Sunday, March 29, 2015

Who doesn't love a great festival?!

A few weeks ago, we heard about a Physics and Engineering Festival that would be taking place at A&M. And since 1. We have children interested in science and engineering as hobbies and possible careers, 2. We figured we'd need to be out of the house for potential showings, and 3. We look for any excuse to head to our beloved Aggieland, we made plans to attend. We got up early yesterday morning, and realized right away that we would need sustenance for the day ahead. Some wanted tacos, others wanted donuts, and I became the hero of the morning by discovering The Donut Taco Palace

After quite a hearty breakfast and our allotment of carbs, sugar and calories for the day (or possibly the week), we continued on our way, and made it to A&M around 11:00. The festival, which was a much bigger deal than we were expecting, was in full swing. We had a blast, visiting many (but not near all) of the incredible exhibits, attending a fantastic bubble show, and scoring free tickets to the finale of the festival: a symphony to be held in the evening. 

Eventually, everyone claimed to be hungry again, and we decided to try the new-to-us Grub Burger Bar, since we have already exposed the kids to most of the remaining haunts from back in our college days. This is a restaurant with an identity crisis about just exactly what kind of restaurant it is, which caused confusion in ordering and seating, but the food was absolutely delicious, so we forgave them their their lack of definition in other areas. 

After our late lunch, we decided some down time was in order before the symphony. Clay and Max had naps in the car, while I ran an errand. Then we found a park, where the kids played until it was time to go back to campus. We had already planned to spend the night in Austin, because we were going to be meeting Jeff's parents there today for an early birthday party for Ruth at Main Event, so we had our RTW bags with us, and were therefore able to get out of our dirty park clothes and into something more appropriate for the evening's proposed entertainment. It's so good to be prepared for anything that comes up!

Jeff and I were super excited about taking the kids to the symphony, but we weren't really sure how they would like it, since most of them have never been to an event quite like that before. This particular symphony incorporated not only the orchestra (which the boys are studying about at CC right now), but also an Aggie singing group (The Century Singers), who sang a lovely piece in Latin (which is another subject the kids are currently learning). The first song was the Star Wars theme song, which immediately got their attention and got them excited. Weston turned to me and whispered, "It sounds just exactly like in the movie!" The second half of the performance was the physics part, in which the author and physicist, Brian Greene, narrated a movie based on a children's book he wrote, while the orchestra played the accompanying score. It was amazing! The kids really seemed to love the whole experience and did not get fidgety or fussy at all (though they did find the very long Latin piece a teeny bit tedious). Jeff and I were proud of them and were so glad to get to expose them to this new experience!

It was a truly wonderful day, and we are so glad we decided to go! Perhaps when we return from our travels, we will have an opportunity to go again. We also hear A&M has a pretty neat Chemistry Festival, so perhaps we'll add that one to our bucket list, too. 

Aggies and Longhorns agree that team donuts are super cool!

A&M Physics and Engineering Festival

Shakes at Grub

The Brazos Valley Symphony Orchestra

arcade games and rock climbing at Main Event

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Here a field trip, there a field trip

Yesterday, Ruth got to tour the capitol building and visit with Texas Supreme Court Justice, Jeff Boyd, with her Challenge B class. I was not able to attend the filed trip, but by all accounts, it was really a great day for the kids, who are preparing for their Mock Trial competition at the end of the semester and are learning so much about official court proceedings.

Today, the boys and I joined a number of other CC families at the new Science Mill in Johnson City, for a wonderful day of hands-on learning. We had an official tour, delved into several different scientific disciplines in the lab, and then spent a significant amount of time just exploring and learning and having a ball. I loved the way the exhibits were set up to be enjoyed by younger kids, "just for fun," as well as older kids, at a deeper level, and I appreciated the overall focus of higher education and career paths displayed by the staff. What an asset to the Hill Country, and what a fantastic way to encourage children to pursue scientific endeavors!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Yodeling is good for the soul

The boys and I are doing a series in History class about each country we plan to visit on our big trip, in the order we plan to visit them. We are learning about the history, geography, economics, culture, language, and cuisine. At the end of class, the boys are making a card with the name of the country, the capital city, the continent, and the flag. We are using a variety of Internet resources (like Global Trek by Scholastic, Where in the World? by Fun Kids, National Geographic Kids, and some other random sites with country-specific information), as well as excerpts from the book Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands. We are having a blast and are getting even more excited about our trip.

Today, our focus was Austria, which was super-fun. We got to practice some German words, learn about and listen to Mozart, participate in a yodeling course, watch an excerpt from The Sound of Music, and make apple strudel. All of it was great, but my favorite part was the yodeling. We would listen, and then practice, and then laugh and laugh and laugh. And, suddenly, it hit me: yodeling is good for the soul.

Some days, I feel like nothing more than a task master. "Do this." "Don't do that." All. Day. Long. I love that I get to do school with my kids, but it's certainly not always sunshine and roses. I want it to be fun, but sometimes, it's just not. But, then, every once in a while, we get to insert something like yodeling lessons, and it's just like breathing new life into our little school. I'm thinking we are going to have a new school policy that when things are getting tense or frustrating, or when we're just feeling burned out or task master-y, we're going to open up the yodeling lessons, and reset our day.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Watta JJ

Clay has a special friend that none of the rest of us can see, but that we hear about constantly. Her name is Watta JJ, and she lives in an orange barn that is made entirely out of chocolate, just down the way. She is three and has a teeny tiny (Clay's arms stretched only as wide as his chest), seven-year-old brother, named Spoon Hedgehog. It is truly amazing all the things Clay and Watta JJ do together and all of the things that are allowed at her house that are not allowed at ours. In her backyard, there is a pile of snakes that you can pet, if the spiders don't eat them first. Clay likes to play at her house when her parents aren't home, so the two of them can steal candy. She has taught him so many truly useful things--like songs and letters and numbers. But, she also encourages him to watch movies that his older siblings are allowed to watch, that he is not yet old enough to see. She hasn't been to our house yet, but Clay is pretty sure she is on her way, as we speak. But, even if she never makes it, it will be okay, because Clay can talk to her on his "little phone." Watta JJ is truly a good friend, and it's so fun to watch Clay's eyes light up when he talks about her. And, he does talk about her. Non-stop. It reminds me of Ruth's "sister" Callie, from so many years ago.

Thursday, March 19, 2015


Years ago, maybe when Ruth was around 6, we were visiting my parents, who decided to take us to see a little show for kids. It turned out to be Lucas Miller, the Singing Zoologist. We instantly fell in love with every silly, but educational, song he sang and bought a CD at the end of the show. To say we played it millions of times doesn't seem to be an exaggeration. We literally played it until it broke. So, a couple of years ago, we were thrilled to hear that Lucas Miller was coming to our very own library. We went to the show, bought the same CD again, and continued to enjoy his music until we, once again, wore the CD out. Today, he was back in Marble Falls, and, though Ruth and Weston were tied up, the little boys and I were able to make the show. Before he started singing, Mr. Miller chatted with the eager audience and asked if anyone had seen a show before and if anyone had any requests. My boys were on the front row, and their hands shot straight up. Max put in his request, which seemed to surprise the entertainer, so he asked where Max had heard that song. I then explained that we were sort of groupies and that we had listened to the CDs more times than we could count--even to the point of breakage. He and I bantered back and forth for a while, joking about super-fans and giving the audience a sales plug, and after a while, he said, with a *wink, wink,* that he was going to have my $20 at his table after the show. Everyone laughed at this, and then he continued setting up his props. After a short while, he came over and offered me a new CD, which we didn't already have. The boys (and I) were so excited! His songs are so entertaining and very smart. If you have kids or if you just like nature, science or cleverness in action, check out his You Tube channel.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Around the World in a Carry-On Bag: Everything Else

We have finally made it to the end of the packing series! And, we're wrapping up with all those things that don't fit neatly into another category. If you've stuck around for the whole thing, pat yourself on the back. I truly appreciate you following our journey. If you're just seeing this for the first time and want to earn a pat on the back for yourself, go back and check out the other eight posts in the series here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, or just scroll down until you see them all. When you put them all together, you get the image at the bottom of this post: A girl ready to go anywhere in the world, for any length of time, in any season. 

Left to Right:

Sunglasses--Very necessary piece of equipment, whether traveling around the world or five miles down the road. These are similar to my sunglasses but not them exactly. I couldn't find a link, but I bought mine at the ski shop at the base of the mountain in Red River last Spring Break, if you want to pick up a pair.

Scotch Brite Lint Lifters--I really didn't want to bring along a lint roller, but I really dislike linty clothes. So, I was thrilled when I came across these little lint lifters in Walmart one day. They take up virtually no space in the bag and there are 30 in the package, so they ought to last a while, since I only have a couple of items that are prone to attracting lint.

Vapur Element Water Bottle--This is truly a go-anywhere type of water bottle. It's simple to fill and easy to fold up when not in use. The clip allows it to be attached to bags or belt loops or hooked over a finger, for easy transport. It can be washed in a dishwasher or by hand, and, as far as I can tell, it doesn't leak at all, when the lid is closed all the way. Mine has also been dropped several times and seems to be very durable. (Plus, it's cute!)

Cocoon Silk Travel Sheet--We wanted to make sure we were prepared for any almost any sleeping situation that might come up on this trip. This is basically a silk sleeping bag, which can be used on its own or in conjunction with other bedding. The silk helps to keep the body cool when the temperature is warm and warm when the temperature is cool. And, when it's folded up, it fits inside one of my shoes, with plenty of room to spare.

Turkish Towel--This is a multi-tasker. It can be used as a bath towel, beach towel, shawl, swimsuit coverup, light blanket, head covering, scarf, etc. Plus, it dries quickly and looks cuter than a pack towel.

Samsung Earbuds--So the world can't hear me (and whatever I'm listening to), and I can't hear it. I like these because they go inside my ears comfortably and have their own volume control.

FitBit Charge--I probably should have included this on the post about electronics. But, I didn't. This is such a fun and motivating device. I love that I can see the time and date, how many steps I've taken, how far I've traveled, how many flights of stairs I've taken, and how many calories I've burned during the day, with just a glance at my wrist. I can also log in to my online account and see all kinds of other interesting stats and charts (like how much sleep I got last night), track my food and water intake, set new goals and be encouraged in my fitness pursuits by "winning" little badges. When my parents gave this to me for Christmas, my mom said she thought it would be fun to make a note of how many steps I took in each country. I can't wait to do just that!

Mini Flashlight--Practical in so many ways. And entertaining to a small child, if I become desperate.

Rick Steves Clothesline--While minimalistic packing means that we have less laundry to do, it doesn't mean we have no laundry. This rubber line is easy to tie to furniture or hang from hooks, and it is quite stretchy, so it can cover more distance, if need be. Clothes can be laid over it or poked through the braiding, eliminating the need for clothespins.

Fisher Stowaway Space Pen--This pen is tiny but can write almost anywhere on almost anything. It can write upside down, under water, in extreme heat and cold. And, the ink supposedly doesn't dry out for over 100 years, so maybe my great-grandkids can take it with them on a similar RTW adventure.

Lewis and Clark Money Belt--I'm not terribly excited about this piece of equipment, but it seems like it might be a good idea in certain situations. It has plenty of space for money, a passport and other important things, which I may need to keep on my person and out of sight.

Five Dice--Every member of the family carries a game (or several, depending on their penchant for game playing). This is mine. Five dice take up very little space in a bag, but are useful for many games.

Travel Tissues (not pictured)--I carry these in my purse, even when I'm not traveling, but they seem especially useful for international travel.

Orbit Gum (not pictured)--Gum is always a good travel companion, especially when you're flying and need a way to pop your ears as the pressure changes.

Have bag, will travel.

Around the World in a Carry-On Bag: Toiletries

I'm finally back with the second-to-last post in my packing series, and I'm featuring toiletries. There was a time when I carried my large toiletry bag separate from my suitcase and lugged around a million things that I might need, trying to cover every possible "just-in-case" scenario, and trying to keep my at-home beauty routines in place while traveling. Since we decided on a "one-carry-on-apeice" policy for this trip, I have been working hard to pare down just to necessities (though I admit to still having a few just-in-case items on hand), and I've been experimenting with beauty products and tools that were previously not even on my radar. I've also been practicing with more natural looks that require less effort and materials to pull off.  Many of the experiments have been inspired by the TSA rules about liquids, which limit the size of the bottles/tubes to under 3.4 oz. and the overall quantity of liquids/gels/creams to one quart-sized bag. I frequently have to remind myself that the toiletries I leave home with are not required to last the duration of the trip and that I can supplement, as needed, along the way. The pictures in my little collage are not in any kind of order, but in the list below, the products are categorized in a way that made sense to me. You can see the other contents of my bag by scrolling down through the blog, or by clicking here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Neutragena Sunscreen Stick
Olay Beauty Bar

J. R. Liggett Shampoo Bar
Foldable Hairbrush/Mirror
Conair Comb
Goody Hair Elastics
Schick Quattro Razor and Replacement Razor Blades

Eco-Dent Powdered Toothpaste
Colgate Folding Travel Toothbrush
2 extra front teeth "flippers" (in addition to the one I'll be wearing)

Garnier BB Cream
Wet-n-Wild Ultimate Brow Kit
L.A. Colors Lash Building Mascara
NYC Expert Last Lip Color

Revlon Slant Tweezers
Tweezerman Point Tweezers
Remington Personal Trimmer
Emery Board
Baby Safety Scissors
Small Sewing Kit
Travel Pack Q-tips
Aquasentials Exfoliating Soap Saver Pouch

Girl Stuff
Sckoon Menstrual Cup

All Terrain Herbal Insect Repellent
Hand Sanitizer
Secret Solid Deodorant

doTerra Essential Oils and Products
Deep Blue Rub (sample packets)
Past Tense
Clear Skin
On Guard
Terra Shield
DigestZen and DigestZen Softgels
Breathe Respiratory Drops
Aroma 2 Go USB Diffuser

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Family, Food and Fun: A Road Trip

Eventually, I will finish my packing series, but it's not going to be today. This week was crazy and left me little time to even think about blogging, much less to actually do it, and we had a road trip I want to report on. I know you're on the edge of your seat, waiting to see what else is in my bag, but you'll just have to wait. :)

Mimi invited the kids who were eligible and interested to participate in a mud run this weekend in Houston, so Weston and Max took her up on it, and the rest of us came along just for fun. Besides the mud run, we also ate some great food at some really neat places, played in the (outdoor and unheated) hotel pool (because, you know, it was the first sunny day in weeks, and the kids simply couldn't resist, even though the sun was no longer shining and the temperature had gone down with the sun), acted silly, and celebrated the most epic Pi Day of the century (literally).

No road trip to Houston is complete without a stop at Buc-ee's,
and our little statue lover cannot ever pass up a photo op with Buc-ee himself.

Dinner at Mia Bella in Vintage Park

Swimming at The Element--and warming up at the fire pit shortly thereafter

Racing with Mimi:
Up top, L to R: taking off, entering the obstacle course, race fans
Bottom: Before, After, Way After

Mud + Running = One Happy Boy

Weston's highlight reel

We enjoyed the gorgeous day with lunch at The Shack.

One of the most important things we needed to do today
was to celebrate this very special Pi Day.
After other plans were thwarted,
we very fortunately found ourselves at Bever's Kitchen in Chappell Hill.