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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. 

 

An Austin Getaway, Not That Far Away

November 13, 2015

Photo via Sonesta

My husband and I recently spent a romantic night away in a luxury hotel. We sent the kids to their friends’ houses, packed our bags, got in the car, and headed to the Sonesta in Bee Cave, Texas (population 3,000). The drive took us two minutes. Because we also live in Bee Cave, Texas (population 3,000). Of course, that doesn’t mean I still wasn’t exhausted by the time we got there and needed a quick margarita to refresh myself. Traveling is hard.

We’ve lived in the city of Bee Cave for over 12 years now, and love it. It’s about 15 miles from Congress Ave. in downtown Austin, and is pretty much the last bit of civilization before the Texas Hill Country begins. (“Civilization” = “Wine bars.”) Like most of Austin, our area has changed dramatically over the past few years, with thousands of homes being built, new schools, the addition of the bustling Hill Country Galleria, and even larger projects on the horizon. What was once our little quiet city has now become a Destination.

And what does every Destination need? A unique hotel like the Sonesta.

A generic chain hotel would have stuck out like a sore thumb in a place as special as Bee Cave, so we were excited when the boutique Sonesta opened as an anchor to the Hill Country Galleria. As soon as you enter the lobby, it’s obvious that the hotel designers took pains to incorporate the essence of the area into the decor with rustic, yet chic, Hill Country touches.

Photo via Wendi Aarons

Photo via Wendi Aarons

The hotel offers 195 guest rooms, including five suites and nine preferred corner king rooms, most overlooking the swimming pool and courtyard, or the nearby Hill Country. We stayed in a corner king room, which was incredibly quiet, and really relaxing in its minimalism. I almost slept on the floor just so I wouldn’t disrupt the gorgeous bedding. Almost.

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All of the artwork in the rooms is true to Austin, but I admit that this one made me way too hungry. It also caused me to dream about brisket, but that’s certainly not unusual to my REM cycle.

Photo via Wendi Aarons

Photo via Wendi Aarons

The night we stayed was a gloomy, rainy one, but I’d love to come back in the summer and swim a few laps in this inviting pool. Wait–did I say “swim a few laps”? I meant “watch other people swim a few laps from a chaise lounge.” I have a policy to only swim when I’m being pursued by a shark or a pirate. But the courtyard also boasts a pretty pergola area that would be perfect for receptions under the stars.

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Speaking of receptions (segue!),the Sonesta has already hosted quite a few special events like charitable foundation and school district parties, corporate shindigs, conventions, weddings, etc. More info on that here, but feast your eyes on this fanciness. I think I’m going to just throw myself a party in this room and live there until I die of glamour-itis. (It is so a thing. Look it up on WebMD.com if you don’t believe me.)

Photo via Sonesta

Photo via Sonesta

What makes Sonesta a great getaway for locals is that it’s just far enough away from the craziness of downtown Austin, but there’s still plenty to do. You can walk to the Hill Country Galleria that offers shopping, a Whole Foods, many restaurants and a big movie theater. Or take a short drive to a really cool Texas bar like Poodies Hilltop, or the Spicewood Winery, or even Deep Eddy Distillery. (The hotel offer complimentary shuttles, but I’m not sure of the distance allowed.) Of course, if you prefer nature to drowning your sorrows in suds, the incredible Hamilton Pool is less than 10 minutes away. I know, isn’t Texas ugly?

Photo via Sonesta

Photo via Sonesta

However, all of that said, you can instead choose to spend your stay at the Sonesta IN the Sonesta the whole time, and that’s exactly what we did. Mostly at Meridian 98, the rooftop patio bar/restaurant on the top floor. I admit that we’ve gone there quite a few times when we weren’t hotel guests, too, because we love their farm to fork food so much. And how can you not want to hang out in a Bee Cave, Texas patio bar that has bee hive lamps like this? Gorgeous.

Photo via Wendi Aarons

Photo via Wendi Aarons

Meridian 98 resembles an authentic British club, which made me insist that my husband call me “Nigel,” but that didn’t last too long. Luckily, there were many wonderful specialty plate concepts by Executive Chef Patrick Newman, including seasonal dishes that are locally sourced from 30+ Texas farmers and fisherman, to distract us. I had Gulf Shrimp & Dirty Grits with Andouille and Jalepeno Sauce, plus one of their craft cocktails called “The Pollinator”–Titos vodka, fresh orange juice, pineapple juice and Chambord. Bzzzzzzzzz.

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A few other items of note on the Sonesta:

  • For the business traveler, 10,000 square feet of flexible meeting and event space, well-equipped to host gatherings and events.
  • Over 18 power outlets in every room for charging, plus robust complimentary high speed internet access throughout the hotel, including all rooms, conference rooms, meeting spaces and public areas
  • On-site audio-visual resources
  • Signature catering & customized menu options
  • Two meeting rooms adjacent to the Boardroom
  • 6th-Floor space available to rent for special events (lounge, outdoor deck and 2,000 square feet of glassed-in space with panoramic Hill Country views; great for corporate events and weddings.
  • Complimentary, local-area shuttle services
  • Located just over 20 miles from the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
  • At the epicenter and is in closest proximity to all of Austin’s greatest, highest-end and most exclusive golf courses and resorts. Omni Barton Creek (9 mi); Spanish Oaks (1 mile); The Hills of Lakeway (5.1 miles), Austin Country Club (12.1 miles), and Austin Golf Club (13.5 miles and closest hotel). All five of these clubs are located at an average over 20 miles from downtown Austin, but less than 8 miles from the hotel.

We really enjoyed our dinner and drinks, and got amazing sleep in the room, then woke up the next morning and headed back up to Meridian 98 for their farm to fork breakfast buffet. It was so incredibly delicious that I may just sneak over there on the weekend when my family is sleeping. Keep that plan to yourselves, friends.

Photo via Wendi Aarons

Photo via Wendi Aarons

If you’re an Austinite or local in need of a quick staycation, head on over to Bee Cave and check out the Sonesta. If you’re coming from out of town for either fun or business, check it out, too, because it’s only 20 minutes from the airport. And then once you arrive, be sure to give me a call. I’ll buzz right over.

A Framework for Gratitude.

November 11, 2015

It’s a curious thing to live in a space where you are related to almost everyone who has haunted the halls, or the walls, before you. On some days, you feel like if you are quiet enough, reverent enough, or maybe just aware at all, that you can in some way get a sense of the souls who inhabited the space before. It’s the blessing of an old house. Besides non-existent closets, this is something that only comes with pre-war construction. Unfortunately (to me), this house isn’t haunted, but it definitely has a presence. As you walk into this space, it feels like babies were born here. Like dinners were served over laughter here. That something good before you came together. Here.

It also holds a lot of potential. It’s mostly untapped potential of lives lived before the opportunities we have now, but it’s also in its simple layout, its small frame and its considerable age. As I look around, I mostly just see everything that it could be, everything that needs to be done. But in reality, there’s beauty in where it is and what is has withstood.  This home has a lot of stories, euphoric and tragic, there’s no doubt. I just don’t know many of them. But sometimes, if I’m quiet enough, reverent enough, or maybe just aware at all, I think that’s why this house drew me here.

But let me back up. More than five years ago, we moved from the center of giant Houston to the outside of small Austin and into my great grandparents’ house. My mother’s, mother’s, mother and father were the second residents of the home in the 1920s, followed by my grandmother’s brother (my great uncle) from the 1960s through the early 2000s.

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That’s my great uncle on the right. He was a dancer on Broadway in the 1940s, and that is his official headshot. He was born Phillip Jefferson Allen, but always went by P.J.  Except, in New York he went by Leigh Allen (his stage name), and lived on Christopher Street, and danced at the Roxy Theater with Ethel Merman in Something for the Boys and Annie Get Your Gun. He also allegedly ran with Cole Porter, amongst other West Village heroes of the day… and I would give almost anything to know his stories. The sad reality is, I don’t know them, because he never told them. I’m not a hundred percent sure why he didn’t open up, but I’d speculate that we weren’t ready. He was a man born too soon, I guess. I can only guess. But now, instead of his tales, I have barns full of his memories and artifacts of his later profession, designing and building parade floats. But that’s another story.

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And these were his parents. This is a closer shot of the photo on the upper left, a photo of my great grandparents, George and Arnie Bell Allen. I love the way she is smirking into the air…and I really love the way he is looking at her. George was a Texas Ranger, she was kind, loved children more than anyone could understand, and baked bread every day. What I know about them is not enough, but I love this line that was in my great uncle PJ’s obituary:

“His parents loved to dance, and the children were taught to waltz as they learned to walk. In the Allen family, honesty, kindness and manners were of utmost importance. P.J. said his most valued possession was his friendship with his parents.”

Whoa. His most valued possession was his friendship with his parents. As someone who is raising a son, that feels like a lot of good to live up to, and I live in their home.

When we first moved in, probably for the first year or two, we were working on the bones and structure of the house, and I was too intimidated, confused, or overwhelmed to do anything with the decor.  So it sat undone, an open space of drab, incompletely existing in between neglected decay and what’s next. It was odd and sort of depressing.

I wanted to honor its former residents, but I wasn’t sure how. Because a Texas Ranger and a dancer-turned-parade-float-maker have very different styles and sensibilities, and I had no idea how to recognize any of that while incorporating my own thing, especially since I wasn’t sure what my own thing would be.

But then I saw a photo in a magazine of a wall of photos and it made sense. I would fill the walls with those who had lived here, visited here, spent holidays here. I thought if I featured a collection of those who had been here before, it would unlock how I should arrange things now. So I did it. I found a bunch of photos.

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Like this one. This photo was taken on Christmas 1947 in the room I am currently sitting in as I type this. On the left, the third woman back from the front is my grandmother, who was then, in this photo, the age that I am now. Today, there is only one person in this photo who is still with us. The front baby on the right side, that baby is my mother.  Everyone else is gone.

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Or this photo from 1951. This photo was taken in the next room, the room where this photo hangs now. And man, I would love to hear what they are laughing about. Well some are laughing, some are very serious. My great grandparents are sitting in the middle, surrounded by their seven children and their families. Almost half of the seven took their own lives. There are some stories there, trapped in a time where people didn’t tell their stories or have any words to name depression, much less to understand it. And yet in the midst of it, there is joy. That’s what I wanted to frame.

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I have about 50 of these photos collected. Black and white photos taken at, near, or connected to the house. So I spray painted 50 frames blue and began to hang them up on the wall. Most of them hint at stories I don’t know.

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Like, my great uncle, the “old bachelor” as they say around here, well, he was married once. To a lady. There’s a story there.

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Or my great grandfather, who was not only a Texas Ranger, he was the Sheriff of this county. He is standing tall, back row, middle at the Capitol in Austin where he served as Secret Service. But check out the little dude in front with the giant hat, posing with the cigar and the gun. There is definitely a story there.

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Or this guy. Who is this guy? I have no idea. But he also has a gun (Texas) and he is not messing around with trespassers. As they have trespassed against us.

I began to put these around the house, paying tribute, and slowly (very slowly), quietly, the patterns started coming together. The house, as it currently exists and stands, is starting to look connected.  It sounds completely woo-woo, but it worked.

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Here’s a bit of the collection. Only, a ten-year-old human lives here, a growing human boy child who jumps and runs around and bounces balls on the regular. So as a result and after a while, it is truly impossible to keep the frames hung straight up on the wall, and it starts to look like a janky hodge podge hanging in the Weasley’s house … and not in a good way. (Those of you who are really undone by the uneven crookedness of the photos above, you are my people and I feel your pain.)

It was clear that collected together, the snapshots of the past began to look like clutter.

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So I took them down today.

It now looks different. A bit stark, a bit blank, but also clean and fresh.

The symbolism here is obvious.

Those who came before us may have established the scene that we entered, but it’s clear we are here to create what’s next.

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And for all of that, I am thankful.

The Butcher’s Daughter: New York

November 10, 2015

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.

Things You Will Need This Week

November 9, 2015

For some reason this time of year gets us thinking beyond our borders. Beyond our region. Perhaps it’s because it’s beginning to look a lot like ’tis the season…the New York City season. This is true, no mater what is printed on the cups. Even if you are nowhere near the city, it seems everywhere you turn, NYC is in your face. Whether it’s a parade or a tree lighting or any Thanksgiving Christmas Holiday show ever, it’s probably set in NYC. This is how they get you. They lure you in with their festivities. So we’ll offer some of our favorite NYC things to do, see and enjoy whether you are headed in that direction now or later. Let’s go.

To Get Started, This Week You Will Need:

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1. The Hamilton Soundtrack. Just trust us on this. Even if you aren’t that into theater (we get it), you will get going with this. Because it is epic. (Epic.) Brilliant even. It may take a listen or two, but you will get it and you will get into it, and you will get what we’re saying. Give it a chance, you won’t be disappointed. (Also, you might become obsessed. Or maybe that’s just me.)

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Here’s the deal, Hamilton a rap/hip hop concept mixtape album turned Broadway musical about US Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. Skeptical? Understandable. Here’s an overview.

I saw Hamilton in September (with only a medium interest in musicals), I bought the soundtrack the next day and I’ve been listening to it on loop ever since. I’m finally going to post a whole thing about it this week (Spoiler alert: It makes you feel like this.) but you should know more tickets just released today. So make a plan and go. Don’t throw away your shot, because you want to be in the room where it happens. And speaking of the room where it happens…

 

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2. A Dining Table. Are you hosting Thanksgiving at your house this year? If so, you are thinking about space and family and lots of family in a space. We are reminded of this scene in You’ve Got Mail (NYC, again) where friends gather in small spaces to celebrate by singing about French horns. Or something. We are not sure why this is so ideal, but we are suckers for this stuff. On the other hand, if you aren’t hosting friends and family, you might be thinking about food, which might be something you think about on the regular. It is something we think about on the regular. We are already thinking about the mashed potatoes we’ll be eating as we are watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade. Which again reminds us of New York.

 

6 3. A Few Great Things To Do In NYC. Even if you are nowhere near the city, we are entering NYC season. It’s true, no mater what is printed on the cups. Whether it’s a parade or a tree lighting or any Christmas Holiday show ever, it’s probably set in NYC. This is how they get you. They lure you in with their festivities. So we’ll offer some of our favorite NYC things to do, see and enjoy whether you are headed in that direction now or later.

 74. Stuff for the Kids. Stuff here and thereStuff to keep them engaged. Stuff to keep them out of the pool hall. Stuff to keep them thankful. We’ll cover it all. And stay alert because ’tis the season for kids to be getting into stuff. There’s some debate about if they should get into Hamilton (and we’ll talk about that later in the week) but they will definitely like the soundtrack. Which brings us back to number one.  And the loop continues. Because this week, it all about the Hamiltons, baby. Which will maybe get you one coffee in New York.

Okay so, save your pennies and get in a New York state of mind.

What To Plant In November

November 5, 2015

It is finally starting to feel a little bit like fall around here* in the smallest of ways. It seems the plants sense this before I do because the tomato trees that just wouldn’t quit are finally checking their Roth IRAs and thinking about retirement. Ever since I remembered that my grandfather would always plant pumpkins on the 4th of July, I’ve tried to set up traditions around holidays…mostly so I can remember to do them. And the last few years I’ve started picking the last of the tomatoes on Halloween. So right now I have a ton of tomatoes (and even more that I’ve freezed along the way) so it’s definitely time to can them in some capacity. I’ll start doing that next week.

But for now, I pulled out the last of the summer garden and I’m planting for winter. Here’s what that looks like for me.

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Cilantro! You love it. Or you hate it. But really you should love it. And now’s the time to plant it. If you cover it on the rare day that it may freeze (in February), this should last you into the spring. Or plant it in pots (fairly big ones) and move them inside when it gets colder. If it gets colder.

Collard Greens. Kale and Spinach. I only really eat collard greens on New Years day and the first few weeks of January when I’m still attempting to keep “eat more greens” resolutions.  But now’s the time to plant collards for that. (Halloween seeds = New Year’s greens). Kale grows really well and it’s a nice thing to plant, as we all tolerate it in our lives because it’s good for us, yes? So right now we are stuck with kale until something more trendily awesome comes along, which, honestly couldn’t be that hard to do or that far off. And of course, spinach is everyone’s green go-to Popeyed friend. You should for sure plant that.

Onions and garlic. These are super easy to plant and grow. Just get your starters at your favorite seed/bulb supply or big box hardware store’s nursery department. They can help you. Or read more here. Basically you just put the starters/bulbs in the ground and get out of the way. Which brings me to…

Bulbs. I am not an expert on these at all, but my grandmother was, and I’m attempting to learn this year. I do know that Fall is the time to plant Spring bulbs. I like the symbolism behind this, so I’m working now for things to grow in the Spring. That’s a nice thought. Here’s a handy bulb planting guide that I’m using and you might like it too. And speaking of planting for the spring…

Fruit Trees. November is the month to plant fruit trees for the future, and here’s a list of fruit trees that grow well in zones 7-9. This house is planting a kumquat tree so we will have one and a Satsuma Orange Frost tree because the Aggies say they are the best.

Whatever you put in the ground this November, I wish it lots of sunshine and water to grow strong into the fake winter. And we plant with hope that we once again have a fake winter. Because we probably will. Enjoy the greens!

*This is written for zones 7-9

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)

Fanstastic Fall Accessory

September 22, 2015

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)

 

Best of Houston: El Bolillo Baker & Canino Market

September 16, 2015

Last year, since both my husband Marcus and our friend Carl enjoy cooking, Carl’s wife, Trish, and I sprang for a culinary tour of Houston for the two of them.  (Houston is, by the way, the best city in the country for foodies.  If you don’t believe me, take a look at this.)  The tour was led by Chef Hugo Ortega, a multiple James Beard award nominee and one of the most renowned of Houston’s chefs, and included a tour of various restaurants focused specifically on authentic Mexican food (Chef Hugo’s eponymous restaurant is one of the best in town).  And while the food (and tequila) were great, what Marcus came home raving about the most was the Mexican market where they started their tour.

“I really need to take you there,” Marcus gushed.  “It’s where Chef Hugo gets all of his ingredients.  It’s amazing.  And it’s huge.  And there’s this bakery that has … well, everything.  It’s a photographer’s dream.  We have to go.”

It took almost a year for me to make it there, but late lasts month, Marcus finally took our daughterAlex and me to see it.  First, we stopped at the bakery to pick up a couple of pastries for breakfast.

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El Bolillo Bakery is one of those places that smells like what I’m sure heaven smells like.  Everything is fresh, made right on the property (one of the employees told me that they have a team who bakes all night before opening at 5 a.m. every morning), and it’s sort of difficult not to be paralyzed with indecision, everything looks so amazing.  But I chose a fresh bread roll stuffed with cheese and jalapeños, and Marcus and Alex chose something equally delicious, and once we paid, we headed across the street to the market, while we munched on our very delicious breakfast.

Canino Market opens up into a gigantic (and immaculate) produce hall, with just about every fruit and vegetable that you can imagine — both locally grown, and clearly shipped in from more tropical climes.  The variety was astounding.

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And then

… once we made it through the produce hall, we entered the real market.  This area was full of the more exotic fruits, as well as kitchenware, medicinal herbs, dried peppers, children’s toys, handmade pottery, piñatas, Mexican and Latin American candies — everything.  And while the clientele was clearly predominantly Mexican and Central American, I couldn’t help but be strongly reminded of my homeland of Trinidad, especially the open-air markets that we have there.  There were fruits I haven’t seen in years:  green — green! — avocados the size of my head (as opposed to the small black wrinkly ones that are more popular here in America), and we bought the most delicious mangos I’ve ever had in the United States.  Biting into it, I was instantly transported back to my grandmother’s garden behind her house.

I was kicking myself for not having visited this place sooner.  It was amazing.

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Both the bakery and the market have been in Houston for decades, and I can’t imagine how I missed visiting these places earlier.  So if you’re in Houston, don’t make my mistake — go see them both. But be sure to take cash — some of the stalls don’t take credit cards.

This post was written by Karen Walrond an all-around swell human who will always choose the fresh bread roll stuffed with cheese and jalapeños. Read more about Karen right here.  

What Would You Do With An Open Barn?

June 4, 2015

Just in case you didn’t know, or forgot, or because I hadn’t mentioned it recently, I wanted to remind you that I am living in my great grandparents’ former home. The house was built in 1920 … back before there were any real grocery stores around here… so a lot of homes also sported barns, for regular access to milk and eggs. This house has one of those barns. It looks like this.

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One of my neighbors, who is possibly 70, remembers coming over to my now house to get their milk every week when he was a young person. And really that is so crazy because that wasn’t all that long ago. Now he can come over to my house and play NBA 2K15 on the Xbox. I mean, he doesn’t. But he totally could. Anyway, we have this giant structure that once had a use and now really doesn’t at all. But it’s there, in my backyard, and we have built a garden in front of it. It’s basically cute. But it’s a little old and needs some love.

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What’s a little bit interesting about this barn is that after it housed farm animals, it became home to a giant George Washington head, a variety of Hindu gods, totem poles, monkey hands, and spaceships. You know, as things usually do.

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As I wrote about (and Jenny wrote about) and wrote about again, after my great-grandparents lived here, my great uncle then lived here, and he had a float making business. That’s right. A business that made parade floats. And yes, there is a job for everything. (Check out this interview he did in 1978 on float-making)  It was quite a booming business, as parade float businesses go, and over the next five decades, he added five additional barns on the property to facilitate design, creation, construction and storage of large paper mache’ everything.

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It took us about three years to parcel through, clean out, give away and sell the vast majority of the treasures to new lives, uses and homes. And for about five minutes a few of the barns set empty. Then we rented one out to a neighbor who owns and runs a variety of paint-your-own-pottery stores. Two became the home to our infamous barn sales. One became a garage. Another one currently holds lawnmowers and other outdoor tools and random equipment. One became a family storage spot for Christmas decorations and etc. And the other half of that one sat completely empty for a while.

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But you know what they say about what happens when you clear space for something….get ready for what’s next.

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And what’s next, when left thoughtlessly unattended, can easily become a big giant mess of random garbage.

Because open space tends to collect things, a human should really be extra mindful about what she lets into this open space.

I mean, at first it’s no big deal. A box here, an item there. After all, it’s just sitting there, open. For whatever.

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But eventually, you’ll look up and find that beautiful open space is completely cluttered with random things from other people, items you scrambled to save from floods or fires or whatever was important for saving at the time, to the detriment of your own now-deranged space.

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So having learned the lesson that all space is used space…and without specific intention, it’s most likely used for a bunch of crap… I would prefer to be mindful and thoughtful and specific about what this space will be used for next.

It will take about a day or a weekend to clean it out, so that’s not the big deal. It can easily be empty again, at least for a while.

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But I would like to use it for something other than an old walkway. I want to use it for something specific. For something good, or cool or pretty. Something that has a purpose.

It will take some work for sure. The wood has rotted out in a number of places. There are spaces between the walls and roof, where light and ringtails and raccoons and God knows what else can get in.

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So, work to be done. But oh the possibility!

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The space itself is just a portion of the old, original red barn. The front door is the garden. And it runs about 36 feet long and about 12 to 14 feet across. At least, that’s the portion I would start with as I put energy (and time and money) into redoing it.

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So what would you do with about 450 square feet of cool old barn space?

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A long, straight, open space that is currently home to woodland creatures and random garden supplies.

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Oh and it already has plumbing. And is set up for electricity. Sort of, well, it’s set up to be set up for electricity.

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And it has a lot of history. I feel like this space could be used for something really good. And I have some ideas. A studio? An event space? What do you think? Harry is ready to make it into a basketball gym…and that’s not happening. This space is mine. It’s a gift I’m giving to myself. Now I just have to figure out what to do with it. That’s really sums up everything, anything, life in general, doesn’t it?

What will I do? What would you do? Let’s make it something good.