Saturday, July 26, 2014

Yes, I'm Thankful It's Hot Plus Some Other Random Stuff

I feel no need for a big introduction to this week's Ten Things of Thankful, so here goes:

1. It's summer. Yes, it's hot. Yes, it's humid.  Yes, we need rain. But it's SUMMER, people! No bone-chilling cold and wind. No icy crap on the streets.

2. Daisy Dillon is growing into a fine young lady chicken. I love the updates from her chicken mom.

Shhhh! Bedtime for biddies.

3. My daughter enjoyed her week at team volleyball camp at Missouri State University. They have a delightful new coach, just out of college where she was on the volleyball team, and the girls are really growing as players, having played together now for a full year of school ball and then club ball and now school ball again.

JV and Varsity Lady Eagles Volleyball

4. I watched quite a bit of their tournament play at camp and did not get hit by a ball ONE SINGLE TIME. 

5. We took our van to our mechanic this week, since it kept dying as you were driving along (not a good thing). He not only fixed that, HE MADE THE TAPPING SOUND THAT WAS COMING FROM THE HEATING AND COOLING UNIT GO AWAY. No more having to turn the radio up to mask the sound!

6. I got my hairs cut again. Like it now even better than when I got it cut just over a month ago. I only wish I had done it BEFORE we went to the beach. And the swamp. Especially the swamp.

7. Speaking of the beach, did you read my post about our return trip? Why the hell not? Do it.

8. Driving lessons are going well.  This week, my daughter drove on the freeway for the first time. The girl who keeps saying, "I have a need for speed" found out that going 70 mph is a little daunting.

9. Ruby has been entertaining herself every night by standing on the edge of the bathtub and trying to "catch" bugs through the picture window. This means we have to turn on the bathroom light and leave it on for her, but what Ruby wants, Ruby gets.

Ignore my work-in-progress wallpaper removal fiasco.

10. Exactly one more month before school starts, and the new high school is expected to be completed on time. Well, most of it. The Fine Arts section will not be done until January, which should prove to be interesting, since I don't think there is an alternate plan for where to hold classes like show choir.

It's getting closer and closer to being done.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Beyond The Beach: Getting There and Back

When I plan a trip, I consider getting to the destination to be half the fun. 

We're gonna rock down to....
This tradition began when the kids were really small and needed frequent potty-food-stop-bugging-your-sister/brother breaks. I have scheduled stops at Elvis' birthplace, Lincoln's boyhood home, a lock on the Ohio River, fruit stands, NASA, the world's largest floral clock, the original bourbon chocolate candy factory, nature hikes, waterfalls, cemeteries, and many, many more.

Our vacation to Galveston this week was no exception. Our trip there (in my parents' borrowed minivan, due to both of our cars being at least borderline on-the-fritz) included:

Breakfast at one of those "where the locals go" restaurants in McAlester, Oklahoma.

A visit to see the World's Largest Peanut in Durant, Oklahoma.

Lunch at a gas station/barbecue/expensive snacks, cheeses and jellies store, which I have been told is a Texas thing, but I'm not complaining, because my sammich was goooood.

Then we were in Galveston, and the week was half great/half crappy (LITERALLY - asshole seagulls). Fortunately, I saved the best stuff for the return trip home.

We headed out of Galveston, where the skies and the gulf were both turbulent, to a swamp southwest of Houston. A swamp. In Texas. In July. Who goes to a swamp in Texas in July?

People who have a daughter who wants to see alligators, that's who!

Brazos Bend State Park was the destination for our alligator expedition. We pulled up to the entrance, where we were greeted by a park ranger. She gave us a map and directions to the nearest lake (there are several on the park), and rattled off a list of Do's and Don't's of alligators. The lakes have gravel trails around them, and the trails of two of the larger lakes connect. I asked if we could wear flip flops on the trail, and the ranger said, "You CAN, but I wouldn't." 'Nuff said. We changed our shoes and headed out.

One fortunate thing about the day was that it was slightly cooler than normal, i.e., it was only 89 degrees and the humidity was about 189,000%. We were sweating before we left the parking lot. We walked to the lake, where there was a small dock, eyes darting around as we walked, watching for alligators (Rule #3: Keep a safe distance of 30 feet from alligators at all times. Dyanne's Rule #3(a): No problem.) 

My son, daughter and I had just stepped onto the gangway to the dock when my husband, who was behind us, asked if we had seen the one under the gangway.

Ummm, no.

My daughter (and remember, this whole stop to see gators was HER wish), started to freak out (the first of many, MANY times while we were there). My husband walked off the path and got MUCH CLOSER THAN 30 FEET and took pictures, while the alligator laid in the water and glowered at him. My daughter begged and pleaded for him to get back on the walkway (Rule #3 again), and he finally joined us on the dock. We saw three gators from there. They saw us and made no bones about it. One of them actually turned in the water so he could eyeball my son and me as we looked out over the water from above him. Alligators are nothing short of creepy.

We slogged through the humid air as we walked the path around the lake. My daughter was like a cat in a roomful of rocking chairs, she was so jumpy about the possibility that an alligator would come up out of the lake or be lying on the path (again, HER BIG WISH was to see gators). We rested at a viewing tower at the halfway point, where a couple of men were fishing in the lake. One of them pointed to the water below him as we passed, and there was a gator, lurking, watching him fish. He told us that gator would lie there, waiting, and if he caught a fish, the gator would snap it off his line before he could get it reeled in. "So, I'm really catching fish for the gator," he laughed. (Rule #4: GIVE THE GATOR THE DAMN FISH [a slight paraphrasing]).

We finished our walk, drank bottles of water out of the cooler when we returned to the car, then stopped at the visitor's center before leaving the park. No gators on the path while we walked (Rule #5: If you see a gator on the path, do not try to go around it or step over it; turn around and return the way you came. Refer to Dyanne's Rule #3(a), above).

Air conditioning on full blast, we headed north to the next stop of the route home:

Located in Huntsville, Texas, home to 7 state prisons, including a penitentiary that formerly housed Texas' death row (due to overcrowding, the death row inmates were moved to a prison in another city; however, they still perform the executions there), the prison museum fell under my radar when I was looking for a place for us to stay on the way home from the beach. We stayed in a Huntsville hotel seven years ago when returning from the beach. At the time, we did not know that it was a prison town, as in LOTS of prisons, as we stayed on the south side of town and then passed several of them on our way out of town the next morning, and we weren't real keen on a repeat stay, especially since I read somewhere that Friday was the day prisoners get released. Guess what night we would be staying in a hotel. Yeah.

We may not have wanted to spend the night in Huntsville, but by golly, the two Orange is the New Black fans weren't going to miss a chance to see a display of real shivs! We only had about an hour to spend in the museum, as our foray into the world of the Texas gator took us a little longer than I had scheduled, but it's a fairly small museum, and we were able to see most of it before closing time.

It was also surprisingly busy. I read that inmates who were released that day would often head straight to the museum, but no amount of eavesdropping led me to believe that was true that day. We did get to see the shiv display, plus one about Bonnie and Clyde, inmate art, prison riots, and a moving pictorial one about last statements.

Note at bottom: "This is my last meal, and damn it, I want it served hot on however many plates
and bowls it takes to keep from mixing any of it up together..."
Food rules matter.

Inmate art, made from toilet paper, and included here just for
Jenn @ Something Clever 2.0
Before leaving Texas, we ate at Whataburger, because they are everywhere (and there's a good reason they are everywhere, because even though the french fries were meh, the burgers were good) and In-n-Out Burger, because my son has always wanted to eat at one. 

We drove into Oklahoma and made one last stop, in McAlester, driving to the outskirts of town to take a look at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. It is very old, very rundown, very scary. We drove past it slowly, then turned around and came back, stopping the car for a few minutes just to look at the rows and rows of fences, the razor wire, the guard towers.

"No one ever go here to stay," I said. All members of my family quickly promised, and we slowly drove off.

"Do you think the guards are looking at us, taking down our license plate number, because we look like we're casing the joint?" asked my son.

"Let them," I answered. "This is your grandparents' car."

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Let's Go To The Beach, Each, Let's Go Get A Wave

If you read Beachy Thoughts or Bitchy, I Mean, Beachy Thoughts, Part 2, then you know my vacation at the beach was a bit of a roller coaster ride. But when all is said and done, it was a terrific week.


1. I am exceedingly thankful for the use of my parents' minivan. We had a safe, problem-free trip, never worrying whether the latest noise coming out from under the hood was something to be concerned about or just something that needed louder music to cover it up; it purred like a kitten the entire way. It also gave us a ton more room than our Toyota would have, and we had it filled to the gills.

2. No real accidents or injuries! The first time we went to Galveston, my daughter, who was about 6, got stung on the fanny by a jellyfish about fifteen minutes after arriving at the beach. (We were sure she would never get in the water again, but after a paste of vinegar and meat tenderizer was applied, courtesy of the lifeguard, it quit hurting, and all signs of it were gone within an hour.) My son stepped on a sea urchin two years ago while on a mission trip to Puerto Rico which required a trip to the emergency room and caused him a tremendous amount of pain from the spines broken off into his foot (over 50 of them) and the infection they caused, but no sea urchins or jellyfish to be found at the beach this year. My husband did burn himself on a waffle iron at the hotel we stayed in on our way back, but his little blister isn't that impressive compared to what the kids have done to themselves previously.

Husband's sunburned foot.
Somehow, in spite of using sunscreen,
we all managed to burn the
tops of our feet.

3. The first two days at the beach were hot and sunny. The water was warm, the breeze was refreshing, and we were in beach heaven. (Again, I refer you to Bitchy, I Mean, Beachy Thoughts, Part 2, for the reason it was only the first two.)

4. We ate shrimp. Lots of shrimp. Lots of very fresh, deliciously prepared shrimp. When you live far, far inland, the shrimp is never fresh, and while it's still GOOD (it's SHRIMP, after all), it's usually rubbery and a little tough.

In Galveston, they catch it here:

Then serve it here:

Shrimp N Stuff - yum!

We ate it grilled, stuffed with crab, wrapped with bacon, and, of course, fried.

Tender and delicious - Benno's on the Beach

5. My VERYVERYVERY favorite thing to do on the island is to ride the Galveston Island Ferry. It connects a sliver of the Texas mainland to Galveston. You can drive your car onto it and ride over (did it once) OR (the best way) park on the Galveston side and walk on (which we found is much more fun). Either way, it's FREE! You can watch the big ships (you know I like big ships) work their way towards the Port of Houston and (even better) watch the dolphins frolic alongside the ship.

See those crazy people standing at the front?
Several are holding BABIES. Had to stop watching.

Ferry hair.

Dolphin! There were about
a dozen at this spot.

6. Another favorite place to visit on the island is Col. Bubbie's Surplus Center. Located in the historic Strand district, the building is probably over a hundred years old, unairconditioned (we're in Texas, remember) and stuffed floor to ceiling with military surplus. And not just U.S. military surplus, either, but surplus from just about every country you can name that ever had a military. There are uniforms dating back to WWII, Civil War bayonettes, grenades, shells, hats, boots, mess kits, and thousands more items. The very sad news is that Col. Bubbie's is closing after this summer. The real Col. Bubbie passed away about five years ago, and his wife continued to operate the business. She has decided it's time to call it quits and is liquidating everything. (If you are in the market for military surplus, go here and check it out for their online store.) We'll miss you, Col. Bubbie's.

French Foreign Legion hat. The French
have very small heads, it seems.

7. My husband and son accidentally dressed alike one night at dinner and didn't even notice it until my daughter and I pointed it out from across the table.

8. My kids shared a bed and didn't kill each other. Usually, we do the boy bed /girl bed system when we are in a hotel. I took this picture one morning when my son was still asleep (it's a double bed, which means his 6'4" frame doesn't fit on it very well). It made me think of a magician's trick gone bad. You know, when the two ladies are in boxes and cut in half, then the two halves are switched?

9. Beach sand is a wonderful exfoliant. The bottoms of my feet have never been smoother!

10. I got a butt crack picture to add to my collection!

We also had a fantastic trip home, but I'm already to #10, so you'll have to wait to find out what we did later this week. Don't forget to check back and read all about it!

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bitchy, I Mean, Beachy Thoughts, Part 2

Three days ago, my beach vacation was sunlight and sand and warm ocean water.

And then it wasn't any more....

The many "scattered" and "isolated" thunderstorms that have skirted around us all week have dropped trou on us.

Wednesday, we were downtown by the harbor, trying desperately to see a ginormous, ocean-going, cargo ship (okay, that was ME trying desperately; the other three in my group could care less and do not understand my boat fetish). We were on a pier that had an excursion boat and restaurants and such, and as I looked down along the channel, I could see that, approximately 3 blocks away, it was raining onto the water. A woman who worked for the excursion boat came up alongside us at that time and announced there was a waterspout where the rain was falling, but it was dissipating. 

Two things about that:
1. Call it a waterspout if you will, but it's still a tornado, and those of us from Joplin get a little twitchy when told there is one only about three blocks away.
2. Upon hearing it was a waterspout, my daughter proclaimed that was how the sharks fell on the land in the movie "Sharknado" just as raindrops the size of saucers started falling on us, and we scurried to the car.

The rain had stopped by the time we reached our motel, but the day was over halfway over, making it silly to pay $25 to rent an umbrella and chairs on the beach, so we looked for shells instead. It's a terrible year for finding shells.

A rather sketchy bunch moved into the room next to us, and they TOOK OUR CHAIRS from in front of our room. We were pretty convinced one of the men had a prison-made tattoo (that coming from the two Orange is the New Black fans), so no way were we going to ask for the chairs back.

I sunburned the tops of my feet in a perfect flip flop pattern. Even though it was so faint that I couldn't detect it, I seem to have gotten some sun on my feet whilst wearing flip flops. That pale flip flop line then burned when it was exposed to the sun. And yes, I had put sunscreen on the tops of my feet before going out.

My boobie sunburn is now peeling. While I cannot feel pain (good thing) or the opposite of pain (not a good thing), I CAN feel itch. What up wit dat? 

I was aware there had been an influx of seaweed this spring and early summer, but there's always SOME seaweed at the beach. It hasn't been that bad, actually, although there are piles of it rotting up against the seawall, giving off a sulfur smell (odor - it's an odor; "smell" is too nice of a word). Early Thursday morning, my husband and I got up early to walk on the beach and watch the sunrise. We crossed the seawall and saw a bank of seaweed that stretched across the shoreline. (Seagulls, the rats of the sea, were having the times of their lives on that seaweed.) There was no wading in the shallow waters as the surf rolls in. The water was rough, pitching and churning, and there were dark clouds and thunderheads to the south and west. We walked on the soft sand, the wall of seaweed between us and the water. Not the same.

Worst invasion of sargassum ever. EVER.
Record breaking. Historic. 

Since Thursday was to be our last day at the beach, we planned to spend every bit of it at the beach.

Problem #1: A wall of seaweed over two feet high
Problem #2: Rain. Wind. High surf. Lightning.
Problem #3: Did I mention the seaweed?

We walked over to the beach. The wind was so strong off the water that my son could play frisbee by himself. He took a camp shovel and dug a trench through the seaweed to the water. YES, IT WAS THAT HEAVY AND THICK. Then he wheedled and begged me to look for shells with him. He helped me through the seaweed canyon he had forged and into the water, the formerly warm water but which was now quite cold and where the seaweed that was washing in immediately started wrapping itself around my ankles. It was scratchy and made my ankles burn and itch. The water was so churned up by the high surf and storms that I couldn't see my feet, which freaks me out. The seagulls were all over the place, soaring above us, sitting on the seaweed wall, wading in the water.

See how high that wall of seaweed is?
For perspective, the college boy is nearly 6'4"

A raindrop hit my shoulder. Or so I thought, until I didn't feel any MORE raindrops. I looked at my son and said, "Is their seagull crap on me?" He looked, grinned, and confirmed. One of those assholes had crapped on me. I scooped up water in my hand and threw it at my shoulder while my son kept telling me I had missed the spot. 


I slogged through the seaweedy water, buffeted by the high winds, my ankles burning and itching from the seaweed, seagull crap somewhere on my bathing suit strap where I couldn't see it, and no shells, when I informed my son that I was DONE. We walked back to my husband and daughter, taking the route through the soft sand rather than the water (I SAID I was done and I meant it). And we gathered up our towels and blew back across the seawall to our motel. And I got in the shower in my swimsuit and doused myself with body wash, paying particular attention to the vicinity of the seagull crap.

Face of someone who will go home from
five days at the beach with no tan lines.

The only good thing about all this is it will make it easier to leave tomorrow. Besides that, I have a TERRIFIC adventure up my sleeve for the trip home. Stay tuned....

Monday, July 14, 2014

Beachy Thoughts

Beachy thoughts from Galveston, Texas:

There is always more sand. Even when you think you have washed, swept, brushed, picked or wiped every grain of it off, there's still more sand.

I have a parlor trick, just like my friend Kristi does! Well, not the SAME trick; she balances toys on her head for her granddaughter. Mine is actually more practical. I was sitting in the edge of the surf, picking up little shells, but with no pockets in the ol' swimsuit, I had nowhere to put them. Then I came up with a brilliant idea: I put them inside my swimsuit top, inside the bra part of it, under my boobies. Here's what makes this brilliant: I don't have any feeling in my boobies, so I can't tell that there are little shells in my suit. When I returned to our beach umbrella and chairs, I reached in and pulled them out, dropping them into a plastic bag to save. Only hitch was when I got back to the motel and took off my swimsuit. As I was making sure all the sand was brushed off of me, I found a little tiny shell stuck to the underside of my boobie. Didn't feel a thing.

Fish are jumping all over the place in the water. Silvery, trout-ish in shape, maybe 10-15 inches long. Don't know if that's what all the fishermen are trying to catch from the rock jetties, but if it is, then they're doing it wrong, because my daughter was in the water when one of them jumped out of the water and landed on her boogie board. They were both terribly surprised, then the fish flipped back off into the water. 

No matter how bad I think I look in a swimming suit, I still look better than at least 75% of the other beach goers.

I have big damn hair in Texas. It's wildly curly and the consistency of a brillo pad, and I really don't know why I bother to bring my straightening iron with me when I come here, as it just isn't going to happen.

This reminds me of a trip we took to Florida when my daughter was 6 months old and my son had just turned 4. The first time I washed my hair there, I couldn't find the bottle of conditioner that I was just SURE I had packed. All week, my hair kept getting wilder and curlier and there was nothing I could do about it without conditioner. Finally, the night before we left, I had had enough. I remembered reading a hint once that you could use mayonnaise as a conditioner, so I thought I'd give it a try. Of course, we didn't have any mayonnaise, but we DID have Miracle Whip. Practically the same thing, right? I slathered it onto my hair, let it sit there a bit, then went to the shower to wash it out. And I washed and I washed and I rinsed and I rinsed, and I still couldn't get all that greasy Miracle Whip out of my hair. And the longer I stood under the hot shower, the more my hair smelled like hot salad dressing. Eventually, I gave up. The next morning, as I was packing our bags, guess what I found in the toiletries bag? You guessed it. A bottle of hair conditioner.

I can't cross the causeway onto Galveston Island without playing this song, which is one of my all time favorites. Listen....