Finding New Hobbies

As summer winds down and thoughts of school and kids’ schedules wind up, I started thinking about all the extracurricular activities my children are interested in and involved with. That got me thinking about how I don’t sign myself up for anything beyond glorified cab driver or parent volunteer for all my kid’s events and activities.

Growing up, I remember my mom had several hobbies and things she did for herself. She was in the bowling league, she took art classes, and she was (and still is) in the garden club. All of these made her a well-rounded human and I think made life better for all of us because she did things for herself. My dad, too, had his own hobbies and interests that he pursued that didn’t involve just being the parent assisting in a kid activity.

When our kids were younger, my husband gave me a guitar. I took several months of lessons and practiced almost every day. I really enjoyed learning a new instrument and don’t really know why I stopped playing the guitar. Same can be said for swimming. I LOVE to swim and had a blast waking up before dawn every morning and learning how to be a better swimmer with Coach Paul every morning before the TC Sharks had their morning practices. Excuses come easily as to why I haven’t maintained my interest in these activities. But the sentiment is that I still would like to not only pursue the things I have tried in the past but also add other interesting things to call my own; balance life as we know it with added things of interest.

A casual art class is a great place to start. Laguna Gloria has quite a few classes that start in the fall for beginners to experts: painting, ceramics, sculpture to name a few. I have also heard of Sacred Arts Studio on William Cannon in South Austin.

I mentioned guitar lessons but piano, violin, accordion or any instrument you decide to pick up and try is something that, if you get good enough, you can come join our 4th of July Standing Band next year!

How about dance classes? Either couples dance classes for a designated date night or any form of dance that floats your fancy. Balance Dance Studio has an extensive list of dance classes to choose from, as well as Ballet Austin or Tapestry.

There are book clubs, bible studies, gardening clubs, bird watching and all other interests that may not cost anything but could add value to your life by meeting new people with shared interests.

If leaving home for another outing is what is keeping you from pursuing an interest, what about online classes? There are language classes, music classes or other things that you can learn from the comforts of your own home.

Whatever your interests are, I think it is most important to keep growing and learning, whether it is art and culture or science and nature. I mentioned quite a few artistic endeavors, but there are also plenty of outdoor activities (rock climbing, running, swimming, etc.) that can fill up your vessel of self-discovery.

Get out there and find yourself! 

Favorite Taco Joints

Torchy's Tacos, yum!

Torchy's Tacos, yum!

I think my favorite food group is tortilla, so if you happen to put anything on top of the round flour of loveliness, I am even happier.  I can make a pretty mean breakfast taco with top-of-the-line warm right-out-of-the-oven tortillas from HEB, but there is something about tacos made by others, that makes my mouth water just thinking about them.   So, I have decided to compile my favorite Taco places, near and far, chain restaurants or food trucks, to let y’all perhaps have a better summer just wandering the streets of Austin trying out some of these tasty treats.

Maria’s Taco Express has my favorite breakfast tacos.  The migas tacos are loaded to the gills with all the fixings of eggs, jalapenos, tortilla chips, cheese and pico de gallo. Just one of them will fill you up, but I like to order two and take one to go so that the goodness all melds together for a scrumptious treat later in the day. I hear that Hippie Church there on Sunday mornings is the place to be.  You can munch on a taco and hear some good gospel music to boot!

Paplote is a small unassuming place on S. Lamar that I stopped in one morning to grab a breakfast taco for a friend of mine who lives nearby.  I was pleasantly surprised with the choices they had, and the prices were beyond reasonable.  I had a good old-fashioned bacon, egg and cheese along with a chorizo, egg and cheese and ate to my heart’s content.  I hear they have very good vegetarian taco choices, along with other varied Mexican street eats.

Torchy’s Tacos makes me so very happy that there is a Torchy’s nearby on William Cannon.  I used to trek down S. First to the trailer and am thankful they have graduated to multiple locations.  I think my favorite is the Green Chile Pork, but I also love Mr. Orange (salmon taco) and The Democrat.  It is hard not to order a side of green chile queso and chips to go along with the tacos because it is beyond delicious.

Tacodeli for lunch on Barton Springs Road is the best.  A good friend of mine who is an artist has painted all the table tops, along with the Tacodeli catering truck, so I feel the need to support the arts by eating several tacos at Tacodeli.  A few of favorites are the Cowboy Taco, which has dry rubbed beef tenderloin, grilled corn, caramelized onions, roasted peppers, guacamole and queso fresco.  Another crowd pleaser is the Happy Taco with chicken, mushrooms, jack cheese, cilantro and onion.  Makes my mouth water thinking about it!

Taco Cabana has been a favorite since my youth. When my sister was going to school at Trinity University in San Antonio, it was our go-to place for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I especially like the bean and cheese tacos, and the tortillas at Taco Cabana are hard to beat.  Try the potato egg and cheese tacos for an on-the-go breakfast.

Taqueria Chapalas is a great neighborhood place near the YMCA and Oak Hill Elementary School.  I have planned many a meeting there for school-related events just so I could eat a few of their delicious tacos.  Breakfast tacos from Taqueria Chapalas are great, but I also love their carne guisada and barbacoa tacos.  Delicioso!

I hope all of these suggestions lead you out the door to go eat a taco.  I can’t wait to find more taco joints that make me happy to call Austin home.  In case you want to listen to a nutty taco song while driving to your taco destination, Shiny Ribs has a song about Travis Country’s beloved Donut Taco Palace, titled just that.  It is a great little ditty discussing all the virtues of donuts and tacos made under one roof. 

Finding a Balance

So much of our lives is spent in front of a computer or staring at our phones or televisions.  In quite a few cases, it’s for the benefit of what we do and who we are (work related, familyand friend connections, etc.) but more than likely it can also be detrimental to our family time and socialization skills.  Recently, at several places I have been out and about, the human connection is so much greater than the electronic connection.  Even in our own home, we may all be under the same roof, but each of us in different rooms on different forms of electronics.  That is why it’s so important to our family to thrive to keep dinner time a sacred time to connect with our family, uninterrupted. It’s the perfect time to sit down together, enjoy a meal and catch up on each other’s day.
 
When we were all together at the TC5K this past May 1st, although quite a bit of the things pertaining to the run were electronically helpful (online sign up, timing chips on the bibs, music and announcements) the biggest thing I realized is that we were all out there as NEIGHBORS being NEIGHBORLY to one another.  What a fun experience it was the five weeks leading up to the run of getting together as neighbors to train.  I ended up meeting quite a few people that I haven’t met before, and really enjoyed getting to know them, as a neighbor and now as a friend.   There is even talk of starting a neighborhood running/walking group so that we can continue to foster these friendships and stay healthy along the way.

I’m not sure where the balance can be found between using all this amazing technology that we have and making time to connect at the human level.  I am a little anxious with summer spread out in front of us, and how to manage the “screen time” of our family (yes, adults and children alike!)  Maybe trade out screen time for free time?  It is a fine balance, because yes, we do use the electronics to work and connect with others around us, but keep in mind we’re surrounded by nature and neighbors. Try spending some of that “unplugged” time hiking to Sculpture Falls, walking the 3 mile loop around the hood and enjoying the nature around us.  Even a session in a hammock without a phone is worthy of a recharge to your emotional and creative system.

I look forward to seeing the lazy days of summer and seeing neighbors out on their bikes, swimming at the pools, playing a pick-up game of basketball or tennis and the beloved lemonade stands on several corners around the neighborhood.  

The more we can do to lead by example of making the human connection, being present and creating the environment of work/life balance, with the LIFE part being more engaged in your surroundings and the people around you, the better off we are as a community.

Favorite Things to Do in Austin

My sister, Denise Richter, recently wrote a book titled 100 Things to Do in San Antonio Before you Die.  There is a similar book about Austin, which has me thinking that maybe this is the way we map out our summer plans, and explore our great city while we are at it!

After living in Austin for over 20 years there are things that I love to do with my family, along with things I love to bring visitors to see when they journey to our fair city.  Following are the top five things I am familiar with and love to go to or do in Austin. 

Dance the Two-Step at the Broken Spoke.  Whether you have lived here a LONG time or just got here, dancing at the Spoke is a must do. Usually any night of the week is a worthy night of dancing at the Broken Spoke.  If you get there early, the chicken fried steaks are delicious, so you can do dinner and dancing all at the same spot. 

Hike to Sculpture Falls.  This is an obvious choice.  Not only the proximity to our neighborhood makes this a great thing to do, but because of the proximity, you can stop whatever you are doing at any given time, and march on down to the falls.  Man oh boy will it change your frame of mind to commune with nature and relish the fact that we are lucky enough to call Austin home.

Eat at Home Slice Pizza on S. Congress. There is plenty to do all up and down South Congress, but making a special trip to go to Home Slice and have their amazing pizza makes my mouth water just thinking about it.  Even if you have to wait for your table, it is a chill atmosphere hanging outside on the back patio while the kids play ping pong and you sip on a cold beer taking in the vibe of South Austin in all its goodness.

Free Music Outdoors. On Wednesdays at Guerro’s Outdoor Patio SUN Radio lines up several local bands to enjoy, or Blues on the Green at Zilker Park throughout the summer and Shady Grove has Thursday nights at the Grove.  Wherever it is, we live in the Live Music Capitol, so get out there and support local music!

Town Lake Trail.  Now known as Lady Bird Lake, I love going for a walk around the lake. Usually I run in to quite a few people I know out visiting with friends, gearing up to go rowing, or making their way to the new boardwalk to check it out.  It is a great adventure in the heart of our city that makes it easy to be active with all that the area has to offer. Walking the three-mile loop with a friend is a nice alternative to coffee or lunch, as you catch up with each other and get in a good exercise.

Renewing Your Commitment to Fitness

Spring is a time of change, with longer days and daylight savings time; there are more opportunities to be outside. Whether you plan to spend time manicuring your yard, preparing your garden, dusting off your walking shoes, or airing up your bicycle tires, it is time to shake off the winter blahs.  Spring has officially sprung.

RESTART your exercise engine

Wanting to increase your activity is good.  Ease, don’t race, back into your routine. Starting out with a nice walking pace in order to build up to a short jog is a great beginning.  Just taking a nightly cruise on your bike around the neighborhood after dinner is a nice way to cap off the evening.  As the old adage goes: Slow and steady wins the race, so remember to start out slow in order to stay the course.

RECLAIM your motivation

Medical literature abounds with reports that exercise has a positive impact on your attitude, health and weight, and gives you more energy.  What are your goals?  Perhaps you are ready to part ways with those extra pounds you have acquired during your less active months, or you want to improve your flexibility to help you endure the rigors of your daily routine.  Maybe you want some relief from the stress in your life, a way to meet new friends or just to put some fun back in your life.  A group activity, such as training for a 5K, can help connect you with like-minded people. 

REESTABLISH a routine

Once you have selected an activity that brings you joy, congratulate yourself.  Now comes the hard part-actually following through.  Whatever you do, try to commit to doing it four to five times each week.  Think of your exercise routine as a standing health and wellness appointment with yourself.  If finding time is the biggest challenge, and if you can’t find one hour of uninterrupted time each day to exercise, break it up into chunks through the day–two half-hour sessions, or three 20-minute mini activities.  There are plenty of exercises on the internet that allow you to sit at your computer and exercise from your desk. The minutes add up, and the benefits are just as good.

REMEMBER to keep things interesting

Mixing it up keeps you motivated, and it’s important to track your progress. Whether with a check mark on your calendar or a detailed log in a journal or laptop, tracking also keeps you on target.  This also works well in conjunction with a healthy eating plan.  My Fitness Pal is a great resource to keep track of your diet and exercise. The important thing is to find something that you feel excited about and will keep you engaged in the activity. Walking, jogging or biking is much more than just exercise–think of all the places and people you can see along your journey.

Now that spring has sprung, it is time to plant the seed of change by tending to your body lovingly and patiently and enjoy watching yourself blossom!

Clearing up Clutter

This year I am determined to focus on the tasks that deserve my time, attention and energy and hand off the ones that are simply draining me. The topic of organizing my home is at the top of my list of delegating because it is a task that continues to make me feel drained and frustrated. We all want an organized home or office, but can’t seem to find the time to do it. If you are like me and you do find some time to organize, you rush through the process because it feels like a chore. I tend to make quick fixes instead of creating systems for permanent solutions.  Those quick fixes then become a cycle of never-ending cluttered spaces.

Instead of continuing the never-ending cycle of mess, I chose to hire a professional for the job. I was pleasantly surprised to find professional organizing services affordable and so incredibly helpful. The key for me was in the systems, and that is where I truly think a professional with expert knowledge and advice is necessary.

I was wary at first, having the fear of “What if I can’t find my things? How will they know what’s important to me? What if they judge all the stuff I have?!” When I finally made the call, I was kicking myself for not doing it sooner. Here’s why: my needs, challenges, and expectations were discussed in detail, clearly defined and not judged.

The plan of action wasn’t to take away all of my things and toss it. It wasn’t to go to the Container Store and spend hundreds of dollars on new organizing tools.  Instead, it was to define what was meaningful to me. It was to find out what kind of space would be meaningful enough for me to be motivated to maintain the new organizing systems. After defining the space and my specific needs I had a clear understanding of what I wanted, and I felt safe enough to trust a professional in my space.

My results: an organized space that didn’t take up an entire weekend of my life. It was a space that was created to my exact specifications without the headache or backache of the labor. I now have new systems that I never would have taken the time or brain-power to come up with on my own. I have solutions that make sense and are easy to maintain. I am forever grateful to my professional organizer!

There’s no right way to organize your home whether you do it yourself or hire a professional. Whatever strategy you choose just has to work with your lifestyle, habits and tastes. Here are some helpful tips from the pros to get you motivated and started.

Eliminate clutter hot spots, such as the kitchen counters, entryway table, and dining room table. One tip to keep these spaces clear is to place a flower arrangement in the middle of the dining room table and set it with place mats, you’re sending the message that the space is no longer a dumping zone.

In a small space, go vertical. Bookcases offer up a ton of storage where there was once just a blank wall, and wide shelves are helpful for holding everything from clothes to bins and so much more.

If you’re in awe of meticulously marked kitchen pantries but don’t want to spend the time or money labeling, then try using clear organizers, which do the same job. Whether you’re storing pantry items, linens or desk supplies, see-through containers make it obvious where everything goes.

Life During the Holidays

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Life is precious, but we tend to take things for granted. I have friends and family who recently suffered life altering events, directly affecting my family and making me much more conscious of how precious life is. And now, the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris have given us all reason to pause this holiday season.

The holiday season typically sends my already hustling and bustling mode hurtling into hyperspace, but with all these things conspiring to tell me something about the “big picture,” I am focusing more on the important things and trying to let the smaller things fall to the wayside.

We all feel like there never seems to be enough time to enjoy life or to take the time to do the things that you want to do instead of always hurrying around doing the things you need to do. But with this new perspective, I’m really trying to slow it down.

Our family motto is “Nice Always Wins.” A good friend of mine shared that motto with me when his children were in middle school, and it stuck like glue to my brain, as it is direct and to the point. It isn’t always easy to be nice or to make good over bad decisions, but when I look back on unnerving situations or hard times in my family life, being nice during those stressful times always changed the dynamic in a positive way.

The holidays are filled with merriment and joy, but they can also bring out stress in many different forms. Not only is it important to be nice to others, but it is very important to be nice to yourself. This doesn’t mean buying yourself expensive Christmas presents; it means giving yourself a break regarding the “production” of Christmas and the holiday season. You don’t have to find the perfect gift, create the perfect holiday environment in your house, or serve the perfect holiday meal. Those things can still be important, but your health, mental wellbeing, and loving attitude are all greater gifts to give both to yourself and to others.

So, you may have 1,000 things on your holiday to-do list, but I’m going to suggest adding one more: breaks. This may seem counterproductive to your Christmas plans, but if you don’t schedule your breaks, you likely won’t take them. Every day (ideally twice a day), make sure you take a 20-minute time out. Read a chapter in the book you have sitting on your nightstand, sip a cup of tea, listen to music – anything that isn’t related to your holiday to-do list. Breaks will help keep you refreshed and ensure you don’t get too bogged down with everything you need to accomplish.

Slow down and enjoy the life you have and the gifts you bring to those around you. There will always be obligations to tend to, but reflect on what is important and what makes you happy. We are all very fortunate to have this life. Make it a good one! And remember: “Nice always wins.”

Thanksgiving Traditions

Traditions are part folklore and part family.  Of all the traditions out there, holiday traditions are at the top of my list.  Family and friends coming together to prepare the meal, adorning the decorations,  the cooler temperatures of fall, and watching the big game are some of the many reasons to look forward to the festivities of Thanksgiving.

One of the things I love most about Thanksgiving is the large gathering of people that join us for the feast.  We have lots of family from near and far that come in, bringing their signature dishes to share, along with friends and neighbors that we love to include like they are an extension to our family.  It is a really nice feeling to have everyone under the same roof enjoying all the turkey and fixings while they visit and catch up with one another or get to know someone they have just met.

Before the big meal, you might try to kick off the day with a healthy spurt of energy and participate in the Turkey Trot.  I personally am not a runner, so I will be sitting at home glued to the TV watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but I know lots of friends and relatives that head out in the morning for the annual run and have a great time.

Another thing that has become a tradition out of necessity in our family is grilling our turkey.  With a large holiday group, we have an oven full of dressing and casseroles.  Therefore, we have resorted to cooking our turkey on the grill with great results. Our turkey comes out tender and juicy every time! This is something to consider when you run out of room in the oven.

While all the preparation is underway and everyone is waiting for the big meal to be served, it is fun to watch college football and share the tradition of great rivalries between families.  It still doesn’t feel quite right that The University of Texas and Texas A&M don’t play against each other on Thanksgiving Day but there is still lots of football and rivalry to contend with. During half time it is another sporty tradition to go outside and throw the ball around.

After the Thanksgiving feast is served and everyone is fully stuffed, we like to go take a walk around the neighborhood, or a hike in the greenbelt to walk off some of the large amount of turkey and dressing that we just ate.  It makes for a good break in the day, which can easily be followed with a nap.

On the evening of Thanksgiving while everyone is still around, it is nice to then start on the Christmas holiday by watching a Christmas movie like Miracle on 34th Street or listening to Christmas carols and singing along.

It’s never too late to start a new holiday family tradition at your house. I would love for you to send me what your family traditions are, as I am always open to starting new traditions, too! Whatever you do this Thanksgiving season, fill it with memories that you, your familyand friends can love and cherish and with traditions you can pass down from generation to generation.

Football Season is Here

There are several reasons the fall season makes me bittersweet. The lazy calm of summer has come to a close and school has started, so there is quite a bit of planning and activities going on all at once.  One of the reasons I LOVE the beginning of fall is the start of football season.   I am not an avid fan of any team(I am an equal opportunity supporter), but the camaraderie it instills along with the traditions it makes, gives me reason enough to celebrate the season. 

My own personal history of watching football was laying on the couch, catnapping, listening to the roar of the game on the TV, while my Dad had a small table in front of his chair that he would simultaneously play a game of solitaire and yell at the TV to cheer on his teams.   

Whether you are a stadium-goer, tailgater or house-party football gatherer, there is so much that surrounds the tradition of the beloved game.  It might be that you get a group of friends to go to one big out of town game of your favorite team, or you plan year-round for the ultimate tailgate experience.   

It’s fun to start your own football season tradition, such as taking your family to go to your college team games and showing your kids around your alma mater. One way to encompass your love of football and being neighborly can be as easy as getting out your crockpot to make your famous homemade chili and have a few neighbors over to watch the game.

Whatever it is you do to celebrate the game of football, it will be something that creates a bond between family, friends and neighbors. It allows us to cheer on our teams, show good sportsmanship to the opposing team’s fans, and pass along traditions.

Besides the traditional crock pot chili, pigs in a blanket or chips and queso, here is one of my favorite game day recipes:

CHEESY BACON JALAPENO CORN DIP

  • 8 Strips of Bacon
  • 2 (11 oz) cans whole kernel sweet corn, drained
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Dash of cayenne pepper
  • ¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
  • Parmesan cheese, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

1. Preheat oven to 400*

2. In a cast iron or ovenproof skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until slightly crispy.  Remove from heat and set on paper towels to absorb excess grease.  Drain off all but 1 teaspoon of the grease remaining in the pan. Crumble the bacon.

3. Combine the corn, jalapeno, cream cheese, mozzarella, salt, cayenne, half of the bacon, and half of the basil.  Scoop into the skillet and bake for 20 minutes.

4. Sprinkle the remaining bacon and basil, parmesan cheese to taste.  Serve immediately with corn chips. Enjoy!

Austin Family Water Park Fun

Are you ready for the August heat?  We always seem to think it sneaks up on us, but year after year the sweltering heat tends to make me think that the only option is stay inside in a cool dark place.  Don’t fret, there is a reason to still go out and do fun things with friends and family.

The recent (much needed) rains have replenished Barton Creek, and hopefully you and your family have taken advantage of this amazing natural resource that is practically in our back yard.   Or, if you’re more inclined, splash and swim away the summer days in any one of the many water parks and pools in the Austin area.

Here are several that our family has gone to recently, has been to in summer’s past, or plan to go and splash around in this summer.

Our family likes to go out to the Lakeway Swim Center at least once or twice each summer.  They have a few slides, lily pads, and little kid splash areas.  It is easy to get to, and we spend several hours entertained and cooled off.

Shore Club Volente Beach is located on the shores of Lake Travis and is the perfect getaway for children and adults alike on a hot summer day.  There are pools for kids and a pool with a swim up tiki bar for the big kids.  There are also rides and slides.  One of the slides is called the Sidewinder.  I never gathered the courage to go on it, but the rest of the family did, and LOVED it. They have a restaurant and snack bar, but what I like is that you can bring your own cooler full of foods and have a picnic either in the park or on the sandy beachfront.  Load up the cooler, and head on out. It is open Wednesday-Sundays all summer long.

Hawaiian Falls is full of family fun. I went recently as a chaperone on a school field trip, and was impressed with the facility.  It is only a few years old, so the park feels nice and clean.  They have cabanas that you can reserve for your family, so spending a day going down the waterslides, swimming in the pools, or taking a whirl around the lazy river will cool off your August woes. Check their website for coupons and discount ticket offers.

There is another park I think we might check out soon that is nearby, theRock’N River Family Aquatic Center. It is located in Old Settlers Park in Round Rock.  There is a lazy river, crazy slides and a water playground.  The admission is reasonable, and from reading reviews on Yelp, it looks like a friendly place for young kids to go to.  The key is to arrive early and leave early, so that you miss the crowds and might even miss getting sun burned.

Of course, if you want to venture a little further away, there is always Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels, Six Flags Water Park in San Antonio, and the new section of Sea World in San Antonio called Aquatica.  They are tried and true water adventure parks.  Make a weekend of it and stay cool being outside!

Best Places to Watch Fireworks

It’s hard to believe we’re already half way through summer. My family has enjoyed traveling, relaxing, and swimming at the neighborhood pools. As always, we’re looking forward to the Travis Country 4th of July parade, as well as the spectacular fireworks show Austin puts on every year. Getting a good spot and finding parking can be a struggle for the big Auditorium Shores fireworks show downtown. If you’re looking for a more relaxing place to watch the downtown show without the Auditorium Shores crowds, check out these cool spots near South Austin.

Barton Creek Square Mall – Why not tailgate from your car in the huge parking lot at the mall, with a nice view of downtown. Avoid the crowds and have a short drive home.

Downtown Rooftop Lounges – Many downtown bars allow paying customers rooftop access to view the fireworks.

Parks along Lady Bird Lake –  find a place to park your blanket at Zilker Park, Shoal Beach, Sand Beach Park, Butler Shores, Rock Island, Lamar Beach, or Deep Eddy Park.

Lady Bird Lake Trail – Bring a blanket and find a quiet area anywhere along the shoreline on Lady Bird Lake Trail.

Parking Garages – Some downtown parking garages allow tailgaters to watch fireworks from their rooftop levels, for a fee of course. Try the garage near 360 Condominiums, or the Chase Bank parking garage at 5th and Guadalupe. 3rd Base holds an annual 4th of July party on top of their parking garage with live music.

St. Edwards – Watch from the St. Edwards University campus. There is plenty of room for your blanket and chairs on campus.

First Street and Congress Bridge – Standing room only, but way less crowded than Auditorium Shores.

Lady Bird Lake – Watch the Auditorium Shores Fireworks from Lady Bird Lake. Rent a canoe, kayak or paddle board from a rental company by the lake. Alternatively, you could always catch a leisurely ride on a Lone Star Riverboat.

Scavenger Hunts in Austin

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The TV show “Amazing Race” has been a longstanding favorite show to watch for our entire family. Every week we love to see the exotic destinations the teams go to, and the challenges they face. We all end up choosing our favorite teams to cheer on, in hopes of seeing them run across the finish line after the weeks of adventure and endurance to see who wins the final prize.

We have thought about signing up at some point to be a team on the TV show, but realize it is far-fetched. An idea that rings closer to home and is actually doable is a scavenger hunt in Austin. It’s definitely on the docket as one of our family’s summer adventures that we take on this year, right here in our hometown! Here are a few that are on our list.

Watson Adventures offers a wide variety of scavenger hunts. Most involve looking for answers to tricky and humorous questions about the intriguing places and objects in Austin. The hunts they create are good for team building. Wouldn’t it be nice to consider your family a “team” that will encourage everyone to work together on something? It might even carry into your daily life and make for a peaceful family summer break.

Urban Adventure Quest turns Austin into a giant game board with their scavenger hunt adventure. It combines the excitement of the Amazing Race with a three-hour city tour. A cool thing about this particular adventure is that you use your smart phone as your guide. It is very Austin-centric, with the Capitol, 6th Street, food carts and monuments noted along the journey. It allows you to start when you want and play at your own pace. I found a promotion code that you can use on the above mentioned website and save 20%: AUSTINCVB

Similar to scavenger hunts is geocaching. Central Texas Geocachers is full of ideas to fill your idle time by focusing on geocaching within the Central Texas area and beyond. If you aren’t familiar with geocaching, it is an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers or mobile devices and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers called “geocaches”. A typical cache is a small waterproof container which contains a logbook (with a pen or pencil). The geocacher enters the date they found it and signs it with their established code name. After signing the log the cache must be placed back exactly where the person found it.

There are quite a few resources in Austin to figure out how you want to do your hunt. I personally want to go on a Street Art Scavenger Hunt, where I noticed the beginnings of one on the website Localeur. The site mentioned several notable murals that allow you to tour the city on a cultural scavenger hunt. Or, you could go try to find where any of the remaining guitars that artist created are still standing around town or go on a food truck scavenger hunt and try foods that you may not have eaten before.

This summer, try being a tourist in the amazing city of Austin we get to call home. Make your summer stay-cation one full of adventures while you create great memories. Get out there and EXPLORE!

Good local sandwiches in Austin

Lucky's Puccia sandwich

Lucky's Puccia sandwich

I love a good sandwich, and recently had the good fortune of meeting friends for lunch at a new place on West 5th Street (near El Arroyo) called Lucky’s Puccias and Pizzeria. I tried one of the famous puccias, which is an authentic Italian Sandwich. Boy oh boy, was it mouth-watering good! The bread was made on the spot and fired in the wood fired pizza oven. The particular sandwich I had was named after the joint “Lucky’s Puccia” with prosciutto, mozzarella, tomato, arugula and chipotle aioli. The reason I chose this particular one was because the server told me it made Zagat’s list of Austin’s 9 best sandwiches. It was delizioso! The restaurant is a brick and mortar offshoot of their trailer, which is also on 5th street. (www.luckyspuccias.com)

My favorite go to sandwich shop is Toasties (www.ilovetoasties.com). The Toasties on S. Lamar is right across the street from the Zach Scott Theater. I love meeting friends there, eating in their outdoor dining area. I really love the BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich, or the Banh Mi. It is a cool little place to go, and if you have the good fortune of going later in the day, they have Live Oak Beers on tap with a great happy hour. Or, you can grab one of the sandwiches from Toasties and make your way to the South Lamar bridge over Lake Ladybird and people watch while you dine.

Another place with great Banh Mi sandwiches is Elizabeth Street Café. They have several to choose from with interesting ingredients, but take a chance and try something out of the ordinary. You will not be disappointed. The mix and meld of flavors is off the charts. My favorite is the Fried egg, crispy pork belly with avocado and mint. The toppings include homemade mayonnaise, cucumber, daikon, carrot, sambal, cilantro and jalapeno, all served on a house-baked baguette. Again, it is an odd assortment of food, but worthy of the nibble.

It is hard to choose a food trailer to go to on a regular basis, because sometimes, you can’t remember which trailer you went to, along with it being a form of transportation that morphs into a restaurant. I think one of my next food trailer adventures will include “Hey!… You Gonna Eat or What?” at 1720 Barton Springs. (heyyougonnaeatorwhat.com). There is a Monte Cristo sandwich there that everyone I know raves on the deliciousness of it. It is a deep fried sandwich with sprinkles of powdered sugar on the bread, served with a side of fig jelly and freshly cut handmade chips. I have heard rumors of a good Reuben sandwich there, too, so I might need to bring a friend and split the two sandwiches and try each one.

I am sure there are so many more quality sandwiches waiting to be eaten. I still love a good Thundercloud sandwich, Potbelly, or Short Bus Subs. The best part of a sandwich is that it is transportable, so taking it to a neat spot to sit and ponder while you wile away the time noshing on some good eats is a memorable feast. Good times!

Saving Green by Going Green

Nest Smart Thermostat

Nest Smart Thermostat

Recently I’ve had several conversations with my TC neighbors about the possibility of making their houses more energy efficient.  From new windows to solar panels, the upfront expense of doing these projects can certainly tug at your pocket, but will they be worth it and add value to their houses?  It is hard to think through the initial costs of some of the projects even if those improvements will end up saving you substantial amounts of money in the long run, not to mention saving some natural resources!

With that in mind, here are some ideas regarding costs versus the savings on some of the most popular ways to go green.  All of these are specifically for your house- from simple repairs to major renovations.

A programmable thermostat could be a quick fix for a little less money spent up front, with the initial cost between $100-$300 for a savings of around $175 or more each year.  Unless you are home all day long and need the AC running, you can program the thermostat to run only when you will appreciate the cooler temperature instead of walking in to an igloo in July. Popular “smart” thermostats by Nest and Honeywell offer cool features such as learning what temperatures you like, turns itself down when you’re away and can be controlled from anywhere over Wi-Fi.

Changing the light bulbs to the eco-friendly florescent bulbs for around $6.00 per bulb will end up saving you $45-$135 over the life of the bulb.  That may seem like pennies up front, but the Millionaire Next Door didn’t gain his wealth by spending money on lighting.

If you are considering new appliances around the house, consider the energy star appliances.  The cost, as well as the potential savings, varies by appliance. A new appliance such as a fridge could save you hundreds per year.

Windows are normally responsible for up to 40% of the energy consumed by buildings, homes included.  High thermal performance windows are four times more efficient than coated double pane windows.  During winter in Texas (also known as February), and the direct sunlight blasting in to your house over a long blistering Texas summer, energy efficient windows will not only save you money on your electricity bill, will comfort you both mentally and fiscally.

Solar Panels are a biggie upfront cost, ranging between $4,500-$12,000, but the instant gratification you receive from your energy bill of up to 60% savings would be worth it.

Austin Energy offers rebates for everything from appliance upgrades, solar panels, air conditioners, water heaters and more. Check their website for current rebate offers at www.powersaver.austinenergy.com.

No matter the initial price tag, these are all cost effective ways to go green because of the significant return you will see on the Earth and on your checkbook.  So, in my way of thinking, going green to save some green is worth the investment!

The 2015 Austin Real Estate Forecast

Talk around many Austin neighborhoods has become, with mouths agape, “Did that house really sell for that amount?”

In Austin and surrounding areas, the news is reporting that Austin is in a housing bubble that is sure to burst. Mark Sprague, a well regarded Austin economist with Independence Title, wrote an excellent article in which he pops the Austin real estate bubble rumors. Sprauge explains that based on supply and demand, we are not seeing the beginnings of a bubble. He continues to say that “overvalue is overstated presently in the local and regional markets” and while it may be true that there are some individual listings are overvalued, the overall Austin real estate market is not overvalued. Sprauge points out that Austin appreciation has actually been one of the lowest in the country over the last 10 years.

In fact, it is true demand and not irrational exuberance or speculation that is currently driving prices higher in Austin. Sprague states, “as supply gradually begins to catch up with demand, with current absorption and employment projections, it will be another two to three years before rising home values could become an issue.”

The real estate and financial world has changed dramatically since the financial crisis of 2008, the pendulum has swung, and as a result “the ability to have a bubble in real estate is more restrictive now.” Instead of anyone and everyone having access to mortgage money, a leading cause of the previous bubble, now younger families and first-time homebuyers are less able to qualify as credit is much tighter than it was in the pre-bubble years. When the housing bubble burst in 2008, there was more lenient lending process and far less regulations in place.

The outlook for the Austin real estate market this year is sunny and bright! Overall it is predicted that Millennnials will account for 65% of first time home buyers sales. Existing home sales will increase by 8%. Home prices will go up 4%-5% (previous average was 3%), and mortgage rates will be at 5%.

There is no way to predict the future, but as for Austin, I think we will continue with the steady uptick of demand and prices.