Scenes from Texas

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David, Ruth and I just returned from a spring break trip to Texas, specifically San Antonio and Austin. We were a family of three on the trip because John and H. were in Chile on a missions trip. H. had been to Chile several times many years ago (pre-marriage) and had wanted to return and wanted to take John. When he decided to go this spring, we decided it would also be good for me to take the other two kids on a trip somewhere special.

Why Texas? Well, we’d never been there before and I’d heard great things about both cities. I wanted somewhere warm but not too spring-breakish (no beach or Florida). We were not disappointed. It was a great trip.

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At first, when we saw bluebonnets, we were super excited. Then we realized they are everywhere. Literally. The ones in the photo above are from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center which was lovely.

IMG_6165The fauna that David and I were most excited to see were BATS. I didn’t know before this trip but Texas is apparently known for its large bat colonies. The ones in the photo above are from a colony that lives under the Camden Street Bridge in San Antonio. If you show up around sunset you can see them emerge. It’s a pretty spectacular sight…thousands of bats streaming out from the bridge and flying into the night. Even more impressive were the bats in the Congress Street Bridge colony in Austin. It’s the largest urban bat colony in the world (1.5 million bats). It’s also impressive and fun to see the large crowds of people who line the bridge and the hillside (and on boats on the river itself) to see the bats.

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We had fun in both cities. I liked Austin better…it was more, well, weird. (I can see where the Keep Austin Weird slogan comes from.) We biked around the Ladybird Lake in the middle of town, had great tacos, swam in the natural pool that is Barton Springs, sloshed through the Capitol on an exceptionally rainy morning, and walked around the University of Texas. San Antonio felt way more busy and touristy to me, although the Riverwalk area is truly beautiful. We happened to be there during the NCAA Final Four so the touristy feel was probably exaggerated. We enjoyed the Alamo and the other Missions, saw great Latin American art at the San Antonio Museum, ate great BBQ (the carnivores among us), took a river boat tour and enjoyed the San Antonio Zoo (our favorite was all the wild nesting cranes in the trees).

IMG_6038However, our favorite thing we did was hike at Enchanted Rock State Park, about an hour and a half away from both cities. It’s a short hike up (about half a mile) but super steep. And so worth it. Hiking around the park was also fun with a lot of boulders to climb.

Probably my favorite thing we did was to hunt for street art around Austin. The first day in the city we went on a longish walk near University of Texas (ending in ice cream and root beer floats at Amy’s) and saw as much as we could. The last day of our trip we ended at the S. Congress neighborhood and visited a few other landmark sites.

When I told friends about this trip, I had a few people remark that I was “brave” to do it. That seemed like a strange sentiment to me but I realized that as a family we have become very accustomed to travel. The kids were old pros at things like packing and going through airport security lines. And they are old enough that it’s really very easy. They did their own packing for the most part and were troopers on days that were long and sometimes tiring. The three of us had a really good time together. We missed H. and John a lot, but we also enjoyed each other and knew they were having their own adventures.

So, I’ll end this post with what I’ve said in other travel posts: If you are trying to decide if it’s worth it, it is. Just do it. Go!

Scenes from a Wetlands Walk

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Seen: Two Great Blue Herons, Five or Six different kinds of turtles and too numerous to count Canada Geese. We also think we saw some Red Headed Woodpeckers but they were high in the trees and we didn’t really see the distinctive heads very well. We wouldn’t have even known to look but a very nice birder on the trail stopped us to point out the distinctive sound and to tell us that they had been spotted.

We’re still technically on break and not “doing” school until next week. However, on our walk in addition to looking at the birds we discussed prime numbers, Charles Lee and the duel in Hamilton, the nature of heaven (with Ruth after she asked me what I thought I would do the first time I saw God) and hibernation. There was also a lot of Narnia and Harry Potter discussion due to our recent and current read-alouds. When I got home this morning the boys were replicating Galileo’s famous gravity experiments by dropping objects off the stairs to see which landed first. This was because David had been reading about gravity in his Science Encyclopedia. Over break we’ve also had spontaneous discussions about iambic pentameter (thank you Incorrigible Children), mythology and even grammar.

I have no way of knowing if other families find themselves discussing math and grammar and gravity over breakfast. It seems normal to us. I suspect that homeschooling makes this more common because we are used to school and life all being one rather than in separate spheres. It’s one of the many advantages to learning as a family.

 

Scenes from Paris

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Part 2 of our Europe vacation was Paris. When we talked about taking the kids to Europe we narrowed it down to Paris or London. We knew we couldn’t afford a multi-country many week trip and wanted to concentrate on one place. We wanted to be based in a larger city with options for side-trips. We also wanted it to be fairly easy and comfortable for us. Both England and France were countries that we felt comfortable traveling to. H. did a study abroad program in England and we had both traveled there several other times, including on our honeymoon. The language barrier was obviously not a problem. Both of us had also been to Paris multiple times, including once with John at 15 months. I have very rusty high-school French but H. speaks the language well enough to get by and that made it an easier option than something like Amsterdam or Berlin or Prague.

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We gave the kids the choice of London or Paris and everyone voted for Paris. I think they were at least partially swayed by our description of Paris which included “really good bread, chocolate, croissants, onion soup, coffee, pastries, crepes…”And we did indeed eat very well while we were there. dscn1894dscn2150

Because this was their first trip (or for John, the first trip he remembered) we concentrated on the big attractions: Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur. The history and art provided a great contrast to the natural beauty and outdoor focus of the Iceland part of the trip.

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We spent one day outside the city on two side-trips. In the morning we ventured to Giverny to see Monet’s Garden. It was beautiful. In the afternoon we went to Versailles to see a very different gaudier beauty.

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Scenes from Iceland

 

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We returned this week from a 10 day vacation in Iceland and Paris. We had wanted to take the kids to Europe for awhile and decided about a year ago that this was a good time to finally do it. We picked Iceland initially for the cheap airfares to Europe but then decided that we wanted to spend several days there as well.

The trip was amazing. Iceland was breathtakingly, ridiculously beautiful. Ruth said it best when she commented that “It’s hard to believe that it’s all real. It’s so beautiful it looks fake.”

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We had about four days in the country, so only saw a small amount of what it has to offer. We rented a car (a must if you want to travel anywhere) and did a lot of hiking. Our longest and favorite hike was to Hvergardi, a hike that led to a geothermal “hot river”. After furtively changing behind a wooden screen into a bathing suit we enjoyed a fantastic swim in the naturally warm water. (Top photo is of a different hike to one of many waterfalls.)

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The trip was full of firsts for the kids…”first time on a plane”, “first time to a different continent”, “first time bathing in a hot river”….A thrilling first for all of us was first time we touched a glacier. Just seeing it was pretty awe-inspiring.

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The coastal landscape reminded me in places of Cornwall (where H. and I spent our honeymoon). I absolutely love  this kind of scenery: rocky cliffs falling to the ocean. All in all, I was surprised by how much I loved Iceland. Obviously, we visited at an ideal time as far as the weather was concerned. But even so, I told H. that I thought the country was made for me: Sparsely populated, rocky landscape, ocean, abundant hot rivers/lagoons for bathing. Not to mention that it’s a country of readers and people who love books and has a culture of swimming (outdoors, year-round…but more on that in another post).

Stay tuned for photos from the Parisian part of our trip tomorrow.

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Scenes from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

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The kids spent this past weekend at my parents. H. and I had a lovely, if much quieter than usual, time together. Quiet didn’t mean boring. We ate well, saw a couple of movies, golfed (him), read books (me), did some school planning and thinking (me). We also saw two excellent exhibits at museums: The Greeks at the National Geographic Museum and a retrospective on the work of Kehinde Wiley at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (all the photos above are from the Wiley exhibit). I would highly recommend both. The Greeks was fascinating and full of really remarkable artifacts. (Photos were not allowed so you’ll have to just believe me on that or, even better, go see for yourself.) I knew nothing about Wiley going into the exhibit at VMFA but I came out feeling like I had learned a lot. Both exhibits are around for just a bit longer so if you are in the area consider checking them out.

Scenes from a Weekend in NYC

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H. and I were able to get away for a trip to NYC this past weekend. Highlights were a food tour of Chelsea Market (with an outrageously fun tour guide) and seeing King Charles III on Broadway. We also rode the Staten Island Ferry twice (we stayed there Friday night and used the parking lot for our car, a great deal compared to Manhattan parking) and walked the length of the High Line. We walked a lot, in actuality it was the main thing we did, racking up over 27,000 steps on the FitBit. We ate really well: steak tartare and sea salt caramels on the food tour and delicious Turkish food and fabulous bagels for breakfast. The main event though was having the extended time together to talk and be and just enjoy each other.

 

A Walk a Day

 

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About a month ago I read an article in the Washington Post magazine about people who do “a thing a day”. The interesting thing about the article was how the discipline of doing something every day had impacted the people even more than the thing they chose to do. It made me wonder what I might want to commit to doing ever day for a year. The thing that first sprang to mind was to take a walk outdoors.

I should say this isn’t really all that much of a stretch for me. Someone has to walk every day since we have a dog. Almost always I take some kind of walk. I have a Fitbit and have a goal of  walking 10,000 steps a day. (Currently I’m on a 17 day streak!). But there are definitely days and seasons when I see it more of a chore than something to enjoy. So I decided to walk outdoors daily and take one photo a day of my walk. The photo is more of a stretch since I’m not really the photographer of the family.To keep a log of my photos from my daily walks I started an Instagram account. You can keep me virtual company there at supratentorialblog.

We started off the year with our annual New Year’s Day Walk. This was our 13th walk. We had 33 people (21 of which were kids) and one dog. We walked about 2.5 miles with a longer option for those who wanted. Afterwards we enjoyed soups and bread and fellowship. It’s been a great start to the New Year for the past 15 years (there were two years we didn’t walk due to weather). Apparently, the National Park Service and many State Parks now host First Day hikes. We’d like to just state that it was our idea first but we’re glad to hear others are copying us.

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Today we headed to Huntley Meadows, one of our favorite outdoor places. Winter is actually one of my favorite times there. I love the browns of the landscape with just the occasional intense burst of colors. We saw lots of geese and ducks. And one unidentifiable underwater creature. Guesses were a large snapping turtle, an eel or a frog.

How about you? Any New Year resolutions or goals for 2016?

 

Winter (?) Adventures

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On an unseasonably beautiful day (so warm we ate a quick Indian meal outside) we headed downtown after church for a couple of exhibits. The first was Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculptures of the Hellenistic World at the National Gallery of Art. Photography wasn’t allowed in the exhibit so I can’t share but the sculptures were really beautiful. It was  a little too crowded (a negative effect of the gorgeous weather) for me to enjoy it fully. The beauty of the works to me was in how real the people they portrayed seemed. I kept reminding myself that I was gazing at a likeness of a person from more than 2000 years ago. Mind-boggling.

The second exhibit was also beautiful and sometimes mind-boggling. It’s one of our favorites every year, the Windland Smith Rice Wildlife Photography Awards at the Natural History Museum. This year is bigger than usual as it celebrates 20 years of the awards and so included past winners as well as the ones from this year. It’s a great exhibit and will be at the museum until August 2016 so you still have plenty of time to catch it.

Advent Adventures

One of our kids’ favorite Advent traditions is our Advent calendar. Instead of putting candy or surprises in it, we put a special activity for each day. Some of these are things we would do anyway (the Christmas concert at our co-op or a special church service). Some are really simple, like “drink hot chocolate” or “extra books” (meaning that they get to pick extra books from the book basket). I throw in a few movie nights and game nights. And then I try and include a couple of activities that are more special and exciting. There are hundreds of options for special Christmas themed activities we could do. The problem (other than time limits) is that many are quite expensive. Luckily, over the years we’ve found a few special events that our kids love but that are either free or inexpensive.

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There are many different light shows in the area. The National Zoo’s Zoolights is one that we have enjoyed in the past but hadn’t been to in several years. Think thousands and thousands of LED lights wrapped around trees and in animal themed displays. There is the bonus of getting to see some animals although many areas of the zoo are closed off due and many animals are sleeping or inside due to the cold.

Zoolights is free but the parking is $22.00. Still, for a family of five that is relatively inexpensive compared to the other similar displays. If you go be prepared to resist the extra costs of all the vendors selling light-themed souvenirs, the many snack and treat vendors and the new rides they have available at an extra cost.
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In case I’m sounding a little Scrooge-like about all the extra costs, we did take the kids out for a fabulous dinner at Cactus Cantina. (Which just happens to be my favorite Tex-Mex restaurant.) They ate well. Very well.

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Today after church we headed downtown with friends to the U.S. Botanic Garden’s Seasons Greenings exhibit. This wonderland of trains is created entirely out of plant materials (except for the trains themselves). It is free and always a treat. It’s also where we took the photo currently in my header at the top of the page. If you are in the area or live in one of the other cities with a similar display, I definitely recommend it.