CITY: Much merited Merit Awards. Preservation Austin is a precious resource. Its annual Merit Awards luncheon at the Driskill Hotel always delivers a better understanding of our social, cultural and physical past. Charles Birnbuam, founder of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, spoke on Austin’s good, basic bone structure, but always ways to improve, preserve, designate and interpret our landscapes. He also spoke bravely against "plop and drops" on the Capitol grounds and in our city squares. Winners of the Merit Awards: City of Austin for Dedrick-Hamilton House and African American Cultural Heritage Facility, Catherine and George Cary for Gerhard-Schoch House, Karen Saadeh and David Matthis for Mize-Zuber-Hamner House, Annetta and James White for the Broken Spoke. Julian O. Read won the lifetime achievement award, the Austin Parks & Recreation Department was lauded for stewardship and wood restorers Bill Breaux and Janine Bergin were recognized as outstanding craftspeople. (With luck, we’ll profile all in 2014.)

HISTORY: 50 years ago, Austin was ‘all agog’ for JFK. Reported by Pat Beach in Friday’s Statesman: "Austin was ready. The city was bedecked in holiday decorations and lights. Mayor Lester Palmer and Emma Long, the first woman elected to the City Council, were among the dignitaries set to greet President John F. Kennedy when Air Force One touched down at Bergstrom Air Force Base on the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963 — 50 years ago today. A tent was up outside the Governor’s Mansion for a reception before the big event of the day. The invitations to that affair, scripted in handsome cursive, had gone out. Largely because Gov. John Connally and others had tirelessly worked the phones, checks poured in for the $100-a-plate fundraising dinner at Austin Municipal Auditorium. The caterer didn’t know exactly how many plates to set. Connally said sales had "far exceeded" his predicted 2,500." http://shar.es/8SRyo(Superb reporting by Pat!)

FOOD: We’ve waited a long while for a really good Chinese restaurant in Austin. Reported by Matthew Odam in Friday’s 360. "Szechuan House meets your basic aesthetic standards for strip-mall Chinese dining: maroon carpet, rolling chairs and paper lanterns in a clean space. It gets a few divey bonus points for the temporary wooden scaffolding and walkway that obstruct the entrance to the degree you wonder whether the restaurant is actually open for business. But you don’t come to places like this for décor. You come for the food. And, at Szechuan House, the service, flavor and friendliness, not frills, make for repeat customers. That combination also makes Szechuan House in North Austin my favorite Chinese restaurant in town. http://shar.es/8SMWQ(Can’t wait to try it!)

POLITICS: A private battle over ethics goes public. Reported by Ross Ramsey in the Texas Tribune: "Be careful what you wish for. The closed hearings into the political activities of a conservative group in Austin are slowly coming into the open. That obliterates the excuse for not going — the notion that a secret hearing is a horrible thing and that we would otherwise line up to watch the truly fascinating inner workings of government. Actually, we sometimes would. A formal hearing about the alleged lobbying activities of Empower Texans could clear up some questions, like whether someone who talks to legislators and gets paid for it should have to register and pay fees as a result. To pose it the other way: Should the state allow anyone to pay lobbyists without revealing who the lobbyists are and who is paying them for their work?" http://trib.it/19LWFpI(Can’t get enough of it.)