Sunday, July 31, 2011

California dreamin...

Have you ever had one of those vacations that is so different from anything you've done before?  They tend to stick in your memory and you find yourself day dreaming about them.  All you remember is how perfect everything was, how perfect the accommodations were, and how nothing could ever be better.  We just got back from a vacation like that.

I'm not a "beach person"and never have been.  I don't like to get hot if I don't have to, I despise sand anywhere other than my toes, and I have seen Shark Week too many times.  Generally if you ask me where my ideal vacation (especially in the summer) I would tell you that they involve mountains of some sort and cooler temperatures.  Our last vacation of the summer may have turned all of this on its head because San Diego, CA was possibly my perfect place on earth.

My parents rent a place right on the beach (pictures below) and invited Haley and I to come along with my brother, his fiance, and assorted other extended family members.  My brother, his fiance (henceforth known as Whitney), Haley, and I all cleared our schedule and decided to be there for a week to end our summer.  This condo unit that they rent has three smallish bedrooms (two of them have two twin beds and one has a king), two bathrooms, one kitchen, one living room, and an ocean view.  All of this couldn't have been more than 1200 square feet, so there wasn't much personal space.  During our time there we got into a number of mis-adventures that we'll remember forever:

Possibly the best thing that we experienced from the moment we walked out of our condo unit was the Pacific view.  I've seen a lot of ocean views in my short time on this planet, but being able to look up from the dinner table to see the sun setting on the Pacific Ocean is one of the greatest I've seen.  Pictured above is one of my first times attempting a panoramic picture, so don't judge too harshly.

The day after we arrived in San Diego, Haley and I rented a convertible and spent a day cruising up the Pacific Coast Highway.  We left out in the morning and got as far north as Huntington Beach before turning around to go on our next mis-adventure.  While cruising we got to eat some awesome breakfast, see some beautiful country, and enjoy the beautiful weather of southern California.

We came home from Huntington Beach via the interstate because we wanted to visit the USS Midway Museum with Trent and Whitney (pictured above).  Trent and I's grandfather spent time stationed on the Midway during his service in the Navy and we wanted to come see it first hand.  We spent a couple of hours looking around the cramped quarters and Haley and I even randomly ran into one of our favorite students from Coppell on board!  It's a small world.

Of course we had to visit the San Diego Zoo.  While Haley swears up and down that the Tyler Zoo is just as well known as this one, I think the San Diego Zoo might be the greatest zoo on the face of the planet.  It's clean, it's well kept, and there are tons of different vantage points to see all the animals.  We got to watch a handler feed the tigers, llamas fight amongst themselves, and see a trainer call a full grown African elephant like a puppy.  It was a fun morning and we at in San Diego's old town for lunch.

Some of our extended family came into town to stay as well.  Besides the fact that we then had nine people crammed into the same amount of space, Trent and Whitney went with them to Legoland just north of San Diego.  Dad and I took this opportunity to head to one of the most beautiful ball parks I've ever seen, Petco Park.  While the baseball wasn't awesome, we enjoyed ourselves and got out of the house a bit. of my first time trying to create a panoramic picture.

Here's a picture of all the family together.  We really enjoyed ourselves and will definitely be coming back again next summer if my parents will have us.  It was difficult to leave, especially knowing that the following Monday Haley starts Cheer Camp and I begin Football Camp.  These are both sure signs that summer is almost over and school is about to start again.  I'm looking forward to school starting again, but I could just as easily become a beach bum.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Soup's on...

-J.R.R. Tolkien

This summer has been a lot about traveling in the Horner house.  It's been good to see sights in the United States that we've never seen before.  From the Wyobraska area to the Texas hill country to Sin City and even San Diego we experienced a lot this summer.  When I do travel around, I try and sample some cuisine that reflects the part of the world I'm in.  It allows me to expand my horizons and try new things and new tastes, and usually is a lot cheaper than buying something ridiculous from every place I've ever been and then have to go on "Hoarders" because of it.  There have been some great things I've tried along the way, and I thought I would share.

Best (and ultimately worst) Bar-B-Q Meal: The Gut Pack at Viteks (Waco, TX)
My brother is getting married in November (one day before my first anniversary, but I digress...) and we had his bachelor party during July.  We all met up at his house in Waco to head to Lake Travis and demanded we all have a gut pack before we left.  A gut pack is a layer of Fritos, sausage, chopped beef, beans, cheese, and two pieces of bread that fills a large, styrofoam to-go container.  It's more than one person should eat in a sitting, and my body somewhat started to reject it later in my journey.  It's pretty good though and a unique thing to it was pretty good.

Best Non-Traditional Dessert: The Captain Crunch Milkshake at KGB (Las Vegas, NV)
I am not a dessert person.  That being said, I do enjoy something sweet every now and again.  After eating a huge burger and fries a milkshake just sounded good and how could you pass up a shake with one of my childhood favorites on and in it?  It was thick, it was creamy, and it tasted just like the cereal.  I feel like that's the idea they go for sometimes in Vegas, something you remember from your past...but better!  I highly recommend this if you're on the strip in Vegas. (I'm sorry for the not well lit picture, but I'm in a casino)

Best Hamburger in Texas: The Classic Cheeseburger at The Grape (Dallas, TX)
I read a while back in a Texas Monthly magazine article that a place I'd never heard of in Dallas has the best burger in the state of Texas...and therefor it is the best burger in the world.  It took me a while to go to it, but I did on my birthday this year.  The place is small (cramped almost), but it was completely worth it.  Did I mention that they only serve it on their Sunday brunch menu from 10:30-2:00PM?  There is something a little magical about a huge burger, Vermont cheese, bacon, and fresh vegetables that when combined makes the best burger I've ever eaten.  If you live in Dallas you need to come eat this burger.

Best Breakfast Burrito: Breakfast Burrito #2 at Kono's Cafe (Pacific Beach, CA)
This is the second summer in a row that my parents have rented a beachside condo in San Diego, CA.  Last year Haley and I didn't get the opportunity to come out and relax on the beach, but this summer we came out along with my brother and his fiance.  Most mornings we slept in and spent all our time grazing on the food in the house, but one glorious morning we got on our bikes and road a couple of beaches over to get an early morning breakfast.  The place we really wanted to eat wasn't open, so we settled on Kono's Cafe and it couldn't have been better.  Huge amounts of egg, sausage, and freshly cut avocado and a beach view.  Life doesn't get much better.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Viva Las Vegas...

Let's just say that your a relatively new teacher...maybe your finishing your second full year of teaching. Then let's say that a group was willing to scholarship you to go to a teacher's conference over the summer for a topic you weren't very familiar with...something like differentiation. Would you go? Maybe you would and maybe you wouldn't.

What if I told you the conference was in Las Vegas, NV?

I'm going to assume that you're reaction was the same as mine when I found out. I filled out and submitted the paperwork as soon as humanly possible. I kept telling myself "there's no way you're going to get this, but who can pass up a free trip to Vegas?". Oddly enough I did get the scholarship to the National Differentiation Conference, and I came back with some hot sports opinions about everything Las Vegas:

  • First and foremost, when people gave Vegas the name "Sin City" they were not making anything up.  Literally within ten steps in any direction from the hotel elevator I could have gambled, smoked, womanized, lusted, drank, or committed gluttony.  And if I continue that to the nearest street corner I could have had all kinds of awful pornographic material handed out by any number of people.  At first I just ignored all this and was fine, but as the week wore on this stuff got under my skin more and more.
  • We stayed at Harrah's Casino and it was everything I need in a hotel room for a few days.  The conference was at the Venetian Casino and it was on a higher level.  The casino was more spread out, cleaner, and attracted a younger crowd.  I thought this was my favorite casino until we stepped foot inside of The Bellagio one night.  This was the hotel featured in the movie Ocean's 11 and it was awesome.  Between the decorations, artwork, and the crowd it attracts it is definitely my favorite casino we went in and it's not even close.  (To be fair we didn't stray far from Harrah's this trip, so I haven't even come close to seeing every casino in Vegas)
  • Eating on vacation is expensive.  I felt like Vegas was more expensive than any place I've been, but the more I think about it the more I realize that's the price for good food.  Haley and I's top places we ate in Vegas were Mon Ami Gabi (Paris), Kokomo (Mirage), and KGB (Harrah's).  One full day we tried out the Buffet of Buffets which gave us the ability, no the privilege of eating as many times at a number of buffets for a 24 hour period.  By no means were these fine dining, but they were pretty good...which is better than I can say about the Golden Corral.
  • My feet hurt.  More than any other trip I've recently taken in the lower 48, Las Vegas is a walking town.  We walked all over the place visiting different events and casinos and then had to walk all the way back to our hotel dodging porn advertisements and street performers the whole way.  After a few days of this we really didn't walk as much, but we enjoyed it while our dogs would last.
  • Oh yeah...I learned a lot at the conference, really I did!

It was Haley and I's first time in Vegas so we didn't get off the beaten path much.  We didn't gamble much and we for sure didn't bet more than we could afford to lose (which wasn't much at all).  It was a great trip for someone to scholarship me to go to, but by the time we boarded the plane to head back to DFW we were exhausted and ready to be home.  Now, only one more week until San Diego with my family and then football and school start up quick.  Summer, where have you gone?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Wyoming on my mind...

A brief explanation/aside - I know what you're thinking as you read this.  You're thinking that it's been a long time since the last time the Horners blogged.  You're wondering why this is and what could have possibly been going on to keep us from writing.  I'm officially here to tell you that we haven't been doing anything at all.  Since Haley and I both work as teachers, we've both been traveling, training, and being lazy.  And now, on to the real reason I'm blogging:

We officially have three vacations booked for this summer and the first of these was to the least populous state in the US, a land of rolling hills and jagged mesas, and the state where one of my best friend's family friends have an epic vacation house.  That state is Wyoming.

If you've ever checked flights directly in to the state of Wyoming, you no doubt know that there aren't a lot of options and they are usually pretty pricey.  To get around this, Haley and I flew from Dallas and our friends the Moczygembas (no that's not misspelled) flew from San Antonio and we met in Denver, CO.  After making our way through the Hertz line to get our Chevy Traverse, we found some breakfast in Denver at Jack-n-Grill.  We'd seen this place on Man vs. Food when the host attempted to eat a ridiculously proportioned breakfast burrito.  None of us was brave enough to attempt this behemoth, but the regular menu was big enough as it was.  After waddling our way back to the car, we got on the road to the "Forever West" state.

We hit Cheyenne, the state capital, later that morning and made our way to a grocery store.  We picked up a few provisions for our time in Wyoming, grabbed a quick Starbucks coffee, and were back on the road.  On a brief side note, I'm not sure how I lived before I had my iPhone.  As the only one technically allowed to drive our rental car, I was so glad my navigator was equipped with an iPhone and knew how to use made finding things a whole lot easier.

An hour and a half later (or so) we hit the quaint little town of La Grange, WY.  Ready to be off the road, we headed up the small county road to what is affectionately known as "the round house."  It was a beautiful house with plenty of beds and bedrooms.  Out to the side of it was not only a bunk house but also a writer's cabin and a herd of cattle.  We were in the middle of nowhere, basking in God's beauty, playing game after game of Settlers of Catan, and watching terrible semi-marriage related Christian films.

While we were there, we also carefully navigated the "wyobraska" area of our country to get to the lovely town of Scottsbluff, NE.  We visited the National Park associated with the namesake of the town and generally milled about before having a semi-offroad adventure on the way back to the round house.

When our time there was up we headed back to Denver for our night in the "Mile High City."  I showed everyone around the city I lived in for about four years of my life after college.  We stayed in a hotel right off of the 16th Street Mall and took advantage of our location.  To end our trip, Josh and I went to see the movie Transformers: Dark of the Moon while the girls stayed at the hotel and swam at the pool.

It was a great trip, and we were sad to see it come to an end.  I will say that I had a really good time in spite of my original thoughts of "what are we going to do in Wyoming?"  This trip really kindled my thought that each state in the US has something different to offer, and we need to go find it.  Sure no one pays thousands of dollars to go to Wyoming, but that doesn't mean it's not beautiful in its own way.  I wouldn't trade my time there for anything, and I'm really excited to spend time in the future exploring this great nation I call home.

Below are a couple of pictures I took that prove the absolute majesty hidden away in the state of Wyoming.  Both these two and the picture at the begining of this post were taken off the back porch of the round house...enjoy!

Friday, March 18, 2011

On the road again...

Once upon a time, there was a husband and wife who were on Spring Break.  They decided they were tired of sitting around their apartment and needed some more adventure in their lives, so they packed up their car and headed into the wild blue yonder.  And they lived happily ever after.

I'd like to end my post there, but after the week Haley and I had, there needs to be some clarification:
  • We left from school last Friday headed north.  The route we took through Texas, you might have thought we were headed to Choctaw Casino, but we were merely passing through.  We were making our way to Fayetteville, AR to visit Haley's best friend who just recently moved there.  Our drive was rather uneventful, we arrived safely, and we proceeded to spend the next couple of days sightseeing, hiking in the Devil's Den, and playing Settlers of Catan (our favorite board game).  On Monday, we refueled the car and headed off south.  We weren't headed home though.
  • Haley got me a brand new tent for my wedding present and we'd been looking for a reason to test it out.  We decided to go camping on the way home from Arkansas and had made reservations at Caddo Lake State Park in Northeast Texas.  Our plan was to stay there for two nights and depart on Wednesday, but little did we know the disaster that awaited.  We went to bed Monday night with a slight chill in the air...we awoke at three in the morning to an arctic chill unlike any we'd ever seen.  We froze our tails off (as in shivering and huddling for warmth) until daybreak when we cooked a hasty breakfast, packed up camp, and headed to Haley's parent's house a day early.
  • We arrived to a surprised (but ecstatic) mother-in-law.  We spent the next two days on a whirlwind tour of Tyler and Henderson, TX's furniture stores.  Oddly enough, furniture prices are much more reasonable in small town east Texas compared to Dallas.  We outfitted our entire house (that we close on at the end of the month) for less than I thought we'd spend on a couch.  
Thursday we returned home to the same apartment we'd left less than a week earlier, but we were changed people.  I realize this doesn't seem this odd to you as it does to me, but it was a Spring Break we'll never forget (for good and bad reasons).

A Grief Observed

Ok, so I stole a C.S. Lewis book title. His inspirational (I think I read part of it at Focus) book, however, is not what this post is about.

I ran across a great post today on Molly Piper's blog about walking with others through grief. In the last few years, I've walked with grieving friends and experienced personal grief - some handled well, and some not so much. But I love the way Molly challenges us to imagine one another's grief, "real love does not divert its eyes."

Read the post here.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Thank you insomnia...

Today I made the big jump and ordered an iPad 2.  I have somewhat coveted the iPad since it's initial release last year, but I kept telling myself I need to wait before I buy one.  In hindsight, I'm glad I got the second generation because it seems to have fixed a lot of the (minor) issues that the first release had.

I had a track meet last night, which tends to destroy my energy levels, so I humored the idea of waiting until my off period to order my iPad...I had to hope they didn't sell out of their initial order.  I ended up not being able to sleep very well last night, so around 3 am cst I made my order for an iPad 2 and a gray smart cover for it.  When I ordered it last night, Apple told me that it would ship in 5-8 I type this right now it would ship in 2-3 weeks, so thank you insomnia.

If you were to ask me why I'm ordering an iPad I could give you only a partial answer:

  • I ordered the wireless (without 3G) model to function like a laptop
  • I think they're an awesome piece of technology
  • I see some uses for it in my classroom next year possibly
None of those reasons really seems like a good reason to spend $500 on an iPad.  In reality though I spent a little over $100 on it because I recycled 2 old computers of mine through Apple's recycling program.  I'm also expecting to find new uses for the technology once I get it in my hands.  Hopefully, I'll be posting a number of ways I use my iPad when it comes in later next week.