I never pass up an opportunity to visit my home state of Texas. I may not live there anymore, but I will always be a Texan at heart. A couple weeks ago, my cousin's daughter was getting married in Dallas, so what better excuse to plan a Texas trip! I wanted to leave early Friday morning to maximize our visit. Since it was Elise's first week of middle school, I didn't want to pull her from school for the day. She stayed home and had a fun, quiet only-child weekend with her dad while I flew with the littles to Texas. My mom joined us too.
We had booked a room at the Gaylord Texan, mostly because my aunt, uncle, and a bunch of cousins were going to stay there. At the last minute, they changed their plans and moved to the Great Wolf Lodge. We had gotten a good rate at the Gaylord though, so we stuck with our original plans. I'm so glad we did! Any long time readers of this blog likely know of my love affair with the Hill Country Hyatt in San Antonio. It is one of my very favorite vacation spots. The Gaylord is like the tackier, over-the-top step-cousin of the Hyatt. I loved it though!
I would describe the ambiance at the Hill Country Hyatt as "Texas Elegance". It is the perfect combination of elegance and Texas charm. My other favorite Texas vacation destiination is the Hyatt Wild Oak Ranch. I would dub its decor "Ranch Chic". It is a little more rustic than the Hill Country, but still so beautiful. The Gaylord is more like, "The state of Texas threw up and everything landed in the Gaylord atrium." It is huge. It is over-the-top. It is Texas-tacky, but it is so much fun.
Where else can you get eat breakfast or get your picture taken in front of a fake Alamo?
Or meander along a fake San Antonio Riverwalk?
Or get your picture taken with a 10 foot tall cowboy?
How many other hotels have you stayed in that have a fake oil well in the atrium? (This was the view from our room.)
OVER.THE.TOP doesn't even begin to describe this place. If you can overlook the tacky and just go with it though, it is so much fun!
If you were reading this post and thinking to yourself, "Gosh... I wonder what that place would look like made of Legos", I have your answer.
My personal favorite part of the Gaylord is the great big Texas star at the top of the atrium. Be still my heart. Do you think I could install one of these in my house?
Friday night, we kept with our "experience fake Texas" theme and headed to Traildust Steak House for dinner. I had my birthday party there in about 6th grade, and the place hasn't changed a bit. I knew the kids would love it. There is a really fast slide that goes from the second floor down to the first and sends you screaming across the dance floor. The girls had a ball. The food was mediocre, but we were there for the fun.
The next day, after some breakfast at the hotel, we put on suits and took the trolley to the Gaylord's water park, Paradise Springs. We spent a fun day in the water. Addison's favorite activity was the slide which she went down over and over again.
Nina spent most of her time on the zip line.
It is really a fabulous little resort waterpark, and the lifeguards were the most vigilant I've ever seen at any pool or waterpark ever. If anyone from the Gaylord happens upon this little ol' blog o' mine, your lifeguards are exceptional. They all deserve a raise.
We ate lunch poolside, with a margarita (or two) for me,
and shaved ice for the kids.
After we eeked out every minute of pool time that we could, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for the wedding. Don't we look purty? (That's Texan for pretty)
The wedding location was beautiful.
The groom's name is Kyle. I thought every Kyle in Texas was named after Kyle field, the football stadium at Texas A&M. So many Aggies name their kids Kyle (my cousin Kyle is one) that I figured it was a Texas law that all Kyles were Aggie-kids. Apparently not... this Kyle is a Texas Tech man. The horror! (My family is predominantly Aggie. I'm the black sheep who left the state for college.)
(I just noticed this cake is missing a strawberry or two. I hope one of my kids didn't steal one!)
The girls had a blast hanging out with their cousins.
Then there were these two cuties. Addison and her little cousin E hung out all evening long. They walked around holding hands all night, and just couldn't have gotten any cuter. Addison was wearing the dress that one of my flowergirls had worn in our wedding. My mom made it, and I was so excited that it fit her! It looked just gorgeous for the occassion.
I just now realized that those two are going to be in all the photos of the groom taking the garter off the bride!! Oops!
It was such a fun weekend with family.
The next morning, we said good-bye to the Gaylord and the 10 foot tall cowboy and headed to the airport, exhausted. The flights were good except for the dicey landing. We're no worse for the wear though, so all is good. I loved our little getaway.
Nina's ending and beginning this year definitely wasn't as dramatic as the other two - no change of school, no graduation ceremony, no big transition. She finished third grade and moved on to fourth. I don't want to leave her out though, so without further ado, here are a few ending and beginning pictures of Nina's last and first days of school this year.
Despite the fact that I'm sure it was 95+ degrees out, Nina never finds it too hot to accessorize. Here she is at her end of year picnic in a sweet little shawl my mom knit.
We said good-bye to Mrs. M (who claims she has to wear heels to school so Nina isn't taller than her!) - a great 3rd grade teacher to both Elise and Nina.
Here she is with all her BFF's. I won't point out which one is Nina... just look for the one who is, quite literally, head and shoulders above the rest!
Fast forward five weeks of beach, camps, and summertime fun, and she was back to school for the first day of fourth grade. She loves her teacher so far, and from what I've seen, her teacher seems excellent.
Nina has been a great big sister to Addie, helping her out on the bus and finding her way around. I always love the first day of school walking to the bus stop pictures!
Our bus stop crew has gotten a bit smaller this year with so many older siblings off to middle school. On the first day, it was just Addison and three fourth graders at our stop.
And this concludes the "Endings and Beginnings" blog post series. We have survived the first two weeks of school with a new kindergartener and a new middle schooler. Whew! I wasn't sure how either transition would go, but we seem to have weathered the storm.
As the school year wrapped up, some good-byes were harder than others. Addison's was definitely the hardest. It was difficult because we've been walking in that daycare twice a day, every day for over a decade. It was tough because she is our baby, and she is growing up. It was hard because kindergarten is a big step. Mostly though, it was heart-breaking to leave her teachers, Ms. K and Mr. B.
Over the years, we have had a lot of good teachers at that school. We've had a few really great teachers. Ms. K and Mr. B though... the best. When Addison goes off to college, and I think back to all the teachers she has had through the years, Mr. B will be the unrivaled favorite. I have no doubt. Addison has had a more enriching, creative, educational, outside-the-box, imaginative preschool experience than I knew was possible.
Mr. B was the teacher who dissected a squid and cooked calamari when the class was doing a unit on ocean life. He was the teacher who brought in his entire drum set for the kids to try out. He recycled old cassette and VHS tapes by letting the kids unwind them all over the classroom, creating a giant spider web. This picture is classic Mr. B... marching outside singing, "The Ants go Marching" with the class marching along behind playing their shovel "guitars". How do you top that?
Saying good-bye to Ms. K and Mr. B was tough on all of us. Our last week at the school, we took in some goodies for all the teachers. It was the least we could do to say thank you after all these years.
Addison had a good last day of preschool. She said her good-byes, gave lots of hugs, and didn't shed any tears. The next day though, the weight of the situation finally hit her. We were on a plane headed to Texas, and she sobbed and sobbed, crying, "I miss Mr. B and Ms. K!" It was so pitiful, and all I could say was, "I miss them too." She has an excellent kindergarten teacher, but Mr. B was one of a kind. He can't be replaced.
All endings are the beginning of something new though, and Addison had a great first day of kindergarten. She was just a little excited. Or, uh... maybe a lot excited.
She has been carried, strolled, or walked to the bus stop every day for her five and a half years of life. It was finally HER TURN to get on that bus. That's big. Huge. There would be no driving her to school the first day, no walking her down to her class to give hugs and kisses good-bye. No way. She climbed on that bus like she had been doing it for years and gave us a quick wave as it drove away.
When she got home at the end of the day, she had just as big a smile on her face as she had that morning.
Her first week has gone really well. There have been a few bumps along the way, like being scared to buy milk in the cafeteria, and claiming that the movie about the lost library book that was shown in the library was going to cause nightmares, but overall, she is loving kindergarten.
Having a good beginning makes the tough ending a little easier to manage. We'll miss Mr. B and Ms. K, but I think we're off to a great start for this next chapter.
This was a big transition year for the House of Estrogen. After eleven years of dropping off one or more children every single day at the same daycare, we said good-bye to daycare. Our days don't seem quite the same without it. Elise graduated from elementary school and headed off to the wild world of middle school. Addison started kindergarten.
Change. Lots of it.
Transitions. Big ones.
Somewhere along the way, that little four year old who started kindergarten with a bow in her hair, a black eye and an oversized backpack hanging from her shoulders...
singing a song about kindergarten...
blossomed into this.
Even though J.C. claimed, "There is no such thing as 5th grade "graduation". They aren't graduating anything. They are just finishing elementary school!", we couldn't help but acknowledge that she is moving on, growing up, and heading into a new stage of life. As we attended graduation ceremonies, picnics, and pool parties, it definitely felt like the end of something big.
She has left the world of sweet, nurturing, bubbly kindergarten teachers...
and fun, cool, (but demanding enough to prepare you for middle school) fifth grade teachers.
Elementary school challenged Elise in many ways, so I think she is ready for a fresh start in middle school. She started last week, navigating the world of changing classes, dressing out for gym, an open campus, remembering locker combinations, leaving the house at 7 a.m., and figuring out the complicated, ever-changing, peer-created social rules of middle school. So far, so good (knock on wood).
Good-bye elementary! Hello middle!
Over the weekend, I took the littles to Dallas for my cousin's wedding. As we were in the Dallas airport waiting for our plane to leave, I texted J.C. with this:
Is it a bad omen when one of your flight attendants falls out of the plane and is taken away by ambulance?
That depends. Did she fall or did she jump?
I never did find out the answer to that, but I definitely think it was a bad sign for the trip ahead. Most of the flight was fine, but as we were making our approach for landing, Nina looked out the window and said, "Mom, why are we going back up?" I looked out, and sure enough, we were heading back up into the air, away from the airport. I assumed air traffic control had routed us away from another plane or something. A few minutes later, the pilot came on and said, "Well folks, as we were coming in for a landing, the flaps didn't come up as advertised. We are going to circle around and try again." Visions of last week's Asiana's crash in San Francisco haunted me as we descended again. Then, as we got closer to the ground, the pilot said, "Please remain in your seats with your seatbelts securely fastened until we arrive at the gate... unless you are told otherwise." I've been on enough flights to know the "unless you are told otherwise" is NOT part of the usual speech. That was definitely not reassuring. The landing went fairly well. We skidded off to the side at one point when I think the pilot must have had to use extra brakes or perhaps the flaps hadn't deployed evenly on both sides. We came to a stop though and everyone applauded. Nina asked, "Why did everybody clap?" You've gotta love how clueless kids can be in a situation like that. Sometimes it would be nice to have their naivety. I said, "Because the pilot got us here safely even though there were problems with the plane." Then, Nina looked out the window and said, "Look! There's a fire engine! And an ambulance! And another fire engine!"
Fire engines and rescue vehicles who had clearly been waiting for us were coming at us from every direction. It was at this point I realized that we hadn't landed on one of the usual runways. We were in a more remote location that must be used for emergency landings. I knew we were on the ground. I was pretty sure we were safe, but it was all very disconcerting to see what they had prepared for. The firemen in the space-age silver suits examined the plane, took pictures, and boarded the plane. Then the pilot came on again to say that the plane was being inspected to see if it was safe for us to taxi to the terminal or if we needed to deplane there. They must have decided it was safe to taxi. We were able to get off the plane at the gate, but the firetrucks and spacemen followed us there. We all deplaned a bit shaken but happy to be home.
Nothing like an emergency landing to make you appreciate the ground like never before.
"If black boxes survive air crashes, why don't they make the whole plane out of that stuff?" ~ George Carlin