Fiorenza Park: Eagles, Reflections, Goals, and Pipe Dreams

Every morning during the week, I turn my car east on Westpark Tollway and join all the cars heading out of Katy. There is a time, usually coming over the hill past 1093,  that I hit a slowdown of this congested spot of tollway and find myself sitting still in bumper to bumper gridlock that carries me all the way to the Beltway.  Inevitably, I will look over to my left and see the sunflowers dancing on the grassy hill that marks the beginning of Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza Park.  The flowers seem to be beckoning me to come play.

If you are watching close, like I usually am (because there is nothing else to do), you will see the hillside disappear and a lake appear.  You might see the silvery flash of fish jumping in this lake and feel the delight of this in your heart.  Your eyes might be drawn to the two small islands, and perhaps you will wonder what those birds are that are clustered in a small flock on the islands.  You might contemplate what they are working on in the space between the highway and the lake (developing a new trail that will work itself around this side of the lake).  Perhaps, if you are like me, you might find yourself wishing that instead of going to work, you were actually on your way to that park instead, to see those things up close, to stop this rat race and just slow down a bit and soak up every bit of nature that place has to offer.

fiorenza-park-3When I found myself high on vacation days and needed to make a plan to use them or lose them, I decided that I was going to take a few days here and there to just give in to that feeling and go explore this park.  After all, there was a regular monthly bird walk that was scheduled here that I have been wanting to attend since my maternity leave last year (when I first discovered this information).  I felt very left out when I would get the email blasts with the list and pictures of the birds they saw.  I was especially excited when I saw that the group (led by a Houston Audubon employee, Mary Ann) was spotting Bald Eagles out there.  I wanted to see the Bald Eagle(s) for myself.

So today was one of those days.  It was perfect weather to join a group of (primarily older) adults on a walk about the park, marveling at each species representative.  I was the only one without a special fancy camera.  Next time (next month), I am going to bring Jason’s camera with me.  We did get to see the Bald Eagle.  Sometimes there has been up to five seen, but this one seems to be a permanent resident.  This is the only shot I got of her, with my cell phone:


After the group dispersed, I took a walk around the smaller section of this park a little further south to identify a vireo that I had seen while in the park a few weeks back with my kids playing Pokemon.  I had not thought to bring my binoculars that day.  I was delighted to note that it was a species of vireo I had not seen before (Blue-Headed), and after tallying up the species of the day, noted that my birding list for actually-seen birds this year is at a total of 130 species.

I was hoping to make this a year of birding trips, but then had to put that goal aside to cater to my middle son’s sports schedule in the spring, and then abandoned it completely in the heat of the summer.  However, I am only 5 species away from observing the most birds per year that I have recorded (in the few years I have been counting).  I am still 70 away from recording 200 for the year, which is one of my hobby goals, so I might have to plot a strategy for that in the next few months.  I also had set a hobby goal of getting 4000 geocache finds before my 41st birthday, and I completed that.  We have also been discovering a lot of parks in and around our area, which was one of my goals.

I recently reflected on the goals I had of planning a backpacking trip, in order to determine how serious I was about my dreams of hiking the AT or PCT one day.  I had to really question if my ideas of backpacking were actual goals, or just pipe dreams.  I am really not a fan of pipe dreams, to tell you the truth.  My best friend Jen said something this year about how I was “extremely goal-oriented”, and I hadn’t really thought about it like that before, but when I tried that label on, I found that it fit.  It irks me when people discuss their dreams as if they are things that will never really happen, because I feel like we create our own reality.  If you want to do a thing, you should make a plan to do that thing.  Work towards it in steps in you have to, but get it done.

I wanted to go spend some days at this park and see the eagle that lives there, so I made it happen.  I wanted to be an animal behaviorist, and I made it happen.  My job has given me the confidence to create plans and the persistence to see them through.  However, I still haven’t shed that baby weight, or even looked to see what kind of supplies we have for backpacking and planned a trip.  I suppose that today, doing a thing I wanted to do, made me consider more carefully how I was going to do the other things I say I want to do.  We will see how that plays out in the coming months.

Summer Summary

When I last wrote, the summer seemed full of possibilities yet, and now it is winding down.  Only two weeks until the start of another school year.  As we all expected, summer’s heat has turned up the dial and we are all sweltering.  However, it hasn’t really stopped us from playing outside, because we are crazy like that.  20160729_154220

Perhaps in a different year, we would have lost all interest in outdoor activities, but three current activities are keeping us motivated:  a step challenge at my work, my goal to get to 4000 geocache finds by my 41st birthday (31 finds/37 days left), and the advent of Pokemon Go.  I realize that Pokemon Go is one of those things that you either love, hate, or laugh at, but it is a perfect way to inspire my ten year old who really needs more exercise (and can’t stand geocaching anymore) to get out of the house and be active.  It is a lure, to borrow a term from the game, to encourage him to go for a walk around the neighborhood, at a local park, or even our nearby malls on particularly hot days, so I can still get my steps in for the step challenge but yet not feel guilty about leaving my children to work on it.

These are our top ten places we have discovering and playing at this summer since I last wrote (not an all-inclusive list, and besides the places I mentioned last time):

  1. McClendon Park:  I have decided this is one of my favorite finds of the summer.  It has a nice playground for all ages, a splashpad, geocaches, pokestops and gyms for PG, and also it is right next to a rookery where tons of birds have made their roost, making for exciting bird watching as well.
  2. 20160716_185443 20160716_185541Pine Mill Ranch:  this is a neighborhood near my house that I have been geocaching in by bike, sometimes alone and sometimes with my friend and her kids.  One day, we were really hot towards the end and found the splashpad.  Playing in it really cooled us down, and later I planned a Hike It Baby walk there, but was disappointed that only one other person showed up.  This seems to be my fate with planning Hike It Baby walks, so I have kind of given up on that myself, although Jason has been taking the kids on tons of Hike It Baby walks since he has been spending the summer as a stay-at-home dad.
  3. Katy Mills Mall:  the mall is not new to us, but we rediscovered how much we enjoyed it after Pokemon Go.  It has a ton of pokemon stuff going on, but also it is a nice air-conditioned venue to get some exercise, and someday we plan to spend a whole day there, perhaps paying to ride the train and the giant robotic stuffed animals, to sample all the foods and check out all the stores.  For now, we mostly play and window-shop.  We also had a good time re-exploring Memorial City Mall, although the play area was very crowded.  There was this special thing going on while we were there in which we found this giant Pokemon exhibit and had to take a pic of the real-life pokeball.20160730_175808
  4. Fort Bend Discovery Center:  This is the new branch of the Houston Children’s Museum, and it is much closer and much less crowded.  We decided to buy a family membership after a nice visit there last weekend with our friends (that I met online last year, through a baby app and then via Facebook and Hike It Baby).  These pics are the kids having fun discovering all the exhibits.  The Tot Spot was awesome – a safe, air conditioned place with all kinds of toddler friendly activities.  When I was in there, I felt like I was really doing something good for my kids.  Jason will probably take Sebastian back there regularly during the week now that we have a membership and until he starts working again.
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  5. Rick Rice Park:  lots of pokemon activity
  6. Westgreen Park:  I discovered this little gem when we were going back and forth to Rick Rice Park in the past few weeks.  It has a playground and a splash pad, and Sebastian really enjoyed playing there.  There is no playground at Rick Rice, so this is a good way to reward him for being a good boy and putting up with being pushed around in the stroller or driving around looking for imaginary monsters20160801_201428 20160801_20154320160801_195148
  7. Quillian Center (Noah’s Ark Pool):  I took these younger guys there on a day around Fourth of July weekend, during a time when Jason was taking AJ to urgent care to look at the full body rash he had acquired.  We had a lot of fun and I would take the kids back, but probably not until next year when Sebastian is a little more able to keep up with the bigger kids.
  8. Ervan Chew Park:  On the surface, this park is pretty basic, but we had a good time here playing on the playground, in the splashpad, catching Pokemon, and watching the dogs in the dog park next door. Plus there was this water fountain incident that made us laugh:20160729_152928
  9.  Houston Zoo:  although I will say, I am not going back here until it cools down, because I almost died when we went in the middle of the day on a July Saturday.  I sweated so much.  The splash pad was fun, though, and we have free admission (membership) until November.  We’ll be back, just not until temps are below 90.20160709_123717 20160709_123725
  10. The elementary school:  the school Kaleb goes to is not that far from our house, and it has a really nice playground for Sebastian to play on in the evenings (particularly summer evenings).  He is obsessed with playing ball right now, so this is a good place to take him in the evenings to let him chase soccer balls around in the grass, or learn how to bounce basketballs.20160731_094111

Staying Cool in H-Town

You haven’t heard much from me on here lately.  It’s not because I haven’t been thinking about you.   It’s just that we haven’t had many nature experiences lately.  First it was the storms and flood that kept us in, and then it was the heat and the bugs.  It has turned into that time of year when those of us in Houston turn to the refuge of TVs and ACs and avoid the outdoors.

However, you know me, I’m not going to stay in for long, and my desire for adventure is going to led me out of the house.  So my goal, then, is to find ways to have adventure that also keep my kids cool when we are doing it.  These are the ways we have found to do that lately this summer:

Splash pads: we have visited three splash pads so far this summer, but I plan to take the kids to more.  One splash pad that we went to with a Hike It Baby group is a public one I would recommend to anyone, with words of advice.  It is located in Nottingham Park at 14205 Kimberley Ln, Houston, TX 77079.  This park can get busy, so be prepared for that.  There might be times that are better than others to go.  The girl who hosted the Hike It Baby there said it was not busy on a Tuesday morning when she went, but on the Friday morning we were there, there seemed to be 2-3 field trip buses that showed up.  Still, the kids had fun.  There is a playground attached to it, and I think next time I will let the kids play their hearts out FIRST, and then cool down in the splashpad.  The time we went, they did that backwards, and slides don’t work as well in wet bathing suits, plus we ended up having to go back to the splash pad to wash off and cool down after.  kc swings dual kc toy kc tunnel kc wings

We also went to some neighborhood splash pads (Grand Lakes, Pine Mill Ranch), but apparently the residents get really worked up about non-residents sharing these, especially in Grand Lakes.  The people in Pine Mill Ranch didn’t seem to care either way, and their splash pad is really nice, so perhaps we will just keep going there.  Some that we have planned to go to still this summer:  McClendon Park, Cullen Park, Discovery Green, Wiley Park, perhaps the Aquarium and Zoo ones.

Pools: we have been frequenting the outdoor pool at our local YMCA.  It is a great pool for babies and young ones, but of course, only open to members.  The good news is that YMCA memberships are city-wide, so if you are a member of one Y, you could use the pool at any Y in the greater Houston area.  There is also an indoor pool that we sometimes use there.kc center

We also have a pool in our backyard, but I have only taken the kids to swim in there once because I kind of don’t want Sebastian to even know about it.  He loves swimming and he is entirely too brave and independent for his own good.  We are trying to make sure he learns how to swim safely and early.  He took classes at the YMCA and now he is taking classes once a week at Pengu Swim School, but he is still a toddler who doesn’t know how to hold his breath yet.

An awesome pool for little ones that we recently swam at was at the Best Western Plus hotel in Austin, off 35 at the Oltorf exit.  That is a great hotel, so if anyone is going to Austin, I could not recommend it enough.  Their pool had a baby pool that was one foot deep, and separated from the main pool by a ledge that could easily be passed over by a parent to take the kids from one side to the other.  We went back and forth a lot when we stayed there last weekend.

Some other pools that we plan to visit this summer include the Noah’s Ark pool at the Quillian Center in the Westchase area, the Bellaire Town pool, Rob Fleming in the Woodlands, and probably Grandma’s pool.

Children’s Museum Flow Works: we had a free pass to the Children’s Museum and Sebastian had a great time playing with the pipes and PVC elbows in the flow works area, and there is enough splash off that his shirt was quite wet and he stayed cool while playing there.

Beach: we took the kids to Galveston once this summer, maybe we will go again.  Sebastian LOVED it and was quite brave about the waves.  Kaleb always loves the beach, that is his happy place, and in fact that is why we went: to celebrate his birthday.

20160521-_DSC2569Other ideas I have on how to stay cool while having adventures with the children this summer include visiting the Galleria, downtown tunnels, museums, and the gem show again.

I have been doing a bit of geocaching alone on my bike (to give me some exercise but not expose the kids to too much heat).  We have a bike trailer but it does seem to get Sebastian hot quickly, so we are not using it when the sun is shining down.  Maybe we will go on evening bike rides, and perhaps now that Jason has a different schedule he can take morning bike rides towing Sebastian.  Jason is going to be a stay at home/work from home dad for a bit now, and there are some places he will most likely be taking the kids to have some fun indoors this summer.

I want to share the adventures we all have, and hope that we can resume hiking and forest explorations in September.

Willow Waterhole

20150508_110419Last week, I flew the coop again.  I was waiting on a friend who didn’t appear, and I didn’t want to lose another day to my living room, so I loaded the stroller and left to explore a park that I had been reading about and hadn’t visited yet.

This time,  I decided my main objective was geocaching.  I have learned over the past couple of years that I have to decide what I am doing and not try to multi-task my outdoor time.  I always have this optimistic idea that I can exercise, look for caches, AND look for birds at the same time, but perhaps the idea that multi-tasking means you aren’t doing any one thing well is correct.  If I had been truly exercising, I would have been would been moving faster, and if I had been truly birding, I would have been moving slower.

20150508_102521When I got close to the park, I followed the signs to parking off Dryad, but in retrospect, I would have been more comfortable parking somewhere else.  There didn’t seem to be a legit parking spot, but rather a place where the gravel road just ended with enough room for a few cars.  This parking spot put me at the one pond that is the furthest south.  It appears from the map that there are three or four different pond areas in this park, which stretches east to west along Gasmer, crossing S Post Oak.  The park itself encompasses 280 acres in total, comprised of flood relief areas turned “greenspace” in recent years.  The concept of placing retention ponds behind Westbury High School, in the area I was parked in, was first originated in 1996, and came together between 1999 and 2001 under the auspices of the Willow Waterhole Greenspace Conservancy.

willow waterhole

I also immediately became aware of one issue with this park.  The location of the park lends itself to sketchy inhabitants, perhaps due to its inner city location.  There are nearby apartments near S Willow and S Post Oak with an opening in the fence that allows direct access to the park.  I actually think that it is great that apartment residents have this awesome nature park in their backyard, but I have to admit feeling some reservation about sharing the park with two lone fellows that I saw while out there.  Neither of the men that I saw were dressed as if they were out to enjoy a nature park.  One was dressed in urban thug and his shirt actually had the store tags hanging off of it, so I wasn’t sure if that was a style, an accident, or a recently stolen item.  The other was lingering suspiciously by a park bench near the parking area.  He had a bag in his hand, and also occasionally reached into the bushes to what appeared to be a backpack.  He would walk aimlessly a few feet in either direction, stand there, and then go back to his bench.  It made me feel uncomfortable and I wanted to keep my vehicle within view at all times.  There were some other mothers out here with strollers and young children, so I decided that if they didn’t let these suspicious folks ruin their good time, I wouldn’t either.  I did cut my visit short, though, and next time I go, I am taking Jason with me.

I am going to try to go with the family on a weekend when Houston Audubon folks are there doing their monthly bird survey, so I can learn from them and also have the company of others.  There are interesting features at this park and several caches hidden there to find (I found five while I was out there), so there are reasons to come back.

Here are some of the views from the park that I experienced while out there:


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