When the last school bell rings signaling the beginning of summer, it hits me. I long to wander through the back roads and beaches of Texas. It’s the journey that interests me, not the destination. Experiencing new sights, new sounds and new tastes reminds me that beauty can be found in the most unexpected places - a rambling country road drenched in a sea of wildflowers, a desolate beach or painted churches. Early Summer is also an ideal time to tour Central Texas, stomp wine grapes at a harvest festival or stroll on a barrier island.
Here are eight, family-friendly ways to explore Montgomery County and beyond, off the beaten path.
- Pick Pesticide-Free Blueberries. Harvest season is here! In the Woodlands, blueberries arrive in plastic containers at local grocery stores. At Moorehead’s Blueberry Farm, you can walk through acres of luscious blueberries and pick your own. You’ll find twenty different varieties of blueberries on this twenty acre farm. Pick all you want! You are only charged for the berries you pick. Sampling is not discouraged. www.mooreheadsblueberryfarm.com or 281-572-1265
- Meet a Wolf. Literally. In the heart of historic Montgomery, Reverend Jean Le Fevre opened the St. Francis Wolf Sanctuary to protect and nurture wolves and wolf dogs. Rescue animals live in nurturing, natural surroundings suited to their temperament. You can visit the sanctuary to view the wolves, learn the history of each wolf and meet a wolf ambassador. www.saintfrancissanctuary.org or 936-597-9653
- Kayak North Lake Conroe. The flat, placid waters and undisturbed shoreline of North Lake Conroe make it an ideal choice for kayaking. There is very little power boat activity on the this end of the lake, and the natural surroundings are largely undeveloped. North Lake Conroe Paddling Company is situated on the lake front and rents kayaks or fishing kayaks. This company can also arrange paddling and hike trails for visitors. www.northlakeconroepaddlingco.com or 936-203-2697
- Watch a Live Barrel Race. Missed the Houston Rodeo? At the Lone Star Cowboy Church, you can catch live barrel races throughout the year. Cowboy competitors race and rope, competing for a W-W 2 Horse Trailer and trophy saddles under a covered arena. There is no gate fee for these events. Sit back and experience the thrill of horses cutting around barrels at top speeds. Lonestarcowboychurch.com or 936-449-5749
- Find Buried Treasure. Join the geocaching craze and discover hidden treasures throughout Montgomery County. If your children enjoy endless adventure, deciphering cryptic clues and finding small treasures such as coins, toys or gift cards, geocaching will provide them with endless fun. To get started, you’ll need a gps unit or iphone5 (There’s an app for it!), maps, a compass and a flashlight. The Texas state park system also hosts geocache challenges, and geocaches are hidden in every state park. There are geocaches hidden worldwide, even the International Space Station. Happy hunting! www.geocaching.com
- Eat BBQ on the Texas BBQ Trail. In Central Texas, small grocery stores and smokehouses serve up the state’s finest BBQ. Whether you take yours wet or dry, you’ll find satisfying sausages, brisket and ribs here. The first stop on this culinary journey is Kruez Market in Lockhart. The market opened for business in 1900 and still serves brisket, shoulder and sausage. The next stop on the trail is City Market in Luling. City Market specializes in ribs and opens at 7 AM. The third stop on the tour is Meyer’sElgin Smokehouse in Elgin, the sausage capital of Texas. The final stop is Davis Grocery and Barbecue in Taylor, Texas. You won’t leave hungry. www.texasbbqtrails.com
- Stomp Wine Grapes. Remember the I Love Lucy grape stomping episode? On the Texas Bluebonnet Wine Trail, you can unleash your inner Lucy and dance in a massive barrel filled with wine grapes or sample local wines. Situated between Highway 105 and US 290, the Texas Bluebonnet Wine Trail offers visitors a chance to participate in the harvest, sample wine and explore food - wine pairings. Nine member wineries are listed on this trail, offering various activities. Messina Hof Winery holds an annual grape stomp in July, which includes a commemorative t-shirt and tasting. www.texasbluebonnetwinetrail.com or www.messinahof.com
- Stroll on a Barrier Island. Although Texas is not known for its beaches, the Padre Island National Seashore is a true treasure. In 2012, USA Today ranked the national seashore as Texas' best beach. The accolade is well deserved. While Padre Island National Seashore lacks the surf and sand of San Diego's Coronado Beach or Maui, it does offer visitors unspoiled natural beauty and a seventy-mile stretch of isolated beach. A brief, fifteen minute drive from Corpus Christi, the seashore is a haven for families and nature lovers. You can explore the coast, see Kemp Ridley sea turtles, camp, windsurf, fish and watch birds. If you are searching for solitude, sand and fun, a trip to this seashore will revive your senses and restore your soul. www.nationalparks.org/explore-parks/padre-island-national-seashore
In The Woodlands, we love our weekends! There are many opportunities to enjoy our beautiful community in the Spring, and this weekend is no exception. The Grogan's Mill Farmer's Market has returned for another season. It's a great way to meet local farmers and buy fresh produce. You can indulge your passion for art or antiques or learn new decorating skills at Pottery Barn. Have a great weekend, Woodlands Mommy readers!
Grogan's Mill Farmer's Market
Visit Grogan's Mill for an old-fashioned farmer's market featuring produce, local products and handmade gifts.
14th Annual Historic Antique Show and Sale (Montgomery, TX)
This three-day Antiques Show and Sale will offer forty booths of antiques, live music and dining options. Admission is free. Hours are Saturday, 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM, and Sunday, 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM.
Spring Fine Arts Festival at Market Street
Discover beautiful art and photography, enjoy music and see live artist demonstrations in Central Park. Admission is free. Hours are Saturday, 10:00 AM - 7:00 PM.
Pottery Barn Decorating Classes (Sunday, May 5)
Learn chic wall and table displays with the experts at Pottery Barn. The class is free, but reservations are encouraged. Call 281-419-0517 to reserve a space. Location: Woodlands Mall
Still dreaming of that outdoor oasis? It's not too late to create the garden of your dreams! Whether you love roses, daisies or culinary herbs, Arbor Gate is a gardener's paradise. Beautiful outdoor art and acres of roses, herbs and plants will inspire you to dream, visualize, and make your outdoor space truly exceptional.
Complimentary classes are offered during Spring and Fall. Today, I dined under the rose arbor with the Dining Diva, Molly Fowler, who demonstrated recipes for a perfect patio party. Through June 8, beginning and experienced gardeners can learn multiple uses for basil, learn to make wine at home, and use art in the garden.
For more information on complimentary garden classes, see www.arborgate.com
It is the role of a lifetime. You kiss the boos boos. Offer pithy words of wisdom during good times and bad. You are a cheerleader and a coach. A healer and a teacher. Then there are the milestones, those once in a lifetime moments you'll always remember with great anticipation, joy and sadness, all at once. This is what it means to be a mother. And it never ends, even when your children are grown. An old Jewish proverb captures the essence of motherhood perfectly, "God could not be everywhere, so he created mothers." Clearly, mothers matter. Whether you are treating grandma or creating your own wish list, here are five suggestions for a special Mother's Day celebration on May 12.
1. Enjoy a Mother's Day brunch. Several Woodlands area restaurants offer Mother's Day brunch, including Tommy Bahama's, Flemings and America's. For a special Mother's Day brunch experience, treat mom (and yourself) to brunch at the Belle Maison in Conroe or Woodlands Resort and Conference Center (voted best brunch by Houston city search).
Woodlands Resort and Conference Center
2. Can't take mom out for Mother's Day brunch? Show your appreciation with a home cooked meal. Kraft Foods web site offers delectable recipes. The Raspberry Stuffed French Toast will delight the senses.
Kraft Foods Mother's Day 2013
3. Host a Family Movie Day. Cue up the family home movies and relive those special moments together, complete with popcorn and candy or mom's favorite cupcakes.
4. Picnic in the Park. Stock the picnic basket with deli favorites and head out to the nearest park for a day of food and fun. Local Woodlands parks with beautiful scenery include Robb Fleming Park (Creekside Village), Town Green Park (Town Center) and St. Peter's Gate (Sterling Ridge). Don't forget the camera for those precious photo ops!
5. Enjoy the Ballet. Artsy moms will appreciate Houston Ballet's production of Madame Butterfly at Miller Outdoor Theatre. The performance is free, but tickets are required for covered seating. For more information, click on www.milleroutdoortheatre.com.
Have you ever wondered how the Wizard of Oz became that great wizard behind the curtain? This question is the premise behind Oz The Great and Powerful, the Disney prequel to the Wizard of Oz. This movie is part drama, part thriller with spectacular, Harry Potteresque special effects and a brilliant fireworks show at its conclusion.
The story begins in Kansas with Oscar Diggs (James Franco), a carnival illusionist, con man and affable womanizer. He longs to be a great inventor like Thomas Edison but falls short. Shot entirely in black and white, the carnival landscape is lifeless and emtpy, like Digg's promises. His gig as a carnival illusionist is disrupted by a massive tornado looming on the horizon. The storm also provides him with an exit after a short lived romance with a beautiful but naive assistant. Like Dorothy, Diggs is hurled into the eye of the twister. That is where the similarities end. Kansas is not Digg's home. He is too self-absorbed and cynical to be sentimental.
Then Diggs crashes in a unusual land, a colorful but dangerous landscape dominated by unsual flora and fauna, flying monkeys, frightening baboons and a broken but beautiful china doll. Three witches, Evanora (Rachel Weiss), Theodora (Mila Kunis) and Glinda (Michelle Williams), dominate the land while the good, hardworking citizens wait for a great wizard to save them from their despair. Diggs is initially greeted by Theodora, and his new adventure begins. Along the way, he encounters a flying monkey that becomes his loyal friend and a china doll with a tiny body but a big heart. They eventually accompany him on his journey toward the Emerald City and his destiny.
Diggs becomes the Great and Powerful Oz, but not because he is great or powerful. The good people of the land are so desperate for political leadership that they will cling to Digg's cheap carnival illusions. At one point, Glinda educates Diggs on the finer points of politics, reminding him that leadership is a combination of perception and illusion. She aptly states, "You may not be the man we were expecting, but you might be the man we need." He reluctantly agrees to continue the fight against the evil witches, lured by the prospect of gold and a quick escape.
Older children (10+) will appreciate the special effects and unusual characters. There are scary scenes that are not appropriate for younger children. Theodora and Evanora physically torture Glinda and the visual effects can be frightening for younger viewers. The epic battle between Evanora and Glinda is visually stunning and terrifying. Although Oz Great and Powerful lacks sentiment, it provides solid, visually entertaining family fare.
I call it "the ritual." When Spring arrives and the bluebonnets burst into bloom, I suddenly feel that familiar longing. I spend days sorting through old toys, boys clothes, home decor and furniture. I spy a cast off chair that no longer seems appropriate for its space. My sons' clothes look two sizes too small. My inherited, vintage French Country chest begs for a makeover after years of faithful use. It would be easier to donate the chest and buy new, I think to myself. Then I remember my grandmother's smile when I said I loved it. I realize it's time to rethink my spring cleaning ritual. Instead of throwing out those unwanted treasures this year, I'll reuse them, and maybe, just maybe, grow to love them again.
My home is a collage of bohemian flea market style. It's a mixture of old and new. Nothing matches, and I like it that way. A Chippendale mahogany secretary desk (circa 1940's) stands proudly next to a modern Italian leather sofa. Somehow, it works. Bohemian homeowner Julie Wolfe says, "Periods and styles don't matter nearly as much as what you love. Buy what you are passionate about. The rest will fall into place." I agree.
Cottage style features casual motifs from the garden. It's your grandmother's house without the lace doilies. Fresh. Colorful. Fun. Reviving old furniture with chalk paint creates this warm cottage feeling. Displaying small treasures on period tables creates visual interest.
With the popularity of Mad Men and all things mid-century, Modern style is cool again. To achieve this style, look for clean lines and spare styling. You may have to splurge for those Eames chairs though! Who knows? Your dream dinette set might be waiting to be rediscovered in your aunt's Texas basement.
For a family on a budget, flea markets are a great way to incorporate interesting home decor without a big price tag. There is no better place to discover new treasures than Round Top. This year, antiques weekend will take place on April 3, 4 and 5 in Round Top, Texas. One antique dealer offers this tip: "Dress down even if you are on the hunt for fancy stuff. Sellers have been known to charge based on buyer's attire." That's great advice. Once you discover your own flea market style, old pieces can be remade into something new or hold your vintage collections. Let your imagination take flight!
As for my vintage pieces, I am planning an extreme makeover session in my garage, armed with Annie Sloan chalk paint and brushes. Grandma would be pleased.
For more information on Round Top Antique weekend, visit http://www.antiqueweekend.com.
To purchase Annie Sloan chalk paint, visit Michella Marie in Old Town Spring.
www.michellamarie.com "Where Old Becomes New Again"
Source: Wolfe, Julie. Interview. Best of Flea Market Style. Better Homes and Gardens, Des Moines. 2013.
Valentine’s Day is upon us! Children exchange cards and eat cookies with classmates during school parties. Husbands and boyfriends bestow flowers and candy as tokens of love. Mothers and fathers receive adorable handmade cards from their children. Here are a few charming ideas for celebrating Valentine’s Day in the Woodlands, family style.
Happy Valentine’s Day from Woodlandsmommy.com!
Write a Letter. Instead of buying a grocery store card, pick out pretty stationary or blank cards. Write a heartfelt letter to your child and significant other describing their best qualities. (Teachers also enjoy receiving personal letters from students!)
Play a Favorite Game or Sport Together. Playing a game or sport together creates stronger family ties. When the game ends, yell out “group hug” for the entire family. Don't forget to include the family pets!
Take A Hike! With miles of hike and bike trails, The Woodlands is a fantastic place for a family hike or bike ride together. Pick a new trail you've never explored together and set out on a new adventure! South Shore Park pavilion in Panther Creek is a beautiful spot to view the sunset on Lake Woodlands. If an urban hike is your preference, begin your walk at the Pavilion and stroll toward Waterway Square. The water and light show on Waterway Square begins at 6 pm and includes the songs Every Breath You Take and Unchained Melody.
Pay It Forward. Did you know that someone is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis each day? On February 14, you and your loved ones can pay it forward by joining the fight against MS. Chick-Fil-A is sponsoring Team Audrey’s Heroes, and registration is still open!
2 Sweet 2 B Forgotten! Some people appreciate quality time or loving words of affirmation. For others, a one of a kind, thoughtful gift conveys love in a truly special way. Make a special meal your family loves or let them choose a favorite restaurant. Share a favorite dessert. Short on ideas for that Valentine's dinner? Check out Kraft Foods’ Valentine’s Day site, 2 Sweet 2 B Forgotten:
Everything in life that we really accept undergoes a change. --Katherine Mansfield
A goal without a plan is a dream. -- Andrea McKinley
Have you broken your resolution to drop ten pounds yet? Don't fret. Forty-five percent of Americans resolve to lose weight at the new year. Just one week later, twenty-five percent have already abandoned that resolution. What's the deal? Why is it so hard to make a change?
Real change requires commitment and time. For 24 Fitness Instructor Andrea Mckinley, surgery and weight gain motivated her to make exercise and diet changes. She discovered turbo boxing and never looked back. McKinley eventually became a certified Fitness Instructor and joined 24 Fitness, where she teaches classes and encourages others to choose a healthy lifestyle each week. To make a lasting commitment, she suggests starting with a question. Why? According to McKinley, "You need to have a Why?! By that, I mean a reason to make a change. Saying you want to lose weight isn't enough. Why do you want to lose the weight? Why are you doing this? Without a "Why," you will not succeed." Carving out time for fitness is another measure of your commitment to making a lasting change. Once you have identified your motivation, work it into your schedule three times each week.
Lasting change starts with small, incremental changes each day. It begins the moment you awaken. Making the choice to eat a healthy breakfast rather than dipping into the donuts and coffee at work creates a new habit. Scheduling a fitness class, workout routine or run on your calendar signifies commitment. To make your goals achievable, Andi McKinley suggests setting a goal, making a plan and writing it down. "A goal without a plan is a dream. It won't happen." To write a fitness plan, McKinley recommends making it detailed. "Make sure your goal is specific, listing exactly what you want to achieve and a date. Look at it daily to remind yourself." Small changes create lasting change.
Permanent change is a lifestyle change. Mckinley suggests making fitness fun. "If you hate what you are doing, it will be a punishment rather than a pleasure. If exercising isn't fun, you haven't found the right routine yet!" Finding an accountability partner can also be a powerful tool. Exercising with a friend or joining a thirty day challenge group fosters accountability on a daily basis. Do what you love and you won't give it up.
Whether you've broken your resolution or want to make a positive change in your life, it's never too late to begin. Healthy and fit moms make a powerful and lasting impression on their children.
For more information on 24 Fitness Instructor Andi McKinley and her monthly fitness challenges, visit her web site, www.makethechanges.com
You read it correctly! No weight loss resolutions for me. Instead of vowing to lose ten pounds in 2013, I'm making New Year's aspirations! I'm searching my heart for those faded dreams I postponed and finding courage to dream new ones.
Each week, carve out some quiet time to dream and reflect in a gratitude journal. As a mother, shifting priorities and multitasking come naturally. In the face of dirty laundry, school homework and work deadlines, it is tempting to abandon those long held aspirations. Ask the tough questions. Are those old dreams still relevant? How can I make them happen? If not, what next? Not only will it relax the mind, it will recharge the soul.
Start the new year with gratitude and a sense of wonder. Believe in your aspirations and allow them to take flight. They will make your heart sing a beautiful song. Happy 2013!