Texas Forever Vacation: Some Like it South!

Vacation is finally blogged! You can read all about our travels out west, then south and back central. Texas forever, y’all.


The last time we traveled to Texas, the furthest south we got was Galveston. We *really* wanted to take the kids to South Padre Island, but it was day seven, with a six kids (including a six-week-old) and so we cut our losses. But this time? We did south Texas right. It’s a long way down to Brownsville, Harlingen and San Juan in case you’re wondering.

Our first stop was the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan of the Valley. This national shrine did not disappoint. We are incredibly grateful to the Diocese of Brownsville for their wonderful tour of the diocesan offices, along with rooms at the shrine’s pilgrim hotel. We literally spent the night across the parking lot from this beautiful place!

From the shrine’s website: In 1623, an acrobat traveling with his wife and children stopped in San Juan de los Lagos to give a performance.  While practicing their act, the youngest daughter lost her balance and was killed. An Indian woman, who was the caretaker of the church, begged the parents to place the image of the Virgin Mary over their daughter’s body and prayed for the Virgin’s intercession. The child was then brought back to life. As word spread of the miracle, the devotion to Our Lady, under the title of “La Virgen de San Juan”, started to grow throughout Jalisco. Today, she is recognized by many people throughout Mexico as well as the United States.

We decided to enjoy the 5pm bilingual Mass, after lighting some candles and placing our intentions at the shrine. What they failed to mention was that bilingual really meant the entire Mass was in Spanish except for the first reading. Um, no habla Español. At least we knew when to sit, stand and kneel! Just before Mass, though, Scott had taken Gianna and Luke to the shrine to place their candles while the rest of us sat in the pew. They hadn’t been gone two minutes when we hear this CRASH. And I thought, “Dear Lord, we’ve been here less than 10 minutes and my kids have already destroyed the place.” Nope, that would be the 70yo lady who placed her candle on the spot where workers were cleaning off wax. For once, it wasn’t us. Miracle #856.

After being in the van all day, it was nice to get out, walk around and, of course, be the family that everyone stares at. Oh well, that’s life.

This was about the point on the trip where we had gone through our stash of ice chest food and everybody was craving BBQ. Enter, the Texas Monthly BBQ passport adventure. I think this is where that obsession truly took hold. Let me just say that Rio Grande Grill may just be one of my top five joints visited, ever. Their chicken tortilla soup was HOLY CHICKEN as was that chicken sandwich. This place was a wonderful blend of Tex-Mex meets BBQ. It makes me want to drive back down south.

Not only that, but we made friends (of course) with the entire staff waiting on us. They were so kind (and that sweet tea gets TOPS from mama). They even threw on an extra brisket for us when we rolled through the next day and took it with us to go!

After rolling out of there completely stuffed and happy, we headed back to the hotel for some sleep and a whole new adventure in south Texas. I’m still not sure how we did it, but we managed to get all six kids to sleep in one room in less than half an hour. Riding on that miracle high, I decided to get up with the chickens the following morning so I could catch sunrise at the basilica.

I think we call that, “worth it.” The walk through the stations of the cross, the stillness of the day, the humidity at 1000% – it was all worth it.

That was a good, good way to start the day. We loaded up the van and went to the beach. The kids were thrilled. Me? Um, I am not a beach lover. I know. Bad southerner. But, BUT we marked it as one of our very best of the vacation.

There was almost no one there but us. The water was cool, the sun kind, the sand not scorching and the waves gentle.

Some looked for seashells.

Some chilled.

Some jumped in with zero abandon.

Some gave piggy backs.

And some avoided the sand and water completely and just went with looking cute.

We even managed the perfect family beach photo. Minus the denim and white shirts.

Also, what’s a beach trip without a ring photo? Trust me. I had Clare to the side blocking the waves! Aggies do weird things, don’t we?

Padre, we’re definitely coming back. The whole van was super bummed the Port Isabel lighthouse was still under construction, but it just gives us another reason to come back.

Before calling it a morning, we stopped by Sea Turtle, Inc., a rehabilitation and rescue center. Absolutely fascinating. We learned a tremendous amount about the different types of turtles, how human garbage has led to their demise and what STI is doing to combat the problem. The kids loved stopping by, learning about and seeing the turtles.

It was at this point I really regretted not packing beer in the cooler. The kids were hangry, we were tired and we still had a drive to our final destination ahead of us. Somewhere along the way, we found our rally caps and powered on. We were able to catch a quick lunch with one of the friends Will made at Texas Farm Bureau camp this summer. How fun for him to be the one meeting friends on vacation for a change!

Here’s your funny story for the day. As we made the final leg of the trip, we stopped at the original Smolik’s BBQ in downtown Mathis, grabbed some sausage and chicken and then realized in order to get the kolaches we had to go to their other location on the highway. Originally, we planned on grabbing them in the drive-thru, but with a long line and hangry kids, we opted for me to pop in instead. Fifteen minutes later, Scott walks in and he’s all, “Kathryn, what are you doing?” And, I’m all, “Here’s your half dozen kolaches, a gallon of sweet tea and a plate full of brisket on the house. Oh, and say hi to the Smolik’s pit master.” It appears, after all, I really haven’t met a stranger. Sorry for the no photos, I was too busy eating BBQ.

A few hours later, we arrived at the final destination.

And, y’all, we went out with a BANG (and some Shiner). You don’t want to miss that!


  1. Mary on October 4, 2017 at 7:38 am

    I just love your vacation posts! I live in Michigan and know very little about Texas – I feel like I’m getting a little tour of your state through you. :o)

  2. Nicole on October 4, 2017 at 9:17 am

    That really is the perfect family beach photo! Love the hat on Gianna. I get tired just thinking about all you pack into a vacation, but yours always give me inspiration!

  3. Debbi on October 11, 2017 at 7:53 am

    totally cracking up about you saying you regretted not packing beer in the cooler!!!!
    Love your posts, Kathryn!

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