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Reviewing 5 Top Parks in East Texas

Texas abounds with vast amounts of parks for families to enjoy throughout the year. In this series, we’re going to look at some of the best parks the Lone Star State has to offer, from small local parks to sprawling state and national park facilities. Let’s get out and explore this great state of ours. First up: East Texas!

The Children's Park in Tyler Texas. JUNE 9-10, 2011. Photo by Jill Johnson

The Children’s Park in Tyler Texas. JUNE 9-10, 2011. Photo by Jill Johnson

1) The Children’s Park of Tyler

“There is no foot so small that it cannot leave an imprint on this world.” After the death of their middle child at birth, the Carson family helped create a place of both peace and fun for others in memory of their son, Braden. The park was completed in 2004 without raising a single tax dollar and was generously donated to the city of Tyler.

Today, The Children’s Park not only offers a place of solace for those that seek comfort but also gives a place of celebration from family picnics to bigger events such as weddings. Every year The Children’s Park hosts an annual Teddy Bear Picnic where families enjoy face-painting, music, story time, and of course a picnic complete with their favorite teddy bear. Mrs. Carson holds a Day of Remembrance celebration once a year, and once a month holds a support group called Glory Babies at The Children’s Park.

One thing noticeable at first is the lack of playground equipment. The Carsons believe that natural play is a lost art, and that children need to be given an opportunity to explore and use their imagination.

The park has grown so much since 2004 that the City of Tyler has donated additional land as well as matched funds to help with the park’s expansion. The new expansion of the park features a secluded meditation garden, an additional play place, and an additional indoor and outdoor space that will allow the community to hosts larger events. Even if it isn’t on their annual Teddy Bear Picnic, you and your family can always enjoy an impromptu teddy bear picnic or tea party of your own!

Canoeing on Caddo Lack image courtesy of http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/caddo-lake

Canoeing on Caddo Lack image courtesy of http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/caddo-lake

2) Caddo Lake State Park

This hidden gem nestled in Karnack, TX was the only natural lake in the state until it was artificially dammed in the early 1900s. Visitors can now enjoy an array of outdoor activities from boating, fishing, and camping, to hiking, general nature study, and enjoying the rich history of the area at the park’s headquarters.

Caddo Lake covers over 26,000 acres of swampland. The natural inhabitants that call Caddo Lake home include 71 different species of fish, making this a top vacation spot for your avid fisherman. The naturalist in your family will enjoy being able to spot beavers, minks, white-tailed deer, raccoons, snakes, alligators, and many other wildlife. The cabins, originally built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, make camping easy and fun for the whole family. While the park is open daily, the busiest time of the year is March through November. The cost for adults is $3 a day, while children 12 and under are free.

Park Playground image courtesy of Michael Cavazos.

Park Playground image courtesy of Michael Cavazos.

3) Spring Hill / Neal McCoy / AMBUCS Too Universally Accessible Playground in Longview

Country music and playgrounds don’t normally go hand in hand unless you are Neal McCoy. As the founder of East Texas Angel Network, McCoy picked Longview to build a new playground, after winning the Home Depot Humanitarian Award in 2005. AMBUCS Too Longview, a local group, raised more than $350,000 to help expand the Neal McCoy Park. The expansion makes the park one of the largest approved by the Americans with Disabilities Act in East Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. The 5,605 square foot playground allows all children to play together with a fully accessible playground. The Spring Hill Park also includes a splash pad and pavilion for the family to enjoy.

Playground image courtesy of www.victoriachamber.org.

Playground image courtesy of www.victoriachamber.org.

4) Riverside Park & Rose Garden in Victoria

Enjoy a multitude of outdoor activities at the 562-acre park that shares its borders with over 4 miles of the Guadalupe River. Riverside Park is a great choice for a small family outing or a much larger gathering since they offer 200 picnic areas.

At Riverside Park you can spend the day playing baseball, disc golf, or just wandering the trails. If those aren’t up your alley, you can use one of the canoe or kayak paddling trails instead. See over 1,000 rose bushes at the Rose Garden weaving around a gazebo and water fountain. The smaller members of the family will enjoy the duck pond and the adventurous playground.

Splash Pad image courtesy of http://parks.longviewtexas.gov/spray-pads.

Splash Pad image courtesy of http://parks.longviewtexas.gov/spray-pads.

5) Jack Mann Splash Pad in Longview

During the summer months of Texas, there is only one way to get relief from the sweltering heat: splash pads! Jack Mann Splash Pad is a Texas-sized pad at 10,000 sq. ft.  of summer wonder, and it’s the largest splash pad in East Texas! The park boasts two pavilions, tons of water spouts, restrooms, parking lot, and 3 themed areas.  It costs $1 per child and $2 per adult for Longview residents to enter, and $1 more for non-residents. What says Texas more then getting water dumped on you by a giant Dr. Pepper water sprayer?

What are your favorite parks to visit in East Texas? Share with us in the comments!

Reviewing the 4 Top Waterparks in Texas

Tired of trying to avoid the heat by staying indoors? Break up the monotony of heat induced boredom by spending it at a waterpark. Here, we’re reviewing the 4 top waterparks in Texas!

Reviewing the 4 Top Waterparks in Texas

Master Blaster image courtesy of http://www.schlitterbahn.com/new-braunfels/rides/master-blaster-uphill-water-coaster

1) Schlitterbahn

Since first gracing the Texas Hill Country back in 1966, Schlitterbahn has grown into five different locations (including one outside of Texas in Kansas City, KN). This leading light of Texas waterparks has received numerous awards, including the New Braunfels location being honored as the country’s best overall waterpark and the  Galveston Island Waterpark as the best indoor park in 2013 (and for many years prior) by Amusement Today.

No matter which location you and your family choose to visit, your family will enjoy water entertainment like nowhere else, as well as free parking, tubes, and shuttle service. Picnics are even welcomed at the park, but make sure to leave the glass containers at home. If a Schlitterbahn location isn’t close enough to you for a quick day trip, you can book lodging for up to 23 people so you can relax after a long day at the park. Plan ahead and purchase your tickets online for additional savings.

Reviewing the 4 Top Waterparks in Texas

Girl with Birds image courtesy of www. aquaticabyseaworld.com/sanantonio/.

2) Aquatica

Part of the SeaWorld family of entertainment, Aquatica is so much more than just water slides and wave pools. Located in San Antonio, TX, visitors to this park can spend time floating or even walking through Roa’s Aviary, which hosts over 300 birds across more than 13,500 square feet. This unique new aviary will help aid these birds, many of which are endangered or threatened, and SeaWorld educators will be on hand to teach you about these wonderful animals.

Have tiny tots coming along the trip? Slippity Dippity is right up their pint-sized alley requiring all riders to be under 48” in height. For the more adventurous folks in your group, Big Surf Shores offers swells up to 5 feet tall, and with more than 400,000 gallons of water, it’s the perfect place to discover who the best body surfer is in your family. Make sure to plan enough days to maximize your tickets, as Aquatica also lets you enjoy SeaWorld.

Reviewing the 4 Top Waterparks in Texas

Hook’s Lagoon Treehouse image courtesy of www.sixflags.com/hurricaneharbortexas.

3) Six Flags Hurricane Harbor

Looking for some waterpark fun in the Dallas-Fort Worth area? Head to Six Flags Hurricane Harbor in Arlington! At Dive Bomb, thrill seekers climb a 72-foot spiral ramp, stand on a trap door, and then fall right into a slide that lets you experience a 7-story drop. Experience all of this and more in the Dive Bomb ride. Families should visit Hook’s Lagoon Treehouse, as mom and dad can relax while the kiddos defend the treehouse with water cannons. Swashbucklers 42” and under can explore a pirate’s life over at Hook’s Ship, complete with 4 smaller slides and shallow waters.

Hurricane Harbor offers picnic areas outside of the park and inside the park they offer an array of food from delicious treats like funnel cakes and ice cream, to pizza and hamburgers, and even salads.  Save on both parking and tickets and purchase online, instead of at the door.

Reviewing the 4 Top Waterparks in Texas

Waco Monsoon Typhoon image courtesy of www.hfalls.com/waco/rides/.

4) Hawaiian Falls

With several locations across North, Central, and South Texas, Hawaiian Falls brings families together by creating lasting memories with rides and attractions for the tiniest tot to the biggest thrill seeker. Along with rides, Hawaiian Falls also offers different camps for children ages 6 years old and up, including Junior Lifeguard Camp for teens aged 12-15 years old with hands-on training in rescue skills, swim safety, slide dispatching, and more.

Planning on spending the entire day at one of the locations? Bring snacks for the whole family and only get charged $10 for each cooler or food bag. Parking is free at all locations (except Pflugerville where parking is $5). All locations offer free floating tubes and life jackets.

Hawaiian Falls also has a Champions Day, which allows exclusive ride times from 8:30-10:30am for individuals with disabilities and their families. Champions are free and each additional family member is only $5. During Champion times, quieter music and increased staff members are provided to help accommodate specific needs in order to create a more relaxed environment for all members to enjoy.

A Few Tips

  1. Feeling overwhelmed by a larger waterpark? Look towards your community to find a local splash pad. Luckily splash pads are abundant in many cities across the state.
  2. Don’t forget to hydrate frequently because, even though you’re playing in water, that doesn’t mean your body is drinking the water it needs.
  3. Make sure to cover each individual park’s safety guidelines with the entire family prior to your visit.
  4. Pick a meeting point inside the park upon arrival in case a member was to get separated from  the family.
  5. Sunscreen should be a top priority before getting to the park as well as frequent applications during your stay. Get additional information on sunscreen here.

Now go enjoy your refreshing family day at one of these amazing waterparks in Texas! And don’t forget to top off the day with a delicious snow cone!

4 Water Activities to Keep Cool on Hot Summer Days in Texas

Most kids I know want to spend most of their free time outside playing; however, the Lone Star State also presents some special concerns, because once temperatures climb into the higher 80′s and above, park time becomes infrequent. This summer, break up the mundane boredom of being cooped up inside a house on a hot day with these fun water activities.

4 Water Activities to Keep Cool on Hot Summer Days in Texas

Ice Cream Party!

1) Shaving Cream “Freezy Dough”

[Disclaimer: Do not eat this product, as ingesting shaving cream is unhealthy. This craft is for sensory purposes only.]

Many kids love to cook and bake at play kitchens. Why not take it a step further and create outdoor cooking time that doesn’t require sweating over a grill? Here is a simple recipe for pretend ice cream so your kids can host an ice cream parlor for the day!

You will need:

  • Shaving cream
  • Any dyes you might want to add
  • Cocoa powder and Kool-Aid for smell and look

Here are the instructions:

  • Take plain shaving cream and put it into a container that will fit into your freezer.
  • Mix vanilla flavoring into the shaving cream to make it smell more realistic.
  • To add to the ice cream parlor’s options, you can use Kool-Aid to help achieve strawberry ice cream by simply adding in a package of red Kool-Aid into the shaving cream mixing it thoroughly. Chocolate is always a huge favorite and can easily be done by adding cocoa powder to the shaving cream.
  • Once you have all the desired shaving cream options mixed up, place each one in the freezer for several hours.

When you are ready to open your ice cream parlor, just remove the pre-made ice cream from the freezer. Incorporate bowls, ice cream cones, and spoons to help allow the kids to serve one another this tasty treat. You can also make additional toppings to decorate their ice cream like rainbow rice or even real sprinkles.

4 Water Activities to Keep Cool on Hot Summer Days in Texas

Water Balloon Phonics!

2) Water Balloons & Sponge Bombs

Water balloons are synonymous with summertime; however, now that I have a parent’s point of view, hazards like overly aggressive throwing could potentially turn a fun activity into tears. Instead of the traditional water balloon fights, try these fun games that sneak in some classroom learning time.  Depending on the age of the child, the balloons could be used for spelling, math, basic alphabet memorization, shapes, patterns, and more.

4 Water Activities to Keep Cool on Hot Summer Days in Texas

Sponge Ball

Simply use a permanent marker and draw on the water balloon. I particularly like this game of phonics because I can introduce word families by hanging cards up on a wall and having the balloon match up to one of the letters. If your child selects the correct balloon, he or she can then throw the balloon at that particular letter card!

A softer alternative to water balloons is a sponge bomb. A sponge bomb cuts down on the waste and mess of water balloons by being reusable. Just cut up your basic kitchen sponge and tie together with string. Super simple and fun!

3) “Working at the Car Wash”

4 Water Activities to Keep Cool on Hot Summer Days in Texas

Mini Car Wash

Break out that shaving cream again because you are going to open a mini car wash, complete with your choice of different colored soap. First, let’s learn how to create the “suds.”

  • Make up different soaps by putting small amounts of shaving cream into separate containers and adding food coloring or liquid watercolors.
  • Once you have your first soap mixed up, have the kiddos gather their dirty cars to the car wash (aka water table) and have them begin scrubbing the cars.
  • After the foamy soap, have the kids get down and dirty with a baking soda coating. Dry baking soda creates great bubbly fun when adding vinegar to the mix!
  • Put vinegar in a squeeze bottle or spray bottle of your choice and have the kids spray the baking soda caked cars with the vinegar to see the bubbly excitement explode. If your kids don’t like the smell of vinegar, add in an essential oil like peppermint to reduce the strong smell.

Once the bubbly car wash is complete have the kids just do a basic wash of regular soap and water to further clean the cars. Not bad for a hard day’s work at the car wash!

4) “Ice, Ice, Baby”

4 Water Activities to Keep Cool on Hot Summer Days in Texas

Ice Volcano!

When it becomes summer in Texas, sometimes water isn’t even enough to cool us off. Time to break out the ice instead!

You don’t think of volcanoes being anything other then extremely hot – that’s until you play with ice volcanoes.

  • Making ice volcanoes requires a few simple supplies like small bowls, plastic wrap, balls that are weighted enough they will sink, and of course room in your freezer.
  • Place the ball in a small bowl and cover both with the plastic wrap
  • Fill the bowls with a mixture of baking soda and water, adding in food coloring to your desired color
  • Make sure to fill up the bowls enough that the mixture completely covers the ball
  • Next step: freezer time
  • Once frozen, take your mini creations out to thaw slightly, then remove the frozen mixture from the bowl and the plastic wrap

Have the kiddos put vinegar on your icy creations and watch the volcano explode and bubble. You are now left with one icy volcano!

Need some more ideas? Do a search for fun ice activities like ice chalk paint or colored ice cube shapes, and you’ll be surprised what you find.

It’s Not Summer, but the Heat has Arrived: A Sunscreen Guide for Texas

It's Not Summer, but the Heat has Arrived: A Sunscreen Guide for TexasWarm sunny days just beg to be spent outdoors. While proper hydration is important for the body, many people overlook the importance of taking care of their skin. Long hours spent in the sun can be very damaging to the skin, and while the pain of a sunburn isn’t too long lived, the underlying damage can cause health issues later on in life.

Annually over 2 million people will have some type of skin cancer. One in 50 men and women will be diagnosed with melanoma which is the most serious form of skin cancer. Children should take even extra care with their skin considering just one bad sunburn can more than double their chance of developing melanoma later on in life.

And since warm weather appears in Texas long before the official arrival of summer, we wanted to provide a sunscreen guide to help you enjoy the sun for months and years to come.

For Starters

Choosing the right sunscreen can be confusing with so many options on the market, but we have a few recommendations as you start your search for the sunscreen that’s right for you and your family.

  • Avoid sunscreens with high SPF ratings. It’s not that high SPF ratings are inherently bad, but they will tempt you to stay out in the sun longer before reapplying more sunscreen. Not reapplying sunscreen regularly can cause you to have skin damage even though there may be no visible burns.
  • Keep insect repellent out of your sunscreen. If you need insect repellent buy it separately from your sunscreen.
  • Spray sunscreens should be avoided since the chemicals released can be easily breathed in. Sunscreen ingredient oxybenzone can disrupt hormone levels and should be avoided when selecting a sunscreen.
  • Along with avoiding ingredients that are hormone disruptors, Vitamin A products should be avoided also. Vitamin A is also labeled as retinol. Try looking for a sunscreen that has zinc oxide as an active ingredient. Zinc oxide provides good protection from UVA rays and is stable in direct sunlight.

Sunscreen and Children

Most sunscreens on the market are recommended only for children ages 6 months and up due to infants’ skin being highly sensitive to chemicals. Infants younger than 6 months should avoid exposure to direct sunlight. Avoid walks during mid-day when the sun is at its highest and instead try taking early morning or evening walks. Use the stroller’s canopy or an umbrella to shade direct sunlight off of infants. Take proper precautions and cover up with protective clothing and blankets to protect infant’s sensitive skin.

What do We Recommend?

After trying out several different brands of sunscreens, my favorites so far are Episencial SPF 35 and Thinksport SPF 50. I like that both of these brands have a rating of 1 on the hazard score key with the Environmental Working Group. This means that the sunscreens pose a low hazard rating for the chemicals that are in it. Each year the Environmental Working Group reviews and ranks different sunscreens and even list the best in several different categories. My son and I are both extremely fair skinned and with proper usage of either sunscreen have been able to enjoy a family outing without getting a sunburn.

It's Not Summer, but the Heat has Arrived: A Sunscreen Guide for Texas

Image courtesy of alexliivet (https://www.flickr.com/photos/alexmartin81/)

Other Sunscreen and Suggestions for the Summer Sun

Now that we have an idea of which sunscreen is right for our skin and budget, it’s important that we understand how to use the stuff, especially since you can lower the risk of skin cancer risk with a few preventative measures.

  • Plan your initial sunscreen application to be at least 15-20 minutes before your first exposure to the sun.
  • Applying sunscreen just once during the day  isn’t enough. Reapplication is just as important as using sunscreen in the first place. Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours, or after heavy sweating, swimming, and toweling off.
  • It's Not Summer, but the Heat has Arrived: A Sunscreen Guide for TexasChoose items of clothing that offer more coverage like wide-brimmed hats that provide shade on your face, neck, and ears. Baseball hats don’t offer as much coverage as wide-brimmed hats so additional sunscreen coverage is important on your neck and ears.
  • Sunglasses aren’t just cool to wear, but also provide valuable protection from the sun.

What other ideas, tips, and recommendations might you have regarding sunscreen and sun protection in Texas? Please share them in the comments!

3 Gifts to Buy Your Favorite Texan with Your Tax Return

3 Gifts to Buy Your Favorite Texan with Your Tax ReturnTax Day is here! With any luck, you actually received a little rebate from the government for the taxes you paid in 2013. Many of us use this money to purchase a gift or trip that we wouldn’t usually buy. This year, why don’t you use some of your tax return money to spoil a Texan in your life? Here are a few ideas with a distinctly Texan flair.

1) “Let me root, root, root for the home team!”

There is a small span of time in Texas when the weather is not scorching hot, and luckily it coincides nicely with the beginning of baseball season. The warm sunshine and a fairly good breeze just screams for you to be outside, and what better way to celebrate then in the stands cheering on your local sports team.

3 Gifts to Buy Your Favorite Texan with Your Tax ReturnWhile peanuts and cracker jacks might be normal options for most baseball fans, Texas baseball fans aren’t quite that easy. Texas Rangers fans can find barbecue, tacos, turkey legs, and even a 2 foot hot dog that weighs in at just over a pound as standard baseball fare. Houston Astros fans can snack on Tex-Mex steak fajita nachos, homemade salsa, and chipotle chicken burritos. If Tex-Mex and traditional baseball fare is not up your alley, check out healthier options like salads and even vegetarian entrees.

Avid baseball fans can become a new season ticket holder, or you can just pick up tickets for a game or two. Check the local game schedule for even more fun like firework nights, or games when free bobbleheads are handed out.

2) Cowboy Boots

3 Gifts to Buy Your Favorite Texan with Your Tax Return

The versatility you find with a good pair of cowboy boots is almost endless. Brides hide them beneath big billowing gowns, teen girls complete their ensembles with them, and nearly every little kid in Texas goes through a phase of wanting to be a cowboy or cowgirl. It doesn’t matter what age you are, a good pair of cowboy boots is sure to be a popular gift.

Just as the wearer’s age doesn’t matter, the season isn’t important either. If the weather is warmer, and jeans and boots just sound unbearably hot, skirts and dresses go nicely with a taller pair of boots.

Unsure of what dress would look good with a pair of cowboy boots? Head to Pinterest and find endless options. Pearl-snap shirts, jeans, and cowboy boots do make great outfit choices for the men, but nothing quite compares to a nice suit paired with dress boots. You can find boots for the whole family at various western stores or you can support local artisans throughout the state and purchase boots with more custom tailored options.

3) “Remember the Alamo!”

3 Gifts to Buy Your Favorite Texan with Your Tax Return

The Alamo in San Antonio, TX

Offer your favorite Texan a mini-vacation to San Antonio. One of the most pivotal moments in the Texas War for Independence was the Battle of the Alamo, so there’s plenty of history to absorb. Take a stroll around the Alamo Plaza and see where Davy Crockett, James Bowie, and William B. Travis became legends. The Alamo receives no financial aid from the state to maintain and preserve the site, but is actually operated by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and relies heavily on donations from patrons.

The River Walk, located near the Alamo Plaza, wraps itself around the San Antonio River and features shops, restaurants, hotels, museums, and even a place to get married. You can plan your River Walk visit with the whole family, or make it a romantic vacation for two.

Do you have any ideas of how to spoil your favorite Texas by purchasing a creative gift with your 2014 tax return? Please share them in the comments!

Learn about Texas Wildflowers in Spring

Learn about Texas Wildflowers in Spring

Texas Bluebonnets

“Native plants give us a sense of where we are in this great land of ours.” –Lady Bird Johnson

When my family and I first moved to Texas, it was in the dull, brown winter. You can imagine our surprise when spring rolled around and various flowers started sprouting up in the oddest places. We were even more surprised of the carloads of people rushing to park on sides of highways. Surely they weren’t stopping on a side of a highway to take a family photo?

Having spent more than a decade in Texas now, families stopping on the side of a highway to take Bluebonnet pictures warms my heart. This is a Texan tradition, just like those prom Mums that no one else besides Texans knows about. Now that I have a little Texan of my own, the first native Texan in both families, I can’t wait to share the Bluebonnet tradition with him.

Buffalo clover, wolf flower, el conejo are just a few of the names that this flower has gone by, but the most commonly known name is “Bluebonnet.” Lady Bird Johnson couldn’t have spoken truer words when saying that the flowers indicated where we were. Bluebonnets definitely scream Texas, and they have reigned as our state flower since 1901. The love of luebonnets can reach fanatic levels of people trying to get that perfect family photo even sometimes putting personal safety aside.

People’s love of Bluebonnets have inspired an official Bluebonnet tartan, song, a city, festival, and trail. The “Official Bluebonnet City of Texas” is held by Ennis,TX. Ennis not only holds that title but they also have the “Official Texas Bluebonnet Trail”, and rightfully so since many of their trails are some of the oldest Bluebonnet trails in the state. Ennis sees thousands of visitors for each Bluebonnet season and hosts a weekend festival for even more activities for the family to enjoy. While many Texans think it is actually illegal to pick a Bluebonnet, there is no such law. However, TxDOT does recommend that Bluebonnets are not picked or trampled so that they will continue to be a spring tradition in Texas.

Learn about Texas Wildflowers in Spring

Texas Wildflowers

Although it is our love of Bluebonnets that have been featured in the New York Times, Texas has more colors to share then just blue. More than 5,000 different species of wildflowers reside in Texas. Indian Paintbrush, Buffalograss, Texas Star, Goldenrod, and “ice cream grass” are just a few of our many natural beauties waiting to be seen.

No matter which sort of floral beauty interests you this spring, these Texas wildflowers can be viewed throughout the state including the Brenham area, Big Bend, Ennis, Hill Country area, and South Texas area. Thanks to this handy guide from TxDOT, you can find the location for your spring picture by searching for flower type, region, or even highway.

Looking for a way to extend the family fun once the sightseeing is over with? Challenge the family to a wildflower quiz to discover who the flower enthusiasts are.

5 Inexpensive Day Trips in East Texas for Spring Break

Texas FlagWhile children and teachers count down the days until Spring Break, many parents don’t share their same eagerness about this fun-filled time off. Children typically have their breaks mapped out, but since most of their plans can be completed in one short day, this leaves them uttering the long drawn-out whine of “I’m so bored!” Instead of zoning out with electronics, try one of these 5 inexpensive day trips in East Texas to help breakup the boredom before it has a chance to ruin everyone’s Spring Break.

Nacogdoches, TX 

Known as the oldest town in Texas, Nacogdoches founded in 1779, has something for every member of the family to enjoy.

1) Railroad Depot - The train enthusiasts in your family will delight in the railroad depot that was originally built in 1911. The depot features several exhibits, including one that goes over the history of the Houston East and West Texas rail line.

  • Tuesday – Thursday 11:00 am – 3:00pm.
  • Friday 10:00 am – 4:00 pm.

Tours are free, but donations are welcome. Closed Sundays, Mondays and major holidays.

2) Azaleas Trail - The 16th annual Azaleas Trail will leave your flower enthusiasts marveling at the array of vibrant colors of over 7,000 azaleas. Twenty-five miles of self-guided driving trails are broken up into three separate routes. Each route begins downtown at the Charles Bright Visitors Center, while the heart of the Azaleas Trail is the Ruby M. Mize Azalea Garden, which was created as a group effort between Stephen F. Austin State University and members of the community.

Guided tours are offered for free every Saturday during the month of March. The annual Azaleas Trail runs from March 1 through March 31.

While touring some of the many other historical landmarks, including ghost trails for the brave at heart, pop into one of the family-owned restaurants and grab a bite to eat. Just don’t be surprised if a shopper in your group disappears – it’s not the ghosts at play, but rather one too many tempting antique shops!

Beaumont, TX 

3) Fire Museum of Texas - Have a future firefighter on your hands? Have them explore what it would be like to be a firefighter as they dress up in fire gear and slide behind the wheel of a fire truck simulator. If that isn’t exciting enough, see the world’s largest working fire hydrant courtesy of Disney Land. Families will also have an opportunity to practice different fire safety procedures in a miniature two-story house.

Have a family member that is part of a fire department? Bring their badges or patches to add to the museum’s extensive collection.

Monday-Friday 8:00am-4:30pm

Admission is free.

Tyler, TX 

4) Tyler State Park - Spread out over 64 acres of lush pine-filled land, spend your day fishing, biking, and bird watching.

The whole family can hunt for treasure using a smartphone or GPS and participate in geocaching. Geocaching is a worldwide treasure hunt that people, or geocachers, hide different “caches” all over for geocachers to find. You will need to go to geocaching.com and sign up. You can check out a quick guide here, or find a local class at one of the many state parks. Pick a cache that suits everyone in your party. Don’t pick a cache that has challenging terrain if not everyone in your party is up to it; you want everyone to be able to participate! The neat part of geocaching is being able to keep track of your logs. This will be an easy way to reflect back on many family memories.

For the younger family members pick up a Junior Ranger Explorer Pack for free. Each pack is full of essentials that will help hone the junior ranger’s exploring skills. Make sure to check with the park for availability so there are no disappointed junior rangers.

Open daily.

Adults: $5 daily. Children 12 years and under : free.

5) Discovery Science Place - Let children explore and create in three different exhibits. Children of all ages are encouraged to explore and discover new things. While the exhibits do change, currently the three that are featured are Discovery Landing, Hometown, USA, and Discovery Zone.

  • Monday – Saturday 9am – 5pm
  • Sunday 1pm – 5pm

Entrance fees range from $5-$8

Before buying tickets check out http://www.astc.org/members/passlist.htm to see which museums take part in the Reciprocal Free Admissions Program. Since Discovery is an affiliate, your other museum passes might get you in for free.

Hopefully, you can enjoy one of these inexpensive day trips throughout East Texas during your Spring Break.

Tasty Pumpkin Seed Treats from Your Scary Jack-O-Lantern

At First Choice Power, we love seeing a good jack-o-lantern carving, but things can get really messy during the preparation part. That’s why we’re bringing you a great Halloween recipe to eliminate the waste from your carved pumpkin!

First, we’ll show you how to remove and prep your pumpkin seeds.

  • Cover your work area with old newspapers. (It’s about to get messy!)
  • Cut off the top of your pumpkin in a circle about 3 inches from the stalk. Be very careful during this step, as you’ll need to use a sharp knife.
  • Remove all of the seeds from inside your pumpkin and place them in a colander. Don’t forget to check for seeds under the lid!
  • Rinse the seeds in the colander to remove all of the stringy pulp.
  • Lay them flat and dry them thoroughly with a towel.

Now, we’ll give you a delicious pumpkin seeds recipe for spiced toasted pumpkin seeds from Real Simple!

Ingredients

  • Seeds from 2 medium pumpkins
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 300° F.
  2. Remove the seeds from the pumpkins. Discard the pulp.
  3. Spread the seeds (no need to rinse them) evenly on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake until dried, about 1 hour.
  4. Toss the seeds, olive oil, celery salt, and cumin in a large skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat, until the seeds are lightly toasted, about 3 minutes.

What’s your favorite pumpkin seed recipe? Share with us in the comments!

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Green Your Halloween

Halloween is just around the corner, and if you haven’t carved a pumpkin, picked out a costume, or bought candy to hand out, don’t worry! You’ve still got time to get your supplies and decorations together, and we’re here to help. Check out our green tips below for making this Halloween greener.

  1. Opt for organic Halloween candy. This doesn’t mean sacrificing the chocolaty, sugary goodness of Halloween. Check out NaturalCandyStore.com for fun and tasty organic Halloween candy.
  2. Green transportation/Walk the neighborhood. Instead of piling in the car to go from neighborhood to neighborhood in search of the best candy and the scariest decorations, opt for green transportation by getting a group together and walk or ride your bike to trick or treat.
  3. Get creative with your costume. Swap costumes with a friend or build a costume from items in your own closet. Here are some DIY Halloween costumes for kids.
  4. Support a cause. When you carve your pumpkin, take the opportunity to bring awareness for a cause close to your heart. Here’s a stencil for a breast cancer awareness ribbon. The World Wildlife Fund has stencils for endangered animals.
  5. Save the seeds. After carving a pumpkin, toast the seeds for a delicious snack! Here are a few recipes.

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What will you be doing to celebrate this Halloween? Share your ideas with us on our Facebook wall.

Reduce Your Utility Bills by Teaching Your Children to Save Energy

Have you been making extra efforts at home to go green or conserve energy in an attempt to lower your utility bills? Encouraging your family to make big lifestyle changes can be overwhelming at first, especially when people aren’t used to thinking about ways to conserve energy.

However, instead of focusing upon the adults – since they have deeper-set habits that are harder to break – we recommend teaching your children to save energy so that you can reduce how much energy your home uses each month. When the kids get home from school each day, don’t let the learning end! Teach your children about energy conservation and saving energy, because when they adopt these habits young, they are more likely to continue them as adults.

  • Start them off with simple things like turning off the lights when leaving a room.
  • Next, introduce the idea of turning off electronics when they aren’t in use.
  • Finally, encourage them to conserve water in the kitchen and bathroom by turning the water off when washing hands or brushing teeth.

Feeling overwhelmed? Not to worry. We’ve got a few great resources for you to teach your kids ways to conserve energy!

How do your kids help you save energy around the house? Share with us in the comments!

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