Texas Spiny

We have several Texas Spiny lizards around our home.  Nicholas just caught this beautiful one in our backyard near the pool.

He made a boat for it so it could float on the water!!!

That boy never ceases to make me smile!  Thank you, Nicholas!

Claws {Sea Life Aquarium Grapevine}

We experienced some of the world’s crabbiest creatures with the opening of Claws at SEA LIFE Grapevine Aquarium.

The yearlong Claws exhibit features different crustaceans from around the world including mighty coconut crabs, unique porcupine crabs, lively land crabs and even lobsters.  The exhibit features this Japanese spider crab, the largest arthropod in the world, with legs that can reach 12-feet across when fully grown.

Interactive features include a touch display allowing guests to feel the shell textures of different crabs, a giant mechanical claw that guests can control and use to pick up objects as well as a specially designed crawl-through tunnel display, which allows visitors to get underneath the tanks to observe the crustaceans from all angles.
This is the cute and cuddly porcupine crab.  Can you see his two tiny eyes staring at you?

In celebration of the opening, SEA LIFE Grapevine has been collecting empty soda cans for Sink Your Claws Into Recycling, a project to raise awareness about the importance of recycling.  Local artist Val Curry is building a 6-foot handcrafted crab sculpture made out of 1,500 soda cans.  The completed crab sculpture will be unveiled later this spring and will travel to popular Dallas-Fort Worth areas this summer to create awareness about pollution through powerful art and hands-on educational activities.
After seeing the Claws exhibit, we decided to explore the rest of the aquarium.  There is so much to see and do here!

I love starfish.  They are so gentle.  There are over 2000 species of starfish.  Did you know they can live up to 35 years?

Look at the underside of this starfish that was hanging on the glass.  There are so many little suction cups!  They hold its prey which its stomach actually comes out of the mouth to digest the meal then goes back inside when it is done.  Fascinating!

We always spend quite a while at this spot just watching all of the amazing marine life swim right by.  

Even a shark or two came to visit us!

Who knew there was such a thing as a squirrelfish.  Well, there is.  Meet the Hawaiian Red and White Striped Squirrelfish.  What an interesting name.

My favorite part of Sea Life are the jelly fish.  They are just mesmorizing to watch.  They seem glide through the water like they are dancing.

Rachel loves the interactive screens in the Shark Mission area.  She especially likes to play the games.

I love this picture of Nicholas and the manta ray.  He absolutely loves manta rays and this one seems to come right up to him.

This little ray wasn't up for visitors so he was hiding under the sand.  I hadn't even noticed him until Rachel pointed him out.

This little cownose was much more sociable.  He poked his head out of the water to say Hi to me.  He even looks like he's smiling for the picture.

We spent at least an hour at the touch tables.  My kids are totally addicted to this spot!

The staff is always so friendly and great with kids.  He explained what everything in the tank was and answered all of their questions.  We even found out that he has attended Sea Camp in Galveston twice!  It was neat talking to him to find out what Nicholas can expect at his first time there this summer.

Rachel touched everything right along with Nicholas.  She really studied the creatures as she touched them.  Look at the intensity on her face in this picture below.  She liked the prickly sea urchins best because they would grab her finger and not let go.

The sea anemones are so soft and their arms are amazing to watch.  So graceful.  But if they don't want to be bothered they will just pull their arms in and tuck themselves into a ball.

SEA LIFE Grapevine is located at 3000 Grapevine Mills Parkway, Grapevine, Texas 76051.  For more information visit www.visitsealife.com/grapevine or call 817-819-7677.  SEA LIFE Grapevine transports you into the amazing underwater world.  Prepare for astonishingly close views of everything from humble starfish and seahorses to graceful rays and powerful sharks.  With an amazing 360° ocean tunnel, 30 display tanks and thousands of sea creatures the aquarium is the perfect stop for family fun.  To get any closer you would have to get wet!  Admission is $20 for adults, $16 for children ages 3 to 12.  For more information visit www.visitsealife.com/grapevine.  Follow on Facebook: @sealifegrapevine Twitter: @sealifegrpevine and Instagram: @sealifegrpevine.

Touring Frito Lay Headquarters

I organized a homeschool field trip to tour Frito Lay Headquarters in Plano. It is not a manufacturing plant but the real headquarters building for their North America business.  It is always fun going behind the scenes and learning more about companies like Frito Lay that we are all so familiar with.

Back in the 1930s, Herman Lay began his potato chip business and C.E. Doolin started his Frito Company.  They worked closely with each other over the years and helped each other's businesses.  In 1961, they merged to form Frito Lay.

This was Herman Lay's own truck that he first drove around selling his bags of chips for 5 cents each.

About 45 homeschool parents and children came along on the tour so they divided us up into 3 groups that rotated between activities.  The group we were in started with an educational discussion about the company.  We learned that Frito Lay is the largest food brand in the world.  They are located in 60 countries and Lays alone accounts for about 10 billion dollars in sales.

We learned all about how Lay's potato chips are made.  We learned about the farms from which Frito Lay buys their potatoes.  There are about 80 farms in 27 states.  They go through about 8 million pounds of potatoes IN A DAY!!  That's about 200 truck loads per day.  

We learned that potatoes are about 80% water so it takes about 5 pounds of potatoes to make just one pound of potato chips.  I was interested to learn that the machine that slices the potatoes into chip size pieces has to have the blades sharpened about every 2 hours.  The sliced potatoes should be rinsed before frying to remove the excess starch.

We learned that there are different flavors available in different regions of the world based on their flavor preferences such as Ketchup, Seaweed, Shrimp, and Caviar flavors!

Next we took a tour of Headquarters.  The 240 acres of property was purchased from Ross Perot in 1993.  When the building was first built, it was in a remote area so the company provided amenities on site for their employees such as a dry cleaners, salon, fitness center, etc.  

Frito Lay is involved in their community.  They have new outreach programs every month to help organizations in the area.  This month they are holding a craft supply drive for patients at Children's Medical Center.

We learned about the natural settings and wildlife found on the property.  There are walking trails and three lakes on the property.  The kids enjoyed watching the fish and turtles.

In the Research and Development building, we learned that Frito Lay has an amazing number of chefs and food scientists on staff to continually experiment with new product ideas.  

This is one of their Flavor Kitchens where they work on new product ideas.  What a fun job that would be!

We found the impressive wall of Frito Lay patents.  These are patents for products as well as manufacturing processes.  

Although the Headquarters site is not a manufacturing plant, they do have a small manufacturing area that is used for Research and Development purposes.  We got to watch pale Cheetos come out of a machine before getting its orange coating!

We learned about the materials used in packaging and learned about the extensive quality assurance testing that Frito Lay performs.

Finally, we made it to the third activity which was making our own chip bags!!  It was the best part of the day :)

The kids got to design their own packaging then pick the kinds of chips that went into their bag.  A mixture of all different flavors for Rachel, please.

Once their bag was full of chips, they got to control the heat seal machine that sealed their bags.

Nicholas and his Manta Ray chips.

Rachel and her bag personalized with her initials.

 Chips with friends.  What could be better?

I'd say this field trip was a huge success!  The kids learned about food science and got to go behind the scenes of the largest food brand in the world PLUS they made their own bag of chips.  What fun!

Sea Camp: My Favorite Sea Creatures

Nicholas has always had a passion for learning about nature but especially interesting marine life.  So he was really excited to learn that Texas A&M University in Galveston offers week long marine biology summer camps for kids called Sea Camp.  

There are several camps available to choose from.  Nicholas will be attending Adventures in Marine Biology.  Here's the description: 
"Explore a salt marsh by seining, digging, and sieving. Learn about the biota and food chains. Dissect a fish and learn about fish printing. Collect live oysters and study them with an oyster biologist. Trawl for shrimp, fish, and crabs from the research vessel Earl L. Milan. Tour a turtle facility and meet the threatened Loggerhead sea turtle. Attend a workshop on whales and dolphins and examine real dolphin bones."
I want to go myself!

They also offer scholarships.  One scholarship winner will be chosen from two designated age groups.  Nicholas had to create a poster and write a one page of his poster.  He made his poster about his favorite sea creatures like the manta ray, ocean sunfish, vampire squid, goblin shark, flying gunard, yeti crab, tunicate, and acanthostephia malmgreni.

We mailed it to Sea Camp today for judging.  He worked really hard on it and I know he is proud of his work.  

I'm a little worried about my boy being so far away in Galveston for a whole week but it is such an amazing opportunity that we are all really excited for him too.

Bluebonnets in Ennis, Texas

We took a wonderful family field trip to Ennis, Texas this weekend.  Ennis is the official "Bluebonnet City of Texas".  They even have maps for bluebonnet driving trails to help you find the best bluebonnets around.  But I'd recommend going during a weekday so you don't have quite as many crowds stopped along the road.

This first stop on the trail map was actually to visit with some beautiful Belgium Horses.

There were very friendly and hanging out right at the fence to get petted.

Even Daddy enjoyed petting our new friends.

 The kids discovered that they could feed the horses with weeds they picked.  That was a big hit!

Rachel was just giddy that the little horse ate right from her hands!

There were so many beautiful wildflowers to be seen along the road.

My little photographer had to stop and take some flower pictures herself.  She loves having her camera with her all the time.

 Of course I think she is prettier than the flower :)

And this handsome young man is about to turn 12 years old tomorrow! 

Lot of people were asking strangers to take their picture for them.  We helped several families with their pictures and a nice gentleman took our picture for us.  

But we were mostly out to get some good pictures of the kids.  But I tell you, it is like herding cats to get good pictures.  They are so easily distracted by the other people around and...."Look at that bug!"

Ahh, that's better,

All smiles and flowers

I love these sweet kids more than they will ever know.

She looks so serious with her camera.  She wants her shot to look just right.

There are some great scenery along the Bluebonnet Trails that just make for some really special pictures like this barn and windmill.  I love the old green truck in the background too!

There were several stops with cows and longhorns sitting around in the wildflowers.

There were fields blanketed with beautiful bluebonnets.  It was hard at times getting pictures without other people in the background but that is why God created photo cropping.

Nicholas took a picture of us in the bluebonnets too!

I love this sweet picture of Rachel as she was twirling and dancing in the field of flowers.

This part of Texas is beautiful.  I love the country feel and wide open spaces.  Of course, fields of yellow wildflowers are nice too.

There were several designated stops along the bluebonnet map that were private residences.  It was amazing that they allowed hoards of people to just walk through their front yard taking pictures!

This house had some really beautiful flowers.  My kids were getting tired by now though so their smiles were starting to wane.  Note for next time, brings snacks and drinks along on the ride!

We spent several hours on the Bluebonnet trail and only made it through about half of the entire trail.  There was also a Bluebonnet Festival that we had planned to go to.  But we were starving and tired and decided to try this hole in the wall place for dinner.  The ordering process was a little strange but they have some great food.

Bubbas BBQ in Ennis Texas

Ennis, Texas is located just a little south of Dallas.  Check out their website for updates on bluebonnet blooms as well as info on how to take good bluebonnet pictures.