Agua de Sandia / Watermelon Agua Fresca

August 3, 2015
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Someone mentioned that it’s National Watermelon Day. Which really means nothing except that you should probably be eating watermelon as much as possible for the next month or two because, hand to heaven, it is hot outside.

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I’m not a big fan of dressing up watermelon too much. Watermelon margaritas, no. Watermelon frou-frou overdone recipes, hell no. Plain watermelon with a dash of salt on top is just about perfection. That said, I did try out a salted watermelon ice cream recipe (because it’s also national ice cream year…okay maybe not, but it should be) over the weekend, and it was pretty great. More about that later today in the next post.

But back to now. Now, the one thing I think is great to throw in the summer line up is agua fresca. Specifically agua de sandia. Watermelon water. Here’s what you’ll need.

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Here’s What You’ll Need

4 cups of watermelon

3 cups of Topo Chico con Lime

(If you don’t have that, just use water.)

The juice from one lime

1 tablespoon of sugar

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Here’s the deal with Topo Chico. It’s just the best. It is basically just fizzy water, it tastes great, and I hear it’s magic for hangovers. This may be just a thing you can pick up anywhere in Texas (Can you find it everywhere in other places?) Or you can get it on Amazon. This summer, I was introduced to Topo Chico with lime (Thank you, Brooks family) and it wins all the other Topo Chico contests. So look into that. I highly recommend that you drink it whenever possible.

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Here’s What You’ll Do

All you do is mix up all four ingredients listed above in a blender. My blender is crap, so I chop up/blend the watermelon in my little food processor chopper and then put that slushed watermelon into the blender. It’s just easier for all involved.

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And done. Agua fresca is served. It’s the easiest thing ever. And it goes great with tacos. Or sandwiches. Or anything really. Top it with some vodka or rum and you have yourself a boozy slushy agua de sandia beach party. Or just grab a watermelon and some salt. That works too.

Happy watermeloning!

 

Lazy Summertime Playlist

July 31, 2015
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I keep hearing the same song. No, not the song of the summer. The same song from people about how their summers have gone. Too fast. Too busy. Too weird. And filled with too many unexpected fast, busy, weird things.

I get that. Because this summer has successfully and totally obliterated my color-coded spreadsheet planning nature. I think it was around Memorial Day that I finally just threw the plan(s) away (after Plan B – Plan K were scrapped) and decided to embrace the unexpected and basically just chill the crap out. By the end of June, I’d gone into this zombiesque “leaf on the water” mode, where I was flowing forward in more of a defeated exhaustion than Zen-like peace, but the result was the same. Pet Sounds.

It was around this time that I saw Love and Mercy.  And the whole summer has sounded like Brian Wilson ever since.

Granted, the first part of the summer, I spent most of my time in a hospital sitting with my dad or in a kitchen baking hundreds (literally hundreds) of fish sticks for my bottomless pit of a son. Fish sticks were as close as we were getting to an ocean, but my kitchen soundtrack was filled with Best Coast, Real Estate, Flamin’ Groovies and The Beach Boys. And I started to see the entire summer settling into a lazy groove. The warmth of the sun helped.

And as I’ve let go, things have calmed down a bit…at least in my own head. We have four weeks left of the summer…and as we are winding down personally, we are gearing up here at The Queso. We are back and we’re looking forward to celebrating the rest of the summer with you.

And our current soundtrack is  The Lazy Summertime Playlist.  You’re welcome.

And happy August.

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You can listen to it here. On Spotify. 

BTW: Best Things of the Week

July 11, 2015
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We’ll be honest, we’ve been vacationing. Slowly. At the river. Or at the beach. Or in Spain. Or around our houses. But we’ve sort of been paying attention, kind of. Here are a few things we noted while we were floating.

 

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The US Women’s World National Team Rocked. As per usual.

It’s been a big week for the ladies. They won like whoa. They had a ticker-tape parade. They were on TV. They partied with TayTay.  Andrés Cantor lost his mind. And now, you should support them in person. 

If you’re in Texas: Go see them! At least three of them. Carli Lloyd (!), Morgan Brian and Meghan Klinenberg all play for The Dash (as if you didn’t know). And they may have been in NYC all week, but they’ll be in Houston on Sunday and we can’t wait to welcome these ladies back to BBVA Compass Stadium on July 12 and throughout the summer. Join the celebration! 

 

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Go Set A Watch, Man. We’re On A Harper Lee Book Countdown.

On July 11, 1960, Harper Lee published To Kill A Mockingbird.  Fifty-five years later (55 exactly today), the now 89-year-old author is publishing her second book, Go Set a Watchman, which she actually wrote this one before To Kill a Mockingbird and the prequel features Scout as an adult. It comes out on July 14. (Order it now). However, you don’t have to totally wait. You can read the first chapter right this second. Go, go. Go!

 

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And finally…

We haven’t been doing much….but… we made a Lazy Summertime playlist. It all started with a Flamin’ Groovies song and went from there. That’s the vibe we want for the rest of the summer.

Slow week. We were at the river. Next week some of us are coming home from Spain and some of us are going to NYC. So watch for that.

Okay, until then…

Happy Weekend!

XOXO & Queso,

Laura

Happy 4th of July!

July 3, 2015
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We have taken the week off, but we’ll be back next week in full force to celebrate July life, summer and the pursuit of Queso.

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Happy Fireworks!

See you next week!

The Easiest Watermelon Salad Ever

June 26, 2015
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This has to be the easiest watermelon salad ever. Please tell me if you’ve ever heard of any easier watermelon anything (besides just salt on pieces of watermelon) because, honey, I think this it. And speaking of honey, that’s the brilliance, just three fresh, local ingredients (watermelon, mint, honey) and our favorite thing ever: queso. Well, queso fresco, but still. The best. Here’s how it happens.

 

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Mint

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Queso fresco

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Chop up the watermelon and mint, add crumbles of queso fresco, drizzle with honey (I love the word drizzle) and DONE.

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You’re welcome.

Happy weekend!

Oh and okay so if you are in Texas, you should totally go to The Luling Watermelon Thump and challenge someone to a seed-spitting contest. This weekend. It’s happening all weekend.  Go.  And report back on Monday.

Summer Reading Recommendations from an Award-Winning Author and Storyteller, Katherine Center

June 25, 2015
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By Katherine Center

Part of being a reader is knowing what you like to read. We’re all looking for something when we turn to a book—and it varies a lot from person to person. Some people like the puzzle of a mystery.  Some folks like the heart-thumping anxiety of a suspense novel.  Some like to luxuriate in the exquisite poetry of literary prose. The trick a good read, I think, is knowing what you’re looking for—and then finding it.

Right now, in my life, I’m just looking for great, page-turning, utterly engaging stories that don’t let me go.

I’m looking to feel connected to the characters and to care about them and to root for them. I want to feel like their story matters, and I want to get pulled in—all in—in a page-turning, up-past-bedtime way.  A little bit of comedy is a plus.  Great, snappy dialogue is an even bigger plus.  And I never say no to a delicious love story.  If I can feel inspired, or turn around at the end and look at my own life in a new way, even better.

Here are some books I enjoyed, admired, and could not put down.

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THE FAULT IN OUR STARS

John Green

I might be the last person in America to have read this book, but I just finished, and I loved it too much not to say something.  It’s hardly new—it’s a movie by now, after all.  It’s sad, sad, sad—but satisfying.  The setting, the parameters of the story, the troubles the characters have to deal with?  All heartbreaking.  But there’s comedy, too, and genuine human connection.  You turn the last page and feel changed.  You come out of the story feeling more alive.

 

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ELEANOR & PARK

Rainbow Rowell

There’s an intensity to this story that does not let you go.  It feels so real, so urgent, it’s as if you’re living it with the characters.  The love and connection these two mid-western teenagers in the 1980s find for each other captures the intensity of first love—but the story captures something bigger: the beauty  and power of how people take care of each other.

 

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THE ROSIE PROJECT

Graeme Simsion

This is a story of a university professor who’s not great at reading social cues.  He reads an article about the health benefits of being married and decides to take a wife—by creating a survey to assess potential candidates.  It’s a great premise with lots of comedy—but the thing that hooks you is how engaging he is as a character and how hard he tries.  He gets it wrong over and over, misreads people and does the wrong things, but you are one-hundred percent all in rooting for him like crazy.

 

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ONE LAST THING BEFORE I GO

Jonathan Tropper

My brother-in-law gave me this book, saying, “This guy is the male you.”  So that got my attention.  It’s definitely a very guy-ish book—opening, for example, with the main character on his way to make a donation the sperm bank (in contrast to my bedside table reading stack, which tends to be very Ladies’ Nite)—but I felt affection for the main character, rooted for him, and most of all loved stumbling on the story’s many wise insights about life and what it all means.

 

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ME BEFORE YOU

JoJo Moyes

I had this one on my night table for a long time before I tackled it.  People kept saying, “You have to read it! You’re going to cry your face off.”  But the thing was, I didn’t really want to cry my face off.  I didn’t want to get to the end and have to lie on the floor in despair.  So I put it off and put it off.  When I finally opened it up, I read it in a day.  Did I cry my face off?  Nope.  Moyes renders the story so well that everything that happens feels meaningful and right.

 

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A WALK IN THE WOODS

Bill Bryson

An oldie but a goodie.  This is one of my top two Bill Bryson books (along with Made In America).  It’s the story of Bryson, in his forties and out of shape, deciding to walk the Appalachian trial.  An old friend from high school joins him, and this story is equal parts comedy, disaster, terror, camaraderie, and Bryson-esque trivia about anything and everything.  A movie version (with Robert Redford and Nick Nolte.  Read) is about to come out.  Read the book first!

Happy Summer Reading!

And read more about Katherine here.  Welcome Katherine!

Meet Our New Contributor: Katherine Center

June 25, 2015
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I met Katherine Center about seven years ago in Houston at a book reading…her book reading. She was introducing her first book, and as she read it, I envisioned fireflies and s’mores and watermelon and twinkle lights on a warm Texas evening by Lake LBJ. That is not what her first book was about at all, but that was the vibe I remember. I walked up to her afterwards and said, “Hi, I’m Laura, I think we’re going to be friends.” Which, what? Total stalker move. Only I wasn’t a stalker because I was just introduced to her work for the first time and also, it didn’t seem weird at all. Because that’s the kind of approachably cool warmth that Katherine gives to everyone. She seems like your best friend, because she probably is. Just like your best friend, or at least the one you imagined you’d have one day.  You get the same feeling about her characters in her many books. 

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And don’t even get me started on her house. It is a haven for creativity and conversations. An old-school Texan, she oozes the perfect blend of welcome, warmth and acceptance with a dash of no-bullshit irreverence. And she can tell a story like no one else. So when Katherine agreed to join us at The Queso to talk about stories and celebrate storytellers, I felt like we’d won the lottery. Because I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have around my kitchen table. I know you will love her too. Welcome Katherine!

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If you like to get to know people, here are few get-to-know-you questions that I stole from a number of get-to-know-you memes.

What are your greatest creative inspirations? People who try really hard.  People who do the right thing.  Books that turn their own pages.  Great fonts.  Vintage signs.  Acts of love, self-sacrifice, and care-taking.  Hand-sewn embroidery.  Goofiness.  Banter.  Tina Fey.  The way people pick themselves up after life knocks them down.

If you had a free hour, what would you do? Read in the bubble bath.

What do you want to be when you grow up? Grateful.

From James Lipton, host of Inside the Actor’s Studio: 

What is your favorite word?  Astonished.

What is your least favorite word?  Bulbous.

What is your favorite curse word? Fuck, for the shock value.

From JL’s Uncle Jessie Meme:

A song/band/type of music you’d risk wreck & injury to turn off when it comes on the radio?  That theme song from the 50 Shades of Grey movie.  Nope.

Favorite movie? When Harry Met Sally.  I have it memorized.

Favorite restaurant? Anything Tex-Mex

Favorite room in your house? The kitchen.  It’s bright and sunny with a fire-engine red table.  The radio is always on.  The kids do their homework and I cook and chop things and sing along.

If you could have anything put on a t-shirt what would it be? I wish I owned a t-shirt shop.

Nightmare job? Anything involving math.

Dream vacation?  Driving up the East Coast, stopping at historic towns.

The best part about being your age? Being over it.  Whatever it is.

What’s on your nightstand? Three different stacks of books piled 13 high.  Next read will be JoJo Moyes’s ONE PLUS ONE.

From the famous “Weird Things” blogoshpere meme:

Tell us 3 weird things about you:

  1. I once spent an entire day driving around singing Beatles songs with the guy who played Booger in Revenge of the Nerds.
  2. My mom has a steak knife that was a wedding present from the George and Barbara Bush.
  3. My grandmother was an identical twin, and she danced in a show in the 1930s with Clark Gable.

From Smith Magazine’s Six Word Memoirs series: 

What is a six-word memoir that captures your life:

Always look for the good stuff.

 

We’re looking forward to all kinds of good stuff from Katherine…and mainly that comes from just hanging out with her. This is going to be good.

It’s Personal: The Last 30 Days

June 24, 2015
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The last 30 days have been tough around here, in our home, in our town, in our country. For starters, exactly one month ago tonight, flash floods drove two rivers together into a wall of water that destroyed communities, homes and lives. My parents’ house was one of those homes, and they’re still working to piece together, dry out, clean, replace and completely repair their life.

This was complicated even further 17 days ago when my dad found out he needed emergency quadruple bypass surgery, which the next day turned into a much more extensive and complicated 11-hour surgery. It was intense and scary but the surgeons were happy with the results, and so the last 15 days my dad has been in the hospital trying to find his way back. It’s been really rough. But today he was moved to an inpatient rehab hospital for at least two more weeks and hopefully slowly, very slowly we’re seeing glimmers of possibility that we’ll get our dad back. It will be a long road. And it’s been a long month. Of course those are just the top-line items. The connected myriad of details and pivots and sleepless nights compounded the difficulty, the to-do lists and the miles behind we are in everything.

I was feeling especially overwhelmed late last Wednesday evening right before I heard the news about the nine souls who were gunned down by the man they welcomed with open arms. In church. Because their skin was black.

It was the final straw. My final straw of what I could take in the moment. And hopefully the final straw of what we can all take as humans, and geographically, as Americans. If we can’t be united about the absurdity of racism that kills people in church, I’m not sure we can call ourselves United in any way.

But honestly over the last week, I just haven’t been able to find clear words about this because my mind is currently only functioning in weird, sleep-deprived lists. Thankfully, I have friends who have not only said it all so much better than I can right now, they have inspired me to think in complete sentences. And to find ways to build more bridges once the waters calm down a bit around me. Here are a few things that have inspired me over the last few days.

 

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Let’s Talk by Gabrielle Blair, Design Mom

Image: Design Mom, Illustration by Sarah James

Perhaps you don’t talk about racism around your kids because you want to protect them from the bad things that happen in the world? Well, I do understand the instinct there, but the reality is, if you’re not talking to your kids about race in America, it’s because you enjoy a privilege that many don’t.

If you’re raising children of color, you have to talk about race. It’s not a choice. You need to tell your kids what they can wear, what they can say, and how to behave so that they’ll hopefully be treated “normally”. You talk to them in the hopes that you’ll lessen the risk of your unarmed child being shot by someone like George Zimmerman, or by a police officer.

Read more.

(There’s so much more and it’s so good.)

 

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On Charleston by Wendi Aarons

Here’s the thing: as much as I love jokes, as much as I love humor, I’ve never found anything funny about these casually racist slams. So instead of laughing, I usually react by trying to leave and/or making eye contact with the other people in the room who aren’t enjoying it, either. Then I’ll call the joke-teller an asshole in my head and vow to limit all future contact. But you know what I haven’t really done? Not really? I haven’t said, “Shut up. That’s wrong, and it’s racist and it’s harmful.” And I—and, in my opinion, everyone —need to start saying that.

Read more.

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Photo by Karen Walrond. 

From Glennon Melton of Monastery

Perhaps I cannot be a friend to the black community because I am not even a friend to a black person.

How is it possible that I have arranged my life in such a way that this could be true? I don’t know. I just know that’s one of the many reasons I don’t know how to lead you. I’m sorry that I have not done the hard work that prepares a person and a leader for a moment like this.

Here a couple of things I do know today:

To those who claim, still, that this is simply about one man’s mental illness; who think the answer to this tragedy lies entirely “inside the mind of the killer” — Let me say: No. That’s denial. Don’t look at him. Look at US. Our country’s denial of racism is — at best — a severe, deadly collective case of delusion. Let us not carry on with the denial that will keep us sick. Looking into our OWN collective mind is a critical part of the answer. Because at this point the denial of racism can only be racism itself.

Read more.

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Image Credit: Wall Street Journal, What Charleston Tells Us About Race Relations 

A Beginners Guide To Becoming an Ally in the Black Community, by Roo Ciambriello on Semiproper

The key, I’ve found, is to pace yourself, have an open mind, and avoid being combative. Polite, open discourse is fantastic, and sometimes a friend who is feeling ambivalent about speaking about injustice just needs to see that someone else was brave enough to start the conversation. Your bravery gives others courage, as trite as that may sound.

It’s okay to tell someone that their racist joke sucks. It’s okay to declare that you believe black lives matter. And it’s okay to not have all the answers. Being willing to learn and listen to other narratives challenges ignorance, increases empathy, and moves us to action.

Read more. 

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Important Words on Charleston, Juneteenth and Inside Out by Mom 2.0 Summit

Words feel inadequate to express our sorrow at the killings at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, this week, and yet it is critical to say them. We have been listening carefully to members of the Black community who are expressing their anger and pain in blogs and on Facebook and Twitter. We will continue to share voices for understanding and healing as they are heard.

Donate to Emanuel AME Church via the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund.

My Complicated Relationship With South Carolina by Shani Gilchrist.

Carvell Wallace wrote this searing letter to his late mother, after Charleston, on The Toast.

Jon Stewart had no jokes on The Daily Show last night, but he did share his thoughts in a moving, trenchant nearly six-minute monologue.

This Charleston Syllabus from the African American Intellectual History Society is a great resource for anyone wanting to read more on the topic of race and the role it plays, and has played, in America.

 

Confederate Flags and the South

June 24, 2015
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Written By:  Tish Harrison Warren

I haven’t weighed in on the whole Confederate flag debate because, honestly, I can’t believe it’s even a debate.

Look, I like the South. I like deep porches and macaroni-and-cheese as a vegetable and Live Oak trees and biscuits and mint juleps and slow-talkers. Of course, the South is more than slavery. But though it is more than that, it includes, always, a history of slavery, racism, and systemic brutality.

So, yes, I’m for taking the Confederate flag down. I’m also not for Nazi flags, even though I don’t hate German culture or Volkswagens or Oktoberfest.

Here’s the thing: Flags are not the way to make a nuanced statement about a complex culture. Flags are ideological. That’s how flags work. And the Confederate flag was used as a symbol of a society propped up by slavery, not only that but the flag continued to fly (all too often) during decades of Jim Crow, lynchings, the KKK, and redlining. That is the ideology that the Confederate flag now represents. Whatever you’d like it to mean, history has given it a meaning that you cannot choose and it is, inevitably, a symbol of racism and oppression.

If you want a flag that honors Southern culture, this isn’t it.

So make a new flag. Put Johnny Cash lyrics on it. Or lightning bugs. Or Bourbon. Or something fried. That’s something we can all get behind. But, honestly, this ought not even be a debate. After the history of systemic evil and oppression against people of color in America broadly and the South specifically, it would be completely legitimate for brothers and sisters of color to ask whites to fly a flag for the next 300 years that just reads “We are really, really sorry.” Taking down the confederate flag is, truly, the very least we can do.

This post was written by Tish Harrison Warren, who is a new contributor here at The Queso. (We have a number of new contributors who are joining us and will be hanging out here a lot.) And she’s the one I’ve know the longest for sure. Because, for starters, she’s my little sister. You can read more about Tish here but I can tell you right now that she watched the movie The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas more times before she was six years old than most humans have in their entire lives, combined. Oh also, she’s a priest.

Please welcome my very favorite sister to The Queso!

Image Credit: Vacation Rentals Charleston

WTH: What’re The Happenings? June 22 – 28, 2015

June 22, 2015
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It’s the first official week of summer and we are ready. In reality, most of our kids around here have been out for a month now (A month!) but we are seeing that many of  you from other parts of the country are just getting ready for the last minutes of school.  You go. Congratulations. You made it.

But we are a month in and we have already started to make the most of the summer with incredible adventures, making memories and balanced meals. Or, some of us have. Some of us have only managed to eat chips and bingewatch Orange is the New Black. Some of us haven’t even started that. No matter where you are on the summer spectrum, there’s always this week to start. Here are a few things we suggest.

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Inside Out. We’re a few days late on this, but last week was a crappy week. And this week, you should be turned inside out. It’s showing everywhere. Have you seen it? You should totally see it. Here are a few things people are saying about it: Inside Out: Pixar’s Latest Masterpiece is It’s Most Profound Yet and  Thanks Pixar, Seriously and Turned Inside Out. Even the short before the movie is getting rave reviews. Go.

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Brian Wilson Tour: Last week we talked about Love and Mercy (you should go see that). This week, see the IRL version in cities across the south/southwest. June 23, Austin, TX Frank Erwin Center Tickets , June 24, Dallas, TX Verizon Theatre at Grand Prairie TicketsJune 26, Atlanta, GA, Fox Theatre TicketsJune 27, Nashville, TN, Carl Black Chevy Woods Amphitheater, Tickets Photo Credit: Glide Magazine

Batkid-Begins

Batkid Begins: The Wish Heard Around the World. Remember when Batkid saved San Francisco? No? Then you’re in for a treat. We have friends that were involved in making this happen and we couldn’t be more proud. No matter how tough things get, how many villains are out there, we truly believe that people are created to do good and light and love always win in the end. This one will help you remember. And we aren’t the only one’s who think so. Find out if it’s playing near you.

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Best Coast Tour. Best Coast is one of Laura’s favorite bands. “The just make me want to move to LA.” And that’s quite a thing, right there. Although there’s much debate about what is actually the “best coast,” this band is for sure the best Best Coast. You should probably go see them. Or at least pick up their latest record. Or read more about them here. June 23: Austin, TX Emo’s East Tickets; June 24: Dallas, Granada Theater. Tickets. ; June 26: San Diego, CA. The Observatory North Park Tickets.  Los Angeles, CA: June 27, The Wiltern. Tickets.  Image Credit: Art Felicis

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Take in a Taco Festival. Around here, everyday is a taco festival. But to differentiate the Denver Taco Festival from other taco-focused events, organizers Timothy Arguello and Stephen Jones promise to inject more “taco-y-ness” into the two-day event. Which basically means, festival-goers can watch lucha libre wrestling and Chihuahua races and enjoy tacos from more than thirty local vendors, washing everything down with tastes of forty tequilas. You go, CO Tacos! June 27-28. And in north Texas….Taco Libre in Dallas.  In addition to food, drinks, and tunes from bands such as Ozomatli and Deep Blue Something, there is also some good old fashioned wrestling. Because of course there will be. June 27th. Our favorite taco joint on the planet (Taco Deli) will be there. Goodness. Image Credit: Taco Deli

And finally…if you’re in Texas this Week:

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Our very own Katherine Center will be touring Texas on her new book. Thursday, June 25th in Dallas; Friday, June 26th in San Antonio; Saturday, June 27th in Austin.  Her latest book is our favorite book, and we’re not just saying that. Others have agreed. (Although they’re all awesome…one’s even being made into a movie. So rad.) But Happiness for Beginners is what we are celebrating now, so if you’re in Texas, show up and see for yourself. We will be there!

Until next week.

Peace, Love & Queso