Play Outside: Take a Family Hike

November 2, 2015
By Elizabeth McGuire

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.


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.”


  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.


  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.


  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:



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. (

Things You Will Need This Week

November 2, 2015

Happy November. We are so grateful that we survived the week of candy and crazy and crazy candy. Between Halloween and the time change and impending climate change and/or doom, we somehow made it through. And we are grateful (oh so grateful) that we are here, in November, our favorite month of gratitude.

All throughout the month we will be counting our blessings for so many things, and this week we are starting with the basics. So here’s a roundup of things you will need this week. We will also do our best to fulfill them. Let’s go.


1. You Will Need To Go Outside. Now that we have reached a month when it is not 1,000 degrees outside, we are very happy to encourage you to go outside and enjoy every single second of it. The weather is becoming ideal for anything outdoors. Hiking. Zip lining. Golfing. Running (some of us are starting Couch to 5K training this week). We have lots of outdoors in store this week because it’s a good time to be in this part of the world and be outside.


Well, mostly…Except for a variety of residual hurricanes and resulting torrential flash floods. I mean, other that those 16 inches of rain that fell on our houses within a few hours on Friday, not to mention the tornadoes, it’s totally perfect.


AP Photo/The Austin American-Statesman, Jay Janner

And speaking of last Friday, last Friday’s floods, A) What the heck was that? and B) the tornados shut down all the Internets, so we couldn’t share Elizabeth’s post about how you should go outside. IRONY? We think so. We also still think you should outside now. Because today, it’s quite lovely. Although you know what they say about Texas weather….so you should probably hurry.


2. You Also Will Need To Not Forget Thanksgiving. I opened up my Facebook this morning to no less than five (FIVE) humans who were sharing their Christmas tree decorations that they put up yesterday. No. Just, no. Do not forget Thanksgiving (unless you are in Canada and Thanksgiving was weeks ago) But America, you got to chill. No Christmas until the Turkey has been made into turkey curry salad for leftovers. Thems the rules.

So this week, we’re going to talk about space and family and how we’re getting ready for the most wonderful holiday of the year (Hint: It’s Thanksgiving. And it’s offended by your preemptive Christmas tree.)



3. You Will Need To Consume a Good Bit of Water. Admit it and face it, you are still hungover from last week’s high fructose corn syrup overload. There’s no shame to your game, but your body wants water and fast. We are also starting a new face/skincare regimen around here to help with that. We will let you know how that is going later in the week.



4. And You Will Need Some Vegetables. And ’tis the season to plant them. Besides corn syrup, Halloween means picking the last of your tomatoes, pulling out all of your summer garden, and planting for the winter. We’re going to talk about that on Thursday. And finally…


5. You Will Need a Break. Some Ease. And Some Easy Ideas. If you have small humans in your life, getting through last week was no small feat. Between the candy and the parties, the sportsball games, and the time change, well, bless your head. You need a nap. But you can’t have a nap because we are now entering the most wonderful time of the year which demands that you are ready with crafts. It’s a whole thing. So until you can bust out the Shrinky Dinks Christmas set (not yet, see #2), you need easy, fast and smart ideas to occupy hours and brains. So Tish, mother of two little ones, will share really easy ways to encourage creative play…or a slacker mom’s guide to surviving craft season. Same thing. And several of them involve sending kids outside. Which brings us back to number one. And the loop continues. Because this week, it all comes back to backyards. And kids.

Okay so, Happy Kids and Dogs Outside Week!

Fishsticks & Queso Party

October 29, 2015

A couple of weeks ago, we hosted a queso & fishsticks party at a bookstore in order to honor penguins.

 I love that last sentence.


We actually gathered to honor this lady. Mary Laura Philpott. She wrote a book called Penguins with People Problems. It’s funny.


And as promised, we had Fishsticks. Lots of them.


And queso. In the pumpkin head of a penguin who was puking guacamole. Classy.


And people came! This is Wendi Aarons, co-host and Queso writer on the left. And Omar Gallaga, totally legit Technology, Culture reporter for the Austin American-Statesman. And all-around great guy.


And Elizabeth Jayne Liu lives here now (sorry LA) and she came! Also, I look like a giant next to Elizabeth Jayne Liu. She is teeniny!


And Deep Eddy Vodka came.


Everyone loves Deep Eddy Vodka.


But in the end, it was really all about this lady in the middle of a Queso sandwich here.


And Penguins with People Problems


And Fishsticks.


And Queso.

Thank you so much to everyone that came out!

You guys are the best.


October 28, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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



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



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


Or pumpkin lights. $8 at Target.



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


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



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



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


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


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

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

No really, it’s not too late.




Texas Women’s Conference: Epic Women in Texas

October 27, 2015
By Kristin Paull

Does every state do this?  Bring together thousands of women in one room to talk about important issues? Well, they should!  Huge props to our Queso pal Wendi and her whole team who put this shin-dig together for over 7,000 attendees.  There were so many people there, in fact, that I had to park in the satellite parking.  No problem, the shuttle ferried me to the convention center to drop me at the front door.  Nice.


I missed the opening speakers, but heard fantastic references to them throughout the day.  One of the morning speakers was Candy Chang who created the “Before I die…” project.  They had a chalkboard wall in the middle of the expo for anyone to chalk up their contributions.  You can check out her book on the project as well.  It was really great to watch women from all walks and stages of life synthesize their goals on this space in the middle of the room.  I think it symbolized the purpose of this conference really well.


So, I walked in, and collected my swag bag with snacks, treats from Mary Kay and some other fun little things.  The Expo was filled with healthcare information from breast exams to skin care to nutrition.  There was also a marketplace for job and education opportunities.  There were several female-run or focused businesses there sharing their expertise and their products.  They even included a mini art gallery for art done “by women of women.” This capsule art show really highlighted the diversity among women- color, focus, age, personality, etc.  It was lovely.  The Expo had several places to sit and network as well as several round-table discussions.  It was a vibrant place to be in between sessions.


I was able to do two sessions while I was there.  I listened to Carson Tate talk about “Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style.”  She emphasized the importance of saying “No.”  We like to say “yes” to so many things, but we need to account for the fact that embedded in that “yes” is an implied “no” to something else.  Wow!  That is powerful stuff.  When we fill our time then we leave no time for other things we might want to say “yes” to.  As a habitual over-planner, this stopped me in my tracks.  She went on to discuss the idea of working out a “time budget.”  She said that time is a commodity that has more value than dollars.  You can always go make more money, but you can never make more time.  Be careful of those to whom you give a blank check of your time, and be sure to look at your time as an investment.  All of this is to say that we need to be very intentional with how we spend, use and plan our time.  Excellent advice!

My second sessions was with Wendy Wallbridge on the “Five Co-Creative Powers for Women on the Rise.”  She teaches women to “cultivate the five co-creative powers of energy, thoughts, feelings, speech, and action—the fundamentals of self-creation—in order to redefine success and re-author their lives.”  We did a powerful moment of exchange wherein one woman shared how she opened up to a colleague in a very professional way about some struggles in the office.  That colleague turned out to be a director, and has since become a mentor to her.  In that moment of struggle, she embraced her “feminine” side to make it work to her advantage, and thereby making her a more complete and successful leader.  I am definitely interested to hear more about Wendy’s ideas.


The highlight was definitely the luncheon speakers.  We heard from several women leaders from different fields leading up to the first main speaker, Patricia Arquette.  You might remember that she won an Oscar for “Boyhood,” which was filmed in and around Austin over the course of 12 years.  In her acceptance speech, Ms. Arquette brought to light the struggle over income inequality for women, issues facing women today in regards to healthcare and childcare, and more.  Anne-Marie Slaughter, former director of policy planning for the US State Dept., interviewed Ms. Arquette on stage.  It was really interesting to see how the dialogue around women’s issues touches us all from actors to politicians to executives to bloggers!  These are challenging and exciting times, and the conversation is often charged.  I think ultimately this is a good thing!  We need everyone’s passion and the different points of view to come together for creative solutions that improve all of our lives.  This is all about building each other up.  Doesn’t that sound better already?

The second speaker was Robin Roberts.  She was interviewed by Tory Johnson, who also works on Good Morning America.  First, let me say, Robin is gorgeous!  She is tall, athletic and high-energy.  I would just love to hang out with her.  I might have to get a trainer to ready myself to really “hang” with her as I get the feeling she is crazy active and athletic!  Anyway, she talked about her rise from athlete to ESPN to GMA, and how she very nearly didn’t take the GMA offer as she didn’t think she could do it.  How often do we limit ourselves?!  Thanks to a friend (encouraging friends are a must!), she took the leap.  Aren’t we all glad she did?  She also discussed her health battles, and her Mom.  It was all very inspiring.  We loved all of the “Momisms” as she called them- so many quotable quotes!  She left us with her favorite one- “When fear knocks…let faith answer the door.”  What powerful words!


If you get the chance to attend conferences such as these if not this very excellent conference next year, then you should jump on it.  If you make it to Austin for the conference next year…there just might be some excellent queso in it for you as well as an equally delicious margarita!

Cheers to all the ladies out there who are handling it every day!  We are on your team!

Things You Need This Week

October 26, 2015

We are going to try a new start this week with a new roundup of things you will need this week. We will also do our best to fulfill them. Let’s go.


Photo credit: Lions And Daisies

  1. Candy. And possibly an item of clothing that references candy. (From Lions And Daisies on Etsy). Because a lot of kids will be swarming your house, demanding candy. And if you’re in Texas, the minis are probably wanting the good stuff, and by good stuff, we mean Candy Corn. Because according to Influenster, who surveyed more than 40,000 people to find out the most popular candy in each state, Texas kids are children of the candy corn. top-candy-in-the-usThey probably didn’t factor in/know about Sugar Skulls though (we’ll talk about those on Wednesday) Also, I just read that that Americans will spend more than $2.8-billion on candy this Halloween, and A) that is gross and B) that is equal to the cost of almost four trips to the moon.  And no one’s doing that anymore. Our priorities are sugar-coated.pumpkin-puke
  2. Pumpkins. Or at least one pumpkin. ‘Tis the week to buy a pumpkin. You know it’s true, and we’ll talk more about that tomorrow. We’ll also features some photos of our Fishsticks & Queso party, like the one above where a penguin pumpkin is puking. Classy.curry

  3. Spice. But not pumpkin spice. That crap jumped the tank in 2009. We’re talking spice to cancel out your sweet (see #1). We recommend curry. Come with us on Thursday for a trip to Brick Lane.H-dipping-2-624x415

  4. Fruit. You’re also going to need this to cancel out your candy. Or in our case, to complement it. Friday we’re doing a throwback roundup of ways to Halloween costume your favorite candied apples.Elizabeth-hiking

  5. To Go Outside. Trust us, you need to get your backside outside. For one, to go all around the neighborhood, begging for candy. And for two, to work off all those Butterfingers you’ll be swallowing. You know it’s true. And around here, as of just this week, the weather is finally fine…so get outside and get to it. Elizabeth recommends hiking, and she’ll let you know about it on Friday. Just in time for your hike around the neighborhood, begging for candy. Which brings us back to number one. And the loop continues. Because this week, it all comes back to candy.

Okay so, Happy Candy Week!

This Week: Fishsticks & Queso & Books. Oh My.

October 13, 2015

Image Source

Announcing FISHSTICKS AND QUESO: The Party*. (*Not to be confused with FISHSTICKS AND QUESO: The Crime Fighting Grocery Store Duo. We are currently trying to trademark that and sell NBC on the pilot, so no stealing!)

Fishsticks and Queso in a bookstore?

Yep, and drinks too. BookPeople of Austin welcomes author and artist Mary Laura Philpott for a signing of the adorably weird little gift book about modern adulthood, PENGUINS WITH PEOPLE PROBLEMS. Don’t miss the warm welcome from Wendi Aarons and Laura Mayes, hilarious local writers from popular blog The Queso.

RSVP here! (We really hope we see you there.) And you can read more about it here. 


Stress-eating after a breakup? Frustrated by the cost of a good cocktail? Stymied by the weirdness of abstract art? These penguins share your pain. The “random penguins” are a lineup of quirky, lovable weirdos with minds of their own. They understand the agony of social awkwardness, the power of the perfect smoky eye, and the arm- (or wing)-flapping terror of having a bee in the car. In fact, these winged characters get into the same sticky situations we all do. They are Penguins with People Problems.
So meet your favorite new flightless friends. They’re brutally honest (except when they’re lying), comically insecure, and totally relatable.


Mary Laura Philpott is a writer and illustrator whose work is featured regularly in major media. She is the author, most recently, of PENGUINS WITH PEOPLE PROBLEMS, as well as the founding editor of MUSING, the online literary magazine produced by Parnassus Books.

Read more about Mary Laura Philpott right here. 

We hope to see you Friday night, October 16, at BookPeople in Austin for Fishsticks, Queso & the Resulting Shenanigans.  

Tips From A Local About How to Approach, Enjoy and Even Really Love ACL Fest 2015

October 7, 2015

Photo from ACLFestival.

By Kristin Paull

Well it’s that time of year around here. We’ve made it to another weekend of Austin City Limits Music Fest.  I think this is possibly our fifth year to go, and we kind of have a love/hate relationship with it.  I love it, and my husband hates, well, parts of it. But no matter your chosen emotion, there is definitely something for everyone there…and there are a lot of everyones there.


For those who don’t know, ACL is a big music festival with six main stages for music of all kinds– alt rock, hip hop, rap, country, etc.  It spans three days, and is staged in Zilker Park in the heart of Austin. A few years back they (thankfully) moved it from September to October, so we have decent weather now, but you can still read that as HOT…and you should.


Every year they say there are 70K people in attendance, however every year they report actual numbers around 100K.  So, there are certain times of the day that can get very crowded.  (Earlier in the day, shown above, it’s completely great.) (Later in the day, shown below, it starts to fill up.) (And then in the late afternoon/evening…well…see for yourself.)


When heading in that direction, park where you can or carpool, and then ride your bike to the park…or someone else’s bike (there are pedicabs everywhere).  We take our whole family, and treat it like a staycation, and this year was especially great. Here is the breakdown of what we loved, and my tips for those attending the second weekend!

What to take:

Camelback (you can fill with ice but can only fill with water once you are in the park), sunscreen, extra toilet paper, Advil, allergy meds, battery packs and chargers, hat, sunglasses, light sweater, go cashless with your wristband.  We take the folding chairs with built-in shade.  We like to sit back in the chair sections with more room and a little less sound.  If you like to head into the mix, then you might just want to have a small towel or blanket for the occasional time you want to sit down.


What to wear:

Hat, sunglasses, lightweight shorts and shirt or tank top, flip flops (Birkenstocks if you can- lots of walking), pony tail holder for long hair.  It gets hot especially in the middle of the day with no breeze, so you need to dress for when it feels like it is 100 degrees.  Light dresses work as well if you don’t sit on the ground.  This all changes if it is rainy.  Then, you will need rain boots, a poncho, an umbrella, etc.  Definitely avoid cotton in the rain.  If you are trying to be all in fashion here, then it looks like you should wear high-waisted booty shorts, lots of fringe and leather boots.  This looks like the most uncomfortable festival wear to me, but to each his own.  Hippy chic is what the kids like to wear these days!


What to eat:

Damn!  ACL Eats is always super fun!  My annual must-have is from Chilantro- the Kimchee Fries with Korean BBQ Beef on fries with kimchee and a creamy siracha sauce.  This was perfection with the Breckenridge Agave Wheat beer from the Craft Beer Tent.  We also loved what East Side King was throwing down- Brussel Sprout Salad (roasted, fresh and a little spicy), Pork Belly Steamed Buns (crispy pork, soft buns and fresh herbs and spicy sauce), and Karage Chicken (fried chicken pieces with pickled vegetables, fresh herbs and jalapenos).  


I was also digging on the Real Ale Hans Pils from the beer tent.  The fresh lemonade from Shade Tree Lemonade was so refreshing.  The kids ate their weight in burgers from PTerrys as well as pizza rolls from Austin’s Pizza.  


Who we loved:

Nate Ruess- lead singer of F.U.N.- He had great energy to match that great voice.

Brandon Flowers- lead singer of The Killers- another one with a great voice.

George Ezra- who hasn’t heard this guy?

Foo Fighters- pillars of rock n roll, no?  Keep healing, Dave!  Thanks for rocking it out in Austin!

The Wind and the Wave


Twenty One Pilots- great show, great music…feels like musical slam poetry

Walk the Moon- perhaps our favorite show of the whole weekend!  Try not to dance!

Sheppard- tied for WTM for our favorite show- fantastic energy and they are too adorable!

The Decemberists- my son loved this show!

Of Monsters and Men- we love so many of their songs- must see for my crew.

Hozier- He put on a great show, and it was packed.

So, if you are up for weekend two, then you have our report of weekend one.  Some of them will not be there, but some new folks will be.  Those I would add if I were heading out for this weekend:  Gary Clark, Jr., Florence and the Machine.  


Have fun, party people!  

Kristin Paull is a long-time Austin resident who attends ACL Fest every year. She almost always has extra snacks, sunscreen and water. You can count on her. You can also read more about Kristin here. 

Three Tips for Getting Back-To-Schedule Organized + A Gin & Tonic Recipe. To Celebrate Getting Back-To-Schedule Organized.

October 6, 2015

This photo has nothing to do with being organized. But it is salt water taffy…and that’s fun, plus it’s organized into nice little bins. And this post was written by Kristin Paull. And she’s fun and organized. And it’s her birthday. Happy Birthday Kristin! We would like to give you a cake made out of salt-water taffy. And a gin and tonic. 

By Kristin Paull

We have one more Back To School Night to go, and then we are officially back in the swing.  It doesn’t always feel that way though.  I have to say that each year I feel like the year starts faster- like I am jumping on the treadmill that is already going at top speed.  Sundays are the nights I get organized for the week and use the tricks that help me feel like I am taming some of the chaos.  Maybe these can help you manage your circus.  Our current circus involves an ongoing leak repair from a bathroom remodel combined with the arrival of a puppy.  We officially live in Crazy Town right now, and I am the mayor.  Here is what is keeping me from losing it.

Every year I have  a monthly calendar where I enter all of the big things- school holidays, late starts and early dismissals, practices and games, tests and quizzes.  Now, I don’t use this to helicopter my kids, though I know that can be tempting sometimes.  I do use this to know what they have coming up that week.  I want to see if my 10th grader is really prepping for that Chem test, my 8th grader is studying for a few days leading up to the Geometry test or my 4th grader is preparing for that History project.  I check in with them after it is done- “How was your test today?  Did you feel prepared?  How did you prepare?”  I grew tired of feeling surprised that they had tests and quizzes, because they never talked about it or stressed over it.  This makes me feel more connected to what they are doing rather than just relying on watching for the grades as they roll in.  If I am more concerned about the work ethic and effort going into school, then I need to put my money where my mouth is.  This helps me focus on the process and not just the result.


I also sit down to go over my calendar for the week.  I break it up into AM and PM sections for each day, and I write down all of the appointments or practices that have a start time.  Then, I work in all of the other things I am hoping to tackle- exercise, working in the yard, organizing projects, etc. It’s a lot. But it helps.

This leads me to my next big help- my menu board.  This is a chalkboard sticker I found at a shop in Austin, but I have seen them on Amazon as well.  I love to cook, but I don’t always have the time.  And, my kids don’t always want to try new things.  The Sunday night discussion of what we will eat for the week allows them to put any requests out there, and usually leaves me with a couple of nights where I can cook something new and fun.  

My kids complain far less now that they feel like they are heard or at least had the chance to be heard.  Also, I know can make my grocery list, and grab ingredients for two nights at a time.  I waste so much less this way, and I only have ingredients for two nights in case we have to pick up dinner unexpectedly.  I can always just push it to the next night.  If it is going to be a truly tight night, then I can do a slow cooker meal or a dinner like nachos or breakfast for dinner that I know I can execute in 20 minutes (the time it takes for them to run through the shower- two birds one 20 minute block).  This has been a huge game changer for us all!


We have a few responsibilities that the kids assume at certain ages.  By 3rd grade, we are packing our own backpack.  In 4th grade, we are managing our own workload, signing of papers or assignments, remembering to get our stuff ready for activities the night before, etc.  In 7th grade, the kids take over making their own lunches and managing their lunch accounts.  I deposit a certain amount in their lunch accounts, enough to cover two lunches a week, at the beginning of the month.  They can blow it all in the first week passing cookies out to friends in the lunchroom, or they can use those days when they are just over making lunches.  I do prepare four vegetables and four fruits in containers that we can all use to make the process so much faster.  Bonus- I can use the left overs to pack as snacks for my 4th grader!  

I HATE making lunches, and this has made it all so very tolerable and lightning fast.  Making the same lunches day in and day out (as my kids won’t eat leftovers) makes me want to poke a fork in my eye.  Instead, I prep on Sunday nights while I am having a glass of wine or gin and tonic.  Everything is better with a cocktail!


Oh yes, Cocktails!!!  Speaking of cocktails, my family spent six fabulous weeks in Spain this summer.  There will be more on that later (specifics on Spain as well as traveling with kids).  One of the most interesting and delicious discoveries was the Gin and Tonic.  

To say they have taken this drink to a new level does not even come close to the reality.  It would often take at least 10 minutes to order!  You start by either picking a garnish or a gin, and then they have some sort of complex algorithm that they follow to craft your perfect drink.  Certain gins call for certain tonics which lead to specific garnishes.  

I am going to share my very favorite combo with you- fast, easy and so refreshing.  It is the perfect Sunday drink while I look at the week ahead.  I love Hendrick’s Gin- if you want refreshing cucumber taste then this is the gin they would always bring me.  Turns out, I already loved it and had a bottle at home.  You will also need tonic water.  I love Fever Tree Light (less sugar), but you can also do any of the other flavors or Schweppes.  Lastly you need ice cubes and garnishes.  I have a great little silicone ice tray- they don’t melt too fast, but help to mellow it all together nicely.  The garnishes I love are two slices of cucumber, a twist of lemon and half of a dried cinnamon stick.  Here we go!  


Kristin’s Favorite Gin & Tonic from Spain

Here’s What You’ll Need:

Gin (Hendrick’s recommended)

Tonic water (Fever Tree Light recommended)

A small cucumber

A lemon

Half of a dried cinnamon stick

Here’s What You’ll Do:

Grab a big balloon wine glass if you have one or at least a glass that is big enough to accommodate the ice cubes.  Place the cucumber slices, lemon and cinnamon stick in the bottom of the glass.  Add about 2oz of the gin, and stir with a spoon.  Add the ice, and stir again.  Lastly, you will add the tonic.  If you have a gin spoon (I hunted high and low for one), you are supposed to pour the tonic down the swizzle of the gin spoon.  Allegedly, this adds more bubbles to the drink.  I doubt it, but it is fun anyway!  You should have a 2:1 ratio of tonic to gin.  I usually have enough for two drinks from each small bottle of Fever Tree.  In Texas, where we are still enduring the 95 plus degree heat, we will be enjoying this cocktail for many weeks to come.  


Kristin Paull is one of the most thoughtful, fun (and organized!) people that we know. Plus today is her birthday! And she gave us a gin & tonic recipe (how thoughtful and fun of her on her own birthday!) You can read more about Kristin here. 

It’s a Party and You’re All Invited!

October 5, 2015
By Wendi Aarons

We here at The Queso believe that October is the perfect time for entertaining. The weather’s a little cooler, the leaves are turning color, and we’re ready to just kick back, put on a sweater, and celebrate Autumn by shoving massive quantities of fish sticks and cheese into our pie holes. Care to join us?

Announcing FISHSTICKS AND QUESO: The Party*. (*Not to be confused with FISHSTICKS AND QUESO: The Crime Fighting Grocery Store Duo. We are currently trying to trademark that and sell NBC on the pilot, so no stealing!)

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Yes, your favorite people from The Queso, and even the ones you don’t care for a whole lot, are hosting a night of laughs, literature and lukewarm fish on October 16th! Join us at BookPeople in Austin as we welcome one of our favorite-est funny women, Mary Laura Philpott.

ML (as we like to call Mary Laura because we’re like, super tight) is a columnist and speaker who has written for The New York TimesHuffington PostThe Toast, and USA Today. She is the social media director of Nashville’s independent bookstore, Parnassus Books, as well as the founding editor of its online magazine, Musing. She lives in Nashville with her husband, two children, and two wicked pooches named Woodstock and Eleanor Roosevelt.

And her (truly funny) book is called Penguins With People Problems. The “random penguins” are a lineup of quirky, lovable weirdos with minds of their own. They understand the agony of social awkwardness, the power of the (not so) perfect smoky eye, and the hilarious terror of having a bee in the car.
This is ML. Not a Penguin, as far as we know.
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And now here’s a little Q&A between Wendi and ML

1. If you could be any kind of penguin, what kind would you be?

The one that lives on the spine of Penguin Books. That bird gets to go everywhere.

2. Why is Texas the best state in the world?

Because it’s like Tennessee but with an ocean.

3. Why are there no penguins in Texas?

I’m not qualified to speak on immigration issues.

4. What is your favorite humor book?

My publicist would probably appreciate it if I said it’s mine, but come on — David Sedaris all the way.

5. Who is your favorite humor writer named Wendi Aarons?

David Sedaarons.

6. What does “queso” mean in Spanish?

I believe it means, “Whose bicycle is this?”

7. What does “queso” mean in Arabic?

“It’s my bicycle, actually.”

8. What would a penguin do if you rubbed her tummy?

One of my penguins, you mean? Probably slap you. Most of my penguins are at least partially based on me, and I cannot stand to have my stomach touched. Also, I’m going to need you to take about five steps back right now.

9. Is Danny DeVito the sexiest penguin of all time?

You can take the question mark right off that statement.

10. What is your best fish dessert recipe?

I would say Swedish Fish, but if you’re really into gummies, the best thing to do is to fill a Solo cup with Trader Joe’s “Gummy Tummies” penguins and just tip it back into your face. I did this before a book signing in Memphis, and I think the audience was impressed with how amazingly fast and high my voice was when I was superjacked on straight sugar. My teeth vibrated for a week.

See? Told you she was funny. So, mark your calendar, hire a sitter, and come out for a night of cheesy fish! And fishy cheese! And fishy, cheesy people! Wait. Maybe not that last one. But there will be sangria, humor, laughs, and lots of books! It will be the best night you’ve ever had in your life, and that’s not a load of hyperbole, either.

RSVP here, and we’ll see you soon!

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