Greetings from sunny Texas

Subject: Greetings from Austin, Texas

Hey Y'all,

Yes another round robin from me! It’s about 106 today and so as it is nearly 2 I thought I would take some time out of the sunshine and send you all an update on my hols. (Just delete if you can’t be bothered to read - its keeping me occupied (typing) while Joshua has a MAJOR tantrum in the next room.)

I have been staying with Audrey, Terry, Hannah (7) and Joshua (2) for a week now and having a lovely time despite the insane heat. It was not like this the last time I was in Texas when it pretty much poured with rain all the time I was in this state. I knew that it was coming though; as I was warned by Nannie (who used to look after me when I was little who also looked after Audrey and has just been out here). Thankfully there is air conditioning everywhere, the house, the car, the shops etc so you are given the opportunity to switch off from the heat apart from when you walk outside.

I hired a car last week for the rest of my stay, a far smaller one than the tank that I drove the last time that I was out here. A lovely cobalt blue 2 door Chevrolet very swish I have to say - still no TT though! (Wrong colour though anyway James and not convertible - midnight blue as you know is the one!!) My word it drinks petrol like you would not believe, I need to fill it up actually that reminds me! I have been on one major day trip so far which was yesterday otherwise I have just been using it to go to the Mall :) yes not quite sure how on earth I am going to make it home with all the bargains that I have found (and the mass of peanut butter M&M's that I have 'invested' in!) Most impressed with my new digital camera though which has a really powerful zoom, I got it way cheaper than it is in the UK and I keep patting myself on the back for that! I just need to find reasons to take pictures now as I am no longer going to need it for school!

I can’t believe the size of places over here, popping to the local store for a pint of milk is never a walk away - its like a 10 min drive. The small local grocery is about 3 times the size of the 'big' Sainsbury's in Bath! Every thing - and yes I mean EVERYTHING is drive thru. I have seen drive thru cash points, which I have to say I remembered from last time I think that we might have even actually used them last time. Drive thru Liquor stores where there are loads of fridges either side of the car and someone gets what you want. Drive thru Starbucks, drive thru pharmacy, drive thru everything, like I said. It’s no wonder that Americans are one extreme or another as if you wanted you don’t actually have to get out of your car for anything. I have been trying really hard to swim about 50-60 lengths of the pool each day, not only is it cooling but I’m trying to feel slightly better for the 'bad' things that I have been eating over here. I have been REALLY good about the peanut butter M&M's though. Those of you that know my little 'problem' there will know just how reserved I am being and how much will power it is taking not to get some every time I see them!

So yesterday I took myself off in the car to San Antonio to see the Alamo and various other sites in the city. Its funny I knew nothing about the Alamo and so many people had said when they heard I was going to Texas if I would be seeing it and I said 'of course' trying to sound as if I knew what they were on about. (Sorry if that was you!) The only Alamo I knew was the rental company that we hired the car from for the big trip. Anyway as soon as I got there I recognised it without having seen pictures or anything. I guess I must have seen part of the John Wayne film at some stage. I won't bore you with the history of the place (you can research it - all I can tell you was that it was 105 but apparently feeling hotter (can you feel the difference I wonder?! Its either hot, . . . hot or . . . hot in my book!) After walking around the Alamo in that heat - I walked round the air conditioned museum REALLY slowly to take in as much of the cool air as possible! - I walked across the street and found a bus tour thing. So I went on that - it was a HUGE coach thingy and I was the only one on the bus it was hilarious, talk about an individual tour of the city (well ok a couple of others got on and off). I paid not to get off the bus but the driver stopped in all the landmarks so that I could take photos - he was really working his tip which I have to say he deserved. If he asked one more person though to say prayers for me though I swear I was ready to turn and say something highly inappropriate back to him! (Sorry but it gets on my nerves when shoved down your throat!) We drove past an outdoor cinema - drive thru. .  . no I mean drive in - see don’t even have to get out of your car for that either. How cool would that be though! It reminded me so much of the film Grease (by the by it was last watched by me with my Year 5's as their end of year treat last year - happy days). We saw some of the Missions that are in the city and the Mexican shopping area of the city. If the Texans had not won the war at the Alamo all those years ago it is quite likely that the entire of this area would still be Mexico according to my guide.  I went on foot to walk some of the River Walk. The river goes right through the city and funnily enough - as it says you walk along the river on the river walk which is below street level and has restaurants etc along it. I only walked a little though as it was getting hot - no that means nothing - it was getting BLISTERINGLY hot. (That gives you a better idea!) So I headed to the cool of the car, which was like an oven, and the steering wheel was really hot too, almost too hot to touch. Oasis, Keane and I headed home via the grocery store for some milk for Audrey (I listened to the radio on the way back from hiring the car - yeah country music really is so not my cup of tea continuously I really HAD to invest in some CD's!! I did wave past Bob Dylan quite quickly though to put it mildly - it was the first CD that I saw amusingly).

So that was yesterday - I did text a couple of you and said that I was off to Sea World yesterday. Well I checked on the web and it is closed this week and open Friday and so I think that I will go then. Planning on visiting Huston tomorrow to do the NASA Space Station as we didn't get to do it last time as there was a horrendous thunderstorm and gushing torrents of rain and we couldn’t see the car 2ft in front - scary driving conditions. I cant remember if it was there that we were trying to 'locate the establishment' (Simon's effort at being super polite on the phone and asking where the Footlocker was that he was phoning asked instead 'Where is your establishment located?' I think it is one of those - you had to be there moments but god it still has Chloe and I in stitches).

Audrey and Terry are in great form and have been nothing but hospitable and welcoming which has been lovely. Hannah when I first arrived was really shy (for about 3 min) and had apparently been really excited about my visit for the previous few days. She is no longer shy to put it mildly but just as sweet as before although can be badly behaved at times. She got a picture off the fridge that she was intent on showing me, it was quite bizarre really, it was the picture that I had sent Audrey after we stayed with them back in 2001 of us all at supper. She pointed to her Mum Dad and me and then could remember Chlo and called her Chlo and Simon but not the others (sorry!) I asked her why she remembered Simon's name only and not the others she said - "'cos he draws good dinosaurs'!! I remember him doing it now, drawing Hannah dinosaurs all through supper. Also she said he was funny because he had to sleep in her Hello Kitty bed. (That was a sight!) Everything was Hello Kitty back then but now it is all animals. She has a puppy - Bella who is a miniature daschund, a gecko which was living in my room at one point in its tank after Terry had been and got it some crickets to eat. I was really happy about that of course. I put things on the cage so it couldn’t get out and had a very restless night’s sleep it has to be said. She now has a praying mantis too but thankfully they are now both in her bedroom with more crickets to feed them both. The back legs have to be pulled off before given to the crawlies which Hannah loves doing. GROSS!

Joshua is 2 and a month and an absolute terror – no really. He has a mass of curly bright red hair and is quite a stocky thing. He eats like a trooper and if it is food he likes it is a double handed action -one puts it in his mouth whilst the other scoops it up and so on. He has a bad habit of hitting people - I am bruised all over. He climbs the outside of their stairs to quite a height which is really dangerous if no one is watching. His food goes everywhere if he is in a foul mood and he screams - no screeches in the middle of the supermarket. Yeah safe to say Mum and Dad have a LONG wait for grand children. I have patience with older ones but none with that age (remember arts week Sarah and Sian? Never again thank heavens!). I am often awoken early in the morning by him throwing his Xylophone against his bedroom door. He is a real brute! But on the other side has the most adorable cheeky grin that is just so sweet. Hannah
revels in him being told off though and at the moment she laughs at him when he is in trouble which is not good as he clearly dotes on her and copies loads of stuff that she does!

So yeah, having a great time. Onto the 4th book now and have also read a couple of American mags as well. Feeling most relaxed. But I guess I must go now, everyone is out collecting Hannah from school and my Ipod is about to run out. I was hoping it would have cooled off a little, I have a feeling it won’t have so I need to go and catch some rays.

Do hope that all is well with all of you and that you are all enjoying your summer hols (and have not fallen asleep - this has gone on a little!).

Loads of love and hugs to one and all
Emma, Sparksy, Miss Sparks

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