Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Lost Pines: Day I

We were eager to explore the hotel. As soon as we had our bags all settled in the room we made our way back down to the lobby and headed out onto the back lawn. We followed the droves of people in swimsuits both coming and going to the pool. Or should I say pools.

There was a splash pad for the kids, a small pool for toddlers, and a big sandy beach with direct access to a pool equipped with volleyball nets and even a basketball goal. The first pool was connected next to a beautiful series of waterfalls to the lazy river that circled the entire area and connected each of the pools - an adults only pool with hot tub, and another smaller pool with a giant water slide.

From the pool we wandered through a pavilion and down a steep grassy embankment to the river area below. We saw a small dock and a large grassy area with a disc golf course and more basketball goals.

With map in hand we trekked back up the main lawn past the fire pits and meandered our way over to the hummingbird garden.

Though we only took a quick peek at the hummingbird garden and headed on around the building past the livestock pens where 2 longhorns and 2 horses were kept.

We later learned that the longhorns were 3 year old steers named T-bone and Ribeye. They shared the same father, but different mothers. Each taking after their respective mothers.

As we rounded the building we saw the meeting point for the tractor pulled hay rides. We arrived just in time to see a wagon-load of folks pulling away.

According to the schedule the next ride would depart in 30 minutes. So we headed back to our room and changed into our swim suits thinking we would have plenty of time to change and still make it back in time to catch the next ride. However, in an almost deja-vu like moment we rounded the corner towards the starting point to once again see the tractor lurching out of its resting spot 10 minutes before its scheduled departure time. Practically fuming I vowed that we would make that next ride or else. :) As Kevin took up watch at the meeting spot I borrowed his camera and made my way to the nearby butterfly garden.

Unfortunately the garden was mostly bloomed out and what was likely an area filled with blooms earlier this spring had only a handful of purple flowers and a few sunflowers. And, though not unexpected, not a butterfly in sight.

The brown starkness of the surroundings made the green stalks and bright yellow flowers of the sunflowers stand out all the more. As I wandered out the other end of the garden I took the opportunity to take a few more pictures of the longhorns. Like typical toddlers they weren't terribly cooperative and proved to be most unphotogenic refusing to pose together or look at the camera reminiscent of two other children I know.

I wended my way back to the meeting point and after a short wait saw the tractor return. Two other families had joined us by that point and once we were loaded up the wagon departed once again. 10 minutes early, again. The wagon ride took us down a steep path to the river area again and off onto a dirt track following alongside the Colorado river. We followed along the bumpy rutted path until it came to a turn around at a gate to the LCRA property of McKinney Roughs.

Once our ride was over we made our way to the pool and bee-lined for the nearest tubes and entry into the lazy river. Parts of the river had jets that sped you on your way while other sections moved along at a sedate pace. Trees lining the banks provided welcome overhead shade throughout the meandering path. We made several circuits around the pool before finally deciding to find some dinner before the regularly scheduled evenings activities. We decided on the Firewheel Cafe - one of a handful of restaurants located on the property.

As we entered the hostess took us by the Mexican Buffet - the speciality of the night. After a quick look at the buffet and a glance at the dessert buffet there wasn't much question of what we would be having. The salad bar was filled with fresh ingredients with a home-grown flavor, and the beef fajitas were delicious. And the dessert buffet?

To die for. Loaded with fresh strawberries, marshmallows, along with an enticing variety of other cakes, pies, cobblers and other desserts. And did I mention the chocolate and which chocolate fountains? And the lemon bars? I think I ate at least half a dozen. Thank goodness I had been saving some room... :)

Though what I had really been saving some room for were the smores. As we were wrapping up our dinner the campfires had been lit and a smores station had materialized. As had a large projection screen on the rear lawn.

The smores area was pure madness. Dozens of young children running around with long sticks with flaming or burnt marshmallows waving them wildly here and there. It is amazing no one was set on fire, eyes poked out or any of the other things overprotective parents might worry about. Despite the chaos every was having a great time. Kids and adults alike. We picked up preloaded marshmallow roasting sticks and sat around one of the fires toasting our marshmallows to a light golden brown. Once they were just right we took them back to a prep station where brave employees were taking the marshmallows off your stick with two graham crackers - one side already loaded with hershey's chocolate bars. After which they would trade you a delicious smore for the return of their stick which they would quickly reload and add back to the line of available sticks for folks to pick up. I can't even remember the last time I had a smore, but I don't remember them tasting quite this good...

We grabbed towels and picked out a spot on the lawn to pitch them in front of the projection screen already 20 or 30 minutes into the movie. After a short while Kevin was snoring through the movie. I woke him up a few times before finally losing interest in the movie and deciding it was time to call it a night.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Vacation Day I

That's right - vacation. Without the kids. An entire weekend all to ourselves.

We loaded the car up, kissed the kids goodbye and started on our way. We stopped by Walmart to pick up a few things and headed out of town. We had our first surprise before we had even made it out of Tomball. As we drove down a small country road taking in the scenery the ac blew a wisp of something against my face. At first I thought it was a piece of my hair having escaped the clip and being blown about by the ac. I soon realized that it wasn't coming from me at all, but from Kevin's shoulder. A moment later I realized that it wasn't a piece of my hair, but a loose end of a spider web. No sooner had I proclaimed my find did I see a white albino spider come crawling up over Kevin's shoulder. After a hilarious few minutes where I am frankly quite surprised that we stayed both moving and on the road Kevin managed to squish the spider in a whole wad of napkins where it stayed in his hand tightly clenched until we got to a gas station where its remains were dropped unceremoniously in the trash.

After filling up with gas we got back out on the road for a much less eventful trip out 290 towards Brenham. We had gotten a later start than we anticipated, which fortuitously put us near Brenham around lunchtime. A few years ago on a work trip I had discovered a hidden gem in Brenham - an Italian restaurant called Volare.

The restaurant, once located in the downtown Brenham area, now occupies the first floor of a salt box house a few blocks from downtown. We sat at a cozy table beside a window in what was probably once a front parlor. We watched a lizard dart along a gravel path outside the window while enjoying some light and crispy calamari. Just as we had finished the calamari and the lizard had ventured out of sight our main dishes arrived. I had Penne con Salsiccia - a delightful dish of mushrooms and sausage with a zesty marinara over penne. My mouth is still watering thinking about just how good it was. Kevin enjoyed some stuffed manacotti that he thoroughly enjoyed as well.

Despite being stuffed from lunch the second we had decided to stop in Brenham I had planned to make a stop by the Bluebell Creameries for a little treat before we left. Surprisingly enough I couldn't find Bluebell in the GPS so we had to pop back into the restaurant and ask for directions. It turned out to be just a short drive away.

The creamery was busy with people planning to take a tour. We luckily had come at just the right time and had the ice cream counter practically to ourselves. I sampled a Blackberry cobbler ice cream before passing over my favorite Pralines and cream to settle on a scoop of the brightly colored Kookie Kookie Dough. Kevin decided on a scoop of Cookies and Cream. We savored the fresh ice cream as we wandered through the gift shop before heading back on our way.

We were eagerly looking forward to arriving at our destination - a Hyatt resort property called Lost Pines.

After driving for what seemed like forever through the rolling hills of the scenic entry past overlooks, and equestrian crossings we finally made our way into the horseshoe drive of the front lobby. It looked like a large, stone ranch house.

Our first views inside were of the two story lobby, anchored at each end by large stone fireplaces. Overhead hung a large tree with candelabra like lamps of a chandelier.

Despite the crowd and hustle and bustle of people coming and going with luggage all around we were checked into our room in record time.

Our room was on the 4th, and top floor. It was a beautiful room overlooking a quiet courtyard.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

We got a new puppy!!

Look what I picked up from Petco today!

Wait a second. That’s not a new puppy. It is Kassidy! And she’s bald. And loving it. Finally found the vaccination records and got her an appointment to get a summer cut. Decided not to torture either one of this year and let a professional do it. I still can’t get over how different she looks though. She looks almost scrawny! I guess it is true. A haircut really can take 10 years off of you!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Yes, those are indeed PJs.

I sent one of the boys to school today in a PJ top.

Our morning routine is an efficient, optimized, streamlined process (HA!) designed to get us all out the door as quickly as possible in the morning. Or as quickly as is possible with two children with a mind of their own. We start off with a trip to the diaper changing station where not only do they get diapers, but also the days’ pants before they leave. From there we head into breakfast and while the boys are eating (read: contained, and distracted) we put on their socks and shoes. As part of the breakfast clean-up we strip off their PJ top and whisk them into the living room where all shirtless children are clothed, hair brushed and shooed out the door all in one fell swoop. Somehow this morning on the slow-poke we missed the strip down, so when we got to the living room phase all children were clothed and therefore ushered out the door without a 2nd thought. I didn't even notice until they were standing at the door waiting to go into their classroom at school and only noticed then because they didn't match.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

My First Cache {Kevin}

What is geocaching? I didn't know until Brandi explained it to me. I had heard the term, but never really thought about what it was. Well, now I know. It involves using your GPS to find hidden "treasures" that other people have left. You locate them based on the GPS coordinates. Even when Brandi told me what it was, I never realized there would be so many. They are all over the place. They are right next to places I've been numerous times. However, this is about my first geocache find. It definitely wasn't in a place that I had been before. It was definitely memorable. This geocache was in the woods. We knew that as soon as we got near it. That didn't worry me. I've trampled through the woods my whole life exploring, trying to get to hidden fishing spots, etc. The first thing I noticed was that we had to avoid stickers. No big deal. Then we explored with the GPS trying to get a bearing and find the geocache. Being inexperienced, it took as little while to get the hang of figuring out which way to walk to get closer to the correct GPS coordinates using the handheld GPS. Then, I looked down just in time to notice I was about to step on a coiled up snake. I noticed too late to avoid stepping on it. It wasn't a huge snake, but it wasn't a little one either. I remember it as black with red bands. Brandi said she thought it was just black. I just know it was a snake and I stepped right on it. I'm pretty sure I screamed. I know I jumped up and ran 10 feet away from it. Brandi apparently saw the snake. She asked if it bit me. I didn't feel any pain, so I was pretty confident it had not. I was ready to give up. My primary goal was no longer finding the geocache. It was looking for snakes to be sure I didn't step on them. Brandi didn't want to give up though (she probably would have felt different if she stepped on the snake). To get to the geocache, we had to walk right through snake central. Luckily, it was nowhere to be seen. It was probably scared to death after being stepped on. We did eventually find the geocache. It was a fairly large metal box. So things were looking up, right? Sort of. As soon as we stopped moving, the mesquitos swarmed all around us. They were annoying and biting us before we stopped. However, once we stopped to look in the box, they were unbearable. The box itself had alot of stuff inside. CDs, trinkets, etc. We both would have loved to look at everything in it. However, the mesquitos were just too ferocious. We took a quick look, signed the sheet inside, dropped off our "treasure", and high taled it out of the mesquito and snake infested woods. A very eventful first geocache find.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A cache

So what is a cache? What does it look like? A cache can be anything really. Some are small, and some are large. Some are official geocache containers, others span the gamut of creative things people have re-purposed from around the house – tupperware, 35mm film canisters, altoids tins, and even old mayo or peanut butter jars. Some are camouflaged (using camo duct tape – who knew??) some are in plain sight. At a minimum they contain a piece of paper or “log” for finders to sign indicating that they found it. Some have pens, others are BYOWS (writing stick). The most fun though are the ones that house a treasure trove of goodies – small trinkets like old McDonalds happy meal toys. If you come across a trinket you like you are welcome to trade it with something of your own of equal or greater value.

The first cache I found was a small Tupperware container covered in camo duct tape. Since then we have seen magnetic key holders, altoids tins, film canisters, decon containers, giant ammo cans and a little bit of everything in between. You never know what you are going to find. You might stumble across something tiny like this guy here.

Or something much larger, and more unique like my mom’s find of this gator long after I had given up.

Not all finds are straight forward either. Some are puzzles that you have to solve that will lead you to the real destination. Some are merely a starting point. There is a great series or a "multi cache" in a park not to far from my mom's house. The starting coordinates lead you to a statue. From there, there is a story that leads you to coordinates for the next, and so on. We had a great time trying to figure out the clues of the tale. One part, for example read: "The Chief (the statue at the starting point) also told me a story once about a little boy who he sent out to find the buffalo. The boy using his pail in hope to bring them back by helping the grasslands to flourish so that they would have grass to eat and WATER to drink. The Chief told me that if I sought the boy out in the north WEST I will find the information I seek, the boy will have the RIGHT answer at HAND." It turned out to be a statue of a little boy holding a watering pail about 40ft away. The west coordinates of the address were under his right hand.

Each cache is a new adventure. Especially when you are still trying to figure out how to use your GPS... :)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

In search of a cache

When I looked up geocaches in our area I found one in our neighborhood in a place we drive by every single day. So one day on the way home with the boys I stopped by the park, pulled out our GPS and started to search.

Following the GPS to the specified coordinates we ended up between an island flower bed and a forested area. The boys were surprisingly cooperative holding my hand or staying close by while I looked all around. After two or three trips around the area where I was sure it had to located with no luck I decided that I would have to try again another day and took the kids to the park to play.

When the weekend rolled around we were headed to the nearby pool and I decided to look around again for a few minutes. At one point Connor took off towards the edge of the lake and chasing after him I ended up slipping in some mud in an impressive stepped on a banana like move a stuntman would have been impressed with. I had clay like mud from elbow to toe. I can only imagine what I sight I must have been. I managed to get down to the water and wash enough of it off to look semi-presentable. Or at least presentable enough to make it past the attendant at the pool gate where I could clean up in the bathroom.

Determined to find it I made another pass a few days later. The army of neighborhood gardeners had been busy putting out new pine mulch so I picked up a stick to probe the area. I saw a big pile of turned up mulch, but came up empty. Looking around again I found it almost immediately. Grinning ear to ear I raced back to the park to share my find with Kevin and the boys. I couldn't have been more thrilled. Unprepared to actually find it I had to go all the way back to the car to retrieve a pen to sign the log. I spent a few minutes looking through the previous visitor's entries amazed at the number of people who had been there before me and wondering if I had maybe seen them as I had driven past at one time or another and never been the wiser.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The start of a treasure hunt

Before my birthday kayaking trip I stopped by my local REI to check out GPSes before we ventured into the wild unknowns of the San Jacinto river. It wasn't that I didn’t think I could get us back to where we started because I actually have an uncannily accurate sense of direction unless the roads are windy and curvy, you know, like a river. :) But it never hurts to have a second opinion on which way we should go - especially one that is always right. And we all know we can't trust Kevin on that score. The man is geographically challenged. He's the worst map reader I have ever met.

So as I was looking at all the bells and whistles on the GPSes I saw a checkbox on several that said "Geocaching." I had no idea what it was. So when I came home to do some homework comparing models I clicked on the convenient little hyperlink and stumbled on a whole new world.

Geocaching is essentially a modern day treasure hunt. It's a high tech game of hide and seek. And it is astonishing the number of caches (hidden "treasure") that you walk or drive by every single day without even realizing it.

The premise seems simple enough - you are given the exact location or set of coordinates where something is hidden and it is just a matter of going there and signing a log book to say that you found it. Sounds easy enough right?? HA!!

Friday, June 11, 2010

A day at the beach...

We had planned to join some friends for a morning at the beach. Unfortunately due to a forecast of 30% scattered showers around dawn and in the late afternoon they decided to wait for a better day. We had really been looking forward to the trip and decided to go ahead and take our chances. We wouldn't melt in a little rain, and would probably already be so soaked from a dip in the ocean that we wouldn't even notice the difference. Not to mention the fact that the threat of less than ideal weather would mean that the beach was likely to be less crowded.

And it was. We found a great pull-in spot next to the stairs at one of our favorite sections of beaches. And while we certainly weren't alone on the beach there were far fewer people than there typically would have been on a nice May morning. We also had the added bonus of some shade and far lower temps than we had been having making it a super pleasant day all around.

The one thing we didn't think about though was the tide. With what looked like storms out on the horizon the swells were larger than normal and there were red flag warnings up. Not that such a little thing would deter us from letting the kids run right on in of course. :)

But before we did we dumped a mountain of beach toys on the sand and let the boys rake, scoop, fill, and dump to their hearts' desire.

Even Kevin had fun creating his moat while the boys helped build up then topple the pile of his excavated remains.

Ryan actually helped build up the piles, while Connor the destroyer flattened them the second they were built.

The boys eventually decided that while the sand was fun it was time to get their feet wet. So suited up with their life jackets they made a mad dash for the water.

And it was in that frenzy unfortunately that I lost my camera. This was indeed the very last photo taken from my camera just before Connor chased a wave into the water.

Before we left Galveston for the day we drove towards Jamaica beach to find this house. My mom and I had found it once before though late at night so we weren't able to get any good pictures of it. Can you imagine living here? I would love to get a peek at the inside to see just what it looks like.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

In the mind of a 2 year old.

Every day on our way home I ask the boys what they did at school. If they don't proffer an answer I inevitably ask if they played with their friends today. Ryan always pipes up telling me that he played with his friend Dean today. Connor will immediately follow up indicating that he played with his friend Jadon today.

Today when I picked the boys up Connor had a stinky diaper so while Connor was being changed I held Ryan and asked him about various things. It went something like this:

Me: "What did you do at school today?"
Ryan: "I played with my friends today."
[Jadon, Dean and Rohan were making laps around the class pushing the "bicycles."]
Me: [pointing at Dean as he made a pass by us] "Who is that?"
Ryan: "That's MY Dean."
Me: "Oh, is that YOUR FRIEND Dean?"
Ryan: "No. That's MY Dean."
Me: [pointing at Jadon who had just rounded the corner and was headed toward us] "Who is that?"
Ryan: "That's CONNOR's Jadon."
Me: "Oh, He's CONNOR's Jadon?"
Ryan: "Yeah."
Me: [pointing to Rohan] "Who is that?"
Ryan: "That's Rohan."
Me: "Is Rohan your friend?"
Ryan: "Yes, Rohan is my friend."
Me: "Is Rohan Connor's friend, too?"
Ryan: "Yeah. Rohan is Connor's friend, too."

I am not sure what the distinction is there, but I am sure we will have several more coversations about this one... :)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Internet shopping

Dear Internet,

You know I love you. And shopping with you from the comfort of my couch in my pajamas is of course one of my favorite past times. What I do not love is the lack of instant gratification after I click the buy button. And what I am loving less than that is the sneaking suspicion that Amazon in an attempt to sell more $79 prime memberships is intentionally delaying the arrival of my packages. 7 days for something to ship to me? From where? Hong Kong?? It's either that or my love affair with the UPS man is coming to an end as I would be sorely disappointed to learn that he couldn't get something to me from anywhere nationwide in 4 days or less. Because if ever there were a miles club for shipping I would certainly be elite. :)

I ordered a new camera tonight. My last one met a tragic end in the Gulf of Mexico almost a month ago. I did manage to get it to power on tonight much to my surprise but it has a lens error. You can hear the sand grinding as the lens attempts to move in an out. Though what would you expect from a camera that went into the ocean and straight to the sandy bottom to be tossed around for probably 15 minutes in a red flag whopper of a tide apparently while turned on?

It was past time to get a new camera or so I was recently told both my family and by Kevin, too as I attempted to not so secretly commandeer his old camera to satisfy my picture taking needs. I was excited as always when I finally convinced myself to not to peek at the price tag in the cart and just push the checkout button. Only to feel an overwhelming let down when I saw the estimated delivery date. The thing better be stamped from some small far away country when it arrives. Like Taiwan. Or Rhode Island.


Sometimes I wish I could have been there...

Let me set the scene for you:
It was chaos. Pure chaos. What else could it be with 16 - 2 year olds in one room? The teachers were out numbered. 2 of them against an army of mischievous little souls. One teacher was in the bathroom supervising potty time. The other was working her way through the diaper crew.

The teachers aren't completely defenseless in the jungle - they use a whole arsenal of gorilla tactics to ensure the cooperation of their sometimes mutinous crew. And for the record I strongly suspect one of my children as the ring leader for most of the antics in the room. I won't name names, but I bet you don't need more than 1 guess....

One of those methods that seems to work particularly well is a tupperware jar full of candy corns. I was told it is the "positive reinforcement" for "putting something IN the potty." Though I believe it is used a bit more liberally than that and have in fact seen it used as outright bribery. At one point, not long after Ryan first moved to the room one of his teachers admitted that Ryan often got one for just setting foot in the bathroom as he went through a phase where getting him into the bathroom was a lot like the reaction you would get trying to put a cat in the tub - paws outstreached, clawing madly at anything and everything wildly trying to latch on to anyone or anything that would prevent him from being uncermoniously being tossed in. To say that he was a bit resistant might have been a tad of an understatment, though ironically enough he loved to play in our powder room at the time and quite frequently would shut himself or he and Connor into the pitch black powder room to which they would both laugh histerically before attempting to unroll the entire roll of toilet paper and flushing to toilet at least 15 times.

While I would prefer the reward be a ink stamp (soon to be proven cancerous I am sure), or stickers (watch out for that toxic glue), or maybe even cheerios or something else perhaps a bit more healthy I am sure I would resort to far worse for a moment's peace and cooperation if I were in their shoes.

But I digress.... So the teachers were busy making their way through potty time. Apparently at some point during the melee Ryan, unobserved, made off with the candy corn container. I can only guess at what happened next, but when the director came into the room she found him holding court in one corner of the room. He was standing facing a full semi-circle of children seated before him. Each one patiently waiting their turn as Ryan doled out the candy corns to all of his loyal servants, I mean classmates. She said it was the cutest and funniest thing she had seen in a long, long time. What a character. Hey - at least he was sharing!


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