Tag Archive | Rockwall blogger

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 Hill State Park

Cedar Hill, TX

Duck Pond

Between Covid-19 and Snowmageddon 2021 keeping us all indoors, it is time for a little outdoor adventure! Personally, I am very tired of always being inside and try to plan a weekend outing for me and my husband when the weather cooperates. During this pandemic, we have discovered that Cedar Hill has some great areas for hiking. We have already ventured to Dogwood Canyon, Cedar Mountain Nature Preserve and Cedar Ridge Preserve – all located in this area south of Dallas. Our last planned adventure was to Cedar Hill State Park.

Cedar Hill State Park is located just twenty minutes from downtown Dallas in Ellis County along the shores of Joe Pool Lake. We had to make reservations to enter the park ahead of time at the cost of $7 per person. This is easily done online prior to your visit. If you have a Texas State Park pass, the visit will be free but you still need a reservation to enter due to the pandemic or you will be turned away.

Once you are admitted into the park and pass the entrance, the roads are well-paved and there is plenty of signage to guide you. We studied our map, chose our destination and headed to the Talala Overlook. We parked here in the small parking lot at the trailhead and began our first hike of the day. The word “talala” is actually a Cherokee wood meaning “woodpecker.” I kept an eye out for one on the way to the overlook but sadly I never saw one.

Talala Overlook is one of the highest points in the park with great views of Joe Pool Lake. There is a 1.5 mile loop trail that led us through diverse terrain. The dirt path meanders through thickets, over creeks, and among the Blackland Prairie head-high grasses. This was definitely an enjoyable nature hike for me! I would rank this as a “moderate” trail for hikers due to all the ups, downs, tree roots, rocks and overgrown sections. We saw lots of wild animal scat on the trail making us wonder what animals had been on the same trail very recently! Yikes!

Dogs are welcome on all the hiking trails but they must be kept on a leash. If you do bring your pet into the park, make sure you have proof of a Rabies vaccination handy if asked by a ranger or upon admittance at the gate. It is a state park regulation.

After our first hike and a lunch break on the lakeshore, we loaded up and headed to our next stop – the Duck Pond Trail. This is the shortest trail in the park at just .7 miles long (unless you miss the signs like we did and make it about a 3 mile hike!). It is a partially shaded, wide trail that starts at the trailhead near the parking area and loops back. This is a very popular trail for families with children or anyone that prefers an “easy” trail.

The Duck Pond Trail runs through a forested area with several small bridges over the “rough” parts. The actual pond is located on the edge of the park and is a perfect place to spot deer, ducks and other wildlife coming for a drink. We saw several tracks but no actual animals. It is very pleasant, peaceful and beautiful here. This is a great spot for a picnic, rest stop or photo op.

When you take a wrong turn on the Duck Pond Trail like we did, you end up on the Plum Valley Overlook Trail. It was a fortunate mistake! This trail was a bit more intensive but still pretty easy. The trail led us mostly uphill, through prairie grasses and cacti, and ended up in a heavily forested area. The scenic overlook gave us great views of the Tallgrass Blackland Prairie and where it converges with the White Rock Limestone Escarpment that covers much of this area.

One area we did not explore within the park boundaries was the Penn Farm. Our trail map stated the following: The Penn family farmed this area for over 100 years, beginning in 1854. Today there are remains of old buildings, the estate house, and antique farm equipment on the grounds. There is a nice little trail here with old photos and scripted descriptions of what you are viewing. We will have to explore this area on our next visit!

Overall, we had a lovely day here. It was so nice being able to get outdoors, stretch our legs, exercise, and breathe in the fresh air. We truly enjoyed this state park and all the trails on a gorgeous winter day in Texas. The best part – our little spoiled yorkie is becoming quite the “trail dog!” Who knew?

Dogwood Canyon

Cedar Hill, TX

My pandemic adventures continue!

The only “safe” travel plans for me these days are those that are outdoors and where I can socially distance from others. This has led me to explore areas around Dallas when weather permits. This blog details a recent Saturday visit to Dogwood Canyon in Cedar Hill. Located just thirty minutes south of downtown Dallas, the landscape here looks as if you have driven five hours south, down around the Texas Hill Country.

Dogwood Canyon is a 200-acre wildlife refuge and forested nature preserve with hiking trails and bird-viewing areas. Due to Covid-19, the visitor center, classrooms, picnic area, restrooms, etc. are all closed but the trails are open. After researching the park, I made reservations online one week prior to our visit. The available admission times are Fridays and Saturdays from 8:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. and the center currently only allows 10 reservations per hour. The trails and parking lot gates are locked promptly at 2:00 so make sure you allow enough time to enjoy your visit.

Dogwood Canyon is a true canyon that rises 300 feet from the canyon floor to the highest hilltop ridge. Most of Texas lies in the Blackland Prairie region but this area is actually part of the White Rock Escarpment (once part of an ancient sea). When driving into the park on I-20 you will notice the white Austin chalk hills that reach an elevation of 800 feet in some areas. This is very unique geology for Dallas County.

This park opened in 2011 after the land was donated by a wealthy conservation-minded owner who had bought the land from a communications station. He had originally chosen to build a house but decided against it. There is an unusually large concrete pit in front of the visitor center that remains from the previous AT&T site when it was in operation. Instead of the land being a single-family home with acreage, it is now a natural ecosystem and home to many native trees, plants, birds and wildlife – some very rare or endangered.

As far as hiking options, there are three miles of trails within the forested canyon area. The Canyon Loop Trail is an easy half-mile trail near the visitor center. My husband and I took the more strenuous West Rim Trail which is a 1.65 mile trail with a modest 150 ft. elevation incline. This trail allows you panoramic views of the canyon, nearby areas, and Joe Pool Lake. It was very tranquil, quiet and most enjoyable. We only saw three other couples the entire time we were on the trail. Let’s just say this excursion was well within the Covid-19 guidelines for safety!

The leafy, unpaved trails are well-marked and lead hikers through wooded areas of oaks, junipers, dogwoods, and ash trees. We noticed many dormant greenbrier, grapevines, poison ivy and Virginia creeper vines in the undergrowth off the trails. There were rocks, boulders, fallen trees, small creeks, and moss-covered stumps all along the way. There was much more “color” on the trails than we expected during this time of year. We spotted lots of green winter grasses, blue & red berries, yellow & white lichens, neon green mosses, and many colorful leaves underfoot. With clear blue skies overhead and warm temps, it was a most enjoyable day.

We didn’t spot any wildlife other than birds on this hike but we did see scat on the trail. There are several species of plants (orchids and lilies) and birds (warblers and hummingbirds) that are very rare and call this canyon home. I would love to return here in the Spring months to see the forest wildflowers, flowering vines and dogwood trees in full bloom. I bet it would be beautiful!

I highly suggest visiting Dogwood Canyon for a day hike. It is a great place for a change of scenery and a nice walk in the woods. Get out of the house, unplug, recharge, connect with nature and get moving! It does a body good.

I’ll see you on the trail!

Jimmy’s Food Store

Dallas, Texas

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I had been hearing rumblings regarding Jimmy’s Food Store in Dallas for many years. I finally made the trip into Dallas for my first visit before the Christmas holiday (which I would not suggest due to the crowds) and now I am hooked!

Jimmy’s Food Store is a local Dallas gem that has been owned and operated by the DiCarlo family since 1966. They carry imported Italian foods, fresh produce, and wine. Jimmy’s can best be described as a little Italian grocery store/deli/sandwich counter.¬†

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The neighborhood around Jimmy’s is a little sketchy. Parking is abysmal on weekends and peak times. The food aisles are narrow and crowded. Checkout lines are long.¬† Nonetheless, Jimmy’s is still worth a trip. It is essentially a NYC deli without the plane ride hassle. All the imperfections somehow make it that much more authentic.

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At the store entrance, grab a shopping cart or basket. There you may order a $4 glass of wine or cup of espresso to sip on while you shop or wait for a sandwich order. As you walk through the haphazardly organized aisles, you will find many varieties of sauces, pastas, olives, pesto, jams, relishes, olive oils, flours, etc. A couple of racks display freshly baked breads. Several shelves are stacked with Italian cookies, sweets, and candies.

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Jimmy’s carries anything and everything you would need to make the perfect Italian meal. And if you don’t want to cook, they sell frozen homemade lasagnas, pizzas, ravioli, manicotti, gnocchi, and desserts. All that I have tried are delicious! The refrigerated section is full of pizza dough, ricotta, mozzarella, and marinara sauces. One deli counter sells all types of cheeses, deli meats, olives, peppers, etc. The prosciutto, parma ham, and provolone were outstanding.

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At the back of the store is the sandwich counter that doubles as a cold meat deli counter. Meats that are sold here include homemade Italian sausages, cured bacon, steaks, and meatballs. There is a poster tacked up to the side with sandwich options. I have tried the muffaletta and the meatball sub and both were excellent and generously portioned. There are a couple of small tables scattered throughout the store and out front, if you choose to eat on location.

 

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Jimmy’s would not be a place where I would shop weekly but I will certainly shop here for special occasion meals. The meatball & sausage lasagna, panettone, fennel meatballs, cheeses and deli meats were well enjoyed by my family over the holidays. My husband and I have recently had the frozen manicotti, stuffed shells, prosciutto, and meatballs and all were easy and delicious.

Go there – get some – enjoy! Viva, Italia!!

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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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Mission San Jose’

San Antonio, TX

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I had a lovely girl’s trip recently to San Antonio and one of our highlights was visiting a couple of the old Spanish missions along the Mission Trail. I am quite the art history buff and had always wanted to see a couple of the missions besides The Alamo, which I always enjoy visiting.¬†

The Mission San Jose’ y San Miguel de Aguayo (proper name) is known as the “Queen of the Missions.” It was built in 1720, just two years after The Alamo was founded and only five miles downriver. Upon completion, it had the reputation of being the most beautiful church along the entire frontier of New Spain. It is the largest colonial mission still standing today.

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The five remaining missions are located near the San Antonio River and not far from downtown San Antonio. There is actually an official Mission Trail where one can walk, bike, or drive to each of the missions or just choose to visit a couple – which is what we did on this day. Mission San Jose’ was quite easy to find and parking was plentiful. We actually approached from the rear wall which gave us very impressive views of a garden, statues, the church, dome and bell tower.

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The church itself is quite stunning. It was constructed out of locally quarried Texas limestone by Spanish and Native American craftsmen. The flying buttresses, carvings, statues, bell towers, an ornate rose window, and quatrefoil patterns are very indicative of the European influence. The building surfaces are now worn and weathered but at one time were covered with brightly painted stucco. I imagine that 300 years ago the church facade was quite a sight to see with vivid blues, golds, and reds painted in large geometric patterns. I am certain the locals and natives had never seen anything quite like it!

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After walking around the outside of this main building, we passed through the large decorative doors into the sanctuary of the church. It was simple, ornate, and quite beautiful (regular services are still held here). We walked the expansive grounds of the mission and explored the walled fortification that provided workshops, storage spaces, a granary, visitor lodging, and homes for the priests and Native Americans. There were also wells and stone ovens scattered throughout the property that gave me a hint of what life was really like inside these walls in the 1700s.

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After exploring the property, we headed to the Visitor Center (located outside the walls) and enjoyed the displays and artifacts. We also watched a 23 minute film in the park theater that told the history of this mission, the land, and the people. It was most interesting and I highly suggest taking the time to learn more about Mission San Jose’ to fully appreciate its history and purpose. I now understand more about the pageantry, art, food, celebrations, and architecture of San Antonio after seeing how the blending of Spanish and Indian cultures began here and created the “Tejano” culture that we know today.

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Mission San Jose’ is an expansive, well-maintained property that includes the historic mission and grounds, a book store, a visitor’s center, free parking, and restrooms. It is well worth a visit when in the San Antonio area. Very interesting!

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The five San Antonio Missions are actually part of the National Park Service and are also¬† UNESCO World Heritage Sites.¬† These missions represent the largest concentration of Spanish colonial missions in North America.¬† U.S. Park Rangers offer guided tours at Mission San Jose’¬† (check times at the visitor center).

Poston Gardens

Waxahachie, TX

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I may never have the opportunity to travel to Holland in my lifetime to see tulips, but I have made it to a couple of tulip farms in Texas. That may be as close as I ever get! Does that count?

Last year my husband and trekked a hour north of Dallas to Texas Tulips in Pilot Point, Texas. This year, we drove an hour south of Dallas to quaint Waxahachie, Texas to check out the new Poston Gardens. 

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We visited  Poston Gardens this past weekend and were some of the first visitors on a beautiful Sunday morning. Parking was on-site and the entrance fee was $10 per person. Tulip stems run $3.00 each and you may keep both the tulip and bulb. The staff was most helpful and very friendly. We soon had a plan and a large plastic basket and were off on our way to pick tulips. 

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Several staff members drive carts throughout the fields and we quickly hitched a ride to the bottom (and largest) field that is home to over 400,000 tulips. The colors were a sensory overload! After picking and exploring here, we worked our way back up to three other fields on foot. Walking is easy, all the paths are well-marked. Rows of tulips are spaced far enough apart to make it all very easy.

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The flowers are breathtakingly beautiful! Candy colors, neon colors, soft pastels, pale whites – you name it – they are in full bloom!! There were 26 types of tulips planted this year and I loved and wanted them all. We managed to come home with 40 fresh stems (quite a few bulbs) and currently have two gorgeous tulip bouquets brightening up our home. A staff member gave us info on how to preserve our tulip bulbs so that we can plant them ourselves this winter. Hopefully we will be growing a few beautiful tulips in our yard next Spring! Fingers crossed.

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These tulip fields in Waxahachie are very new. Poston Gardens just opened on March 15th of this year. The owner, John Poston, has planted 40 acres of this 60 acre farm with over 1 million tulips. Mr. Poston decided to use his farm land to grow and sell tulips to help support Daymark Living¬†(a facility located next door to Poston Gardens). Daymark is a resort-style community that teaches people with intellectual and developmental delays to live more independently.¬†Poston’s 23-year-old son was born with Down syndrome and once he turned 18, there weren’t a lot of options for him to live a normal, independent life. Frustrated, Poston planned and built Daymark to help his son and others like him gain valuable life skills.¬†¬†For every tulip sold, a portion of the profits goes directly to Daymark and its mission. Some of the Daymark residents even work in the gardens.

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The four large tulip fields are spread throughout the gently rolling farmland with some beautiful views. There are tents at a couple of locations where staffers will count, wrap, and prepare your tulips for the trip home. There are also restrooms, food trucks, and picnic tables located on the property. You can spend as little or as much time here as you choose. 

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If you are interested in tulip picking this year, GO SOON!  Poston Gardens will only be open for a few more weeks or as long as the tulips remain (usually through April). It was a fun experience for us both and makes us feel even better knowing that we contributed to a good cause.

Enjoy!

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(Suggestions: 1. Take a trowel if you want to extract the bulbs with the blooms.  2. Take a large container of cool water to place tulips in for the ride home  3. Wear gardening gloves to keep hands and nails clean!)  

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Lip Smacking Food Tours

Las Vegas

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I recently celebrated a milestone birthday in Vegas with friends and family and scheduled a food adventure with Lip Smacking Food Tours.¬†What a great way to “spice up” the usual Vegas trip! We scheduled the three-hour afternoon food tour, considered this our late lunch, and had plenty of time left for a night on the town and a late dinner. It worked out perfectly.

I have not been to Vegas in almost fifteen years and had no idea how much the restaurant business had grown. There are now over 350 restaurants on The Strip and every celebrity chef has their own place. There seems to be an absence of the old 99 cent steak buffets that were so popular in years past. Those are now replaced by high-end, fine dining establishments in every hotel and casino. Times they are a changin’…..for the better, in my opinion.

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After researching “things to do” in Vegas before our trip, I came across the highly rated food tours. The Lip Smacking Food Tours seemed to be the¬† perfect way to visit four high-end restaurants and taste a sampling of some very raved about dishes. What was not to like? You visit four amazing restaurants to sample their food and drink their craft cocktails (optional). It is advertised to be an easy walk between all the stops. The guide will fill you in on local art, Las Vegas history, and give you inside information that only the locals know. Sounds good – I signed us up!

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We met at The Focus, a beautiful water wall at the Aria Hotel. There were seven of us and seven others who joined the group. Whitney was our awesome (and gorgeous!) tour guide. She was extremely knowledgeable about the food scene and about Vegas in general.  The tour was relaxed (but not too slow) and very informative (without being boring ). Whitney kept us moving but never hurried.  In addition to the food sampling, we got a cultural/art tour and an overall V.I.P. Vegas experience. There were also a couple of completely unexpected surprises along the way. The tour was way more fun (and way more food) than just going to dinner somewhere.

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After a brief introduction to the tour guidelines, our first stop was Javier’s, a high-end Mexican restaurant well-known for premium tequilas and beautiful art work. We were seated in a gorgeous, private dining room ($3500 per night rental) at a beautifully decorated table. We sampled a variety of tasty salsas and chips, enchiladas (crab and organic chicken), traditional rice and beans, and a pineapple margarita (yum!). Delicioso!

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Our second stop was Estiatorio Milos, a Greek and Mediterranean seafood restaurant. We were seated at round tables with great views and displays of fresh vegetables and seafood were all around us. Food here was served family style. We feasted on baked bread with Greek olive oil and sprigs of fresh oregano. The Greek Salad (with delicious feta cheese), grilled octopus, and the Milos Special (fried zucchini tower with tzatziki and cheese) was delicious and most enjoyable. Every item was fresh and tasty. Loved it all.

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Our third stop was Momofuku, a new Asian/Korean restaurant. We began with Spicy Cucumbers and toasted cashews. Our second course was Pork Buns which were large bao buns stuffed with thick slices of pork belly.  The last course was a fantastic Chickpea Ramen. The roasted chickpeas, scallions, miso and bok choy created a great mix of flavors and it was most enjoyable. We sat by a large, graffiti-style wall mural that was really cool. This stop was a feast for eyes and bellies!

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At this point in the tour, we were pretty full….but we were on to our final stop. Our last restaurant was Cucina by Wolfgang Puck. What a way to end a food tour! This is the celebrity’s chef’s¬†latest rustic Italian restaurant. We had desserts here and what a treat it was. The Salted Caramel Budino was creamy and delicious. The Tiramisu was perfection. The Vanilla Zeppole (think donut hole) with raspberry sauce was sweet and tart, all at the same time. The Cremoso sponge cake and mousse was my favorite. Delizioso! Since it was my birthday, I got a specially decorated plate and a birthday serenade by an Italian singer. It was a perfect ending to a most perfect day.

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At each restaurant, the staff was welcoming, prompt, and professional. We were seated at the best tables in the place. Printed menus were provided at each stop detailing the food and beverages. We were served in a quick and timely manner and any additional drink order was easily handled. The entire tour was top notch and quickly became one of the favorite things about our Vegas trip. We had been entertained, educated, and fed the best of the best. The complete experience, from beginning to end, was perfectly executed and my group thoroughly enjoyed it. Lip Smacking Food Tours did it up right!

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If you are planning a trip to Las Vegas in the near future and are a self-proclaimed “foodie,”¬† I highly suggest trying out Lip Smacking Food Tours. I will leave you with a few simple words of advice: go hungry, wear comfy shoes, pace yourself, and wear stretchy pants.

Bon appetit!

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