'Being Texan': Texas Monthly editors explore the essence of the lone star state in new book – austonia

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(Texas Monthly)
There is a fearless declaration of the obvious in “Being Texan: Essays, Recipes, and Advice for the Lone Star Way of Life,” a book that invites its readers to recall the power and panache of the late Texas Gov. Anne Richards, before getting schooled on no less than twenty types of taco.
Released this month, “Being Texan” is the first of several Texas Monthly titles to come in the build-up to the magazine’s upcoming 50th anniversary in 2023. It is divided into four sections: Identity & Culture, Town & Country, Arts & Entertainment and Food & Drink.

In the introduction, titled “What Does it Mean to Be Texan?,” Texas Monthly editor Dan Goodgame addressed the eclectic aspirations of the book, writing: “Our modest goal was to craft a well-informed, thoughtful sampling of the best the state has to offer.” To this humble end, forty-two editors were utilized to cover fifty-five topics, which tackle everything from the various dress codes that make up “Texas chic” to Selena’s ongoing appeal.
The resulting richness is all over the map, running from Texas Monthly Senior Editor John Nova Lomax’s frustration over the frequent mispronunciations of Texas cities (“From Amarila to Wad-a-loop”) to Oscar Casares’s bittersweet essay on Dia de Los Muertos in the time of COVID (“Souls of the Departed”).
The book goes from silly to serious fast, and the pace might unseat some readers who would otherwise just enjoy the ride of pride that comes from being reminded that Texas gave the world Cheetos, Fritos, Doritos, Dr. Pepper, Liquid Paper and the microchip.
So, in a book that switches from the state’s early instance on remaining a slave republic to a piece about collecting San Antonio ghost stories, it perhaps goes without saying that the essays on brisket and beer are the easiest to digest.
“Being Texan” does, in truth, contain some delicious and downright literary food writing.
Joe Galvan’s “Ode to the Raspa,” treats the summertime shaved ice staple as nothing less than a kind of edible ambassador of U.S. cuisine. “They serve as an important and necessary reminder of the fluctuating, imprecise words that American food inhabits,” he writes like some semiotics professor, before waxing poetic on how raspas embody childhood innocence as well as “the humidity of a July evening that finds itself at the bottom of a Styrofoam cup.”
But readers who are tempted to skim the section on “Strong Texas Women” or “The Evolution of Juneteenth” to get to Paula Forbes’ warning not to skip the processed cheese when slow cooking queso, will have missed out on some deep insight into what it means to embrace all the appealing and uneasy aspects of the state.

In “A Tale of Two High Schools,” Dan Q. Dao, details how, as a Vietnamese kid growing up in Houston, he employed the tropes of Texas culture as a tool of survival. “Perhaps out of a sense of self-preservation, I became enamored with the gilded mythology of Texas, from the folklore of the Alamo to the twang of country music. I wore cowboy boots, showed up for Friday night football games, and rarely missed a rodeo,” writes Dao, observing that: “Part of me believed that if I proclaimed my Texanness loudly enough, I would be spared the label of outsider.”
The dilemma of the homegrown Texas outsider is artfully explored in Skip Hollandsworth’s “Why McMurtry Matter,” a meditation on the ironic popularity of Larry McMurtry, a writer who wrestled with his relationship to Texas–particularly the Hollywood myths and misconceptions that surrounded the state. Speaking about (to his mind) the perplexing success of “Lonesome Dove,” McMurtry said:All I had wanted to do was write a novel that demythologized the West. Instead, it became the chief source of western mythology. Some things you cannot explain.”
There is much about Texas itself that seems hard to explain.
But David Courtney, a senior editor at Texas Monthly, does a good job of speculating on this rare amalgam of conservative pride and fearless experimentation that tends to run through the state, when he writes “Texans believe they possess something deep within themselves that sets them apart, and therefore they kind of do.”
Despite the surface-level accessibility of a book that addresses the cultural significance of Neiman Marcus and the extreme brand loyalty to Whataburger, “Being Texan” offers rare input regarding Texas and its citizenry, as well as handy advice for breaking in a pair of cowboy boots.
Dr. Anthony Fauci and other worldwide health authorities say they will “prepare for the worst” with the new omicron variant.
Just as the world takes a breath from the Delta variant-induced third COVID surge that pushed hospitals past capacity this summer, a new variant—the omicron—is forcing countries around the world to once again consider shutting their doors.
It’s too early to tell whether the variant will have the devastating effects of the Delta variant, the Mu variant—which accounted for 3% of U.S. cases before dropping off almost entirely by October—or somewhere in between. But as omicron continues to rise sharply in all provinces of South Africa, the Biden administration is reintroducing some travel restrictions that went into effect Monday.
As the variant spreads to countries around the world, including Canada, the Netherlands and Hong Kong, the World Health Organization declared omicron a “variant of concern”—though some are calling the move premature.
What is omicron?
The omicron variant, B.1.1.529, is now under strict watch from the WHO after quickly spreading throughout Southern Africa.
It’s genetically different from the Alpha and Delta variants and has up to 30 mutations in its genetic code, leading some to worry that the risk of retransmission from those who have already had COVID could be high. The strain’s mutations could also aid omicron in beating out other strains and spreading more quickly to hosts.

It appears to be doing the trick. While an Associated Press report found that case numbers in South Africa are still well below other pandemic peaks—3,220 new cases were reported in South Africa on Saturday— up to 90% of new cases in the South African province of Gauteng are omicron.
The strain’s effects seem to be mild so far, and hospitals haven’t been overburdened yet, though hospitalizations are rising.
And doctors worry that the full extent of the variant hasn’t been realized. Vaccine hesitancy is strong among South Africa’s youngest population—22% of those aged 18 to 34 are vaccinated—and most of those infected with COVID have been in those younger age groups. Doctors worry that older age groups will be more adversely affected.
And while experts in the country expected a fourth surge and possible variant, the omicron still came as a “shock” as it quickly spread to all nine South African provinces and other continents. It’s now the first strain labeled as a “variant of concern” since the Delta variant.
It’s unclear if the variant is more immune to vaccines, although some signs indicate that it’s a possibility.
Where has it been detected?

The omicron strain still hasn’t been detected in dozens of countries, and it’s far from the first strain to make a mark since Delta. But it’s coincided with a quick uptick in cases in South Africa, where it was originally found, and became the dominant strain in Pretoria, a city of around 750,000, in just a few weeks.
Omicron is now present in nearby Botswana and has jumped on board flights to Europe, Asia, Australia and North America. Hong Kong has detected three cases, while 10 European nations including the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Portugal and Germany have found a total of 45 cases. Canada has detected three cases, and none have yet been found in the United States.
What has been done?
Against the wishes of both South Africa and the WHO, several countries have decided to once again shut their doors.
After detecting an omicron case, Israel decided to bar entry to foreigners, while Morocco suspended incoming international air travel for two weeks. Dozens of countries are restricting travel from Southern Africa to South Africa’s chagrin—the government said travel restrictions are “akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker.”
The WHO also called for borders to remain open as closing borders appears to have a limited effect on the spread of variants, and many countries are hesitant to clamp down on restrictions that have limited its citizens for so long.
The United States said in a statement Friday that it would restrict travel from eight southern African countries except for citizens and permanent U.S. residents who test negative for the virus.
White House Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that it’s “too early to say” whether tightened COVID restrictions will be needed to combat omicron but that citizens must be ready to do “anything and everything” to prevent its spread.
When will we know more?
The WHO said it will take around two weeks to gauge the full effects of omicron, from its ability to evade vaccines to its contagiousness.
For now, countries have once again urged their citizens to get vaccinated. Some vaccine companies have already spoken about the strain, including Moderna, which said Sunday that a new vaccine that protects against the variant could be released in early 2022 if needed.
For now, Fauci said that the country must “prepare for the worst” just in case omicron becomes the culprit of yet another surge.
“Inevitably, it will be here. The question is will we be prepared for it? If and when, and it’s going to be when, it comes here hopefully we will be ready for it,” Fauci said.
John and Brenda Wilson won the Great Christmas Light Fight that they have put on for over 20 years. (Great Christmas Light Fight)
Homeowners in Windcrest, Texas don’t take Christmas lightly. Decking out their home in thousands of lights, one Windcrest couple even won ABC’s Texas episode of “Great Christmas Light Fight” that aired Sunday.
Known as “Christmas sweethearts,” John and Brenda Wilson were awarded $50,000 after going up against fellow Texans, including a family in Amarillo and two families in Corpus Christi, in the ninth season premiere of the lights show.
(Great Christmas Light Fight)

Their holiday display featured a hand-built sled, a train called the Peppermint Expressway with actual peppermint smoke coming out of it and Santa’s reindeer “in training.” Designer and judge Taniya Nayak noted the linework of the lights displayed on the roof and the positioning of the red and lime green color palette.
“Right off the bat when the lights turned on, I couldn’t believe how beautiful these peppermint lights were… it’s just such a fun, happy, yummy, delicious vibe to it,” Nayak said when she announced the Wilsons were the winners. “It really made a smile go from one ear to the other on my face.”
Judge Nayak said she also enjoyed that their display had different stories behind each section.
(Great Christmas Light Fight)

John, or “Mr. Christmas” as Brenda called him, said he has been putting on a Christmas lights display for over 20 years—and it’s only got better since he met his Mrs. Clause 12 years ago. The two said they met online and were 98% compatible.
“Brenda and I grew up back in the 50s when things were very simple, so we wanted to create something from when we were growing up,” John said on the show.
And their efforts paid off: along with their monetary prize, the couple earned a light-bulb-shaped trophy.
KSAT reports the home got the attention of the show’s casting directors last year, who encouraged them to apply to be on the show. The show was then shot last year, but the couple didn’t learn they won until this year.
While being on the show is their intro to stardom, locals are familiar with the Wilsons’ yearly display in the light-centric Windcrest. Each year their home is part of the Windcrest Light Up, a decades-old tradition where residents go all-out with their holiday light displays. They’ve won at least three grand prizes in the Windcrest contest and several other category first-place prizes.
The Windcrest Light Up kicks off Dec. 4.
The countdown to the holidays has begun—do you know where your presents are? If you didn’t get your shopping done over the Black Friday weekend, never fear, there are plenty of department store alternatives to check out right here in Austin.
Shopping local is the gift that keeps on giving, so here are some local artisans to keep in mind.
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For the recipient who has it all, give them the unexpected with a carefully curated gift box for any occasion. From the “Autumn Indulgence” package that includes beer caramel candies and a massage candle to the “Cozy Cottage” package that includes upcycled tea towels and a California poppy grow kit, you’ll find new local goodies to get them hooked on.

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For your local homebody, get them some upscale home goods to enhance their cozy abode. Moonthyme, whose slogan is “thoughtful provisions to inspire,” deals out ceramic spice jars, handwoven decorative baskets, luxurious bath products and everything in between to keep your home looking comfy even in the cold weather.
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For the one who is counting the seconds until the next spooky season, Yarrow and Sage ATX has all the crystals, potions and bulk incense galore. The store sells all the astrological curios an enthusiast could dream of from pendulums, pipes and tarot cards to really lean into the witchy vibe.
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Who’s to say that toys can’t be pretty? Not only are the toys from Austin Nature Works an aesthetic choice for young learners, but they’re also sustainably made and will plant a tree for every purchase made.
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For all your tabletop needs, Tanuki Games is taking family game night to the next level with hard-to-find games from all over the world. Try out Dune: House Secrets, which coincides with the new film, Machi Koro 2, a Japanese Monopoly-esque game, or the elusive Game of Cat & Mouth.
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So popular among Austinites, local toy retailer Toy Joy even has a location inside the Austin Bergstrom-International Airport. From mainstream toys that you’ve seen on TV to potato clock kits, models of the “This is Fine” meme, to DIY models, you might even find some whimsical gifts for the adults in your life.
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In a land where food is king, get the chef in your life the tools to make magic happen in the kitchen. Located in the Galleria, Faraday’s Kitchen Store carries cookware for indoor, outdoor, baking and electronics. Plus, if you want to send a well-intentioned hint, Faraday also offers cooking classes.
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​Give the gift of good eating this holiday season with Farmhouse Delivery, a local company that brings the goodies of your local farmer’s market right to your door. From meats, produce, baked goods or ready-prepared meal kits, you can most likely get it local and delivered to wherever you need.
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For your favorite tea lover, why not challenge their palate this holiday season with a custom-made tea-filled gift box. Local female-founded tea curator Sips By will send out a box of four news teas every month to your herbal-obsessed loved ones.
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Sweeping the nation with its T-Pain and Normani mini-film for Black-owned Friday, Black Pearl Books is founded on a principle of keeping local dollars in the community and welcoming all in its store. It’s not all books either—grab a Lizzo coloring book, merch, puzzles and cookbooks as well in-store.
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The female-run book store set up shop 45 years ago and has been running ever since with stocked shelves by women and a passion for uplifting marginalized voices. Check out BookWoman’s staff picks because it is never too late to inspire a love of reading.
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If you’re looking to foster the creative spirit this holiday season, head to Austin Creative Reuse, where you can find lightly-used bulk craft and school supplies for a fraction of the new price. You might have to do some digging but imagine the look of a handmade craft basket under the tree!
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For that special someone who always brings a pop of color to the room, consider gifting them a new handmade accessory to don. Lys Santamaria’s unique beaded designs are made with love and honor the world around us with beaded earrings inspired by Winter Storm Uri, magic eyes and statement accessories.
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Austin is revitalized in WatercolorATX’s dreamy portraits of scenes familiar to Hill Country dwellers. You can have a custom watercolor done of your favorite place, person or pet, or choose from already-painted originals or prints.
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Team spirit lasts all year long, even when fútbol season is over, so grab the Austin FC die-hard you know some quality merch. Inside the Verde Store you’ll find the signature shade of Verde and options for all types of fans.
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These quirky little accessories aren’t for the faint of heart but they are guaranteed to catch some eyes. Doling out chainsaw earrings, stabbed heart brooches, alien tractor beams and sea critter jewelry, Vinca’s accessories will make for an… unforgettable gift.
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Hand-dyed, sewn and styled in Austin, Viva La Silk’s silk accessories are made with versatility and sustainability in mind. The scarves, robes, tops, pants, veils and more are made from 100% reclaimed silk, so the “wearable art” pieces are affordable and comfy.
There are hundreds of local businesses to support—even if it isn’t on this list, you can probably get it local.