Our next no-brainer stop on the trip took us to Plano, Texas to visit my mom’s sister Avery, her husband Hank, and my cousin Ashley (and Sandy!). We are looking forward to seeing Ben in San Francisco in a few weeks to make sure we spend time with the entire O’Neill clan on this trip.

Avery, Hank, and Ashley each generously made time in their Thursday schedules so we could have a full day of exploration around the city together. Our first adventure in the Dallas area was to an up-and-coming neighborhood called Deep Ellum to stop at Pecan Lodge for the best BBQ in Dallas. Here’s a great shot of Jeff, Nikita, Ashley and I posing on the longhorn in the backyard.

Much to our stomachs’ content, the meal more than lived up to its billing.  We got a huge spread to share amongst the six of us with all the essentials covered. We feasted on spicy sausage, pulled chicken, beef ribs, pork ribs, fried okra, collard greens, mac n cheese, and the group favorite brisket. All of the meat was expertly seasoned and truly falling off the bone, and the backyard seating with a shining sun only made things more perfect. Writing this and looking at this picture a few days after the fact is causing me to salivate all over again. I’m so excited for the next family trip to Plano so I can make sure Dad gets to experience this one for himself. And because I know he’s wondering, this spot had the Guy Fieri DD&D stamp of approval.

After the amazing meal we took a trip to the Nasher Art Museum and sculpture garden in the Dallas arts district. This was a fantastic way to spend an afternoon soaking up the sun, seeing some beautiful art, and walking off some of that food. Inside the museum was a riveting exhibit from American Melvin Edwards which explored his feelings about race relations and the Civil Rights movement through abstract welded sculptures combining chains, gears, hammers, spikes, and much more. A picture really wouldn’t do these pieces justice, especially seeing them from all angles and having them surround you on all four sides in a gallery room. Each of the pieces was unique and thought-provoking in its own right and the collection together was impressive to say the least. From there we ventured outside into the sculpture garden where you can see Nikita and Jeff marveling at the nature and art all around. Great candid shot courtesy of Avery!

The following day Jeff and Nikita and I ventured back to Deep Ellum to check out the first day of a free weekend arts festival. Seeing so much art was hardly the first thing I expected upon visiting Dallas, but our timing lined up perfectly with this festival and we made sure to take advantage. The diversity of talents and mediums and subject matters was so impressive and inspiring. We really saw a little bit everything: bronze sculptures celebrating oneness and universal love, ballpoint pen portraits of animals with brilliant splashes of watercolor, oil masterpieces of radiant flower fields thickly applied with a pallet knife on wood, scenes of western wildlife with a cubist influence, and so so much more. With street art lining side streets left and right and multiple stages featuring bands and singer-songwriters, we were surrounded by beautiful art on all sides. It was an excellent way to spend yet another sunny afternoon and really just an unexpected treat. We were plenty busy talking to artists and admiring their work so the only photo I took of the entire day was of this unattended piece. A really fun and well executed testament to the idea that we are all victims of our own self-constructed prisons, in one way or another.

On both Thursday and Friday nights, Avery and Hank treated us to two lovely family dinners full of solid advice, good discussion, and lots of laughter. As Jeff, Nikita, and I prepare for the adventures ahead of us on this trip and beyond, it was a great chance to take a step back and learn from some seasoned veterans in this game of life. As each of us dreams and plans future ventures and hopes to make a positive altruistic difference in the world, Hank gave us the extremely valuable advice to make sure we are still looking after our own health and wellness at the end of the day. Hank also related some stories about his experiences camping in New Mexico when he was around our age and in doing so, made sure we were well prepared for the elements that awaited us. Having a few days of camping behind us already as I write this..I can say that the sweatpants and extra sleeping bag y’all loaned us have already proved essential..so THANK YOU!! More than anything, having such a warm and genuine family experience for a few days as we prepared for the wilderness was so appreciated and made each of us feel as though we were right at home. Hanging out with the O’Neill’s outside of the usual holiday or big family vacation was a real treat. We got to take a small step into their day-to-day lives and see some of the best their town had to offer.

Before we headed out early Saturday morning to cross the west of Texas and enter the Southwest, Avery told us to be careful and Hank left us with a final piece of advice that led to the title of this post. We’ll be sure to do a healthy combination of both going forward!