Martin Creek Lake State Park

In February, we upgraded our camper to a hard sided one. We didn’t tell the kids and surprised them when we went to hook up to leave for our Spring Break camping trip. Robert, who doesn’t like change so much, was in tears when we told him we sold our pop-up camper.

When we got to the storage facility to pick it up, the new camper’s battery was running down which caused the carbon monoxide/smoke detector to give off a loud, shrill beep. Robert doesn’t like loud sounds even more than he doesn’t like change, so he was none too happy about this. It took him all weekend, but he eventually warmed up to the new camper. I still think he would trade it for our old one if given the chance though. Here they are trying out their new bunks.

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East Texas had experienced a lot of rain right before our trip. Many of the campsites were big swampy messes, but we found this one site with a nice open field perfect for the kids to play in. Unfortunately, most of the trails were also huge mudpits so we didn’t do much hiking. It was funny watching people traipse past our campsite on the trail. Without fail, within minutes they would be turned around headed back the way they came.

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This bridge went out to an island that had a trail and primitive camping. A good portion of the trail was dry, so we hiked it until it became impassable.

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Dan and Linda drove up Sunday afternoon and joined us that night and Monday. They wanted to come check out the new camper and see our kayak in action. We took them down the trail by our campsite for a short span until it became too muddy. We were looking for animal tracks using our new field guide we purchased at the park store. That was one nice thing about all the mud- nice, clearly defined tracks.

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We had chili and cornbread that night, courtesy of Jason.

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Chris took Clara out in the boat just the two of them one afternoon. They got to going really fast with the sail up and didn’t notice that the wheels, which can just sit on top when you’re out on the water, had gone flying off. They float, but Chris had no idea where they fell out and they had covered a lot of ground, er, water.

The next day, he and Jason (and Zef) went paddling around the shoreline to see if they could find them. No such luck. Look off in the distance in this picture and you’ll notice a rather large power plant nestled right on the far shore of the lake. Yeah, they don’t advertise that view on the park’s website 😉

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Robert brought over this “baby broccoli” to show me :)

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Looking forward to lots more adventures in our new home away from home :)

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Martin Dies, Jr. State Park

We just got back from camping this afternoon. We went to Martin Dies Jr. State Park near Jasper. This park is huge and was super crowded. There were numerous scouting troops there this weekend. Chris just happened to discover that one of his old co-workers from the corporate office would be there with his grandson and his cub scout troop, so we made plans for them to come over for dinner that first night. Sure enough, they were less than 10 spots down from us so they came and had hotdogs around the campfire.

The next day we put the boat in the water. Chris found an access point where he could slip it in relatively easily right across from our campsite. The water was pretty swampy in that spot so we decided he would paddle over to the canoe launch where I would drive and we could get in without getting wet. We brought Max with us this time and he was doing really well so we decided to try putting him on the kayak. We figured if he was freaked out I would just take him back to camp and Chris would take the kids out. As we waited for Chris to come around, a park ranger saw us by the launch and got out of his truck. He wanted to meet Max and said he had a corgi too. He suggested that we may not want to take him on the kayak because of the gators. The hair trailing off of him would  bring the gators right to us. He said he would probably be ok in a canoe, but wouldn’t do a kayak. Yep, that’s all I needed to know.

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So Max and I headed back to the campsite to wait on the others. Chris didn’t take his cell so I wasn’t quite sure what the pick up plan was. I didn’t know if he was going to come back to the launch or to the spot by our campsite where he put in. After they had been gone a while, I walked around to see if I could spot them. Sure enough, I saw a sail way out from the shore. They were sailing along the highway and Chris said they got several honks from passersby :) Chris’ friend had offered to keep an eye on Max for us that day if we needed him to, so I walked Max over to their campsite. We weren’t sure how Max was going to do this camping trip because it’s been a year since his last one and he’s really slowed down these past few months. He doesn’t even like to to cross the street anymore and gets really anxious if we try to make him. So what should have been a few minute walk took us about 20. And Max hitched a ride in my arms for a bit as well.

He did really well with Frank though and didn’t seem bothered at all when I left him. He just laid down at his feet and fell asleep. I headed back to the launch to see if Chris and the kids had made it back there yet, but didn’t see them yet, so I drove back and chatted with Frank while Max slept by my feet. At one point I saw their sail go past and I ran over to the water to try and get their attention. They were going pretty fast though and couldn’t hear me. A while later they got to the launch and borrowed a phone to call me to come get them. The launch was only about a half mile from the campsite, so Chris decided to try and tow it back to the site. He strapped the front to tow hooks inside the Land Rover and then rode back there keeping an eye on it. I took it real slow and it worked great. Getting it to and from the campsite has been our biggest dilemma, so Chris is going to fashion something to make it a bit more secure in the future.

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We just hung out at the campsite that afternoon and Chris started some chili cooking in the dutch oven. On my way back from a bathroom run, I noticed the pretty sunset reflecting off the lake and hurried the kids over to the water’s edge. I was a few minutes too late to get a good picture, but these weren’t too bad. I love Robert’s random camping outfit. A dirty, food smeared face, Mario shirt, dinosaur swimsuit and two different shoes. I found some old water shoes in the camper that I wanted him to try on. He ended up wearing it and his sandal all afternoon.

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It got cold Saturday night. It was 49 when we woke the next morning. We just used our electric heater and it kept us nice and toasty all night. The next morning I took Clara on a short hike before we finished packing up. It was a beautiful clear morning and was starting to warm up nicely. I decided to leave Robert since the last time I took the two of them by myself he was a big toot who was uncooperative and threatened to go back by himself the entire time. I had intended on running a mile with Clara for her Read Deed Run club requirements, but went and forgot my tennis shoes at home. I only brought sandals, so those chilly mornings I had to resort to socks with my flip flops to and from the bathroom. Oh yes I did.

We crossed this bridge at the trail head over a really pretty, swampy spot and then looked out over a long, tall observation bridge.

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This short .8 mile trail ran the perimeter of a small island and was a heavily wooded spot. Clara brought her binoculars but she couldn’t even see the birds we could hear because the vegetation was too thick. We didn’t see another person on the trail. I was really hoping an alligator didn’t sneak up on us so we made sure to make a little noise. I didn’t want to sneak up on one either.

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I liked this park a lot. It has lots of hiking trails, lots of paddling trails and is very shady. The bathrooms were a little lacking and the dumpsters were not easily accessible. They were located outside the camping loops and you had to drive to throw your trash away. The park is cut in half by a highway and the other side looked to have a lot clearer water. Our side was very boggy. The other side also has a roped off swimming area. This one is definitely on our list of places to return.

Lake Livingston State Park

Our September camping trip was at Lake Livingston. Despite the fact that it’s relatively close, that was our first time to visit and it was a very nice park indeed.

We’d had a kinda rough week. Nothing too spectacular, but Chris’ phone broke and it was a major ordeal trying to get a replacement since the contract is through his employer. He was having to work late for the last week or so and worked most of the Labor Day weekend. The Jeep broke down at work and had to be towed to a shop. It rained cats and dogs for a few days and then Thursday night as I was coming downstairs, I noticed our ceiling had a leak. Joy. You can see here where it is peeling at the seam. We knew we were going to need a new roof in the next year or two, but we had it inspected before we bought the house and we also filed a claim after a storm a few months ago when we found a piece of a shingle on the ground and they said they didn’t see a problem. Sigh. So no one has been out yet but a new roof is on the agenda.

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And then on Friday it was still raining. The kids’ bus skipped our stop while we were waiting in the rain (we were in the car at least, not so with other students). They saw the bus come into the neighborhood from the wrong direction and then turn before getting to our stop. So after waiting for 20 minutes at the bus stop, I then get in the car to take my two kids and two of their classmates to school. Because of the downpour, the car line was backed up about half a mile. They were trying to keep everyone dry which meant 3 teachers helping unload at the covered area. So we inched forward three cars at a time. That line took 20 minutes, so the kids were 10 minutes late to school. By the time I started back home, the road was starting to flood and not 5 minutes later it came up as a flood advisory and cars were getting stuck. It was a mess. Turns out the bus driver was a sub and kids tried to tell him that he missed our stop but he wouldn’t listen.

I wasn’t feeling the whole camping vibe at this point. It rained all day which made it difficult to pack the car and I would have just canceled but Jason was meeting us there, so I soldiered on. We wanted to leave right when the kids got home so we could get through Houston before rush hour. Well, the road near our house was still flooded after raining most of the day. The sub was late to school and so the bus was 20 minutes late leaving the school. Of course I didn’t know this until I see an email come out five minutes after they should have been home. They usually get home right at 4:00. It was 4:40 before they showed up! And I wasted almost that whole time waiting for them at the bus stop because I didn’t want to chance the driver not letting Robert off without an adult there. Oy. It ended up being after 5:00 before we got out of town.

So had we known that we would be needing a new roof this week, we most certainly would not have purchased this new toy the week prior:

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Chris is in heaven. We’ve talked about getting a kayak for a while so when he started researching them, he came across this sailing kayak. He’s missed sailing and I figured this was a nice compromise and could fit in the garage and go on top of the car, so I wasn’t too hard of a sell :) You can put the outriggers on with trampolines that each hold 200 pounds and sail it or you can use it as a normal kayak without the outriggers and it also has pedals. It’s perfect for our family because all four of us can comfortably be on it at the same time. The pedals are adjustable so the kids can even pedal it.

While Chris was getting it set up for it’s maiden voyage, I spotted this spider web glistening in the sun. Robert has recently decided that spiders are his favorite animal, so I knew he’d be all over this thing. We stirred up some bugs in the leaves as we approached, so we got to watch them get caught in the web and then watched as the spider ran over and rolled ’em up for later. It was neat to watch and it was a really cool looking spiky polka dotted spider which made it even better.

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The kayak has removable wheels for transporting it to the water, so Chris pulled it to the boat launch. This sucker is heavy so it’s a good thing we were camped pretty close to the water.

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We had Chris test out the waters first and get a feel for it, so the kids were ancy waiting for their turn.

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And we’re off!

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After a few minutes of pedaling around the bay, we headed out to open water. The trampolines are very comfortable and Clara even fell asleep for a few minutes.

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Here’s Clara, lovin’ life :)

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I let Robert sit in front of me and pedal for a little while and Chris put the sail up for a bit. We got to going pretty fast. The kids wanted to go out to a little island but it was several miles out and I did not want to go that far and then be too exhausted to get back.

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So instead, we moseyed on around to the main boat launch and docked at the park store. Chris got us into the little slip perfectly. We probably gave two older couples sitting there watching us quite the show as we tried to figure out the logistics of getting us all out of the kayak. I wouldn’t describe it as graceful. They (along with everyone else that saw the boat this weekend) were very curious about the kayak so we spent several minutes talking to them as the kids ran around a bit. Robert made friends with a little boy whose mom was fishing on the dock and he kept yelling “Roger!” over and over when he wanted Robert’s attention. Clara and Robert told him half a dozen times that it was RoBERT, but he was set on calling him Roger.

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We had lunch after we got back to the campsite and then Chris and JDog took the boat for a spin. I wanted a nap so badly, but my children were not interested :( I did doze off a couple of times, but I think that only made me even more tired. We kept an eye on Zef while Jason was on the boat and took him for a little walk down to the water to check on the boys after they’d been gone a lot longer than I thought they’d be. With JDog as an unwilling hostage, Chris ended up sailing out to the island. It took them a very long time and were on the water for over three hours (and 10 miles)  if I remember correctly.

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While they were gone, we had a scare at camp. Robert was eating a snack and asked for some of mine. He had one tiny bite of my trail mix crunchy snack things (cashews, pistachios and almonds) and about 10 seconds later started acting strange. He said his throat hurt and was just sitting there looking queasy. He couldn’t really explain how he was feeling or whether or not his throat was swelling. I realized at that moment that I forgot Clara’s epi-pen in my purse at home. I went searching for benadryl and couldn’t find any and was starting to panic a little. I had about a 1/3 of a pepsi I was drinking and had him down the rest hoping the caffeine would help. He was feeling better and acting more normal and I didn’t see any signs of swelling, so I just kept a close eye on him hoping Chris would be back at any minute.

After the guys got back, Robert started acting weird again so we gave him more caffeine. He crawled up in my lap and no sooner than I got him up there and situated did he lean forward and puke all over the ground and his shoes. Over and over again. He was right as rain after he got it out of his system and spent the rest of the day running around playing.

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The kids played Old Maid and Crazy Eights while I chilled in the hammock, lamenting the fact that I couldn’t take a nap. At one point I heard Robert say, “I love you so much, Clara”. Awwww, melts my heart. They are such sweethearts. Sometimes.

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We had planned on taking the boat out again Sunday morning before packing up, but sleeping in felt more better :) Instead, I took the kids for a hike to the park store to let them pick a little something to buy. Clara was eyeing a strap for her glasses so she wouldn’t lose them while on the boat and we found the perfect thing for Robert–a laminated field guide to the spiders of Texas. He loves it and has been drawing pictures of the spiders and writing their names and we looked up the spiders we had seen during our stay.

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Once we got back to camp it was time to finish packing up and say goodbye to JDog. Robert was in a mood and refused to smile for a picture which made JDog sad.

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So when he finally decided to muster a smile, JDog didn’t want to smile. Children can be so difficult :)

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Lake Brownwood State Park

We went camping last weekend but before I get to that I figured I should probably catch up and post about our last camping trip in August.

We met up with my extended family in August at Lake Brownwood. We got there a day early since we had quite a long drive and although we had a lodge rented for the whole family, our little family brought our pop-up. It was sooooo HOT!! We were miserable that first day. We were setting up camp in the middle of the day and then our a/c just could not keep up. It was sweltering inside and almost zero shade outside. Say what you will about Houston’s humidity, but being able to find some shade to retreat to in the summer is priceless. It was so bad that we went back into town to cool off and buy a fan. We ate dinner at Chili’s and got the coolest fan at Home Depot. It is a battery operated mister and you can either hook a water hose up to it or sit it on a five gallon bucket of water. Ahhhhh! It was such a relief and Chris carried it around and was never far from it all weekend :)

Everyone else got there on Friday afternoon and we let the kids swim just downhill from our lodge. The lodge had two huge rooms of beds, sleeping 26 total, and a nice living area and kitchen. We did all of our meals together. Our land rover started acting funny that day and we had to have it jump started to get back to our campsite late that night around 10:00 or so. We got a little ways down the road and it tried to die again at a stop sign. It was a little creepy and the kids started flipping out because it was pitch black but thankfully Chris got it started again and we made it back to camp.

It was obvious something was very wrong with the car and it was so nice to have family there to help us out. Mason followed Chris the twenty minutes into town to a shop to make sure the battery didn’t die again. The figured out the alternator had gone out and they couldn’t get one until the next day, Sunday around 2:00 and it would be several hours of labor once they did get it in.

Meanwhile at camp, I was supervising kids in the water all day long. Oy. I kept trying to get mine out to take breaks in the heat of the day, but they wanted to be with all the other kids and yeah, it kinda sucks to have your lame mom making you miss all the fun. I caved when I should have trusted my instinct. I did make them wear rash guards and slathered them down multiple times with sunscreen, but after a full day, the sun still took it’s toll as you’ll see further down.

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Clint brought his boat and all the kiddos got to ride on the tube or little floating boat thingy.

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Even Myrt Myrt and Bia rode the tube.

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Tenley dipped her toes in the water and was ok with it at first, but then a little wave lapped up against her leg and she decided it wasn’t for her after all.

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This was Saturday evening after a full day in the sun. Clara and Robert were just a little rosy under their eyes where they rubbed their sunscreen off so they weren’t doing too bad at this point. Some of their cousins didn’t fare as well and had oozing blisters come Monday.

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Chris set up an assembly line to help keep things orderly during mealtimes. Kids were lined up outside and let in a couple at a time to make their plate and then go back outside. Some kids tried their best to sneak in but most waited patiently when they realized Uncle Chris wasn’t messing around and would send them to the end of the line if they didn’t follow directions :)

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The kids found a small trail up a hill next to the lodge that led to the top of the hill and a cool rock table and seats. I thought it looked like some kind of sacrificial alter or the stone table in Narnia. It was kind of random but the kids loved traipsing up there any chance they got. The boys tried to keep it a secret from the girls but they eventually found out about it.

 

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Saturday evening after dinner we were all sitting around talking. Robert really wanted to play a board game, so he challenged several people to a game of Life. He came outside at one point to tell me he wasn’t feeling well. I figured he was just complaining and exhausted from the day and told him he’d be ok and then sent him back inside. A couple of minutes later someone came out to tell me he had thrown up. And boy howdy, that boy erupted!

He had drank a lot of water, so that’s mostly what it was but the floor was covered. Chris got him into the shower and it just kept coming up. I went in there and through tears he was telling me, “See, I told you I was sick!” Mother of the Year right here. I felt so bad. It’s just so hard to tell sometimes if they’re whining just to be whining or are tired or really are sick. Plus, I was trying to talk :)

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The kids had slowed way down by Sunday morning when it came time to load up and clean up. It was fun figuring our how to juggle everything to get us home since our car was still not fixed at this point. We finally decided to get a hotel for a night and go home the next morning. Even if they got the car fixed by that evening, we didn’t want to be driving that far in the dark  while exhausted.

We ended up borrowing Clint and Dashielle’s extra car. Problem was that Tanya had borrowed it and left her car at their house in Brownwood. So we had to get her stuff out and she had to figure out where to put all of it and then pack it with our stuff as well as pack up our camper. But that car couldn’t tow our camper, so Clint towed our camper with his car and left it in the Firestone parking lot. We took his other car, went into town, had lunch, had a nap at the hotel and then our car was ready so Clint came into town to get his car back. Whew. It was quite an ordeal but was made much easier having family there to help out.

 

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We went to watch “Shaun the Sheep” at the theater and we all got a good night’s sleep before getting up Monday morning and heading out after breakfast. Chris and I both loved just waking up and pulling out of town. Sundays are always so hard because you’re tired and you’ve just spent several hours packing everything up so when you add a five hour drive on top of that, it’s a little much. I think we may have decided to do the hotel on the last night of long trips every time. Works for me :)

Thanksgiving at Mother Neff State Park

We had our annual Thanksgiving camping trip at Mother Neff State Park this year. Mother Neff is the oldest state park in Texas. It’s also only a few minutes away from Dan, Linda and now Margaret, so it was a perfect spot for us. Jason and his dad also joined us this year. This was Robert sitting by the campfire on the first night. We got there mid-afternoon on Wednesday and the kids got right down to business making friends with the neighbors and playing until they crashed.

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When we finally got settled into the camper and turned on the heat for the night, Clara decided that teeth brushing by the heater felt pretty nice.

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The next day, we headed into town for a lovely Thanksgiving meal prepared entirely by Linda. Who just got staples in her head four days earlier. And who insisted that we keep to the plan instead of cooking up something or other over the fire. Dan came and got me and Clara a little early so we could help with preparations, but we weren’t much help since Linda had it all under control. We went and picked up Nanny from her apartment and then got back to the house a little before the boys showed up. We chatted and ate and were all quite thankful for all of Linda’s hard work.

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The mornings were in the 30’s, so Zef got a nice warm spot to sit and wait for the sun to warm everything up.

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We hiked one of the trails on Friday. It led to this cave that was used as shelter by the Native Americans. These trails were probably some of my favorite so far. There were plenty of trees and lots of elevation changes and things to go see to make things interesting.

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We kept on the trail and went to the top of the rock tower.

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The hike was a bit much for Max, so Jason and I took turns carrying him most of the way back to the car. He was very appreciative.

After lunch, Dan and Linda came out to the campsite and we had a party for the birthday boys and girl. As I handed JDog a Birthday Boy hat, he tried to turn it away thinking it was just a party hat. I informed him that all the birthday boys and girls had one. He was quite surprised to learn that he was also a guest of honor at the celebration. Hehehe, we got him good. That’s the second surprise party we’ve pulled off for him. The other one was easy though; it was four months early :) The kids both knew and I can’t believe they were able to keep it a secret from him.

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I made a little scavenger hunt for the three of them and JDog got into the spirit and joined in the search for clues.

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Here he is getting stuck on the last clue. Get it. Ha!

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Then we played a little pin the tail on the donkey and opened presents. The kids got gifts from Grandma and Grandpa and JDog got a little something too. You like my centerpiece? The wind picked up so we took care of that with a little duct tape :)

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I brought cupcake mix and had JDog bake them in the dutch oven. I forgot candles though, so they had to blow out pretend candles when we sung “Happy Birthday” to them.

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Saturday was another pretty big day because we took off this mangled, rapidly disintegrating training wheel (and it’s partner).

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And now we have a (mostly) official bike rider. He was doing pretty well out at the campsite, but he won’t ride on our street since it’s slanted. We’re going to have to take him to practice in a parking lot so we can get back to riding with Clara to school. I don’t want him riding to school until he’s comfortable starting and stopping.

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I took the kids on another hike on Saturday, this time to the Wash Pond and then they played on the playground. Chris tripped over Max’s leash the first night and fell hard on his knee, so it was hurting him most of the weekend. The scar where his stitches were broke open and started bleeding :( It’s doing better now thank goodness.

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Chris and JDog got busy with their cornbread war. Chris loves sweet cornbread and likes to combine one box of Jiffy cornbread mix and one box of Jiffy white cake mix. Well, they were out of Jiffy cake mix, so he picked up a regular brand and just eyeballed it when deciding how much to use. Yeah, we basically had corn flavored cake with our dinner :)


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This park had a Junior Ranger program that the kids could participate in. They gave the kids a worksheet with all kinds of questions about the park, the nature within the park and it’s history. We had to go around and read all of the plaques and signs in the park to answer them. She had to sketch an animal, so she drew this caterpillar that Jason’s dad found and then picked up trash to help keep the park clean. As we checked out, we took the paper to park headquarters and they printed out a certificate for her (and Robert since he joined us everywhere but can’t write and really I just lost his paper) and had them raise their right hands and recite a pledge stating they would take care of nature and the park and would encourage their friends and family to do the same. Then they got a little Jr. Ranger pin. It was all very official. And very cute. And I didn’t have my camera on me. I figured they were just going to hand them a pin and say, “Good job.”

We got back home around 3:00 on Sunday. The kids wanted to put up the Christmas tree, so I’m a sucker and set it up and pulled out the boxes of decorations. Camping and Christmas collided in a perfect storm in my house that evening. It’s a week and a half later and I still don’t think the house has completely recovered.

Pedernales Falls State Park

 

We camped at Pedernales Falls State Park this past weekend. Clara had off on Monday, so we took the opportunity to make the long drive to the west side of Austin and do some Hill Country camping. If you’ve had a conversation with me in the last year, you’ve probably heard me lament the fact that we haven’t done any Hill Country camping yet. It’s a little too far to easily do a weekend and we’re usually so last minute for Spring Break that they’re all full. So this year we made reservations two months in advance. I was hoping that this time in October would still be pretty warm so the kids could play in the water. Of course it was in the 80’s before we got there and then a huge storm passed Friday night and it was cloudy with highs in the 60s all weekend. I hadn’t prepared for the cold, so I had to run into the Dollar Store and buy us all warm clothes.

We all really enjoyed this park. On Sunday, we all hiked down to the falls. There is no swimming or wading in this part of the park because of the undercurrents and the potential for flash flooding. It was beautiful. The kids ran around for a long time. You could easily spend the day here exploring and having lunch on the rocks. There were so many nooks, crevices, pools and waterfalls and several sandy beaches and we didn’t even go all the way across the river. (These pictures are all out of order.)

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The large rocks behind us are the falls and although I’m sure they’re a sight to behold when the water is high, it wouldn’t be nearly as fun because you couldn’t go climbing all over the rocks.

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Oh yeah, the Couringtons and JDog joined us.

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This park has lots of trails and this particular one goes across the river. We hiked it on Saturday and went and found a letterbox and then went back on Sunday afternoon and let the kids splash around in the cold water. Chris only joined us on the one high to the falls because of his knee. He did good, but there was one rock jump down at the falls where his knee spoke up and told him he’d better take it easy, so he did.

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Jason cooked in the dutch ovens all weekend. He made everyone taco soup the first night, pot roast stew the second night and ribs the third. He also made biscuits and gravy and cobbler for everyone on Sunday night. He’s good to have around when camping.

 

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JDog photobombed the kids here.

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I told Robert to stand by the girls for a picture. Little toot.

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Here we are on our first hike of the weekend coming back from finding our letterbox. You can see the river in the background.

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Robert was over taking pictures by this point.

 

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Oops, here we are back at the overlook at the falls.

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And now back to the campsite.

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There were rock steps leading down to the falls and also down to the swimming area that Becky took the kids to the first night.

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Here’s Robert and the “best mommy in the whole world.” He’s such a stinker and kept telling Becky that she was the best mommy. I was either second best or worst, occasionally best; it changed by the hour. He’s right though. She’s a pretty darn good mommy.

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This park has quite a few campsites and the camping loop feels really secluded. We could barely see our neighbors because the trees are so dense, which means plenty of shade. The hiking trails we went on were also very shady. The bathrooms were a bit of a walk for us and there was no soap, so minus one star for that. This was definitely one of my favorites and I hope we go back someday.

Palmetto State Park

We spent this past weekend at a new park for us, Palmetto S.P. I loved this park. It was very shady and had lots of trails, each one through a different environment. There was a palmetto trail with dwarf palmetto palms lining either side of the trail, a swamp trail and one along the river. We didn’t go on the swamp trail, mostly because we didn’t have time, but also because Daddy informed Clara that he saw a Swamp Monster t-shirt for sale at the headquarters. There was also a small lake where you could rent kayaks, paddle boats, canoes and water bikes or you could rent tubes for the river. We intended to try out a boat with the kids this time, but ended up not getting around to it.

It rained on our drive down but thankfully it eased up to just a sprinkle by the time we got to the park so setting up wasn’t too bad. We spotted loads of these little snails and the kids had a great time playing with them.

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They lined them up for some exhilarating snail races.

 

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Annnnd they’re off!

It rained on and off that evening so we had hot dogs in the camper. There was a burn ban anyway, so we didn’t do any campfire cooking on this trip.

Saturday was beautiful and the kids spent a lot of time riding their bikes and scooters around the camping loop. Then the kids and I went on a hike around the Palmetto Trail. Chris isn’t quite up for a hike yet being only 3 weeks post-op and Max isn’t really up for a walk longer than from the camper to the picnic table, so they held down the fort for us. The banks on either side of the San Marcos were really steep, so they’re weren’t good entry spots to just get in and play.

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We spotted a deer and her babies right off the trail, as well as an armadillo rooting around just five feet off the trail. We sat and watched them for awhile, as well as some birds and butterflies and we saw lots more snails, too.

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This old water tower is on this trail and was built by the CCC in 1936. It is fed by an artesian well and supplied fresh water to the picnic pavilion for a long time. Now it just keeps the swamp at a constant level so that the palmettos thrive. It doesn’t run on electricity and is one of very few like it in the world.

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That afternoon they met an 8 year old boy a few campsites away from ours and they played with him all afternoon and night. We met his parents and they ended up visiting over at our campsite until about 10:00. This was only their second camping trip in the camper they just bought and someone had told them they would end up meeting lots of people and making friends on their camping trips. They had laughed at them, but sure enough, they did. They even took our information and we may try to coordinate a camping trip together. That’s part of what I love about camping. This guy was ex-military, covered in tattoos, outspoken and a tad inappropriate, but super nice and we ended up having an enjoyable evening with them as the kids ran around in the dark with headlamps and glow sticks. I think being out in nature and slowing down just naturally tends to bring people together.

I took the kids on a hike along the river on Sunday morning. We were able to pick out different animal tracks in the mud and explored a couple of trails that went down towards the river. We also saw some more deer. This ended up being a great park for viewing wildlife. Here I am doing a little pebble removal.

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And Robert spent a great deal of time chopping at things along the trail with his walking stick.

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The trails down to the river weren’t heavily traveled and were pretty steep. Here Clara was huffing it back up to the main trail, making sure to get plenty of use out of her walking stick. She called Robert back for assistance and instructed him to hand her his walking stick and help pull her up. It was pretty funny to watch and listen to them traversing up this treacherous slope :)

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Here was my attempt at a selfie with the three of us and the river down below in the picture. I’m just no so good at the selfie thing. Robert has it down though.

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And this was a scenic overlook a few miles outside of the park on our way home.

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I think we’ll be coming back to this park at some point. It was only ten minutes off I-10, making it really convenient for us to get to. We’ll just have to make a point of enjoying the water next time.

Brady Lake

The kids and I joined my dad’s side of the family for camping at Brady Lake, near San Angelo. All six of his siblings and their spouses were able to be there. Only my two youngest cousins were there and Bryce came with my mom and dad. Chris had bought tickets to the Houston Grand Prix months ago, so he wasn’t able to come. He kept trying to get me to take the camper, but there was no way I was confident enough to take it by myself. I’ve never even driven with a trailer before. So we roughed it in the tent for the first time in a couple of years.

It was a little warm, but thankfully, my mom and dad had their little camper with a/c, so we were able to retreat inside and cool off every once in a while. Our old air mattress finally bit the dust. It wouldn’t hold air at all, so the second night I folded up blankets in the middle so Clara wouldn’t be on the hard ground as the air escaped during the night. Robert ended up in bed with me.

We got the kids ice cream at the marina and they were covered in sticky goo after a few minutes in the heat.

The lakeshore wasn’t suitable for swimming by our campsites, so we had to drive down the road to get in at the designated swimming area. The kids splashed and had fun for about an hour on Saturday and Sunday before Bia and I were ready to go cool off back at camp.

The camping area had a nice big bathroom with this shady playground right behind it. It was perfect for playing on, even in the heat of the day.

Each night everyone joined up for dinner in front of Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Betty’s camper. I only took a couple of pictures.

Robert made friends with everyone by gifting them with rocks. When they accidentally got left on the ground, he made sure to find the rock’s owner and ensure they didn’t lose them. He and Clara eventually warmed up to my cousins and they joined them at their cabin to make homemade ice cream for everyone Saturday night.

Playing Yahtzee in the cool of the camper Sunday afternoon. Clara whooped up on Bia and Bryce. Before that she pounded me and Bia at Ticket to Ride, a cool game we got at Goodwill Saturday morning. Some of my aunts loooove going thrifting, so a trip into town is usually on the agenda each year.

About half of the group had to leave on Sunday, but we stayed until Monday. Robert helped Bia load the big jug of water onto the truck.

My parents were headed on to Garner State Park for a day and I thought about joining them, but we were hot and out of clean clothes and food and the thought of setting up and tearing down camp again was just too much, so we got on the road for our five hour trip home. It’s always a treat to see everyone and catch up, so I look forward to the years I’m able to make it.

Camping at Yegua Creek

We joined the Couringtons and Becky’s parents and a handful of siblings for camping on Saturday on Lake Somerville. Chris’ co-worker Vance and his family came out for the day on Saturday and Jason got there Saturday night. All of the nearby state parks were full, so we stayed at Yegua Creek which is an Army Corp of Engineers park. We stayed here when Clara was one and endured a horrible night of wind. It was one of my very first blog posts.

It was overcast and windy a good deal of the time and cold, but there were times when the weather would cooperate and allow for some good playtime. Because of Robert’s ear infection, we were told to have him rest for the first couple of days. It wasn’t too difficult to lure him inside the camper for a movie since it wasn’t too nice out. We’d let him out for a short time and then herd him back inside for a movie or nap.

Our campsite sat on a curve in the road with the perfect little hill to ride bikes or scooter down, so the kids spent a lot of time doing just that. Robert’s first attempt on his bike was a little nerve-wracking for Mama to watch, but he did well and didn’t have an ounce of fear. He just needs to work on looking at the road ahead and not down at his feet. The kids also spent a great deal of time making a “town” all down the street with sidewalk chalk. The adults would go around and pick which buildings our kids did. We decided Clara probably added Target and Kate’s contribution was the hospital :) Jason took Zef and watched a movie in the theater for a little while.

We gave Jason this little cast iron skillet for Christmas. When we saw it in Academy, we couldn’t not get it for him. He tested it out for the first time on this trip. Worked great to make his little half ounce steak and is the perfect size for a single egg. We all waited our turn for our own custom ordered egg. The boys sat around the fire cooking in our four dutch ovens all weekend.

And Zef laid in his chair by the fire like a good boy all weekend.

Max is still acting weird and didn’t really perk up while camping like I thought he might. He just sat and observed and didn’t want to go for walks. That could have been because of the stickers though. He didn’t want me to leave his side. If I went in the camper, he wanted in and if I walked out, he wanted out. Here he’s watching the girls add to their chalk city from afar.

Robert has had a huge pimple on his nose for a couple of weeks. The physician’s assistant wasn’t sure what it was, but went ahead and prescribed an antibiotic that would also help with skin infections. It had gotten huge and pus filled and then would peel off, scab and start over. I hadn’t messed with it because I was afraid of staph. It finally burst while camping, so Chris squeezed it some more and a lot came out. We put some neosporin on it and convinced him to wear a band-aid for the rest of the day.

We had everyone over to our fire on Sunday night for s’mores and cobbler. The kids participated in JDog’s Cobbler Camp and helped make their individual cobblers to go into the dutch ovens.

Clara’s s’more face.

Clara enjoying her Monday morning scrambled egg.

The weather had finally warmed up on Monday and Becky’s mom took a group of kids down to the water to fish. I came along with Robert since we decided he was finally rested up enough to get out more.

Karen is a saint. No really. She’s the saint of patience. I guess having 20+ kids will teach you not to sweat the small stuff. She helped get a hook out of one grandkids’ pants, untangled fishing line, helped cast, watched the youngest grandson and dog, kept everyone away while people were casting, cut a line and then restrung it, showed my child how to fish (since I’m clueless), etc, etc, etc. Seriously, my head was spinning just sitting there watching. Karen’s my hero.

She’s also human and a Nana, so when the grandkids asked if they could go play on the hill of sand and mom was back at camp getting stuff packed up to leave, she said, “Sure, why not?” My kids approved of the hill climbing and fishing was officially abandoned.

We got back to the campsite and Jason and Zef were ready to head back home. The Couringtons and Quinns left not long after and it was just us left.

We napped and when we woke, I noticed Clara didn’t look so great. Her eyes were puffy, her face was red and she had started getting a runny nose and cough. I think as the weather warmed up, the allergens came out in full force. By the evening, her face was itching and she looked miserable. I gave her Benadryl before bed.

This was her pile of kleenex from during the night Monday night. She still looked and sounded awful come Tuesday morning and the park ranger had warned us of a cold front coming in Tuesday night with lots of wind, so we made the decision to leave early. Clara, Linda and I have a girls’ weekend planned this weekend that includes The Wizard of Oz musical downtown, so I didn’t want her getting any worse. We got home around 5:00 last night. She slept with a humidifier and already she looks better. Hopefully we’ll keep it from turning into an infection.

So it’s kind of a bummer we had to leave early, but we got in lots of time with our friends and had fun, so that’s all that matters. Spring Break has just turned out to be a hard time for this allergic family to spend too much time in the great outdoors, so next year I think we’ll be limiting camping to the weekend for this time of year.

Thanksgiving at Lake Whitney State Park

We went camping at Lake Whitney State Park for Thanksgiving this year. It’s not too far from Waco and was close enough for Dan and Linda to easily join us for Thanksgiving day. (Linda has lots of good pictures from Thursday and Friday on her blog, including and especially good close up of Clara that I love.)

We were initially going to leave on Tuesday after Clara got out of school. It was rainy and cold all day Monday and Tuesday though which made it hard to do all the prep we needed to do and then we saw that it was going to be 20+ mph winds on the way there. We decided driving with a camper and then setting up in the dark in 30 degree temps sounded not so pleasant, so we left on Wednesday morning instead. I’m so glad we changed plans.

We arrived a little after noon and the kids wasted no time getting down to business. There were leaf piles to be jumped in and a huge climbing tree right in our campsite just begging to be climbed. Jason showed up a few hours after us and got busy feeding us. That’s all he did all week was feed us food in his new dutch oven and tend the fire. We had biscuits and gravy two mornings, chili and cornbread and peach cobbler.

 

This is a picture of one of my greatest ideas ever. Earlier this year, I decided we needed some place to stash all of our little things and came up with this idea and Chris and Jason drilled the holes for the rod. It works perfect and holds phones, gloves, hats, cameras, books, etc.

I just love Clara’s shelf that she set up all nice and neat. Gotta have plenty of reading materials. She needed two shelves since she needed a whole shelf just for books and friends.

Dan and Linda got to the campsite around 10:30 or so on Thursday. Linda brought ham, pumpkin pie, cookies and veggies and dip.

Jason heated up the ham, made the mashed potatoes and warmed up the rolls in his dutch oven. We also made green bean casserole in our Coleman oven. It all turned out great, but we were shivering while eating. It was nice in the sun by the fire, but pretty darn cold at the covered picnic table.

Linda also brought the “turkey” that the kids helped put together.

We went down to the water a couple of times a day to explore and walk the shoreline. We found fish skeletons, a fossil, a rock in a rock and shells, among other treasures. Robert threw lots of rocks into the water and Clara tried skipping a rock with all her might.

Thanksgiving night we gathered back around the fire and had beans, cornbread and leftover ham. I made the mistake of asking Jason if he would like some Jiffy cornbread mix to use for his cornbread. Oh no, Jason’s too good for Jiffy. So we had a friendly little contest to see who’s cornbread was best. I did mine on the Coleman stove. Yeah, the bottom burnt. We scraped the bottom off and let the kids eat it.

Team JDog was feeling pretty good right about this time and was maybe reveling in Team Jiffy’s defeat a little too much. We lifted the lid on Team JDog’s cornbread and it was looking really tasty and perfectly browned on top. Then we lifted it out of the dutch oven. The bottom was completely black. Yay, a tie! So we scraped the bottom of of it and scarfed it down too.

 

Robert kept bringing everyone rocks as gifts.

We took the dogs down to the water one time. Robert threw some rocks into the water and Max took off after them. I think he got a little chilly as he got all the way in. Right as he couldn’t touch he decided to come back to shore.

 

Clara helped Jason make peach cobbler on Friday before he left to go home. It was yummy and we cleaned the pans. Clara and Robert were supposed to share one and when Robert didn’t want any, Clara went to town. She had to be stopped before she finished it so she wouldn’t be sick.

Here’s Robert right before sunset on Friday. The boy was pooped and I thought he’d be up for an early bedtime.

Saying bye to JDog. Robert didn’t want his picture taken.

After Jason left, we went over to the neighbor’s across the road. The kids had been playing with their kids all week and we sat and talked with them for awhile while the kids ran around playing night tag.

We decided to leave a day early, so we leisurely packed up on Saturday while the kids played. I always have cereal on the last day so I don’t have dishes to do as I’m trying to get everything cleaned up. The husband came over to sit at the campfire and talk to Chris while his wife cooked breakfast. When breakfast was ready, she invited all of us over to eat with them. Clara put down a lot of bacon and eggs.

They all went down for one more trip to the water while I finished cleaning up and packing and I took a couple pics of the kids when it was time to go. Again Robert didn’t want his picture taken. Jordan here was such a good sport and was very patient with Robert.

They all helped bring Robert over to the car. He wasn’t too happy about leaving his new friends. He was referring to Julia as his girlfriend.

We liked this park. The section we were in had about 12 sites on one road that dead ended into the lake. There was very little traffic since there were only about 6-7 sites in use, so we gave Robert free reign to run around with the other kids without us hovering very closely for the first time. That and the mom and dad across the street were keeping an eye on all of them too.

I think this is a park we’ll be back to in the summer when the kids can get in the water. The tables were covered and there was plenty of shade where we were. There aren’t many trails, but there is lots of shoreline to explore. All in all this one is a winner and had lots of available space, which can’t be said of most of the state parks in the hill country. We know, we tried. You have to make reservations way in advance if you want to get anywhere in the hill country pretty much year round.