Friday, October 17, 2014

Halloween Party on the Plaza at the Domain ~ Austin, TX

In Austin, there tend to be many different ways to celebrate Halloween, but none quite so family-friendly as the Halloween Party on the Plaza at The Domain on Saturday, October 25, 2014 from 3 pm to 5 pm.

Free to everyone, you are encouraged to dress in your best Halloween costumes (moms & dads too!) and join an afternoon of family fun and thrills when The Domain hosts its annual Halloween party and the first event on the new Plaza.

Bring the whole family for trick or treating, face painting, Halloween crafts and a cake walk to live music by Superband.   There will even be a mini pumpkin patch for a photo!

The Domain recently just added play elements in The Domain II. There are three one-of-a-kind play areas that feature interactive designs and climbers, slides and individualized storyboards appropriate for children of all ages.

The Halloween Party on the Plaza has a Facebook Event Page to follow for updates. And make sure to Follow The Domain on Facebook & Twitter for all their upcoming holiday events.

Dude Ranch Vacation: 9 Reasons to Book One as a Family

Last weekend, my family and I had our very first Dude Ranch experience.  I am, after all, a born & bred Texan, (my kids are too) - they needed to experience a vacation on a Dude Ranch - and a Texan one at that.

We spent 3 full days at the Mayan Ranch in Bandera, Texas.  While we were there, I was overwhelmed with all the reasons why every family should take a dude ranch vacation at least once.  And I was kicking myself for not taking one sooner.  Here are all those reasons - and I hope they will convince you to book a Dude Ranch trip as soon as possible.

9 Reasons to Book a Dude Ranch Vacation

Dude Ranches Encourage Unplugging 

While on the Mayan Ranch, I was compelled to not be on my phone.  I wanted to breathe in the quietness and completely unplug from the world.  With the exception of taking a few photographs, we all stayed off our phones.  The kids left their electronics in the cottages (without mom asking) and we took advantage of the time we had, not distracted by gadgets in our hands.  We barely even turned on the TVs in our cottages, as we wanted to be out exploring the ranch.

Dude Ranches Specialize in Family Time

One of my favorite parts of our weekend, the 5 of us got to "play" together.  We rode horses, played shuffleboard, learned how to line dance (yes, even Dad!), shot BB guns, and took hayrides together.  One evening, the Ranch put together "Family Games"  with some of the most creative group games we have ever played. Our time together wasn't forced, at any time we could have relaxed back in the cottage, but we were having so much fun together, no one wanted to.  It was good, quality family time together - and that seems so precious now a days.

Dude Ranches are All Inclusive

When you stay at a dude Ranch, your cost includes meals,  drinks, activities, and overnight stays.  It is nice to pay one fee up front and not worry about hidden costs throughout the vacation. Most dude ranches have activities and amenities (pool, hot tub, game room) and snacks as well.

Horseback Riding is King at a Dude Ranch

Most people visit a dude ranch to experience life as a cowboy.  What better way then in the saddle on a nice mosey around the property.  Wranglers at dude ranches will match your horseback riding experience with the perfect horse and will offer daily (sometimes more) rides.  We found this type of horseback riding was the most relaxing and enjoyable we had ever experienced.

Unmatched Hospitality at a Dude Ranch

Most dude ranches are working ranches, owned by families who invite you to share their property with them.  Everyone is kind and patient and there to make sure you are having a wonderful time.  We encountered people who were passionate about the Mayan Ranch, as they had grown up there, and were so friendly and unpretentious.

Try Something New at a Dude Ranch

Dude Ranches offer you the opportunity to try something you new that you never have before.  On our trip, we took a few hayrides, learned how to shoot a BB gun, learned archery and ate almost every meal outside.  You can find working dude ranches, where you get put to work and can see what it takes to be a cowboy.  

Dude Ranches Serve Hearty Food

I didn't quite expect to be as blown away by the food as I was this past weekend.  And from what I hear, dude ranches offer hearty meals 3 times a day.  From amazing cowboy breakfast cooked over a fire under a grove of trees to an amazing t-bone steak meal under the stars, this family ate very well at the Mayan Ranch.  Everything tasted delicious and was made form scratch.  I can't vouch for other dude ranches, but if they have experienced chefs in the kitchen, you know the meals are going to be delicious.

Meet New Friends at a Dude Ranch

We loved meeting the other guests who were staying at the Mayan Ranch with us.  All meals and activities are done together, so you get to meet people from all over the globe.  We met a sweet family form Denmark who was on a 2 week fall holiday and a high-speed train engineer and his wife from England.  It was fascinating sharing meals with people from other parts of the world who were just as curious about your lifestyle as you were about theirs.

A Dude Ranch = Quiet

And my favorite thing about the Mayan Dude Ranch.  The quiet. No road noises, no obnoxious video game sounds, no phones ringing, nothing.  Except laughter - my children's sweet laughter as they play with their Dad.  And I could listen to that "noise" all day.

We truly had a special experience this past weekend at a Dude Ranch.  I was sad to leave and return to the real world, that says it all doesn't it?

I haven't been to any other Dude Ranch but the Mayan Ranch - I can't say enough good things about it!

Disclosure: The Mayan Ranch invited my family to stay for 2 nights.  I was not paid to write this article. All opinions (especially the mushy ones) are my own).

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Texas Book Festival in Austin, TX October 25-26, 2014

October 25-26, 2014
Texas State Capitol Building
Austin, TX

The 19th annual Texas Book Festival is a free event that celebrates authors held over 2 days on the Texas State Capitol grounds.  This year, it has over the largest number of authors in it's history, over   280 authors at book readings, signings, and panel discussions as well as exhibitor booths, live music and themed events.  

Established in 1995 by First Lady Laura Bush, the Texas Book Festival has quickly evolved into one of the "premier literary events in the country."  It honors and features over 200 Texas and nationally-known authors.  The schedule is packed with events - from sessions discussion author's books to story time and puppet shows for little ones.

The schedule is packed full with fun events to attend, including some new ones.  Check out the Lit Crawl with R.L. Stine held on Saturday night at the Texas State Cemetery!!   There are authors from all genres featured - biography, mystery, cooking, politics, etc.  Click here to see the full schedule

I was most excited about all the fun for children that is scheduled at the Texas Book Festival:

Children's Read Me a Story Tent (13th & Colorado)
Every half hour, a new story will be read by the author, including some of the following:
  • Pumpkin Time by Erzsi De├ák
  • Ninja! by Aree Chung
  • The Princess in Black by Shannon and Dean Hale
  • Under the Freedom Tree by London Ladd
  • Blizzard by John Rocco
  • The Boy Made of Lightning by Barbara Renaud Gonzalez
  • Baby Penguins Love their Mamma by Melissa Guion
  • Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! by Chris Barton
  • I Love You Too by Ziggy Marley

Also, on Saturday at 3:00, be the first to find out who made the list of Texas Literary Association's Bluebonnet Master List. 20 books are picked each year to promote reading in 3rd thru 6th grade.

Children's Entertainment Tent (West Capitol driveway near Colorado St.)
Every hour features fun entertainment for little ones (and their parents!).  Here is just a few examples of the fun:
  • Magician Ken Cummins
  • Singing Zoologist Lucas Miller
  • Poetry Fun
  • I Knew an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly
  • Biscuit Brothers
  • Joe McDermott
Children's Activity Tent (Colorado St. between 12th & 13th)
Fun, hands-on activities for kids with various authors.  Here is just some of the fun:
  • Austin Dog Alliance - Meet the Bow Wow Reading Dogs and create your own book to read to your pets at home
  • All Over the Alphabet - learn how to make fun alphabet crafts
  • Create a Calavera
  • Create your own Texas Book Festival Souvenir 
Also, don't miss the Kid's Fashion Show, where they are encouraging kids to dress up as their favorite book character from 11 am - 12 pm on Saturday.
Please check the Texas Book Festival website for a full schedule - you will be amazed at how much there is to do!

This is such an awesome opportunity for kids to meet the authors behind some of their favorite books and learn about new favorite authors too.  We can't wait to go!

About the Texas Book Festival:

  • Sessions are FREE and open to the public, with a first come, first serve policy
  • When the sessions are full, no one will be allowed in, so come early to ensure a seat
  • No food or drinks allowed in the Capitol, but a food tent will be on grounds
  • Adult & Young Writers Authors book signings will be in the Book Signing Tent (Congress, between 10th & 11th)
  • Children's Book Signing Tent is at 13th & Colorado
  • Proceeds from book sales help fund the festival, therefore all books to be signed MUST be purchased at the Barnes & Noble Sales tents. (a receipt must be presented)
  • FREE parking will be available at the event at the following locations:
    • Granger Parking Garage (12th & Guadalupe)
    • Capitol Visitor Garage (12th & Trinity)
    • State Lots 8 & 11 (15th & Colorado)
    • State Garage A (14th & San Jacinto)
    • State Garage F (13th & San Jacinto)
    • State Lot 15 (9th & Colorado)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Cirque Dreams Holdiaze at Cedar Park Center December 29-30, 2014 - Giveaway!

It's hard to believe that we are already thinking about holiday shows in Austin, but I have a giveaway for Cirque Dreams Holdiaze coming to Cedar Park Center December 29-30, 2014. 

Cirque Dreams Holdiaze will light up the 2014 holiday season with its newest holiday stage spectacular at Cedar Park Center, December 29 – 30!  It’s a cirque show, Broadway musical, holiday spectacular and family show all in one.

Broadway director Neil Goldberg re-imagines the holiday season with over 300 costumes, 20 acts and 30 performers from 12 countries showcasing an endless variety of imaginative, heart-pounding and gravity- defying feats you have to see to believe. Experience gingerbread men flipping midair, toy soldiers marching on thin wires along with snowmen, icemen and penguins, balancing, jumping and spinning in disbelief.  The show celebrates the most wonderful time of the year with singers, choreography and exciting production numbers. 

Here's a preview of what you can expect:

Tickets are available at the Cedar Park Center Box Office (512-600-5001), , by calling 800-745-3000, or click here ( )

Cedar Park Center is offering my readers the chance to win one Family Four Pack of tickets to the  opening night of Cirque Dreams Holdiaze at the Cedar Park Center December 29, 2014!   Easy giveaway using the rafflecopter below.  Contest begins Monday, October 13, 2014 and concludes at 11:59 pm Friday, October 17, 2014.  Winner will be drawn randomly on Saturday, October 18, 2014 and notified by email. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Making of Gone with the Wind Exhibit at Harry Ransom Center Austin, Texas

Are you a Gone with the Wind fan?  We are HUGE fans!  So I was thrilled to see the Making of Gone with the Wind exhibit was going to be at the Harry Ransom Center on the UT Campus for the next few months.

I took my mom as a surprise for her birthday last week.  This free exhibit is easy to get to, packed with history and so worth the visit......even if you have only seen the movie one time.  The back story of how the movie came to exist was absolutely amazing.

The exhibit is laid out on a time line, showing all the behind-the scenes work to get the movie produced - from getting approval from the book's author, Margaret Mitchell, to finding the perfect actress to play Scarlett (which took YEARS!).  There are over 300 articles that tell the story, including 2 dresses that have not been on display in over 25 years.

I'm sure you recognize this famous dress!
These gorgeous dresses are so much better in person - to see the amount of work that went into their intricate detail - it's amazing.

I don't want to give away all the fascinating things you will see at the Making of Gone with the Wind, but you will see scripts, actual audition tapes of the potential "Scarletts", fan mail, costumes, and producer David O. Selznick's memos.

It's a great exhibit that takes less than an hour to see.  While you are there, make sure to see the Gutenberg Bible and the world's first photograph.

There are several fun events that correspond with this exhibit in Austin, including this:

The Paramount Theatre commemorates the 75th anniversary of the December 15, 1939, premiere of Gone With The Wind. Tickets required and may be purchased online, by phone at 512-474-1221, or at the Paramount's box office.

Exhibition Galleries
Extended Hours for Gone With The Wind (starting Sept. 9):
10 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday
10 a.m.–7 p.m. Thursday
Noon–5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Noon Daily
6 p.m. Thursday
2 p.m. Saturday
2 p.m. Sunday

Gone With The Wind screentests will be shown in the Ransom Center's first-floor theater at 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on weekends, immediately following the public tour.

Closure Dates
The Ransom Center Galleries are closed the following holidays: Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve Day, and Christmas Day.

21st and Guadalupe Streets - park in any of the nearby parking lots ($3-5)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Walking with Dinosaurs Cedar Park Center Ticket Discount November 14-16, 2014

The Dinosaurs are coming to Cedar Park - Walking with Dinosaurs that is, and we have a GREAT deal for you to get tickets this month!

Cedar Park Center is pleased to announce the The Walking with Dinosaurs Tour is coming to Cedar Park November 14-16, 2014.  The Cedar Park Center has offered my readers an Exclusive Discount and Walking With Dinosaurs Activity Book for the First 100 Purchasers:

This is your chance to  save $10 on select tickets to Walking With Dinosaurs The Arena Spectacular! Follow this link and enter promo code TREX in the "Offer Code" box to purchase your tickets. For the first 100 purchasers you will receive a Walking With Dinosaurs Activity Book for your family that you can pick up at guest services the day of the show!

Dinosaurs once again roam the earth when the spectacular production, Walking with Dinosaurs The Arena Spectacular, based on the award-winning BBC Television Series, returns to North America this summer. The show that critics have called ‘awesome’, ‘spectacular’ and ‘breathtaking’ will bring the new tour to Cedar Park Center November 14-16 for six performances only.  This updated production will showcase changes to the dinosaurs based on the latest scientific research including the likely feathering of some species. Worldwide, more than eight million people have seen this show in 243 cities and over 2,000 performances.

Don't miss your opportunity to get the $10 off discount and your activity book! 

*All tickets subject to additional fees. This offer is valid Wednesday, October 8, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. – Friday, October 31, 2014 at 11:59 p.m.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Non-Runner Half-Marathon Training Tips

Are you on the fence about running a half-marathon?  Here are 7 tips to train for a Half-Marathon if you are a non-runner that I have learned through the last few years. 

4 years ago, I completed my first half-marathon.  It was the San Antonio Rock n' Roll and it was an amazing accomplishment. I don't exactly remember why I ran the race, I think my friend said "I'm going to run this, want to run it with me?" Ok.

But it was a great accomplishment for this non-runner.  I had always been jealous of my running friends - they look so bold and confident.....and skinny..... while they are running.  I always thought of myself as someone who could "never run".  However, when my youngest was born and I was heavier than I had ever been in my entire life I was desperate to try it.  I started slow, with a mile at a time and the Couch to 5K app on my iPhone.  Me and the baby in the stroller, day after day until I got up to running 3 miles and had lost 40-ish pounds. Maybe I actually could be a runner after all.

The race was incredible.  The energy from the crowd made running 13.1 miles seem easy. Yes, I said easy.  I ran with my closest friend and we both were very happy with our accomplishment.  As I crossed the finish line, I remember thinking I will do this again. 

After finishing the San Antonio Rock n' Roll in November 2010,  I was in the best shape of my life. I was down to a size that I was happy with (which come on girls, that's hard to admit!) and I was happy to have done something 3 years earlier I never would have imagined doing.  What was next? I needed to maintain that figure I had worked hard to get and try for another race.

We signed up for another half the following year - the Zooma Run, a women-only half-marathon held on the Hyatt Lost Pines property in April 2011.  Unfortunately, this race was not as motivating as my first. This race consisted of some big hills that we were not prepared for.  I pushed myself the entire race, trying to maintain a pace I had not trained with and absolutely HATED the last 2 miles of the run.  This time, I walked away thinking NEVER again.

Fast forward 3 years.  I am running again. I'm running the 3M Half-Marathon in Austin in January 2015.  And before I started training a few weeks ago, I tried to think of all the tips that would help me along the way, to avoid the outcome of my second race. Here they are for you.

7 Tips for Non-Runners Training for a Half-Marathon

1. Why are you Running? - When you make the decision to run a half-marathon, make sure you clearly understand why you are running it. There will be weeks of training ahead of you, weeks of days you don't want to tie those shoes and get out the door. But with a clear goal in mind, it will make it that much easier to put the hard work in.

Looking back, my motivation for my first race was doing something I didn't think I could do.  But I had no goal for the second one, so my training was not as intense.  For this upcoming race, I want to lose weight and I know that maintaining a rigorous training schedule (thus burning mucho calories!) can help me accomplish this goal.  Make sure you clearly understand your motivation or you will not stay committed.

2. Select a Good Training Plan and Stick to It! There are lots of great plans out there on the internets, even apps for your phone that can keep you moving.  Some plans are intense with 3-4 runs a week and some are gradual.  I used this 20 week plan as I wanted to start training in September and only do 2-3 runs a week.  Choose the one that best works for you.  Then schedule your runs on your calendar. Make your weekly runs a priority - set them as an appointment and try your best not to "reschedule" them cause chances are you won't.  I don't book anything on Tuesday mornings. That's my long run day.

3. Get Good Running Shoes.  Friends, spend the money.  If you are going to be running miles and miles each week, invest in a pair of running shoes that will take care of your body while you are pounding it to the pavement.  My recommendation is to go to a running store and ask them to watch your stride.  They are knowledgeable in determining if you over-pronate or not and can find a shoe that fits your run.  Don't look at price tags when picking a running shoe - go for what feels best.  Your body will thank you.

4. Train & Run the Race with a Friend.  I can't imagine all the training runs without my good friend, Melissa.  She is the one who got me started for my first half, we did the 2nd together, and she is here again for my third.  If you are running all that distance each week, do it with a friend - the run goes by so much faster.  We talk and get things off our chest and give each other advice - it's great therapy!  And having an accountability partner will keep you on track.  Just this morning, as I wanted to have a day off, Melissa texted me - "See you at 7:40!"  Thanks friend for keeping me on track.

5. Workout on your Off Days. Don't think that running 3 days a week is all you need to get ready.  Your body needs a little cross training on the off days - things like yoga, boot camp, or strength training are good.  It gives your muscles the time to rest in-between runs.  Changing up the routine makes you a well-rounded athlete.

6. Make the Race a Fun Event.  Many people choose destination races to run in a different part of the country (I hope to do a race through Napa Valley one day!) and make a fun trip out of it. You can plan a girls' weekend with the center piece of the trip being accomplishing a half.  No matter where you run the race, make the race a big deal by eating special the few days before the get your body fueled correctly, stay in a nice hotel close to the race, or get a massage after the run. Treat yourself for all the hard work you have done to prepare for it. 

7. Remain Hydrated.  I don't like to drink water while I run and for a while, I didn't drink much water throughout the day.  However, I have recently researched the benefits of staying hydrated ALL DAY as a runner and have been working hard to keep my body hydrated. I didn't realize this, but even a slight dehydration of 2% of your body weight can cause a decrease in performance and makes you sluggish.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned on Twitter that I was beginning to train for the half.  Nuun contacted me and offered to send me a few samples to keep myself hydrated correctly.  I was excited as I always had looked at Nuun as a "runner's drink" and didn't think I was elite enough to need it.

Nuun (pronounced "Noon") is the first sugar-free electrolyte tab that dissolves in water.  Nuun's creator was looking for a way to get his electrolytes in after a hard workout without consuming all that sugar. Water is great to keep you hydrated, however you need to replace the electrolytes you are losing while you are intensely training. You should be hydrating before, during, and after your workouts and if you wait until you are thirsty, you are too late and will be playing catch-up all day.

I was excited to try both Nuun Active Hydration and Nuun Energy. Nuun Active Hydration is the "perfect sports drink" - The electrolytes found in Nuun will help alleviate cramps, help muscles function, communicate and burn energy efficiently. Nuun Energy has all the electrolyte plus 40 mg of caffeine - and what busy mom doesn't need a boost of caffeine?

There are a lot of scientific reasons why Nuun products are a great way to keep your body hydrated (and you can read about them here), but let's get down to what really matters - How does Nuun taste?  Depending on your personal preference of flavor, Nuun tabs taste great.  Some better than others.  What flavors I found I liked, my hubby and daughter didn't and vice-versa.  Beyond the flavor, Nuun dissolves completely, leaving no grit or aftertaste.  You do feel a bit fuller after drinking a glass of water with a Nuun tab than you would with just regular water.

I have now gotten into the habit of drinking a Nuun tab after each run & workout and I definitely feel a difference in my stamina throughout the rest of the day.  I feel like I have more energy to accomplish more, as I am replenishing what my body needs.  As my weekly runs get longer, I plan on taking Nuun with me on them, so I can be hydrating as I run (anything over an hour).

My hope in writing this article is to encourage you to run a half-marathon.  Even if you are just "thinking about it", get off the fence and commit.  It's not easy, but an incredible accomplishment.

What tips do you have for training and running a half-marathon?

Disclosure: Nuun sent me a few samples to try.  I was not compensated to write this article.  All opinions about Nuun are my own.