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.

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!