Sunday, September 29, 2013

Visiting Friends in the Piney Woods of Texas

We just got home, yesterday afternoon, from a few days up in the Piney Woods region of Texas, visiting our friends, Steve and Sharon. We knew them first in Juneau. They moved there and stayed for one year before deciding that their old life and home in East Texas was a better fit for them. It turned out to be a blessing that their house and property hadn't sold, because they were able to settle back in with a big sigh of relief.

Steve used to be a house framer and general contractor, and built many amazingly beautiful homes, some of them "mansion" sized. But more recently he has been concentrating on fine woodworking. I was really impressed with the cabinets, doors, furniture and decorative pieces he has designed and created. Much of his work incorporates complicated inlay work and hand carving.

Their home is out in the country, on a few acres of land with a continuously flowing stream and a pond. They harvest fresh vegetables from their garden and eggs from their chickens. It's really a peaceful, simple, rewarding life style, although it requires lots of hard work to maintain the property.

There's nothing pretentious about their house, but it is definitely full of charm.

This is the back side of their home, which overlooks the pond.

The pond at the center of the property.
This stone walkway runs along the side of the house, and there are several pots of flowers, now past their prime, decorating the retaining wall.

This dining table was where we were treated to Sharon's tasty breakfasts, which always featured eggs, fresh from the hens! 

Sharon's country kitchen. Some of her teapot collection is displayed above the cabinets.
The orchard

A place to sit and enjoy the peace and quiet.

Steve and Sharon's house has only one bedroom, but just a short walk from the house is a guest cottage that Steve built, which was our home-away-from-home for three nights. It has two bedrooms, a fully equipped kitchen/living room, and a nice bathroom. There's even a stacked washer/dryer set for use by guests.

Sharon has hopes, for the near future, of offering this beautiful little guest house as a bed-and-breakfast rental. Who wouldn't want to spend a few nights in this peaceful cabin in the woods?

Through the door (notice the beautiful woodwork door frame and shelf) is the main bedroom, with a full-size antique bed and a spacious walk-in closet.

The bedroom seen through the door in the above photo.

This smaller bedroom has an antique twin bed.
Everywhere you look, in the little guest house, you will find beautiful details, like this doorknob and lock plate.
Steve and Sharon kept us busy while we were there. One of their favorite pass-times is hunting for and collecting antiques, so they let us tag along to several estate sales, garage sales and antique stores. We ate at their favorite Mexican restaurant and one of their favorite barbecue places.

We were only there two and a half days, but we felt like we'd gone on a relaxing week-long vacation! Thanks, Steve and Sharon.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

52 in 2013 - #28, #29 and #30 Themes of the Week: Religion, Art and Wide-Angle

Czech it out!

Dan recently joined the Mercedes Benz Club in Austin. One strong incentive for joining was access to good parking when he attends some of the races at Circuit of the Americas. Today was our first time to meet up with other members, and it was for an all-day tour of four of the "Painted Churches" located in the region south and east of Austin. We had a great time and met some very nice folks.

We all had lunch at Kloesel's in Moulton. They reserved this entire room for the club.
These church buildings are in the Gothic Revival style, with characteristic arched windows. They all have tall steeples, easily seen from quite a distance. From the outside they are not unlike many many religious buildings erected around 1900. But once you step inside the doors, your eyes are treated to an explosion of brightly painted, elaborate art work on the walls and ceilings. The paintings were done by itinerant artists of the time period, but, despite the more-than-100-years that have passed, the colors are still amazingly vibrant.

These churches were built by the German and Czech immigrants who still, to this day, populate this region. I understand that there are other denominations with equally impressive painted churches in Texas, but the four we toured were all Catholic. As we caravanned from town to town, with the other club members, I began to feel as if I was no longer in America. The foods, the architecture, much of the written and spoken words, are heavily influenced especially by the Czech population there. And, speaking of FOOD, we were tempted at every turn by scrumptious Kolache. I had a ham and cheese Kolache for breakfast, and then, as we were heading home in the late afternoon, we stopped at another local bakery for fruit-filled Kolaches. So much for today's carb count!

The first church we visited, with our tour guide, was in the Moravia/Praha area. It was a stone building, with lovely grounds. We were told that the ceiling of these churches were supposed to represent the inside of Noah's ark, and it wasn't difficult to see the similarity to boat-architecture. A distinctive feature of this Praha church was the huge Czech crystal chandelier.

High Hill
The High Hill church was, for me, the most beautiful and elaborate of the four buildings. It was built of red brick. Inside were what appeared to be marble columns, but at closer inspection, the columns were wooden and only painted to look like marble. Our tour guide told us that the parishioners laboriously painted these columns using turkey feathers, in order to attain the marble look.

The faux-painted columns, made to look like marble.

I used a wide-angle adapter, attached to the front of my 18-55 zoom lens (set at 18) to capture this ceiling shot (thus my "Wide Angle" theme, noted at the top of the post).

The last two churches, Ammansville and Dubina, were clad in white clapboard. The interior of the Ammansville one was probably the simplest of all of them. Our tour guide told us that at some point the decorative painting had been covered over with plain coats of paint. Many years later (I believe it was in the 1980s) a young man asked if he could remove a portion of the paint to see if the artistic painting was still beneath it, and whether it could be salvaged. Although some touch-up was needed, the majority of the old art work was able to be uncovered and restored.

The Dubina church was strikingly different than the others. Its ceiling and walls were covered in a beautiful sky-blue paint with six-pointed platinum stars. It was really quite enchanting.

Piano Bridge
We heard about this pretty little bridge from our tour guide. She told us that the bed of the old bridge that once crossed the river here, so that people could get to church, was made of boards. The boards were always loose, so when the wagons or Model Ts crossed, the boards made distinctive "plinks" and "plunks", sounding something like a piano melody; thus the name Piano Bridge, which was passed on to the new, concrete bridge, as well.

Monday, September 16, 2013

No Fun!

Last week, or maybe even the week before that, I started noticing that my bite was off a bit, especially after brushing and flossing. I tried to ignore it, but it got worse. Finally, on Monday evening of last week, I poked my finger in and started exploring. Sure enough, I was able to wiggle the crown on one of my back molars.

On Tuesday I got in to see my dentist who popped the crown off and gave me the bad news. It wasn't exactly that the crown was loose. The crown was firmly attached to the tooth, but the tooth itself had broken off almost at the gum line. It was a tooth that had a root canal. There was no way to save it, so he made an appointment for me with an oral surgeon and sent me home with that broken-off tooth. The next day, Wednesday, I saw the oral surgeon. He highly recommended extracting the tooth, doing a bone graft, and a tooth implant.

So, I started this morning in a most unpleasant way - having the tooth extracted and getting the bone graft. In about three months I will be able to have the implant placed, and then about three months after that I can get a new crown to finish it all up . . . a lengthy and expensive procedure. It's not my first dental implant, so I'm not a rookie to this ordeal. Here we go again!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Polka Worship

Last fall I noticed signs for "Polka Worship" on the big Lutheran Church, downtown Temple. I was so intrigued! Then, this September, the banners reappeared on the sides of the church building; apparently it's an annual event. Have any of you ever heard of polka worship? Is it a Lutheran thing, because of the Lutheran Church's German roots? Or is it a local custom because of the large Czech population in this region? I've never heard of it anywhere else where we've lived. I'm struggling with how these two words, polka and worship, are conjoined. 

Leave a message if you know about this tradition and can share some insight.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Footnotes (or Good Shoes Take You Good Places)

Today was a full day. Dan and I drove down to Georgetown, to the VW dealer, where we had the new-car-service performed and got our license plates installed. Since we were going to be in that area, we had arranged to take our friends, Milt and Susie, who live there, to lunch. But the service on the car didn't take as long as we expected, giving us 45 minutes or so to waste before going to their house. What better place than the Round Rock Premium Outlet Mall to spend a little spare time?

We only went inside one store, the Skechers shoe store. I sometimes have a hard time finding a shoe that feels good on my wider-than-average feet. But look at this picture! I found one that didn't pinch my foot AT ALL! I would have bought it, but it slipped a little on my heel - ha! I did end up getting a couple pair of shoes there, though (a "buy one pair, get the second for half price" sale). THAT'S why we only went into one store. I think Dan was afraid to let me look in another one after that purchase.

"What do you think, Dan?"

After shoe-shopping we went to Milt and Susie's, and from there out to lunch with them at Freebird's. We enjoyed eating at a Freebird's in Katy when we visited Chris and Kelsey, so when Milt and Susie suggested it, we happily agreed.

We got back home this afternoon in time for a little down-time before I needed to head to the library to meet with my new Japanese student, whom I will be tutoring in conversational English. I'm doing this as a volunteer with the Temple Literacy Council. It was a great first session, and I'm really looking forward to future ones. My student is a young man, very well educated, married, with a brand new (3 week old) baby girl. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Photo Booth Selfies

My iPad came with an app called Photo Booth. With it you can take selfies using various distortion tools. Here's a selection of mine. Flattering, aren't they? Hope you get a laugh out of them. I've given a few of them titles. Can you guess which ones I've named Alien? Popeye? Flower Child? Madam Librarian?