It’s a pity I’m not finding more time to blog. I’m trying to make it a goal to at least put thoughts to blog once a week as it’s a great way to look back at memories that sometimes sadly fade away.

In that spirit, we were blessed recently with the opportunity and ability to fly back to the mainland to visit with family we had not seen in three years. THREE YEARS!

Those of us with kiddos in tow understand how much growing, maturing… and CHANGING that occurs with the passage of three years. It’s huge. It’s profound. It’s tear inducing.

The truth of the matter is that those who love a service member make sacrifices. You don’t have to serve to find yourself sacrificing time with those you love the most. Little B and I have had our hearts torn asunder at the number of “see-you-laters” we’ve said over the years. We find ourselves cleaving tightly to things that make home feel like home, no matter where sweet and dear Uncle Sam sends my Beau. From family traditions to lugging around family heirlooms… we try to make those transitions as seamlessly as possible. But, regardless of all that, we can’t span the time and distance that sometimes keeps us apart from loved ones and vice versa.

It’s expensive to travel, people! Not just for us, but for our loved ones who have missed countless birthdays, holidays, sports meets, graduations, etc etc. My heart breaks at times for the loss of time B and his cousins, grandparents, and aunts and uncles have with each other, because I know how special those relationships are. Consider the countless family members and other loved ones who are currently at least several time zones and an ocean away… well, it’s hard at times.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am ever grateful for the life we lead. The blessings poured on our family due to Brooks’s service have been too numerous to count, and I’m every thankful for them. But it doesn’t mean that all those things make the missing of loved ones any less hard.

So flying eight hours in a plane to hug the necks of people we love, that we haven’t seen in three years… I was blown away by the opportunity.

B and I had an amazing time with my brother’s family. It felt like a holiday being with them, that’s how special that time was. I loved waking up in their home and hugging and loving on them, even without knowing how long our stay would be. Seeing B with his cousins was bittersweet and amazing all at once.

Since all the kiddos were on summer break, and since my sister-in-law was also on a break, we all jumped in the car and headed to the Texas shore for some fun in the sun together. Our plans included the Texas State Aquarium (it’s awesome, by the way), San Padre Island, Schlitterbahn (seriously the BEST water park we’ve ever been to), tubing in Central Texas (which we weren’t able to do), and enjoying the shore in general. Being the little planner that I am, I made a schedule for what days to do what, what food to pack and meals to make, how much it would all cost, what activities to do in the car, etc. I researched online the various places to get info on fees, operating hours, stuff to do… you get the drift. I’m the planner in the house… Big Brooks… he’s a last minute, fly by the seat of his pants kinda guy.

So off we went, on a fun 7 hour-ish road trip. Love my sweet little niece who asked a bazillion times before we arrived if we were there yet. The poor thing was not happy about the LONG car ride. But we had a great time. Aren’t road trips the best though? Endless conversation, good music, games… it’s the best. But I digress.

The first day of big plans was soon upon us… Schliterrbahn.

Oh boy!

I could just imagine the lazy river. The glorious sun. Exciting rides.

The kids were excited. Little B and I had talked up the park so much I think we were all just ready to jump in.

Now, since we were down by the shore it only made sense to go to the Schlitterbahn down by San Padre Island. It’s a new park and so we told the kiddos several times we didn’t know what to expect, but being the planner that I am, I pulled up the website and read them the names of different rides available at that particular park. Mind you, the website listed their operating hours, rides, calendar, etc.

As we make our way towards our destination, according to the GPS, we find ourselves driving past what looks like a beautiful, big water slide in the distance. Obviously, we are thinking as we are driving that Google has no idea where the entrance is and we’ll just have to figure it out on our own. The water slide is getting bigger as we continue to drive, looking for a place to turn around. And lo and behold as we look to our right, at that big beautiful slide… remember? It slowly comes into view that that that big beautiful slide is only half way finished. As in the top half is done but the rest… not so much.

This has to be a mistake, right?

No way is that half-finished thing our water park. It has to be some other water park, right?

As we make our flustered way to the entrance, of yes… that water park, the kiddos hearts sinking by the minute, we pull into the parking lot, which by the way, has it’s own entrance for CONTRACTERS and BUILDERS! The lot for current patrons, small in comparison.

Still in disbelief I make my way to the ticket window to inquire about what seems be a looming disaster in our plans. The young girl at the window informs me, rather sheepishly (seriously, she looked like she was apologizing), that there are only a few attractions open. A few as in one kiddie pool area, one ride, and a portion of the lazy river. Oh, and two pools that you can drink at the bar at… (Um, we don’t drink).

I immediately think to the Chevy Chase and his family’s arrival at Wally World or whatever it was. It was comical, for certain. And so was our current predicament.

Seriously, Schliterrbahn, how did you not clearly inform patrons that the park is not fully operational?!

My heart sank as I went to inform three previously super excited kiddos that Schlitterbahn was not happening. Poor babies. Thankfully, we were right down the road (10 miles or so) from San Padre Island. I was going to save this day if it was the last thing I did!

With new directions in the GPS, I began to extol the virtues of one of our national parks. which, by the way, I had always wanted to visit. San Padre was going to be great, I repeated. It was like my new mantra. The shore is always fun, I promised.

We made our way to the visitor’s center to get information on what activities we could do, any information we needed to know, and to learn a few facts about animals and plant life found in the area. The young park ranger was sweet. She answered all our questions and gave us some info and off we headed to picnic and to purchase supplies for the beach at their handy dandy little shop (remember, the car was packed for the water park this day, not the beach). I purchased sand toys, a skim board, and a kite.

We ate a delicious lunch and made our way down to the beach, excited at the hours ahead of fun in the sun together.

This was more like it, I thought as we spread out our towel,  placed our toys on the ground, and ran to meet the waves.

Day saved. Take that Chevy Chase and your Vacation movie. We had ( the spur of the moment) back up plans.

We played in the water, the kiddos skimboarded, we built mansions for little animals we found in the sand, and laughed too much. After a while we decided to head back to our towel to play closer to my sister-in-law who had been sunning herself. We’re all lugging our toys and full of stories to share of all the great fun we had when we notice Missy in the water furiously working on one foot.

Oh, no, I think to myself. She’s cut herself on something.

Not so much.

It turns out the beach was covered in tar balls.

Now, never having seen a tar ball in my life, but having seen many different beaches (and the way they all look different, from the sand to the water to plants and animals that may litter the sand by the shore) I had thought nothing of the black stuff on the ground. Consider the fact that the sweet young Park Ranger never mentioned tar balls when we asked her questions about what to do and what to look out for… I was confused.

No, it can’t be, I reasoned.

The murderous look on Missy’s face made me doubt my reasoning ability.

They would have told us, I assured her.

I looked around at all the families enjoying the water and sand. No one seemed bothered at all by the supposed tar in the water and sand.

It can’t be, I continued.

Then looking around I began to notice. We did have flecks of black stuff on us. The toys were covered in what appeared to be a black tar like substance that seemed impossible to scrape off. The blanket was ruined, looking polka dotted on the sand side. The cooler, skim board, our feet.. in short everything we lugged down to the beach and ourselves… covered in tar.

Now at the moment it did seem a little funny, but it didn’t seem like the appropriate time to laugh, because well… we were covered in tar and the water didn’t seem to have any affect on it. Plus, at the time Missy would not have been amused by laughter.

We went into the little store to inquire about Dawn soap. Isn’t that what you see people using to save wildlife from oil spills? The nice ladies there didn’t seem too flummoxed by our ordeal. Instead of Dawn they suggested baby oil (which for those of you wondering, worked like magic, the Dawn… not so much).

When we asked the sweet young Park Ranger about the tar on the beach she didn’t seem surprised and said that they typically posted it on their weather bulletin, casually waving behind her to a screen on the wall. Then she promptly handed us a huge roll of paper towels and a Costco sized bottle of baby oil.

So, although we had a very Vacation-ish day, from the not even half-finished water park to the tar ball covered national park… we still had an awesome time. The kiddos kept relaying the fun we had had and I was thankful we were all able to focus on the positives of the day rather than what hadn’t happened according to plan.

And in a way, this vacation day will stand out more than the rest.