Camp Arcadia

We just returned from a weeklong vacation in Arcadia, Michigan. The majority of our time was spent at Camp Arcadia. Even though we didn’t actually get to stay at the camp (there are a limited number of rooms and it’s a lottery system), we were fortunate enough to get to spend our days there. The camp sits on the waterfront of Lake Michigan and is just beautiful. There are daily activities for the kids and lots of adult activities as well (i.e. wine and beer tasting events)! There are nature walks through woodlands, people bicycling everywhere, and the cool summer climate can’t be beat (think: San Diego on a budget).

Thanks to my good friend Gretchen’s hospitality, we stayed about 2 blocks from the camp at her Mother’s cottage along with some of her family. The cottage was a hub of activity with people arriving from all corners; Gretchen came in from Bangkok, others came from Chicago, St. Louis, Eastern Michigan, Texas and there was even an Aussie in the house! All the kids were piled up in one room and Liam finally fulfilled his dream of having a sleepover and sacking out in the top of a bunk bed.

Gretchen graciously allowed us to tag along on her daughter’s annual fishing charter trip. We caught the boat at 5:30 AM and watched the sun rise over the lake with our hooks already in the water. I’m definitely not a morning person but the sunrise was beautiful and worth losing my beauty sleep for. The kids loved reeling in the fish and my biggest kid enjoyed it too!

The sunsets reflecting over Lake Michigan sure give our West Texas sunsets a run for the money. I could sit by the water and watch those every night and never tire of them. I had to keep reminding myself that in just a few months winter would descend and the lake would be iced over.

Click on the image below if you would like to see some of the photo highlights of our trip.

New Car Fever

I’ve had the bug for awhile, but when Dede’s Honda-CRV (a.k.a. “Rocket“) was totaled last year and we replaced it with a zippy Mazda CX-5 (a.k.a. “Rojo”)…

2014 Mazda CX-5

Dede’s 2014 Mazda CX-5 a.k.a. “Rojo”

That’s when my new car fever started to become chronic!

I’d had my Honda Element since ’03 and it was still working fine. But it had always been really basic, devoid of all of the nice features that more modern cars have, and was also downright anemic on horsepower. With all of the comforts, electronic gadgetry goodness, and zoom zoom of Rojo, my ride seemed all that much more dated.

'03 Honda Element

Rob’s “Ellie” – ’03 Honda Element EX

My new car fever stayed in remission for a few more months but it sure didn’t help when Rich & Benie upgraded to a snazzy new Hyundai Santa Fe Sport Turbo. Lots of others were getting new cool rides too… Trey & Rob M. got hot new sports cars. A super clean used Highlander was an overdue upgrade for Clems & Sophie. Ryan & Daniel both got new cars? Yep! See the trend?

Plus, a host of small problems was starting to plague the Element, including the an A/C compressor on the fritz (projected to be a very costly fix) and some flaky electrical issue that was either draining the batter or causing it not to charge properly. I had looked at lots of different options but on Dede’s urging & Georgina’s seconding, I decided to test drive a Jeep Wrangler.

Sure enough, I really liked the Jeep’s elevated and upright seating position, the nimble handling, and lots of oompfh to spare. As much as I had loved my Element for the past 11+ years, I grudgingly but unceremoniously just… let it go. Now I’m a Jeep owner! It’s a 2014 Wrangler Sport S 4X4 in Flame Red loaded with 4-wheel drive, Uconnect Voice Command with Bluetooth phone pairing, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, removable front roof panels and top. And of course, 2 front-mounted tow hooks because, well, you never know…

About the only key thing it doesn’t have yet is a name—and I’m working on that!

2014 Jeep Wrangler Sport

Rob’s new 2014 Jeep Wrangler Sport

There are a few accessories that I’m itching for, including a dead pedal and trailer hitch—to make use of the folding trailer that Liam & I built last year! The vast array of parts, add-ons, and other sundries for the Wrangler “JK” (a.k.a. Third Generation) is almost overwhelming! Just look at the almost-endless assortment of goodies at these sites:

Quadratec – Parts & accessories for Jeep Wrangler, CJ & Cherokee
Mountain Off-Road Enterprises
4Wheel Drive Hardware

What’s more, the Wrangler platform seems expressly built for bolting on or otherwise adding after-market stuff so even a mechanically-challenged guy like me can handle lots of upgrades. There’s also a massive online community of Wrangler owners who post tips, tricks, stories, how-to instructions, and photos galore at forum sites like these:

WranglerForum
JeepForum
JK-Forum



Tip:   By the way, as I was settling in with the new ride, I was reminded of the classic Car Talk instructions for adjusting side mirrors that I heard years ago. Car mirrors are something that you usually just set and rarely change, so follow Tom & Ray Magliozzi’s advice to set ‘em right to begin with and reduce your car’s blind spots!

Port-A Party

A couple of years ago we went to the Corpus Christi / Port Aransas area for an extended weekend with Glenda and her son Slaydn. We had a chance to repeat that trip last week and once again had a terrific time splashing in the ocean, spending time with friends, and getting our fill of seafood! This time, we were also joined by Georgina a.k.a. “GiGi” and her boys Nolan and Blake.

We stayed at the posh Port Royal and the boys loved the water slides that were at the end of the elaborate set of 5 interconnecting pools. Glenda even worked up the courage to zip down the twisty water slide tubes!

Of course, we had to eat at The Crazy Cajun for the Cajun boil!

Thanks to advice from Dave I., we all went out on a 4-hour bay fishing charter and had a fun time reeling in Gafftop catfish. What’s more, the bay dolphins sensed that Dede was about the fishing boat and came along for a few visits. And our catch was promptly cleaned then we took the fillets right over to Kody’s to have them fried up with trimmings just minutes off the boat. The fish was terrific!

We also had a great time at the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi. We got to touch Sting Rays and watch a dolphin show from a unique underwater perspective.

Later, we enjoyed a special viewing of The Lego Movie from poolside at the Port Royal. Adults watched from the patio areas while the kids floated in swim rings during the whole show.

Click on the boardwalk photo below to see pictures from our vacation!

Liam on the beach

Gotcha Day – 6th Anniversary

It’s February 1st so that means that Gotcha Day has rolled back around again. I can’t believe how quickly 6 years has passed. It seems like only yesterday we were in Russia to bring our little guy home and now our little guy is not so little anymore. Below is our annual stairwell photo comparison of then and now with links below it to past years. Happy Gotcha Day Liam, we love you!

Gotcha Day – 5 year anniversary photo

Gotcha Day – 4 year anniversary photo

Gotcha Day – 3 year anniversary photo

Gotcha Day – 2 year anniversary photo

Gotcha Day – 1 year anniversary photo

Mapping Monopoly

monopoly_carAs much as the classic game Monopoly was a perennial favorite at family gatherings when I was a kid (and I look forward to the day when my son is old enough to start learning to play) I have to admit that I never gave even a moment’s thought to the properties arranged around the board. They were just abstract things that you needed to own plenty of if you wanted a chance at winning the game.

I suppose that way down deep, I might’ve had some vague notion that the Monopoly squares were named after actual locations but I never had any notion of where that was or what those locations might really look like. Well sure enough, the properties up for grabs in the game are indeed named after real locales in and around Atlantic City, New Jersey and Nick Carr at Scouting NY recently paid a visit to those sites represented on the Monopoly board and showcased the images from his trip.

Now that I’ve seen some of the real locations that correspond with the places on the board, it gives the game a little different perspective on those deeds you buy and leverage in the game. Knowing about the Absecon Light lighthouse makes Vermont Avenue that much more appealing. And here’s a glimpse of the real version of the highly-coveted Park Place:

The real Park Place from Monopoly

Does seeing the real locations that the Monopoly properties are based on give the game a different feel for you? Does this make you wanna dust off the old classic and play it again?

Know When To Fold ‘Em

When we began car-shopping recently to replace Dede’s Honda CR-V, I suppose it was only natural that I’d catch the new car fever too, even though there’s nothing wrong with my trusty Element aside from it being 10+ yrs old and lacking in all of the techno-goodies, conveniences, and creature comforts of the cool new vehicles.

It was while I was half-looking for a suitable replacement, however, that I was very inspired by the EcoModder “Buy a Trailer Instead of a Pickup Truck” thread that I just stumbled upon. The argument that a trailer (and hitch) added to an existing car can give you almost all the functionality of a truck without the lower fuel efficiency—or hefty new car payments—really appealed to me. Even as much as this seemed like a great idea, I had all but dismissed the whole thing as impractical since I don’t have any space to park a trailer. But then several pages deep into the thread, I read a comment about the Haul Master Folding Trailer at Harbor Freight and I was hooked!

So the next thing I knew, I was at Harbor Freight:

Haul Master Folding Trailer - Boxes Loaded

Loaded up at Harbor Freight

Who would’ve guessed that a couple of unassuming (but heavy) boxes would hold an entire trailer?!

Haul Master Folding Trailer boxes unloaded

Boxes unloaded into the garage

Liam and I set about getting the pieces unboxed…

Haul Master Folding Trailer unboxed

Parts staged and ready to go

Then we started putting the puzzle together:

Haul Master Folding Trailer assembly

Assembling the trailer

It went together fairly quickly with Liam manning the power tools!

Haul Master Folding Trailer assembled

Liam rocks the cordless driver!

Once it was all assembled, I called in favors from Pete for bearing lube and Fred for some wiring assistance and it was ready for the decking. Ironically tho, I needed the trailer to get the plywood home! So with the help of a very overworked but friendly guy at the U-Haul store, I added an inexpensive Class 3 (chosen for size and flexibility more than weight capacity) hidden trailer hitch to my Element. Then I hitched up the trailer for its maiden voyage:

Haul Master Folding Trailer hitched up

Hitched and ready for the maiden voyage

After I primed & waterproofed the plywood with truck bed liner paint and attached, the trailer was complete:

Haul Master Folding Trailer completed

Decked out and finshed!

Perhaps the coolest thing is that once the trailer is folded (made much easier thanks to Corky’s clever how-to “rope trick” video), it only occupies an unobtrusive sliver of space in the front of the Element in our garage:

Haul Master Folding Trailer stored in the garage

Folded and stored in front of the Element

Once I started Googling around about this folding trailer, I discovered there are quite a few forums dedicated to building and customizing (sometimes extensively) these for a limitless array of uses:

And there’s tons of cool stuff to accessorize the trailer at Harbor Freight and RedTrailers.com.



Of course, the whole time we were working on this, Kenny Rogers’ “Gambler” was the song that stuck in my head. But Dede’s theme song for this project was different—she kept singing that line “Trailers for sale or rent…” While I’m confident that what was going thru her mind was the classic Roger Miller version, I really dig Josh Turner & Randy Travis’s rendition of “King of the Road”.

Virginia Beach 2013

We just returned from a fantastic 10 day vacation to Virginia Beach! We flew into Washington DC and stayed a couple of days with our friends Chris & Teresa and then we all drove to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg. It was very hot and humid but the park was not crowded at all. Liam rode all the rides they would let him on, including the Loch Ness Monster (his first roller coaster).

The next day we drove to Virginia Beach and spent the next 5 days there. Our hotel was right on the beach and Liam loved playing in the ocean! We visited the Virginia Aquarium and took a ride on The Lost Pearl. Those pirates really work at entertaining the kids!

On our last day at the beach, Troy and Rachel drove down to meet us. We’ve been following each other’s blogs for years, but had never met in person. Their son Daniel and Liam hit it off famously just like we both had predicted they would. It was so nice to finally meet. Thanks again for making the drive down!

What wonderful memories and it was so nice to spend time with Chris, Teresa and Anna again!
Click the link below the picture to view more pics of our vacation.

Liam on the beach

End of First Grade

First grade is officially over!

There were a few bumps along the way but for the most part it was a great year. It was Liam’s first year at a private school and the transition took some time but after he learned the ways of his new school it all worked out. I’m so proud of how far he has come this year. I can’t believe all the things they teach in first grade! It is so fast-paced compared to when I was in school. He is an excellent reader and speller. His reading vocabulary tested at almost 6th grade level! I think that’s pretty incredible for a kid who didn’t even speak English his first 2 years! Below is a picture from the award ceremony, where he received an “A” Honor Roll award and a picture with his first grade teacher and his extended day teacher.

I’m sad that my little guy is growing up so fast but I look forward to 2nd grade and new adventures. For now, however, he will be chillaxin by the pool for the summer!

Award for

His 1st grade teacher Mrs. McDoniel

Extended Day teacher Mrs. Ford

Liam chillaxin by the pool

Soccer 2013

This year Liam played soccer for the first time. The jury is still out on whether he liked it enough to play again. I enjoyed it much more than T-Ball because it is faster paced and the season ends just as our temperatures start hitting triple digits! Yesterday was the final game for the season and the kids were very excited about getting trophies. Liam is so proud that he carries his trophy all around the house with him.

Liam’s 7th Birthday

We celebrated Liam’s highly-anticipated 7th birthday this year by doing something different and having his birthday party at a private gymnastics facility. We thought it was an original idea but now it seems like everyone else is doing the same thing this year. It’s a welcome relief from the jumper/arcade/pizza parties and I sure do prefer the private parties to being mixed in with the crowds at the public facilities.

Liam’s chosen theme for this year’s party was Batman, which made it pretty easy for us to put together. Instead of the traditional 1/2 sheet cake, we did a cupcake cake (a bunch of cupcakes iced together to look like a cake). I made the mistake of not asking what color the icing was going to be so we ended up with lots of blue faces at the end of the party. Note to self: only do white icing from now on!

The kids (and a few of the adults) had lots of fun jumping on the trampolines, walking the balance beams and tumbling on the mats. It’s definitely something I would do again!

I can’t believe my baby is now 7 years old. The last 5 years have just flown by so quickly that I know I’m going to wake up one of these days with a teenager on my hands and I’m just not ready for that! Until then, here is my sweet baby boy having fun at his birthday party.

Liam jumping off of the balance beam
Liam on a trampoline
Batman cupcake cake