ParkQuest

Lovebug has been wanting to go on a quest for new, fun parks & playgrounds for some time now.  Going to parks & playgrounds has been something we’ve enjoyed as a family for years and now that our time in the metroplex is limited, we want to check out as many as we can before we go!

Yesterday we went to another new one.  I had seen a picture of it on a friend’s blog and just knew we had to check it out. Lovebug LOVES to climb, so as soon as I saw a picture of this huge spider web, I knew she would have a blast.

It also turned out to be a sensory haven! Talk about free therapy!!

 

It’s like a giant treehouse!  With a side for younger kids…

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And one for the older kids (or just more daring)…

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Even a giant sandbox for that tactile input! We will bring our own sand toys next time!

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She always calls these things “The Elevator”.  Very creative.  After all, it does take you to the top!

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She AMAZED me by going down this huge slide! She normally can’t stand enclosed slides, or high slides because they go to fast and she doesn’t like that feeling.  I couldn’t believe it!  She saw another girl go down it, realized it wasn’t too fast, and off she went!  I’m so proud of that girl!

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The SPIDER WEB!!!  Perfect for proprioception & heavy work!

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Will she go to the top?

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YES she will!

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There were good hiding spots too!

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I love the static hair look!

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Lots of SPINNING!! Great vestibular input here!

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And God’s beautiful gift to us as we were leaving…

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The Gluten-Free Makeover: A Healthier You!

Giveaways coming from this event!! I will be reviewing, and then giving away a signed copy of “Autism – Recovery Against All Odds” by Kristi Chrysler.  I will also be giving away a Gluten-Free Sample Package of goodies!  Stay tuned for details.


Last night I attended an awesome gluten-free event sponsored by the North Texas Gluten Intolerance Group! I went with my mom, my 6 year old daughter, and our 7 month old little boy.  I was attracted to this event because of the samples! Several local restaurants gave samples of their gluten-free menu items.  My daughter LOVES samples!  What is it about getting a little cup of food that is so fun? But it is, isn’t it?  Ever since going gluten-free a couple months ago, I’ve had to say “no” to more samples than not, and it’s taken some of the fun away from our Costco trips for her.  When I saw this event and saw they would have samples, I wanted to take her because I thought it would be really cool for her to be able to have any and every sample they offered! I was right! She was so excited, even though it took a while for it to sink in.  She kept asking me, “Is THAT gluten-free TOO? WOW!”.

I’m so glad we got there when it opened because as it was, some of the lines for the samples were quite long. Everything I had was worth waiting in line for though!

They also had a kid’s table outside where the kids could choose a free toy (Lovebug got a ‘grabber’), color a picture, & pick up an activity book.

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At the first couple of stops, we picked up a sample for each of us – my mom, me, my daughter.  After all, I paid to get in, I wanted my money’s worth. 🙂 Soon we realized we would never be hungry enough to try everything if we did that, so we started just getting one sample at each place for us to share.  I was very impressed at the generous samples they were giving.  They were small appetizer portions!  We tasted some incredible foods, and a few “ok” foods.  I’ll list the ones I enjoyed the most!

* First, one of my two favorites! Delicious, yummy, decadent treats from Wholesome Foods Bakery!! I can’t wait to visit their location in person. I thought you had to order everything online, but after talking to them, I learned that you can just drop in to pick up an individual item.  I will definitely be doing this!  This is an awesome mother-daughter team that served us freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, cranberry cookies, a type of pound cake, and the brownies! Oh, the brownies! They were made like muffins and then individually wrapped.  I didn’t get to mine last night, so I had part of it for breakfast this morning.  What? I had to try it to write about it, didn’t I? It was perfect! Crunchy and crispy on the outside, but moist and a perfect texture on the inside.  It was all I could do to wrap it back up and save it till later.  I don’t usually like nuts in my chocolate (just a quirk!), but this had walnuts in it and I loved it.  It provided a perfect balance without being dry, which is my usual problem with nut-filled brownies.  I could go on and on! Go visit them yourself!

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* My other favorite is a great raw food company! Hail Merry offers an incredible selection of RAW foods.  They have macaroons that are out of this world! They were sampling their granola at this event, and I was impressed.  The sweet ladies there spent time chatting with us and discussing the benefits of raw food.  One of the ladies and I had a lot in common.  She has PCOS, had a hysterectomy and was working to lose weight because she had been diagnosed diabetic.  I’m not diabetic (although it’s in my family history), but I do have PCOS, and had a full hysterectomy a couple years ago.  She was sharing how eating mostly raw foods had made a significant improvement in her blood sugar and helped in controlling her weight as well.  After chatting with us a while, they broke open a package of macaroons for us to sample (MMM!), and even gave LoveBug a free T-shirt! So sweet! She wore it around for a while, but took it off because she didn’t like everyone staring at her (I don’t think they really were), but she did sleep in it last night.

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* Chicken Lettuce Wraps and Chocolate Mousse from P.F. Changs.  I had recently eaten at P.F. Changs and was impressed with their GF menu, but I had not had a chance to try the mousse because my daughter chose the Flourless Chocolate Cake instead.  I picked up one sample of the mousse to share with my mom & daughter.  Turns out my mom doesn’t like mousse, and my daughter said it was “too chocolately”.  Their loss! I gobbled up every bite!  Don’t worry, it was made perfectly – my daughter just prefers white chocolate.  I used to wonder about her sanity, but now I just embrace that we each get our own chocolate in the pantry 🙂

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(That mousse looked much better before I dug into it!)

* A delicious grit cake topped with a perfectly cooked jumbo prawn and BBQ sauce by the Gaylord’s Ama Lur. It was picture perfect (but I failed to take a picture!), as well as pleasant to the palette!

* A wonderfully seasoned paella (traditional Spanish dish including meats, seafood, rice and vegetables) from Paella Texas that included oysters! (my daughter loved the oysters so much she went back for more!).

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* A noodle dish from Asian Mint – I don’t remember what it was called, but it had a yummy sweet sauce on it and was topped with bean sprouts – loved it!

* A gnocci & chicken dish with a creamy sweet pepper & basil sauce topped with fresh parmesan cheese.  I could have eaten an entire plate of this!  It was amazing! It was from a brand new restaurant, Zeppole, that will be opening in the Gaylord on November 15.  Again, I didn’t get a picture of this one – I was too busy eating it! Just trust me…you’ll want to go try it!

Enjoying the variety of samples on the patio!

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Another surprise that I didn’t expect were samples of pre-packaged items! I don’t know why, but that never occurred to me.  I just assumed it was all restaurant style foods we would be trying.  They loaded us up with packages of chips, cookies, crackers, mixes, bars, and even fortune cookies by A Taste of Thai!  I was super excited about the fortune cookies because we haven’t eaten them for over 3 years.  Regular fortune cookies are not only NOT gluten-free (which we’ve been avoiding for a couple months), but they also have artificial food coloring in them (which we’ve been avoiding for over 3 years).  It’s just one of the fun things as a kid to get to open the fortune cookie and enjoy that little treat at the end of a meal, so I was thrilled to be able to give that back to my daughter.  I liked them so much, I asked if I could buy a bag from them.  Not just one bag, they said…how about 3 bags for $5?  SOLD!  It was a win-win, because we will not run out of fortune cookies anytime soon, and the vendors didn’t want to take this stuff back with them!

My Bag O’ Fortune Cookies!

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Sometimes it pays to hang around till the end too! We were upstairs letting LoveBug run circles with a bunch of other kids on a “dance floor” type rug under disco lights.  Nearby, was a long line of tables with vendors giving samples of cookies, chips, crackers, etc.  I went through the line while my mom kept the kids and I admit I was thinking “not nice” thoughts about the people in front of me as I saw them grabbing several samples of each item.  Turns out, when it was my turn, the vendors were telling us “Please take lots of them! We have so many and we don’t want to take them back with us!”.  Well, who am I to argue with that?  So, I loaded up my bag and then sent my mom & daughter through for theirs.  They were handing us entire bags of chips!  Cool!  I’m very frugal and it was hard for me to spend the money to attend this event, but I sure am glad I did.

Our glorious view from the patio!

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Our stash from the evening (3 people’s worth!)

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I’ll come back later and post the details of the giveaway so you can enjoy some of these great samples too!

Big Savings with Big Tex at the State Fair!

The Texas State Fair is almost here!  It opens on September 24 and runs though October 17.  The food, the rides, the gadgets for sale (that I love to see but never buy), the arts & crafts, the animals, the pyrotechnics!  We look forward to it every year.  You all know I love to be frugal though, so I am definitely not going to pay full price to go to the fair, and I hope you won’t either!  Save that money for the giant Ferris Wheel!

Let me share my favorite tips for enjoying the Texas State Fair:

  • We are members of the Dallas Museum of Nature & Science so we get free one-time tickets to the fair! You just can’t see it all in one day though, so I’m sure we will go more than once and take advantage of one of these awesome discount days below.  Sure the cost of membership at the museum is more than the fair, but you can enjoy the museum all year long!
  • I also save money and keep a tight reign on the “gimmies” by giving Lovebug a certain dollar amount that she’s allowed to spend on rides & games. When it’s gone, it’s gone! Might as well teach a little math while we’re there.  You can ride 2 5-ticket rides, or you can ride 5 2-ticket rides.  I don’t think there are any 2-ticket rides, but you get the idea.
  • Take your own food! I take a backpack or a small cooler that fits in the stroller with our own snacks, sandwiches, etc.  We might splurge on one food item, but for the most part we save a lot of money bringing our own food.  You could easily save $50-100 bucks this way.  If you have a large family this could make all the difference in being able to go at all.  I also bring my own treats like cotton candy from the Natural Candy Store website since we are a Gluten-Free/Dye-Free household and most of the treats at the fair don’t meet our criteria.  I want Lovebug to have the fun experience of those treats without the adverse affects.
  • Ride the DART train.  It drops you off right at the gate so you can save the $10-15 for parking!  Kroger has a COMBO ticket available for $16 that includes admission and round trip transportation to the fair if you aren’t taking advantage of a discount day.
  • Get there early! If you arrive when they open at 10:00, it will be much less crowded than if you wait until after lunch!
  • Avoid school field trip days! Unless of course you are the parent of a child on the field trip 🙂  The Dallas elementary schools are scheduled to visit the State Fair on October 1st and the secondary schools are slotted to visit on October 8th. Fort Worth State Fair Day is October 11th, which is also Columbus Day.
  • Visit the fair on one of the DISCOUNT DAYS to save a bunch on admission!

ENJOY!!

One week to go – “staycation” time!

Hubby ships out in 8 days to start his re-enlistment training! It’s like being on a roller coaster ride at the top of the huge hill, and just tipping over the edge on the way down.  Here we gooooooooo!

Hubby had his last day at his previous job yesterday.  This next week our family is having a “staycation” in order to truly enjoy our last week together.  We plan to enjoy every moment, cherishing our time together, and looking forward to our upcoming adventure.

Today we spent the morning getting our family pictures taken by a good friend, Heather.  She is an awesome photographer, and I can’t wait to see the pictures when she is done with them! Don’t worry, I’ll show you as soon as I can! We took the pictures at a local park that also has fountains coming up out of the ground, and a long “pool” about 2 feet deep that kids (or grownups!) can play in.  After being extremely cooperative during the photo shoot, LoveBug was rewarded with some free play in the water.

Tonight, we are headed to a party for a good friend who is also in the military.  He’s celebrating his birthday tonight, and also leaving soon to head out of town for some training.

Tomorrow, our family is blessed to have the chance to go to Great Wolf Lodge for a night! It’s a huge hotel in a nearby city with an entire waterpark inside the hotel!  My parents gave us this special gift so that our family can enjoy this time together.  They are also going to join us at the hotel for a couple hours and watch our baby boy so that Hubby & I can have special time playing in the water with LoveBug.

I’m not sure yet what the rest of the week holds, but I know that Hubby’s ship date will be here all too fast, yet not fast enough all at the same time.  I know that doesn’t make sense, but once you know something is just around the corner, you just want it to get here so you can move on to the next step.

Gringos hunt for tacos

A couple years ago, Hubby was fortunate to have a job that required him to live in the Yucatan area of Mexico for about 4 months.  During that time, he became a big fan of “tacos al pastor”.   Take corn tortillas, and fill them with wonderfully seasoned pork roasted on a spit, and sliced fresh when you order.  Top with onions, cilantro, some diced pineapple and salsa.  YUM!  He said he ate them almost daily while he was living there.

Since returning to the states, he has been hoping to find a local version of these, but so far all attempts have fallen short.  He was looking for the true, authentic version.  Cooked on the spit, not just chopped chunks of pork.   We knew we weren’t going to find them at any of the large chain Mexican restaurants in town.  This was something you would find at a corner taco hut made by people who had likely grown up eating these.  A few months back, we had a conversation with someone that pointed us in the direction of where we might find such a delicacy, but we just hadn’t made the time to go search it out.

Today was the day!  My parents had the kids for the weekend, and we had some free time on our hands, so off we went for “The Great Gringo Taco Hunt”!  We had 2 places in mind that we wanted to try, and try them both we did!  We ended up with (very) full tummies, only a small dent in the wallet, and great satisfaction as Hubby was able to reminisce about his days in Mexico.

We started with Stop #1 — Taqueria El Si Hay.  It’s a little building on a street corner with a couple benches on the outside as the only seating available.  No need for more, as the cars were piling up at this place even though we were there a good hour after the “lunch rush”.   Hubby got 3 tacos al pastor (pork), and I tried the barbacoa (shredded beef).  I liked his better, but mine were great too.  They were all served with chopped onion (which I omitted on mine), fresh cilantro, lime, and a side of salsa.

It was about 105 degrees F outside, so we took our tacos and ate them in our air-conditioned vehicle.  We were very impressed with our food, however, we doubted whether the meat was actually cooked on the spit as it appeared to be chunks of meat, rather than sliced off.  Since we didn’t bother to ask, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now.  Either way, it was delicious.

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After stop #1, we still had some time to kill, so we decided to tackle #2 on our list. After fighting with some traffic and construction congestion, we arrived at El Tizoncito.  The first notable difference is that this one was more of an actual restaurant.  Plenty of inside seating, air conditioning, and table service immediately took this place to a different level than our last stop.

We noticed as we were walking in, that this joint shared a drive through with a bank! A little funny, I thought.  Deposit your paycheck, & grab a couple tacos!

We went on in, and took 2 seats at the counter right in front of a huge hunk of pork cooking on a spit! There it was…the stuff Hubby has been craving for months.  We had awesome seats and were able to enjoy quite the show as the guys sliced, chopped, flipped, stacked and served from the large circular griddle in front of us.

We were immediately served a (free!) appetizer of hot black beans while we waited.   Once again, Hubby ordered tacos al pastor, but this time he chose the “gringas” which means they add cheese.  I copied his order this time, and was glad I did!  We were also served a relish tray of sorts with toppings for our tacos. Onions, cilantro, pineapple, 2 kids of salsa, and a side of limes were ready to add an array of flavors to our meal.

I enjoyed a horchada beverage, while Hubby enjoyed a “baby beer” as I called it.  It was a tiny bottle of Corona, called a Coronita.  We were also each served a sampling that included each of 3 flavors of frozen margaritas – Regular, Hibiscus, and Tumeric.  They were each delightfully tasty, and quite potent! Who doesn’t like a place that gives you free samples of margaritas?

In the end, both places held their own.  The food was delicious at either location.  If I wanted to sit down in the air conditioning,  get a little entertainment and be waited on, I would definitely choose El Tizoncito.  However, if I didn’t need a place to sit, or wanted to experience the culture more up close then El Si Hay is definitely your choice.

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All in all, it was a fun adventure with my hubby! I love doing things like this with him.  I am so blessed that Hubby and I enjoy doing anything together, even running errands.  This was a special day though because it was just us in the car, so we were able to sit in silence if we wanted, or carry on our own conversations without interruption.  A rare treat during this season of our lives.

Schooling at the zoo

I’ve been going to the Dallas Zoo for a long time, but only recently realized what a great resource they have at their Nature Exchange! It’s in the Children’s Zoo area, right near the bathrooms.

You can read the details on their webpage, but to sum it up:

* Children bring in items from nature. Up to 5 items per visit. Things like shells, rocks, bones, animal cast-offs, animal homes (cocoons), seeds, leaves, pressed flowers, fossils, dead bugs.
* They share with the staff what they know about the item.
* The staff then awards points to the child based on what the item is, how unique it is, and how much they know about it. The more they know about it, the more points they earn. The staff there is extremely knowledgeable and takes time with each item and child to teach them more about what they brought in.
* After getting their points, the kids can go “shopping” in the Nature Exchange to “buy” other pieces of nature. Many choices exist including seashells, animal bones, crystals, shark teeth, all shapes & sizes of rocks, and much more!

There are also many things in the exchange that are for ‘display only’, but very interesting to look at and learn about!  Here are some pictures of our last visit to the Nature Exchange with some friends!

Listening to Gerald teach them about their objects

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Investigating a grub worm!

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 Items for display & trade 

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Testing a rock to see if it’s limestone (it wasn’t)
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Bug answering questions about her acorn, bark, and leaves
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Bug just loves it, and was already planning her next visit before we left! An incredible learning opportunity for child or adult – I know I learned a lot right along with the kids! It’s also a definite plus for homeschoolers, or any fans of Charlotte Mason! You get points for bringing in a Nature Journal too!

But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind. (Job 12:7-10)

The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters. (Psalm 24:1-2)