Thursday, August 19, 2010

Family Time: Last Minute Summer Trip - NASA, Galveston, Aquarium

So, it's hard to believe but Summer is quickly coming to a close. Sadly, although we do a Summer trip to the beach in Port Aransas every year, my daughter has gotten so accustomed to it, that I guess it's not 'special' anymore. So, several times over the summer months she mentioned that we needed to do more fun things.

Since we actually bought all of our school supplies last year before the school year ended (this is a GREAT feature that our school has that I would highly suggest for ANY parent to do if available -- schoolkidz) AND we managed to knock out clothes shopping two weeks ago, we decided we'd have one last 'hurrah' in 2010.

My husband and I took off Monday and Tuesday, left Austin on Sunday morning and arrived at our hotel ON Seawall Blvd. that afternoon. The main plan was to go check out the NASA Space Center. Both my husband and I have fond childhood memories of this particular attraction and we thought our kids were finally old enough to truly appreciate it. So, since the center was SOOOOO close to Galveston, we figured if we're paying the money for a hotel room anyway, why not have that hotel room on the beach? We got a great deal through

So, we arrived on Sunday evening and played in the ocean all afternoon. Galveston is definitely a bit different than Port Aransas. First, there's the WALL of course. I also found the water to be a bit muddier looking and MUCH warmer. BUT, I suppose this could also be attributed to the fact that we were there later in the season? Not sure. Nonetheless, it was a beach, there was no oil, and we had FUN! We also enjoyed the fact that there was a little Mexican Food restaurant right next door, Tortuga.

The next morning, we got up and got our exercise on the beach (if you can call it that, as we stopped ever 2 seconds to gander at a potential seashell to grace our display at home). We also had continental breakfast (we stayed at Beachfront Inn I believe). Then, we headed out to NASA/Johnson Space Center. We were in no rush and had all day. We got there about 11 AM and were recommended to do the Tram first as it is Houston in the summer . .and it was going to be VERY hot later (and this was an outside tram ride). There was so much to do here, we literally were there almost all day and didn't even get around to everything. And, let me tell you, my kids could NOT STOP TALKING about that playscape. It was AMAZING. It was sooooo large, that we didn't even notice the elevator at the backside of it for at least half an hour.

If you go here, I would suggest considering packing a sack lunch (I think it's legal, but you may want to check their website just in case). We spent about $40 to feed us all. I saw a gentleman with two small ones whip out a lunchable each for his two and it all seemed OK. There were also picnic tables outside. Also, definitely buy online. I think you save about $5 a person.

That night we returned to our hotel and ventured out to a local Seafood joint. I really wanted to get that fried seafood island feel. I guess that's what I think about when I think of the beach. So, we found a little place called Shrimp N Stuff. I had the crab balls (which weren't on the menu anymore, but MAN were they tasty -- you can probably ask and they'll make 'em), my husband had the stuffed shrimp. My son begged to get the adult fried shrimp and my daughter had the kid's popcorn shrimp. I think we were all pleased with the outcome. The place had a nice local ambience and what appeared to be lots of locals too. We finished off the meal by trying their key lime pie which was to die for. I would definitely recommend giving it a try to anyone. It was sooooo good that I forgot to buy my son the Shrimp N Stuff t-shirt souvenir he had requested . .and so did HE!

Our last day was spent packing up and planning for our last adventure. We had looked into doing Moody Gardens but it seemed a bit pricy for our last minute adventure. So, I remembered an aquarium we had seen on the way in when we were driving thru the art/theatre district in Houston. It was called the Downtown Aquarium and is run by Landry's (the same place that also runs the RainForest Cafes). They had several Aquarium exhibits as well as some rides and games. Once I saw that they also had a Tuesday special in August, buy one get one free all adventure pass, we were on our way.

Unfortunately, when we got there, they said we couldn't get the deal unless we had the coupon printed out -- which I did NOT. Ugh! Soooooo frustrating. Sometimes I just need someone to include on that link something like, click here to print coupon as it soooooo did not say that. So, since we'd already paid for parking, we walked to the art district area in search of a place where we could locate a computer and printer and then we saw a sign for the LIBRARY . . . It was like LAAAAAAaaaaaaaaa. Unfortunately, we had to walk 5 blocks on asphalt in the middle of the day to find that library. Once we got there, there was an hour and a half wait to get a computer. Yes . . .I said and HOUR AND A HALF. I think the poor lady at the desk must have seen all of our sweaty faces just wilt . . . and then asked "So, what it is you guys need it for?" Can I say THANK GOODNESS FOR FRIENLY PEOPLE??? She totally felt for us, pulled up the site and printed the darn thing out! Whew!!!!

So, back to the aquarium we went. For $32 we got to see ALL kinds of fish and alligators and more. In fact, they even had a gorgeous white tiger that my kids couldn't stop talking about. They kept comparing him to our little 'tiger' Hank (who loves to hunt unsuspecting birds at the bottom of my bird feeder) and how much they were alike. It was really great. We ended our time there with the Shark Voyage (or something like that). Essentially, it's a little train that drives you thru the middle of a large tank loaded with lots of sharks. It was REALLY awesome.

So, that was it! And, the best thing was that when we got back, the kids couldn't tell Grandma for sure what was their favorite part. They just said "It was so much Fun!"

So, if your kids are driving you crazy, just take 'em out for something a little different and enjoy your time together!!!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Date Night Made Affordable -- Location. Location. Location

(continued from Date Night Made Affordable -- The Old Swap-a-roo)

Now, if you've read previous blogs, you may recall that back when our friends and I were swapping babysitting duties and date night (which saved us babysitting costs), I mentioned we were low on funds in general. So, a big night out wasn't really on the menu for us. So, we improvised, making a money-saving tweak from your standard/expected date destination. Rather than hitting your standard restaurant or possibly going for a Big Mac, we chose a location that reaked romance -- Mount Bonnell in Austin, TX.

(If you are EVER in Austin, I suggest you check it out -- it provides an incredible view of our fair city! Be warned, there ARE lots of steps to climb to get you to that beautiful view, but it is SO worth it.)

While our surroundings couldn't be beat, the food was wonderful and VERY affordable. We packed a picnic dinner, blanket, bottle of wine and some very high class plastic wine glasses. FANCY! No, but seriously, it was an amazing evening under the stars that was topped off by the absence of cries from a certain beloved wee one at home.

So, that was then.

Since then, we've gotten older and oh yeah . . . .did I mention the 100 degree weather outside? So, we found ourselves falling into the usual date night scene. And then, we found ourselves spending WAY too much money on the dates. (Have you ever sat down and plopped all of your expenses into a spreadsheet and said to yourself "OMG!")

Now, as I mentioned date night is THE ingredient to a happy marriage. So, while we obviously needed to work on the money situation, we weren't doing it at the expense of the occassion. It was time to get creative again.

My neice (our babysitter as mentioned in previous blogs) now has her own place with a child of her own. And as I opened my mind in search of the date night savior I heard, "Ding!" And then I asked, "So . . . . how do you feel about us bringing the kids to YOUR place this week?"

Turns out, it was great for her. She didn't have to wake her sweet child in the middle of the night when they went home. It was also a win-win for us. Think about it. Now, we had the opportunity to go out and have dinner if we wanted or to stay home and make our own romantic scene if we preferred. Suddenly, we had much more control on what we could or couldn't do.

So, location, in this case is key. When done right, if you're tight on the money, you can still have an amazing time based on where you go OR maybe where your babysitter is. (Have I mentioned how important I think Date Night is. Seriously, I would say 20 years of a great relationship were built on it!)

Keep and open mind and find an open door . .to your NEXT date, whether it's in a park, a tent, on a mountain, or just in your own comfy little home.

More date night options tomorrow. Don't change that channel ; )

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Date Night Made Affordable - The Old Swap-a-roo

(continued from Date Night -- The Ingredient to Family Happiness)

Back when the husband and I had our first child, we found ourselves exhausted and low on funds. A date night didn't seem to even kind of be an option (I mean think about it, you have to pay the babysitter AND pay for your date).

As we talked to our friends we found that most were in the same boat -- new parents just forging their first roots of family life. And then the bell went off, "Ding!" One of us came up with a genius idea. Why don't we do a date night swap? One night we would babysit one of our friend's kids along with watching ours and then another night they'd do the same for us! Ahhhhhhhh . .freedom minus the cost of a sitter. And, a bonus, we felt confident leaving our children in our friends' trusted hands.

As the families got larger, though, watching each others kids became more a daycare-type challenge. While I applaud those that perform this AMAZING service, as a working parent, we just weren't up for it. So, though it was WONDERFUL while it lasted, the parent/date night swap-a-roo like "all good things" had come to an end.

But wait, while it WAS the end for the parent/date night swap-a-roo, it turned out there was a whole different swap-a-roo waiting just around the corner. It just so happened that my college-attending neice had decided to transfer to The University of Texas where she would pursue the reaminder of her studies. She needed a place to live and "Ding!" we needed Date Night!!!! So, we came to an agreement -- she got a great deal on living expenses and my kids found their beloved lifelong babysitter/part-time big sister. It was a trade "from the Gods."

Bottom line on this story: be creative with your options and don't just assume it all has to revolve around dollars and cents. Maybe you're good at cleaning houses and your friend is great with kids? "Ding! This could be the perfect fit!" (Of course, be choosy -- you don't want to go with the friend that SAYS they are good with kids, but then 'jokes' that they'll 'tie 'em to a chair with duct tape' when they're bad ; ) )

So, that's it. Keep your eyes and mind open. Don't just think about what you don't have, but what you do and how maybe that very thing can brighten someone else's day as well!

Date night awaits!

Tomorrow, more creative ways to make date night affordable (and oh yeah . .FUN!)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Date Night -- The Ingredient to Family Happiness

My husband and I will have been together for 20 years this year and married for 16 years. Both are celebrated on the same day, as I gave him exactly 4 years to decide if this 'thing' was going anywhere. Obviously it was and still is!

While the first few years were driven by physical attraction, hormones, lust and some similar interests, I attribute our later success to one very important ingredient -- date night! This became especially true in our years as parents. I think all parents come to appreciate this special occassion a little too late. As they say, "you don't know what you've got, until it's gone."

Now, I realize that date night for many brings up visions of large bills and empty pocketbooks. And, sometimes it can involve those items, BUT that doesn't HAVE to be the case.

The point really to date night is to reconnect with your significant other. So, while that can mean dinner, drinks and a show, it doesn't HAVE to. It also doesn't necessarily imply the prohibitive cost of a babysitter, which I admit can also take a toll on finances.

Before you decide to call the Doc and send me to the looney bin, let me explain. The simple act of being a little creative and pooling your resources can truly make an impact on your marital relationship.

Over the next few blogs (as I don't want you to break the blog 'no-no' of causing too much scrolling), I'll offer some personal insights/experiences/tips that allowed/allow my husband and I to connect and enjoy each other's company on a regular basis. And, with that small feat, I believe we've found a very important ingredient to the recipe for a happy family.

Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Have You Had “The Talk” with Your Kids . . .About Electricty?

Day 2 of A Parent Perspective

So, last night was date night for my husband and I. We went to see the hot new DiCaprio movie that everyone is talking about, Inception.

It was about 5 minutes prior to the actual movie starting as the pre-movie trailers were still going on and my husband gets a text from the babysitter. We’ve gotten lots of texts on dates before. You know the ones, “Your son is throwing up, when can you get home?”or “ Are they allowed to have dessert, tonight,” etc . . . but this one will stand out in my mind for awhile. And, maybe you too can learn from our mistake -– the mistake of assuming your kids know more than they do.

A little background before I give you the whole situation. My daughter, 7 years old and getting ready for 2nd grade, has been going through what I’ve told her is an incredible “creative” phase. I see it in her art, I see it in her play. You know, watching her, it’s one of those moments when you can literally just seeing the wheels turning and the mind opening. A light bulb of sorts have gone off. The pictures that were once simply a replica of what she saw are now an interpretation with her own special touch. Items in nature are now an inspiration and tool for an artistic endeavor. On walks, a leaf would be the perfect wing on a bird. So, we’re being experimental and trying new things. In my mind that’s where great ideas, inventions, creations are born, from an open and creative mind.

OK . .so back to the story. In this case, though, that experimental side took a nasty turn. Only two nights earlier we had purchased a new night light for my daughter as she doth protest her fear of the dark E-V-E-R-Y single night.

Sometime during the day, apparently, she felt the need to take her night light to a new level. She snuggled a quarter inside the light right next to the bulb. I don’t exactly know why and not sure she really does either.

Later, while we were on date night of course, she pulls the night light from the wall. As she tilted it slightly, the quarter dislodged itself and became a victim of gravity. As it made its way to the ground, it hit the plug of the nightlight which wasn’t yet disconnected from the wall. What happened? Well . . . . an incredibly bright flash of light as our sitter described it.

She jumped from her seat to find my daughter in tears that her new nightlight broke. She looked around at the nightlight with a strange circular indentation burnt into it and a black soot appearance on the plug, the outlet, on the wall and later, once she discerned how the circular shape was created, the quarter. Then she realized the light didn’t work either!

She sent the text that read, “Zeyda stuck a quarter in a night light, pulled it from the wall and quarter hit prongs in wall . . .big light sparks, wall socket black, quarter kinda melted to the night light prongs . . .and bathroom light doesn’t work anymore?”

Later it it came to our attention that our upstairs electricity was out as well . . . .

In the end, we’re thankful that no one was hurt. We spoke to our daughter about the dangers of electricity and keeping metals (and pretty much anything else aside from, say, a plug) away from outlets. As they say “what doesn’t kill ‘em will make ‘em stronger.”

Thanks to breakers, our electricity and light is restored. And, we’ve purchased a new $2 nightlight from our local grocery store.

While, I have to say, it was tempting to get angry over the whole situation, we realized it wasn’t the right thing to do. While our outlet may be burnt, I know that Zeyda’s light of creativity will still shine on. And, she goes forward with a new experience to learn from.