Cabin 10 Restored My Faith and Challenged Me To Live Unlimited

July 26, 2016


I hate camping, but I love summer camp. Zooey Deschanel

Summer camp was always a thing for me, and my thoughts on this topic go back as far back as I can remember. It was August in Texas, and my mom was pregnant with my sister when my parents sent me off to camp for the first time (an act that now, as an adult, I clearly understand in its full light of desperation and brilliance). I was eight at the time, and I was hooked from that point on.

I never went to a fancy camp that I could name drop in a job interview or anything… in fact, the camp I went to was called Highland Lakes Encampment (that’s right, it had the word “Encampment” in the title)…but even in its basic, unfancy (encampment) offerings, there was something magic about going into a completely different space, especially as a kid from a small town, and being around lots of other kids my age doing camp things that expanded and evolved my perspectives. In short, I’m fairly certain that camp changed my wiring for the better.

Right about the time I had been thinking about the whole camp-makes-you-a-better-person concept and my social media feeds started reporting on kids packing up trunks for weeks away, I received an invitation to visit an MDA Summer Camp in Georgia with Christine Koh, Jill Krause and Denene Millner.

I replied yes before I even finished reading the email.

It didn’t matter that I didn’t know anything about MDA, because between all the kids going to camp in my Facebook feed, there was a strong and steady, constant, unending stream of unfathomable and overwhelming bad news that my brain isn’t wired to process. I needed to get outside. I needed a camp.

So I went to MDA Camp just outside of Atlanta.

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 9.35.42 AM

When I met these ladies in Atlanta and we started the hour-long drive to the middle of the forest, we inevitably started processing through a number of things going on in our world right now. I think it’s fair to say we are all a bit overwhelmed. There are so many current human problems that need human responses (human responses that are too often nowhere to be found), and we lamented that we felt low in energy and limited by what we could do.

Then we pulled up to Camp.


The first thing that hit me was whoa, this camp is way nicer than the crappy encampment that I went to. But that’s where the dissimilarities ended.  The smell of camp, a visceral olfactory memory of fresh outdoor shady comfort, hit me at once…and it felt right. It felt true and wholesome and all the things you want kids to feel and smell and experience. It felt good.

I started breathing it in.


As someone who travels too much for work, I don’t usually fully comprehend what I’m about to do until I’m there, in the middle of it. And sure, I was given a ton of facts and overviews about what was happening, but it wasn’t until we arrived at MDA Summer Camp that I realized I had no real idea about what to expect. What would the kids be like? What would they be doing? What could they be doing?

cafeteria 2

It was very early in the day, it was really quiet and there were no kids anywhere. Someone let us know that they were in their cabins getting ready for breakfast, so we waited in the dining hall, where I found another difference from my 1970s encampment. I have no recollection of what we ate 100 years ago when I was a camper, but I’m 100% sure that it wasn’t “Farm to Table.” And this camp completely is, like, it has an actual farmer. His name is Nathan.

While we waited for the kids, I read the signs on the wall which actually were conversation starters: What’s your favorite joke? What activity are you most looking forward to? What superpower would you want?

But, as it turns out, these kids didn’t need help starting conversations. In a rush of energy, almost 100 campers, ranging in age from 6-17, and their 100+ volunteer counselors came into the joint, it was all  just as I remembered it: loud, joyful, energetic, and LOUD! They quickly gathered together, ate, and then started doing a complicated ritual of banging songs into tables morphed into challenges, affirmations, announcements, spirit awards, cabin shout outs (To Josh in Cabin 12 who caught a fish; To Armando in Cabin 3 for going down the waterslide 20 times; to Paul in Cabin 11 for being a Cutie Patootie). And then the next thing I knew trays were systematically put away and kids were walking, running and wheeling out in every direction. One girl was wearing a smaller version of the same Nirvana shirt that I’d slept in the night before. I wish I’d kept it on. Another little kid had on a “Not Braggin, Just Swaggin” shirt, and I decided he would be my new best friend.


cafeteriaThe counselors’ meeting started right about then, they briefly introduced us and I found out I was assigned to Cabin 10. But there was work to be done, and so they kept plotting out the day, discussing with impressive specificity an understanding of individuals and needs by name. They’d only been here three days and they already seemed to know everyone and I mean everyone.

Turns out, it’s all very individualized. One camper to one counselor. This seems almost impossible, but it’s true. And that means there are a lot of volunteers because this summer MDA Summer Camp will provide thousands of kids with muscular dystrophy and related muscle-debilitating diseases “the best week of the year.” There are nearly 75 weeklong summer camps across the country (four in Texas) — offered at no charge to families (totally free) — to give kids with limited muscle strength and mobility a life-changing experience in an environment without barriers.


It costs $2,000 to send a child to MDA Summer Camp (which includes all associated expenses that make a safe, healthy and enriching camp experience possible). And their goal is to send 20,000 kids to camp by the year 2020.

So here’s how it works.

Camp Activities 2

These kids are here to defy limits.

For some it’s a stretch to play soccer. For some, it seems impossible to swim or to ride a horse or to catch a fish. They’ve been told all of those things are not possible for them.

MDA disagrees.

Cabin 10 b

Meet Cabin 10. They are not here for your limits.

And after spending time with all these girls, I now agree with that disagreement. These girls can do anything. I know this. They showed me.

Hanley and Maddie

Meet counselor Hanley and one of the campers in my cabin. It’s their eighth and fifth years at camp respectively. They have been paired up every year since Hanley started coming, and they are a team. They are also two of the happiest, friendliest and most upbeat people I’ve been around in years. In. Years.

They were so open and welcoming to me and brought me right into the Cabin 10 fold. Hanley says that’s just what happens. She experienced it first hand when her brother Hunter, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy (the most common and the most severe form of MD) (It affects about 1 out of every 3,500 boys), attended this camp. He was diagnosed when he was four, with an original diagnosis to live until he was 20. He’s 20 now (and currently in college) with a doubled life expectancy thanks to progress and preventative medication. I’m sure amazing family support has something to do with that too. Other sister, Joanna, is also a counselor in Cabin 10.  

Hanley’s camper quickly let me know she was up for anything. “I’ve already done everything and I’m ready to do it all again. It’s my 8th year here and I still am not bored.”

Since I’d only been at camp about an hour at that point, I could only believe her and also inquired what “everything” was. “Oh you’ll see,” she said. “Yesterday I flew.”


Hanley was quick to confirm that this was true. “There’s always a way.”

Pool 3

Then we were all at the giant pool where they were blasting the song of the summer (Justin Timberlake) followed by a Justin Beiber song (the good one).  The kids were being typical kids at the pool. Some swam, some slid, and there was always someone (or lots of someones) there and ready to coach or carry or catch.

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 9.35.57 AM

See that superhero standing by the pool? Whoa. A.) I think he might be an American Gladiator. B.) In a matter of minutes, I watched him carry at least 25 kids to exactly where they wanted to go, including to the very top of the slide.

Pool 4

Some individualized to quieter spots. This is where I meet a volunteer named Adam. A friend of the family originally told him about MDA Summer Camp when he was 17, he then volunteered as a counselor and fell in love with the camp. He’s been coming here every year since, for 15 years, and now he and his wife Lindsay (who is a physical therapist) live in Charlotte, but take time off of work and fly in from Charlotte to come.

He told me that earlier in the week he asked an 8-year-old boy in his cabin what superpower he wished for.  The camper’s answer: “Super Strength. So I can move my house to camp.”

Live Unlimited

This is the part of the story where I admit to you that I straight-up started tearing up not once, but five different times while standing by a swimming pool blasting Cake by the Ocean. And this is not because there was anything sad going on. It’s because I found (first hand, in real time, right in front of my face) the humanity that I’d been missing for months, and the energy I’d been needing from humans. These 8-year-olds are not here for your nonsense. Or your limits.

They are here to live unlimited. Watch them.



Along with MDA, they are fighting to make today free from the harm of muscle-debilitating diseases and tomorrow free from the diseases themselves. They have no time for negativity. They have no patience for limits. They have no interest in “can’t.” And they are inspiring. They inspired me to pull myself out of the negative feed and back into Ssummer Camp.

Then they inspired me last week to go to SoulCycle. But that’s a completely different story.

Any time you reach beyond your limits, whether they have been set by someone around you or yourself, you are achieving a #LiveUnlimited moment. Visit to create a personalized image you can share to social that shows your #LiveUnlimited moment. For every #LiveUnlimited moment shared through July 31, 2016, a generous partner will donate $5 to MDA, up to $30,000.

Together, they will show the world that our limits don’t define us. To every doubter and every “you can’t do that,” they say, “watch us.”

Zip-Line-5Adam gets all of this. He told me his group was going to go flying that afternoon at 4 pm and encouraged me to show up and see.

Zip line 2When we arrived we found that all five of the young men in Adam’s cabin were preparing to go on the zipline. All five.

Zip Line 4This 13-year-old boy volunteered to go first. “I want to fly like superman.”


After being securely harnessed in, the camper climbs to the top. After he steps out of the ledge, a voice from below says, “Don’t be scared, You can do it. Let’s countdown.”

He responds, “Let’s not. Let’s just go.”


He steps off the platform into the nothingness and he just goes.

He flies.


Adam is waiting at the end of the zipline with his chair. Marvin, a 22-year-old college student at Georgia Southern, catches his camper and helps him off the zipline.

Adam and Marvin

Marvin and Adam

Marvin is here all summer and he loves his job.

“My job is really just to let these kids be kids,” Marvin says as we wait for the next camper to come down. “There are kids here who have never been in water before…and they’re paddle boarding over there. There are kids here who can’t move on their own…but in the pool, they can move their bodies how they want to and where they want to go. There are kids who can’t walk…but on the zipline, they’re flying.”

Zip Line 12Marvin kept going. “We just let them do things that people have told them they can’t do. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s not about ability or disability, it’s about overcoming fear. It’s about doing things you don’t think you can do. And that’s what they do. Every single day.”


While I was at the Zipline Hanley and two Cabin 10 Campers came down to say goodbye before they got ready for the dance that night.

“So what do you think?” Hanley asked.

I told them, “you girls have restored my faith…it’s hard to put into words. And the irony of that is…that’s exactly why I’m here, to put what you are doing into words.”

Hanley, ever the optimistic counselor, was unfazed and encouraging. “You’re going to be so surprised when you sit down to write it. I bet you’ll be proud of yourself. Everyone who comes to MDA Summer Camp ends up proud of themselves.”

She has a point. And she makes a point. We should all feel so lucky and so proud.

Here’s How You Can Support MDA Right Now.

  • Create your #LiveUnlimited image at For each image shared through July 31, a generous sponsor is donating $5 to MDA, up to $30,000, to support research, programs and services like MDA Summer Camp. (People can continue to share their images after July 31, however shares will no longer be matched with a donation after that date.)
  • Support MDA families and programs like Summer Camp by buying a Live Unlimited bracelet from Endorphin Warrior at $6 from the sale of each bracelet goes directly to MDA to help kids like those I met at Summer Camp.
  • Support MDA Summer Camp by making a donation at and/or learn how you can become a summer camp volunteer counselor.

This post was sponsored by the Muscular Dystrophy Association. All views and editorial are mine.

SXSW con Queso: Picks & Minimal Recommendations From A Local

March 11, 2016


We’ve seen an extraordinarily large number of unnecessarily complicated guides to Austin and SXSW this year…so so many write ups on the must-dos, must-sees, must-drinks, ad nauseam…most from people who don’t live in Austin. Most from people trying to be as “cool and as real as it gets”  and give you a list of 200 things YOU MUST DO in the 27 waking hours you are in town.

On the other hand, here’s a really short list adapted from a post we did a couple of years ago. Not much has changed but some things have…including our picks for SXSW 2016. Enjoy!

A few friends have asked what to expect from SXSW this year, what to do, who to see. And I say you’ll for sure see these people.   You should also get far away from that and go to our pick for Best Maker Event: SX CREATE presented by Dremel. And Best Empowerment Event: The #SpeakBeautiful Effect with Dove and Twitter. 

In addition, an exhaustive list of other official free events is right here. 

Beyond that, I don’t really care. But while you’re here, I would suggest that you look into a few, more localized activities. Things like this:

1. Get Some of The Best Queso in Austin. Here are my suggestions. I could talk more about this and I’m happy to. But you can’t really go wrong with most places in town so you’re probably fine no matter what. You’ll be especially pleased if you get your cheese from somewhere where there are no lines and whose name you can’t really pronounce.

2. Go See My Cousin’s Band. I’m not even kidding. That’s him right in the middle there. They are called Chasca, they are local, and they are awesome + beyond entertaining. Trust me. You won’t be sure what you are watching, but you won’t be disappointed.

There are two Chasca shows this first WEEKEND! Friday they play with girling at Hard Luck Lounge from 9-10 pm. Saturday they play with Alien Knife Fight at The Highball Austin at 11:30 pm. No cover. Have fun.

Photo of (from left) Keith Schmidt, Susie Schmidt-Franks, Chad Franks and John Fullilove courtesy of Rodolfo Gonzalez/American-Statesman.

3. Go To My Favorite BBQ Spot In Town. Don’t wait in a six-hour line for meat.  Schmidt Family Barbecue  is the cousin child of the legendary Kreuz Market and Smitty’s BBQ in Lockhart. Here’s more. To sum up, the new joint is from the next generation of cousins from the ultimate BBQ family of Texas. It’s closer to town, in Bee Cave. And it’s worth the drive from downtown. Go. (Also, PS, I’m not sure what you’ve heard, but The Salt Lick is in no way the best BBQ in town. Not even close. And Franklin’s is worth the wait normally…but not the wait this week.)

4. Go Outside. This is especially important if you are from anywhere north of Waco. But wherever you come from, get away from downtown. Go to Barton Springs. Or Deep Eddy. Or the Kite Festival. Or Mount Bonnell. Or just really anywhere that’s not a line flowing into a parking lot.


5. Go to Mozart’s for Coffee.  Go to Hula Hut for chips, salsa and margs on the deck. Go to Taco Deli for tacos and to Matt’s El Rancho for enchiladas and to Maudie’s for anything else. If you want fancy food, go to Counter 3. Five. VII. or Lenoir or Uchi (or, even better, Uchiko). If you don’t want fancy food, go to Ramen Fukuya. Catch a movie at Alamo Draft House. Don’t go to any of those ridiculous donut places. If you need donuts, go to KC Donuts. And go to Lick for ice cream. You won’t be disappointed. An none of those places will have SXSW lines.

Enjoy our town. It gets better the further away you move from the convention center. Trust us on this.

Soundtrack: That’s Right. By this smart guy with really great hair from Klein, Texas. 

SXSW con Queso // Best Maker Event: Dremel Brings Makers and Motorcycle Fun to SXSW

March 11, 2016
Via CA Muire Instagram

It’s March in Austin, Texas, which means two things: rain showers and SXSW. And while we like both of those things quite a bit, it’s SXSW that has us really excited this year because of SX CREATE presented by Dremel.

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 3.48.06 PM

What’s SX Create, you ask? Why, it’s the hardware hacking and maker arm of SXSW! This year it’ll be held at Palmer Events Center on March 11-13, 2016 and they promise “more space, more fun and even more hands-on excitement” with activities like 3D printing, drones and biohacking. I’m not so sure what biohacking is, but I’m intrigued!

The good news is that SX Create is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. Sorry for the all caps, but that’s kind of exciting since so much of SXSW requires a badge. Here’s the info:


March 11–13, 2016 | 11:00am–6:00pm

Palmer Events Center (900 Barton Springs Road)

SX Create is FREE with Guest Pass

SX Create presenting sponsor Dremel is a company built on a tradition of exploration, and they’re all about handmade artistry. After all, they invented the high-speed rotary tool in 1934, and since then they’ve been helping Makers make magic  with their full line of versatile tool systems like Multi-MaxTM oscillating tools, Ultra-SawTM and Saw-MaxTM multi-saws and FortiflexTM flex shaft tool, and the Idea BuilderTM 3D printer.

To celebrate the Maker spirit, Dremel is bringing a unique mashup of new technology and new partners to SXSW. They want to not only inspire, but to challenge Makers, via incentives, to leave their mark. And to show that, they have some majorly cool things going on at their booth (Booth #401 — write that down). Cool things like:

An Indian Scout Motorcycle sweepstakes!

Even if you don’t know much about motorcycles, you’ve no doubt heard of Indian. They were founded in 1901, and they’re  classic, beautiful bikes that pride themselves on craftsmanship. And for that reason, they make the perfect partner for Dremel. An Indian® Chief® Vintage motorcycle will be at the Dremel booth, #401 at SX Create, and noted Makers Hank Robinson of Hanro Studios and Paul Niemeyer will put a customized spin on the bike’s leather and metal parts with live, detailed etching and engraving. Seriously, look at this thing. I totally want to grab a helmet and head out on the open road until my kids are in their 30’s. Va-room.

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 4.48.03 PM

After the SX Create bike is finished, it will then be unveiled at the Indian Motorcycle display at the 2016 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August. (Have you ever been to Sturgis? I have. Once, by mistake, in the family station wagon. Long story. We don’t ever talk about it.) The bike will then tour select Dremel and Indian Motorcycle events, and be displayed at Dremel HQ for all to drool over.

But wait! There’s more! You can WIN a bike!

Dremel and Indian are co-sponsoring a sweepstakes that grants one lucky winner the chance to own a one-in-a-million ride. Because they’re all about individualistic style, Hank the Maker will personalize an Indian® Scout® Sixty motorcycle unique to the winner’s own interests. Like, if you are a huge fan of Texas, he’ll engrave a Longhorn and/or Willie Nelson on it and then everybody you know will be jealous of you for the rest of your life unless you give them rides on it.

The sweepstakes runs March 11 through September 30, 2016, and fans can enter online once per day at (Note: site does not go live until March 11, 2016. Visit the Dremel and Indian Motorcycle Facebook pages for the other prizes up for grabs, too!)

More fun at Drexel Booth #401:

Make your own customized leather luggage tags! All SX Create visitors will have the opportunity to make their own however they like, then take it home with them to use on their next trip. Mine would either say, “BACK OFF, THIS IS MY BAG” or “PROPERTY OF RYAN GOSLING.”

SX Create visitors can also meet Dremel Chief Maker and Austin native Celina Muire talking about her work on Saturday. Celina is a “pyrographer,” which means she makes amazing things via burning wood, on purpose, in addition to gorgeous pieces of art like this:

Via CA Muire Instagram

Via CA Muire Instagram

 I totally want that in my house now. That is going to happen, Celina. Get ready for my phone call.

Dremel will also debut its newest 3D printer, the Dremel 3D40 Idea Builder, a part of their complete 3D printing ecosystem for the classroom and Maker workshops, at SX Create. Per Dremel, this “second-generation printer increases design flexibility and ease of use for students and techies with USB- and Wi-Fi-enabled printing, a larger building platform, and the new Dremel 3D app for iOS and Android, which enables users to design 3D objects remotely. The 3D40 Idea Builder is also compatible with HP Sprout, an immersive 3D scanning system. The synergistic technologies create an intuitive design, scanning and printing process that encourages communal problem solving and activates imaginative thinking. Fans can experiment with both systems live at the Dremel booth.”

Whew. I just need to know if it can print out a 3D Ryan Gosling for me so I can tell him I have his luggage.

If you’ll be in Austin or at SXSW, be sure to stop by SX Create at the Palmer Events Center March 11-13 and visit where? That’s right, Dremel at Booth #401 to see all of the amazingly creative and innovative things they’re doing, and to enter to win that sweet Indian Motorcycle.

For more information about Dremel activities at SX Create, visit and the Dremel Facebook page. To learn more about Indian Motorcycle and HP Sprout, visit and

This post was sponsored by Dremel. All information provided by them, all weird, colorful commentary provided by me.

SXSW con Queso // BEST EMPOWERMENT EVENT: DOVE Raises the Level of Conversation & Brings Its New #SpeakBeautiful Technology to SXSW.

March 10, 2016

It’s no secret that we are fans of Dove. They are long time partners in the Mom 2.0 Summit. And frankly, we just really like their mission, their people and their products.

We also like that they are actively working to raise the conversation about conversation online.

According to research commissioned by Dove, eight out of 10 women have seen negative comments in conversations about other women’s looks on social media. And four out of every five negative tweets about beauty and body image are written by women critiquing themselves. That’s why they teamed up to launch #SpeakBeautiful, a campaign encouraging women to be more positive when tweeting about beauty and body image. Well, that and because it’s about time. And it seems they are always the go-to group to make things happen.

“Ideas and opinions about body image are now fluidly shared every second through social feeds, and sometimes we do not fully realize the resounding impact of the words in even one post,” Jennifer Bremner, Dove’s Director of Marketing, said. “We can positively change the way future generations express themselves online.”

So that’s what they are rolling up to Austin with…a lot of smart women, positive vibes, good manners and beautiful words…all things SXSW could do well to embrace … and we say bravo! All around.

Dove has designed this SXSW event for those looking for a very cool, interesting discussion on women’s empowerment and online harassment with an inspiring panel of trailblazers.

Saturday, March 12, 1 – 3 pm. Trinity Hall. (See more details in the above image.)

We wouldn’t miss it.

RSVP to the SXSW event here. 

Find out more about the Dove campaign here.

Empathy Cards

February 4, 2016

Emily McDowell makes really funny cards, but I believe my favorites of hers are those of the Empathy variety. Because it’s true that I am the worst when it comes to knowing what to say in a crappy situation. But then I listen to those talking in a crappy situation and often, they’re the worst too. Sometimes not. But often.


I don’t have bad feelings for anyone saying anything though, because we’re all just trying our best to stumble through and most of us have no idea what we are talking about. We just try in different ways. I try to not say anything dumb.


It seems our collective awkwardness gets turned up to 11 whenever someone is diagnosed with something terrible. Or is suddenly put in the hospital. Or well, there are like 5,000 other situations where we all get weird. And now, we have cards to proactively help us be less lame. Thank you, Emily McDowell.


Today is World Cancer Day, an annual event that unites the globe in the fight against cancer. The campaign is designed to raise awareness and education about the disease, to encourage action to save millions of preventable deaths each year.

You can buy Emily McDowell’s Empathy Cards here. 

How To Make Limoncello

January 1, 2016
How to make limoncello

We travelled to Italy a few years ago, and were lucky enough to stay in the beautiful town of Positano very near Pompeii.  It is a town built on a cliff above a few beaches.  I think it was something like 250,000 steps from our hotel to the beach.  Ok, not really, but it felt like it.  We learned a little late in the game that you can take the local bus for very little and avoid all of the steps.  I highly recommend the bus. 

Everywhere we went in Positano, the lovely pottery for sale was covered in lemons. Every restaurant featured lemon sauces, lemon desserts, etc. all followed with little glasses of limoncello.  If you have ever had it before, at first taste it reminds you of lemon-flavored cough syrup with a kick.  It is meant to be a digestif after all of the pasta and such.  At first, we were not fans, but by the third or so we loved it.

limoncello 4

I asked a local about why everyone serves limoncello.  He said that most of the families there have lemon trees.  After the tourist season ends in October or so, they head home to harvest their lemons with their families.  They get whole grain alcohol from the government, and use the rind from the lemons for the limoncello.  It takes 95 days from start to finish, which means it is ready when the weather starts to warm up.  They use the juice from the lemons for their sauces throughout the summer as well.  It turns out that making limoncello is mostly just waiting and a little bit of making.  I can totally do that!  I found a recipe that included a vanilla bean, which really does soften it just enough.  If you drink limoncello, then be sure you are just serving it in little shot glasses.  Beware, it can get really easy to drink, and before you know it, you have passed the point of no return…and you are desperately needing a nap!  If drinking it intimidates you, I have also served it poured over a lemon sorbet topped with raspberries.  It makes for a really refreshing dessert.  The texture of the drink is syrupy and viscous, so it is best served very cold.  I keep my bottle ready to go in the freezer.  It gets more aggressive the warmer it gets.  Why do I bring up limoncello now?  Well, it is citrus season!  Hooray!  My Meyer Lemons are almost ready to pluck, but they don’t make for good limoncello.  That said, you can run to the grocery store, and grab big lemons right now.  Just be sure that you are only removing the yellow rind- leave the white pith behind.  I used my lemon “innards” in my juicer so that my 10 year old could make his lip-puckering homemade lemonade.  Enjoy!

limoncello 1


(this is a double batch)

What you’ll need:

One liter of Everclear

10-15 really nice lemons (the rind matters, friends)

5 cups of sugar

4 cups of water

1 vanilla bean

limoncello 2

What you’ll do:

First, after you have washed those lemons, you will zest them.  You can use the five whole zester, the microplaner or the carrot peeler.  Put all of the zest in the large sealable jar with the liter of booze.  Don’t do vodka- it’s not the same.  Let it sit for 45 days in a cool dark place.

After 45 days, you will need to make the syrup, and remove the peels.  You can simply pour the mixture through a fine mesh to remove the peels.  Put the lemony goodness back in the jar with one vanilla bean.  This will mellow it out just enough to make it irresistible.  Bring the four cups of water to a boil, and dissolve the 5 cups of sugar into the water.  Allow it all to cool, before you add it to the limoncello.  Once combined, store it back in the cool, dark place.  

limoncello 3

After the second 45 days, take your mesh, and line it with two coffee filters.  Put it over a bowl, and filter your limoncello into the bowl.  This will take a while as it should be thick and syrupy.  You can filter again if you want it to be more clear.  Finally, use a funnel to fill up the bottle or bottles of your choice.  Store in the freezer until you are ready to use.


Not Sure What To Leave for Santa? (Here’s a Tip: Leave Him Christmas Cookies.)

December 24, 2015
the best christmas cookies

I don’t know about you, but I am struggling a little bit when I think of how little time I have before Christmas and how much I have yet to do.  How does this happen to me every year?!!!  I mean, I know it is coming and yet I am always pressed for time.  Ugh.  Baking helps me settle the voices, but I know that is not true for everyone.  Lucky for you, these two cookie recipes are easy to manage, and they freeze really well.  The first is an Oatmeal Cookie with Golden Raisins and Dried Cranberries.  I know…I know…you don’t like raisins.  I will tell you this- these cookies are such a hit that the teachers who receive them every year won’t let me make anything else.  I have to share this recipe with someone every year as they can’t get over how much they love them.  But, if you insist that you will not like the oatmeal cookies then I submit to you the Chocolate Chocolate Chip with Peppermint Cookies.  Chocoholics can rejoice, and they look nice and festive as well.  The best part about both of these cookies is that you can use a small ice cream scoop to drop them onto your baking sheet.  Seriously, you can finish one batch in less than one hour.  Heat up your ovens, don your aprons, and don’t forget the holiday music and a glass of wine while you cook.  After all, you deserve it!  Let’s do this!

Oatmeal Cookies with Golden Raisins and Dried Cranberries

What you’ll need:

2 ½ sticks of butter, unsalted, room temp

1 cup light brown sugar

1 1/8 cup of regular sugar

1 large egg

1 ½ tsp vanilla

3 cups old fashioned oats

1 ½ cup all purpose flour

¾ tsp salt

2 ½ tsp baking soda

1 ½ cup combo of golden raisins, cranberries, cherries, etc.

(I like the golden raisins and cranberries)


(I think I use about ½ teaspoon, but honestly I just shake it out over the flower and oat mixture until I can smell it)


What you’ll do:

Preheat oven to 350.  Cream butter and sugars in a stand mixer with paddle attachment until fluffy.  Add egg and vanilla- mix until combined.  In separate bowl, stir together oats, flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon.  Add the flour mix to the butter mix (half first and then the rest) until combined.  Finally, add the dried fruit.  Use the scoop to portion onto the cookie sheets, and bake 8-10 minutes depending on your oven.  They should be golden brown and a little underdone in the center as they will continue to cook some once removed.

And then try these…


Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies with Peppermint


What you’ll need:

12 oz package of dark chocolate chips (go as dark or semi as you prefer)

2 TBS water

6 TBS unsalted butter, room temp

¾ cup sugar

½ tsp salt

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 ¼ cups all purpose flour

½ tsp baking soda

peppermint chips or crushed peppermint candies


What you’ll do:

Heat oven to 375.  Set up double boiler with 1 cup of the chips and the water- melt together and let cool some.  Meanwhile, in mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar and salt.  Add eggs and vanilla until combined.  Add melted chocolate until combined.  In bowl, combine flour, baking soda and the last cup of chocolate chips.  Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture.  Here you can add the peppermint chips into the batter.  Or, as I did this time, I scooped my dough, and then sprinkled or dipped the tops into the crushed candies.  Bake for 10-12 minutes depending on your oven.


BTW, both of these cookies go great with a glass of milk!  Also, they’re total Santa pleasers. Proven.

Bon Apetit!

Kristin Paull is a baker who makes the best cookies I’ve ever consumed in my life. They are like little works of art. Like better than wine. With more traces of lemon zest and cardamom.  Read more about Kristin here.

TBT: Winter Solstice Dinner

December 17, 2015

Winter Solstice has many associated traditions…Sadly, they’re all pretty bleak. Like the bleak midwinter they honor. But a few years ago we had a Winter Solstice Dinner and it was quite lovely. Here’s a Throwback to some a few of our Winter Solstice Dinner Feast and some of our favorite Winter Solstice treats.

Winter Solstice Pumpkin Soup

Yuletide Yule Wreath

Peppered Guinness Roast Beast with Parsnips and Figs

Gingerbread with Lemon Sauce

All these work great for a Winter Solstice meal, or I think I’ll be making a few of them for Christmas this year.

Merry Yuletide!


10 Reasons You Need to Go Watch “Man Up” Right Now

December 17, 2015

If, like me, you are always tragically hoping for romantic comedies to meet their potential, this one’s for you.

Man Up is a just-about-perfect rom-com. I loved it. I wanted to eat it like a cupcake.  It does everything I ever hope a rom-com will do:  It tickles you with witty banter, churns along with great dialogue, hooks into the pleasure of romantic tension between two people, breaks your heart a little, puts the difference between “alone” and “together” into stark relief, and gives you all the delightful feelings of falling in love.

It’s in some cities in theaters right now–but it’s also for rent to stream on Amazon.  Watch it tonight.  I promise–you’ll be so glad you did.

Here are ten reasons this movie is now in my top rom-coms of all time.

  1. This lonely moment on the train.

OneThere are real stakes in this movie.  There are moments that linger on isolation, and disappointment, and feeling lost and alone.  Pay attention, movie world!  Romantic comedies should never just be comedies!  The story has to have moments of genuine sorrow to give weight and meaning to the act of finding love.

  1. This adorable man.

twoPossibly the cutest rom-com dad ever.  Celebrating his 40th wedding anniversary, he toasts his wife, and says:  “We probably won’t make it another forty years–” And she jumps in and says, “I bloody hope not!”  He concludes: “But here’s to spending whatever time we have left together.”

  1. Lines like:  “Congratulations on your massive pack of lies.”

threeGreat dialogue.  Great banter.  It’s a pleasure to hear, and it creates great chemistry.  Screenwriter Tess Morris rocks it out.  “Massive pack of lies” is my new favorite phrase.

  1. Simon Pegg cries.Twice. 


What does Brené Brown keep telling us about vulnerability?  “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity.”  It’s also the birthplace of all kinds of goodness in a romantic comedy.  Simon Pegg full-out cries for a long scene in this movie–snurfly, nose-wiping tears. And guess what?  It works.  I’m trying to think of the last time I saw a man cry in any movie–other than Adam Sandler, for yuks.  American rom-coms have been acting too tough of late: leaving out all the raw emotions, the vulnerability, and the bravery that should course through movies like this.  Man Up is not afraid to go all-in, and the tenderness makes the story matter.

  1. Lake Bell does NOT cry.  Much.  Okay, she cries a little.


She holds it together most of the time–but the way she holds it together, despite disappointment after disappointment, makes you root for her.  You’re RIGHT THERE with her.  One of her goals is to “Put yourself out there.”  Man Up shows us just how hard it is for her to do that–and then she does it anyway.

  1.  The Best Bowling-as-Foreplay Montage Ever




Bowling is the best. Why HAVEN’T there been more bowling-themed love montages?

  1. The Reflex


Does this movie NEED a scene with a dance fight to a Duran Duran song?  Not really.  Is it a total bonus that it has one?  Yep.  It’s awesome because of Duran Duran–but it’s also so charmingly comic the way Nancy and Jack’s voices are annoyed but their bodies are having fun.  Plus, is this a real dance?  Is this something that everybody knows, like the Thriller dance?  The minute the song comes on, they both jump in, like, Of course.  Did I miss it back in the ‘eighties?  Doesn’t matter, I guess.  It works.  Plus, they’re singing the nonsense lyrics to each other like those lyrics mean something.  Just yummy all around.

  1. The way Jack watches Nancy while she makes up an imaginary sexual history for them in front of his ex-wife.



His face just runs the gamut from concerned to surprised to amused to befuddled to titillated and back again.  Great face.  And he is really, really listening.  And who doesn’t love a man who listens?

  1.  The way it doesn’t insult you.


This is not a rom-com that hates rom-coms.  This movie is unapologetically a story about people who would like to find love–and are trying to do just that.  These people feel like real people and the choices they make feel like real choices for the real world.  There are no jokes about boobies in this movie.  There are no pole dances.  There are no references to Jonah Hill masturbating.  It has a sweetness to it that in today’s movie climate feels very brave.

  1. The end.




The movie opens with a long tracking shot through a party, and it ends with one, too.  The final shot floats along, checking in on all the characters we’ve just met before floating outside and stepping back.  The whole movie feels like a love letter to love.  It’s a dreamy way to end–tender and sweet–as everybody goes on with their lives.  It leaves you with a feeling not that things will never change and we must statically be Happy Ever After from this second forward–but more that life will move on, as it always does, and there will be sorrows and struggles, but there will also be moments of joy worth savoring.  For the moment, all is well.  I love those moments in life.  Don’t you?

Here’s the trailer:


Katherine Center is the author of five novels: The Bright Side of Disaster (2007), Everyone is Beautiful (2009), Get Lucky (2010), The Lost Husband (2013)–just optioned for a movie!–and Happiness for Beginners (2015), with two more on the way.  Read more about Katherine here.  Or here.

What to Plant In December

December 10, 2015

Although we haven’t even started the Twelve Days of Christmas, I’m already thinking about Valentines Day…I mean, when it comes to gardening, that is. The things you plant around here* in December mostly remind me of pinks and fragrants. Roses for clipping, strawberries for dipping, you get the gist. Throw in some onions and spinach for a Mardi Gras salad, and you’re good to go. So let’s get going.

What to Plant Decemberber


Roses.  This is a new one for me. I’ve never actually been tempted to plant roses before because before they look amazing, they look pretty bleak. Also, borderline ugly. But there’s a whole metaphor in there somewhere, and if 2016 is going to be coming up roses, now’s the time to make that happen. Here’s an overview on how to plant roses.  And here are the top ten roses for a Texas garden.

Onions. These are really easy to plant and grow…and you always need them. Just get your starters at your favorite seed/bulb supply or big box hardware store’s nursery department. They can help you. Or read more here. Basically you just put the starters/bulbs in the ground and get out of the way. You’ll have a ton ready to go before Easter.

Lavender. I think this is most decadent herb. And it grows really well in Central Texas, home of the Blanco Lavender Festival in Blanco, Texas, and a Lavender Festival at Becker Vineyards in Stonewall, Texas.  It does okay in North Texas and not so great the Gulf Coast region. But if you can get it going, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.  Here’s how to plant lavender.

Strawberries. Early next month the Queso gang is headed to strawberry central. And I am inspired. I’ve tried strawberries a few times and it’s never really worked out, but I’ve never tried them this early. I hear that is the key. Let’s see.

Spinach. Spinach is a great companion plant for strawberries. And it’s the green staple that likes to be transplanted a little bit later than all its green cousins. You’ll need it all spring. To be big and strong. 

So skip ahead a few holidays, stop thinking about fudge and start thinking about chocolate…to cover all your strawberries. Merry Valentines!

*This is written for zones 7-9