Monday, September 30, 2013

Moving Day

It's happening.  Mom's house in Houston is sold, her stuff has arrived at storage in Houston, and she and my feline brother, Samuel, are in route to Austin. The boys are excited Granny and Sam will be living with us for a bit. Romeo... not so much. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Summer Camp Wrap-Up

In addition to the summer camps I've already blogged about, we tried out a few other camps this summer.

One in particular was a huge miss, and we won't ever go back there again: the Austin Film Academy. We were signed up for the Lego Stop-Gap Animation Class. The boys did one through Bits and Bytes last year, and they LOVED it. This was one cheaper, and it went full-day, as opposed to half days, so I was excited about trying out something new. WELL.  The boys weren't given their partners of choice. They did nothing for two full days, except build a lego set for an hour or two, and clean up after the other camps going on. And on the third day, when I questioned the staff about why they weren't filming and doing anything, they got all defensive, and said they had other activities for them to do (which were coloring pages, per the boys). to make matters worse, when Carl picked them up, we were told a sixth-grader had punched my seven year old Ryan in the stomach earlier in the day. We were never called, and they had no real plan on how to solve the problems (had we been called, we would have picked up the boys immediately). Needless to say, we didn't go back the rest of the week. And I'll do everything I can to discourage others from every going to that camp, since the people running it seem to have no clue. In addition to the violence perpetrated on my child, sixth graders shouldn't be with younger kids. Parents should be called. And if I'm paying for a stop-gap animation camp, then I don't expect my kids to be coloring printouts for two days.

Most other camps went quite well. It was a hard summer to plan, since Alex was off doing a lot of older-boy camps with his friends. Ryan won't go to camp without a friend (or his brother) and it makes it near impossible. We had a lot of driving and carpooling, but all in all, the summer was a hit. We especially liked Soccer Zone in Lakeline - its indoors, and a lot of fun. We also tried out math camp for the first time. The boys go after school to Mathnasium, but this was our first summer camp. They really liked it, and the camp was filled with friends from school, so we'll do it again next summer.

Finally, the boys spent a week learning how to sail down on Town Lake with Austin Sailboat Rentals. After a rough first day learning the ropes and the dangers of the water (like black water moccassins and snapping turtles), they spent the rest of the week out on the water, having a blast.

Austin Sailboat Rentals partnered with the Holiday Inn (they are located on their property), so they ate lunch every day at the Holiday Inn buffet. Needless to say, the boys LOVED their lunches. They also swam in their rooftop pool, and when rain was in the forecast, they would watch movies inside the hotel's theater and eat popcorn.

 But most of their time was spent out on the water, sailing, kayaking, and using the stand-up paddle boards. After only one week, they felt completely comfortable taking their own sailboats out on the lake, and Alex is already making plans to return in a few years as a junior counselor. This was the most expensive camp we've ever done, but I felt it was worth it. Especially when you consider the buffet lunch, the orange juice and bagels every morning, and the watermelon in the afternoons.

The only negative to their week of sailing camp is that some poor soul chose this week to jump off the I-35 bridge into the lake, and while the boys never knew someone had killed himself, they were all talk of the police boats, ambulances and fire trucks that "came to visit us" during the afternoon. Yikes.

Next summer, my mom will be living in Austin, so we're likely going to shake things up a bit, and try out more of those half-day camps that drive me crazy. Looking forward to the Austin edition of Camp Granny!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Camp Gladiator

This summer, Alex went to two sessions of Camp Gladiator.

The first time up, he went with a whole crew of friends, practically his entire basketball team: Zach, Carson T, Carter, Chad, and Nate. The boys are divided up on either the Calida team (blue) or Veritas (red).

They had theme days, and well, boys don't always handle theme days well. Here's how Alex, Chad, and Carter dressed up for Nerd Day.

Whereas Zach and Carson made a much better attempt.

Much to Alex's dismay, the best part of Camp Gladiator is the last day of camp on Saturday, when you have a huge contest between the two teams. Except... I didn't plan this part of the summer well, and we had to miss the end-of-camp extravaganza because we were on our flight to DC.

So a few weeks later, Alex returned to Camp Gladiator, this time with just one friend (Carson K).

And we were on the blue team this time.

But... we made it to the big Saturday contest!

Which was one of those freakish, actually raining days in Austin.

So it was cold, wet, and they couldn't go down the 40-foot high slide.

Still, Alex had a blast, and since next year Ryan will be age-eligible, I signed both of them up at 50% off for next year.

And I've promised not to miss the Saturday camp. ;)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Robotics Camp

Another summer camp hit for us was a Robotics Camp, run by Robots-4-U.

This was an unknown for us - I picked it because 1) there was a Living Social deal, so the normal $400/week camp was only $200; 2) it was located 1/4 mile from our house at the country club; and 3) both boys had a friend going with them. Camps are ALWAYS better with a friend. :)

Every day when I would drop them off, I would get a tour of what had been built the previous day.

The boys loved showing off their work.

I was most impressed.

Almost impressed enough to buy the $175 kits they were selling.


But not quite.

Other than the fact that this camp ends at 3pm each day, this was a big win for us. Carl was able to work from home in the afternoons and its close enough to not really be a problem, but, oy... no after-care options suck.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Spies Are Coming

I'm having more fun planning Alex's super spy birthday party! 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Day 14: Pandas, Presidents, and Paddleboats, Oh My!

Wrapping up my vacation blogging...

Unfortunately for us, our activities for our last day in DC for all outdoors. Some things we had planned to do  that way, while others (like the memorials and the paddleboats) had been pushed to Friday because of threatened bad weather on other days. Bad weather that didn't deliver, alas, except on the one day I really needed good weather. Ain't that life.

First up - the National Zoo. 

It's part of the Smithsonian, although its located somewhere near the rest of the Smithsonian museums.

It's also home to a metro stop boasting freaky-long London-sized escalators.

I've always been more than a little freaked by the height of those escalators. But when you place the two most important things in my life on these escalators... Holy. C.R.A.P.

As for the Zoo - well, the buildings themselves open at 10am, but the gates open at 8am, and you can start seeing most animals then. The animals are best in the morning, and while we didn't make my 8am arrival, I was pretty pleased with our 8:30 arrival.  Alas, it was raining. Pretty much non-stop. And we only had one umbrella. We tried to buy a second, but the only ones for sale in the zoo were $30. Carl and I decided to get wet.

First up: the pandas. 

I've been in love with giant pandas since I was a little girl. My bedroom walls were covered with panda bear posters up until they were replaced with Simon, John and the rest of Duran Duran. And my love of pandas? It started the summer after my 3rd grade, when my grandmother took me for a girls week to Washington DC. We stayed with my Aunt Lalla at her fabulous house (she of the two awimming pools and a pinball machine, and their neighbors were newly-electwd Vice-President George and Barbara Bush). We had a private tour of the White house, we saw 'Annie' at the Lincoln Center, we had a 3am tea party while we watched Lady Diana become a real, live princess, and I saw my first giant panda. That week is one of my strongest early memories, and I recall practically every detail. And the pandas were my favorite part of all of it. I say all of this, because I had some pretty fierce expectations for these pandas. The pandas I last saw four years ago in San Diego were asleep the whole time we were there, and I was Bummed.

But these pandas today... Oh wow...

Not only were they awake, but they were active.

We arrived just in time for their breakfast, and it was a sight to behold.

I loved watching them grab a new bamboo branch, break it apart, and dig in.

Too adorable for words!

Even the boys caught the Panda Fever, and they were as thrilled as I was.

I'm not sure if it was the rain, or the early hour (since the zoo isn't posted to open until 10), but for a good 15 minutes, we were the only ones watching Mei Xiang and Tian Tian. It was like I finally had my very own Giant Panda.

Loved it!!

There's also an indoor panda section, so when the rain really started to fall, we moved indoors to watch them.

Where they.. played with toys!

The little nine-year old girl in me was in seventh heaven.

We also had a change to visit with the Red Pandas, including Rusty.

Rusty had made the news week before our vacation because he had escaped his enclosure and was spotted walking around the Woodley Park neighborhood. A fellow panda fan spotted him, and posted his whereabouts on twitter, and he was soon picked up by the Zoo folks. It was a fun story to read, and we were curious if we would have a chance to meet Rusty.

We did, and we met his Rusty-watcher. One poor Zoo employee is now on twenty-four hour Rusty viewing duty, until the permanent improvements to his home are made. They had cut some branches and added a bit more fence, but apparently, Rusty lives up to his feisty red-headed nature, and is one determined little panda.

We visited all the other parts of the Zoo, like the birds, the sea lions, the children's center, the tigers, lions, and (missing) bears.

But as far as we were concerned, this was the Panda Museum, and the rest of the animals were somewhat extraneous.

After lunch, we headed to the White House, since the rain had finally stopped

The boys (and Carl) really enjoyed playing "spot the secret service agent on top of the White House" game. Play along with us!

You can't take tours of the White House because of the sequestration, but the National Park Service is still operating its Visitor's Center, out of a temporary spot. Which meant... passport stamps! And a Junior Ranger program. There was a communication issue with Alex, so only Ryan did the Junior Ranger program.

Another highlight for us was the Boy Scout Memorial, located on the grounds of President's Park.

We then started the long hike towards the Jefferson Memorial.

This was a long, long walk, past several monuments we wanted to visit, like the World War II Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial, and the (closed) Washington Monument.  The Lincoln Memorial and the World War II Memorial are seen below, as we walked (somewhat) past them.

But we were trying to make it to the Jefferson Memorial in time to rent a paddleboat, to go around the Tidal Basin.

We made it in time, only for Carl, Alex and Ryan to decide they needed to go to the bathroom first (having skipped the facilities I used back at the White House area). Of course, there are none even remotely close nearby, so I waited almost 30 minutes for their round-trip visit by the paddleboats. They made it back with three minutes to spare before the last paddleboat could go out, so all was well.

And all was well, for a good fifteen minutes.

It was lovely, and while Carl thought it was more work than it needed to be, the boys were pretty happy.

Then we felt a drop of water fall.

And another drop of water.

And then a whole lot of water started falling.

And then it was pouring, and our paddleboating hour was abruptly ending.

We huddled under a covered area off the boat for about 30 minutes, trying to decide what to do. Boys were upset, and crying. It was cold now. We were drenched. There's no public transportation over to the Lincoln Memorial. We're on the opposite side of the tidal basin from the Jefferson Memorial. Its now 6pm, and we're getting hungry. The metro stop is a good 15 minute walk, in the opposite direction of the memorials. Oh, and there are no taxis to be found. What to do?

Well, we made the rather unpopular decision to skip the memorials, and head back to the hotel. Our afternoon had been much of a bust, but we couldn't see any real good way to remedy the disaster. I still can't quite believe we didn't see the big memorial up close and in person. Neither can my little Lincoln fans.Oh well. C'est la vie. There will be other trips to DC, and the memorials will be the very first thing we do on our next trip.

Once we got back to our hotel, we arrived in time for happy hour. After numerous free glasses of wine and Shirley Temples, popcorn, and carrot sticks, we discovered we could order half price appetizers from the restaurant, and have them delivered to our happy hour table. So our dinner that night ended up costing us a whopping $15, which started to make all of us just a little bit happier, on our last night of our vacation.

A few packing hours later, and we were ready for our early am flight back home. Or so we thought... One 45 minute delay after another turned into an almost twelve hour wait at the airport. Not cool, Southwest Airlines. Not cool. If we hadn't found this plus to keep the iPad going, ... yikes.

Still... we had a fantastic vacation, and would highly recommend just about everything we did to others. Just with some better weather.


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