TTYL: The Things You’ll Love This Week (The Holidays Are ON!)

December 7, 2015
first-ttyl

Happy Holiday Season! We have been moving slowly in a Thanksgiving hangover but things are speeding up as we’re sliding into the end of the year. We have a lot in store as we are in and out of stores and up to our eyeballs in chores and oh my gosh, you totally know what we are talking about, right? Right. But we are hopped up on sugar now and we are ready to give you that which you’ll love.

This week, here are The Things You’ll Love:sugar
  1. Sugar. ‘Tis the season. And we’re already getting a little punchy. Tomorrow we’re going to talk about a great (and easy) Holiday sugar rush dish to throw together and consume with a spoon. In one sitting, possibly. We’ll also show you what happens when you do that.vegetables
  2. Vegetables. To counterbalance the sugar. Because, as we mentioned, we’re getting a little punchy. We’re going to talk about what vegetables to plant (and harvest) this month and what to do with them.magnolia
  3. Magnolia Market. Waco is the new black, which is hilarious, and also true almost completely because of Chip and Joanna Gaines, who I swear are more sick of hearing their names than we are. (Every time someone says “Chip and Jo,” a popcorn ceiling is replaced with shiplap, somewhere. Only people who watch HGTV and/or are renovating a house will get that or care. But the rest of you should know about this culture phenom and super cool business story.) I’d read about Joanna Gaines on Gabrielle’s blog a long time ago but I’d never seen the resulting HGTV show until this last weekend, after I visited Magnolia Market. And I’ll tell you all about that on Wednesday.gift
  4. Gift boxes. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. We talked about an Austin-based boxed set a couple of weeks ago and we have two different cool box options to share this week.Tameca
  5. Good music. Whether its the best Seasonal Playlist we’ve heard in a while or a new Texas artist you should have on your playlist right now…we have some auditory delights coming your way later in the week.

We also have a few extra treats that we’ve been teasing you with (and completely holding out on you) but this is the week. So buckle up, settle in, grab some sugar and let’s do this. December!

 

 

 

TTYL: The Things You’ll Love This Week (Welcome December!)

December 1, 2015
Peace Tree by Laurie White

Welcome, December–and the official beginning to all things holiday. So many hashtags, so many feelings, so many love/hate the Elf on the Shelf comments sections, and it’s only the first day of the most wonderful time of the year. This week we’ll take a look at what’s going on out there, starting out with a great big day of giving, a look at Hanukkah (coming up already, this weekend), plans to celebrate peace and light all month long, and books. Because reading is the best, before or after you see the movie.

  1. Giving Tuesday is on. There are so many causes and such great need out there, it can feel overwhelming to our inboxes, and way more importantly, our hearts. But the good news is that the giving message lasts far beyond today, so the trick is to take it all in, see what causes speak to us, and do what we can all year long to help. Some Texas spots among the many close to our Queso hearts include the Texas Diaper Bank, American Red Cross (shop their holiday catalog to donate an item in honor of a friend or just donate) and the Austin Disaster Relief Network that offer help to families affected by this year’s Memorial Day floods in Central Texas, and the Texas Book Festival‘s work to get books in the hands of kids who need them.

Menorah by abbyladybug on Flickr

Image by abbyladybug on Flickr.

2. As of sundown this Sunday, December 6, we’ll be wishing all of our readers who celebrate a happy Hanukkah. The annual Menorah lighting in Houston is Sunday at 2 pm, at City Hall, and includes all kinds of good stuff for free, including a rock concert by Jewish rock band 8th Day. Shalom Austin has Chanukah in the Hood on the books, and Chabad Dallas will hold a ceremonial menorah lighting at noon on December 10 at Thanks-giving Square a space downtown that promotes the spirit and unifying value of giving thanks in our community, nation, and the world. A good spot for this Festival of Lights, and for all of us, all the time.

Thanksgiving Park in Dallas

3. Speaking of light, we’re celebrating the gift of, and the hope for, peace. Thanksgiving may be all over for the year, but we’d like to carry its good vibes through Advent and the holidays. Contributor Karen just shared this quote from Pico Iyer: “It’s no coincidence that the word ‘holiday’ suggests a holy day, or that the longest book in the Torah concerns the Sabbath. If you wish to advance in any sphere, the best way is to take a retreat.” We want to share our spaces to rest and recharge during this hectic time, because, well, there’s really no reason not to. So. Peace. Light. Gratitude. We’re going to try to hold onto that this season–at least for five minutes here and there.

Bookstore in Savannah by Laurie White

4. One of the best things about the internet that I love so much is taking a break from it. It’s true. Lately I’ve been trying to do this by reading books, on real actual paper, and listening to podcasts, too. (I’m one of the millions addicted to anything Serial podcast-related, and I’m currently catching up on Truth and Justice with Bob Ruff, formerly known as Serial Dynasty. Love Bob! It turns out that traffic is a lot more tolerable when I’m engaged in figuring out a true crime mystery all by myself in my car.) It’s my super late 2015 resolution to read more, and my early 2016 plan, for sure. I just finished Fight Club (loved it) and The Book Thief (loved it more). I’m about to finish Jenny’s Furiously Happy (loved it the most) and to start You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day. I loved that UK booksellers went for Civilised Saturday instead of Black Friday, encouraging visits to bookstores. (And it looks even more civilised with the s instead of the z, doesn’t it?) Double points if you bought a book at an independent bookseller on Civilised Saturday, which was also Small Business Saturday, in addition to just Saturday. Basically all I want is books for the holiday, and to trade them, too. I’m all about that book, bout that book, no…you know. Anyway, what are you reading? We here at the Queso would love to know.

Peace, until next time.

This post was written by Laurie White, who writes, takes pictures, and teaches college students from time to to time. She is not from Texas, but she really loves to visit. Until then, find her @lauriemedia on Instagram. 

TTYL: THE THINGS YOU’LL LOVE (This Thanksgiving Week)

November 23, 2015
first-one

Happy Thanksgiving Week! And happy the last week of November (whoa), which means it’s essentially Holiday Season (Happy Hanukkah! Merry Christmas!) and 2016 (Happy New Year!) but before we get ahead of ourselves…Thanksgiving! Our favorite American holiday is this week, and we’re ready to party with food and gratitude, because this week also marks the last week of our November NYC, food & gratitude fest, and we are going to end it with a bang.

Last week, we delivered a few of our favorite spots in NYC, some throwback recipes from Thanksgivings past, a boxed set Coterie Sampler you’ll want to know about (and we’ll feature another box this week as well), and finally, Tish wrote a great piece about a Low-Maintenance and/or Lazy Parents’ Guide to Guiding Art Projects. And while we planned to compare and contrast Hand to God and Hamilton by the end of the week, we completely did not. Not at all. We’ll do that this week instead, well before the Thanksgiving Parade begins, and speaking of that, here’s what else you’ll love.

This week, here are The Things You’ll Love:

cheese

  1. Cheese. This week might be all about turkey, but really, it (and every other week) is all about cheese. We’re going to talk about our favorite cheese shops in NYC…and our favorite in Austin too. Photo credit: Antonelli’s Cheese Shop (that may or may not be a spoiler alert)2
  2. A New York City Restaurant Guide. Because you may want to eat things besides cheese. Maybe. mandarin-hotelNY
  3. A New York City Hotel Guide. Because you gotta stay somewhere. Probably.12
  4. More talk about food. Because while this week may be about tackling your fellow humans for discounts on electronics made in China, it’s also about food. Oh and gratitude.3
  5. Practical ways to help you and yours practice gratitude all year long. Before Black Friday and Red Cup December, comes a few days that we gather together to give thanks. We’ll also offer a few ideas how we are going to take this week into next year and attempt to practice gratitude all year long. Join us.

NYC: A Few of Our Favorite Spots

November 23, 2015
highline03

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.

nyc-taxi

Wendi Aarons

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

 

jenny
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.

 

two-hands
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.

 

Tom's_Restaurant,_NYC
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.

 

highline02

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.
Empire-State-at-Night

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?

TBT: The Recipes of Thanksgivings Past

November 19, 2015
first

Over the past few Thanksgivings, I’ve been channeling the ghosts of Thanksgivings past…specifically their recipes. And while I’m living in the house where enormous Thanksgivings were held, I feel like I need to live up to the traditions. The awesome food traditions. Most especially the awesome old-school Texas Thanksgiving food traditions.

12

This is a bit tricky for me because I’m not an awesome cook at all, but I can follow directions, and I have a few, different yet simple Thanksgivingish recipes. So I’m going to throw down a few throw backs that have worked well in fairly recent Thanksgivings past, and maybe you’ll find them catchy.

3

Pumpkin, barley and sage soup with green apple garnish. I like the idea of having soup at Thanksgiving. We never did this as I was growing up, but I think it’s a solid start. I’m bringing this soup this year.

14

Kale, quinoa salad with grapes. I’m also bringing this salad. So I can then eat more pie. That’s just math.

4

Ancho chilis stuffed with sweet potatoes, pecans and garlic. This is so Texas Thanksgiving. Like the traditional UT/A&M game, oh wait…except these chilis still happen.

blackened_pork_tenderloin_mobile

Pork tenderloin with pumpkin seed sauce. If you’re over the other other white meat, try the other white meat.

Photo Credit: Pork Be Inspired

5

Chipotle Smashed Sweet Potatoes. This photo does not do these justice. Trust me. It’s like mashed potatoes’ cool Texas cousin that you really want to watch the UT/A&M Baylor/TCU game with.

8

Butternut squash and blue cheese risotto (whoa). This is my favorite. It’s like mashed potatoes’ cool New York cousin that won’t shut up about Hamilton.

2

My Great Grandmother’s Cornbread Dressing Recipe. This is the quintessential Texas Thanksgiving must have. Also, it’s so so simple.

7

Sweet potato pie with marshmallow meringue. This is like Charlie and the Chocolate factory Thanksgiving dessert without the chocolate and all the whimsy. Just trust me on this.

And finally…no Texas Thanksgiving would be complete without…

1

A Simple Pecan Pie. You just have to have it.

So Happy Cooking! And Happy Thanksgiving!

Boxed Set: Coterie Sampler

November 18, 2015
7

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.

1

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.

2

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.

3

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

4

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.

5

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

6

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

8

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.

9

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.

11

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.

12

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.

10

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
21

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):

5

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.


2

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…

3
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.

6

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.

8

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.  

FullSizeRender (6)

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. 

 

TTYL: The Things You’ll Love (this week)

November 16, 2015
flowers-and-candy-21-730x486

The past few weeks we’ve been point out the things you will need for the week…but the reality is, you don’t need anything. You definitely don’t need more things, more stuff. And sure most of the stuff we have been pointing out aren’t actual things you need (stuff) they are things you need to do (like breathe and drink water, for instance). But still. We firmly believe none of us needs more needs in our lives…but all could really use some more love, more loves, more things to love. So from this point forward, we’re going to reframe this framework to be The Things You’ll Love (TTYL)…which of course also stands for Talk To You Later. Which we will. About The Things You’ll Love. So let’s do this.

This week, here are The Things You’ll Love:

7

  1. The Big Apple…with some queso. We are still talk about NYC. Because we love it and you love it, and hell, it’s NYC season starting the second that that parade starts. So we’re going to keep talking about our favorite things NYC all week, starting with a quick roundup of contributors favorites. Watch for that.IMG_8215
  2. Hand to God, You’ll Love Hamilton. And we’re going to talk about both before the end of the week. One was written by a Texan, one was not. One possibly could be consumed by children, one should definitely not be. We’ll compare and contrast. Werk! (That’s a nod to the Hamilton soundtrack, if you’ve been listening to it, as we suggested last week.)3
  3. Easy recipes. You will love easy recipes right now. Because ’tis the season for easy recipes. We’ll features some throwbacks (Like Butternut Squash and Blue Cheese Risotto. True story.) and a possibly few new ones but good ones. And pace yourself, we’ll probably be talking about food until December, at least.9
  4. Boxed sets. Surprise boxes are all the rage right now… we’ll be featuring some of our favorites from now until New Year’s, and we’ll start this week with one that ships out close to home. 5
  5. Planting Seeds of Gratitude.  This is really our theme for the month and we’ll keep going there. Join us.

An Austin Getaway, Not That Far Away

November 13, 2015
this-one

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.

image3

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.

image1

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.

Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 6.24.46 PM Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 6.24.30 PM Screen Shot 2015-11-11 at 6.24.12 PM

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
The-first-one

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.

2

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.

3 (1)

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.

6 (1)

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.

10

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.

11

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.

14

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.

8

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.

IMG_3353

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.

4

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.

12

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.

9

And for all of that, I am thankful.