Sunday, November 28, 2010


Doug, me, and the kiddos at the Gaylord Texan Ice! ice sculpture exhibit. They give out these giant parkas for everyone since it is inside a tent kept at 9 degrees F!

I had a wonderful Thanksgiving at my mom and stepdad's place in Dallas. Doug came with me, plus I had the kiddos this year for the Thanksgiving holiday. As I've mentioned here before my mom and I sometimes butt heads (or should I say, we can't be around eachother for more than 48 hours without driving eachother completely crazy). But this trip went amazingly well. I've been hoping for my spiritual growth and patience to rub off on how I am around my maternal unit, and I think perhaps it's finally kicking in. Or maybe it's just that Doug was there and his energy diffused everything that could potentially have arisen - he makes my kids laugh, and makes everyone laugh, and we had a lot of fun. Or maybe it's because we only stayed 3 and a half days. Regardless, it was a success!

We drove up Wednesday, and worked out with my mom at her gym. She lives in a suburb made for people 55 and older, which has its own workout facility. Mom and Skip got out a 1000 piece puzzle and they all started working on it, while watching the movie Air Force One. On Thursday was spent the day preparing the turkey, mashed potatoes and other goodies and we watched The Bucket List (I'd seen it before but the kids hadn't) and played Trivial Pursuit. Skip's mom, Jane, came over for turkey dinner and we said a prayer and went around and said a couple of things we were thankful for. On Friday, mom and Skip treated us to the Ice! exhibit at the Gaylord Texan, which was really quite interesting - see pics below.

Honestly it was pretty expensive for what you see, and it's like 50 minutes of standing in line for 15-20 minutes of walking through the ice sculptures, but the story behind it is amazing. First we were herded into a room where you stand and watch an 8-minute movie about the making of the ice sculptures. Apparently there's an outdoor ice festival in Northern China where these artisans sculpt ice into incredible things - now that is something I'd like to see. It's called the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival. Because it's so cold, the ice stays there on its own, but in Texas, that won't happen, so instead they create the sculptures in a huge air-conditioned tent at 9 to 12 degrees F.

It was darn cold in there! And yes, we're causing global warming to see ice sculptures. They bring the Chinese artisans to the U.S. to sculpt the ice into various things. This year's theme was A Charlie Brown Christmas. Honestly, I'm not a huge Charlie Brown fan. I don't dislike it, but I'm just not a super huge fan so it was not as exciting as say, sculptures of dragons and castles like they have in China. But honestly the skill and time that goes into creating them is quite amazing. They use colored blocks of ice. And there's a big ice slide that we all went down at the end. And we took some fun photos. That evening, my mom took the kiddos out to dinner and Doug & I went to hang out with some friends and had a blast playing games, like Things! I'd never heard of it but it was so much fun! I will have to get a game so we can have some couple game nights around here. It reminded me of Balderdash, and some of my life's fondest memories are laughing my butt off with my friends Laurie & Jason playing Balderdash during Thanksgivings in Mississippi in my "other life."

Great grandma Jane, grandpa Skip (my stepdad), me and Doug, and Sam and Savi at my mom and Skip's place for Thanksgiving dinner
Savi making one of her beautiful faces! This is standing in line for the Ice! exhibit. Savi decided to make as miserable of a face as she could (since she always either makes faces or refuses to smile for pics! I promise she really wasn't as unhappy as she looks!) Doug and I in the Ice exhibit. :) My mom took this pic of us near the Snoopy house, and then ...
And 5 seconds later I slipped and we fell!
My mom and I.
Doug and the kids looking through the ice wreath.
Me and the kiddos.
The perfect background for us - Lucy's Psychiatric Help booth.
The Gaylord Texan hotel had a big holiday/Christmas decor all throughout in addition to the Ice exibit so this is Doug and I in front of one of the trees.
A closer up view. I like this pic.
Nikki and I were buds from high school who reconnected years later online. We've gotten together a few times when I come to Dallas.
The pictures didn't turn out great because they were out of focus, but this is Nikki in her beautiful new home, her friend Tiffany, me and Doug. Tiffanys boyfriend and Nikki's husband were also there just not in the picture. And I'll leave you with my favorite apple pie recipe: Bottom-Crust Apple Pie, which I made for Thanksgiving! I didn't make my own crust but bought them.

8 firm McIntosh or Granny Smith apples, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, pinch mace, pinch nutmeg
1/4 cup flour

1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Center pastry shell in pie plate. Place the apple slices in the pastry and sprinkle with sugar, flour and spices mix (I actually tossed the apples in the mix before dumping it into the pie pans. I also didn't have Mace - you can sub pumpkin pie spice, allspice, or cloves. I used allspice).
3. Top with crumb topping.
4. Bake ~ 45 minutes. Let cool slightly.

Crumb topping
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut in 1/4 inch pieces
1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup rolled oats

In food processor, cut butter into flour until it resembles coarse meal. Mix in sugar and oats, and spoon over apple filling. Yum!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Houston Toads and Houston Travel!

I have not had time to give an update on the Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Missoula, Montana, or my trip to Oregon due to some intense deadline pressures and getting back in the groove at home... but I wanted to post a couple of my latest articles!

I wrote the November cover story of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine on federally endangered Houston toads- I love the cover image! I also shot one of the images that appears in the magazine of the little princess girl - so cute!

A Kiss for a Toad: A ‘head start’ project could save the endangered Houston toad.

It’s the Houston Zoo’s first Princess Day, a benefit for the conservation of Houston toads, and dozens of girls dressed in pink and purple have gathered to celebrate. The theme plays off Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, in which a girl kisses a frog hoping to get her prince, but instead is transformed into a frog herself. On prominent display at the event is a terrarium housing four Houston toads, almost invisibly camouflaged under pine straw and sand. A princess peers inside, and a reddish-brown toad wriggles and blinks its big eyes.

“Can I kiss him?” she asks.

The AOL Travel Guide to Houston which I wrote is also out/online! It is all online (no byline) and I wrote everything - the 10 best hotels, restaurants, places to visit in town, shopping spots, a 3 and 7-day itinerary, and more. Check it out - I had a lot of fun writing it! Here's part of my "Overview:"

If you're a first-time visitor, Houston travel can be an eye-opening experience. Most outsiders know Houston—the fourth most populous city in the U.S.—as the Space City, with NASA’s Johnson Space Center bringing a major aeronautics component to the city’s economy since it opened in 1961. Locals know “H-town” as the Bayou City: over 2,500 miles of waterways wind their way through the metroplex, which lies in a floodplain merely 43 feet above sea level.

And my favorite fact is that the 10-county greater metroplex region is - get this - at 9,000 square miles, bigger than New Jersey!

As always check out my weekly Animal Planet blog! One that got a LOT of attention was this: 9/11 Tribute Traps 10,000 Birds. And one of my faves is from my road trip to the Gulf Coast: Oil & Louisiana swamp gators. It's just a fun post about a swamp tour Melissa and I took, and how the oil impacts more than just the coast and Gulf of Mexico - its impacts can impact tourism in spots like inland Louisiana. This tour is pretty cool! I got some great gator shots.

At any rate, I also have an oil spill article coming out in the December issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife mag about the spill's impacts on the "forgotten deep" - the amazing, gorgeous and almost completely forgotten deepwater corals right near the oil geyser.