Faraway is close at hand . . .

It recently occurred to me that the small town in Texas I now call home is the “faraway” to most of the world’s inhabitants. It’s still true that most places on earth are totally unfamiliar to most of us, even though we refer repeatedly to “the shrinking planet.” There are enough faraway places to keep me occupied for several more lifetimes!

In preparation for the next getaway, I have lately been googling “best things to do in . . .” as an attempt to separate “must do’s” from “possibles.” I’m trying, as always, to jumpstart trip-planning. It’s a task I never finish in advance, but half the fun of going is facing the unexpected. The other half is the anticipation of what’s already decided!

Learning about home . . .

On a whim, I plugged in “best things to do in Burleson, TX.” It was more than just interesting, just short of enlightening. I have started a new mini-list of places to go and things to do right here in my own faraway place. I still qualify as a new arrival, at least in the eyes of born-and-bred local friends.

There are plenty of newcomers to Burleson, drawn by proximity to Fort Worth, reasonable prices, good schools and a distinctive small-town aura. There is a unique vibe — a progressive attitude with pervasive ties to the past — and no shortage of friendly people. This dot on the map was established in the early 1880s as an interim stop for the railroad running south out of Fort Worth.

Later, in 1912, an interurban rail line from Fort Worth to Cleburne also operated a station in Burleson. That depot still stands today. It is, in fact, a cornerstone of the town’s historic district, the focus of a cosmetic redevelopment plan that extends several blocks in each direction from city hall. The historic depot and two early interurban passenger cars will figure as prominently in the city’s future as they did in its past, when trains rumbled through 10 times each day.

Freight trains still run twice daily, sounding mournful whistles and stopping traffic at local crossings. I like that, because I’ve been a lifelong fan of trains and train whistles. (Can you guess why? Because they take people to faraway places, of course!)

Where commonplace and uncommon meet

During my online search, I learned:

There is a periodic ghost tour that makes at least five stops at local “haunts.” There may be no regular schedule, but that tour is on my list!

There is a Coldstone Creamery — how I’ve missed that, I do not know, but I am no stranger to other ice cream shops and numerous pizza parlors!

In 1920, the population was 241. The 2010 census reported 36,690 residents, and next year’s count is likely to exceed 50,000. Whether that is good or not depends largely on one’s point of view.

There’s at least one popular sports bar that features karaoke nights. I will probably continue to miss that attraction, a decision regulars there will surely applaud!

Learning new things about the place I call home made me stop and think about the other places I’ve been recently, those with histories that span many centuries. Burleson is only a child on the world stage.

But my small Texas city is charging forward, growing and taking giant steps to build a sound, healthy, connected community that is good for business, good for residents, supportive of its students and its seniors, welcoming to newcomers, and attuned to citizen wants and needs. It is progressive in all the best ways, and still manages to cherish its past.

It is comfortable.

Reality is the intruder . . .

There are still working farms within Burleson’s borders, along with golf courses and city parks, a creek-size tributary of the Trinity River, a stocked fishing pond, and two local wineries. Its previous rural character is still evident, and getting anywhere in town takes only minutes.

It remains small-town enough to boast large turnouts for summer music and movies on a blocked-off downtown street, for local holiday parades, and for patriotic observances at the city’s Veterans Plaza. It is a place where one can stumble upon painted rocks, left in public places by the volunteer artists of Burleson Rocks. They are meant to be found and treasured by passers-by. And several of its buildings are enlivened by colorful, larger-than-life murals.

It is a place where friends can meet for a spontaneous dinner out without making reservations, and where the sounds of live music drift from a local craft brewery/eatery’s rooftop deck on pleasant evenings. The drumbeat of high school marching band practice punctuates early mornings in the early fall, and local high school football games attract Friday night crowds.

Rabbits and possums are regular backyard visitors, and finding Texas longhorns, horses, donkeys, and even young camels grazing in a field is not entirely unusual.

Even though a busy Interstate runs through it, my city is not a tourist destination by any stretch of the imagination. But if you find yourself in Fort Worth for business or pleasure, Burleson is only about 20 minutes south of the high-rise office buildings and hotels, and it beckons to visitors with the promise of an entirely different Texas experience.

Good food is all about . . .

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I met a 10-year-old a couple of weeks ago who told me in all seriousness that if he were offered a choice between doughnuts and salad, he would have to go with salad. He volunteered that tidbit after telling me that he liked all vegetables, especially salad greens. I had asked about his favorite lettuce, and he answered “Romaine” with no hesitation.

We were standing in the demonstration greenhouse of DFW Aquaponics Farms in Burleson, Texas, where I was photographing lettuces, chives, kale, Swiss chard and tomatoes in various stages of development. I had heard the young boy talking with his dad about how delicious the produce looked, even though many of the plants weren’t yet mature and the tomatoes were still green.

I’m not sure that at age 10 I even realized that there were different varieties of lettuce. I ate salad, I think, because at that age I ate most of what was put in front of me. It was simple food. I grew up during the days of family meals served at home, punctuated by an occasional sandwich at the downtown drug store soda fountain as a Saturday treat.

I vividly remember the taste of those sandwiches, and the special delight of a fountain Coke! To this day I occasionally long for a real fountain drink, rich with syrup and bubbly from the seltzer.

I also remember that home-cooked food varied by the season. Winter brought soups and stews, spring and summer were filled with fresh salads, bright peas and juicy watermelon, and fall was full of crunchy apples, and tasty pumpkin, squash and spices.

Because I was a city girl, I knew little about growing food. But I knew that when the right season rolled around, there were ways to judge the ripeness of fruit and vegetables.

However, had I been given a choice, I am certain I would have opted for a chocolate chip cookie, a scoop of ice or even a just-picked strawberry over a ripe carrot or a stalk of fresh romaine, no matter what the season.

Today, like that 10-year-old, I too prefer salad over doughnuts, although ice cream is still as tempting as that fountain Coke.

I have learned what I am sure my farm-raised grandparents knew: Freshly-picked and locally-harvested food tastes good. It’s that simple. It’s immensely satisfying to create a salad or an entire meal from what one has grown.

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Today, because of greenhouses and modern technology, it’s possible to grow fresh food — including salad greens and seasonal produce, year-round in many different locales.

I am not still not committed to growing my own food, but I certainly understand the motivation. Luckily, at least in my area, farm stands, local markets and community-supported agriculture (CSAs) are increasingly popular. Fresh, seasonal, locally-grown, non-processed food is available. It’s a good time to experience the joy — and the flavor, texture, color and fun — of good, fresh produce any time of year. It’s simply better.

I am delighted when spring arrives and local farmers markets spring to life with colorful carrots, new potatoes, bulbous onions, butterhead lettuce and showy Swiss chard. Later I wait for the melons to ripen and still later I search out the most beautiful eggplant and squash — as much for their vibrant color as for their taste!

Food is always an adventure — whether picked from the garden and prepared at home, created by an award-winning chef at a renowned restaurant, or purchased from a trendy food truck at a community festival. I continue to learn new things about food and about people, no matter what the occasion or where in the world.

It was here at home that I learned another lesson about food. Kudos to my 10-year-old “teacher,” and to his dad for showing him the way.

Teach them young, they say . . .