Category Archives: Holidays

#Opt Out (Freeze Out)

(Ok, I know this is WAY LATE but that’s what happens when you have photos on one computer and write a post an another…)

Typically, every year Hubby and I “opt out” from the jumble of Thanksgiving and Black Friday and use that time off of work to head out to the middle of nowhere and camp. (Even REI does #optoutside so you can share your photos from your hiking adventures, rather than getting run-over by a crowd trying to get the cheap tvs at Walmart for Black Friday.) A year ago we went to Big Bend National Park, and this year we decided to go to Palo Duro Canyon State Park outside of Amarillo, Texas. It’s the same amount of time in the car, and neither of us had ever been there before so we wanted to give it a shot. After we had booked our trip we discovered Run Away campers, and fell in love. They are affordable, they are comfortable, and they are TINY! We ordered our little Range Runner model camper (it’s actually the largest model they have at 6’x8′) from Florida and it was delivered just a few days later! We were excited to get it before our camping trip because that meant we would be able to glamp (glam camp) instead of being in a tent, which had been the original plan. The first chance I got, I called the Park Service phone number for reservations, but they were out of RV camp sites! I was sad, but I thought, ‘One last trip of rocks in the back and waking up stiff. After this, we will use the camper.’ But as we got closer to the date, every time we checked the weather it was looking worse and worse. The high for the day dropped from being in the 40s to being in the low 20s with freezing rain. It was going to be miserable. We were going to cancel, defeated and depressed. Until Hubby got the idea to check the RV site availability again. Lo and behold, other people had checked the weather too, and cancelled their trip so there were spaces available! I did a happy dance and we started planning for the trip once again. We left before the crack of dawn on Thanksgiving Day since it was a 9 hour drive, and got there just in time for the park office to tell us that the weather is going to get worse, so they will probably close the office over the weekend. “That’s fine,” we told them. “We have a tv and a stack of movies.” But we had no idea what we were in for.

The rain turned to sleet, and the sleet turned to ice. We tried hiking around our camp site a little bit but the mud was caking onto anything that touched it and making a huge mess. I was afraid of slipping and hurting my back so I was being extremely careful. We got back to the camper to thaw out and ended up having to heat up canned soup inside the camper because it was too miserable to cook outside.

From Thursday night to Saturday morning we watched 3 of the Planet of the Apes movies and Season 2 of Scrubs. We got a little bit of cabin fever so we bundled up and headed out to do a little birding once the ice stopped falling. There was a thick layer of ice on every surface. Walking through parking lots was difficult because it was so slippery. But I got some great bird shots anyway! We saw a huge flock of turkeys (30 or more) and each bird had ice frozen on its back. We went to a birding station and the Cardinals and Finches had frozen feathers also.

female cardinal Gold Finch male cardinal turkeysWe headed back to camp to hike around a bit more (now that the ground was frozen, the mud wasn’t an issue) and Hubby saw the Park Host come by to fill the bathrooms with toilet paper. He went to go talk to them and they told his that the road to get out of the park was closed and we wouldn’t be able to get out until noon on Sunday! That was a problem. With a 9 hour drive, that was cutting it close. What if the roads didn’t improve and we were stuck longer? The last thing I wanted was to get home at 2 am and have to go to work the next day. So Hubby and I loaded up into the truck and checked the road for ourselves. He has all wheel drive so we weren’t concerned, and any point that the road looked icy, we would get out and check it before driving on it. (The road to get out of the park goes up through the canyon, so if you lose traction on the icy road, it’s quite a tumble down). The road seemed fine as we headed up, and I had him stop a few times so I could get pictures of the beautiful ice-covered grasses and yucca and barbed-wire fence.

frozen grassI even heard coyotes howling VERY close to me and I was so happy to hear them. Every time I hear coyotes, I’m the only one around for miles (while Hubby sits in the warm car!) and it seems like they are singing to me. I even saw one of the singers a few minutes later!

coyoteWe finally made our way to the park entrance and saw that the gate was wide open. The park host had told us it was closed and locked and we couldn’t get out! So we looked at each other and came to this conclusion: If the road freezes, it will be over night. The road is passable now, but in the morning there is no guarantee. So we got out while the getting was good and headed to Amarillo to spend the night.

We headed back down the park road and hooked up the camper. In 20 minutes we were back on the road, carefully heading out of the park. The highway was frozen so we took it slow and then pulled into the parking lot of our destination: The Big Texan steak ranch. Part of our plan on this trip had been to eat at The Big Texan because it’s an icon! It has been on tv shows like Man vs. Food and Day Tripper because they do the 72 ounce steak challenge. You have to consume a 72 ounce steak, a baked potato, a shrimp cocktail, salad, and a bread roll, all in 60 minutes. Of course, we weren’t going to be PARTICIPATING in the steak challenge, but we still wanted to eat there. Also, as it turned out, The Big Texan has a hotel ON SITE so we didn’t have to go anywhere by the end of the night! The parking lot was an ice rink so I was really happy we didn’t have to get back on the highway and find somewhere else to stay. (Also, I just saw on their website that they now have an RV park too, so that’s good to know in case our next trip to Palo Duro gets cut short again!)

The next morning, before heading home, we stopped at Cadillac Ranch.cadillacs3cadillacs

It’s literally a bunch of Cadillacs from the 1940s-1960s that were jammed into the ground in the 1970s as an art installation. The thing is, it’s legal to do graffiti art at this site. I guess that’s kind of the point – everyone is an artist if they are given the chance. We had never seen it before, and we might never come back to Amarillo again, so we had it on our list of must-dos while we were on the trip. We trudged out to the cars through the snow and ice, took a couple pictures, and got back to our heated car as quickly as possible. But I noticed some interesting things while we were there: there are so many layers of paint on the cars, that it looks like the cars are melting.

frozen paintThere had been people out at the site spray-painting in the snow and ice, so that the frost on the cars was painted orange and blue. The snow on the ground was also used as a temporary canvas, saying the typical “So-and-so Loves So-and-so” and happy holidays. Also, even the barbed-wire that surrounds the property had been painted. It was surprisingly beautiful.

Once we were done at Cadillac Ranch we headed home, stopping in Dallas to see some family, and then making our slow trudge home (the drive from Dallas to Houston is supposed to take 3 hours, but for any number of reasons, it always takes 6).

Our trips are always adventurous even if they don’t go as planned. I guess that’s how I know I love my Hubby too, because instead of being ready to kill each other by the end of the trip, we were planning our next adventure!

Driftwood Projects

As you may already know, I have been selling my photography at the local farmers’ market for about a year now.  I don’t go every weekend (especially in the summer when it’s boating time!) but in the fall I have been going more and more consistently, and I have even had several repeat customers! I gotta tell ya, it feels pretty darn good.

Table set-up at the Farmers' Market
Table set-up at the Farmers’ Market-I was selling lemons too 🙂

Anyway, I had been collecting driftwood for a while and then I stole borrowed my dad’s nail gun. I finally made the driftwood star for my guest room that I had been wanting to make.IMG_4282

The thing is, everyone that saw it said “Oh my God! You should sell those!” So I brought one to the farmers’ market. And it sold instantly. I made another one. It sold too. Every time I brought one to the market it sold. I couldn’t believe how quickly they went. Everyone said, “this is such a unique idea!”IMG_1198

Then one weekend before Thanksgiving an older married couple came up, looked at my star I had for sale, and asked if I make brands. Now, for those of you not familiar with what I mean by brands, I mean cattle brands. Some people design their own for fun, but others still have registered cattle brands that they use to brand their cattle (yes, it’s still a thing). Anyway, so he asked if I could make his brand, the M – (read as M Bar).

M Bar
M Bar

So when I made it and sent him this picture of it, he said, “great, now can you make 4 others?” He sent me a picture of the 4 other brands, which were all different, and to be Christmas presents for his kids back in North Dakota.

All of the brands together
All of the brands together

I worked on these brands for a while, but my work schedule got crazy busy, and then I ran out of small pieces of driftwood. So Hubby and I used that as an excuse to take our new little Runaway Camper out on her maiden voyage to the beach! We camped on the beach and filled half of the truck bed with driftwood. DSC_4160

I was able to finished the brands and get them to the new owner in time to ship them to North Dakota for Christmas. I also made some crosses, and one is a Christmas present for a friend of ours who moved far, far away (to Oklahoma City).

Cross

The blue background wood is the same wood from the table that I made (and seen below).  I wanted to make sure to use the wood for this gift, because the friend it is for is also familiar with the story of how I came about getting this reclaimed wood, and she would appreciate it (hopefully!) I’ve made a couple other crosses, but since this one was my favorite, at had to be the one I was giving as a gift 🙂 So here are the finished brands! I hope his kids are happy to get them, because I think they turned out pretty neat!

M Bar C+ CVC M+ MNM

I’ve been making stars like crazy, but the brands really took a toll on my small pieces, so I need to go out and harvest again soon. Luckily it’s been a really warm winter so going down to the beach in December won’t be a big deal!

Zoo Lights!

Every year, the Houston Zoo puts on the event known as Zoo Lights. It’s a lot of fun – you go to the zoo at light and the whole place* is lit up with millions of Christmas lights!

(*Not all areas of the zoo are lit up or accessible at the time of zoo lights. Mainly it’s just the large open areas of the zoo, in order to not disturb the animals too much.)

Hubby and I went last year and we had a great time, so we definitely wanted to do it again. And since my photography skills have gotten a lot better in the past year, I definitely wanted to try out some new techniques!

This year however, we made a big mistake. We went on the busiest night of the year for Zoo Lights! We went on the Saturday before Christmas. Holy geebus. It was packed. We didn’t even think about that being the busiest night to go. Parking was a nightmare, and I already hate driving around in that part of the city anyway, so the addition of super heavy traffic was really stressful. Luckily we found the “additional parking” lot pretty easily, and were able to park without a hitch, once we go out of the traffic. Of course, that means that we had a bit of a walk to make to the actual Zoo, but it was totally worth it, instead of trying to get into a crowded parking lot, and then circling for hours to find a spot. I would probably still be there if I had tried that.

I took a ton of photos of the lights and we ordered some wine and kettle cooked popcorn.  It was really expensive for popcorn, but I had LITERALLY never done that before, so it was worth it. Actually, come to think of it, I think it was still cheaper than movie theater popcorn, so if you are used to those prices, you will be in for a treat. I’m just WAY too cheap frugal for that.

When we were ready to leave, we headed for the front of the zoo. The Zoo Lights shuts down at 10pm, but we saw a line that practically wrapped around the zoo for people who hadn’t bought tickets yet! It was 9:50, and there were hundreds of people still in line. We were thinking about it, and knew that the zoo would never turn THAT MUCH MONEY away (it was about 200 people in like, at $15 each = $3,000!) If a zoo can afford to turn down $3,000, they have too much money! So we asked an employee what was going to happen, and they said that they were planning on letting people in until 11pm. It made me want to stick around and count all the people that made it into the zoo after 10pm, just to see how much more money they made.

There is a park around the Zoo that we had to walk through to get back to our car, so we slowly made our way through the park, while I took pictures of stuff. Lights on the steps, the cityscape, and even some Nutria that were feeding on grass roots on the bank of the pond. They were super cute and didn’t mind us at all, so I took a bunch of pictures of them. Of course, they were in terrible lighting so the pictures didn’t come out great, but it gave me some practice in my new Photoshop program, so….silver lining, right?

We had a nice time, and we definitely plan on going again next year, but maybe not the weekend before Christmas…live and learn!

Zoo Lights!
Zoo Lights!
Mysterious Wonderland
Mysterious Wonderland
Lighted Steps
Lighted Steps
Reflections
Reflections
Reflecting Pond
Reflecting Pond
The lights in the trees dance to music
The lights in the trees dance to music
My favorite statue in the zoo - a lioness taking down a gazel
My favorite statue in the zoo – a lioness taking down a gazelle (and trying out some Photoshop lettering)
This car is known as "Holly Berry"
This car is known as “Holly Berry”
Glowing Light Balls in the Cypress Trees
Glowing Light Balls in the Cypress Trees
Blue Elephant
Blue Elephant
Giant Agaves
Giant Agaves
The Crowd stretched from the beginning of the parking lot
The Crowd stretched from the beginning of the parking lot
all the way across!
all the way across!