Summer was a bit of a whirlwind – a couple of trips, lots of work, and very little sharing in this space along the way. Now that summer is over, I’m left with a mountain of great photos and experiences, but very little time for blogging. (more…)
We just returned from a trip to South Padre Island, a beach along the southern-most tip of Texas. Having visited Texas beaches along the gulf before, my expectations were fairly low and I left home with a ‘just happy to get away’ mindset. But once we arrived, I found that the South Padre beaches were not only nice, they were also relatively uncrowded for this time of year. J and J had a blast fighting the waves, boogie boarding and swimming in the hotel pool. We also visited Schlitterbahn Water Park, which I think the kids would list as their favorite part of the trip. My favorite was the Birding and Nature Center (where we fed birds right out of our hands) and, of course, the views of the ocean which provided quite a few opportunities to snap some gorgeous vacation photos. (more…)
A few weeks ago we took an extended weekend trip to the beach. Although we live in Texas and could have visited the beach along the Texas coast, we decided to head further east where the beaches tend to be nicer and better suited to swimming.
There are a lot of great destinations along the coast, but we decided on Orange Beach, which is in Alabama about 30 miles west of Pensacola, Florida. The beaches have beautiful white sand and the water is perfect for swimming.
We spent most of our time relaxing on the beach and didn’t seek out a lot of activities beyond lounging and playing in the sand. But we did explore the nearby area a bit, so I thought I would share some ideas for taking a beach trip to this part of the country with children.
Where to Stay
The beaches along the Gulf Shore, Orange Beach and Pensacola region are filled with affordable, family-friendly hotels and rental properties. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Orange Beach. It’s located right on the beach so you can easily transition back and forth between beach and swimming pool. I highly recommend getting a room with a beach view. The photo on the left above is the view from our room. Sitting and watching the activity below was lots of fun for our children, who had only visited the beach once before this trip. You can also rent chairs on the beach, which is a nice option when you know you’re going to be coming and going and you don’t want to lose your spot (or leave your personal belongings to ‘reserve’ it) while you’re gone.
Where to Eat
When it came to meal time, we mostly looked to the area immediately near our hotel. Wintzell’s Oyster House definitely turned into our favorite dinner spot, and we ate there twice over the course of our trip. We also stopped at The Gulf on our way into town. I love this location. It’s right on the beach so the kids could play in the sand while we sat on sleek lounge furniture under umbrellas enjoying lunch. The kids’ favorite meal destination was Lulus. They have a large play area in the center of the 3-restaurant complex that includes a sandbox, an elevated rope course and many other just-for-kids activities. Plan on spending awhile here. I wasn’t sure whether to include this location under ‘Where to Eat’ or ‘Things to Do.’ It’s a bit of both and the wait for a table seems intended to build in plenty of time for play. During our visit, we chose to eat at the upscale Lucy B. Goode (and the food was wonderful), but in retrospect I think the original restaurant, Lulus, would have been a more child-friendly option.
Things to Do
The beautiful beaches are reason enough to visit this part of the country with children, but the Gulf Coast area also has many bays that are perfect for taking boat rides. There are many options for renting boats and/or going on tours. We read about several dolphin tours and even saw a pirate-themed cruise pass by one afternoon. If we were staying longer, I definitely would have looked into the pirate cruise for the kids. Since our trip location was partly driven by visiting friends and family, we were able to spend an afternoon taking a ride on a friend’s boat. This was a highlight for Jason and Jenna, who loved sitting at the front while we raced along the water.
This was our first trip to the Gulf Coast, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be our last.
Next week, we’re heading on a trip to California that will include a few stops, including Yosemite National Park. I’m crazy excited about visiting Yosemite, mostly for the opportunity to take pictures with my new camera. Here’s my list of essentials for the trip:
Just For Fun
I recently bought some film for my vintage Spectra Polaroid camera. I haven’t had much success with it yet, but if I’m ever going to get some good shots, I’m thinking Yosemite just might be the place.
- Canon EOS Remote: One of my favorite features about my new camera is the ability to connect to my phone. This app makes it all possible.
- VSCO Cam: This has become my go-to app for editing and filtering my iPhone photos
- The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite: I haven’t explored this app very much yet, but the contents look amazing. It is based on the author’s book of the same title and it provides comprehensive recommendations on where to shoot, settings to use, time of day, etc.
- National Parks Yosemite Guide: This is the official guide to Yosemite and it provides a general guide to what to what to see and do in Yosemite along with maps for getting around.
Note: post contains affiliate links
We just returned from vacation, and, on the way home, I realized it was the perfect time to try out the new storytelling app that I downloaded a couple of weeks ago. Its called Steller, and it allows you to create a digital storybook with your photos, videos and text. Our vacation was pretty awesome, and this app is a great way to capture our favorite moments.
You can view it by clicking the image below:
Check out my story on Steller.
Ever since volunteering at the art table during a Real School Gardens event, I’ve wanted to do this craft with Jason and Jenna. It’s messy, but the results are awesome and I love how these stepping stones look in our yard.
We started by letting the kids select their favorite materials from a huge batch of stones, beads, marbles, buttons, glass rocks and other leftover craft materials I had on hand. We didn’t use any Legos (because I didn’t think of that), but my son commented that we should use Legos next time … as if we don’t already step on enough Legos around here.
Mixing the concrete is the hard part. We used Quikrete and mixed it into a bucket without wearing any gloves. FYI, I highly recommend using gloves if you’re going to mix the concrete by hand. Once the concrete was mixed, we poured it into shoe boxes and other similarly-sized boxes that we saved.
We let Jason and Jenna decorate the stones by pressing the materials they had selected into the wet concrete. You don’t need to press it in very far for it to stick, so this part isn’t messy and can be done without gloves.
We let our stones dry overnight, but it seemed like they were fairly dry within a few hours. Once they were completely dry, we placed them in the yard and let the kids start stepping, jumping and running on them.
This weekend I attended a class on vertical succulent gardening at the Dallas Arboretum. I don’t think I would have figured out how to create a structure strong enough to support sideways plants and soil, so I was pretty excited to have an expert walk me through step-by-step. And I haven’t yet installed my garden along a wall, but when I turn it sideways, it seems to stay in place pretty well.
We started with the following materials:
- Wooden Frame (our instructor made his own out of fence wood)
- Flat piece of wood cut to the size of your frame
- Plastic fence netting
- Black mesh fabric
- Staple gun
- Light soil suitable for succulents (our instructed recommended this soil mixed with crushed shells)
- Succulent plants
Here are the steps we followed:
Step 1: To create a strong framework, we cut the plastic netting and black mesh into rectangles that were slightly larger than the size of our frames. We pressed the plastic netting into the frame and stapled it along the inside of the frame; we repeated this step with the mesh fabric and trimmed both so that there wasn’t any extra coming out of the frame.
Step 2: Fill the frame with soil. We used a mix of lightweight soil and crushed shells. While sand is often mixed into soil for succulents, our instructor cautioned against this because it adds extra weight to the structure.
Step 3: Secure the flat piece of wood to the frame using screws.
Step 4: Once the framework was complete, we selected our succulents and arranged our design by setting the plants on top of the grid before we started planting.
Step 5: To plant each succulent, we cut a small square out of the netting and mesh – cutting an almost 2-inch square per 3 inch plant. Inserting each plant into the grid was the hardest part. We had to push all of the soil in the frame out of the way and then push the plant in, using a pencil to help push the base of the plant further into the soil.
This is my final garden:
Like every six-year-old girl at the moment, Jenna loves the movie Frozen. When I saw this ice sculpture idea recently, I knew we had to try it out.
It takes a bit of advance preparation, but it was well worth the effort. We started on Saturday by mixing water and food coloring to create different shades of blue, pink and purple – something that turned out to be great fun in itself. We poured the water into a variety of containers, added a sprinkle of glitter and placed the containers in the freezer to create a large batch of ice crystals – or, as Jenna calls them, fractals.
On Sunday, we took all of our ice outside and started stacking the pieces together to create a castle. We used a little bit of water to help the cubes stick together. It had rained most of the day and the temperature had cooled to the 70s, making this the perfect summer day for building an ice castle.
A couple of weeks ago, I set up an area in our backyard for Jason and Jenna to dig, plant and play. It’s been a big hit, especially with Jenna who has started her own garden in this previously unused portion of our yard. Today I’m sharing more of this project on Modern Parents, Messy Kids.
Since moving to the DFW area several years ago, the Dallas Arboretum has been one of my favorite local places to visit. Last fall, they opened the Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden and now it’s one of Jason and Jenna’s favorites too. The garden is science-focused, with each of the indoor and outdoor stations featuring interactive activities around common themes, like energy, space and geology. We visited this weekend and arrived just after opening. We had the entire park nearly to ourselves!
Here are (more than just) a few of my favorite pictures – the gardens are so beautiful it’s hard to narrow down all of the photos I took.
We had an amazing couple of days and I couldn’t seem to sum it up in a single ‘snapshot,’ so I’m posting two: the first covers our stay at the Gaylord Texan, where we spent the Fourth of July holiday, and the second covers some highlights from our downtown Dallas adventures. Hope you had a wonderful Fourth of July weekend too!
Fourth of July
With Independence Day just a few days away, we decided to plan a little staycation to keep our family entertained across the four-day stretch. Once I started researching things to do, I realized just how how many amazing places we’ve never been in the metroplex we call home.
Here’s a list of activities on our wish list, and while we certainly won’t visit them all over the upcoming holiday weekend, we’re going to try our best!
Last year I created fireworks stamps for my children during the 4th of July holiday, and they were a huge hit, so this year I decided to try it again. Visit me on Land of Nod’s blog, Honest to Nod, to see details about making these very easy fireworks-themed stamps.