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NYC: A Few of Our Favorite Spots

November 23, 2015
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Photo Credit: Karen Walrond

This month we’ve been highlighting a number of swell haunts in New York City, and related to that, we offer you a quick list of New York state of mind favorites from the Contributors con Queso. Check it.

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Wendi Aarons

I love just walking for blocks and blocks and blocks until my feet say “stop.”

 

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Jenny Lawson

My favorite thing in New York is Obscura Antiques and Collectables.  It’s a weird shop filled with taxidermy and exploded skulls and things that most people find in attics and are haunted by forever.  I bought a dead bird there once and they were very careful to give me a napkin to hold it with because it was covered in arsenic.  I highly recommend.

 

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Laura Mayes

The spots I have to hit change every year, but right now I’d want to start the day at Two Hands for breakfast, and then I’d just walk forever….west on Grand for 10 blocks to Thompson street north, through Washington Square Park, that turns into 5th Avenue and keep going north 100 blocks through the entirety of Central Park. Then I’d probably hang in the park, read and people watch all afternoon and head back down, stopping at the Richard Rodgers Theater at 5:55, when I’d go to the Ham4Ham show and no doubt win $10 tickets to see Hamilton that night. After the show, I’d go to Roberta’s in Brooklyn for pizza. Then back over to Pearl Street and Fraunces Tavern for a gin & tonic. The end. Amen.

 

Elizabeth

Photo Credit: Elizabeth McGuire

Elizabeth McGuire
The Irish Hunger Memorial (in Battery Park City). A lovely, thoughtfully designed piece of Irish countryside right in the middle of the city. Breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien in Central Park near a dog park. It feels very relaxed and local, and if you are a tourist missing your dog at home it’s nice to get a little fix here. The courtyard at the MOMA. A beautiful, tree-filled escape when you’ve been walking in and out of museums all day.

 

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Kristin Paull
I always ALWAYS plan lunch for myself at the top of Bergdorf Goodman. I feel like a fancy lady, and treat myself to a glass of champagne.  I buy a scarf, a Christmas ornament or a lip gloss to take home my purple bag.  Bonus if the Holiday windows are up! I grab a coffee and breakfast at City Bakery before hitting ABC Carpet and Home.  I love the first floor, and always feel inspired there. We do brunch in Brooklyn at Talde- best brunch ever…anywhere! Our current favorite dinner spot is Red Farm.  Go early and eat lots! Of course, I love the MOMA, a walk through Central Park, shopping in SOHO and a show on Broadway.

 

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Photo Credit: Karen Walrond

Karen Walrond
The High Line is a 1-mile long linear park in New York City, built along — get this — a long-abandoned, defunct elevated railway. It’s an amazingly beautiful pathway, filled with lush vegetation and colourful wildflowers, as well as musicians and other buskers, art installations, and some of the coolest views of the lower west side of Manhattan. Read more here.
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Photo Credit: Laurie White

Laurie White
New York…Everything, that’s all. The top of the Empire State Building at night. Super touristy. Perfect. Walking out of Penn Station from the train onto 7th Avenue is like the first time, every time. Anything can happen now. Walking for hours and never seeing the same great thing I’ll try never to forget twice.

 

So what about you? What are we missing? Go old school and leave us a comment here on the blog like it’s 2006. What is your favorite thing to do in NYC?

An Austin Getaway, Not That Far Away

November 13, 2015
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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.

It’s Fun to Stay at the Y.M.C.A of the Rockies

September 3, 2015
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Texans love Texas. Just not so much in June, July and August. The hot summer months are when our Lone Star love wanes a little bit, and we head to either the beach or the mountains for a much needed escape. Trust me, you can only spend so many weeks watching your landscaping turn brown and die before you’re weeping into your beer, wondering what it’s like to not have to douse your body in Clinical Strength deodorant every morning.

At least that was the dream I had in mind when my husband Chris, boys Sam (13) and Jack (11), and I packed up the Volvo, and headed to Estes Park, Colorado last month. “Drive until Mama sees a goose bump!” I commanded of Chris while we flew through Texas. “Drive until Mama can wear a mohair sweater!”

“Mama needs to calm the hell down,” he muttered, “or Mama’s gonna be left behind at an El Paso Chevron station.”

Roadtrips with me are like, super fun.

But just fourteen short hours of bickering later, we pulled into our destination for the week, the amazing YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park. It’s like a resort/Y.M.C.A/family camp/retreat/hide-out all wrapped up in one pine-scented package.

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We were delighted to be met by an Elk just as soon as we passed through the main entrance. (The furry kind. Not the kind like my Dad and his drunk buddies from the Elk’s Club.) I tried to get as close as I could to snap a picture of Mr. Elk, hoping I’d then shoot to stardom on the Today Show as “blonde moron attacked during Elk Selfie,” but this guy was pretty sweet and chill. Just like this bunny and fawn playing together at the Y in a video that went viral.

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The YMCA of the Rockies has four guest lodges that are like simple hotels, or you can choose to stay in a cabin. The cabins range in size from “ginormous family that’s wearing matching t-shirts” to “teeny family that’s sharing one hamburger.” We stayed in a two-bedroom cabin with a fireplace and kitchen, and it actually would have fit seven people if we’d used the bunk beds and pull-out couch. It was quite nice. Here’s Jack acting like he’s giving away our cabin on a game show:

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The cabins don’t have TVs, which is fine. We didn’t drive up to the mountains to watch people exercise on “The Biggest Loser.” (The entire resort does have blazingly fast WiFi almost everywhere, though.) Besides, no TV gave the boys a chance to figure out a more advanced version of UNO that involves wagering and pinning each other down on the ground for hours: PAINO

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Most of the cabins are located fairly close to the Y’s main buildings, so we were able to easily walk to the cafeteria-style dining room, or to the smaller restaurants. And, being a YMCA, there are activities all day long, most of them free. Tennis courts, a mini golf course, indoor swimming (with a big slide), horseshoes, wiffle ball, basketball, Bingo, yoga, kickball, hikes, etc. We actually had to highlight what we wanted to do on the schedule because there were so many choices. It was wonderful that we could all do individual things, but meet up right after. The boys would go play basketball, Chris would ride his bike, and I would sit on the porch and contemplate the meaning of life/Ryan Gosling’s abs while gazing at this view:

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This is the yucky view I had later that day:

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Some of the “for a small fee” activities we did (which, full disclosure, I was given as a comp by the Y) included a high ropes course, a climbing wall, a zipline, massage therapy (soooo good), and archery. We were happily exhausted at the end of every day. However, please note that even if you’re by far the best member of your family with a bow and arrow, it’s never a good idea to yell, “WHEN THE HUNGER GAMES BEGIN, I WILL BE YOUR QUEEN, LOSERS” because nobody will want to sit by you at dinner later. Lesson learned.

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One day we took a two-hour guided horseback ride through the Rocky Mountain National Park (which abuts the Y), and my boys were in heaven. Me, not so much after the “trotting” started. I’m much better off riding one of those depressed ponies that slump around in a circle at the school carnival. Less impact on a cowgirl’s nether regions, am I right? But the stable at the Y is really fabulous, as are the trail ride guides. We would definitely do it again.

horsesThe weather in Estes Park was in the mid-70’s when we were there, but there was an afternoon rainstorm almost every day. Everyone would then immediately run into the Craft Cabin where (for a fee) you can do everything from mosaics to tie-dye to pottery painting and jewelry design, which Chris loved. I hope this new hobby of his quickly segues into diamond tiaras.

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All of the employees at the Y are really, really nice. A lot of them are locals, but a lot are college kids working there for the summer. That helps give it a real “camp” feel, as do other activities like hayrides, drum circles, hikes, and “bird banding” where Jack and I watched a ornithologist put tiny ankle bracelets on birds. Here’s Jack holding a bird before he let it fly off:

birdIf you want to know anything at all about owls or how to catch a hummingbird, trust me, this is your dude.

Finally, the YMCA of the Rockies is literally right next to the Rocky Mountain National Park, so one day we drove up there to take in the scenery. Remember how I was dreaming about goosebumps? It was 32 degrees up there. I had goosemounds. Do you want to build a snowman? I JUST DID. IN AUGUST, BABY. SO WHAT IF HE’S MISSING AN EYE.

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We all had an awesome trip in Colorado, and I highly recommend the YMCA of the Rockies if you’re looking for a place to vacation with your family—big or small. There really is something for everyone, even people who just like sitting inside with a puzzle and a nice drink (my retirement plan). Please take a look at ymcarockies.org for more info because there’s even more to the place that I didn’t mention, plus plenty of lodging specials throughout the year. It’s probably awesome in the winter months, too.

See? I told you it’s fun to stay at the YMCA. And not just because this is the best signage I’ve ever seen, either.

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This post was written by Wendi Aarons, your next Hunger Games Tribute and all-around swell human. Read more about Wendi right here. 

 

SXSW: Minimal Recommendations from a Local

March 7, 2014
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Now that SXSW is truly the main stage of the hipster marketing slacker expert, I’m just gonna say, from what I can see, it takes a whole lot of work to be that laid back. In fact, it’s become so much work to watch, that this year, I’m mainly just happily happy to experience it all from right here in my kitchen, 10 miles from the mothership.

It’s true that in years past I’ve done a variety of parties there, low-key parties, parking lot parties, charity parties, large rainy Saturday night Stubbs parties, small old school parties. But this year, there are no parties.  I’m really not even venturing over there much…but for all of you braving the world’s largest collection of ironic sunglasses, I salute you. And I wish you the best, most delightful time.

Continue Reading…

Colorful Commentary on Australia

December 19, 2013
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Well it’s been a month now since I’ve been back from Australia. A month. That doesn’t seem exactly right. It’s one of the things that seems like yesterday and also like 20 years ago. And I’m still sort of processing it. Not that it was that overwhelming or anything…in fact, it was all too familiar, only completely the opposite.

Let’s just say I have 4,000 photos and a few stories to tell too. 2014 is primed and ready for a lot of commentary.

Continue Reading…

A Preview of Australia

November 19, 2013
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As I’ve mentioned, I have many photos to download and upload and reload and unload on you. But in the meantime, check out Jenny’s snapshots. The above is one of my favorite of hers from the trip…and it sort of paints 1,000 words to sum up the whole trip. Please enjoy.

I Have 4,000 Photos to Download and All I Want To Do Is Sleep and Win Staring Contests

November 18, 2013
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So I’ve been back from Australia for four days now. Four days, and I must say, while it blows my mind how much is happened since we last talked, it also just seems like five seconds have passed. And while it was great to have such a full schedule of awesomeness, it’s also really nice to have some downtime to tell you about all of it. Of course, I haven’t used any of this new time to post anything because I’ve been asleep. And staring at my kid. And then asleep again. Also staring. And sleeping. Continue Reading…

Welcome to the Future!

November 4, 2013
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It’s pretty here. You’ll like it. To show you, I took at least 700 photos yesterday, which is your today but still in a few hours from now. You guys are sort of behind. And there are some of Jenny that are so funny I almost can’t even stand it. Continue Reading…

Glass Bottom Lens

September 4, 2013
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Lately, whenever we go places…trips, excursions, the grocery store…Harry asks if he can use my camera, and I’ve lost my camera for the next hour. The thing is, he’s really good. Case in point, see the above photo. He took it. The kid’s got an eye…and he’s getting better and better. Continue Reading…