Sunday, June 30, 2013

The secret to a successful family vacation.

It's no secret that our family LOVES an old-fashioned load-up-the-family-truckster road trip. In the last five years, we've taken three long-haul vacations: Grand Canyon and Colorado (including Santa Fe, Petrified Forest, Mesa Verde, Durango and Colorado Springs); Washington, DC (along with Memphis, Nashville, Monticello, Mount Vernon, Williamsburg, Outer Banks and Atlanta); and last year's Disney World extravaganza (as well as New Orleans and Orange Beach, Alabama). While it's great to fly, we love the convenience of having our own vehicle (complete with a picnic cooler in the back), the thrill of taking in the changing landscape, and of course, the hilarity of interstate sing-alongs and car games.

It's also no secret that I enjoy planning those big trips almost as much as we enjoy taking them. I'll spend hours online, comparing routes, reading hotel reviews, scouring the web for those out-of-the-way museums or roadside attractions that yield great photo ops, like this one:

"Such a fine sight to see..."

Friends sometimes ask about certain destinations we've visited, wanting a couple of tips, and I'm always happy to share. But there's one general suggestion I have hesitated to mention since it ventures into TMI territory. Even so, because I believe it can save you hours of discomfort while promoting family harmony, I'm flush with excitement to finally reveal our big secret.


Four people sharing one hotel room (and more importantly, one bathroom) will breathe easier if you remember to pack the Febreze. When nature calls, a good air freshener is the answer.

Bonus tip: If you use a new scent on your vacation, once you return home, that aroma will give you and your family nice sensory flashbacks to your trip. Instant olfactory nostalgia.

If you're short on space, you may want to pack a travel-sized version. Here's my fave:

I keep one of these little guys in my suitcase cosmetic bag, and it comes in handy, even for quick weekend get-aways. For some reason we've stuck with the Febreze Air Effects brand, and even though it's not a "fabric refresher" like regular Febreze, it can be used like that in a pinch. 

So there you have it: my favorite road trip tip. When you're on the go and gotta go, share a spray and save the day!

Vacation 2012 recap.

My goal was to finish blogging our big Florida vacation before the one-year anniversary of that trip. Just days shy of our departure date this time last year, I have FINALLY posted the last recap!  The 2012 vacation daily summaries are all posted and back-dated:

July 5: The saga begins... (lost dog, New Orleans)
July 6: No place but NOLA (French Quarter, Cafe du Monde, wax museum)
July 6: Road to Orange Beach (Mississippi welcome center, beach hotel, fireworks)
July 7: Orange Beach (beach time, LuLu's)
July 8: Florida (Universal CityWalk, dinner with friends)
July 9: Universal Orlando (Wizarding World of Harry Potter)
July 10: Wild About Harry (return to Islands of Adventure)
July 10: Universal and Disney resort
July 11: Epcot
July 12: Magic Kingdom (park, Disney, resort arcade)
July 12: More MK
July 13: Hollywood Studios
July 13: Even more MK (Extra Magic Hours)
July 14: Animal Kingdom
July 15: Homeward bound (Tallahassee, Destin)
July 16: Texas! (Tyler, Chuy's, cemetery)
July 16: Survivor encounter

Whew! What a great trip!

I'm so thankful for our health and safe travels. I'm also thankful for the loved ones who made this trip possible. This vacation never could've happened if it weren't for some invaluable help. We are indebted to Brett's parents for taking care of our pets while we were gone and checking on the ol' homestead for the nearly two weeks we were gone. We were also blessed to have friends and family checking in on Memaw throughout our absence. They visited, took her gifts, sent us photos and texted updates. Because of Mom's dementia, we were so afraid she would forget why we were gone (and she did), but her many visitors did a wonderful job reminding her how much she's loved.

Of course, everyone's efforts to care for Mom showed us how blessed we are, too. Thanks to our "angels" here at home, we were able to take a break from the world of nursing homes and hospitals and escape to another world. It was MAGICAL.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Campin' Katie.

Katie returned from church camp on Friday, June 21, overflowing with stories about what an awesome week she had. Saying it was her best camp week ever, she was sad it was over.

Never one to stay still for too long, a short two days later, she was back at camp, TCU band camp this time. Since I don't tag along for church camp, it was a real treat to help Katie get settled in her dorm room. It helps me to be able to picture her environment while she's away, you know.

Once her bed was made and her audition was complete, we walked around a little. 

Hook 'em!

Frog Fountain

Great atmosphere! This campus has changed so much since
I attended a journalism camp here waaaaaay back in 1982.

That Thursday night, we attended the camp concert. It was fun to get to see not just Katie but a couple of our church friends, too.
Concert band, featuring Katie's friend E.
The concert band director is a friend from my early days in DFW.

Katie sighting!

Symphonic band

Front and center!

The concert was incredible; these kids did a great job learning this new, HARD music in just four days.

Afterwards, we were ready to load up her stuff and enjoy dinner with friends.

Poor quality photo, but I'm NOT missing a rare "hug shot."

Katie checks her "look" in her phone.

Katie with her longtime friend, B
Of course, band camp wasn't nearly as much fun as church camp, but she's still grateful for the experience. So are we! We're so proud of how hard she works to improve as a musician.

Posted July 6, 2013

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Happy Nana Day!

Happy birthday to Nana! We celebrated her birthday with cake, sopapilla cheesecake and Trivial Pursuit.

Katie was still at camp (band camp this time), but Scott, Adam and Amanda came over to celebrate with Nana and Papa. Good times!

Posted July 6, 2013

Some days.

Some days, I can hear her voice so clearly, it's hard to imagine that she's not here. Some days, memories are so fresh, so recent, I can't fathom how long it's been since I was with her.

As these summer days roll by, I find myself playing the "this time last year" game. This time last year, we were struggling to make Mom comfortable in the nursing home. This time last year, every time my cell rang, I'd get a sick feeling in my stomach, wondering what bad news awaited or what crisis needed averting. This time last year, we were getting ready for our big Florida vacation, and I was worried sick that my mom's health would interrupt our trip. This time last year, we were swimming in medical and financial questions, not sure what to do or how to do it. This time last year, we had no idea that Mom would be gone by September.

In spite of those recurring reminders of all the awful, I'm still awash in happier memories. I'll see a children's book and hear her sing-song voice. I'll see an old dish in our cupboard and remember its place in our Tyler home. And hardly an hour passes that I don't think of something I want to tell her, something that would make her gasp in delight or laugh that hearty chuckle of hers.

Some days, I let myself forget that she's gone.

Maybe summer's slower pace is giving me more time to think, more chances to reflect, to mourn. Maybe it's just a natural part of the grieving process, to face a new wave of pain as the one-year mark approaches. But wow, have these last few weeks been rough. My anxiety level has been creeping up to paralyzing levels at times, and I know grief is the undercurrent, causing me to lose my footing and self-assuredness.

Last Sunday's sermon was about transitions, and Jim (our preacher) reminded us that our mission is to see God in the transition. I'm failing there, too. I need God's comfort, but I don't feel it. I need His "blessed assurance," but I'm struggling to feel assured.

When I fall into pits like this one, I need Philippians 4:

4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!5Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.6Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.7And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
    8Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.9The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

I know God is there—HERE—but I crave His peace. We're called to "be anxious for nothing," but lately I feel anxious about EVERYTHING. Because of the depth of my love for my parents, I expect intense grief. I'm even thankful for it. But we were not made to live in despair.

Please pray for me, and for all those who find themselves in their own valleys.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Quick escape to ATX.

With Katie away at church camp, Ryan and I were itching to get out of town. (I use that phrase a lot, but it's true! I suffer from chronic wanderlust, and a few days without school/work/church obligations leave me hankerin' to get out of Dodge.)

After making the requisite Czech Stop stop, we drove into Round Rock to get some Torchy's Tacos for lunch with my niece. Then we enjoyed said tacos with her and her kiddos, a.k.a. the world's cutest grandnieces and grandnephew.

After lunch we got to play a while. The photos are mostly of Baby D and his sister Addie because the older girls were busy-busy-busy (and blurry in pix)!

He likes his new shirt.

From there we drove to our hotel, checked in and swam for a while. Once we were freshened up, we frequented our latest must-see Austin business: Pinballz.

Ryan's favorite pin

Ryan beat me a MarioKart
(no surprise!)

I did manage to beat him at Centipede, though.
(No school like old school.)

Pinballz is a great arcade, and it was nice to get to play without the huge crowds we saw last time we were there for a retro gaming event. After going through all those tokens, it was time for grub!

Of course, we went to Chuy's. Duh.

We awoke to a nice rain the next morning, which threatened our plans for the day.

Breakfast o' champs: cinnamon roll pancakes

But by the time we finished our Kerbey Lane breakfast, the clouds had parted. We were on our way to Barton Springs!

Boy, is that water cold! It's so refreshing! Unlike our last time here, we had goggles so we could see all the fish swimming with us. Now THAT was eye-opening. We saw a bunch, some of them fairly large. A little icky, yes, but SO COOL.

From Zilker we went uptown to shop (Co-op and Half Price Books, predictably) before heading north on 35. The donut fan got his Round Rock Donuts, I got my Dairy Queen, and before too long, we were home, just in time for Brett and I to go out for our 19th wedding anniversary.

Great company, great town, great trip, great ending. Can't beat it!

Posted July 6, 2013

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Celebrating a SUPERDAD.

Because Katie was heading to church camp on Father's Day, we honored Brett a day early. 

We called Brett downstairs, and when he arrived in the kitchen, he saw this:

Brett's gifts included some DVDs that Ryan picked out and a whole mess of Justice League/Flash items from Target's summer promotional aisle. (And yes, we all agreed that the table looked more like a little kid's birthday party than Father's Day, but whatevs.)

Brett opened his cards and gifts, and then we feasted on cake (using Justice League plates and napkins, natch).

Of course, Brett's longtime interest in comic books and superheroes inspired the theme, but truly, he is a SUPER dad.

He leads our family with love and strength, and his work ethic is a great example for Ryan and Katie. We love him and thank God for him!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tyler excursion, day 2, part 2: Tyler Rose Garden.

It's funny how certain smells invoke memories. Occasionally I'll pass a water-filled mop bucket, and the odor makes me flash back to my elementary school cafetorium. The stale but clean smell of the back stairwell at school, especially right after summer ends, reminds me of my first day at Bell. And every now and then, in a garden or even at a funeral, I'll smell fresh roses. THAT aroma is HOME.

For many, Tyler is known for roses, and for good reason. As you drive into town, you notice the roadside stands selling the cheap, short-stemmed flowers at a bargain price. You might also catch a glimpse of some of the rose fields where thousands of the plants are loving Tyler's perfect rose-growing soil. And as you venture into the city, you'll come across the Tyler Municipal Rose Garden. At 14 acres, it's the nation's largest rose garden, and if you visit in October in the spring, you're likely to see nearly 38,000 rose bushes in bloom.

Alas, for this visit, many bushes were not in bloom, but it's still a pretty sight, nonetheless. Plus, it's nostalgic, not just for me, but for Brett and the kids, since they remember coming here with Memaw. And I remember countless visits with my parents and grandparents, especially around Rose Festival time.  

My mother always made me pose with
the roses, so I made Katie do the same!

For the Rose Festival each October, this big lawn in the middle is home to the Queen's Tea. My mom brought me to several of these teas when I was little so I could gawk at the queen's dress with its ginormous beaded train.

Our trips to Tyler are rare, but I'm thankful for the chance to revisit these nostalgic places from my childhood and share them with my family.