Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Awww, so sweet!

I woke up this morning to my alarm at 6:35am, the usual, but when I went in to wake the boys up (okay get them started getting ready for the day,  they are usually already up playing a game like Chomp- why is Vander ALWAYS about to win???), I walked into Oliven's room and found them both cuddled up in Ollie's bed. Vander said, "good morning mommy. We were just snuggling because we love each other." So sweet!!!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Texas and Louisiana

  At current count Vander and Oliven have now been to 7 states (Larry would say 8, but Justin and I don't think airports count) and 2 countries. Not bad for 5 1/2 and 3 1/2. Here is a run down of our 8 day trip to Texas, with a one day detour to Louisiana.
  Day 1: We headed out to the airport very early Saturday morning (Feb. 15, 2014). We landed in Austin (after a brief layover in Phoenix) at around 1:30 and got a rental car. We decided to make our 1st stop in downtown Austin to grab some lunch. What a fun town...signs up everywhere saying, "Keep Austin Weird". Now that is my kind of place. It's fun, funky, original, and not afraid to be different. The food truck Justin really wanted to have lunch at closed right as we got there because it ran out of food! Oh well. We walked around down town and then called Olivia (My Uncle Jim's step-daughter and a childhood friend) and met her and her 17 month old son at the Discovery Museum in Austin called the Thinkery (free with Happy Hallow passes).
It was a very cool place and my boys had a great time. Jack, Olivia's son clung to her leg the whole time, but did some good people watching while Olivia and I caught up. It was really nice to see her. She is pregnant and due with her second boy in April. She said watching my boys together was like looking at her future. Luckily they were playing pretty nicely together.
  After the Thinkery, we headed over to the Congress Avenue bridge for bat watching. Olivia helped us navigate over to the bridge and we took some pictures and she headed home to feed Jack. We told the kids to take a good look at each other since they might not see each other until they are teenagers (just a joke since I haven't seen Olivia in 18 years- yet, we got along like we hung out last week). She is such a sweetheart and I have all good memories of her.
Bat watching on the hill was fun. At sunset the bats started flying out from under the bridge- hundreds of them. Apparently in the summer it's more like thousands, but I still enjoyed the uniqueness of the situation. The boys thought they saw bats the rest of the trip every time they saw birds. I couldn't see them in any of the pictures, but they were their I swear. :)
  At this point we headed over to eat some pizza at a pizza place Justin was interested in, but it had a 1 1/2 hour wait plus pizza baking time. Yikes. Justin was starving so we checked into the hotel and went to the closest restaurant. It was a hole in the wall Chinese food place. I would give it 1 star. I wasn't afraid to eat the food, but that is as far as it went. It was dingy, run down and not very good. Back to the hotel for bed.
  Day 2: We started our day at The Capitol building in downtown Austin. It was really cool because there was a marathon going on so all the streets were closed off, but all the buildings were still open. There was live music and a fun atmosphere and we got to cheer for the runners. In the Capitol building we got to go into the Senate and House of Representatives rooms. In the Senate room high schoolers were having a debate so that was fun. We also went over to the visitor center and learned about Texas state history, the boys dressed up as Tejanos (Spanish settlers in Texas), got to smash a seal in paper, get a smashed penny, and the boys favorite- walk up and down stairs- looking at decorations on the ceiling and floor.
  After that we headed over to Tacodeli for a snack lunch. We enjoyed our gourmet tacos with excellent customer service, but didn't want to eat too much because we had plans for dinner in a few hours. Next, we headed over to  Zilker Metro Park and rode the Zilker Zephyr Mini Train. While we were waiting for the train ride there was a Barton Springs Pool Museum that we walked through that told us all about the water in the area. They boys enjoyed their ride around the park almost as much as playing on the playground.
  For dinner we decided to go to "THE" place to eat BBQ in Austin- The Salt Lick. We went for an early dinner at 4:30 and they told us it would an hour and a half wait! Well, Ollie and Van had both fallen asleep on the way there so we decided to wait. There were about 500 spots in the parking lot, so I knew this was "the place to be" and an experience we had to have. Luckily, we got a spot 40 minutes later. Justin and Vander got all you can eat. Ollie did too (but his was free) and I got the ribs.
Yum. It was really good BBQ no doubt about it. The ribs were quite tender and delicious, and the sides were all pretty yummy too.(Though, this was not the best food we had on our trip). Justin wanted his BBQ sauce to be more sweet and less vinegary.
  When we were done we headed over to Amy's Ice cream to have a dessert treat with Meg (Uncle Jim's ex-wife). It was nice to see her. I still can't believe that I forgot to get a picture with her! Anyway, we caught up while we ate ice cream and the boys ran around. It was a short, but sweet visit and we went back to the hotel to sleep.
  Day 3: In the morning, the boys were very excited to see that part of the buffet was a Texas shaped waffle iron. Texans sure do have a ton of Texas pride. It's pretty catchy actually. After breakfast we made the 3 hour drive to Houston. We stopped 2 hours in at the Bluebell Ice creamery. The factory was shut down to tours for the week, but that didn't stop us from watching the tour video and eating $1 scoops of ice cream at 10am. Best ice cream I've ever tasted. Yum.  The boys enjoyed the hats they got to wear.
  We met up at the Tolman house and Julianna pulled Collin (the Tolman's are friends from Krannert Partners Association at Purdue University), their 6 year-old out of school to hang out with us. We headed downtown to see the "Water wall". It was super cool. It was a wall that was about 100 yards wide and 3 stories high made into a giant water fall wall. It was in a grassy area, which the kids loved and it was very impressive. From there we headed to a car art museum, which ended up being closed, so we went to the "Beer Can House". Some guy took a LOT of time to decorate an entire house with old cans. It was a sight to see. First he had to drink all those beers, then cut them up and glue them on...the boys and I squeezed in the gate to explore. It was impressive. We went back to the Tolman house for dinner and bed. All 3 boys shared a room (and loved every minute of it), but they didn't sleep well the first night. They were too busy talking, playing and getting into trouble. We played Ticket to Ride: Europe and went to bed.
  Day 4: We started the day out leisurely and headed to Minute Maid park, where the Houston, Astros play. We took a tour of the park since it isn't baseball season yet. It was actually pretty cool. We got to see the whole park including sitting in the dugouts, the luxury suites, the roof and behind the score board. But, DON'T touch the grass! We headed over to the Houston tunnels to see the Underground Mall areas and their connections. They were built because it's so hot in Houston in the summer. It was pretty intricate. Adrian was able to join us and we hit the food court for lunch.
  After that we headed out to Brazo's Bend park to see real live alligators. Vander, Justin and I even pet a baby alligator. Oliven, not surprisingly, was not interested. We saw 6 full size alligators as well just sitting on the banks. The signs said to stay 30 feet away from the gators, but honestly, walking over to the pier, you couldn't see them until we were about 10 feet away as they were on the downward sloping embankment. The signs were also very clear in saying that there had never been any "alligator instigated" incidents. We walked around the park for a while and let the kids play on the playground. It was definitely worth the drive out. Afterwards, we headed back to the Tolman's for dinner and Ticket to Ride: Europe with dice.
  Day 5: Being that we were only a 3 hour drive away from a fun city in Louisiana, we couldn't resist going for a day trip. We started out our Lake Charles visit at Bord Du Lac park. It was such a nice park that it was fenced in with security guards and no food allowed inside the gates. It was huge, really nice, and very well kept up (yes it was free) and it was very close to Lake Charles- you could see the lake from the park. When we were done at the park we went over to have lunch at a BBQ place that Justin had read about, and while the food might have been good it wasn't what we were looking for in Louisiana considering it was take-out and didn't have etouffe√©, so we went to Steamboat Bills and it was AMAZING. The etouffee was out of this world. Justin ordered a second bowl twice as large as our original serving to go with the boudin ball and gumbo. "That was worth the drive to Louisiana!" exclaimed Justin.
We went over to the visitor center and saw some more alligators and a cool display of Mardi Gras float models done by a local school. We took the kids to a Mardi Gras museum and while the costumes were really cool the boys weren't that interested and the museum seemed to not be open or well attended, so we headed back to Texas. When we got back the Tolmans took us out for a ride on their ski boat. It was really fun. The boys got a real kick out of it (especially considering that they had never been on a boat faster than a canoe). Back to the Tolman house for dinner and bed. We played Fresco with the Tolmans and took a group picture before heading off for bed.
  Day 6: We had a nice leisurely morning with Julianna and Collin, but he had to be to school by 10am to be counted for the day, so we headed out on the road for San Antonio around that time.
We stopped at Bucee's gas station, which is not only a gas station, but also a destination. Julianna told us we had to stop there and so did all the signs starting 100 miles before we got there. It was huge and had all kinds of really cool stuff including "Beaver Nuggets" (kind of like really sweet Pop's cereal) and cappuccino bar for $1.39 a cup with all sorts of flavored creamers. What a deal. We tried some interesting looking treats and continued on our way. They even had a smashed penny machine! We had sandwiches in the car for lunch. 
We started our San Antonio adventure at The Alamo. I have been there before and the boys were not super entertained by "the old building", but they liked the fountain in the back. It was pretty hot so we decided to head down to The River Walk where there was plenty of shade.
There were some fun fountains on the way down and Justin found a neat wooden box (he collects wooden boxes) that looked like a tree trunk and slides open. We found Justin's ice creamery established in 1981...I mean come on, how perfect was that? The River Walk was really cool. We went on the Rio San Antonio Cruise boat tour. The boys enjoyed floating around in the boat and Justin and I liked hearing the history. They moved a 3 story hotel that was deemed historical from The River Walk to build a new hotel. They moved the whole hotel at .001 miles an hour. Justin said it must have been fun to be that driver. ;) We decided afterwards to have an early dinner at Casa Rio. I wanted to eat there because it was the 1st restaurant opened on the River Walk in 1946, which was 5 years after The River Walk was opened. We headed back to the hotel (after a quick trip to Trader Joes for some yogurt and chocolate covered honey comb) for some much needed rest.
Day 7: We started the morning with bagels and then made our way to the Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch. We bought some extra food to feed the animals so each boy would have a bag and drove into the park. You could throw the food right outside your window and the wild animals would come right up to your window (many zebras got too close and we had to close the window to avoid their kisses). It was super cool to have all the animals right there. The boys were trying to throw one little piece of food at a time and the animals had a hard time finding them. I showed them how to throw a little more so the animal could see it. They did NOT want to waste their food.
The park only allowed 5MPH driving, so when Justin and Vander got out to see the giraffe's up close (Ollie's favorite animal because their spots look like puzzle pieces and he LOVES puzzles), Oliven climbed into the driver's seat. He convinced Justin to let him drive on his lap. Oliven loved his turn at the wheel and did a pretty good job. Vander got a turn next and he drove like a cartoon character moving the wheel back and forth. It was interesting. Don't worry guys Justin was in control the whole time and we were driving like 3 miles an hour while they drove. The yaks, gazelles, and zebras seemed to like the food pellets the most. After the drive through we went and saw the other animals in the petting zoo and the boys had some pizza for lunch.
   Next door was our next destination, the Natural Bridges Caverns. We wanted to take the kids on the rope coarse, but Ollie wasn't tall enough and neither boy weighed enough for the zip line so we skipped that part and took a tour of the caverns (after getting a smashed penny).
They were very extensive. It was 70 degrees, but felt like 85 with the 99% humidity. It was crazy hot, but seeing all the underground features was fun and it was bigger than the caverns in Shasta- more rooms and different cave "growths". And, lots of very very old bat guano. After the tour we had to sit on the giant dinosaurs in the parking lot of course.
  We made the drive back to the hotel and walked over to Cracker Barrel for dinner. I really like that place. It strikes me as quintessential southern cooking and lots of it. I made sure to get a side of collard greens with my meatloaf and hash brown casserole. Van says that the pancake he had for dinner was the best food he ate on the whole trip. He also had a sweet potato and it was covered in sugar and pecans- the southern way. We let the boys pick a special candy from the store for dessert. (They get a little spoiled on vacation because I'm very into healthy eating at home and this is their outlet). We went back to the hotel and took the kids for a swim in the pool and some jacuzzi time. The pool was a bit chilly, but Vander didn't mind at all. He went back and forth full body in the pool and jacuz. Ollie thought the pool was too cold and the jacuz too hot, so he only got 1/2 way into the pool. Then, we all went to bed around 8:30. Justin was feeling very well rested after that night.;)
  Day 8: Last day, make the most of it...we did. We took the boys to the Witte Museum ($12 for all 4 of us with Happy Hallow discount). The Mission San Jose was our back-up plan, but was out of the way, and we were having so much fun we ran out of time anyway. We happened to be there on a special members day- score, we were considered members. So, the boys got to make alien masks and get a picture with it on in front of the "stars" background, drive a remote control robotics car, and Vander made an electronic circuit with a battery and play doh. Then, of course there were all the exhibits. They liked the one on aliens and all the hands on building toys to make models of aliens, and learning about/proving their knowledge of the planets. They also liked learning about bones and seeing the old fashioned cabins. We were running low on time, so we headed to Whataburger to grab some cheeseburgers for lunch. Nothing super special, but they were EVERYWHERE in Texas so we had to try it out. We were informed that the locals call it "Wod a burger". And, then, we raced to return the rental car by 2pm. We made it with 5 minutes to spare.
   When we got into the airport our plane was delayed by 30 minutes (we knew that in the morning) and then 10 more when we got there due to some problem with lighting. We boarded the plane and then were told the back-up engine wasn't working, so we had to switch planes and were told that 1/2 the passengers wouldn't make their connection flight- us included. Our connection was in Las Vegas, so I was sort of hoping they would put us up in a hotel and give us each $200 vouchers for our trouble...that could have paid for the flights for our trip to Minnesota next year. Justin was getting a little frantic since they said they wouldn't be able to get us on another flight until Monday evening. I was fine with that. I figure the universe, with Southwest's help, was teaching Justin to be flexible. We left the airport finally at 5pm. We landed at 6pm in Vegas (keep in mind there was a 2 hour time change and we were originally supposed to have a 100min. layover), and the San Jose connection was supposed to leave at 6:10. We boarded the plane at 6:08pm. Well, phew, they waited for us....but, we didn't leave until 6:45pm because the co-pilot's previous flight had been delayed. Anyway, we made it back to San Jose only 30min. after scheduled. What a long day. Larry picked us up and took us home. I sat in the back (not a comfy situation) with the boys and kept Ollie awake. While we were in the airport Oliven saw a no smoking sign and asked if it meant no glue sticks. So cute.
  Overall a very nice trip. It was really great getting to see Olivia, Jack, Meg, Julianna, Adrian, and Collin. We enjoyed all the sites and adventures. I asked the kids if there is anything we could do better next time we travel. Vander said, "let's ask Ollie not to be cranky." The poor guy really did need some quiet time, but what can you do when you don't have anywhere to lay down during the day. Justin and I could have used a couple more suites (we only had one) and some down time, but that is all part of traveling. They both said that their favorite parts of the trip were the capitol building and playing with Collin's ipad.

The travel bug

  Traveling has been a priority in my life since I was a little girl. My mom had been to over 40 states before she had me, which was a very good thing since she found out she had Multiple Sclerosis when she was pregnant with me and with limited mobility came very low income and made traveling extremely challenging. Was she glad she did all that traveling beforehand- you bet. You just never know what life will throw at you. Because of that I have always felt that you have to plan for the future of course, but don't forget to live your life now and take the opportunities that arise, as well as making opportunities for yourself. Grandma Gretchen was a travel agent from the time I was about 8 until a few years ago...back when people used travel agents...because of that she got lots of really good deals on great traveling opportunities and often times she got two kids free. I was her favorite grandchild (partly because I spent so much time with her, and partly because she and I really clicked. I am so much like her and I always really admired her- what a phenomenal role model she always was, and a best friend) so she would always choose me and tell me I could pick another kid in the family. I always picked Freddy, and as we got older, we insisted Colby be included. This allowed us to travel to many great places including, but not limited to: Hawaii, Kauai, Sedona, AZ,  Cruises to Mexico and the Caribbean, Ireland, and Grandma also planned our European bus tour as well as the trip my brothers and I took to Fiji, Australia and New Zealand. My grandma really instilled the love of traveling in me and my mom nurtured and encouraged that love. I want to pass that on to my children. There really is nothing like exploring new and different places. Those memories are priceless and irreplaceable.
   I also got to go camping a lot as a kid and go to girl scout camp every summer and have now been to 41 states and 18 countries. Justin is not too far behind that- thanks to our travels across the U.S. together.
  I read in a magazine about a year ago about a couple who decided to make it a goal to go to all 50 states before her kids moved out....well, Justin and I really enjoy road tripping, Justin can find great deals, and we are both goal, CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. The kids have both got the travel bug. You may be thinking, yes, but what about going to other countries- well, we have a few that we want to take the kids to- Italy and Greece for sure. Here is the thing- I would like our travels to coincide with school as much as possible, which I think is going to work well because our children are 2 years apart. This means that in 5th grade Vander will learn all about the east coast, then we will go to the East coast (Vander can be the expert while we are there since he just learned about it), and then, Ollie will learn about it and have all the pictures and have been there to relate in the classroom as the expert. Which means, 4th grade is California history and all the missions including the missions project, 5th grade is the east coast and London (that will have to be a separate trip as we can't drive there), 6th grade is ancient civilizations- hence Italy and Greece. Egypt is probably out of the question for now. As far as other countries...I would really like to take the kids to Japan some day (but they don't have to still be living at home), and for high school graduation I would like to take 3 weeks (or so) to hike across Spain. I mean, come on, how cool would that be??? Several people have said that they don't think that the boys will want to do that with me....I say, a free trip to Spain? Who would pass that up? Justin does not think that sounds like fun, but maybe we can do some kind of European adventure afterwards and he can meet us for that leg of the trip. Besides, if I pump them up for this trip starting now and keep the hype going I think by the time it comes around the boys will be excited. Andrea and Colby are both on board...
   As for other travels I would like the boys to have the joy of a house boating adventure. I'm thinking 2016 sounds good with the Lim and Walters families. I would like to go with my family as well, but pinning them down is just impossible. Colby won't commit until the last minute and Freddy just won't commit. I'll give them a few years until their kids are older and then I will make it happen. :)
   I would like to take the boys on a cruise through the Panama Canal and probably that would also be the way to experience Alaska. Justin loves cruises, but they are quite pricey.
  I also want my boys to have a love of nature, so camping at least twice a year from now on is definitely in the cards. I just know Deb and Heather are going to camp with us soon. ;) I should get that going. I think a love of nature, learning, and culture are so important. The boys enjoy traveling, going new places, trying new foods, and of course meeting new friends.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Vander's sleep study

   Vander has been having night terrors for 3 years now...almost every night. I enrolled him in group therapy and had the Dr. sign him up for a sleep study to figure out what is going on. It's not good for him or the rest of us. It's hard to travel and he can't spend the night at anyone's house (other than his grandparents) until this stops. We need to figure out what is going on and why for everyone's sake. I keep being told, "he will grow out of it...eventually", but when???
  So, Saturday night we headed down to Kaiser Santa Clara to figure out what is going on in that brain of his...he was quite a trooper! He didn't cry once. He was very brave and cooperative. The nurses were impressed with how smart and inquisitive he was. He didn't complain at all either. He asked for very thorough step by step explanations and wanted to keep the flashlight close by. Luckily they said it was okay for me to sleep in the bed with him so he knew I was right there. 
  He didn't wake up like he usually does, but he did kick, hit and flail in his sleep for a while. He hit himself several times. He woke up at 2am to go to the bathroom. We arrived at 6:45pm and it took about 2 hours to get Vander's vitals, attach all the wires and do a couple of tests to make sure everything was working. So at around 9pm they turned the lights out and we tried to sleep. At around 9:30 Van decided he had to go to the bathroom and other than going pee again at 2amish we both slept (him more soundly than me as I was trying my best not to make any noise or move so as not to throw the data off in any way). 5:15am they woke us up and took all the wires off Van. We were headed home by 6am and Vander got a shower and bath to get all the gunk off. Ollie decided it was time to join in the bathtime fun. When Justin got up we all went out for donuts to thank Vander for doing such an amazing job. Justin also bought him the movie Turbo. What a great little guy he was. Now we wait 2-3 weeks and see what the Dr. has to say. :)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Superbowl Sunday

  We actually watched the Superbowl this year. It was really fun. We went over to the Lim house. We had fun with friends, ate tons of delicious appetizers, and watched the Denver, Broncos get creamed by the Seattle, Sea Hawks. Did you catch that- I even knew who was playing and who won. It was a nice relaxing Sunday afternoon. The boys loved playing around with friends. ;)