Thursday, October 9, 2014

11th Annual Valenta Family Golf Tournament

The family golf tournament has become a tradition and a fun family outing. As I told you in an earlier post, for the second year, the tournament was at Lost Pines Golf Club in the Bastrop State Park.

The tournament is officially known as AVAT which stands for the Adolph Valenta Annual Tournament. It was named in honor of the family patriarch. It is mostly a family fun day. There are a few serious golfers in the family, but far and away, most family members are not golfers. The purpose of the tournament is just to get the family together and do something fun in memory of Grandpa. He would have loved it.

Uncle Johnnie, Mike, Gary, Uncle Paul
Pictured above are the people who are most responsible for starting the tournament and keeping it going through the years. Mike and Gary are first cousins who handle all the logistics of the tournament every year. Uncle Johnnie and Uncle Paul presented them with the first Adolph Valenta Memorial Award. The presentation honors someone each year who embodies the spirit of the Valenta family.

Individual awards are given for closest to the pin and longest drive.
This year's tournament had approximately thirty players. Some of the teams had four players and some had five. Many of the players are beginners and it's all in fun anyway.

The tournament is a scramble and teams play best ball, best position. I'm pretty sure that the scorekeeping is creative. Once again, the point is to spend time with family and to have fun.
As you can see, players come in all ages and sizes. Everyone is welcome regardless of skill level.

Those of us who don't golf just cruise from hole-to-hole visiting and taking pictures. We all enjoy it, especially Our Little Princesses.

We end the day by gathering at the picnic area for sandwiches and chips followed by homemade cookies and rice krispy treats.
Then awards are presented.

I would be remiss if I did not share with you my single favorite moment of this year's golf tournament. There is a gas station that sits just across the highway from one of the holes. We were there taking pictures when Chase and Thomas realized that they could buy beer there. That's exactly what they did. The allowed the next team to play through and they made a beer run ... literally. Here is photographic proof.

I thoroughly enjoy each year's golf tournament. It gives us an opportunity to spend time getting to know each other. It seems like life goes so fast and we live so far apart that time gets away from us.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Weekend in the Lost Pines

The last weekend of September, we made our annual trip to the Valenta Family Golf tournament. Two years ago, the tournament moved from Bluebonnet Golf Course in Navasota to Lost Pines Golf Club in Bastrop. Lost Pines is actually located inside of Bastrop State Park. After our first visit there last year, we decided that this year we would rent a cabin in the park and make a family weekend of it.

Bastrop State Park has thirteen cabins that were built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The entire park has been awarded National Historic Landmark status because of the landscaping and enduring craftsmanship of the CCC. (Source) We were right in the middle of watching Ken Burns' documentary mini-series, The Roosevelts, on PBS. So we had just been brought up to date about the CCC. That made it all the more interesting.

You may remember that in 2011 the park was ravaged by the most destructive wildfire in Texas history. The fire came very close to the cabins and the stand of loblolly pines which gives the park it's name. They were saved by the hard work of many firefighters. Today, you can see the stark remainders of the trees that burned; but you can also see that recovery is underway.

Bastrop State Park has partnered with the Arbor Day Foundation, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and the Texas Forest Service in the Bastrop Lost Pines Forest Recovery Campaign. I am also proud to say that our Aggies from Texas A&M University are lending a hand with replanting in the park. You can read about their efforts here.
We were lucky enough to rent Cabin #12 which sleeps eight, so we could all stay together in one cabin. The cabin has central heat and air, four bedrooms, two baths, a common room with a dining table that seats eight, and a kitchen with a refrigerator, stove, and microwave. You have to bring your own kitchen utensils and coffee pot. The furniture in the cabin was built on-site by the CCC using local resources. Outdoors is a picnic area with two tables, a barbecue pit, and a fire pit.
We all took the day off on Friday so we could arrive early and have plenty of time together. Check in time at the cabins is 5 o'clock, but if no one else is using the cabin, you can check in early. We all arrived around noon and were able to check in early. Pop-Pop bought cane poles for Our Little Princesses and he took them down to the lake right away for a little fishing.
On Friday night we had tortilla burgers for dinner. Nick grilled the burgers and tortillas outside while Katy made the refried beans and did all the prep work.

On Saturday morning, it sure was nice to be able to get up, have a leisurely breakfast, and be at the golf course in just a few minutes. In previous years we had to drive an hour or more. (There will be a separate post about the golf tournament later. I have lots of pictures to share.)

Saturday evening, Travis manned the grill and we feasted on ribs, potato salad, and lots more. Then we stayed up late playing our family's favorite card game, Shanghai.

It was a beautiful night and we sat outside around the fire pit just enjoying the time together.

I want to share a quick tip that you might find handy if you have kids and plan to be in the great outdoors after dark. Any time they're going to be outdoors after dark, whether they're camping or at a festival, Katy brings glow-in-the-dark necklaces and bracelets. She gets them at the dollar store, so they're cheap. As soon as it starts getting dark, she gets them out and puts them on the girls. It makes it so much easier to keep up with them after dark and they love them.
I love sitting by the campfire at night. I also love mornings at the campsite. Both mornings we were there, Our Little Princesses were up early. Katy and I took our coffee out to the picnic tables and the girls had hot cocoa. She came prepared with watercolors, markers, and artists tablets and the girls painted for a while, while some of the family chose to sleep in a little.
All too soon our weekend camping adventure was over and we all headed back to our separate homes. We all agreed we will do it again next year.

On the way out of the park I snapped a few pictures of the other cabins. I love how they just blend in to the forest.
It really is a great park. I wish I had visited it before the fire.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Grams Camp - Session 2 - Especially for Ezra

I am so far behind on my blogging that I may never catch up. So please bear with me while I finish my summer posts.

The second week of Grams Camp took place way back in mid-July. This year we decided to do separate weeks of Grams Camp for two reasons. First, I thought it would be easier for me to have them one at a time. Second, Ezra has been asking for almost a year now if I would teach her to sew. I knew that those lessons would be easier in a one-on-one format. She has stayed with us many times, so there was no reluctance or trepidation on her part. She was very excited.

The first thing she wanted to do was make a pom-pom wreath just like June did when she was here. So, we made a trip to the Dollar Tree and bought pom-poms and glue. My friend Janna had given Ezra some very cute little felt decorations which Ezra also wanted to put on her wreath. Naturally, she chose the pastel pom-poms instead of the deeper colors that June had used. If pink is one of the options, I guarantee that she will choose pink every time. Here is her wreath.

Katy and I decided that we would split the wreaths. She took one home to hang in the girls' room and I kept one for their room here. Ezra was a little bit sad that I kept the one she made and June got to take hers home. This one looks great in their room, which continues to evolve from Uncle Nick's room to the Princesses' Room. The colors match the rug I have in their room. I think she'll be happy when she sees it hanging there.

I decided to wait until she asked to tackle the sewing machine. At 5 years old, I think she's a little bit young for my electronic machine. I really wish I had my grandmother's old treadle sewing machine. It's what I learned on and they were so much simpler and slower. Instead, we started with a little hand sewing. I showed her how to thread a needle and gave her some fabric to make some practice stitches. She was very patient and worked on hand sewing for quite a while.

Then we moved on to the sewing machine. First I had her practice straight line sewing on a scrap of fabric just to get the feel of the machine. I sat next to her and used hand-over-hand to help her learn to guide the fabric while keeping her fingers out of the way of the needle and presser foot. I sat with her and let her play with the fancy stitches for a while and we changed the colors of the thread a couple of times, just because she wanted to.

Then we graduated to some dot-to-dot follow the number sewing sheets that I downloaded from Skip to my Lou. She really liked those because it felt like she was making something. I liked them because they helped her learn that she needed to sew slowly and deliberately. They also helped her learn to turn corners by lowering the needle, raising the presser foot, and pivoting the fabric. You can see in the photo below that she signed her work. I will be framing this dot-to-dot and hanging it in their room.

She really loved using the sewing machine, but she wanted to actually make something. I thought that was important too, so the next day we went to the fabric store and I let her choose two different fabrics and coordinating ribbons. We decided to make magic wands.

I printed out a star pattern and showed her how to pin and cut the fabric. Then we sewed the star leaving one side open. I helped her trim the seams, turn the fabric, and stuff the stars with polyester fiberfill. Then we inserted a bamboo skewer which had the pointed end coated with hot glue so it would not be sharp. I secured the skewer inside the star with hot glue. After it cooled, Ezra used her hand stitching skills to close the opening in each star. Then we added ribbons tied into bows. I think they came out really cute and she loved them too.

We also had plenty of time to relax during Ezra's week of Grams Camp. We watched Mary Poppins and I introduced Ezra to Shirley Temple's The Little Princess. She also spent one day playing video games on my Kindle. One day was enough of that for me, so after that day, I restricted her access to the Kindle and we read books, cooked, and watched movies. Here she is on my bed playing with my Kindle Fire. In the second photo you can see her long, long legs. She's definitely going to be tall just like her mom.

We would go outside early in the day or just before dark. There was very little outdoor play because it was extremely hot. We've had heat index readings well over 100 degrees for days on end.

I think two weeks apart from each other was good for both the girls. It was really fun to have some one-on-one time with each of them. It also gave each of them one-on-one time with their parents. In between the two weeks, I spent almost a week at their house while their dad took a canoe trip. That was fun too.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The First Day of School

Today was the long awaited first day of school for Our Little Princesses. Ezra started kindergarten and June started a new day school where she's in the Pre-K3 group. They were both very excited. 

Here's Ezra this morning at home and then in her classroom.

And here is June all ready to go to her new school.

Katy said that they both did great and didn't have problems with being in a new place.

Years ago, when Katy started kindergarten, her transition was not smooth. I did all the things I thought I needed to do. I took a day off of work and took her to the school for a tour and to meet the principal and her teacher. She had been in day care for three years already, so I thought this would not be a big deal. I was wrong. She really, really hated going to kindergarten and it did get better, but she never really got comfortable at that school. Thank God, the next year our neighborhood was assigned to a different school that she liked a lot better.

I was delighted to hear that Ezra's new school really has a good plan to help ease the way for kindergartners. On the Friday afternoon before school starts they held an open house. The parents and students got to see the classroom and meet the teacher. Then on Saturday morning, especially for the kindergarten, they had a play date on the playground at the school. Each student got a color-coded name tag. The color of their nametag identified the students who will be in each class. They played together and had bottled water and popsicles for a couple of hours, basically just getting to know each other. The parents came too, so it was also an opportunity for the parents to meet each other and visit for a while. I think it's an absolutely brilliant idea.

We're going to Skype with the girls in a few minutes, I can't wait to hear about their day. But here's a preliminary report. The first picture was tagged "5 minutes after I picked her up." The second picture came a little later.

It looks like the day started good and ended great with a little nap in between. It doesn't get any better than that.

Special thanks to Katy and Travis for snapping the photos and sending them to Grams.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Grams Camp - Session 1 - Just for June

One of the things that has been important to us since Our Little Princesses came along is for them to be comfortable staying with us. They live about two hours away, so it's pretty easy to get them for a weekend.

Ezra has visited us alone many times, starting well before she was a year old. But, as the second child, June has never been to visit us alone. This summer, Ezra is five and June is three, so I thought this might be a good time to split Grams Camp into two separate sessions. Towards the end of June, Omi had invited Ezra to go to vacation bible school, but June is not quite old enough yet. Katy and I decided that would be a good week to have June come for a solo visit.

Katy and Travis came and brought both girls for my birthday weekend. When they left on Sunday, June stayed for the week. Katy had tried very hard to prepare her for staying alone, but it was clear that she was feeling a little uncomfortable about the rest of the family leaving while she stayed behind.

As part of the preparation, they had watched the episode of Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood that teaches that grown ups come back. The episode is titled Daniel Goes to School. We ended up keeping that handy and watching it a couple of times during the week.

Overall, she did great. The secret was keeping her busy. It was really fun to spend one-on-one time with her. When you get her alone, her personality just shines. She's much quieter when her big sister is not around. I was also impressed with her attention span. For a three year old, she can focus on a project or craft for quite a long time.

We started with a trip to Dollar Tree where we bought some crafting supplies and some paint with water kits. I bought two kits for a total cost of $2. Each kit had several pages similar to the ones you see in these photos. Each kit also came with a set of markers and a couple of printed pictures to use them on. She painted these for a little while almost every day she was here. I definitely got my money's worth with these. I will say, the markers were kind of messy, so I threw them away after the first or second day.

The other thing we got at Dollar Tree was the supplies to make a wreath. For the base we used a straw wreath out of my craft closet and I bought eight packages of pom-poms and four bottles of glue for a total of $10.

I moved the kid's table into the living room and covered it with newspaper which I taped into place. We used plain old white school glue which I poured into a disposable bowl so she could just dip the pom-poms in the glue and stick them onto the wreath. It worked perfectly. She loved creating this project and it kept her busy for several hours. Part of the time I worked with her and part of the time I did other things in the room. I did have to help her fill in the inside of the wreath and I helped her fill in some of the blank spaces she left between the pom-poms. When it was finished I added a ribbon from my craft closet and hung it on the door of the Princesses' room.

We really had hoped to be able to go swimming a couple of times during June's visit, but the weather did not cooperate. We had thunderstorms and rain almost every afternoon while she was here so we had to otherwise occupy ourselves.

We got a lot of mileage out of the pom-poms. There were quite a few left over from the wreath project and she played with them a lot. I have a big can that I normally keep colored pencils in. She emptied the pencils into a plastic basket and used the can to hold her pom-poms.

I have a ceramic teapot and two cups sitting on my coffee table. I've never used them, I just thought they were pretty and bought them from the silent auction at the family reunion last fall. She filled them with pom-poms and played tea party with them off and on all week. So on Wednesday afternoon, when it was raining yet again, I decided we should have a real tea party.

One of my fondest memories is tea parties with my Granny. She would make grape Kool-Aid and let us serve it out of an old aluminum teapot. She always had homemade cookies to serve with it. We would spread a blanket out in the yard and have an afternoon tea party.

I let her choose a tablecloth for her little table and we added a mason jar of flowers so we had a centerpiece. I let her brew the tea using my Keurig coffee maker. I didn't have any cookies, but we had cheese and crackers with fresh strawberries.

Since she was here during the week of my birthday, she went along when Patrick took me out to dinner to celebrate. She also got treated to frozen yogurt one evening after dinner.

In my absolute favorite moment of the week, on one of those rainy afternoons, we were watching a movie when she climbed up on my lap and this happened. Only the two of us were at home, so I picked up my cell phone and snapped this selfie.

There is nothing better than spending a quiet couple of hours cuddling your sleeping grandbaby.

On Thursday evening, we drove to Three Rivers and met Katy and Ezra for dinner. Both of the girls were so excited to see each other and June was particularly happy to be back in her Mommy's arms. She was very clingy all through dinner. I don't know if we'll get her to visit alone again any time soon.

She wasn't weepy or upset at all the entire time she was here. The only problem we had all week was getting her to go to bed at night. We finally ended up putting her in her car seat and driving until she fell asleep every night. Some nights it worked quickly and some nights we drove for a long time.

Next week, I'll spend the week at their house to take care of them during the day while Katy works. Travis is going on a canoeing trip. The week after that, Ezra will spend the week with us for her week of Grams Camp. She wants to learn to sew, so I'm working on a project that might be simple enough for a five year old to work on. She's very enthusiastic so I want to make sure we capitalize on that and don't frustrate her. I'll be telling you all about it.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

When I Wasn't Blogging

While I was absent from my blog life went on, I just didn't write it down. Honestly, I feel the need to bring you somewhat up to date.

When I was not blogging, I had a birthday. Not just any birthday, but one of those milestone birthdays. On June 22, I turned 60.

I celebrated with my great-neice, Sway, who turned one the same day. She let me borrow her birthday crown.

Our Little Princesses came to celebrate with both of us. It was so much fun to have them all together for a little party.

As you can see, they had a great time.

Now, there is one more thing I must show you from my own birthday. My husband got me the most hilarious birthday card ever. It looks so innocent and sweet from the outside. Then I opened it and realized that even in his sixties, that 8th grade boy is still alive and well.

I had a great birthday. It was especially nice that Katy, Travis and our Princesses came to celebrate. While they were here, we also went to the beach. There's another blog post coming about that trip.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Independence Day In My Home Town

I have always loved local celebrations of the 4th of July. I love how each community has its own traditions that give Independence Day a local flavor.

When we lived in Texarkana as kids, we would often go to watch the fireworks at the lake. After we moved to Corpus Christi, our parents would load all eight of us into the station wagon and take us to the bayfront, where we would sit along the seawall, and watch the fireworks over Corpus Christi Bay.

When our kids were little, we would take a blanket and a picnic and drive across the bridge to Corpus Christi Beach and watch the fireworks over the bay. They used to fire them from a barge that was anchored in the bay.

Back in the 1990s, we were visiting Patrick's aunt and uncle in Dallas and got to see their neighborhood kids put on their own parade with bicycles, wagons, and pets all decked out in red, white, and blue. The parade culminated in a festival at the park. It was a real taste of Americana.

A few years ago, we went to Boston for the 4th. It was a dream come true. We spent the entire day in the park surrounded by people from all over the United States. And the fireworks were spectacular. Since then, we've gone down to the bayfront to see the local fireworks a couple of times. Now they shoot them off the deck of the USS Lexington Museum on the Bay.

This year, we drove downtown to check out our city's festivities. The City of Corpus Christi's celebration is now called the Mayor's Big Bang Festival. There was a 4th of July Parade along Shoreline Boulevard, FREE Kids Zone, Art Walk, FREE park and ride services, a Harbor Bridge light show and the grand finale… a fireworks display off the USS Lexington!  The parade started at 6 pm and fireworks at 9:30 pm.

We got downtown around 4:30 and everything was already packed and it was 97 degrees. We drove around for a while and checked out several locations. Then we decided to come home. It was just too hot and too crowded.

As we drove down Ocean Drive, we noticed that many of the homes were decorated with flags this year. In case you're not familiar with Corpus Christi, there are many fabulous and stately homes along the bayfront. If you visit, it's definitely a drive you should take.

One of the things that has become a tradition in Corpus Christi is the hanging of large American flags from cranes all over the industrial district. They started displaying them shortly after the September 11th attacks and it's grown every year. This year, they were not only in the industrial district, they were at several construction sites around town.

It is one of the things I like best about the 4th of July in Corpus Christi. Since we decided not to stay for the fireworks, we decided to take pictures of some of the flags. After that, we drove about six miles north to Odem and had dinner at The Railroad Seafood Station. We love their fried shrimp and avocado salad. Then we came home and watched our favorite July 4th movie, Yankee Doodle Dandy. James Cagney is brilliant as George M. Cohan. I've seen it about a million times and it never gets old.

I hope you had a great 4th of July with a celebration of this uniquely American holiday that had a little local flavor.