The Silent Journey

Nora says, "Shhh!"
Nora says, “Shhh!”

Last week we were invited to The Silent Journey at Nora’s Montessori school, by way of the adorable invitation pictured above.

She’s been at the school for about a month and a half, and while KP and I hear snippets of her day — when she feels like sharing — we don’t have the intel that we were accustomed to at her old school. That’s because we don’t go into the classroom to drop her off or pick her up. There’s no daily chit chat with the teachers, no observation of her and her classmates. They operate that way for a variety of reasons, but mainly the classroom is the children’s space and it’s easier for parents to say their goodbyes outside or better yet, in the car line. (Side note: I was a combination of shocked, pleasantly surprised and mildly saddened at how quickly Nora opted for us to drop her off and pick her up via car line, versus walk her up the path to her class’s “cottage.”)

So an opportunity to explore the classrooms and learn more about what goes on day in and day out for our little Montessorian was a welcome one. And they were serving wine! No-brainer.

The evening was split into two parts: the journey through the environments and the discovery of the materials. The journey was the silent part. The school’s guides (aka teachers) led the silent tour of primary through upper elementary classrooms, the silence intended to keep us free from distractions. I had been in Nora’s classroom twice before, but it was eye-opening to get up close and personal with the works it includes. Some things were expected, like the letters and the scissors and paper (because every Friday she comes home with teeny, tiny scraps she’s cut throughout the week), but there were other works that I had no idea they did — like polishing metal!

Week 1 Friday bag contents
Week 1 Friday bag contents

Coming from a traditional public school background, the lower elementary and upper elementary classrooms were even more intriguing to me — no desks, no textbooks, nothing traditional about it. But it was easy to see why kids take to the environment and excel.

Lower elementary

Our welcome to the upper elementary classroom was a math puzzle. KP’s night was made while my anxiety set in. It left a lot of folks (me, included!) scratching our heads. Those kids, as we said in Boston, are wicked smaht!


After the journey, the parents and guides reconvened for a brief discussion and Q and A before moving into the “discovery” portion of the evening. Discovery was hands-on; parents could choose which classroom(s) to revisit and choose from select work(s) or “ask for a lesson,” meaning, asking a guide for help with the work.

KP and I made our way through all three levels — primary, lower elementary and upper elementary. Each environment was so different from what I’m used to in a classroom, but in a way that made me feel like I wish I had gone to a Montessori school. Sitting comfortably on a rug on a floor and feeling shapes of triangles to learn a math lesson? Yes, please! It seems like a simpler, more obvious way to learn. In upper elementary, we had a lesson on how to calculate the surface area of a triangle (did I just type that?) and I actually got it!

Getting a glimpse of what Nora experiences every morning of the week was awesome. We’re lucky to have found such a great little place for her to learn.

First-timers at Austin City Limits Festival

ACL Fest

KP and I went to the second weekend of the Austin City Limits — or ACL — Festival this past weekend. I absolutely hate crowds, so ordinarily I’d run as far and fast in the opposite direction as I could, but ACL feels like a rite of passage if I’m going to call myself an Austinite. And I love music, and Mumford and Sons was in the line-up and both KP and I have wanted to see them for some time. Plus, this type of thing used to be the scene for the cool girl hidden deep inside of me. So I bought us one-day passes before they sold out.

My young, hip niece and nephew went the weekend before us — it spans two weekends — so luckily we had their pointers to lead us in the right direction. We knew where to park (and how far we’d have to walk from said parking) and to set up cashless payment on the app and all that good stuff. We were ready.

We could not have had more perfect weather for our day at the festival. The sun was shining, the skies were blue and it wasn’t too hot (ah, “fall” in Texas…). It wasn’t even terribly crowded when we arrived early afternoon. Before we got into the festival gates, though, we had to pay a quick visit to the ticket help desk… because we are old and don’t even know how to put on music festival wristbands without ruining them. Seriously.

ACL Fest

Like I said, it wasn’t too crowded when we got there and even the line for one of the many bars — our first stop, naturally — was non-existent. Food lines were fast, too, and you could choose from just about every type of food imaginable. I opted for nachos, my personal vice.

While Mumford and Sons was the draw for us, there were some other solo artsists and bands I was interested in seeing. Pete Yorn has been a favorite of mine for a long time and he did not disappoint.

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats were good fun. They have such a soulful sound; it’s impossible to not want to clap your feet or tap your toes when you listen to them — especially live. And, fun fact: they’re from Hermann, Missouri.

Willie Nelson was, sadly, disappointing. The best part of his set for me was when Matthew McConaughey introduced him. By no means am I a huge Willie Nelson fan, but I felt obligated to listen; he’s a legend! He’s also 83 years old. It was difficult to hear him, so we bailed. Those kimchi fries were calling my name!

The show stealers for me were HAIM. I had been listening to them a bit before ACL so I was excited to see them, and they did not disappoint. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re these three badass sisters and they have a fun pop/rock sound to them. KP says they’re like a throwback to the 80s, which is kind of accurate. I like them because I think their sound is unique. And again, they are just badass! I would not at all be upset if my guitar-loving daughter went in that direction…

By time Mumford and Sons took the stage, I felt as if I had spent the afternoon smoking countless bowls of weed. I know it’s Austin and we like to keep it weird, and I know there’s always an abundance of pot at these types of festivals, but wow. I was blown away — almost literally. It was so prevalent, so strong. Just too much. Is that why so many people had bandanas covering their noses and mouths? So, we watched a good chunk of Mumford but left before they were finished. They were good, but we were tired, and did I mention, old?

Good times were had by all, for sure. I’m already thinking about ACL 2017, but maybe I’ll be one of the folks wearing the makeshift medical mask next time!

Harvard, it’s me, Nora

Yesterday Nora wrote her name. By herself. As a reminder, she’s three-years-old.

Last week I was giddy because she wrote part of the word “Halloween” by herself on a card she made for her friends. In that case, I gave her a little direction and she copied some of the letters I wrote for “Happy.”

Happy Halloween

Yesterday, though, she was innocently chalking on the deck while I was playing on my phone instead of paying attention to her like the doting mother that I am. Then she said, “I made an N!” She did, in fact, make an “N.” And then she kept chalking. And before I knew it, she had spelled N-O-R-A. I couldn’t believe it. Now, I’m not submitting it to the Palmer Method, but it’s definitely obvious that the letters spell her name.


Clearly, the child is a genius and we should get crackin’ on her Harvard application ASAP. Proud mama right here.

In the spirit of keeping it real, I should also share that just after writing her name, she cut a piece of chalk’s “hair” with a shovel.

So Long, Summer

Lake Austin

While Labor Day weekend constitutes the unofficial end of summer, it’s a little difficult to get on board with that, since, living in Austin, it feels like summer here pretty much through October. But, with Nora being in school and more of a routine during the week, it does feel like the lazy days are done — for now, anyway. Plus, I ache for chilly weather, layers and non-iced coffee, and I feel like if I accept summer’s end, then maybe November will get here sooner and it will stop being hot.


A girl can dream…

We had a fantastic summer. We’ve had a fantastic year, but summer was really good to us. We took time to stop and smell the flowers (and then we planted them on our deck).

Stop and smell the flowers

We kicked off summer with a weekend in Galveston with friends. I hadn’t been in nearly 15 years, although where we went didn’t even feel like Galveston. It could’ve been a beach anywhere, because we stayed on the far west edge of the island, away from the touristy stuff. It was perfect. Condo on the beach with a pool (and more importantly, poolside drink service) — yes, please! The only downside was that our weekend coincided with high levels of bacteria in the water, so save for digging in the sand briefly, we spent our days in the pool.


July 4th was a family and friends-filled fête. Our neighborhood organized a parade for kids and dogs and Nora decorated her scooter — and then her tricycle, after deciding she wasn’t interested in scooter-ing herself that far. My sisters and our friends came over for a BBQ and the neighborhood shot off fireworks til all hours. And then they continued to shoot off fireworks the week after the holiday, and the week after that, and… Seriously, our neighborhood loves their fireworks. But being able to watch them from my front or back porch on the 4th of July is quite convenient!

July 4th

Summers are for short hair. At least, that’s what my mom decided when I was a kid. I always hated my ugly boy hair during the summertime. So while I wanted Nora to lose a little length, we opted for her first bob haircut to keep her stylish!

New 'do

It wasn’t exactly the summer of blockbusters, as far as I was concerned, but we checked a milestone off Nora’s list when we took her to see her first movie in a theater, Finding Dory. Her behavior reminded me of going to St. Louis Cardinals baseball games when I was a kid. She was in it for the food just like I used to be! Once her mozzarella sticks were finished, she had to be (repeatedly) reminded why we were there. But she liked it enough and behaved well enough so that we took her to see The Secret Life of Pets a few weeks later.

Finding Dory

We spent a fun, long weekend at Lake Austin with my whole family, thanks to Mom and Dad. I went tubing for the first time in… more years than I’d like to admit! And KP went for the first time ever.


We parked, pooled and did yoga.

Nora said goodbye to her preschool and had a brief hiatus before beginning her new one.

Our hearts and tummies were nourished with a trip to Illinois. We spent time in Trenton where Nora helped Grammie make cookies and peach cobbler. KP and I escaped for a Nora-free, food-filled weekend in Chicago.

Nora got a big girl bed! And I breathed a sigh of relief. So many friends’ kiddos had trouble with the transition, but luckily it was easy peasy. She has only once gotten out of her bed and showed up at the foot of ours, and she chose to do that at 4:40 a.m. But just once? I’ll take it.

Big girl bed

A rainier than normal summer resulted in lots of rainbows. Lucky for us, we often see them in our backyard after a nice rain.


KP and I celebrated six years of wedded bliss. We went to dinner at the now defunct Qui and I started the evening with a Cordial Quarrel — the drink, not an argument with KP! But fitting for six years, no?

Cordial Quarrel

Nora started Montessori school. They have a donkey, goat, two cats, bunnies and plenty of other unofficial animals (yes, snakes). She is not allowed to wear any of her TMNT gear (or any other “media” or “characters”) and she has survived three weeks.

We road tripped to Dallas for the Coldplay concert and explored the Dallas World Aquarium en route. Oh, and we got our Pappasito’s fix!

Dallas World Aquarium

See, it was a fantastic summer! We hosted a BBQ on Labor Day (because, what better way to honor America’s work force) and the fact that Tuesday was like Monday threw me off all week.  Another good summer in the books! You can get here any day now, fall.

You can get here any day now, fall.

Labor Day Weekend in San Antonio


Spending a day in San Antonio is something we’ve been planning to do since we moved to Austin, so we decided to make it happen over Labor Day weekend.

Spoiler alert: that may not have been one of our wisest decisions.

My sister, a San Antonio native (practically), was our tour guide for the day and suggested brunch at The Guenther House… which had a 1:45 wait. Not really feasible with a three-year-old. So we tried nearby Liberty Bar… which also had a wait longer than Nora could handle. We ended up at Stella Public House, and it did not disappoint.

Prosciutto, arugula, fried egg

You really can’t go wrong with a fried egg on top of anything. It was especially tasty on this savory, salty prosciutto, arugula and burrata pizza. Honestly, they had me at “burrata.” Okay, and “prosciutto.” It was so yummy. Nora was quite content with her chocolate chip Nutella pancakes, too.

Nutella chocolate chippers
“Have Ninja Turtle cup; will travel.”

And Joan, with her mimosa flight. I’m 100% certain that this is the only brunch I’ve ever attended with a mimosa flight. How has no other restaurant thought of this? Genius!

Mimosa flight

Walking back to the car after brunch, we passed so many quaint homes, beautifully manicured lawns and picturesque streets; admittedly, not what comes to mind when I think of San Antonio. The fact that we had to park a ways away from the restaurant was okay because we got to take it all in.

San Antonio

No shortage of crepe myrtles!

Crepe myrtles for days

Our post-brunch plan was to hit the infamous Riverwalk and take Nora on a gondola ride and a trolley ride, and go by the Alamo. KP had never been to downtown San Antonio so the tourist spots were a must.

We missed our queue when every single parking garage and lot near the Riverwalk was full. We persisted and parked a decent walk away from the Riverwalk, still intent on taking Nora on a gondola ride. Because, when you tell a three-year-old you’re going to do something, you damn well better do it!

Nope. We didn’t do it. We didn’t do the gondola. We didn’t do the trolley. The lines were beyond. Apparently everyone thought the Riverwalk was a grand idea for Labor Day weekend. Nora rebounded better than I anticipated. Maybe she, too, was secretly looking for an escape in the AC, gondola ride or not.


Walking to the Alamo, it started to get downright comical. Thanks to endless construction downtown, there were multiple detours on our path to the Alamo. But we made it!

Remember the Alamo

Granted, this is as close as we made it, but it appeased the history buff in the family. (I am not the history buff. I know, you’re surprised. In fact, upon arriving at the Alamo I said, “This is bad, but I don’t even know the details as to why the Alamo is significant.” Don’t worry; KP filled me in on the spot.)

We ended our day hot, sweaty and tired (and hot and sweaty). So, it was almost like we saw all the sights, anyway!

New Orleans-style Snowballs in Austin, Texas

Sweet Caroline's

After a year and a half of living in Southwest Austin and frequently passing this cute little food truck in Circle C, we finally made a stop. We were hot and sweaty after an afternoon at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and anything frozen sounded delightful (Weight Watchers, be damned!).

Sweet Caroline’s serves up New Orleans-style snowballs, and, despite my former days as a Hawaiian shaved ice maker (Hawaiian in Southern Illinois…), I had no idea what a “New Orleans-style” snowball was. According to the folks who run Sweet Caroline’s, snowballs are light, fine and fluffy, whereas traditional snow cones are coarse, crunchy and granular. Snowballs absorb the flavor instead of draining to the bottom of the cup like a snow cone. And this place is so legit that they even buy all of their machinery and flavors from local New Orleans businesses.

Amazing Grace at Sweet Caroline's

I had the Amazing Grace: peach, strawberry, vanilla and cream. And it was amazing. I’m not a snow cone fan, but I am now a snowball fan.

We won’t be waiting a year and a half until our next visit!

A Visit to Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center


We kicked off our Labor Day holiday weekend with a visit to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. I had visited a couple of times before — in fact, my first visit there was enough to convince me that we should become members. It’s so close to our house and a great place to take Nora when we both need to get out of the house a great place to go and become one with nature and get our Zen on.

The mission of the center is to conserve, restore and create healthy landscapes. There are walking trails, lush gardens (well, most of the year) and a kid-friendly area that has the dinosaur creek and waterfall.

Dinosaur Creek waterfall

Nora was perfectly content hanging out at Dinosaur Creek. There are stepping stones in and out of the water and she eventually got daring enough to step on the ones in the water. They have plenty of watering pots available to encourage kids to get in and get wet. And she did. Another family was there and showed her the frog eggs they found in the creek, too.

Watering the water
Watering the water

You might think, why go during the hot Texas summer when everything’s dead? Well, the accurate answer is because KP took the day off and we were looking for something to do! But there was plenty in bloom, and I actually learned a thing or two. Every morning when I drop Nora off at school I see these fuchsia berries on these bushes at drop-off and had no idea what they were — until today. They’re American Beautyberry.

American Beautyberry

And yes, it was hot. And yes, we sweated. But I’m not going to not do something because it’s hot. That would be like not doing something in Chicago because it’s cold!

After experiencing the blooms in spring and summer, I look forward to a (hopefully cooler) visit in the fall!

The Week That Was: October 23, 2015

After a long weekend away and a visitor the week before, I could not get it together this week! And now it’s Friday so I’m going to quit trying. Next week’s a fresh start, right?


October 21, 2015 — just a few days ago — was the day Marty McFly and Doc Brown traveled to in Back to the Future II. See how futuristic we really are.


A fellow Stitch Fix stylist told me about Dressember. Have you heard of it? Do you think you could wear a dress every single day in December for a good cause? I’m considering it…


I think Daylight Savings Time is a little hokey, too, but is there really a petition to end it? Seems so.


Lots of talk about dogs in our house these days… I think we’re ready for one but we’ll see how soon it happens. If not by Christmas, then I’ll just need a tree full of these adorable dogs of Instagram ornaments.


Some of my favorites made the cut in this list of how not to look like a disaster after a long flight. Some of them help me not look like a disaster on a daily basis!


Have a lovely weekend!

How Do You Take Your Coffee?


Coffee creamer

I’ve been taking little steps to remove as many chemicals from my daily life as possible. If I can’t pronounce the ingredients, I probably shouldn’t be putting it in or on my body. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions to this. I’m sure wine gums, my favorite candy ever, have plenty of stuff that’s bad for me but I’m going to keep on eating them. Baby steps.

One of my first vices to go was my beloved Coffeemate. And sadly, I hate to report that my morning coffee just isn’t the same without it. Rest in peace, hazelnut creamer… I’ve known for a long time that it’s oh-so bad for you (just Google it if you’re curious), but it’s oh-so delicious. It was really hard to cut ties, but I did it about two months ago. You know how they say it takes 21 days to break a bad habit and then you’re magically “cured” of said habit? That’s not the case with Coffeemate. I still miss it. But I haven’t caved. I have, however, tried lots of alternatives and here’s what I think of them:

Whole milk just isn’t as creamy, and I long for the sweetness of Coffeemate. It’s doable, but not remotely as tasty, obviously.

Vanilla almond milk is a step up from whole milk. But again, not as creamy, not as sweet.

Agave combined with the whole or almond milk helps a little, but the sweetness is more of a sugary sweetness, not whatever the sweetness is in the crack cocaine-like Coffeemate. Agave with almond milk is my go-to at the moment, but I’m still unsatisfied.

Kalona Half & Half was one of the two “healthier” options I decided to sample on a recent trip to Whole Foods. It’s creamy, but it didn’t wow me enough to trump almond milk or even whole milk.

SO Delicious Hazelnut Coconut Milk Creamer was the other option from Whole Foods. This one was my least favorite. Perhaps the “dairy free” label should’ve tipped me off, but this one was overpoweringly sweet and oddly flavored. I can’t put my finger on whether I found it to be tart, sour or bitter. All I can tell you is that I threw this one away before finishing it.

I’ve seen plenty of recipes on Pinterest to make my own creamer. Honestly, it seems like a lot of work for something that won’t taste as good as the real deal. According to my sister, she tried one of those recipes and it wasn’t any good; ergo, I won’t like it, either.

How do you take your coffee? Are you a badass black coffee drinker? Do you still use Coffeemate or something equally terrible? Sugar? Milk? Open to ideas here!

Grandma Turns 100


October 10th marked my grandma’s 100th birthday. I always think of her on this date — and lots of other less significant dates. I often think of her when I’m cooking or baking; she was a superstar cook and baker with years in professional kitchens. I think of her at the holidays; she always made dozens and dozens of cookies and I vividly remember them cooling on paper-thin dish towels on her little kitchen table. I think of her when I see old ladies who remind me of her, and sadly, whenever I see, hear or read something about Alzheimer’s disease. My grandma died in 2003 after suffering from that horrific, debilitating disease. I think of her in her last years much less often than I think of all of the happy, fun memories of her when she was herself.

100 years is a long time. I decided we needed to celebrate 100 years, even if she couldn’t be here to do it with us. That, and as you know by now, I can always find an excuse to throw a party, cook, eat and drink! Conveniently, my two local sisters were already planning to visit that weekend. We were going to informally christen our new patio. But when I realized what the date was, I convinced my mom to come, too. We celebrated Gram exactly how we would have if she was still here — by making and eating lots of yummy food, hanging out and just being together.

Let me tell you about my amazing grandmother’s cooking. She spent years cooking at the Missouri Athletic Club and Stix, Baer & Fuller’s restaurant, so she knew a thing or two! Her list of specialties (all from scratch, of course) is endless, but the dishes that first come to mind are chicken and dumplings, bread and butter pickles, grape jelly, coffee cake, chocolate pie, rhubarb pie and cookies, cookies galore — chocolate chip (which were about the size of a half-dollar, if that), Mexican wedding cookies, iced sugar cookies in holiday shapes and colors and the cookies that everyone still longs for — peanut blossoms. I volunteered my sister Joan to bake these cookies for our gathering (and they were gone by Sunday night).

Grandma's peanut butter blossoms
Nora got her first taste of Grandma’s peanut blossoms

You could say Gram was the executive chef of the family. She most often planned and prepared the hors d’oeuvres for family parties or the main feast.  One of the things that Gram made for every family party was platters of deli meat rolled fancy with cream cheese and a pickle in some varieties, with intricate roses made out of tomatoes in the center of the tray. While we made our best attempt to recreate this snack, I think Gram would’ve given us an E for effort.

Salami roll-ups

I’m thankful that my sister Jennifer volunteered to make the quintessential Gram dish: chicken and dumplings. And I’m thankful that Nora didn’t like it so there was more for the rest of us!

Chicken & dumplings

We had a fun day remembering Gram and bringing up old memories. One of my funniest memories of her is something I totally remember happening, but at the time I didn’t understand why it was so funny because I was really young — four, maybe five years old? Gram used to babysit me a lot and I was at her apartment one day, wanting to help. I was at that age where I wanted to help with little chores, which is exactly what Nora does these days. I was going to help her dust her living room furniture, which I used to do frequently. She gave me a little dust rag and I insisted on furniture polish, so she gave me an aerosol can and I went on my merry little way, polishing her whole living room suite. I was a pretty quick kid (my apple didn’t fall far from the tree); after I finished my task I looked at the can and asked my grandma what “O-F-F” spelled. No, she hadn’t given me bug spray — nor furniture polish. She gave me Easy-OFF oven cleaner by mistake! I vaguely remember her muttering words I probably wasn’t supposed to hear and scurrying to clean it off the furniture!

One of my sisters posted the photo of Grandma and Grandpa (above) on her Facebook page on Gram’s birthday, and a family friend commented, “She was the perfect example of a grandma anyone could wish for.” That, she was.

Grandma’s Peanut Blossom Cookies

1/2 c shortening
3/4 c peanut butter
1/3 c sugar, plus extra for rolling dough
1/3 c packed light brown sugar
1 egg
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
Brach’s stars (sub Hershey’s Kisses, which are much easier to find!)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In large mixing bowl, beat shortening and peanut butter until blended. Add sugars; beat until light and fluffy. Add egg, milk and vanilla; beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; gradually add to peanut butter mixture.

Shape dough into 1″ balls. Roll in granulated sugar; place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8 – 10 minutes or until lightly browned.

Immediately place chocolate pieces on top of each cookie, pressing down slightly. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely.

Grandma’s Chicken and Dumplings

1 1/2 c flour
1 tbsp parsley, chopped (1 tsp dried)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 c milk
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 egg, lightly beaten

Combine flour, parsley, baking powder and salt. Combine milk, vegetable oil and egg and combine with the dry blend. Stir enough to moisten the mixture but don’t over-beat.

With a tablespoon, form the dumplings and drop them in boiling chicken broth*. Cover tightly and cook for 12 – 15 minutes or until done. No peeking! Serve immediately.

* Depending on how many you plan to serve, you can boil a whole chicken or just chicken breasts along with carrots and celery, well seasoned with salt and pepper. Reserve the broth for cooking the dumplings.