Meal Planning

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Here we are again, at the beginning of another school year with all the hustle and bustle that comes along with the end of Summer.  Every morning when the alarm sounds, I jump out of bed and get to work - making breakfast, preparing lunches, and doing a general sweep of the house so that I can begin the day with some semblance of order.  Often, I feel like a farmer’s wife, awake before dawn, and completing chores before the rest of the brood stir to life.  But those first few solitary hours, give me a warm feeling of success that our day has started off with purpose.  In order to continue that sense of accomplishment, once everyone is out the door and to their respective school and work locations, I look ahead to what we can plan for our family dinner, ideally something I can make ahead or at least have the majority of it prepared before dinner time.  My goal, which is always a challenge, is to navigate the busy work schedules, soccer practices, cross country meets, school activities, guitar lessons, etc., so we can all enjoy a family dinner together a few times a week. 

To help accomplish this goal, I recently signed up for a meal planning service called Real Plans.  I am still getting the hang of it, but the thing I like is that you can pick and choose how many meals you intend to make during the week (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and they have several options that cater to any diet (Whole 30, Paleo, Keto, etc.) With Real Plans, once you create your weekly menu, they take it a step further and create the corresponding shopping list along with mapping out the plan for what time is needed to prepare the meals in general.  I look forward to delving in to the plan and having a better idea about what our family can eat at home, instead of last minute plans to eat out or on the go.  My hope is that this plan will allow us to spend more time together at the family dinner table along with spending less money eating out at restaurants on a regular basis

Our family will continue to have our weekly Taco Tuesdays, and one or two days with crock pot or Instapot meals.  I have recently made a Kalua Pig Instapot Recipe that from Nom Nom Paleo, and it is easy, delicious, and the whole family loved it.   Another favorite recently added our rotation is Buffalo Chicken Meatballs, by The Real Food Dietitians.  This dish can be part of a meal, or made as appetizers, which will be perfect for the upcoming football season!

A few other favorite family meals include:

  • Creamy Spinach Lentil Soup
  • Oven Baked Chicken Fajitas
  • Chicken Tamale Casserole
  • One of the classics that we have on heavy rotation is what we fondly call Chicken Stuff.  It is a versatile little ditty that can be eaten on its own, in a tortilla made into impromptu enchiladas, or scooped up with tortilla chips. Start out the morning around 9:00 a.m. or so tossing a few (maybe 4) frozen chicken breasts into the crock-pot.  Add about a teaspoon of cumin and pour in an entire jar of our favorite salsa.  Cook on high for most of the day, then about an hour before dinner time, turn the crock pot to low, shred the chicken, toss in a can of drained pinto beans and a block of cream cheese.  Mix all those ingredients together, let it cook for about another 30 minutes until the cheese is melted and VIOLA! Dinner is ready!  You can get fancy and add avocado, cilantro or any other ingredient to make it your own.  After dinner, I usually break it down in to lunch sized portions in plastic containers, refrigerate the containers and send to school with our kids the next day with tortillas or chips.  Other variations of crock pot chicken include such as Frank’s hot sauce, a packet of ranch dressing mix and cream cheese; or bar-b-que sauce and pinto beans, just to name a few. Those two chicken variations usually get put on Hawaiian rolls and sent as a school lunch the next day.

If there are quick and easy meals you enjoy preparing and sharing, please shoot me an email so I can add them to our family meal rotation.  My mom always wanted to feed anyone who stopped by for a visit, as she was instilled with the motto “Food is love.”  If we can take the time to sit and eat together as family an d friends, we open ourselves up to being filled with more than just nourishment for the body, but also nourishment for our souls and minds.  Enjoy!

Being a Realtor

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With graduation season having passed, and my own children’s possible career choices beginning to stare at us in the near future, I have been reflecting on what my career in real estate means to me.  Several years ago, my bookkeeper and friend said, “Molly, you are way too successful to think of your career in real estate as a hobby, so own what you do, as you are really good at it.” I finally took this advice, and I still start out real estate conversations with potential buyers and sellers with my mantra of, “I am wife, mother, and realtor, in that order.”  But each of those three things, my own holy trinity, make up what I feel is an important contribution to me, my family, and my clients.  Sometimes the scales tip a bit more in any one of the three categories based on time of year and what needs my attention the most, but I work really hard at finding that balance. 

I started in real estate in 2008, which marks 10 years this year, the longest job or career route I have ever undertaken.  It took me three years to get my license because I couldn’t make up my mind if it would be something I would be good at or if I could do the job with the integrity and beliefs that would ring true to me.  When I recall the first house I helped friends buy and sell, I remember my broker and mentor John Blackburn said “Molly, I need for you to send me your invoice.” And my response was “OH! I forgot I get paid to do this … I just really enjoyed helping them out.”  He then said, “If you keep that mindset and continue to treat others the way you would like to be treated, you will have a strong presence in real estate.” 

I find the most joy in helping people out, in and out of the real estate world.  I still consider a referral the utmost compliment you could ever pay me.  It is a vote of confidence that you have either met me personally or have heard good things about me from a trusted friend.  

At a recent closing, I was with clients whom I helped sell their current house and buy another house, all in Travis Country.  The escrow agent, who was overseeing the closing of their current house, wondered out loud how I work my magic in helping people trade houses around in our neighborhood.  It is a gift to me to keep people in Travis Country, if that is what works best for their family, but I also do quite a bit of work helping people buy and sell houses all over Austin and the surrounding  areas.  Wherever it is that I am working for a client to find a house to call home, my focus is on all the elements that will allow them to feel the most at home when they find that particular house. I have lived in Austin for more than half of my life, and have friends and relatives all over town.  When my clients tell me what it is they are looking for and where they want to be, I start thinking of all the possibilities and what I can do to narrow down the search so that when we find the right place, it really feels like home.  I also like to say, I never want to find you the “right now” house but the “right” house to call home.

Being a realtor in Austin has been a very rewarding career for me.  I work really hard at what I do and truly appreciate working with the people who start out as clients and become friends along the way.  The thing I work hardest at doing as a realtor is doing my best at making the daunting process of buying or selling a house the easiest process possible for you.  I still see a bright future continuing along the path of real estate because I really like what I do.  Thank you for allowing me to be your trusted real estate advisor in this sweet TC neighborhood I call home.

Balance and Boredom

The dog days of summer are upon us, so the challenge is to find a balance of how to stay off phones and electronics and how to become bored.  Yes, BORED, the old tried and true confirmation that summer is officially here. We all tend to reminisce about the good old days, way back when we were children, and how we suffered through a hot summer trying to figure out ways to combat boredom.  For me, the memories of building forts or catching fireflies come easily, while those long afternoons of endless boredom seem to have faded with time.

No matter your age, it’s a tough thing to put away the electronics.  We tend to think the electronics NEED us, in order to get work done or to answer someone’s plea on social media, but truly, putting the phone down and giving it a rest, even for a short period, allows for rejuvenation and fresh thoughts. 

I am engaging in this topic because recently, I forgot my phone at home when our family was leaving on a trip. My first thought was anger, which then led to frustration, then resignation, and finally…a sense of freedom.  The freedom came because I was on a vacation with my family, the people I love, and by being present with them, I realized that was the most important part of a vacation.  Although we had a friend FedEx my phone to me, the other important thing I learned was that even though there were things that I could tend to on my phone (emails, texts, etc.) none of it was urgent or couldn’t be taken care of later.  So the remainder of the trip, I did my best to leave my phone behind and focus on the time spent with family and friends.

Here are a few things that may help out, even for a little bit, to keep technology at bay.  In the car, whether driving or riding, stick your phone in the glove compartment, especially on road trips.  The very meaning of a road trip is to stare out the window and look at things in a different way while you mosey along your journey. 

At home, move your phone elsewhere when you watch TV or read. Try treating your cell phone like the “home phone”, by pluging it in to a specific spot and letting it stay there.  Sometimes we forget that our phones are not an appendage, and doesn’t need to go everywhere with us.

Try turning off unimportant notifications.  Some notifications can be important, and you can choose what may need your instant attention, but for the most part, the apps that suck you in (looking at you Facebook!) are the ones that have notifications. Try turning off the noise of those annoying notifications that can absorb you into your phone.

Give yourself a set amount of time to browse apps. Set a timer, and stick to it. Stop using your phone when you are standing in line, or waiting for someone.  It is a crutch.  Use that time to practice random breathing exercises, or making up stories about the person standing in line in front or behind you.  

Don’t use your phone in bed.  Kick it old school and buy an alarm clock instead of using your phone as your alarm. Keeping your phone away from your bed helps combat the urge to check email, texts, social media, and news the minute you wake up.

At our house, we have a dedicated phone table that our family puts their phones on every night at a certain time. The gift of releasing our electronic devices into the netherworld and allowing for free thought and perhaps full blown boredom to creep in is a gift you can give yourself, and the presence of your full attention to those around you is the gift that keeps on giving.

Summer Reading List

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The luxury of reading, especially in the summer, is something I really look forward to and enjoy. Growing up, our local library had a summer reading program, and every year I did my absolute best to read as many books as possible so I could advance my game piece on the big board and hopefully win a prize at summer’s end for all my reading.  Each week we would travel to the library, pick out our set of books for the week, bring them home and escape in to the wonders of fiction and fantasy. 

When our children were younger, we did much the same at the Bee Cave Library.  They enjoyed the rewards for reading, both the reading itself and the prizes given for reading.  The thing about slowing down to enjoy a good book, is that it is YOUR imagination painting the pictures of the words being read, along with YOUR relationship with the characters on the pages.  I have fond memories of my mom reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, along with James and the Giant Peach to us in the summer months, still two of my favorite books. The following are a few lists I have gathered for readers of all ages.  

Classic Books to Reread as an Adult:

  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  • Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  • Matilda by Roald Dahl
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Books that Will Make You a Better Person:

  • Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
  • Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albon
  • Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
  • The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
  • Rewire by Richard O’Connor

Thought-Provoking Fiction:

  • Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  • The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Children’s Books:

  • Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary
  • The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary
  • Frindle by Andrew Clements
  • How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
  • The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
  • Half Magic (series) by Edgar Eager
  • The Zoo at the Edge of the World by Eric Kahn Gale
  • Bliss (series) by Kathryn Littlewood
  • Dragon Slayers Academy (series) by Kate McMullan
  • Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
  • Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective (series) by Donald Sobol
  • The Boxcar Children (series) by Gertrude Chandler Warner
  • Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

With the summer months stretched out before us, take the time to slow down and read a good book!

Austin Art in Public Places

Spring is a time to get out and enjoy the great outdoors.  This doesn’t need to lead to jumping in the car, and driving two hours to go camping or any other venture that takes time to plan, it can be as simple as slowing down, staying in Austin, and checking out the cultural map of art in public places.  There is plenty to see on any street within the city.  Just driving into town down South First on a regular basis, I love seeing the “Greetings From Austin” mural, the city utility boxes that have been painted with murals, and all the other creative street art.  The random whimsical stuffed animals that someone attached to the majority of the telephone poles driving in towards town makes the stop and go traffic much more bearable!

There has been a recent installation at Pease Park (2201 Parkway) that has captured my attention.  It is called “Stickwork” by artist Patrick Dougherty.  Four whimsical huts constructed from seven truckloads of willow, elm, ash sticks and saplings from Stonewall, Texas, make up the installation. Dougherty with the help of community volunteers made up the structures that will last as long as the big bad wolf doesn’t come into town.

Waller Creek Conservancy continues to develop a chain of parks around a restored Waller Creek in downtown Austin. The new Waller Creek Park district will include more than 37 acres of newly designed and connected urban parks and public open spaces with hike and bike trails. At Waller Delta (74 Trinity St.) there is an installation entitled “Forever Bicycles” by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. There are 1,200 bicycles constructed into one large dizzying sculpture whose wheels are now frozen in perpetual cycle. 

A lesser known public art space is the Grotto Wall at Sparky Park (3701 Grooms St.).  A former energy substation for the City of Austin, it is tucked away close to the intersection of Grooms and 38th Street in Hyde Park.  It isn’t as extravagant as heading to Barcelona to see works of Gaudi, but worth packing a picnic lunch and exploring whimsical art here in Austin.

“Nightwing” (300 S. Congress) I consider as of more a directional focal point in the S. Congress corridor.  It is the spinning bat sculpture that is the meeting place for friends when participating in the Cap 10K, or other downtown events.   As a bonus, it’s near the YETI store, which happens to have a bar within the store, so you can stop by for an adult beverage and become mesmerized by the “Nightwing” as you drink your Lone Star.  Bonus, at dusk, you can wander onto the Congress Avenue Bridge to see the bats take flight.  This nightly mass exodus is itself a living and fluid sculpture, Mother Nature at her ethereal best.

Meandering down Cesar Chavez from Congress towards Mopac, I like to see if anyone is eating with friends at the “Open Room” (115 Sandra Muraida Way). This art in public places invites you and your friends to have a dinner party or elaborate lunch on the 24’ table equipped with a tablecloth (metal)  and lovely ambient lighting.  A few times I have seen birthday party celebrations taking place, or a mixture of family, friends and friendly dogs enjoying a nice meal together.

One last sculpture  that has always captured my fancy is “Your Essential Magnificence” (2204 S. Congress) It is an homage to South Austin establishments and has mementos embedded in it from the Broken Spoke, Armadillo World Headquarters, and The Cathedral of Junk.  Part peacock, part throne, it encompasses all that is random and great about Austin. L’art, c’est la vie!

Having a healthy home

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At the beginning of every year we spend time preparing for great things such as a new exercise program to get in shape or a healthy eating plan to get on track. The intention of eating right, exercising and becoming a healthier version of ourselves are good things to strive for.  While all that planning is taking place to better yourself, have you given any consideration to the health and well-being of your home?   We take for granted all the comforts and conveniences of our home until something like a plumbing issue or heating and air conditioning problem pops up. 

While the resolutions are starting to take shape on the new and improved you, it’s a good time to plan for the not necessarily new, but could be improved version of your home.  There are things that can be done year-round to keep the health of your house in tip-top shape, no matter what the season.  Like with your car, preventative maintenance on your home can save you both money and headaches.

Here are some monthly home improvements ideas that will keep the maintenance of your house on track and easier to manage.

  • replacing the air filters and cleaning the dust from air vents
  • clean kitchen sink disposal
  • clean range hood filters
  • inspect your fire extinguishers
  • remove mineral deposits from faucets and shower heads
  • inspect the tub and sink drains for debris

Once you are in the groove with a monthly plan, you can now move on to bigger and better projects that can be tackled on a quarterly basis.  

  • test smoke/carbon monoxide detectors
  • check your roof to see if any shingles are missing or if trees need to be trimmed away from the roofline
  • give your house a deep clean
  • have windows cleaned
  • professionally clean carpets
  • clean out the gutters
  • clean out your appliances (dishwasher, microwave, oven and washing machine)
  • vacuum the refrigerator coils
  • check grout in the bathrooms, kitchen, etc. and repair/caulk if needed
  • have your fireplace checked out on an annual basis to make sure it is in good working order.

If you want to consider things that an inspector might look for while inspecting a house, here are the top eight things to be aware of: 

  • make sure all outlets, GFCI, and switches work properly
  • replace burned out light bulbs
  • drippy faucets, leaking plumbing, water damage and mold are red flags for greater problems. 
  • give your HVAC a tune-up service to help identify any issues that might need to be repaired. 
  • smoke detectors need to be in working order. 
  • windows should open and close freely and be free of cracks and fogging between panes.
  • any visual signs of pests should be investigated for signs of infestation. 
  • cracks in foundation walls, uneven flooring can point to foundation issues. Check that doors open, close and lock properly.  
  • garage doors must have working safety features.

All of these things will make the space you call home feel like a healthier version of itself. 

Giving Gift Experiences

I recently ran across a shop like a minimalist list that has reverberated through my thought process for this year’s Christmas gift buying.  For the most part, I am looking forward to buying experiences or things that allow me to spend time with the ones I love instead of objects that take us away from each other.  For me, giving experiences are the gifts that keep on giving. Spending quality time with my family as a group or individually give us memories we can cherish, instead of an object on next year’s garage sale heap.

Ways to give experiences instead of stuff:

  • Movie tickets
  • Concert tickets
  • Restaurant gift certificate
  • Zoo or aquarium passes
  • Museum membership
  • Spa gift certificate
  • Weekend away coupon
  • Amusement park passes
  • Broadway show tickets
  • Local theater passes
  • Massage gift certificate
  • Sporting event tickets
  • ACL tickets
  • Camping trip
  • Classes (art, cooking, etc.) 

How to Shop Like a Minimalist – 11 Ways to Shop Intentionally
These are ideas to implement before you even go shopping. They are general strategies and questions to change the way you approach buying. This in turn, will slow the incoming flow of “stuff” into your home. Making sure what you are buying and bringing into your home will add value, not clutter, to your home and life.

  • Unsubscribe from store emails
  • Avoid malls and shopping centers
  • Research your options beforehand
  • Wait 24 hours before purchasing 
  • Plan a no spending day/week/month
  • Honestly assess your intentions behind wanting to buy something new
  • Make a list and budget – and stick to it
  • Pay with cash
  • Try to buy experiences more often than things
  • Use up or wear out what you have first before buying something new
  • Practice the one in, one out rule

The point of learning to shop like a minimalist is to become more intentional with what you buy and bring into your home. In order to avoid cluttering your life and your space with things you don’t use or love. Giving yourself more time, space and freedom to enjoy your life. And be able to live a life full of the most important things: the people you share it with and the experiences you have.

It may not always be popular or seem “fun” to say no to buying more and no longer shopping for entertainment. But learning to shop like a minimalist will pay off in the long term when your home is uncluttered and peaceful. When you are not spending your spare time managing the things you own (cleaning them, maintaining them, repairing them, organizing them, etc.), rather than enjoying your life.

The intentional shopping choices you make today will allow you to spend your Saturday afternoons doing something you love and enjoy. Rather than cleaning out your storage room. Again.

Learning to shop like a minimalist takes effort and intention. But the rewards and benefits of minimalism will make it all worth it!

Being Thankful

Thank·ful
THaNGkfəl/
expressing gratitude and relief. “an earnest and thankful prayer”

On most mornings, I tend to wake up and have a song playing in my head.  The one that plays on a regular basis is Aretha Franklin’s version of “I Say a Little Prayer”.  Dionne Warwick did a great version of this song too.  The song was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, who wrote most of the soundtrack to my life during my childhood. 

The reason this particular song plays in my head besides being a really good song to hum along to, is the repeat message of “I say a little prayer for you”.  Different verses of the song carry different people through my memories.  For instance, as the song starts “The moment I wake up, before I put on my makeup…” I think of my grandmother, Nana, as I sat on her bathroom counter as a kid and watched her pencil in her eye-brows; I say a little prayer for her. As I continue to hum the song, I travel down memory lane and reflect on who has been, and continues to be, important to me in my life.  As I do this, “I Say a Little Prayer” for them.

With the holiday season coming in to view, specifically Thanksgiving around the corner, it is a good time to reflect on those people who have impacted our lives in a positive way.  Sometimes it is difficult to put the thankful and grateful into action with so many unfortunate  things going on around us, but if just for a moment, you can hum a tune or think about the people in your life that lift you up, it will do a world of good.

It could also be the time of year where you consider leaving your own impression of goodwill or thankfulness to others.  Are there traditions or things you or your family do that will leave a trail of memories? Giving back in your community is a great way to bring your family together and build lasting memories. Another idea can be as simple as reflecting on what left an impression on you as a kid and then passing along that memory or tradition to others that are important in your life. 

I have noticed in the past few weeks when I get out of my office and go meet with others, that I feel so much better about humankind and what people are working on to make the world a better place.  I think there are so many more things to be thankful for, and by reflecting on the people and memories that got me to where I am and are encouraging me to go a lot farther, I can easily “Say a Little Prayer” for you!

Freshening Up Your Bathrooms

As a homeowner, there is ALWAYS another house project that can be done.  We have done multiple remodels on our house, and the next phase we would like to tackle is remodeling our two existing bathrooms that are stuck in the mid-80’s flare. It isn’t something we are considering doing right away, but in the near future, so I hope!  In the meantime, we have decided to put a band-aid on the current bathrooms until the time comes to tackle the remodel.  

Here are 5 Easy Ways to Freshen Up Your Bathrooms- No Demolition Required:

Paint. Go classic with white, create a spa retreat with soothing blues or energize your space with yellow tones.  Choosing a paint color just got a whole lot easier with peel & stick color samples and paintable removable decals. These no mess color samples show the actual color and won’t damage or mark up your walls. View and compare color instantly then remove and reapply them again and again as needed. Available at your favorite paint stores. Find some paint inspiration online on Pinterest or Houzz. Once the walls are painted, you may want to consider giving the bathroom cabinets a makeover with a fresh coat of paint.

Lighting. See yourself in the most flattering light with new light fixtures. New lighting is an easy way to update and modernize a space without gutting it.  Just be sure to hire a professional if your plans involve any rewiring. LampsPlus.com and Wayfair.com has a huge selection, great customer service and free shipping on most orders. 

Fixtures. As with lighting, new faucets add style to your space with a minimal effort.  Although silver-toned faucets are the finish of choice among homeowners, brushed nickel and polished chrome are also popular choices that for around $100 a faucet, will update the look of your bathroom.

Shower Curtains. Change the look of your bathroom witha new shower curtain to add apop of color to the room or enhance neutral tones.  Whatever you choose, make sure that it complements the overall theme or style of the room. Some of my favorite places to shop for stylish, on-trend and affordable shower curtains are Target, World Market and Ikea.

Accessories.  Add style and function with new accessories.  If you’d like more storage, add a wall cabinet or shelf, or repurpose an unused storage unit from around the home.  Install a new mirror or towel rack to enhance the look of your bathroom.  Add color or texture with simple containers and wall décor. Minted.com has a beautiful selection of fine art prints that will compliment any room in your home. Even browse prints by color scheme.

You can also consider new towels and bath rug brighten up the room.  Anything to make the place a little spiffier to help overlook the lovely 70’s shell shaped sink will be a plus. Who knows, by the time we get around to remodeling, those sinks might be back in style!

Easy Family Dinners

Studies have shown, time and again that eating together as a family has multiple benefits for everyone involved(especially children), and not only for nutritional purposes but in many other aspects as well.  According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), children who eat several times a week with their family are at lower risk of developing poor eating habits, weight problems or alcohol and substance dependencies, and tend to perform better academically than their peers who frequently eat alone or away from home.

At the beginning of every school year, there is the major shift in how our family eats dinner.  Depending on everyone’s weekday schedule, it is a tour de force to work towards having at least one and hopefully two nights that we can sit down as a family and eat together.  Along with the communal dinner, I try to figure out a game plan so the leftovers can then be lunch for everyone the next day or two.  It is a grand plan, but with the help of my trusted crock pot or Dutch oven, I make a worthy effort to make it happen!  There are a few tried and true favorite dinners for our family that I would like to share with you all, and if you have some that you and your family enjoy, please spread the love and send me the recipe so that I don’t end up scouring Pinterest all hours of the night wondering what to make. 

One of the classics that we have on heavy rotation is what we fondly call Chicken Stuff.  It is a versatile little ditty that can be eaten on its own, in a tortilla made into impromptu enchiladas, or scooped up with tortilla chips. Start out the morning around 9:00 a.m. or so tossing a few (maybe 4) frozen chicken breasts into the crock-pot.  Add about a teaspoon of cumin and pour in an entire jar of our favorite salsa.  Cook on high for most of the day, then about an hour before dinner time, turn the crock pot to low, shred the chicken, toss in a can of drained pinto beans and a block of cream cheese.  Mix all those ingredients together, let it cook for about another 30 minutes until the cheese is melted and VIOLA! Dinner is ready!  You can get fancy and add avocado, cilantro or any other ingredient to make it your own.  After dinner, I usually break it down in to lunch sized portions in plastic containers, refrigerate the containers and send to school with our kids the next day with tortillas or chips.  Other variations of crock pot chicken include such as Frank’s hot sauce, a packet of ranch dressing mix and cream cheese; or bar-b-que sauce and pinto beans, just to name a few. Those two chicken variations usually get put on Hawaiian rolls and sent as a school lunch the next day.

On Tuesday nights, if the stars align and everyone is open to having dinner together, we have TACO TUESDAY! It’s a quick and easy dinner to make since all the ingredients are easily packaged and good to go. It’s as simple as browning ground beef and adding the taco seasoning packet.  We get our girls involved on assembling all our favorite toppings while we wait for the taco shells to warm in the oven. Extra taco meat and toppings, plus some lettuce makes a yummy taco salad option the next day for lunch.

Our favorite one pot meal made in the Dutch oven is a Creamy Spinach Lentil Soup that I found on the website www.pinchofyum.com.  The thing I like about this particular blog is that her photos of the foods are great and everything turns out delicious. I made this particular lentil spinach soup this summer after returning from Spain.  It was eaten quickly and has been asked by our youngest daughter to add it to the weekly rotation of dinners (win!).  This will heat easily and be a good lunch too, sent along with a piece of ciabatta bread or crackers.  It can also be made as a vegetarian dish using vegetable broth.

The great thing about these one pot meals and others like them is that the grind of making dinner or deciding what’s for dinner is done earlier in the day when life is fresh and full of possibilities. It’s bliss when everyone returns home in the evening from school and work and your family can enjoy time eating a meal together reflecting on their days activities, even if it’s not every night. Enjoy!

Time, Talent and Treasures

August is the month to mentally gear up for the fall.  All the wheels are turning for school and work activities and commitments.  I remember my days at Oak Hill Elementary as a parent, and those first few weeks of school when everyone bombarded you with volunteer opportunities.  In my rookie years I took the challenge on with a vengeance and was the first to sign up for as much as I could possibly fit in to each 24-hour period.  In part, I wanted to be actively engaged in the school so I could keep a bird’s eye view on what was going on with our kiddos and see firsthand how the school was run.  But then as I was participating in the numerous activities, I realized I was making some really good friends who were also volunteering; sleeves pulled up, ready to jump in and help where needed. 

With my penchant for volunteering, at times I was beginning to feel that I may be overextending myself at the expense of my professional life.   However, as my career in real estate revved up, I noticed the clients I worked with are the same people and families I volunteered with at school, at church, or in the neighborhood. They could see I am a hard worker and willing to help out where needed.  The balance is still a juggling act between family and work life, but I subscribe to the mantra that I am, in this order, wife-mother-realtor-volunteer.

I grew up in a family with a “can do” attitude, and hope that our family carries on that tradition.  We are forever changing what inspires or drives us to want to help out where needed.  I think a really big impact on me occurred several years ago, when a friend’s partner died at a young age.  I didn’t know his partner that well, but I wanted to pay my respect to my friend.  In his eulogy, the impactful message that plays repeatedly in my brainis “Just show up.”  My friend’s partner accomplished quite a few things in a short amount of time, in large part because he just showed up.  In the realm of volunteering,  just showing up is imperative.  It’s often easy to convince yourself that you’re just too busy and tell yourself “…I’ll just write a check…”.  Contributing financially to a cause is great, but sometimes, it’s also important to JUST SHOW UP and lend a hand.  We all have so much we can accomplish and learn from one another when we work TOGETHER and get in there to help where needed.

Next time a worthy volunteer opportunity comes your way, show up and give the gift of your time and talent.  Try looking at the overwhelming volunteer lists presented in the fall at schools, neighborhood and churches as golden opportunities.   Whether it’s for a few minutes a week, or once a month, get out there and give the gift of volunteering.  You will learn things about yourself in the process, and accomplish things you didn’t know you were capable of, and usually meet people that could very easily become lifelong friends.

Why Summer Shines

I was recently walking around the neighborhood with a neighbor friend, and as we were walking I realized we both had moved in to Travis Country sixteen years ago in June.  The funny thing is that the house my neighbor friend and her family live in is the house that lured us in to Travis Country, but they had an offer on that house first, so we were left with choosing another available house for sale, which is still our home today.  As we walked and reflected on our history in the neighborhood, I continued to fondly think about the people, places, and things that truly make me feel blessed to call Travis Country home.

My growing family and I moved to our neighborhood in the summer of 2011, and the first introduction to one of the many festive neighborhood events was when my neighbor across the street told me about the annual Fourth of July Parade.  We had only lived here a few weeks, and our daughter was ten months old, so I put her in our baby jogger and strolled over to see about the parade.  We fell in line and made our way behind the fire truck waving at neighbors along the way.  I especially loved, and still love, seeing the American Flags in all the front yards throughout the neighborhood.  I felt pride not only in my country, but in my new neighborhood as well.

Within those first few months of us being new to the neighborhood I sent out a message in the TC Notes neighborhood newsletter to start a playgroup so that I would have parents to commiserate with and our children could have friends close by. They say those are the salad days, and I have to agree.  Sipping frozen pink lemonade on the back porch swing while the kids ran around in the yard, usually running through the sprinklers, are vivid memories I cherish.  We would continue to have lots of play dates at the playgrounds over the years and that segued into our participation with the swim team, which we continue to do every summer for the month of June. The many different families we have met and friends we have made during our years on swim team are amazing. 

Reflecting on summer, swim team, and our time spent at the pool as a family encapsulates the very summer traditions that allow for our kids to be kids. They ride their bikes to the pool where they meet their friends to play Marco Polo or challenge each other to creative tricks off the diving board.  Often, they conspire (unbeknownst to us parents) to make grand plans and figure out who is having that week’s sleepover.  Or their entrepreneurial spirit kicks in and they lay plans for lemonade or a cupcake stand. 

There are still plenty of other activities to look forward to throughout the summer, and all the other seasons, but I hold the summer in my neighborhood closest to my heart, because it is the time of year we moved here and made it our home.  Life just slows down a bit during the summer and everyone, young and old, enjoys getting out and visiting with our friends and neighbors.

Home Buying Myths Debunked

It has been said that every five years, our housing needs change.  Much of that change is dependent upon family wants and needs, along with the factorsyou want to consider in making a house your home.  The following are a few common questions I frequently get asked when someone is considering purchasing a house (either trading up or scaling back).  Even if you intend to stay put, educate yourself on these common home buying myths, for your next neighborly curb-side conversation regarding the fine art of buying a house.

Myth #1: The first step to buying a home is to start looking. Browsing for homes is fun but you run the risk of setting your heart on something, only to have it broken. Make sure that you first get pre-approved for a mortgage before you embark on your home-buying journey, this will determine how much you can afford. This oftentimes includes assessing the value of your current home.

Myth #2: Your down payment must be 20%. While a 20% down payment is ideal so you can avoid that pesky private mortgage insurance (PMI) payment, there are a variety of loan programs to help you get into the home of your dreams for much less. If you qualify for an FHA loan, you can get into a home for as little as 3.5% down.

Myth #3: A 30-year fixed mortgage is always the best option. That could be true if you keep the home for that long but if you only intend to keep the home for 5-7 years, there may be other options that are more appropriate. Remember, the longer the fixed rate, the higher your interest rate will be so you could be paying a higher rate for nothing.

Myth #4: The seller’s asking price is non-negotiable. Much like buying a car, the offer you make on a house does not need to be the full asking price. If you have good credit, pre-approval, and a good down payment ready to go, sellers will likely be willing to negotiate with you rather than hold out for another buyer.

Myth #5: If you don’t have kids, local schools don’t matter. The neighborhood you choose matters, both now and later when you might consider selling. Even if you don’t have children, good schools are a sign of a good neighborhood, which means when the time comes to sell you will likely sell quicker and for more money than a comparable home in a less desirable neighborhood.

Myth #6: You don’t need an agent. If you think you don’t need an agent because you have the Internet, think again! When you align yourself with a real estate agent, you get everything from help finding homes, inside information on properties and neighborhoods, and a skilled negotiator on your side that can help you navigate through any bumps on the road to becoming a homeowner.

One of our biggest obstacles as realtors is myth #6.  If you intend to know what is going on in thelocal housing market, and have an inside ally to help you purchase a house, it is imperative ...to rely on a realtor to navigate one of the--if not THE--largest purchases you intend to make.  I would love the opportunity to be your trusted advisor in the home buying process.

If you have any questions or need additional information on buying or selling, send me an email.

Fun Summer Events in Austin

MAY

Shakespeare in the Park @ Zilker Hillside Theater: The Comedy of Errors • runs through May 28

Unplugged at the Grove @ Shady Grove • Thursdays; May 11, May 18, May 25

Southpark Meadows After Dark Concert Series • Saturdays: May 6, May 13, May 20, May 27

Hill Country Galleria May Wine Walk • May 11

Saturday Night Concert Series @ Hill Country Galleria: Jomo & the Possum Posse • May 13

Movies in the Park @ Dove Springs Park: Aladdin in Español • May 18

Saturday Night Concert Series @ Hill Country Galleria: Two Tons of Steel • May 20

Blues on the Green @ Zilker Park: Jamestown Revival • May 24

Saturday Night Concert Series @ Hill Country Galleria: Sour Bridges • May 27

JUNE

Movies in the Park @ Rosewood Park: Sister Act • June 1

Unplugged at the Grove @ Shady Grove • Thursdays; June 1, June 8, June 15, June 22, June 29

Ballet Under the Stars @ Zilker Theater • June 2-3 

Southpark Meadows After Dark Concert Series • June 3, June 10, June 17, June 24

Saturday Night Concert Series @ Hill Country Galleria: The Fabulous Chevelles • June 3

Austin Symphony “Concerts in the Park” Hartman Concert Park @ Long Center • Sundays; June 4, June 11, June 18, June 25

Hill Country Galleria June Wine Walk • June 8

Blues on the Green @ Zilker Park • June 14

JULY

Austin Symphony Independence Day Concert & Fireworks @ Auditorium Shores • July 4

Movies in the Park @ Patterson Park: Aladdin • July 6

Unplugged at the Grove @ Shady Grove • Thursdays; July 6, July 13, July 20, July 27

The Wizard of Oz @ Zilker Hillside Theater • runs July 7- August 12

Austin Symphony “Concerts in the Park” Hartman Concert Park @ Long Center • Sundays: July 9, July 16, July 23, July 30

Hill Country Galleria July Wine Walk • July 13

Movies in the Park @ Dick Nichols Park: Mighty Ducks • July 13

Blues on the Green @ Zilker Park • July 12

Lady Bird Day @ Wildflower Center • July 23

AUGUST

Blues on the Green @ Zilker Park • Aug. 2

Unplugged at the Grove @ Shady Grove • Thursdays; Aug. 3, Aug. 10, Aug. 17, Aug. 24, Aug. 31

Austin Symphony “Concerts in the Park” 

Hartman Concert Park @ Long Center • Sundays: Aug. 6, Aug. 13, Aug. 20, Aug. 27

Summer Done Right

I tend to be a list-maker, and LOVE the google app “Keep”.  This program makes me feel like my lists are elevated to greatness all tucked in neatly on my phone with their color coded wealth of information.  

With summer around the corner, the seriousness of lists loosens. A more organic group of lists from summer music playlists, things to try, things to see, things to make and books to read all float to the top of pile.  Here are a few worth mentioning:

Summer Music Playlist

  • Beach Boys:  Good Vibrations
  • Dire Straits:  Walk Of Life
  • The Bird and the Bee:  I’m Into Something Good
  • Bob Schneider: Let The Light In
  • Peter Tosh:  (You Gotta Walk) Don’t Look Back
  • The 1975:  Chocolate
  • The Beatles:  Here Comes the Sun
  • Jack Johnson:  Better Together
  • Joe King Carrasco:  I Get My Kicks On You
  • Sly & The Family Stone: Everyday People
  • Spoon:  Inside Out
  • Selena: Bidi Bidi Bom Bom
  • Bob Marley & The Wailers:  Three Little Birds
  • Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings: Tell Me
  • Vampire Weekend:  Unbelievers
  • Big Star:  September Gurls
  • Los Lonely Boys:  Heaven
  • Colbie Caillat:  Brighter Than The Sun
  • Redbone: Come And Get Your Love
  • Michael Franti: Say Hey (I Love You)
  • Alejandro Escovedo:  Always A Friend
  • Len:  Steal My Sunshine
  • Looking Glass: Brandy
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan: Love Struck Baby
  • Paul Brady:  The Hawana Way

Summer Reading:

  •  The History of Love: Nicole Krauss
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife: Audrey Niffenegger
  • A Long Way Down: Nick Hornby
  • The Book Thief: Markus Zusak
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao: Junot Diaz
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God: Zora Neale Hurston
  • If Jack’s In Love: Stephen Wetta
  • The Shining Girls: Lauren Beukes
  • All the Light We Cannot See: Anthony Doerr
  • I Was Told There’d Be Cake: Sloane Crosley

Day Trips from Austin:

  • Pedernales Falls State Park
  • Fredericksburg and Enchanted Rock
  • New Braunfels
  • San Antonio Riverwalk and the Alamo
  • Marble Falls

General Summer Fun:

  •  Have a Picnic
  • Play in the Sprinkler
  • Make Cookies
  • Take a Walk
  • Go out for Ice Cream
  • Talk in Pig Latin
  • Play a board game
  • Play hide and seek
  • Watch the Sunset
  • Make Lemonade

No matter what your list involves, it always feels nice to check things off the list, especially when the list is filled with fun and exciting things to do! If you have any lists you would like to share with me, please email them to me, and I will share on my website. Get out there and enjoy the slower pace of summer! 

Sprucing Up Your Home

As I work with sellers preparing their houses to sell, the biggest disappointment I hear is “Why didn’t we do this sooner?” 

It’s a lot easier said than done, as we’re all busy with our day-to-day responsibilities, but there is no time like the present to make those little improvements or updates.  I guarantee you’ll be glad you did, even if you aren’t thinking of moving any time soon!

A quick and easy fix is to replace any fogged windows that may be in your home.  You wouldn’t think it makes a difference, but my neighbor did it a few years back with cathedral windows high in her house, and she said she had forgotten how much she loves looking out at the clouds passing by during the day or the stars at night now that she has a clear window to look through again.  Even if you don’t need to replace any windows, it is a good idea to schedule window cleaners once or twice a year.  I usually map out a plan to have our windows cleaned around a holiday when we will have lots of family visiting.  It makes your house feel sparkling clean just having that one big chore done.

Another consideration, especially since we are in the spring season, is to work out a landscape plan for your yard.  It doesn’t have to be an elaborate plan or task, but something that could be a weekend project.  Afterwards, whenever you pull into your driveway you’ll be glad to be home and welcomed by a nice looking yard. Even repainting your front door a fun color gives your home instant curb appeal and makes a strong first impression. I’m very fond of my orange front door!

Another option that might not sound fun, because you can’t necessarily see the results, is having an energy audit done on your house.  Making the recommended improvements will likely in turn lower your energy bills, and enhance your “green” space. You may qualify for rebates from the City of Austin for making your house more energy efficient. 

Updating your home’s flooring is also a great option.  You may want to floor the entire house in one style of flooring replacing the old patchwork of different floors.  While you are at it, you can redo the baseboards, which instantly gives your house an updated, consistent feel.  Or, if you like your current flooring, it helps to have carpeting deep cleaned or hardwoods polished to make them feel like new again.

Bigger projects to tackle are remodeling or additions.  Kitchens and bathrooms are the big ticket items, and worth considering if you think you may want to sell your home in the future. There are smaller things you can do to update your kitchen and bathrooms.  Switching out the drawer and cabinet pulls can make a visual difference that makes you happier to be in those spaces.  You can also switch plate covers or air conditioning grates very easily.  You’d be surprised at how such little projects update the look of your home. 

Spring is a season of refreshing what is old and making it new again.  Your house is the biggest investment you have to call your own.  Completing these or other projects, small or large, will make your house shine and will show your pride in ownership! 

Enjoying Spring in Texas

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The (in)famous, Punxsutawney Phil, has once again hoodwinked us all into believing that winter is going to linger around for a few more weeks.  Phooey on Phil!  Other than inspiring a classic early 90’s Bill Murray film, that meteorologically challenged rodent is renowned for nothing more than being the most recognizable member of the rat-like marmot family.  Rightfully disregarding what fraudulent Phil has predicted, we are barreling towards the Vernal Equinox marking the first day of Spring. 

There is so much to do in the spring that implores us to enjoy the nice weather. For starters, try opening the windows to flood the house with warm fresh spring air (side note: cedar trees pollinate between Dec. 10 and March 1 in the Austin area, so make sure you let the warm fresh spring air in after cedar season.)  Better yet, instead of just letting the outside come in, get on out there yourself and explore what Austin and Central Texas has to offer in the springtime.

Here are some fun things to consider doing this month.

Rodeo Austin Cowboy Breakfast (March 3rd at 6:00 a.m., Long Center, 701 Riverside Dr.) The Cowboy Breakfast is the super-sized event that kicks off the Fair and Rodeo.  It has all the fixin’s of a true chuck wagon breakfast with pancakes, biscuits, and western-themed entertainment, including live music, two-stepping lessons. The best part is that the event is FREE!

It’s My Park Day (March 4th, Various Locations). This has expanded to a spring and fall event, and for our neighborhood, it usually includes Gaines Creek Park as part of the event which has volunteers work to improve parks and greenbelts throughout the city.  It is a GREAT way to get out there and meet your neighbors along with polishing the jewels of our neighborhood greenbelt areas. 

Holi Festival (March 11th, Radha Madhav Dham, 400 Barsana Rd.) Holi is also called the Spring Festival, as it marks the arrival of spring, the season of hope and joy. This year, the Holi play will be accompanied by a live band singing Holi songs from Braj.  There will be a traditional Holika fire burning as a reminder than evil always burns in the face of good.

Llano Earth Art Fest and Rockstacking World Championship (March 10th - 13th, Llano) The Llano Earth Art Fest (LEAF) is an arts and music festival focusing on natural art.  Held on the banks of the beautiful Llano River, LEAF is fun for the entire family.  LEAF is also home to the Rockstacking World Championship as the artist/competitors make create their natural art in the Llano River and on the banks of the river, which is an awesome thing to see.

Texas Night Sky Festival (March 18th from 2:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m., Dripping Springs Ranch Park) The intent of the festival is to increase the appreciation of the night sky and the world around us.  All attendees will join in fun science activities, learn from engaging speakers and exhibits, see projects focused on protecting the night sky, feast at food trucks and explore the stars.

This just scratches the surface of activities to do in and around Austin.  I also love the simplicity of sitting on our front porch after dinner and waving to neighbors as they walk by.  No matter what you do, get out there and enjoy the fresh air and the friendly folks around you!

Reflecting and love in the New Year

There is a lot going on in the world these days, and no matter who you are or what you believe, together we are trying to understand and make sense of it all.   Our beliefs and mores are challenged daily by the avalanche of information and disinformation in a 24-hour news cycle the purveyors of which, for the most part, have given up all pretenses of objectivity.  It is too easy to just go to the television or radio channel, or website that espouses your point of view.  This gives us all the false reassurance that our views are right and just.  This is not a new phenomenon unique to the last year or two, but the degrees of partisanship appear to be snowballing at an alarming rate.    If as a country we don’t soon turn the tide and tone down the rhetoric on all sides, then all we’ve accomplished is to destroy, for future generations the civil harmony that has always defined what it means to be an American.

Believing and supporting a principle or cause is a good thing no doubt.  What’s more difficult though, than maintaining your own convictions, is being open to other ideas and concepts, and engaging in genuine discourse with those who hold dissimilar beliefs.   I have many friends and family members that hold diametrically opposed political, religious, and social views.  I may disagree with some of them, but I will not let that factor alone determine our relationship.   Besides, how boring would Thanksgiving dinner be?  

Social media has no doubt played a major role in shaping many different aspects of today’s society.    Online chat rooms, community bulletin boards, news feeds, and so forth. have made it too easy for us to lash out at each other.  This is especially dangerous when those who are engaged are doing so anonymously.   Social media does have many positive attributes. For instance, Facebook enabled my husband to connect just in time with a terminally ill childhood friend whom he had lost track of for over 30 years.  But it also has a dark and divisive side.  I believe it would go a long way towards restoring civility if we were all to log off and be active and interact with people face to face.

I think what I am reflecting on is that actions speak louder than words, and that the written words that are being used can be hurtful to your friends and neighbors, especially if you have a different view on life.  So, let’s use this year, and especially this month of LOVE, to reflect on what is good in our lives and what really matters.  Step away from the computer, put down your phone and go for a walk to reflect on the great life that you and your family and friends have outside of the world of social media.

The Magic of Lights

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When I was five years old, our family embarked on a Christmas trip to Mexico to spend the Christmas holiday there.  My dad and mom packed up our family of 6, with 4 kids ranging from five to ten in a camper truck and drove us down to Mexico City.  Once we were there, we stayed in a hotel in the central part of the city, and although I was only five at the time, the Christmas lights that decorated the city buildings left an impression on me I will never forget.  

On other Christmas breaks when we stayed closer to home, we would still make a point of driving around and looking at the houses that decorated for the season.  A neighbor just a few houses away from ours owned an electrical company, so their house was always lit up so that you could likely see it from a satellite orbiting the Earth.  

The tradition of Christmas lights on our house and neighbors houses is something I enjoy seeing, and it enhances the warm feelings of the holiday.  Our family has made a point of going out at least once during the Christmas holiday to drive around looking at lights in the neighborhood, and on the evening of Christmas, we have made it a tradition to go to the Zilker Park Tree to spin around underneath, and if it is cold enough, get a cup of hot cocoa.

Here are some area highlights of Christmas lights to consider going to see in the Austin area and around Central Texas:

Of course, there is the Trail of Lights in Zilker Park, and then maybe go take a spin under the Zilker Park Tree.  

Our very own neighborhood is running the Travis Country Holiday Lights Contest December 11-18. The winner receives a yard sign declaring their holiday spirit and a Home Depot gift card. If you find yourself truly in the holiday spirit this year, sign up to help judge the holiday lights.

The annual Holiday Light Show at Mozart’s Coffee on Lake Austin. The show begins at 6:00 p.m., replaying every hour, at the top of the hour. The 12-minute-long show is free, fun, and family friendly.

Venture a little further out of Austin to Buda where they have their own Buda Trail of Lights at Historic Stagecoach Park for two consecutive weekends in mid-December.  Johnson City has the “Lights Spectacular” starting the Friday after Thanksgiving through Christmas.  It kicks off with a “Lights Spectacular” Parade Thanksgiving weekend.  

North of Austin there is lots to see and do in Georgetown during the holiday season.  Williamson County does a Courthouse Square Lighting on November 25th with Christmas carolers and hot cocoa as an added treat for the evening.  

No matter where you go to enjoy the sights and sounds of the season, it is a wonderful time to slow down and reflect on peace and the true meaning of Christmas.  It is easy to get caught up in the commercial aspect of the holiday, but having a Merry Christmas starts from within as to giving the gift of your time, treasure and talent to those who need it the most.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Fun Fall Events in Austin

Another summer has come and gone.  And although we may lament the lazy summer days by the pool or reminisce about that adventurous family vacation, the approaching fall and the new school year bring a new and exciting flurry of activity to our households.  However, just because summer is over, you can still escape the day-to-day routine via a local “stay-cation” here in Austin.

We are very lucky to call Austin home and although we take for granted all that Austin has to offer, we can also take advantage of sticking close to home and enjoying what others travel long distances to come see.  Best thing is that we don’t have to pay for airfare and hotel accommodations as all these great things happening this fall are right here in our fair city.

Here are a few events that make fall a festive time to be in Austin. 

Austin City Limits Music Festival, (9/30-10/2,10/7-10/9) Two weekends of over 200 bands descends upon Zilker Park for the much anticipated annual event.  Not only is the music filled with enough variety for all ages to enjoy, there are really great food choices and an artist gallery full of aisles to peruse and purchase neato gifts or memorabilia that reminds you how great Austin is.

Austin Museum Day is Sunday, September 18, 2016.  Enjoy FREE access and exhibits at Austin-area museums.  Download Austin Museum Partnership App in both google play and itunes app store for access to museum information all year long, but especially to find out what fun and exciting things are taking place on Museum Day all around town at the Austin area museums.

Old Pecan Street Festival. The 36th Annual Old Pecan Street Festival is taking place on September 24-25.  This festival has always felt like the gateway to fall in Austin.  It is one of the longest running arts and crafts and music festivals in the state, and you don’t have to drive up I-35 to see Big Tex in order to get a funnel cake or kettle corn.

Barton Hills Farm is just a short drive out of Austin to Bastrop, where there is a Cornfield Maze, along with a wonderful pumpkin patch to get an early start on your fall gourd collections and early pumpkin patch photos with the kiddos.  There is also Sweet Berry Farm (www.sweetberryfarm.com) near Marble Falls that has Harvest of Fall Fun scheduled.  Both farms kick off their fall festivities September 24.