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Immersive Van Gogh

Dallas, TX

I am a Commercial Art major and have loved Van Gogh since my days sitting in art history classes dissecting each of his paintings. When I learned that the Van Gogh exhibits were coming to Dallas, I bought tickets to both “dueling” exhibitions. My husband and I attended the first one, the original Immersive Van Gogh, this past weekend.

This exhibit is being shown in the iconic Masonic Temple known as The Lighthouse and is located on Harwood Street. It is very close to the Dallas Farmer’s Market and parking is scattered throughout the area. We paid to park in a lot just catty-cornered from the exhibit since we were not lucky enough to get nearby metered street parking.

The Lighthouse has a pretty impressive entrance and the towering steps are decorated with large pots of sunflowers and decorative lettering. Friendly staff members are stationed inside and outside to take photos of you and your group, if you like. Once you enter on the ground floor (masks are required), there are restrooms, a snack bar and gift shop. From there, attendants direct you up to the third floor where instructions are given and the show is projected.

The instructions were simple. There are three large rooms where the thirty-five minute loop plays simultaneously in each room. Walk through the rooms until you find a place to sit (chairs, benches, or the floor). Follow social distancing guidelines (this was easy to follow since fluorescent circles are marked on the theatre floors). You may take photos but without flash. Stay as long as you like. Watch the video once, twice, or until closing time. Your choice!

Once I settled in and sat down, I was taken to another world. All four walls and the floor come alive with Van Gogh’s art work. It is a sensory overload with bright, swirling colors and accompanying music and sounds. But don’t expect to see a video depicting his most famous paintings as they hang in museums today. Simply sit and watch as bold lines are drawn, windmills turn, water ripples, and roots push their way up through the earth and morph into beautiful blue irises. There are beautiful colors, brilliant lights and mesmerizing music. It all works together to create a very unique experience.

When watching the visuals unfold, I felt like there was some sort of a story being told. While researching this blog, I read two different accounts describing how the video plays out. One version said we are seeing the scenes as Van Gogh first saw them, full of movement and life-like colors as he began painting. Another version said the video illustrates how Van Gogh may have visualized his body of work at the end of his life. Regardless of what the narrative was, the show was full of beautiful, graphic images that took you to another place.

I had several favorite scenes during the night. Van Gogh’s cherry blossoms that dance and float across all four walls was one such moment. Another was the moon and stars that move across the dark skies and cause us to be transported into the swirls of Starry Night. At one point, dark brushstrokes morph into birds and fly up into the heavily textured sky. It was all a feast for the eyes.

After arriving on the exhibit floor, we had chosen the second theatre room (the largest) since we found a couple of available chairs there. We were very comfortable and had great views. On our way out, we noticed the third room had interesting mirrored spires in the middle of the sitting space. The reflections gave the video a totally different look. I would have chosen that room if I had only known!

Overall it was a very enjoyable evening. I went in with zero expectations and was really blown away by the creativity and technology that was necessary to make this show a success. My one regret – that the video was not longer. We could have stayed and watched the loop two or three times, but once I had seen it and taken it all in first time, I felt like I had gotten the full “experience.” We got up, moved on out, and let others who were waiting have our seats.

We exited the exhibit and enjoyed looking around the gift shop where one could buy a Van Gogh painting image on just about any item you could think of. Starry Night ties and socks – check. Cherry Blossom face mask – check. Smoking Skull water flask – check. Sunflower glasses case – check. Self portrait backpack, umbrella, key chain and mouse pad – check, check, check!

I hope all of you art lovers get to experience Immersive Van Gogh firsthand because it is a little difficult to fully describe. The images were truly breathtaking. The words of Don McLean’s Starry Night sum this exhibition up perfectly and played in my head all night:

Starry, starry night
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze

Swirling clouds in violet haze
Reflect in Vincent’s eyes of china blue

Colors changing hue
Morning fields of amber grain

Weathered faces lined in pain
Are soothed beneath the artist’s loving hand

Rest in peace, Vincent. ‚̧

Cheesemaking Class

Dallas, TX

I made cheese!

Evidently, you CAN teach an old dog a new trick! I recently learned how to make fresh ricotta, mozzarella, a mozzarella & olive roll and string cheese. The Mozzarella Company, located in Dallas’s Deep Ellum district, has Saturday afternoon classes where you can learn to make these same cheeses. It was a very fun and informative class!


My husband and I took this class along with friends a couple of weeks ago to help celebrate my husband’s birthday. We donned our “closed toe shoes,” arrived at our assigned time and were given aprons and lovely hairnets. After snapping a few selfies of our “lunch lady” look, phones were put away, hands were washed, and instructions were given.

The class started with us being told the history of The Mozzarella Company (begun in 1982 by Paula Lambert). We were also given a behind-the-scenes tour of the working kitchen and facility. Afterwards, we broke into couples, manned a workstation, and began our cheesemaking endeavor. The cheesemaking process starts with raw milk (cow or goat) being pasteurized and cultures being added. This mixture turns into curds and whey. The curds are used to make the mozzarella and the whey becomes the ricotta.

We began the hands-on part of the class with each person stepping up to the industrial-sized cooker and scooping out a ladle full of watery ricotta. We placed each scoopful into a plastic basket where this cottage cheese-looking mass cooled and dried. This became the freshly-made ricotta that we got to take home. Yum!

Next up, we were shown how to make mozzarella balls by stirring curds in hot water, draining, and stretching until it became a “satiny mass.” We were instructed to then push the cheese up through your fists (think lightbulb shape), pinch it off, and toss into cold water to firm it up. Viola! Now we had a bucket full of fresh mozzarella balls to take home as well.

We were successful so far and were ready for the next task – making string cheese. Each couple made string cheese by using the same technique. This time instead of forming a ball shape, we continued pulling and stretching the mozzarella until lumps were out and the cheese was like taffy – in a long, narrow, ribbon-like strip. We then salted the “ribbon” and squeezed fresh lime juice over its length before rolling it up like a ball of yarn. Now we had a string cheese ball, or Queso Oaxaca, to add to our water bucket.

Lastly, we made a mozzarella roll stuffed with olives. We began with the same technique but patted this cheese out flat, like a pizza dough. We then spread a layer of chopped olives evenly over the cheese before rolling the cheese into a tight “log” form. This was wrapped tight in plastic wrap and chilled for us to take home later. I must confess, it was delicious!

After each couple in the class had made the assigned cheeses, we were treated to a Wine and Cheese Tasting! In a small room off the kitchen, there were pre-made plates of The Mozzarella Company’s specialty award-winning, fresh and aged cheeses along with some breads and wines. This cheese plate was delicious! We tried Queso Menonina, Queso Blanco, Hoja Santa (wrapped in a leaf that gives it a mint & sassafras taste), Herb Goat Cheese Log, Deep Ellum Blue (a favorite, for sure!), Dolce Habanero (apricot & habanero…hot!) and Caciotta la Cocina (with all types of colorful herbs from “the kitchen”) and several other types that I have forgotten. At this point of the evening, I was busy stuffing my mouth with delicious cheese samples and not paying attention to our instructor. What a fun and enjoyable experience this had been!

Before we collected our cheeses, gathered up our belongings and said our goodbyes – we were asked to pose for a class photo while wearing our aprons and hairnets. We gladly obliged. And what did we all emphatically shout out prior to getting our photo taken?

CHEESE!! ūüôā

fruits of our labor!
graffiti in Deep Ellum
Max and David (the birthday boy)
some of my purchases!

Rosini Vineyards

Rockwall, TX

Rosini Vineyards

It is time to raise your glass – your wine glass that is. Napa Valley has come to Rockwall, Texas!

My husband and I were fortunate enough to attend Rosini Vineyard’s Grand Opening this past weekend. This beautiful vineyard had caught my eye several times while driving by on my way to and from Terrell. The perfectly-spaced grape vines out front and the gorgeous Italian-inspired building are quite impressive and certainly set the tone for a wonderful escape to Napa, Sonoma, or Tuscany. Let the night begin!

We entered the huge wooden doors and stepped into a large open, beautifully-decorated room and were immediately met by the owner, Greg Rosini. We appreciated his personal greeting and talked for several minutes. We were certainly made to feel welcome and learned a lot about Greg, his wife, and their vision for Rosini Vineyards. This was customer service at its best and something the staff here did very well the entire evening. Kudos!

A brief overview: Located on Hwy 205 between Rockwall and Terrell, Rosini Vineyards is the brainchild of Greg and Carol Rosini. Greg was originally in the restaurant equipment business and Carol worked in the commercial printing industry. They both closed this chapter of their life and decided on a new adventure – a winery it will be! In 2018 they bought the Double D Ranch, a rural 25-acre property in Rockwall County (east of Dallas) that came with ponds, barns, a house and a pool. It took 6 months to renovate the property that now functions as a Airbnb and VRBO rental. The new construction of the Italian-styled building began on the front of the property in the summer of 2020. It is now nearing completion. The entrance gate and a covered arbor in back were still under construction when we were there.

The main bulk of Rosini’s grapes are grown in other regions of Texas, many from east Texas, central Texas and the High Plains (Lubbock and Amarillo). Their first wines in 2019 were made from 19 tons of grapes at a “custom crush” facility in Nacogdoches. Greg and Carol are involved in every step of the winemaking. From the very second the grapes arrive through the crushing, tasting, bottling and label designs – they are 100% hands on.

The first harvest wines in 2019 were a Blanc du Bois (dry and semisweet), Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Viognier, and a sweet Red Blend. Rosini wines were entered in the Lone Star International Wine Competition in 2020 and won a silver medal for their Blanc du Bois (dry version) and their Cabernet Sauvignon. I have tasted both and fully agree with the accolades bestowed upon them!

The Grand Opening we attended awarded us the chance to try these delicious wines along with a fabulous four-course “tasting meal” (think tapas) with wine pairings. We were welcomed with a tasty glass of champagne upon arrival and were given a coupon for a drink of our choice following the meal. Beautiful charcuterie boards were made available to us after our tasting meal so that we could graze, drink, and mingle with the other guests. The lovely sitting area inside the winery and the beautiful views from the back patio had all of us enjoying the food, drink and company. It was a most enjoyable evening!

Rosini Vineyards will soon be open to the public Thursday through Sunday. Stop in and visit their beautiful new grounds and have a glass of their award-winning wines. They will offer a limited food menu as well.

I may see you there. Look for the lady sitting contently with a glass of frozen blueberry/pomegranate/wine drink with a big ole smile on her face!

Cheers!!

Cedar Ridge Nature Preserve

Dallas, Texas

During this pandemic, all travel plans had to be postponed. Since I am one who craves adventure and loves to visit new places and see new things, my only option has been exploring local nature preserves, parks and trails. My husband and I have a list of day trip options to choose from so that we can get outdoors and explore new places while socially distancing and staying safe.

We have had a couple of “just okay” excursions (trashy urban parks). Our latest really enjoyable outing was to Cedar Ridge Nature Preserve which is located about twenty minutes southwest of downtown Dallas. This is a 600 acre tract of “hill country-like” land that I didn’t even know existed!

Our research revealed that the park is maintained by Audubon Dallas and includes 10 miles of walking trails (13 trails total) that loop through a hilly, heavily-forested area that is well-known for its unusual topography. We were sold! Cedar Ridge Preserve sounded like a great choice for an excursion so we packed a picnic lunch, loaded up, and made the 45 minute drive.

We arrived mid-morning on a warm, sunny weekend and the parking lot was packed. Note to self: next time get an earlier start! The main park buildings, education center and water fountains are closed due to the pandemic (restrooms were open). I highly suggest bringing your own water or snacks and wearing sturdy shoes for the trails.

Once inside the preserve, there was a large signage board where the trail heads begin. It shows a detailed map of all the trails, routes, and the distances. There is also information depicting plants and animals you may encounter. There seemed to be trails for all skill levels. We began with the 1 mile Bluebonnet Trail and it was lovely and not crowded. The trail is unpaved with natural rocks, roots, and leaves this time of year. The Bluebonnet Trail had a gentle terrain with a lookout point midway that overlooked the valley and Joe Pool Lake. We also took a few minutes to stand in a “nature blind” to watch a rare bird species (black-capped vireos) dart to and from a watering hole. There was a wide variety of prairie grasses, trees, mosses, plants, cacti and birds that we spotted along the way.

After looping back to the main trailhead, we chose an intermediate trail for our next hike. This second trail had more limestone hills, good canopy cover, several bridges, and more steps. This more diverse terrain was rich with juniper, honeysuckle, yucca, sumac, prickly pear, oak and other types of native trees, grasses and wildflowers. It also granted us a pretty good workout!

There are trails with varying degrees of difficulty. Some are very flat. Some have more inclines, descents, and more cardio challenges. No matter what trail you choose, you will not be able to miss the unique and beautiful limestone hills, bluffs, and ridges that resemble the terrain found in and around the Texas Hill Country.

I was really impressed with this little slice of nature within the Dallas metro area and thoroughly enjoyed my day here. I think we all deserve a place where we can unplug, get outdoors, breathe fresh air, exercise and connect with nature in a personal way. Cedar Ridge Nature Preserve is a bright spot among all the asphalt, heavy traffic, and the grind of our daily lives. Check it out!

I’ll see you on the trail!

Note: Dogs on leashes are welcome. The preserve requires no fee but suggests a $3 donation. Check the website before venturing out due to closures of the park and trails during the pandemic.

ShangriLlama

Royse City, TX

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If you are wondering if you read that title correctly – you did! ShangriLlama is named after the mystical Himalayan utopia from the novel Lost Horizon. This newly-named “Shangri-La” in rural Texas is home to a replica of an Irish castle, numerous barns, pastures, and a woolly pack of pedigreed llamas.

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The owners of ShangriLlama offer pre-booked educational visits, llama walks, llama parties, and llama lessons. I had the privilege of attending a couple of the Llama Lessons – once with friends and more recently with my two adult children. We had a blast!

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Llama lessons are one-hour sessions held in the castle’s fully enclosed and climate-controlled barn. This experience is a little hard to explain but I will give it a try! Once parked on the castle’s sprawling property, you follow the signs, check in, and enter a very nice barn. In the middle of the room, standing on a padded floor and munching on hay, are a pack of gorgeous, multi-colored, four-hundred pound llamas!

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You are then encouraged to mingle and wander all around these gentle creatures. Touch them, take photos (a couple will pose for selfies!), feel their different coats, and get up close and personal with each one. They do not kick. They do not bite. They do not smell. They are simply mesmerizing! 

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Once everyone has arrived and had plenty of llama interaction time, visitors are asked to sit along the barn walls on padded benches. Mama Llama (owner Sharon Brucato) hooks up a microphone and greets everyone before beginning the informative talk about her beloved llamas – myths and facts.

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Some of the myths: Llamas don’t spit on people. They spit on each other as they challenge another for rank in the group or if a fellow llama invades their territory. Sometimes people do get caught in the crossfire, but spit is never intended for humans. Good to know! Llamas also do not kick people. They can kick, but only kick predators such as coyotes that threaten their life. Llamas also do not bite. They do not have any upper front teeth and they have no inclination to bite anything or anybody.¬† After learning these facts, it was easy to understand how all of us were just turned loose in a barn full of llamas with no prior warnings, rules, restrictions, etc.¬† They are very safe creatures to interact with.

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Mama Llama introduces visitors to each of her llamas and gives their age, background, personality, and rank.¬† Dalai Llama, Barack O’Llama, Como T. Llama, Bahama Llama, Pajama Llama, Drama Llama, and Sir Lance-O-Llama all sit, lie, or stand around quietly munching on their hay as we are told facts about their ears, sounds, coats, feet, diets, breeding, medicines, and likes and dislikes. It was all very interesting.

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Did you know that llama sweat glands are in the lower legs? The smell is similar to popcorn! Did you know a llama can run as fast or faster than a horse? I didn’t know that either – they can run 35 miles per hour! Did you know that llamas can be litter box trained like a cat? We saw this first hand. Did you know that three of these llamas are stars? One was in a detective show, one is in a Game Stop commercial, and another is the mascot of a Dallas hotel. How cool is that?

 

This was such a enjoyable morning! I had no idea that llamas were such sociable animals and this interactive experience was so much fun. Hanging out with llamas is certainly not something I get to do everyday and I think all of us – friends and family alike – loved our “llama lessons.”¬† If you love animals and this sounds like something you would enjoy, contact ShangriLlama and book your own llama experience. I hope you enjoy these cool creatures as much as we did!

9041Note: ShangriLlama is a gated, private home owned and operated by the Brucato family. For their privacy and for the safety of their animals, the address is only provided when a reservation is made. All activities require an advance reservation.

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Magnolia Market at the Silos

Waco, Texas

 

I want to give a big heartfelt thanks to Chip and Joanna Gaines for putting Waco in the national limelight! If you are a fan of HGTV, home renovations, or interior decorating – you are most likely familiar with the very popular dynamic duo, Chip and Joanna, from the show Fixer Upper. If you haven’t heard of them, you may be living under a rock.

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Let’s start with their backstory. In 2003 the Gaineses opened their first Magnolia Market in a small storefront on Bosque Street in Waco. They also started Magnolia Homes Construction and worked both of these businesses as they started their family. Chip headed up the construction side – Joanna ran the design part of the business. Their creativity, work ethic, popularity, and down-home Southern charm soon landed them starring roles in the Fixer Upper show in 2014. The rest, they say, “is history.”

 

 

After a couple of years of running their businesses and filming their cable show, Joanna’s home decor business had physically outgrown the original Magnolia Market shop. They now had their eyes on a sprawling downtown Waco property that included 2 huge rusty grain silos, a 20,000 sq. ft. abandoned barn, and 2.5 acres of property. This site had housed the historic Brazos Valley Cotton Oil Company (built in the 1950′s) and had sat in ruin for decades. With their vision, capital, and hard work – the Gaineses opened the Magnolia Market at the Silos in October 2015. They did an impressive job of re-purposing this decayed agricultural property and have now turned it into a goldmine.

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The Magnolia Market at the Silos now welcomes more visitors (200,000 more) than the Alamo each year! There are several parts that make up this compound today. The Magnolia Market is now a nationally- recognized store offering boutique decor, stylish home design accents, books, and gift items. There are two separate areas that make up the huge warehouse. Magnolia Seed & Supply is a little corner garden with a wooden teepee, produce beds, fresh flowers, and a garden shop. Silos Baking Company is a free-standing on-site bakery that sells cupcakes & cookies. These delicious sweet treats are Joanna’s personal recipes and the Gaines family’s handpicked favorites.¬†

 

 

If you have the opportunity to visit, make the time to wander around a bit and take in all the various moving parts of the property and fully appreciate all that it offers. It is not “just a store.” Besides the main warehouse building, iconic silos, and garden area – there is a large central green field (with artificial turf) for lawn games, picnic tables, benches, food trucks and gorgeous landscaping and design elements throughout.

 

 

While visiting the Magnolia Market last week,¬†my mind kept flashing back to certain elements of Disney World. There were quite a few similarities between the two places. Both offered a nice, family-friendly in a “homey” environment. Everything was neat as a pin. Every employee was in uniform and was friendly and helpful. All displays were inviting and well-stocked. Every section was streamlined to get you in and out as efficiently as possible. There was not one piece of trash to be found anywhere and every single area we visited was clean, neat and pristine. And unfortunately, very much like Disney, there were lines everywhere!! It WAS crowded but most enjoyable, even after all was said and done!

 

 

Despite the crowds of people and the Texas summer heat I encountered last week, I still say that Magnolia Market is well worth a visit. It is such a great concept and lets you experience the work of Chip & Joanna Gaines first-hand. The show really doesn’t give this place the justice it deserves. I am so glad that they were able to see their hard work pay off and their dreams come to fruition. I also give “kudos” to the Gaines family for their tireless work in the revitalization of Waco (they employ over 600 people to help run their various businesses).¬† You make Texas proud.

 

Ham Orchards

Terrell, TX

After Mother’s Day rolls around every year, my thoughts turn to driving out to Terrell, Texas to Ham Orchards. Let’s just say I may have a small, peach ice cream addiction – nothing life threatening – just a need to satisfy my sweet tooth with fresh, homemade peach ice cream a few times throughout the summer months. Ham’s is the place for me ¬†to satisfy this craving!

Ham Orchards is located east of Terrell and resembles the country stores of times gone by. One can buy ice cream, fresh produce, jams and jellies, pickles, and BBQ sandwiches. In other words, there is something for everyone. This business started in 1979 and through the years has grown to 5 orchards, 10,000 fruit trees, and covers 100 acres.

When you drive out to Ham’s, you will notice three main buildings on the property surrounded by the orchards and fields. The first is the largest building and is the Farm Market. Behind the market is a small BBQ place and restrooms. Past those buildings is a large covered pavilion that comfortably seats 200 patrons who want to eat their ice cream or BBQ sandwiches in the shade. There is plenty of parking in front of and to the side of these buildings.

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fresh peach ice cream

The Farm Market is where you line up to buy the ice cream. There are two flavors: fresh peach and fresh strawberry. You can buy a cup or cone on-site or buy frozen pints to take home and enjoy later. People drive from all over the Dallas metroplex to rural Terrell for this frozen treat and I certainly understand why!

Take time to grab a cart and shop in the rest of the market. There is a fudge bar with all types of flavors. There is a bakery aisle with homemade scones, fried pies, cakes and fruit pies. Check out the freezer and refrigerated cases for salsas, spreads and dips, and delicious frozen casseroles (chicken pot pie, Mexican beef casserole or chicken spaghetti). There are many shelves filled with cider, honey, salad dressings, pickles, sauces, relishes, jams & jellies, and marinades. I love the Bread & Butter pickles, pickled okra and blackberry jam!

A large portion of the market contains all the locally grown produce. Fresh tomatoes, onions, squashes, cucumbers, melons and berries always seem to be available. Large boards list all the types of peaches and when they will be available. ¬†This past weekend when we were there, “Flavor Rich” was the type of peach that was available.¬†

As we were leaving Ham’s this last time, we decided to order ¬†BBQ sandwiches to take home with us for dinner. I have heard how much everyone loves the Peach Pulled Pork sandwich, but we opted for the plain BBQ Pulled Pork. (I am not a big fan of “sweet” with “savory!”) The bun was fresh, the pulled pork was tender and delicious and I really liked their tangy BBQ sauce. Very nice!

If you have some free time, drive out to Ham Orchards for some ice cream, fresh produce, and BBQ. Ham’s is open 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (closed on Sundays). They are only open mid-May through mid-August¬†so don’t delay! They are three miles east of Terrell on Hwy 80.

Enjoy!!

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