Gene Estes suspects that growing up in the 'dry' precinct of Abilene, Texas may have inspired his alcohol-based ingenuity; he crafted his first batch of wine from Concord grape juice when he was just 23. Years later, after holding various pharmaceutical jobs and putting to use his Masters in Microbiology, Estes' interest in wine re-emerged with a full and passionate force. Today, as the president and vintner of Lost Oak Winery, Gene works alongside resident winemaker Jim Evans to craft a host of award-winning wines. Among them is the 2012 Viognier, which scored a double gold in the renowned San Francisco Chronicle International Wine competition—meaning all five judges awarded the varietal with top scores before gilding the bottle twice in molten gold.
The winery itself offers both guided and self-guided tours, offering visitors a glimpse into the wine-making process complete with samples straight from oak barrels. Additionally, special events draw guests to the lush grounds for live music, wine club events, and the pre-Christmas holiday open house, where they can place preemptive wine orders with Santa.
In 1976, educator, musician, and kinesiologist Robin Wes longed for a children's gym that prioritized personal growth over competition. Unveiled at a time when physical-education classes pushed students to focus almost exclusively on winning, Robin's program was swiftly adopted and is now used in more than 300 Little Gyms worldwide. Robin still pens original music to accompany lessons, which engage whippersnappers aged 4 months to 12 years with gymnastics, dance, karate, and parent and child activities.
Each of The Little Gym's classes introduces simple movements that sharpen motor skills and set brains whirring, allowing kids to progress at their own pace until they can finally build a computer out of macaroni and glitter. Staff members strive to build a base for lifelong social skills and self-assurance with each exercise, including activities rooted purely in fun, such as summer camps or birthday parties, which helped The Little Gym to earn title of #1 Birthday Chain in Parents Magazine.
Party Warehouse provides shindig throwers and goers with a fun-inducing stockpile of party supplies and favors. Delight friends and terrify pets with crooning balloons, Mylar helium containment devices that sing songs ($11.49). Party theme packages lend a jovial verisimilitude to Western-themed tea parties or Dungeons and Dragons–themed dance-offs. Celebrate graduations, birthdays, and baby’s first PhD with festivity-appropriate decorations, personalized cups and napkins, or kids’ party supplies such as the Pooh and Friends party favor pack ($8.99).
Waterways snake all over the planet's surface, many emptying into a great blue ocean. As many scuba divers have found, those depths comprise a whole other world to explore—and require a specific set of skills to conquer. At SCUBASTOP, certified instructors use their knowledge to open that aquatic world to just about anyone.
Students here first get their feet wet with Discover Scuba, a class that teaches the absolute basics of diving. Anyone inspired to delve further can enroll in a PADI certification course that starts in classrooms and heated pools before voyaging out to the open waters of Balmorhea State Park or The Blue Lagoon scuba park. Specialized advanced courses are also available for anyone interested in rescue diving, digital underwater photography, or joining an improv group run by clown fish.
Wild smiles dance across the faces of pups and humans alike at K9 Kountry. Sunlight streams across the grassy lawn as dogs of all sizes frolic in the outdoor runs or in their own dog yards, tiring themselves out by playing with a variety of toys or gathering to put on a performance of Othello. As the sun sets, the pups careen indoors for a warm meal of freshly cooked meals and snacks, such as chicken or hot dogs, before hunkering down for the night in the climate-controlled shelter. The staff at K9 Kountry takes care of mutts of all sizes and temperaments with daycare, overnight boarding, and basic obedience training courses that focus on ensuring communication between dogs and their owners.