August 8, 2016

Last Summer Visit with Family

So, while I sucked at taking pictures this weekend (didn't want to lug camera Friday night and then got rained out, camera battery that was thought to be full had a baby charge on it Saturday, etc.), I had a lot of fun with my mom and nephew who came to visit me Thursday night - even though she was in just a few weeks ago, he begged to come see me before school started because he hadn't visited since last year's spring break (wow!). I was happy to oblige.

But even though I didn't take many pictures, I wanted to share my thoughts about our adventures because we went several places I had never been!

Thursday night I managed to get my nephew, who we'll continue to call S if you recall from my California post, to taste some different things at Thep Thai - he is not an adventurous eater so I was pretty proud of him for at least giving things a try. Plus they have my favorite Thai tea and fried rice in the area - big enough for my mom and I to share. I learned to stick with PQ Noodle House for the shrimp spring rolls, though.

I also remembered that the drive in was open Thursday nights! Even though they'd already seen both Secret Life of Pets and Ghostbusters, S had never been to a drive in before and was more than happy to see them again (how do kids watch the same movies over and over?). Being a bit of a homebody, I think S really liked being in the comfort of our own car during the movie - he thought it was extra fun that we brought some of our own favorite snacks in addition to the popcorn on site. I'm pretty sure his favorite part of the movie was the one-fanged viper being crushed several times in a row because he laughed like a hyena. It was pretty cute for adults to, speaking for one who's often imagined what Kafka is doing at home all day... I was mostly impressed with myself for being the only one who didn't fall asleep during the second movie - I've never been able to make it through both. I partied harder with my mother than I do with my friends, when I'm still usually in bed by 9-something!

After a delicious lunch at Mama Z's in Tontitown Friday afternoon, we decided to surprise my nephew by taking him to Silver Dollar City - I had heard they were in the middle of something called Moonlight Madness where they stay open a little later and more or less charge half price if you come after 5 pm - we figured 5 hours of playtime would be more than enough (he's not a big thrill rider), and the cool evening weather would be more bearable, so it was perfect. We didn't tell him where we were going though! We just told him we were going to a state he'd never set foot in before (Missouri).

He figured it out by the time we hit Branson, though, because he started seeing the billboards and that smarty-pants is old enough to read things now. This place really would rival something like Six Flags for families - it was more affordable and even had free parking, and while it still had a few big coasters to entertain the braver folks (ahem, me), it had plenty of in-between and kiddie rides, too. The park is just family-friendly, too - the design and atmosphere of the 1880s, with lots of shows to keep you entertained and characters to meet. One of my favorite parts was watching the craftsmen! In live action you can watch leather craftsmen, chip carvers, glass blowers/cutters, potters, candy-makers, bakers, and blacksmiths!


While I'm not saying I would never take my kids to Disneyland/World, I think this is just as fun for kids so long as they're not dead set on meeting Mickey & friends, way more affordable, and far less walking (except for up Hill Street!). They've really done a great job at this park.

With all of that said, I do have a complaint. Unfortunately, we were rained out after two rides - and while I don't expect a raincheck every time it rains, because theme parks can't control the weather and it's just a risk you take... we'd only been there for an hour and a half tops and had been waiting some time to get on the broken down train (to see the whole park and decide where to go from there) when they told us they were shutting rides down because there was lightning ten miles away. For another two hours it was perfectly beautiful out and we could have been enjoying the rides before it actually started pouring down and we were forced to wedge our way through the stampeding crowd trying to leave. Since they knew many of the people had just come in after 5 pm for Moonlight Madness, I really would have anticipated a raincheck in this scenario - especially since they didn't let people ride anything for the two hours prior to a drop of rain. I'll probably give them another chance at some point because the park itself was boss. I was not impressed with management's decision to at least not give rainchecks to the Moonlight Madness attendees.

S handled it like a champ, though. No tears or fits, only mild disappointment, I was pretty proud of him - I think the adults were more upset if anything (and that's because when you spend a hundred bucks to get into a theme park you expect to ride more than two rides). As we drove away with lightning flashing behind us in the distance, he watched his little Youtube videos and drifted off into sleep.

Saturday morning there was an abundance of garage sales. I awoke early, before everyone else, and searched for all the garage sale addresses listed on Facebook groups. There doesn't seem to be a good system in NWA, or at least I haven't yet discovered it. I arranged them by city and then pasted them into Google Maps in the biggest chunks allowed and put together the most efficient driving route to hit all of them (seeing as we don't know NWA neighborhoods like the back of our hand as my mom does in Texarkana). I was pleasantly surprised to see far more sales near Fayetteville this time around!

Sadly, around lunch time we hit four sales in a row that were already closed for the day and took it as a sign to stop. Since we were near Bentonville & wanting to spend the rest of the day there, we ate lunch at Table Mesa. It's a little pricey, and I don't much care for any Mexican/Latin restaurant that makes you pay for chips and salsa (and then gives you a tiny little bowl of it), but that's pretty much where my complaints end because their ingredients really are impeccable and the flavors are divine. One day I'll drive up to Bentonville and order one of their really classy-sounding seafood dishes, but I tried to keep it on the budget friendly side and ordered the slow roasted pork enchiladas. Normally I'm not a fan of the stereotypical pineapple and pork combo (yes, I'm one of the anti-Hawaiian pizza people), but I'm okay when Table Mesa does it. All of their flavor combinations make me salivate.

After that, I encouraged my mom to visit all the flea markets in the Bentonville/Rogers area, since we rarely make it up there and she isn't impressed by the ones in Fayetteville (save Fayetteville's Funky Yardsale). She dropped S and I off at the Amazeum by Crystal Bridges. Now, my 11 year old nephew is probably the oldest kid I'd want to bring here unless I'm bringing younger friends/siblings along too, but he still had quite a bit of fun by himself/with his old aunt. It was very reminiscent of Science City at Union Station in Kansas City - but with a more cross-curriculum focus.

Unfortunately, as one of the last Saturdays of summer it was extremely busy, which meant all the Hershey classes (where you make your own chocolate) were full, that it was loud, and that there were often (short) "lines" or another kid inching up right behind you waiting for their turn on an activity (or, as I told S at a couple of points, too many cooks in the kitchen!). Other than this, we had a lot of fun. I think S's favorite part was the Transportation area, where kids repeated the cycle of loading blocks through a conveyor belt and sat in the front of a diesel truck. He also, naturally, enjoyed the Water area, where he did not put on a plastic smock which resulted in us playing outside in the heat for a while so he could fully dry off before returning inside to another section.
My favorite part was the animation station! Not only was there a couple of desktop stop motion animation spots, but there was a large one where kids could roll around the floor with all kinds of props in a life-sized version! I was also a big fan of the ignored Cloud Theater (because it was quiet) and the big kids' (age 7 & up) tinkering hub (also maybe because it was quiet). They always have cool stuff going on in that hub that's constantly changing, and S enjoyed some quiet time drawing a picture while looking through a microscope.

We managed to kill three or so hours there before asking to be picked up - with a Tropical Smoothie Cafe pit-stop, we went to the High Rise trampoline park. I was impressed! It's honestly a fair-ish price, and though you can only go for one or two hour flights, I can't imagine spending any longer there. While I pictured mostly trampolines, there were all kinds of activities - dodgeball, basketball, slacklines, trapeze, obstacle courses, and foam pits to battle over. I had such a blast I would love to take a group of friends or have a date night there during College or Club night. The only complaint I have is the foam blocks scattered through half the park smell a little like, well, feet. You have to go barefoot or buy special no-slip socks, so I guess it's to be expected, but I do wonder how often these blocks are washed or replaced... Anyways, the fun still outweighs the mild feet odor. Plus, science says jumping on trampolines, or that bouncing motion, makes us happy and I can't disagree!

We grabbed a couple of pizzas and stayed in for the night watching Netflix - my mom and I watched Colonia which was inspired by the actual 1973 Chilean military coup and Colonia Dignidad. It's a gripping cult thriller that allowed Emma Watson to display her strength in a role outside of the Wizarding World, and it's one of the few movies based on "true stories" that is said to not actually be as horrific as the true story (whereas most others are overdone for Hollywood's sake). I've since seen some reviews that don't recommend the movie as highly as I do, but I stand by this sentiment all the same. Have a look, decide for yourself.

Sunday was a lazy morning until we met with a friend's parents for lunch - after four years together, it was the first time our parents met and was long overdue! Even though it was just a small dose, I'm happy to know our mothers (and we're both momma's kids) have finally been introduced.

And that was more or less a wrap for our weekend - we went from saying it feels like Saturday and it's only Friday (such a good feeling) to where did all the time go? by Sunday. While I still haven't been able to make a trip home as often as I'd like, I surely love receiving my visitors.

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