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Cabin 10 Restored My Faith and Challenged Me To Live Unlimited

July 26, 2016
Paddleboarding

 

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.

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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.

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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.

Bridge

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

What?

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

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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.

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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.

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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 mda.org/LiveUnlimited 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.”

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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.”

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

He flies.

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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.”

Girls

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 mda.org/LiveUnlimited. 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 http://www.endorphinwarrior.com/live-unlimited. $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 mda.org 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

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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.

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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.

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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:

SX CREATE

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.

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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 www.dremelmakeyourindianmotorcycle.com (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 https://www.dremel.com/en-us/Pages/default.aspx and the Dremel Facebook page. To learn more about Indian Motorcycle and HP Sprout, visit www.IndianMotorcycle.com and www8.hp.com/us/en/sprout/home.html.

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

Empathy Cards

February 4, 2016
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

Boxed Set: Coterie Sampler

November 18, 2015
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We love this new trend involving things being sold in boxes. After all, anytime you can pay a little less for something to be delivered straight to you, I’m in. Add in the idea of not having to shop for anything and/or make any decisions at all, SOLD!

Now I get this concept is not for everyone. A ton of people are not into surprises, and not interested in paying for things that they didn’t have any say in selecting. And for those people, I say this is not for you. But it might be for someone you are wanting to gift something…and ’tis the season after all. So in our Boxed Set series over the next weeks, we are going to profile some different boxes that we think are well done. And we’re going to start close to home with Coterie Sampler, an Austin-made surprise package, delivered monthly.

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Coterie Sampler is the brainchild Chelsea Staires Sun, who founded Coteire Market to make it easier to buy locally in Austin. The market features products from business owned and operated in the Austin area, most handmade with locally-sourced materials. It delivers around Austin, but if you’re not in the delivery area, then you were sort of out of luck. But no more, now they have these monthly box of single-run, chef-made food options. And it comes to you in a white box, stamped with their logo that reminds me of old school stuff my grandparents used to get delivered. It has a vintage dairy or butcher shop quality to it. Plus, great fonts.

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There are two options. The Mark, has 6-8 items and goes for $60 and The Standard, 4-6 items for $40. I get the Standard.

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This is what it looks like when it comes in the mail.

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The first month featured fancy finishing salts from Lenoir, elaborate kale chips, lavender mosquito spray (which totally worked AND smelled good), posh rosemary gin & juice tea biscuits (I loved these), ginger pear preservers (seriously yes) and fruit-infused Sway water (that was really, really, really good).  $60+ worth of stuff that I would have never heard of or tried for $40. Not bad at all.

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I want to say it was almost worth it for the Lenoir Finishing Salt.

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Or the ginger pear preserves, which start a day (on toast) in such a good way. 

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The next month brought natural soap,  salted butter caramels (whoa), seasoned feta, chai latte mix, Gardner hot sauce and chili powder. So five items, $52+ for $40. Not bad.

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This month featured gingerbread meringue cookies (what?!), nutty autumn granola (yum), toasted almond and pecan breading (I have no idea what to do with this, but I’m looking forward to discovering the what what), Austin Honey Company candles, and togarashi caramel sauce & sprinkles. None of these are listed on the site yet, so the only way you can get them is through the box and I’m not sure how much these five items are worth.

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But I’m exceptionally excited about the togarashi caramel sauce from Counter 3. Five. VII. Because despite it’s ridiculously overcomplicated name, it is my newest favorite restaurant…the food and the whole experience is exceptional, more on that later. But this sauce is from its pastry chef Sarah Prito, who as far as I can tell is a freaking genius.

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Each month, the whole bit comes with an overview. For instance, the info they give on the Togarashi Caramel Sauce & Sprinkles: “Sarah’s Togarashi (Japanese 7 Spice) Caramel Sauce has flavors and infusions of orange peel, red chili, sansyo, and ginger, along with miso. The Sprinkles feature nori, black sesame, and white sesame. With warm, bright flavor that leaves just a hint of heat, this sauce is the perfect pairing with rich, fall desserts.

I don’t even know what most of that means, but I feel fancy just typing it.

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Besides the monthly subscription option, they have specific, singular boxes that you can purchase for singular, specific things and occasions. Check it. Or you can buy specific items as well (in case you fall in love with one specific thing and/or just want that.)

This is obviously the ultimate gift for the ultimate foodie. On the other hand, I love it and I don’t consider myself a foodie at all. I mean, I like food, yes, but I don’t even know what most of this stuff is when I get it. However, it opens my mind and my perspectives and it gives me a really good excuse to try new things. And that is worth $40 to me. It’s a nice treat for yourself or someone you love…Austin delicacies straight to you. Check it out. 

The Butcher’s Daughter: New York

November 10, 2015
First-Daughter

Photo Credit: Alison Piepmeyer

If you are ever in New York City, in the NoLita area, and hungry, you should check out The Butcher’s Daughter Juice Bar & Cafe. If only to meet this guy. I mean. How cool is he?

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It’s small, it’s mostly outdoor and the vibe is great.

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But also, the food is good. We went for breakfast a few weeks ago for eggs and requisite trendy avocado toast…have you noticed that everyone is now serving avocado toast?…and thank God for that. The schtick is they “treat fruits and vegetables as a butcher would meat.” And they are good at their job.

You can see the whole menu here, which is swell beyond brunch with salads, soups, sandwiches, charcuterie, plates & boards. They also have a lot (like a lot) of juice offerings, including cleanse & wellness packages for local pick up. But we just came for the food and stayed for the great coffee, atmosphere and company.

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Like this gal. She’s the reason that Laurie White and I stopped in here. Our pal Jordan Ferney (who is usually in San Francisco) was in town for some work (a photoshoot for Martha Stewart) and the night before, she had invited us to stand in line with her for tickets to The Comedy Cellar…even though I was staying about two blocks away from The Comedy Cellar, we declined because we are lame…and then Louis C. K. totally showed up and treated them to a set of new material. I’m not even kidding. Because of course he did! (The moral of this story is always go where Jordan and/or New York City beckon and/or invite you.) So we for sure met her at The Butcher’s Daughter the next morning to hear all about it.

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I am a sucker for dippy eggs and soldiers. Even if their soldiers are actually just triangles.

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So if you are in the area, stop in.  You won’t be disappointed.

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Honestly, it’s worth it just to hang with this guy.

He’s our favorite.

Fanstastic Fall Accessory

September 22, 2015
Fine-Folded (2)

Congratulations! You survived a sweltering summer in Austin! Now it’s time to enjoy a season filled with football games, concerts, and art festivals in the cool, crisp autumn air. Oh wait. Scratch that.

Though high temperatures are not behind us, at least we have a local company helping us beat the heat in style.

Fine & Folded, created by Austinites Suzanne McGinnis and Carmen Sutherland, makes beautiful, practical hand fans. The carefully designed fans are constructed of sleek bamboo and high-quality, double-sided paper. The six different styles combine a classic pattern with a touch of whimsy, such as “Gingham & Grackle” or “Dogtooth & Dragonfly.” They are incredibly fun to use and, best of all, they cool you down.

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McGinnis said the goal was to create something simple and delightful that actually works. “It’s not another techy gadget you have to plug in,” she said. “It’s the exact opposite. And there’s something about a fan…everyone who holds it can’t help but smile.”

The pair of friends started their business after Sutherland took a (very hot) trip to Japan and was inspired by the abundant and lovely fans found there. McGinnis and Sutherland had spent several years working together as marketing professionals who built other people’s brands. When their business came to a crossroads, they decided to create something of their very own. Fine & Folded was born.

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After two years of research and product development, the company launched in the spring of 2015 and spent the summer promoting their business and getting their fans in the hands of overheated locals. For their 100 Days of Hotness campaign they surprised Austinites (dubbed “Hotties”) on the street and rewarded them with cool fans.

The products can currently be customized with small charms (letters including the Greek alphabet) or with personalized wrappers (great for weddings and special events). More designs are in the works, including a “Lace & Longhorn” fan that will please the burnt-orange crowd.

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The fans are currently found in 8 states and 15 Austin retailers, including Tarrytown Pharmacy, Aloe Skin + Body, The Herb Bar and Zilker Garden Gift Shop. They are also available online 24/7. Locals can waive the shipping fee and pick up at the fan headquarters in west Austin by using the code ATXPICKUP. And if you are heading out to the ACL Festival, look for their pop-up tent near Juiceland on Lake Austin Blvd.

If all goes as planned for the Fine & Folded duo, locals will embrace the fans and make them a critical part of their survival kit. “I don’t leave home without one,” said Sutherland. “I grab keys, sunglasses, phone and fan…all the essentials.”

It’s as much about surviving as it is enjoying Austin, despite its 9 months of heat. “We’re super active people, as are most of our friends,” said McGinnis. “You don’t want a little thing like heat to stop you from being outside in this great city.”

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Elizabeth McGuire is a writer, photographer and mother of three from Austin. Her words and images have appeared in print, online and on stage. She is a 5th-generation Texan who doesn’t eat barbecue. (www.ewmcguire.com)

 

Summer 2015. In Color.

June 3, 2015
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Three at Ocean’s Edge by Lisa Golightly from Shop con Queso

I’m not going to lie, it’s been a pretty bleak summer so far. Floods have been flooding, camps have been cancelled, and more seriously, it’s been catastrophe after tragedy around here. All around Texas we are still cleaning up messes and attempting to get back to normal.  And I never thought I’d say this, but I’m pretty sure we are all ready for this rain rain to go away. Since I can’t control the weather, I’ve decided that I’m going to mindfully make myself to shift gears and move into a different headspace until the sun peeks through. No more dark clouds. I’m ready for some color.

When I think of summer, I think of oranges and yellows and bright pinks. Oh but no. Not this Summer. The Gods of Pantone have spoken and we are forecasted to have an easy, breezy, beachy summer with enough sea glass tones to make anyone want to collect some shells, take a nap and call it a day. At least, that’s what we think they are telling us. And you’re right, Pantone, we need to take it easy for a few months. Let’s do that.

Plus honestly, right now, I just want to look at some pretty pictures of pretty things that aren’t covered in water or mold. A visual breath of fresh air for five seconds. So in the spirit of color and easy breezy summer goodness, let’s look at how we would bring these colors into life.

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1. Aqua and White Sea Shell Linen Cocktail Napkins by Lemondaisy Design from Shop con Queso

2. Seafoam Green Classic Ceramic Teapot from Amazon

3. Indigo Blue Party Ring by Zsuzsi Panyi from Shop con Queso

4. Miz Mooz Drea Sandal from Amazon

5. Seble Scarf – Safari Grey + Dusty Rose by fashionABLE from Shop con Queso

6. Baby Beach by Ann Marie Coolick Impastos from Shop con Queso

Central Texas Floods: The Water, The Cleanup and The Search

May 28, 2015
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The amount of water that has fallen down on Texas in the last 30 days is just mind-blowing. Over the past weeks, I’ve talked to so many people who are located elsewhere, and I’ve been a complete broken record about rain, ‘the water just keeps falling, the earth is completely soaked, there’s no where else for it to go’. And I know, I know, it would be great for it to go to California. Someone call Elon Musk to build a pipeline. In the meantime, the current situation moved from crazy-making to heartbreaking.

I have felt all this rain first hand, and yet, even living it, my brain can’t completely get around this Infographic Piece that The Washington Post did on just how much rain has fallen in the last 30 days. Check it. Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 10.56.35 AM

Image Source: The Washington Post

The Washington Post Visualized: How The Insane Amount of Rain in Texas Could Turn Rhode Island Into a Lake.

“Each one of these cubes is 1,000 acre-feet in size, for a total of 1 million acre-feet. The Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building at 2,700 feet, is dwarfed by this massive brick of water. The Statue of Liberty is just a speck at this scale. This 3,500 foot tall block of water could supply the needs of a city of 8 million people for one year. The crazy thing? This all flowed into Texas reservoirs in just the past 48 hours.”

And that’s 1 million acre-feet of water. 8 million acre-feet of water have flowed into the state’s reservoirs in the past 30 days.

But here we are, day four after the Memorial Day Central Texas Flood which affected a ton of counties, including Hays, Caldwell and Travis.

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The sun came out for the first time yesterday. The first time in a month. I wrote about my parents’ house flooding the other day and included a number of Central Texas Flood Resources for those looking to help. Yesterday also brought a giant dumpster in front of my parents’ house which is now full to the brim.

We are at the point where we’ve done all that we can do at my parents’ for a few days. A flood of family, friends and community members came to the rescue immediately and then a professional drying service came in and ransacked the place.

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They flipped everything upside down, tore out all the baseboards and brought in even more fans. The trashcan in the middle of the room is connected to a dehumidifier pulling moisture out of the air. In just a few hours, the giant trashcan was half full of water. Gross. Our neighbors all around us are going through the same thing…in many cases, they were hit a lot worse. Here is a news story about Martindale, and this was filmed at my family’s neighbor’s house. Someone started a fundraising page for my parents’ sweet neighbor Evy, who was hit hardIf you want to help them, go here. 

The house has to remain this way for about 72 hours, so while we were waiting, I heard from Kristin that she was going to help search for the missing families. And they were coming to Martindale.

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A search party team was on my family’s land yesterday combing the riverbank and beyond to broken trees and debris, searching everywhere for the missing. Today, there were 20 teams meeting in Wimberley and coming to Martindale. I could help.

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I met up with a part of Team 12. This group was made up of colleagues of two missing women, Laura McComb and Michelle Carey Charba. They had driven in from Dallas, Houston, College Station, San Antonio and Blanco. Some had talked to Laura just last Friday as she was driving in to spend Memorial Day weekend along the river in Wimberley.

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And they were some of the kindest people I’ve encountered in a long while. We split up and came back together and compared what we had seen. They all agreed that they were very glad they came to help, if only to understand how overwhelming this search  truly is.

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There is debris everywhere. Piles of it. Giant trees down. Mud everywhere. The terrain is compromised with a quicksand-like sludge and displaced animals.

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And it’s imperative to go through all of it.

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It is about 30 minutes by car from Wimberley to Martindale. I’m not sure how many river miles that is…but, it’s about 45 river miles from San Marcos to Martindale…which is only about five miles by car. I can’t even imagine how many river miles need to be searched.

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Plus, considering the amount of water that ran through, 43 feet of water  flowing at a rate of 223,000 cubic feet per second — 2.5 times the flow of Niagra Falls, it turns out about 400 yards on each side of the overflowing river were affected. So that much land needs to be searched, for miles and miles down the river.

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We searched for anything unusual, photographed each item with geotracking, and marked all large piles and areas searched. Beyond hundreds of random items and belongings, my path crossed a dead puppy, several dead squirrels, tons of dead fish, and about ten live snakes.

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I do not like live snakes.

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I walked alone for most of the time and kept my eyes open while searching for anything and meditating on peace and love and light.

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I hoped…and continue to hope…for continual waves of peace and love and light for all the family and friends of the victims.

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This is a tall order. There is so much ahead for them. And there’s a lot of ground to cover.

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Kristin said: “Hiking the search area is physically and emotionally exhausting. Please lift all of those working day and night up in prayer- it is essential. I can’t even imagine how spent the families feel- extra prayers for them.”

I think this really sums it up. I was so very exhausted when I arrived home. I truly can’t get my brain around how family and friends of lost loved ones are moving and feeling right now.

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It was an intense day. And one of many to come. Like I said, I spent most of the day on my own, even within my own small group, but along the way we met others who were there helping the search. So many people, all strangers, coming together to help families that most of us don’t know. We even ran across some New York Times reporters, a very strange and surreal occurrence in Martindale, Texas.

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They were very kind and respectful to everyone who was there for so many different reasons. They asked quick questions and went out of their way to join in and stay out of the way, all while doing their jobs. We were a tough crowd, no one really wanting to be in the paper, everyone concentrating on the land below us and in our own headspace. Here is their resulting story:  Hundreds Form Search Parties to Seek Survivors in Texas Floods.

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 Image Credit: Tamir Kalifa for the New York Times

 It’s a really thorough article that begins to touch on how tough this search, recovery and clean up is going to be. Like I said, as small as these sweet Central Texas towns are, the river area to cover is far and wide. And like everyone, I hope it is all over…and everyone is found…soon.

For ongoing coverage on search and rescue efforts…with continual updates…check out this Corpus Christi Caller Times link.  They are actually reporting things way ahead of other outlets at this point. My brother had heard from the local County Commissioner that a woman had been found in Martindale on Tuesday. It wasn’t reported until yesterday, except for on the Caller Times site. It turns out it was Michelle Carey Charba. Debbie Bennet (pictured above) received a call with this news while we were searching. Since then, we have heard from local friends that other people were found. We are waiting to hear official reports. At this point uncertainty and miscommunications are part of the search so we’ll be patient and wait to find the answers as they come.

But the searches continue. If you want to help this family and in their rescue efforts, and you are local, they are calling for more volunteers this weekend. Wear your boots, and be prepared for a physical and long day. Groups are meeting at the Wimberley Baptist Church throughout the day. If you are not local, but would like to help in some way….the search for the missing people is being run by the families. The cost for air support is 100K a day. They need to keep the helicopters in the air, the airboats in the river and the dogs on the ground. This is the only funding campaign sanctioned by the family. UPDATE: Here is a Wimberley Rescue site that was just created and includes all information about volunteering, helping and contributing to the search.

There are also a number of groups who need help that we have listed here.

IT’S TIME FOR QUESO.

May 5, 2015
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It’s May 5, 2015.  5/5/15.  Cinco de Mayo. Time to party.

It’s also time to start this blog up again. With new posts, new people, new design, in the same spot.

I started The Queso as Blog con Queso in 2005 while I was on maternity leave. At the time I needed a creative outlet and a way to share photos of my newborn with my sister in Boston and my son’s godfather in Washington DC.  I named this spot after queso  because at the time, I thought blogs were cheesy, and in Texas, we call that queso.

Behold the power of queso.

Because over time and from this blog, five businesses were born, countless ideas were developed and thousands of friendships were made. One of the ideas that came from one of those friendships, is what I’d like to introduce you to today.

Behold the new Queso.

It was redesigned by Laurie Smithwick of Step Away From The Screen and Make Something (I know, ironic.) My friend Karen Walrond has helped me all along the way (she is a partner and constant contributor), along with my fellow Texan soul sisters Jenny Lawson, Brené Brown, Maile Wilson, Katherine Center and Wendi Aarons. And I have to say, Gabrielle Blair, Laurie White, Carrie Pacini and the entire Mom 2.0 Summit community have encouraged me over the last year (and definitely over the last weekend) by showing me the power of storytelling.

I am really very happy and excited to be here again. Launching this place again. And I’m really interested in what this blog is becoming…a culture blog that represents Texan and Southwestern lifestyle, travel, food, music, ideas and inspiration about real people living authentically, with a sense of humor and a sense of adventure.

It is my intention to introduce you to some lovely things, lovely people, and a number of smart and interesting contributors from around the US … we are starting with three girls who currently live in Texas right now (me, Karen and Kristen) but I’m already starting to add more…friends from around the country and around the world who are interested and connected to the art, the food, the culture, the music and the people of the southwest and my lovely Texas.

When people hear that I live near Austin, they almost always say, “Oh! The only good part of Texas!” Or, “That’s the ONLY place I’d ever live in the South.” And I know they are just trying to be friendly and all, but it’s just not accurate… and sure, I can see how many would think Austin is fantastic (because, Austin is really fantastic…), but it’s not the only great thing going. Not at all. If you’ve lived elsewhere…or even ever been to other places in Texas and/or the South, then you totally know this. And you deserve to have your story told.

So pull up a chair, grab a chip, and join us.

We hope you love it.

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