Sunday, August 30, 2009

August Dallas Adventure

It seems like last year I was driving the 50 miles to Dallas at least twice a week, and often even more.

This year, I've managed to go for months without making the trip. So yesterday's Dallas drive was actually kind of a treat.

While Kara was living in the condos, we met a family with a set of twins right about Anna's age, and the kids really got along well. So when Kara found that Noah and Olivia were back in town (and bored out of their minds) we decided to plan a Saturday afternoon excursion.

I put the camera in the van, and managed to leave it there the whole afternoon. You'll have to settle for photos stolen from various sites around the internet.

Our first stop was the Rock Barrell, a rock and bead store.

Tons of rocks and minerals and fossils and beads.

Anna and Olivia were in heaven. Noah enjoyed it too, I think, but seemed ready to go when Alyssa finally ran out of interest.

We then went to the Galleria of Dallas - a huge shopping center on the north side of town. The large skating rink in the center is one of it's most distinguishing features, and it was quite a sight from four stories up.

Then the girls wanted to go to the American Girl store. Noah- not so much. So he and I hung out at the Sony Style store.

We had a good time, and I think Noah and Olivia were especially glad to get out and do something fun for the afternoon.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Back To School 2009

It's finally here! The girls are gone! The house is quiet!

School year 09/10 has begun!

The girls got up pleasantly and dressed, and then sat down for a nutritious breakfast of toast and fruit. Alyssa was more interested in playing Lite-Brite.

Then it was time for pictures.

Both girls are just getting so big. Yeah, it's cliche, but it's true!

Notice the pre-dawn glow in the background. We are so jealous of all the back to school pictures where the sun is up high enough to cast shadows.

The bus garage said Alyssa's bus would arrive between 6:45 and 6:50, so she and I went outside to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Alyssa made the most of her waiting time by starting a rousing game of "Follow Me."

After a number of cement trucks, diesel pickups, and full size busses caused false alarms, Alyssa's bus finally arrived at 7:10.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Anna spent the morning watching Pokemon on TV. She was excited when she learned her bus would arrive after 8:00, so she could continue her summer Pokemon tradition.

Anna refused to stand on the step of the bus and wave to me, so an action shot was the best I could manage.

Due to a unanimous decision, the happy dance that occurred at home once the busses were gone was not photographed. However, it looked a lot like this.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Christmas Story Contest Entries

The Christmas Story Contest at LDSPublisher is over. The Editor's Choice winners aren't announced yet, but neither one of us got the votes for the Reader's Choice. Still, we both got some nice comments, and had fun writing.

Here are the links to our stories:

A New End Of It, by Don.

Jaina's Christmas Magic, by Anna.

Given that Anna is not yet twelve, I think she did a fantastic job on her story.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

School Supply Shopping, Part 2

Thursday night, I went to the Middle School with Anna for her orientation and to pick up her schedule. She has all Pre-AP classes, which I like but she's not too excited about. She worries so much about not passing her classes, and yet all of her grades last year - even spelling - were in the 90s.

I need to learn this kid some relaxing skilz.

The biggest complaint about her schedule, though, is that all of her "fun" classes - science, band, and PE - are bunched up in the first three hours. Then it's language arts, social studies, and math. Although she likes math, so that shouldn't be too bad.

We also picked up her PE clothes, found her classrooms, and traded her ankle-height locker with a little kid who couldn't reach his on the top row. Then we decided to go to Wal-Mart and get her school supplies.

The PTO sells pre-packaged school supplies, which is convenient, easy, and, from what I've since confirmed, fairly expensive. The 7th grade bundle was being sold for $65. I was pretty sure we could do better.

This year's trip to Wal-Mart was very, very different. Last year, as I mentioned earlier, Anna was very upset if the list called for one brand or color or size or shape of an item, and we had to compromise due to availability. This year, she was upset when I tried to follow the list.

"That's stupid. I don't need eight of those. Just get four. What am I going to use these for? No - don't get me that." It was a very interesting experience, to say the least.

In the end, we skipped several things on the list, and got a few things that weren't, like a fancy accordian folder similar to one she used last year.

Our total supply bill came to just over $35. Granted, we didn't get everything exactly the way it was on the list, and we had to spend an hour wandering the aisles of Wal-Mart, and the self checkout made me prove I was over 18 so I could buy markers, but in the end I think it was a pretty good deal.

Plus, Wal-Mart sells ice cream, something the PTO just doesn't have.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tucker Avoids The Vet - For Now

Tucker boy is at it again. He needs an operation to curb his social life.

The trouble with Tucker is that he's not completely domesticated. He comes and goes at will, and really doesn't have much of a schedule. Sometimes he's around in the mornings, sometimes he's not. Sometimes we don't see him for days at a time. This means he's a hard kitty to make appointments for.

So the recent strategy is this: Get a big box, check the garage every morning, and if Tucker's there, put him in the box.

It was a good plan, and almost worked.

I found a great box in the attic. It's been there for a few years, but it was one of the few that hasn't been broken down. I brought it into the garage.

This morning, there was rain. And thunder and lightening. The perfect kind of day for a kitty to come inside. Which he did.

Now, Tucker likes to be petted. So all it took was a little bit of tuna and a few minutes of gentle petting before I made my move. Tucker wasn't happy when I picked him up, but he didn't try and get away until I started setting him down inside the box. But the box was big enough that he couldn't get hold of the top, and I managed to get him down inside with a minimum of damage to my person. Mission accomplished.

Then things went bad.

It seems that hot, humid attic air can sometimes cause box glue to degrade to the point that a strong, determined kitty can bust the seams clean open.

Nuts.

I figure it will be at least a week before Tucker will let me near enough to try again. It may even be much, much longer.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

School Supply Shopping, Part 1

We are now days away from the new school year, so shopping for school supplies has become a necessity. Based on last year's experience, I knew that I did not want to take both girls at the same time. No way!

Fortunately, tonight Anna has a sleepover at a friend's house, so it was the perfect opportunity to get our fifth-grader stocked up.

We headed out to Wal-Mart, and discovered very quickly that the big blue cardboard bins they set up in the aisle and filled with school supplies were no longer full. In fact, most of them were empty. For every item we found on our list, there were two we didn't find.

Fortunately, I know that there are other places in the store where school and office supplies can be found, so after a little bit of investigating and a few creative substitutions we were able to get all but two things on our list. One item we still need to get is a pack of red pens. The other item is something that, based on the description, I have no idea what it is. But I think it has grommets.

I promised Alyssa a trip to the park if she was good at the store, and fortunately there was just enough twilight left for a quick turn on the swings and slides before heading home.

School Supply Shopping, Part 2 comes on Saturday. Last year, Anna had a near meltdown every time I suggested even the slightest deviation from the list, so I'm steeling myself for a real adventure. Stay tuned.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Place for Late Summer Christmas Cheer

There's a Christmas Short Story contest going on over at LDSPublisher's blog, and both Anna and I have entered. Voting begins on Monday.

Go over and read the stories, and then vote for us. I can't tell you exactly which stories are ours, but mine is the good one and Anna's is the other good one.

Actually, I've been reading along as the stories were posted, and the quality of entries is quite good this year. We may win; we may not. But I know both of us had a lot of fun writing our stories.

So set the AC to 60, brew up some hot cocoa, enjoy some late summer Christmas cheer, and vote for the stories you like best.

The Correct Way to End the Summer

What could possibly better than a late summer pool party?

How about two late summer pool parties, both on the same day!

The girls had a Primary swim activity yesterday morning, and a friend party in the afternoon. I (deludedly) planned on getting a lot of errands and chores done while they were swimming and bobbing and playing away.

Unfortunately, Alyssa's wire came loose from her braces, and I was called in early to do some emergency fix-it work. Why does this always happen on the weekend when the ortho's office is closed?

I'm sure half of the Primary kids were traumatized by the way she screamed bloody murder every time I got close to her wire with the nail clippers, but eventually - with the help of the party's hostess - we got the wire snipped, and that was that.

Fortunately, there were no problems the rest of the day. The girls had a great end-0f-summer Saturday, and despite it all I managed to get a few things done, too.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

SeaWorld, Day 2

One advantage of spending the night in San Antonio was that we were able to get to SeaWorld shortly after it opened without getting up at 4:00 am. Yeah, that was a really big bonus.

Tricia and Ella came with us on Saturday, and we had a great time. Early morning is all about rides, as the lines are short and sweet. We went on the Texas Splashdown as a group, since everyone could and would ride it.

After that, Anna played carnival games with the smaller girls while Tricia and I rode the Great White roller coaster. We went twice in a row, as there was next to nobody waiting. It was a very smooth ride - I liked it. Couldn't get Anna or Alyssa to try it, though.

Then Anna really wanted to ride on the Rio Loco again. I was dressed to stay dry (more or less) so opted not to go. Alyssa didn't want to either, and Ella was too little. So Anna and Tricia went together. They got soaked!

Alyssa, Ella and I played in the shade and waited.

We had a good time the rest of the day, watching the water ski show and seeing the horses, and then went to feed the dolphins. After all, SeaWorld is all about the fishes! Er, um, I mean the aquatic mammals.

By early afternoon, we were winding down fast. I didn't want to get home too late, so we were on the road by 4:00. But before we left, we went in to see the sharks and coral reef.

Anna felt it was important to video tape everything she could point the camera at.

Alyssa's interest was much simpler - "Sit down!"

We had a great time. I don't think we'll do SeaWorld passes again next year, but we'll probably go two or three more times before this year is over, so watch this space for more fun from the land of Shamu.

A SeaWorld Overnighter, Day 1

Last Christmas when I bought our season passes for SeaWorld, my plan was to do a summertime overnighter in addition to the handful of day trips. That excursion happend this past weekend.

The girls and I drove down Friday, leaving around 7:30, which was much later than previous trips. I didn't have the energy to get up earlier, and one of the main reasons for doing an overnighter was to stay late at the park, so it was easy to justify a late departure.

I was pretty much a cranky grouch the whole drive, but fortunately the girls didn't agitate me, so I was in a decent mood once we got there. We spent the bulk of the day swimming in the Lost Lagoon, which made the very hot day much more pleasant.

The lazy river ride was our favorite, once we finally convinced Alyssa to get into the tube. She would not, would not, WOULD NOT try it, then once she did, she was hooked. (She's been like that since birth - we are constantly saying "Try, try, Baby 'Lyss.")

There was a shortage of tubes, but they also had life vests you could use. The extra-large green ones were hard to come by, so for a while I had a couple of small ones wrapped around my arms like water wings. That was fun until the lifeguard made me take them off. :-(

Anna did a couple of slides, and we took a turn in the wave pool. Alyssa said she wanted a nap, so I found a beach chair in the shade and laid it all the way back. I knew it was a long shot, but if anyone could take a nap at a water park, it was Alyssa.

It didn't work. (Look just below the tree - that's the non-napping Alyssa in blue.)

At dinner time, we left the water park and went to the van, where delicious ham and cheese sandwiches awaited us. I had the foresight to crack all of the windows before we went into the park, so with a stiff breeze and our wet swimsuits, it was actually pretty comfortable in the van while we ate.

The rest also rejuvinated us, and we went in to watch a couple of special evening shows and ride on the Rio Loco, which got us all totally wet - which was OK, as we were still in our swimsuits.

Once we were done, we drove across town to my step brother Craig's house, where we enjoyed the hospitality of he and his wife, Tricia and their daugter, Ella. My plan was originally to stay in a hotel, but since they live close by they offered to let us stay with them. I'm glad we did, as it was fun getting to know them better.

And besides, I don't know of any hotel chain that offers a kitten to play with.

Coming up: Day 2!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Where I Live, There Are Rainbows

And life with the laughter of morning
And starry nights

Hawai'i rainbows mo' bettah, but we'll take what we can get.

This was a beautiful full rainbow with a strong double that unfortunately had mostly faded by the time we found the camera. Look directly above the water tower.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Small Miracle? Maybe...

I set out yesterday on what I feared was a fool's errand: secure a Texas State Inspection Sticker for our tired old minivan.

Despite her faded red paint and habit of blowing tires, I like our van. She's very practical, proven to be quite reliable (aside from the tire thing) and works perfect for Kara, not having any odd smells or significant air leaks. So even if money weren't the issue that it is, we would be really hard pressed to replace her.

Unfortunately, our van, bless her catalytic converter, has a bit of a smoking problem.

During the Spring Car Fix-up Extravaganza, we had the auto shop see what they could do about the smoke. The tech said this model van had an issue with oil leaking into the cylinders, and that's just the way it is.

We should probably get a second opinion one of these days. Maybe with our next tax refund.

Anyway, the problem seems to have gotten progressively worse, and I feared it would result in a failed emissions test and a repair bill that would wipe out our meager Sea World Summer Trip funds five times over.

So before heading to the inspection shop Saturday (along with half of east Parker County), I said a prayer that the van would pass.

When my turn finally came, they drove our trusty wheels onto the little testbed, hooked up the sensor to the tailpipe, and stepped on the gas.

Thick blue-white smoke poured out. As the speed increased, so did the smoke. People sitting on the bench out front hopped up and came into the shop. My heart sank - there was no way in the heavens or beneath that this van was going to pass the emissions test.

As the test proceeded, the smoke finally began to diminish, as the oil that had seeped into the crankcase burned off. Near the end of the test, the smoke was almost completely gone.

When the test was done, I noticed both techs standing in front of the test computer, shaking their heads and nervously tapping their feet. Something was terribly wrong.

The inspector dude came into the shop and told me he had some bad news. "The computer crashed just as the test was finishing," he said. "We'll have to run it again."

The second time through, there was still smoke. But less - much less. And it disappeared much more quickly this time. And at the end, the inspector dude got into the car and replaced the sticker!

We passed!

Now, I don't know what the initial test results were - I wasn't brave enough to ask. But the fact that the computer crashed after the first test, there was much less smoke the second time around, and we passed is good enough for me.

I'll happily accept it as the Miracle of the Van.