Monday, October 22, 2007

We don't do Relaxation Vacations...

Howdy Y'all !!!

So... we got back from our Texas vacation a little over a week ago. We had a really great time. Just wanted to post some photos and details on here before I forget.

Here's Amanda's little mascot, Panda, all ready for the trip. Cracks me up every time I see her strap this poor little creature into her "carseat". All because of a close call in the Atlanta airport in 2004,when Panda was almost lost forever. The next trip we went on after that, I came up with the idea of attaching the baby doll carseat inside the backpack, and Amanda has kept it that way ever since.

And the little cowboy hat is just too much...she stole that from one of her Bratz dolls, so that Panda could be dressed appropriately for Texas.

October 5 - The trip didn't start off on a great note. The day we were scheduled to leave, we had a really foggy morning. Our flight wasn't set to take off until 8:45 PM, so when the fog burned off in the late morning we figured we'd have no problem. We got to the airport about an hour earlier than we needed to, checked our bags, and then were immediately told that our flight was going to be delayed by at least 2-3 hours because of fog. ??? What fog??? Apparently it just rolled in again from nowhere...

Well, the 2-3 hour delay would really mess us up in Austin (no rental car counter would be open at 3AM, so how would we get to our hotel, an hour away in San Antonio???) so we ended up changing our flight to the next morning instead. This cut a half a day or so off of our available time to actually "do stuff" in Texas, but what can you do? Arriving in Austin at 3AM with 3 tired grouchy kids and no place to go didn't sound like fun, so changing the flight was really the only option.

October 6 - Once we finally got there, we hit the ground running. As Ryan said, "We don't do RELAXATION vacations - we do EXPLORATION vacations!!" We had a lot of things planned to see and do, so we didn't waste any time getting started. We got our luggage (which had actually arrived ahead of us because it was already checked onto our original flight and we couldn't get it back), rented our car, and drove straight to Six Flags Fiesta Texas.
It was HOT. The kids aren't used to HOT. So we didn't stay at Fiesta Texas too long. Just a couple of hours. Good thing we got in there for free (still rocking the heck out of those season passes we bought!!!) The park itself was very pretty, and it had some great rides and cool Halloween displays, but the kids just couldn't handle it - they were hot, and grouchy, and tired from the flight, and I think they might have even been a little overdosed on Six Flags, since we've been to so many of them this year. So we cut the visit short, checked into our hotel, let them swim in the pool for an hour, and then went out to dinner on the RiverWalk.

I loved the RiverWalk. We all did actually. It was so pretty, and such a cool place to hang out in the evenings. We never worried about making reservations for dinner or anything - every day that we were in San Antonio, we would run around all day doing and seeing as many things as we could, then take a little swim break and go back to the RiverWalk and just wander until we found a restaurant that looked good.

October 7 - This was Sea World day. I think we liked the San Antonio Sea World better than the San Diego one. Ryan loved the rides, and Amanda and I loved the shows. Brendan, surprisingly, was very grumpy all day. I thought he would love Sea World - but he told us that decided that he's had enough rides for this year, and didn't want anything to do with them there. Whatever, B. The rest of us had a good time.
Amanda really really wanted to pet a dolphin. We spent quite a bit of time by the Dolphin Cove, and I bought her 2 trays of fish to feed the dolphins, but she never did get to pet one. She tried, but she couldn't get the hang of holding herself up on the ledge, petting the dolphin with one hand and feeding it with the other. She couldn't reach, and she was afraid she'd fall into the water if she stretched out any further. And she's a bit too heavy for me to hold her up there for very long.

The SHOWS at Sea World were awesome. They were my favorite part of the whole day. All of them - but I think my favorite was "Viva" - it was a combination of acrobats, dolphins beluga whales, amazing choreography and music. This was the last show we saw at the end of the day, and it was absolutely AMAZING.

October 8 - We visited the Natural Bridge Caverns, a few miles outside of San Antonio. The kids were totally fascinated by all the different rock formations down there. Awesome. Later that day, we took a boat tour on the River, and saw a movie at the old Aztec theatre (very cool). Then we had dinner on the Riverwalk again.

October 9 - Zoo day. No Harrigan Family vacation is complete without a day at the zoo. This particular zoo seemed to have a very large collection of different bird species - far more than any other type of animal. There was a lot of construction going on at the zoo, so some areas were closed, but we still enjoyed our time there. Next we got some lunch, took a little train ride around Brackenridge Park (where the zoo was located), and then went to the Witte Museum (also located within the park). Brendan didn't want to go there. His most famous quote on this trip, whenever we told him where we were going next - "What the heck is a Witte Museum?? I don't know what that is, but I know I'm not gonna like it". This museum was pretty cool - it had an animatronic dinosaur exhibit, a lot of natural history exhibits specifically related to Texas, and a "science treehouse" section which the kids thought was really cool. Even Brendan.
Dinner on the Riverwalk again - BBQ this time. YUMMY!!

October 10 - Last day in San Antonio. We started out by visiting the Institute of Texan Cultures, a museum within the grounds of HemisFair park. We were amazed at how much there was to see in this museum - we spent a good half a day there. The volunteer docents there are SOOOO friendly and SOOOOO eager to share their knowledge of Texas history and culture. We learned a lot. The kids each tried to rope a "calf" - and Ryan actually did it on
his first try. Not bad for a city boy.

After this we had lunch at the Rainforest Cafe. Amanda was thrilled - just by
chance, we got seated at the "Panda" table (with 2 animatronic pandas "talking" to us throughout our meal.) The waitress informed us that the San Antonio Rainforest Cafe is the ONLY one in the country that has pandas. Did I mention that Amanda was thrilled??? (she's so funny - ANYTHING panda-related can make her day)

Then we went to the Alamo. The location of this historic site really surprised me - it's just sitting right smack in the middle of downtown. After this, we took a quick stroll through La Villita, went into a few cute little shops there, and a really pretty little church. Then we headed back into HemisFair park, where we had left our car for the day, and ended the day by going to the top of the Tower of the Americas to take in the view.

October 11 - time to move on to Houston. It was a good 3-hour drive from San Antonio to Houston. We planned to spend the afternoon in the Museum District. It was Thursday, and a lot of the museums are free on Thursdays, so that worked out well. We got into town around 11AM or so, parked the car, and started walking around to some of the museums. The Weather Museum was very small, fairly new - just opened in April of last year. It was pretty interesting though - and the kids had fun doing a scavenger hunt and seeing themselves on TV as "meteorologists". We also visited the Health Museum - very cool. The main attraction is the "Amazing Body Pavilion", which consists of many larger-than-life models of various organs and systems of the human body, with all kinds of interactive kiosks and hands-on activities. Very informative and fun for the kids. The last museum of the day was the Children's Museum - also a very fun place. Then we headed out to find our new hotel - not as conveniently located as the one we had in San Antonio, but what can you do? Houston is VERY big and spread out. They say it's the car capital of the world - well I can see why. You can't get ANYWHERE without a car there.

Anyway, we found the hotel - the room was nice and comfy - and there was a seafood restaurant right across the street that was calling our names. Had a really nice dinner there, and settled in for the night amongst the oil refineries.

October 12 - Space Center day!! The Johnson Space Center was another place that totally surprised me with HOW MUCH there was to see and do. We had thought it was going to be a half-day thing, and we were going to have to find something else to occupy the kids in the afternoon, but as it turned out, we were there when it opened at 10AM, and we left at 4:30 and still hadn't seen everything!! What a huge place!! The kids loved it. Even though we've already taken them to the Air & Space museum in Washington DC, they were still fascinated with everything at the Space Center. Ryan became obsessed with trying to "land the shuttle" (he never did get it right, but he persevered for quite some time). Amanda got the cutest souvenir T-shirt with the NASA logo on it that reads "It's not Rocket Science...Oh wait...Yes it is !!"

Back to the hotel to swim, and then we went to the Kemah Boardwalk for the evening. I didn't even know such a place existed, but Kevin had snuck out to do some research at the hotel's computer center than morning and discovered it. It's a very tourist-friendly area with restaurants, shops, and amusement rides (like most other "boardwalk" areas) We let the kids go on a couple of rides each, then wandered around until we found a nice restaurant. Very cool evening.

October 13 - This started out to be a "history" day, then turned into "Houston is weird" day, then ended up as more of a "history" day again. We checked out of our hotel in the morning, and went to visit the Battleship Texas. Ryan and Amanda (mostly Ryan) got a HUGE kick out of exploring every single nook and cranny of the ship. Brendan was grumpy again. After the battleship, we went over to the nearby San Jacinto monument for a bit. Then we drove to the Orange Show - possibly one of the weirdest places I have ever seen - kind of a weird combination folk art/obsession thing. I can't really do it justice - check out the website if you want to know what it's all about But anyway, while we were there we got a flyer listing other weird "folk art" type places in Houston, and said "why not??" so we ended up also visiting the Art Car museum (talk about weird) and the Beer Can House. Then it was time to drive to Austin, as we were flying home the next day out of Austin airport. We drove the 3 hours or so, checked into a hotel that was a mile from the airport, then visited the Texas State Capitol building for an hour. I must say I am glad we made time for that impromptu visit. It was such a beautiful building. The kids enjoyed touring it too - well, all except grumpy Brendan.
Then we drove around for a bit, looking for a place to park. Kevin told me he was all vacationed out, and tired of driving. We finally parked and found a restaurant, then went back to the hotel and turned in early so we could get up at the crack of dawn (not even!) and fly home. The 7am flight wasn't sounding like much fun, but it was cheaper than any other flight on a Sunday, so there you go.

October 14 - made it home, on an uneventful flight.
Now I need a vacation to recuperate from my vacation.

P.S. We did so many different things - I need 2 slide shows to show them all !! (Never mind the almost 900 pics I have to sort through to decide which ones to print and scrap!!)

Monday, October 1, 2007

Birthday Season - Part 2

Ahh, now I can relax. Birthday season is finally over. Well, OK, maybe I can't relax, but I'm officially out of party-planning mode for a while.

The slide show above features pics from Amanda's birthday festivities, as well as a couple of others we've had in the last week or two.

On her actual birthday, Amanda had to go to school, so she didn't get the all-day special treatment like Brendan did. But we still tried to make a nice day for her. We started out with the traditional "candle in the breakfast". (a silly thing that Kevin started a couple of years ago, but the kids love it - we put candles in pretty much everything they eat on their birthdays.) We gave her a couple of presents in the morning, and she got to bring birthday cupcakes to school. She got to play with her new Webkinz after school, and then she opened the rest of her presents. She got a pink digital camera, a mini Robo-panda, panda pajamas, monkey slippers, a fuzzy blanket and pillow for her room, and some new earrings. And then we took her out to dinner at a Japanese steakhouse/hibachi restaurant. After dinner we went home, and she put on her pink satin panda pajamas, and blew out the candles on her pink girly cake (complete with gummy bears of course!) All in all, it was definitely an Amanda-Panda kind of day!!

The next day was her friend Deanna's birthday. (weird huh - best friends with birthdays a day apart) More girly fun at Build-a-Bear. I got such a kick out of watching the two girls walking through the mall with their shopping bags - looks like a glimpse into the future...

Later that same day, we had to go to my nephew's first birthday party. I can't post pics here, because my brother is paranoid and doesn't want his son's face on the internet, but I did include in my slide show a picture of the Superman cake I made for the event. (The week before, at my baseball bash, my brother and sister-in-law liked my "Mets" cake so much that they asked me to do the Superman one for David's party. How could I refuse??)

Then for the rest of the week, it was time to prepare for the "grand finale of Birthday Season" - Amanda's Sleepover party. You'd think it would be simple - just invite a few girls, rent some movies, make some popcorn - TaDa - a sleepover party. Well, I don't know if it's just because Amanda is my girl and she's learned to go over the top, or because kids in general expect more these days, or what - but Amanda kept asking me "what are we going to DO at my sleepover???" So of course, being the party-planner that I am, I went a little overboard.

I took them to Plaster Funcraft so they could each paint a project. Then back to the house for pizza and cake. We made beaded jewelry, they autographed/personalized a pillowcase for Amanda, they played Twister - a lot, they watched TV, we did manicures and pedicures, Mad Libs, etc. The only problem was that they couldn't watch any of the DVD's I rented for them, because our makeshift DVD player (PlayStation console) which always worked fine before, decided not to work that night. But in spite of the technical difficulties, the girls found plenty of things to do to keep them entertained, and they stayed up until almost 2AM!!!

NOW I AM BEAT!!!!!!!!!!

It was worth it though - the girls had a really great time and they all said it was the best sleepover ever.

And now Birthday Season is officially OVER. All that's left to do is write thank you notes.

And add up the receipts to find out what it all cost - YIKES!!!