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

March 11, 2016

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.

How To Make Limoncello

January 1, 2016

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.

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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!

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Limoncello

(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

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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.  

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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.

Salute!

Boxed Set: Coterie Sampler

November 18, 2015

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. 

A Low-Maintenance Parents’ Guide To Art Projects: 7 Lazy Ways To Encourage Creative Play

November 17, 2015

I have two little girls—a 5 year old and a 2 ½ year old—and they are both so very creative and energetic. I love these kiddos and want them to learn to relish beauty and take notice of goodness, to engage the big, vivid world (away from screens), and to thrive. But I don’t always want to, you know, buy anything or go anywhere or find my keys or put on shoes or move off the couch.

There are lots of options on the internet if you’re looking for ways to encourage creativity in your kiddos. But many of these options begin with something like, “Creative play with kids is so easy! First, go to Michaels or Hobby Lobby or online or what-have-you and buy these 23 items and then…” And by that point, I’m done.

There are days when I feel like I’m doing really well if I get through dinner without yelling more than twice, so making color coordinated placemats with Autumn leaves is way beyond my game.

I will confess here that I don’t really get Pinterest. I don’t have a Pinterest page. And I avoid crafty Pinteresty mom pages like I avoided the cool kids table in middle school. Because I experience Pinterest intimidation. Pintimidation. (Which should probably be in the DSM-5 because it’s totally a real thing.)

But over the last 5 years of having my girls (one of whom wants to be an artist when she grows up… unless she can be Elsa), I’ve found some easy ways to encourage creativity that work for really lazy moms like me. And I thought I’d pass these on as something like mom hacks for the Pintimidated.  So here are 7 ways to get your creative play on with very few supplies and with less skills (and without moving far from the couch):

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1. Have an art wall.

We have a small house so this is actually a prominent wall in the middle of our living room/dining room. And it has become one of my favorite spots in the house.

Basically, you hang up twine and display things your kids make. That’s it.

Our rule is that they get to decide what goes on the art wall but if they put something up, they have to decide what to take down (to make everything fit).

One of our two year old’s first words was “Art wall!” which sounded more like “Ah WAH!” screamed over and over again with increasing volume until we cracked the code and hung up her art work.


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What you’ll need:

  • twine or string
  • anything to clip onto it (We used clothes pins).

 

2. Make books.

For some reason, laying out typing paper and crayons is way boring, but stapling the side of said papers to make “a book,” suddenly becomes the funnest thing ever for my five year old. That girl loves her stapler more than Milton in Office Space. Here’s a photo of my favorite page…

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She dictated the words to my husband: “Dance, Dance, Dance for your whole life. Don’t stop dancing and twirling for your whole life. Or until you’re dizzy.”

It’s good advice. And we have about 68 of these little books of wisdom around the house. Here is my oldest with a book she’s made…7

What you’ll need:

  • paper
  • crayons
  • stapler (Or you could punch holes and tie the pages together with yarn or twine, but again, we’re lazy and my 5 year old now loves her stapler and so she basically does this project on her own)

 


3. Color scavenger hunt.

This is what this involves:

Get crayons. Make lines on a sheet of paper. Send your kids in the back yard to find things with those colors. My kids taped their found objects on the paper but you don’t really even need tape. They could have just put the found objects in a bowl.

This game is really a win-win. They seem to think it is super fun. And you get like 15 minutes alone while your kids search for things.

Our last hunt went pretty well. Purple was a stumper. I put a purple line on the paper because I thought our rosemary plant had little purple blossoms on it. Turns out our rosemary plant went in the “brown” section because it was totally dead. But my resourceful children found a purple hair clip my youngest had left outside in the sandbox months before.FullSizeRender (9)

So send your kids outside to find dead rosemary and feathers and random trash on the ground in many different colors!FullSizeRender (8)

What you’ll need: 

  • crayons
  • paper

 

4. The Beautiful Game.

I take no credit for this game. My five year old invented it.

Here’s the game: You walk around (your house or your neighborhood) and you take turns pointing out things that are beautiful.

It’s totally simple and will leave you thinking “You know, they’re right, the rust on that mailbox is oddly beautiful. How come I’ve never noticed before?” We place this a lot now. It’s our go to car game (besides I Spy).

Five minutes of The Beautiful Game trains you and your children to pay attention to beauty and to the practice of noticing.

So, no rules. Just point out whatever you think is beautiful.

What you’ll need:

  • Imagination

 

5. Dyeing noodles.

This is the most involved thing on the list, and it isn’t that involved.

Take noodles and food coloring and rubbing alcohol. Put ¼ cup of rubbing alcohol in a ziplock bag, then put in food coloring (I don’t know how much because I just let the kids squeeze a lot in and it works) and uncooked noodles and seal and shake the bag.

That’s it.

We wanted to put our noodles on a string but couldn’t find one (and I’m not going to Michaels or Hobby Lobby, ever) so my oldest made a 3-D rainbow by gluing the noodles on paper and my youngest wandered around. So there you go. 1. Dye noodles 2. Wander around. That will kill at least 15 minutes.4

What you’ll need:

  • noodles
  • rubbing alcohol
  • food coloring
  • ziplock bag or other plastic container
  • string (totally optional)

 

6. Keep a bin or drawer of art supplies where your kids can reach it. 

(This is the easiest and probably the most important on the list.)

This may be obvious to all other moms, but it wasn’t to me. My friend Terri gave me this idea. Terri is amazing and has grown children now (and grandchildren). She homeschooled her kids decades ago before that was really a thing and they are now a race of beautiful, creative, successful people who rule the world. Her advice to young moms (besides “Don’t be anxious,” which is always good advice) was to keep art supplies within kids’ reach and then (and this is key) let your kids get bored and see what happens. So we have a drawer stocked with bags of colors, markers, scissors, and glue and magazine bins of blank paper and another magazine bin for completed artwork (because, in my house, recycling a scribble on paper makes my kids scream like we just set the Mona Lisa on fire).

Boredom + resources around that they can reach = things happen. And the great thing is that you can let them get bored without even getting off the couch.

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What you’ll need:

  • A bin or drawer of art supplies where your kids can reach it


7. The grateful/happy list.

We had a large amount of junk mail, store coupons, and old magazines so we cut out photos of things that we are grateful for and/or that make us happy and glued/taped them to paper. My two-year-old didn’t really get it—unless random slips of colored paper is what she’s grateful for (you never know)—but she seemed to enjoy sitting with us and cutting stuff.

We keep our sheets up on the fridge to remind us of all the happy. Last time, my 5 year old put a photo of red wine on her happy list. I asked her “Why do you have wine on your happy list?” because, though I’m not the mom of the year, I avoid slipping kindergarteners wine. (I know, I’m a puritan.)* She said very matter-of-factly “wine makes me happy” so I didn’t ask any more questions.

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What you’ll need:

  • Junk mail
  • Paper
  • Glue


So there you have it. We not-so-crafty-moms can still insert a little creativity and joy and play into a day. And make it way easy for the way lazy.

I’m sure other moms have ideas, so feel free to share them. I could really use  them.

* Also, fun fact, Puritans gave beer to their kids. They brewed special beer for them called “small beer,” which had lower alcohol content, but was, in fact, still beer. Little puritans started drinking it as soon as they were weaned. True story.  

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This post was written by Tish Harrison Warren. You can read more about Tish here, but you should know 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. And now she’s a priest. 

 

Play Outside: Take a Family Hike

November 2, 2015

Besides “Drink more water” the phrase my kids hear most often is “Go outside. Now.”

For me, everything improves when it’s outside. And fresh air is the single most effective head-clearing, attitude-shifting tool I have in my arsenal, so I tend to get evangelical about it with my own offspring.

The problem is, kids are not always immediately receptive to their parents’ brand of gospel, so over the years I’ve had to learn a few extra tricks to make outdoor outings fun for everyone. Spoiler alert: it’s not complicated. Just aim for simple and light-hearted and the fun will follow.

Today let’s talk hiking. Remember hiking? It’s like walking but with all your senses in overdrive. It’s like exercise dipped in make-believe.

So how do you make hiking fun for your whole family? Besides the commonsense guidelines of “Know your route; stay together; wear sunscreen; carry water” here are a few of my favorite tips.

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How To Make Hiking Fun for Your Whole Family
  1. Don’t call it hiking. Call it adventuring! Hiking means trudging along one foot in front of the other. Adventuring means exploring new lands and bringing home treasures. It’s all in the pitch, y’all.
  1. Keep your expectations realistic. Before you start, establish a general timeframe with a beginning, middle and end. “We’ll explore for a while, stop for a swim, then go get tacos at the end.”

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  1. Bring a snack no matter the distance. A granola bar goes a long way if anyone gets grumpy. There’s also no shame in amping up the treats. On longer hikes I never leave home without a candy stash. This is especially effective if you limit candy during their everyday lives. I grew up associating peppermint lifesavers with extended church services. Family hikes are now our form of worship, and my kids get through the long ones with the help of Saint Jolly Rancher. 
  1. Travel light, but smart. I’m a big fan of making kids carry their own water because they have easy access to it, they feel independent, and of course because I’m not schlepping it for them. Camelbaks or similar water packs come in all different sizes, and your kids can also use them during bike rides, sports practices or field trips.   
  1. Make a game of treasure hunting. Find the perfect hiking stick or a small rock or leaf to bring home. Our family is always on the lookout for heart-shaped rocks, but we typically bring home only photos of them.

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  1. Look for local birds, animal tracks or even better…scat. Show me a kid who doesn’t like to talk about poop! And really, if you’re out in the nature it seems more than appropriate.
  1. Entertain each other on the trail. Sometimes we make up stupid songs or wild stories. More often we play Categories (where you take turns naming fruits or Harry Potter characters from A to Z.) When questions come up like, “What kind of tree is that and why does its bark look that way?” we try to answer without our friend Google…which usually means, “I have no idea. Let’s brainstorm the reasons.” Remember the fun of not knowing the answer to something? Old school!
  1. Talk to each other, or not. With older kids, hiking is a great time to simply be in the same place with them, even if you aren’t talking. On the trail, I never have to push the conversation with my tween or teen–it usually happens at their own speed and on their own terms. They love this.

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  1. Stop periodically. Climb a tree, build a fort from branches, skip some rocks, or take a dip in a creek.
  1. Quit while you’re ahead. When in doubt, finish early so you end on a high note. Next time you can push it further. For now, go get those tacos and plan your next adventure.

 

Great places near Austin for hiking/adventuring:

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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 loves boots but somehow doesn’t eat barbecue. (www.ewmcguire.com)

10 in 10: LAST-MINUTE HALLOWEEN DECORATIONS FOR UNDER $10

October 28, 2015

I talked to a friend today who was lamenting the fact that she hadn’t done anything yet for Halloween. I was legitimately confused.

“Halloween isn’t until Saturday,” I said.

“No, I mean for Halloween season. I’ve been slammed at work, and I haven’t had time to do Halloween, like carve pumpkins or decorate the house.”

Halloween season? I’m pretty sure for moms in the 70s and 80s, there were no seasonal seasons and “doing Halloween” consisted of buying whatever plastic Star Wars Scooby Doo costume we screamed for the grocery store along with a plastic pumpkin to carry around while we begged for Butterfingers. And maybe, maybe, they served up TV dinners on whatever night the nation collectively watched “It’s a Good Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” But that’s it. That’s. It. Decades before Pinterest happened, Halloween happened three days before it happened. With $10 or less. And I see no reason why we can’t do the same thing now. And that’s it.

I posted a similar version of this a few years ago (#wbw/#tbt/#etc), but we hold these truths to be self evident, still, today, now. Plus, we typically decorate for kids…and kids have no concept of timing (one hour = 5 years, to my son) so three days is like forever enough time to celebrate pumpkins, spiced or not. Therefore I give you, again, 10 legit ways to “do Halloween” in 3 days for under $10. Let’s go.3

You can get these little weird gourds almost anywhere. And right now, they’re totally on sale at most places because stores are already attempting to fill up every square millimeter with decor de Christmas, which is so two months from now.

 

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If you are against buying real gourds which are weird, you can get these reusable ceramic numbers at the dollar store. Trust me, I have 5 dollar stores within 5 miles of my house. Work.

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Candy. This is the week for candy. And candy corns. (And around here, we loves us some candy corns) If you don’t like to eat it, it’s cute to jar up around the house…and if you do like to eat it, you’ll love to eat it on ice cream. Plus it’s $1 at 5 places within 5 miles of the house.

 

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They’re cheap. They’re festive. Put a dollar’s worth of them next to your kid’s pencil stash, and you are festive. Well done.

 

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Again, dollar store. Or if you are crafty, you can make them. 

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Or pumpkin lights. $8 at Target.

 

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Placemats. Dollar store. And this set up can last through Thanksgiving.

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Or make it scarier with Poison plates. I like decoration that also has function. Like plates. Melamine plates especially, because as hard a children try, they are hard to destroy. I got these poison plates at Target a few years ago but they are good about having seasonal plates every season. Also Crate and Barrel has some cute black cat plates.  Or Amazon has kooky ghost plates. With Amazon prime, they can be delivered to you in 10 minutes or something.

 

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Dish towels. Like your mom would rock. And you would remember. $1.

 

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Craft store bats. Pin ribbons on them and hang them around. Spooooky!

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I saw buntings for sale at a gas station in central Texas, which only means, they are now LITERALLY everywhere.  $1.

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And finally, my son’s favorite. A Dollar Store foam cemetery. It’s just not Halloween with a few gravestones lying around.

Because nothing reminds you how much time you have, more than a Dollar Store foam cemetery.

No really, it’s not too late.

#YOLO.

Go.

 

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

June 25, 2015

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

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.

Confederate Flags and the South

June 24, 2015

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