30 Hours in Austin, Texas

Last year, when Clay’s sister and family made plans to fly out to Texas for a week-long visit, we advised them to fly into Austin rather than San Antonio because rates tend to be more reasonable and we all could spend a night or two in Austin before saying our goodbyes at the Bergstrom International Airport. We looked forward to our return getaway to the state capital (fun fact – it’s the second-most populous state capital in the nation) and after a packed-full week of San Antonio adventures, the seven of us (four adults and three kids) piled into the 4Runner and made our way to Austin, Texas.

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We took the scenic route through Hill Country – stopping in Driftwood, Texas for lunch at The Salt Lick, a favorite spot of ours to take out-of-town guests. At The Salt Lick, you can experience a winery, an outdoor playground, delicious BBQ, and the quintessential hill country Texas vibe. It’s extremely kid-friendly and despite feeding thousands of people throughout the week, it is very efficient and well-run.

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From The Salt Lick, it is just a quick 20-minute drive into downtown Austin. We checked into our hotel, The Embassy Suites Austin Downtown Town Lake, and let the kids run back and forth between our rooms while the adults enjoyed a cocktail. The hotel is perfectly situated between the Texas Capitol Building, University of Texas at Austin campus, 6th Street, and South Congress Avenue so we were able to walk almost everywhere, which is our favorite way to explore a city!

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We totally experienced 6th Street just the way it’s meant to be experienced…

…during the day with kids!

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For an afternoon snack, we went to Voodoo Doughnut and found ourselves disappointed. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by artisan donuts throughout our travels but these just weren’t that good. Furthermore, the ordering process is insanely frustrating and completely inefficient and the person who took our order embodied every single stereotype of the millennial generation. If you find yourself in Austin craving donuts, skip Voodoo and head over to Gourdough’s Big. Fat. Donuts. We wish we did! Oh and in case you’re wondering what our picks for best donuts ever? Sugar Shack in Alexandria, Virginia and Condon’s Doughnuts in Wells, Maine. You’re welcome.

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We walked along Lady Bird Lake back to our hotel to take advantage of the manager’s reception (free drinks!) before heading back out at dusk to see the world famous bats. The largest urban bat colony in North America lives underneath the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge. During ‘bat season’ (April – November), the bats leave the bridge nightly, which results in quite the spectacle that can last up to 2-3 hours.

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We walked to the Austin-American Statesman park and waited for about 30 minutes for the first bat to emerge. And before long, we were treated to a wave of bats.

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Hard to believe but there are thousands of bats in this picture. We all commented on how awesome it would be to see the bats from the water. There were a lot of kayakers and a couple of river cruises on the water and they definitely had the best seats in the house – next time we’ll do that, for sure!

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The next morning, we checked-out of the hotel after breakfast and walked down South Congress Avenue to experience the iconic Austin street scattered with shops, restaurants, and bars.

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I mean – you can’t go to Austin and not take a picture with this mural, right? Located on the wall of Jo’s Coffee (absolutely delicious coffee!), it had been vandalized (again) since we were there last summer…the lettering is thicker this time around.

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After getting our fill of South Congress Avenue, we drove to Covert Park at Mount Bonell, a famous area alongside the Lake Austin portion of the Colorado River (not the Colorado River…Texas has their own Colorado River…because that makes sense).

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We then headed to the University of Texas campus for lunch. We ended up at Gabriel’s Cafe and enjoyed Texas beer and traditional lunch-fare. The building was hosting an MBA graduation ceremony so we definitely felt like we were on a college campus, complete with gowns and caps. University of Texas at Austin is no Clemson University but we could certainly see why so many people like it! 🙂

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We had just enough time to swing by the State Capitol Building before heading to the airport. The Texas State Capitol Building is such a cool place to visit – it’s open to the public and is gorgeous inside! Surprisingly, it isn’t the tallest state capitol building in the United States (that honor belongs to Louisiana) so I guess not everything is bigger here. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to explore all the halls and chambers like we did last summer but there is always next time.

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And before we knew it, we were saying goodbye to Meredith, Harry, and Alaina. We are so thankful they chose to spend their Spring Break while we were stationed in Texas. Who knows where the Army will send us next, but wherever it may be – we can’t wait to share it with our family and friends.

Can I Be a Highly Effective Person?

So I’ve publicly declared that 2018 will be the Year of Intention.

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So now what?

I’m writing this post in the local library because the county-wide two-hour delay shortened preschool to just two hours. It’s amazing what .5 inches of the white stuff does to our nation’s capital – and I’m not even talking about cocaine…ba-dum-tish. This particular library has a lot of natural light with modern architecture details, which I don’t particularly care for – give me old, give me musty, give me those gold lamps with the green shades and chain pulls. However, since browsing through rows and rows of books ranks up there as one of my favorite pastimes – along with hiking, eating cannolis, and drinking witbier – I make do and ignore the geometric shapes on the carpet as best I can.

I decided to thumb through some self-help books in order to gather some ideas of what it may mean to actually live intentionally this year beyond actively interacting and engaging with my life.

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{My goodness – that seems like something mid-2000s Oprah would say, doesn’t it?}

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However, the browsing did do me some good on my journey toward intention. For example, I loved the direct approach to the title of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson, blogger at markmanson.net. I do care too much about what others think of me but thankfully, these concerns are lessening with each passing year as I inch toward my 40s. A key concept throughout the book is that life is too short to react so passionately about every little thing – perhaps my Year of Intention is about mindfully filtering through the onslaught of information we encounter daily and tell myself “I’m not taking this on“, as June Diane Raphael so eloquently stated on the Bitch Sesh Podcast.

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Also on the shelves, I found the perennial The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey, which has been inspiring people for almost three decades. After all, you just have to be courageous enough to be proactive! One of the habits is ‘think win-win’, which is a call back to my professional mediator days in northern New York. I checked it out and now have up to three weeks to learn the habits of a highly effective person. And also to learn what is exactly a highly effective person. I do make the bed everyday…does that count?

After thumbing through my library’s offerings, I ventured over to Amazon because it is 2018 and I want to help Jeff Bezos achieve suborbital human spaceflight this year.

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That is how I discovered an entire subgroup of self-help books regarding the making of our own coffin. My favorites in this niche woodworking how-to series include Do-It-Yourself Coffins for Pets and People: A Schniffer Book for Woodworkers Who Want to Be Buried in Their Work by Dale Power and Jeffery B. Snyder and Fancy Coffins to Make Yourself by Dale Power. There is an old adage that you can’t take your work with you when you’re gone but this book proves you can! And these aren’t just pine boxes…they’re fancy coffins. These books remind me of when Ron Swanson won a woodworking award and the in-memoriam portion of the ceremony featured pictures of the coffins the woodworkers made and were buried in. Just yet another example of how Parks and Recreation is applicable in every area of life.

So I suppose that means that my next step in this Year of Intention journey is to report back with my thoughts on 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and figure out where our miter saw ended up this move because my coffin isn’t going to build itself.

2018 – The Year of Intention

On the surface, 2017 was an unexceptional year in our little world. It began in Texas with a minor car accident and ended in Virginia with antibiotics. We existed within the minutiae of work, school, after-school activities, and the mundane tasks associated with running a household. My grandmother passed away and the kids grew bigger and more aware of the world around them. I turned 34 and I’m still growing out my hair from a particularly disastrous haircut. My body isn’t as strong as I’d like it to be but it allowed me to experience some great adventures so complaining about it seems unnecessary.

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In 2018 I will turn 35. I’d like to believe that I am still less than halfway done with my mortal existence but we all know that health isn’t guaranteed. I no longer feel invincible – at least like I did while navigating my late teens and early twenties. My worries now stretch beyond myself and those in my bubble. Will I be okay? Will we be okay? Will humanity be okay? Perhaps that is why the idea of New Year resolutions – at least those in the vein of ‘lose 10 pounds’, ‘survive Whole 30’, or ‘floss nightly’ seem not worth admitting to those around us.

Not that I am discounting the importance of resolutions – quite the opposite. I love resolutions. I love goals. I love starting over. I love lists. I love crossing off items on a list, so much so that I’m known for writing down tasks I already accomplished just for the satisfaction of crossing it off the list.

  • New blog address
  • Redesign blog
  • Write blog post

Last year my friend, Allyson, declared 2017 to be the Year of Better and her 2018 project is The Year of Living More With Less. I love the concept of The Year of _________ and earlier this month I brainstormed ideas about what I wanted from this year ahead of us and what I wanted to give to 2018.

  • The Year of ME!
  • The Year of Eating all the Pho
  • The Year of Writing More
  • The Year of Not Snapping at My Kids
  • The Year of Green
  • The Year of Not Reading Comment Sections
  • The Year of Exploration
  • The Year of Intention

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Last week, we took the kids hiking in Great Falls Park in 20° weather when school was cancelled due to expected inclement weather. We practically had the place to ourselves. It started to sleet while we were scrambling across rocks but we didn’t let that deter us from enjoying the icy water views and terrain. We couldn’t stop smiling. I was so happy to be outside doing something I love with the people I love most. My cheeks stung from the cold wind, we had to tell our daughter multiple times that jumping head first toward the rocks wasn’t the best idea, and our son ran ahead too far for our comfort but it was exactly what I needed because I felt alive climbing rocks with little pellets of ice hitting my coat.

It was an intentional choice to take the kids hiking in not-so-great weather. Now that our children are getting older, in addition to having to watch our language like a hawk, we’re really starting to think about the lessons we want to pass along. We want them to know that we do hard things. We want them to know that there is success in failure. And most of all, we want them to know that while a ship in port is safe, that is not what ships are built for. Life is made up of choices. It is up to us to define a purpose, to set goals, to accomplish these goals, and to learn from the experience. The hike may have seemed like an insignificant family outing, but we’re hopeful that it will be one of the many puzzle pieces that contribute to their overall world view when they leave the nest.

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The Year of Intention is about being purposeful in word and action. In 2018, I am going to actively interact and engage with my life. I’m not going to be overwhelmingly reactionary – just waiting for something to happen. And one of my biggest goals associated with the Year of Intention is writing here a lot more than I have been in recent years. I may be 15 days late but let’s do this. Cheers to 2018 and all the mornings that will bring new opportunities. I’m ready.

 

 

 

 

The Last Post of the Year

We’re currently en route back home after a quick trip down to Wilmington, North Carolina to spend time with Clay’s family. It had been a couple of years since we were last there during the holiday season and now that we’re calling northern Virginia home, we decided to jet down there when Clay’s scheduled opened up for a few days.

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The last time we were there, our family was patient zero for the stomach flu that eventually made it’s way through the extended family so I am happy to report that we were illness-free this time around. Well – except for me. But thankfully, the massive sinus-infection that overwhelmed my face during December is finally making it’s curtain call thanks to a cocktail of prescribed medication that limited my alcohol consumption during the holidays.

IMG_2395Clay was in and out of town throughout November and December so we did our best to squeeze in holiday traditions when he was home. One we introduced On December 23rd, we saw the Manassas Ballet Theater perform The Nutcracker. It was our first time attending such a performance as a family and we can’t wait to do it again. We will likely move around a lot during the next five years so it will be fun to see the performance in different places around the world.

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Last year, we made the decision to not travel for Christmas – instead choosing to wake up in our own home on Christmas morning and push any travel to the day after Christmas. When it was just the two of us and when the children were younger, traveling with gifts wasn’t an issue but now it just makes more sense to stay home. When the kids are teenagers, I can see us traveling again over the holidays and perhaps even taking an epic trip as our big gift to each other. Our church had a wonderful Christmas Eve service, complete with fiber-optic wands for the kids. Afterwards, we put on matching pajamas and ate appetizers while watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and tracked Santa via NORAD. Speaking of which – when calling NORAD on speakerphone with the kids, I misdialed and somehow ended up phoning a sex line. Obviously, I’m winning a parenting award for my achievements this year.

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Christmas morning featured excited squeals, some surprises, and enough cardboard and wrapping paper to fill the recycling can for the next few weeks. As always seems to be the case, the kids played the most with the $8 worth of Play-Doh that day. My sister and her family came down from Pennsylvania the following day for a couple of days. The kids acted like spider monkeys and us adults maintained our sanity by eating, drinking, and watching Curb Your Enthusiasm.

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After a trip to Urgent Care for me, we made our down to North Carolina, where we celebrated Christmas and took advantage of Clay’s sister’s beach house on Ocean Isle Beach. There was plenty of Clemson gear on display and the six cousins enjoyed playing together. We weren’t there long – less than 48 hours – but I’m glad that Clay’s schedule allowed for us to squeeze in the trip.

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The six grandchildren (ages 4 – 12).

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Hopefully the traffic on I-95 N will be kind to us as we make our way up to the national capital region and we will be home before the sun sets. Our New Years Eve will be a quiet one this year as we say hello 2018 – just the four of us. But if 2018 is anything like 2017, then it will be one hell of a ride. And as the sun sets on this year, I look forward to tomorrow’s sunrise.