MONDAY, MAY 31, 2004
Painted churches

It all started when Mom saw a special on TV (The TX Country Reporter) about the painted churches of TX. So this morning we traveled to East TX (earlier we saw St. Mary's church in Fredricksburg) and saw a great collection of turn-of-the-century churches.

First we headed to Serbin to see St. Paul's Lutheran Church. When you first walk in you notice that there are two levels and the ceiling is a striking sky blue. When you look closer you notice the beatiful stenciling in the corners of joints. This church was built by Wendish immigrants from Hamburg, Germany in 1870. Opposite of traditional Roman churches, the Women and children sat in the lower level while the men were above. The congregation creatively decorated the columns with turkey feathers dipped in gray paint to resemble marble. Interestingly enough, Pfeifer, a resident Austinite built the organ and even created his own wooden pipes.

Next was the Nativity of Mary, Blessed Virgin Catholic Church in High Hill. Built by Dielmann in 1906 it was constructed out of dark red brick in a Gothic revival style. The interior is made of wood and protected from fire by the brick outside. The rich stained glass allowed for little light to be brought in, creating a mystic atmosphere (and making it very challenging to take pictures). According to Gothic cathedral architecture, the higher the church the more divine- this one definately inspires respect.

Then we travelled to Ammansville to visit St. John the Baptist Catholic Church. This was the third church build on this property. The first was destroyed by the 1909 hurricane and was said to be very ornate. The second destroyed by fire and replaced by the 1919 structure. Personally, out of all the churches, this simple one had a great feeling of community with its close pews and great painted detail. The most striking feature when you walk in are the pink walls- but they actually seem to fit!

Saints Cyril and Methodius Church in Dubina again had a sky blue ceiling with colorful stencils adorning all curves and edges. Unfortunately we were unable to enter the church due to locked grates, but we could step in the small alcove. We stood in the second church built on that spot since the first was destroyed by the 1909 hurricane too. Yet we did get to see a bit of the historical past- the church's steeple also set on top of the original church, created by Tom Lee who was a freed slave and blacksmith.

Lastly we entered St. Mary's Church of the Assumption in Praha. One of the oldest churches, built in 1895, it is a large Czech church at over 130 feet at the top. The alters are hand-carved and embelished paintings by a beloved priest really add to the environment. The paintings were my favorite- murals of ferns and lush exotic places. The high ceiling gave a cool respite from the hot TX heat.

As an aside, while riding in the car (it was nice of dad to drive), I finished Issac Asmov's I,Robot - excellent book of short stories about the futuristic creation of robots. After a hot day traveling we dinned at the Sirloin Stockade and had our fill of steak, ribs, and salad :) The perfect end to a great TX adventure (I love buffets)!

Posted by Laura @ 10:28 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

SUNDAY, MAY 30, 2004
Frog legs and other delicacies

After a slow and relaxing day of sleeping in and finding some books at Half Price Books, we had a smorgasbord for supper. It started with shrimp scampi and fried shrimp (I must remember to add cornmeal to the flour - it makes all of the difference). Mark tried his hands at making hushpuppies- rather dense, but not bad. Mom made boiled snow crab with a little extra cyanne for a kick - the meat was so tender, I can't believe that I never liked them before. Dad prepared the frog legs rather like chicken (although they were soaked in salt water first). They were great, but they don't taste like chicken. The only weird thing was the tiny dark veins throughout the white meat- I recommend not looking at what you are eating, because the taste is great! We were all stuffed. Mission accomplished :)

Posted by Laura @ 10:21 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

SATURDAY, MAY 29, 2004

Birthdays are always very important, and it starts at breakfast. My favorite breakfast meal is strawberry crepes with vanilla ice cream (Blue Bell) while I opened my wonderful birthday presents. After an enthusiastic morning, we watched Miricle - another great movie about the 1980 USA hockey team's success. That afternoon, I made peach jam with Mom. Dad had gotten some cute canning jars which worked great. We all enjoyed Mark's first batch of Mozzarella- clean and refreshing taste. After working all afternoon, Dad got a great supper of KFC and we relaxed watching The Core (not recomended for the science concious) laughed and groaned and then enjoyed a delicious cake and ice cream. A very full and fun day!

Posted by Laura @ 10:15 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

FRIDAY, MAY 28, 2004
Fresh peaches

I never liked peaches until I had some fresh from the source. Every year I look forward to picking peaches in Fredricksburg, TX. We revisited the same farm as two years ago and picked 1/2 bushel of fresh, ripe peaches and 2 pints of tart blackberries. After a quick lunch we looked at a beautiful painted church - St. Mary's. There are actually two churches on the site. The first we entered was the oldest, almost all white with some beatiful squares of pastel stained glass in the windows. This native stone church replaced the original log house church in 1862. The second was amazing- a pure architectural treat. The Gothic structure was created in 1908 with native stone. The beatiful pipe organ has been overhalled from its original pump to electrical. The dark green ceiling adds to the gothic ambiance and the lady singing while we visited showed off the fabulous acoustics well.

On the way home there were carpets of golden coreopsis, indian blankets and mexican hats which led us straight to the Wildseed Farms in full bloom. Now they have a butterfly exhibit and theme gardens. Out of all of the flowers, I love the californian poppies. This year I am growing the orange, and Mark got me seeds of the red variety too.

After a day on the road, we had dinner at my parents favorite mexican food resturant, Rio Grande where I had my requiste chicken burrito- delicious as always. We relaxed at home by watching Calendar Girls, a wonderful British movie- touching and hilarious!

Posted by Laura @ 10:07 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

THURSDAY, MAY 27, 2004
Surprises in TX

Today was our second day in TX. Yesterday, my parents surprised us at the airport with their new car - a Hyundai. They smartly went for an all white car - greatly reducing the heat caused by the hot TX sun. We had a smooth ride to eat lunch at Quality Seafood - they have the best shrimp ever! After unpacking and a nice nap, we had a yummy supper of soup and salad topped off with a game of Carcassonne - neither Mark nor I won our own game ;)

Today, I awoke to fresh donuts from the local Round Rock Donuts - my favorite is tied between the bite-sized donut holes and delicious cherry bizmarks. That morning Dad and Mark went to a local beer shop Austin Homebrew where Mark got Mozarella cheese kit and Dad got a book on how to brew (will there be a keg of "Chester's original" the next time we are in TX?). Meanwhile Mom and I went to 13 different shops looking for the perfect red bridesmaids dress. We finally found the perfect one in a consignment store behind Highland mall. I also found two great summer dresses for this summer's two weddings at Bealls. Our one relaxation was lunch break at La Madelines, a local french resturant with the best salads and chicken frieze ever! After all the shopping, It was great to come home and find Mark and Dad cooking dinner- roasted chicken, rosemary potatoes, broccoli and cheese, with rice and mushroom risotto- excellent gormet dishes! After dinner we watched Paycheck - awsome action-packed mystery, and all went out to Dairy Queen for a treat.

Posted by Laura @ 9:59 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Rich family vacation

We finally arrived in WV late Friday afternoon. Soon after, Matt and Sarah arrived with Will and Sam, it's always good to see them and see how much their kids have grown. This was our first time seeing Sam, and he was adorable. We fed and held Sam while he quietly gurgled and grabbed our hands. For Will, we pulled out the 48 piece puzzle with colorful sea creatures from the Seattle Aquarium, one we helped him with a bit as he figured out the new colors and configurations; he's speaking in complete sentences and shows all signs that the baby genius tapes worked! :) That evening, I played a quick game of Gene Pool with Dad, and we talked in general about games and some of my designs, prompting Matt and I to begin development on a Reformation game.

On Saturday, the whole Higgs family, Debbie, Jeff, Mathew and Andrew arrived. As Debbie is a game maven, we were eager to play some of our new games with her. We pulled out Carcassonne and had a great time exploring the French countryside building cities and roads, and they really got into the strategy and farmers.

In the afternoon, we packed up into two minivans and headed out the the local animal farm, the Good Evening Ranch (which turns out to have a pretty snazzy webpage..) We first saw parrots and baby alligators inside the entry/ticket building, all safely contained. Outside Laura fed a minature zebra and donkey. There were lions, and tigers and thankfully no bears. We did find a few prairie dogs running around their area and poking their heads up for pictures. Mark enjoyed the ringtail lemurs, his favorite animal, and Laura wandered around the horse barn happily ;)

Returning home for dinner, we had wonderful lasagna, potato salad and many cookies: sugar cookies, and peanut butter cookies. It's always a vacation to the Riches with lots of cookies. To escape the manic activities of too many kids, we went on a calm and peaceful walk and saw many blooming blackberries. My Dad was nice enough to dig one up for us to take back with us; it has been growing up every year in front of the house, despite Dad's best laid plans to smother it. We hope it survives and can populate our yard someday. Tomorrow it's off to church and then back to Wisconsin, for a brief stop before heading to TX and more family fun.

Posted by Mark @ 9:45 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

THURSDAY, MAY 20, 2004
Trials of driving...

It's summer vacation time! Our first trip is off to WV and to see the Riches. Matt and Sarah, along with Will and Sam will be arriving from NC, and Debbie and Jeff Higgs and their two kids Matt and Andrew will be there from Pittsburg. But on the way, only an hour out of Madison, our car broke down in stop-and-go traffic in Chicago. We pulled into the nearest Oasis to discover green liquid leaking out the front and bubbling antifreeze. A quick call to AAA, and we had ourselves a tow to a local mechanic. It turned out we needed radiator and motor fan, serious operations that would take all day.

So to bide our time, we played some games we'd brought for the whole family. We set up shop at the Comfort Inn across the street, taking over a table in the lobby, and began exploring the french countryside with Carcassone. We also pulled out Gene Pool, a game I'm currently working on, and whiled away some more time creating mutant genes.

We could not survive on games alone, so we had a bite to eat at Tiffany's Restaurant, where they seated us at the same table for both lunch and dinner. After 7 hours, we finally were able to get back on the road again. With most of our day spent, we only made it to outside of Cincinatti that night, finding a nice Comfort Inn to sleep and head out again the next morning.

Posted by Mark @ 9:38 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

The Penguin Ultimatum

To celebrate the end of the school year, we journeyed to Pegasus Games to pick up Eight foot Llama's The Penguin Ultimatum. It turns out the penguins are extremely bored, living their whole lives on an iceberg without any parties. So they petition the emperor and demand a large party. You as players are the court jesters, hired to create parties for the penguins. It's a good, fun, tile laying game with cards, where you surround performers with pengquins and invite certain ones to be your special guests, thereby earning points when they are amused. One of the funniest lines in the rules is "Unfortunately, his penguin prefers tap-dancing sheep," causing us to say "dance for me!" whenever a performer went on stage, no matter what their talent. We will definitely play this game again, and hopefully with friends soon, as it works with up to 4 players. Hooray to independent game publishers!

Posted by Mark @ 5:14 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

TUESDAY, MAY 11, 2004
Salmon Steaks from Washington

Tonight we had Burr and Natalie over to share some of our fresh salmon steaks from Washington. Mark cooked the steaks over our newish grill, which gave very nice char marks and cooked the fish very evenly. None of us had ever had salmon steaks and didn't realize that there were still some clear bones. Overall there weren't many bones, but there were enough to encourage the eager to be wary. In addition to our steaks we had garlic mashed potatoes and fresh corn on the cob. Overall it was a dinner fit for a king and a wonderful experience to share with friends.

Everyone is busy this time of year, so we only had time for one game, the Queen's Necklace, which turned out better now that we had a feel for what was going on (only Natalie hadn't played before, and she ended up winning). It really varies between 2 and 4 players, with only 2, we end up having large hands, but with 4, sometimes you get half as many, and you never get a second chance at a card.

Posted by Laura @ 3:43 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Mike Wade's Wedding

We started our trip to the west coast at Chicago's O'Hare airport. This was my first time on a 747 and it was great! First of all, it was a direct flight- always nice. Secondly, there was a movie Along Came Polly - I admit not one of the best shows and I felt really bad for the ferret (even if they were all ferret stunts it looked painful). Lastly, we ordered an on-board meal, another first for me - We split a great greek salad!

This was my first time on the west coast, Mark's second time to Washington. We had a great time exploring the sites in our fancy Honda rental car - but goodness those brakes were touchy! The night we got in we had a fabulous dinner at Dan and Sarah's condo. In true Washington fashion, we had grilled salmon :) and Sarah served up a lovely treat of mashed sweet potatoes - I never knew they could be so good! With a side of grilled zuchinni and a fresh salad with Daniel's favorite (avocados) along with some wonderful homemade oils (loved the basil - I'll have to work up to the pepper one).

After a tour of their lovely abode - I am very impressed with all of the great work they have put in - and a bit of chatting and catching up, Sarah dished out some sweet homemade coffee ice cream. We ended the evening playing Squint - a great shape game to test any mind, and some of Mark's Ultra Violets. A very good day indeed!

Saturday morning we were free to explore Washington in our fancy car. First was the Seattle Aquarium - there was a great tidal display where you can touch starfish (I didn't realize they were rough on the white bumps and slimy on their skin) and urchins (we put our finger on the dull spines and the other spines wrapped around us gently ;) There were also some playful otters, a lazy ring of moon jellies, and an excellent display on Salmon. In the gift shop we picked up a nice wooden puzzle for our 2 year old nephew Will.

Next we were off to the Pike Place Market. After a large number of steps (I would have thought we were in San Francisco) we came to a very impressive and well established market. Our first site was the famous Pike Place Fish Market - they really do throw fish (and nicely enough they gave the crowd a stuffed fish to toss around). We got some salmon steaks to take home- in fact everywhere we went there were wares ready to take on a flight home. We saw a great spice market Sarah had mentioned with an extensive collection of tea pots. There were painters and many food shops. On the street we saw one man playing an Australian digerido, a quintet of string instruments, even a piano!

For lunch we had a lovely sandwich with fresh bread and crunchy chips. Then we wandered down to the chef's dream shop: Sur La Table. Every corner of the store was covered by cooking goodies. For a treat we picked out some unusual cookie cutters including our recently seen tropical fish. On the way through the flower section we purchased a large canvas handbag (for future use as a grocery bag- no more plastic sacs!) Overall it was a beautiful day for an excursion into downtown Seattle.

After a quick change and rest at the hotel, we set out for Mike Wade's wedding. Everyone looked so beautiful, the programs were elegantly tied with a red cord. The flowers were vibrant colors and the boquets stunning against red bridesmaids dresses. Everything went very smoothly, the priest was lively. After the wedding, we headed to the reception of hourdorves at a quaint Library Bistro bar. There we had a wonderful time and ate dinner with one of Mike's oldest friends and his wife from Minnesota.

Returning Sunday, on the perfect 747, everything went smoothly. We got a great view of the Rockies and I took oodles of pictures of cumulus clouds ;) What a great trip and a wonderful adventure.

Posted by Laura @ 3:41 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Farmers' Market and Open House

Last weekend was the first farmers' market in downtown Madison. Unfortunately, I completely forgot (I need to listen to the news more) but I will remember that the first farmer's market opens when Madison has it's Crazy Legs race. This weekend we went across the street to Hilldale's farmers market and got ingredients for stir-fry week. We added some delicious cremini and oyster mushrooms to the mix with some Smart Chicken from Sentry. It is really nice to be able to pick up organic ingredients from stores other than Whole Foods (I can easily spend way too much money there).

While at Sentry, I picked up a new fantasy African Violet. I was shocked that fantasys are being sold at some place other than the biannual african violet show. Since I won't make it to next weekend's show, this was a nice early treat.

On Sunday we headed over to Kuang's new house. Kuang is in one of my classes this semester (Decision Analysis) and in my research group with Dr. Shi. It is always wonderful to see a new house and to think that some day we will also have one :) Kuang and his wife got to design their own house and it was beautiful with arched walk ways, cathedral ceiling, loft and a wonderful yard. Kuang and his wife are great chefs of their native Thaiwan and served up platters of delicious pot stickers, turkey egg rolls, skewered chicken, noodles and peanut sauce, cake, fruit with coconut gelly things (I love the gelly things). To add to the array, I brought some of Mom's snickerdoodles and some peanut butter cookes Mark likes.

Posted by Laura @ 10:32 PM CDT [Permanent URL]