Jennifer’s Wood Badge

I don’t normally write much about my wife and child in this blog. I am not sure it’s fair to drag them into the limelight of my vast audience (both of you!).

This is an exception.

In Boy Scouts, the most advanced Council-level training is called Wood Badge. It’s an intensive course spanning 6 days, split over two weekend campouts (early Friday morning through late Sunday) or sometimes offered as a weeklong course. After this, you fulfill a “ticket,” which is five major projects related to Scouting.

My wife recently earned her Wood Badge. This is a rare accomplishment for a young female–our son can’t start Tiger Cubs for four more years. Most female Wood Badgers are mid-lifers.

This is her in the presentation ceremony, between the lady at the podium and the guy in the green shirt:

This is us after the ceremony:

Her Wood Badge award is symbolized by the salmon-colored neckerchief and the beads. You can more clearly see the beads on my shirt, hanging off center to the left (my right) of the buttons.

Congratulations, Jennifer!

Once Alec is old enough to start Tiger Cubs, Jennifer will be among the most trained new Cub Scout leaders!

Alec made me take a picture of his cars while we were at the table:

2007 Summer Family Vacation

Our 2007 summer family vacation was to New Braunfels, San Antonio, and Houston, TX. Here are the highlights.


I-35 northbound was amazingly backlogged between Austin and Dallas. We found three places where wrecks shut down one or both lanes, resulting in miles of backups. I had never seen anything like that before. Fortunately, we were headed southbound.

This was a typical backup:

Those vehicles in the northbound lanes were almost parked.

Rumors of heavy truck traffic were exaggerated. Sure, there were plenty of trucks, but cars hugely outnumbered trucks. If this trip showed typical conditions, the problem with I-35 is just too much overall traffic.

Southbound wasn’t too bad, although we could rarely sustain speeds over 75 mph.

County Line Barbecue

We went to County Line Barbecue on Bee Cave Road in Austin the first night. Great place, great view. Food is good, albeit a little pricey. We enjoyed it so much we also ate at the San Antonio River Walk location a few nights later. We would have purchased dessert if they had any cobbler besides apple cobbler!

1909 Gruene Road Bridge

By total coincidence, we crossed over this historic bridge over the Guadalupe River the very day TxDOT finally decided to replace it.

There’s nothing terribly exciting about it. The day we were there, water was coming down both slopes to the bridge. I didn’t understand why unless there are natural springs emptying out on the road or water was being pumped out and let back down?

Gristmill Restaurant, Gruene, TX

The Gristmill Restaurant in Gruene is all outdoors and a neat stop. Good food, nice change of pace. The adjacent Gruene community is a tourist trap, though.


Schlitterbahn was about as I remembered it from church youth group trips, albeit with a third park: Blastenhoff. The only disappointment was that our 3½ year old Alec could do almost no rides due to height and swimmer capability restrictions, so that $100 of entrance fees didn’t go very far. It would have made more sense with a large group, where some could watch the kids while others have fun.

My only real complaint about Schlitterbahn is the lengthy expanses of concrete. They tear up bare feet. The only real alternative are sandals or water socks, either of which rub feet raw after enough hours of water fun.

Natural Bridge Caverns

Natural Bridge Caverns is a privately-owned cave park. It’s named after this natural bridge that’s over the main cave entrance:

The caverns were phenomenal. We did both the Jaremy Room and the normal cavern tour.

The Jaremy Room was full of spectacular soda straw formations:

The North Cavern had equally spectacular sights. Recent heavy rains caused the Edwards Aquifer to rise unusually high, flooding low parts of the cavern. This is a submerged bench where you could have gone down many more feet to see a special room:

We saw a few bats:

The last part of the North Cavern tour was the most spectacular. Below are four long exposure shots I took of its largest room:

The tour guide said you could fit a whole football field in this room. I believe it.

To be clear, even though it’s privately owned, Natural Bridge Caverns is not a tourist trap. It’s well worth the expense.

San Antonio River Walk

The night after the cave tour, and two additional nights later on, we did the San Antonio River Walk.

I think San Antonio did a great job at capitalizing on this natural resource. It’s a nice, pleasant walk, and it gives easy access from many hotels to good local attractions.

This is a scene looking north from a Häagen-Daaz that stunk of an open sewer:

Here’s the River Walk closer to our hotel, which is south of the main part. Looking south from Woodward St.:

Looking north:

The waterfall/lock/dam, just about 1000 feet north of the hotel:

Walk a little further north, cross the street, descend again, and look under a bridge, and you see this:

Every day, they parked this city truck with the rear wheels in the water! They better hope the ramp isn’t slick!

Walk a little further north, and you see the corner to turn to get to the main part:

Take a corner to the right, and the lush part begins:

Towards the southeast corner of the Walk is a theater:

The seats, on the other bank, are grass:

This is one of several rosary bridges visible from the River Walk:

Casa Rio Restaurant

Casa Rio has an entrance from street level, and it has a lot of tables on the River Walk:

This is where we ate our first night. I heartily recommend this place. The prices were surprisingly inexpensive, the service and food were great, and the river view is nice.

Rio Rio Restaurant

We ate there our last night, and regretted it. Rio Rio sucks.

Don’t bother. Crap service, food wasn’t any better than the much less expensive Casa Rio Restaurant. It took so long just to get our food ordered that we almost just got up and left like at least two other tables that night.

Inn on the Riverwalk

Fair value. See my detail post on this place.

Sea World

We really enjoyed Sea World. Alec’s inability to do most rides didn’t detract from the overall experience. There was plenty to do despite that. It was also nice that all restaurants didn’t use any trans fat-laden oils.

Obligatory picture of Shamu (mmm, tasty fish):

We didn’t sit close enough to be splashed. Alec’s cousin got freaked out by being splashed when he was 3, so we didn’t want to risk it.

A tasty fish breaching the water at a different show:

Alec feeding a tasty fish to a tasty dolphin:

($5 for 4 little fishies!)

Halfway through the day, we got Alec measured to see which rides he can do:

Alec loved the Shamu roller coaster:

That and a teacup/ferris wheel ride were all he could do. Mommy and Daddy had enough after 8 hours at the park, so Alec “only” got to ride Shamu about 7 times.

Looking back, we would have done a few things differently:

  • Stayed at a nearby hotel at least the night before and the night after. Sea World takes all day and then some. There’s no point in staying downtown if you’re doing Sea World one day.
  • Take a nap during the middle of the day. Alec still needs a roughly 2 hour nap. He skipped his nap that day. While he was tolerable, it sure would have been nicer if we could have left during the middle of the day for a nap.
  • Get the bonus 2 day pass. We purchased tickets in advance, and we thought we saw an offer for 2 days for the price of 1 day. Had we stayed at a nearby hotel, we should have pursued this. We didn’t even get to touch the water park. We probably would have done that instead of Schlitterbahn had we realized how little we could do there.

We did Sea World the day after Natural Bridge Caverns. The cavern had a ton of steps, so Alec’s legs were sore when we started Sea World. Being a very mean Daddy, I made Alec walk anyway because I knew that they wouldn’t hurt once he really started walking. (I was right.) He retorted that his legs “are gonna break off.”

San Antonio Zoo

The San Antonio Zoo was acceptable. It doesn’t deserve acclaim, and it wasn’t particularly unique.

Alec enjoyed brushing a goat in the petting zoo section:

We enjoyed a train ride through Brackenridge Park afterwards.

Our enjoyment of the zoo and the park were tempered by sparse water fountains and oppressive heat.

The Alamo

I couldn’t find the basement!

Alec in front of the Alamo:

The Alamo was originally the first of several missions that are in…

San Antonio Missions National Historic Park

…the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park. This “park” is really a set of 4 defunct missions on the south side of town. They are interesting historical artifacts and continue to have functioning Catholic parishes. They suggest what the Alamo compound was like in its mission days.

These missions weren’t intended to exist as missions indefinitely. The plan was apparently that once the population was sufficiently Christianized, the mission reverted to civil authority.

The missions seem to be in declining states of repair or prominence the further south they are from downtown.

Texas Transportation Museum

San Antonio’s Texas Transportation Museum is neat but run down. It’s a volunteer operation.

The staff were unexcited to have visitors, treating us as if opening up to the public is something they had to do, not something they wanted to do.

Central Texas Museum of Automotive History

Awesome. See my detail post.

Houston Arboretum and Nature Center

The Houston Arboretum and Nature Center was a complete waste of time unless you like walking through mosquito-infested undisturbed forest filled with non-notable flora. It was free, and I still felt ripped off.

Museum of Printing History

Houston’s Museum of Printing History was nice. Give yourself an hour just to read the stuff, longer if you want to take part in the exhibits.

My childhood kitties

This is a late-’80s picture me holding my favorite cat of all times:

(Yes, I remember that sweater.) His name was Nicholas Pennington, but we called him “kitty.” My dad called him “Kitty Lickins’.” He was a huge, white, long-haired cat with coarse hair. You could see some very faint orangish tabby markings on his forehead.

We got him in Van, TX in 1985 or 1986 when a church member called us about a white, friendly cat that took residence in his tree. We drove over in our ’77 Oldsmobile with some kind of food, and he came straight to us. That was a good sign, a friendly, people-oriented cat. He may have wandered away from someone else’s house. We immediately took him to the Van Veterinary Clinic, where the vet pronounced him healthy and about 6 months old.

Did I say he was huge? I think he was around 15 lbs. He loved being held. When I used to type on the computer, he would jump on my lap and lay down, slowly cutting off circulation to my legs. When anyone would read a newspaper on the floor, he would lay down on the paper.

He succumbed to some wasting disease in 1998, probably at 12 or 13 years old. Over the course of about 3 months, he wasted until he was too gaunt to get up. My father, the family Pet Executioner, had him put down that June.

This is Micah holding our other cat:

Her name was Sophia Ludmilla (Russian-themed name since my mother had a Russian pen pal at the time). She was a calico mutt of some sort with patches of nice jet black hair, and she never got all that big. Since the other cat was named “Kitty,” and since this one was small, we called her “Widdy.” I guess that was a “small-ish” name? My dad called her “Widdy Lickins’.”

My mother got her in 1986 or 1987 from a litter of kittens at a house in Groves.

This cat had a weird, schizoid personality: she hid all day long and would only come out at night for certain people. In the above picture, she is spooked because someone is giving her attention during the daytime. I think part of her problem was that she was not well socialized as a kitten. Another problem is Micah and I weren’t particularly nice to her early on. I think we played football with her once in the Groves parsonage living room, with her being the ball. Plus she didn’t take well to Skeeter, our sheltie dog, which we may have encouraged to “play” with the cats from time to time.

When she voluntarily came out, she was extraordinarily affectionate. Female cats give the allusion of affection because of the “presentation” instinct when you rub just in front of their tail, but, I assure you, she was on a different level. She was so happy to get affection–on her terms–that she couldn’t stay still. She walked to and fro while you petted her, wrapped her body around your hand or torso, etc.

There was one exception to her skittishness: she loved my paternal grandfather. She would approach him at almost any time, day or night. All we could guess is he had some scent that pleased her?

She died of the same wasting disease that the other cat got. I think that the family Pet Executioner had her put down shortly after I left for my senior year in fall 1998.

Alec’s first injury

Today my son has his first real injury. Earlier today, my wife heard a bang followed by screaming. She ran and found a hysterical Alec with a bloody tooth.

It appears Alec ran into or fell on something and bumped a tooth. If you look carefully in the picture below, you can see that the right incisor is pushed back a little from the left one. (Remember that his right tooth shows up on the left in this picture.)

I called our dentist, and he said that unless Alec is severely injured or having trouble closing his mouth–and neither are the case–then the tooth will most likely be fine and should migrate back to its proper position.

Well after Alec fell asleep, I tried to see if I could gently move the tooth back to its proper position without making things worse. It felt well secured to the gum, but I couldn’t get it to just “snap back” using gentle pressure, so I wasn’t able to move it.

I’m gonna leave it and see what happens.

Joys of Pet Ownership

Gentle readers, be forewarned: this story is rated PG-13 because of coarse language and fecal matter.

Amelia the nasty cat.

Background: Jennifer and I went on a date tonight. Our church occasionally has a Parents’ Night Out event where we can drop off the kid for 4 hours of babysitting while we paint the town red, Aren-style. (Big excitement: Dinner and a movie. Then we get to go home and go to sleep.)

We got home. I scooped the kitty litter. While scooping, I noticed that a cat (probably Amelia) peed all over a litter-catching platform in front of the litter box. Great. I scrubbed the area, cursing the stupid cat under my breath. HOW DO YOU MISS THE WHOLE LITTER BOX, STUPID FISH-BREATH CAT?

My darling wife, meanwhile, was complaining of cat poop smell in the kitchen. While lecturing her on her psychosis (I couldn’t smell it), I walked around the kitchen and adjacent rooms and looked for poo. I couldn’t find any. Returning to the kitchen, I saw a leaf and dirt clod, probably tracked in from outside. As I threw away the dirt clod, I noticed it was squishy and cool, meaning…

I had a piece of cat poop in my hands!


I threw away the little turd and cleaned up the area and my hands.

My lovely wife still complained of poop smell. So we looked more. On closer inspection, we noticed a little poop smeared on the chair and her jeans. Yuck! It doesn’t take much cat poop to make a lot of smell.

We quickly rectified both problems. The situation invited disturbing questions: Is there more poop? Did the cat poop on the kitchen table? Does she now poop on chairs?

I figured out what happened. Amelia is a Himalayan. Because she is a good breed specimen, she has long, fine hair. This hair is sometimes a great turd catcher. That is, when she oinks turds into her litter box, most turds stay in the box. But an occasional turd catches in her plush baby soft ass hairs. I think that is what happened. Kitty brought an attached turd into the kitchen, and it got left on a chair. Nobody noticed it until after it was squished.

Kitty’s turd catching properties rise exponentially with ass hair length. This is why I occasionally give my cat ass haircuts. Maybe it’s time for another ass haircut?

My cat is nasty.