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!

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!

At Home in Austin’s 2nd Street District


This is our fourth week in Austin. Some days it feels like we just got here and other days it feels like we’ve been here forever. I guess that’s normal. We’re in a very transient stage, living in this temporary apartment, but it’s home — luckily only for about two more weeks.

We’re living in a furnished apartment in Austin’s 2nd Street District, which is an area of downtown that’s dotted with shops, restaurants and entertainment venues, many of which are local. There are some adorable clothing shops over on 2nd Street, like Langford Market and Luxe Apothetique, which has a little bit of everything. And I’ve already waxed poetic about my favorite bakery in the ‘hood, Delish. Best of all, our temporary home is within walking distance to KP’s office, so most mornings (save for those rare ones when it’s in the chilly 30s) Nora and I walk with him to get out and about for a bit.

Our view from the 14th floor isn’t too shabby. Nora likes looking at the cars and busses below and KP and I like all the cool, tall buildings. There’s a lot of construction and new buildings shooting up all over the place downtown, especially just west of us, so it’ll be interesting to see what will fill all of those new spaces.

The view

Though living right downtown for a few short weeks has quickly reminded me that I’m over this kind of living (loud and busy), we’re definitely appreciating some of the perks. Our building has a really nice sun deck on the fifth floor, complete with a gym, two swimming pools and two grills. Oddly, I think we’re the only people in this building who ever take advantage of it because we rarely see anyone else out there. Fine by me!

Our very own sun deck
Friday afternoon R & R on our very own sun deck

With just over two weeks until we move into our new house (hooray!), we’re going to keep on enjoying that sun deck and exploring the cool, yummy spots the 2nd Street District has to offer.

Around Town in Austin

Around Town in Austin

These are a few of my favorite things in our new city of Austin, Texas: the skyline, Lady Bird Lake, Patika Coffee and Delish bakery.

We’re kind of spoiled with the fantastic views of the Austin skyline from our apartment, especially at nighttime. Nora’s keen on watching the cars and busses whiz by on the streets below, and checking out what’s going on in Republic Square Park just across the street. She also likes pointing out “tick tock” (the Frost Bank building with the clock on top).

Lady Bird Lake (or Town Lake, depending on who you ask) is just two blocks from our apartment. I’ve yet to run the path along the lake (color me intimidated – some of these fit Austinites book it!) but we’ve taken plenty of walks there and it is just lovely. There are people walking, running and biking constantly — and lots of dogs. This is a dog-friendly city for sure. We like to walk along Cesar Chavez and then cross over the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge. This is typically where I let Nora disembark the stroller and “walk walk walk,” which is what she requests the entire way until we get to this spot. There are just too many runners and bikers along the path and I don’t want her to get in the way. Over on the Riverside Drive side of the path, there’s even a “leash-free” zone for dogs and there are always lots of them over there playing fetch or taking a dip.

What better way to end a jaunt around the lake than with a coffee and a decadent pretzel magic bar? Patika operates a cute little coffee kart on 4th Street between Congress and Colorado. They support local roasters plus some others from around the country. Given the number of independent coffee shops around town, I made it my mission to check out a new one each Friday. I haven’t gotten past Patika! And after I get my coffee, I stroll over to Delish bakery which is conveniently right on my way home. I’m told it was featured on some food show on TV, but I’d like to keep this shop under wraps. I’ve tried more of their cupcakes than I care to admit, plus the pretzel magic bar which truly is magical. The carrot cake cookie (which is what I’d call a whoopie pie) is next on my Nora’s list.

We’re having a great time exploring our new city, both on foot and through our tummies.