptcy is no small task, but Batey has a unique bit of experience on his resume. Back in the 90s he was part of the team working for GM Asia dealing with the purchase of the then bankrupt Daewoo Motor Company in Korea.

Daewoo was once the value leader, darling of the super hot South Asian market, but like cross-town rival Kia, Daewood was decimated by dealings with Tommy Suharto, the son of the onetime Indonesian strongman. Tommy was largely responsible as the straw that broke the Asian economy’s back, plunging Korea’s small car rivals both into a death spiral. Kia ended up being folded into Hyundai and Daewoo became one of the asset rich prizes being pursued by both Ford and GM. GM won and Batey was part of the team tasked with sorting out the collected mess.

“Daewoo was a very unique challenge,’ explains Batey, “We had to be exceptionally careful of which assets we took on. The company had a global influence and has become the basis of many of our best selling cars throughout Asia and in particular in china where we sell a number of cars based out of the Daewoo operations.”

The reason Batey was in Dallas was the launch of the 2011 Chevrolet Suburban and he brought along a couple of things. One was a 1935 Chevrolet Suburban Carryall wagon the other was multiple NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion, Jimmy Johnson.

While most of the local media was clamoring for Johnson’s attention, Alan Batey sat down with Any Driven Sunday to talk about the bumpy road GM has endured and the tremendous opportunities the New GM had in front of it.

Even after emerging from bankruptcy GM is still one of the largest corporate entities in the world with global commitments and challenges.

The Suburban is very much the ideal vehicle to illustrate one of the more complex challenges ahead. It is the big boy on the street both figuratively and literally defining the Super Sized SUV market that grew up around it and siblings Tahoe, Yukon, Denali and Escalade. All are built in Arlington Texas, at a plant that has had to compete with other plants across the country to hold on to production and the millions of dollars of primary, secondary and tertiary jobs associated with it.

Dodge never really entered the Premium super sized SUV market and Ford all but abandoned it when they killed the Excursion leaving the Suburban alone with a 75 year heritage and a reputation for being one of the rally flags of conspicuous consumption uniting the environmental movement of all things wrong with the world.

The newest Suburban’s are still larger than most Manhattan apartments but are now available with “Flex Fuel” technology and most importantly 2-mode Hybrid options. These options make a huge difference in the “Carbon Footprint” of a vehicle that has become not just the choice of families but also has become a commercial staple.

In movies and in reality the altered Suburban chassis is probably the most modified vehicle in service today. Thousands of “Civilian Contractors” Secret Service and military operators have been driving Armored Surburbans in some of the harshest places for vehicles and human cargo. The big truck frame and heavy-duty construction are modified by companies like San Antonio’s Texas Armoring Corporation (www.texasarmoring.com) for use in Iraq, Afghanistan and other dangerous places around the world.

GM has a unique struggle on its hands trying to reintroduce and in some cases introduce its product line to a consumer who for years has a preconception of what the General is. Prior to the bailout, Bankruptcy and restructuring Federal Auto Czar Steve Rattner’s assessment of the company was right on the money when he said on PBS’s Charlie Rose show, “It has a product line that is far better than anyone knew it was and a corporate culture that was simply the most dysfunctional thing I have ever seen.”

Even before the removal of Rick Waggoner as CEO, the shift to change that corporate culture had begun.

At the same time as GM tries to get people to try their product, which really is equal to the challenge, they can’t completely walk away from their heritage. Over 100 years of car building creates some great linage but more than a few black eyes to go with it. GM is trying to capture the good, like the new Corvette Grand Sport’s homage to the glory days of racing, and hope people can forget the lost generations of the 70’s 80’s and 90’s dreadful designs (Aztek) and monumental build quality and labor issues of the Roger Smith era.

The Suburban is one of those vehicles that came out of the mess GM brought upon itself stronger than you might think. Sitting alone in the market with a restructured and reenergized corporation behind it the GMC/Chevy product line is positioned to win back customers who seem willing and hopeful the General really is better.

There are very few vehicles out there that I would rather take, along with all my possessions for an extended voyage. The Suburban’s long wheelbase, solid frame, and seamless transmission make the journey effortless as long as you have the resources to stomach the 14/19 MPG. Dropping $5 in the gas tank is like spitting in a swimming pool and coming up to the cash register at $60,500.00 it is not a lightweight in price or 5835 pound curb weight.

“People who are in the car business want to build great cars, that is why you are in the business. I’m a third generation guy and I am in the car business because I love it,” Batey enthusiastically points out the challenges are great but at a time where the product is so strong he knows the New GM will rise from the last year much stronger, “The one thing that will trip us up is if we somehow become complacent and start to believe our own press and our own propaganda. We absolutely have to keep pushing forward, get results on the board, and get results that do not have to be explained. If we do that the brand will move very fast.”

It will be interesting to see if GM can follow through and continue to develop this new found entrepreneurial spirit into lasting success. Scrappy, experienced executives like Batey seem ready for the fight and the challenge of making a truly massive global company act like a small responsive underdog.

FunnyFur.com, a Houston luxury pet boutique specializing in couture wear, fashionable pet carriers, designer dog accessories, collars, harnesses, handmade pet jewelry, novelty dog toys, pet furniture and an array of breast cancer awareness pet accessories, are hosting their annual non-profit Howl-O-Ween pet costume contests. There will be an in-store Howl-O-Ween costume contest at the Funny Fur pet boutique in Houston, as well as an online contest available to pet owners everywhere.

Forget the dog, I want this in a people sweater

The in-store contest will be held on October 29, 2010 at 6 p.m. and will feature a Halloween costume contest for dogs, as well as other pet-themed activities including a scary-costume fashion show, dog nail painting, a raffle and more. Hors d’oeuvres and beverages will be served throughout the event. Donations are accepted for participation in the festivities with all proceeds benefiting the Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). The grand-prize costume contest winner will be judged by local business owners and volunteers. Winner will be announced at the end of the evening and awarded a $200 gift card to FunnyFur.com.

The online contest is open to any pet owners who wish to send in a picture of their dog in their favorite costume. Submissions will be judged by customers and the winner will be announced online on November 1 and awarded a $100 gift card to FunnyFur.com. For contest eligibility, contestants must purchase a costume from the company’s website – enter TREAT at checkout to snag 15% OFF – . This year’s must have costumes include the Calypso Queen dog costume, a colorful carnival dress inspired by Carmen Miranda and the Prince Charming dog costume, a charming getup for male dogs. All photo entries should be submitted to events@funnyfur.com.

Come Saturday October 2, beginning at 11 am, Mustang Fest will kick off on the Gulf Coast’s Mustang Island. One of the goals of the event is to make to mile long line of Mustangs on Mustang Island in an attempt to set a state record. So, how, exactly, do you get that many Mustangs in one place?

A road trip, of course!

Aptly called Cruise to Mustang Fest, Mustang enthusiasts will descend upon Wild Horse Park in Mustang, Oklahoma on September 30 to make the drive to Mustang Island. Leaving at 8 a.m., drivers will stop in West, Texas for lunch and overnight in San, Antonio. The following morning, the Mustangs will complete their journey by rolling onto Mustang Island. Any and all drivers, classic and modern day Mustangs – event rented ones! – are welcome to take part in the drive. Join them at the beginning, or anywhere along the route.

Check out the web site to learn more, see the route and to check out all of MustangFest’s events.

In the past, wineries have had the image of some vineyard in France, Italy or Northern California and snooty connoisseurs. However recently, wineries and vineyard have sprung up all over the world. Australia, Argentina, South Africa have all become major players in the wine industry.

To add to the growing industry, wine is also produced in all 50 states of the United States, making this country the 4th largest producer of wine in the world. The local wine movement has been gaining momentum and some say it has hit its stride recently. Even with all of the new wineries and vineyards being established in areas like Oklahoma and Texas, one winery stands out.

Having been established over 100 years ago, Homestead Winery is the oldest continually running winery in the Red River Valley. Instead of jumping on the bandwagon, it predated what has been labeled the “locapour” movement, which is a recent movement in which people buy wines that are grown and produced locally.  It is much like the “Locavore” movement.

Homestead Winery started with the planting of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay grapes where wheat and corn used to be grown. Today, over 15 types of wine are grown and fermented at Homestead Wineries and there are 3 locations to sample and purchase the wines.

The red wines include the Syrah, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as well as a few others. Chardonnay, White Rose and Moon Shadow are included in the White Wines. Homestead also has specialty wines like the Portejas, which is a 100% Zinfandel wine and the Ivanhoe Celebration, which is a sparkling wine with a good balance.

The Ivanhoe Celebration is only available at the Denison and Grapevine locations but would be well worth the trip.

Homestead Winery is located in Ivanhoe, Denison and of course, Grapevine.

Check out Homestead Winery online for more information.

Now that the monsoon has subsided, tornado sirens muted and the Trinity somewhat well-behaved, we turn our peepers towards one of the best, family friendly events in Texas: The Plano Balloon Festival.

Last year I spent my time at the festival covered, from buttocks to ankles, in mud so I must warn you in advance: The trip down the hill at Oak Point Park can be a real doozy.

Whether you attend during the day or in the evening for the balloon glow, there’s plenty to do, see and eat – especially if one wants to go for some pre-State Fair fried food noshing. Last year Best of Texas was located next to a wonderfully surly woman who served up fried everything: Twinkies, green tomatoes, green beans, cheesecake, Oreos and more. All of which I recommend you eat after your hot air balloon ride.

Other than hot air balloons and food, you’ll find a really cool kids zone, continuous entertainment on the KDFW FOX 4 Community Stage, free “Kid’s Korner” Make-and-Take art activities, rock climbing wall, Toddler Zone, inflatable rides, face painting, sand art and the Plano Symphony Orchestra Instrument Area!

Full schedule for the Plano Balloon Festival is below:

Friday, September 17

4:00 PM    Festival Opens and Bus Service Begins
5:30 PM    RE/MAX Parachute Team Exhibition
6:00 PM    Balloon Launch presented by RE/MAX
7:00 PM    Scott Ewing in Concert, presented by Mitsubishi Motors, on the KLUV Main Stage
8:00 PM    Balloon Glow
8:45 PM    Family fun-filled Street Dance with Scott Ewing, presented by Mitsubishi Motors on the KLUV Main Stage

Saturday, September 18

6:00 AM    Gates & Parking Lots Open and Bus Service Begins
6:30 AM    Dawn Patrol “Wake up Plano”
7:00 AM    Balloon Launch presented by Time Warner Cable
5:00 PM    RE/MAX Parachute Team Exhibition
6:00 PM    Balloon Launch presented by InTouch Credit Union
7:00 PM    Moving Colors in Concert, presented by Time Warner Cable, on the KLUV Main Stage
8:00 PM    Balloon Glow presented by Central Market
8:30 PM    Moving Colors in Concert, presented by Time Warner Cable, on the KLUV Main Stage
9:00 PM    Spectacular Fireworks Show presented by Pizza Hut
9:30 PM    Moving Colors in Concert, presented by Time Warner Cable, on the KLUV Main Stage

Sunday, September 19

6:00 AM    Gates & Parking Lots Open and Bus Service Begins
6:30 AM    Dawn Patrol “Wake up Plano”
7:00 AM    Balloon Launch presented by City of Plano
5:00 PM    RE/MAX Parachute Team Exhibition
6:00 PM    Balloon Launch presented by State Farm Insurance
7:00 PM    Festival Closes

The midsized SUV market is kind of like the tale of Goldilocks and the three bears. Some are too big, some too small and others are just right.

The 4Runner is a nice throwback to the time when, in order to qualify to be called a SUV, you started with a truck frame and built a four-door wagon-like body on top. This means the 4runner has a slightly less lush ride than, oh say, a Lexus RX 470, car chassis, but with a nicely proportioned wheel base considerably more livable than a Jeep Wrangler, a true SUV.

I make this distinction for a reason, a car-based wagon does not have the ability to carry cargo, go off road or pull a trailer the way a properly framed truck can. It is really easy to understand how, lacking a foundation of a frame, the welded together bits flex too much and simply have less ability over all. The market has created SUV’s Crossovers, Sport Activity Vehicles and basically any variety of names and initials to hide the fact that they really are being used as tall station wagons.

The size of the 2011 4Runner has grown, mostly because of customer demands for third row seating and more head room. The last generation SR5 was, in my mind just about the perfect combination of utility, sport, and overall quality that has inspired me to try and purchase a used 4Runner on three separate occasions. The only problem was trying unsuccessfully to liberate them from their existing owners for a reasonable price.

The 4Runner has suffered a little from market demands where the Need/Want ratio means the core SUV buyer tries to use it as a minivan, drive it like a car, and pull like a truck. It is an interesting result as you see different ratio’s of car/truck/van coming out in multiple vehicles from the same brand. In Toyota’s case they have the Rav4, Highlander, Sequoia, 4Runner, FJ and Land Cruiser taking swipes at the ratio and Camry based Crossovers parsing the market even further.

The 4Runner name plate has been around since its introduction in 1984 when it became one of the first mass market Japanese SUVs alongside cross town rival Nissan’s Pathfinder and has earned a very loyal following. In its 5th generation first introduced in 2009 it has crept into the large part of the midsized market and have pushed total sales of all generation of 4Runner close to, if not exceeding 1 million units.

For my money, the 4Runner has just about the right mix and with a base just under $28k for a well appointed SR5 and an “As Tested” price on our “Limited” with all the bells and whistles hitting $37,800.00 it sits right in the meat of the market.

There are some features on this SUV that are simply smart, it has a parking assist camera mounted near the rear giving a full view when in reverse and it displays (smart) in the center rear view mirror.

Leather seating and steering wheel covers are flawless and comfortable, the layout has the fit and finish we all have come to know as a hallmark for Toyota, again flawless. The small V8 under the hood sports 270 hp, is quiet and smooth and we found the expected 22 MPG highway was actually a pretty accurate measurement of fuel economy.

There are lots of vehicles in the overlapping segments serviced by the 4Runner each takes the recipe for S(sport)-U(utility)-and-V(vehicle) and blends a different end result. Toyota pushed the 4Runners size to Large but it still has that medium feel.

It works for me, and I will buy one.

Last weekend we decided to drive from Dallas to New Braunfels to have a relaxing weekend of floating down the river and Schiltterbahn fun. Little did we know at that time, what was in store for us over the next few days. We could never have imagined how much fun we were going to have in New Braunfels.

We left Dallas on Thursday around noon and headed south. The drive wasn’t bad at all and only took us about 4 hours to get to New Braunfels. On the way, we stopped at the Little Czech Bakery in West, Texas for some lunch. This place was packed, even at 2pm in the afternoon, and I can see why. They have an amazing selection of delicious kolaches to choose from in both sweet and savory flavors.

After hours of researching places to stay in New Braunfels on the web, I found a really great website called Guadalupe River Houses. They have a really cute house right on the Guadalupe River, called the Kuehler Cottage (pronounced “Cooler”). I was very lucky that it was available for Thursday and Friday night, since this trip was last minute, so we booked it right away. The Kuehler Cottage is located right on the Guadalupe River/Lake Dunlap and close to everything in town.

When we arrived, there was a nice handwritten note on the door from the owners. They also had some fruit and cold bottles of water waiting for us in the fridge. To me it’s the little details like this that make you feel really welcome. I dropped my bag at the door and ran around to check out our new waterfront home for the next two nights.

The living areas were really nicely decorated in that warm, cottage kind of way. The hardwood floors and cold AC blowing out of the air vents on the floor felt very nostalgic to me, and reminded me of my grandmothers old lake house from when I was very young. The kitchen was rooster-themed and had everything we needed for our stay, they had also left coupons and other New Braunfels attraction materials on the dining room table for us. The Kuehler Cottage can sleep up to six people. There is one bedroom and one bathroom, but a large living and dining area with two sofas that fold out into beds. Along the back all of the cottage, which faces the Guadalupe river is an entire wall of windows, so it’s very open and you get excellent views. If you’re going to New Braunfels for the weekend, you probably aren’t going to be spending much time indoors, so the set up is perfect.

The most exciting part of the Kuehler Cottage for me was the outdoor back patio! You can tell that this was a patio built for entertaining and BBQ gatherings. There are several chairs, a nice table, a few BBQ grills, and even a HOT TUB! Although we didn’t partake in the hot tub action, since it was about 104 degrees outside, the Kuehler Cottage would also be a great place to come stay in the winter months, too. Walk down a few steps and there is another sitting area that is right on the river. Immediately upon seeing this, I ran back upstairs, grabbed a bottle of white wine that we’d brought with us, put on my swimsuit and headed back down to jump in the river. A quick dip in the nice cold river water cooled me off immediately, and I was ready to watch the sunset and have some vino.

Tom, the owner of the Kuehler lives right next door with his lovely wife and their daughters. He called me to check on us and inform me about some of the river tube rental places for our adventure the next day, so I told him to just come down and have some wine with us. Five minutes later, Tom and his wife were headed down the steps with grapes, cheese and wine in hand.

I must say, Tom and his family are some of the friendliest, most interesting people I have ever met. Check out some of his guest’s comments. We all hung out down by the river for a couple hours, and then all decided to go to dinner together. On the way to dinner, Tom was a fabulous “tour-guide” and showed us a few other of his New Braunfels properties, and pointed out other points of interest as we drove through the town. Tom has lived in New Braunfels his entire life, and it’s always best to hook up with the locals when you’re traveling anywhere! We all had a fabulous dinner at The Gristmill, which is located in historic Gruene and on the river. It was one of those amazing nights that you don’t plan and you end up having the most wonderful time and meeting the best people.

Bright and early the next morning, we loaded up the car and headed over to Felger’s Tube Rental. We decided to float on the Comal River, instead of the Guadalupe, since the Comal River isn’t quite as rough or crowded as the Guadalupe River and the water is so clear and blue that you can see all the way to the bottom! The Comal River tour starts off with a fun ride down the Tube Chute and you can lazily float through the river for about an hour and a half, checking out the beautiful homes on the sides of the river wall and you even pass by Schlitterbahn. Of course, you can also get an extra tube with a bottom on it for your beer cooler or buy one of these awesome floating coolers. I even saw a guy that had his dog in one of the tubes!

After our relaxing float down the river, we had a few beers back at Felger’s with the owner, J and his bartender Russ. J is a big, loud, friendly character and I liked him immediately. He’s a proud father, and his daughters are beautiful girls. He also has one of the coolest “Crown Royal” Harley’s in his bar. All of the staff and everyone at Felger’s was really nice. I also had my first taste here of my new favorite drink, called the Cordina Mar-GO-Rita. I liked it so much that we decided to write a story on the Best of Texas Blog about them as well, and this is the PERFECT drink to take with you down the river.

Could this weekend get any better? Um, yes. My friends from Austin had just arrived to New Braunfels and were at the Kuehler Cottage waiting for me and ready to BBQ. We hung out the rest of the afternoon, swimming, eating, drinking and catching up. That night, we met up with some more friends and went to Gruene Hall to catch some live music. Gruene Hall is the oldest Dance Hall in Texas. There was a $10 cover charge and the place was packed on a Friday night. You can check out the Gruene Hall Music Calendar, and famous favorites that have played here over the years. They should really have a list of Who’s NOT played here.

The next morning we all went to Schlitterbahn. How can you go to New Braunfels and not check out Schlitterbahn? It was a Saturday morning and the place was packed, of course with it being the last weekend before school started, you can understand why. Most of the rides had long lines, but my two favorite rides there are the Boogie Bahn Surfing Ride and a ride called the Back Flop, which is a simple, but fun water slide,which drops you right off into the lazy river. Schlitterbahn has over 3 miles of tubing adventure, 17 water slides, and 3 uphill water coasters spread over 65 acres. You’re also allowed to bring your own cooler and food, but no alcohol. Does Deep Eddy Sweet Tea count? Deep Eddy Sweet Tea was also a new drink that my Austin friends introduced me to this weekend, but that’s a whole other story in itself….I could swear there was no alcohol in that stuff. Wrong.

So, to wrap this amazing weekend up, we decided to take the long way home back to Dallas, and check out some other great towns, including Fredericksburg, which will have its own weekend adventure story soon. New Braunfels is definitely one of my favorite getaway in Texas. It was a weekend of new friends, old friends, adventure, music, history, and natural beauty everywhere. I can’t wait to get back there, and the New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce is full of great information and has a calendar of events for everything coming up in New Braunfels, so pick your flavor and go have fun!

Sometimes you just have to get away, if only for a weekend. In an effort to escape the oppressive wrath of Mother Nature’s practical joke of relocating Texas to the face of the sun each summer, I decided to pack up the three kiddos – ages 1 through 7 – my husband and myself to a jaunt up to Lake Texoma over the weekend. Tagging along was my sister and her beau.

On the recommendation of a friend, we decided to stay at Tanglewood Resorts – located just one hour north of Dallas. Perfect for a relaxing weekend for just you and a loved one, Tanglewood also proved to be an extraordinary option for our mini-family vacation, especially with their specials.  While we were there, we witnessed several family reunions at the resort and there were plenty of things to do and see that kept the kiddos occupied (hello kid-sized swimming pool!) for hours. In fact, Tanglewood is also home to not one, but two week long Kids Camps each year. One camp teaches basic golfing skills, while the other focuses on cooking, arts and crafts and outdoor adventure. For grown-ups, there’s plenty of golf , a beautiful swimming facility and a wonderful spa that I took advantage of with my sister.

Checking in was a breeze and our accommodations were superb and included free Wi-Fi for my ever multi-tasking, entrepreneur sister who can’t be away from her iPhone or laptop for more than a few moments. Dining at Tanglewood was wonderful and I really recommend their Chicago-style pizza. Breakfast was the big favorite among the kids; the buffet provided kid-approved French toast and pancakes along with the usual suspects of bacon, sausage, eggs, cereal, fresh fruits and more. My sister pointed out that the entire facility would be perfect for her business meetings and corporate getaways.

After taking advantage of all that Tanglewood had to offer, we sat out for a boating adventure on the lake. Near Grandpappy Point, about 10 minutes or so away from the resort, we stumbled across Texoma Rentals. The first person to meet our motley crew was the owner, Mike. Though he was extraordinarily busy and we didn’t have a reservation, Mike was able to not only able to outfit us with a boat and life jackets for all, he even graciously loaned us his personal tube to use out on the lake! Mike and Texoma Rentals don’t just stop at boats, you can also rent pontoons, jet skis, Wave Runners and Sea Doos, too.

When we came back from our water-based adventure, Mike told us to tell you Best of Texas Squawker readers to give him a call. If you do, Mike will give you 25% off and rental for just mentioning Best of Texas! Call him today at 903-327-8286.

Overall, we had a fantastic family getaway. We managed to beat the heat, keep the kids entertained and get in some grown-up fun in to boot!

Tanglewood Resort on Lake Texhoma
290 Tanglewood Circle
Pottsboro, TX 75076
(903) 786-2968

Texoma Rentals
Multiple Locations

It has been called “Plano’s little strip mall gem” by Dallas Observer. The Dallas Morning News has reviewed it twice, giving it praise each time. My time at the Bavarian Grill in Plano was a German treat that left me satisfied albeit, a few pounds heavier.

Lots of Good Times are Had Here

There is a reason why the Bavarian Grill is ranked so highly by so many people throughout the internet and was voted The Best German Restaurant in America for 2009 by GermanDeli.com. It’s just that good. Bavarian Grill is easy to find yet, with the construction around the area, it’s hard to get to. Of course, when I found it, I had to do a double take to make sure I was in the right area. It’s located in a strip mall between a prosthetics office and Fitness 4 Life (ironic), but Bavarian Grill is its own island of German cuisine and culture.

I like saying the word “schnitzel” so I ordered the Jager Schnitzel. For those who wonder, no, they do not use Jagermeister. Instead, this breaded treat is made with a rich sauce and a copious amount mushrooms. I must say that the Bavarian Grill lives up to its claim of having the largest schnitzels in Texas. It took me what seemed like a happiness-filled forever to finish off the schnitzel. The Bavarian Grill has a huge menu and plenty of choices for everyone including vegetarian and gluten-free menu items.

Too much goodness for one plate

German beer is a large part of the culture and for anyone who might refer to themselves “beer connoisseurs,” the Bavarian Grill is a “must try.” Bavarian Grill offers over 60 different brands of German beer which made choosing my beer the hardest part of my visit. They also have three domestic American beers but ordering one of those would be like bringing a McDonalds cheeseburger to a restaurant known for its filet mignon. After minutes of deliberation, I eventually went with a dunkel “dark” beer named “Franziskaner Hefe Dunkel.” It had a bit of a spice taste and was not too heavy, which I enjoyed. They also have a gluten-free beer and three different kinds of alcohol-free beers.

Bavarian Grill has a “Stein Club” which one become a part of after drinking all Bavarian Grill has on its “Bier Card.” Members of the Stein Club receive a personalized ceramic stein, preferred seating on weekends, free use of the Bier Book Library among other perks. Of course, it will take me awhile to become a member of the Stein Club, but I suppose every man needs a goal.

Wine aficionados also have a club which is called the Wein Club. Bavarian Grill has a plethora of choices of German wines and once you have a glass of all of the choices on the “Wein Card,” you are awarded with your very own “Wein Glass.” Bavarian Grill also has a plethora of schnapps and liquors though there is no club for drinking all of the liquors.

Legends Are Made Here!

Bavarian Grill hosts happy hours, contests and parties. One particular event that the Bavarian Grill is hosting is the regional qualifying matches of “Masskrugstemmen.” This is an event in which you hold a liter Stein of Bier with one completely stretched out arm that is parallel to the floor. These matches are held at 9:00pm every Friday night fron July 9th until August 13th and at 8:00pm on every Wednesday night from July 14th until August 11th. Or if you and at least 4 friends make yourselves known to the manager on duty, an impromptu Masskrugstemmen match will be held.  If you happen to see me at Bavarian Grill, then I challenge you and your friends to Masskrugstemmen!

So, in closing, I highly recommend the Bavarian Grill for anyone who is looking to experience the best in German cuisine, bier and culture.  The atmosphere is light and an all-around fun place for family and friends to gather.

Bavarian Grill
221 West Parker Road
Plano, Texas
75023 * (972) 881-0705