It’s been a tough year (did you check out the Bum Steer Awards?), which is why it’s never been more important to highlight the Best Things in Texas. Featuring special shout-outs to Midland educator Barbara Yarbrough, Houstonian vaccine developers Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi and Dr. Peter Hotez, and San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

Texans in 2022 enjoyed a return to some semblance of normalcy after the two worst years of the pandemic. Indeed, some of us were back to form in exhibiting a certain genius for the awful and the bizarre. (Just survey our annual Bum Steer Awards.) But residents of the Lone Star State, along with the occasional visitor, showed an even stronger propensity for acts of kindness, for impressive achievements, for love of flora and fauna, and, at times, for plain ol’ good luck. Read on and bask in the warm glow of the best our state has to offer.

An unidentified young trick-or-treater in Cypress who was dressed as a taco refilled a candy bowl left outside a home with his own treats, after two other kids emptied it and knocked it off its perch.

New Braunfels resident Taylor Handy won the national masskrugstemmen (beer stein–holding) competition in New York City by extending her arm while clutching a stein full of beer for a record-setting six minutes and ten seconds. 

After she’d already won the Texas Oak log-lift event at the Rogue Invitational, held annually in Round Rock, by hoisting a 205-pound tree trunk over her head, the fitness influencer Dani Speegle, from San Diego, lifted a 215-pounder, just for the heck of it.

After someone stole a twelve-foot-tall skeleton adorning an Austin woman’s front lawn, Home Depot and the creator of the popular Halloween decoration sent her a free replacement.

Dallas roommates Lauren Siler and Lisa Flores rescued a nineteen-year-old Labrador mix named Annie from a local shelter, despite being told by veterinarians that she likely had only a month to live. The two immediately set about providing Annie with what they imagined to be a canine bucket list (one item: a hamburger patty from Whataburger), documenting it all on social media. Seven months later, Annie, alive and happy, is a minor celebrity on social media, receiving fan mail from as far away as Australia.

Jaskaran Singh.
Jaskaran Singh.Courtesy of University of Texas at Austin/ABC

University of Texas at Austin senior Jaskaran Singh (above), of Plano, became the first Jeopardy! National College Champion, emerging from a field of 36 contenders and winning $250,000. 

Singer Jessica Simpson marked her fourth year of sobriety on Instagram, posting a photo of herself—looking unrecognizable—taken the day she decided to quit drinking.

Houston Holocaust survivor Ruth Steinfeld was awarded the Legion of Honor, France’s highest prize, for her work educating others about the genocide of Jews during World War II. 

Mineola High School’s marching band was treated to a pizza party by alumna Kacey Musgraves after it won a state championship.

In the customer-service move of the year, Southwest Airlines helped reunite one young boy with a special dinosaur toy he accidentally left on a plane after his return flight from Disney World. The airline also sent him a few extra goodies and some photos from the dinosaur’s trip. 

Maddie Barber, a seventeen-year-old aspiring pig farmer, raised $30,500 at the Kendall County Junior Livestock Show for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where the Boerne native had been treated for a brain tumor until she was declared cancer-free in 2018. 

Forget dating apps: 66-year-old Jim Bays of Georgetown used a billboard along Texas Highway 29 to find his next date. Alongside a photo and Bays’s phone number, the sign’s text read: “Wanted, a good woman. 50–55ish. For talks & walks & mutual acts of kindness.” 

Someone defaced the iconic Austin mural titled You’re My Butter Half to make it temporarily read “You’re My Butt Hole.” A cheeky move, which the original artist, John Rockwell, praised in a lighthearted review in a Reddit thread, calling it juvenile and a bit naughty, but dammit if it isn’t in line with the fun, whimsical spirit of the original.” The graffitist, calling himself Mr. Butthole, replied to Rockwell, writing, “If I may be so bold to call this a collaboration, it has been a pleasure working with you.” 

The San Antonio Aquarium posted a TikTok of an aquarium official using a pair of scissors to help a zebra shark pup hatch from its egg, which is known as a mermaid purse because of its shape. The video of this newest member of an endangered species has eight million likes. 

San Angelo–based Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, the country’s largest sanctuary for abused and neglected donkeys, named its newest foal Betty in honor of Betty White, the late television icon, who had donated tens of thousands of dollars to the organization from 2006 until her death in late 2021. 

Mateo Lopez.
Mateo Lopez.Raz Hernández

Guinness World Records officially recognized seven-year-old San Antonian Mateo Lopez (above), who first performed at a concert at age four, as the world’s youngest mariachi singer. In addition to that honor, Lopez appeared in a Super Bowl commercial with actor Will Smith.

Texas Tech University’s Meat Judging Team won its third-straight International Intercollegiate Meat Judging Contest, its sixteenth championship overall. 

Former San Marcos mayor Daniel Guerrero was reduced to tears when he was reunited with Diego, his 25-pound, 22-year-old pet tortoise, 38 days after it wandered out of Guerrero’s backyard. 

Dallas residents were heartbroken in February when a nest containing the eggs of a pair of bald eagles, which generally mate for life, fell from its branch near White Rock Lake. The eagles soon left and weren’t seen for several months, but they returned in the fall and are nesting again near the lake. Experts believe it’s a sign that the eagles have made the area their permanent home. 

After Audrey Soape, an eleven-year-old in Pflugerville, lost her father and grandfather, in 2021, the Soape family’s favorite NFL player, Anthony Harris, at the time a defensive back for the Philadelphia Eagles, stepped in as Soape’s date for the annual father-daughter dance at the Fellowship Church, in Round Rock. 

Houston-based UFC heavyweight fighter Derrick Lewis, known as the Black Beast, offered a memorable response to a reporter’s question about his preparation for an upcoming fight. He had an extra workout with my wife to celebrate his birthday and said they “did some things we never tried before, so that was pretty cool.” “Congratulations on that,” said the reporter. 

When eighteen-year-old Cody Hooks fell unconscious after hitting his head against the back of the bull he was riding at a rodeo in Belton, his father, Landis, rushed over, lay down over his son’s body, and took the brunt of the blow from the bull when it charged and tried to gore Cody. Father and son made full recoveries from their injuries, and Cody is back to competing. 

Baylor basketball forward NaLyssa Smith scored a career-high 37 points in the Bears’ 91–76 victory over Oklahoma in the Big 12 semifinals, only to be momentarily outshone by her father, Rodney, who drained a half-court shot during halftime to win a $6,600 gas card. 

Riley Leon was driving home from a job interview at a Whataburger in Manor when the sixteen-year-old’s beloved red Chevrolet Silverado pickup was hit by a tornado, which flipped the truck on its side and spun it around before flipping it back onto its tires. A passerby captured the whole thing on video, which promptly went viral. Whataburger offered the Elgin teen, who escaped without any major injuries, a job, and a local Chevrolet dealer gifted him a brand-new (and red) Silverado. 

Austin elementary school teacher Jose Rodriguez was in the middle of a lesson when he saw one of his students choking. He used the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge a water bottle cap from the student’s throat, saving his life.

The Houston Astros won their second World Series, in front of a home crowd, defeating the Philadelphia Phillies 4–1 in game six. (And as of press time, there had been no allegations of cheating.) 

A marble bust purchased at an Austin Goodwill store.
A marble bust purchased at an Austin Goodwill store.Photograph by Joel Salcido, Courtesy of the San Antonio Museum of Art/Bavarian Administration of State-Owned Palaces, Gardens and Lakes

Austin antiques dealer Laura Young purchased a marble bust (above) at a local Goodwill store for $34.99 in 2018, only to later discover that it was a two-thousand-year-old Roman artifact that had disappeared from a Bavarian king’s villa during World War II. After four years of research and after hiring an attorney who specializes in international art law, Young arranged for the bust to be returned to Germany, but not before arranging this year for it to be displayed in the San Antonio Museum of Art until May 2023.

Sherry Noppe, 63 and recently diagnosed with dementia, went missing after she took Max, her black Labrador retriever, on a walk in the 2,700-acre George Bush Park, near her home in Katy. Searchers found Noppe alive three days later, after they heard Max barking.

Shortly after Dwayne Havis, a game warden for Texas Parks and Wildlife, took off from Austin’s airport for a routine flight in his small Cessna aircraft, heavy black smoke started filling the cockpit. Havis couldn’t make it back to the airport, so he landed the plane on the best option he had, Lady Bird Lake. As the plane sank, Havis was able to swim out of the cockpit and was promptly rescued by paddleboard-rental worker Nicholas Compton.

Matt McKinney and Kelly Dickey at Franklin Barbecue in Austin.
Matt McKinney and Kelly Dickey at Franklin Barbecue in Austin.Caitlin McWeeney Photography

Matt McKinney put a (smoky) ring on it when he proposed to girlfriend Kelly Dickey in the pit room of Franklin Barbecue, the bookend of the Indianapolis couple’s barbecue road trip. Franklin staff, who were totally in on McKinney’s plan, gave the couple a huge pile of ’cue, which kept them happily sated for days. 

San Antonio resident Roslyn Bates was worried that no one would show up at a birthday party for her fourteen-year-old son, Demauriae Bennett, who’d been bullied, so she posted an invitation on the 95,000-member Facebook group Street News SA asking if five children would like to attend. Hundreds of San Antonians responded, and several businesses chipped in to give Bennett the birthday of a lifetime.

Maintenance workers in Magnolia Beach, just south of Port Lavaca, came across newly hatched Kemp’s ridley turtles, the world’s smallest (and Texas’s state) sea turtle. It was the first recorded instance of the endangered species, which typically nests on barrier islands, laying eggs on a mainland Texas beach.

A Dallas squirrel was caught in a TikTok video cooling itself on a 107-degree day in a manner known as “splooting,” lying spread-eagle on top of a sidewalk grate, its little tail billowing straight up in the air.

Researchers at Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve helped raise awareness of ocean pollution by posting photos on social media of creepy-looking dolls that were washing up on a forty-mile stretch of Texas beach. The horrifying photos got the attention of comedian John Oliver, who offered to make a $10,000 donation to the turtle and marine wildlife rehabilitation program in exchange for the dolls, which he wants to destroy.

A species of oak tree thought to have been extinct for more than a decade was found in Big Bend National Park by a team of nine researchers, including Michael Eason, a conservation botanist at San Antonio Botanical Garden and the state botanist for the Native Plant Society of Texas. 

Dallas native Averie Bishop.
Dallas native Averie Bishop.Bludoor Studios

Dallas native Averie Bishop and Houston native R’Bonney Gabriel became the first Asian Americans to be named Miss Texas America and Miss Texas USA, respectively. Gabriel went on to win the Miss USA pageant in October and will represent her country in the Miss Universe competition in January.

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, a Dallas native, met ten-year-old Blake Grice, of Colorado, during a press conference following the All-Star Game, fulfilling Grice’s dream of checking off the top item on the bucket list of his late grandfather, who died of brain cancer before he could meet the biggest star on his favorite team.

A six-year-old German shepherd named Sheba was reunited with her owners after she was found in the Panhandle town of Borger, four years after she was reported stolen in Baytown, more than six hundred miles away.

After record-breaking rainfall, the field in Southern Methodist University’s Gerald J. Ford stadium flooded and a section of turf, fittingly, swelled into the shape of a football

New bird species, the Subantarctic rayadito.
New bird species, the Subantarctic rayadito.Omar Barroso/CHIC/University of Magallanes, Chile

University of North Texas professor Ricardo Rozzi discovered a new terrestrial bird species, the Subantarctic rayadito, in the southernmost part
of Chile.

The 107-year-old Battleship Texas took to the seas for the first time in 32 years, departing its La Porte home and traveling forty miles to Galveston for repairs.

Amarillo sisters Blake and Chandler Graham, ages fifteen and thirteen, respectively, were selected for Team USA gymnastics

Following the passage of Senate Bill 797, which requires public schools to display posters bearing the motto “In God We Trust” so long as they are donated or purchased with donated money, a parent in Southlake’s Carroll Independent School District attempted to donate signs with the motto written in Arabic and with backgrounds depicting the LGBTQ rainbow flag. 

A Harlingen resident, who chose to remain anonymous, was on the phone with his dad when he realized that his winning Texas Lottery ticket, which he thought was worth $20,000, in fact would net him the $20 million top prize.

Hewitt resident Art Castillo was out walking on the Cotton Belt Trail when he came across what at first looked like an oddly shaped rock. He correctly guessed it was a mammoth tooth, a hunch verified by experts at Waco Mammoth National Monument. Castillo donated the 25,000- to 50,000-year-old tooth to the organization.

Congress and President Joe Biden designated Marfa’s Blackwell School, which served as a school for the town’s Mexican American residents under de facto segregation, a National Historic Site that will be preserved as part of the National Park System.

Grand Prairie singer and actor Selena Gomez and Houston rapper Megan Thee Stallion launched mental health initiatives called, respectively, Wondermind and Bad Bitches Have Bad Days Too.

Lizzo, the Houston singer, rapper, and classically trained flutist, became the first person to play a crystal flute that belonged to President James Madison, which is in the collection of the Library of Congress.

Comedian Mo Amer, a native of Houston’s Alief neighborhood, stopped at Elsik High School there to hang out with the boys soccer team, one of the best programs in the country. 

A Little League playoff game in Waco.
A Little League playoff game in Waco.Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune-Herald

Waco witnessed a viral moment of sportsmanship during a regional Little League playoff game, when pitcher Kaiden Shelton, of Pearland, accidentally beaned Isaiah Jarvis, of Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the head. Jarvis escaped serious harm and walked to first base, but when he saw Shelton on the mound crying over what had happened, he trotted over and put his arms around him, saying, “Hey, you’re doing great. Let’s go,” and earning a standing ovation from the fans. 

Jadrian Taylor, a defensive lineman at the University of Texas at El Paso, lived every big man’s dream when the 240-pound Lufkin native scooped up a fumble inside his team’s end zone and rumbled one hundred yards for a touchdown.

Alison Appleby of Sherman, a seventeen-year-old who has epilepsy, won the Miss Dallas Teen USA beauty pageant, with her service-dog-in-training, a golden retriever named Brady, by her side. Both Appleby and Brady were awarded crowns.

This article originally appeared in the January 2023 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “The Best Things in Texas.” Subscribe today.