Allligators, Mosquitos and Airboats, Oh my!

After a long evening drive the night before from Kennedy Space Center.  We ended up at an unlikely motel.  The TravelLodge recommended both on price and quality by was a surprisingly great find.  Many may have turned away as it is a one story true 70s style motel, complete with drive-up-to-your-door-and-park access.  It looks very much like it probably did when these one-story temporary home-away-from-home motels were built.  However, for $75 a night, including microwave, refrigerator and free hot breakfast it is the deal of the week if one is wanting to explore the Everglades.

travellodge florida everglades

On the morning of our planned Everglade adventure we stopped for the necessary Starbucks (mom always feels better about an outdoor adventure if it is prefaced with a cup of Starbucks!) and then headed to the Alligator Farm.

At the Alligator Farm there were threats of storm looming in the distance.  The occasional boom of thunder and lightening didn’t deter us from our airboat ride.  We saw alligators and cranes as we progressed through the Everglades.  It is amazing how the boats glide over six inches to a foot or two of water and it is everywhere.  During the airboat excursion we were given the thrill of high speeds and 360’s.  The kids and adults loved it.  I think we would have stayed on them all day if we had the option.

Once we finished the airboat ride we got to see the alligators being hand fed.  This was a weeee bit daunting as the ‘gators’ seemed to have no problem crawling up the 3 foot chainlink fence that separate us from them.  Of course, we and the 100 other people didn’t back away from the fence either.

Within minutes of the conclusion of the hand feeding a downpour commenced.  In Arkansas I call it a “toad-floater.” We waited for a bit for it to die down enough to make a dash to our rental car and then we were off to find lunch.

One of the fun things about vacations is finding those not-so-common eateries.

Today was no exception.  On our way from the Alligator Farm to the Everglades National Park we found “Gator Grill.” A little road side foodie stop.  It had a lot of the feeling of a food truck.  To our delight we were able to get grilled gator tail and frog legs.  To Kritterman’s delight he was able to procure the best 1lb. bacon cheese burger he has ever had in his life.  It was so delicious we returned at 5:30 for an early dinner.  We knew it was the best ever and didn’t know when we might be back.  On top of it, we were able to teach the kids the #1 rule of dining on vacation… “The hole-in-the wall places make the best local food.”

It was still a downpour when we finished our lunch visit to “Gator Grill.”  Eric always knows if you throw in some wine tasting in with the nature hiking, momma is always a happier camper.  So we drove down to “Schnebly’s Winery.”  There we sampled wines made from avacado, guava, mango, and passion fruit.  All fruits common to South Florida.  It was a delight and we ended up taking two bottles from this most southern winery in the United States with us to enjoy later on the vacation.

Finally the rain let up and we were able to head into the Everglades.  The forest and swamps are lush with growth.  The Gumbo Limbo trees with their smooth bark, colorful crickets and quiet alligators were an astounding sight.  Unfortunately the mosquitoes were out in mass after the rain and ate us alive.  After walking two trails and attempting a third we jumped back into our rental vehicle. Mosquitos- 1, Wilson family- 0.

We then headed back to “Gator Grill.” The owner recommended we check out “Robert Was Here Fruitstand” where they graciously cut up a ripe mango we purchased.  We also bought star fruit and passion fruit to enjoy on the next part of our journey.  It was quite a lively fruitstand with a bit of an animal farm, John Deere Tractor collection and a dog who liked to stand on his dog house to get a better view.

Finally we ended the night at a FroYo shop near our hotel.  Surprisingly, FroYo shops are not easy to find in SoFla and with my family that can be dangerous.  Happy to locate our cool creamy FroYo, we were content and exhausted from an exciting day in the Everglades!





“One small step for man…”

The first full day of our vacation in Florida it only made sense for us to spend the day at Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

After the flight from Tampa and drive across state to Titusville the day before, we were refreshed and eager to see what KSC had to offer.  This was a bucket list item especially for me (mom) who loves anything to do with NASA, space and Astronauts.  (I secretly hope someday to become an astronaut or at least participate in the NASA Educator program.)

As we drove into the facility we were met with a huge sign that was overshadowed by a large ominous building that we would learn soon housed the Atlantis itself and the interactive exhibit dedicated to the NASA Shuttle Program.


When we arrived shortly before 10 we headed straight to the Atlantis exhibit.  As you enter you wind your way up.  Along the way on the walls are the quotes of astronauts from the many missions flown for the Shuttle program. (I love quotes and all of these were incredible that I couldn’t just do one.)

Space quote 1 Space Quote 2 Space Quote 3 Space Quote 5 Space Quote 6


You then entered a room where the history of how the Shuttle program began was shared.  All I can say is that you have to see it.  The story of the birth of the Shuttle program made this 80’s baby tearful and proud.  The introduction into the exhibit was breathtaking.  When the magnificent production concluded the screen lifted and at eye-line you were met with the actual Atlantis Shuttle in all of its magnificence.

There were many points of interest in the exhibit.  The kids loved the unusual facts that were part of the entire exhibit.  They also enjoyed the interactive displays, including the touch screens and simulators.  Kritterman loved the slide that took you to the bottom floor as well as the toilet.  Emmarie enjoyed the opportunities to sit in a model of the cockpit and see how astronauts ate in the Unity room of the the Space Station.

The time flew by and before we knew it we needed to be at our very special planned lunch with an astronaut.  This is something that can be purchased as part of the visit to KSC.  It was a great day to select this opportunity, as KSC was celebrating the 45th anniversary of Apollo 11’s walk on the moon.  Their contemporary, Jack Lausma, entertained us with stories and his own mission experiences, including being the only astronaut to land at the alternative White Sands, New Mexico location as lead on Columbia. Kritterman even got to ask the astronaut a question during a brief Q and A at the lunch.  His question, “On one of your flights did anything get damaged where everything shut down?” Fortunately, not for Lausma, although he did mention others had not been so lucky.

Following lunch, we took a tour of the various points of interest that NASA utilizes for the space program including the famous launch pad where it dons the largest American flag in the world.

After the tour we had one last opportunity to see Astronaut Jack Lausma again.  This time we got to speak with him and get his autograph.  He mentioned in the brief conversation he had recently eaten dinner with Jim Lovell (Apollo 13) and his wife.  He also encouraged Kristopher to become an astronaut and stressed to me as an educator how important it was to continue to foster a love and pursuit of the study of math and science.

This was an experience the whole family won’t soon forget.


Savoring the little things…

I started this blog to capture the more personal part of my life.  I have been blogging for over a year professionally.  The problem is, I want to thoroughly process and present a perfect post…. EVERY TIME.

What results… I don’t post.

So I didn’t post about Embug’s volleyball team winning the 12U championship.

I didn’t post about the end of the year awards for the kids.

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Kritter with Mrs. Burnett- 2nd Grade Awards

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Kritter with friends celebrating a great 2nd Grade year

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Embug at 5th grade Graduation with Mrs. Daniel

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Embug with one of her besties… all smiles for these future Middle Schoolers!

I didn’t post about the 5th grade clap out.  The one most significant event that happens at Haslet Elementary on the last day of school to bid farewell to their oldest members of the student body.


Silly girls getting ready to exit the building.

I failed to post Embug’s choir singing “God Bless America” at the Rough Rider’s game in the 7th inning stretch at Dr. Pepper Ballfield in Frisco.

What I realize is that I am missing moments both big and small because I am waiting for the perfect time to create the perfect post.  What’s the use of a blog if you don’t utilize it for what it was intended… right?

So I plan to be more intentional with posting and less concerned about how perfect it looks. For your grammar, spelling and format wardens… I apologize if my errors annoy you.  This blog isn’t for you anyway.  It is ultimately a journal of memories and moments that capture the beauty, struggles and human moments of my life and the life of my family.  It is a legacy for my family that I wish to share with the world… and as a way for our family far and near to have a window into our lives.  Frankly, I am not the best and keeping everyone up to speed.

So, in the first part I shared some big events that happened over the course of the last few weeks.  Less “braggy” moments, but my personal favorites that I didn’t post were:

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Embug totally digging the Indy Car Race at Texas Motor Speedway

Kritter explaining framerate to decrease lag in Minecraft.

Catching Embug and Kritter disagreeing while playing Minecraft. (love it… when I catch us being real)

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And finally, Embug showing me how important it is to savor quiet moments with a cup of Jo. (I think she’s 11 going on 50!)

So here’s to capturing the real moments in life and learning from them.  I love telling our story.  I hope you enjoy reading it.

Until next time…


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Where God-given Talent can take you…

If you asked me to describe my oldest in just a word or phrase, I struggle.  She’s an incredible young lady.  Kind, empathetic, creatively smart, and wise beyond her years of youth.

When I say creatively smart… she does well with academics and responds to tasks with out of the box ideas.  But that isn’t the true creativity in her.  Her creative being shines through her artistry and music.

This spring there have been several celebrations of Embug’s gifts.

Her Artistic Talent

The celebration of her art was when she was showcased at the Northwest ISD Art Show.

Em at art show

Her Art teacher at Haslet Elementary, Mrs. Chelsea Rhoades, has been grooming Embug’s gifts since Kindergarten. While Mrs. Rhoades’ impact on Embug is far beyond her artistic growth, her direct impact on the development of her skills is evident.

Ems creative landscape Ems glass tile art

You can see the influence of Georgia O’Keefe in the detail of her still life flowers and the spirit and essence of the process from artists like Vincent VanGogh. However, if you ask Embug she will tell you that there isn’t really one artist that truly influences her, except for Mrs. Rhoades.

em and mrs rhoades

The teacher does matter.

Her Musical Talent

This spring Embug has continued to spread her wings with her voice.  She sang in her campus spring performance and did a rendition of “Amarillo by Morning” re-phrased for her principal called “Haslet Elementary.”

haslet spring choir

The same choir was invited to sing the “National Anthem” at the opening of a Northwest High School varsity baseball game.

haslet choir national anthem

Beyond her school choir, Embug has grown her talent through Cantare’ Children’s Performance Choir.  This spring Embug has sung as one voice with this phenomenal choir, while also being showcased through ensembles and solo opportunities. Her confidence, stage presence, musical intelligence and gifted voice have flourished.

Events have included the choir’s performance at the Denton Art and Jazz Festival.

Mrs. Peggy the choir’s director has actively sought out competitive venues for Cantare’.  That resulted in Embug and her fellow choristers performing at a recent Music Festival hosted at a nearby community water park, NRH2O.  The choir received Superior ratings in all areas.

NRH2O competition NRH2O superior rating

To top the spring season off, the Cantare’ choir did an incredible Spring Concert Showcase.  It was amazing to see the pride, passion and professionalism that the gifted singers shared in their hour and fifteen minute performance.  The adults that facilitate the Cantare’ Performance Choir opportunity continually push the envelope.  They challenge each individual chorister to constantly improve and refine their gift.  In each group and individual performance the precision and excellence presented at the Spring Concert Showcase was absolute perfection.

I hope to be able to share portions of the performance soon once a DVD is provided to the parents.

Coming Soon

Embug continues to amaze us with her talents, her willingness to work hard to improve and her eagerness to take risks.  Soon she will be performing for the Music Guild of North Texas to showcase her talent in piano.  The Cantare’ choir is going to be singing a difficult 4 part harmony rendition of “God Bless America” at the Rough Rider’s in Frisco, Texas on June 8th.  Embug will also be part of the Northwest ISD Middle School Musical cast for “Little Mermaid.”  Finally, Embug will continue to seek ways to practice her gift for artistry as we redesign her area of our upstairs playroom to better suit her needs for a full art studio.

As a mom, I couldn’t be or amazed or proud of the gifts Embug has been blessed with, nor the tenacious persistent attitude that she pursues and perfects these gifts.  Embug recently said to me, “Mom, I really appreciate you taking me to all these events and appointments. I know it makes things really busy for everybody.” I was completely caught off guard, as I have never considered this to be anything but a privilege to create opportunities for her to access what she needs to develop her talents.  I responded, “Honey, I love doing this for you.  It is a privilege and honor to do this for you.”

And don’t you know… I would have gone to any lengths to provide her opportunities such as these, but her appreciation and gratefulness not only made my heart soar with gratitude, but you can bet this Mom has no qualms about being a taxi to events for as long as she wants me!

What a privilege it is to see God’s gifts in your children grow and develop.



Spur of the Moment Spring Break Road Trip

Spring Break started off with no plans to go anywhere and lots of plans for house cleaning and organizing. Not what Embug and Kritter would declare exciting, by any means.

Thanks to my somewhat addictive relationship with Social Media and a recent re-connect on Facebook with my former student Lance Carpenter, an unexpected road trip was planned to Northwest Arkansas.  Just before spring break I learned that Lance Carpenter would be performing at a local bar in his hometown, Ozark, Arkansas… the first town Eric and I lived in as a married couple and where we had our first jobs out of college.

With this event happening at the end of the Spring Break, it was a perfect reason to make a trip to our favorite haunts in the Northwest Corner of my home state.  We left Texas and started this adventure by stopping just inside the Arkansas/Oklahoma border for dinner at LaHuerta Grill and Cantina on Garrison Avenue in Fort Smith, Arkansas. A favorite authentic Mexican Food Restaurant for Eric and I. Their white cheese dip and cheese enchiladas, while unattainable in Texas, were all I craved when I was pregnant with Emmarie.


We spent the next day at the University of Arkansas.  Eric met with colleagues at the Center of Excellence for Poultry Science, while I dusted off my “Orientation Leader” skills and gave the kids the “real” tour of the campus. We met my best friend from High School and College Roommate, Michelle Parks for lunch at Farrel’s where Kristopher, to his amusement, had the “Hangover Burger.” I think he still giggles when we recount the outing.

After lunch we were lucky enough to catch my Cousin Bret Bielema in town. He graciously made himself available to show us around the Razorback Football facilities. It was an amazing and awesome experience that I catch myself doubting it actually happened… it almost seemed too good to be true!

After our tour of the Football Athletic facilities we stopped for a custard at Andy’s Frozen Custard and then on to my sister’s family in Farmington.  There we met up with my parents, niece, nephew, sister and brother-in-law to celebrate my nephew’s 10th birthday.

Kristopher loved his time with his cousin, we watched “Nacho Libre” and sang Happy Birthday to a boy it seems like I was holding in  my arms in the hospital after his mother’s long and trying delivery just yesterday.

Silas' bday

The next day we left the Fayetteville area and headed for Ozark.  We stopped at Ozark Upper Elementary (Go Hillbillies!) where I taught the first 4 1/2 years of my career. We also visited turkey growers Eric had provided support to as a Flock Serviceman and showed the kids what it was like living in a small town.  We spent a large amount of time at the Roxin’s farm where we got to meet several friendly dogs and hold puppies from 3 litters of French and English Bulldogs.  I still am not sure how we managed to NOT walk away with a puppy picked out to take home once it was weaned!

Roxin Puppies

We finished the afternoon excursion by going by Post Winery in Altus, Arkansas to pick up some of our favorite wines and grape juice. Since it was close to dinner time we decided to take the kids to a local Irish Pub called “Kelt’s” where Eric and I used to have “date night.” The dark, candle lit metal fabricated make shift building that houses the restaurant that serves traditional Irish dishes made for the perfect end to a rural Arkansas day.

Post Winery Kelt's

The next morning we took the kids through the intricately winding roads of the scenic Highway 23 to the trail-head of the Ozark Highlands Trail north of Ozark.  We hiked down the side of a hill to a stream.  It was so good to be back breathing the Ozark Mountain air, steadying my feet along the path as I walked, and sharing what is a part of my inner fabric with my flatland Texan bred children.  There is such a peace in the woods and rolling hills of my home state.  To share this part of me with my family completes me in a way no other adventure or excursion does.  It seems strange to travel away from what I now call home and when I go to describe it, to want to call it home… I guess it is truly where my heart is.

After our hike we met Marty and Penny Baker and their children for a late lunch at Cracker Barrel.  Marty went to school with Eric and I, came to Ozark and worked in the same department as Eric when we were first married.  Shortly before we moved to Texas, Marty met and married Penny.  Hard to believe that was 15+ years ago!

After heading back to the hotel to clean up, we then met up with one of my former students Erin (Warden) Hamilton and her family.  Such a wonderful sweet family and what joy it brings me to see my students full of joy, passion and happiness.  So good to see your former students successful in life… and full of contentment!

Finally, Erin watched Embug and Kritter, who enjoyed playing with her boys. Eric and I went to see Lance Carpenter.  Lance being the whole reason we did this spur-of-the-moment-road-trip.

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I apologize for the length of this post, but I wanted to share our adventure.  A few things I have realized after reflecting on this adventure:

1. Planning sometimes ruins the fun.

2. Sharing your past with your children by taking them to the actual locations… even if the physical building is no longer standing is the most powerful way to share your memories.

3. Holding tiny warm wiggly puppies on any trip makes a good trip great.

4. Being passionate about something (like the Razorbacks or Springtime in Arkansas) can only become a family passion if everyone gets to experience it.

5. Good food, ambiance and time for stories is what brings a family closer.

6. The fabric that makes you who you are isn’t made just from your experiences and successes but in the leisurely hikes and the natural beauty around you.

7. Reconnect with your past, share your present with your past connections and make those past important connections part of your future.

8. Every road trip needs a great playlist… your 80’s  music is your kids Disney Movie’s soundtracks!

  • Road Trip Top 10+Playlist:
  • Ice Ice Baby- Vanilla IceBilly Jean- Michael Jackson
  • Legs- ZZTop
  • Devil Went Down to Georgia- Charlie Daniels Band Final Countdown- Europe
  • Dreams- Cranberries
  • Hungry Like the Wolf- Duran Duran
  • Kick start my heart- Motley Crüe
  • The Sign- Ace of Base
  • The Tide is High- Blondie
  • Wannabe- Spice Girls

9. Be sure to talk with accents in the car as you travel… sounds crazy, but trust me it makes everyone giggle.

10.  Everyone needs to take a spur-of-the-moment trip at least once a year that requires driving across at least one state line and an overnight stay with enough time to make unforgettable memories.

Who knows when our next spontaneous adventure will occur, but I am so glad I fought my tendency to need to plan and jumped at the chance to take a trip… unplanned.

Starting a family blog…

Most people have been blogging about their family for years or their journey through a personal challenge.  I, on the other hand, chose to start blogging a year ago about my professional interests or passions.  It’s not that I don’t love my family, but sometimes I think my family tires of my continual posts of them on Facebook.  To blog about my family is like taking Facebook and putting it on steroids.

But what I am finding is that more and more people are becoming busy with their own families, challenges and lives.  Time to pick up a phone and catch up with one another isn’t always doable… especially when you are in two very different time zones.  So this is why I decided to branch out and share the humble, silly, sometimes serious stories of the Wilson Family on Razorback Ranch.

Our family stories are pretty ordinary, but you will see themes.  Themes of love, passion, persistence, faith, Arkansas Razorbacks and celebration.  I love this family that God blessed me with so completely that when tragedy strikes those around me I lose my breath and shudder.  I hope you enjoy the stories that I share and I hope my family forgives me for the transparency with which I tell our tales.Image

The family: Kritterman, Eric, Kirsten and Embug (fall 2013, Spoofers Stone, Old Main Lawn, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas)

~Kirsten (Mama Razorback)

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