Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sylvan Beach Park

Today we went to Sylvan, not the one in Alberta, the one on the Gulf of Mexico.  It is in the town of La Porte, Texas and is about 35 minutes away from our home.  The drive was a bit tricky - we had to change from one freeway to another a few times, but it was quick.

Sylvan Beach Park is a small man made beach with a long fishing pier.  I understand that admission is charged for fishing off the pier but that's not why we were there so I didn't check into it.  The beach is fairly small and has a rope floating in the water to mark off a safe swimming space.  The edge of the beach has a row of benches, some showers and a strip of grass backed by the parking lot.  There are clean but old restrooms and a bait shop.

We arrived at the beach very early and we got a great parking space facing the beach.  We could see our car the whole time we were on the beach and I thought that was great for security.

We picked a spot on the beach and the kids started making a sand castle with my husband while I took them into the water when they wanted to go in.  It was a perfect spot for us!  The waves were big enough to be fun but there was no noticeable undertow in the swimming area.  The beach is made of very coarse sand and the sand castle came together quickly.  My husband had to re-design the castle as the tide came in - eventually it became a swimming pool with seats for the kids!

We spent a couple of hours swimming and playing in the sand before it was time to have lunch and leave.

Sylvan Beach is a lovely beach for little kids.  The swimming area is contained, the sand is fun, and the facilities are easy to access.  It was also clean....and they were cleaning it during our visit!

I "found" this beach through social media.  I posted a question to a FaceBook page about nearby clean beaches (Galveston seaweed is not my thing) and a lovely person answered my post with some information about Sylvan Beach.  I looked it up and it looked like just what I wanted.  It's interesting that the recommendation for this beach outing was from someone I don't even know!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Chatty Chatty

This morning Baby Boy woke up talking!  All of a sudden he is interested in saying as many words as possible.  Little Boy got a book from the library of the movie "The Incredibles".  Baby Boy kept saying "Jack Jack" for baby Jack Jack in the book.  But he also calls his jacket "Jack Jack".  We have a bit of a learning curve....but it's an exciting day!  The best part is that it's the weekend so Daddy was home to hear it all.

This morning we met friends at Traders Village, a large flea market here in Houston.  It was a hot morning and many of the stalls remained closed but we had fun wandering the shops and I made a purchase.  After the market we had lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant and I had my favourite - buhn. 

It was a lovely day but our afternoon plans for swimming were dashed by the rain.  My husband was playing with the boys in the garage and when I went out to look at them they were playing ball hockey!  It was roasting hot in the garage but they were having a lot of fun.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Library Magic?

On Tuesday I took the kids to the library to see a magician.  We arrived about 20 minutes before the scheduled start of the performance and there was already a long queue of people waiting to get seats, including a few day camp and home schooling programmes.

We went into the event room and sat and waited.  And waited.  Finally the library staff came out and started reading stories and singing songs with the kids - the magician had not yet arrived.  One of the librarians knew a magic trick and she performed it for the kids.  Another got out her guitar and led the children in some songs.  Then the audience started leaving.  The woman next to me explained that the magician is very good but last year he didn't show up.  So everyone assumed he was not coming when he was 15 minutes late.

We waited for 1/2 hour while the librarians did their best to entertain the kids and then we left too.  The library was flooded with noisy, restless, and whiny kids - and they had every right to be!

So many disappointed kids....why didn't he show up?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Camping in Western Texas - Day 6

We have chosen to make this our last day of holidays.  Since the campground we had booked was not nice and the winds are still blowing strong we will have a great day today and then head home tonight.

Our hotel had a lovely big breakfast buffet with all of our favourite foods and the boys ate massive breakfasts after sleeping in.  Then we hit the pool!  We arranged for a late check-out and let the kids swim as long as they wanted - basically forever!  Then we cleaned up and checked out of the hotel and went for lunch.

After lunch we toured an aircraft carrier - the USS Lexington.  It was a great place to take the kids!  The attraction is both indoors and outdoors and you can climb all over the inside of the boat and touch many things.  Admission was about $35 for our family.  We spent 4 hours wandering through the 5 self guided tours and the kids never lost interest.  They were actually sad when we had to leave!  I would recommend this attraction to anyone with a crew of little boys who love to climb on stuff and touch everything!

Our admission ticket came with a 3D movie - it was very good.  The film was called "Fighter Pilot:  Operation Red Flag" and it followed a training fighter pilot through his Red Flag training.  It was educational without being "teachy" and very entertaining.  I didn't think I would like it, but it was exciting and engaging.

I took many pictures of the USS Lexington, I will finish this post with a few.

After touring the carrier we drove home for a very late bedtime.  

Cool camouflage!

A paint job with attitude (read the words on the nose and the door).


Bridge from Corpus Christi

Control room.

Main deck

Female berth - these are the bunk beds.


We climbed these steep stair/ladder things everywhere.

So many things to touch!

Weapons display
On board dental clinic.

The tour ended with an enormous room of models....or as Little Boy said - "toys!!!!!"

Camping in Western Texas - Day 5

Today was a bit of a mess.

This morning we woke up in our broken tent in the dismal campground and had breakfast and then packed up our things into the truck.   While my husband was packing up the kids tried to go for a bike ride, but Little Boy's bike had a flat tyre from a puncture!

We drove back to the Costco and returned the tent.   Then we drove to R.E.I. and bought a new one.  At R.E.I. we also had Little Boy's bicycle fixed.  Hopefully this tent works out.

We had lunch at Orsinger Park and then headed down to Mustang Beach State Park just south of Corpus Christi. 

From the bridge onto Padre Island.

When we got to the beach there was a windstorm.  My husband decided to set up the tent while I took the kids to the beach.  He would join us on the beach after we finished. The campground was fairly awful, another parking lot setup with a cinder block washroom at one end.   There was no privacy or shelter from the wind or sun and loads of fire ants.

It took ages to dress the kids and walk to the beach though all of the blowing sand but it was worth it.   Little Boy and Baby Boy had their first beach experience and Big Boy set to work playing in the sand.   The extreme wind made the temperature pleasant but I was cognisant that the kids would still need loads of sunscreen and thankfully no one burned.

I spent over an hour taking the kids into the water and making sand sculptures.   We were waiting and waiting for daddy to join us.   We fell into a routine where I would take the little kids into the water while Big Boy was working on his sandcastle about 15 feet away (he wasn't interested in going into the water only up to his knees after a while but any deeper was too dangerous for Baby Boy).

I took the little kids into the water and then I turned and saw Big Boy leave his sand sculpture and walking a few feet up the beach.  Then I saw my husband walking up and a kerfuffle unfolding. I got the little boys out of the water and then went over to see what was going on.   While I was in the water with the little boys the wind had picked up Big Boy's sand bucket and carried it about 10 feet down the beach.  He followed it and grabbed it but when he was retrieving the shovel he was bitten by a dog who was also interested in the shovel.

The bite didn't break the skin but the dog owner was a first aider and brought out her kit so that we could put ice and ointment on the bite.  Big Boy was so brave - he barely complained at all.

After all of this, my husband explained that he had been putting up the tent but because of the wind storm he couldn't erect and peg it safely.   He had left the tent up and pegged with all of our luggage in it but it was blowing away and over. Since it was collapsing and drifting away even with all of our bags inside and we would not be able to sleep there.  We decided that he would go and pack up the tent while I played with the kids at the beach some more.  Then we would go out for supper and decide what to do for the night.

It took another hour for him to pack up.  The boys had a blast at the beach.  Little Boy had a real surfer vibe as his curls got filled with sand, gulf water, and sunshine.  A little girl on the beach taught him to play with the small mussels that burrow in the waves and he loved it.  Once my husband returned we cleaned up the kids a bit and then headed into Corpus Christi.   He said our tent had collapsed by the time he got back to the campsite. Good thing we didn't try to tough the storm out, it would have been dangerous and we would likely have wrecked our new tent.  It was after 6:00 when we left the beach - very late for Baby Boy.

Little Boy wanted to eat at Denny's so we did.  It was a very satisfying meal after all of that beach time.  The kids and I had breakfast for supper just like we love.  They ate so much!!  We talked about whether to drive home or get a hotel over supper. My husband checked whether he could get a hotel with his points and found one just down the road from Denny's.

We checked into the hotel and washed ourselves and all of our gear.   Now it's off to bed!   What a day.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Camping in Western Texas - Day 4

Today was a strange day.  We had tent issues.

Right after we woke up we saw two enormous grasshoppers under the fly of our tent but outside the lower layer of the tent.   One was bright green and it ate a dead spider.  Yuck.

We woke up and had breakfast.  After breakfast my husband started to disassemble our tent in preparation to leave.  As soon as he took off the outer fly, one of the plastic sleeves that the tent poles are inserted into cracked - the pole was rendered useless as was the tent.   This was not that big of an issue.   We were planing to drive through part of San Antonio and there is a Costco located in that part so we just added a stop at Costco to our plans.

We left Pedernales State Park and drove on towards San Marco.  We made a quick stop at the outlets and then headed to Costco where we exchanged our tent and had a quick lunch.

Then we drove on to New Braunfels and up the Guadelupe River to our next campsite.   The Guadelupe River is a popular spot for tubing and rafting.  It looked very serene to slowly float down the river but many of the floating groups were huge parties with loud music and raucous behaviour.  We quickly determined that it was not a safe activity for our 3 boys.

We started to set up camp in our disappointing private campground.   Why are the most expensive campgrounds always the most disappointing?   The campsite was in a row of other campers - it looked more like a parking lot than a campground.    There was no privacy and the bathrooms were terrible compared to the State Parks we have experienced over the last few days.

Not a lot of privacy in this campground!
I was walking down the row of campsites carrying Baby Boy when I tripped.  I didn't want to drop him so I manoeuvred my body so that I fell and he landed on my body.   He didn't fall at all he basically sat down on me.  In my maneuvoering I fell hard on my leg and managed to get a nasty patch of road rash.  I limped back to the campsite where my husband urgently needed my help.  As I was helping him I looked down at my leg, because it was itching.  When I looked I saw that my wound was covered in tiny bugs (at least 30) and more were gathering near the wound.    I put insect repellant all over my leg except for the spot that was scratched up and that seemed to get rid of the bugs.   Ewwww!   I'm sure I will wake up with that as a nightmare some day!

My husband started to set up the new tent and the first thing that happened was it ripped!    The rip was not in an area crucial for structural soundness so we decided that we would repair it with duct tape and use it for the remainder of the trip and then return it.  We had to tape the hole closed because of concerns about water and bugs getting into the tent.

We left the campground as soon as the site was set up and we drove into New Braunfels.  We walked down the tourist street, found a hardware store and bought some duct tape.  The town was not nearly as cute as I expected from the reviews I read prior to our trip.   It is supposed to be an "historic" town but it reminded me more of any small town in Alberta where some effort was made to preserve the high street.

Some nasty looking horns!
We drove on to Gruene.   This is billed as a "German" town with a lively tourist area.  The tourist area was cute with pleasant shops and restaurants but it didn't remind me of Germany at all but for the German sounding names given to some of the businesses.

Next we went to the store to pick up some things for supper and bandages for my road rash.

We had our supper in Landa Park and it was great.   There was a huge playground and we let the kids play for quite a while before heading back to camp.

Landa Park

Landa Park
When we reached our campsite we saw that our tent had collapsed.  Another piece of the tent had ripped and this time it was a piece with structural importance.

We cobbled together a solution so that the tent could stand for the night but in the morning we will have to return it and buy another tent.  We need to drive past the Costco anyways so that's not an issue but we are not sure if we should re-buy the same tent for a third time (given that Costco has a liberal return policy) or if we should give up and find something new.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Camping in Western Texas - Day 3

Ahhhh....Monday.   The first day of this camping trip that we are actually on "vacation" - away during the regular work week.

We woke up to a morning temperature that was just perfect.   Cool enough to find a thin blanket comforting but not at all chilly.  After our morning routine we packed up the truck for a day trip.

We drove about an hour to Longhorn Cavern State Park.   I love caves and (the idea of) spelunking and I was excited to take the kids on a tour.  We bought tickets for the 10:00 a.m. tour just as it was starting and then we spent 1.5 hours exploring the caves with our tour guide.

Big Boy loved the cave tour and Little Boy was very interested as well, but the tour ran a bit long for him.   Baby Boy had no objection to being in the cave but he got squirmy when we stopped to listen to the tour guide talk.

Big Boy and Little Boy loved when the tour guide turned off the lights to experience total darkness.

It is incredibly difficult to get good photos inside a cave, but here I they are:

After the cave tour we drove on to Inks Lake State Park where we ate a picnic lunch on the side of the lake.  It was pretty but too hot.   A heron was fishing right in front of our picnic table.

We drove back to Pedernales State Park, stopping on the way to run an errand and pick up Icee treats.

At our campsite the kids played and rode their bikes and then we went on a hike to Twin Falls.  The hike was short but a bit difficult.  We are discovering that Little Boy is a good hiker.  He loved the scrambling and finding his path through uneven rocks.  Once again the falls were lovely but tiny.

The hike to Twin Falls.

Twin Falls (an old swimming hole).

After the hike we made supper, ate, and cleaned up.  As I was putting dishes away my husband called me over.   A deer had wandered into our campsite near to where Baby Boy was playing with a water tap.  The deer did not scare off easily so we watched it for a while.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Camping in Western Texas - Day 2

We woke up to a beautiful morning today.  It was already warm but not too hot - too bad it can't stay that way all day!

The kids slept until about 6:30 a.m. and we politely kept them quiet until 7:00 even though quiet hours end at 6:00.  Our noise at that hour was still not appreciated by people who were up and loud long past the 10:00 p.m. quiet hour commencement, but I don't feel sorry for them.

We started the day with the kids giving my husband a Father's Day gift - a packet of his favourite candy and home made cards.  Then we made an oatmeal breakfast and packed up the campsite.

Before leaving McKinney Falls State Park we took 2 short hikes - one to view upper McKinney Falls and one to view lower McKinney Falls.  Both were spectacular water features and the lower Falls was a swimming hole.  But neither were very large waterfalls.  Perhaps we have been spoiled by the mountain waterfalls in the Rockies.  Or perhaps these are just tiny waterfalls.

Can you spot the turtle?

McKinney Falls Upper Falls

Cactus Poking!

McKinney Falls Lower Falls

 We left the park late in the morning and drove on to Pedernales State Park stopping only for supplies. In Pedernales we checked in to a very large campsite and set up our home for the next couple of days.  We ate a quick lunch and then jumped into the truck and drove to Pedernales Falls.

Pedernales Falls is a broad and flat rock formation with small streams of water making up the "falls".  We spent most of the afternoon exploring the rocks, caves, and small pools.  It is beautiful and the kids had fun climbing all over the place.

View from the hiking trail down to Pedernales Falls

A little reminder of Scotland.
There were many signs at the falls and the car park before the falls indicating that you should not swim in the falls.  When we got there it was obvious why - it was dangerous.         The drop off was sudden and extreme and there was a current.   Despite the signage there were people swimming all over the place.   This really bugs me for a number of obvious reasons - putting themselves and possible rescuers in danger; wasting public resources if a rescue is necessary; plus I just like it when people follow the rules. But the biggest issue I have with people who don't follow rules is that my kids then ask to swim as well.  There were other kids swimming, why couldn't  they?   I explained about the dangers but they didn't understand, particularly my 3 year old. I ended up just telling them that the people were not being smart and we wouldn't follow suit.

After our hike we drove to a nearby town to get fuel for the truck and then headed back to make supper at our campsite.  During the drive Little Boy made me giggle with his mixed up song "It's a Small World In His Hands".  He sang it confidently!

One of the supplies that we picked up earlier in the day was a new toothbrush for Baby Boy.  Yesterday Baby Boy finished brushing his teeth and then he took his brush and "brushed" the outside of the campground toilet.  Ewww!  So tonight I threw his old toothbrush in the garbage and gave him a new one.  I brushed his teeth and then I left the toothbrush with him so he could have a go. He brushed away and then when he was done he chucked his brand new toothbrush in the garbage bin just like I had done earlier with his old brush!  Guess we need to buy another new brush.

After everyone else had fallen asleep I decided that I needed to use the washroom.   It was far from our campsite - the kids had been riding their bikes over.   During my walk I saw a deer in the forest.  She didn't run from me she just looked and then continued on with her business.  What was surprising was that she was still in the same spot a few minutes later as I was heading back.   She had no fear.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Camping in Western Texas - Day 1

We are back from our camping holiday and I have blog posts about our trip.  I will post one per day to correspond with the days of our holiday.

On Saturday morning we started our week long Texas camping trip.  After packing up our truck and preparing our house we hopped onto the highway to head out to Austin.   Austin is about 2.5 hours from our home.

About 1 hour before we reached Austin we stopped at a highway picnic spot to eat.   The picnic spot was in a nice location but it was pretty ugly.  The air was hot and it sang with the sounds of crickets and other bugs.

A sad looking picnic shelter.

After lunch we drove to the Austin State Capitol building.  The kids ran around on the lawns for a while before we went in to see the dome (and use the washroom). The temperature was lovely.  Very warm but overcast so not too hot and sunny.  We saw the dome and wandered around inside the Capitol building for a while.  I loved the door hinges.

Top of the dome.

We stopped for an ice cream and a handful of groceries before heading McKinney Falls State Park in Austin to set up camp.   I bought a Texas State Parks yearly membership because over the course of the camping trip it will pay for itself.   We will also get some discounted nights of camping.   In Texas, you pay a fee to camp but you also pay a daily fee for each adult in your party to use the park.   The daily fee is $6/person over 12 so it adds up quickly.

We found our campsite and started setting up the tent.  Then we had a problem.  All of our tent poles were broken.   When we went camping earlier this year one pole was broken and we figured out a way to fix it.  But this time every single pole was broken and we spent 1/2 hour and couldn't even get one fixed.

So we loaded the kids up in the truck and drove to Costco to buy a new tent.  This (of course) lead to supper at Costco before we returned to the campsite.

All of this chaos erupted right before dinner but the kids took it in stride even though they were hungry.  In the car they played I Spy.   It's very cute, Little Boy says "I spy llama lie" because he doesn't understand the words.

When we got back to camp my husband set up the tent while the kids rode their bikes and had an epic water fight with the kid campers next door. The new tent is even bigger than our old one.  I like it, it is divided into 2 rooms and is very tall.

We sat around the fire for a bit, showered the kids and then went to bed.   At night, the forest was so loud!   I'm not sure what all of the sounds were - it seemed too loud to be crickets and grasshoppers.

This is the view through the top of our tent at dusk.  We didn't need to use the fly.

This video is my attempt to capture the sounds while we were going to sleep.