While all those silly brats in the city waste time tying ribbons on their cats and teaching their dogs not to beg at the table, country kids raise great big shiny pets you can have for dinner. If you make it to the State Fair of Texas (September 28-October 21), be sure to spend some time strolling the animal barns, where the farm and ranch kids baby-sit their sleek heifers, dwarf goats and other incredible edible friends.

Scenario: You've cleaned out your closets and your garage, and in an attempt to sell your junk instead of leaving it at the curb, you hold a yard sale. To advertise said sale, you innocently nail a sign to the telephone pole on the corner. Maybe another sign on another street corner, too. A little while later, a white truck pulls up to your house, only the driver isn't there to buy your old futon or rummage through any of your discarded clothing. No, he or she is there on behalf of the city of Dallas' code enforcement department, and thanks to those signs, you've just contributed about $500 to the city. Congratulations, you're a good citizen. Blame your unintentional good deed on a severely underpublicized law that hit the books in the last year or so, as well as the city government's long-held policy of nickel-and-diming its constituents to death. Put another way, there's a good chance if you hold a yard sale, you're only raising money to help defray the cost of the ticket you will likely receive. The code enforcement department doesn't necessarily like driving around on Saturday mornings, taking Polaroids of illegal signs, then visiting the scofflaws midsale--we've heard stories of hysterical crying jags and angry confrontations--but that is beside the point. Unless you follow the city's rules and regs when it comes to yard sales--no signs allowed, unless they're on your own property, and only two sales a year--you might as well cut out the middleman and write a check to the city.

Cedar Hill State Park
Except for the distant whine of cars on Interstate 20, filtered through parched hills of mesquite, you'd easily forget you were anywhere near Dallas. Cedar Hill State Park, on the shores of Joe Pool Lake, offers the closest-to-unspoiled scenery you'll find in Dallas County, as well as attractive campsites and picnic areas. Lots of people come here to swim in the summer, but we avoid them and head for the web of hiking trails on the south side of the park. Amid the rolling hills and thickly scented forest and prairie greenery, we imagine we live someplace wild and picturesque, and the illusion holds pretty well until you spot a speeding SUV hauling a pair of Jetskis. Outdoor nuisances aside, you can almost always find a wilderness space to yourself at Cedar Hill State Park. Buy a $50 Conservation Pass and use the park (as well as any other state park) year-round; otherwise, the single-day fee is $10.
When it first came out, it seemed an unnecessary extravagance, something to keep rich North Dallas commuters from having to dig into their pockets, fiddle with their spare change and slow down. But with rush hour more than just a sequel, with the TollTag enabling you to live life in the fast lane by racing through the toll booth at 40 mph, with it providing a cheaper, more convenient (all major credit cards are accepted) way of travel, it's an extravagance worth having.

You all know what SMU stands for, don't you? Southern Money University. Well, even if you weren't one of the fortunate sons whose daddies footed the bill so you could attend this Park Cities institute of higher learning as a full-time student, there's still a place for you on campus. SMU offers you lazy proles out there a chance to make something of yourselves through its continuing education program, which offers nighttime courses at prices even leaf-blowers can afford. Never you mind that there is a course called something like "Art Museums of Paris" and aimed at, we can only assume, Highland Park housewives planning their spring vacations. There is a standard menu of more practical courses to be had, including our favorite, Spanish.

This is the kind of info Fox and Scully live for. Back in 1992 a fascinating and quizzical Dallas lady named Cheyenne Turner established the Eclectic Viewpoint lecture series that is going full steam ahead despite the fact she passed away in '98. Under her direction, lecturing experts in all manner of paranormal, psychic and spiritual fields have come to Dallas to share their thoughts on everything from the '47 Roswell UFO crash to conspiracy theories. There are six lectures on the schedule each year. The admission price for most lectures is in the $20-$25 range. And remember--the truth is out there.
When Centro-matic and Slobberbone perform at Gypsy Tea Room or Curtain Club in Dallas, or Dan's Bar or Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios in Denton, they play to decent crowds, sometimes packed houses, but getting into one of their shows is usually not that big of a deal. When they travel to Austin or Houston, they might have a good show or they might pull in only 100 people. The rest of the country, well, let's just say it's hit-and-miss. And the same goes for most other local bands that have dared to get in the van and take their rock show on the road. In Europe, however, Centro-matic and Slobberbone are practically stars; if one of their shows doesn't sell out well in advance, it'll probably be sold out by the time they take the stage. And Amsterdam is the best place of all. They play to festival crowds over there, and they get police escorts so they can make it to the next venue in time. In short, it's the perfect world, home to the kind of audience we've always thought Centro-matic and Slobberbone and a ton of other local groups deserved. They get prime radio exposure in Amsterdam--VPRO Radio recorded one of Centro-matic's live shows for broadcast on the station and recently paid for the Nourallah Brothers to fly there and record as well--and a documentary crew came to Denton last year to film Centro-matic in its home environment. Maybe this sounds like the false promise of the "big in Japan" non-endorsement, but being big somewhere is much better than being unappreciated everywhere else.
Want to know how much your boss paid for that new house she bought last year or whether the money the government says your house is worth jibes with the value of your neighbor's house? Well, thanks to modern technology, you can get a pretty good idea without leaving the comfort of your home or office. Just get onto the Internet, type in www.dallascad.org, hit enter, and you're there. This Web site, which is remarkably easy to use, allows you to search for properties by the name of the owner or the address. It also allows you to search separately for residential or commercial properties. Besides lot and building values, you can also find out things such as how many baths are in a house, whether it has a wet bar and when the house was last sold. If you're looking to buy a new home, this is a tool that comes in particularly handy.

Fossil Rim Wildlife Center
For the chance to rub noses with a zebra (literally) and gaze into the vacant eyes of an ostrich, we choose Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose. It's not exactly a zoo. Few of the animals are in cages, and you drive safarilike to each zone of the 1,500-acre wildlife park, slowing down for elands and aoudads. Even the most jaded urchins are fascinated by it; you can open the windows or sun roof and let them immerse themselves in the animal kingdom. You won't get closer to the animals anywhere else in the region. Halfway through your self-guided excursion, which takes 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours (guided tours are also available for an additional fee), you'll find a café on a steep hill offering a lovely view of the park. It serves excellent charbroiled hamburgers, and beside it is a large, well-stocked gift shop. Fossil Rim has a few minor drawbacks. It's light on predators, since they can't exactly allow the cheetahs to roam among the wildebeest, and you won't see lesser life forms such as amphibians, reptiles and fish. But Fossil Rim's an easy pick over the popular Fort Worth Zoo, where every elephant turd has a corporate sponsor, and the Dallas Zoo, which gets demerit points for its policy of gassing the chicks in the petting zoo when they're not young and cute anymore. Fossil Rim's a 90-minute drive from downtown Dallas, but you'll be glad you took the time.
Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens
Courtesy Dallas Arboretum
The Dallas Arboretum may sound like an obvious and uninventive choice, but the 66 acres offer a variety of different ways to experience nature in a quick tour and without actually roughing it. There's a bamboo forest, mulched trails through trees and wild vines and flowers, a path lined with animal sculptures, the Camp Estate's aromatic herb garden, shaded gazebos with romantic views and a smorgasbord of roses and giant magnolia trees bearing platter-sized flowers that smell almost like lime. The scenery changes each season from spring's renowned azaleas to summer's plants hearty enough to tolerate the Texas sun. This fall offers a typical example: Autumn crocus, fall-blooming azaleas and African marigold are just a small sample of the life blooming in the Jonsson Color Garden. In the Paseo de Flores garden, Firebrush and Mexican bush sage rage among ornamental grasses and tropical bedding plants. Throughout the gardens visitors can inhale the pleasant sights and smells of canna, chrysanthemum and impatiens. Besides the changing plant life, there's the four-toad fountain and A Woman's Garden with its reflecting pools, bronze statues and view overlooking White Rock Lake, all of which was featured in Dr. T & the Women.

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