Jan 04

Christmas in Galveston, TX

Time to go to the beach for Christmas break! Nana and Gramps met us as we got to Galveston State Park.

 

Christmas crafts!

We had lunch at a fun restaurant decorated like a rain forest! We had a thunderstorm every half hour and some of the animals would come to life every so often as well!

We visited an awesome train museum on the island!

Christmas eve. See our cute little Christmas tree? We went to find that the weekend before Christmas and it was laying at a register, like someone had put it there after joking about buying it. The only other trees they had left were half brown and really really big. We joked about the tiny tree and then asked the cashier how much it was. When she realized we were serious, she told us to take it for free! Our little Charlie Brown Christmas tree fit our space perfectly and the kids had a blast decorating it!

Zach got his main gift before Christmas so we got him a package of M&Ms to open on Christmas morning. I should have been taking a video instead of pictures, he thought it was the best gift EVER to have his OWN bag of M&Ms!

Special Rag Dolls from Laura Ingalls Era.

What else do you do at the beach on Christmas day?

A LOT of foggy days at the beach!

The Houston police department has a mounted division and they allow the public to come feed carrots and apples to the horses every day during the week during specified visiting hours. This horse had one blue eye and one brown and was deaf, and loved eating!

This horse wanted love almost more than treats and would hold his head perfectly still for all the kids to pet him. If we walked away, he would nod his head up and down really big, and then hold still again when we came close, to receive our petting!

The horses had stalls that allowed them inside or out and any that were outside would come quickly when they saw us coming, hoping for treats!

It was a great time at the beach and we enjoyed spending time with Nana and Gramps!

Dec 27

Austin, Texas

We spent a quick couple days in Austin before heading to the beach for Christmas. We packed a lot into a short stay and had fun exploring Texas’ capitol city.

First up, we managed to arrive after dark again, oh well. But it was an exciting night with some noisy visitors after midnight… Ever heard a band of coyotes? They sound like a cross between a small dog barking and a child screaming. I kind of felt sorry for the tent campers because while I was safe and snug in my camper, they had nothing but a taunt bit of fabric between them and the wild. The kids slept through it so we had to pull up a recording on youtube to show them what they missed.

Austin gets into the Christmas Spirit! These trees were on the highway right at an exit. There were more but it’s hard to take a picture from a moving car!

We visited the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library.

 

He wasn’t very popular when he left office, but he did a lot while in office!

Spent a day at Zilker park in Austin, playing at a huge playground, taking a Christmas train ride, visiting the botanical gardens, exploring a small science center, and returning after dark to walk the trail of lights.

The Science Center had a dinosaur dig that was a lot of fun!

A botanical garden in Texas is not complete without a cactus garden!

Trail of lights was VERY crowded but the kids enjoyed it!

 

Dec 17

Cedar Hill – Bikes and Weather Delays

The first time we came to Cedar Hill it was beyond hot. This time it was cold, dreary and rainy. We were glad for breaks in the weather to get outside and play!

They broke the wheel off of this dump truck but that doesn’t slow them down!

since we stayed in one spot for a couple weeks, we decorated a little for the season!

It’s not cold outside mom! But my hands were cold…

We let Ryan have his Christmas present early – We’ll get the helmet on him eventually but for now he can’t hold the bike up and push with his feet at the same time so we’re letting him get used to it first.

Don’t be fooled – he’s holding his bike up nice and carefully while he waits for me to stop taking his picture and come back and push him!

When the weather’s nice enough to be outside but they want to play trains…Notice the shadows, I think the sun shone on us for a couple hours this afternoon before hiding behind the clouds again. The most sun we’ve had in a couple weeks!

Dec 10

Fort Worth – Show me the money!

This past week we got to visit the science center in Dallas. We’ve been told that it’s amazing. And it was nice – relatively new and fancy and shiny. It was more a museum than a science center, though, and a lot of the displays didn’t have a lot of  hands on “science learning”. That said, this one will go down as a great trip due to the Gemstone exhibit.

Rebecca has discovered a fascination with chemistry, and is currently finishing up an intro to Chemistry course. When one of the “talk geek with me” volunteers noticed we were lingering at the periodic table interactive-display longer than some of the other visitors to the museum, she came over and asked if we were interested in the chemistry behind the gems.

That expanded into some interesting discussion about one gem that changes color based on whether it has an extra water molecule, and the story behind the discovery of pure fluorine (F), which is apparently deadly and killed the first person who tried to isolate it.

Rebecca’s eyes lit up when the lady got her kindle out and had me take a picture of a book that explains the history of each element in its own chapter… forget those fancy books in the gift shop! It was all she read for days after we visited the museum!

What Science Museum would be complete without dinosaur bones?

Oh, ok, he’ll put his hand in this dino print! If you remember, he wasn’t too happy about doing this when we were playing at Dinosaur Valley State Park!

Another day we drove back into Fort Worth to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. It was quite the unique experience. I’m not sure I’ve ever been through such tight security, even at the airport! We knew ahead of time that no cameras, phones, or other electronic devices were allowed inside so we were prepared. But that means no pictures, sorry!

After going through security, we boarded a trolley that drove us across a gated and quite secure parking lot to the actual building where they make the money.

The self-guided tour was through an elevated hallway with lots of windows where we could look down on everything going on and learn about it from hand-held devices that contained prerecorded information about each step of the process. The workers smiled and waved at us at each stop!

I wish I could tell you all the interesting facts they shared on that recording – Rebecca kept telling me, “mom, did you hear that?” and spout off some fact that while I may have just heard it myself, I couldn’t have repeated it to save my life. Too much auditory information for a visual learner! Part of the problem was the large numbers – how many sheets through each machine in how much time and so forth.

The prodigious warehouse was divided off into large caged sections. Each section individually secured for only those who work in that specialty area. Stacks and stacks of paper – unprinted, half-printed, and fully-printed dotted the workspace.

Watching one machine pull individual sheets of this oversized paper through, pressing the inked plate on and stacking it neatly was fascinating. In one section, the individual sheets of printed money were sent through a conveyer belt with multiple cameras and other devices meant to compare the sheet to the perfect standard. Their perfection rate is very high for the astronomical amount of cash that pours out of there each day!

There were more checks and rechecks as the money was dried, the sheets cut in half, and so on until there were stacks of individual bills, bound together with paper bands. If a single bill is found to have a blemish in a stack, the entire stack is replaced with a star stack – there is an actual star after the serial number on each bill in the stack.

Then the stacks are bound together into bundles, and the bundles wrapped, labeled, sorted onto pallets and prepared for shipping to Federal Reserve Banks.

The adjoining museum had several displays where you could use a magnifier to look at the intricate detail in each bill. We also got to see the history of printing and engraving, and some old versions of United States Currency.

We had a great time!

Dec 01

Back to Texas: Mineral Wells State Park

Glad to drive south away from freezing nights and cold winds, we made our way to Mineral Wells State park just west of Fort Worth. Here we got to walk across a spillway. The spillway was actually built higher several years ago because the capacity of the lake went down – so instead of dredging, they just built the wall higher. Given the amount of “spill”, it looks like they will need to build it higher again before too much longer!

file_000 Science experiment: we split hydrogen and oxygen molecules apart in this jar of water… one of the easier experiments we’ve done and such a great way to end a science chapter about how elements combine together (or, as in this case, break apart).

20161128_150429032_ios Can you guess which bubbles are hydrogen and which are oxygen?

20161128_150507319_ios With one day for play, we dove into Fort Worth to the Stock Yards.

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There’s a new sheriff in town…img_8492

Cattle drive down main street!

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Look, a cowgirl!

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We met this cowboy later as we were leaving – he was really nice and encouraged the kids to pet his horse.

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Playing in the train station/strip mall. Zachary kept asking to watch for the train… he wasn’t disappointed!img_8474We got to talk to the conductor who let him up to see inside the train, even without a ticket! That said, Zachary was very worried about the fact that he didn’t have a ticket and wouldn’t sit in one of the seats because he was too concerned about the train leaving with us in it! 20161129_191133895_ios

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Train is parked for the night!

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The original turn-table. You can see down the station to the train parked in the yard from here.

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We also got to give the girls an early Christmas present!

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When the handler called Rebecca in first to mount her horse, Eliana whispered excitedly to me, “I get to ride the pretty one!!” img_8521

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Zachary got to pet the barn cat and climbed the bleachers to peek at the other horses.

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Later we saw a horse drawn carriage and Rebecca told us how boring it would be to simply ride in the carriage – riding on the horse was much more fun!

 

Nov 27

Thanksgiving in Kansas

We swung through Kansas on the way back down to Texas… because that’s on the way, right? Actually it’s probably in the exact wrong direction given the time of year, but hey, we got to check off another Little House stop – the Little House on the Prairie!

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It was closed for the season and we knew that before arriving. What we didn’t know was that we could go inside the fence. When we walked down to read the main sign we felt kind of silly for hanging out on the fence for so long, reading the signs from afar!

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Welcome to Kansas – home of Little House on the Prairie and land of wide open spaces with little else around.

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Our campsite was, in a word, cold. Even when the daytime temperatures reached the 50s, the wind chill was frigid. Wind gusts to 35 miles per hour kept us inside much of the time!

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But since it was Thankgsiving and all, I thought I’d show you how Kansas welcomes visitors – several dozen fresh turkeys anyone?

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After seeing all those turkeys we decided to eat ham for Thanksgiving.

 

Nov 21

Little Rock, Arkansas

Traveling south to Arkansas last week we enjoyed warmer weather again!

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We got to go visit the Little Rock science center the one day it rained, which was nice timing!

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Learning about pulleys!

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Ever laid on a bed of nails?becca-nails

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Ryan couldn’t be left out!

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Nov 16

Roaring River State Park, Missouri

Our stay in Missouri at Roaring River State park brought an early Christmas for the girls! They had been asking for a visit to “someplace Laura and Mary” lived, after having read all the Little House books. We were 2 hours away from the House on Rocky Ridge and told them we were going to a fish hatchery so that when we showed up, they would be surprised!

We stood on Laura’s porch to get out of the rain as we waited for our tour to start and Rebecca looked around her and whispered, “this was Laura’s porch!”.
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img_1237 Heading down the walk to the “rock house” that Rose had built for her parents.

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img_1239 We did get to go to a fish hatchery the next day, so we are standing by the statement that we didn’t lie about the fish hatchery, we just got “lost” the first day 🙂

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Vats of different sized rainbow trout.

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img_1250 Feeding the trout in the covered raceways.img_1258

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Feeding the big trout in one of the ponds. Several ponds were drained because they have to drain and till the ground yearly to keep up with the waste from the trout!

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So excited to run and watch the train go by! The train used to stop at the hatchery to pickup fish to deliver. Now they ship the fish by delivery truck.
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We had nice weather at the campground this week too, which allowed for lots of outdoor playtime! Here is proof that you can be “girly” and play outside too! Eliana insisted on wearing her dress to play! Notice Zachary is on 2 wheels… It was fun watching the teenagers ride their bikes by and express surprise at how he didn’t have training wheels! The balance bike was probably the best outdoor toy purchase we’ve ever made and Ryan hates that his legs aren’t long enough yet to ride it!img_1319A large tree stump calls kids louder than any sunny patch of grass!

img_1324 And here is your daily dose of cuteness!img_1247

Nov 10

Lake McMurtry and Oklahoma Rattlesnakes

Shortly after arriving at our campsite at our final Oklahoma stop, we went for a walk around the empty camping loop. I walked into an empty campsite, Ryan balanced on my hip, with Rebecca, Zachary and Eliana running behind to catch up. I stopped and turned when I heard their screams to see what they were panicking over now…finding their words, they started yelling about a snake, and pointing at the ground between us.

A glance down revealed a young snake, about 2 feet long, and while my quick glance did not identify it positively, I was acutely aware that it was not the harmless garter snake that I am now suddenly fond of.  Backing even further away and circling to the kids, we called for Damien to identify this odious creature that I had literally stepped over without noticing.

Thankful for children who have been trained to respect nature and keep a calm, quiet distance, we observed the snake from a safe distance. Damien fixated on the markings and shape of its head, insisting it was poisonous. Eliana tried vainly to remember the red and black poem about poisonous snakes – which was useless anyways since there was no red or yellow on the snake. The dog couldn’t see it, a fascinating dilemma showing her colorblindness, and we kept having to call her back away.

Finally, the snake slithered off into the leaves and we moved on. A well-fed Timber Rattlesnake, about 2-3 years old based on the number of rattles on the tail.

We were comforted by some friends that in fact rattlesnakes don’t even bite when stepped on in more than 100 instances, (you know you’re a herpetologist when you have a “fake leg” to step on poisonous snakes to see if they will bite).snake

Other supposedly comforting facts that we learned about the Timber Rattler include:

  • They don’t like people, so they would rather “hide” remaining still until they can safely get away, just like the one we saw.
  • They rarely bite, will always rattle their tail first, and often will “fake” strike first. (the one we found did not rattle its tail, even when the dog got too close for our comfort)
  • If they were to bite they will often not inject venom, saving it to kill their next meal instead (and we are obviously too big for that next meal).
  • They help keep the rodent population under control. (um, that means mice are in the area; not so comforting…)
  • Your odds of being bit go up by 98% when you attempt to kill them. (I’m thinking a shotgun would solve this problem…)

Fascinating. Terrifying. Every stick got a careful look for the rest of the week, the longer the stick, the longer the look. Damien refused to allow me to buy a gun saying I’d waste bullets trying to hit the malevolent creature, and I threatened to never let the kids outside to play again. Which only lasted about as long as you’d expect it to with beautiful sunny weather.

Ah well – good fodder for a science report. This week’s paragraph assignment was comparison, so what better opportunity than to compare the Timber Rattler to another snake of her choice.

The   timber  rattle   snake  and    the  python       have  something’s  in   common   but  they  don’t  have many.  They   both  are  deadly  snakes.   The  timber  rattle snake  and   the  python  swim  and  eat  mammals.  Meet  the    venomous   timber  rattle   snake.   The  timber  rattle  snake   lives  in   the us   and  gets  as  long  as  3  feet .They  do  not  lay  eggs. Meet     the  non  venomuos   python.      The  python   does  not   live in  the   us     they  also  can  climb.  They  lay  eggs   and  can   get  as  long   as   20   feet. The  rattle  snake and   pythons  are  very  interesting  snakes.

 

Our backyard this week. Yes, those are the kids down there…they are searching for bugs and building the fairies homes with sticks and dirt and rocks. Cooperation and childhood play at its finest!

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A walk down to the fishing pier.
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We also got the unique opportunity to go to a bug petting zoo run by the college students in town. Such fun for all of us! Rebecca said her favorite thing was learning about Walking Sticks and Eliana said she learned that she didn’t need to be afraid of bugs.

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Giant African Millipede

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Giant African Millipede

 

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Millipedes

 

Stickbug

Walking Stick

 

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Scorpion (one of the non-stinging variety)

Tarantula shed...they don't let you hold the real ones anymore because too many tarantulas got hurt as brave people sent them flying suddenly to the floor in fright.

Tarantula shed…they don’t let you hold the real ones anymore because too many tarantulas got hurt as brave people sent them flying suddenly to the floor in fright.

Catching butterflies outside.

Catching butterflies outside.

Our tour guide also got his start in entimology through poking ants and watching them react, so Ryan may have his career path chosen already!

Our tour guide also got his start in entomology through poking ants and watching them react, so Ryan may have his career path chosen already!

Nov 05

Lake Thunderbird, Oklahoma

When camping near the water in Oklahoma, expect wind! It was a very breezy stay here but the view in our backyard was spectacular!

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We celebrated Halloween while we were here, and enjoyed free hot dogs, candy, and games!

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20161030_234608724_ios We also had a great science day at the Oklahoma Science center! The scale train display was Zachary’s favorite room – we began and ended our visit in here!

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Only the girls wanted to go into the dinosaur room… the animated dino’s and loud roaring scared the boys away. In fact, Ryan didn’t even want me to go into the room!

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We went through the mirror maze over and over again… Becca said she felt like she was in a dream!

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A slow day at the Science center meant we were the only ones at the live demonstration show about explosions!

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Rebecca attempting to controlling a robot arm. She was upset when I was able to get the arm to pick up a ball and she had to try a second time!

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