Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Our First Family Camping Trip

This past weekend, we took our first camping trip as a family.  And, what was even more fun, is we camped with all of my siblings and their families, as well as my dad.  At Christmas this past year, we decided that instead of buying gifts for one another, we would plan a camping trip all together.  We knew we would all need camping supplies since we have all had kids since the last time we went tent camping.  That meant larger tents, more air mattresses, and other supplies.  Instead of buying gifts for one another, we would spend the money on our needed camping supplies and have the gift of the camping experience together.  The campground where we had originally reserved sites got flooded.  So, we set up a group text for Drew and me, my siblings and siblings-in-laws and dad to discuss where we could possibly go that wasn't expecting a ton of rain and that was not too far to travel.  That group text conversation ended up having a total of around 800 texts!  If you know my family, you know that not all of those texts were "planning" texts.  There was a lot of silliness going on as well.

Anyway, it was nearly impossible to find a place to camp that wasn't expecting a lot of rain and that wasn't over 8 hours away.   We finally ended up deciding to try out a place in the Arbuckles in Oklahoma called the Chickasaw National Recreation Area.  It looked promising with only 60% chance of rain on Friday (early) and only 40% early on Saturday.  We would be arriving around 12pm on Friday and heading home on Sunday morning.  We decided to chance it and to pray a lot for the rain to hold off.

Our campgrounds were just a little over 2 hours away from Dallas, so Drew, the kids and I decided to head to Dallas early on Thursday morning and visit the Perot Museum, which we can get into for free through our Thinkery (Austin Children's Museum) reciprocal membership.  That place was AMAZING!!!!  We would love to go back and could easily spend 2 full days checking everything out there.  There are 5 floors of science and wonder there!

There were some really cool minerals and gems there.

On this section of minerals, Abbey said, "Look at that strawberry icing mommy (top left--it is actually really pink but hard to tell from the photo), and look at those marshmallows (bottom left).  Oh, and look at that glitter on that rock (bottom right).  

This was really neat.  You could spin this big wheel to open up the rock (a huge geode) and check out the inside.

We could have spent all day on their technology floor!

Luke built a structure, and then selected a particular earthquake on the screen that has actually happened historically.  When he pressed enter, the wheel simulated that exact magnitude earthquake that happened in history.  His structure withstood it marvelously.

We got a killer deal on an awesome hotel there in Dallas.  This was Luke and Abbey's favorite part of the hotel--a large picture window.  We were on the 17th floor.

The next day, we headed to the campground!!  (don't worry--we hadn't begun driving yet and don't let Luke lean forward like that in his car seat normally)
When we arrived we were excited to set up our tents and then go explore.  While we finished setting up the campsite, the kids decided to have a water fight.  We had a really nice large group site, that had lots of green space for the kids to run around in.  They had water fights, explored, played baseball, and so much more together.  It was awesome "cousin-time."



After we got the tents set up, it was time to gather some firewood.  The guys took turns being lumberjacks,-- I mean splitting the wood into firelogs.  Here, Ryan is taking a turn. 
There's dad (Grandpa), chillaxin' and providing some supervision on the wood chopping. 
My brother, Jason, and niece, Natalie relaxing by the campfire.
Drew's turn.

My brother-in-law, Ryan, and my dad decided to shave. :-)
These two were close buddies this trip. 
Little Sawyer and his big blue eyes!!
Buddies, Traber and Luke.
This guy, my nephew, Brody, was the leader of the cousins. 
The girls realized that these 4 picnic tables side by side made an excellent runway.

Once we got the campsite all set up, it was time to explore!!!
My sister, Holly, and niece, Linnea. There was so much to explore.  And even though we were there all weekend, we didn't get to see everything.  We would love to go back.

There were tons of natural springs there, known for their healing properties.
Our nieces, Lilly and Linnea.
 Above is a brief video of part of our short hike the first afternoon we were there.

Do you spy Drew?   I loved this really old bridge.

We headed back to the campsite and cooked dinner. Campfire food is awesome!  Dinner #1 was trail dinners. You just chop up a ton of veggies and throw some ground up or chopped meat and some seasoning, roll it up tightly in aluminum foil and set it on the hot goals.  We put our food on parchment paper before rolling it up to prevent the aluminum from leaching into the food.  These are DELICIOUS!  We make them at home as well. 
And, of course, Smores are yummy for dessert!
Emily and Jason bought these little headlamps for all the cousins to use.  This was one of Abbey's favorite things.  Our budding photographer pretended it was her "GoPro" and brought it everywhere with her, snapping photos left and right.

The kids were so excited about sleeping in the tents.   The kids actually asked us to go to bed at a pretty normal hour--it wasn't even dark yet.  So, we put them to bed and then sat around the campfire with the rest of my family and played games, like "Catch Phrase."  It was such a fun time!

The next morning, we woke up bright and early and hiked to the nature center.  It was a gorgeous hike!!


See Abbey's "camera?"


My brother Jason, sister-in-law Emily, and kids Brody, Kaylee and Natalie.

My brother, Jeremy, sister-in-law, Brandy, and sons Traber and Sawyer.

Our family.

My sister, Holly and her girls.  Ryan went on ahead to put our name on a list at the nature center for a "night hike" later that evening.



The last picture of Abbey above is at a fun swimming hole that the kids enjoyed swimming in on day 2.

The kids also enjoyed a couple of fun ranger programs while there and learned about the purposes of various animals' tails.  I enjoyed the programs as well.  And, on Saturday night, we even enjoyed a "night hike" at 9pm.  Of course, it was completely dark, so we were given dim red flashlights, that wouldn't hurt the eyes of the nocturnal animals.  It is amazing that when you can't see very well, how much your other senses become stronger.  Everything smelled so good, and I could hear so much along our hike.  And, at the end of our hike before turning back around, we got to drink from a natural spring, Antelope Springs, right as it came up from the ground.  Let me tell you--that water was AMAZING!  It's said to have great healing properties!

It was such a fun little camping trip!  Even though there were chances of rain, the weather ended up be absolutely perfect!  And, the Lord provided us all safety.  I am excited about planning another one for the fall!!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Caterpillars, Chrysalises and Butterflies!

I mentioned before in another post that we really enjoyed watching our painted lady larvae morph through the different stages and then we loved releasing the beautiful butterflies.  My aunt and uncle gifted the kids with a kit that included 8 painted lady larvae.  We fed them and took care of them, watched them created the chrysalises and then watched them come out of those as beautiful butterflies.

 Well, we got to experience that again in another way.  We have fennel in our front herb garden.  Fennel happens to be a host plant for the Black swallowtail butterfly to lay their eggs on.  So, we were fortunate to get to see the beautiful caterpillars devour that plant.

They started out so tiny!
They were just so pretty!

This guy enjoyed watching them as well!

But, when the caterpillar is ready to make its chrysalis, it goes far away from the fennel plant to find a different place the form its chrysalis.  We found several around our property.  

One began forming its chrysalis on one of our pomegranite plants. 
Here is another one forming one on the side of our house. 
Others continued to eat the plant and grow bigger and bigger and then made their way away from the plant.
Drew found one way around our home towards our backyard seeking a place to form its chrysalis. So, he helped it out by putting it near a plant.  Sure enough, it made its chrysalis and we found it.  So, a week or so after making the chrysalis, I pulled it from the tree and put it in our butterfly net.  We watched it as it emerged and then got to release it.  It may have been one of the most beautiful butterflies I have seen!  It was just gorgeous with its black, blue, white and orange and its uniquely shaped wings.  We released it together as a family.

But, I later found another butterfly that was far more beautiful than this black swallowtail.   Her name is Abbey: